No Longer Displaced

by NoLongerSober

Chapter 22 - Barrier's Monster

Barrier disregarded the looks he drew from maids and guards alike as he stalked through the castle halls with a literal stack of books floating at his side. His destination was set, and he cared little for interruptions at this particular moment. He was having a hard enough time steeling himself for what would come before she inevitably dove into the literature. He owed her a story, and he was a stallion of his word.

“Where do I even begin?” the unicorn muttered as he marched. His cool eyes glazed over, and his body seemed to carry itself of its own volition while his mind meandered. He bit his lower lip at the thoughts and furrowed his brow. Concern wrapped its clutches about his features, and it wasn’t until a familiar voice dragged him from the trance that he realized he was already standing in front of the entrance to Tail’s room.

“Bringing her reading material already, Captain?” Amora’s teasing ambush figuratively flicked Barrier’s ear and drew his attention rearward. “Aren’t you turning into the sweetest thing? Though the pacing is a little weird.” She gestured in his direction with her foreleg after a devilish smirk unfurled across her countenance. “She’s not going to bite you if you go in, Hun. Last I checked, she was getting some grading work done.” Her pitch took a decidedly chipper swing. “She’s been a good little filly today, so I allowed it.”

Barrier flinched and quickly collected the rogue, orbiting books to reform a neatly arranged tower. “She’s up then?” Barrier’s tone was far more officious than it usually was. “Major, when do you think she’ll be able to safely move around?”

“Mmm, she’s responding well to my magic. Normally, we’d keep her in for five days, followed by a grace period of one or two weeks. Her body held up through the Las Pegasus trip though, and since we’re roommates, it’s easy for me to keep tabs on her. If she continues to show the same progress, I’d be comfortable releasing her sooner.”

“And what about full-contact activities?” he asked almost sheepishly, earning a temporary glare from the alabaster unicorn.

“Full two weeks after discharge. No compromises there, or I will bust your flank all the way to Celestia’s office.”

A frantic hoof wave from Barrier swiftly followed. “I wouldn’t think of challenging that, Amora. Unlike a rebellious filly we both know, I don’t condone kicking all the rules to the curb.”

“Mhm,” she hummed disbelievingly—in the spirit of her mischievous demeanor. “Says the colt who whisked her away to elope.

The stallion snorted and reached for the door. “Goodbye, Major. If you’d please make sure nopony comes in unless there’s an emergency, I’d appreciate it. I have things to discuss with Tail that are for her ears only.”

“Wait!” Amora shuffled forward, her brunette waves swaying to the steps, and she took a breath. “Thank you—for having her back. She seems more like herself again.”

“Eh, we’ll see about that,” Barrier replied once he rested his hoof upon the latch. “I have one more secret to share. I’ll accept your thanks if she still looks at me, or her training, the same way.” He turned his attention towards the edge of the door, popped the handle, and nosed his way into the room before the medic could get in another word.

Tail bit down on her quill when the sound of the opening door dragged her from the grading of exams. At some point, she had convinced Amora to go fetch her ceremonial lab coat and glasses—both of which had been donned to, as a pony should expect, set the right mood. “Hey, Cap’n,” she mumbled through her already engaged, quill-chomping muzzle. Her focus drifted to the levitating pile of books and her eyes sparkled.

Barrier pressed his lips into a thin line and trapped the breath that was likely meant to be one of his patented sighs. Without saying a word, he set the books down and passed along a single manila folder that he had tucked within one of the hardcovers.

Tail’s enthusiasm settled as she took hold of the documents. She opened the folder and briefly scanned, her sights rediscovering words she had seen months ago. “This is your service record.”

The damned wind escaped once Barrier finally readied himself to speak. His pause caused Tail to sit up a bit taller atop her bed, and she gaped at him with a studious poise. “No, Tail, it isn’t.” The stallion hesitated as a contorted expression squished the features of the mare’s snout. “It’s a half-truth put together by Luna to fit something that would make sense to you—that would make me the most appealing choice or something. With Luna, things are always vague, but I don’t have to be.”

Barrier stared at the mare with a cold, hard gaze that pulled her curiosity closer and closer to uncomfortable levels. She began to fidget atop the sheets, spurred in particular by the momentary injection of silence, and she puckered her lips as her brain sought to push those building questions to her tongue.

“There are some things I’m going to tell you, and you need to listen carefully, Tail. When I’m done, you won’t have to hold back, but until then, try not to interrupt me.” His magic retrieved his familiar time-worn flask, and he took a swig of the held alcoholic brew. “After this, there will be no more secrets between us, and”—he inhaled slowly—“if you look at me differently afterwards, then I’ll see to it that you have another way to move forward.”

Tail remained quiet as requested, though the way she threw an ear to the side, chewed on the inside of her cheek, and flicked her namesake all betrayed her desire to be loud. After everything she had shown him, how could he even hint at her backing away now?

“I did the things in there, but Luna left out the details. We did things—I did things that ponies today will never understand. If the princesses gave me an order, I would do it without question. If they told me to off some diplomat, officer, baker, whatever—I would do it for the good of Equestria. I killed a lot of griffons from the shadows and more than a few ponies.”

The muscles in his forelegs visibly tensed, and Tail began to shift her body towards the edge of the bed. She could hear the sorrow that drowned his speech, and she bit her lower lip as the unfolding scene made her heart push a painful, burning pulse through her arteries.

“I had to kill kids on the line who could barely curl their claws, and back then, I hated even them. They were dangers declared by the princesses, and so I defended Equestria at the cost of my own shit. I’m a monster, Tail—a murderer who did whatever it took because that is what my station demanded. An executor protected the land from those shadows so the masses would never even see them. That’s how it worked—before I was sealed with Princess Luna over a thousand years ago.”

Anger settled upon Tail’s mien as Barrier’s words became her thoughts. A thousand years ago? She internally fumed. A fearsome scowl cut the shape of her brow, and the incredulous statement drove several short huffs from her muzzle. The next sentence was on the tip of her tongue. Do you think I’m a buckin’ idiot? It was there, ready to spill from her muzzle and stab his blatant lies with the same rage she had pounded into Bonecrusher’s stupid face.

He couldn’t even look at her as he spoke. He was avoiding her scrutiny, avoiding her analysis, and boy, did she analyze. She peered incessantly upon his face, the way his features sagged, and the manner in which his standing frame buckled to each sentence. How can you possibly spin something like that to me now? How could you—

The pegasus froze after her maddened expression evaporated. Instead, she stared at him in complete shock. Somewhere amidst the pile of puzzle pieces in her brain, something suddenly clicked. Something made all the little jigs fall into place, and she realized, He isn’t lying. His combat experience not lining up with the relevant history? Mhm. His ability to tap Princess Luna’s magic? Yep. Why his fighting style was different from what even guards expected. Why Luna had given her that one damned book, and why he had lost absolutely everything…

“Sombra was the Captain of the Executors before me.” Barrier popped his flask again and took an even larger drink. “He was my teacher, my superior officer, my predecessor, and more of a father figure than even my own damn father. He was my friend. He fought those accursed griffons longer than most, and all he could think about was ending our war.

“I was just a grunt. I showed up on the front lines and scraped my way through battle after battle. I guess after a while, he just saw that I was good at killing things. He took me under his wing, and he began raising me to be an executor like himself. He taught me for ten years, molded me into what I became—what I am—a pony capable of terrible things.

“I saw what that did to him, though. I saw how that obsession guided his mind. One day, he told me he was going to the Crystal Empire. He told me he had found the way to end it all, but something was wrong. Executors were already a clandestine order, yet he told me he had to forego his rank—that it came with this job. His final request was for me to just call him by his name. No rank, no title. No order.”

Barrier grunted as tears swelled in his eyes. They quickly streamed down his muzzle, and the stallion moved with equal swiftness to rub the wet streaks from his coat. “I could have stopped him then, but I didn’t. I could have said something, but I was already every bit the monster he had become. It keeps me awake at night, you know? Maybe if I had tried something or asked more questions, then maybe I could have prevented the whole thing.”

Barrier’s voice cracked, and he tightly shut his eyes. “We had an absolute bond of trust, and I let him down. I let them all down, and in the end, I paid the price for it. I’m the last of my kind, but I can still do my part to make sure history does not repeat. What you’re doing”—the captain fell on his haunches, seemingly losing the willpower to stand—“it reminds me of him, and I can’t watch the same shit happen twice.

“I need to train you, not just this basic crap. You’re playing with shadows, but shadows don’t play!” Despite clenching his eyelids, tears continued to slip through half-choked sobs. The powerful cadence forced Tail from the bed, and she dragged her frame over the floor with short, shy steps, the patterings of which could barely be heard over Barrier’s unnerving cries. “They’ll suck you in, Tail! They’ll suck you in and one day you’ll wake up alone and dead just like—”

She could feel the heavy gulp that dropped down his throat. Her forelegs meandered around his neck, and her tired breaths held his address to the mercy of the stillness. The mare tightened her grasp and blinked a few times, freeing tears of her own that yearned to be free. “I won’t ever think you’re a monster, Captain. Monsters lose sight of love, and that’s one thing that you haven’t lost. If you think I need something, if you want to help me, then I’m not going to turn you away. I still stand by my choice. Just—um—just take it from the best cadet you’ve ever had?”

Barrier snorted through his noticeably congested snout. He didn’t move away from Tail’s soft, warm embrace. “Then, we keep going with no more secrets?” His question was met with a curt nod from the pegasus. It surprisingly drew a chuckle from the depths of his lungs, a chuckle which carried a sense of much-needed relief to the surface. “That little stunt makes you my sweetest cadet too, Rookie.” A long pause followed. “Faust knows how many laps that one will bring.”