No Longer Displaced

by NoLongerSober

Chapter 20 - Tail's Secret, Part II

Tail peered nervously into the tense gaze of her captain. He had settled into a seated position in front of her wheelchair, and the fierce demeanor that sat upon his silence-backed scowl was not doing wonders for the mare’s esteem. “What if all ponies had access to high-level magic?” he reiterated her question and continued. “Do you have any idea how dangerous this is, Tail?” He shook the 20 mm shell for emphasis. “Unicorns with far more experience have fallen to reckless ambition, and it corrupted entire empires.”

“And I know why.” The anxiety in her expression faded. Confidence, cultivated by the months of her research, blossomed in a contented smile. “They didn’t get resonance. It’s the same reason why attempting to use Luna’s magic was causing you harm. If you’re not in sync, then you have no chance. Ponies die, lose their powers, and lose their minds. Sombra was the worst case I found in the records, but that’s what happens when you try to use an ancient relic of love to subjugate.”

“Sombra.” The name rolled off the unicorn’s tongue as a strange mixture of motions drew Tail’s attention. The captain recoiled at first, and an aura of disgust stabbed the air through his tone. However, as that final vowel held onto the stallion’s dwindling breath, Barrier’s posture relaxed, and the ghost-notes of lost reverence marked the score.

Tail’s eyes twinkled as she fought the instinct to ask a question, but her efforts were in vain. She met her captain’s refocused stare with a caught-red-hoofed squeak. Barrier sighed. “I know that look,” he confirmed her suspicions. “I’ll explain after we’re done here. Just keep going.”

“Right,” she spoke, shifting her position such that she sat taller. “When I started, I was just as misguided as the ponies that tried before. I wanted something big—something that would look good in a tenure review—something that would wow those creeps up above. I went straight to Princess Luna. I told her we could give the guard branches a new arsenal—and that they could trot around with the most powerful magic in Equestria—if I were successful.

“Without going into specifics, the results of that test are why Amora became my medic.” Both ponies winced at the thought, which drew a quiet giggle from Tail. “But it made me look into history—at unicorns who tried to take down the alicorns or usurp the special magic of others. Starswirl, himself, was researching a natural flow of magic at the time of his death, but he was looking at something universal. It’s not universal at all! It’s inherent to each user because every pony has a latent scalar-field magic unique to their race. All one has to do is synchronize the natural pulse with the input sample, adjust for impedance or overall level discrepancies—”

She stopped when another sigh drained from Barrier’s muzzle. Not only had Tail’s rate of delivery dramatically increased, but the fiery pegasus had descended into the scientific babbling that left the captain completely in the dust. “Mind putting that in a way that I might understand, Cadet?”

Tail raised her hoof in protest, and a rebuttal quickly formed on the tip of her tongue. However, it was one that she would not deliver. He’s not a physicist, Sweety, she reminded herself before her scrunched snout loosened, giving way to a relaxed smirk. “I bet you’re the type that benefits more from a hooves-on lesson.” She paused to sculpt a half-lidded front. “Want to be my guinea pig?”

Barrier’s ear twitched as he took in Tail’s playful, sultry demeanor. “No,” he answered quickly and flatly—maintaining his stern stance through the scientist’s theatrical production.

The pegasus held her sights, not daring to move them from his frame. She’d get what she wanted this time. After all, this was her lab, not his training ground. “Captain,” Tail began with a timbre that matched her sinister pout, “this is my opportunity to put all of my trust in you. There are no secrets after this, not from me. I can actually show you in a way that you will most certainly get.”

Barrier held his silence for several seconds before speaking. “Pouts don’t work on me, but for the sake of time, fine. What do you need me to do?”

As soon as that sweet syllable hit her ears, Tail sprang into action. Well, she sprang as far as falling into his grasp after her route out of and away from the wheelchair was immediately blocked. She huffed when Barrier guided her back into her seat and grumbled. “Right, we can’t incur the wrath of Amora anymore.”

A snort emerged from the stallion. “I’ve seen her when she’s mad. It does not bring out the best in me.” His gaze drifted away from the mare in the wake of that admission. “Anyway, just point me in the direction we need to go. Best hurry up and do that guinea pig thing before I change my mind—or up the number of laps I’m going to make you run.”

“Workbench all the way at the end of the line. I’m going to make two rounds with your magic. Think about the amount of energy you’d need to use to put a dent in a block of iron at a distance of fifty meters.”

Tail struggled to repress the giggle that yearned to erupt as she took in Barrier’s shellshocked expression. His mouth hung open while he stared at the A0, her 2.03-meter-long, 20 mm rifle—the very one she had designed to study the applications and dangers of magical munitions. “You okay there, Sweety?” she eventually chirped, quickly earning a stern-faced scowl from her captain.

Barrier’s lips quivered, and the harsh front he had placed upon his countenance slowly eroded to the glances that pulled his attention back to the A0. The rifle’s flaring barrel and massive bolt proved to be the better draw. “I have never seen any weapon like this,” he mumbled. “Probably too big for standard field use, to be honest. Fixed mount, maybe, given the setup you’ve got here. It’s definitely way more impressive looking than what we’ve done with crossbows, excluding the garish orange mat. We certainly never put those behind our placements.”

“It’s comfy,” Tail quickly countered, “and I wasn’t really thinking of field use with this one. It was more—I wanted something that would be hard to smuggle out of here if the security locks were somehow breached. Just look at that thing! It’s massive—not to mention magically guarded against concealment spells thanks to Princess Luna.

“Anyway, um, we’ve reached a step that requires forethought to avoid pissing off Amora. This chair isn’t exactly the optimal place for shooting. That garish mat behind the butt of the stock, as you so eloquently put it, is where I really need to be. The A0 has a recoil suppression system built in, and the mount has some additional protections. I don’t have to concern myself with that, but I do need to make sure I’m fully connected to the weapon’s resonance induction circuit. So”—she paused as a rush of heat shot to her muzzle—“um, if you could use your magic to help get me into and out of the prone position, I’d appreciate it.”

Tail firmly gripped the pair of rounds they had made at her workbench and promptly closed her eyes. She did not expect Barrier to say no to her now, and she needed to focus on the warm tingle of his aura that her senses anticipated. A few long, rolling breaths kept her centered until she was prodded to sharply inhale.

Her feathers ruffled. She settled into the sensation that held her against gravity, and swaths of her fur rose to the charge that pulsed over her frame. Tail flicked her uninjured wing and produced a tiny electrical spark that meandered about the ripples generated by the unicorn’s cast. Whispered numbers graced the air while the mare felt Barrier gently position her limbs in a configuration better suited for her destination.

“You have the perfect magic for this, Captain. Your frequency matches well to my bolts.” A smile stretched the corners of her lips once she came to rest upon her perch. “I hope you find it informative.”

“This trip has already been so,” he replied upon retracting his hold on Tail. “I knew that Luna had her reasons for calling me to train you, but I never would have guessed.”

“It’s why I can’t quit,” Tail responded as she retrieved two sets of goggles from a compartment tucked into the base of the mount. She passed one set to Barrier and slid the other over her eyes. “Safety first, right?”

Barrier snorted as he levitated the goggles towards his head. “There’s something about a bandaged cadet saying that—that makes it feel like a load of shit, but yes, safety first.”

“It’s an OSHA thing, Captain, and it certainly beats being a third party to, ‘If she dies, it’s not my problem.’”

The stallion flinched in spite of the cheeky grin that ensnared the sassy pegasus. “I am never going to live that down, am I?” He sighed. “I do believe I told you immediately afterwards that it had nothing to do with you. I dealt with vaguery during my service. I didn’t need to deal with it from Luna, especially given the circumstances.”

“And now, I am ending the vaguery.” Tail’s tone remained as warm as the feel Barrier’s aura had left upon her coat. “Just put on your goggles and stand behind me.” She opened the A0’s chamber and pushed the first round into place.

Tail could feel the tangible weight of her captain’s gaze as she proceeded. It’s just like every other time, she reassured herself while muscle memory guided her hooves through the motions. A series of light, clangy pops perked her ears when she finished priming the shot, and her sights quickly found the iron block set at the other end of her private range.

“For the first one, I’m going shoot with the bare minimum resonance required for safe operation.” She glanced back over her shoulder to make sure that he had put on the protective gear.

“Fair enough,” he answered, shifting his attention away from Tail’s check to the block destined to be dented.

The mare swung her head towards the A0, and after a short pause, she moved her forehoof inside the trigger guard. A click could be heard once Tail applied a little pressure to the underside of the receiver. “That lets me know the resonance circuit is connected,” she explained before unceremoniously pulling the trigger.

Behind her position, Barrier jolted backwards to the hissing plume of bluish light that taunted from the barrel’s end. “Faust above, give me a warning next time!” He glared as Tail’s chest bobbed to the beat of a silent chuckle. “And that was all bark and no bite.”

“That was the point.” Tail tossed the spent shell to the side and promptly loaded the second round. “I made little effort to connect with your magic. I just pulled the trigger, and essentially nothing happened except the wasteful venting of your given energy.” She motioned her head towards the iron target. “An untrained scrub couldn’t harness your power even if she wanted to, but—”

The same click echoed through the lab once Tail slipped her hoof inside the guard again. Her mind wandered through the plethora of experiences he had added to her otherwise academic life, and a new spark of electricity threaded its way about her foreleg. Her chest lifted to the memory of their time at the Phoenix Fire, how Trigger had put her on the spot, and how her captain shared his trust.

I am so much stronger. Those aching days of P.T. that had left her tired and drained flooded her recollections. She overcame it because he gave her the inspiration. I am not going to fail. Her muscles burned as the trails of the temporary falling-out resurfaced. Those don’t matter now.

She was on the field, throwing her bloodied mass into Bonecrusher, defending his name, shielding him for a change. They weren’t even done with her training, and yet, Tail found herself in a completely different place. He had driven her to simply be better. He was there for her when she woke up, and she could hear the words in her mind as though they had come straight out of his muzzle. You’re the best cadet I have ever had…

Tail’s inferno roared. She slammed her foreleg into the trigger and unleashed a monstrous arc of energy. Snarls of lavender light circled the cerulean beam that left no trace of the iron target behind. The pegasus rose under her own power while she gawked at the demonstration, and her ears snapped to the crackles of the hellish lightning strike that reverberated through the building.

“That’s—that’s impossible,” she murmured as the speechless Barrier stepped forward to support his cadet. For nearly half a minute, Tail did not acknowledge her captain’s presence despite the fact that her body was leaning against his to remain upright. She couldn’t take her eyes off the cracks that had developed in the enchanted wall that was her backstop. They sprawled out like a spider’s web, and they beckoned the physicist like a sea of sirens.

The sound of a hitched gulp restored the mare’s awareness, spurring Tail to look at the unicorn. The shifting pupil she could see appeared remarkably dilated, and once again, she caught him with his jaw dropped.

“I—but—it—it was supposed to put a dent,” he stammered. “How?”

Tail swallowed hard as she scanned every facet of his expression. Confusion mushed his furrowed brow, and concern sculpted the depth in his oceanic stare. “I—I think we achieved nearly flawless resonance,” she answered softly. “It’s just shocking. I’ve never had a boost like that in any of my tests.” She stopped, pivoting her focus back to the cracks. “I’m definitely going to have to investigate this. The walls down here were fortified by Luna…”

“I see,” Barrier spoke in a raspy tenor that still projected the state of his bewilderment. “I think we should get back to Canterlot. You’ve got a date with a bed, and we’ve both got a lot to think about. I don’t think the scope of your current training regimen is enough, not for this. Leave it to you to push me to come up with something entirely new, but I am not going to leave my best cadet under-prepared.”

Tail puffed her chest. She could feel her lips involuntarily draw the cute little smirk she gave whenever somepony she respected injected her with a smidge of pride. “Such a flatterer,” she cooed as though she had the vapors, pulling a terse laugh from her guest.

“Don’t tell Amora—or anypony else for that matter,” he replied as Tail caught a glimpse of his own smug grin. “A certain pegasus might have grown on me, which really means that I guess I’m getting soft. Still, thank you—for showing me this.” The mare squeaked and blushed once Barrier snatched her up with his levitation spell. “You’re definitely not allowed to quit, Ms. Tail. That’s an order.”