Ale woke up, his bed torn apart from his fight with the nightmares. ‘I wonder if Celestia’s going to kill me today.’ He sat up and watched the sunrise through his window. He jerked when he heard a soft knocking on his door. "Come in." Ale tensed as princess Celestia walked in. She stood a good distance from Ale as they observed each other. Ale broke the silence, "Is Luna okay?"
Celestia responded, "She's a little shaken up but fine. She wanted me to thank you for what you did." Celestia hesitated, "I also wanted to apologize for my actions last night. I was blinded by fear that my sister was dead and that you did it." Ale simply grunted. "Luna told me that there wasn't much you could do. I'm begging you please forgive me!"
Ale stood still, relishing in Celestias guilt. After a few moments he had enough of his fun and responded, "I accept your apology. I didn't know it would kill Luna either. Those bolts are non-lethal to humans. I should have thought better before acting." They stood there in an awkward silence. Ale spoke up, "What was that thing anyway?"
"Do you know what a changeling is?"
"I heard about them and I know about their failed invasion. I didn't know what they were though since Morning..."
Celestia looked up and had a look of sorrow on her face. Ale stood and nodded stiffly. Celestia had a look of understanding on her face and turned to leave. "I have to prepare for my students return tomorrow morning. You're free of your duties tonight. Do what you like."
Ale thought about their conversation and convinced himself that Celestia had forgiven him for his actions. After a few minutes Ale began walking down the hallway. He had seen a library the second night he was here and intended to learn as much as he could about Equestria. It wouldn't hurt to learn about these changelings as well. He stopped by a pair of maids. They didn't have a look of fear on their faces like they normally did when he walked past. Instead they seemed in awe of him. Ale expected them to be mad or disgusted from his actions last night. Ale asked them for directions to the library.
Ale saw a massive set of doors as he followed the maids’ directions. He opened them and gaped in awe. The library was MASSIVE. The shelves were easily three stories high and packed with books in all sorts of shape and condition. He browsed through and picked out books relating to geography, government, history, and other tomes. He began to speed read the small stack of books he had acquired. They were fairly simple to understand since most of their content matched the laws of humanity. Ale studied books about magic in confusion for hours. He was almost done and ready to head to bed when he finally found a book about changelings.
Ale did not like what he read. 'Their food source is any type of love. To get close to their intended victims they will change their form to a loved one. Then depending on the changelings appetite or desire to feed the victim can continue to live on unknowing of their fate or they can be drained rapidly resulting in death.' Ale closed the book and returned it to its rightful spot. Ale began to walk back to his bedroom, his mind reeling with all the information he had read. Ale reached his room and collapsed into his bed.
Luna got out of bed, wincing at the throbbing pain in her shoulder. Celestia was able to heal her injuries but Luna could still feel the dull pain. She trotted through the hallways towards Ales room. She knew he was asleep before she got out of bed. She knocked on the door gently. She heard slight shuffling and the door opened revealing the tall armored Spartan.
"Good morning Princess Luna."
"Good morning Ale. May I come in?"
Ale nodded and stepped aside allowing Luna to walk in. Ale shut the door and spoke, "Princess, I…"
"Tia explained everything. You do not have to apologize. I should be thanking you." She turned and faced Ale.
"It was my duty to protect you. You shouldn't have to thank me." Luna sighed knowing she wasn't going to win an argument with the stubborn soldier. They stood there in silence, Ale feeling a slight sense of déjà vu. Ale cleared his throat, "I should probably go check with the captain to see when my next shift is." He stepped past her and hastily walked down the hall leaving Luna to her thoughts.
Ale walked outside and opened his filters letting the crisp fresh air flood into his helmet. ‘This is much better than the recycled shit.’ Ale walked through the gardens, heading towards the barracks when voices caught his attention. He turned to his right and saw a group of ponies walking out of the castle into the gardens. He recognized the purple alicorn and the rainbow maned pegasus from his first day here. They saw him and stopped talking. The others gaped in awe at the massive super soldier while the purple one looked enraged. She walked briskly across the grass with the others in tow.
"Who do you think you are attacking Princess Luna!" the purple one yelled. The others weren't sure what to do, conflicting emotions racing across their faces.
"Twilight! Celestia said he was defending her from a changeling assassin!" the rainbow one jumped to his defense. The orange one gave her a look of shock.
She replied in a southern accent, "Since when do ya defend aliens Rainbow?"
"Since they saved my flank!" she retorted. They began arguing with each other when Twilight spoke up.
"You still haven't answered my question!" she yelled, causing the others to shut up.
Ale slowly dropped to a knee, his face level with Twilight, unnerving her. "I was sworn to defend her and I succeeded. I didn't have any other option. I don't exactly have magic you know." He stood and waited for her response.
Twilight reasoned his response and nodded glumly. The others seemed to calm down and Ale held out his hand to her. "My name's Ale." Twilight looked up and 'gripped?' his hand.
"Twilight. These are my friends Rainbow Dash, Applejack, Fluttershy, Pinkie, and Rarity."
Ale was intrigued at how quickly these ponies would forgive and forget. He noted these rapid mood changes. "Nice to meet you all."
Twilight looked at Ale, "So Celestia told us a little bit about yourself. She tasked me to learn more about you... at your discretion of course."
‘Why does she scare me?’
"Oh don't worry about that. Twilight may have a mad scientist lab in her basement but she won't dissect you." Ale looked at Pinkie.
"How did you…"
"Don't ask. It's just Pinkie being Pinkie,” replied Applejack.
"Okay then. Moving on." Ale walked towards the barracks with the others following him. Ale reached the barracks and browsed through a sheet hanging on the wall showing shifts and their respective positions.
A deep voice interrupted them, "The princess has informed me that you are hereby off duty until further notice. You are to accompany Twilight Sparkle to Ponyville." Ale looked at the royal guard who had spoken.
"Did I do something wrong?"
"She did not say. She wishes that you get acquainted with the populace."
Ale turned this information slowly through his head. ‘What's she up to?’ Realization dawned on him and he began to clench his fists. Twilight noticed this and looked up to him.
"Is something wrong?"
"I have to go,” Ale replied bluntly. He began to stiffly walk towards the castle gaining speed as his anger drove him on. He stormed through the hallways and opened the doors to the throne room. Celestia had a cool look on her face as Ale approached her. Ale blurted out, "You intend on keeping me here!? I took the job because you said you needed help and it turned out it was the right thing to do, but trying to hold me here?"
Celestia frowned, "I have no means of returning you from whence you came. If you know a way, please do tell."
Ale fumed in his armor. He was smart enough to not punch her in her royal face. He opted to return to his room and think about his options. Ale thudded down the halls and slammed his door in frustration. He sat on his bed for what could have been minutes or hours. Ale was about to lose hope until a thought hit him. He smacked his head in stupidity, "Of course! The Ember!" He stood and opened his door to find Luna standing on the other side.
"Ale! Are you okay?"
"I'm better than okay! I'm going home!" Ale replied gleefully. He then realized he didn't have a means of transport.
"How? Tia told me she couldn't get you home."
Ale hung his head, "I was going to go back to my ship, but I can't get there."
Luna smirked, bobbing his chest. "Stupid. Magic remember? Hold still."
Ale looked at her in confusion. "What are..." Ale felt a tugging on every fiber of his being. As he began to voice his concern there was a bright flash that blinded Ale. He regained his eyesight to find himself in a dark metal room. He looked around and knew he was standing in a briefing room aboard the Ember. He looked at Luna, "A little warning next time?"
She smiled and gestured with her hoof, "Lead the way."
Ale stepped forward and the doors slid apart. He walked down the hallway towards the command deck. Luna was drinking in her surroundings as she didn’t have much time to browse last time. He entered the bridge and immediately approached the navigation console. Luna watched as Ale pushed a serious of buttons on a display. Ale was happy to find that the slip space engines were at 27% operating capacity. They could still work. He turned to Luna, "The engines are working!" Luna smiled, hiding her true emotions.
"So this is goodbye?"
Ale turned back to the console as he input the coordinates for Earth, clueless to Lunas feelings. "Yep! Thanks for getting me here! You should get away from here while I jump."
Luna was hurt at his bluntness for her goodbye. She teleported well outside of the ship and watched in glum sadness.
Ale grew excited as he watched the engines power up for the jump. When they finally became charged he reached for the execute command. He stopped and hesitated. He thought about everything the ponies had done for him even if there were bumps along the way. They weren't lying either when they said they needed his help. He pondered over this before he steeled himself with the resolve of his duty.
With happiness he pushed the button. There was a loud whirring noise and then silence. Ale looked up and saw that he hadn't moved. ‘What?’
Luna cried silently, conflicting emotions burning through her. She couldn't tell if she should be happy that Ale was returning to his home or sad that he had ignored her feelings. She heard the ship whine loudly and closed her eyes. When the whining stopped she looked up and was surprised to see the ship still there. She knew something was wrong and approached the ship. She found her way back to the command deck and found Ale sitting against the wall. At the sound of her hoof falls Ale looked up. They stared at each other for a few moments before Ale lowered his head, shaking it sadly.