“I’ll see you both upon my return,” Barrier promised the well-kept grey mare before he tugged the door shut with a flare of his horn. Unto the deathtrap once more… Barrier thought to himself as he made his way to the train station. Gods, I’ll be on the train overnight… Barrier realized with a nervous swallow as he hefted himself up onto the platform and moved towards the train that had just began to grind to a halt in the distance. It’s never too late to walk.
“All aboard!” somepony yelled out as the train slid to a halt and the doors pulled open.
One nervous breath later, Barrier found the doors closed behind him. Well, mayhaps a wee too late now…
“Oh, someone’s actually goin’ to Appleloosa?” Another pony had entered the carriage, mild surprise written across his face. “Think yer the first pony in months to visit!”
Barrier quickly took in the stallion’s appearance and cutie mark; he was a seemingly regular Earth Pony sporting a dark-gray mane almost the same shade as Barrier’s coat, and light-gray fur over the rest of his body, all brought together by three green clovers on his flank.
Barrier replied with a simple hum before settling into a booth, the stallion settling in across from him.
“So, what brings you to Appleloosa? Not many ponies go there for recreation.”
“I’m a-travelling all across Equestria. Appleloosa just happened to be the first stop of many, since it’s so far out of the way.”
“Huh, well alrighty then.” The stallion nodded as he spoke before his ears perked up, “Well, I’m Lucky Clover. Nice to meet you,” the stallion reached a hoof across the booth.
“Magic Barrier.” Barrier shook the stallion’s hoof firmly before settling back in the booth and letting the conversation lapse into silence.
“Well,” Lucky started awkwardly, glancing at the setting sun, “I’m gonna turn in for an early night. I’ll see ya in the morning, Barrier.” Lucky climbed up from the booth and departed into the room he’d initially come from.
Sleep doesn’t sound terribly unappealing. 'Twould aid to pass the time spent on this deathtrap…though when it crasheth, I will be less prepared… Even as Barrier mentally argued with himself, his eyelids began to droop. Can I even prepare for something like that beyond a quick reaction time? The stallion’s eyes closed, his lips parting slightly as he subconsciously nestled further into the booth, surrendering to the not-so-soft embrace of sleep.
“Captain Barrier,” Princess Luna called out imperiously, the stallion shooting up from his booth and to attention almost immediately, despite the fact that he was clearly still half-asleep, his eyes half-lidded and mane an absolute mess, as well as a thin line of dried drool contrasting his dark coat. “At ease, captain,” Luna said with well-concealed amusement, “We have come to bring thee thy latest assignment. Report unto the training grounds in thirty minutes.”
Barrier simply snapped another salute, brain slowly firing up. No sooner than the princess had departed the empty barracks, the stallion fell backwards onto his bed. A new assignment already? Things must be quite dire. With a yawn, the stallion hefted himself upright and made for the training grounds, stopping only to throw some cool water onto his face from the barracks basin.
“Reporting for duty, Your Highness!” Barrier snapped a sharp salute as the lunar princess turned to face him.
“At ease, captain,” Luna waited for the salute to drop before she continued. “Captain, allow me to introduce you to your newest assignment.” Luna turned her back to the Captain and raised her voice, “Cadets, front and center!” Nearly two-dozen ponies rushed to follow the command, all lining up neatly. “Step forward when We call your name!” Luna ordered, silence being the only reply.
“Cadet Verdant Range, Cadet Swiftsword, Cadet Hat Trick!”
Three ponies stepped out of the line and stood at attention.
What does this have to do with mine assignment? Barrier gazed over the three ponies, mentally committing their appearances to memory. Verdant Range was a dark-green earth pony with a white muzzle and a brown mane and tail. On his flank were three droplets of water. A gardener, mayhaps? Barrier briefly met the stallion’s light-blue eyes before shifting his gaze to the next pony of note, this one being a mare he recognized. Swiftsword. Barrier remembered the unicorn from a sword fighting tournament from some time ago. She looked now as she had back then, minus the fact that her baby-blue coat was rough and her dark, cornflower-blue mane was unkempt and fairly messy. In addition, there were slight bags that were just noticeable under her eyes; the eyes of a cadet, to be certain.
“Cadet Winter Gem, Cadet Iron Forge!” Luna’s voice interrupted the stallion’s thoughts. “Everypony else may return to your exercises! You five!” She turned to face the ponies she had singled out. “Meet your new personal trainer.” Luna turned to face her Captain with a wide grin. “Captain Barrier, meetest thy new cadets.”
What in the ninth circle of Tartarus? “Princess?” Barrier scrunched his muzzle in thought. “With all due respect, th-”
“'Tis not something thou hast a say in, captain,” Luna responded in an almost apologetic voice. “We have seen thy dreams. We know what happened, and we know that thou art in no condition to be sent back into the field at present.”
Barrier’s jaw tightened and his posture stiffened.
“Until Our sister and I feel thou hast recovered sufficiently, thy new assignment will be to personally train these five ponies. In six months time, peradventure We might look about returning thee unto thy regular duties, but until then, thou hast thine orders.” Luna’s tone left no room for negotiation.
“As you command, princess.” Barrier’s tone was that of tired resignation.
“Cadets,” Luna turned towards the group of five ponies, still standing stock-still. “Henceforth, you five are squad nine-eight-two, under the direct command of Captain Magic Barrier. Any inquiries?”
When all five cadets remained silent, Luna nodded in satisfaction and turned towards Barrier, meeting eyes with him. “We look forward to a-spying the results, captain.” Luna turned and strode away with her usual air of regality, leaving Barrier alone in awkward silence with the five.
And just think, we’ve another eight years until you can even consider being discharged. Barrier allowed his gaze to drift to three ponies he’d yet to take in, his gaze falling first to the blonde-maned, white-coated earth pony; Barrier wasn’t sure why, but something about her seemed familiar. Meeting her green-eyes briefly, he allowed his gaze to shift towards her right side, his irides resting on the apple cutie mark. ...she’s a relative of Braeburn’s. I wager she’ll be interesting to train.
Next, he took in the blue-coated unicorn with the two-toned silver mane, noting the stallion’s well-built forelegs. Craning his head to the side once more, Barrier inwardly groaned. She’s given me a weaponsmith. The stallion’s cutie-mark was a pair of swords neatly crossed over a flame. Forsoothly, his talents would be better used elsewhere.
Lastly, Barrier’s gaze fell to fifth and final pony deposited into his care; a purple pegasus with a slicked-back indigo mane and matching tail and a pair of dark-blue eyes that seemed to twinkle with amusement. Shifting his gaze to check the stallion’s cutie-mark, Barrier was interrupted when the stallion spoke.
“You’ll have to buy me dinner first if you want my flank, Cap’n,” Hat Trick stated with a grin.
Fantastic, my recruits are a team of teenagers with at least one having an attitude. I’ll beat that out of him soon enough. Barrier took a deep, very audible breath through his nostrils. “Cadet Range, you all sleep exactly eight hours a night, correct?”
“Yes, sir, barring night-time exercises,” Verdant respond quickly.
“Well then, all of you can say thanks unto Cadet Hat Trick, because for the next week you get five hours of sleep. What will the three extra hours go to, you may ask? Well, once again, quoth your thanks unto Cadet Hat Trick. You’ll get to run extra laps around the castle.”
The grin on the pegasus’s face faded almost immediately.
“That aside, congratulations, recruits. The princess has volunteered you all to be put through Tartarus, and by the gods,” Barrier’s expression shifted, a slight grin settling on his muzzle, “I intend to deliver.”
Barrier was jolted awake as the train bounced slightly, his horn flaring up in anticipation to teleport anywhere besides the train. There is no way these monstrosities are safe. Magic fading, Barrier nestled into the booth once more as he closed his eyes once more, too tired to consider that the booth was suddenly less cramped than before.
Rather, he was busy thinking back to the dream he’d been having. They were so innocent, Barrier chuckled to himself as he thought back to the dream and the first week that had followed as well as the opinions the members of his own team had on the situation. A dull and strangely feminine chuckle later, Barrier lapsed back into a sleep, his dreams bringing the memories to life once more.
“Twelve bits sayeth that at least two o' thy cadets will be fornicating with each other in under two weeks.”
Less than thirty seconds after Barrier had informed his team of the indefinite hiatus, all five of them had began to make bets and predictions about Barrier and his new team.
“I’ll take the bet.” The tan pegasus replied with a distinct Gallopfreyan accent. “And, I’ll also bet thee that in under a month, Barrier will be a-fornificating with one o' the cadets.” The pegasus’ smile widened when she and Braeburn both shared a hoof-shake on their respective bets.
“Oh, would you two grow up?” Barrier huffed as he plopped angrily onto the bed.
“No,” both of the ponies replied at the same time.
“Is it really that bad, though?” an alabaster-unicorn asked, lazily turning his head towards his fellow unicorn, gun-metal grey ponytail flailing as he did so. “We could all use the break. Thou haven’t been a-sleeping hardly at all since it happened. Ember, Brae, and myself still don’t know what in Tartarus happened to cause it, and Flash hasn’t left his children’s sides for a week. He actually got permission to sit in the classrooms with them during their schooling. Besides that, we’re not getting any younger. I think it’s a good idea for you to be helping the next generation.” His piece said, the unicorn turned back towards his book.
“Mayhaps thou art right, Styx…” Barrier sighed as he rolled onto his back. “After what happened…honestly, I don’t know if I can keep a-doing this anyways. Peradventure I should ask the princess about being discharged early.”
“We can’t help ya if you don’t tell us what’s bothering you.” The tan mare joined the conversation, flapping her wings once and propelling herself onto Barrier’s bed, bouncing the stallion slightly. “So, wanna talk about?”
Barrier remained silent, paying the mare no mind.
“Barrrieeer,” she started in an almost sing-song voice. “If ya talk to us about it and let us help, ya can help me wash my wings in the bath…”
“We killed a child. A griffin cub…” Barrier replied with a flare of his horn that tugged Ember into his side, causing her to give a slight squeak before the unicorn wrapped his hooves around her, face buried in her shoulder as the stallion continued to speak, tone muffled by his current living pillow. “We thought it was a guard that found us. I just acted on impulse when I saw his shadow and… I put a dagger through his throat. He couldn’t have been more than five or six years old…he could not have been any older than my niece, and I killed him.”
Killed him slowly no less. Barrier’s mind stated helpfully, reminding him of the griffin had slowly perished.
“All I could do was hold his beak shut while he tried to cry out…I held him to the ground, muted until he stopped breathing.” Barrier choked slightly.
“Ah jeez,” Ember stopped squirming, resting her own hooves over the stallion’s shoulders. “Ya did what you had to, Barrier. How many ponies do ya think you saved by taking out his father?”
“To say nothing of the kind of life he’d have if he were left without his father,” the white unicorn snapped his book shut. “I think what Cac…”
Barrier shot upright with his horn primed as the train bounced him awake for the second time. Taking a calming breath, Barrier hefted himself from the booth, his internal clock informing him morning had come.
“Mornin’ Barrie…” Lucky’s voice died in his throat as he saw the unicorn stretching, back arched like a cat to elicit several satisfying pops.
“Good morning, Lucky,” Barrier answered almost on reflex. “Is there a bathroom on the train?”
“Uh, right there…” Lucky fell into silent confusion again as he pointed to a nearby door.
Barrier hummed his thanks as he headed through the door that Lucky’s hoof had been pointing out.
Lucky simply stood there, dumbstruck for nearly a full minute before a very feminine yell sounded through the train, followed by several less feminine swears and topped by a unicorn mare all but throwing the bathroom door open and muttering angrily as she stalked over to the booth.
“Faust curse it, this is the second time this has happened…blasted blue flowers…” Barrier opened her mouth to continue, but the screeching of the train's brakes broke her from her frustrations and drew her attention to the window.
“At least nopony here knows…”
Lucky swallowed; Barrier’s head whipped around to stare at him. “Thou. tellst. nopony. Understood?”
“Yes, ma’am…sir, uh…” Lucky chuckled nervously.
Gods, I hope I don’t go into heat again…