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A bond through the ages

By Ar-Adunakhor
Created: 11th January 2022 04:49:46 AM
14th January 2023 12:04:09 AM

  1. You are Anon Y mous, Hierarch of the Kingdom. And you are dying.
  2.  
  3. You went out the only way befitting a warrior of your Order - cutting a bloody trail among the forces of the enemy besieging the Castle. So great was your fury, so great was your valor, that the entire enemy line faltered, if only for a moment. And yet the time you bought with your charge was enough for your sisters-in-arms to shore up the breach in the walls, denying the enemy their prize.
  4. By the Moon’s will, no heathen shall threaten your Empress so long as you draw breath – no blasphemous Solarite shall set foot in the throne room so long as your arm has the strength to lift your war hammer.
  5.  
  6. They shall sing song about you, Anon Y Mous, for you spent your entire life defying expectations – a stranger in a strange land, you rose from being a mere vagabond to become the ruthless executioner of her Majesty, the only mare you ever respected.
  7. Far from being anything like her weak sister, the Empress of the Night was a mare that commanded respect with her presence alone…a mare that you willingly followed down the path that led you here, laying on the Castle grounds, bleeding from a dozen mortal wounds, surrounded by the bodies of your liege’s enemies.
  8.  
  9. Turning your vision toward the Castle itself your heart knows despair, for where the Guard failed to breach the door, their damned Princess, the bitch herself, decided to intervene, shattering the door with naught but a thought.
  10.  
  11. As your vision slowly fades to dark, you begin to hear murmuring – a faint noise that rises in a crescendo, until it seems to drown out all other sounds. A blinding light accompanies the noise – a light akin to the sun itself piercing the clouds, if sunlight didn’t warm your skin but rather burned it to charcoal.
  12.  
  13. And then it finally hits you – the connection you felt with your Empress is brutally severed the instant the light washed over your broken form.
  14.  
  15. Pain has been your trusty companion for years, but this kind of pain…you thought you bid farewell to true loneliness when you bent the knee in front of Her Imperial Majesty. And yet, for the first time in years you are truly, utterly alone.
  16. A movement attracts your attention – the bitch...Celestia, is emerging from the castle doors, looking battered, yet far more solemn and majestic than you remembered ever seeing her.
  17.  
  18. Not that it matters, for the moment you see her, your vision tinges of red.
  19.  
  20. It doesn’t matter that each movement brings agony, nor does it matter that your broken, battered armor is bombarded by enemy spells – you charge toward the monster that made it so that a decade spent serving was all for nothing.
  21.  
  22. You shall never forget her expression, morphing from grieving to serious, before finally turning to surprise, as she took notice of your charging form and tried to restrain you, just to find her magic failing her – Her Majesty revealed you a long time ago that a sufficiently focused will could, theoretically, nullify any magic directly targeted at it. Of course this has never happened as far as anypony knows, for everypony has their internal demons and doubts.
  23.  
  24. And yet...the looming specter of death brings your mind crystal clear clarity: if you are to die today, she will join you in whatever afterlife awaits you.
  25.  
  26. And so you strike the Princess of the Sun for the first, and last time.
  27.  
  28. As the spears of her Guards pierce you and your vision finally fades, you are treated to the vision of the form of the alicorn sent flying, mandible shattered by your hit.
  29.  
  30. You let go. The dark void greets you like an old friend, and so, you dream of other, better times.
  31.  
  32. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  33.  
  34. “Dad! Dad! What is that strange thing???”
  35.  
  36. Asks a little filly for the umptieth time, running from one exposition piece to the next.
  37.  
  38. The new exhibition at the Carterlot Royal Museum has been an amazing success among the city inhabitants, for the museum decided to honor the anniversary of the return of Princess Luna with an exhibition of ancient pieces taken from her ancestral home, the Castle of the Two Sisters.
  39.  
  40. The tired stallion walks toward the piece his daughter stopped in front of, observes the kaleidoscopic stone formation, and reads the plaque:
  41.  
  42. “Solidified magic: an exceedingly rare phenomenon that happens when multiple, dissonant magic energies come into contact with one another against the background of a magical void, thus causing magic itself to assume a form akin to solid stone. One of few pieces in existence, it was found in front of the Castle gates. Dated to the Banishment of Nightmare Moon. “
  43.  
  44. As the stallion finishes reading, he makes to turn toward his daughter, just to stop and turn back – he could swear that something shone in the “stone”…before his daughter drags him away to continue their visit, unknowingly saving her father’s life as a crack appears on the external surface of the exhibition piece.
  45.  
  46. A hand follows suit, a armored hand.
  47.  
  48. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  49.  
  50. You are familiar with pain.
  51.  
  52. It tinges one of the first memories you have – of your father hitting you with his belt for something you did wrong, while your mother cried in the corner – and embraces you like an old friend; and yet nothing could have prepared you for the sensations you are feeling now.
  53.  
  54. You are burning from the inside out due to magic corrosion.
  55.  
  56. You have seen it happen in the past – when a bonehead concentrated more magic in their horn than their body could contain, they’d come apart at the seams -, and to see it happen to you is ironic given your natural incapacity to generate magic of any sort; you’d laugh, were you not experiencing the effects first-hand.
  57.  
  58. “What happens when an unstoppable force meets an unmovable object?” you asked your old teacher, bless her hearth, once
  59. Your reply was a dirty look (another thing you got used back in the Army, thanks in no small part to you “deviating from the sacred equine form”), followed by a simple “They annihilate each other”.
  60.  
  61. Well that’s what’s happening to you right now.
  62.  
  63. Human beings are physically incapable of generating or containing magic – it has always been your suspicion that your species’ handicap derives from the lack of magic back on Earth, for its lack led to your species never evolving to counter (or manipulate it).
  64.  
  65. In other words, you are the closest thing one could find to a talking, breathing magical void – akin to a broken bowl in which water has to be constantly poured in order to maintain a certain level, lest it falls through the cracks of the bowl. This simple fact did not give you true resistance to magic, so much as a certain boost to your recovery from its effects – spells would wear off faster than normal when cast on you, and some would just fizzle out of existence, if they needed a certain “level” of magic to operate.
  66.  
  67. On the other hand, no beneficial spell would affect you for long either - no healing spell would truly heal you, for its energy, normally spent in the process of healing the body, would be syphoned away through the “cracks” of your body and spirit.
  68.  
  69. And yet, what would happen if too much magic energy was poured in said “broken bowl”, enough that it’d fill faster than the energy could leak out? And moreover, what would happen if some of the cracks through which magic could flow out would “clog up” (for a lack of a better term) due to the completely discordant energies currently running through your body (thanks to the barrage of different spells you had been subjected to in your last moments before waking up)?
  70.  
  71. Magical corrosion.
  72.  
  73. As you claw your way out of the magical cocoon surrounding your body, you let out a primal scream of pure agony and fall to the ground, hammer and sword clattering at your side.
  74.  
  75. -----------------------------------------
  76.  
  77. You are Windy Skies, museum guard – a relatively boring job, but a safe one: decent pay, good benefits, early retirement, the works.
  78.  
  79. Life is good.
  80.  
  81. Or at least, it was until a few moments ago when bloody screams erupted from the second floor of the Lunar exhibition…great, likely a stallion who fell down some stairs or slipped and hurt himself, being too busy with admiring himself in the mirror-like surface of some exhibition piece to look where he was going.
  82.  
  83. Well don’t worry m’lord (you cringe internally remembering how you were in college), for Windy is here to save you!
  84. ...or at least, that’s what you’d say if any of those a**holes would ever thank you for helping them when they come visit the museum – I mean ok, you are a guard and it’s your duty to help them if in need, but it wouldn’t hurt to receive a “thank you” from time to time!
  85.  
  86. Still...work call.
  87.  
  88. “At least the bloody screaming is gone” – you say under your breath, walking toward where you heard the scream coming from and turning the corner.
  89.  
  90. ...You don’t know whether to scream and run to help, or to run away in horror, your (inexistent) marely reputation be damned, such is the sight that appears in front of your eyes as you turn the corner: the entire exhibition floor has been destroyed, pieces of ancient pottery thrown around without any care by what appears to be a figure standing in the center of the hall.
  91.  
  92. “Standing”...the figure appears to be barely standing, more like swaying in the wind, as if a single puff would push it over the edge.
  93. And yet something about it seems familiar. You are no genius, but one does not work five years in a museum without learning something – its armor (for that’s what it is, now that you can observe it better in the light of day that enters from the large window) is pitch black, and yet its shape entices your curiosity, as if you had already seen it before, yet the piece of information escaped your reach.
  94.  
  95. Maybe it was the noise you made when you hit a pottery piece as you backtracked away from the figure, maybe it was the gasp you let out as you notice the sigil on the figure’s shield – the twin dark unicorns in front of the Moon, the sigil of Princess Luna alter ego, Nightmare Moon. Whatever it was, the figure turns to look at you for a split second before running toward the window and (much to your horror, for you know first-hand just how resistant enchanted glass is) breaking it with a swing of what appears to be his weapon – a war hammer.
  96.  
  97. You barely manage to yell “Stop!” as the figure jumps outside the window.
  98.  
  99. It takes you but 10 steps to reach the window, and yet…when you look outside, you see no trace of the being you just met, save a small bloodstain on the broken glass.
  100.  
  101. -----------------------------------------
  102.  
  103. You are Anon Y Mous, and you might have overreacted.
  104.  
  105. But honestly, who could blame you – you came about due to terrible pain, with a splitting headache and the taste of bile mixed with blood in your mouth. Your instincts took over, and with closed eyes you swung your war hammer in a circle around you before crouching down to avoid the inevitable retaliatory barrage from the enemy mages.
  106.  
  107. Except...the barrage never came.
  108.  
  109. It took you ten minutes to be able to calm down enough to open your eyes; ten interminable minutes during which you really thought you’d die – the pain of magic coursing through your flesh, unnaturally warping it is just as exquisite as you remember it, except this time it was ten, twenty, a hundred times worse anything you ever experienced before.
  110.  
  111. Natural resistance to magic or not, enhanced recovery from its effects or not, your body was…is coming apart at the seams.
  112.  
  113. And then, as you managed to gather your bearings and noticed that you were not in front of the Castle gates, but somewhere else (a place that curiously enough reminded you of your past life, back home on Earth), you heard a soft gasp.
  114.  
  115. It took you all of five seconds to process what was happening and to act, instincts taking over – you were in no condition to fight, and so after quickly seizing your opposition (a chubby mare in a uniform a size too large), you decided that the best thing to do for now was to retreat.
  116.  
  117. The next few steps were but a blur of actions, half-forgotten now thanks to the blood loss and the side-effects of the pills you took: a broken glass, a long fall, followed by running in the shadows as the sun was setting, and then finding a cave in the mountain the city (because it is a city you found yourself in, of that you are certain now) was built upon.
  118.  
  119. And then, for what seems the first time in forever, you fall asleep, the dark void of a dreamless sleep embracing you.
  120.  
  121. -----------------------------------------
  122.  
  123. You are Princess Luna, and for the first time in a millennia, you don’t know what’s happening to you
  124.  
  125. Lie however much you want to yourself, call your personal Nightmare a monster that took you over…the truth is much simpler – you knew exactly what you were doing, when you attempted to murder your only living relative.
  126.  
  127. And you spent a millennium trying to make peace with yourself, just to fail and to attempt to darken the sky once more for your own stupid, selfish wish to be gifted an undeserved love from your sister’s subjects. And yet…you don’t know what’s happening to you right now, for in all these years, you have never known a feeling so strong as what you are feeling right now – not even when you attempted to murder Celestia.
  128.  
  129. Anger runs through your veins, yes...but anger for what?
  130.  
  131. -----------------------------------------
  132.  
  133. Your dreams bring you to a familiar memory – the last day of your old life, and the first of your new one.
  134.  
  135. The bloody Bolsheviks had finally come to finish you all off – your commander, the “Black Baron” Pyotr Wrangel, had pushed you due
  136. south with the intention of fortifying the Crimea and hold off the Anarchists and the Reds pouring from the Ukraine, when the damned beasts had decided to renew their southern push.
  137.  
  138. You saw friends die in the defense of Isthmus of Perekop; you fought with valor defending Sevastopol, buying time for your brothers-in-arms to sail toward Costantinople once it all went to hell.
  139.  
  140. Your mother and sisters begged you to join them in their escape toward other, friendly nations such as France, but you refused – your father did not raise his son a coward, and the damned red would pay for what they had done to your beloved Rodina.
  141. Nor were you the only one thinking this way – of your battalion, almost a third decided to stay behind to continue fighting in the hills and steppes of the Crimean Peninsula.
  142.  
  143. ...and you made them pay. You made them bleed from a thousand cuts as they chased you up and down the Crimean Mountains for a full two years.
  144.  
  145. It was on a crisp day of November that you finally met your end: your unit, at this point reduced to barely 5 men, had been cornered in a small valley near Simferopol. The enemy gave you all no quarter, nor did you ask for mercy – you all knew that this was the end.
  146. And yet…you survived somehow.
  147.  
  148. A stray bullet hit you in the shoulder, and it pushed you down the small ledge you were standing on.
  149.  
  150. You prayed to the Almighty as you feel down; not for yourself, but for your family, your elderly mother…and your own motherland, destroyed by the beasts that hunted you down.
  151.  
  152. ...except you never touched the jagged stones that formed the valley floor, for your fall was broken by large bushes.
  153.  
  154. The dream usually ends here, but this time it seems you are going further down memory lane, for a visage you thought you had forgotten comes back to life in your dreams – Starry Night, the mare who broke you down in order to rebuild you…the mare who ensured you’d survive what was to come.
  155.  
  156. -----------------------------------------
  157.  
  158. “Private Mous! What in Tartarus did I tell you about slowing down your squad?!”
  159.  
  160. Say what you want of the CO (another strange thing you had to familiarize yourself with once you ended up joining the Army was their nomenclature), but she was a fair mare. Unlike many others, she never belittled you for being a “stallion playing at war, while he ought to be brought back home to his mother”, nor did she ever besmirch you for not being a pony. No, she usually busted your ass because let’s face it…you were weaker than the average guardsmare.
  161.  
  162. Having survived for 2 years on little more than what your squad could scavenge, and before that years of nothing more than EMR, it was no big surprise that your body was primarily made up of lean muscles – when it came down to running for long periods of time you could even outlast your comrades, but you could never hope to compete with them in sheer speed.
  163.  
  164. Your reply is a mere grunt as you try to speed up, weighted down by the light armor you have to wear like your sisters-in-arms (another strange fact was that you hadn’t seen another man...another “stallion” in the entire battalion – or whatever passed for it in their strange, foreign nomenclature).
  165.  
  166. “I can’t hear you Private Mous! What did you say?” - Screamed the CO in your ear, comfortably kept afloat by her wings.
  167.  
  168. You tried to reply, you truly did, but the air simply refused to leave your lungs as you could only concentrate on putting a foot in front of the other, trying to not faint due to the fatigue.
  169.  
  170. It seems Starry Night had enough of your weak attempts to keep up, for she simply turned around and went back to her place at the head of the marching column, leaving you behind to eat the dust raised by your comrades as they marched forward.
  171.  
  172. -----------------------------------------
  173.  
  174. The dream breaks as you are awoken by the sound of thunder – lightning is splitting the sky outside as rain pours down from the heavens.
  175.  
  176. Your mind still half-asleep, your reflexes shot thanks to everything you have been through and the medicinal pills you took, all you can do before falling back asleep is to push your weary body deeper in the alcove you found refuge in.
  177.  
  178. -----------------------------------------
  179.  
  180. As you catch your breath and nurse your bruised arm, you get distracted by a stray thought – that all of this is nothing but a memory, and that you really shouldn’t be here.
  181.  
  182. Your reward for losing sight of your opponent is a brutal hit to the ribs, only partially deflected by the padded armor you are wearing for this training match.
  183.  
  184. You fall to the ground and spit some blood, as Starry Night raises a hoof to signal the end of the sparring bout – your loss, another one to add to the mounting pile, further evidence of your weakness.
  185.  
  186. ...it is this thought that keeps you awake late at night day after day, training in the yard long after the rest of the unit has gone back to the barracks to rest. It is something akin to normalcy at this point – you train late in the evening, far longer than the other members of your unit, and then test yourself against them the next day, losing.
  187.  
  188. And yet, every day you notice some progress – you are slightly faster, stronger and more agile than the previous day.
  189.  
  190. Nor are you the only one that noticed these changes; long gone is the mockery on part of your squadmates, as it has been slowly replaced by a quiet acceptance of your presence at first, and then by comradery as the weeks became months and you refused to “give up” like they all expected you to do. While the brotherly…sisterly banter remained, it lost its edge as the mares in your unit began to accept the simple fact that the strange stallion that had joined them months before was here to stay.
  191.  
  192. You had kept your mouth shut regarding your origins, just as the recruiter told you to do – the letter given her by the War Office bureaucrats of this strange nation (after a thorough examination and interrogation on part of the Guard and their mages) explained your situation and your wish to make yourself useful (you always suspected they simply shunted you to the Army due to your background and the simple fact that you’d be too much of a bother to attempt to integrate in their culture).
  193.  
  194. The officer almost trashed said letter and sent you back “whence you came from” once she recognized your gender...almost.
  195. Faithful to her instructions, she kept it for herself and simply gave you a set of “instructions”: don’t mention anything about your origins (“wherever you might have come from, monkey”), simply state that you are from somewhere in the south (“it says you ain’t a minotaur but a monkey. And monkeys live in the jungle no? Then you are a southerner”) and that you wish to help defend your new homeland, Equestria (“...I don’t know how things are done wherever in Tartarus you might have come from, but here honest mares fight to defend their homes, and the last thing they need is to risk their wellbeing to defend a spinster that couldn’t get married on time, so make sure to not be a bother, capisce?”).
  196.  
  197. Still...you wish she could see you now, you think with a smirk as you land a hit on your sparring partner, surprising everyone in the arena.
  198.  
  199. You lose that match, as well as the next one and the one after that, but each time is a closer thing, until the day came that you managed to defeat your opponent via sheer strength.
  200.  
  201. Given what came afterward, it couldn’t have come a day sooner.
  202.  
  203. The Proclamation, the moment when Her Imperial Majesty announced her intention to assume sole rule of Equestria, marked the beginning of the Lunar Reclamation (or the Lunar Heresy, as the damned Solarites called it).
  204.  
  205. You were sitting in the barracks when the announcement came that the Colonel leading your “Battalion” (their nomenclature be damned, the mare in charge of you all) had been stabbed by a subordinate, and all hell broke loose.
  206.  
  207. The War had begun.
  208.  
  209. -----------------------------------------
  210.  
  211. You are Princess Luna, and something is deeply wrong in the dreamscape.
  212.  
  213. It took you some time to notice the dark spots that had appeared in your mane (or at least what passed for it in the dreamscape, since it was more akin to your mental image of yourself than anything else), but as soon as you did, the visions began to flash in front of your eyes.
  214.  
  215. “Visions” might be the wrong term – flashes of memories would be more correct, of a time you wish you could bury and forget forever.
  216. Memories of battles fought to conquer a throne that did not belong to you, of trying to force love from your subjects…of imposing terror in the ponies of Equestria in order to make them respect you when your attempt to make them love you failed.
  217. Memories of a strange minotaur-like creature clad in a black armor, bringing the executioner blade down on the neck of your prisoners at your command.
  218.  
  219. Anon Y Mous was his name – one of the few memories that remained clear in the madness that enveloped you sometime during your forced imprisonment on the Moon, etched in your mind thanks to the connection you forced on the strange being before accepting it..him, in your personal service.
  220.  
  221. You sigh at the memory – one of the few good ones from your time as Nightmare Moon -, for many offered “to swear eternal loyalty to the Empress of the Night”, and yet few truly followed you out of conviction, rather than fear.
  222.  
  223. Anon was one of them.
  224.  
  225. Your meeting had been purely casual – during one of your visits to the front in order to lift the troop’s morale, you saw an officer yell at a wounded soldier that you assumed being a minotaur (this being an unusual sight, but not unique, for many mercenaries toured the world in search of employment).
  226.  
  227. You smiled at the sight, thinking how ridiculous the being looked, trying to exercise with half his body covered in bandages.
  228.  
  229. It was then that you had a flash of genius, and you moved close to the strangely deformed minotaur.
  230.  
  231. To bestow the “honor” of becoming part of your personal entourage upon the soldier was a simple thing, yet (in your mind) it could work wonders for your propaganda – the Empress rewarded valor wherever it came from, unlike her cowardly sister who preached equality among the tribes yet clearly favored the Unicorns.
  232.  
  233. The fact that the soldier turned out to be a grizzled stallion was just icing on the cake – in the end you were but a mare, and some eye candy in your entourage would not hurt.
  234.  
  235. The rest is history as the saying goes, and your attention is drawn toward a particular dream, a nightmare that seems eerily familiar…
  236.  
  237. -----------------------------------------
  238.  
  239. You are still Luna, and something is deeply wrong with this dream, whomever it belongs to.
  240.  
  241. Shadowy beings hurl themselves at other, similarly shaped shadows, as little balls made of lead fly in the air, shattering the shadows they hit. This lasts but a few moments, before the dream changes to reflect a lone shadow lifting his arm, before bringing it down on what appears to be a pony, dispelling it.
  242.  
  243. And yet, as the dream begins to break down, a strange sense of familiarity washes upon you as the shadowy being looks at you (you are sure that it was not looking through you, but directly at you) and kneels down before imaginary wind dispels its form.
  244.  
  245. You open your eyes as if burned due to the splitting headache, and for the first time in a millennia, for some reason, the words of the pledge you magically forced upon the members of your imperial entourage come to mind:
  246.  
  247. “Neither Time nor Space shall break our bond, for you have sworn yourself to me, and Time has no hold upon those I laid claim to…”
  248.  
  249. The thought bothers you, enough to make you get up and start walking toward the Royal Library – you wish to read in order to relax…or maybe to bring up some memories.
  250.  
  251. -----------------------------------------
  252.  
  253. You are Windy Skies, and you are so screwed.
  254.  
  255. That asshole of your boss said it was your fault that damage occurred to the exposition, even though it was clearly not your fault – how could you have prevented what happened??
  256.  
  257. Forget the fact that the magical circuits validated your version of the facts - that a being had somehow appeared in the exposition hall and damaged irreplaceable pieces, just to disappear after breaking a magically reinforced window -, that asshole had decided that someone had to act as scapegoat, that someone being you.
  258.  
  259. And so you find yourself walking down the road that leads back to your small, cramped cloud home outside Canterlot, as the rain that has poured on the city all day begins to let up.
  260.  
  261. Rent was way too high in the capital – forget outright buying a property -, and so you did what many other young pegasi did when they moved to the capital: you built yourself a house made of clouds outside the city limits. Cheap enough since its construction required only some time rather than money, and comfy enough that you could call it “home”.
  262.  
  263. The thought of home makes you sigh once more at just how everything went wrong today; the only saving grace of the day being that it was about to end.
  264.  
  265. Still, you had time to think on your way home (if nothing else to distract yourself from berating your stupidity in not taking an umbrella when the pegasi assigned to the meteo clearly said today it would rain..). If only…if only you could find that “thing” that actually caused the entire commotion, maybe you could save your job and your hide (which wasn’t a certain thing, if your boss decided to press charges and somehow managed to make you pay for the damages).
  266.  
  267. It is this kind of thought that you entertain as you leave the city and begin the trek up the mountain, until you notice something red on the ground, almost washed away by the water; much to your surprise, you spot some bloodstains on the road, leading off the beaten track.
  268.  
  269. ...the trip took less than expected, and the bloodstains ended up leading you to a small hidden alcove.
  270.  
  271. Peeking inside, you notice a form laying on the back of the grotto – a shape resembling a minotaur, if the little you can see is anything to go by.
  272.  
  273. Bad day or not, you consider yourself a good mare – you pay your taxes on time, you try not to bother anyone, and to help others if they seem to be in need. This situation falls squarely in the last category, and so, ruminating on how your day just added yet another weight on your mind, you proceed to approach the minotaur, before gently poking her with your hoof.
  274.  
  275. ...or at least, you attempt to.
  276.  
  277. -----------------------------------------
  278.  
  279. They say that muscle memory is hardier than simple memory. You’d tend to agree, since it took you but a moment, wounded and tired that you are, to catch the intruder – you are a light sleeper, for heavy sleepers did not survive in the Army.
  280.  
  281. A hand closed around its limb, you tackle it to the ground – unarmored and unarmed as you are right now (having removed your armor to apply some ointment before drifting off to sleep), the best thing you can do is to immobilize it.
  282.  
  283. As the cogs in your mind begin to turn and catch up with the situation, you notice that it’s a pegasi mare that you caught.
  284.  
  285. Maybe, just maybe, this situation could turn to your favor. You were always quite good at making ponies talk, after all...
  286.  
  287. ...except this bloody pegasi doesn’t seem to make any sense.
  288.  
  289. You spent the last hour interrogating the poor mare (not that it took much to scare her into submission to tell the truth), and she is making no sense – she is saying that it’s the year 1002 AH (After Heresy), among other things.
  290.  
  291. Now, you were never the sharpest tool in the shed, and yet even you know that this is impossible, for if she is telling the truth (and she kept swearing she didn’t lie to you, even after you threatened her with your hammer), something has gone terribly wrong.
  292.  
  293. Not that you pretend to understand much of magic, but even you know that the ponies know less about it than they like to pretend they do – it’s one of the reasons why mixing “incompatible spells” was forbidden in the Army, for it could have led to collateral effects.
  294.  
  295. ...maybe, just maybe, she could be telling the truth.
  296.  
  297. As your current situation begins to sink in, you begin to feel panic setting in, and so proceed to slap yourself in the face – the pain forces you to focus your thoughts, for panic is the last thing you need right now.
  298.  
  299. You put down the terrified civvie, and pass her your waterskin
  300.  
  301. “Drink” - you say, and she obeys.
  302.  
  303. You need some time to think.
  304.  
  305. You spend some minutes in silence, during which you take stock of your “prisoner” (a big word, for you doubt she could put up any fight..) – a young pegasi mare with a cutely shaped face, if a bit chubby.
  306.  
  307. For her part, the newly-named Windy Skies looks at you with curious eyes, clearly wishing to ask you a thousand questions, yet too fearful to speak up.
  308.  
  309. This won’t do – if what she said is the truth and you have somehow been catapulted to the “present”, you’ll need some friendly face to “introduce” you to this brave, new world.
  310.  
  311. You sigh, trying to release a bit of the tension you were holding in before speaking to the scared pony - “Speak. I can see the gears in your mind turning”
  312.  
  313. -----------------------------------------
  314.  
  315. You are Windy Skies, and you are dumbfounded.
  316.  
  317. This strange minotauress captured you and threatened you before asking questions so obvious (like “what year is it”) that it makes you think she might have bumped its head on a rock.
  318.  
  319. Still…she gave you some water to drink and didn’t hurt you, so she must be reasonable, right?
  320.  
  321. And she gave you permission to ask questions – so..better make this one count!
  322.  
  323. “..what’s your name?”
  324.  
  325. Celestia above kill me now.
  326.  
  327. The minotauress looks at you with a raised eyebrow, before emitting a noise that one could confuse for a laughter
  328.  
  329. “You said you work in a museum, and yet you don’t recognize me?”
  330.  
  331. You take a good, long look at her face.
  332.  
  333. …you really have no clue who is you might be talking to.
  334.  
  335. You shake your head and she lets out a sigh, before pointing to a shield that was hidden from sight until now (or more likely you were too busy trying to not piss yourself in fright to notice it...); a shield that you do recognize..
  336.  
  337. “It was you! You caused all that ruckus at the museum today!”
  338.  
  339. You say pointing your hoof in her direction, temporarily forgetting your situation – it’s all her fault that you lost your job (because let’s be real, you aren’t getting it back at this point..)!
  340.  
  341. You stomp closer as you speak, coming so close you almost bump your nose against hers, as if challenging her to prove you wrong. She doesn’t, and the only thing she does is to push you back with an armored hand (when did she put on her gloves?).
  342.  
  343. -------------------------------------------
  344.  
  345. By the Almighty, this pony seems to either have some mental issue (for she seems to not recognize the situation she is in), or is incredibly confident in herself.
  346.  
  347. Whatever the case, as she continues speaking it seems apparent that she holds some sort of grudge against you – apparently you broke some pieces when you woke up, thus causing her boss to lay the blame on her. While losing one’s job is sad state of affairs, you scoff internally – you have bigger problems at the moment, like the fact that you just realized Celestia is likely still in power, given that the dating system refers to the War as the “Lunar Heresy”.
  348.  
  349. You size up your captive, weighting your options: you could make her “disappear”, and that could in theory buy you enough time to get away…and yet, not only you feel a pang of remorse at the thought (for her only crime is having met you), but you also ask yourself how long you could last on your own. She might not recognize you, and likely many others won’t, but you don’t have any doubt that the bitch…”Her Majesty” (you press down an internal gag at calling Celestia the title you reserved for her sister in the past, but better get used to it you suppose), will be able to recognize you.
  350.  
  351. Moreover…look at the pitiful physical state of this “guard” – one can clearly see the muscle beneath the fat, but those look more like bulky muscles, rather than lean, as if she “bulked up” by exercising rather than live action.
  352.  
  353. …and suddenly everything clicks in your war-scarred mind: you are not at war anymore.
  354.  
  355. This mare’s attitude toward a bigger, physically overpowering foe, the lack of any serious military patrol in the streets of their capital (for that’s where you landed apparently – the “new” capital of Equestria), the fact that perfectly serviceable weapons were exposed in a museum (at least, from the little time you spent looking around there)…the simple fact that this mare has likely not seen battle in a long time, if ever.
  356.  
  357. The War is over. It has been over for a thousand years for Them.
  358.  
  359. This simple thought gives you pause as “something” clicks in your head and the skin around your Empress’ sigil begins to burn. A head-splitting headache comes onto you as a deluge of emotions floods over you.
  360.  
  361. Anger, confusion, regret…loneliness. A loneliness so absolute that it drowns out anything else.
  362.  
  363. You rub your temples, or at least try - the last thing your mind registers is your prisone…Windy Skies coming nearby, looking at you with what you guess pass for worry in her eyes.
  364.  
  365. The darkness embraces you, a darkness all too familiar.
  366.  
  367. -------------------------------------------
  368.  
  369. You are still Windy Skies, and the strange minotauress started rubbing the sides of her head – maybe to relieve pain of some sort?
  370. While you are still upset at her for causing the ruckus at the museum, your natural instinct to help others cannot be denied, and so you move closer with the intent of trying to help – after all, this was the reason you joined the Guard in the first place: you wished to make a difference.
  371.  
  372. Maybe you failed in that regard (otherwise you wouldn’t be working as a museum guard, you think bitterly), but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference on a smaller scale, such as helping your..host?
  373.  
  374. “Whatever” you think, as you take her coat from the corner of the small cavern and unroll it on the ground.
  375.  
  376. Having done this, the rest is a foal’s play – you gently, but firmly, push her to the ground. After all, while you are no doctor, you did ace the first-aid course during your time in the Guard; this won’t qualify you to help with anything serious, but so long as all she’s suffering from is just some headache and a couple scratches (you did notice the slightly pained noises the minotauress did any time she had to stand up..), you guess you could help.
  377.  
  378. Surprisingly, she doesn’t seem to fight you – it is then that you notice she is passed out.
  379.  
  380. Fearing the worst, you quickly check her heartbeat, before moving on with your examination – you did study different species anatomy during the first-aid course, just in case.
  381.  
  382. It is ironic that you find use for your old training here, caring for someone that threatened you a few minutes ago; yet you don’t hold it against her for a simple reason, the same reason why you have been acting in a familiar way around her (as if everything is fine and you both are safe) in order to (try to) push her to let her guard down.
  383.  
  384. PTSD.
  385.  
  386. You might have never suffered from it – thank Celestia -, but it doesn’t take much to recognize some of the symptoms; after all, while the country has been at peace for as long as you can remember, there had been some soldiers that returned from long-term deployment in the Southern Provinces while you were serving.
  387.  
  388. You will never forget how destroyed some of those poor souls seemed, nor will you forget how guarded and “jerky” they seemed – almost a carbon copy of what you’ve seen so far in this strange minotauress.
  389.  
  390. Rest and contact with loved ones helped them heal in relatively little time thanks to the innate magic of the tribes, but you lack those things right now.
  391.  
  392. You sigh, before proceeding with a quick examination of your “patient” – analysis which sadly reveals little that would be medically useful, due in part to your lack of expertise, and in part to the lack of any medical instrument.
  393.  
  394. While you proceed with examining her body, you quickly find out two things about…”her”: that “she” is a “he” (much to your surprise), and that you have no idea what you’re dealing with, for your patient’s body is nothing like that of a normal minotaur, male or female – there are clearly similarities (two arms, two legs, etc), but so many differences that…you need help if you are to treat him properly.
  395. As you remember you live nearby, a groan escapes your lips as you realize sh…he, won’t be able to join you in your cloudhome…and yet you feel somewhat relieved and strangely disappointed (you push down a shiver at the thought of sharing a bed with a colt..Celestia above, it has been too long).
  396.  
  397. Oh well, your neighbor owes you a favor, and he’ll be able to rest in a warm bed while you call…Celestia above, a doctor would be your first call, but your instincts tell you to also call someone from the Guard, ideally an old friend of yours, to sort this out.
  398. It seems luck is on your side, for you know just someone that fits both roles.
  399.  
  400. You smile slightly at the strange turn this day has taken: you might have very well lost your old job, but honestly? Screw that old spinster of your boss – while you enjoyed your job overall, you hated every day you had to spend listening to her droning on about imaginary things you “did wrong” or “not up to this establishment’s standards”.
  401.  
  402. This smells like the beginning of something far more interesting.
  403.  
  404. It is with this thought that you make sure your patient is well-covered, before running out of the alcove and taking flight – you need to fetch a cart or something to transport him, as well as call in some favors.
  405.  
  406. -------------------------------------------
  407.  
  408. You are Princess Luna, and you feel a strange excitement you haven’t feel in a long time.
  409.  
  410. Your sister has been extremely welcoming since your return, considering your…past interactions, but you can’t really bring yourself to spend too much time with her – too many painful memories that are still too raw in your mind. And so you found yourself spending more and more time in the Royal Library, trying to catch up with just how far the world has come in your absence.
  411.  
  412. …it is scary sometimes, to think just how much you have missed out on during your exile, and…it hurts, to lack anyone to share this pain with.
  413.  
  414. Sure, Celestia is always there…but you could never bring yourself to share your pain and loneliness with your sister – you tried to murder her, stars above! How could a murderer saddle her victim with the emotional pain the attempted murder caused her?
  415.  
  416. …and that’s without mentioning the Lunar Court, your only “official duty”.
  417.  
  418. You let out a bitter laughter at the thought of the farce your once glorious court has been reduced to – a couple of absconded guards, a scrawny-looking secretary, and the oh-so-great Princess of the Night, sitting like a useless doll on her throne.
  419.  
  420. What is a ruler without those that she should rule over? Nothing, that’s what.
  421.  
  422. And that’s just what your “Court” is – a farce put up to make your sister happy and nothing more.
  423.  
  424. The ponies have grown used to Celestia’s rule over the paste millennium, and the sudden arrival of a strange, scary mare in Ponyville did nothing to change this in their minds: Celestia ruled, and that this strange mare that she decided to call “sister” decided to hold court meant nothing to them.
  425.  
  426. And who could blame them, when the first thing their “glorious ruler” did was proclaiming the wish to bring Eternal Night upon them?
  427.  
  428. Yes, yes, you did promise an eternal night during your revolt, but you never meant to truly snuff out the Sun (after all, while you could theoretically live off aether, your subjects would need to eat more solid stuff, and plants don’t grow without the Sun), so much as push (force) ponies to switch to a nocturnal lifestyle, while lengthening the duration of the night.
  429.  
  430. Not so this time – had you won against the Element Bearers, in your insanity you had truly meant to snuff out the Sun once and for all.
  431. You shiver at the memory, sighing for the upteempth time.
  432.  
  433. Better not to spend too much time on such thoughts – after all, for the first time in a long while you feel something akin to excitement. You spent some hours in the Royal Library and found a book from the old days, before you…before you tried to lay claim to the entirety of Equestria.
  434.  
  435. Between you and Celestia, you were always the more magically inclined of the two, and it showed during the Revolt – your sister might have beaten you in sheer power, but she could never keep up with your magical finesse.
  436.  
  437. And so you decided to put to rest the nagging thought you had since last night.
  438.  
  439. You sit down in the center of your room and concentrate on the shape of a pentacle, visualizing its appearance as you feel the familiar warmth of magic surround you.
  440.  
  441. It’d normally take you some time to track down the origin of the intrusive thoughts you experienced since you visited that strangely warped dreamscape last night, yet this time the barrier between the physical world and the dreamscape gives way unexpectedly easily.
  442.  
  443. You let out a surprised noise once the spell begins to take root, for while magic acts faster the more elements of sympathy it has to work with, the sheer speed of the aetheric reaction happening in front of your eyes is something else.
  444.  
  445. You concentrate on the strange, shadowy beings (that somehow seemed all too familiar to you), and the spell forces a rendezvous in the dreamscape, obeying your instruction to “bring you to their source”.
  446.  
  447. The familiar tapestry made of stars shatters in a thousand pieces as you gracefully land on the hard ground of this new dream, and you take the time to look around – pitch-black darkness is all that greets you.
  448.  
  449. And yet…something is not right. At the last moment, old instincts awakens and you take a dive to the ground – just in time to avoid a direct blow to the face, a blow that you’re sure would have given you a severe concussion, had it connected in the real world.
  450.  
  451. It takes your body but a moment to instinctively put distance between you and your newly-conjured enemy; it takes even less for you to stop in midair as if struck by lightning, for as you gasp in surprise, you are witness to something you thought you would never see again after your exile.
  452.  
  453. The last Hierarch of the Moon, Anon Y Mous, emerges from the black darkness that surrounds you, as magnificent in his dark armor as you remember him, wielding a vicious-looking war hammer in his right hand and a shield with the Nightmare…no, your sigil etched upon it.
  454.  
  455. You are at a loss for words, and you can feel tears form at the edges of your eyes – why must even your dreams taunt you so?
  456.  
  457. …anger is all you feel as sadness becomes fuel for your emotions, emotions you have not allowed yourself to feel since the Elements forced yourself to return to your old form.
  458.  
  459. The darkness around you feels your emotions and twists into what resembles a semi-destroyed forest under a red moon. Not that you notice this, as anger takes over and you swear to destroy this…this shadow that mocks you by insulting the memory of one of the few people you’d have called a friend in the old days, had you allowed yourself to become close to any of those surrounding you.
  460.  
  461. And so you charge, plate armor magical appearing over your form as you prepare to tear apart the offending memory.
  462.  
  463. …not that the dark knight seem to care for whatever you might have felt anyway, for he accepts your challenge and charges you head on with a speed that belies belief given how heavily armored he is.
  464.  
  465. You two clash in the center of the clearing, and you give as good as you receive – you would never admit it in front of anyone, but if one were to take away your magic, you don’t know who would come out on top of a fight between you two, for you beat him in experience, but he beat you in sheer aggression and violence.
  466.  
  467. After all, you were incredibly picky in choosing members of your retinue.
  468.  
  469. And it shows – as you try to impale the shadow on your horn after kicking his shield in the opposite direction, you understand too late that it was but a feint in order to lure you in.
  470.  
  471. Pain is your reward as the war hammer hits you squarely on the helmet – had your head not been protected, and had this been real life, you might have very well been felled by that blow.
  472.  
  473. You put some distance between you and your enemy, but he’s relentless - as you are pushed backward and hear a war cry that no one has uttered a millennium, you are treated to a sight that you know was the last thing a thousand other mares saw – the Royal Executioner raises his hammer high, ready to strike you down.
  474.  
  475. -------------------------------------------
  476.  
  477. You are Anon Y Mous, and you don’t know whether this is a dream or if this is reality and the meeting with Windy Skies was the dream. Nor do you care, for in front of you is the leader of the Solarite unit you have been tracking for the past week.
  478.  
  479. The sight of your old friend, Starry Skies, fills you with bitterness and anger.
  480.  
  481. You pleaded her to see reason and join you as the squad went over to the Empress’ side, but she replied that she had sworn an oath to Equestria, and as far as she could see, your “Reconquest” was nothing more than a bloody revolt.
  482.  
  483. She bid you farewell as a friend, for the next time you met, it’d be as enemies and only one would return.
  484.  
  485. Fair enough.
  486.  
  487. “Ave Nox Aeterna!”
  488.  
  489. Yelling the war cry of your Order, you bring your hammer down on her head, with the intent of finishing this fight once and for all.
  490. …or at least you try, just for her to quickly push herself back by flapping her wings, and then come charging at you – a foolish tactic, for you beat her in strength and size. And yet Starry surprises you as her bodyweight suddenly increases and she kicks your shield upward, in such a way that it almost hits your helmet.
  491.  
  492. It is only luck that saves you from being skewered by the long, light knifes tied to the sides of her wings (a common tactics to incapacity an opponent, if usually unable to kill them outright), luck and lightning-quick reflexes honed in a decade of war.
  493.  
  494. You let the rotation she imprinted on your left arm carry you in a semi-circle, bringing your other arm -armed with your war hammer- down and hitting her in the flank, sending her flying away.
  495.  
  496. The exchange happens with the speed that characterizes a melee fight between two experts, while carrying the ferociousness typical of many fights of this age of war, where ex-friends are put one against the other.
  497.  
  498. Your old instructor bides her time, carefully observing you, and you do the same.
  499.  
  500. You both have changed over the years – you have grown stronger, reaching the true prime of your life and becoming what once upon a time the Black Baron, Wrangel, would have called “a true warrior” (not that you’d share the same judgement, for you feel less like a man and more akin to a blunt weapon at this point), while your old mentor is well past her prime, but one would have to be blind to not see the sheer grace of her movements, grace that comes only from endless hours spent training.
  501.  
  502. The equilibrium is broken as you both charge toward one another…
  503.  
  504. …and your vision shatters as the cart carrying you takes a particularly abrupt turn, which pushes you back to the land of the living just in time to see the worried face of Windy Skies looking down at you
  505.  
  506. “You are awake! By Celestia, I was worried you would leave us for good you know?”
  507.  
  508. The pegasi speaks fast, before signaling to whomever is drawing the cart to stop and come back to check you out.
  509.  
  510. A small batpony enters your field of vision, and before falling asleep once more, you notice that she seems to have a helmet over her head, resembling the one of the late Lunarites.
  511.  
  512. You can’t make out whatever she is saying, for the darkness of a dreamless sleep claims you.
  513.  
  514. -------------------------------------------
  515.  
  516. The dreamscape shatters and you are ejected back to the real world, finding yourself back in the burnt remains of the pentagram you used as focus for your spell.
  517.  
  518. Nor that you’d care about the pitiful state of your rooms, for you realized something as your spell came undone – shadows of memories
  519. do not speak, nor do they create dreamscapes, for they can only imitate memories.
  520. Which means…he’s alive.
  521.  
  522. You don’t know what miracle allowed this, but the stallion..the man, who you chose to make part of your entourage a thousand years ago, is alive, somewhere out there.
  523.  
  524. And you will find him.
  525.  
  526. ...as time passes, you almost wish death upon the poor book you are reading with just how frustrated you feel.
  527.  
  528. To track down a single being should have been one of the easiest things to do – everypony has a “personal magical signature”, so to speak, and it is a relatively simple task to track down the general location of a particular creature, if one has an idea of how their magical signature “felt” in the aether and the general area they would be located in.
  529.  
  530. Which brings us back to your problem with tracking down your wayward soldier: you had no idea where he could be, and the strange biology of his species made it so that any aetheric signal they could emit would be so dispersed as to be indistinguishable from the background aetheric noise emitted by all plants and/or living beings in the bloody world.
  531.  
  532. That is, unless you saturated him so much with magic that it would be physically impossible for him to disperse any more magic, which would sadly run against your purpose since it would likely lead to severe injury and/or death.
  533.  
  534. As you throw yet another book by the side, you look at the clock above the wall mirror, and for the first time you take notice of just how “late” it is – by your reckoning you spent the past 10 hours on your task, and it shows.
  535.  
  536. Stars above…the bags under your eyes would scare you any other day, but you fight back a yawn and decide to attempt a different strategy – it seems you cannot easily track down your quarry by using a spell that acts exclusively in the physical realm, so…why not dig deeper?
  537.  
  538. You and your…just what will the relationship between you and Anon Y Mous be, if…once, you find him?
  539.  
  540. The thought gives you pause, as it hits you that he’s never met the present “you”, but only the Nightmare.
  541.  
  542. He fought for the so-called “Empress of the Night”, and (judging by his war cry last night) might very well still keep to his old loyalties.
  543.  
  544. Would he even want to see you? Or would he consider you broken, like so many others do behind you back (if for different reasons)?
  545.  
  546. You shake your head and refuse to even entertain the thought, even though a small voice keeps whispering of the possibility in the back of your mind.
  547.  
  548. It takes but a few minutes to set up the pentacle, and even less to find the thread that connects you to his dreamscape – having visited it twice already, it’s easy to find your way back, and plus…an oath binds those that swear it, and a promise owns those who made it, creating a connection that goes deeper than mere words.
  549.  
  550. Whatever his reaction will be to your presence, the simple presence of the instinctual connection created by his oath of loyalty gives you comfort. Even then…you have no idea how things will play out and to be honest the tension is killing you.
  551.  
  552. By the Moon, the last time you felt this tense was in the few moments before your sister hugged you back at the Castle, after the Elements purged the Nightmare from your mind.
  553.  
  554. Except this time there will be no accepting sister on the other end of the dialogue that is about to happen, but one of the few beings who willingly followed you in your mad quest for power.
  555.  
  556. You send a quick message to your sister, informing her that you wish not to be disturbed for you are “conducting a review of your old spells repertoire” (an excuse as good as any other), and then simply cast the spell.
  557.  
  558. The physical world fades away as you enter the dreamscape, your form glittering with starlight as you soar through the endless aethereal space, moving deeper and deeper, in the regions where one could usually find the dreams of ponies having nightmares.
  559.  
  560. Except you are not looking for somepony, but someone.
  561.  
  562. The walls of the dream shatter, giving you free access.
  563.  
  564. This time there are no shadowy beings around you - the sight that welcomes you is that of a burning city, where beings similar to your quarry seem to be fighting using strange weapons that shoot metal balls out of their ends, while emitting loud noises.
  565.  
  566. You travelled extensively in your youth, and this city looks like nothing you have ever seen; this must be his homeland, of which you only heard fragments of stories and little more.
  567.  
  568. And then it hits you – the nightmare builds off pre-existing elements, and this must be based on a memory.
  569.  
  570. You close your eyes and focus on the bond that ties you two, and turn East. Before touching the ground, you get a brilliant idea – you waited a millennia to see a friendly face, why not wait a couple more minutes and observe what this memory is about?
  571.  
  572. As you touch ground you look around, before assuming the shape of what you guess is a foal of his species, taking inspiration from the one who is lying on the side of the road of this devasted memory.
  573.  
  574. And so, you turn to face your quarry.
  575.  
  576. Anon Y Mous.
  577.  
  578. -------------------------------------------
  579.  
  580. You are Anon Y Mous, officer of the White Army, and right now you don’t know whether to sigh in exasperation or say your prayers.
  581.  
  582. “Men of the 44th! The Reds are approaching the bridges, and you know what that means – if they capture them and advance in our rear, we’ll sit out the War in a POW camp or worse. As for me, I’d rather eat lead”
  583.  
  584. The men laugh at General Dragomirov’s jest, but it’s a hollow laughter, filled with the cold certainty that many of them won’t survive the day.
  585.  
  586. Kiev is lost.
  587.  
  588. First it was lost to the damn Huns and their Austrian bootlickers, then the German puppet state of Ukraine fought the Reds over it and couldn’t even defend their so-called “capital”…and now you, poor sods of the 44th Riflemen, have been given the unenviable task of defending this husk of a city against the 12th Army – an impossible task given they outnumber you 3-to-1 and much of the civilian population is on the Reds’ side.
  589.  
  590. You sigh for what could have been the 10th or 100th time, and go back to check your rifle.
  591.  
  592. “Feldwebel* Anon Y Mous”…what a mouthful. (*Imperial Army title akin to Sergeant)
  593.  
  594. A title you once wanted to fill, way back before the war, when things were good.
  595.  
  596. A title that nowadays brings nothing but the duty to lead more of your countrymen to their death in this slaughterhouse that is the Ukraine.
  597.  
  598. It is those grim thoughts that led you to sit down and take a break – the General will order an assault soon enough and any breath you can catch is for the best.
  599.  
  600. “..mister?”
  601.  
  602. You turn to the side and see a young girl looking at you with eyes filled with hope
  603.  
  604. “Go away kid, I got nothing to eat…actually wait, come here”
  605.  
  606. This poor child looks like an orphan. This war might have robbed you of much of your humanity, but you aren’t about to let a poor, starving orphan fall in the hands of the Reds – God only knows what they do with orphans; the dogs are likely to use them as slave labor, or put a bullet in their head to have one less mouth to feed.
  607.  
  608. And so you tell the kid to join you – you’ll bring her out of Kiev if nothing else.
  609.  
  610. The child comes toward you, clearly scared by your appearance – who could blame her? -, so you crouch down to look her in the eyes
  611.  
  612. “Who are you, child? Where are you parents?”
  613.  
  614. She looks unsure before pointing to the General – Dragomirov had the habit of calling the NCOs by name, so it is likely this kid heard him calling you with the others during
  615. headcount.
  616.  
  617. You nod, inviting her to continue, which she does after a moment, as if unsure of what to say
  618.  
  619. “I..don’t know where my parents went. What’s happening, mister?”
  620.  
  621. You look at her sadly, before looking to the smoke rising from the opposing side of the Dnieper
  622.  
  623. “We are leaving the city, that’s what’s happening. We are evacuating South, and I suggest you join us child. I am sorry for your parents, but trust me…it’s better for you to think of yourself first with those wolves at the gate”
  624.  
  625. You point to the opposite side of the river to emphasize your point, and you see her following your finger.
  626.  
  627. The little child nods, and so you turn around to give the command to your men to prepare for a fighting withdrawal – a hard maneuver to accomplish in the best of cases, semi-impossible in the current situation.
  628.  
  629. You are overextended and understrength – it will be a miracle if you all make it out of Kiev alive and everybody knows it.
  630.  
  631. ~ But after all, nothing ever goes right in a nightmare, does it? ~
  632.  
  633. You quickly turn and point your gun at chest height, looking around for whomever has spoken.
  634.  
  635. The child is gone.
  636.  
  637. As you look around, the city itself begins to melt in front of your eyes, and as panic sets in, you see your men melt as if made of clay, some still attempting to speak even as they dissolve.
  638.  
  639. You raise you weapon, just to find it gone as well, until only you are left standing in the darkness.
  640.  
  641. “…I never knew what you went through.”
  642.  
  643. A voice to your right; as you turn toward it, the darkness dissipates and is replaced with a simple room – a room that you recognize now that your memory is coming back and the nightmare disappears in the back of your mind: your old room at the Castle of the Two Sisters, during the final stages of the War.
  644.  
  645. And there stands the mare you fought and bled for – your Empress -, looking at you with sad eyes.
  646.  
  647. You fall to the ground almost instinctually, kneeling in front of Her Majesty, but don’t dare to speak – not so much because you don’t wish to, but mainly because you don’t trust your voice to be steady enough.
  648.  
  649. You felt the connection between you two being severed, and saw the light that shot for the Moon.
  650.  
  651. You felt Her die, for all intents and purposes, so this must be a dream.
  652.  
  653. And yet here she stands…even if you can immediately notice some changes in Her appearance – her coat is a lighter shade of blue, the stars in her mane shine less brightly, as if dimmed, and…physically, she is but a shadow of her former self.
  654.  
  655. Not that it matters to you, for you chose long ago to follow Princess Luna…Nightmare Moon, for her qualities as a leader, unlike many other who obeyed her out of fear.
  656.  
  657. ...except there is no trace of that mare in the eyes of Princess Luna (so similar yet so different from those of the Empress) as she comes close and lifts your chin with her hoof.
  658.  
  659. “Anon Y Mous…Anon. Is..is it really you? Or is this just another sick dream conjured by my own guilt?”
  660.  
  661. You have no idea what she is talking about, and to say that your emotions are all over the place would be an understatement, so you do something that in hindsight you should have done a long time ago in the past.
  662.  
  663. Dream or not, you hug the mare with the desperate strength of someone who found their way back where they belong.
  664.  
  665. -------------------------------------------
  666.  
  667. You are Princess Luna, and any other time you wouldn’t let other see your weakness…
  668.  
  669. …except you truly don’t care what anypony else would think even if they saw you right now, as you return the hug your knight…your friend, gives you.
  670.  
  671. Because you honestly refuse to entertain any notion about what your old self might have thought about “fraternizing with your subordinates” – this stallion…no, this MAN, chose to follow you of his own free will and stayed by your side until the very end, even managing to wound ‘Tia if what she told you is true.
  672.  
  673. So the Nightmare can go back whence she came from, for your mind is racing a thousand miles per second, connecting a scent long forgotten to old memories, feeling, for the first time in a thousand year, at home.
  674.  
  675. ...you don’t know for how long you hugged the human.
  676.  
  677. Time in a dream stretches and bends in accord with the dreamer’s will, and your hug could have lasted a minute or a century.
  678.  
  679. Not that it matters to you, because by the stars, it feels right to be held.
  680.  
  681. You spent your entire life feeling as if you were alone, condemned to be different from other ponies by the circumstances of your birth, and different from your sister, the only one who could have been your peer, due to your radically different personalities.
  682.  
  683. And yet life has the funny habit of often putting the solution to our problems right in front of our very eyes, yet we are just as often unable to see it.
  684.  
  685. In your case, the solution to a broken soul was to make her meet another soul just as broken, so that they may heal one another.
  686.  
  687. You always knew that the human was different from the other members of your retinue – he did not flinch when you raised your voice, nor was he afraid of correcting you, even if it meant risking your anger. At the time you simply chucked it up to his species’ strange customs, together with the uniqueness that a stallion enlisted in the Army.
  688.  
  689. Yet, the more you got to know the human, the more you came to value his capacity to make your problems “go away”, to the point of nominating him “Hierarch of the Moon”, an honor usually only reserved for thestral mares who distinguished themselves in your service.
  690.  
  691. And now you find yourself relying on him once more as he holds you in his arms.
  692.  
  693. You take a long sniff, enjoying the simple smell that comes off him – it might be an illusion created by the dream, but it feels like home to you, giving you a sense of familiarity that you have lacked since the return from your exile.
  694.  
  695. With the exception of your sister, the few ponies you ever considered close enough to be your friends are long gone; your ancestral home lies in ruin, a forgotten shell taken over by the forest; the very memory of your existence all but erased, until recently relegated to a bedtime story used to scare foals into obeying.
  696.  
  697. It’s all gone…except for the man that is currently holding you.
  698.  
  699. You open your eyes and take a good look: a face very different from that of a pony, yet not unpleasant to look at, crowned by a pair of eyes of a grey so deep that it reminds you of the snowstorms of the far North.
  700.  
  701. A pair of eyes that has been the last thing many a soldier has seen, and yet you see nothing but warmth and worry in those eyes.
  702. Worry for you.
  703.  
  704. To have someone care for you is an emotion that warms the heart, and so you do the only thing that seems right in this situation, and nuzzle his cheek while hugging him tighter.
  705.  
  706. Inappropriate for a Princess? Totally. Do you care right now? Not one bit, you think with a smirk.
  707.  
  708. -----------------------------------------
  709.  
  710. You are Anon Y Mous, and right now you don’t know whether this is a dream or something else, but it doesn’t change the shock of seeing the Empress alive and well, if diminished.
  711.  
  712. After what might have been five minutes, you quietly release the mare from the hug and take a good look at her, even if you still keep your arms on her shoulders as if you expected her to dissolve like the nightmare you just left – her mane might be a lighter shade of blue than you remember, but the thing that hits you the most is just how different her eyes are.
  713.  
  714. The Empress was many things to many people – a tyrant, a visionary leader…but never weak.
  715.  
  716. Whenever she spoke, she did so with an aura of authority that pushed others to obey her; she had a fire in her eyes that made others terrified of defying her, but it also lent gravitas to her words – she was arrogant to a fault sometimes, yet her self-confidence made it so that many ponies (and you..) truly believed that a new world was just behind the hill.
  717.  
  718. She was a mare that even in her darkest moment would never give in to despair and that would have chosen death over dishonor.
  719.  
  720. There is no trace of that mare in the Princess’ eyes.
  721.  
  722. What you find is a mix of emotions that are easy to read, thanks to how expressive ponies’ faces are – worry, uncertainty, fear, longing, to name a few.
  723.  
  724. The realization hits you that you have never met this mare before – she is a total stranger to you.
  725.  
  726. And yet…now that she is close to you, you can feel the aethereal bond tying you two - certain proof of her identity.
  727.  
  728. This is truly the mare for which you decided to take on the Princess of the Sun, the moment you felt the connection binding you two being severed and presumed her dead. Even knowing you had no chance of surviving, you had truly meant to avenge her.
  729.  
  730. And now she is here, looking at you with an unsure expression, with a smile that is slowly disappearing as you remain silent.
  731.  
  732. “A..Anon?”
  733.  
  734. She asks meekly, before reaching toward you with a hoof.
  735.  
  736. You squash any doubt by simply wrapping your arms around her thin frame once more and speaking, not before resting your face against her mane made of starlight
  737.  
  738. “…I thought you died.”
  739.  
  740. You say nothing more, for there is nothing more to say.
  741.  
  742. You fall to your knees on the ground of the dreamscape, dragging the Princess down with you – she doesn’t put up any resistance as you two cling to each other like an island of familiarity in a world that seems so cold and alien.
  743.  
  744. -----------------------------------------
  745.  
  746. Time is a funny thing in dreams, and it stretched as demanded, yet even that curious phenomenon has its limits, and sooner or later the dream reached its natural conclusion.
  747.  
  748. Your sister, Celestia, finds you all but passed out in the middle of a burnt out pentacle, exhausted.
  749.  
  750. Maintaining a spell for an entire night is something completely out of reach for normal unicorns (exceptions like your sister’s old student aside), and it’s a tiring task even for you.
  751.  
  752. Still, it’s not the strangest thing she has seen you do over your long life.
  753.  
  754. “…you know what? I don’t even want to know what you were doing, just remember that you owe me one for raising your charge”
  755.  
  756. She says with a smirk, pointing outside the window with her hoof – the moon shines high in the sky.
  757.  
  758. Your royal reply is a pained groan worthy of a true Princess of Equestria, before letting out the tension by cracking your back. You let out a satisfied moan as your spine cracks, and notice your sister looking at your with a strange expression
  759.  
  760. “..what?”
  761.  
  762. She shakes her head before giving you a little, sheepish smile
  763.  
  764. “Nothing. It’s just…it has been so long since I’ve seen you relax even a little bit that it surprised me”
  765.  
  766. This gives you pause, for it strikes a chord within you – you don’t feel the usual tension and even feel like you can afford to let
  767. down your usual “mask” around your sister.
  768.  
  769. By the stars, has it really been that long?
  770.  
  771. You shake your head in a vain effort to wake yourself up before giving your sister a small smile – it’s not much, but apparently is enough for her to relent and (after a quick winged hug) let you be.
  772.  
  773. Good, for you have much to do before you may rest.
  774.  
  775. From what your wayward knight told you, he was being carried up Canterlot Mountain (to think he’d be so close to you, yet you couldn’t feel his presence! It’s almost enough to make you let out a bitter laugh) by what appears to be a retired member of the Guard, a pegasi by the name of “Windy Skies”.
  776.  
  777. You have no recollection of such an individual, but it shouldn’t be too hard to track her down in the physical world – after all, only a very small number of ponies lived up the mountain, outside the city proper.
  778.  
  779. A quick spell to refresh your tired body, and you open the window that looks down on the city – the beautiful capital city that your sister built.
  780.  
  781. And it is truly beautiful. You love how the moonlight shines off the roof of the buildings; and yet the view, which on any other night would have drawn your attention, cannot hold you – you extend your wings, and jump in the void.
  782.  
  783. To fly has always been one of your favorite activities, for nothing can compare to the sheer feeling of freedom that it gives you.
  784.  
  785. The air currents hold you afloat, and a simple tug to the thread connecting you to Anon gives you a faint sense of the direction – straight up North, up the Canterlot Mountain.
  786.  
  787. And so you rush.
  788.  
  789. -----------------------------------------
  790.  
  791. You are Windy Skies, and the strange being you carried up the mountain with the help of Star Dust was not a minotaur at all apparently, but what he (and it was a he all along apparently – another peculiarity that gave you pause since it was so strange to see a stallion “man” bearing weapons) defined as a “human being”.
  792.  
  793. Never heard of them, and apparently your friend hadn’t either.
  794.  
  795. Still, you took charge of his wellbeing by your own free choice, and so it was only right that you saw to it.
  796.  
  797. Your neighbor had not been happy to be woken up this late at night, but honestly? She owed you enough bits to put up with this and much more in your book.
  798.  
  799. It had been a simple matter to convince her to let the strange being rest on her sofa for a few hours after your best friend gave the human a quick check-up and assured your neighbor that you two would keep guard over him so that he may not “eat her” – the way he said it gave you the shivers at first (the nature of which you refuse to contemplate..), having seen his teeth, until you realized he was pulling your leg after he let out a loud laugh.
  800.  
  801. Your embarrassment wasn’t helped by Star noticing your shiver.
  802.  
  803. Bitch better make it up to you for embarrassing you in front of the first male you speak to that doesn’t run away from the “failed guardmare”
  804.  
  805. …sad thoughts, which you entertain as you look at the newly-named “Anon” try (and fail) to fight off the attempts of Star Dust to examine him to “satisfy her curiosity”.
  806.  
  807. The mare thinks she is being smooth by disguising her “attempts” as scientific curiosity, but you know the truth – with how few stallions there are to go around a mare cannot be too picky.
  808.  
  809. If a stallion is pleasant enough to look at and to be around, he’s already golden in way too many mares minds.
  810.  
  811. Whether this says more about what you think of other mares or the state of your society, you don’t know.
  812.  
  813. You are brought out of your thinking by your friend waving a hoof in front of your eyes
  814.  
  815. “…Equus to Windy…do you receive me?”
  816.  
  817. You swat at your friend with a hoof, but she quickly backs off before replying with a smirk
  818.  
  819. “You got to do better than that to catch me Windy…~ if that’s the game you want to play ~”
  820.  
  821. You blush deeply – you always envied her toned body, unlike you who had to work her ass off to get even a tenth of the gains she got after a single day of exercise, but your mom raised no carpet muncher” -, but her attempts to get a rise out of you finally succeed
  822.  
  823. “Celestia, I forgot how much you loved clit Star. Is that why you leave the barracks so rarely? Too many mares going around for you to get your head out of the gutter?”
  824.  
  825. You had never seen a thestral blush – but like they say, there is always a first time for everything.
  826.  
  827. Her reaction is easily foreseen – she charges at you, temporarily forgetting you two had an audience, audience which reminds you of his presence by coughing in his hand.
  828.  
  829. “…while every male loves to watch two lovely ladies get in a catfight, if you two are willing to, I would have…well, some questions”
  830.  
  831. This gives both you and Star pause, causing you two to blush in embarrassment.
  832.  
  833. Celestia above, kill me now.
  834.  
  835. The silence that follows is quite awkward, until the stallion…man, pats the sofa at his side
  836.  
  837. “Are you really comfortable standing? You know I was joking about “eating you all”, right? Humans are omnivores, and plus we don’t eat sentient beings”
  838.  
  839. ..maybe there is still hope to savage your first impression, if he really thinks what bugged you was just his sense of humor.
  840.  
  841. Star looks at you for a second before smirking and moving to sit near the human, making sure to put extra sway in her hips as she does so.
  842.  
  843. Oh no you don’t.
  844.  
  845. This time it’s her turn to be surprised as you sit by his side – your wings giving you a boost in speed, enough to reach the sofa first, and forcing her to sit on the nearby recliner, much to her chagrin.
  846.  
  847. Luckily your antics seem to have gotten a laughter out of Anon, if his chuckling is anything to go by.
  848.  
  849. And so you three spend what seems a lot of time (but in reality is little more than half an hour) getting to know each other, beginning with some basic questions (“What are you? Where are you from?”), passing through some questions that make you wish you were as marely as your friend (“Are you on the market?”) and finishing with some questions that make you truly wonder where the human has lived until now (“Why are you two dressed in different armors?” for example).
  850.  
  851. He is a strange individual after all – his armor, while polished, clearly shows signs of battle; the parts of his arms that are exposed show different scars (another strange thing, given how careful stallions usually are with their appearance); his movements and questions betray a martial upbringing.
  852.  
  853. Now, you are not one of those “old fashioned” (another way to say stuck in another millennium) mares that thinks a stallions ought to be tied to the kitchen when not in the bedroom, maybe branded with his herd’s alpha cutie-mark, but the thought of a male bearing arms gives you pause.
  854.  
  855. While there are some stallions in the Guard, they are usually relegated to support roles – be it because of the importance put on their survival (given how many mares there are compared to the few stallions..), or their general dislike for the military lifestyle, you admit that he is the first male you have seen behaving in a way that is semi-familiar to you
  856.  
  857. …something that honestly makes this male already stand out to you, for good or bad, given that you already have something in common.
  858.  
  859. Things might move quickly in your mind, but when for each stallion there are at least 3 mares, one can never be too quick to claim a spot in a herd.
  860.  
  861. The conversation is pleasant enough, the man regaling you two with tales of far away places that he claims to have visited in his youth (another thing that bugs you is that you can’t truly gauge how old he is, and it’s unpolite to ask a stallions age…), until you hear a loud, repeated knock on the door around 3 AM – just as you were about to call it a day, however pleasant the company of your friend and new acquaintance was.
  862.  
  863. A smile appears on Anon Y Mous face, wide enough to split his face in two, before he rushes toward the door to open it.
  864.  
  865. Nothing could have prepared you for what happens next, for you come face to face with the lesser-known Diarch of Equestria, Princess Luna, who is currently busy hugging the human so tightly that it almost looks like she is trying to squeeze the life out of him.
  866.  
  867. -----------------------------------------
  868.  
  869. He’s alive. He’s alive and he’s here.
  870.  
  871. These are the thoughts that cloud your mind as you hold your friend close.
  872.  
  873. You are Princess Luna, and even though you are somewhat cognizant of the fact that there are two other mares in the room, your entire attention is focused on the human, who is currently hugging you back with just as much strength.
  874.  
  875. “..I feared it might just have been a dream”
  876.  
  877. He whispers before tightening his hug – a clear display of affection that causes you to openly smile.
  878.  
  879. Stars above…it has been so long since anyone has shown you this much affection, this openly, that you don’t care about the fact the two mares in the room are looking at you with bewildered eyes.
  880.  
  881. And yet you take a quick look at them, taking stock of their appearance.
  882.  
  883. One is a relatively chubby mare whose fur color is a light cyan (clearly a member of the Guard by her golden armor), while the other…the other is a thestral, a member of your Lunar Guard.
  884.  
  885. This slightly surprises you given the very small size of the organization when compared with the regular Guard – after all, it has been properly re-established as an independent institution (and not just a subsidiary of the regular Guard) only after the thestrals came out en mass after your return -, but not enough to give you pause.
  886.  
  887. You lengthen the hug far longer than it would be socially acceptable (not that you’d care given you finally found some familiarity), before finally breaking it off, yet both you and Anon refuse to truly let go of each other, keeping a loose hold on the other’s shoulders.
  888.  
  889. He looks you up and down, before smiling and talking
  890.  
  891. “…you are smaller than I remember, your Majesty”
  892.  
  893. You scrunch your nose at this, given you clearly told him to simply call you by your name during the time you spent talking in the dream – you are more than familiar enough with each other to be able to be slightly informal with one another, especially when in private.
  894.  
  895. “Much has changed since the olden days..and yet you haven’t. How is that possible? You never told me”
  896.  
  897. He shakes his head with a sad smile, clearly denoting his ignorance in the matter.
  898.  
  899. You sigh – it bugs you how he simple “reappeared” out of the blue…and yet, the simple fact that he is here with you is what matters.
  900.  
  901. You never had many friends, and the majority of those who followed you in the far past did so due to deference for your mystical prowess. The situation was even worse during your revolt – almost nopony followed you out of personal loyalty; the vast majority of those who did fight for you did so out of either fear or ideological opposition to your sister’s rule.
  902.  
  903. Not so for Anon Y Mous.
  904.  
  905. The last Hierarch of the Moon had followed you out of a mix of personal loyalty and ideological reasons, and yet, in the end he was the only one that stood by you until the end, even attempting to avenge you after your defeat.
  906.  
  907. A show of loyalty that you will never forget, and one that you WILL repay in full, be it the last thing you do.
  908.  
  909. But for now, you have more pressing matters to attend to – namely, where he’ll sleep…and you as well, given you are barely standing, not having slept for what you reckon are almost 2 days.
  910.  
  911. It is then that one of the two mares (Windy Skies, if you had to go off his vague description of her), which had obviously been listening on your conversation, comes forward and kneels in front of you, indicating her wish to speak – wish that you grant with a simple nod of your head
  912.  
  913. “You Highness, it’s an honor. We found this being – Anon Y Mous, he said to be called, and wished to offer him first aid before reporting his presence first thing come the morning”
  914.  
  915. You nod in her direction, before moving your eyes to the thestral mare – her appearance seems slightly familiar, for you made it a point to personally oversee the training of the Lunar Guard at least once a month in order to not get too “rusty” – and she moves forward, standing at attention
  916.  
  917. “Private Star Dust, reporting for duty!”
  918.  
  919. You nod once more, before speaking
  920.  
  921. “Go to the barracks and organize for a squad to meet us here in 15 minutes sharply, private. I will suffer no further danger to come the way of my…friend”
  922.  
  923. At this you turn toward the human and give him a smile, before lightly nuzzling his cheek.
  924.  
  925. A public display of affection like, between un-herded ponies, would have been scandalous in the past, and it is now as well it seems if the slight stare the two guards give you is anything to go by.
  926.  
  927. …so what? You might be the lesser part of the Diarchy in the eyes of many ponies, but you are a Princess of Equestria, and if you wish to show you affection for someone, society will have to accept it.
  928.  
  929. You finally found some familiarity in this strange world, and Tartarus be damned you will not allow anything to endanger it.
  930.  
  931. -----------------------------------------
  932.  
  933. Once you received your orders from the Princess herself, it took you only 2 minutes to reach the barracks of the Lunar Guard; after all you, Private Star Dust, have often been praised as the fasted mare in your squad.
  934.  
  935. To convince your sergeant that the written orders were not counterfeited took the majority of the next 5 minutes, causing you to almost miss the deadline given to you by the Princess.
  936.  
  937. It is a testament to the organizational skill of the Lunar Guard that you all managed to respect said deadline.
  938.  
  939. As you land in a perfect “at attention” position you are witness to a scene that, had it been told by anypony else, you wouldn’t have believed – the notoriously antisocial Princess of the Moon is laughing, likely at a joke told her by the “human”.
  940.  
  941. The scene is heartwarming in a way, and yet…why is it that all your superiors always get first pick of the “new” stallions and you “commoners” are condemned to fight over the leftovers?
  942.  
  943. You sigh internally at the sheer unfairness of the situation, before (forcefully) pulling your mind out of the gutter and actually begin paying attention to what’s going on.
  944.  
  945. Your squadmates look torn between bewilderment at seeing their nominal leader so up close, and curiosity toward the strange being that is standing next to her. Being that is now fully clad in armor, you note - an armor that reminds you of your own in terms of colors and theme.
  946.  
  947. The Princess is apparently talking to “Anon” (as he told you he is called), but as hard as you try to listen on them, you manage to catch only some scraps of conversation:
  948.  
  949. “..so I am “Her Majesty” to you? Even after I explicitly asked you to drop the formal title?”
  950.  
  951. “Well, you Highness, you never specified whether it was a personal request or a direct order”
  952.  
  953. You have a hard time even understanding who is saying what, thanks to the constant murmuring of your squad members – the idiots can’t even understand the seriousness of the situation apparently, given you are the only one standing properly at attention.
  954.  
  955. Stars above, if your old drill sergeant could see you all now, she’d tan your hides…
  956.  
  957. You sigh internally at the lack of discipline. While it is understandable that the majority of the Lunar Guards would lack in experience, having joined in the past two years, there is at least another veteran in your squad who, like you, had been transferred from the Royal Guard.
  958.  
  959. You look for her and find her chatting in a low tone of voice with her buddy – it truly seems you are the only one with any common sense in this unit...
  960.  
  961. While caught in your thoughts, you do manage to catch the ending of the discussion between Princess Luna and the human:
  962.  
  963. “…well then, my Hierarch, since you seem so confident in your abilities, show us how an officer commands her troops and lead us safe back to the castle”
  964.  
  965. She says with a smile, to which the human replies with a salute that you have seen only in the history books, bringing his hoof (?) to his chest, before extending it toward his apparent superior.
  966.  
  967. He then turns toward your squad and speaks up:
  968.  
  969. “Soldiers of the Lunar Guard! Her Majesty has given us the task to accompany her back to the Royal Castle and we must ensure her safety at all cost!”
  970.  
  971. …by the Moon, what happened to the calm stallion you were talking to less than an hour ago? It’s almost as if somepony possessed him and you were back at camp...
  972.  
  973. “I have been appointed your leader for this mission - let nothing stand between you and your objective, understood?”
  974.  
  975. At this point you are sure you heard a small snicker from one of the newer members of your squad – you will never know whether it was due to sheer stupidity or because of the objective absurdity of a stallion leading mares.
  976.  
  977. …apparently you were not the only that heard it, for Anon Y Mous picks up the mare in question by the front of her armor as if she weighted little to nothing, before letting her fall to the ground and simply pointing toward the barracks.
  978.  
  979. The meaning would be clear to anypony – “You are out”.
  980.  
  981. You internally smile, finally seeing some semblance of discipline descend on your unit as the rest of its members seem to understand the seriousness of the situation (the idiots…). And yet…you miss a member because of the little stunt Anon pulled.
  982.  
  983. That would be a problem, if the newly-named “Hierarch” didn’t simply turn around and point toward the form of your best friend, Windy Skies, who was in the process of trying to tie on her helmet.
  984.  
  985. Poor darling – she looks around like a fish out of water as everypony’s attention focuses on her.
  986.  
  987. “Guardsmare Windy Skies, consider yourself enlisted in the mission to ensure Her Majesty’s safety until we reach the Royal Castle.”
  988.  
  989. Windy looks around before pointing a hoof at herself, as if unsure of what to say, before simply giving a little nod and taking her place by your side in the formation.
  990.  
  991. Apparently satisfied with the result of his actions, the human picks up his shield and his weapon – a war hammer -, before taking point at the head of the small pentagon surrounding Princess Luna, who seems all too trilled and willing to play along.
  992.  
  993. “Soldiers! Forward!”
  994.  
  995. -----------------------------------------
  996.  
  997. You are Anon Y Mous, Hierarch of the Moon and newly christened leader of this unit, at least for the duration of your “mission”.
  998.  
  999. What began as a joke between you and the Princess has evolved into an opportunity to introduce yourself to the “new” Lunar Guard, the apparent heir of the old Lunarite armies. And what better officer for the heirs of the old Imperial Army than one of the last commanders of their predecessors?
  1000.  
  1001. This was the apparent line of thought that the Princess was following, if you had guessed her intentions.
  1002.  
  1003. Hell, even if you were just plain wrong it felt good to be back on familiar ground, leading others.
  1004.  
  1005. …if only you could have better soldiers to command.
  1006.  
  1007. You let out a small sigh as you turn away from your unit and take point – only the thestral known as Star Dust had the common sense to properly stand at attention in front of a superior officer apparently.
  1008.  
  1009. Jesus Christ, had it been recruits of your old Order, you would have expelled them on the spot for their incompetence. But one has to deal with the cards life gives him as the old saying goes, and so you recruited the sullen-looking Windy Skies as replacement for that idiot you sent back to the barracks.
  1010.  
  1011. It might not mean much, but at least you know for a fact that she has some basic training and a good head on her shoulder by having observed her since your meeting in the cave the past afternoon.
  1012.  
  1013. Not that you really expect any trouble with on this joke of a mission, but one can never be too sure, especially when you’re trying to prove to your old liege that you haven’t gone “rusty” (as if you could go rusty in 24 hours..).
  1014.  
  1015. Dismissing these wayward thoughts, you focus on a single purpose – to ensure nothing befalls the Princess.
  1016.  
  1017. “Soldiers! Forward!”
  1018.  
  1019. A simple command and the unit marches forward with you in front and the rest of the guardmares distributed in a loose pentagon – a basic formation when one needed to ensure protection from every potential angle of attack.
  1020.  
  1021. You take a quick glance behind you and notice approvingly that Star Dust and Windy Skies have their weapons at the ready – you might be in what is objectively the safest location of current Equestria, but their officer ordered them to place the utmost importance on their mission, and so they have obeyed like good soldiers.
  1022.  
  1023. …unlike the rest of their squadmates.
  1024.  
  1025. You grimace behind your helmet – the two thestral mares that should close the pentagon and cover your back seem more caught up in checking out the Princess, rather than being ready to defend her.
  1026.  
  1027. This won’t do.
  1028.  
  1029. You raise your closed fist in imitation of the Equestrian symbol for “stop” (usually performed with a hoof), before moving your hand left and right, signaling Star Dust and Windy Skies to take up front position in your stead.
  1030.  
  1031. Much to your surprise and pleasure they obey your command without hesitation, looking right and left, trusting one another to cover their back – excellent teamwork in your book.
  1032.  
  1033. It is with a hard expression that you move to the back of the formation while thinking what to do with the guardmares – had this been a true mission, you would have preferred to retreat in order to replace them. As things stand, you cannot afford to do that and so you will have to make do with what you have.
  1034.  
  1035. The two mares have at least the decency of looking ashamed as you order them to take over the positions at the two middle points of the formation – the situation causes the pentagon to be weaker in the middle, but you consider the risk worth it so that both the back and the front may be reinforced.
  1036.  
  1037. Not the best elements you ever had to work with, and yet…maybe things will turn out well. Or at least that’s what you think as you look at the two mares on the front of the formation, weapons ready as ordered.
  1038.  
  1039. You clasp your hands, signaling the soldiers to begin moving forward once more.
  1040.  
  1041. You advance through the streets of the capital in a speedy manner, encountering only some ponies who decided to stay up late – ponies who quickly vacate the street as they see a group of guardsmares coming forth, with your imposing form in the background.
  1042. Everything is going well – almost too well in fact.
  1043.  
  1044. Old instincts flare up as you come closer to the Castle, for while you rationally know that “this” Celestia in not the same “old” Celestia you met, you cannot shake the sensation that you two will resume the duel that was interrupted by your disappearance.
  1045.  
  1046. For her, it might have been a millennia, but for you? Less than a day has passed.
  1047.  
  1048. -----------------------------------------
  1049.  
  1050. You are Windy Skies, ex-soldier of the Royal Guard and…temporary member of the Lunar Guard?
  1051.  
  1052. By the Sun, just what are you doing here, Windy?
  1053.  
  1054. You got a job to go back to in a few hours and here you are playing soldier…that’s of course if your old boss will accept you back and if you can stomach the thought of going back to work for that ass.
  1055.  
  1056. Matter that is not made any easier by how easy it was to fall back in your old work rhythm – you were Star’s old squadmate before your discharge, and it feels right to be back working side by side with her.
  1057.  
  1058. Surprisingly, even Anon Y Mous seems to know what he’s doing, if his handling of the situation is anything to go by – who will ever believe you if you told them a stallion of all things would be able to lead a mission, even one as simple as leading a Princess through a deserted capital full of ponies that love (or at least respect) her?
  1059.  
  1060. Ok, when one puts it that way it doesn’t seem that impressive. But still, the stallion is doing a decent job, come on!
  1061.  
  1062. You crack a small smile at the familiar situation – military life was very dull on average with the nation not having been seen war for the vast majority of the past thousand years, and so VIP escort missions were the most common source of excitement many soldiers got to experience during their service -, having participated in many missions similar to this in the past.
  1063.  
  1064. That you got to be on another one of such missions with your old friend, and that you should be escorting a Princess of all ponies, brings a smile on your face – had you still been a soldier, this might have brought you a small mention just because of the VIP’s identity.
  1065.  
  1066. …except you are not a soldier anymore after they downsized the Royal Guard in order the enable the mass-enlistment of thestrals in the newly-formed Lunar Guard.
  1067.  
  1068. An idiotic policy if you said so, but well…nopony cared particularly about a Private’s personal opinion, and apparently “there was no need for so many veterans in peacetime”.
  1069.  
  1070. You sigh and focus once more your thoughts on your temporary leader – Anon Y Mous.
  1071.  
  1072. There is something oddly familiar in his form, now that you have seen him fully armed, as if you remember him from somewhere else (or someone dressed similarly), but where? Plus, you have never heard the term “human” before, so how could he be familiar?
  1073.  
  1074. Still, the Princess called him “Hierarch” if you are not mistaken – an ancient title that (if you remember your lessons correctly) was given to the members of a warrior order instituted in ancient times as a mean to reward particularly capable warriors and officers.
  1075.  
  1076. Strange that she would use it to refer to someone, but one of the few things that are well known about Princess Luna is that she tends to fall back on her knowledge of the “olden days” from time to time, so it might very well be a simple reference to her old…self?
  1077.  
  1078. You never understood the relationship between Princess Luna and Nightmare Moon, but honestly? That’s above your pay grade.
  1079.  
  1080. All that matters right now is to complete the mission, in order to…to get back to your normal daily life.
  1081.  
  1082. The thought puts you in a very depressed mood, but you still move on, like a true soldier of the Crowns of Equestria.
  1083.  
  1084. -----------------------------------------
  1085.  
  1086. You are Anon Y Mous, and to say you are not nervous would be an outright lie.
  1087.  
  1088. The Castle looms large in front of your small team as you approach its gates, and you are presented with the problem of securing entrance– after all you doubt that the old codes your side of the civil war extracted from prisoners would still be in use a thousand years later.
  1089.  
  1090. I mean…some things are apparently the same as back then, such as the basic structure of the squad (4 guards and their leader) and the basic non-verbal communication system, but this doesn’t mean much.
  1091.  
  1092. You test your theory by hitting your shield once – a sound signaling your unit to stop -, before moving forward, the mares you chastised moving backward so as to cover the back.
  1093.  
  1094. As you pass by Star Dust, you place a hand on her shoulder, causing the mare to look up at you with a questioning expression.
  1095.  
  1096. “The code”
  1097.  
  1098. A simple nod is her response before taking flight and knocking on the door in a specific pattern (different from the ones you remember – you made the right call) as you and Windy cover her.
  1099.  
  1100. It is only when the twin doors begin opening up that you feel some of the tension leave your shoulders.
  1101.  
  1102. The spectacle you witness once you enter the outer ward of the castle in quite different from what you expected: the old Castle of the Two Sisters was built as a military headquarter first, and its residential role was but a secondary aspect of it.
  1103.  
  1104. Not so Canterlot Castle, which was apparently built to function primarily as a center of governance and royal residence; tall, slender towers jut out of the central core of the castle, which lies on the edge of the plateau upon which the city of Cantelot is built.
  1105.  
  1106. Beautiful gardens fill the outer wards of the castle, even as you can see small barracks for the palace guards off by the side.
  1107.  
  1108. A far cry from the spartan structure you used to call home.
  1109.  
  1110. Still…your mission is not yet complete.
  1111.  
  1112. You signal your unit to move forward as you take point once again, trusting that your earlier scolding of the two mares at the back of the formation will have sufficed.
  1113.  
  1114. Nobody stops you – not that there are many ponies around the castle this late in the night to begin with, but nobody dares stopping you once they see just who it is that you are escorting.
  1115.  
  1116. The most they do is stare at your unfamiliar presence, and honestly who can blame them? You would call their training into question if they had not taken immediate notice of your heavily armored form.
  1117.  
  1118. Doors open one after the other as you move deeper and deeper into the castle as Princess Luna gives you directions. This continues until you reach a pair of doors so magnificent that even someone like you, jaded to the point of no return, can do nothing but stop and admire their beauty.
  1119.  
  1120. And they are indeed beautiful – the two sides are respectively decorated with solar and lunar motifs that meet at the center of the door, forming what you could only describe as a beautiful mosaic that represents the (supposed) equilibrium between the two Diarchs of Equestria. A beautiful work of art that seems almost out of place when one realizes that the ponies working in the castle will have likely seen it so many times that to them it’s just “another door” to be opened.
  1121.  
  1122. And yet the presence of such heavy decoration can only mean one thing – the throne room likely lies behind these doors.
  1123. You stop and gather your breath for the coming confrontation with the Princess of the Sun…just for your liege to step forward and place a hoof on your arm, giving you a small smile as if to say that everything is going to be alright.
  1124.  
  1125. While you appreciate her small gesture, it doesn’t do much to relieve how you feel. Having said that, nothing good will come from just waiting around, and so you step forward, pushing the twin doors open with a mighty push.
  1126.  
  1127. -----------------------------------------
  1128.  
  1129. Had this happened during day court, the incoming procession would have caused an incredible ruckus as a symbol not witnessed in a thousand years sits on proud display upon the shield of a knight.
  1130.  
  1131. A tall, armor-clad knight leading a mish-mash unit made up of 3 Lunar guards and an out-of-place looking Royal Guard; a mish-mash unit with the lesser-known half of the Equestria Diarchy at its center.
  1132.  
  1133. As it stands the throne room is eerily empty (like most nights when the Princess of the Moon doesn’t hold court), with one single exception – the throne of the Princess of the Sun, usually empty at this time of night, is currently occupied.
  1134.  
  1135. To see this man step out of the mists of time is enough to shock you out of your musings – your sister Luna has been behaving strangely the past couple of days, and so you wished to talk to her once she had returned from her night excursion.
  1136.  
  1137. That will have to wait for now, for the sight of the man is one that brings back memories of earlier, darker times – times you spent a thousand years regretting.
  1138.  
  1139. It seems that you might have found the cause for her earlier behavior, you think as the last veteran of the Lunar Revolt steps forward, shield with the sigil of his “Empress” held at chest height with pride.
  1140.  
  1141. And it seems he recognizes you as well if his grip on the war hammer tightening is anything to go by – a weapon you are all too familiar with. You have lived for a truly long time, and have been wounded many times, but the particular pain inflicted by a hammer strike to the head is not something anypony can easily forget nor recover from.
  1142.  
  1143. The last Hierarch of the Moon stands tall in front of the Princess of the Sun, before kneeling in front of you in a mechanical fashion, bowing his head.
  1144.  
  1145. The entire situation seems surreal – to see this relic of another age stand in front of you…to see him kneel in front of you of all ponies, makes this feel like a dream.
  1146.  
  1147. It is then that you finally notice your sister as she enters your field of vision and places a hoof on the shoulder of the kneeling knight, giving both him and you a reassuring (in uncertain) smile.
  1148.  
  1149. The knight lifts his helmet, and a pair of grey eyes look upon your form.
  1150.  
  1151. “Ave, oh Suzerain of the Sun”
  1152.  
  1153. A title you haven’t heard in centuries.
  1154.  
  1155. A title that you used in times gone by to emphasize your station, when your youthful arrogance demanded that. Still…if he wishes to play this game, you can play along, use this time to move on from your shock and formulate some semblance of a plan on how to deal with him.
  1156.  
  1157. You nod, before answering his salute in the traditional form, rather than the familiar way you usually speak to your ponies.
  1158.  
  1159. “Welcome back from your mission, knight of the Order. What tidings do you bring?”
  1160.  
  1161. “The mission to escort Her Royal Highness, the Diarch of the Moon, has been a success. I stand ready to execute the will of the Diarch”
  1162.  
  1163. The traditional words spoken, all that is left is for you to give your command.
  1164.  
  1165. In times gone by, before the war with the Nightmare, a “Hierarch” would have sworn fealty to both you and your sister – it is only with the advent of the war that this old tradition died out, for you saw no point in prolonging it. The time of heroes had come to an end when sister struck sister in a pointless, bloody war.
  1166.  
  1167. Hence your hesitance to give a command, any command, to this relic of an earlier age.
  1168.  
  1169. You don’t hate the man. He did what he had to do, and so did you.
  1170.  
  1171. Your sister had to be exiled, and he had to defend the mare he was sworn to defend.
  1172.  
  1173. Still…to see him stand before you gives you pause. Your normally well-laid out plans, your centuries of experience…nothing could have prepared you for this kind of situation.
  1174.  
  1175. The man looks at you with a cold, vacant stare – one that you were all too familiar with, for you had seen it many times on the face of the veterans of the Revolt. It took generations, decades, to finally put back together the broken pieces of your homeland. It took even longer to re-integrate the thestrals in mainstream Equestrian society.
  1176.  
  1177. To see a ghost of your past mistakes is not something you expected.
  1178.  
  1179. And yet, you got to play your part – you are the appointed protectors of your little ponies, and your first priority is their safety – you might be able to properly talk with him later on, but for now you need to make sure he is not a threat.
  1180.  
  1181. “I have no command for you, Hierach, save a question: who do you serve?”
  1182.  
  1183. His eyes narrow and his jaw tightens – a sign that to you it tells he has likely not let of go of his anger toward you. You can deal with anger and resentment – to be despised by others is nothing you haven’t dealt with in your millennia-long life. What matters to you is his answer, for you know that even in her corrupted from your sister placed heavy emphasis on the concept of honor. She would have never chosen a champion that did not possess said quality.
  1184.  
  1185. “…I serve the land of Equestria and its inhabitants.”
  1186.  
  1187. You lived long enough to recognize the difference between serving Equestia and serving its rulers: what he’s saying is that he has not let go of his personal loyalties, but neither has reneged upon his oath to protect the nation and its inhabitants.
  1188.  
  1189. In other words, this is purely a problem between you two.
  1190.  
  1191. You nod to yourself - you can work with this.
  1192.  
  1193. Way too many of the beings that threatened your nation in the past were drunk on power, or plainly insane. You can’t work with insanity, but you can work with anger.
  1194.  
  1195. -----------------------------------------
  1196.  
  1197. As you look upon the face of the Princess of the Sun, you feel mixed emotions.
  1198.  
  1199. On one hand this is the mare you spent a decade fighting against – every instinct in your body tells you to strike now, as she is distracted. Your hearth and mind on the other hand tell you something else – the war is over soldier, and this mare is nothing like the one you fought a thousand years ago.
  1200.  
  1201. Her gaze is soft and motherly as she looks upon the guardmares the accompanied you; long gone is the fire in her eyes, replaced with worry for others.
  1202.  
  1203. She looks less like the Suzerain of the Sun, and more like someone that has lived too long, cumulating too many regrets.
  1204.  
  1205. Nothing shocks you more than seeing the old enemy of your liege so changed…and it must show on your face, for she looks at you as if asking a silent question, one that you are too happy to respond to.
  1206.  
  1207. “You have changed”
  1208.  
  1209. Nothing else needs to be said. Others might not understand the undertones of what is being said, but you are sure that the two Princesses understand, for Celestia looks at her sister with a sad expression before turning toward you
  1210.  
  1211. “…time affects us all. Except you, it seems”
  1212.  
  1213. She lets out what could be mistaken for a chuckle, but is more akin to a bitter laugh at her own expenses
  1214.  
  1215. “But to answer your question…yes, I lived long enough to regret almost every one of my past actions. And what about you – have you had enough of warfare? Somepony once told me that we ought to make swords into ploughshares. Do you agree with them?”
  1216.  
  1217. And there it is. The key question that will likely define your place in this “new” Equestria and your relationship with Princess Celestia.
  1218.  
  1219. Are you ready to give peace a shot, after spending 2 decades at war?
  1220.  
  1221. You remain silent for a long, long time after Celestia made her request.
  1222.  
  1223. The problem is that what to her might be a simple burial of the metaphorical hatched, to you would mean letting go of something much greater – the need to fight, the need to constantly move forward in order to not be swallowed up as destiny catches up with you.
  1224.  
  1225. You were one of the bright-eyed fools that believed the “War to End all Wars” would be a simple affair.
  1226.  
  1227. You fought the vile Huns at Stallupönen and Gumbinnen in East Prussia, just to be one of the few survivors who escaped the Disaster at Tannenberg. You then spent the next three years getting beaten back as the bloody Germans advanced toward the heart of the Rodina…and yet defeating your homeland on the battlefield was not enough for them.
  1228.  
  1229. They helped the Bolsheviks return to the Empire, and the rest is history.
  1230.  
  1231. You were 27 when life finally caught up with you in the mountains of the Crimea.
  1232.  
  1233. You were approaching 39 when the siege of the Castle of the Two Sisters ended.
  1234.  
  1235. You have known more years of war than years of peace.
  1236.  
  1237. To let go of the “need” to fight would mean letting go of something that has come to define who you are – you are a soldier that has given himself over to the cause first and foremost, and everything else comes second to this simple fact.
  1238.  
  1239. Little is left of that bright-eyed fool who left home on a sunny day of June to enlist in the General Staff Academy at 18.
  1240.  
  1241. You don’t speak nor move as the ponies present in the room await your response with bated breath, everyone understanding the importance of the moment, if not its meaning.
  1242.  
  1243. It is then that the absurdity of the current situation begins to dawn on you.
  1244.  
  1245. What would your babushka say if she could see you now? Would she even recognize her eldest grandson?
  1246.  
  1247. What about your ma? Would she run away from your blood-soaked form, or would she cry at the return of her son?
  1248.  
  1249. Your pa bid you farewell when you left, looking at you not just as his son but as a fellow man, with unbridled pride shining in his grey eyes. What would he say to you?
  1250.  
  1251. Would he be proud of a son who kept to his convictions until the very end, or would he put his hand on your shoulder, that hand that seemed so huge when you were but a child, and tell you that it is finally time to rest?
  1252.  
  1253. You don’t know the answers to these questions. You doubt you will ever know them.
  1254.  
  1255. As something threatens to break inside of you, you bite your lip hard enough to draw blood - the pain helps to focus.
  1256.  
  1257. “Permission to speak freely, your…Highness?”
  1258.  
  1259. By the Almighty, to even address her with that title…
  1260.  
  1261. Celestia looks surprised at your tone of voice before nodding. As she looks at your still form, she notices your gaze lingering on the few guards located around the hall – whether she understood your silent plea or not, she takes another long, hard look at your armored form, seemingly taking her time to decide whether to grant your request or not.
  1262.  
  1263. She then lifts her right wing.
  1264.  
  1265. The hall empties as the Royal Guards obey their commander, followed by the few Lunar Guards as your liege takes the hint from her older sister and gives the same order.
  1266.  
  1267. Soon enough, the only ones left in the throne room are you, Princess Luna…and Celestia.
  1268.  
  1269. You take your helmet off the ground and look her straight in the eyes as you stand – not as a subject looking up to his monarch, but as a veteran looking a peer in the eyes.
  1270.  
  1271. Your face betrays little of the gargantuan internal conflict that is rocking your inner world – your emotions are a mix of pure anger, instincts to strike the enemy standing in front of you…and tiredness.
  1272.  
  1273. You never noticed just how tired you were until now – a small part of your mind has apparently decided to interpret the enemy’s request of peace as a sign of surrender, and as your mind finally catches up with your body, it is only years of draconian discipline mixed with the adrenaline coursing through your veins that keep you standing at attention.
  1274.  
  1275. You close your eyes and focus on your breathing, trying to calm yourself enough to be able to respond to Celestia…to the Princess.
  1276. The thought does not truly compute in your mind.
  1277.  
  1278. Maybe she felt your emotions through the connection that ties you two together; maybe she simply learned how to read you over the years. What matters is that Luna comes forward to stay by your side, before resting the tip of her wing on your arm, drawing your attention her worried face.
  1279.  
  1280. No words are spoken, for no words need to be spoken between you two – of all the ponies you have met so far in Equestria, she is the only one that has seen enough of war and the suffering it brings to share your mentality and maybe…just maybe, understand what is going through your mind.
  1281.  
  1282. You are caught between two irresistible forces – the need to keep on moving forward in accordance with your instincts, and the need to rest your weary body and mind.
  1283.  
  1284. You need a way out, temporary as it might be.
  1285.  
  1286. And so it came to be that you put back on your helmet, turned toward Luna and stood at attention, bringing your closed fist to your chest before pushing it outward, perpendicular to your form.
  1287.  
  1288. The words of your oath come so natural to you that one might have thought you had just read them:
  1289.  
  1290. “I swear to be loyal to the land of Equestria, to protect its people and to uphold its laws. I swear loyalty to the Empre…to the Princess of the Moon, the Diarch of the Night. May the Moon and the Stars be my witnesses as I take this oath of my own free will. May I be undone if I betray it”
  1291.  
  1292. As you conclude your impromptu speech, you can clearly see a multitude of expressions appear and disappear just as quickly on Princess Luna’s face – anxiety, surprise, shame, worry, joy.
  1293.  
  1294. You are in no condition to give Celestia the answer she seeks; not without a long time of self-reflection.
  1295.  
  1296. What you can give is a complete reaffirmation of your loyalties to her younger sister and to remit your decision to her.
  1297.  
  1298. You did this because in the ocean of your raging emotions there is one thing that stands clear and gives you stability: the connection between you and the Princess of the Night has become stronger as you spoke the ancient words of the oath that bound you two together, and as she can feel how you feel so can you feel some faint expression of her own emotions.
  1299.  
  1300. And she felt incredible worry for you but a moment ago, before feeling doubt, joy and elation as you proclaimed the same oath you took in front of her a millennia ago.
  1301.  
  1302. Her reaction is exactly what made it so that your first reaction to the situation was to trust he mare: the simple knowledge that you are not alone gives you the stability you so need right now.
  1303.  
  1304. Celestia will have her answer, but for now…this will have to suffice.
  1305.  
  1306. -----------------------------------------
  1307.  
  1308. As you look upon your knight, you can’t feel but as if you don’t deserve this.
  1309.  
  1310. After all, your sister can say whatever she wants about the Nightmare being “something else”, but you know the truth – The Nightmare is a part of who you are, Princess Luna, just as much as your mane or the stars that flutter in it.
  1311.  
  1312. You lived a long, troubled life.
  1313.  
  1314. Starting from the pre-unification era, and passing through the times that followed the unification of the land, you have done many things that, while necessary, others would find disdainful and too “out of character” with the modern image Equestria has of its rulers.
  1315.  
  1316. You are not a bad pony…or so you like to think; you only did what was necessary to ensure the stability of the newly-founded nation and its future.
  1317.  
  1318. The end justifies the means. That has been your guiding philosophy for longer than you dare to think about.
  1319.  
  1320. And look where it brought you – exiled to the Moon, the country you sought to protect reduced to a smoldering ruin that your sister had to rebuild using nothing but willpower and patience.
  1321.  
  1322. So maybe you do deserve your loneliness, for it’s a small price for all the suffering you brought others so long ago, whether your actions were justified or not.
  1323.  
  1324. Another consequence of your philosophy is that you were never close with many ponies, save your sister – in modern times the normal citizen of Equestria see you more akin to a goddess than a fellow pony, while in ancient times they sought you more out of fear and deference to your mystical prowess than anything else.
  1325.  
  1326. You were jealous of your sister, not understanding that your subjects loved her because she made an effort to be approachable – something you never bothered with in the first place, thinking their admiration and love was something you were entitled to.
  1327.  
  1328. You never understood that the more you showed how powerful you were, trying to cater to their needs, the more they came to fear you.
  1329.  
  1330. They were grateful of course, but all they knew of you was the mystical power you came to be known for.
  1331.  
  1332. The Princess of the Night, able to sweep away her enemies with but a thought.
  1333.  
  1334. Not so your sister, who took time out of her day to be seen among the general populace, constantly trying to build some form of familiarity and connection.
  1335.  
  1336. You felt entitled to their affection, not understanding that it was something you had to earn and couldn’t be forced.
  1337.  
  1338. Hence why you are currently standing as if frozen in place with a small tear of happiness in your eye as the first reaction of this man out of time is to look at you for guidance, trusting you utterly to help him in this difficult situation.
  1339.  
  1340. For the first time in a millennia, you truly feel needed.
  1341.  
  1342. Celestia might try to be there for you, but there will always be an unspoken barrier between you two because of your own actions.
  1343. Not so with Anon.
  1344.  
  1345. The connection between you two is reinvigorated as he speaks the original words of the oath, renewing the magic binding him to you…and this time, doing so of his own free will, you lacking any power to compel him to take the oath, unlike in the far past.
  1346.  
  1347. You smile as a single tear falls, before looking at your sister with more confidence that you have felt since your return.
  1348.  
  1349. -----------------------------------------
  1350.  
  1351. “…by the power invested in me as a Princess of Equestria, I accept you in my service, Anon Y Mous. May the Moon and the Stars always shine upon you.”
  1352.  
  1353. It is with some surprise that you witnessed the human take such a binding oath of his own free will, and it is even more surprising that your younger sister would accept it on the spot – such things were momentous occasions in the paste, and have become far rarer these days.
  1354.  
  1355. It is then that you notice the expression on Luna’s face – happiness, of a kind you have not seen in years.
  1356.  
  1357. You nod to yourself as you look upon the armor-clad form of the human – he might not have given you an answer…but this is good enough for you.
  1358.  
  1359. He might consider you an enemy, or simply be angry at you even after all this time – you can accept this, for if you were never able to forgive yourself for exiling your sister, how can you expect somepony else, especially somepony so close to her, to forgive you?
  1360.  
  1361. He swore to protect your little ponies, and that’s enough for you.
  1362.  
  1363. And yet, as you look upon your sister interacting with her newly-returned knight, you cannot stop yourself from feeling somewhat jealous of the fact the stallion…the man, didn’t even hesitate for a moment before trusting her.
  1364.  
  1365. Your younger sister looks in your direction as if looking for something in your posture before speaking once more:
  1366.  
  1367. “…given you proclaimed a general amnesty for everypony willing to surrender herself to Equestria as the Lunar armies collapsed, I’d say this case falls under the provisions of the Act, wouldn’t you agree sister?”
  1368.  
  1369. You raise an eyebrow at this, for you hadn’t even considered that the knight could still, in a technical sense, be considered an enemy of Equestria.
  1370.  
  1371. …a look at him and one at your sister is enough to tell you everything there is to know: what could a single stallion, however unique as he may be, do on his own? And moreover…he might never trust you, but he clearly trusted Luna a great deal, and maybe even more important, made her happy with his presence.
  1372.  
  1373. So you simply nod your assent, before conjuring a single piece of paper that you thought you’d have never had the chance to deliver – his official pardon, that you had prepared before the final battle of the War.
  1374.  
  1375. You are not a good mare, you know that all too well. And yet, you have always tried to lessen the suffering of others when possible, in whichever way you could.
  1376.  
  1377. Such as preparing pardons for the ponies that fought for your sister, so as to push as many of them as possible to surrender without throwing away their lives, thus reducing the risk of more foals growing up as orphans, or stallions having to cry in an empty bed as their wives never returned from the frontlines.
  1378.  
  1379. …or preparing a pardon specifically for the strange being that one day you judged from your old throne room, when you tried to help him fit in your nation.
  1380.  
  1381. Who knows – maybe if you had spent more time considering his case rather than trusting his own judgement (and that of the specialists that examined him) and accepting his wish to join the Army “to feel useful”…maybe you could be in your sister’s place, with somepony loyal enough to trust your judgement without hesitation even after more than a thousand years apart.
  1382.  
  1383. You sigh at the thought, knowing that you will have to ask him just how did he manage to survive that final barrage at the Siege and why did he decide to return right now, rather than as soon as your sister’s return was announced.
  1384.  
  1385. …but those are thoughts for another day, and you can only put on a smile as you give Anon Y Mous his pardon, while bidding him and your sister a good night as they depart from the throne room.
  1386.  
  1387. Fate is cruel, but possesses an irony all of its own you think as you observe the empty throne room – such a fitting metaphor for your life, so majestic from the outside with all the ponies admiring you, and yet so empty on the inside as you made sure to never grow too close with the ponies you took under your wing over the centuries.
  1388.  
  1389. And maybe, that is exactly what you deserve.
  1390.  
  1391. -----------------------------------------
  1392.  
  1393. As you walk away from the throne room and from your confrontation with the Princess of the Sun, you cannot but feel as if you “lucked out”.
  1394.  
  1395. You, Anon Y Mous, were never a betting man – your luck, or rather lack of, was legendary in your old regiment -, and yet you lucked out this time, for the Princess of the Moon decided to stick by you even against her own sister – a sign that your loyalty is not misplaced.
  1396.  
  1397. She has been throwing glances at you since you left the room, apparently trying to decide what to say and failing in doing so.
  1398.  
  1399. Well, no time like the present to try and take both of your minds away from unpleasant thoughts and maybe calm down a bit your emotions
  1400.  
  1401. “Forgive me for the question, but…where will I rest for tonight?”
  1402.  
  1403. She stops walking for a second before restarting, as if your question caught you by surprise, answering with a light blush on her cheeks
  1404.  
  1405. “…if thou were willing to…I could host you for the night, for mine tower is far too big for a single mare”
  1406.  
  1407. You are unsure about why your liege changed how she speaks, but her offer is way too tempting to refuse; if she wishes for your company you are more than willing to give it to her, since you could really use the company of someone close to you right now.
  1408.  
  1409. “If you so wish, I’ll gladly accept, your Highness”
  1410.  
  1411. She looks down at your answer (as if trying to hide the smile that crept upon on her face, or maybe some annoyance at the title), before leading you through more corridors, toward what you presume is the northern side of the castle.
  1412.  
  1413. As you walk you keep up the conversation, discussing primarily what your future role might be – the army has greatly reduced its numbers from what they were in the old days apparently, and yet the vast majority of its ponies have never seen a real fight. Given the situation is even worse in the newly-established Lunar Guard, this presents an opportunity – you could take charge of some guards from Luna’s side while providing protection to the Diarch of the Night.
  1414.  
  1415. A win-win situation as far as you both are concerned – you two would get to spend time together, while you could help train up some of the guards, who in time would likely rotate (thus sharing their training with their new units) and slowly but surely raise the overall level of competence in the institution.
  1416.  
  1417. As you two finally reach your destination, you see that your liege was not joking about her tower being far too large for a single mare – you could very well house 40 or so ponies in this section of the castle, without even considering her private library and so on!
  1418.  
  1419. You take residence for the night in a bedroom not too far from the one she sleeps in, so that you may intervene to protect her in the improbable case this would results necessary.
  1420.  
  1421. As she bids you goodnight with a smile seeing how exhausted you are, she informs you that her schedule is primarily nocturnal due to her duties – you make a personal note to change your sleeping pattern -, and invites you to take the next couple of days off in order to “better acclimate yourself with the situation”.
  1422.  
  1423. A nod is your response, but you are caught by surprise as the Princess hugs you one last time before leaving.
  1424.  
  1425. As you are left alone with your thoughts, you find yourself unable to fall asleep, no matter how exhausted you are. And so you spend some time considering your options, before deciding that you ought to at least jut down some notes regarding the future composition of the unit you’ll be called upon to lead.
  1426.  
  1427. Just as you put pen to paper, inspiration takes you and you write down two names – “Windy Skies” and “Star Dust”. Both mares have shown at least some level of competence in your brief time together.
  1428.  
  1429. That…and the fact that (at least in the case of Windy Skies) the poor mare lost her job because of you.
  1430.  
  1431. You have been described as a hard, unforgiving man, and yet you like to think of yourself as fair – you caused her many problems, yet she insisted on helping you without expecting any reward.
  1432.  
  1433. A noble gesture that demands payment in kind.
  1434.  
  1435. This simple action finally brings some closure to your troubled mind – a small gesture of kindness, that somehow soothes you enough to fall asleep.
  1436.  
  1437. You dream that night, of better days, now long gone.
  1438.  
  1439. -----------------------------------------
  1440.  
  1441. You are Windy Skies, and today has been an absolute disaster so far.
  1442.  
  1443. You feared it would happen, yet held hope against all reason that your boss would get over what happened at the museum and not fire you.
  1444.  
  1445. …that hope got squashed to bits as you read the first of many letters delivered to your home this morning.
  1446.  
  1447. Your ex-boss decided to not only terminate your contract, but…the bitch is apparently trying to sue you for the damage that happened under your watch!
  1448.  
  1449. The letter mentions something along the lines of “neglectful behavior during work” or some other crap – not that you have the presence of mind to truly process what you are reading.
  1450.  
  1451. That’s because you know what it means: you will likely have to leave Canterlot and go back to the small village you came from. You simply cannot afford to fight a legal battle, regardless of how ridiculous the accuses are.
  1452.  
  1453. Hence the best you could do is to settle for an amount to pay…you will have to kiss goodbye to your dreams of “making it” in the city, and go back home to (somehow) work off your soon-to-be debt.
  1454.  
  1455. A tear falls from your eye as you quickly move on to the next letter, trying desperately to keep some composure.
  1456.  
  1457. You are not in the mood to read more bad news, yet you see something that temporarily snaps you out of your self-destructive thoughts: a sigil you are all too familiar with thanks to your friendship with Star Dust.
  1458.  
  1459. The letter bears the official sigil of the Lunar Guard.
  1460.  
  1461. Without waiting, mind still reeling from the previous letter, you open this one and begin to read:
  1462.  
  1463. “…stop-loss policy Act 1524/A, pursuant the aforementioned statute of the Lunar Guard… current status being that of a member of the reserve of the Army, the private citizen Windy Cherry Skies, code #A28/9518, is hereby…recalled into service as a member of the Lunar Guard?!”
  1464.  
  1465. You spent a good five minutes reading over and over the letter as if it could offer up any more information, mind almost refusing to process what you are reading because of the shock.
  1466.  
  1467. It came packed with some other papers, one of which you were all too familiar with – the initial contract you signed years ago, and a renewed version of the same with updated terms for your new role.
  1468.  
  1469. And then, as you keep reading the same words over and over, something clicks in your mind – you just got a job, your old job back!
  1470. You are a guardsmare again!
  1471.  
  1472. Another tear falls from your eyes, followed by many more…except these are tears of joy, rather than sadness.
  1473.  
  1474. As you finish a little happy dance around the apartment, you finally have the presence of mind to actually read the new contract – it’s almost the same as the old one, but you notice with pleasure that they bumped you up a level in terms of salary, and….you do a double take, but apparently said bump is due to being assigned to a newly-formed unit at the castle.
  1475.  
  1476. This is an unexpected if pleasant surprise - for various reasons.
  1477.  
  1478. Nopony gets in the palace guard without some connection – Celestia, even the Captain of the Guard, a stallion of all things, was able to get in due to the connections his noble mother ensured him. You lack any such connection – you are just your run-of-the-mill country mare. Add on top of that the fact that…well, you never accomplished anything truly noteworthy, and the assignment seems a tad too good to be real.
  1479.  
  1480. Still…the paper seems authentic enough, and the sigil checks out, so maybe you just got lucky?
  1481.  
  1482. It is with these thoughts that you decide to take some time out of your morning to try and look the part of the professional guardsmare – a nice shower, maybe polishing the old armor…anything that could ensure you made a good first impression.
  1483.  
  1484. After all it was written that you were to report at the main plaza of the Palace at 2PM, but it’s strange they’d include a specific request to wear parade armor…
  1485.  
  1486. -----------------------------------------
  1487.  
  1488. You are Star Dust…and something is clearly wrong here.
  1489.  
  1490. You have always been proud of your military record – you were never one to boast too much, but you knew you were good, maybe even the best your unit had to offer.
  1491.  
  1492. …which is not saying much considering the majority of your comrades were absolute newbies, and yet it only serves to baffle you even more as you think over and over about what you read in the letter you received this morning.
  1493.  
  1494. You have been re-assigned to the palace guard, of all places.
  1495.  
  1496. Now, normally this would be seen as a promotion – a well-paid, cushy job, where you even got to check out the eye-candy that are the stallions of the Royal Guard (you always thought the Princess was simply trying to hog all of them for herself – the selfish cunt).
  1497.  
  1498. So…why do you have a bad feeling about this?
  1499.  
  1500. It is easy to ignore the dirty looks your squad mates give you – you never really fit in with these greenies, who had apparently yet to figure out that in the Army you were supposed to be loyal to your unit and your country, and to forget your oh-so-precious “clan blood ties”.
  1501.  
  1502. What a bunch of caveponies…no seriously, what was the brass thinking when they dumped a bunch of semi-wild thestrals from the South-East on the Army?
  1503.  
  1504. Who had the “brilliant” idea that enlisting ponies whose families had in some cases lived apart from mainstream Equestrian society for centuries would be a good idea?
  1505.  
  1506. …and let’s not forget what effect this has had on the relations between the urban thestral population and the other ponies of the Three Tribes. It is thanks to this idiotic idea that nowadays a lot of Canterlotians seem to think you are all a bunch of ponies that just discovered modern society.
  1507.  
  1508. A good 50% of your people had lived within the boundaries of “mainstream society” for centuries, thank you very much!
  1509.  
  1510. It was only the nutjobs and the fanatics who considered the Equestrian government illegitimate until Princess Luna’s return that had decided to seclude themselves in the only thestral-majority region of Equestria after the Lunar Revolt. Not your ancestors or others like them, who had worked their assess off to be re-accepted in the “new” Equestria that arose after the Revolt.
  1511.  
  1512. So why in Tartarus were you forced to associate with them? Well that’s simple – when the Princess returned, somepony decided to re-establish the Lunar Guard. Admirable idea, horrible execution – instead of simply enlisting the thestrals already present in the Royal Guard, the brass decided that they would “do their part in bringing Equestria together!”
  1513.  
  1514. How? By simply lowering the entry requirements and offering great benefits for recruits from the South-East. Anything to get those…caveponies to sign on the dot (by the Stars, you doubt some of them even know how to write their own name sometimes..).
  1515.  
  1516. The results speak for themselves – the Lunar Guard does possess some advantages over its regular counterpart - such as the ability to deploy at night as well as during the day, and a more “stealthy” approach to problems, which lends itself to the wish of the Princesses to avoid chaos in society whenever possible-, but overall it comes far short of the Royal Guard in terms of overall effectiveness…and respect it gets from the populace at large.
  1517.  
  1518. At least in this case your superiors had a good idea – by spreading the veterans they brought over from the Royal Guard among the different units, they hoped that the new recruits would improve over time by a simple process of osmosis and transmission of knowledge.
  1519. …hence why it sounds so strange that they would rotate you out of your squad and send you to the palace guard.
  1520.  
  1521. Still, you are not one to “refuse a gifted stallion” as they say.
  1522.  
  1523. It took little effort on your part to pack your things – being in the military encouraged ponies to live a minimalist lifestyle after all -, while the entire trip from the barracks to the palace took less than 20 minutes by taking to the sky.
  1524.  
  1525. Little time, but enough to think about what your future will look like…and to get somewhat excited about it.
  1526.  
  1527. It is with some surprise that you see your old friend Windy Skies waiting at the Palace gates, apparently discussing with a guardmare at the entrance – you were too far to hear the entirety of their conversation, but you did manage to catch enough of it to understand the context.
  1528.  
  1529. “…it clearly says that I am to report at the main plaza of the Palace – now tell me, how many Palaces are there in town??”
  1530.  
  1531. “Ma’am…there is nothing I can do. You have to report to the nearest recruitment center, get your status changed and then report back here – I don’t make the rules”
  1532.  
  1533. “Yes yes and how should I do that and report as ordered, when they’d take days if not weeks to do that??”
  1534.  
  1535. You can clearly see the guardsmare sigh, getting more and more frustrated as Windy tries to get her way.
  1536.  
  1537. It is times like this that make you appreciate the fact that there are some perks in being a soldier – such as getting access to areas the civilians need permission to access.
  1538.  
  1539. You land near the two mares, before standing at attention while passing over your own letter with the tip of a wing.
  1540.  
  1541. The guardsmare checks out your letter – clearly happy to get a break from Windy’s verbal assault -, before look you over and nodding, signaling that you may go.
  1542.  
  1543. You take a look at your friend…and you see her metaphorically begging you for help with her eyes. A sigh escapes your lips before you nod in her direction
  1544.  
  1545. “Look. She is with me – can’t you just add her to the visitors roll and let her accompany me?”
  1546.  
  1547. The guard looks unimpressed and unconvinced, but apparently the prospect of having your friend nag at her for another hour is the less of two evils, for she gives you an unintelligible grunt and motions with her head.
  1548.  
  1549. You swear on the Moon and the Stars that when you turned, you saw dust in shape of your friend standing in her place, with how fast she jumped at the opportunity to enter the Palace.
  1550.  
  1551. You laugh, before following her.
  1552.  
  1553. -----------------------------------------
  1554.  
  1555. You are the luckiest mare on Equus, so you must be Windy Skies, soon to be Royal…Lunar Guard!
  1556.  
  1557. Thank the Sun that Star was here to cover for you, or you’d have missed your first meeting – a surefire way to get your ass sent back to the Reserve, your fault or not.
  1558.  
  1559. Still…why is she here? Isn’t her unit stationed at the southern entrance of the city?
  1560.  
  1561. It is with these thoughts that you wait your friend by the fountain in the center of the outer ward of the castle – a beautiful place, and the fact that it’ll soon be your home-away-from-home is reason enough to be happy.
  1562.  
  1563. As your friend approaches the fountain, you can clearly see the confusion on her face, which is made worse by you giving her an impromptu winghug as “thank you” for earlier.
  1564.  
  1565. “…seriously Windy, what in Tartarus are you doing here all dressed up as if you were going on parade? And also didn’t they ask back that armor when they let you go?”
  1566.  
  1567. Not even being reminded of your discharge can tamper with your good mood right now, and so you simply elect to show her the letter you were holding in your hoof as you discussed with the guard at the entrance
  1568.  
  1569. “..citizen Windy Cherry Skies blah blah blah…recalled into service as a member of the Lunar Guard? How in Tartarus did that happen?”
  1570.  
  1571. Star Dust looks extremely surprised for a second, quickly looking back and forth between you and the letter she’s holding in her hoof.
  1572.  
  1573. This lasts for a couple of seconds before a huge smile appears over her face and she drags you in a tight hug – maybe too tight.
  1574.  
  1575. “oof – need to breathe!”
  1576.  
  1577. As your friend lets up some pressure, a laughter escapes her lips
  1578.  
  1579. “You know what this means, right? We’re going to be in the same unit like before!”
  1580.  
  1581. The simple phrase is enough to make a smile appear on your face as well – you’d have never thought that you’d be reunited with your friend in this way.
  1582.  
  1583. Today will be a great day, you think.
  1584.  
  1585. - 54 minutes later -
  1586.  
  1587. …last famous words as the tension keeps building up and up the closer you get to the inner hall where you would meet your CO.
  1588.  
  1589. Leaving your bags at the barracks was a quick, if surprising affair – your “guide” led you away from the barracks situated in the outer ward, informing you that you and your squadmates would stay within the walls of the Palace, in order to more quickly respond when called upon.
  1590.  
  1591. This was the first thing that made you tense – a guardsMARE stationed within the Palace walls? Had you been a stallion, that’d have simply meant something like you being eye candy for the staff of the Court, but since you were not gifted to be born a male, that could only mean you’d have to cover some role in a quick response team or something similar.
  1592.  
  1593. You are sweating buckets due to nervousness, and as you take a quick glance at your friend, you notice that she has an incredibly serious expression on her face – it seems this won’t be the walk in the park you expected it to be.
  1594.  
  1595. -----------------------------------------
  1596.  
  1597. As you finish sparring with your liege, you have to admit that a thousand years have not dulled her martial skills in the least.
  1598. Princess Luna was always a very martial mare, whatever persona she decided to don – the Empress, the demure Princess…she was simply the mare you chose to follow in the end.
  1599.  
  1600. A mare that is busy trying to “beat your ass”, to use a euphemism you heard a pony say once in reference to a mixed-race couple.
  1601.  
  1602. …strange choice of words, but honestly? It fits the current situation, since you, Anon, feel like an ass for causing it in the first place.
  1603.  
  1604. One would think that having spent the majority of your life at war you’d be quite competent with weapons – and you are, but it’s a different matter when you are dealing with someone that could realistically claim to have invented some of the weapons you are currently using.
  1605.  
  1606. These are the thoughts as you quickly deflect her sword thrust with your shield.
  1607.  
  1608. “Rule n.1 – never joke about the Princess’ age”
  1609.  
  1610. You make a mental note to write down that adage and glue it to the roof of your room, if this is the result of you joking about her age.
  1611.  
  1612. As you are lost in your own little world, the Princess takes advantage of this and pulls your feet out from under you with a simple telekinetic spell – you might as well be immune to generic magic thanks to your biology, but you are surely not immune to the physical force caused by the movement of air imprinted by the spell.
  1613.  
  1614. It is only luck that causes you to lift your leg in time, catching her in the chest as she charged over you, likely to force a surrender on your part.
  1615.  
  1616. A quick kick to push her back, followed by a hasty retreat as you stand is all you can do before the twin doors of the training room open and three ponies enter.
  1617.  
  1618. You both maintain your ready stance, as the assembled ponies gasp in surprise, before two of them appear to take out their weapons and attempt to charge at you.
  1619.  
  1620. “Attempt” being the key word, for the Pegasus (who is the first to reach you) is brought down by a punch delivered to her helmet-covered right temple, while the thestral, who was distracted for a moment by what happened to her friend, finds herself pushed to the ground by the weight you put behind your shield, limiting her movements.
  1621.  
  1622. The princess laughs.
  1623.  
  1624. “Thou has chosen a feisty pair! I did not know thou favored that kind of mare my Hierarch”
  1625.  
  1626. You can only grunt in response – the mare you are pinning down is stronger than her lite appearance suggested, and she is desperately trying to push you off of her.
  1627.  
  1628. And so you grant her wish.
  1629.  
  1630. You throw the shield by the side, unbalancing her, just to push her back toward her friend (who was in the process of getting back up) with a simply kick to the head – gotta love the height advantage.
  1631.  
  1632. “I chose them because they showed some basic competence, your Highness. Whether that’s enough for them to qualify to guard you…we’ll see”
  1633.  
  1634. You pay the two struggling guards no mind as you signal their guide to leave the room – which she does without a fuss, likely used to the strangeness surrounding the Princesses on a daily basis -, before letting down you war hammer and your shield, taking up a bo staff instead.
  1635.  
  1636. “Unless you two have already forgotten, you were under my command during the mission to escort the Princess back to the Palace last night. Your showing of some basic competence made me think you might be good enough to take up a permanent position on her security detail. Apparently I was mistaken”
  1637.  
  1638. The two mares have apparently finished getting up, and are staring at your unarmored form without speaking.
  1639.  
  1640. ..there might still be hope for these two, if they recognize your position as their superior just by how you speak, you think.
  1641.  
  1642. You place the bo staff in a vertical position, before picking up two normal spears and throwing them to their feet
  1643.  
  1644. “Your training ought to have taught you how to use a spear, but did you actually learn or were you sleeping your way through base camp?”
  1645.  
  1646. You take back the staff and get in a ready position, before making a “come at me” sign with your hand.
  1647.  
  1648. This is going to be fun.
  1649.  
  1650. The Pegasus – Windy Skies – picks up the spear and looks at her thestral counterpart before nodding and turning toward you.
  1651. It is with pleasure that you notice they haven’t let your jabs get to them, for they take up position next to one another in order to cover their blind spots.
  1652.  
  1653. It seems they won’t come toward you – fair enough, it just means you will have to get to them.
  1654.  
  1655. Being out of your heavy armor gives you an edge in terms of raw speed, while decades of experience gave you hard-earned reflexes.
  1656.  
  1657. Windy Skies takes flight, trying to take you by surprise as Star Dust pushes her spear outward in order to force you to focus on her.
  1658.  
  1659. You avoid the first strike directed at your midsection while batting away the next one with the upper end of your staff. The reward for their coordination is a strike to the helmet for the pegasi, and a kick to the side for the thestral.
  1660.  
  1661. You don’t let up your assault on the downed Pegasus, striking the mare at the juncture where her wings meet on her back – an extremely vulnerable spot for any Pegasus, for the bundle of nerves lie near the surface of the skin.
  1662.  
  1663. Windy Skies lets out a pained yelp, but you are forced back by the ferocious assault of her teammate, who at the sight of her friend being wounded decided to throw caution to the wind and throw her spear at you.
  1664.  
  1665. “A stupid move” you think as you bat it to the side using the staff.
  1666.  
  1667. …or so you thought, until you found yourself on the receiving end of an armored hoof to the cheek, which causes you to almost spin.
  1668.  
  1669. Almost being the key word – the mare has apparently decided that engaging you in hand-to-hand combat would be the fastest way to subdue you, given she has you beaten in sheer mass thanks to her heavy armor.
  1670.  
  1671. She is correct in her thinking…except you have trained with far better fighters than her, such as the Empress of the Moon, a far more vicious fighter than this guardsmare.
  1672.  
  1673. The key is not to parry her hits, but to deflect them – you let her front leg slide along the outer side of your left arm as she tries to hit you once more, in order to be able to bring both your arms around her neck.
  1674.  
  1675. A preamble to bringing her head straight down on your knee, before sending the poor mare flying back with a punch.
  1676.  
  1677. You observe the two mares and re-assess your evaluation from earlier – they have a good teamwork and know how to correctly evaluate an enemy in the midst of combat, but they severely lack true combat experience.
  1678.  
  1679. Had they been working in tandem, they could have given you a run for your money – an unarmored human is a unarmored human in the end, and your opponents were two veteran (by the modern Guard standards, at least…) guardsmares wearing heavy armor, using the weapon they have more experience in (the spear).
  1680.  
  1681. The fact that you won speaks volumes about how far the standards of the Guard have fallen compared to a millennia ago – any battle you fought was a bloody affair, and when you met a veteran, you were sure to be speaking with someone that had survived a dozen life-or-death situation.
  1682.  
  1683. It seems you will have to train them up to standard – nothing you haven’t done in the past.
  1684.  
  1685. You nod in their direction before speaking
  1686.  
  1687. “Congratulations, you two pass”
  1688.  
  1689. -----------------------------------------
  1690.  
  1691. You are Windy Skies…and everything hurts.
  1692.  
  1693. That hit to the back must have struck something important, for you feel a flaring pain any time you try to move your wings.
  1694.  
  1695. It seems Anon Y Mous (who surprisingly turned out to be your CO by how he spoke) noticed your expression, for he came close and touched your wings.
  1696.  
  1697. You let out a pained groan, to which he nods and simply looks at your friend
  1698.  
  1699. “Hold her, this will hurt”
  1700.  
  1701. Star looks at you worriedly, before putting her weight on your front legs
  1702.  
  1703. “Try and endure it Windy”
  1704.  
  1705. She whispers in your ear, before you gasp in pain as Anon pushes your wing into place
  1706.  
  1707. “It seems your trashing around after I hit you caused your wing to…well, “pop” might be the wrong term, but it’s good enough to describe it. Try not to move it too much for the next 24 hours if you can”
  1708.  
  1709. He then does something that surprises you a bit, given you felt like his personal punching bag a minute ago: he offers you his strange hoof (hand? If he’s related to minotaurs..), which you take and stand up
  1710.  
  1711. “Wait. Did you just say that we passed…sir?”
  1712.  
  1713. You add the last part as he was about to respond, and notice with satisfaction that the stallion smiles for the first time that you’ve seen him today
  1714.  
  1715. “Yes. From today, you two will be part of the security detail of Princess Luna. You will answer to me and, together with the future recruits I hope to find, will form a separate unit within the Lunar Guard”
  1716.  
  1717. It’s too good to be true.
  1718.  
  1719. You pinch your cheek, much to the amusement of Star Dust, who seems to be thinking before speaking up
  1720.  
  1721. “…may I ask a question, Sir?”
  1722.  
  1723. A nod is her response, to which she stops for a second, as if she’s carefully choosing her words
  1724.  
  1725. “You said that we are to be the security detail for the Princess, but…isn’t there already such a unit? Forgive my questions if you can Sir, but I am simply trying to understand what will be our specific duties, or if we’ll be working in tandem with other squads”
  1726.  
  1727. You are impressed – you didn’t even think about that, too busy thanking your good star for the opportunity.
  1728.  
  1729. Except…now that she brought your attention to it, it IS a good question.
  1730.  
  1731. Anon Y Mous makes a strange expression, before simply looking in the direction of the Princess of the Moon.
  1732.  
  1733. Crap – you forgot she was present all along.
  1734.  
  1735. You quickly bow your head, before she comes to stand next to the human
  1736.  
  1737. “You may rise thine head, guardsmares. To gift you an answer, we never saw the need for security until now”
  1738.  
  1739. So many questions crowd your mind – “until now”? What has changed, except…the return of Anon.
  1740.  
  1741. …that makes no sense given all the signs she has shown of being close to the stallion, so that means…
  1742.  
  1743. …that means…
  1744.  
  1745. …you give up. The entire day has been a rollercoaster of emotions, you are hungry, you are hurt and your wings feel like they were made of lead.
  1746.  
  1747. As your CO dismisses you and you begin the trip back to your new room inside the Palace, you decide that they can keep their little secrets.
  1748.  
  1749. This still doesn’t stop you from doing a little happy dance in your mind, at the thought of being back doing the job you loved, with a close friend you trusted.
  1750.  
  1751. -----------------------------------------
  1752.  
  1753. The following days pass by quickly as life in the Palace continues on, until a morning brought with it a curious sight for the inhabitants of the Canterlot Palace: a man leading three mares in running laps around the inner courtyard of the Palace.
  1754.  
  1755. A strange sight for sure, but not stranger than seeing the Diarch of the Moon participate in the exercise.
  1756.  
  1757. Princess Luna was by far the lesser-known half of the Equestrian Diarchy, thanks partly to her reclusive personality, but also due to her domain – the night.
  1758.  
  1759. To see her up and running early in the morning was an event all on its own, but to actually see her openly smile as she ran behind the strange “minotaur” was something else altogether.
  1760.  
  1761. Time flew by on the notes of “Farewell of Slavianka”, a song that no one in the entirety of Equus remembered, for it had been sung by a lonely man in a foreign land a millennia ago; no one remembered it, with the sole exception of an old mare, who couldn’t help but smile wide at hearing the familiar tune.
  1762.  
  1763. The song had been one of few constants during the War a millennia ago, for every time the man went into battle he’d sing it as a small ritual to himself.
  1764.  
  1765. She had never understood the words, for they were in a language unknown to her. And yet, the song itself brought a sense of familiarity that made feel Anon more “real” to her.
  1766.  
  1767. A being stranded out of time and space – she had read the results of the inspection the court doctors had performed on the male upon his arrival in Equestria, and had decided to personally examine him once more when he had become part of her entourage. And yet, she was still baffled by all the secrets she was sure he withheld from the world.
  1768.  
  1769. The strange language of his homeland for example.
  1770.  
  1771. She knew its name -“russkiy yazyk”-, and she knew that the official name of said homeland was “Rossiyskaya Imperiya”; words that had meant nothing to her in the far past, for the main purpose of her interrogation has been to get a grasp of his personality rather than to gather information.
  1772.  
  1773. It was different now, for she truly wished to get to know better the human running in front of her – a loyal follower for sure, maybe even a friend if she dared to say the word.
  1774.  
  1775. …and also the only male that looked at her without seeing either a monster, a ticking bomb about to go off, or an easy way to get access to the Royal Treasury.
  1776.  
  1777. Thoughts in the far back of her mind, but thoughts that any red-blooded mare would have at feeling a sense of closeness with a member of the opposite sex.
  1778.  
  1779. And so it came to be that the Princess was so lost in her thoughts, the she didn’t notice the other three members of her group had slowed down, before coming to a halt.
  1780.  
  1781. What followed was a very undignified action for a member of the royal house: Princess Luna didn’t stop in time, ending up hitting the poor man.
  1782.  
  1783. And so it came to be that you, Princess Luna, found yourself atop the man that you hit because you were too lost in your own little world. An embarrassing sight to be sure, and yet it somehow caused the human to explode in laughter even as you scooted over to let him get up.
  1784.  
  1785. For the first time you honestly hate the connection that ties you two, for while it is a wonderful feeling to have a tangible reminder that you are not alone in the world, it also allows one to somewhat get an impression of what the other is feeling.
  1786.  
  1787. And you are dying of embarrassment inside.
  1788.  
  1789. The situation not being helped by Anon laughing his ass off even as he got up, as if it was an inside joke between the two of you – which it kind of is.
  1790.  
  1791. Lifting a hand to signal that he is alright, the man smiles at you for a moment as his laughter dies off, before addressing the two guardsmares he selected the evening before – Windy Skies and Star Dust:
  1792.  
  1793. “I am not familiar with the training regime of the modern Guard, but I am quite familiar with the old regime we used to have in the old days. I plan to follow that in order to hone your fighting capacities: our only duty is to ensure the safety of the Princess, anything else comes after that. Understood?”
  1794.  
  1795. The mares nod, and you admit that…it feels nice to have ponies actually protecting you. Not that you need protection – you can rightfully claim to have contributed to inventing many of the ancestors of modern weapons, and unlike your sister you always preferred to take a more “hands on” approach to problems.
  1796.  
  1797. But it still feels nice to have others fret over your wellbeing.
  1798.  
  1799. “We’ll move over to the training yard, and I want you two to engage in a set of three sparring matches – the goal is not to defeat your opponent outright, but to improve your reaction time as well as to get more familiar with each other’s fighting style. I will try to offer tips where possible, but I’m going to engage in some training myself so try to help one another”
  1800.  
  1801. As Anon turns toward you, you understand what he meant and smile – time to make him pay for laughing at your expense a little while ago.
  1802.  
  1803. The sight of two guards fighting in the yard would not be anything strange, were it not for the different armors they are wearing – the armorer having told Anon that the new armor for Windy Skies would be ready by the end of the week, and thus forcing her to continue using her old armor in the meantime.
  1804.  
  1805. What would be considered strange by many is the sight of your armored form taking a stance in front of the equally armored man, you with a sword held in your telekinetic grasp, him with a war hammer in hand.
  1806.  
  1807. The human has decided to wear his full armor this time, with his old shield held at his side.
  1808.  
  1809. You heard the armorer grumble at the sight of your old symbol – a symbol nowadays held in contempt -, and yet you found it heartwarming that the knight decided to continue wearing the old heraldry you personally created so long ago instead of the new, “reformed” one your sister insisted you assume after your return (“..so as to emphasize your being different from the Nightmare” she said), and so you gave your assent to the exception.
  1810.  
  1811. A smile appears on your face at the sight of the last Hierarch of the Moon’s armored form.
  1812.  
  1813. Modern mares act tough in order to attract stallions, and yet they are nothing but a mere shadow of what a true mare was like back in the day. A mare would not be allowed to call herself that if she were not ready to fight to defend her mate, her honor or her family, while a stallion was expected to defend his foals and his companion until his dying breath.
  1814.  
  1815. Back in your youth, mares were truly marely, while stallions were truly worthy of the respect so many of them demand nowadays, yet do nothing to earn.
  1816.  
  1817. Bunch of weaklings the lot of them, you have been mildly disgusted at the intrinsic weakness of modern society since your return to tell the truth.
  1818.  
  1819. …and yet you find no sign of that weakness in the male standing in front of you – a relic of another age just like you, forged in battle even before reaching your world if what you witnessed in the dream was truly a memory.
  1820.  
  1821. You smile at the feeling of familiarity evoked by the sight of him standing in front of you, ready to fight, for it reminds you of your earlier days when the world was simpler and fairer, and you were not yet seen as somepony unapproachable.
  1822.  
  1823. Thoughts clouding your mind, you let your emotions carry you onward, pushing yourself into a direct charge toward your opponent.
  1824.  
  1825. Magic is nigh useless against the man, and the armor he wears was specifically woven so as to amplify as much as possible his species’ natural gift.
  1826.  
  1827. Hence why you are his natural sparring partner – you are one of the few mares that possess the magical and martial prowess to metaphorically tame the male in front of you.
  1828.  
  1829. The thought sends a shiver down your spine, for this was the “old way” you were taught when you were young – after receiving his parents’ approval, a mare still had to prove to her prospective mate her ability to defend him and their future offspring, and the most direct way of doing this was to best the stallion in a fair fight.
  1830.  
  1831. Without knowing it, Anon is recreating a situation that for anypony else would simply look like a sparring match, but that your subconscious mind could very easily interpret in a very different way.
  1832.  
  1833. Random thoughts are pushed in the background as the human meets your charge with one of his own – his hammer hitting nothing but empty air as you duck below it and respond by directing the sword held in your telekinetic grasp toward his head.
  1834.  
  1835. You two are familiar with each other’s fighting style, having occasion to observe one another during the final days of the War as more and more soldiers deserted and you had to take to the field in person more and more often.
  1836.  
  1837. It is thus no surprise to you that he lifts his shield in order to parry your feint, nor is a surprise to him that you use your magic to attempt to push his shield further up than he intended to, so as to get it out of the way for your horn to hit his armored chest.
  1838.  
  1839. A knee is brought up, grazing the side of your head – old battle instincts telling you to duck at the last moment allow you to avoid the impact, while a quick movement of your wings is enough to reclaim some space – in time to dodge his right arm that was coming back down with his hammer.
  1840.  
  1841. You two observe each other for a moment, before a plan is quickly devised in your mind.
  1842.  
  1843. A dash toward his right side, timed with your freezing the air around his midsection, catches the man off guard and gives you the opening you needed to hit him, just as the spell shatters.
  1844.  
  1845. Anon is throws by the side, but not before managing to bring down the back-hook of his weapon upon your back – the hook inserts itself in the joint connecting your wing-cover to the dorsal part of your armor, causing you to be carried along as he stumbles to the side.
  1846.  
  1847. Not an ideal situation, for in a grappling situation he would likely have the advantage.
  1848.  
  1849. And so, you make clever use of telekinesis to dislodge his weapon from your armor while at the same time pivoting (aided by the momentum) and hitting him with one of you back legs – a fatal move had you hit him unarmored in the chest, but that results in nothing more than the Hierarch being sent falling to the side.
  1850.  
  1851. You turn triumphant, smiling as the human looks up at you from the ground.
  1852.  
  1853. …you are not a mare ruled by her instincts, but the situation is eerily similar to (…and reminds you of) how courtship usually ended back in the day, with the mare having proved her skill to her potential mate, standing tall over him, and the stallion accepting her advances before the new couple would take leave to attend to their “marital duties”.
  1854.  
  1855. Barbaric practices from a barbaric age, your sister would say. And yet, while getting to know one another was just as important back then as it is nowadays, those “barbaric practices” were once the normal way of handling things, especially among nobility – a stallion who could not defend his offspring was of little worth…and a mare who couldn’t tame her mate was not entitled to him.
  1856.  
  1857. And the thought does cross your mind…if these were the “good old days”, wouldn’t you be almost entitled to claim your prize?
  1858.  
  1859. The man gets up, before giving you a nod and moving back to his initial position, as if inviting you to charge again.
  1860.  
  1861. You are only too happy to oblige.
  1862.  
  1863. -----------------------------------------
  1864.  
  1865. You are Anon Y Mous, and it seems the little sparring match you put up with the Princess attracted quite the attention, if all the mares looking at you two was anything to go by.
  1866.  
  1867. Not that you’d blame them – you’d have the same reaction if you saw a Royal engage in training with common soldiers.
  1868.  
  1869. It’s either that…or they enjoyed watching her kicking the living crap out of you.
  1870.  
  1871. …you hope it is the former, because you have lost badly against the Princess – 3 to 1 rounds in fact.
  1872.  
  1873. And yet she seems to be truly enjoying herself, which is quite the surprise – you remember her being far more solemn and introverted, but the change is a welcome one.
  1874.  
  1875. Still, the time comes when even you have had enough of being a punching bag, and so you lift your hand in the universal signal of defeat, before taking off the helmet.
  1876.  
  1877. “Mares will be mares” one of the rare male Guards once told you, and you’d agree with him were he to rise from the ground and stand in front of you, for the moment you take off your helmet and they realize you are not a minotauress, some of the guards make catcalls from behind their peers.
  1878.  
  1879. …just to immediately stop as the Princess glares at them – a gaze so cold that it could freeze water.
  1880.  
  1881. You found over the past week that Princess Luna (or simply “Luna” as she insists you call her when in a private setting..and which you refuse to do so as to annoy her) has become quite protective of you – a trait that you found both endearing and irritating at the same time, since the feeling of affection was quite welcome, but simple fact that her worrying made it harder to actually do your job (i.e. protect her) was not lost on you.
  1882.  
  1883. You sigh as you look at the cowed guardsmares – while your unit usually trained inside the private training halls of the Princess’ tower, you thought it a good idea for your squad to get more familiar with the rest of the Guard, lest you find yourselves seen as “outsiders” by the larger institution you all were nominally part of.
  1884.  
  1885. …key word being “nominally”, given that your oath bound you exclusively to the Princess herself, rather than the Equestrian Army, and the guardsmares under your command were to be treated the same so long as they remained part of the Princess’ personal retinue.
  1886.  
  1887. And yet you couldn’t pretend to operate in a vacuum – your nominal leader may be a Diarch of Equestria, but to do your duties you’ll need the cooperation of members of the other branches of the Armed Forces.
  1888.  
  1889. As these and other thoughts fly through your mind, a lightbulb switches on and you get an idea: the Princess has always had a weakness for flattery, so long as the one doing it was sincere.
  1890.  
  1891. You bring a fist to your armored chest, the noise breaking the stare the Princess was giving to the assembled guard, and drawing the general attention toward you, as intended
  1892.  
  1893. “Your Highness, if you will allow a mere subordinate to pass judgement, you have only improved since the last time I had the pleasure to spar with you”
  1894.  
  1895. The ghost of a smile seems to appear on Princess Luna’s lips – a good sign
  1896.  
  1897. “If you’ll forgive my forwardness, may I suggest that our unit train together with the other squads currently using the training yard, under your supervision? I am sure your extensive experience could be a great boon, were you to oversee the collective training”
  1898.  
  1899. A compliment layered with a suggestion is a good way to stroke her ego while distracting her – a tactic you made often use of a millennia ago, on the rare occasion when you were called upon to advise your ruler.
  1900.  
  1901. And it seems to work even after a thousand years, for the eyes of the Princess light up with a flame that you have come to recognize as excitement, as she nods her assent.
  1902.  
  1903. The rest of the early morning is spent in different training exercises, some that you recognize, others that you don’t.
  1904.  
  1905. You found yourself paired with various members of the Royal Guard, many of which were keen to express their thanks for sparing them the “legendary” wrath of the Lunar Princess – apparently her excessive use of what she called the “Royal Canterlot Voice” (and normal people called “yelling”) had given rise to the rumor of her being quite prone to rage.
  1906.  
  1907. The fact that you spared them from “such fate” apparently gained you some brownie points with the Sergeant of the platoon whose members were the ones guilty of causing this situation in the first place – you gained an open invitation to the Officers’ Club (the raised eyebrow at the fact that you were technically already entitled to access it apparently lost to her) and her personal invitation to join them at their weekly poker table, given you were “a new face among the old guard”.
  1908.  
  1909. You could do nothing but give her a curt nod, to which the unicorn mare replied with a little smile and a wink.
  1910.  
  1911. “Mares will be mares”, the good old private once said.
  1912.  
  1913. He was right.
  1914.  
  1915. -----------------------------------------
  1916.  
  1917. You are Zephyr Aurora, battle mage extraordinaire, and you might have just scored somepony to warm your bed, if things go well tonight.
  1918.  
  1919. You freely admit that the sight of Princess Luna caught everypony by surprise – she usually never leaves her tower during the day, and you know for a fact that the few guards allowed in her confidence describe her as a mare that prefers solitude unlike her older sister.
  1920.  
  1921. Hence why it was a huge surprise to see her appearing surrounded by a small retinue of guards, just to begin exercising with them.
  1922.  
  1923. Looking over your shoulder you take a look at the mare wearing a Royal Guard armor that was accompanying the princess – she reminds you of somepony, but honestly? With all the reshuffling that has happened over the past years you can’t be too sure.
  1924.  
  1925. Too many ponies have come and gone from your unit, so who knows?
  1926.  
  1927. What you do know, is that regardless of how the evening will end you might end up with a decent story – after all you saw the minotaur give orders to the two guards surrounding the Princess, and nopony told you that the Guard recruited non-Equestrians…nor that the Princess had such peculiar “tastes”.
  1928.  
  1929. The thought makes you laugh a bit internally, for it is quite strange to think of your rulers as flesh-and-blood ponies rather than ethereal beings.
  1930.  
  1931. Guess that being brought up on stories about how awesome Princess Celestia is didn’t prepare you for the “exotic tastes” of her younger sister.
  1932.  
  1933. The thought makes you snort in amusement, for even if it isn’t true, it’s still a funny idea.
  1934.  
  1935. And let’s be honest, shall we? Why else would a stallion be in charge of her retinue?
  1936.  
  1937. Yes, you saw their sparring, and yes, he’s a competent fighter…but come on, any semi-competent mare could take him on.
  1938.  
  1939. After all the Princess went quite easy on him. Sun above, she didn’t even use magic during the entire fight so as to not give herself too much of an advantage!
  1940.  
  1941. Eh, whatever – more things to ask about this evening as you lay on your charm.
  1942.  
  1943. It is with these thoughts that you return to your unit, eagerly putting a little extra sway in your hips as you notice the stallion looking in your direction.
  1944.  
  1945. What you do not notice is the glare the Diarch of the Moon directs your way.
  1946.  
  1947. -----------------------------------------
  1948.  
  1949. You are still Anon Y Mous, and are currently trying to push away your subordinate, who seems determined to do her best impression of what a glued Pegasus would look like if she was stuck to your leg.
  1950.  
  1951. Luna apparently was not aware of the fact that the two mares assigned to her retinue were hosted in a common room in the castle (Star Dust) and still living in her cloud home (Windy Skies); a fact that was quickly rectified as the Princess looked at the two tired mares and gave them the simple order to move their stuff in the spare rooms on the lower levels of her tower.
  1952.  
  1953. She muttered something about it making it easier for them to do their duty, but honestly?
  1954.  
  1955. You think she simply likes having ponies around her, given the little bits you gathered about her reputation.
  1956.  
  1957. ..which brings us to the present, with the princess in question laughing in the corner, as Windy glued herself to your leg and is too busy repeating something that sounds like “thank you” over and over after you communicated her that, since she has been reinstated as member of the Guard and is now part of the Diarch’s personal retinue, she had the right to move in the tower.
  1958.  
  1959. Star Dust seems to be dying of embarrassment on her behalf, before she executes a maneuver that, while certainly effective, makes you let out a snicker: she takes Windy by the tail, and simply pulls.
  1960.  
  1961. The mare in question apparently has something for having her tail pulled, if the neigh she lets out is anything to go by, before a deep red spreads over her face.
  1962.  
  1963. You can’t contain your laughter anymore and simply explode, letting out a loud laughter as the poor Pegasus turns around and glares at her friend, who doesn’t even have the decency to say sorry, mocking Windy by pushing her tongue out at her.
  1964.  
  1965. What follows is something that reminds you more of the games foals play with each other, rather than two adult guards fighting, for the pegasus tries to catch the thestral, failing in doing so thanks to said mare being far leaner and more in shape.
  1966.  
  1967. …it is this situation that your liege walks in.
  1968.  
  1969. “Anon Y Mous, I was thinking about…what in Tartarus…”
  1970.  
  1971. It seems that the sight of your normally oh-so-serious person being doubled over, holding your belly as you laugh at the sight of two adult mares fighting as if they were foals, catches even Luna by surprise, for after a second the surprise gives ground to merry, and she fruitlessly holds a hoof to her mouth before simply joining you in the laughing at the two guardsmares expenses.
  1972.  
  1973. Your life has not been an easy one, and dark moments abound in your past.
  1974.  
  1975. And yet…sometimes, you stumble upon precious moments that ought to be remembered for as long as one lives – this is one of them, for the simple reason that you could enjoy the company of a someone you cared for, while her laughter made the world just a bit brighter.
  1976.  
  1977. -----------------------------------------
  1978.  
  1979. It seems that Equestria has made many technological advances in the time you missed – you saw a train station on the map Luna gifted you the other day in order for you to familiarize yourself with the city.
  1980.  
  1981. And yet it seems as if they are still slightly behind your old world technological level.
  1982.  
  1983. Not that you expect to have any idea how far technology might have progressed back home, considering a thousand years have passed.
  1984.  
  1985. Hell, you don’t even know if the Rodina still stands proud, straddling the continents of Europa and Asia.
  1986.  
  1987. Thoughts that give you pause and dampen your mood, before the sight of the stars above your head lifts it a bit.
  1988.  
  1989. You have always preferred the night to the day, since you were a child – the sight of the endless ocean that is the sky, filled with countless stars, has always inspired you far more than the burning orb that was the Sun.
  1990.  
  1991. The fact that you ended up serving the Diarch of the Moon only reinforced your personal preferences, and yet there were times that the sight of the constellations, so different from those you grew up with, makes you think back to your old world.
  1992.  
  1993. These are the thoughts that crowd your mind as you wait your subordinates by the entrance of the Tower of the Moon – the Princess insisted you take an evening off, since she decided not to hold Court this evening and to instead spend it supervising the training of some units of the Lunar Guard.
  1994.  
  1995. You wouldn’t really be of much use when she’s surrounded by hundreds of thestrals ready to defend her, after all.
  1996.  
  1997. You’d have liked to disagree and remind her that an assassin only needs to be lucky once, but something in her expression stopped you from replying – maybe it was her assertiveness, maybe it was the fact that she was your superior, on top of being your friend, but you could only nod and perform a military salute before turning and, acting upon a whim, going to fetch Windy Skies and Star Dust.
  1998.  
  1999. The two mares were surprised to say the least that you decided to invite them to tag along for a night in town, but they seemed to like the idea of getting out of the castle and join you for a night downtown.
  2000.  
  2001. …at least you think they were, you think as you give yourself a look – you would have never thought it possible, and yet the palace tailor was able to recreate one of your old uniforms from your vague descriptions.
  2002.  
  2003. A black and red uniform in the style of the late Empire, before the Russian Civil War broke out.
  2004.  
  2005. And yet even the tailor gave you a strange look when you insisted he incorporates your own personal sigil, opposite to the one symbolizing your rank and position in the Army
  2006.  
  2007. A crowned double-headed black eagle keeping a shield with the symbol of the Empress of the Moon – a symbol representing your old and new allegiances
  2008.  
  2009. -----------------------------------------
  2010.  
  2011. You are Windy Skies, and you’ve no idea what you’re doing.
  2012.  
  2013. Or better yet, you have no clue why you are doing it.
  2014.  
  2015. After your boss…Anon, as he insists you call him when off-duty, came to invite you and Star to join him for an evening “downtown” as he put it, your mouth has apparently stopped working.
  2016.  
  2017. Thank Celestia that your friend was able to read the situation and promptly accepted, telling him that you’d meet him downstairs in half an hour.
  2018.  
  2019. “…what was that?”
  2020.  
  2021. You look at your friend, looking at you with a wicked smile
  2022.  
  2023. “Spill the beans Windy, did something happen…or do you happen to have developed a prey fetish that I didn’t know about after he pinned you down one too many times during training?”
  2024.  
  2025. This is enough to push you out of your stupor, and you jump forward to tackle her – except she easily avoids you, taking flight and looking down at your reddening face
  2026.  
  2027. “Shut up! It’s nothing like that!”
  2028.  
  2029. “Oh? Then enlighten me, what is it?”
  2030.  
  2031. You close your mouth, before grumbling something unintelligible – enough for Star to start mimicking her deafness, placing her hooves next to her ear so as to hear better.
  2032.  
  2033. You growl, before deciding that you have had enough of her teasing, and so blurt out a reply, red-faced
  2034.  
  2035. “…so what if I find the stallion attractive?! I don’t know if you noticed but I’m not exactly popular with guys. And I don’t remember being the only one checking him out as he made his laps around the yard, miss I-can-have-any-stallion-I-want”
  2036.  
  2037. You stare at Star with a hard look, hard enough for her to land and scratch the back of her head while having a sheepish look
  2038.  
  2039. “Sheesh…sorry…didn’t mean to push you that much Windy”
  2040.  
  2041. She then looks at your form, as if judging you – you like to think that you got a bit back into shape since you started exercising again, but let’s face it, a week of exercise won’t undo months of sitting on your ass…
  2042.  
  2043. “Let’s have a heart-to-heart then. I was just joking about it, but really…he’s our boss Windy, you know that right?”
  2044.  
  2045. You can only lower your gaze at that, for you are only too aware of the fact.
  2046.  
  2047. And yet Anon is the first stallion that not only did not look down on you (“a mare so useless even the guard threw you away”, like that piece of shit of your ex put it), but even helped you get your life back on track. By Tartarus, he even reunited you with your old friend Star Dust and somehow managed to convince the Princess to let you two move to the Palace!
  2048.  
  2049. …you know that many of your peers would consider it “unmarely” to let a stallion help you, but honestly? They can go buck themselves – you will gladly accept the help he has given you, for you are the happiest you have been since the Guard discharged you.
  2050.  
  2051. Considering how kind he has been to you… and the fact that he’s not bad looking (with somewhat of an exotic flavor), it’d be stranger if you hadn’t had certain thoughts about him. And yet the fact that he’s your superior remains.
  2052.  
  2053. And so you nod to Star, who clicks her tongue before continuing
  2054.  
  2055. “Look Windy…sorry to be bearer of bad news but I hope you noticed how the Princess looks at him. Stars above, didn’t you see how she glared at our good old pal Aurora the other day? I got no clue what their story is but it’s clear that at minimum she’s quite attached to him”
  2056.  
  2057. Just the right words to make you make you groan in frustration at the thought, since you completely forgot about it.
  2058.  
  2059. Your friend moves closer to you, before placing a leg around your should and speaking close to your ear
  2060.  
  2061. “…so I’d give you a 50-50 chance at best. He’s clearly comfortable enough with both of us, and honestly it has been a while…”
  2062.  
  2063. …wait what?
  2064.  
  2065. You turn your head toward your friend, pushing her away so as to put some space between you two
  2066.  
  2067. “Whoa whoa whoa wait…what? Weren’t you just saying how I should give up on the idea!”
  2068.  
  2069. Star smiles, before looking around with a conspiratorial expression
  2070.  
  2071. “Yeah, well…I just said it’d be hard, not impossible. Let’s say I help you Windy, and let’s say you somehow manage to not get zapped to the moon by the Princess…I want a piece of the action”
  2072.  
  2073. You don’t know what to say, and so choose to follow the advise a veteran once gave you – “If caught between two hard places, neigh”
  2074.  
  2075. No wait. It didn’t go like that.
  2076.  
  2077. You do your best impression of a fish out of water, causing Star to roll her eyes, before she sits down and assumed a much more serious tone
  2078.  
  2079. “Don’t look at me like that. I had to listen to you complain about “how unfair it is that stallions only like mares for their bits” one too many times. Stars above, I nagged at you sometimes about the same thing! Point being that 99% of stallions are asses and that by some miracle there is one that is not only single but also doesn’t treat us like crap. Are you really that surprised I’m interested, if only to get to know him better and to see where that goes?”
  2080.  
  2081. Honestly? When put that way it makes a lot of sense that both of you have taken notice.
  2082.  
  2083. You don’t like to judge others, but what Star is saying is the truth – in modern society too many stallions think that the fact that there are few of them (compared with the number of mares wishing to join a herd) gives them the right to treat mares like dirt under their hooves.
  2084.  
  2085. As far as you have seen, Anon doesn’t behave at all like that.
  2086.  
  2087. Sure, maybe he was harsh when you slacked, and a bit cold with others…but honestly? Even though you don’t know him that well, having met him only a week and half ago, he seems alright.
  2088.  
  2089. And so you nod to your friend, finally giving her a little smile before replying with a lame joke so as to lighten the mood
  2090.  
  2091. “…if we get kicked out of the Castle, I call dibs on the bed in whatever hovel we end up in”
  2092.  
  2093. That causes Star Dust to look at you with surprise, before letting out a laughter at seeing your change of mood
  2094.  
  2095. “Listen Star...I…honestly got no idea how to even approach the idea, even if we forget everything you said.”
  2096.  
  2097. “First of all, chill. No seriously, you got to calm down. He’s just invited us to join him for an evening between colleagues and/or friends, your pick. I say let’s get to know the guy first, and then we can see how it goes. Worst comes to worst, we can simply “call it off” and just remain colleagues. I for one would like to keep this job…the benefits alone are more than worth it. Did you know they let us use the saunas? The SAUNAS Windy!”
  2098.  
  2099. And with a final laughter you begin looking through your (admittedly limited) wardrobe, feeling as if a huge weight had lifted from your chest.
  2100.  
  2101. -----------------------------------------
  2102.  
  2103. You are the only human in Equestria, as far as you know, so you must be Anon.
  2104.  
  2105. As you wait for the two mares to come down from their rooms, you take a look at yourself in a wall mirror – for some reason there are many in the Tower -, and you do cut a nice figure if you dare say so yourself.
  2106.  
  2107. Years of physical training have left you in far better shape that you were as a young adult, and the uniform you wear does nothing but accentuate your imposing profile.
  2108.  
  2109. It is then that you hear the sound made by hoofshoes on stone coming down the stair, and turning around you see your two subordinates descending the stairs.
  2110.  
  2111. It seems both of them decided to avoid wearing military dress, save for the shoes and the collar – a sensible choice since they are accompanying you to the Officers’ Club, so as to avoid being mistaken for civilians.
  2112.  
  2113. You smile at the sight – your old self would swear off the alien form of mares, but honestly? After more than a decade spent in Equestria and more than one romp in the hay with a mare to celebrate surviving another day, you stopped caring so much about the whole “not a human” thing.
  2114.  
  2115. You bend at the waist, in a perfect copy of the gesture your tutors taught you the son of a noble house (minor as yours was) ought to do when meeting a lady for the first time – after all, this is the first time you “meet” the two mares in a less formal setting, ignoring the first hours you actually met.
  2116.  
  2117. You might not see it, but your gesture brings a smile to Star Dust face, and as you stand back up, the two mares return the gesture (even if you notice Star has given Windy a small kick), before placing themselves at your sides, following your lead as you begin the walk toward the exit of the Palace.
  2118.  
  2119. “So…should I refer to you as “Captain”, “Hierarch”…or simply as “Anon”? “
  2120.  
  2121. Says Star Dust, looking at you with her trademark teasing smile
  2122.  
  2123. “Just Anon will do. We are off duty, after all”
  2124.  
  2125. “Ok then…Anon. Since you didn’t let us suggest a place to go to, and told us to wear something that would identify us as guardsmares…mind enlightening us about our destination?”
  2126.  
  2127. “Oh nothing much. We are going to the Officers’ Club”
  2128.  
  2129. The mares fall silent at that, and you suppress a snicker at their reaction.
  2130.  
  2131. Equestria might have changed, but the class system was very much alive – it was not a coincidence that essentially every officer in the Army was the scion of a noble house -, and so you had essentially told them you’d be mingling with the nobility.
  2132.  
  2133. Windy Skies is the first to recover, and she starts looking at herself, rambling in the meantime
  2134.  
  2135. “Celestia above you could have said something! I’d have put on something else!”
  2136.  
  2137. You simply place a hand on her back, causing her to stiffen, before replying
  2138.  
  2139. “Relax. Unless things have changed that much the atmosphere at the Club should be quite relaxed, since ponies go there to drink and socialize – nobody will truly pay attention even if you had dressed like to go to the Gala”
  2140.  
  2141. You see her calm down a bit, but also deflate slightly, to which you click your tongue before adding
  2142.  
  2143. “But. For what it’s worth…you two look great”
  2144.  
  2145. A compliment that causes the cheeks of both mares to light up a bit – women will be women regardless of the world you end up in it seems -, before you three continue walking, the two mares with a bit more of a spring in their steps.
  2146.  
  2147. -----------------------------------------
  2148.  
  2149. You are Indigo Star, and you just did a double take as you see a strange minotauress enter the Club.
  2150.  
  2151. At least, you think it’s a minotaur – her legs don’t seem to end in hooves.
  2152.  
  2153. Still, your job is to cater to all ponies….and whatever she is, that have the right military grade.
  2154.  
  2155. And she seems to have it, if the pins to her uniform are anything to go by.
  2156.  
  2157. “’Good evening folks and welcome to our humble establishment. How may I serve you?”
  2158.  
  2159. You look at the two mares flanking the minotauress, before raising an eyebrow as you notice they seem to be just privates; the officer looks at you with penetrating eyes, but you simply shrug your shoulders.
  2160.  
  2161. If they are with her, they can come in – buck dealing with an angry customer, they don’t pay you enough for this.
  2162.  
  2163. “We’d like to dine, as well as to know what amenities your club offers”
  2164.  
  2165. You raise both eyebrows at hearing her…his voice.
  2166.  
  2167. A stallion officer. Not the first you’ve seen, mind you (who could forget the eldest scion of the Sparkle family?), but still a true rarity.
  2168.  
  2169. You simply clap your hooves, and a waiter appears.
  2170.  
  2171. “We are proud to offer two separate dining halls to our members – one on the roof, which offers a beautiful view of the Central District, and the internal one, which is where the majority of the gentlemares prefer to socialize. As far as entertainment goes, our Club offers the usual – billiard, cigar room, a library, etc etc”
  2172.  
  2173. The stallion (?) nods his head, before you continue
  2174.  
  2175. “Of course, I will need your name and rank, Sir…?”
  2176.  
  2177. “Anon Y Mous, Hierarch…Captain of the Lunar Retinue”
  2178.  
  2179. You do a double take at hearing his title – while the title of “Captain” was a title with many ranks within it, ranging from the relatively minor to the major ones such as “Captain of the Royal Guard/Lunar Guard” and you have no idea how high this stallion is placed in the hierarchy, you do know for a fact that he is quite highly placed.
  2180.  
  2181. It’s honestly a surprise that you have never seen him around the Club – maybe a new recruit, son of a foreign dignitary, sent to Equestria to foster good relations with his homeland by playing soldier until he got married off to some second daughter of a noble family enlisted in the Army? Wouldn’t be the first time such a thing occurred.
  2182.  
  2183. Regardless of your internal thoughts, you write down his name and rank, while he looks at the mares at his sides.
  2184.  
  2185. “Any preference?”
  2186.  
  2187. The pegasus seems to be undecided, but the thestral’s face splits in two by how wide her smile is
  2188.  
  2189. “I’d like to check out the internal hall. What do you say, Windy?”
  2190.  
  2191. It seems that the other mare was lost in her little world, for she absently nods.
  2192.  
  2193. “We’ll take a table at the internal hall then”
  2194.  
  2195. A simple nod on your part, and the trio leaves the entrance, directed toward their final destination.
  2196.  
  2197. Lucky buckers those two privates…they scored a stallion for themselves apparently, and a noble one to boot.
  2198.  
  2199. You sigh, turning once more toward your book in which you sign all guests of the Club, including any new face.
  2200.  
  2201. “Anon Y Mous – Captain of the Lunar Retinue”
  2202.  
  2203. You will remember his face – after all, there aren’t many male officers, and even less foreign officers who are part of the private retinue of the Princess of the Moon.
  2204.  
  2205. -----------------------------------------
  2206.  
  2207. You are Star Dust, and honestly? You are enjoying yourself so far.
  2208.  
  2209. You knew your boss was highly-placed (otherwise why in Tartarus would the Princess be so familiar with him?), but damn, you didn’t know you were serving directly under a Captain!
  2210.  
  2211. …even if the rank was just for show maybe, considering that so far only you three were part of Princess Luna personal retinue.
  2212.  
  2213. Still…food for thought.
  2214.  
  2215. Many might judge you somewhat of a gold digger, if they could see your thoughts. And yet they are just the natural reaction to growing up in relative poverty.
  2216.  
  2217. You come from a family with too many mouths to feed and too little bits to go ‘round.
  2218.  
  2219. At least, that’s what your mother always told you when you asked her.
  2220.  
  2221. It’s only when you became an adult that you realized just how strange it was that your mother voluntarily left her old herd behind – single mothers are a rarity to say the least, and for her to have left a herd while being able to take you with her? It spoke volumes about the kind of family you left behind.
  2222.  
  2223. Still, her decision made it so that you grew up knowing the value of a bit, and so it’s only natural that you add the information about Anon’s rank to the list of things you know about him, together with the fact that the stallion is not repulsed by a mare’s form apparently.
  2224.  
  2225. After all you noticed his eyes lingering on your ass as you made sure to put extra sway in your hips to test your theory – you had noticed how he did not really look at mares around him, and at first you thought he was simply not attracted to females not of his species, but then you noticed how he’s check out some particular mares.
  2226.  
  2227. It might be a small thing, but had he really not been attracted to mares at all, Windy and you could just forget about even the potential for anything to happen in the future.
  2228.  
  2229. As your little group enters the hall, many mares take a look at the “new faces”.
  2230.  
  2231. It is with a smug smile that you keep your head high – who would have ever thought that you, the daughter of a poor farm worker, would one day be rubbing shoulders with the sons and daughters of the Canterlot nobility?
  2232.  
  2233. The waiter directs you toward a table large enough to sit three times your small group, before levitating three menus toward you.
  2234.  
  2235. Now, you might be a countryside bumpkin like many have called you, but even you know how to be a gentlemare – you just never had a reason to be one so far.
  2236.  
  2237. You take out Anon’s chair so as to let him sit before sitting down yourself
  2238.  
  2239. “Uh..thank you”
  2240.  
  2241. He looks at you in a strange way – wait, did you mess up?
  2242.  
  2243. “Thanks, it’s just that where I’m from, it is usually the man who takes out the chair for the woman”
  2244.  
  2245. You turn your head a bit sideway, looking at him – just where in Tartarus did he come from?
  2246.  
  2247. Regardless, he smiles at you, and then at Windy, before picking up his menu.
  2248.  
  2249. The rest of the dinner goes by without a hitch – you and Windy talk about yourselves and how you two met years ago, having enlisted on the same day.
  2250.  
  2251. Anon is a bit more reticent when the subject of his past is brought up, but you do manage to pick up some bits and pieces, which slowly put together an image in your mind – ponies might think you’re an idiot, but that’s just how you act around strangers on purpose, for you’d rather be dismissed as a simpleton than taken advantage of.
  2252.  
  2253. You put together the image of a veteran, which explains his martial skills, as well as the image of somepony who has known the Princess for quite some time if the familiar way he speaks about her is anything to go by – which raises more questions than it answers, since you know he “appeared” in Windy’s old workplace.
  2254.  
  2255. He was apparently the son of a minor noble house, the eldest of three sisters and two brothers, and came from abroad; except he refused to share what he was doing here in Equestria if he was a foreign noble, diverting the conversation back to your old exploits in the Royal Guard.
  2256.  
  2257. Regardless of his little secrets, you are not disappointed in the least: the man may be a true slaver when on the job, but he’s been a gentlecolt during the entire dinner, even showing real interest in what you and Windy had to say, rather than doing what many colts do and simply wishing to hear themselves speak.
  2258.  
  2259. You could get used to this.
  2260.  
  2261. But you know what they say – that nothing good lasts forever.
  2262.  
  2263. “Hi there! Nice to meet you, again!”
  2264.  
  2265. …the old cunt, Aurora, has apparently decided to ruin your evening with her presence.
  2266.  
  2267. -----------------------------------------
  2268.  
  2269. You are Zephyr Aurora, and you thank your good star as you see the unmistakable shape of the minotaur you saw accompanying Princess Luna.
  2270.  
  2271. NCOs are not usually allowed in the Officers’ Club, but since Indigo Star is an old friend of yours, sometimes you manage to gain entrance.
  2272.  
  2273. It might not be the noblest thing to do, but frankly if the brass wishes to keep all the good stuff for themselves, while only sharing some breadcrumbs with you “mere commoners”, you will take what you can.
  2274.  
  2275. The fact the stallion is here can only mean one of two things – either one of the mares accompanying him is an officer, or he is one himself, which would make his worth jump by a lot in your eyes.
  2276.  
  2277. Judging others by what they bring to the table might not be the noblest trait to have, but it has served you well in the past: in this world there are those who have, and those who wish to have.
  2278.  
  2279. The harmonic ideology spread by the monarchy might have led, over time, to a more equal society, but there were still huge differences between rich and poor, and while your family was not poor by any mean, you didn’t have anything freely given to you as you made your way in the world.
  2280.  
  2281. Hence why you judge ponies (or in this case this minotaur) by what they can bring to the table first, and everything else second.
  2282.  
  2283. Your friends were an exception to this of course, but on the other hand…well, you weren’t the most popular of mares, and you knew it.
  2284.  
  2285. So as you come up to the minotaur you make an extra effort to lay on the charm so as to make the best first impression possible, nodding in the direction of the two mares at his side.
  2286.  
  2287. …except that if those mares were on a date with him, you might have just crashed it.
  2288.  
  2289. Still…too late to cry on spilled milk. You might very well never have another shot at meeting this mysterious officer, so you might very well make the most of your good luck.
  2290.  
  2291. “Hi there! Nice to meet you, again!”
  2292.  
  2293. You say with a smile, to which the stallion simply nods, and looks at the two mares glaring at you before replying
  2294.  
  2295. “Good evening Sergeant, it is indeed nice to meet again – to what do I owe the honor?”
  2296.  
  2297. So cold…you might have truly bucked this up. Time to try and savage the situation.
  2298.  
  2299. “Well I was just chatting with an old pal, when I noticed you here, and wanted to say hello”
  2300.  
  2301. You turn toward the two mares before continuing
  2302.  
  2303. “…I am truly sorry if I crashed in uninvited; I guess I just got excited to see a familiar face”
  2304.  
  2305. The thestral glares at you for a second before shrugging her shoulders and looking at her companion.
  2306.  
  2307. It is the pegasus that is truly glaring at you strangely, until she speaks…
  2308.  
  2309. “Hello, Sergeant Aurora, long time no see”
  2310.  
  2311. …and you recognize her – Windy Skies, the only mare in your squad that explicitly asked you to be excluded from the list the brass ordered you to put together a couple of years back, when they discharged ponies left, right and center.
  2312.  
  2313. Others were even excited about leaving the Guard before their contract was up, but not her – she even mentioned it multiple times that she wished to remain on board.
  2314.  
  2315. And yet letting her go seemed a good idea at the time – you could retain only a small number of ponies, and you DID owe a number of favors to the father of one of the newbies…a stallion who would not take “no” for an answer, and had the connections to get what he wanted.
  2316.  
  2317. Well…shit.
  2318.  
  2319. -----------------------------------------
  2320.  
  2321. “Hello, Sergeant Aurora, long time no see”
  2322.  
  2323. You are Windy Skies, and the evening was going great until this…this bitch, decided to jut in without any regard!
  2324.  
  2325. You are usually a kind, calm individual, but frankly this cunt could throw herself off a cliff and you’d let her fall to her death – you spoke with her so many times when the news broke that there would be a mass discharge, and she assured you so much that “she’d do whatever it took to keep you in her squad”…
  2326.  
  2327. …buck her. You spent 2 years and half working your ass off in a dead-end job, being overworked and underpaid by an ass of a boss, all because she had to “help the younger generation make their way in the world, Windy”.
  2328.  
  2329. More like helping daddy’s daughter so as to get in some brownie points with her subordinate’s single father.
  2330.  
  2331. Sun above…you could have forgiven the fact that you were let go, in time, but the gall she has to interrupt what is clearly a date – and in your rage you refuse to call it anything else, since you are two mares and a stallion, all singles, eating together and getting to know one another.
  2332.  
  2333. “Oh…ehm…evening, it has been a while hasn’t it?”
  2334.  
  2335. She lets out a nervous laughter, looking between you and your companions
  2336.  
  2337. “It was so nice of you to come and “say hello” to a “familiar face”, but please, let us enjoy our dinner with the Captain in peace”
  2338.  
  2339. Buck her. You will rub it in her face as much as you can.
  2340.  
  2341. This seems to get to her, for she hesitates for a moment before quickly turning her face toward Anon with a calculating gaze, looking over the sigils symbolizing his rank.
  2342.  
  2343. She then turns to look at you with a smile – you know exactly what is going through her mind even before she says it
  2344.  
  2345. “..but Windy, it has been such a long time, surely you wouldn’t mind if we catch up, right?”
  2346.  
  2347. You almost yell at her by how outraged you are – almost, for Star gives you a kick beneath the table hard enough to make you shut up due to the pain.
  2348.  
  2349. It is only then that you notice Anon is looking at you with a very strange expression – worry? -, before replying for you
  2350.  
  2351. “I am sorry Sergeant, but I’ll have to pull rank and ask you to meet your old…friend, another day – we were having an important discussion, and while I have absolutely nothing against fraternizing between different branches, there is a time and a place for everything”
  2352.  
  2353. Aurora puts her hoof down and a defeated expression appears on her face, before she sees the strange symbol in the shape of a double-headed eagle on the uniform of your boss and quickly turns her head toward him
  2354.  
  2355. “Wait. I know that symbol – why are you wearing it?!”
  2356.  
  2357. -----------------------------------------
  2358.  
  2359. You stiffen, for you knew this moment would come sooner or later – it’s a miracle that nobody else has recognized you so far to tell the truth, given your blatant display of the Princess’ old heraldry, as well as your own personal sigil.
  2360.  
  2361. You look at your subordinates, and see that their attention is completely drawn to it thanks to Sergeant Aurora’s remarks.
  2362.  
  2363. You enjoyed the days you spent with these mares, and it is clear that path you followed so far divides in two from now on: you could tell them the truth and face the consequences, or try and weasel your way out of this situation.
  2364.  
  2365. …the temptation to deny everything and make up some story is strong, but honestly…to what end?
  2366.  
  2367. It was always the intention of Princess Luna to make your appointment “official”, for in her opinion “Why should a scion of the Sparkle family be ranked above my own champion?”.
  2368.  
  2369. Flattering words aside, her intentions were clear, and sooner rather than later you would have to face the fact that your identity would be a matter of public domain, with everything that this entailed regarding your past.
  2370.  
  2371. Put in this perspective, it makes no sense to lie to those that you hope would soon become your comrades.
  2372.  
  2373. And so you smile before replying to the Sergeant, confident in your own inner strength and in the fact that you received a response to your emotional state in the form of an inquisitive “tug” from Luna – a clear reminder of her presence, having taken notice of your worrying.
  2374.  
  2375. “I’m impressed Sergeant. I was expecting this sort of questions after the Princess made her announcement in the next few days, but not sooner”
  2376.  
  2377. Aurora looks at you with what anyone can clearly see is a mix of fear and curiosity after you finish speaking – after all, you just confirmed your identity in her mind (whatever that may be), as well as declaring that the princess was not only aware of you, but supportive enough so as to make a public announcement about it.
  2378.  
  2379. “…tell me, do you know who I am?”
  2380.  
  2381. You say, playing with the cuff of your uniform, while gesturing toward the last empty chair at the table.
  2382.  
  2383. A simple look is enough to stop your subordinated from speaking against you – not that they would have, all things considered, given their own curiosity has been piqued.
  2384.  
  2385. Aurora looks nervously between you, the table and the door.
  2386.  
  2387. “Please, I do not bite, I promise. And I would rather have this discussion in a civilized manner”
  2388.  
  2389. She sighs before sitting in the chair – her nervousness is clear, and yet she has not run away.
  2390.  
  2391. An unpleasant mare? Sure, but you have to admit she does possess at least an ounce of courage.
  2392.  
  2393. The mare in question gulps, before closing her eyes as if concentrating. It is only after a good 10-15 seconds have passed that she re-opens them and begins to speak in an even tone.
  2394.  
  2395. “…I remember the illustrations on the books my gran-gran used to read me as a filly. There were stories of the “old times” as she called them. Some of those stories were about a being similar to you…one that wore that symbol”
  2396.  
  2397. She points her hoof at your cuff as she finishes her short story.
  2398.  
  2399. If that’s all, then it’s almost disappointing.
  2400.  
  2401. You raise an eyebrow while gesturing at her to continue.
  2402.  
  2403. “I don’t know, ok?! It was years ago and all I can remember is how those stories made me feel”
  2404.  
  2405. “And how did they make you feel?”
  2406.  
  2407. She locks her eyes on your own, and takes a moment to truly look at you for what might be the first time since you met
  2408.  
  2409. “Terrified. Stories about a strange being that left broken families in its wake, and that my gran-gran called “the Executioner”. There you have it, I told you everything. Now you tell me: were those stories about you?”
  2410.  
  2411. If that’s all she had on you…you might have overreacted to tell the truth.
  2412.  
  2413. But honestly? Sooner or later you’d need to have this discussion with Star Dust and Windy Skies, so you might as well salvage the situation and make the most of it.
  2414.  
  2415. You nod at Aurora, while quietly sending a simple message signifying “everything is ok” to Luna, who had apparently been made a bit nervous due to your silence.
  2416.  
  2417. You pour some wine in your glass and drink, before re-focusing your eyes on the Sergeant.
  2418.  
  2419. -----------------------------------------
  2420.  
  2421. You are Star Dust…and while you don’t fully understand the situation, you are fully aware that the answer Anon is about to give will forever reshape your relationship.
  2422.  
  2423. You have no idea exactly how you know it, but you do.
  2424.  
  2425. The man smiles in a way that you have never seen him do before – gone is the jovial expression he had minutes ago, replaced by a cold confidence that you have only seen on the face of veterans.
  2426.  
  2427. He lifts his hand to his hair, making what to you seems like a mock military salute
  2428.  
  2429. “Anon Y Mous, Hierarch of the Moon, member of the so-called Inner Circle, commander of the 3rd Division, and presently Captain of the Lunar Retinue. It is a pleasure to meet you, Sergeant Aurora”
  2430.  
  2431. It’s a different smile because it showcases his canines, clear heritage of a predator species, and it doesn’t reach the eyes.
  2432.  
  2433. And for the first time you don’t see the man you have come to follow over the past weeks, but what an enemy must see when facing him – a veteran more than willing to put an end to his enemy’s life.
  2434.  
  2435. It’s not a pleasant thought.
  2436.  
  2437. You look at Aurora, who has shut up and seems torn between “ponying up” and cowering in fear.
  2438.  
  2439. She steadies herself, her face turning into one of determination – even though you can clearly see some remnant of fear in her eyes.
  2440.  
  2441. Not that Anon has done anything to threaten her…but from what she said, if he is in fact who she thinks he is, he might as well be her childhood bogeyman made flesh; you may hate the mare for how she handled the case of your friend, but you kind of respect her courage right now.
  2442.  
  2443. “…you are not my enemy, but my comrade in the Guard Zephyr. There is no need to be so scared.”
  2444.  
  2445. Simple words, and when you look back to your boss long gone is the scary man that made you think he’d not bat an eye while bashing your head in with his hammer – all that is left is the neutral look one would give to an acquaintance.
  2446.  
  2447. For your part, you are just confused by what you heard.
  2448.  
  2449. If Aurora is right then Anon would be this…”Executioner”? And if what he said is true, he’d be…Stars above why in Tartarus does your memory fail you right now?!
  2450.  
  2451. The words “Inner Circle” remind you of something, but you can’t put your hoof on it.
  2452.  
  2453. You look over to your friend to see how she is doing…and much to your surprise, Windy appears to have a look of recognition on her face, before pointing her hoof at your leader.
  2454.  
  2455. As it seems she is about to finally shed some light on the matter, he raises a hand, while also speaking in a slightly louder tone of voice
  2456.  
  2457. “This is enough. Sergeant Aurora, you are dismissed. Consider what you heard tonight to be akin to a state secret until the Princess’ announcement. And as for you two…”
  2458.  
  2459. He stops talking as Aurora stands up and stomps her hoof on the ground with an irritated look on her face
  2460.  
  2461. “No! You can’t drop something like that on me and expect me to not ask any question! I..”
  2462.  
  2463. “Sergeant Aurora! Do I need to remind you to whom you are talking? By decree of both Diarchs, I outrank you. You will do as you are told, unless you wish to be court-marshalled”
  2464.  
  2465. There is something in Anon’s voice that send shivers down your spine – and not of the good kind.
  2466.  
  2467. It is the tone of somepony used to giving orders, and that expects others to obey.
  2468.  
  2469. The sergeant’s face goes through various expression – surprise, outrage, anger. And yet, in the end she shuts up and grumbles something beneath her breath.
  2470.  
  2471. “I must be getting old, for I couldn’t hear you Sergeant. What did you say?”
  2472.  
  2473. “…Yes, Sir”
  2474.  
  2475. “Good. Now move it. And as for you two…follow me”
  2476.  
  2477. He waits until Aurora leaves the room before standing up. It is only now that you notice just how many ponies have turned to look at your group – it seems you created quite the scene.
  2478.  
  2479. Unperturbed by others hearing him, the human stands and begins to walk down the hallway, closely followed by Windy. It is only after a couple of seconds that you come back to your senses and rush to follow your friend and…your Captain.
  2480.  
  2481. -----------------------------------------
  2482.  
  2483. This evening has gone to shit, let’s be honest.
  2484.  
  2485. These are the kind of thoughts that crowd your mind as you lead Windy and Star toward one of the many reading rooms of the Club, helped by the signs on the wall.
  2486.  
  2487. “Reading Room #4” the sign on the door says.
  2488.  
  2489. It will have to do.
  2490.  
  2491. Opening the door and peeking inside reveals that the room is empty, thanks to it being the time any normal person would eat dinner.
  2492.  
  2493. A single table sits at the center of the room, 4 lounge chairs placed around it.
  2494.  
  2495. Letting the mares in, you make sure that the door is closed before moving toward one of the chairs and gesturing toward the others – Star and Windy at each other, almost as if uncertain whether they can trust you, but then Windy nods, and both of them sit on the chairs on your opposite sides.
  2496.  
  2497. “Let me be clear from the start: Star, Windy…it’s has not even been two weeks since you were transferred to this unit, so I won’t bother with long discourses about camaraderie. Having said that, I think you two are good mares, helping a complete stranger when you just met him. I would be honored to call you my comrades, but that presupposes a certain level of honesty between us. So…”
  2498.  
  2499. You stop for a second as you feel a strange sensation in your mind, almost as if a random, persistent thought had appeared and refused to be dislodged.
  2500.  
  2501. The Princess has apparently decided to “listen in”.
  2502.  
  2503. Others might be outraged at the breach of privacy, but you have slowly gotten used to feel her presence from time to time – usually to check up on you, but also if the two of you are separated and there is need for a quicker form of communication than physically going to meet the other, even with all the limitations intrinsic in the magic itself
  2504.  
  2505. Also…well, you’d be a hypocrite in calling her out for it, given you have taken the liberty to return the favor from time to time
  2506.  
  2507. “…my presence was never meant to remain a secret for long, for the Princess wished to make my appointment to this position official. She gave me a couple of weeks of “rest”, so as to let me adapt to how Equestria has changed in my absence”
  2508.  
  2509. You observe the two mares – Windy Skies seems to be listening to every single word you speak, while Star Dust looks lost in her thoughts.
  2510.  
  2511. “This is where the official story ends. What comes after is a matter of my own private life. I want to ask you a question, and I want you to be sincere: do you truly wish to know? For I am willing to share at least something about my past in order to build some…well, mutual trust. But know that if you do to take me up on my offer, I will ask you to recite a binding oath”
  2512.  
  2513. The words cause Star to wake up from her torpor and look you straight in the eyes, even if Windy just seems confused.
  2514.  
  2515. She seems torn for a moment, before opening up:
  2516.  
  2517. “…I’ll just say it: I don’t know what to believe anymore. Your story seems…well it sounds like yakshit”
  2518.  
  2519. She looks at Windy, who has been quiet for a good part of the evening you realize
  2520.  
  2521. “…and yet you don’t strike me as a liar. That’s all. I lived my life by trusting my guts and intend to continuing doing so. What are the terms of the oath?”
  2522.  
  2523. Her willingness to even entertain your suggestion is surprising to tell the truth – binding oaths were once common knowledge in Equestria due to being featured in so many historical novels, and yet while their theoretical study has progressed over the centuries, their practical use has been declining until it almost disappeared nowadays.
  2524.  
  2525. It is thus surprising that Star Dust is entertaining the idea. After all, you know from experience that a promise owns he who makes it.
  2526.  
  2527. You feel surprise from the Princess as well at first – she knew that you wished to talk with the two mares before her announcement, but it seems neither of you had foreseen that the situation could go this way -, quickly followed by her metaphorically yelling at you in your own head about the idiocy of the idea.
  2528.  
  2529. “…a simple one. You will be bound to secrecy until either me or my liege release you from said oath. You will be free to talk about what you have come to know only with others bound by the same oath”
  2530.  
  2531. “Just that?”
  2532.  
  2533. You nod at Windy’s question – a relatively simple oath on paper, but you know from experience just how powerful this particular brand of magic is.
  2534.  
  2535. Your bond with Princess Luna had severely deteriorated, and yet it was still there after a thousand years before you renewed it – magic has almost no effect on you thanks to your biology actively expelling it from the body, and yet a millennia was still not enough to break the oath.
  2536.  
  2537. That is one of the reasons why this specific form of magic had slowly been disappearing, together with its intrinsic difficulty.
  2538.  
  2539. Before spells had been formalized in the archaic past, a unicorn had to manipulate the aether without any help, relying entirely on their own concentration and skills.
  2540.  
  2541. Over time “Spells” developed, being at their essence nothing more than very advanced forms of rote memorization mixed with physical/mental conditioning – exercises to condition one’s own aethereal system to manipulate the aether in certain ways when stimulated in a specific manner
  2542.  
  2543. In other words, the “words” would constitute the stimuli (by forcing one to think about the spell), and the body would react through a simple mechanism of conditioning repeated over long stretches of time – this was what unicorns meant with “learning a spell”.
  2544.  
  2545. Oaths are a leftover of the time before all of this was anything but fantasies in the mind of some forgotten cavepony.
  2546.  
  2547. Each one of them had to be “crafted” to suit the specifics of the situation, and there were few ponies left that were able to accomplish such a feat.
  2548.  
  2549. Thankfully, even though you were obviously unable to make use of magic, you had received an extremely basic instruction in the theoretical basis behind the craft of creating a “oath” – the purpose of your instruction being that, back during the War, there had been mages too capable or valuable to allow their knowledge and skills to go to waste.
  2550.  
  2551. Why kill these skilled ponies that swore allegiance to the Princess of the Sun, when you could – by forging a connection to the Princess of the Moon through your own connection, allowing her to directly influence them - force them to serve your liege?
  2552.  
  2553. And in this lies the beauty of this magic – once set free, the arcana makes use of the magic surrounding its target to constantly renew itself, thus granting it incredible resilience to any attempt to dissolve it.
  2554.  
  2555. A perfect tool to force others to obey.
  2556.  
  2557. Yet another reason why its use was strictly regulated.
  2558.  
  2559. …and another reason why you feel a headache forming, with Luna continuing to metaphorically yell at you in your own head. Your reply is a simple one, and yet it manages to silence the Princess: “If you have a better idea to ensure secrecy while telling them at least some parts of the truth, why not propose it?”
  2560.  
  2561. The silence is deafening.
  2562.  
  2563. -----------------------------------------
  2564.  
  2565. You are Windy Skies and you don’t know what to think, to echo your friend Star Dust.
  2566.  
  2567. You don’t want to believe Anon is a liar. And yet…this entire story seems way too far-fetched to be real.
  2568.  
  2569. …or is it?
  2570.  
  2571. You quickly go through all the elements you have at hoof - he appeared out of thin air. Princess Luna seems to be very attached to him – the same Princess who is notorious for avoiding physical contact essentially jumped in his arms when they met after you “rescued” him from that cave.
  2572.  
  2573. And then there are Aurora’s words – his personal sigil, reminding you of ancient heraldry, as well as the ancient-sounding titles he used to refer to himself, specifically that of “member of the Inner Circle”.
  2574.  
  2575. You heard it during your studies, you are sure of it, used in reference to a long-dead order of knights from way back, before the Lunar Revolt.
  2576.  
  2577. A picture is beginning to form in your head, but you are still missing too many pieces – all that you know is that he’s offering you answers, even if the price, if so it can be called, seems…high.
  2578.  
  2579. Either he is truly one of the greatest conponies you have ever met, or…or your gut instinct is right, in which case it’d mean he is not lying to you, but is actually telling the truth.
  2580.  
  2581. If that’s the case, you don’t know if you really want to know more.
  2582.  
  2583.  
  2584. You slap yourself, causing the others to look at you in a strange way, but you feel like you deserve it and much more.
  2585.  
  2586. It is hard to trust others after you have been wounded one too many times.
  2587.  
  2588. Sergeant Aurora…just Zephyr to you at the time, threw you out to fend for yourself even after you essentially begged her to not do it. Your “friends” showed their true colors when you were discharged from your old unit – of all of them, only Star stuck around.
  2589.  
  2590. Your ex…you truly wanted a family. By Celestia, you even managed to land some dates with a stallion that seemed like a good match for you, even if you’d have to share him with other mares.
  2591.  
  2592. And then he threw you away like garbage.
  2593.  
  2594. If one adds together all of that, as well as how much you hated your old work and your boss…it’s a miracle you didn’t develop depression along the way.
  2595.  
  2596. Life seemed to never give you a break, until that fateful day almost two weeks ago, when somepony appeared out of thin air in a museum exposition room.
  2597.  
  2598. You…you like Anon as a person.
  2599.  
  2600. A lot.
  2601.  
  2602. He has been kind to you and to Star, and he doesn’t seem like a bad person.
  2603.  
  2604. Scratch that, he’s metaphorically saved your life by helping you after even your boss kicked you to the curb, and you don’t know how you will ever repay him for it.
  2605.  
  2606. If he’s willing to trust you enough to share something so personal to him, the least you can do is to put your trust in him as well.
  2607.  
  2608. And so you get up, fire in your eyes, placing your hoof on Anon’s hand, before saying 3 simple words:
  2609.  
  2610. “I trust you”
  2611.  
  2612. -----------------------------------------
  2613.  
  2614. The process is relatively simple with a mistress of the arcane such as Luna present in spirit, for all you have to do is to convey what you are trying to do, and she shapes the aether through you.
  2615.  
  2616. The actual process only be described as the feeling of a chain slowly unfolding from your heart, until it touches both Windy’s and Star’s, awaiting their consent, which they promptly give.
  2617.  
  2618. And then it’s all over, just as quickly as it has begun.
  2619.  
  2620. Star looks at her chest, then at you, before going back to look at herself
  2621.  
  2622. “…that’s it?”
  2623.  
  2624. You can only nod, for you too were incredibly anxious the first time the process was applied to you.
  2625.  
  2626. “And now…let’s talk.”

Anon Y Mous, Hierarch of Halogaland

by Ar-Adunakhor

A bond through the ages

by Ar-Adunakhor

Anon Y Mous, Hierarch of Halogaland

by Ar-Adunakhor