XCOM: Ranger

by Wanderer D

Chapter 197: Nighttime


Chapter 197: Nighttime

By Wanderer D

Alejandra woke up when the door to the house opened. She was too tired to get up, so she just barely lifted her head as Gabby walked in, looking exhausted as well. The young griffon stopped and stared, as if suddenly remembering that she was there.

It wasn't surprising all things considered. The two looked at each other in silence for a moment, before the younger one crawled over and cuddled into the inner curve of Alejandra's current position, curling up and nuzzling her fur briefly before putting her head down on top of her crossed claws and taking a deep breath, which she let out slowly.

Alejandra remained paralyzed through all of this, looking at the younger version of herself doing all of this, her own feelings a jumble. It brought back memories she had wanted to leave behind.

Surviving the attack had left her alone, she had wished and wished for years to see her mom again. To hear her dad opening the door and calling out he was back, or to play with her older brother like they used to.

Once ADVENT had taken control of Earth, she had moved from settlement to settlement, at first with her distant family, but as they died off or lost interest, she had gone on her own, and even knowing that there was no chance whatsoever to see her parents or brother again, she still looked around, just in case, in every new settlement. She had kept doing that until she became a teenager and admitted to herself that the past was the past.

Now, in this world, she had unwittingly brought back hope to this young, beautiful griffon, who worked hard, tried to make friends in a town where friendship was discouraged, lived on her own… Alejandra had to admit to herself, that she was proud of Gabby from what she had seen so far, and she hated the thought of deceiving her, even if it was because she hadn't had a chance to explain herself earlier.

Still… they were both tired, and these thoughts were better left till the next morning. With a gentle smile, she wrapped her wing around Gabby and settled down, joining the young griffon in sleep.

"There you are."

Tala looked over from the top of the fence where she had been sitting, admiring the moon and feeling the wind flutter her wings.

"Fluttershy," she said with a nod, glancing up at the moon a moment after.

Fluttershy smiled, sitting next to the tiny warrior. It still amazed her how close they had become, given their differences. Unlike the others, Tala didn't seem to judge Fluttershy as much as the others. She was a bit rough when explaining her point of view, but she had never made Fluttershy feel like she was stupid for not agreeing with Twilight and some of the others on fighting.

"What are you thinking about?" she asked, looking up at the moon as well.

Tala didn't sigh, but she slumped a little. "Home. Earth."

"Oh?" Fluttershy glanced down at the breezie. "You don't like it here?"

Tala was quiet for a moment. "It is… nice. Were things different, I could see myself coming here to live a mostly peaceful life with Mr. Sticks. I'd like to explore this world, and see all the wonders that it has, like I never could on Earth."

"Then, why do you want to go back?" Fluttershy asked, genuinely curious.

"Because while I am here, others suffer and fight—and die—just to be able to do this exact same thing… to simply sit down, free of worries, and take in the world around them." There was no exasperation or annoyance in Tala's voice. It was simply how it was.

Fluttershy couldn't understand how somepony, or creature, would willingly be that cruel to others. Even though there were some… not very nice ponies… the worst so far she had seen were petty issues. There was no rampant death for disobedience; no rebellion of underground forces trying to bring down Celestia and Luna's rule.

Tala's world terrified Fluttershy. Not because there were wars—she knew Equestria had had wars before—but rather because of what she had seen it do to Twilight and others. Both, her friend and Sunset Shimmer were originally from Equestria, and had grown in a loving, peaceful world, but spending time on Earth had changed them.

She still had vivid memories of the guard Sunset had crippled when she had escaped the castle all those months ago. He was doing okay, (thank goodness!) but what she hadn't mentioned to the others is just how viciously calculated it had been. She might not be a nurse, but she was well versed as a veterinarian on how a skeleton was arranged. Sunset's crippling strikes hadn't been random—they had been fully calculated to incapacitate the guard in the most vicious and effective way possible.

If she hadn't been there to reset the bones…

She shook her head. And then there was Twilight. The change her friend had undergone still felt raw to Fluttershy. If she was honest with herself, it was also because of how Twilight was still herself, despite it all. She was still the nerdy, nervous, unicorn, eager to learn and loving magic with every fiber of her being.

When she looked at her friend, she couldn't comprehend how this sweet mare could—she shook her head, flashes of Sunset's horrible battle against the siren Aria flooding her mind. Their horrible weapons making creatures explode, the sound of breaking bones, of flesh being pierced, Sunset's tortured scream when she had been impaled through the thigh with that sword—

"It still scares you."

Fluttershy turned to look at the breezie, nodding slightly.

Tala looked away. "It terrified Sunset too, at the beginning."

Fluttershy blinked. There had been a slightly stressful sound in how Tala had said Sunset's name. She considered asking about that, but instead flowed with Tala's start. "Oh?"

"Yes. When she and Mox arrived at the camp, she had no idea what she was getting into. I recall Betos saying that she had tried to threaten them with a bat earlier, despite the guns. Until I came here, I could not understand her incomprehension on their deadliness. She was very smart… how could she have acted so stupidly?

"But here? Ponies don't use guns. There was no magic in that world, so she couldn't imagine how close she was to dying right then and there. I saw her go pale every time we walked past the shooting range for a couple of months. No doubt that thought crossed her mind every time."

Tala took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "This world of yours… I wonder how many times she saw it in her mind's eye when she was alone, cold and surviving as best she could. How many times has she thought about the princess when plasma is flying around, how many times her heart ached to be back where it was safe?"

Fluttershy felt a lump in her throat.

"I couldn't understand, despite her ambitious nature, how quick she was to trust in comparison to any other human I met. How she was so open to being with people that were so clearly a different species. It was a shock to find out that my clan sister was originally a cute little unicorn… someone that chose to stay because she believed in a cause and loved her friends, despite paradise being just across the mirror."

"You miss her?"

Tala shook her head. "I'm afraid I'll go back and she'll be dead. And I won't be able to ask her to forgive me for doubting her heart."

Fluttershy blinked, lowering her head down to carefully nuzzle the breezie. "What do you mean?"

"When Mox died saving her… I blamed her for being weak. I didn't want her back with us—Mox was a hero, and he had died for her." She sighed. "I think… now I have a clearer vision of who Sunset Shimmer is, and it speaks ill of me to not act on this new knowledge of her origins and character, and mend the rift I was creating. After all… one day I might not have the chance."

Fluttershy thought about Twilight and Alejandra and shuddered. Understanding was a two-edged sword, after all… now that she had more perspective from her talks with Tala, the onus was on her to act on it or not. And where they came from or were going, there really was a chance that she would never have the chance to even try if she waited longer.

"Come on," Fluttershy said after a long, contemplative silence. "Let's go to bed. We have a few busy days coming up."

o.0.o End Chapter 197 o.0.o