“And I keep telling you alcohol is not a viable solution to your problems!”
The night’s former silence was broken as the two played tug-of-war with the bottle.
“And I keep telling thee I am an adult and more than capable of a-making decisions for mineself.” Barrier’s tone was low and maintained, a cold anger slowly creeping up in the stallion as Twilight continued to fight him over the bottle, Twilight putting in more visible effort.
“You’re not…” Twilight’s horn flared as she tugged harder at the bottle, sweat beading on her brow.
Right eye twitching slightly, Barrier’s own magic redoubled to counter Twilight’s. You’re fighting over a bottle of booze. Is this how far we’ve fallen?
“Six-thirty in the morning is too early for a drink!” Twilight braced herself against the floor and made to began to try and tug backwards futilely.
In any other time, Barrier would’ve been proud that the mare had so much raw energy, but for now it was only steadily feeding his growing irritation. “Twilight, I will tell thee one last time. Let. Go. Of. My. Bottle.”
It’s not even about the bottle anymore,
“No,” Twilight huffed in response, maintaining her magic.
“Thou wouldst need alcohol if thou dreamt of the deaths of the ponies that meant the most to thee constantly!” Barrier finally snapped, his horn flaring as a second layer of magic flared around the neck of the bottle. Unlike Twilight, whose magic was wrapped around the entire bottle, Barrier’s only had a small hold on the neck, something he knew how to easily use to his advantage. With a sharp sidewards swing of his horn, Barrier ripped the bottle from the mare’s magic, causing her to yelp at the magical backlash and stumble backwards onto her flank.
Gods dammit… Barrier threw the bottle onto the couch and made his way over to the lavender unicorn, frustrations leaving him almost immediately in favor of shame. She tries to prevent you from doing something stupid and you snap on her. Well done, Barrier.
“Why don’t we talk this out over tea?
Tea will not remedy what you just did.
“I’m sorry, Twilight.” Barrier sighed as he carefully held the steaming tea-kettle in his magic, filling up a pair of cups. “I’m not accustomed to my juniors trying to decide things for me.”
Twilight didn’t reply immediately, instead taking a moment to sip her tea, lifting it with her hooves rather than magic. “I’m sorry too,” she finally stated as she rested the glass on the table once more. “It wasn’t my place to try and decide for you, but I’m worried about you. You’ve tossed and turned almost every night that you’ve stayed here, and according to Daring Do, you were thrashing around when she woke you up. That’s not normal.” Twilight took a deep breath, not entirely certain if she wanted to cross the bridge he’d built moments earlier. “Earlier you said you lost those you cared about. Maybe talking about them and the good times you had with them would help?”
Barrier mentally berated himself when Twilight winced at her own statement, as if expecting him to lash out in anger. I owe her this much… Taking a deep breath of his own, Barrier finally nodded.
“Very well, but understand, these were very different times.” Stopping to sip his own tea as well as glance at the clock, wouldn’t do to miss his train after all, Barrier began his narrative.
“Things were very different a thousand years ago. Fighting with the griffins was pretty constant and it was getting to the point where we were just throwing bodies at each other. After…something,” Barrier took care not to elaborate on the something, “happened on a mission to the Griffin Empire and the princesses decided to reassign me temporarily. My team and I were good at what we did.”
I say that as if it’s something to be proud of.
“And Princess Luna wanted to try an experiment or something to try and make better soldiers by having them train under ponies with more…field experience than our drill sergeants. So, I got assigned a group of five new recruits ranging from sixteen to seventeen years old.”
Twilight almost made to interrupt but managed to hold her question back, allowing the unicorn to continue the thread.
“I spent the next two and a half years getting to know them, teaching them everything I could to help them survive the inevitable conflict they’d face. I made a mistake and I grew attached.” Barrier snorted angrily, eyes narrowing. “The last portion of their training was cold-weather survival. They had to go on-hoof from Canterlot to the Crystal Empire without any supplies. About a week after they left, a scout reported that a unicorn had turned to dark magic and enslaved the entire empire, killing the guards and raising the corpses to fight for him. We couldn’t do too much about it though. We were fighting the griffins all over the place, we didn’t have the ponies to send to the north. So the princesses and I along with a small group of select ponies headed north to confront him.”
Barrier stopped to sip his tea and take a shaky breath. “A number of the guards -probably the ones that resisted- were speared on poles and put on display as a threat to the population. I never saw my cadets again, and I’ve blamed myself for it ever since.”
Glancing idly at the clock and back at the bottle of booze on the couch, Barrier climbed up from the table. “In any case, I should go make my farewells.” Making his way to the door, horn flaring to life as his sword and saddlebags strapped themselves to his side, he levitated a thin slip of paper onto the table.
“Oh, and before I go...” Barrier turned to face the silent mare, finally drawing her from her thoughts. “Your magic is very impressive, but you’re using it very inefficiently. Instead of trying to maintain a pull on the entire bottle, you should focus on a specific point of it. Efficiency trumps quantity when it comes to magic.” The door tugged shut for all of ten seconds before Barrier returned. “Twilight, is there an event or something planned for today?”
“Uh…no?” Twilight asked, walking over to the door and sticking her head out. It didn’t take long for her to register the same thing Barrier had; it was a gorgeous day out and there wasn’t a pony to be seen. “Spike, keep an eye on the library.” Twilight didn’t actually wait for a response, departing the library, Barrier following closely behind.
“Perhaps some kind of holiday?” Barrier offered, eyes roaming almost nervously.
“Not that I know of.” Twilight stopped in the center of the marketplace, confused. “I don’t understand, where could everypony hav-
“Psst! Twilight! Barrier! Come here!”
Both of the ponies turned to Pinkie Pie, who was motioning them inside of Sugarcube Corner.
“Hurry! Before she gets you!”
“Who?” Barrier hesitantly stepped into the offensively decorated building as a bemused smile wormed its way on to his face. All of the ponies were hiding in the dark.
“Her!” Applejack thrust her hoof towards the window, drawing both Barrier and Twilight’s gaze.
The two stared at the window briefly until Apple Bloom strode over to the pair. “Didja see her, Twilight? Did you see… Zecora?
“Apple Bloom! I told you never to say that name,” Applejack chastised.
“Well, I saw her glance this way…”
“Glance evilly this way!” Pinkie interupted.
“Are you all truly this ignorant?” Barrier finally cut into the conversation.
“You all are acting ridiculous for no good reason,” Twilight stated afterwards.
“No good reason? You call protectin’ yer kin no good reason? Why, as soon as my sister saw Zecora ridin’ into town, she started shakin’ in her lil’ horseshoes.” Applejack began to shake the younger filly slightly.
“Di--d no--t” Apple Bloom managed to reply awkwardly.
“So I swept her up brought her here!” Applejack stated matter-of-factly.
“I walked here myself!”
Barrier turned towards the window and watched the cloaked individual once more. She’s a zebra, Barrier mentally noted as she raised her hoof to scuff at the ground, the zebra digging a small hole. But I’ve not seen a zebra in Ponyville before… Barrier vaguely registered Pinkie Pie singing a song, though at this point his mind filtered her out on reflex.
Barrier glanced down at Apple Bloom as she nosed the door open.
“Shh,” the filly pleaded, staring at the stallion with heart-melting eyes.
“I didn’t see a thing,” Barrier responded softly.
“Tell them, Barrier!” Twilight turned to the stallion.
Well, thou asked.
“You’re all absolute morons.” Twilight winced slightly. “She’s a Zebra. They have a country across the sea. They’re not common, but they’re still as intelligent as you or I, and you would treat them as some sort of monster?”
“She lives in the Everfree Forest!” Applejack argued with a stomp of her hoof. “That forest just ain’t natural… the plants grow,”
“And the animals care for themselves,” Fluttershy chimed in timidly,
“And the clouds move…” Rainbow Dash fell ominously silent before all three of the ponies spoke in unison.
“All on their own!”
My train cannot arrive soon enough.
“I’m sorry to burst your bubbles, but one thousand years ago we had an entire city situated there, built around the Castle of the Two Pony Sisters. It was our Capital City in my day. You’re all making absolute fools of yourselves.”
“Well I heard that Zecora eats hay! Pinkie stated dramatically, drawing an irritated snort from Twilight.
“Pinkie, I eat hay; you eat hay!”
“Yeah, but I heard that she eats hay evilly!”
“Hey!” Applejack suddenly cut in. “Where’s Apple Bloom?”
“She went to greet the zebra,” Barrier stated simply.
“And ya’ll didn’t stop her!” Applejack started towards the door. “I told her to stay put!” Applejack galloped out of the door, Twilight and the others following behind her, all of them almost immediately galloping towards the dark forest in the distance.
Should have brought the moonshine… Barrier mused as he, along with the six mares, galloped into the edge of the forest, all of them sliding to a halt as Apple Bloom turned to face them.
"Apple Bloom! Apple Bloom, you get back here right now!” Applejack started forward, only for a familiar cloaked hood to poke its head out of the darkness.
“Beware! Beware, you pony folk! Those leaves of blue are not a joke!”
“Ya’ll keep yer mumbo-jumbo to yerself, ya hear!”
“Oh brother,” Twilight sighed, pressing a hoof to her face and glancing helplessly at the large unicorn standing next to her.
“Your friends are idiots,” Barrier replied dully. “Well-intentioned, but idiots nonetheless.”
“Beware! Beware!” the zebra warned, amber eyes fading into the blackness as she did so, their gaze shifting downwards at the large patch of blue flowers the ponies were standing in.
“Yeah, back at ya, Zecora! You an' yer lame curse 're the ones who better beware! And you! ” Applejack wheeled around to face Apple Bloom. “Why couldn't ya jus listen ta yer big sister? Who knows what kind o’ nasty curse Zecora could've put on ya?”
“Just like in my song!” Pinkie grinned and opened her mouth to sing.
“You guys, there’s no such thing as curses!” Twilight interrupted, frustration clear in her voice.
“Well, that's interesting to hear coming from Miss Magic Pants herself.” Rainbow Dash took to the air, floating around the group.
Especially since there are such a thing as curses. Barrier sighed, pivoting around. “In any case, I’ve business to take care of before I leave. Applejack, I apologize that I’ll not be staying for the duration of your harvest, but I assure you I’ll find a way to express my gratitude. To the rest of you young ladies… good day.” With careful strides, Barrier departed, leaving both the patch of flowers and the mares behind as he made for town, intent on making sure he was fully packed and saying his goodbyes before his departure that evening.