Celestia's great orb would not rise for at least another hour when there was a sharp knock on the front door of the Ponyville Library in my Equestria dreamscape. Twilight had only slept a few hours having spent most the evening and early morning wracking her brain for a strategy to deal with Applebloom's possessor. She had come up with a couple possible angles to work, but eventually decided that until she had a better picture of what was happening out at Sweet Apple Acres she would have to stay flexible with her plans. Slowly she walked over and open the front door.
A shaft of light from library's interior spilled out the front door and into the street illuminating three sky chariots and the teams of pegasi harnessed to them. In three of the chariots there sat five unicorns of the Royal Guard. Three stallions and two mares. the three chariots had their teams of pegasi assigned to her detail. Standing directly in front her was an older unicorn stallion she recognized from days in Canterlot. Twilight noticed that none of guard were wearing their usually flashy parade barding. The armor they were wearing this morning was much more somber and practical. In fact some their gear looked positively lethal.
"Twilight Sparkle." Said the stallion crisply. "I am Captain Sharp Horn of the Royal Guard. We have received orders to meet you and escort you and your party out to Sweet Apple Acres and provide you with any assistance you require. If I may ask what is the nature of this mission? It was assembled rather hastily late last night. We barely had enough time to get our field armor back from the armorer. "
Twilight took a deep breath and tried to remember all the times she had watched Princess Celestia give orders.
"Captain Sharp Horn. As of now you are under my direct command. Twilight levitated the sigil and the parchment with her commission on it fav.me/d5jcuqy
. This sigil and document hereby gives me the full authority of the Crown until this mission has been completed or until the Royal Sisters can personally take charge of the operation. Do you have any questions?"
Sharp Horn's face remained for the most part neutral and he kept his parade demeanor as he read the commission hovering in front of him. However his ears did droop a tiny bit a few times and nostrils flared as the full weight of this document penetrated his mind.
"No M'am." Said the stallion. "However this seems a bit like overkill if I may say so."
"I'll explain things as we head out to Sweet Apple Acres." Said Twilight. "However I want to make one stop on the way there. " With that she went back in and retrieved Applejack, Zecora and Spike.
Since I am very early riser I was getting the main fireplace lit when I heard the sound of multiple sky chariots landing outside our little cottage on the outskirts of Ponyville. Curious I opened the front door and stepped outside. The sun was just starting to hint at its arrival and the sky was slowly beginning to grow lighter. The wind was cold and blew from the North. My initial thought was that some our neighbors were burning some large amount scrub since the air had a heavy smoke smell. Also it appeared there was a light snow falling but then I looked at it again. It was ash. The snow was slowly turning a dirty dull grey from it. Twilight had already jumped out of one of the chariots and was heading toward me.
"Morning Twilight. Um, what is going on?" She looked like she hadn't gotten much sleep last night. She stopped in front of me and stared me up and down.
"Is Petina already awake? No. Then wake her and get her out here. We're heading out to Sweet Apple Acres to settle something once and for all, and since this all started with you and I have feeling you and your friend need to be there for the end of this. Now go get her."
It took several minutes to get Petina jump started and out the door which did nothing to put Twilight in a better mood. In the middle of all this Carousel came out of her room sleepy and confused. After leaving her with some very basic instructions. Like don't burn the cottage down I was able to bundle a very grumpy white unicorn into the chariot with Twilight, Spike and unicorn officer of the Royal Guard. then we took off and heading for Sweet Apple Acres. I flew in close formation to Twilight's chariot as she quickly outlined the nature of the operation. I have to admit that I was wondering when certain ponies were going to insist on taking these measures, but it is another thing to find oneself suddenly thrust into such an operation.
In one of the other chariots were crowded four of the other unicorns the remaining chariot had one of the female members of the Royal Guard along with two other bundled figures. One I was able to identify as Zecora, but it took me several seconds to realize that the other figure was Applejack. I had never seen such a devastated looking pony in my life. She just stared ahead and appeared to see nothing. Zecora at one point made eye contact with me and gave me a sad shake of the head. That was all I needed to know at the time. The scent of smoke was thick in the air and it made ones eyes and lungs burn. I was glad I grabbed my goggles before leaving. I asked the pegasi stallion flying next to me if he knew what it meant.
"It's from a huge forest fire burning up North near the frontline with the dragons." He said. " Rumor has it that the dragons did something really dumb and the Royal Sisters taught them a lesson or two."
Despite seriousness of the situation he couldn't help flashing a wicked grin.
"I bet they won't make the same mistake twice!" He then stared up at the smoky pewter haze. "But every pegasus pony is going to get called up for reserve weather duty to help get this cleared up." He looked over at me. "Hope you hadn't made any plans for the next few days."
I just shook my head. I could see our final destination below us. Sweet Apple Acres. Captain Sharp Horn insisted that we make a couple orbits of the farmstead first to give the place a looking over before we landed. Nothing seemed amiss and from the outside it appeared to just be normal winter morning at any farmstead around Ponyville. From a couple of the chimneys one could see steady trails of smoke of rising. A couple lights were visible from kitchen area of the house. Turning into the wind we slowly descended in a loose formation. The wheels of the chariots and our hooves made a soft crunching sound as we touched down in the barnyard. No one came out of the house to meet us. Except for an occasional animal sound from a barnyard animal the farmstead was dead quiet.
Once on the ground the unicorns jumped out and formed a quick perimeter around the chariots as the pegasus ponies unhitched themselves. AJ started to jump out of the chariot and to trot toward the house. A quick command from Twilight stopped her in her tracks.
"Don't go in yet AJ. First we need to determine if it is safe. Right Captain?"
Captain Sharp Horn nodded in agreement and looked over at the pegasi who now free from the chariots were now hovering in their own perimeter zone around the chariots.
"Lieutenant Silverwing." Said Sharp Horn. "Take your fliers up set a patrol pattern above Sweet Apple Acres. Want you to keep your eyes open for anything unusual moving around the farm or anyone but us coming out the farmstead. If you see anything. Anything unusual tell it to Sgt. Wind Whisper. She'll be by my side the whole time"
Captain Sharp Horn tilted his head to a svelte lilac unicorn mare in light plate and mail armor. Her horn glowed for a moment and soft lavender glow enveloped Silverwing. She then looked at the Lieutenant.
"I'm linked to you now so you will hear whatever I do so will you. If you say or hear anything I will hear it and will be able to relay it to the Captain." The Sergeant's replied in voice that was very pleasant to listen to and immediately captured one's attention.
"This way you'll know when we are coming out or need help." Sharp Horn paused for a moment before giving his next command.
"Since we don't how this is going to develop and things may change quickly I want your shooters to lock and load now and be ready, but safeties on and hooves off the triggers unless things go bad. Understood?"
For the first time I noticed that three of the Royal Guard pegasi had attached to their lower front legs these devices that I had initial mistook as being part of their leg armor. They were two pairs of barrels on the front part of each leg, that appeared to be fired by an inverted "U" shaped trigger bar that followed the back of the leg. The barrels appeared to be about 18mm in diameter.
Lieutenant Silverwing nodded his head and turned to his troops. "Okay shooters you heard him lock and load, but safeties on. Standard load mix 50/ 50 heavy shot and the bursting shells. Load now."
With grace that spoke of hours of practice, the shooters hooked one of their front hooves into a long lever groove on the front of their guns and gave them a sharp tug back toward their elbows. There was a sharp metallic "KACHAK" as the four barrels slid forward and their breeches opened at once. Once again with poise that told of much drill they opened ammo bandoliers with their hooves then began withdrawing shells and feeding them into the chambers. Half the shells appeared to be smooth all brass 12ga shotgun shells the others appeared to have runic writing embossed on the them. When all four barrels were loaded the shooters smartly slapped the levers and locked closed actions and cocked their pieces. With a final gesture they set the safeties in place. The whole process had taken only a few seconds and fliers had remained hovering in their positions the whole time. Applejack watched the whole drill with a look of horror on her face.
"Surely Captain, you don't think that will be necessary do you?"
Captain Sharp Horn looked at AJ with understanding eyes.
"I hope I'm being overly cautious M'am but I am not about to take any risks."
He watched for a moment as the pegasi rose into the ever lightening morning sky, then he tuned to Twilight.
"Well let's introduce ourselves." He looked back at his guard. "Okay, let's get this over. Sgt. Wind Whisper you stay by my side. The rest of you know the drill. Stay sharp but be polite unless it gets messy. Understood? Good, let's go."
To be continued.