Magic Barrier groaned pitifully as the sound of a mare reached his ears, rousing him to consciousness.
“C’mon girls, we gotta hurry!”
“Hold up, AJ, what’s that?”
A number of hooves slid to a halt, which was followed by a pair of gasps.
With a particularly throaty heave, Barrier staggered upright and turned to address… five young mares without armor or weapons.
Have I taken leave of my senses…?
“Who the hay are you?”
Barrier blinked in surprise as the cyan pegasus set herself in front of him and eyed him warily; for some reason, it brought him great amusement. Barrier opened his mouth to reply, only for another burst of light to break through the dusty towers of the windows and light the courtyard.
All five of the mares gasped and took up their gallop once more, bolting right passed the confused stallion.
“Are you all mad?!” he shouted out, limping after the mares tiredly. “Blasted fools…” Barrier’s chest tightened slightly as he glanced at the giant spiral staircase the group had sprinted up. Reaching a hoof under his breastplate, the stallion pulled out a small brown sack, pulling several short and woody stems, shoving one in his mouth, quickly grinding it up and swallowing before sticking another stem in his mouth to chew on. Hopefully the rush would come sooner than later. He’d need all the help he could get for what was no doubt coming.
Taking a deep breath, the stallion started up the stairs, slight relief flowing through him as the roots did their work.
A familiar voice reached the unicorn’s ears as he finally reached the top of the tower, “I'm so sorry! I missed you so much, big sister!”
Princess Luna… With a final effort, the stallion stepped into the room, his eyes resting on six mares and both of the princesses. Almost subconsciously, a smile came to his face as he watched the two embrace, sagging against the ancient door-frame… which promptly gave way, sending the stallion to the ground with a painful crash and drew the attention of everyone in the room.
“Of course,” he snorted, “it simply wouldn’t do for our universe to bestow a break upon me.”
“I’m pleased to see you’re well, captain.” Celestia carefully removed her wing from her sister and made her way over to him, followed closely by the smaller blue alicorn.
“Doesn’t look all that well,” the cyan pegasus from earlier commented idly to her friends.
“Captain?” The purple unicorn glanced uncertainly at her mentor. “But Princess, I thought…” she fell silent as the princess raised her hoof and smiled reassuringly to the smaller pony.
“I believe introductions are in order, but perhaps it would be better if we did this elsewhere?” Her gaze once more drifted to Magic Barrier. “Are you able, Captain Barrier?”
Barrier glanced briefly at the six mares and Luna, who appeared to have shied behind her older sister when his gaze met hers and returned his back uncomfortably in kind. “I shall manage, Your Highness, though I may need to visit the infirmary whenever we reach our destination.”
“How are you even walking around?” A light amber unicorn was carefully pressing along Magic Barrier’s back and shoulders, his attentions gaining little more than an occasional flinch out of the stallion. “I really must recommend he be admitted, Princess.” The doctor turned around to face the alabaster mare, adjusting his glasses slightly. “He has notable fractures along his shoulders and hip, as well as several hairline fractures elsewhere. There are a number of poorly healed lacerations that could use some help as well. He should be hospitalized for at least a month.”
“That will not do, doctor,” Barrier spoke up as he moved out from behind the magically-charged x-ray screen.
“Doctor, could you give us a moment?” Celestia asked softly, receiving a nod from the doctor, who quickly departed, mumbling something about fetching casts and bandages.
“Captain, how aware are you of the current situation?”
Barrier opened his mouth to reply but found no words forthcoming as his mind ran rampant. “Not terribly, Princess…” he confessed, realizing he’d given the dilapidated state of the castle little to no thought before now.
Celestia took a deep breath. Such a thing was never easy to do, much less to a pony as undeserving as Magic Barrier. “As you may remember, you were blasted with the Elements of harmony, along with my sister.”
The stallion nodded.
“You and my sister have both been gone from Equestria for one thousand years, Captain Barrier. The Equestria you remember and the Equestria of today are very different animals.”
Barrier’s breath hitched in his throat almost immediately. As a captain, he’d always had a very analytical mind. Anytime a scenario was presented to him it was almost instinct to try and think of - and plan for - every possibility. “Then my team…?” Barrier began, “Braeburn, Flash, River…?”
“I’m sorry, captain…” Celestia gazed sadly at the floor before turning and departing, leaving Barrier alone.
Celestia glanced at the seven mares - the elements and her sister - before smiling weakly. “He’ll be fine, given time…” Celestia winced as a cracking sound reach her ears, followed by a loud swear from the stallion in question. Most of the mares, especially the Princess of the Night, shied back from the room.
Barrier was never quick-to-anger; patience and forethought had been beaten into him fairly early on in his career, but the sheer thought of one-thousand years’ displacement was overwhelming to the stallion’s normally analytic mind. His friends and family, his niece, everything he valued, lost to the ever-unforgiving sands of time. “Gods dammit!” the stallion swore, driving a hoof into the hospital floor. He was rewarded with the satisfying sound of tile cracking.
Several more times he drove his hoof into the shattered tile, reducing the tile and ground underneath to little more than broken fragments. After several moments of intense frustration at his helplessness - and several more shattered tiles - the stallion slumped to the ground, fatigue finally bringing him down. Drained, both physically and emotionally, the stallion departed the hospital room, giving little care to the damage he caused.
“Do you feel better?” Celestia asked, eyeing the small gashes lining his hooves.
“Nay, Your Highness, but I shall adapt.” Barrier quickly took in the appearance of the six somewhat new faces, mentally labeling them. Treekicker, He noted Applejack’s well-muscled hind-legs, Yellowquiet, He glanced at Fluttershy quietly cowering away from him and all but shivering at his gaze, Squiggletail, he eyed Rarity with mild disinterest before his eyes drifted to the grinning and bouncing pink pony. Almost immediately, he felt his muscles tense before he shifted his gaze elsewhere rather abruptly. Purplesmart… He could see the mare staring at him, obviously biting back dozens of questions. The look reminded him of young Sparkle, his niece. Almost absentmindedly his eyes drifted over her cutie-mark and his breath hitched in his throat for the second time that day. “Young maiden?”
Twilight jumped slightly, caught off guard at being addressed by the stallion in such a firm voice. It was nothing like the Captain of the Guard she was familiar with.
“What is your name?”
Twilight hesitated, glancing at her mentor who only nodded reassuringly, “Um, I’m Twilight. Twilight Sparkle, sir.” Twilight replied quickly, subconsciously straightening up and standing taller.
Sparkle… Barrier rolled the name over in his head several times before glancing at Celestia who simply nodded, a faint smile on her face.
“'Tis a pleasure to meet you, Dame Sparkle,” he inclined his head respectfully, “and you good mares…?”
Barrier eyed the ornate chariot that both of the princesses had boarded uncertainly before his gaze drifted towards the lunar princess that had begun to address him.
“Words will never do Us justice, captain…” Luna began, “what We have caused…what We put thou and everypony else through…”
“It matters not at this point, Your Highness,” Barrier quickly stated. “Nopony, even myself, would want thou to blame thyself for what has transpired. It would be best for the realm if ye’ were to focus on improving thyself. Do not forget thy mistake, but do not let it define thee either.” Barrier stated firmly. “Learn from this experience, and let it never happen again. Thou art far above it.”
Words left the slightly larger mare before a sad smile settled on her face. “We give you Our word, Captain, that we shall try our hardest.” There was little hesitation in the mare’s statement, causing Barrier to smile ever-so-slightly.
“So long as thou tryst thy hardest, nopony shall fault thee, princess.” Some traitorous part of the stallion’s mind began to start, She’s the reason you’re alone now… whereas another part argued that it was his job. He knew what he had signed on for, and as undesirable as his situation was, it was far from the worst-case-scenarios that his mind had long-since prepared for him.
“Captain, are you okay?” The soft voice of Princess Celestia broke him out of his thoughts.
“I am in a finer state, princess, I was simply absorbed in thought. I confess, I’ve little…” the stallion struggled to vocalize his feelings briefly, “idea what I should make my new profession. I imagine my time with the guard to be long expired, and I can't imagine they’ve much use for a stallion as old and out of date as meself…”
Celestia winced slightly, knowing he was right. A stallion such as Magic Barrier would have a hard time fitting in. He was far too accustomed to conflict for such a transition to be easy.
“However, I shall persevere and adapt... I always have and now shall be no exception…” Barrier glanced briefly at the mares who trailed the three. “Princess, is she…?” Barrier intentionally trailed off.
“She is,” Celestia began, “I kept a close eye on your family after the…” she hesitated slightly, “Conflict. You’re family is filled to the brim with extremely capable unicorns,” she admitted, “Twilight is perhaps the most impressive yet. Even her great grandmother, a former archmage, would be hard-pressed to match her potential.”
“It does this soldier’s heart good to hear that, princess. It’s good to know my family was taken care of.”
“It’s the least I could do, captain. I…” Celestia hesitated. “I know you seem to be taking it in stride, but Equestria and the world as a whole owes you a debt that can never be repaid…”
Luna remained silent during the exchange, feeling she had little place at this particular moment.
“It matters not, princess. I knew all too well what could happen when I first donned mine armor. It was never for glory or some misguided attempt for recognition, I assure you.” Barrier reassured even as thoughts of his team - more specifically their fates - ran rampant through his head and he loathed being unable to be there for them. “Princess, what happened to the thestrals?” he suddenly asked, causing Celestia to swallow silently, only barely noticeable by the stallion and now-attentive Princess Luna.
“I’m afraid not all of the thestrals surrendered when Nightmare Moon fell,” she spoke far too quietly for the six mares behind the trio to hear, “small battles dragged on for nearly five years after the banishment. The thestrals are…” Celestia hesitated slightly, “rare. Captain Sentry was very thorough in his search. I don’t believe he ever truly forgave the thestrals for their role in the conflict.”
Luna sniffled slightly, causing the alabaster mare to drape a wing over her comfortingly while Barrier remained silent.
“Are you certain you won’t come with us, Captain?”
“Most certain, m’lady,” Barrier glanced at Twilight and her friends watching them from afar, “I doubt I’ll find comfort in this new capital that my compatriots fought and died for in this… Canterlot,” If the princesses lived there, the nobility lived there, and that was reason enough to stay away. “Your Highnesses, it has been the highest honor serving you.” Barrier’s horn flared dimly to life as his armor began to unbuckle itself. “But I believe the time has come for me to resign from my position…”