Princess Luna sat upon a throne during the waning minutes of her night court. It would not be long before she and Celestia would partake in their sisterly ritual—and probably some cake snacks as well. However, one obstacle remained between the diarch and sweet freedom, and that obstacle was Bonecrusher.
The lime-colored earth pony bowed before the princess, demonstrating an unusual level of decorum that made even Luna’s brow furrow. “Good morning, Your Highness. I know it’s almost time for your shift change, but there is something important that I’d like to bring to your attention.”
“And what would that be, Private Bonecrusher?” The princess leaned forward as though she were preparing to stand.
The responding mare lifted her head from the depths of her bow. Muscles tightened along her legs, producing bulging contours that outlined Crusher’s steeling nerves. “I believe that Ms. Tail has received unfair treatment during the course of our training. Captain Barrier is pampering her. She’s been given two days of leave and was sent home early during this week alone. She’s not a guard, Princess.”
Luna’s foreleg flinched. “Indeed, Ms. Tail is not a guard,” the alicorn answered. “That is why the best of the best was called in for her training. That is why she needs the focused instruction—to get her to where we need her to be. There is obviously a purpose for her involvement. Do you not think she is putting in the necessary effort?”
Bonecrusher snapped to attention. While her lips drew a deadpanned expression, her sockets contorted to sculpt a resolute scowl. “She does not understand our culture, Your Highness. Does an enemy of the state grant days off to underperforming guards? Of course not. She’s been pampered like a foal, and foals don’t belong in service.”
At that, the princess stood and stretched her foreleg to silence the mare. “Captain Barrier’s reports have been read. This week saw its share of problems. Your complaint on that front is recognized. However, Ms. Tail has shown nothing but progress.”
Crusher’s coat bristled. She cringed and sneered in a collectively unified motion before she shouted, “If Captain Barrier calls that progress, then he’s as much a part of the problem as she is!”
Arcs of unbridled magic spiraled along Luna’s horn, and Bonecrusher backpedaled from the jarring cracks of flaring light. The retreating pony made it a few steps until the weight of the alicorn’s power buckled the smaller mare straight into the bowing position. “That will be enough, Private. Captain Barrier’s word on his course is absolute. He has served in capacities the likes of which you could barely fathom. You have no right to question his methods.”
“But I do have a right to question it when his coddling is depriving others from something—”
“We said enough!” Luna’s voice shifted into the Traditional Canterlot mode. “The training was created for Ms. Tail, Private Bonecrusher. It wasn’t created for anypony else. The fact that you were put in the program was by the grace of your merits. The same as it was for Indar. Tail did not deprive others of the position. No pony did, but if you’d rather see it as such, then you took the position from your friends—no one else.”
The noise of the door swinging open had been concealed by Luna’s tempest, but when the scorching scolding ceased, the audible pops of moving, armored hooves snatched the room’s attention. “Get out now,” Barrier demanded, severing each word in the sentence with a bite that could tear Bonecrusher’s jugular. “Field. Laps. Many of them. Unless you faint or die, you keep running until I personally tell you to stop.”
Dread stretched a feigned smile on Bonecrusher’s muzzle in the seconds prior to her swift exit, and Barrier made sure to keep his stern gaze affixed on her form until she disappeared into the hall. Concern greeted the stallion after he turned around.
Luna stood stoically—as she often did when it came to his matters—and waited.
“I’m tired of her attitude.” The anger finally emerged from his muzzle. “Every damn day, it is the same thing. She’s concerned more with Tail than her own improvement, and it is pathetic. Bonecrusher might inject the asshole experience for Tail, but if she isn’t getting anything out of it except misplaced rage, then what is the fucking point?”
The distinct sense that she should have already been bathed in twilight dawn sat upon Tail’s mind. “Maybe Amora screwed with my clock again,” she commented idly as she moved through the castle corridors. Hope showed in her stride, driving her to get to the pitch fifteen minutes early, as usual. “Mm, she wouldn’t do that now, though. Perhaps Princess Luna got hung up in a boring court again, or perhaps, Captain Barrier is trying once more.”
At that declaration, Tail took a detour. It couldn’t hurt to check in on her advocate, after all. It certainly couldn’t hurt to catch another glimpse of her captain attempting what most ponies would deem impossible either. She headed towards the courtroom first, and a swish accented each step until what sounded like Luna’s voice crept through the hall.
“You’ve made your case, Captain, and I agree with your assessment,” the lunar diarch spoke with a tone that froze Tail midstep. “‘Tis a shame things ended this way. I believed that the arrangement would have perhaps facilitated you two getting closer.”
Barrier responded with a groan. “Conniving, as always, but this was just a distraction. I can’t have her in my course, not anymore.”
The pegasus stood there with her ears splayed for a few seconds. Her feathers ruffled as the sounds of their hoofsteps grew louder and more defined. Move! Tail thrust her wings downward, leapt into an adjacent alcove, and practically clung to the wall to hide. This conversation is not meant for you!
Silence reigned very briefly before the princess continued. “Do you want to break the news to her, or shall I?”
Tail’s heart sank as they passed. Her mind reran the words through her brain over and over, verifying through the resulting pause that she had actually heard what she thought she had heard.
“I’ll tell her today at the end of training and see to it that she finds her way out without issue. I think she will make it one day. She’s just not ready, not yet. I owe her that much—to tell her directly.”
“I know that tone.” Luna’s voice became harder to discern the farther and farther the pair got from the strained pegasus. “Her shortcomings are not your fault. You did the best…”
Deep breaths filled Tail’s lungs as she held her position. It wasn’t until she was sure that Barrier and the princess were long gone that she dared to pry herself from the wall. Her head lowered and her barrel slumped below her shoulders as she began the crawl to the field.
Maybe I gave the wrong answers yesterday, she pondered. I’ll have to talk with the princess about what will happen with EqNA. Maybe I can still have a say.
She sighed, struggling to hold back the waterworks that yearned to break free. “No, don’t start that. You heard him. One day, just not today.”
Tail trudged onto the field. Her sights meandered over the blades of grass as her thoughts desperately clung to the most positive part of Captain Barrier’s assessment. “How am I going to get through the day?” she whispered. “I can’t let him know that I know.”
She perked to the thunderous cadence of Bonecrusher’s gallop. The mare was running at what the pegasus considered a ferocious pace, and the grimace that gripped the earth pony’s countenance projected whatever fire was burning within.
After a few minutes of following Crusher with her sights, Tail gradually gravitated towards the track. On several occasions, the lavender mare lifted a hoof as if she had planned to burst into a sprint; however, she just could not find the spark. While you’re here, you’re working, didn’t seem to mean much when today would be the last day of work.
All Tail could manage to do was set an impassive mask as her expression and pray that nothing would prod the lurking sorrow. On cue, Bonecrusher made another pass. A snarl split the earth pony’s muzzle while her pupils traced Tail’s indifferent countenance. “What’s wrong?” the private taunted. “Afraid to get on the track with me?”
“No,” Tail replied with a murmur, “I’m just not in the mood to deal with your antics today.”
Bonecrusher’s ears quivered to the noise. The sidelong glance she tossed over her shoulder made it clear to the pegasus that something had been heard. However, the slight tilt of the earth pony’s head and the lift of her brow indicated that the meaning had been lost. Crusher came to a quick, skidding halt before she spun around to face the smaller spectator. “Did you say something to me, Civvy?”
Tail took a deep breath and sighed. Of course, Bonecrusher had to be acidic. Of course, she had to complicate things on a day that would be inevitably chalked down as one to forget. “If you want to run, then run,” the physicist replied with a bit more volume. “I’m not going to get in your way.”
“Throwing sarcastic crap at your superior?” Bonecrusher spat. Her glare threw daggers at Tail as the lumbering earth pony continued to close the distance between the pair.
“I really don’t need this, Bonecrusher—”
“Ma’am!” she roared, sending Tail into a meaningless two-step retreat. The aggressive charger rushed forward, devouring the separation to press her muzzle against the snout of the pegasus. “You are nothing!”
A grunt splurted out of Tail’s muzzle once the lime-colored mare drove her armored forehooves into Tail’s breastplate. The image of a satisfied smirk was corralled by dilated pupils while the academic pony regained her balance. “I’m not in the mood for drama today! Just run and leave me alone!”
“Leave you alone?” Maniacal laughter erupted as Bonecrusher rammed one of her forehooves into Tail’s armor. The pegasus stumbled, catching herself with her wings right as the earth pony drilled her muzzle with a right cross. “Are you going to ask a foe to please leave you alone when shit gets hard?”
Knocked over, Tail groaned from her suddenly prone position. Blood trickled from her nose, and a throbbing ache radiated from the impact point through the rest of her head. Indar wasn’t around to step in this time. Barrier was probably still with Luna. There was no one else there to help quell the hatred. She was alone with her own devices—alone with reasoning. “Bonecrusher, we’re on the same side—”
Amethyst irides pierced Tail with relentless rage. Before the pegasus could react to her backfired peace attempt, Bonecrusher reared up and delivered a scream-inducing stomp to a spread wing. “We are not on the same side! You’re a manipulative little hussy who gets hoofheld every day. Look at what happens when you get an opponent who won’t walk you through every move. Your ass is in the dirt! There’s blood on your face. And there’s no damn room in the guard for a cripple with a busted ass wing!”
Broken! Broken! Broken! The cadet’s mind clawed for answers. Tail’s head looked around, hoping to spot anypony who could help her—anypony that might hear the horrid wails that were fleeing her little lungs. The splitting crunch that had jabbed her ear still lingered in her thoughts and spurred jarring swirls of mental fog.
“We look out for our own!” Bonecrusher railed. “But you! You! You made it so nopony looked out for me! They let a sideshow diversion push my warnings to the wayside! After watching so many others lower themselves for you, I don’t give a shit if I get kicked out to ensure that you go nowhere! It’s a miracle that you even made it this far because only an emotionally damaged stallion would ever let somepony like you be his fucktoy. And that is the only way—”
Emotionally damaged… The pegasus rolled, planted her hooves into the grass, and yanked her wing free with a thrust that brutally pulled feathers from the broken appendage.
Emotionally damaged. The inferno cut through the haze, and an ardent amber glow reappeared where it had been lost. Adrenaline-jacked hyperfocus forced Tail’s pain from her awareness, and her limbs responded by immediately throwing her body towards Bonecrusher.
“Don’t you ever say that about Captain Barrier again!” Tail cried as one of her gauntlets collided with the earth pony’s face. The lime-colored mare, tilting to the left, staggered from the blow, and the pegasus did not let the opportunity pass. She slugged Bonecrusher in the muzzle again, bloodying up the greenish fur as the bulkier cadet listed. Emotionally damaged! He’s not— Two legs are up. Tail leapt onto the mare’s back, and a lavender foreleg moved in the moments after to wrench Bonecrusher’s dangling limb to her barrel.
The sudden application of a top-heavy weight heaved Crusher’s center of mass beyond the coverage of her planted hooves. She wailed upon trying to throw her snared appendage, for her muscles and tendons were strained by Tail’s use of Barrier’s lock.
Tail pushed off Bonecrusher when the behemoth began to tumble. The jump sent the earth pony careening into the ground with more energy, and it gave the pegasus a snapshot of reprieve to cock her foreleg once more. Her eyes beamed with a fiery fury that met the sprawled student’s shellshocked stare.
As Tail descended, swirls of vapor formed around her hoof and compacted into a tiny black tuft. “At least he gave me a fucking chance!” The pegasus crashed upon Crusher before the primed limb hashtag-wrecked the underside of the gaping green jaw. Cracks, echoing through the training grounds, pierced the air as bolts of lightning burst from the compressed cloud to pitch the earth pony straight into the depths of unconsciousness. “At least he let me try…”
Pants preceded the agonized cry that popped from behind adrenaline’s veil. Stabbing pain assaulted Tail’s chest from the realm of her shattered wing, and the pegasus could no longer remain upright. Her breathing hitched as a fresh dagger cut into her nerves, and she crumpled—into the warming tingle of his magic.