Chapter II: Scene 1: Introduction
When you decide to run away from your home and the only life you've ever known, plan it out first. For all the reasons it felt like the right thing to do, I didn't even think to take anything with me.
So I had nothing. No food, no money, no plan, and worst of all, no skills. Don't get me wrong, I still had all my baking and cooking skills. In fact, the sensible thing would’ve been to get a job at another bakery. But when you’ve fled your home with the identity you grew up in left behind in shambles, you tend to not do the sensible thing. That was me, I avoided every café bakery and bread shop I came across. I never wanted to see a bakery ever again, much less work in one. I could’ve easily made quality food for myself form the most basic ingredients, but the very thought of such a thing disgusted me to my very core, literally.
Speaking of things that disgusted me to my core, the two eyesores on my flanks were an absolute abomination to think of. I never wanted to look at them, or for that matter, let other ponies look at them. But, I quickly discovered that if you want to avoid talking to other ponies about your Cutie Mark and being reminded of its existence, its best to not hide it. Ponies are incessantly, morbidly, curious about anything they see as mysterious. And a pony hiding their Cutie Mark counts as a huge mystery that they just have to go poking their muzzles into until the solve it.
I found that the best way to avoid Cutie Mark related encounters, was to just leave them visible and right out there in the open. Ponies make so many assumptions that they never bother to ask questions to confirm or deny those assumptions, and that worked out just fine for me.
I’m exceedingly thankful my little stabbing tantrum did nothing more than poke a bunch of holes in my flank. The scars are hidden quite nicely and nopony’s ever suspected a thing. It’d have been quite a pain to explain that away.
Unfortunately my attempts at making a career were nowhere near as successful. There’s a small problem with trying to make a job out of activities you’ve only ever practiced once. That problem is that you have absolutely no real skills what-so-ever in that area. Again, that was me. To top it off I had no knowledge about how to actually run a business.
Now in those months after I ran away I did find one thing I was actually good at besides baking, and that was fighting. By fighting I don’t mean I was able to beat the living crap out of anypony I wanted. No, I got my ass pounded in every fight I was in. By good, I mean that I got back up. Every. Single. Time. No matter how many times I got knocked down I just kept getting back up again. And eventually I won. That’s pretty much how I won every fight I every got myself into.
Now I typically got into the fights because of the spectacular failed attempts at business I would try to make with particularly . . . physical, dissatisfied clients. Part of it was because I was trying to sell a pretty bad product. The other part was because I was not the nicest pony around. During those months I also expanded my vocabulary significantly, and I exercised it regularly. That’s probably the biggest reason those fights even broke out.
Now I know this all sounds pretty bad but bear with me. Cause its because of one of these fights that my life took a turn for the better.
It was one summer day, I had tried to sell a wooden something-or-other, but the sale went bad fast. The dang mare knocked me down about four times or so. The fifth time I got up she looked like she’d seen a ghost.
I mean, wouldn’t you have? She’d given me a good buck in the gut, not enough to break anything, but enough to knock me down pretty good. I had a good dark black eye, several deep bruises on my chest, and some distinct hoof marks on my left flank. Not to mention my feathers were ruffled to shit and I was covered in scratches and dirt from the ground. So yeah, I looked like I had no business standing, much less walking.
As soon as I took that first step forward she turned tail and ran like a chicken.
I nickered, “Heh, coward.” As soon as those words left me so too did all my strength to stand.
Falling to my haunches I looked to the stomped remains of the wooden thing I’d been trying to sell. I poked my hoof through the broken pieces, seeing if I could salvage any of it. I’d just determined that it was all garbage when a shadow fell over me.
I paused, figuring it was either; 1 the mare come back to get revenge; 2 her buddies sent to finish me off; or 3 the local guards come to arrest me. That had happened a few times.
I glanced back and caught a glimpse of gleaming golden armour. So it was option three then, great. I calculated my chances of escaping, and quickly found them next to none. I could barely stand and I doubted I’d get far flying. Not eating for several days tends to take the energy out of a pony.
Whoever was in that armour, they seemed pretty content to wait and let me stew over my options. Probably waiting to skewer me with a spear the moment I made a pathetic run for it. Well I wasn’t going to give them that satisfaction.
“So, are you here to affetht me?” I meant to sound nonchalant, but my voice turned to a rasp at arrest making me sound like I was begging.
“No, I’m here to arrest you. If that’s what you were going for.” The same gravelly monotone voice that every guardspony possessed responded to me.
“Oh? The why are you just standing there?” I think I was finding my voice again.
“I saw your little scuffle just now-”
“Heh, is that what you call it?”
“-and how you got back up long after any normal pony would’ve stayed down.”
My chuckle turned into a cough. “What can I say. I don’t like staying down.”
Clearly, this guy was going somewhere with this, so I decided to find out.
“So, what exactly do you want? You’ve gotta be staring at me for some reason other than visual molestation.”
Either my voice went raspy again or he just ignored that last comment as he went on, “What if I told you, I know of a place that’d be better for you than your current . . . situation.”
“I’d tell you you were a pretty shitty foalnapper.” This guy was clearly not the best conversationalist.
“Funny. But this place would be able to put your . . .unique skills to good use.”
“Oh?” Of course I was skeptical, “And what exactly is this amazing fantastic place you seem so fond of?” I didn’t really believe it could be as ridiculous as it actually was.
“There is a training center. Designed for especially skilled ponies such as yourself.”
I responded with lots of raspy coughs. I was beginning to worry I may have received something worse than a few bruises.
“You, hah, you want me to become a guard?! Hehe! Yeah, cause you really need to be able to stand back up when you go into statue mode!”
“It’s much more than that. You’d be trained to be somepony greater than a guard.”
I swear this guy had used no voice inflection since he started talking, “And what makes you think I want to be anything greater than I am now?”
“It’s not hard for anypony to tell you’re lost.” I determined this guy was a bastard. “When you see a pony attempting to pursue woodworking when their cutie mark suggest their talents lie in baking, its not a hard conclusion to come to.”
To this day I am still surprised to find that I still had plenty of strength left to whirl on this cocky bastard who thought he knew me. I tactfully shot down his dumbass assumptions.
“I AM NOT A FUCKING BAKER!!”
I also got my first good look at this prick and was immediately surprised at how tall he was. Everypony knows that the Guard’s armour is enchanted to make the wearer look and sound like the same dumb white or gray stallion with a blue mane. Except, the enchantment can’t conceal the wearer’s height, which is usually a dead giveaway to the user’s gender. And the stallion in front of me was a fucking giant! I’m no small mare mind you; I’m actually taller than most, and this guy was at least a full head taller than me. At my little outburst I was practically craning my neck to stare down his stupid muzzle. He also didn’t budge an inch. He just kept that same stoic pose and expression. Staring at me like I was a damn newspaper, like he knew everything just by looking at me. I also noticed he was unarmed, no weapons at all.
After a few moments he finally responded to my outburst with that same dull voice.
That response kinda stunned me more than anything else about him. His lack of reaction was, well, I didn’t know how it felt. Up until then my typical reaction to ponies who assumed I was a baker was either anger or barely seething tolerance. But this guy wasn’t doing that; it was, interesting. After letting me stand there stunned for a few seconds he continued.
“How about you come and see the facility, then make your decision there. At the very least our doctors could look at your injuries, fix that rasp in your voice.”
I considered it, and it wasn’t a difficult debate. As it was I had nowhere to be, nothing to do, and no home to go to. There I could get my wounds fixed, maybe get a bath and a bed to sleep in. And maybe even some actual food to eat. To that thought my damn stomach loudly voiced its agreement.
I sighed, my decision made, “Well, I don’t really have anything else to do. Sure, I’ll check out this place of yours. Lead the way.”
He simply grunted, stating, “Good choice.” and turned to start walking down the path. I found that with something to actually look forward to for once, I was able to make my tired injured body keep up. It would take me a long time to realize just how much that choice had saved me.
Scene II: Orientation
You know, its amazing what wonders an actual meal a good night’s sleep on an actual bed does for a pony. Not to mention having all your wounds and injuries healed up.
It turns out there was a new group of recruits coming in. The guard stallion had timed my arrival perfectly to coincide with this group’s orientation. It made my choice much easier, considering I didn’t exactly have anything before, so it was better than nothing.
I realized the guard stallion never gave me his name and he never asked for mine. It was an interesting thought that I didn’t even know the name of the pony who’d literally saved my life.
Turns out the fight with that mare had done more damage than I’d thought. My rasp was the cause of a punctured lung. If I’d been left out there for a few more days I’d have fallen down dead from suffocation. So he literally saved my life and I didn’t even know his name.
But enough of the boring sentimental prologue. The orientation is the real interesting part here.
They had us all lined up about a pony’s length apart in four rows. There were about 30 to 32 of us in all. We were told we were going to meet our main training instructor who went by the name of Sarge. Apparently, nopony knew his real name and nopony would address him by anything other than Sarge.
I glanced at the other recruits around me. Surprisingly they all looked to be my age or just a little older. Never thought the guard was into training barely adolescent aged ponies.
We were lined up on the main parade grounds of the facility. A large 50 by 100 meter dirt field near the entrance of the facility which itself was about a 400 by 400 square meter sized area. Around the perimeter was a 10-meter tall white brick wall with a purple roof and blue wooden columns about 10-meters apart. The majority of the Facility was open air space with multiple areas sectioned off and filled with various training equipment and obstacles. In one corner were 3 barracks each about 50 meters long, presumably where we’d be staying. Next to those were a couple of administrative and medical buildings where I’d stayed and done all my registration paperwork. In the opposite corner was the mess hall, a large building that always smelled of the slop they served there. Next to that was a barn where they presumably got all their ingredients. And in the far corner was a large low building with no visible indications about what it was.
It was a fairly mild day, no clouds, Celestia’s sun shining bright. I’m pretty sure they had us lined up out there for at least an hour. It was probably a test to see how patient we could be. Or to see how good we were at being statues.
Some were fairing I better than others. There were grumbles and murmurs from several ponies, I even heard one mare strike up a conversation with a stallion somewhere behind me. The two ponies either side of me were thankfully quiet. The pony on my left was a light blue earthpony mare with yellow hair and a sun cutie mark. She seemed like she was daydreaming or something.
Where as the stallion on my right I’d swear he wasn’t even there if I wasn’t looking at him. Which was especially odd considering he was a zebra, and you normally don’t see zebras in the guard. He had the typical zebra stripes you’d expect, a black muzzle, an almost military style Mohawk, and I couldn’t even tell what his mark was. Some sort of spots maybe? I had to keep glancing at him to make sure he was still there, and every time I looked he hadn’t budged an inch.
Nearby in another row ahead of me somepony was already wearing full guard armour, disguise enchantment active and everything. They were playing statue really well, they ignored everypony who tried talking to them.
After 30 minutes, most of the recruits were casually just chatting away with each other and trotting around wherever they pleased. My two neighbors and I were some of the few who didn’t mingle, though it was for different reasons. All of a sudden there were loud shouts from what sounded like a very pissed stallion. Everyone froze.
“WHAT IN TARTARUS DO YOU RUNTS THINK YOU’RE DOING! WHO TOLD YOU YOU COULD BREAK RANKS?”
I barely heard somepony try to whimper out a response I couldn’t even understand.
“I DON’T CARE! SHUT YOUR MOUTHS AND GET BACK IN LINE NOW!!”
What followed was a tangle of about 20 different ponies running into each other as they frantically tried to find their spots to stand in. They tripped over each other, some running headlong into each other in a panic, a few even got piled on top of each other somehow making a pony tower. They kicked up quite a bit of dust by the end of it, obscuring everything around me.
After a whole five minutes everypony was back in their places, the dust had settled and I finally got to place a face to the voice and name. He looked in very way to be a royal guard, even without his enchantment on. He was tall, about a head higher than me, a gray coat with pale gray hooves, a brown military cut mohawk with lighter brown highlights, a stubbled muzzle and piercing blue eyes that looked like they were always tired. His body was covered in an assortment of scars going around his back legs, over his back, under his belly, up his chest, and one across his neck. But it was his expression and posture that told me; this was the guy who brought me here. The pony who had brought me to the training facility and saved my saved life was Sarge, our trainer.
Once everyone had settled into stiff stances in their spots, Sarge began addressing us, “Alright, listen up you piles of mush! You are all here to join the Royal Guard, the defense force for all of Equestria! But this facility is not just for training guards, its for-” aaand I can’t be bothered to remember more than that.
He just yelled on and on for ten minutes about what this facility was, what we’d be doing, and just generally being as loud and intimidating as possible. Which worked on quite a few of the other recruits, several had literally pissed themselves during his speech. Essentially he said we were going to be trained to be guards, it was going to be hard as shit, and some of us would be picked for some super special squad unit. After that he started going to each pony in line demanding their name, where they were from and why they were here.
He got up to the blue mare to my left, “SO, JUST WHO THE HELL ARE YOU!!”
The mare was brought out of her stupor, “Huh! What?”
“CHECK YOUR EARS RECRUIT! I SAID. WHO! THE HELL! ARE YOU!”
She finally stammered out an answer, “S-Sunlight Days of Withervale SIR!”
“AND WHY ARE YOU HERE!?”
“T-to help ponies sir!”
“WELL KEEP THIS UP AND THE LATRINE DETAIL WILL BE THE ONLY HELP YOU’LL BE GIVING TO ANYPONY!!”
I had a hard time believing this pony had been so dense to have not notice anything that had been happening around her for the past hour and a half. That was, pathetic, to say the least. I wondered how anypony like that thought they could be a guard. I didn’t have long to ponder that, cause Sarge was right in front of me.
“AND WHO THE HELL ARE YOU!!”
I guessed now was the time for that introduction. Though his intimidation tactics weren’t working on me. “Peppermint Mocha sir!”
“AND WHY ARE YOU HERE?”
I was here because you brought me here. But I thought that answer was too stupid, so instead I gave an even dumber answer. “To do whatever I want.”
“WELL I HOPE YOU LIKE COOKING. WITH A NAME AND A MARK LIKE YOUR’S YOU’LL BE GREAT WITH COOKING DETAIL!”
I could’ve sworn I saw him smirk as he turned away. Without even thinking about it I gave my reply, “No Sir!”
He stopped, “What was that recruit?”
It was a trap. I knew it was. He had found my weakness after I went and exploded on him and now he was exploiting it against me. I knew he was, but I didn’t care.
“I will not be cooking anything Sir!” Everypony was staring at me at this point, the mare crazy enough to talk back to the scary as shit drill sergeant.
He looked back to me from where he was in front of the zebra, “You will complete every task you are assigned recruit, whether you like it or not.” He wasn’t shouting anymore, but somehow that just made him even more intimidating. It almost made me back down, almost.
“I. AM NOT. COOKING ANYTHING. SIR!” I was not going to back down.
“Then I’m sure you’ll enjoy latrine detail and 50 laps around the compound, and then you can be on cooking detail for dinner tomorrow.”
That last bit really got to me, I’m not proud to say. I kind of, maybe just lost it a tiny bit, “I will fight you asshole.”
He turned to fully face me, a whole two pony-lengths away, “What was that recruit? Are you threatening me?” His calm evenness was . . . unsettling, but I was too far-gone to stop now. I growled slightly and crouched to lunge.
He didn’t seem concerned, “Very well then. Come at me recruit.”
I was all too happy to oblique. I lunged forward with every once of speed I could muster. I crossed the distance between us in a heartbeat, my hooves mere inches from pounding in his stupid ass face.
I didn’t see him move but I felt an impact somewhere along my neck, my body went slack, and my momentum changed a straight arrow path to a circular arc that took me over Sarge and ended with my face meeting the ground hard.
I found out later that Sarge had hit a nerve on my neck that causes temporary disorientation and paralysis across the whole body when hit with the right amount pressure. Whereas my hooves did nothing but tap his face on my way over him.
I laid on the ground for I don’t know how long watching the sky above me spin. I think sarge was talking but I couldn’t be sure, I think I may have even blacked out for a few seconds. Either way the next thing I remember was Sarge standing over me.
“Get up recruit, you’ve still got those 50 laps to run, and the latrines won’t clean themselves.” He was back to his normal droning voice, which was still the same as his scary calm voice.
I had trouble making my voice work, “Fuck you.”
“What was that recruit?” like he hadn’t heard me.
I just growled and stumble to my hooves. “Yes sir.”
As I reached the entrance gate to the outside I heard Sarge again.
“Good, you’re paying attention this time. Go run those laps with Mocha.”
“But . . . yes sir.”
Great, now I had the most absent-minded pony in Equestria for company.
Scene III: Chattermare
I started galloping as soon as I got out of the entry gate. I figured if I put enough distance between Miss Daydreamer and me I wouldn’t have to worry about dealing with her.
It didn’t work. After one lap in I heard another set of hoofsteps behind me. In a couple of heartbeats she was right next to me. And then she started talking.
“So, uh . . . hi there! I’m Sunlight, though I guess you already knew that. Considering you were right there when Sarge was doing his, uh, thing.”
Maybe if I didn’t say anything she'd stop talking.
. . . . . .
. . . . . .
“So, uh, hey I really like your hair. It’s really pretty, what with all the swirls and curls and stuff. How’d you tie it up like that?”
Ok that plan failed. I sped up and pulled away from her. Hopefully making her eat dust in the process. Hoping that would send the message I didn’t want to talk. Unfortunately, it was nowhere near enough of a deterrent. She was right next to me again in a few seconds.
“Umm, so, where are you from? I noticed you didn’t say so and everypony else did.”
Now that was a shocker, she actually noticed something. Though it really didn’t matter cause I really didn’t care. I sped up some more. I figured if I galloped fast enough she’d get tired and leave me alone.
But keep up she did, and she didn’t even seem to be running out of breath. What’s worse, she kept talking. “Come on, Sarge said we need to work together and, you know, not ignore each other!”
Suddenly I found I really, really, really hated this bitch who thought she had ANY authority to tell me what to do. I decided it’d be better for me to get away from her before I beat the shit out of her. So I started sprinting.
Unfortunately the damn mare easily kept pace, “Hey uh, we’re going pretty fast. You might wanna slow down a bit. You’re gonna burn out and we’re nowhere close to finishing. It’d be better if you-”
As I skidded to a sudden stop I decided I’d had enough. I turned as she skidded to a stop right in front of me. I towered over her and she shrank down onto her haunches a bit. I just stared down her stupid muzzle into her wide brown eyes.
“WILL YOU JUST SHUT UP ALREADY! I am tired of listening to the ramblings of an idiot who can’t pay attention for five minutes, try to tell me what to do! So just shut your stupid mouth already and leave me alone!”
By the shock evident on her face, I surprised her. Probably the first time anypony’s told her off.
“I, but, we’re supposed to work together. That’s what being in the guard’s all about!”
I just scowled at her more, then turned away to continue running.
“Come on you can’t just ignore anypony here you don’t like! You’ve got to work with other ponies or you’ll get them hurt!”
I turned back one last time, “Oh I’m going to work with other ponies. But that doesn’t mean I have to work with you.”
. . . . .
And with that she thankfully shut up and stayed quiet for the rest of the run.
Scene IV: Top Bunk
There’s something therapeutic about running long distances. After those 50 laps, my anger had completely melted away, leaving behind my typical . . . reasonable, self. Granted I was also completely wiped, and with the setting sun that meant the other recruits would be turning in to the barracks soon.
Unfortunately, I still had latrine detail, which would be much less calming than running, but at least it’d get me away from Chattermare. She seemed to realize it as well, “Hey! Peppermint!”
I didn’t even bother being subtle as I quickened my pace, “Can’t talk now, I have latrines to clean.”
She was no doubt about to continue when the tell tale monotone of Sarge called out, “Mocha! Hold it right there!”
This day just kept getting better and better. I bet he had some big lecture for me or something. I turned to him with an exasperated sigh, “Yes. Sir?”
“You’re off the hook. One of the other recruits did something worse than a little insubordination, so they’re stuck with solo latrine detail for a week.”
I was both relieved and irked at the same time. It was evident in my voice as I gave my carefully articulated reply, “What.”
“Now get to the barracks you two. You’ve got an early start tomorrow morning. Dismissed.”
And with that he departed, leaving me with Chattermare. She, of course, couldn’t resist commenting on my newfound luck.
“Hey isn’t that great! You don’t have to clean toilets now!”
I just looked at her. She was way too cheerful for a mare who’d just run 50 damn miles. Turning towards the barracks I gave her my response, “Lovely.”
She followed, “Hey come on. You gotta be at least a little happy you don’t have to clean up other ponies’ filth.”
I couldn’t shout at her anymore, the run had drained all my anger away. But I still didn’t want to talk to her. “I’ll be happier when I get away from your yapping mouth.”
“What’d you say Peppermint?”
We arrived at the barracks, and as we stepped inside I decide to end the conversation there, “Nothing, just don’t bunk anywhere near me, got it?”
She finally gave me a break, “Fine, we can talk again later.”
I grumbled under my breath, “Hopefully not.” And walked away to find a bunk.
I trotted down the bunks looking for one that wasn’t already occupied. The building was quite long, like a tunnel through a mountain, the entire building was just one room. There were bunk beds on both sides and a fairly wide corridor in the middle with plenty of space for four ponies to walk side-by-side unimpeded. The whole room’s aesthetic was very Spartan, simple beds, a basic chest for each pony’s belongings, windows that provided most of the lighting, a few lighting gems in the ceiling, and a single door at the other side.
However, there was one feature that made the entire thing extremely weird, the entire building was co-ed. There were no separations, no walls, and everypony was free to bunk with and near whomever they wanted. At first I thought it was a pretty dumb idea, given the nature of ponies, especially adolescent ones. But the more I thought about the more it made sense. If you were going to be on a team out in the wilderness defending Equestria, you’d have to get used to sleeping near them as well. The bunks were also barely big enough for one pony, much less two, plus everyone looked far too tired to get a hard-on, that probably helped too.
I looked back and forth across the bunks, but every one of them seemed to already be occupied. I was starting to worry there were no more left when I spotted one devoid of possessions on the opposite end of the barracks. There was only one bunk between this one and the door at the back that pony would presumably come through for the morning wake-up call.
I walked to the bunk and looked it over. Two mattresses, two flimsy sheets, two pillows, and surprisingly two desks; one to either side of the bunk squeezed in with a desk for the next bunk over. The desks looked stocked with scrolls, seals, quills and other necessities for writing letters to loved ones. I certainly wouldn’t be making use of those. There was also a window over each desk that gave a great view of the next building over.
“Well, it looks like the daredevil has finally come to roost. And she’s gotten the last bunk too.” I looked back at the owner of the snarky voice: a pale brown Pegasus stallion with dirty blonde hair and a brighter yellow streak through it. His blue eyes and friendly grin watched me from atop his bunk across the room. I noticed he had the zebra as his bunkmate judging by the striped body lying on the lower bunk.
Looking back up at the Pegasus I asked, “And you are?”
“The name’s Quick Shot! But everypony just calls me Quicks. And you, miss daredevil, are Peppermint Mocha, the pony who picked a fight with Sarge when everypony else would have rather shit themselves. You’ve gathered quite the reputation.”
I turned to face him, “Thanks. Is there any particular reason you’re putting on the flattery?”
“I’m just wondering what a pony has to do to have the guts to do an incredible act such as the one you have done.”
I smirked, “It’s not exactly hard. Once you figure out why they’re being intimidating, they stop being intimidating.”
He seemed just a bit too into this conversation, “Oh? And why are they being so intimidating then?” I was pretty certain by that point the guy was into me.
I hesitated for a second, realizing what I was about to say. Then I said it anyway, “To break us. So they can mold us into whatever they want.”
“So you’re . . .”
“I’ve already been broken.”
By the way the guy’s face fell, I think I killed his boner. He had no comeback for that one. I turned back to my bunk when realization hit me.
Worried I turned back to Quicks, “Hey, you said I got the last bunk. What did you mean by that?”
My question seemed to snap him back to the present, “Huh? Oh, well apparently they have just enough bunks for everyone here. And everypony else has been here for a while except for you and that blue mare.”
I just stared at him, my gut sinking. “But hey, look on the bright side, at least you get to pick which bed you want before the other mare gets here.”
Stunned, I was completely stunned; I just couldn’t seem to get away from this mare could I. I just sighed in defeat, “Not really.” And looked to my left, “She’s already here.”
And there she was indeed. Standing right there with a sheepish smile giving a small wave with her hoof.
I was too tired to get angry, but I still wanted to make sure I got what I wanted. So I got right up in her face to make sure she understood, “I. Get. Top. Bunk. Got it?”
She stuttered only once, but otherwise didn’t back down, “O-oh sure thing! I actually wanted the bottom bunk myself.”
“Good.” And with that I gave my wings a few flaps, landing on the top bunk.
In all honesty, I’d always wanted a bunk bed so I could sleep high up. But, you know, with no siblings there was no real reason to get one.
Sadly, bunking with Chattermare meant there weren’t many reasons for her to not flap her yap, “So, Peppermint, would you be interested in talking about where you’re from?”
I gave a long tired sigh into my pillow. I just wanted to go to sleep, “Look, Sunnymail-”
“Whatever, look its nothing personal, but I am not here to make friends, or to have fun, ok. Just please leave me alone.” I prayed to the heavens above she wouldn’t respond. My prayers were distinctly ignored.
“Ok. So why are you here then?”
“I don’t know.” I grumbled.
“Huh? How can you not know why you’re here? You came here on didn’t you? That must mean you know-”
I didn’t care anymore. I was just too tired.
“I said I don’t know okay! I was just wandering Equestria aimlessly for months, then Sarge comes along and is like, Hey I know this place you could go to and use your shit for good stuff, you wanna come try it out? And I’m like, sure why the hell not? I’ve got nothing better to fucking do! So here I am!!”
I plopped my face back into my crappy pillow. When Chattermare didn’t respond right away I thought for one blessed moment that I’d been granted mercy to fall asleep.
Sadly that moment came to an end, “But Peppermint, just because you didn’t have a reason for coming here, doesn’t mean you can’t make a few friends here and there.”
She was right. As much as I hated to admit it she was right. It’s not fun to be alone with your thoughts for months on end after your life is torn to shreds. The only ponies I’d talked to were clients, and those conversations usually ended with my face getting punched. Not exactly a quality conversation. It hit me hard in that moment, “I would really like to have some friends.”
And I really didn’t like that I’d spoken that last part out loud.
“N-nothing, just leave me alone ok!”
She was silent for a moment, and then finally, mercifully, relented. “Ok Pepper.” I felt the bunk shake a little as she got onto the bed below me.
I could finally let the grip of sleep pull me under. But before I lost sense of the world I heard Chattermare again.
I didn’t even think about it, I just responded out of instinct though it was mumbled through my pillow.
And then the bliss of sleep washed over me.
Scene V: Morning Blades Training
My mind was rudely snapped back into reality by Sarge's voice. The nightmare banished and forgotten in moments. Though I knew it was that same damned nightmare I'd been having for months. Every night it was either that never ending horror, or blissful nothingness. It seemed the world wanted to go the cruel route today.
"WAKE UP RECRUITS!! GET UP!! ON YOUR HOOVES, LET'S MOVE IT!! I WANT EVERYPONY IN FRONT OF THEIR BUNKS BY THE TIME I REACH THE END OF THIS ROOM!!"
It sounded like he was right into my ear the entire time I was scrambling off the bed. But when I got to the front of my bunk he was actually near the other side of the room. Sometimes, I really hated magic.
He reached the end of the room and turned around, "EVERYPONY, ATTENTION!"
Everypony around me quickly drew themselves up into stiff standing poses, bringing themselves up to their full height. I quickly followed, not wanting to be singled out by mister poker face.
Sarge started making his way back down the length of the barracks, critiquing the other recruits as he went, "STIFFEN THOSE SHOULDERS! GET THOSE HOOVES TOGETHER! LOCK GET YOUR ASS DOWN UNLESS YOU WANT ANOTHER WEEK OF LATRINE DETAIL! CHIN UP! QUIT YOUR SLOUCHING!"
I just kept my eyes forward and posture straight. Which had me looking right at Quicks. He gave me a wink, to which I just narrowed my eyes slighty.
"EYES FOWARD DAYS!"
Ha! Sounds like miss Chattermare was day dreaming again. Then Sarge stepped in between Quicks and I looking at me, and I looked at him. We were probably like that for only a few seconds but it felt like a lot longer. And then he just moved on to the remaining recruits.
"ALRIGHT RECRUITS!" Again with the yelling in the ear. "EVERYONE GIVE ME TEN LAPS AROUND THE COMPOUND THEN MEET ME ON THE PARADE GROUNDS FOR YOUR MORNING TRAINING! DISSMISSED!!"
Great, more running. I wondered when I would get to fly?
I got my answer after those ten laps. Everypony was divided into groups based on species and put through a large series of exercises designed specifically for each species.
My exercises were all wing based, designed to build strength, stamina, endurance and speed into our wings. Some of them were variations of normal flight exercises, but a lot were things I'd never heard of before and looked pretty ridiculous. And they hurt like a bitch! They worked muscles I didn't even knew I had. And they had us practice until my muscles were far past screaming for relief.
That relief came with a short break. But then they started the real training. They gave each pegasus a pair of wingblades. Swords wielded by pegasi affixed to the wings. Looks like some of my failed childhood pursuits were about to become reality. I might have felt some joy at that, but the pain in my muscles overpowered any sense of thought.
After everypony had their blades secured they walked us through eight steps that took our wings through every motion we'd need to make during combat. It was incredibly awkward, but they said it'd feel more natural once we got into the air. But first they had to be sure we had the motions committed to muscle memory. So they ran us through the motions, then they did it again, and again, and again, and again! One, strike! Two, Block! Three, parry! Four, counter! Other wing. Five, strike! Six, block! Seven, Parry! Eight, counter! Repeat.
While we practiced there was no room for miscellaneous thoughts, but during our breaks I noticed something odd. That pony with the armour was training with us. All the enchantments were active and everything, and they were somewhere between a normal mare and stallion in height so I couldn't really guess their gender. It was just so odd, why would a recruit be wearing a full set of armour now? Why were they hiding their identity? Why didn't they just show themselves?
I realized again how morbidly curious ponies could get about a mystery. And if it was causing me this much thought, what were other ponies thinking about this mystery pony? I was again thankful I still had both my cutie marks mostly unscathed.
After what seemed like an eternity the endless motions finally stopped. It was noon, morning training was done and we were sent back to the barracks to receive our armour.
Scene VI: Armour Received
Sarge met us all back at the barracks. I could tell the unicorns and earth ponies were just as sore as we were. Everypony was stiff and walking awkwardly. It was almost comical, except for I was just as sore.
As we entered the barracks I noticed a new addition to the building. A line of armour stands ran down the center of the building. Adorning each stand was a full set of gleaming golden guard armour. I heard a few "ooh"s and "ahh"s around me as I walked in.
I past ponies admiring their armour with complete awe and fascination. Some were as excited as a foal with a new toy. And I kind of did the same with mine.
"TAKE STOCK OF YOUR ARMOUR RECRUITS. ANY PROBLEMS TAKE IT TO MAINTENANCE. MEET IN THE MESS IN ONE HOUR FOR BREAKFAST." And with that he departed, leaving us to gawk at our new gold plating.
"Wow! Its so shiny!"
Well, I knew Chattermare was back.
"Look Pepper! We've got our own armour now!"
"I know." I picked up the chest piece to test its weight and found it a lot heavier than I thought it would be. "Great, now I get to be sore and lug around a ton of metal."
I was busy thinking through how the weight of the armour would affect my flying, and I came to wonder how they ever expected us to even move in this junk. Chattermare interrupted my musings by living up to her nickname.
"Uh, Pepper? Are helmets supposed to be able to swivel?"
What kind of a question was that!? I even said as much to her. "What are you talking about? Helmets don't-" I turned, and simply frowned at her, "What are you doing?" The mare had somehow turned the damn helmet piece on her head so the face opening was facing her left ear and completely covering the right side of her face.
"Umm, I think my helmet's too big."
"You think so? Maybe you should go to maintenance and get it changed."
She wobbled slightly, 'Yeah, yeah I think I'll do that." She turned and smacked her helmeted face right into our bedpost, a clang resounding from it.
"GAH!!" She backpedaled quickly in shock, right into her armour stand. That stand fell over from her impact causing a domino effect on several of the nearby stands, knocking at least nine others over and taking their owners with them. Several of the recruits panicked and knocked other recruits over trying to get out of the way, pulling even more armour stands with them.
There was nothing else I could do but facehoof, "Dear Celestia you are an idiot."
Then Sarge was behind me. His voice was the same monotonous droll but somehow contained a hint of annoyance. "What is going on here?"
He must have been using the magic ear spell again, because everybody heard and scrambled to attention.
He simply asked, "What happened here?"
All at once thirty or so hooves pointed at Chattermare and, me! What the hell?! Why was I being blamed for this! I wasn't the one who had just caused half of the new armour sets to fall like dominos! And yet everyone was assigning as much blame to me as they were to that damned mare!
Sarge turned to us, "Well?"
I was about to condemn that mare. But thankfully I didn't have to , she did it all on her own.
"Sorry Sir. My helmet is too big, and when I put it on it obstructed my vision. I ran into the bedpost then bumped into the armour stands and everything everypony else."
Sarge looked to me, "Mocha?"
"I told her she should change her helmet out with maintenance."
"Mhm." He looked around at everypony else. Some were shaking their heads in agreement and some were shaking their heads no! What the hell! I decided I really, really didn't like those recruits.
"Alright, Days give me ten laps around the compound, then get your armour switched."
". . . Y-yes sir." Wow, it actually seemed like she felt bad for once! That was a first. My revelry was short lived however.
"Mocha, you go with her."
He just glared at me, and I returned it with the best death stare I had. I cursed that bastard's soul to Tartarus. Because even though I held my glare and wouldn't back down for anything, he still won.
"Get going recruit."
And just like that it was over. I growled, "Yes, sir." as I turned to leave the barracks.
It was like a walk of shame as the other recruits had to make a tunnel to let me through. I glared at the ones who'd blamed me.
Scene VII: Setting BoundariesAs I began another stupid run around the compound, I noticed that damned mare running ahead slowly. I caught up to her quickly, but instead of letting me pass by, she sped up to my pace.
To make matters worse, she started speaking, "Well, that was, something."
I did NOT want to talk to this stupid idiot right now. "No, it wasn't. Shut up."
"Oh come on, not this again."
The way she said that, no, the way she whined about it just, triggered something, I was tired of her shit. I slammed into the dumb bitch as hard as I could which threw her against the wall.
"Ow! hey what was-"
Before she could recover I jabbed my hoof into her chest, pressing her onto her haunches and pinning her against the wall.
"H-hey! Let me go, that hurts!"
She struggled, trying to get out from under my hoof. I simply kept pressing harder until she stopped, realizing the futility of it. And then I saw, for the first time, fear in her stupid brown eyes.
"I am sick and tired of you and your bullshit. You have fucked up too many times. Now everypony is associating me with you and your screwups!"
"I-I'm sorry! I was just messing around and - "
Celestia is this bitch serious? "Messing around? MESSING AROUND! Do you think this is all some big joke!?" I pressed down even harder on my hoof for emphasis, "You've been spouting all this crap about working together and you're not even taking this seriously!? Do you really think that you're going to 'help' anypony like this!? You are the one who's going to get ponies killed here!"
I pressed down even harder, "I am trying to make something of myself here. Your fuckups are ruining that! Stay. Away. From. Me!" I emphasized each word with my hoof, just to make sure she understood. "Am. I. Clear?"
It took her a moment, but she finally stammered out, "Y-yes!"
"Good." I pulled my hoof away from her chest. She slumped against the wall breathing heavily. I just turned and started running again. I thought if I finished fast enough I might be able to get some food.