Luna stood before the hospital's doors, her guards already inside. She felt a pang of guilt as the details of the 'incident' ran through her mind once more. It was meant to only be a training exercise, one that she had even put Aegis through in Everfree Forest, albeit with much more secrecy, but even with Strider being caught using Runic Magic, there was no way to anticipate the Nightmare....or was there?
Her mind wandered to Celestia's prized student while she stepped inside of the waiting lounge, one of the nurses immediately giving her special treatment and her undivided attention. "Princess Luna! May I assume you are here for one 'Wind Strider'?"
Sadly, her thoughts on the matter of Twilight Sparkle's involvement in all of this would have to wait, it seemed, at least for a short while longer. Strider would likely have some answers, though other concerns for him weighed on her conscience as well. This job mattered a lot to him, more than his own life judging by his recent actions. But if his injuries were truly as severe as they said....
She nodded her head to the nurse, a young paint horse stallion, a brown-maned male with a coat of white fur with brown markings in random patterns over that coat. Most ponies were solid colors, and it was uncommon but not rare to find various species of ponies all over the world, even in a small country town like Ponyville.
"Yes, we wish to-erm....I wish to see Wind Strider. He is one of the Royal Guard you see, and there is an urgent matter I must speak to him about," she said with a vague smile. The stallion nurse looked nervous in her presence, so she did her best to calm him. "Wouldst thou take us to him?"
The nurse nodded to her and quickly turned away, motioning for the Princess to come with him. "He's just down this hall, Princess."
Luna stepped up next to the colt nurse and smiled, walking with him instead of simply following him. "You may call us Luna."
That seemed to put the nurse a little more at ease, much to Luna's delight. Perhaps her sister's lessons in modern equality etiquette were worth the trouble! After all, looking down at her subjects was never something that sat well with Luna, or the fact that many of them believed she would be that way just for being the 'Princess of the Night'. She was no snob, and much like her sister, her personality was far from aristocratic! She simply liked to give....a proper presentation of herself, as much as possible.
That need for 'proper presentation' seemed to leave her though, when she saw just how injured Strider truly was. She approached with a look of concern, guilt even, as she gazed upon the cast and splint combination on his leg, and his wing most of all. The deep-rooted fear that his greatest asset out of his entire body may have been lost or permanently crippled, and the look on her face twisted into a look of pain when she heard him rouse from his slumber, awoken by the sound of her accessory-clad hooves against the tiled floor.
As his vision cleared, he yawned and looked up, into the eyes of the Princess that he had been tasked with protecting above all else, a sleepy smile rising up on the corners of his lips. "Good evening, Your Majesty....is it still evening, actually?" he asked, looking around, unfortunately stuck laying on his side when his broken leg wasn't stuck in Unicorn suspension to allow him to shift about and get some movement in some of his other limbs.
Luna gave a weak smile and sighed, gazing out of the hospital window. It was indeed nighttime, quite late actually, and yet her sister insisted they stay until everything had been sorted out. That included the issues with Twilight that Celestia heard about from her letter, and for Luna, that especially included one of her most promising members of her personal guard.
She shook her head. "Nay, not evening," she said, looking back to him. "Not quite."
He quirked a brow and turned his head a little, eyes doing most of the gazing for him, lest he cause yet another sharp pain in his shattered chest from an errant tug on a muscle or tendon connected to the upper area of his ribcage. "Huh? But I thought-" he said, sounding a little more awake now. Then he got what she meant. "Oh."
She had tried to hold back her smile, but Strider's jokester personality always seemed to bring her out of her royal shell when in his presence. "Indeed, 'tis nighttime. Thou should be more accurate!"
He just weakly chuckled and gave a small grin, closing his eyes. "Well! Either I'm just not paying attention and slacking off, or the concussion's messesesesing wid' me brain t'ing'ies!" he said to her, purposely mucking up his speech at that end to emphasize his retort.
Luna's feelings of guilt and concern were lost beneath a veil of laughter. He was always such a silly pony in the most appropriate of times, and he knew it. Of course, his eyes had been locked on the expressions evident upon Luna's face once he'd woken up, and he didn't like what he saw. So, he aimed to fix that, and much to his delight he succeeded....well, until she began speaking again.
"Thou art very silly, Strider....but, we came to discuss other things," she said, frowning and stepping forward, looking him over for a moment. "Art thou alright, first of all? No malfections?"
He shook his head a little. "No, nothing of the sort, just a lot of broken bones. Aegis's Paring Shield spell backlashed on me is all aside from all of these cuts I have under these bandages," he said, his eyes turning downward, gazing upon just how much of a partial mummy he looked like at the moment. "No need for concern Princess, I'll be back on my hooves in no time!"
Luna wasn't convinced with just how well he actually was doing at the moment. She gave him a stern look and sighed. "Strider, thou must know that thy injuries-" she began to say.
"You're doing it again, Your Majesty."
"-Ugh! You know that your injuries will result in you having to do a physical evaluation in front of a council of your peers," she said, looking away while walking over and examining his chart. "I fear the worst, given what has happened to your leg and wing."
His eyes went wide in fear. He hadn't thought about that! He turned his head as far as he could to look to her, trying his best to sound calm while he spoke. "Wait, Your Majesty! You know better than anypony else that if I have enough time, I could be back in peak physical condition in time to prove that I can still perform as your personal guard!"
"I know that just as well as Valkyre and the others do, which is why it is not my decision, nor is it theirs," she said, frowning. "You will be evaluated for your physical prowess before the standard Council. After that...." she said, looking to the door as somepony knocked on it. "Hm? Come in."
The door opened soon after she spoke, the familiar guise of a pegasus Royal Guard entering the room. "Hey there Strider," he said, looking to Luna and bowing a moment after. "Your Majesty."
Strider knew who it was almost immediately, judging by the Cutie Mark he had: two spears crossed over an image of the Sun. "Honorius! Good to see you."
The guardspony looked between his good friend and Princess Luna, and cleared his throat. "Am I interrupting anything, Your Majesty? I would hate to intrude."
Luna simply shook her head. "No, nothing of immediate importance. Strider, we will finish our conversation tomorrow, after you have been transferred to the castle's hospital."
Strider turned his gaze up to Luna and smiled, nodding slowly to her. "Very well, Princess. Uh, Honorius," he said, looking to his friend. "Would you give us just one moment, please? I have to talk to the Princess about something important. To me, anyways."
Luna stopped and turned, a curious look on her face. Honorius was curious as well, but he didn't make a fuss about it, it probably wasn't his business to begin with. "Sure thing. Talk to you in a bit," he said, turning and heading for the door. He bowed to Luna once more before he left. "Your Majesty."
With that, Honorius was outside and out of earshot, the door closed and their privacy secured. Strider looked to Luna with concern. "Princess....how much time will I have to prepare myself? I won't be in any kind of physical condition to pull this off if I go right back into service after the cast is removed from my wing and my leg."
Luna frowned and thought on that for a moment, tapping the floor with the tip of her hoof. "Well, normally you have two weeks to be ready to present yourself to the Council once you're deemed well enough to go back into service...."
He cringed at that. He didn't need to do the math to know that he'd never be adequately prepared, nor would his leg have fully recovered enough by then for him to do any amount of fancy hoofwork. Not to mention his wing, having one wing's muscles weaker than the other could make flight and aerial acrobatics and other strenuous activities with one's wings very, very difficult if not impossible. Two weeks was NOT enough time for him and he knew it.
Luna saw the flow of expressions that ran across his face as he thought through that tidbit of information, and it instilled even more concern and even guilt upon her. He was one of the most noble and skilled personal guards she had ever chosen. Despite his age, he had proven vigilant, obedient, self-sacrificing and dedicated to her security, even at the cost of his own. He even made her laugh with normally lame jokes, but he always seemed to know just what to say to lighten up some of the most tense situations....she didn't want to think of him losing his position because of a lack of adequate time.
"....I cannot make them overlook your injuries, Strider," she said, smiling a little. "But, if my sister will help me and back me, I believe I can convince the Council to give you one month instead of two weeks to get yourself back into proper physical condition."
Inwardly he was jumping for joy, and the wide grin on his face gave all of it away. "Thank you for this, Princess! I promise, I won't let you down."
"I know you won't. I have seen you almost every night in the training grounds, on my way to the Royal Library. Sometimes I wonder when you actually get sleep," she said, smiling a little while looking out the window. "Still...."
Strider blinked and looked to her curiously, Luna taking a deep breath and letting it out. "I'm very sorry for letting this happen to you, Strider," she said, her guilty expression making the injured pony frown. "I should have taken this into consideration. You are the first pony that has been sent to the Everfree Forest to suppress the population of the Wild Shadows since I returned, I should have seen the possibility that she would have been waiting for....well, I don't know what she was waiting for, really...."
He just let her speak for the time being, staying silent and listening to it all. Her tone of voice rang with sincerity from what he could tell, and it tore at him. He didn't like seeing her unhappy for any reason whatsoever. "You know, Princess....this was still the best outcome," he said, chuckling weakly. "Me getting my sorry butt kicked is better than a bunch of Royal Guardsponies getting slaughtered and possibly only serving to upset the Nightmare further, right? Besides, she seemed very intent on Twilight....I don't know why she backed off."
Luna smiled only a little, Strider's logic ringing true and sound to her after a moment of consideration. He was one of the most skilled practitioners of Runic Magic, and one of, if not THE fastest Pegasi in the Royal Guard. If he suffered these kinds of injuries on his own, it would have been likely that less well-trained guards would have only gotten in the way or killed, either-or. "I suppose you are right....still, I should have known better. As for Twilight, my sister is tending to that matter as we speak. I pray she does nothing rash."
Strider could only nod to that and then yawn, a sleepy smile crossing his lips. "Well Princess, I know I'm a night owl, but I should probably try to get some rest....after talking with Honorius for a bit," he said. "He's probably dying to hear details of how badly I got beaten down."
She laughed and nodded to him, the Moon Goddess turning and heading for the door, the magic in her horn opening it up with ease. "Remember, tomorrow you will be transferred to the castle's hospital," she said, ducking out into the hallway. "Honorius? You may speak with Strider now. We are finished here."
As Luna stepped past Honorius, fully clad in his Royal Guard armor, he nodded once to her. "Very well, Your Majesty," he said stoically, walking into the room and closing the door behind himself. He looked over Strider's wounds once more and smirked, stepping towards him and sitting down next to the bed. "So....how'd the whole thing go down?"
"Hah! I totally called it!"
The next day, a lot of work near the site of the incident had been cancelled, most ponies fearing to even go anywhere near the edge of the Everfree Forest. Those that were there feared the Nightmare. Those that heard about the Nightmare from their friends feared her even moreso, unsure of where they actually WOULD be safe from her. Their imaginations ran wild, and soon stories of a horrific beast the size of a building came from the encounter with a shadow creature the size of an Alicorn.
Not to mention the tales surrounding the brave Royal Guardspony that stood up to the mighty creature of massive size and power, capable of toppling the most sturdy of buildings and crushing ponies under a single hoof! He flew circles around the great beast and inflicted grievous wounds, holding his own against such unfathomable might....but his noble heart caused him to take a powerful, crushing blow in defense of all of Ponyville! That is, of course, the only way a true HERO could be defeated by such a wicked creature.
It annoyed Strider to no end to be taken to by the nurses for his 'bravery'. He only did what he had to do, and he certainly didn't fight anything the size of a damn HOUSE. Oh, how he hated the rumor mill. He wanted to find the section that overexaggerated and glorified the truth, drop a tactical Magic Missile bombardment on it, and wipe it from existence!
Almost all of this overexaggeration was lost on Twilight and the others. Twilight especially, the Unicorn mostly keeping to herself, not having said a single word to anypony, despite the main room of the library being full of her friends. Even the mailmare, Derpy, seemed concerned, and she only saw the look on Twilight's face through her window while stopping in to drop off mail, at least, mail that didn't come directly out of Spike's fire-spewing gullet.
"Is Twilight okay....?" the gray-colored mailmare asked, looking to Rainbow Dash....and Spike at the same time, or so it seemed with those eyes of hers.
Spike just shook his head, and Derpy blinked. She was about to say that she asked Rainbow Dash that, but she was used to this sort of thing happening. Rainbow Dash had grabbed Derpy's attention now though, the normally rambunctious weather pony a big lump of sadness in her....discerning gaze.
"Rainbow Dash, what's wrong?" Derpy asked in her usual manner, that innocent and naive tone of voice that fit her so very well. However, very few in the current vicinity of the muffin-brained mare were feeling a very talkative mood, so Derpy was left standing there in silence for a few moments.
Pinkie Pie was the first to break the silence. "Sorry Derpy, some really crazy stuff happened yesterday, so uh....we're all kinda not ourselves today," she said, the party pony suddenly grinning as a thought occurred to her, leading Derpy back out of the library. "But DON'T you worry your silly little head off about it! We'll be back to normal in no time. We always are!"
The derpy-eyed pegasus smiled at that and nodded, taking off into the air. "That's good! I'd feel bad if I left my friends feeling all sad and down, you know."
Pinkie just waved goodbye while she continued on with her rounds, the pink pony's smile fading only a little as she turned and stepped back inside, closing the door behind herself. Her eyes were on Rainbow Dash now, who really did look far more worse for wear than a single argument would cause. The others seemed to notice it too, but before they could say anything, Pinkie was already all over her about it.
"You know Dashie, I'm starting to think that Derpy's eyes see things we don't at first. IS there something wrong with you? 'Cuz we're right here, y'know!" Pinkie said in as cheerful a tone as she could, grinning a little bit.
The rainbow-maned pegasus had mostly hung her head all morning, her eyes glossy and her gaze towards the ground, appearing entirely lost in thought. Nopony had noticed because, well, most of them looked the same way, though the others were taking turns checking up on Twilight, who refused to come down from her room.
Rainbow Dash looked away from Pinkie, not wanting to risk meeting her friend's gaze, nervously rubbing along the side of her right foreleg with her left hoof. "W-well, yeah, I'm okay, I....I guess I am, I mean...."
Now all of them had their eyes trained on Rainbow Dash. Even Spike knew something was up, this was FAR from their usual Rainbow Dash. Where her confidence and pride usually were, now only an insecure posture and a fearful expression took up space on and within their friend.
"Darling....what IS the matter? Is it Twilight?" Rarity asked, pointing a hoof up towards where Twilight's sleeping area/bedroom was.
Rainbow just sulked and shook her head. "No....no, it's not Twilight, girls....though I'm worried about her too, seriously."
Applejack yawned and rubbed her eyes. "Well, what's the problem then, sugarcube? What's eatin' ya? Y'look like me when one o' mah apple trees starts dyin'."
Pinkie suddenly interjected when Rainbow Dash was going to say something, appearing behind her with a foreleg slung around the back of Dash's neck. "Yeah! C'mon, spill those beans!" she said, grinning wide and giving Rainbow Dash a small one-legged hug. "What else are friends for?"
Rainbow Dash quirked a brow at her friend's rather sudden mood shift, her own mopey mood off-set by Pinkie's cheerful demeanor. "Wow, you bounced back from being chased down by a homicidal maniac pony."
Pinkie Pie stopped for a moment, hrm'ing....then she shrugged. "Meeeh! So some loony-toony pony chased me through the woods. I'm fine! Besides, I have all you gals here to watch out for me. Especially you Dashie!"
Rainbow Dash chuckled a little and sighed, shrugging her shoulders. "Nah, I just....kinda dove right in there, you know how I am...."
Applejack quirked a brow. "Okay, now ah KNOW it's somethin' serious that's buggin' ya RD. Ah ain't never known you t' miss a chance t' brag, an' that right there was practically settin' th' STAGE for ya!" Applejack said in a playful tone, stepping around the table and placing a hoof on Rainbow Dash's other shoulder. "So c'mon now....you can talk to us."
"You sure ya wanna go through with this, Dashie?" Pinkie asked, hopping along next to the comparatively depressed pegasus next to her.
Rainbow Dash shrugged a little and sighed. "If I don't say something now, who knows when I'll get another chance? I'm definitely not gonna do this by MAIL, that's just plain cowardly."
"Yeah, he probably doesn't deserve that either, it's not like he's done anything BAD-bad," Pinkie said to her, still hopping along with a wide smile.
Rainbow Dash looked to her friend and frowned. "WHY are you so happy right now?! Our friend is suffering and I'm....well, I'm not feeling too hot either, y'know?!"
Pinkie was already moving forward in mid-hop, but with Rainbow Dash's sudden snap at her, her eyes shot open and she just sort of fluttered straight down to the ground instead of continuing on ahead. She turned to her and shook her head. "Everypony's being all mopey-wopey and it's just not how Pinkie rolls, okay? Besides, you're gonna want some happy faces around when this is all said and done."
"I-I know, but....you almost seem like you're HAPPY this is happening, Pinkie...." she said, the pegasus slumping a little where she stood before starting on ahead again.
Pinkie's mouth went agape for a moment and she gasped. "Oh, how dare you, Dashie! I would never be happy about something like this, I mean, this is one of the worst things that could happen to somepony, and he's all injured and stuff too, it's like adding insult to injury literally!" she said in her usual fashion, suddenly popping up next to Rainbow Dash on the opposite side. "I just don't want you to not have somepony to be all happy-faced for you after it's over, because if I'm all frowny-faced like you are now, then you'll just stay that way, and nopony wants a sad Dashie."
They both entered the hospital, Pinkie's little rant drawing some glances their way, only making Rainbow Dash shrink in on herself even moreso. "Not really helping with the whole 'insult to injury' remark, Pinkie...."
As they made their way down the hallway, just outside of Strider's room, Pinkie gave a quick 'sorry' and backed away from the entrance. "Uh, I'll....just be waiting in the lounge, okay Dashie?"
The cyan pegasus could only nod, lost in thought and her own nerves as she stepped into Strider's room.
To say that she was shocked at the sight before her was an understatement. She knew that he'd taken some very severe injuries, but to be bound to the bed as he was, or at least, he may as well have been. His condition only made her feel even more guilty about what she wanted to discuss with him.
His eyes blinked open from a morphine-induced nap, focusing his gaze on the pegasus and smiling almost instantly. "Dashie! You came to visit....s'nice to see ya," he said, waving his one good leg at her. "I'd give you a hug, but I think that'd just break my ribs again...."
She knew he sounded sleepy, but she approached regardless, a more pensive look on her face. That drew his attention more than anything. "Hey....what's wrong, Dash?"
She took a deep breath and let it out a second later, closing her eyes. "....You used magic. How did you use magic, Strider?"
He looked to her seriously suddenly, frowning. "I'm sorry Rainbow Dash....I can't tell you about that. That has something to do with....well, it's all about the security of Equestria."
She was silent for a long moment, looking like she was in pain. Strider looked to her with a growing worry as he waited, but finally he broke the silence in the air. "Rainbow Dash, what's going on? Does that really bother you that I-"
"YES, it bothers me, Strider!" she said, hanging her head a little and wiping her eyes. When she realized that they were beginning to get watery, she blinked a few times and looked away. "Bucking dammit, I promised myself....!"
"Wait, what-I-....I-I'm so sorry Rainbow Dash, but I told you that before...." he said in a concerned tone, frowning more. "I didn't know it bothered you so much."
"It's not just that, it's....quite a few things, actually. And, they've....they've kinda gotten to be deal-breakers for me," she said, nervously rubbing one of her forelegs with the hoof of the other, looking away from him for a moment and towards the floor, letting the awkward silence in the room last for a moment before speaking up again. "I've got some things I've gotta get out there....like how I don't really think this is gonna keep working for us....? Heh."
He looked at the fearful smile she tried to put on, what she was afraid of from him he didn't know, but what it sounded like she was saying....that hurt almost as much as his wing did at the moment. "You mean you want to....break up....?"
His tone was subdued and sad, and the way he looked at her with those big, dark-red eyes of his only made her wince when she tried to look at him with a more confident gaze. All she could manage was to choke it out, swallowing hard afterwards. "Yeah....I guess I am."
He looked past her, to one of his nurses, who had listened to some of that exchange, her eyes wide when her gaze met his. She quickly cringed and looked away, turning to leave. "I-I'll just be back in....well just call when you're done talking!" she said in as cheery a tone as she could manage, feeling very awkward for even hearing a bit of their little talk.
He looked back to Rainbow Dash and took in a shaky breath. "Why now? I mean....we've been together for some time now."
"Strider, please just let me talk, okay? I just....I've gotta get all of this out."
He went silent immediately, having plenty to say in his own defense, but she seemed far more wracked with fear than he did. So, he just nodded and waited, his brow furrowed in both a confused and sad expression.
"Okay....okay," she said, taking a few deep breaths to steady herself, already hearing her voice beginning to crack, which was the last thing she wanted him to hear. "....You're never around Strider. I see you maybe once a month if I'm lucky, and you only stay for a couple days, even though Canterlot's really not that far away."
He nodded to her, just closing his eyes and listening to her. He already knew that it was over, now she just needed to vent to him. She was upset with him and didn't know how to just say that and be done with it....so he laid there and let her vent.
"You-you write letters and act like nothing's wrong, and when you visit you do the same, I've been trying to tell you something and I've been upset, a-and....!" she said with increasing agitation, a couple of stray tears running down her cheeks. "Sometimes you think I'm just being SHY! Do you know how mad that-....no, not the point. That's my fault, I know, I should've said something!"
He sighed and opened his eyes, putting on the most convincing smile he could. "Rainbow Dash....if you're not happy, then we should just break up and be done with it. No reason for you to feel bound to me if I'm not around enough for you....okay?"
"I know....I know, I just....I'm mad and I'm sorry at the same time and I'm not good with this kinda stuff, and you know that, so....I'm just sorry it bothers me so much, because you're a cool guy and you were always a good friend, and I hate to do this to you....!" she said faster and faster, feeling more and more outside of her comfort zone by the second.
She had everything rehearsed to say to him, but just one look into his eyes had disarmed her and made her look upon herself in all of this. But before she could get very far with any of it, Strider lifted his good leg and smiled more, his lips parted only slightly to let a shaky breath enter and leave his very pained lungs. "Look, let's just say it's over and admit that it's my fault....I'm too into my job, I never spent enough time with you, and I'm sorry. Okay?"
"Yeah....yeah, I think....yeah," she said, sniffling and wiping some tears away with her hoof. "That works for me."
He just nodded, ignoring the growing pain in his chest from his lungs quivering with his desperate attempt to keep a steady voice. It was quaking though, his tone wavering some while he tried to speak. "Alright....you should always worry about making yourself happy instead of being miserable for somepony else anyways, Dash. I'm really sorry for putting you through this...."
She just frowned and nodded a little, turning away and staring at the ground. "I think I should....y'know, go now."
"Yeah, that might be for the best," he said, trying to laugh a little bit, but that just made the pain in his chest worse. "They turned the drip off for an hour and....well, I need to get back to sleep, hopefully."
She just nodded and silently made a beeline for the door, waving to him without looking back.
"See ya 'round, Dash!" he called out as loud as his lungs and crushed ribcage would allow in their current state. But she was already gone, fast as ever.
He laid there for a minute, reflecting on what had just transpired, as if he couldn't really believe it....but there it was. "Yeah....g-go and be....real bucking happy, DAMN I-NNFG!" he half-shouted, a sharp pain in his chest cutting him off. He hissed a few breaths in and out of clenched teeth, laying his head limply against his pillow, crying in silence while his tears soaked into his pillow.