Nighttime had settled upon the City of Canterlot just after Tail woke from her slumber. She stood proudly and stretched out her legs and wings. Nearly a week of reconditioning with Captain Barrier had done her wonders. She released a happy, humming sigh to the privacy of her bedroom while her chocolate-colored sights wandered to her journal.
She had a little time. Sally could wait just a while longer. There was nothing wrong with a little bit of reflection. After all, so much had been settled in the weeks since Amora had allowed her to come home. Beginning to flip through the pages, the pegasus giggled at the thought. “Well, perhaps not settled, but certainly improved.”
Day 42 — Two days since we’ve been home. Totally right about the pillows, by the way. The hospital’s pillows are atrocious. Ams, if you ever read this, shame on you for snooping! You’re the best though, but you’re totally snooping.
Anyway, today was the first day you spoke to Indar and Bonecrusher after the whole fight thing. Tail frowned as her eyes ran over that specific sentence. It wasn’t her finest moment, and— Stop making that frumpy face, future me! You knew it’d have to be done the moment Captain Barrier mentioned commanding the squad.
Gingerly, Tail made her trek down the hospital corridor towards Bonecrusher’s room. Her pacing remained steady, though the wide-eyed, gaping expression plastered upon her head did little to hide the anxiety that was teeming in her mind.
A second later, a fiery scowl replaced the lifted curves of worry. “She insinuated some pretty nasty things,” the mare muttered as her heart started thumping to the corresponding spike in adrenaline.
Whoever thought up the concept of fight-or-flight was clearly not a pegasus. Tail rode the wave, quickened her stride, and barreled into the earth pony’s room with the kind of zest that yanked the attentions of those present. If it weren’t for the bandaged wing, she would have quite literally flew-and-fought. Upon entering, however, Tail froze midstep at the behest of Captain Barrier’s gaze.
Briefly gesturing towards Bonecrusher and Indar, he spoke without missing a beat, “Perfect timing, Cadet. I was just talking about you with your fellow squadmates. As I was saying, Tail will be taking command during the Summer Sun Celebration, and a special guest will be taking my place as your fourth.”
Ever the professional, Indar simply bequeathed his officer a curt nod and remained silent. The mares, on-the-other-hoof, displayed that they had other things on their minds. Bonecrusher’s nostrils flared at the mention of command, and her eyes had not moved from Tail’s equally unwavering stare.
“This will serve as Tail’s final B.C.T. examination. It’s a few weeks early, but I want to move her onto other things as quickly as possible. For the two of you”—once again, he pointed towards Indar and Crusher—“the celebration sortie will serve as a different kind of evaluation. I still have two weeks to fit in some one-of-a-kind stuff for each of you, and I expect it to be earned.” Barrier paused for a moment to clear his throat. “Since the two mares in the room decided to beat the shit out of one another, there is definitely more than enough to prove.”
The pegasus spread her wings and kept her focus centered upon Bonecrusher’s jaw. Scar lines showed through the short lime fur—jagged lines that Tail had placed there herself with the bolt strike. The physicist within attempted to push regret to the surface, but the cadet’s stern poise tightly clenched a phantom ache that lingered in her healing wing. She lifted her muzzle as that Hurricane pride within her swelled. That regret would always be there, yet at the same time, her actions had placed her on top. She could go hoof-to-hoof, and Crusher was proof of that.
“I need to talk to my private,” Tail uttered flatly, “and I need to talk to her alone.” She waited until the gears clicked in Barrier’s and Indar’s heads, and she blatantly ignored the scowl that came to cut a swath through Bonecrusher’s countenance.
“Alright then,” Barrier added upon turning towards the exit. “We’ll have more briefings later, though I wanted to remind you that this is an overnight event. I believe I left that out.”
“Thank you, Captain. We’ll all speak later. I still have questions for you, and I want everypony on the same page. First, however, I have some business to wrap up that I’ve let go on for far too long.” She fell silent, only waiting for the boys to vacate the room before continuing to speak with her cool, commander timbre. “I’m not sorry for kicking your ass. You deserved it after what you put me through. You were the one who attacked me. You were the one who put me in here, and you were the one who said shit about Captain Barrier. The only one you have to blame for that is yourself.”
Bonecrusher snorted while her tail aggressively darted about. She huffed through her wired muzzle and began to roll towards the edge of the bed until Tail’s loudening voice outflanked the budding maneuver.
“Don’t even think about setting weight on that leg! Honestly, you are easily the most stubborn mare I have ever met. For the first time in your life, just rest there and listen to me. I’m not sorry for kicking your ass, but I am sorry that things started the way they did. I should have studied up on proper respects, and then, maybe none of this would have went down the way it did. However, both you and Indar could have done more to help me understand what I fucked up. There was plenty of time for a meaningful correction. I was an outsider. How could I have possibly known all the ins and outs? Instead of bringing me into the fold, you chose to make me a target.”
She threw one of her lavender forelegs out to the side. “I don’t really give a damn about that now, though. I’m not going to make excuses for it. Our careers both survived what others have not, so I’m not going to beat around the bush anymore. You need a good showing to get to the end of Barrier’s course, and I need you to be my actual squadmate for this exam. If we can, I’d like to move on from this, Bonecrusher. I can put it behind me if you can.
“You might be a bitch, but you’re my bitch—” Tail squeaked, and her feathers ruffled the instant she had said it. The crisp guard tone fled her words, leaving behind that sheepish physicist. “Shit, that came out completely wrong.”
Bonecrusher gawked at the pegasus. Her coat stood on end for a couple seconds as her mind digested Tail’s statements. Suddenly, the anger vanished from her face. The earth pony’s tail flopped along the side of the bed, and she chuckled. She actually chuckled.
Day 48 — Still not cleared for combat activities, though Amora has approved light exercises to help keep my fitness up. She’s a bit obsessed with the possibility that I could overexert my wing. It feels fantastic. Her magic really works wonders, and I’m grateful to have her as my roommate even if she can be a total mom at times.
I went to the field today, and I am really glad that I did! Barrier and I had a conversation about nighttime operations. No, silly Future Tail, that was not the exciting part. Princess Luna and Captain Barrier sparred, and it was one of the most amazing things that I have ever seen. The way they moved and how they executed their strikes! It was all in a league of its own!
“Down to business, Cadets!” Barrier shouted after firmly thrusting his forehoof upon the grass. “We’ve had our fair share of distractions, and that has cut into our sparring time as of late. We have a little under two weeks until the longest day, so until then, we’re limiting our raw sparring time to focus on group cohesion and movement—and I do not mean that standard rank-and-file guard program.”
Indar raised a hoof, an act which prompted Barrier to pivot his introduction. “Yes, Indar?”
The corporal dropped his leg until it pointed to the left of the captain’s position. “With all due respect, sir, why is Princess Luna here for you to tell us this?”
Barrier grinned widely after the question perked his ears. He drew a breath before responding with a tone drenched in silky satisfaction. “I’m so glad you asked. She’s here to help demonstrate the heights you should all aim to achieve—and so that we can help knock off some of our rust. Sparring with trainees is one thing; sparring with an alicorn is another. Figured you all might enjoy watching. Honestly, the only show that has a chance of topping this is if Colonel Trigger and I went at it, but that bout would likely cause a lot of collateral damage. We get very caught up in the moment, more oft than not.”
The three cadets gawked with widened eyes and dilated pupils as the concept sunk in. Tail fidgeted with excitement, though she couldn’t help but ponder if Barrier was out of his mind. Her thoughts flashed back to her backstop breaking shot, and she winced at the power even this friendly contest could bring. Taking on an alicorn—
“Keep your focus. We’re going to go all—” The unicorn was cut off as a beam of midnight blue tore through the morning air. At the last millisecond, a hexagonal shield winked into existence and redirected the thaumic burst towards the heavens.
“An opponent will not wait for you to finish your monologue!” Luna gleefully squealed, basking in the joy Barrier’s gritty composure brought to bear. The royal sister had taken the opportunity to create significant separation between herself and the unicorn, a move which Tail internally noted likely played to the diarch’s strengths.
The captain didn’t give the alicorn the satisfaction of a reply. He hurled his own castfire—a painfully bright light that leapt from his horn. Intent on closing in, Barrier took off at a gallop the instant the shot was airborne.
With an almost lazy flick of her horn, Luna wiped the beam from existence—only to find Barrier crouching down directly in front of her position. He quickly bent one of her forehooves in the wake of a quick jab before a hind leg swept to the other. He smirked as the princess lost her balance and pitched forward, and he thrust his head upward to deliver a vicious headbutt with the top of his skull.
Luna had other plans. Her wings unfurled before Barrier could land his third strike. The purplish cascade of feathers dropped to the ground and produced a rush of wind that brought the Princess of the Night to stand upon her hind legs. Just as the cadets committed that awesome image to memory, Luna shifted to stomp her charcoal pony challenger.
Barrier’s horn glowed in response. He vanished just before Luna’s hooves dug into the soil, and with a degree of frustration plastered upon the angles of her brow and lips, the princess followed suit with her teleportation spell.
The pair reappeared a short distance away from where they had been. Luna chained her sudden transposition to a hard kick, only to groan as Barrier vanished into another flash. The alicorn was seemingly unable to feel out the magical trail left by the unicorn, and she whipped her head around in surprise once his weight slammed upon her withers.
Tail gazed at the spectacle with a degree of familiarity. Barrier quickly slid over Luna’s barrel, pinning her wing and throwing her center of mass enough to send the princess toppling to the side. With practiced movements, the captain maneuvered his hind legs around the alicorn’s body and straightened his frame. His forelegs snaked around her throat and horn, effectively locking the diarch in place.
Her legs scrabbled uselessly at the ground, but there was little she could do to gain any traction. Frustration sprouted in her grimace as a grunt emerged from her lungs, and the cadets each looked upon the sight with varying degrees of inquisitivity. After several seconds of being subjected to the chokehold, the Princess of the Night teleported out of it.
“Barrier didn’t follow that one either,” Tail whispered quietly after taking note of the momentary confusion that affixed itself to Barrier’s wandering glances. Her window of observation did not last for long—as Barrier quickly popped himself onto his hooves—but Tail had correctly picked up that Luna had flawlessly duplicated her captain’s spell. “Her ability to use magic effectively wasn’t impeded either.”
Both Barrier and Luna broadly grinned as their manes clung to their necks with the glowing sheen of mutually earned sweat. The pair began to slowly circle one another, and the distance between them gradually evaporated as each pony geared up for Round Two. “I do believe I forgot how fun this was, Captain.”
Day 59 — Tail peered upon the otherwise blank page. In the ten days since she watched Captain Barrier’s incredible match with Princess Luna, she had recovered a significant portion of her strength and stamina. The squad had practiced maneuvers, and they had sparred in the night and through the early morning hours to prepare.
A smile spread across Tail’s muzzle while she began to strap various armor plates to her body. She didn’t need any more reflections for today. She had her squad; she had her mind, and Barrier had trained her well. Warmth blossomed in her chest as something Trigger had said cast an echo from her memories. “This is where I belong,” she whispered to Sally. “Let’s go take our final exam.”