As the carriage crested the hill, the group caught sight of the splendor of Canterlot. "Alright everypony!" Celestia called to the napping group behind her. "We've arrived!" They rolled to a stop, and Celestia exited first, letting the others through the front doors of the vehicle. The two day flight back from the island meeting had let everyone catch up on any rest they had lost during their visit with the dignitaries. Luna trotted out, dreamy look still evident on her face, though she had mostly returned to normal. Spy was next, popping his back loudly after sleeping rather ungracefully on floors for the past few days. Trixie levitated the spoils she gathered on the island, while Soldier avoided the door altogether and climbed over the side. He landed flat on his back, but quickly popped back up.
"Okay, everypony! Excellent job!" Celestia cheerfully shouted to the guards. "You all may take your well deserved rests." The guards trotted away. Luna nodded and went off to her room to unpack. Celestia turned to the rest of her compatriots. "Ms. Trixie, as we discussed, you will be allowed a few hours worth of study in the Canterlot Archives. I will send a guard with you to let you in. I suggest you not squander this opportunity." Trixie nodded with excitement, and a guard led her away. Celestia then turned to Spy. "Spy, we must discuss a few things." She started to trot toward her chamber, and he kept pace until Soldier came up behind them.
Spy groaned, turning to the stallion. "Soldier, stay here until we can figure out what to do with you."
"Why would I do that? You owe me for that bagel you stole, crouton."
"Fine, even though I didn't take your stupid pastry, if you stay here I will get you a bagel."
"That bagel was good. Real good. Maybe even one of the best. You can't just replace it!"
"Well it's the only deal you're gonna get! I suggest you think about it."
The loudmouth finally stopped complaining, sitting down. His eyes, though hidden by the helmet, turned contemplative.
"Let's go," Spy said. "He'll be like that for a while." The two entered the grand hall, leaving Soldier out on the court.
"...And with a little magic, I dropped the snow on her, and the war ended." Spy finished his story. He'd gone into a fair amount of detail about the war that had taken up the last few days.
"You handle yourself well in stress." Celestia finally commented. The light passing through the stained glass window painted the room in bright colors. Spy lowered his head, trying to seem humble.
"When you've been around the people I have, you learn to deal with things you never thought you would."
"Of course. After all, 2Fort isn't what most would call normal, now, is it?"
Spy's muscles all tensed at once. He felt the air grow heavy, and he barely suppressed a gasp. 'Teufort... but that would mean...' He turned to her as she gave him a meaningful look. "You know?"
Celestia suppressed a slight laugh. "When Twilight sent me those letters, it didn't take much work to figure out who they belonged to. Mentioning 'Ma petite chou fleur' was certainly a glaring hint. I know more about your world than you think I do." She glanced upward, as if she were calculating something. "I've known Saxton for a few years, now. Not to mention the time I've put into the game myself." She chuckled.
"I don't understand..."
Celestia's horn gleamed, and a soft glow enveloped a nearby piece of cloth. She slipped it onto her wrist, revealing the Mann Co. logo. "One of Luna's games. She's gone to other games, and I do need something to do in my free time, after all. I've kept tabs on you mercenaries and all the things you go through."
Spy stared, slightly slack-jawed. "So... you hired me because you already knew who I was?"
Celestia nodded, and started to speak again. As she did, however, a guard came barreling in. "Princess, your assistance is needed!"
She looked at him with a frown. "What is it?"
"Some earth pony is attacking the castle! The guards are fighting him-"
"Perfect," She interrupted. "The guards are doing what they're supposed to. Now how is a crazy earth pony attacking worth barging in on me?"
"Your highness, he's winning." Celestia paused, jaw agape at the thought of an earth pony taking down her guards.
Spy piqued up. "What does he look like?"
The guard tilted his head. "Uh... White coat, green hair-"
"Army helmet cutie mark?"
"Yeah, how'd you know?"
Celestia and Spy exchanged a look, then ran outside, catching sight of the problem.
"Bring it on, ladies!" Soldier shouted atop a few unconscious guards. A pegasus charged at him. He flipped over the guard, landing a kick on his back to make the guard slam into the ground. A second one tried, and he jumped, landing on the guard's back. Soldier wrapped his arms around the stallion's neck, steering him around. "You call yourself soldiers!? You couldn't win an arm wrestling match, let alone a war!"
A white glow enveloped him, and he was yanked off the guard, floating to the ground. Celestia brought him to her eye level. "Let me go! Freedom!" He swiped at Celestia, but a quick movement placed him upside-down and hogtied. "Coward!"
Celestia dragged him back to the room, along with Spy.
"I could banish you, you know that right?" Celestia paced back and forth in front of the cage holding Soldier. Philomena sat atop the cage, not happy about having her home turned into a makeshift prison. "You knocked out twenty guards, gave the captain a concussion, and cracked two of the cadet's trainer's ribs."
"They started everything. I won't sit by and be called things like 'Hey you'!"
Celestia sighed. Spy raised a hoof. "I'm not trying to defend him, but I don't think banishment or imprisonment will do much. He has a way of finding his way into wherever he wants to be."
"So I've noticed." She had a noticeable edge in her voice. She grew silent, pacing again. Finally she turned to them. "I have decided. Your punishment, Soldier... is that you are in charge of teaching the new cadets."
There was a long silence. "What?" Spy asked.
She turned, pacing again as she spoke. "I'll be honest. While I am certainly not happy about you causing so much damage, there's something to be said about your tactics. If you could teach those combat tactics to these recruits, they could become an amazing section. I may even bring you on full time if you do well enough. In exchange, I will waive the crimes you committed. However, I will be keeping an eye on you, and should you try to leave or dissent in any way, you will be imprisoned immediately. You will have one month while the rightful trainer heals. At the end of that, I will ask the recruits to give their opinions on you. Is this acceptable?" She turned back to see Soldier out of the cage, pondering.
"I suppose that will work." He walked up to her, saluting her. "You have my honor, Princess." Celestia sent him to a spare room, far from anypony else.
"Do you really think this is a good idea?" Spy asked.
"I have no idea..."
The new cadets stood in a line, chatting with one another before their captain arrived.
"Snowstorm, you don't know what you're talking about. This will be a piece of cake." Typhoon, a white pegasus stallion, said to his sister.
"Uh huh, sure. Your slacker flank will be out so quick it'll leave an indent in the pavement." Snowstorm cast an annoyed glance at her brother. Like him, her coat was pure white.
"Yeah, right. You're lucky you're even here. You know they don't usually recruit mares."
"I know. You, Dad, and the recruiting office were quick to tell me that." A shrill whistle stopped all the conversation between the recruits. They stood at attention, and caught sight of their new commanding officer.
The stallion paced in front of them, clearly showing that somehow an earth pony had been put in charge of the pegasus recruits. He turned to them. "If fighting is sure to result in victory, then you must fight! Sun Tzu said that, and I'd say he knows a little bit more about fighting than you do, pal, because he invented it." He poked Typhoon's helmet, eliciting a slight scoff. "Now, I will teach you how battles should be fought! The Sun Tzu way! Gritty! Bloody! And with! NO! MERCY!" He shouted at the group. They saluted, with the exception of Typhoon. "Now, I will need to understand your abilities to their fullest. So I have set up this obstacle course." He turned, revealing a large wooden set of rings and spikes. An alarming number of them were on fire. The cadets gulped at the terrifying sight. "Unfortunately, the stuff-shirts up in the castle wouldn't let me use it. Instead the course will be these basic hoops. He pointed to the built-in hoops on the course. "Fly through those as fast as you can. As you finish, I will assign the nickname you will be called for the remainder of my time here. Like so. You!"
He pointed to a yellow colored pony with silver hair. "What's your name, maggot?"
"Fly the course as fast as you can. GO!" The pegasus took off, flying through the course at a decent pace. He landed in front of Soldier, panting.
"How... was that?"
"Good, for a first grader! Your new name is Snoozer, because you almost put me to sleep! Give me around the course until I tell you to stop!" The hopeful lowered his head, and started to fly towards the course again. "No, not that one! MY course!" He gulped, and then flew in that direction. "Watch for falling debris! The fire's made it flimsy!" He turned to the rest. "As for the rest of you, try not to follow Snoozer's lead. I want a show and I better see one!"
One by one they would take off, going at their top speed through the course, then return to their new commander. When they landed, he would call out a nickname for them.
"Eggnog! Hamster! Kilroy! Splat!" Finally it got down to Typhoon.
'Pft,' he thought, 'these losers have no idea how to fly. I'm gonna have to show them how it's done. Especially that stupid Earth Pony officer.' The Soldier signaled, and Typhoon took off toward the other set of obstacles. He darted between rings, narrowly avoided a set of spikes, and flew through the blazes. Unfortunately, his hind leg caught a hoop, sending him spiraling into other rings. After bouncing between the rings, he landed with a thud. He stood up and walked back to the group.
"What's your name, maggot?" Soldier glared.
"Typhoon." He panted.
"Shame, I was going to call you that. Because that was a NATURAL DISASTER! That was a disgrace! But I will not call you by your real name. Now get in line, Toaster Oven."
"Toaster Oven!? Of all the names you could pick, why that one!?"
"Because you're on fire, stupid." Typhoon turned around, seeing his tail on fire. He yelled, running in circles. Soldier grabbed him by the shoulders and delivered a head butt. Typhoon dropped to the ground, dazed. He sat up a bit to see Soldier tossing dirt onto his tail. "By the way, you call me Sir, Twinkletoes."
"Next!" He shouted, leaving Typhoon to pick himself out of the dirt. Snowstorm smirked at her brother, then took off for the correct course. She flew gracefully, dodging everything perfectly, albeit slower than most that had gone. She flew back.
"Well done. You maggots could learn something from Glacier over here." She cast a smug grin at her brother as she lined up next to him.
"Well, you weren't ALL awful, which is more than I expected. Go to your quarters. We're getting up at 0500 hours. Dismissed!"
"Can you believe that!?" Typhoon threw the closest thing he had, a pillow, across the room. It thumped harmlessly against the opposite wall. Snowstorm laughed.
"It's your own fault, y'know. You're the idiot that went to the wrong course."
"Shut up. I'm not gonna let some stupid Earth Pony tell me I'm not good at flying. I'll show him tomorrow." The lights went out, and both siblings soon fell asleep.
Hours later, they were awoken by a bugle's reveille. Snowstorm hopped out of bed quickly while Typhoon practically fell out of bed. "Wake up, Toaster Oven." She chuckled.
"Oh shut up," He said through his blankets. They quickly got dressed and lined up. "I hope you slept well, ladies, because you'll be busy all day."
"Yeah, no." Typhoon flew off, resting on a cloud.
"Private Toaster Oven! Get your sorry flank down here!"
"I don't really feel like it. You can't really do a whole lot about it, since you're stuck on the ground."
"If you don't get down here the rest of your squad will pay for it!"
"They can fly too, y'know. Anyone who would care about getting punished would just come up here with me!"
Soldier seethed. He snapped toward the group. "You maggots run laps. I will be back, and if I find any of you on those clouds you will face the same punishment of Private Toaster Oven." He stormed away. They looked at each other, then shrugged, running slow laps.
He came back about twenty minutes later. "One last chance, Toaster Oven. Come down or you WILL feel the pain tomorrow."
"Ooh, dealing with it tomorrow. Yeah, I'll pass."
"You leave me with no choice." Soldier pulled out a small piece of rope.
"Pft," Typhoon scoffed. "I don't think you can lasso me from there, Tex. It's a good 20 feet up here." He laughed.
"Perfect." Soldier reared up, then slammed his hooves into the ground. He flew upward, fire trailing from his hooves, until he was at eye level. He wrapped Typhoon in a bear hug, then the two began plummeting to the ground. Soldier took the brunt, though the landing still dazed the snappy pegasus in his grip. With a quick turn, Soldier had the colt's wings tied to his sides. "I don't need wings to fly! You, however, do! NOW RUN YOUR LAPS, MAGGOT!" Typhoon ran off in fear, though as he rounded the corner his fear quickly turned to anger.
'How dare he tie me up like some animal!' He thought. His wings tugged at their restraints, but no matter how hard he tried the rope stayed tight. 'Stupid jerk. I'll get out of these soon enough!'
Snowstorm slipped the knife under the rope, pulling up and slicing through the bonds. Typhoon stretched his wings, the muscles sore from the day of being bound. "You really should listen to him, Typhoon. You're acting like a child."
"He tackled me from twenty-five feet and tied me up and you're on HIS side?" His brow furrowed.
"To be fair, that was pretty cool. But I would side with him even if it wasn't. Just do what he asks; you're here to learn to be a soldier, right?"
"Yeah, and that means I want combat, not stupid obstacle courses and lap running. And I refuse to let some Earth Pony tell me that I'm not fit to be in the service."
"I think he's proven he's better at combat than you." She held up the rope.
"Whatever, he caught me off guard. I'll get a higher point tomorrow."
Snowstorm rolled her eyes. The two nodded off.
The next day, Typhoon followed a similar course of actions. He flew high into the sky, pulling a cloud with him and relaxing on it. "Private Toaster Oven! I see you didn't you learn your lesson yesterday!"
"That's where you're wrong. You're not gonna get me up here, pops. I'm about thirty or so feet higher than I was yesterday, and I'm willing to bet you can't pull off a jump that high."
"No, I can't. But I have a better method of getting you down!" He turned around, reaching into a crate at his feet. A few moments later, he turned around, a sleek looking rifle in his hooves. Soldier looked down the sights, aiming it at Typhoon.
"Whoa, is that a-" An intense pain in his side shut him up. 'H-he shot me!' Typhoon clutched his stomach. He looked down to see his hoof coating in red. "You maniac! Are you trying to kill me!?"
"Oh relax, Toaster Oven! A little paint won't kill ya!"
'Paint?' He looked again. The red liquid on his hand was too light to be blood. He sniffed it. 'It's paint... Wait' His brain pieced the information together. "You shot me with a paintball gun!?"
"And I'll do it again! Now get down here!"
"What is wrong with yo-" A shot hit his shoulder. "OW! Knock it off-" Another shot pegged him in the chest.
"Looks like I'm gonna have to use my secret weapon!" Soldier turned around again, pulling a small white object from the crate. With a mighty heave, the object was sent hurtling towards the cadet.
He squinted to try to ascertain what exactly was flying at him. 'Is that... a rabbit?'
A very angry looking bunny wrapped itself around his neck. Typhoon screamed, trying to shake the animal by flying around, but it held tight. It grabbed his mane, pulling him toward the ground. The two rocketed towards the ground, every movement controlled by the bunny. Right before landing the rabbit hopped off. Typhoon spread his wings and tried to slow himself down as best he could, but hit the ground rather hard; He lay on his stomach, aching from the landing. He looked up at the triumphant commander, who now had the bunny sitting on top of his helmet.
"Angel here is a better soldier than all of you combined. He is what a soldier should be. Strong, confident, hard-working, and above all, loyal. It's a sad day when you need to learn these lessons, private. In fact, I'm sick of dealing with you. You're going home. The others put in their work, but you? You aren't fit in the least. Go home. Learn some respect. Maybe then I'll have a use for you."
Typhoon's expression changed immediately to one of fear-based anger. "Y...Y-you can't do that! You can't send me home!"
"I can and will, Private. Go back to your bunk. Your refusal to follow my rules has been costing time. You're a liability. Go back to your bunk, pack your things, and I will see you off tonight after the part of the group that is actually COMPLYING with me is finished. Now get out of my sight!"
He slowly picked himself off the ground, and trotted toward his bunk. The gravity of the situation finally hit him as he set foot inside. 'I'm... going home... After three days... Just one big ball of success, ain't ya?' He sat down on the bed.
He packed his stuff into the duffle bag he brought with him. Not long after he finished, Snowstorm walked in. She didn't say anything at first, though her expression was one of pity. She repeatedly opened her mouth, as if she was trying to muster up something to say, but she couldn't get it out.
"Its fine, Snow." He was quiet, like he didn't want to be heard. "I guess you were right. I screwed up... I'm sorry." He hugged his sister. "Make sure you write. I guess I'll try again next year."
There was a knock on the door, signaling Soldier's arrival. Typhoon slung his pack over his shoulder and opened the door.
"Come with me, Private." The two left, closing the door quietly behind them, leaving Snowstorm alone in an empty room.
The walk to the gate was silent. It was a short distance, but Typhoon felt as if he were walking miles. They stopped in front of the gate.
"Private, let me tell you something before I send you off."
'Oh great. I get to be lectured before I leave,' he thought.
"War is a lot more complicated than she seems. Sure, on the surface, she's beautiful, seductive, single, and she subscribes to your favorite magazine. But she's crueler than she lets on. You're not allowed to have friends with war. Because it'll pit you against them at some point. You don't question it. War ain't pretty, son. Is that really what you want?"
Typhoon thought for a moment. "... I don't want war to happen. I'm trying to be a guard, to prevent things like war from taking everything. But yes, I am loyal to Celestia, and I will do what it takes to defend both her and Equestria from harm. Someday I hope to be a guard, but I guess I have a lot to learn. I..." He swallowed hard, trying to force the word out. "I apologize for how I acted. I felt gypped that I was being commanded by someone who technically isn't qualified to be a guard. Although I guess if you had wings you'd be more than overqualified."
There was a silence between the two for a while. "It takes a big man to say things like that Private. Screw-ups aren't allowed in war. Screw up once and your squad dies... The same is true of a guard. Failing to protect your VIP just once is all it takes. But... I'm willing to give you one last chance."
"W...what?" Typhoon was awestruck.
"We all have dreams, son. Mine is to teach you lack wits how to be the best you can. You have one last chance until the end of the month when the control of this group goes to the next guy. If you act up at all for the next three weeks, you're out of here. This is the only deal you're gonna get, Private Toaster Oven. What do you say?"
Typhoon stared for a bit, then nodded excitedly. "Yes sir!" He ran back to the bunks, eager to start again.
Soldier looked to his hooves. Angel sat there, looking at him with a cocky grin.
"Don't you look at me like that. I'm just giving the kid a break. It's not like I'm getting soft."
Angel gave him a smirk and raised one eyebrow.
"What are you implying, rabbit?" Soldier growled.
Angel looked off nonchalantly, then cast a grin at him.
"That's it, I'm not afraid to beat up a bunny!" Soldier dove at the animal.
~A few seconds later~
Three weeks later, the group had come into its own. Soldier had taught them all of the combat, training, and ideals he could put forth in the short amount of time. No one dared to butt heads with him after Typhoon's experience. The day arrived soon enough. Celestia walked onto the court. Soldier saluted, followed quickly by the cadets.
"At ease" They lowered their hooves. "I wish to speak to each of you regarding Soldier's style of teaching. This will be done in a one-on-one environment. I see that you are already lined up. One at a time I will call you into the building. Understood?"
"Yes your highness." They all responded. The first pony went in. A few minutes later, he came out, and the next person in line took his place. This continued for a long while, until it got to the final pony in line: Typhoon. He walked in, standing opposite the princess as the doors closed.
"Now I would like you to be honest. What do you think of Soldier?"
He paused, thinking of what he wanted to say. "Your highness, if I am to be honest, Soldier is loud, rude, and violent. He's head butted students for not complying, put us through brutal training regimens, and there were many instances of discipline that was over-the-top. However... The training I've received in the last month has changed me considerably. I recommend Soldier as a trainer, though you may want to give him some guidance so he doesn't get too out of hoof."
"Thank you. You are dismissed."
Typhoon left, taking his spot back in line. Celestia exited the room. "You have all given me quite a bit to think about. Almost every single one of you noted how hard Soldier pushes you. However, most of you feel as though you are better for the experience. So Soldier will stay as a commander of the brand new recruits, to weed out the ones who are not fit and to make those that are strong and willing to fight. You will now be turned over to the commanding officer you were supposed to have in the first place, Commander Firehawk." She turned to Soldier. "You have done well. Please follow me." The two left, and a blazing red pegasus took their place.
"Good afternoon, men. Now that you are in my hooves, your training can truly begin. Now, your previous instructor gave me a list of names, but due to how ridiculous most of these are I will not be calling you by them. Time for role call. Private Typhoon?"
"Excuse me?" Firehawk tilted his head in confusion.
"I am loyal to my commanding officer, sir; therefore I will accept the codename he gave to me. Toaster Oven, if you would, sir."
Firehawk scowled. "Fine. Private Toaster Oven?"