Wheeling their way over a small clearing, the griffons landed and deposited the injured marshal and his two guardians into the open space below. Once dismounted with a little extra aid, Graves looked about and let out a low, whistle of awe.
“Now this… this is a nice camp.”
It certainly was. Compared to the rest of the barren wilds around them, this land was positively lush with vegetation, which the girls had used to their full advantage. Sparsely leafed boughs stood lashed together to form solid shelters for their sleeping rolls, gathered piles of tough mountain grass served as additional bedding, and a small stream that gurgled nearby provided a ready source of water. But the most amazing treasure of all by far was the existence of a real, honest-to-Celestia apple tree. Granted, the trunk was tough and gnarled, and the bark had the unhealthy coloring of a swamp plant, but its resilient boughs hung with a choice selection of hearty, well-ripened fruit. Nothing on the perfection of a Sweet Apple Acre’s crop, but out here? A literal treasure.
And that wasn’t even accounting for the company.
“Like what we’ve done with the place?” Rainbow Dash called as she flitted over to where Rarity was helping the marshal down. “Beats sleeping out on a rock, doesn’t it.
“I’ll say,” Graves breathed. “This is… amazing.”
“And it’s all thanks to the griffons!” Fluttershy beamed as she scratched one through the soft, downy feathers around its neck. “After they lifted us out from the mountains, they flew us here so we could rest while Twilight worked on the spells. They’re such wonderful creatures, isn’t that right? Isn’t that right?”
From the way it chirped and purred, the little lady wasn’t the only one enjoying the process.
“But that’s not all,” Rainbow Dash sniggered as she threw an arm around Rarity’s slender shoulders. “See, we figured we’d be seeing the two of you again and you’d probably be stinking to high heaven when you did–”
“Well, you’re certainly no rosebud yourself…” Rarity began to retort before she paused. Actually, Rainbow Dash didn’t smell that bad. In fact, she smelled rather… nice.
“And of course,” the cyan flyer continued as she guided the pretty seamstress beneath tree bough near the water’s edge, “Rarity’s never happy unless she can shower, like, five times a day, so we decided to whip up a little something just for you.”
Slowly, sapphire eyes widened. No. It wasn’t possible. They couldn’t have. But when Rainbow Dash tugged a nearby vine to tip a woven nest of leaves over, she watched in rapture as the cascading stream of water broke up through a lattice of bound twigs to produce a million glittering droplets of liquid delight.
Yes, the girls had actually managed to build a working shower.
“It’s… it’s beautiful….” Rarity sniffed as tears once more came to her eyes. “I think I might just cry. Again.”
“Aw, don’t do that just yet,” Twilight beamed as she walked over with a levitating collection of smooth river stones. “After all, once we heat these up and plop them in, you can do it in a steamy bath and nobody will ever know.”
It was a nice thought. Too nice, because Rarity hadn’t even managed to touch the shower before the waterworks began. Fortunately, a sensible scholar was able to provide a necessary shoulder even as she refocused attention to more pressing matters.
“Anyway, how are we looking on medicine?” Twilight called out.
“Oh, right!” Fluttershy started. Darting back to the pile of supplies, she ran back with a handful of supplies and a pensive frown on her demure face.
“Well Twilight, Mister Graves,” she murmured, “the good news is that Rainbow Dash and the griffons managed to find some king’s grass and sage root. The not so good news is that it seems like you might, um… need more than we have.”
"You two have anything that might help?" Twilight asked? "Maybe something you picked up along the way?"
“Can't imagine what, but you're free to take a look,” Graves shrugged as held up his small side satchel that held all the meager supplies he and Rarity had to their names. Fluttershy gave a small, not particularly hopeful nod as she opened up the sack. That’s when her eyes went wider than they had upon meeting her first baby dragon.
“Oh my!” she gasped. “Is this what I think it is?”
Reaching in, the pink-haired girl pulled out one of the garlands of glowing moss that had lit their way just a few hours ago. Even now, it continued to glow with its soft, subterranean light.
“That?” Graves shrugged. “Just some lighting from the caves. Why, is it important?”
“Is it important?!” Fluttershy gaped. “Mister Graves, this is genuine Royal Nightbloom!”
“Eh, looks kinda like a glowing afro to me,” Rainbow Dash remarked as she squinted at the moss. “Seems like an awfully fancy name for such a poofy little thing.”
“Oh, but it deserves it!” Fluttershy earnestly nodded. “Royal Nightbloom is an incredibly rare plant that distills magic from the soil and stores it, making it incredibly revitalizing when consumed. Of course, it can only grow with the purest water, which is why it’s usually only found in very deep caves undisturbed by any sort of wildlife. But that's not important. What's important is that this little darling is actually one of the best herbal remedies we know of!”
“… You’re kidding,” Graves gaped as well. “How do you even know all this?”
“Well, I read it,” Fluttershy blinked in surprise. “It was in the file you gave me, remember?”
Remember? Of course he didn’t remember. The information he’d given her had consisted of literally hundreds of different plants and herbs. And she’d actually remembered the bit on incredibly rare and thus, impractical to rely upon shrubbery? Seriously, what were the odds of that? And what were the odds that their crazy rush through the rapids and who knows how many twisting turns and offshoots would actually toss them into the exact place where that knowledge could be put to use without them even–
Silver eyes lighting up with wonder, Graves glanced down at the heavy ring of swirling gold and silver on his right hand.
“Anyways,” Fluttershy continued, now with an excited smile rapidly growing on her glowing face, “if we just brew this up into a nice tea, then Graves should be feeling much better very soon!”
"Did somebody mention tea?"
Directing their attention upwards, the party found themselves looking at a flock of griffons as Pinkie Pie and Applejack made their grinning descent. Not even waiting for their aerial escorts to touch down, the two Ponyville girls bounded from their backs and dashed over with bulging bags held out with eager grins.
"Got a whole mess 'a quality stuff right here," Applejack smiled as she quickly upended the sack onto a clean, flat stone lying beside the fireplace. "We got some of yer basic vegetals, some nice turnips, button mushrooms, and an odd potato or two, but the real beauties are right here. A little rosemary fer her noggin, some ginger fer yer what's most definitely an upset stomach if I ever did hear one, a few clusters of nutmeg, an' even a bunch o' random berries!"
"A truly glorious supply of anthocyanins, catechins, and all sort of other wonderful ins to get you back on your feet!" Pinkie Pie beamed.
“Then I guess it's time I put my Saturday morning cultural studies to good use!" Twilight Sparkle beamed. Taking a generous clump of moss from Fluttershy, the lady scholar expertly plucked the glowing green clumps from roots and soil before tossing them into one of the few remaining tin cups that sat heating above the fire along with generous dashes and pinches of the other ingredients at precisely calculated intervals. In a matter of minutes, the process was done, and with a flick of her wand, she whisked away the excess heat from the metal, floated the cup over, and gave it to Graves.
“Bottoms up!” she grinned.
The marshal gave the drink a quick look. Smelling faintly of spiced berry tea, the cup now glowed with the same iridescence as the moss it came from. Turning grey eyes to Fluttershy, then Twilight, and back, he lifted the cup to his lips and in one gulp, drained its contents.
His breath hitched. What had simply tasted like a slightly sweet tea suddenly burst forth with radiant power. He could feel the magic, gentle as the palest moonlight, yet so potent as if distilled and focused a thousand-fold. The magic coursed through him as it flowed through the damaged linings of his stomach to suffuse his whole body with a sudden, soft glow. In a few moments, both the light and the sensation faded away, but not without leaving behind some definite and noticed change.
“Well?” Fluttershy smiled. “How do you feel?”
“... Better,” Graves blinked in surprise. "Lots better."
"In that case, drink up," Twilight laughed as she began the process once more. "Rainbow, mind grabbing the kettle from Rarity's bag? Might as well make enough for everyone, right?"
"Aw, yiss!" Rainbow grinned. But even as everyone leaped up to retrieve the supplies, Rarity paused, a little confused.
“My bag?” she frowned. “Twilight, I lost my bag back in those icky, icky swamps. Surely you remember that.”
A sudden flash of understanding passed through the other girls a flash that came with an embarrassed giggle as well.
“Yeah, about that,” Twilight Sparkle grinned. “So, in light of everything else that’s been happening, we sort of forgot to mention that one of the first things the griffons did was help us get back some of our stuff. Sort of a little apology, don’t you know? Anyway, some of them flew back to the swamp, and one of the things we managed to get back was your bag, along with all the–”
In a violet flash that impressed even the griffons with its alacrity, Rarity dove headfirst into the pile of supplies and began rummaging around like it was a half off sale on Canterlot's entire Diamond District. After a surprising number of extra blouses and slacks went flying through the air, Rarity finally emerged.
“Aha!” she called out as she triumphantly held up a small, silver-worked box overhead . “Oh my stars, darling! Of all the things you could have salvaged, this is by far the best. Possible. Thing!”
“Uh, Rarity?” Applejack frowned. “I know yer big intah the whole prissy pretty frou-frou nonsense, but… did yeh actually go about luggin’ around yer makeup all the way through these here woods?”
“Jewelry, dear Applejack, not makeup,” the pretty dressmaker corrected. “And if Pinkie Pie can carry around a pair of rubber chickens, I think a small box of baubles should be no problem.”
“It’s true,” Pinkie Pie readily grinned. “Chickens take up a whole lot more room than a bunch of rocks, don’t you know.”
“In any case, we haven’t a moment to lose,” Rarity gushed with delight just before she grabbed the marshal’s arm. “Come along Graves. We have work to do!” And before the marshal could protest, let alone finish his third cup of that wondrous tea, he found himself being forcibly lead away by Rarity towards the a smaller, more secluded clearing just off the camp proper. Once distanced from the rest of the group, the violet-haired beauty turned, gave the marshal a quick look over, and happily nodded.
“Very well then,” she smiled. “Off with your clothes.”
Before he could form a coherent statement, Rarity spun him around and neatly stripped off his coat like a particularly cooperative tangerine peel.
“Okay, what’s this about?” he frowned as he clutched onto the tattered rags of his shirt with a sudden, new-found attachment.
“Obviously, I need to get a good look at you,” Rarity continued even as dexterous fingers darted for the buttons on his shirt. “You clearly haven’t been feeling well, and I need to do something about it.”
“Appreciate the concern,” Graves replied as he quickly parried her nimble hands, “but I don’t see why you need to see.”
“It’s certainly much easier to work when you’ve got eyes on the project,” Rarity rejoined as she continued the relentless assault. Whether by virtue of her tenacity or a failing on the marshal’s usual prowess, the young lady quickly scored a victory as one button came undone.
“Not sure what you intend to do,” the marshal frowned. “You’re not exactly a healer.”
“No, but I have… plans…” Rarity huffed from exertion as she score yet another point.
“Care to let me know?” Graves grunted.
“I could show you if you’d quit being so stubborn.”
“Tell me first."
"In that case–”
Graves turned around at the sudden onset of a third voice and caught sight of five girls peeking out from behind a tree, a true cornucopia of expressions painted across their faces.
“So this is what you two do when nobody’s watching,” Rainbow Dash sniggered.
“Told yah, Dashie,” Pinkie Pie grinned. “Bow chika wow wow!”
“Honestly,” Twilight sighed, “couldn’t you two wait till after we got back to Ponyville? Or at least out of mortal peril?”
Graves had no idea what they were talking about until he turned around. That’s when he realized that after their brief struggle, the two were now standing awfully close together, Rarity’s hands on the two sides of a shirt that now hung unbuttoned down to his waist. Ah. That would explain Fluttershy’s wide-eyed stare of perplexed fascination.
“Um, do you mind?” Rarity sniffed, cool as a cucumber. “A little privacy now and again would certainly be appreciated.”
“Alright, alright,” Applejack laughed as she herded the others off, “We’ll be outta yer hair in a jiffy. Jess’… don’t stay up too late now, yah hear?” So it was with a good bit of headshaking, catcalling, and embarrassed blushing that the five left and gave the two the quiet they wished.
“… Huh,” Graves intoned. “That was–”
Shouldn’t have let his guard down. The instant after their friends departed, Rarity’s eyes flashed like blue lightning as she struck with equal ferocity. Without sign or warning, slender, serpentine hands snapped apart the last few buttons and the marshal’s shirt was stripped clean off.
“I knew it,” she tutted. “I just knew it.”
It was a bit difficult to see amidst all the old scars crisscrossing his chiseled form, but Graves had definitely made some new additions in recent days. Fresh gashes and lacerations stood out red and raw where skin hadn’t blackened with bruised and battered skin. It was to one of these that the young lady looked, a long, ugly welt of mangled flesh the color of rotten fruit that wound its way across his ribs.
“When did that happen?” Rarity asked as she gingerly touched the spot above the marshal’s third shattered rib.
“Jabberwock,” he winced. “After the late night run.”
“I see,” Rarity nodded. “Certainly were favoring that side of yours when we walked those caves. Now I can see why.”
“Wish you hadn’t,” Graves grimaced. “Not like you knowing will change anyth–” Words cut off with a sharp intake of breath as the violet-haired beauty examined his side with a good deal more force than she had to.
“I know it’s a tough habit to break, but do try and stop with your chest-hair bravado, if you can,” she continued, her admonishing tones accompanied by a truly dangerous glint in the eye. “Now, it seems that I have a good deal of work to do, so here’s what we’ll do. You will be so kind as to lie down and behave or so help me, I will take Applejack’s lasso and tie you to that tree over yonder and give you a much more thorough work over. Are we clear?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Graves saluted with as much respect as he’d ever given the general. When Rarity took that tone, she commanded respect and people gave it.
“Good,” the young lady huffed. “Now lie down. I need to get started right away.”
Really not understanding what she intended, Graves did as bidden and lowered himself to the soft grass below. He turned his head and watched Rarity prepare, first pulling out the small wand she kept in her wristband before opening the jewelry box and emptying it out. Eyebrows arched in surprise.
“Gems?” he blinked.
“Indeed,” Rarity smiled proudly. “I am going to take these and make you all better.”
Graves didn’t mean to scoff, but he couldn’t help it. See, lightning magic may have been hard to control, but it was miles simpler than the intricacies of healing magic. To knit back damaged tissue into working order was like sewing lace on a microscopic level with a hundred pound needle. Even a good two years of meticulous study had only ever allowed Graves to remedy minor injuries and refresh fatigue for each costly pull of the trigger, and it seemed that Rarity was proposing to do more than just that.
“I see we have a naysayer in our midst,” the young lady smirked as she began arranging various assortments of colored stones on the marshal’s scarred chest, their smooth facets deliciously cool against his skin. “Well, sir, you just sit there and prepare to be blown away.”
Eyes flashing with amusement, Graves settled back and let the lovely lady get to work. Touching the wand to each stone in turn, Rarity began to speak, a low, sibilant sound of equal parts word and music. Slowly, the stones began to glow as sparks of life stirred inside their crystalline depths. And that’s when the magic began.
He could feel it. Where once the cool sensation of smooth stone had been, Graves now could only feel a soft warmth radiating forth like rays from a fresh summer sun. The warmth permeated his flesh, working its way deep into his bones to wash away fatigue with ripples of cleansing heat. But there was more. As the warmth worked in deeper, it came to his side, where shattered bones lay, and core, where shredded organs sat. The pain didn’t disappear, but it faded. Ever so slowly, the mere sensation of sand grains on a beach washing out with a wave, he could feel the damage fading. He could feel himself heal.
“How… how are you doing that?” Graves gaped with eyes the perfect roundness of silver coins. “How in the name of holy mercy are you doing that?”
“Surprise!” Rarity giggled as a triumphant grin came to her face. “Do you remember our misadventures with the chimera?”
“No, completely forgot that one,” the marshal replied with a slight roll of his eyes.
“Then it’s a good thing I didn’t,” the young lady laughed. “You see, ever since that time, I’ve been wondering just what other properties gems might have in store. They certainly proved useful in that cave, did they not?”
“Indeed,” the marshal intoned.
“Naturally, I began to experiment and came to find that many jewels actually have a natural affinity to the healing arts. Peridots lend themselves to liveliness, garnets for vigor and strength, aquamarines to soothing coolness, and… well, the list goes on, but you get the idea. At first I didn’t put much stock in those findings – I’m a designer, not a doctor after all – but when a certain someone’s health and well-being became a major concern of mine, I decided I might as well apply myself to what might one day be a particularly useful skill set. Just in case.”
Graves looked down to his chest where an intricate pattern of jewels glowed with healing light. Then he looked up to those beautiful sapphire eyes that outshined every one of those rocks like the sun to candles.
“Anyone ever tell you you’re amazing?”
“On occasion,” Rarity beamed. “Now hold still.”
Graves did as he was told and lay down again, content to let the soothing light work through his battered form. Ever so slightly, like watching the sun sink at dusk, he could feel some of the pain and exhaustion seep away. Each passing minute made breathing just a bit easier as bones, while not quite mending, slowly began to connect into something more than a mess of fragmented shards. It would be too much to hope for his injuries to heal so quickly – that would be a stretch for even a whole team of healers. For now, though, the edge of pain was dulled as the process began, and that was well more than enough.
After a few minutes, Rarity stopped and the glittering light from the stones faded away. Graves moved to get up, but a soft touch to his forehead preceded that act.
“Uh uh uh,” the young lady tutted. “Did I give you permission to leave?”
“Aren’t we done?”
“Not in the slightest,” she smiled. “You may feel better, but I can assure you that the stones are accent pieces at most and their effects are far less extensive than what you may feel. We’ll have to repeat the process several times before the effects even really start to take hold.”
“Well, what’re we waiting for?” Graves grinned. “Let’s get–”
“Something wrong?” Rarity asked.
Just a few minutes. Really, she’d only been at it a few minutes, but already, he could tell that she was tired. Sure, she hid it well – Rarity could keep composure in a conversation with a banshee – but even she couldn’t hide everything from his piercing grey eyes. Her posture dipped, her head drooped, and that fiery glint in her sapphire eyes had faded to an ember’s glow. She was healing Graves, this was true, but she was doing it at the expense of her own vitality.
“You’re worried,” Rarity stated, reading the expression on his face like a book.
“Can you blame me?”
“Honestly, no,” she sighed. “Right now, I sort of understand how you feel all the time, putting the needs of others first. It’s exhausting.”
Graves was about to speak, but a slender finger pressed to lips halted the words.
“It’s just like I said earlier,” Rarity laughed as she trailed the finger up the side of his face to entwine it in his jet-black hair. “You can’t fight everything on your own, but can trust others to help.”
“You make it sound so easy,” Graves frowned.
“And yet it isn’t,” Rarity smiled softly, “especially for you. I know it's hard for you to watch others struggle on your behalf, but trust me, there are people who can and will if you'd just let them."
“… Not gonna be easy,” Graves muttered.
“Then consider it indulging me,” Rarity laughed. “After all, if you go running off and getting into trouble, who’s going to make me feel like the prettiest woman in the world?”
“Well, we wouldn’t want you to miss out on that,” Graves laughed before his face faded into somber consideration. “So, you really want to do this?”
“I for you, and you for me,” Rarity smiled, more radiant than the shining moon above. “For now and forever more.”
Graves looked up at the woman who took his breath away. He could see the weight of their travels on those slender shoulders, the fatigue and exhaustion of trial after trial hammering her down. She was well past the point anyone could have expected of such a young lady, past anyone really. If he did in fact rely on her, depend on her for strength as she wanted, he very well might end up breaking her.
In the end, it all boiled down to trust. Did he trust Rarity to endure? Did he trust Rarity to be strong enough when he himself was not? A final look into those bright sapphire eyes, so full of pure, unshakable love that it almost hurt to look at, and...
“… In that case, I'll be-"
Graves glanced up at the noise and looked on in surprise as five girls once again came tumbling from behind the tree.
“See, told yah we should’ve spit up,” Applejack huffed. “Didn’t need to cram in so tight right there."
“Come on, that was the best spot and you know it,” Rainbow Dash retorted. This caught Rarity’s attention.
“Best spot for what, may I ask?” she smiled sweetly with a dangerous glint in her eye.
“Oh, not much,” Pinkie Pie replied with an innocent whistle, “and we certainly weren’t peeking from behind the tree in hopes of catching two you mid canoodling. Nope, definitely not that.”
“… How long were you listening?” Rarity sighed.
“Long enough to know that it's not just you two in this,” Twilight giggled. “After all, you’re not the only one worried about Graves here.”
“I’m very worried,” Fluttershy interjected with a shy smile. “You might even say I’m a professional worrier.”
"Yeah, worried and, uh... sorry, too," Applejack grimaced as she pulled off her Stetson. "Twilight said y'all already traded words on it, but I really do wanna 'pologize fer givin' yah hard time when you were in such a start. T'warnt right in the slightest, by my reckonin'."
"Yeah, you were kind of being a-" A quick elbow to the ribs from Pinkie Pie helped the colorful flyer readjust her wording. "I mean, yeah. What she said."
"Anyway, jess wanted you tah know that we've got your back from here on out, marshal," Applejack nodded firmly. "Long as you'll have us, that is."
Looking around to the others, each of whom shared a similar degree of the farm girl's warm, but steely resolve, Graves brought up his hand to cover a rough cough.
"Ah, in that case... I'll be counting on you. All. All of you. I'll be counting on... um... yeah..."
It was a touching moment. It really was. But no matter how poignant it may have been, not even stern, old Feather Duster could have kept a straight face at the marshal's words. So stilted and stiff, yet so heartfelt at once, the sheer adorkability of his statement brought out fresh peals of ringing laughter as the girls rushed in to resume the hugging that they did so well.
"Someone please shoot me," Graves muttered as he closed his mortified eyes.
"Now now dear," Rarity smiled. "After being a sour puss, you owe them this much at least this much."
"Yeah, you were kind of being a-" Rainbow Dash began once more, only to get a timely interruption from Fluttershy. Time and place, you know? Time and place.
“Alright, alright,” Twilight clucked as once more she was called to the role of sensibility. "Pinkie Pie? You and Flutters go and get started on dinner, if you please. Rainbow and Applejack? See if you can scrounge up some more of those herbs and what not. I want to pump so much tea into the marshal that it starts coming out of his ears.
"You got it, boss!" Rainbow Dash saluted. In fact, all the girls saluted in what seemed to be an increasingly well-practiced maneuver, which honestly, Graves didn't find all that surprising. Just days before, she’d been nervous and tense, caught in the no man’s land of indecisiveness that had ended more lives than swords and spells combined. Now, her amethyst eyes were clear, happy and bright, but underscored with a serene calm that was distinctly reminiscent of a certain royal monarch.
"In the meantime," Twilight continued, kneeling down beside Rarity once she was sure her wayward flock was well on task, “I was wondering if I might be able to give you a hand here?”
“I’d certainly appreciate it,” Rarity nodded with a relieved smiled as she replaced the gemstones that had tumbled off in their impromptu hugfest. “Do you think you’ll be able to get the hang of it soon?”
“Oh, I’m a fast learner,” the young mage giggled. “If you do it one more time, I think I’ll be able to get the gist of it. We can alternate after that and hopefully, share the load.” The happy squeeze Rarity gave her was all the response she needed.
"Also, there's one more thing I'd like to recommend," Twilight began, this time, turning directly to Graves with the question. "Call it a hunch, but I’ll be you haven’t been sleeping very well this trip, have you Graves?”.
“I’ve had better,” he shrugged. "Why?"
“Well, a sleeping spell's pretty easy to conjure up," Twilight shrugged. "I could whip up one and make sure you have a nice night's sleep. But..."
“But?” Graves inquired.
“But I could also do more. If I tweak it up a bit, I could put you into a super deep sleep, almost like a healing trance. You’d definitely recover much faster than normal, but the catch is that you won’t come back up till the spell's over.”
“I see,” the marshal nodded. “And how long would the spell last?”
“If we want to do it safely, and Celestia knows we do," Twilight frowned as she ran various calculations through her mind, "then the narrowest immersion and reclaiming cycle would require… three days. Two at the earliest.”
“So I’ll be out till the solstice,” Graves murmured. Of the many things he may have neglected, the mission clock had not been one of them.
“I know it’s a pretty big risk,” Twilight began explaining as she saw the dark cloud cross over the marshal’s face, “but you really need the rest. If you take it, then it’ll make Rarity’s healing gems work a lot more efficiently, I’m sure of it. Plus, not moving around will make your wounds heal a lot faster, especially if we take some Royal Nightbloom and wrap them over the bigger ones. There’s a lot of benefit from it if–”
“–if I just trust you all to take care of business while I’m out colder than a frozen corpse.”
Graves didn't mean to be rude. Far from it, He just needed to voice the idea so he could fully grasp its implications. Two to three days was a lot of time to be unconscious, especially so close to the deadline. If he went down now, then there’d be no more time to plan and no more opportunities to prepare for the upcoming battle. If he took this deal, then he'd be doing nothing till Armageddon came, which sounded an awful lot like abandoning his duties in protecting them like he'd promised.
But the goal wasn’t just to protect, was it? It was to make sure they got home. Maybe this actually would increase the odds, but he’d have no way of knowing till the morning of. By then, he might be waking up to a charred wasteland after a chimera finished its rampage. Even worse, he might not wake up at all.
All this rested on him trusting others to carry on when he could not.
“… You sure we can make it to the Gate the day of?” Graves asked.
“The griffons have promised to give us a lift,” Twilight nodded.
“Is the camp secure?”
“We put up some warding around already, but we’ll make sure the valley’s covered before we sleep for the evening.”
“And what if we’re attacked again? What then?”
“Then we’ll just find a way to beat them back,” Twilight smiled. “Between the six of us and our new allies, it’ll take Nul himself to make us back off an inch.”
For a moment, as Twilight Sparkle looked down on Graves in expectation. Caught in a moment of uncertainty, it was the gentle touch of a violet-haired beauty and a simple, reassuring smile that finally tipped the scales. Taking a last, deep breath, Graves sighed out and looked to Twilight once more. Glancing once more to the swirling sands, Graves finally turned his gaze up to Rarity’s waiting sapphire eyes.
“Alright. Let's do it.”
Replying with a resolute nod, Twilight pulled out her wand and began a litany of gentle, whispering spells. Slowly, a fine measure of golden sand poured out into her waiting hand, lighter than faerie dust and glittering with a hazy, dream like light. When the measure was full, Twilight lifted the sand to the marshal's face and softly blew forth a cloud of ephemeral, shimmering light. Instantly, he could feel his eyes grow heavy as the comforting lull of slumber overtook him, but it did not take him. For a moment, panic came back, welling up in his chest as he desperately fought to stay awake. There was danger around; he couldn’t afford to sleep just yet.
But then slender fingers touched his hand.
And slowly, the marshal gave in and led the dark tides take him.