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Reckless in Training

By xcpony
Created: 1st August 2022 04:11:48 PM
12th August 2022 08:40:40 AM

  1. >Another damn day in hoof camp.
  2. >It wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the fact that nopony seemed to be taking it seriously.
  3. >Nopony else on your side of the platoon, at least.
  4. >Well, there was one mare.
  5. >"You stay."
  6. >But she was more drilled than some of the instructors.
  7. "Morning, it's just an exercise."
  8. >The foreign enlistee, who seemed more re-enlistee than anything, gave you a steely glare.
  9. "...Reckless."
  10. >She insisted on that name, even though her papers and uniform had her down as Morning Flame.
  11. >"Not just exercise. Treat as war. Could be real, one day."
  12. "Equestria hasn't had a war in centuries."
  13. >There were some close calls, recently, though... Pies /were/ pretty dangerous, given the right application.
  14. >"No care. Always watching. Always ready. Semper fi."
  15. >Another blunt training spear curled over the top of the enbankment. You, and the other five ponies she'd hauled on her back, instinctively leaned away.
  16. >Reckless simply squinted over the top.
  17. >"Corporal! What plan?"
  18. >"Hay if I know!"
  19. >She grunted, and looked back over you and the sorry ponies in the trench.
  20. >"Stay."
  21. >With her last order reiterated, she vaulted out in one swift leap, thundering up and out of sight, right into the midst of the fray.
  22. >Peeking out yourself, you caught eyes on the rest of your platoon scattered about.
  23. >Reckless had made it safely to the frontline again, and from the looks of things, it seemed like the corporal was about to get dragged back, too.
  24. >You settled back into the trench.
  25. >It was going to be a long siege.
  26. >But somehow, you knew Reckless had been through longer.
  27. >Instead of laying about like the rest of the sods, here, you crouched low, and prodded about for 'injuries'.
  28. >You'd get these ponies to soldier up, and take back the lost ground.
  29. >Reckless was doing all she could to keep you in the fight.
  30. >She needed you to get the rest in line.
  31. "C'mon, you heard the mare. Let's go, ponies."
  32. >"Why bother? They've been shelling us for hours."
  33. "Because /she/ needs us. You want to win don't you?"
  34. >Some murmurs wound through the trench.
  35. >You sighed.
  36. "If we lose, we're not getting the hayburgers they promised as a reward."
  37. >"I love hayburgers!"
  38. >Well, that put them back on their hooves.
  39. "Get your things together, we're going back out there. We can win this."
  40. >With renewed vigor, the ponies made to snatch up their equipment.
  41. >Suddenly, the warhorse barreled back over and in. The corporal thumped into the dirt beside you.
  42. >You looked Reckless in the eye.
  43. >What had she said?
  44. "Semper fi, Reckless. What do we do?"
  45. >The edges of her mouth twitched, and she leaned back, looking over all of you.
  46. >And Reckless smiled.
  47. >"We fight together. We win together."
  48. >When the corporal was shaken out of their fugue, the plan that formed wasn't much more than that.
  49. >But you didn't need much.
  50. "Let's do this!"
  51. >"For hayburgers!"
  52. >Reckless nodded vigorously at that.
  53. >"For Equestria!"
  54. >With spears at the ready, you all tumbled out of the trench, a war cry cheering out among you.
  55. >For her.
  56.  
  57.  
  58.  
  59. >"Morning Flame, do you know how many violations you tripped out there today?"
  60. "No, sir."
  61. >The stallion on the other side of the office desk leaned forward.
  62. >"None."
  63. >Reckless paused. Then, she licked her lips.
  64. "Good, yes?"
  65. >"Good? Recruit..."
  66. >The officer shook his head.
  67. >"What you did break out there were /multiple/ Academy records. And I'm not talking hoof camp records, I'm talking the Royal Officer Academy's records. All without any signs of foul play."
  68. >Reckless was silent. Her muzzle was locked into her usual flat-lipped form.
  69. >Incredulity mounting ever-further, the officer tapped the scrolls unfurled across the table.
  70. >"To say nothing of the numbers, what the platoon saw out there was nothing short of heroics, with none of the theatrics. Over the course of the six hour battle regime, you carried out several charges in the face of overwhelming casualties and opposition, and saved enough ponies to recover the tickets needed for your NCO to refield your whole column."
  71. >The officer crept forward a little more.
  72. >"Not to mention your multiple /full-loads/ of munition resupplies. Six bundles of spears on each run? Are you aware that you overwhelmed the logistics team with your efforts? Because those were veterans in the Guard, and even they struggled to keep up with you."
  73. "No, sir."
  74. >"And yet, one thing bothers me..."
  75. >The officer fell back, settling uncomfortably into the space behind the desk.
  76. >"You don't even have a cutie mark."
  77. >Reckless ears perked upward.
  78. "Yes, no cutie mark. Hear much from soldiers. I earn, sir?"
  79. >The officer blinked.
  80. >Reckless nodded sagely.
  81. "I see. I do better, sir. Promise."
  82. >"What? No, recruit, you..."
  83. >He heaved a heavy breath, and it made Reckless' ears pin back.
  84. >"Despite being a training exercise, by all means, you've proven to be exemplary in the field. Simply put, you work like a mare possessed. Even with all the mock spell blasts, you kept pushing through. Most recruits have to build up a resistance to that kind of sensory overload. I've never heard of a pony with so much determination and will, no less one diving into Equestria's finest battle simulations for the first time. You're an earth pony possessed by so much talent that I find it downright impossible for you to be lacking a cutie mark."
  85. >He tapped his hooves warily, clearly unsure of how best to continue.
  86. >"Recruit, I'll ask you this once. Is there something about yourself that should be disclosed to the Guard?"
  87. >Reckless' ears straightened back to their normal resting position. Slowly.
  88. >The officer's brows furrowed.
  89. >"This is purely for everypony's benefit, recruit."
  90. "Yes, sir. I will think."
  91. >A moment passed.
  92. "Okay. I share?"
  93. >The officer eagerly threw out a hoof.
  94. >"As much as you're comfortable."
  95. "Okay."
  96. >And with that, she was off to the races.
  97. "I am horse, not pony. Hope pony say as such. Because pony scare very easy, yes? Smaller than me, too. I also happy when stallions at mess hall offer as sire, but wish no more asking. Have many little ones already. Want no more."
  98. >The officer opened his mouth, but the floodgates were open.
  99. "No cola, too. No way for more? Very disappointing. Blankets tasty, though. Will take more, yes."
  100. >"You--?"
  101. "And when previous rank return? Was promised reward for service. Lost retirement and find pony company. Prefer retirement. More work, here. Not many more oats, too."
  102. >"...Recruit."
  103. "Yes, sir?"
  104. >The officer tapped the desk, and spoke droll.
  105. >"The medical exam for you here states nothing about delirium."
  106. >The warhorse beamed.
  107. "Good!"
  108. >"...And you are far too young to justify those... 'experiences'."
  109. >Reckless tilted her head.
  110. "No?"
  111. >The officer's voice fell soft.
  112. >"Just who do you think you are, recruit?"
  113. >There was a knock on the office door.
  114. >Pushing off the desk, the officer whirled a hoof.
  115. >"Come in."
  116. >As the door opened, the stallion swiftly rose to his hooves. Reckless stood, too.
  117. >"At ease. I won't be long."
  118. >From the doorway, Shining Armor, standing Captain of the Royal Guard, grinned.
  119. >"I thought I'd find you here, Reckless."
  120. >She dipped her head respectfully.
  121. "Captain."
  122. >"I hope the lieutenant here isn't giving you a dressing down for your performance today?"
  123. "No, sir. Talk good."
  124. >His grin gave way to a genuine smile.
  125. >"Good! In that case, I'm sorry to interrupt. Princess Celestia would like to speak with you again. It concerns your future here in Equestria. Mostly good news."
  126. >Reckless nodded affirmatively, then looked to the lieutenant.
  127. >"I, er... dismissed, recruit."
  128. >He seemed prepared to say more, but the words died on his lips.
  129. >Shining Armor gave the lieutenant a nod, and stepped back out.
  130. >"She's expecting us both. You remember the way to the throne room, I'm sure, but you're free to join me."
  131. "Yes, sir. I join."
  132. >Reckless nosed the door shut behind her, leaving the lieutenant alone again.
  133. >He slumped back into his proper place, and stared down at all the documents he'd collected.
  134. >With a weary hoof, he picked through until he'd found one certain piece. Not a scroll like the rest, but a formalized piece of paper.
  135. >Reckless' charter for the Guard.
  136. >With another look over it, he was left even more stumped.
  137. >Somehow, he'd mistaken one note on it. Badly.
  138. >The signature of Princess Celestia was unmistakable.
  139.  
  140. >"I wasn't there to see it, but I've heard plenty of detailed after-action reports about today."
  141. >As Shining Armor and Reckless walked down the hallway together, shimmering rays of sunset refracted through the clear glass windows on the one side of the hall.
  142. >"I put a lot of faith in you, convincing Princess Celestia that you had the makings of a soldier. Of course, that was all in the way you introduced your... history. And it seems like I was right."
  143. "No lies, sir."
  144. >He laughed politely.
  145. >"No, I never doubted your story. Still, it's not something everypony needs to know about."
  146. >Reckless gave her trademark eager nod.
  147. "I understand. No war in Equestria."
  148. >Her tongue slipped on Equestria. Shining Armor found it hard to blame her: she'd only known how to say it for two weeks.
  149. >At her reply, his smile turned a little pained, and his voice remorseful.
  150. >"I'm sure the princess will have it sorted out. Like I said, her summons on my side were positive, at least."
  151. "Bad news?"
  152. >Shining grimaced.
  153. >"We'll have to see."
  154. >Reckless smiled warmly.
  155. "Been worse, captain."
  156. >He chuckled.
  157. >"You made it sound like it was worth it in the end, though."
  158. "Very much so. But never forget wartime."
  159. >"Oh, of course."
  160. >What little tension there was in the air fell away. Shining Armor returned his easygoing smile to its rightful home.
  161. >"Why don't you tell me a little more about your retirement? I'm thinking my time's coming soon enough..."
  162.  
  163. >With the last petitioner on their way out, Princess Celestia gave an internal sigh of relief.
  164. >Soon, her sister would take to the throne room, and the court would assume nightly operations.
  165. "Miss Inkwell, is there anything else left to address?"
  166. >She loved her little ponies dearly, but truth be told, they could wear her down. A chance to retire from court early was one she wasn't willing to let slip.
  167. >Her loyal secretary cleared her throat, and lowered her clipboard.
  168. >"So far as courtly matters are concerned..."
  169. >She smiled lightly, pushing her lenses up with her magic.
  170. >"You are free, princess."
  171. >There was a 'but' attached, and Celestia had a feeling she knew what that smile meant.
  172. "I take it that Captain Shining Armor has already replied to my summons?"
  173. >"Yes, your majesty. A missive turned in by his messenger stated that he would collect Morning Flame shortly."
  174. >Punctual as always, captain.
  175. "Very well. I suppose a moment of respite is in order, then."
  176. >She opted not to retire to the office behind the throne.
  177. >At her echoing behest, Raven Inkwell and the guards in the wide hall visibly relaxed.
  178. >In a much lighter and quieter tone, Celestia drew in Raven's attention.
  179. "Tell me, what does the castle staff think of her?"
  180. >It was far from an inquiry of gossip: Raven was wanton to know these things.
  181. >Yes, like the Captain of the Canterlot Royal Guard, Celestia's finest left-hoof mare was one astute in many exceptional ways.
  182. >Raven was quite infatuated with the operations of polite pony society.
  183. >But it was kinder to avoid calling her one for gossip.
  184. >Raven hummed conspiratorially.
  185. >"Morning Flame, princess?"
  186. >Celestia tittered behind a hoof. She humored her secretary.
  187. "Yes, Miss Inkwell. Our newest flame."
  188. >Raven laughed.
  189. >"/Your/ flame, your majesty. Of course, she's still in training, so she hasn't been around the staff as much as she has the garrison, but she's still managed to make some waves."
  190. "Is that so?"
  191. >"For one thing, there's been talk of her stature. Some say she has Saddle Arabian in her blood. She's a big mare for certain, but not quite Saddle Arabian. Regardless, ponies give her berth in the halls, as she tends to be very set on the paths she takes."
  192. >"As far as her etiquette goes, it's been something of a concern. During one tour, the recruits were permitted a meal in the Royal Gallery. There were quite a few misunderstandings as to just how much of the plate was on the menu."
  193. >Raven paused.
  194. >"When it comes to her palate, she takes no issue with the packaging on the imported sweets. She also ate with, at least how I've heard it put, 'gusto'."
  195. "Could you elaborate?"
  196. >"She eats like a starving monster, your majesty. As I alluded to, everything is fair game to her, or at least not the cutlery... which she tends to avoid entirely."
  197. >Celestia softly laughed.
  198. >Raven smiled at that.
  199. >"But, to put it lightly, I heard it was quite the sight."
  200. "Oh, I'm sure."
  201. >"And there is one last thing that catches the attention of most ponies. The same thing you yourself noted in our first meeting, princess. Her accent."
  202. "It's causing her no trouble, I hope?"
  203. >Raven shook her head.
  204. >"Hardly, your majesty. In fact, I'd go so far to say that many have been making earnest attempts to help her with her speech. Whether or not she's been taking the advice to heart is up to debate. And well..."
  205. >Raven tapped her clipboard with her levitating quill, blushing slightly.
  206. >"I for one, find her voice charming. It's... exotic."
  207. >Celestia shined warmly, dipping her head.
  208. "Well, be sure to make your compliment clear to her when she arrives. The dear has been through a great deal."
  209. >Raven's luster fell through to trepidation.
  210. >"She has, your majesty?"
  211. "I have a strong conviction. It's something I'd like to address directly with her tonight."
  212. >"She must hide it very well."
  213. >Celestia smiled sadly.
  214. "That's just it, Miss Inkwell. I don't think she's aware of it at all."
  215.  
  216. >Reckless waited patiently, stock-still for the massive doors before her.
  217. >The pearly-white gates were both a sign of a future that inspired, and a glimpse into a forlorn existence.
  218. >Neither of these concepts seemed to come to mind for the warhorse.
  219. >What mattered to her was that she was here, reporting for duty.
  220. >By her side, Shining Armor gave a curt nod to the doors' guards.
  221. >"Is the princess ready to see us?"
  222. >"Of course, sir."
  223. >Shining looked Reckless' way.
  224. >"Are you ready, Reckless?"
  225. >She bowed her neck slightly.
  226. "Yes, sir."
  227. >"Then let's not keep her waiting."
  228. >As the doors to the hallowed hall opened up, the pair of them stepped through.
  229. >Salutes for the captain went up on Reckless' left and right, silent and unbidden.
  230. >At the end of the silky velvet road below hoof, a pair of blue and gold thrones were fixed in waiting.
  231. >By the side of the golden throne, a bright smile shone at Reckless.
  232. >And on the throne proper, Princess Celestia was perfectly perched.
  233. >The captain and recruit drew close enough to bow, and they both did so.
  234. >"Hello, my little ponies. There's no need to bow. This is a private audience, of course."
  235. >They both stood straight.
  236. >"Captain Shining Armor, I would like to say that I'm glad to have you here so promptly."
  237. >The Princess turned to Reckless.
  238. >"And it is a pleasure to see you once more, Miss... Reckless."
  239. >Reckless nodded eagerly.
  240. >She really liked the 'princess'.
  241. "Yes, you too."
  242. >Shining and the princess' secretary shared a chuckle.
  243. >Celestia smiled amiably.
  244. >"On that note, I'd like to congratulate you on your success in the field today. Based off your actions, am I correct to assume that you've been enjoying your time in the Royal Guard thus far?"
  245. "Yes, princess. Work like old times."
  246. >"That's good. There are much more trying positions in the Royal Guard, but you appear to have found your stride to be that of a guardsmare. Of course, once your training is complete, you can always see about a shift in responsibilities."
  247. "Would like. Can work marines again?"
  248. >Celestia's look turned gently apologetic. The action alone was enough to flick Reckless' ears.
  249. >"Well, dear, as we said before..."
  250. >She gave Shining Armor a look.
  251. >"Equestria simply has no marines."
  252. >There it was again.
  253. >That phrase.
  254. >No marines.
  255. >What was a Marine like her supposed to do in a world with no marines?
  256. >Reckless, just as before, fought back her natural urge to let out her frustration.
  257. >Instead, her ears fell back, and she bobbed her head quick.
  258. "Yes, yes. I understand."
  259. >She didn't. But pretending she did was the path of least resistance.
  260. >She especially didn't want to bother the one who'd given her purpose again.
  261. >"Is something the matter, Reckless?"
  262. >But evidently, she /had/ bothered the princess.
  263. >"If there is, please, share. This meeting is all for your benefit."
  264. >Silence dripped like the slick of the candles above.
  265. >"Well, perhaps it would be best if we start with your situation, first."
  266. >Reckless snorted a breath, and turned her head back down.
  267. "Yes, princess."
  268. >Celestia nodded to the pony by her side.
  269. >"Miss Inkwell? You have the floor."
  270. >The dressed-up secretary cleared her throat, and her ever-present magic lifted her clipboard up.
  271. >"Miss Flame, the court magicians were unable to pinpoint an exact cause and means for your displacement. Whatever physical translation you experienced is beyond Equestria's current understanding."
  272. >Raven met her questioning gaze.
  273. >"In essence, something magical in nature has occurred, but nothing they've seen before. I would be prepared to receive future summons from the mages in question."
  274. >She flipped back to the clipboard.
  275. >"On a similar note, while the doctors in the infirmary slated you with a clean bill of health, further review has confirmed that, by all means, you are both young, and /completely/ healthy. You are no more than thirty years-old, but closer to the upper end of twenty. They noted some confusion, however, as you couldn't provide a specific age, and your statements of health seemed more in line with an older pony."
  276. >Reckless nodded fervently.
  277. "Told doc same. Bones not hurt when should hurt."
  278. >Clearly curious, Celestia interjected.
  279. >"What do you mean by that?"
  280. "Get older, hurt more. Problem. Don't remember name."
  281. >"Arthritis?"
  282. >At his help, Reckless gestured with her neck to the captain, her ears pivoting like frictionless bearings.
  283. "Yes, arthritis. Doc in Marines, and doc in Guard, they say same."
  284. >The captain carried on with some shock.
  285. >"You had arthritis, Reckless?"
  286. "Yes."
  287. >She stretched openly.
  288. "But happy without."
  289. >Reckless turned back to the ponies before her.
  290. >The princess seemed to be frowning.
  291. >"Such a degree of healing is unprecedented."
  292. >Healing was such a word.
  293. >Reckless shuffled on her hooves.
  294. "Been worse."
  295. >Too familiar a word.
  296. >Her ears folded back, and she forced her eyes shut.
  297. "Much worse."
  298. >Worse than some scrapes and bruises. Worse than some light shrapnel. Worse than the graze of a bullet.
  299. >The princess hazarded another question. It only drove the stake deeper.
  300. >"Were you 'worse' recently, Reckless?"
  301. >The captain spoke up in her stead.
  302. >"No. If we recall her story, she was in retirement. It's been quite some time since she's seen combat. Though, I will say she has no wounds or scars you'd expect from somepony at war for so long."
  303. >Wounds.
  304. >Wounds didn't need to come from combat.
  305. >They could happen in retirement.
  306. >And even at home.
  307. >Reckless opened her eyes.
  308. "No. Not war. Wounds in Pendleton."
  309. >Shining Armor furrowed his brows.
  310. >"Pendleton?"
  311. >Princess Celestia's frown deepened.
  312. >"Wounds?"
  313. >She hadn't forgotten. She'd simply pushed it out of sight. With her arrival in Equestria, there had been so much to contend with.
  314. >Now, she was forced to confront her final moments before the pony planet.
  315. >She remembered the hot white flash.
  316. >The pain before bleakness.
  317. >The nothing between.
  318. >The barbed wire.
  319.  
  320. >She screamed as she fell. It had to have been her own voice.
  321. >There was more motion by her side as her fall shifted to a struggle. Bodies. Talking.
  322. >She couldn't slow to breathe, draw breath to think in a uniform manner.
  323. >No, she screamed until the blood-red world turned white.
  324. >She could have done better.
  325. >She /should/ have done better.
  326. >Instead, she kicked, she screamed, she bled.
  327. >And there was no honor to this struggle.
  328. >In those bloody, agonizing seconds, she fell back to her primal instincts.
  329. >Marines weren't supposed to cry.
  330. >She was just an old, dying horse.
  331. >A marine unmade.
  332.  
  333. >The others were still waiting.
  334. >From the empty space between the ponies, Reckless turned her gaze on the princess.
  335. "I fall into barbed wire. Tangled... Pain. Blood. Nothing."
  336. >She paused to collect her thoughts.
  337. "Wake here. No wounds. No pain. Only memory."
  338. >A memory from a world so far away.
  339. >A shameful memory.
  340. >Shining Armor joined the princess with a frown of his own.
  341. >"/Barbed/ wire... and blood? Do you mean to say that you..."
  342. >He searched for the right words.
  343. >"Bled out?"
  344. >All noise seemed to tide away from the throne room. There were only the stares from the ponies around her, and the ominous glow of the candles in the evening light.
  345. >Orange and black. Bleak and distant. Like recoilless shells crashing in the summer night.
  346. "Yes... sir."
  347. >The candles flickered in a graceful, invisible breeze. But the throne room was so cold.
  348. >It sept into her coat, wrenching away at all the warmth buried beneath. Yanking. Pulling. Shearing.
  349. >"Morning Flame."
  350. >Reckless had to lift her eyes to meet that of the princess; her head had fallen.
  351. >"You have fought well. And this... troubling time. It has passed."
  352. >The princess rose to Reckless, like one rising sun to another. She tread delicately across the carpet, not quite calculating, but still pre-determined. Her movement was as a smooth as the candles lauded overhead. The very form of serenity before Reckless' eyes.
  353. >Princess Celestia stopped just shy of the former staff sergeant, and dipped her slender neck down.
  354. >"You are in safe hooves, Reckless. No harm will befall you so long as you are here in our land. Equestria is as much our home as it is yours."
  355. >The princess lowered her neck. Their muzzles were level.
  356. >She had intentionally left herself open.
  357. >Reckless felt herself moving forward.
  358. >And Celestia met her hug.
  359. >They rested with their necks pressed against one another.
  360. >The princess' coat was as soft and fine as satin.
  361. >Reckless tried to absorb as much of the feeling as she could.
  362. >For something that had overtly appeared forbidden, Reckless found herself doing all she could to embrace and remember the feeling of the princess.
  363. >This natural response was the good she needed.
  364. >"Do not forget your time as a marine."
  365. >The princess' whisper was warm, but commanding.
  366. >"I only ask that you not carry your burden alone. Until such a time comes that I can help you further, know that I will always be willing to listen. And my little ponies, too."
  367. >The princess sank deeper.
  368. >"In Equestria, you are among friends."
  369. >Celestia fell silent; there was time for Reckless to respond.
  370. >But this time, her body did not move for her. She didn't know what to do.
  371. >So, Reckless let the moment stay.
  372. >Celestia accommodated her choice.
  373. >Eventually, the princess unwrapped herself from their shared touch.
  374. >Reckless pulled back and stood straight, momentarily stunned.
  375. >By the time she'd recovered, Celestia had returned to her throne. She was sat there, smiling gently.
  376. >It took Reckless a moment to realize that she was smiling, too.
  377. >"Shall we continue, Miss Inkwell?"
  378. >"Yes, your majesty."
  379. >The secretary took a moment to loosen her withers.
  380. >"And, if I may, I will say that going forward, there will only be talk of good things to come."
  381. >From the way Inkwell spoke, even with that fresh sense of joy, there was still much more to discuss. But at least it would be positive.
  382. >Celestia nodded, and returned her attention to the front.
  383. >"Well, Reckless. Are you ready to continue?"
  384. >She replied immediately.
  385. "Yes, princess."
  386. >As Raven delved deep into talk of forms, registration, and citizenship, with comments from the captain and princess as needed, Reckless stood resolute.
  387. >And she was determined to hold her princess-laid smile all the while.
  388.  
  389. >The meeting passed relatively quickly, and rightfully so: they were treading close to overstepping the time-slot of the Day Court.
  390. >The princess, secretary, and captain kept things concise, and Reckless did her own part.
  391. >But there was one statement that forced Reckless to slow down, and think.
  392. >"We can see about restoring your rank once your training's done. I think you've provided ample reason and history for me to fast-track you back up to Staff Sergeant. But you'll have to go through some courses. You would know those, right? For leadership and the like."
  393. "Restore rank, sir?"
  394. >It was the first real question Reckless had asked in the hour. It made Shining Armor stop in his tracks, and left the princess waiting.
  395. >"...Yes? You mentioned wanting your rank back when we were working out your charter."
  396. "I change mind."
  397. >Having stayed out of the captain's jurisdiction up until this point, the princess spoke up.
  398. >"And why's that, Reckless?"
  399. >She'd been working up the reasoning since the captain had started talking.
  400. >It was simple.
  401. "If can't work marines, then work Royal Guard. But start fresh. Earn back all. Only fair."
  402. >Shining gave her a look, but it was mostly implacable.
  403. >"Are you sure about that, Reckless?"
  404. >He waved the scroll in his magic.
  405. >"Not many opportunities like this out there."
  406. "Never worked Royal Guard before. Only know Marines."
  407. >"I can't imagine there's too many differences. You've even got the same rank structure, so far as I can tell."
  408. "No matter, sir. Still not same."
  409. >"Reckless."
  410. >The princess, again, intervened. Her eyes had a wisp of curiosity about them.
  411. >"You do understand what Captain Shining Armor is offering, yes? You could bypass years of service."
  412. "Yes, princess. Did same before. Sergeant through battlefield promotions. Retire Staff Sergeant."
  413. >Shining Armor nodded his head, chewing the inside of his mouth.
  414. >"Huh. That makes sense. I guess that means you'd have no problem finding opportunity."
  415. "Yes. But just want work again."
  416. >Reckless teetered on her hooves, tugging the corners of her mouth into a tiny smile again.
  417. "Feel young. Ready for action, captain."
  418. >Shining Armor laughed.
  419. >"There'll be no shortage of it once you're out of training. Canterlot's a busy post."
  420. "Korea busier."
  421. >"You still haven't explained anything about it."
  422. >Reckless stared.
  423. >Internally, she was grinning her ears off.
  424. >Evidently, Celestia picked up on it. The princess giggled like a filly.
  425. >"Ah, well. That's something for another time, captain. We should be wrapping things up shortly, don't you agree, Miss Inkwell?"
  426. >"Of course, your majesty. Princess Luna loves her Night Court. It'd be best to not risk her time any further."
  427. >Shining Armor gave Reckless a playful eyeroll, and turned back to his scroll.
  428. >For her own part, Reckless was looking forward to seeing her platoon in the barracks later.
  429. >She was young again, and back in the saddle on a new company. After tonight, she'd finally been opened up enough to feel comfortable.
  430. >Oh yes, her company and platoon had only seen the beginnings of soon-to-be-Sergeant-again Reckless.
  431. >And this time, she could talk.
  432.  
  433.  
  434.  
  435. >You are—
  436. >"Recruit!"
  437. >You turned around in time to see the happy, cantering goliath that was Reckless.
  438. >More than a few heads in the barracks turned at her arrival.
  439. >Like the rest of them, you were busy cleaning the dried mud and grime from your trainee armor. And for the unluckier ones, the scuffs.
  440. >Its colors weren't that Royal Guard gold standard, but orders were to polish it until it was a pure golden shine.
  441. >On the bunk beside you, Reckless' gear was still in need of that treatment.
  442. >You set your helmet and rag aside.
  443. "Hey, Morn... er, Reckless. What's going on?"
  444. >She trot over, still beaming.
  445. >It was a little unnerving, but mostly just nice to see.
  446. >"Want say good job today."
  447. >She turned to the rest of the platoon.
  448. >"Everypony do good on field."
  449. "You weren't bad out there yourself, Reckless. We were getting our plots served to us before you stepped up."
  450. >On that note, some more vocal agreement cropped up.
  451. >"Was you who charge, but I lead by example, yes? Expect ponies stand up in future. Prefer not lead."
  452. >As she pulled herself up and laid across her cot, you went back to work.
  453. "You seem like a natural-born leader to me."
  454. >"No. Try inspire. Keep spirits high. Trained supply, not combat. Support role."
  455. "You've got one hay of a gait, though. Ponies stand behind those who can blow a trail like that."
  456. >And if today was anything to go by, ponies would scatter when they were in her running path.
  457. >You raised your hoof for her to see. Your rag dangled.
  458. >You were no paragon of muscle, but you weren't a slouch, either.
  459. >Yeah, you were as average-built a stallion as they came.
  460. >And Reckless' legs were like tree trunks compared to yours.
  461. "You're a fast mare."
  462. >"Faster supply, then. No like fight."
  463. >After a few flimsy swipes with her hoof, Reckless took her rag into her mouth, and started working away at her gear in broad, swooping strokes.
  464. >You went back to work as well.
  465. "...You're awful talkative today. I take it your talk with the lieutenant went well? You were gone a while."
  466. >"Talk with lieutenant good, yes."
  467. >That wasn't surprising: of all the COs for the platoon, he was probably the favorite for most recruits. Of course the lieutenant would see good in Reckless.
  468. >"But talk with princess much better."
  469. >And—
  470. >You stopped, and stared at Reckless.
  471. "What?"
  472. >Reckless stopped, and stared at you.
  473. >"Captain Shining Armor, too."
  474. >This sounded confidential.
  475. >You wanted in.
  476. "Captain, eh? That why you're in a good mood?"
  477. >"Princess say do not... carry alone. Say ponies listen. So, talk more."
  478. >Sounded more like an order than a warm conversation.
  479. >And carry what?
  480. "But you weren't in trouble or anything?"
  481. >"No. Work on papers. Talk future."
  482. >She went back to her breastplate.
  483. >"Turn down rank to stay with you."
  484. "You /what/?"
  485. >"We stick together. My new company. My new platoon."
  486. >She smiled lightly, and it shone in the first cleared corner of her armor.
  487. >"My new friends."
  488. >Okay, you couldn't help yourself: you smiled back.
  489. >But still.
  490. "You know what, that's your choice to make. More power to you."
  491. >You shrugged as nonchalantly as you could.
  492. "Guess I just don't know what you know, y'know?"
  493. >Take the bait...
  494. >"Yes, much different here. Still learn."
  495. >It was weak bait, anyhow.
  496. "Well, if you ever want to talk, I'm more than happy to let you offload."
  497. >For emphasis, you flicked one of your ears with a hoof.
  498. >She nodded.
  499. >"Thank you. But work now."
  500. "Sure."
  501. >It was better than nothing. You could wait; it was only the third week of training.
  502. >Yeah, five more weeks left plenty of time to get to know her.
  503. >Up until today, she'd been pretty reserved. The battlefield exercise had ignited some passions in her, and whatever the princess had said to Reckless had fanned the flames.
  504. >All you knew was that this was where the fun began.
  505.  
  506.  
  507. >The hoof camp's mess wasn't anything like the Royal Gallery, but it was good eating all the same.
  508. >Well, that's what you had to say as an earth pony from outside Canterlot; the unicorns about were all-too willing to share their stingy woes with you.
  509. >But for ponies like you and the pegasi, a meal was a meal. Especially in the Guard.
  510. >And oh colt, you knew one filly who scooped up the mess hall meals like there was no tomorrow.
  511. >You were seated next to Reckless, and shared the table with some of your fellow recruits.
  512. >You weren't the only one entranced enough by Reckless' previous performance to keep an eye on her, but you were the only one intrigued enough to stay at a conversational range.
  513. "Coffee?"
  514. >She nodded eagerly, because her mouth full of mouthfuls of toast and eggs kept her occupied.
  515. >You pushed your coffee towards her, and sipped from your water instead.
  516. >In the past weeks, recruits (previously including you) had tended to avoid Reckless' table entirely.
  517. >Not out of malice, but for safety's sake.
  518. >As you sat now, you were the only one in the blast zone, and you could tell from the looks you were receiving that many didn't think you'd last long.
  519. >Mirth from most, outright worry for the few, and some bets being exchanged at a nearby table.
  520. >Of course, everypony knew what Reckless' eating habits were like. She was hardly versed in etiquette, but it wasn't like she was hurting anypony.
  521. "You even taste any of that?"
  522. >She swallowed, and licked her lips.
  523. >"Would not eat like this if didn't enjoy."
  524. "Alright, fair enough."
  525. >She grunted. You doubted it was from annoyance.
  526. >But you were well aware that your approach would've aggravated any other pony.
  527. >"Ask many questions, yes?"
  528. >That was another thing that made Reckless so interesting. She was practical. A mare built different. She just kept it going.
  529. >...And you did agree with some of the others that she had a good heft to her.
  530. >Hate to see her leave, love to watch her go.
  531. "Just curious."
  532. >She resumed munching, but slowed enough to speak coherently.
  533. >"Work hard. Rest harder. Enjoy when can. Life change often, no warning."
  534. >You looked briefly across the table. Her statement had stumped a few of the observers.
  535. >Apparently there were some heavy things in her thoughts. Heavier than the mare herself.
  536. "We're just guards, Reckless."
  537. >"In training. When leave hoof camp? Royal Guard. Then, pony rely on us. Then, fully focus on duty. Live. Take advantage of time while still peaceful."
  538. >She nodded.
  539. >"But off-duty good for fun, too."
  540. >It was clear by now that she was trying harder to make her voice heard; her speech was coming along, and she wasn't quite as 'soft' spoken like she once was: her words were loud enough for ponies nearby to hear.
  541. >And for that matter...
  542. "Well."
  543. >That was why you wanted to be a guard, wasn't it? To protect ponies? To fight for Equestria?
  544. >Or was it for the guardsmares?
  545. >Hay if you knew.
  546. "Uh... semper fi, yeah?"
  547. >She swallowed, placed both her forehooves on the table, and tapped twice, smiling.
  548. >"Semper fi, recruit."
  549. >You let her eat a bit more, taking the time to feed yourself, too.
  550. >You didn't have forever in here, though...
  551. >A few minutes later, you'd wrapped up your meal.
  552. "So, what does it mean? 'Semper fi', that is."
  553. >"Semper fidelis. Is faith."
  554. >She paused, mulling it over eggs and coffee.
  555. >She licked the dark-amber ambrosia from where it'd painted her muzzle.
  556. >"You are faithful. Always. Always faithful."
  557. >It certainly sounded like something the Royal Officer Academy would teach.
  558. >But... it felt right. You rolled it across your lips once more.
  559. "Semper fi."
  560. >"Semper fi."
  561. >And she always echoed it.
  562. >You rubbed a hoof against your jaw while Reckless went back to eating.
  563. >Despite the answers, you were left wanting more.
  564. >And you did have more to ask, but for now, your time was up.
  565. "Gotta be outside soon, Reckless."
  566. >"Yes. Thanks, recruit."
  567. >You didn't stand like the others in the mess hall were starting to.
  568. "I'll stick with you."
  569. >She grinned, muttered something in a different language entirely, and buried her muzzle back in the last of her food.
  570. >You had no idea what that meant.
  571. >But that was a part of the fun.

(You) and your autistic bat, Aurora

by xcpony

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