One week later
After returning to Ponyville from their first large scale battle outside of Manehattan, the ponies of Equestria demanded an explanation. News travelled quickly as, overnight, the nation was at war. The sounds of flak and gunfire rang all afternoon throughout the gargantuan metroplex. For such a massive defensive mission, the Sun and Moon princesses could not lie to their ponies. They would not send such an overwhelming force to deal with a squabbling group such as the yaks or a force of mother nature.
As such, half of the truth was delivered to the ponies. Celestia’s speech was read aloud in all town squares throughout Equestria. The Achievement Hunters gathered with the rest of the ponies in Ponyville to hear it as well. Mayor Mare read it one early morning as follows:
Dear citizens of Equestria,
It is with a heavy heart to inform you that after millennia of peace from major conflict within these borders, the city of Manehattan became the target of an act of war. I also wish to give my condolences to the destroyed city of Fillydelphia. The ponies who lost their lives that horrid day will not be forgotten. Henceforth, a declaration of war is being made towards the offending party: the former Crystal Empire king and his allies, King Sombra. With this declaration, I am hopeful that you, citizens of Equestria, will cooperate towards the common goal of aiding the war effort by joining the ranks of the Royal Guard. Enlistment is open to ponies or otherwise, mare or stallion, who have passed their fourteenth winter. Request for combat roles must have passed their eighteenth winter. All skills are welcome. Enlistment stations are, as I scribe this announcement, being established throughout each city, town, and village. I pray my subjects will answer Equestria’s call to arms in these trying hours.
The Crew watched the mayor as she stepped down from her podium. The ponies scattered around the square began mumbling to each other. Some were whispers of actually enlisting, while others were of panic at the impending tide of war. As the ponies began to disperse, the Crew could see the small line of ponies forming adjacent to the podium.
A table had been set up next to the podium. This table had a Royal Guard captain with his helmet sitting on the table, allowing his shortly cut amber mane to be exposed. Alongside him were two lower ranking guards, standing by to quell any problems that could potentially arise. One by one, ponies answered the captain’s repeated three questions: “Name? Last winter passed? Skills to offer?” Occupations ranging from bakers and florists up to blacksmiths and mercenaries were quilled on a parchment register by the gold clad captain. Although many offered various occupations and skills, Geoff silently knew many would be sent with spear or sword in hoof to fight off the unknown amount of umbrums and changelings.
A week of self-rehabilitation later, Geoff was closer to his old self. He had decided it’d be best to stay with Applejack and Ray instead of inside Twilight’s castle. Too many memories in such a small amount of time were made there. Spending long hours on Applejack's farm helped clear his mind. Since Applejack took the week off, despite her protests, to unwind from the incident earlier in the week, Geoff took over her responsibilities. Within a couple of days he was talking once again. A couple days after that, he was laughing once again. He had grown close to the Apple family, hoping he wouldn't regret that choice later and relive the entire Twilight incident only a week earlier.
With Twilight in mind, Geoff remembered that a day or two ago, Twilight reappeared in her castle. Spike had let Geoff know that Twilight hadn't left the library unless she was to sleep or bathe. Spike also noted that she had not spoken to him at all of where she'd been, what she was doing, or what she plans to do next. He described her as if she were in a catatonic state.
Geoff could understand why she was doing this. He chose the same type of outlet, except his was more hard labor. Burying yourself in work can distract you from the problems and hardships life enforces on you. Geoff knew this too well and was not surprised to see Twilight doing the same. Once she feels better, he made it his top priority to talk to her and attain some much needed closure.
Dinner around the Apple family table had commenced that night as usual. Applejack came home from her last day off, anxious to get back to work on the farm. She normally sat next to Big Mac’s usual seat at the head of the table. Applebloom set the table. Once done, she sat opposite of Applejack’s seat, eagerly waiting for the food Applejack and Big Mac were preparing to serve. Granny Smith, too old to perform the serving or cooking of the food, sat next to Applebloom. Geoff took his own regular seat at the foot of the table. With Ray off to Rainbow Falls, the seat to Geoff's left was empty. Because they still considered him and Ray the “guests,” they never participated in the ritualistic setting of the table.
Once the food was served, he took a close look at the bowl before him. It looked like gumbo to him, but he could see soft apple slices poking up from the sweet looking broth. He thought he'd be tired by now of the apple-focused diet that this family served nearly every night. However, he didn't know how much can be done with apples and a little creativity in this world. The family and their guest dug in once the food had been served. A minute of silence passed as they ate, seeing how the food came out. After the minute, Applejack wiped her mouth and focused her attention to Applebloom.
“Alright, Applebloom,” she said, “how’s school been goin’ for ya?”
Geoff looked up from his bowl to listen to the conversation. Applebloom, according to Michael had gotten much bigger since the Nightmare Moon incident eight winters ago. Now almost Applejack’s size, Applebloom was growing fast.
“It's been okay.” Applebloom responded, clearly more interested in the bowl before her. “Same old, same old…. Ooh!” She perked her head up, “They had one of them royal guards come in and talk to our classes about the recruitin’ thing happening all over. Scoots and Sweetie said they wanted to join and help any way they can.”
Big Mac widened his eyes slightly at Applejack, spoon still in his mouth. She gave him a nearly invisible nod. Geoff could see where this was going, but decided to stay out of it and enjoy his meal. However, it didn't stop him from listening in.
“Now, sugarcube, ah hope you're not thinkin’ of joinin’ up with the guards there.”
“Why not?” Applebloom retorted with low volume, lowering herself to a slouch. She began picking at the contents of her bowl with her spoon. “Scoots and I are passed our seventeenth winter and Sweets is about to. How come they can do somethin’ like that but ah can't? Ah'm sick of workin’ on the farm. Not only would I be helping everypony, but I might find something I like to do.”
Geoff kept his head down and in his food. He glanced at Granny Smith to see her take, but she seemed oblivious to the whole conversation. Too many times Geoff has seen this conversation with parents and their kids back home. It was strange to see sister and sister though. He was thinking he should give some advice, but again decided to let them deal with it constructively.
“Ah know you wanna help and all, but-”
“So why won’t you let me?” Applebloom raised her voice a little bit. “You're always going on about helpin’ everypony, even if it means nopony’s lookin’. Now that ah have the chance to, you won’t let me. What if that's what mine and the girls’ cutie marks mean?” She glanced down at her flank to see the magenta apple enclosed by the shield shaped crest. “Maybe that's what my cutie mark is really about?”
The table went totally silent, with the exception of Geoff’s spoon occasionally tinking along the edge of the bowl. Applejack cast her gaze to the table around her own bowl, almost unsure of how to respond. Big Mac only looked at Applejack expectantly. After a minute passed, Applebloom got her napkin and threw it on top of her bowl. She stepped down from the chair, clearly frustrated, and walked away.
“Ah lost my appetite.” She said flatly as she disappeared around the corner leading to the staircase. Geoff watched her the whole way. Once gone, he returned his eyes to the conflicted Applejack, who now had a hoof to her forehead. Big Mac only sighed as he returned to his meal, slower than usual.
Geoff couldn't help but feel for them. At the same time, he could feel for Applebloom. Her desire to help took precedence in Geoff’s mind. He stood from his chair and took the bowl to the sink. After thanking Big Mac and Applejack for the meal, he made his way upstairs. His guest room was at the far end of the hall, across from Ray's guest room. He and Ray would need to pass by each family members’ room before their own. But before he returned to his room for sleep, he stopped at the first wooden door on the right. He gave the door a couple light taps with his index finger. He heard a muffled “go away,” as if the filly's face was buried in fabric.
“It's me. Geoff.” Geoff responded lightly. There was silence. He reached for the doorknob and lightly twisted, but it stopped before he could start. Locked. However, he could hear her whimpering become more audible until it was just on the other side of the door. He heard a click on the knob, then the whimpering receded back to their muffled state. He reached again for the knob and twisted. It fully turned, allowing him entrance to the filly’s room.
Although he'd helped her with her homework and projects she had for school, he'd never been in her room. It didn't look like a filly’s or a colt’s room. It looked like his own guest room: simple with essentials. He looked at the bed to see the filly in question with her face buried in her pillow, silently whimpering. He took a seat at the foot of the bed, trying not to disturb her sobbing. Before he could think of anything to say, she spoke between sobs from the confines of her pillow.
“Why won’t she...let me do… this?” After saying that, she visibly began to calm down. Her trembling became minimal and she raised her head from the pillow, wiping away tears with her forehoofs. She avoided eye contact, as she felt ashamed of her childlike reaction to the situation. Tears ran down her face in drops, as opposed to the torrents that obviously streamed down her cheeks just a few minutes earlier.
“Well…” Geoff began to think. Applejack was sort of the mother figure here since their parents’ location was unknown to the Crew. He tried putting himself in her shoes. An easy task considering his own daughter. “she cares about your safety. She only wants what's best for you.” Applebloom took in a deep breath and let it slowly, composing herself to speak.
“Ah know this is dangerous. Ah'm not a stupid little filly anymore. Ah can handle myself. And besides, ah won't be doing any fightin’.” She looked up at Geoff. “Ah just wanna do what ah can to help the ponies who are fightin’. Like you and your friends.” Geoff could understand her. That drive to assist others in need of it. He couldn't turn it down himself. The obligation and commitment burned something fierce in Applebloom’s eyes when Geoff looked into them. “Ah just want my sister to understand too.”
“I see. She'll understand at some point. Trust me.” He said, turning his eyes to the floorboards then returning them to the eyes of the growing mare before him. “Well, when you join…” Applebloom chuckled a small bit at his use of the word “when.” Geoff smiled a small smile at her change in mood. “what are you thinking they're gonna have you do?” Applebloom put a hoof to her chin and thought. She had the strength to do heavy lifting and hard work. Working on a farm her whole life made her the strongest in her school class. Even stronger than most of the colts there.
“Ah don't know, honestly.” She responded, truly unsure of what they'd have her do. She continually wiped away whatever dried tears remained on her face, her eyes puffy and red from crying. “Ah've been workin’ the farm ever since ah was old enough to pick up my own toys. They might have me do some heavy lifting.” She jumped up with excitement and stood on her bed. “Ooh! Think they'll let me work on one of those airships you told me about? Ah can move bales of hay from the ground to the top hayloft! Same as moving those big boxes of bullets for the guns on the ship.” Geoff patted her head as he shook his own.
“Let’s not get crazy here.” He said, with a smile. She only pouted for a moment before Geoff reiterated the battle from the past week. “Remember how the other airship from the Crystal Empire showed up?” She nodded her head. “Well it nearly tore apart the the airships we had. The last thing I think they'll have you do at your age is be on one of those. And that's the last place I think anyone in this house wants you.” She shrugged at the retelling of the event.
“Well, if they don't have me on an airship, then ah guess they'd have me at Canterlot doing somethin’ where it's safe, right? Last thing ah want is for my family to worry about me.” She sat back down, looking up at Geoff again.
“Sounds about right.” Geoff said as he confirmed the logic. She was still months away from reaching her eighteenth winter, so they'd probably put her in a support role, away from combat. All he hoped was that the military here would only put her in a combat position with her own consent once she hit her eighteenth winter. And that she would have the brains to remain in the support role. “Want me to talk to your sister about the plan?”
“No.” She said sternly. “Ah gotta do it. Otherwise, she won't see me as a grown up mare. She'll still see me as a filly who can't fight her own battles. But thank you for offering, Geoff.” She jumped up and threw her forelegs around Geoff’s neck, pulling him in for a hug. Geoff returned the hug, patting her back.
“I'll be behind you on this.” Geoff said over her shoulder.
Applebloom broke away and quickly sped out her door, down the staircase and out of Geoff’s sight. Geoff stood from the bed and left her room, closing the door behind him. He could already hear faint discussion from downstairs. Deciding to mind his own business, he made his way to the guest room, shutting the door behind him.
Luna's moonlight broke through his window, giving him just enough light to navigate his room. He laid his body down onto the bed. The coming summer made the air warm, as he never needed to make his bed from the covers’ use. He placed his hands behind his head, looking at his armor and his claymore in its sheath leaning against the nightstand across the room. He thought continuously about his own friends, except more so before he slept. He even got to thinking about the ponies in Equestria. However, the same thought passed through at least once per night: how could they save everyone without Ryan?
Geoff closed his eyes as he pondered the question again for the hundredth time this week. He didn't know if a pony would step up to take Ryan's spot. They are fresh out of humans and only have their own ponies to think about taking Ryan's place. He knows Luna would take the spot, but afterward…?
Geoff raised himself quickly from the bed, startled. The moon was higher now, as it began to drip off of the side of his bed to reach the floor. He had slept for some time, maybe an hour or two. He stood up from the bed and opened the door where the source of the tapping came from. Once open, he was met by a stetson-less Applejack, her eyes looking off somewhere to her right. She mustered up the words and made her eye contact with Geoff.
“Sorry, to bother you this late.” She spoke softly, hoping not to wake anyone.
“Don't worry about it.” Geoff said lightly as well. “What'd you need?” He asked this, but already knew what topic was coming. They were far enough away from Applebloom’s room to discuss this.
“Ah just wanna know somethin’.” She nearly whispered. “Applebloom was one pony goin’ up the stairs and then a totally different pony comin’ down. Ah just wanna know: what'd you tell her?” Geoff didn't peg the question as an upset one or one of annoyance. It seemed to Geoff that this may be her way of asking for advice more than anything else. He leaned on the door frame as he answered.
“Look, as a father, it becomes clear to you that what makes your child happy is what matters most.” Applejack’s face vaguely showed attentiveness, her eyes glazed and now pasted to Geoff, listening with great care. “You spend their first eighteen years raising them. When the time comes for them to make that first major decision, all you can do is rely on the hope that you raised them well. That you raised them smart enough to make the right decision. As a parent, you get behind them, support them as they go. If they don't like what’s there, you leave yourself open for them to come back and try again.” Applejack nodded, but remained quiet. Geoff realised he hadn't really answered her question but was merely prefacing. “What I told her was just that. That I was behind her on it.”
“Ah get that.” Applejack said, still unsure if that was really all Geoff could have told her little sister. “But ah just don't get why she was so… mature, just then. Like ah was talkin’ to a mirror or something.” Geoff chuckled at that.
“It’s because Applebloom looks up to you.” Geoff responded. Applejack scoffed.
“Well of course ah know that.”
“Then why do you think she seemed just as stubborn as you down there?” Applejack remained quiet, accepting what Geoff was getting at. “When I told her,” Geoff continued, “that I was behind her on joining up, she felt security. That security gave her the confidence to stand up for herself. Get me?” Applejack nodded, her eyes now becoming interested in the floorboards. She cursed herself mentally for not seeing something so obvious. She knew Applebloom was smart enough, now she was just accepting to let Applebloom go to do what she wants.
“Yeah, ah get ya.” Applejack returned her gaze to Geoff. “So what should ah do to make up for gettin’ on her keister at dinner?” Geoff was quick to answer.
“Take her to the recruitment table tomorrow. Don't ask if she's sure about it. And let her do the talking.”
“That's all? Ya think?”
“That's all.” Geoff raised his fist from his side, extended towards Applejack. She was unsure if that was enough for Applebloom to forgive her older sister, but Geoff seemed confident that it would work. Applejack smiled, returning the gesture with her own hoof. “Think it's time for us to get some sleep?”
“You're right.” Applejack agreed, “Ah’ll take her tomorrow in the mornin’ so we can be back in time for lunch. Thank you, Geoff.” She gave him a nod and began making her way to her own room.
“You're welcome.” Geoff whispered just loud enough for the cowpony to hear him. He shut his door once more for the night. Returning to his bed, he hoped the best for Applebloom and her friends. They all seemed eager to jump in and help. That drive, he thought, would take them far. As long as they worked as a team, they may have better luck than his own handful of friends. Drifting off to sleep, he dreamt of simpler times back in the office. He always wondered if the guys dreamt of things like that as well.