Peace is a wonderful thing, the ideal we strive to keep.

For that dream we stand strong, and face the eternal sleep.

- Captain Everbold, from the statue of the Dreamless War.

It had been a warm, sunny day in the city of Canterlot. Birds flitted happily amongst the high minarets, singing their last songs as the sun slowly drifted towards the horizon. Today, however, was not a day of rejoicing for Princess Celestia.

Standing in the Royal Gardens amidst countless statues, of ponies past, the tall white mare, her flank marked with a blazing sun, lowered her head slowly, the long, glowing tip of her horn drawing a path for the star of day to follow to it's rest. A slow sigh escaped her lips as she completed the task, not from strain, but the burden which lay upon her heart. It had been many years since she had been forced to make a choice this hard.

"What is wrong, my sister?" A soft voice seemed to come from nowhere. Though she never showed it, Celestia had wanted to jump out of her skin in surprise.

She turned her head slowly, shifting it just enough to keep her flowing lochs of light pastel colors from obscuring her vision. The sight of the smaller, deep blue Alicorn brought a slow smile from her, and she turned to greet her little sister.

"It's nothing, Luna. I've just been contemplating the order to deploy the Guard units to the rest of Equestria." Celestia replied, though she couldn't keep all of the worry from her voice.

"You're worried about the Guards?" Luna asked, her expression sympathetic.

"Not about the Guards, but peace. Having members of the Guard roaming about will make impressionable young ponies afraid. They may be excited at first, but my subjects have never witnessed true war, and I don't want ideas to become monsters all their own." Celestia explained patiently.

Luna, obviously worried, began pacing about, thinking on her sister's concerns. She finally paused, looking up at one of the statues. An earth pony stallion in armor, standing an eternal vigil. Even immortalized in stone, he seemed so bold, ready to rise up as if to come to life and defend Equestria again.

Celestia drifted up next to her sister, her face growing motherly. Luna's eyes had begun to tear up as she stared longingly at the statue. For several long moments, the sisters stood in silence, taking in the visage of Captain Everbold. A long, low shudder broke the silence of the night, tears dampened the grass.

Celestia's wingtip extended, brushing the water from Luna's eyes. The younger princess looked up at Celestia, and her older sister nudged her again. "You miss him, don't you."

Luna, overcome with her emotion, scooted forward, burying her head under Celestia's protective wing. "It's been so long, but I can't forget him. Why did he have to die."

Celestia, now losing herself to emotion as well, settled her sister on the grass, keeping her wing folded over Luna. "Soldiers die. They give their lives so that the rest of us can be free. Everbold was only truly free when he was protecting the ones he loved," Celestia smiled sadly, "and we both know how much he loved you, my dearest sister."

"He would know what to do right now." Luna whispered, sniffing back her tears.

"He is still here, Luna." Celestia looked up at the heavens above, admiring the jeweled blanket of stars that stretched across the great dark expanse. "Though he is gone in body, his spirit is still with us, his courage and valor lives on in the hearts and minds of every pony who stands up to guard us from the perils of this world. He gave us the strength to continue on, even after he was gone," Looking down again at her sister, she lovingly nuzzled her, "and he protected that which is most precious to me."

Luna drew closer to her sister, leaning up closer under her wing. There the two princesses remained as they watched over the night.

Chapter 1

A Change in Equestria

By order of Her Majesty Princess Celestia, all settlements and cities within the realm of Equestria are to be garrisoned. Ponies must make room available for the duration of the garrison period, until such a time as it is deemed safe for the garrisons to be recalled. It is requested that each individual or family with spare room take in one Guard, until each has been billeted.

The garrison is being assigned purely for the safety and well being of Equestrians. As such, all orders made by Guards are expected to be complied with to prevent harm and hardship upon anypony. If there are any issues, please contact your local Mayor with the issue, and it shall be seen to as soon as is feasible.

- From edict letters distributed throughout Equestria

The open courtyard of Equestria Guard Command were roiling with hushed whispers as rank upon rank of assembled ponies from every branch and unit of the Guard stood assembled upon the parade ground. The sun had yet to peek over the horizon, yet despite the cool of the morning and the darkness of the yard, all the Guard ponies were animated and wide awake with nervous anticipation of the day.

Younger stallions and the occasional mare were whispering in an excited hush, each speculating about the days events, rumors, and even a tale about clumsy Winterfly, who'd crashed headfirst into Captain Shining Armor's window while on arial coordination maneuvers.

The older staff seemed quite talkative as well, but their tone left little impression of the playfulness of their subordinates. Word had been circulating of deployment orders, and that could only mean one thing, conflict. Some older veterans, still wearing scars from skirmishes with rogue griffins, tussles with dangerous creatures, and even a pitched battle with dragons, spoke in hushed tones of enemies both near and far.

Looking down from his newly repaired window, Shining Armor frowned at the assembled Guard. If only they knew of the peril that endangered Equestria, this might be an easier task. Almost nopony had lived long enough to see a real war, let alone a mass garrison or the possibility of a full recruitment 'draft'.

From further back in the room, Princess Cadence emerged, nuzzling at her husband's blue mane. He looked at her with a wan smile at her bright, welcoming expression. She nudged him playfully with her head, careful not to prod him with her graceful pink horn. Shining Armor chuckled, necking her back.

"Don't be so nervous." She chided him playfully as magical blue light flashed from her horn, brushing his mane back into neat rows. "The old warhorses will think you're getting soft."

"Does it really show?" He asked with a smile.

"Like a filly with a brand new ribbon." She laughed, bringing a happy blush to Shining Armor's cheeks. Even in stressful times like these, Cadence knew how to make him smile. "What's bothering you?"

Shining Armor's face grew grim again. Deep underneath that strong facade, Cadence could see his unease. He turned and began pacing restlessly as he explained his concern. "Princess Celestia has issued the order to deploy the Guard across Equestria."

Cadence only nodded. This she already knew, and were it only that, Shining Armor would never take it this hard. He looked back at her. "I'm worried about how many new Guards we've drafted, some of them only half trained, others lacking in discipline, nerve, and other important qualities. I don't know if they could handle real combat."

A knot began forming in Cadence's stomach. All too recent were the events of Queen Chrysalis' attempted coup and the near sacking of Canterlot. Were it not for the power of their combined love and the might of Shining Armor's protection spell, the city would have been taken by the changelings, and all of ponykind enslaved to feed their appetite for love energy.

During that crisis, Shining Armor himself had been deceived by the crafty queen, and even the elite Royal Guards had been powerless to stop the tide of invasion. Worse yet, though they had rid themselves of Queen Chrysalis, there was no telling when she would return, and bring an army of hungry changelings with her.

"I see." She replied, her voice smaller.

"Many of them are still colts, barely able to join the Guard. I shouldn't have let Princess Celestia talk me into this." Shining Armor's voice rose with frustration. His tirade was cut short by Cadence, who drew close and kissed him.

"Hush now, don't let your worries rule you. They may be young, but so are you. You defended your home, and were strong enough to protect it when all seemed hopeless. They will rise to the challenge, just like you did. Have faith in them." The conviction in Cadence's voice brought warmth back to him.

He nodded, smiling again. "You're right. I'm sorry for losing my head."

"It's okay." She replied, returning his smile. "We all need a little encouragement now and then."

The whispering amongst the rank and file had become a dull roar as Guard ponies competed to be heard over their fellows without raising the volume, a task they were failing badly. At the front of a column of newer recruits, a small, dull blue unicorn with a messy red mane struggled to adjust his armor for the twentieth time, his eyes darting nervously towards the elaborate door where at any moment, Shining Armor would emerge.

It was just this poor pony's luck that he'd found himself at the front of the column this morning. He'd always been eager to please, but in his hurry, he'd missed a strap on his armor. Not wanting to make a bad impression, he wriggled himself around, trying to get the plate to shift right without breaking ranks, but the stubborn plate refused to fall into place.

"Heheheh, what's the matter, blank flank? Didn't your mommy put your armor on right for you before you went out?" Teased a large, brown unicorn from behind. He smirked down his nose, continuing his verbal assault. "Boldheart, they should have called you Boulderhead! The least you could have done was learned to use a little magic, instead of fiddling with that plate like an earth pony!"

Boldheart's face reddened as he squinted at the bigger unicorn. "What would you know about it, Rocktrotter?"

"Ooh, little Boulderhead wants to talk big." Rocktrotter mocked sarcastically, bringing more jeers and encouragement from his peers.

"Cut it, all of you." Snapped the pegasus to Rocktrotter's right, a large white stallion with a wild black mane and gold marks on his face. "Leave the poor kid alone, or we'll be having a talk after formation."

"A-aye, Thundercloud," Rocktrotter stammered as he leaned away from the menacing pegasus. Nopony liked to mess with Thundercloud.

"That's what I thought." Thundercloud snorted, then turned to Boldheart. "Here, let me help you with that."

Boldheart, his pride already stung enough, tried to scoot away from Thundercloud without moving his hooves. "I've got it! I don't need any help."

"Cute, now let me help you before you hurt yourself." Thundercloud insisted.

"No, I'm fine. Really." Boldheart replied, trying to stretch himself further from the pegasus. Suddenly his balance gave way, and he fell sprawling over onto the ground with a surprised cry.

"Something you wish to say, Private Boldheart?" A strong voice demanded from the stairs.

Looking up, Boldheart began to sweat as his eyes climbed the strong form of Shining Armor, who had just stepped through the door. All the other ponies snapped quickly to attention, leaving Boldheart to fend for himself.

"I, ah… ah… slipped," Boldheart stammered, rising to his hooves. Seeing the frown forming on Shining Armor's face, he quickly added the proper title, "sir!"

Sighing at the incompetent private, Shining Armor squeezed his eyes and shook his head at the ground. At least none of the royalty had been standing around to see the mistake. "Fall back in." He commanded.

Blushing bright as his mane now, Boldheart slipped back into his spot in formation. He tried to hold his head up, but the sound of snickers behind his back only made the humiliation worse. He was so preoccupied he almost missed Shining Armor's announcement.

"What!" The peaceful mood of the bright, sunny Ponyville morning was broken by the shout emitting from a large tree filled with windows, balconies, and a large sign with an open book, declaring it to be a library. Within it's walls, amongst the shelves lining the great trunk, a lavender pony trotted back and forth, her purple mane swishing as she babbled, mostly to herself about the letter she had just read. The letter in question floated around surrounded by a pink aura emitted from the mare's horn.

"I just don't get it? Why would Princess Celestia be sending Guards here? I mean, I can see the situation is dangerous, but is this really a necessary precaution?" She continued to pour her thoughts out, much to the confusion of the tiny purple bipedal dragon that watched her.

"I don't get it. What's the big deal, Twilight?" The little dragon asked, a bored expression upon his features.

"What's the big deal! Everything Spike!" Twilight replied anxiously, pausing her pacing to look over at her assistant. "There hasn't been a deployment of the Guard like this since the timber wolf attacks thirty-seven and a half years ago! It hasn't even happened in most ponies' recent memories, and it's going to be a logistical nightmare!"

Spike, far from concerned with the situation, sighed and turned to return to his chores. Just as he was about to start replacing books on the shelf, Twilight called for his attention again. "I'm going to need you to make a list of things we need to do to get Ponyville ready for the coming of the Guards.

Another sigh escaped the frustrated dragon, and he waddled over to the desk to pick up a quill and pen. He was about to start writing when a series of raps at the door broke both of their concentrations. Twilight trotted over to the door, her horn flashing as she opened it. Outside the door was another unicorn, this one white topped with a carefully styled purple mane and tail. She was doing her best to appear ladylike, but at the moment she seemed to excited to stand entirely still.

"Oh, hello Rarity," Twilight greeted, "what's got you so excited?

"Did you hear the news?" Rarity asked excitedly as she pranced in.

"News about what? You're not talking about the Guards coming, are you?" Twilight asked, her eyebrow raised.

"Why of course I am, darling." Rarity replied, brushing her hair to one side as she gave a sultry grin. "I can't wait to have one of Canterlot's best come over and stay as a house guest. Such handsome stallions!"

Further off in the library, Spike grimaced. Just what he needed, more competition for Rarity's affections. He began grumbling to himself about prissy Guard ponies under his breath as he returned to his book organization.

"Anyway, the girls and I were thinking about meeting up and watching them march in. It's supposed to be quite a display." Rarity's tone had dropped to a more normal level.

Twilight glanced around nervously, as if looking for an excuse to escape the invitation. "Gee, I don't know Rarity. There's so much to do to get ready for them, and I haven't even gotten started on organizing things for their arrival."

"Oh don't be silly! There will be plenty of time to get organized. They're not arriving until this afternoon, and I'm sure the others won't mind helping out."

Unable to argue with Rarity's insistent logic, Twilight conceded. "Okay, I suppose."

"Good, I'll get the others and meet you at Sugarcube Corner." Rarity said happily as she turned and headed out. She didn't seem to notice Twilight's nervous shifting.

Twilight closed the door behind her friend, then made her way slowly up the stairs to her bed, where she threw herself onto the neatly embroidered blankets and stared out the window at Ponyville. For several long seconds, she lay there on her belly, watching happy ponies playing in the warm day as she wrestled with her feelings. Closing her eyes, the young unicorn began to sing.

"Something awful is brewing,

And I see what the Princess is doing.

I know that the Guards have to come,

But with all the places they're from,

They're strangers to me."

"Brave ponies they may be,

They keep our homes free.

I'm glad for what they do,

But they're strangers to me."

"Oh my friend Rarity,

Why can't you see?

I just don't know what to do,

They're strangers to me."

For Rarity, the announcement that the Guards were coming was like a dream come true! All those big, brave, handsome stallions coming marching in to protect her! It was more than she could ever hope for! Of course, they weren't really coming for her specifically, but why split hairs? It had been too long since her last tryst, and Princess Celestia had pretty much gift wrapped a dream and handed them to her on a silver platter.

She gave a happy squeal as she trotted down the street, already imagining the gallant, noble Captain she was sure to have as a houseguest. She was so busy daydreaming that she didn't see Applejack pulling her apple cart until she waltzed into the blond maned orange pony, knocking them both into an undignified heap.

"Whoa there, Rarity! You okay?" Applejack asked as she pulled her favorite cowboy hat back atop her braided mane.

"Oh, Applejack. I must apologize," Rarity collected herself from the dirt and began fussily brushing her triple diamond cutie mark off, "it was clumsy of me to bump into you like that."

"It's no problem." The sturdy mare replied with a friendly smile. "So where yall off to in such a bustle?"

"Actually, I was on my way to find you." Rarity replied, her horn glowing soft purple as she drew out the edict letter. "A unit of the Guard will be coming to Ponyville, and I wanted to find out if you would attend the marching in ceremony with me."

"Why I'd love to, Rarity."

"Wonderful! Now, I told Twilight that we'd meet up at Sugarcube Corner after I found the rest of the girls, so if you wouldn't mind meeting us there, I would appreciate it."

"Of course, but don't go lookin' fer Fluttershy. She won't be home till tomorrow." Applejack advised as she pulled her harness back on properly.

"Aw, what a shame she'll miss the march. Oh well, I suppose it can't be helped." Rarity turned to go, then paused. "Oh and Applejack, if you see Pinkie Pie or Rainbow Dash before I do, be a dear and ask them to come."

"Sure thing!" Applejack replied, then headed off on her way.

A little self-conscious after so rudely bumping into Applejack, Rarity decided to be a bit more cautious. After all, a lady does not cavort about and crash into one's friends. Still, it was hard to get the thought of her dream-guests-to-be entirely off her mind. She decided instead to hum a tune to herself as she made her way out to Rainbow Dash's cloud house.

The house, much as the name suggested, was a floating mass of clouds, with classic pillars, rainbow waterfalls, and

all the puffy whiteness one would expect. That may have been partially due to the fact that the house really was made of clouds. Rarity may not have been able to get up into the airborne home, but she could still try to get Rainbow Dash's attention.

"Oh Rainbow Dash! Are you home!" Rarity called out towards the low-flying cloud. For several long moments no answer came. Rarity prepared to try again, but stopped when she noticed a rainbow colored mane partially flop over the edge of one of the higher clouds.

"Ah, there you are! Would you come down here for a moment!" Rarity tried to keep her voice as ladylike as she could while yelling up at the cloud.

The rainbow colored mane shifted again, this time to reveal the sky blue face of Rainbow Dash, who started rubbing sleep from her eyes. She blinked twice more, then laid her head back down and fell asleep again.

"Ah! Of all the nerve!" Rarity cried irritably with a frown. "Rainbow Dash! Wake up this instant!"

Rainbow's head shifted again, then a pair of blue hooves appeared, scooped up some cloud, and stuffed it unceremoniously into her ears. Rarity very nearly burst with indignation at the sight. Her horn glowed intensely, and suddenly Rainbow dash was yanked from her cloudy perch by Rarity's aura of purple magic.

Rarity realized too late that she wasn't strong enough to hold her friend in the air like this for long. With a squeal of dismay, she dropped the rainbow maned pony plummeting towards the ground. Rainbow Dash awoke with a start, and seeing the ground rushing up at her, spread her small blue wings, catching the air around her. Descending slowly, she glided down for a perfect landing in front of Rarity, who was in the middle of a panic attack.

"Heehehehaha, are you okay Rarity?" She asked with a grin, then realizing she had cloud stuffed in her ears, proceeded to pull the cotton-like vapors free.

"My goodness, you gave me a scare!"

"Heeheehee, sorry about that. I wasn't really all that awake. So what did ya want?" Rainbow Dash asked.

"Well, I wanted to invite you to come watch the Guards come marching in with us. Twilight, Applejack, and I are all going to be there, and Pinkie Pie will probably be joining us too." Rarity explained.

"Sure, I'll come." She answered. "Say, we should get something to eat. Wanna come to Sugarcube Corner?"

"That's just what I was thinking." With that, the two friends set out to for Ponyville, chattering, laughing, and sharing their thoughts about what the day would bring