Pony POV Series
Shining Armor Part 7
Written By lz0291
Edited Vastly by Alex Warlorn, Kendell2, And Louis Badalament.
Somehow, despite how tired and pained I was, I remained awake during the flight back to the Embassy via the station. I kept looking over my shoulder, down at the ground. Seeing that...thing had me a bit paranoid. I don't know how to explain it, but despite what I'd seen Makarov's magic do to it, I just couldn't shake the feeling it wasn't dead.
(Interviewer (Pegasus): So you didn't automatically assume 'no one could survive that'? You're smarter than some ponies.)
(Interviewer (Earth Pony): Didja tell Cadence about the big bad wolf?)
What was I supposed to say? I ran into a ghost dog and it almost ate me? She was already worried enough about my PHYSICAL wellbeing.
The flight path took us a little closer to the riot zone, and what stuck out most was the sight of the smoldering wreck of a building marked 'Roman's Taxis' with various red and white carts around it. Dozens of rainclouds had been pushed over the flames, and numerous hoses funneled water from hydrants.
It's a common tactic for dedicated firefighters; positioning rainclouds to prevent roofs going up or down in flames, and fire spreading to adjacent structures, while attacking it from the inside with hose teams, shielded from the smoke and flames by magic and breathing apparatuses. The Royal Guard conducted firefighter training, though most cities had their own dedicated fire departments. Even in Equestria only small towns relied on just rainclouds above and a bucket chain. Small towns like Ponyville.
You might think it a little strange that I'd just escaped about half a dozen near death experiences, and my first thought upon seeing a burning structure was to recall my sister was now in a small town of the kind where odds of a fatality in a fire are three times that of a larger urban area. But stress can have strange effects on how you think. The trick is trying to make sure the effects don't go on too long.
Remembering the picture showed Ponyville's library was a tree a few seconds later didn't help. I eventually came back to the world of the not-having-nightmare-visions-of-a-blazing-tree, as we passed a heavy police presence near a seafront amusement park. Large numbers of Griffins and Ponies in black riot gear mingled around the cart park, presumably a staging area for their response.
"What was going on down there?" I wondered.
"Well, Shining, you were attacked by Hooviets," Price said.
"I mean the riots, Price."
"The LCPD say they're not sure who started it, but they know that nearly all the gangs went at each other, once it really got going. A Zebra tribe from the east end went for Zebras on the west end. Ponisans and Hooviets made their cold war hot for a bit. They're stumped as to why it even all began..." Thunderchild told us.
"I'd place a few bits on one suggestion myself..." Baseplate said.
"I'd take that bet," I said.
As the airships turned towards the island where the embassy and the station were, my attention turned to the rest of the squad.
"Thunderchild, where are the others?"
"They were all at the station or sent there, Sir, apart from Gag, he ought to be flying around with us somewhere. Should I radio them to check in?"
"Actually, can I borrow your chamfron and radio?" I decided.
It turned out that I had a bigger head than my Sergeant. And not just because of my horn.
(Interviewer's Notes (Pegasus): I'm saying nothing.)
"Misfit-Actual-Three, Misfit-Actual, come in, Lance-Corporal Apple."
Instead, I got Private Audience.
"Misfit-Actual, Misfit-Actual-Four. The Lance-Corporal isn't really available right now, he's not feeling too good. A medic wanted to check him out, over. "
It was starting.
"Alright, we'll be along shortly and take you back to the Embassy. Out."
It took a little while to get to the station, and we had to land about three hundred yards from it so there was space to fit the shuttle. LCPD carts and officers were now swarming the area, alongside a few Presidential Marshals, probably along to arrest the Hooviets. They let us past the cordon quickly enough, and we soon found our troopers.
"Alright, ride's here, fillies and colts!" Thunderchild said.
The Griffins, I noticed, seemed to simply brohoof each other... well, talon-slap, I guess. None of them seemed remotely fazed by anything, and barely took a glance at the bloodstains and little yellow LCPD cards with numbers lying around the place to denote evidence.
My troopers, however... A few of them took glances at the blood, and at a black Coroner's Cart taking the dead Dogs away. My men all stood up and followed us back to the ships, but most of them were silent the whole flight back. Not too good a sign.
We were the Equestrian Royal Guard. We weren't trained for this kind of violence. Not all of us, at least. Bitter Apple had it worst staring off a thousand yards away at nothing, for much of the trip. He barely even reacted to the way that Pegasi and Griffins kept flying in the door to speak with Grinch, who had been chucked onto our shuttle on account of his wing injury.
Seeing my soldiers affected this way made me angrier at Makarov than every insult and attack he'd heaped on me personally.
As we neared the Embassy, Breastplate's pilots of the shuttle radioed ahead to say we were coming. This was a mistake for the co-pilot, who had the headset on.
"OW! Er, sorry, Ma'am... Yes, we'll be landing in a few minutes."
"I think the Princess' Royal Canterlot Voice is on the radio again, Sir." Gag noted.
"Oh. Wait, where the heck did you come from?"
"Manechester, Sir. Thought you knew that, to be honest."
"No, I mean, when did you get on this airship?" I asked.
"When it landed at the station."
"Okay. Do you have any sort of joke, pun, gag, or anything that is an attempt at humor planned at all when we land?"
"Can't say I do have a plan, Sir, I'll probably just improv," Gag admitted.
"Good. Don't," I ordered.
His wings wilted. "Yes, Sir."
The Embassy's landing pad was only big enough for one shuttle at a time with ours first. Cadence was waiting nearby visible from the air looking worried yet also relieved. All three hoofmaidens, Sunset, Minuette and Twinkleshine, stood with her. They took their duty seriously. I noted however that Sunset seemed to be waving at a pegasus above rather than watching us land. Probably Private Ranger, given that he would have been brought back on duty with the incident earlier resolved.
Cadence was upon me in a flash. She hadn't even teleported, but my hooves barely hit the ground before I was getting a Royal Canterlot Hug.
"Ow! Er, hello, Princess..."
"Oh my goodness, Shining, are you all right?! Are you injured?"
"Uh, looks like he's got a few bruises, couple of fractured ribs, some lacerations..." Minuette said.
"What?! Doctor Watsun, is that true?"
(Interviewer's Notes (Earth Pony): Watsun? Isn't he the one that helps that detective?)
I've no idea. Anyway, the new face looked me over.
"Yes, that seems to be correct. Do you have medical training, ma'am?" Watsun said to Minuette. Dr. Watsun before you ask was a unicorn with a surgeon's mirror cutie mark, not a griffin, cockatrice, or minotaur.
"Never mind that, he's injured!" Cadence interrupted. "Get him to the first aid room or whatever it is here!"
"We don't have one," Ambassador Greetings said.
"Princess, really, it's not that bad..." I tried to calm her down, but she was having none of it.
"Then take him to my room or something!" She fretted.
Running Gag chuckled, "Slow down there, Princes-"
"OW! Sarge, what was that for?!"
I'm thankful her Alicorn ears hadn't heard that.
I also noticed that Sunset had given Twinkleshine a not-all-that-gentle kick for a probably similar comment as I was practically dragged off by the pony I was supposed to be protecting.
"Uh, Your Highness, I'm supposed to deliver a report..."
"Do it later, you're injured! Princess' orders!"
"...I'll take over for now, will I, Sir? And can I get my chamfron back?" Thunderchild shouted as I was pulled into the embassy.
I tried to pass it back telekinetically, but I must have missed.
"Why is everypony hitting me with helmets tonight?!" Gag lamented.
Fortunately, Doctor Watsun managed to convince Cadence to wait outside, and also had me taken to my own room rather than hers. Sadly, Minuette's apparent knowledge of basic medical spells and first aid meant he enlisted her as a nurse. She'd rushed off to fetch my medical records and was back in record time.
"So, Doctor... Where did you come from?" I asked hoping I wasn't forgetting ponies.
"Captain, I'm meant to be asking the questions, but for your information, I'm attached to Captain Baseplate's unit. Now, Minuette, can you remove his armor so I can examine these injuries... "
He looked me over, and listed them all my injuries aloud for Minuette to write down, also noting the magic exhaustion. None were really that major. The worst was the ache from the cracked ribs, or so I'd thought until Minuette removed my armor and promptly jostled a more unwelcome bruise I'd been given.
"You sounded like a dog yelping there, Captain. What's that injury from?" Watsun wondered.
"Erm, I had a fight with Makarov, and his antlers kind of hit me... down there, during it."
Minuette sighed. "I'm not surprised, Cadence said Makarov was that sort of guy. Anyway, it looks like his antlers didn't damage anything TOO badly
"Erm... how do you know?"
"Because I'm looking," she said.
"...Could you not, please?!"
(Interviewer's Notes (Pegasus): Seriously? She just...)
Yes, she did, now can we please try to move on past that?
(Interviewer's Notes (Earth Pony): I don't get it, what was the problem?)
Oh, hay no, I am not trying to explain. Moving on!
(Interviewer's Notes (Earth Pony): But...)
(Interviewer's Notes (Pegasus & Unicorn & Shining Armor): MOVING ON!)
(Interviewer's Notes (Unicorn): Also, Captain, please don't write in our notebooks.)
(Interviewer's Notes (Shining Armor): : )
(Interviewer's Notes (Unicorn):Captain...)
Tch, fine, I'll get a nicer notebook from a Thestral and write Makarov's name in it, Ah, forget the notebook.
Minuette was amused at my reaction while Watsun confirmed that none of the injuries would be critical after a few quick spells. He let Minuette clean out my wounds while he made some notes, and checked my records. His ad-hoc nurse spoke up while dabbing a cotton bud of iodine or some other fairly nasty cleaning substance onto a cut.
"She was really worried about you, you know. She kept trying to get you on the radio again a few minutes after you spoke."
"I think we were in the tunnels by then..." I lamely said in reply.
"Okay, you've had a tetanus shot recently enough... No need for any other shots, so we shouldn't be too long. I'll let the Princess in while we work."
He opened the door, and she came in, not quite running. "How is he?" "How is he?"
"Well, Princess, it turns out Shining's been dead all along and that only a little colt that sees dead ponies can talk to him, which raises an awful lot of plot holes about the last few days," Minuette then said.
She received a few glares.
"...He's fine," Watsun then said.
"Okay. That's good... Shining, never do that to me again!" She said harshly.
"He might have to, ma'am, he IS your bodyguard," Watsun reminded her.
"Princess, I'm fine, and I'll try my best to avoid getting into any more mini-wars with Hooviet mad-deer in the future. But I need to give you a report on what happened."
I told the story of the night. Cadence turned pale a few times, and so did Minuette. Watsun got on with his job, folding his ears a few times throughout my story.
I wish Minuette wasn't there, I'd leave out some details for her and the doc's sake but with Cadence in front of me I had promise to keep about letting my commanding officer, her, know the whole truth, minus one wolf.
When I talked about the horn powered robots, it was enough to make Minuette unconsciously touch her own horn as she shrank.
"...So, what do we do now?" Cadence asked.
I explained: "Protocol says that every trooper involved be placed off-duty for at least twenty-four hours starting now, and the officer involved is off duty too, with exceptions to conduct the first TIA... Er, that's Traumatic Incident Assessment. You'll also need to select a temporary replacement officer of lieutenant rank or higher who will also have to sit in with me during the interviews because I am one of the troopers involved, and due to having been involved in the shooting, Private Audience is subject to a Fatal Incident Inquiry that..."
"In Laypony's terms, Shining!" Cadence said, after quite a lot of confused frowning.
"Everypony who participated in 'Operation: Save-Me-From-Makarov' gets a day off so the head doctors can check whether their sanity's intact. This would include me, as well, except I've got to interview our Guards first thing in the morning. You'll need to bring another officer over from the ship to command the unit for the day because Baseplate and Price aren't officially here, and I think the same applies to Doctor Watsun even if he's not high-ranking..."
"Oh, I'm a Captain too, Captain. But you're quite right: officially, I'm 'not here.'" The doctor added.
And Audience is off-duty until the inquiry is conducted or he's granted probation by his Commander in Chief. That's you, Princess. Oh, and we need to report the shooting to the Ministry of Defense. His case is quite complicated..."
"Complicated? He killed somedog!" Minuette burst out, further complicating it for the moment.
"He shot a Diamond Dog that was trying to kill you, Shining!" Cadence said.
"Well, but... was that the only option he had?" Minuette asked, but then Watsun spoke up.
"Miss, while it will be looked into, there's something few civilians know about, regarding the Royal Guard. Most recruits are given regular training, focusing on nonlethal responses to violent events such as tonight's. As a last resort, though, we're all told we may have to kill. Moreover, accidents may occur, even when trying to non-lethally restrain somepony."
"Accidents?" Minuette repeated skeptically, as though sensing a euphemism.
"Yes, my dear. Actual accidents DO happen in the military. The term 'friendly fire' exists for a REASON."
"Hmm... you'd just said 'Most recruits are given regular training.' Was Audience given different training?"
"To an extent. There's a protocol codenamed Black Thistle, one of many different protocols for when a recruit displays potential for certain specialist skills. Like a recruit who may make a good field medic, or a good engineer, or in my case a defensive specialist. And based on their cutie marks, their history, or just their psychological assessments during training, some recruits are given more extensive training in performing life-ending acts, and coping with the psychological fallout."
I felt like something horrible was about to happen.
"Please, Minuette!" I said. "We're Equestrians. Killing is never Plan A. But it is at the bottom of the list. It MUST be, especially in real battles. Sometimes there's no outcome that won't risk more lives unless killing is used. They're not programmed to kill first and without mercy or thought, they're not turned into robots."
"Most doctors actually undergo similar training, especially in the army. Patients can fail to recover, and doctors need to be able to continue," Watsun added.
The bad feeling got worse.
"But that's different..." Minuette tried to continue.
Watsun let out a sad sigh. "Guards and Doctors aim to save life where possible but sometimes you can't save them all. Let's imagine a scenario, Minuette. Imagine your airship has been shot down in battle and you crash-land in the middle of a forest, in enemy territory. Over half the ponies aboard suffered injuries. You came out okay, Minuette, and you have your medical training to help the injured the best you can. Plus, maybe a FEW fellow medics to assist. But no ambulances. No first-rate hospital to deliver your patients to: nothing beyond what you can salvage and cobble together from nature and the wreckage of your ship."
I listened intently to Dr. Watsun, curious as to whether this scenario was actually 'imagined.'
I could see some part of Cadence wanted to order Minuette to leave or tell the doctor to stop, but for what? Because she thought her adult friend couldn't handle the facts of life and death? Cadence was struggling, but she didn't come to a resolution fast enough.
"...You'd do what you could for the most seriously injured, I'm sure, but one pony can only help out so many other ponies in a day! And then there's the question of resource management: even assuming all your medical supplies survived the crash, there's only SO MUCH to go around! What of tomorrow's injuries? Tomorrow's infections and illnesses? The most severely injured patients could die even if you put EVERYTHING into healing them. For some poor souls, it might be a mercy to help them... slip... away... peacefully... especially if your other patients die because you were too fixated on saving the un-savable!"
Minuette looked like she had been stabbed in the heart, but her expression softened with empathy. The playful teasing hoof maiden was gone. I actually felt a bit scared with how her ear folded down and she looked at us with large eyes looking ready to cry, looking so small.
What she said next nearly killed Cadence. "Are you saying the Equestria I know is a lie?"
I swear Cadence's glow flickered at those words.
"No!" I almost shouted. I then implored with her. "Minuette! I know the idea of ponies killing is bad enough. Training them to not be HURT as badly by it, might seem nothing short of evil. But we are NOT monsters. We WILL be conducting an inquiry, as will the Columbians. But I'm fairly confident it will be ruled as justifiable homicide."
Cadence hugged her hoof maiden, folding her wings around her, Minuette silently leaned her neck against the larger pony.
No one spoke up for a few minutes.
"Well, I'm done here, Princess. Captain Sparkle is back in top condition, apart from the magic exhaustion and the physical fatigue."
"Okay. Doctor, can you two leave the room? And try and have one of the Griffins that was involved sent up if they're still around." The good doctor did so. He seemed to hurry along a bit more as Cadence looked him in the eye.
She looked at the blue unicorn, and flicked a tear away with her wing, "Are you going to be okay Minuette?"
"I . . . Yes Your Majesty, Cadence, I'm... I'm going to go check on Twinkleshine and Sunset. I think they'll . . . like to know what . . . what happe-. . . how you two are."
"I promise I'm here if you need me Minuette." She really was Celestia's niece.
"Thank you, Cadence." The two nuzzled and the hoofmaiden left in a slightly drunken stupor. A part of me wanted to check on her later.
"I'm so sorry Minuette."
Basically, the next day after that, we'd find out what his point of view was at the time. He'd explain why he took the shot. Based on that, we would either absolve or charge him. If absolved, he'd be paroled and put back on duty under psychological observation for the next few weeks. If found to have breached his rules of engagement by us, the case would be submitted to the Ministry of Defense and he would be arrested.
Either way, the case would be looked at by the MoD to decide what happens next, from two angles. One, we'd have his testimony and the views of the officers he gave the testimony to: the recommendation to be absolved and have no more investigations or to advise that investigation is needed. Two, a third party, usually another officer or the Commanding Officer of the entire regiment, could obtain further evidence to submit alongside the interview statement and recommendation of the officer. This extra evidence could easily back up or contradict the report the trooper gave, but would not be used in determining the advice the interviewing officers gave with regards to the need for inquiry.
Usually, within a week they would have a decision. It was usually faster if we paroled the trooper as often the MoD would find that meant the case was legitimate, but there was a risk the MoD would find irregularities and seek further investigations. Likewise if we had charged him but the MoD disagreed with our call, it would lead to more investigation.
Possible outcomes: Absolved of blame and the act found to have been the only choice that seemed reasonable at the time. Investigated further to determine if a breach of conduct occurred. Or court-martial proceedings that could lead to imprisonment.
Even if the incident had been in Equestria it can be a nightmarish process. And the funny part, looking at how bewildering all that is?
Black Thistle protocols are intended to be able to let the trooper avoid the more stressful procedures on use of lethal force if they had to kill. Intended to simplify the process. Any other trooper? MoD investigation. Commanding Officers only file a report. They cannot issue parole, only the MoD can decide. If anyone else had made the kill, they'd be under arrest already and I'd be making a possible report of what I knew to the MoD. The trooper would not be interviewed by me... If a Guard kills, there's an investigation. And it could easily be a criminal one if the circumstances don't add up to absolve blame or justify the use of force. It's convoluted, it's complicated, and even though no guard has been convicted of an unlawful killing, it's seen only one trooper not retire after his investigation without a Black Thistle protocol to alter the rules a little.
True, only three investigations had been held in two hundred years, and only four times before Audience's shot that night had a guard been behind the death of a suspect. But it had ended two careers thanks to the trauma of the kill and the stress of all the court proceedings. That had led to Black Thistle being introduced, the hope being that the extra coping training along with the additional layer of legal protection would prevent the incidents causing such devastating consequences long-term for so many. Black Thistle had only ever resulted in one case of a kill before now in the hundred years the protocol had existed. It didn't even take a full day for the trooper to be absolved of blame without a trial or investigation.
As for the third investigation, the one that didn't end a career? It came pretty close, trust me.
And as much as I disliked killing as a concept, Audience was still my subordinate, and had done the job we'd asked of him. I knew even then I would be unlikely to seek to submit to the MoD. However, at the time I'd began to worry that maybe, I couldn't trust Cadence to understand, and her orders trumped mine. The way things went didn't help soothe that concern.
While we were alone, Cadence spoke up.
"You really had me worried, Shining," To my surprise, she looked to be a step away from crying.
"Sorry, but we had to do it. For all we knew, that Dog could have been after you."
"But he was after you! And you rushed right after him into a Hooviet ambush! I could have lost you!"
I was silent as she paused.
"Shining, I've got to be honest. I had this feeling something was after you specifically. This instinctive dread gnawing at the back of my mind about you. It grew so loud and shrill, I could barely keep myself from coming unglued. Like something wanted your blood. It wasn't any of our Guards, not Sunset, not Commander Shepard, not me. It wanted you."
I managed a weak sort of laugh, though I felt more like breaking out in a cold sweat.
an impressive intuition you have, Cadence. Foreseeing Makarov like that. Incredible."
Cadence just let out a long breath. "A few minutes after we'd spoke, I tried calling you back. I kept ordering you to come back, and let the dog go. But you never replied."
"I might have been in the tunnels by then..." I said again.
"It took five minutes before somepony told me you'd gone underground, then nothing. I couldn't get anyone, so I'd tried to get the flotilla to get into radio range of you. They'd been flying around and overheard Thunderchild relaying he'd seen your flare, and then they went silent too. I couldn't help but think..."
"I'm all right though. I got through it."
"You never should have been there!" She almost shouted.
"Cadence, it's what I have to do. If I'd let that dog go, Makarov would've just tried something else again."
"Who's to say he STILL won't try something else again?"
"Uh, that would be us, ma'am."
Sandgriff had walked in the room. Frost was with him, along with another griffin. The latter wore a Lieutenant General's insignia on his black beret, and a rather impressive mustache. Sandgriff and Frost were wearing sunglasses rather than masks and weapons.
"Good morning, Princess. I'm General Goldeagle Shepherd. I know you asked for Master Sergeant Fullwington, but I came along to discuss the situation. I hope you don't mind. I've also brought Sergeant Westrookery as he was on the scene with your officer."
"Oh, er, that's quite all right..." Cadence said, a little surprised.
The first thing that came to mind for me, oddly, was that I was thankful he was a general and a he, otherwise we could get mixed up with our Shepard.
(Interviewer's Notes (Earth Pony): How many Shepherds are there?)
(Interviewer's Notes (Unicorn): Four thousand five hundred and seventy-six. Including a diamond dog pacifist movement leader and a Zebrafrician Zebra anti-Hooviet freedom fighter.)
Erm, maybe we should all just refer to him as General Goldeneagle.
"Thank you, Your Highness. Now, you were concerned about Makarov. I wouldn't be. We have a mutual arrangement with him, and we've let him know that anything like a repeat of tonight is going to jeopardize that arrangement."
"I see. What is this arrangement?"
"A ceasefire, of sorts. You may not know about it but for the last ten years, the Hooviets have been putting many hooves in many pies. Ruffled a LOT of nations' feathers. Even a power-hungry sociopath like Makarov wouldn't want the Neighponese ANBU, Ponsian Immortals, and Columbian Metal Unit all uniting together to ruin him."
Cadence frowned. "Okay, so, let me get this straight. He's shown complete contempt for Princess Celestia, the sun-goddess who could quite literally bring down fire from the sky on him, and you somehow think your special forces scare him? No offense, General, but that just seems a little..."
"I'm sorry, Your Highness, but the truth is you and I both know Princess Celestia is NOT the type to declare war over one dead soldier. We, on the other hand, have made clear that if he keeps causing problems, we'll cause him BIGGER problems." The General cut in. "The least of which, and the only one I'm permitted to mention, is to have him labeled a Persona Non Grata, that is to say-"
"Persona Non Grata: meaning 'an unwelcome person.' Also a legal term used to refer to someone whom the state has decided must either be recalled to their home country or be stripped of diplomatic immunity." Cadence cut in, coldly. "I'm an ambassador."
"My mistake. My point is we could have him made one in more than just Columbia if he comes after the Captain again. With enough cookie jar pictures that they'd have no choice but to grin and bear it."
Cadence put on her poker face. "So, what happens now? He did start a battle in your city."
"We're going to ignore it. It gives us pretty good leverage. A lot of favors he'd owe us if we were to deny his little op. And since we have him by the painful parts, you needn't worry about him taking any more shots at Shining there. I came to let you know that basically, tonight never really happened."
"A cover-up," Cadence said, with barely-concealed disgust.
"Afraid so. People like us and Makarov move in the shadows, and sometimes it suits us all that no one shines a light in there. I'm sorry, but this is the best for everyone. Makarov's honor is soothed because at least he took his little potshot at Shining, (even if he failed.) It helps that, right now, Makarov's publicly appealing for those Hooviet expat hoodlums to quit rioting and calm down. He'll be a press darling by the morning. He'll quietly admit he overreacted to the insult in the Embassy. If Shining were to give a small apology himself..."
For a split moment I was reminded we were in a room with a goddess as she narrowed her eyes, a bright aura flaring around her body.
"Captain Sparkle will do no such thing. Tell Makarov apologies WERE made, both before AND DURING his attempts on Shining Armor's life." The way Cadence spoke made all of us shudder.
"We'll try to let him know that. Now, then, there's one other matter. One of your troopers killed a Diamond Dog in the tunnels?"
"Yes," I said simply as Cadence fumed a little.
"Actually, Captain, he didn't. Because the intruders escaped, and were later found dead having been caught up in gang violence in Broker, along with the others..."
"What others?" Cadence asked.
I'd assumed he'd meant the ones killed in the station. I was wrong.
"The other Diamond Dog they're dragging out of the burned remains of the taxi depot in Cisco Street. Our 'Police Dog' identified their scent from the same pack. They're known to the LCPD, hired goons for anyone with the gems to spare," the General told us.
"Someone hired the pack and planned to get rid of any of them not already at the train station..." I said, sickened. Cadence was shocked.
"That's Makarov's MO through and through. Hire something he can discard, then have plenty of backup plans," the General said flatly. "Looks like someone had a trap set for you no matter where you ended up, or just wanted them silenced."
"Of course, we'll never really know for sure who hired them. Legally speaking. After all, it can't have been Makarov," Sandgriff said. All the official papers say so.
"The two taxi ponies that were arrested this night are likely only still alive because they have no idea who hired them but a few diamond dogs who wanted a pick up at a prearranged time, then saw an Equestrian Guard chasing their pick-up and panicked."
That were two fewer creatures' deaths I had to work through. "So you wanted to speak to my soldiers about what didn't happen tonight?"
Cadence sighed. "Well, we might have to investigate Private Audience's actions. We have our own laws, even if yours are giving him a pass on it. I'm not sure if we can actually ask for you as witnesses though..."
"We can, sort of. You'd need to keep it separate and unknown to the officers interviewing him tomorrow, but you could have the extra testimony when you send it to the MoD. You merely send off what your officers say and what other information you know," I clarified. Or tried to. The important part was anything they said was supposed to not be known to the officers speaking to Audience.
"...Doesn't that mean you can't interview him, Shining?"
"Um... Yes, good point. I can be present though, and technically, I need to be, as his officer. But I'd just stand there, I'd not say anything to him or the officers. You'll probably need Air Naval officers to do it now."
"Okay. So, that means you can stay in the room while I hear what the Griffins have to say on Audience's actions?"
"Good. Sergeant... Frost, was it?"
"Uh, Westrookery, ma'am, Frost is sort of a callsign or nickname..." Frost said.
I suddenly had a headache. So many NAMES to remember, so many ranks, species, callsigns... and Liberty City was still the first stop on our goodwill tour.
"Okay, so... What did you see?"
"From where I was? Your guy had no choice. I know about stun spells and other less-than-lethal takedown methods, and I don't think he could've used them safely. The Diamond Dog posed a threat to all our lives. I don't see any other option on your guy's part, thanks to the layout of the area, and I know the Dog never felt a thing."
I tried not to sigh in exasperation. Audience would be asked if he felt the target posed a threat to life, if he could see any reasonable alternative at the time, and if he ensured that once he had felt lethal force was the only choice, that he made it as painless as possible. Frost had given a suspiciously specific yes/no/yes, in order. Exactly what would be needed to say Audience was justified in taking the shot.
"Thank you, Sergeant Frostrookery. I think that's all. General, is there anything further?"
"No, Your Highness. It was a pleasure to meet you. I only wish it could have been under better circumstances," the General replied.
"Likewise. Thank you, Gentlegriffs, and good morning."
"One last thing," I said. "I know it's secret, but about the 'power source' of Makarov's death machines..."
"What?" Sandgriff asked.
"They're powered by unicorn horns! I saw them! That sicko promised to install my horn in one!"
The Griffins were surprised let me tell you. After a few minutes of convincing them I hadn't been seeing thing I barely believed, I gave them all the details I could.
"This is news to us. I haven't read in detail what's been found in the junkyard's wreckage yet . . . " The General said. "If . . . if we find any, remains I'll do my hardest to see they're treated respectfully and will have a proper investigation."
"Thank you," Cadence said.
They left. Cadence waited, then spoke to me.
"I hate having to go along with that. A cover-up when they tried to kill you, thinking Auntie wouldn't care if you'd been killed..."
"Cadence, can I clarify? Princess Celestia would care, but the General was right. She wouldn't go to war over me."
"True," I said, regretting how that one word stunned her.
"Shining, that's absurd! You're Twilight's brother! You're my..."
I could have let her finish first, but she'd paused midsentence. And so I spoke.
"No matter what I am, I'm just one pony, Cadence. What's Equestria's population?"
Five hundred and three million six hundred and ninety seven thousand three hundred and ten."
I stared at her.
"What? I'm an Alicorn."
"Er, okay. But that's my point. I'm one amongst five hundred million. If I die, is it fair that we risk the lives of everyone else? I know I wouldn't want a war started to avenge me. No Guard would. If it were to come down to it I'd be an acceptable loss."
She was angry and upset as she spoke. "That's insane, Shining! Wars have been started over one person's death!"
"Never by Princess Celestia."
"You think you know my aunt better than I do?!" raged the goddess of harmony and music. "She loves all of us!"
I knelt and looked her in the eyes. "It's because she loves all of her ponies deeply. And I know you love everypony and every other Equestrian citizen just as much as she does. But Princess, I'm afraid you need to accept sooner or later we're only mortal. Fated to die, regardless. For Guards, it comes down to the fact that they devote their lives to protecting Equestria's people and her Princesses. Keep them safe or die trying. I'm no different."
"You... Shining, I don't want you to die for me! Or anypony else!"
She looked utterly horrified, and I regretted having even spoken. But being a moron, I kept going.
"...I'm sorry, but it's our job. We're Guards. It's what we are."
She looked about ready to burst into tears, and then to my surprise, laughed bitterly, instead.
"I don't believe this. You know why I was so worried about you? Really? Because, Shining, you're probably the only pony I know other than Twilight who likes me for who I am first, not what I am. Everypony else, it's the wings and the horn. I'm only loved, I'm only important, for what I am!"
"Cadence, that's ridiculous!"
"Is it? Minuette, Twinkleshine, Sunset. I'd never have met them if they hadn't been hired to work for me. They're my friends, but only because I'm a Princess. All the other Guards guard me because I'm a Princess. All the nobles, all the ambassadors and diplomats... they welcome me into their private circles, because I'm a Princess. And why am I a Princess? Because I'm an Alicorn!"
"That's not true!" I said, staring at her intently.
Cadence sighed. "I'll grant you that. Plenty of non-Alicorns have been Princesses... and Princes. But you know something? Not even Aunt Celestia would've ever bothered with me, if not for these little appendages."
"Your Aunt LOVES you!"
"And I love her back, don't get me wrong," Cadence replied. "But how differently would I've turned out, if I'd been, say, a unicorn? Even a highborn one? Would Auntie have gone through such great pains to safeguard me? Educate me? Iron out all the kinks in my personality? Trained me to be productive instead of idle? Made sure I never forgot the difference between right and wrong?"
She folded her wings sadly.
"Or would Princess Celestia have been content to leave Cadence the Unicorn to her own devices, and grow into a female cousin Blueblood?"
I had nothing to say. I could envision it all too clearly, in fact. Blueblood wasn't the only nephew or niece of Celestia who had lost touch with the real world.
"Somehow, because I'm also an Alicorn, that makes me more important than anypony else in Celestia's eyes... and thus, in the eyes of everyone else under her sun!"
It took a while before I could muster an answer. Though I spoke softly, I was surprised by the strength in my voice. "With all due respect, Cadence, I could not disagree more. There is much more to you than a horn and some wings. You're also a kind, loving, and compassionate soul. That was always in you from the beginning. Celestia just helped you refine those qualities. It was THAT which she's always treasured about you; your inherent goodness. That's what REALLY distinguishes you from the rest of your family."
We met each other's eyes. I went on.
"And, no: it wouldn't have mattered if you'd been born a unicorn. Even if you had, Celestia would've had no problems taking a cute, thoughtful, gifted, kindhearted unicorn filly like you under her wing... and into the warmest spot of her heart. If you don't believe that, Cadence, then there's a little sister of mine you ought to have a word with."
Her smile was such a beautiful thing.
"And that's what I adore about you, Shining. You're one of the few ponies I'm one-hundred-percent sure likes me for who I am. And then you turn around and call yourself an 'acceptable loss!'"
"Er, well... Cadence, it... It's just the way it is. I'm a Guard. But I might have to put my life on the line. It's what I am. And you're an Alicorn princess. And I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, but Cadence, you have to accept what each of us are..."
She was silent for a moment. She actually looked a little sick.
"...I can try. I don't have to like it though. And Shining, I am never forgetting who you are when I deal with you. So deal with it. You're my friend. The son of two great ponies. The big brother-best friend of a brilliant filly. A loyal and dedicated servant of Equestria, and a selfless and generous pony. What you're not is expendable by any means. So, thank you. But don't you dare think of dying in my name."
"If it helps, I don't plan to."
"That helps a little, Shining..."
"Besides, the odds are pretty low I'd be killed on duty anyway. On average only eight Guards die a year, and that's in training accidents, firefighting incidents, animal attacks, or other incidents, in that order of rarity. And since being assassinated is other incidents, the rarest of the lot, the odds are extremely low. So don't worry! Heck, more farmers or construction workers die per year than Guards."
And once I had finished that little fact-dropping, she stared at me with a raised brow.
"Shining... I'm going to overlook the fact that you've apparently just been possessed by some statistician's specter... in order to point out that your math's completely faulty."
"You seem to be forgetting the probability of being assassinated is more based on probability of there being an assassin. Which is high, because as we've already established, Makarov is kind of a pinhead."
"That's a fair point. But Cadence, I was trying to stop you worrying."
"It didn't work," She said, deadpan.
"I know that. Now I'm worrying... no, I'm kidding, I'm actually joking about being worried. Trust me."
She frowned. "...You trained him, didn't you? You actually trained Running Gag. The entire time up in the clouds yesterday at the weather factory, he kept making terrible jokes about cloud related things, puns about weather. And that was just what I could overhear!"
"I never trained him! I think he was born that way. Besides, he's off-duty tomorrow now..."
"Or later today. Before I go back to bed, do you know what happens after you're done with those interviews tomorrow?"
"...I brainstorm ideas for that novel I've always been meaning to write?" I fakely grinned.
"Wrong. You're coming with me. No uniform, just a suit or something suitably neat and non-military."
"Um, Cadence, I don't have anything like that. I just have my uniforms and a Maresenal shirt."
"This season's home shirt?"
She honestly seemed to be considering it. Now, I'd have been pleased to do it, but it would look a bit odd. Prim and proper ponies in dresses, tiaras, suits, ties, guards in shiny armor, and then at the back, a hoofball hooligan.
"...I'd never get away with wearing mine on a diplomatic duty so I'm not going to get away with you doing it. We need to get you a suit then."
"Wait, you actually have a shirt yourself?"
"Well, yes. Of course. I kind of prefer the away one this year though. I think it's my fault it's purple, actually, I mentioned it's one of my favorite colors to a director when I was at a match last year..."
"Oh, that's right, you'd be in the VIP box..." I mused.
"...Ah, well, I know I was being a bit whiny earlier about the whole 'everypony likes me for what I am' thing but, er, it... Ahahaha, it, uh..."
"Has some bonuses?" I offered.
"Yes. Well, no. Yes. Um..."
"Alright, so.... I did say you were kind, loving, and compassionate earlier, right? And now I'm reminded you've got great taste in sports teams..."
"And this has nothing to do with the VIP box at Emareates Stadium?"
"Nothing whatsoever, but would you marry me?"
(Interviewer's Notes (Pegasus & Unicorn & Earth Pony): WHAT?!)
(Interviewer's Notes (Unicorn): Impossible! You can't have...)
(Interviewer's Notes (Earth Pony): I thought when you got around to that it was much later and all romantic! Oh, you're laughing... You're joking?)
Oh, hay yes, I'm joking! That's not what I said at all after saying it had some bonuses! You should see the looks on your faces... Priceless!
...What? Why'd you all start looking at me like that? I'm just joking around... You're looking at me like I quoted Tirek or something. And now you look surprised I know who that is.
(Interviewer's Notes (Unicorn):
Shining, I'm sorry, but the joke just wasn't that funny for us. So, what really happened?)
Oh, fine. Remember, 'some bonuses' was the last thing I really said.
"...Did I mention you've also got a great flank? In fact I've got like thirty pictures of it..."
(Interviewer's Notes (Pegasus & Unicorn & Earth Pony): SHINING!)
(Interviewer's Notes (Unicorn): For the record, the Captain is now laughing profusely. We're starting to doubt his claims to have not trained Lance-Corporal Running Gag.)
Aw, spoilers, now they know he got promoted!
(Interviewer's Notes (Pegasus): Serves you right. Now be serious!)
(Interviewer's Notes (Earth Pony): Yeah!)
(Interviewer's Notes (Unicorn): Besides, a private can expect to be promoted to the rank of Lance-Corporal after two years service or earlier, assuming there is a vacancy in the grade and the private is deemed fit for promotion? It's not much of a stretch to assume he would rise up a rank over time.)
Okay, okay, fair point. What really happened was this.
"It's okay, Princess, I understand how you feel. But I think you were a little wrong to think Ponies love you just for what you are. It's not just me and Twilight, you know. I think most of them might be doing both, to be honest, but the fact is, Ponies do love you, and it's because who you are is a good pony. Besides, a lot of ponies that spout those 'Alicorn conspiracy' horseapples tend to not extend it to you and you get a pretty good rep even from that hack, Sunny Day..."
"Um... Yeah, you know what, we'll go with that. I'm pretty sure I'm not actually supposed to know anyway..." She muttered.
"Nothing... Um, so... We need to get you a suit or something, Shining. Maybe a bow tie."
"What about a fez?"
"You'll never forgive me when you're fully awake."
"We can have you go around town dressed like your sister if you want."
"But she doesn't-oh! No thank you."
"Good. Now go to bed."
"I guess we'll sort it out in the morning. Or later... Uh... Good night, Princess?"
"Ah, yes. Good night."
She simply stood there.
"...This is my room?" I reminded her.
"What? I told them to take you to mine."
"Well, I could go there instead if you want to swap or something but I'm not sure I want to risk your hairbrushes." I dodged.
She then facehoofed and groaned.
"...Sorry, Shining, I don't know what's with me. I must be more tired and stressed than I thought."
"Sorry about that..."
"So you should be, you massive pain in the flank! Goodnight, and remember we need to get you a suit tomorrow." She said with a smile.
"Okay, get me a fez, got it..."
"No fez!" She gave as a parting shot on the way out. "And I order you to never use that joke again!"
I then fell asleep.
(Interviewer's Notes (Earth Pony): Uh, you got into bed first, right?)
It was hard but not impossible.
(Interviewer's Notes (Earth Pony): Okay, just checking you didn't fall over or something.)
And that ended that night.
(Interviewer's Notes (Earth Pony): Sleep tight!)