Barrier groaned as he lifted his head off the table, completely disregarding the soft, muffled voices nearby in favor of working his painfully stiff neck. Faust above…
“Good morn, Captain.” Verdant smiled and sat across from the stallion.
“...morning?” Barrier glanced out of a nearby window to confirm that it was indeed morning. “What the hell are you two doing here this morning?” Barrier nodded at Twilight who had taken a seat next to Verdant.
“Wouldst you like me to fetch me some ‘kawphy’ for you and the professor?”
Barrier frowned. “Dammit, don’t try to distract me Verdant. I’m not awake enough for it yet.”
Before the earth pony could reply, Twilight interjected herself into the conversation. “Well, Pinkie mentioned that the two of you were going to the library, and that lead me to think about all the ancient lost knowledge I could find here. I could barely sleep, so I woke Verdant up about an hour ago so he could translate for me while I transcribe.”
“Well, that’s not so…” Daring cut herself off with a yawn, but before she could pick the speech up, she stared at Barrier’s face blankly before breaking into a fit of laughter.
“What?” Barrier’s face frowned in confusion. “Is there something wrong with my face?”
“Well, sir…” Verdant began awkwardly. “Lady Dash was here earlier. She used a thing she called a ‘gold sharpie’ to draw some…rather crude things upon thy face, and from what Lady Twilight hast said, with rather sloppy penmanship.” The green earth pony recognized the slight twitch in his former captain’s eye but didn’t comment on it.
“Hat Trick said he’d be back with a wet towel and some soap as soon as he could.” Twilight offered.
Barrier just sighed, ignoring the still-laughing pegasus. “What time is it? How long until our train departs?”
“There’s about three more hours. It leaves at nine. I’m already packed. The others may take a tiny bit longer, but I’m sure they’ll all be ready by then.”
“I suppose I should go gather what little I brought with me.” Barrier pushed himself up from the table.
“Hey, hold on,” Daring tried to tug him back down. “You said you’d take me into the sealed-off part of the library before we fell asleep last night.”
“There’s a sealed-off part of the library?” Twilight’s voice was almost quivering with excitement as she turned to Verdant. “Why didn’t you tell me?! No, better yet, show me!”
Verdant eyed Barrier questioningly and the unicorn sighed. “We read books for six hours, Daring. I’ll personally bring you back another time, but for now there are things we need to do. Besides that, I can’t give you or Twilight permission to enter. I don’t want to risk getting in trouble for using expired clearance. Such a thing is a very grave offense.”
“Daring?” Verdant asked in curiosity, shifting the topic.
Daring groaned and shot the unicorn a weak glare. “Guess he was gonna find out sooner or later. Just…keep it to yourself for now, okay, Verdant? We’ll explain when we’re in Vanhoover.”
“Yes ma’am.” Verdant replied dutifully.
“Right, with that settled, shall we go prepare for departure?” Barrier offered his hoof to the tan pegasus.
Daring grumbled as she started towards the front of the massive library. “Yeah yeah, let’s get this over with. Biggest archaeological event of the century and I’m leaving it for Vanhoover…”
“I should probably go check on my friends and Spike. Thanks again for the help, Verdant. I’ll see you all at the train station.” Twilight followed Daring, both starting to discuss their findings.
Verdant glanced hesitantly at his captain’s face. “Do you want to wait for Hat Trick to arrive with your towel, sir, or…?”
Barrier’s eye twitched. “I’ll see you at the train station, Verdant.”
“I do not understand.” Verdant’s voice was the first Barrier heard as he approached the train station. “Why art these called ‘comic books’ if they are not comical?”
“Well, some are.” Spike explained. “But I prefer the superhero action stuff. Twilight says they’re pretty easy to read, so maybe some of them could help you learn how to read modern stuff.”
“Hmm…” Swiftsword’s voice joined the pair. “Dost thou have any recommendations?”
“Well, most are pretty good but my favorites are ones like the Power Ponies, the Mighty Morphin’ Pony Rangers, Batmare, Batmare Beyond…” Spike thought for a second. “Supermare and Supercolt. With any of those, you really can’t go wrong.”
“I could also recommend some good books for you that are easy to read if you’d like. The Shoobee-Doo mystery series in particular is really good. Also, if you’d like something comedic, there are The Misadventures of June & Shelly by Ink Blot.”
The shrill whistle of a train interrupted them, followed by the monstrosity pulling into the station.
“I’ll miss you, Cadance.” Shining Armor and his fiance shared a brief nuzzle and a kiss. “I promise I’ll do everything I can to make sure I’ve prepped my understudy as soon as possible.”
Cadance nodded sadly. “I’ll miss you.”
Barrier didn’t hear more of the conversation, distracted as he was by the filly clamboring onto his back and then onto his head -thankfully being careful to avoid his injured horn- to get a better vantage point of the train.
“My word…” Wind Whistler stared in awe as the mighty machine pulled in, the doors soon opening to let them on. “It’s gigantic! Uncle Barrier, art thou certain this is safe?”
Not even a little. Barrier hesitated to respond aloud.
“Come on, let’s get going.” Moonstone strode past them and into the train. “It’s so cold out here that I’m gonna freeze my horn off.”
Barrier followed in silence, carrying both himself and Wind Whistler onto the steel deathtrap, followed shortly by everyone else. No sooner than they had all piled on and found their seats, the train had started to move, steadily picking up speed as it ferried them back to Equestria.
“Barrier…” Fleetfeather tensed as the train bounced slightly. “Are you certain this is safe?”
Barrier didn’t reply, instead frowning as the cadets set about exploring every inch of the train they could reach.
“All of you, settle down!” Barrier called sharply. “This thing rocks and shakes enough as-is, I don’t need you helping it along. If it’s anything like my first trip, here you’ll all be screaming within the hour…”
Exactly one hour later…
Barrier settled on the floor next to the bench, wincing as one of the windows was opened.
“This is a most wonderful sensation, captain!” Verdant Range called out from his spot next to Fleetfeather.
“Most certainly!” Swiftsword thrust her head out of the window. “I have never felt more alive!”
“Sounds like you’re having fun!” Pinkie joined them in their excitement.
“Fun?” Iron Forge tilted his head at the mare curiously, entirely unaware of the look of horror that had dawned on her at his askance of the word.
Winter Gem also looked at the energetic pony in curiosity. “I am unfamiliar with that term as well.”
“Mayhaps it is a modern term we’re unfamiliar with?” Hat Trick suggested, having picked up on Pinkie Pie’s expression.
“Oh boy…” Rainbow Dash groaned. “This is gonna take awhile…”
“How about I give you all a brief lesson on modern Equestrian speech?” Twilight quickly interjected before Pinkie could explode. “I could probably save you from making some of the same accidental innuendos as Magic Barrier.”
Hat Trick’s eyes sparkled at the mentions of Barrier and innuendo.
“So…” Barrier turned to three ponies of the amongst them who were still soldiers. “What do you three have planned for when you return to Canterlot?”
Spearmint shrugged. “Not much, really. I’ll probably just go back to my routine.”
“I’ve got an astronomy test to take in a couple of weeks, so I’ll be studying! Well, studying in between my guard-shifts.” Moonstone stated chipperly.
“Man, you are wrong on so many levels…” Rainbow Dash shivered.
“It’s as if you, Twilight, and Pinkie Pie all had a weird lovechild.” Barrier commented reflexively. Almost immediately after he realized what he’d said, he felt several pairs of eyes on him.
“You have definitely changed since you got back.” Daring snickered slightly.
“As for me, I’ll probably just keep up with my guard training.” Cobalt thankfully spoke up, shifting the focus of the conversation; she smiled at the grateful look Barrier shot her. “I’ll probably also make a donation to the TRP when heat season comes around. Same stuff, new year.” Cobalt ended with a shrug akin to Spearmint.
“TRP?” Barrier inquired.
“Thestral Restoration Program.” Cobalt replied. “It’s a thing Princess Celestia set up a few years ago after they figured out this artificial impregnation…thing.”
“Artificial insemination?” Daring offered.
“Yeah, that.” Cobalt confirmed. “Basically, I get paid by giving away the eggs that I’m not using during every heat-cycle. In a nutshell, thestral mares and stallions get paid by the program really well for donating their baby-making stuff and to help increase the thestral population.”
“Baby making stuff?” Spearmint cocked an eyebrow. “Really? That’s what you’re going with?”
Cobalt Lancer snorted.
“Sue me, I sucked at health class in school.”
Barrier shoved the conversation to the back of his mind as the majority of the mare’s seemed to weigh-in on the appropriate terms, instead allowing himself to fade into the depths of his mind.
Several hours passed until Barrier was snapped back to the train by the sound of Twilight cheering loudly.
“Now, moving on to terms about modern library system terms,”
“Twily…” Shiny smiled at the mare when she turned to face and smiled at her bewildered expression. “We’re pulling into Canterlot.” As Shining Armor fell silent, the brakes squealed to life.
A few minutes had passed since the ponies and drake had disembarked from the train, waiting patiently for the announcements of their coming trains. Barrier and Fleetfeather glanced between the various conversations taking place between those gathered.
“Once you have a mailing address and you’ve learned to read modern Equestrian, I’ll have a bunch of questions to ask you about the past.” Twilight grinned widely at the green stallion.
Verdant Range nodded in understanding. “That sounds good to me, Lady Sparkle.”
Swiftsword and Rarity stood a short distance away from the two. “Once I receive my owed back pay, I swear to thee that I shalt compensate thee for Verdant’s garment, Miss Rarity.”
“Oh don’t worry about that, Dear.” Rarity waved a hoof in dismissal. “Consider it a gift.”
“Ya’ll try to keep in touch, Cousin. Since yer gonna be in Vanhoover, maybe you’ll meet up with Cousin Belmont Apple and his kids. Also, Ah fully expect ya to be at the next family reunion.”
“I swear I will be there, Cousin.” Winter Gem and Applejack shared a brief embrace.
“That’s the spirit!” Applejack patted her firmly on the back.
“And don’t you worry!” Pinkie grinned enthusiastically at Hat Trick. “I’ll be sure to send you a biiiiig book about magician’s tricks when you get your new place, that way you’ll make a great splash with your updated act!”
“I…” Hat Trick was speechless, partially by the mare’s enthusiasm and partially at how friendly she was. “Thank you, Lady Pie.”
“Silly Hat Trick, my name’s not Lady Pie, it’s Pinkie Pie!” The mare grinned for a half-second before the smile slipped in an expression of deep thought. “Well, I guess it’s actually Pinkamena Diane Pie, but Pinkie Pie’s faster.” The mare seemed to slip into the thought. The sudden silence was mildly offsetting.
“Good luck with your new life, Forge.” Rainbow Dash tapped the stallion hard in the shoulder, not even budging him.
“Thank you, Rainbow Dash. I shall try to make the most of it.”
“I hope that maybe one day…” Rainbow Dash hesitated just slightly. “Maybe one day you’ll find a griffin that you can see as a friend and not an enemy.”
Forge tensed, but his expression didn’t change. “I sincerely doubt that, but…I shall make an attempt.”
Daring quickly came up to Barrier from behind. “Alright, I just got the tickets for the trip to Vanhoover, so you’ll be paying for the hotel tonight.”
“Alright ponies, gather up!” Barrier called out loudly. “Our train is soon gonna arrive. Next stop, our new lives in Vanhoover!”
Daring waited for a moment before commenting. “Actually, we have to transfer again in Tall Tale, before we get to Vanhoover.”
Barrier’s brow furrowed slightly but he nodded. “Okay, first Tall Tale, and then our new lives in Vanhoover!”
A new voice rang out from somewhere.
“The train for Ponyville is now boarding at Platform 4!”
“Well,” Twilight and her friends grouped together. “Sounds like that’s us.”
“Goodbye, Twily.” Shining Armor pulled the smaller mare into a hug. “I hope to see you again soon.”
Twilight returned the embrace. “I’ll do what I can to make that happen, BBBFF.”
“Bye guys!” Pinkie waved from the window of the Ponyville bound train, having seemingly appeared there rather than actually boarding. “Come by Ponyville any time! I’ll throw you an awesome party!”
Barrier’s mind thought back to the piece of paper the pink mare had given him and he half-smiled, already thinking of a use for it as he, Fleetfeather, and Wind Whistler waited to board the train to Tall Tale.
“Ah, Spearmint,” Swiftsword quickly approached the mare as everypony began to disperse. “Before thou departs for the new palace,” Swiftsword briefly glanced upwards, taking in the large structure, “I wouldst know thy address.”
Spearmint tilted her head just slightly.“Uh, okay?”
“Thou art an impressive mare.” Swiftsword smiled. “I wish to know thee better through letters. It shalt no doubt be a long period of time before we may have intercourse in pony again.”
“Wait, what?!” Spearmint’s eyes widened. “But I’ve…we’ve never had…” Blush was showing through her minty coat.
“Nonsense,” Swiftsword cut her off. “We’ve had intercourse on a few occasions,” Swiftsword didn’t notice Moonstone nearly gagging from her attempts not to laugh. “We art having intercourse right now, even!”
Daring rested a hoof on Swiftsword’s withers and leaned in close, whispering something to her and grinning when she erupted into a full blush.
“We meant engaging with thee in conversation, not…that!” Swiftsword sighed and pressed a hoof tiredly to her forehead. “Modern Equestrian appears to have been crafted by perverts.”
“Barrier,” Shining Armor called out firmly, drawing the attention of everypony present.With the sharp clack of hooves on stone, Shining Armor stood at attention and threw a sharp salute. Cobalt Lancer, Spearmint, and Moonstone all followed suit. “It’s been an honor serving alongside side you. All of you.”
Barrier imitated the stance and salute, followed by his own former cadets. “The honor was ours, Captain Armor.”
The moment held for several short seconds before Barrier dropped the salute, followed by Shining Armor, and then their respective underlings. Shining Armor and his soldiers soon departed, heading towards the palace as the sun started to set.
“So…” Hat Trick had the decency to wait until Shining Armor and the other three were out of sight. “That thestral was a mare?”
Barrier sighed and pressed a hoof to his eyes followed by the other cadets groaning or sighing as well.
“Well done, Kiddo,” Daring shook her head ruefully. “You ruined the moment.”
“What?” Hat Trick frowned. “Twas a valid question! She is as big as the Captain and he’s a rather large unicorn. Not to mention the shape of her damn muzzle.”
“The train for Tall Tale is now boarding at Platform 9!” The same announcer from earlier called out.
“Hat Trick, my dear,” Winter Gem patted him gently on the shoulder. “You should probably stop while you’re ahead.” Winter Gem tugged him towards the train to Tall Tale, everypony else moving to follow.
As the group and various others settled comfortably into a car, Barrier found himself staring out the window, pondering to himself. The last of my demons have finally been laid to rest. It was strange, Barrier decided, the feeling of lightness the thought left him with. Grimhilde is long dead, Gallopfrey… or Trottingham, I suppose, is once more a part of Equestria… we’re at peace. Even Sombra has been laid to rest… Barrier found his gaze drifting to the ponies around him, chatting amicably among one another. Even those I thought lost have returned. Mayhaps now I’ll finally be able to rest… The unicorn flinched as the train jerkily lurched forward, causing him to tense in his seat. Maybe… not just yet. With a deep breath, Barrier stood up from his bench, his ponies around him going silent and focusing on him as he did so.
“Captain?” Verdant asked, looking up from his bench.
“You don’t need to call me captain anymore, Verdant. We’re all civilians now, after so very long. Still, there are a few things I have to say.” Barrier rolled his shoulders. “I know you’ve all just survived a long and arduous ordeal. Faust knows it wasn’t easy, but we can’t rest just yet. We still have a few tasks ahead of us. The ponies we are now… we probably won’t be the same when we finish, but these will be about change. It’s something we all have to face at this point. There are countless new customs to master, new technologies to learn, new friends to make.” Barrier smiled warmingly at each of the cadets, surprising them slightly. “I can’t honestly think of a better group of ponies to go through all of this with.”
Hesitantly at first, Verdant returned the smile with a warm one of his own and like dominoes the others followed suit until the entire group was smiling at each other warmly. “Our new lives in Vanhoover await!”