Barrier swallowed as he passed through the entryway into the outer courtyard, though the ground was physically cleared, the stallion could still see the bodies of thestrals and ponies alike piled on top of each other as their comrades fought and died on top of them. His mind registered back to something Twilight had told him she experienced when walking through here; a chill. Like an icy-cold hoof softly trailing down her spine, so she had said.
How he’d missed it his first time through, Barrier had no idea. How many ponies were felled here to defend Equestria? the stallion wondered as he began to move forward absentmindedly, eyes fixating on the inner gatehouse and courtyard beyond.
“Soon…” he all but whispered as he continued, the chill leaving as he passed over the threshold and into the courtyard itself. His eyes fixated on the large crystal pillar as well as the thick layer of dust on it. The pillar itself was a simple structure, nearly thrice as tall as the stallion and almost as wide, making it more of a large rectangle he supposed. The entire monument was clear, with the exception of the large white heart situated in the center of the obelisk, hundreds of names etched across it.
“Fleetfeather…” he spoke softly, eyes noting the dim glow that lit up under the dust and grime of centuries past. “Wind Whistler…” another name lit up faintly.
"Mother, may I acquire a memento whilst in the empire?"
Barrier once again found his thoughts drifting, a filly’s voice resonating through his skull.
"Of course." an older mare’s voice responded.
"I look forward to seeing you both return. Take care of the captain’s cadets, dearest." This time it was a stallion’s voice.
“Calm yourself, Flash. This is not the first time she’s done this…” Barrier replied out loud as he came back to the present. “…they’ll be just fine,” the stallion finished,
"Captain, art thou certain we will be safe during our stay in the empire?"
Barrier held his jaw as the memory played out, all too aware of the tears forming in the corners of his eyes. "Verily, Cadet Range, all it will be is some cold-weather training before thy squad is sent back here as privates. You will all be fine."
You sent them all to their deaths… Barrier’s mind cut in as the stallion snapped fully back to the present. Not a single one of those young cadets had even turned twenty, some were not even nineteen yet.
“I shall return.” Barrier stared up at the memorial. “Most of Equestria may have forgotten, but I have not.”
With visible effort, Barrier jerked his head away and moved towards the inner gatehouse, glancing briefly at the overgrowth of trees and foliage. With a half-smile his eyes raised themselves to the window the Nightmare had thrown him from, causing him to shake his head ruefully.
I should be dead. As the thought entered his mind he actually chuckled at the luck of it all as he made his way through a nearby door and the subsequent stairway leading up to the hallway and throne room. “This place always did have such a strange layout…” Barrier commented to himself to drive away the silence.
It made sense, he supposed. It served as an exceptionally effective choke-point. Normally, it’d be a bad idea to box your rulers in, but when they had unfathomable amounts of power and could teleport with little to no effort, he supposed there were some allowances.
“The museum is gonna pay a fortune for this…”
Barrier’s ears swiveled forward as a mare’s voice broke the silence for him. Almost immediately, the stallion found himself walking slower and crouching low, being careful not to let his hooves clop.
“Can’t believe it’s in such great condition…” the voice continued with a giggle, “wonder how powerful the enchantments really are…”
A treasure hunter daring to steal from this war-torn castle? I shall put an end to this thievery. Barrier told himself as he carefully stalked forward, finally coming into view of the pegasus mare, illuminated by a lantern resting on the ground next to her.
Biting his bottom lip, he stalked even closer, eyes taking in the light-gold coat and the many shades of black and grey that composed her mane. Finally, his eyes fell to her flank, noting the compass as well as the fact that she was clearly a capable mare, judging by the faint muscle tone; built for agility and bursts rather than the endurance and strength of his own build. A build one earned through experience.
So caught up in her task, Barrier was all but on top of her before he finally spoke, silently taking a deep breath before bellowing out, “Intruder! Intruder in the hall!”
The reaction was almost instantaneous, the pegasus flaring her wings, jerking around, and leaping backward all in a single fluid movement, coming to a halt several lengths away, hunched forward with her wings flared out.
“I understand it is natural to attempt a-looking intimidating,” Barrier eyed her outstretched wings as he spoke casually, “but 'tis probably one of the least effective things to use against one such as meself.”
With a flare of his magic, Barrier jerked the thirty-five inches of iron with a hard screeching-sound as it separated from its millennium of stone imprisonment. A single eye carefully looked over the thin chisels and brushes that the mare had been using.
“Are you out of your mind?” the mare screeched, making to move forward only for the floating sword to cut her off. “You’ll damage it doing something like that!”
Barrier raised an eyebrow in amusement as he removed the blade from her path in favor of depositing it in his scabbard, causing the mare’s eyes to widen when a series of symbols etched in Old-Equestrian runes running the entire length of the scabbard lit up briefly as the sword was returned home once more.
“I would think that I am aware of what my sword canneth handle. Even after one-thousand years, the princesses’ enchantments have not failed.”
“Your sword?” the golden pegasus seemed to snap back to reality. “You can’t take that sword! It belongs in a museum!” she hunched forward again, preparing to launch herself forward again.
“That would be a very poor decision, mare…” Barrier trailed off, giving her a chance to introduce herself as he tapped into his body's internal magic reservoir, horn flaring to life.
“Hah, you don’t scare me, hornhead!” the pegasus stated confidently.
After a brief moment, Barrier jerked his horn, causing his opponent to shoot forward at a speed that would impress any pegasus…only for Barrier to fall slightly to the side and drive his hoof into the underside of her right-wing, causing the appendage to slam shut and sending her spiraling off of the walls like a ball.
To the stallion’s surprise, she forced her wing back out with a clenched jaw and rebounded off the walls, launching herself right back at the unicorn, colliding with him with the speed of a charging minotaur.
Barrier smiled for a split-second as the mare shot towards him; rather than standing firm or trying to avoid the oncoming pony, Barrier hopped just slightly and let the mare collide with him, her momentum lifting him up bodily and his weight, courtesy of him latching onto her, brought the pair crashing down in a tangle of limbs, finally ending up with a coughing pegasus resting on top of a stunned-but-amused unicorn, her hoof gripped tightly on his horn.
“You…give up?” she managed to gasp out from the feeling of hitting and transporting a wall of pony-shaped bricks.
“Surely, thou jestest.” Barrier raised an eyebrow in amusement. “I could have slain thee three times over by now, if I’d so chosen. If the princess hath not ordered me not to harm anypony, I likely would have.”
“Hey, I can take you no problem!” she huffed out, jerking his horn and causing him to wince.
“Thou hast not what it taketh to handle my blade…” Barrier grinned inwardly. “Neither the spatha on my side, nor the longsword ‘neath thy belly.”
Her expression erupted into a full blush and she lifted herself with a flap…and dropped her entire weight back down, causing Barrier to grunt and bite back the perfectly-stallionly-yelp that started to escape.
“I ask that thou wouldst at least purchase a meal for me before a-trying such actions,” he managed. “Have the mares of this era no shame?” His mind thought back to Aloe and Lotus and answered his own question.
“I will end you…” the pegasus mare hissed angrily, only to screech out in pain when sparks erupted across her hoof and arced up her chest, barrel, and wings. With several violent spasms her eyes rolled back as she slipped into unconscious and collapsed on top of him.
“There are no mad mares in the castle,” Barrier mocked idly to himself as he shifted the unconscious pony off him, wincing at his aching sheath. “Thou shalt be fine,” he huffed, eyes shifting from his once-adversary and then to the area where his sword had rested. With that out of the way, the unicorn found his thoughts drifting to the past once again.
Had all of his ponies survived? His eyes drifting to the remnants of the stone Braeburn had crumbled for him, the sounds of the tiny, sharpened rocks punching through anything unfortunate enough to be in their path, followed by the ghostly echoes of his squad’s assurances that they could hold the thestrals here.
“What ever happened to the treacherous thestrals who survived Flash’s hunt…” Barrier wondered idly as he glanced around the hallway one final time before his gaze fell on the unconscious pegasus once more. With a heavy sigh, Barrier flared his magic, gathering the chisels and brushes and stuffing them unceremoniously in his saddlebags before snuffing the lantern and doing the same with it. “And now, to take care of thee,” Barrier commented, nosing his muzzle under the mare’s forelegs and hefting her onto his withers with a grunt.
“Thou art much denser than thou appears. Peradventure, thou shouldst steer clear of confections,” Barrier commented, arching his back slightly as he made for the stairwell once more, heading towards the courtyard. He still had one more item to retrieve.
“Welcome back to the waking world,” Barrier commented without turning to face the stirring pegasus.
“Ugh, feels like I’m back in the academy… What the hay happ…” the pegasus trailed off as she sluggishly got upright and her eyes rested on the unicorn. “You!” she suddenly hissed, eyes narrowing.
“Quite down, pegasus,” Barrier hissed right back. “I do not want to make any errors with this...”
Daring growled slightly but otherwise acquiesced, shifting her focus instead to the crystal pillar in the courtyard that the stallion was pacing around. As her eyes skimmed over the details, she noticed that the entire front of the pillar had been dusted off, the names all clearly readable now. Daring had seen the memorial of course, and she’d had plans to request permits for an expedition, but that would all take time.
“What’re you doing?” she finally asked when the stallion broke away from the pillar.
“I suggest you move back,” Barrier instructed absentmindedly.
Daring’s frown intensified but she did as asked, noting how sluggish and sore her body and muscles felt and mentally forming plans for getting away from the larger pony.
With a deep breath, Barrier set himself firmly and tightened his jaw as his horn flared to life.
“What in the hay are you doing?” Daring asked as the stallion’s horn grew brighter and brighter, forcing her gaze downward where she only now noticed the complex array of runes carved into the soft ground around the memorial. Daring began to backpedal slightly as the ground shook and her eyes widened as the memorial, composed of solid crystal and stone by appearance, began to levitate.
I could have slain thee three times over… a little voice in her head called out mockingly as she watched the display of magic.
With a final twist of head and horn, the pillar began to float lazily in the air, still in a single, pristine piece save for the triangular base, which still had damp soil clinging on for dear life.
“This shall make the return to Ponyville much longer…” Barrier commented more to himself than his companion. “But it shall easily be worth it to keep this close.” Barrier turned to the mare one final time. “It hath been a pleasure, good mare…” he hesitated for a moment, “pegasus,” he finally settled on, “I bid thee farewell.”
And true to his word, he tilted the memorial on its side and made for the outer gatehouse, vaguely aware of the ranting pegasus chasing after him slowly.
“Hey, you can’t just leave with those! They’re not yours!”
“Oh, my sincerest apologies.” Barrier’s magic split off, levitating the brushes and chisels as well as the lantern from his bags. “I forgot I had taken those. Good day, good mare peg-” he was cut off by the mare growling,
“My name’s Do, dammit! Daring Do! And you know those aren’t what I’m talking about!”
“Well, Good Mare Do,” Barrier adopted a harder tone, “the sword is, in fact, mine own personal blade, and I believe I’ve more right to the memorial than most ponies in this age due to the fact that I know every name on it by heart.”
“And how would you know? It’s over one-thousand years old!”
“So am I, now be silent. Thou becomest less tolerable every time thou openest thy mouth.”
“Fuck you!” Daring shot back, continuing to follow the unicorn weakly even as he started into the forest.
Barrier contemplated feeding her to a manticore.
Twilight jolted awake as the library shook slightly. In a panic, the mare bolted from her bed, scrambled down the stairs, and threw the front door open. What awaited her was not what she expected. Her houseguest and a golden pegasus were standing next to an imposing crystal pillar that was buried in the front yard of the library. The pegasus was yelling, causing several lights to flicker to life as Twilight’s neighbors were disturbed awake as well.
“And I keep telling you, a museum would be the best place for it! Ponies will appreciate it! Why are you so damn stubborn?”
Barrier, ignoring the pegasus, turned to his niece. “I found this beast in the woods. May I keep her as a pet?”