“So,” Daring climbed into the seat across from Barrier as the train engine came to life and started dragging them down the tracks, slowly picking up speed. “Why don’t you tell me the story about the whole poison joke thing?”
“There’s not much else to tell. The only particularly interesting thing that happened was the poison joke. Well, that and Winter Gem and Hat Trick trying to fornicate while afflicted. They did not account for the additional weight of Winter Gem’s new muscles, as well as her increased strength. The breathless heaves that awoke us that night were quite amusing, as was the bruising his pelvis suffered.”
“I thought that kinda thing was a no-no in the guard?”
“It was, and I’d imagine still is. I had actually planned on dismissing Hat Trick to a different unit after their training was complete. Obviously it never came to that…” Barrier trailed off.
The pegasus’s ears folded back apologetically, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to remind you of it.”
“'Tis fine, Daring, I’m over it for the most part. It hurts, to be sure, but it’s done and I have to live it with, regardless of how long ago it happened.”
“So, you’d planned on separating them?” Daring asked, trying to spark the conversation once more.
“Mm, that was the plan. The rules are very clear about mixing relationships with work, especially in units such as mine or what theirs was to become. Had it come to that, I’d have been a hypocrite.”
“What do you mean?”
“I was in a relationship with Ember, a sergeant from my squad. Well, sort of.”
“We were sleeping together regularly and far more emotionally invested in each other than was professional, but to everyone, save our squad, we were nothing more than close friends and comrades.”
“Ah,” Daring nodded in understanding.
“I’d actually planned on taking a desk-job and a-trying to settle down with her.” Barrier laughed hollowly. “And then, the Crystal Empire was attacked.”
Daring silently climbed from her booth and into Barrier’s.
“After the Empire was gone… and the cadets… I grew too attached to them. I wasn’t in the greatest frame of mind after the Empire and before I knew it, my squad and I were back in the field almost constantly. Couldn’t bring myself to think about it, so I just kept fighting. Kept killing. Was dragging my ponies down with me.” Barrier reached out and tugged Daring closer almost on reflex, mind drawing back to when he would confide in Ember. If Daring minded, she didn’t say anything. “And then Nightmare Moon happened, and they were left to pick up the mess I left behind. Ember left the guard and died of medical issues and Flash Sentry became a genocidal monster. No telling what happened to the others, not that it matters anymore.” With slight reluctance, Barrier broke his embrace with Daring Do. “Apologies, it’s not like me to get all whiney and self-pitying.”
“There’s nothing to apologize for. We all need somepony to whine and bitch to from time to time. I’m just glad to see you’re not bottling it all up anymore.”
Barrier only grunted in response, a weariness settling over her despite that all she’d done was sleep the last couple of days.
“So, there’s not much else to tell about the poison joke, but what about the rest of the island? What were the cadets like when you had ’em out there?”
“Mm, it’d probably be best if I wait til’ we get to Ponyville to recite anymore of it. Twilight will no doubt want to hear it and I’d rather not have to recall the tale too many times if I can help it.”
“Fair enough.” Daring knew better than to push her to open up further. “You know how to play chess?”
Barrier’s hoof twitched and raised itself from the chessboard as the screeching of breaks resounded throughout the car. “Hm, it seems we’ve arrived, Miss Do.”
“Oh come on, I had you that time!” Daring grumbled as she gazed over the board intently.
“I doubt you had anymore this time than you did in our last three games.” Barrier deposited her saddlebags onto her back once more as she climbed out of the booth and stretched. “Now, I’m going to head to the library. I sorely miss my carrot and cabbages.”
“Fine, but you owe me a rematch,” the pegasus grumbled as she stuffed the chessboard back into her own saddlebag.
“Very well, we’ll have another match sometime or another. Perhaps on our next trip to Appleloosa. Gods know the train-ride is more than long enough for it.”
“Well, what did you expect, it’s a cargo-train. It’s supposed to be slow and carry craploads of stuff. I think they’re getting a more standard train before too much longer, but it is a new town, so priorities and all.”
“Even so, ten or so hours seems a bit much.”
“Oh stop your whining and let’s go get your junk back so I can go to Canterlot.”
“I don’t recall asking for an escort. Besides, I’ve every intent of staying the night in Ponyville.”
“Guess I’m staying too then. And you didn’t ask for an escort but a pretty little mare like you needs one,” Daring smiled suggestively as she hip-checked the unicorn, causing her to stumble off of the train and into the afternoon sun.
“I’m coming, hold your horses!” Twilight yelled at the front-door as she trotted down the stairs. “It’s a public building, dammit…” Twilight sighed to herself, jerking the door open. “Can I hel-” the words died in her throat at the fetching charcoal-coated mare before her.
“For the last time, Daring, I’m not staying a mare!” Barrier quickly turned to face Twilight. “Please tell me you have the cure for poison joke!”
Barrier groaned in relief as his head broke the warm water. “Gods, I needed this.”
“So, Barrier? How’d you know about Poison Joke?” Twilight inquired of the scrubbing stallion.
“Ah that’s right, you owe us a story!” Daring was swimming slow laps around the large tub.
“Fair enough, I did promise a story when Twilight was present…”
A multitude of paper and writing utensils winked into existence almost immediately.
“Please proceed whenever you’re ready.” Twilight was grinning like the terrifying pink mare.
“Very well. My cadets and I had just taken off from a chariot aboard the ESS Wave Dancer…”
“Attention!” Barrier’s voice rang out over the rushing wind, drawing the attention of the five ponies in the chariot with him. “Eyes forward, cadets, for we shall soon arrive upon Butterfly Island!” Barrier’s own gaze shifted forward, settling on the small island in the distance, eyes watching as the waves broke against the jagged rocks that surrounded it.
“This shall be home for the next five months. The only way on, and therefore off, of the island is by flight and most pegasi wings will give out long before they reach the mainlands. Hence, the necessity of launching from a frigate.” Barrier’s tone could almost be taken as happy as the chariot angled itself downwards, bringing them to a bumpy landing on the beach.
“Verily, we have arrived upon Butterfly Island.” The pegasus mare unhitched herself fro-
“Hey Barrier, sorry to interrupt, but could you drop the olden speech?”
“Yeah.” Pinkie nodded in agreement with Daring Do. “It’s kinda sucking me out of the moment.”
“Fine, if it’ll please my audience, I’ll modernize the story as best I can…” Barrier’s brow furrowed in exasperation as he glanced at the pink mare that had seemingly appeared out of nowhere. Some things are better left lost to mystery…
“Now, as I was saying…”
“Here we are, Butterfly Island!” One of the two pegasi that had been pulling the chariot untethered herself and stretched out her back and wings. “Sure you don’t want me to stay and show the kids how it’s done?”
“I appreciate the offer, Ember, but we’ll be fine. Besides, I’m not sure I could handle both the cadets and you.” Barrier turned to the other pegasus that was tethered to the chariot. “I appreciate you and Ember flying us here, Flash. I don’t know if I’ll ever grow accustomed to flying, but I’ll return the favor upon my return.”
“Well, now that I think about it, I do need a favor.” Flash grinned almost apologetically.
Of course you do, “How long have you been planning for this and what do you need?”
“I’ve been trying to think of how to ask for two weeks and I need around one hundred and fifty to two hundred bits.”
Barrier and Ember took a sharp breath at the same tim-
“Two hundred bits?” It was Pinkie that interrupted this time. “That’s not that much money.”
“Well,” Twilight was the first to respond, “It’s not that much money now, but that’s to be expected after one thousand years of inflation. Back then, that was quite a healthy amount of bits.”
“Three or four grand at least,” Daring offered. “The hay did he need that kinda money for?”
“If you ponies would stop interrupting, I was getting to that part.” Barrier didn’t bother to hide his annoyance at the second interruption of of the day.
“Oh, sorry!” Pinkie grinned sheepishly, “Continue.”
“Okay, I know I owe you twelve bits over that bet on the cadets,” Barrier shot a harsh glance at both Hat Trick and Winter Gem, Couldn’t even wait another five blasted days… “But what the hay do you need the other one hundred and eighty bits for?”
“Well…” Flash chuckled nervously, drawing a groan from Ember.
“What, you’re having another kid?” the pegasus mare offered.
“No, we’re not having another kid. Believe me, I think we’re good at six. Fleetfeather nearly took my hoof off when she was having Wind Whistler, it’s just that Windy’s getting a little big to be sharing a room. I told her I’d see what I could do about getting her a room of her own, but-”
“In order to give her a room of her own, your house needs another extension.”
Flash Sentry only smiled apologetically.
“Dammit, Flash,” Barrier grumbled as his horn flared to life, cracking open the leather saddlebags draped across his back. “Were it anypony other than you…” Barrier retrieved a particularly decadent piece of parchment with a wax seal already stamped on the bottom, followed by a quill and inkwell. “Just…try not to sire anymore, yeah? As much as it may seem otherwise, I’m not made of bits and the crown doesn’t pay that well.”
“Heh,” Flash shuffled nervously, “Believe me, that won’t be a problem. Not after what happened last time…”
“Give this to my father and he’ll get you set up.” Barrier rolled the parchment up and carefully tucked it in his friend’s saddlebags. “Now, you and Ember get outta here before I change my mind.”
“I’ll pay you back as soon as I can,” Flash threw an appreciative grin. “Come on Ember, let’s leave the Captain to his children.”
“Aw, but what am I gonna do without my Barrier?” Ember grinned and threw a wing over the unicorn’s shoulders. “I need someone to help keep my bed warm,” the wing slowly slipped down to the stallion’s stomach, the feathers curving slightly.
Barrier’s cheeks turned a light shade of pink before he shrugged the pegasus off, swallowing. “Alright, that’s enough of that. We’re wasting daylight. Let’s go, cadets. Ember, Flash, I’ll see you both when I get back.”
“I’ll be waiting,” Ember called out with a teasing voice as the unicorn quickly ushered the cadets into the forest.
“Honestly,” Barrier grumbled to himself irritably as the cadets followed behind him, mind more intent on calming a certain part of himself down. “Of all the times she does it, right when I’m going to be gone for five months…”
“Uh, Captain?” Verdant sped up, taking up position just behind Barrier. “We just stepped through some plants. I think we should stop and see what kind they are.”
“And Flash…” Barrier paid the green earth pony no heed. “Of all the times he could ask me for a loan. What would he have done if I’d said no? Ah who the hell am I kidding, I couldn’t do that to Wind Whistler…” Barrier continued to trek forward, taking the occasional turn to carry them deeper into the jungle.
“Captain, watch out for that-”
Barrier sidestepped without so much as halting his whispered rant.
“Tree.” Swiftsword turned to the rest of the group. “Well, at least he reacted to Sergeant Ember’s advances responsibly. Unlike you two perverts,” she said as she glared back at the pegasus and earth mare.
“Hey, there’s nothing wrong with us having relations with one another,” Hat Trick replied defensively.
“There is when you fornicate in the communal bath.”
“When we were all in it no less,” Iron Forge added.
“Oh, it wasn’t that bad,” Winter Gem interjected this time.
“You were right beside me!” Verdant hissed.
“Disgusting,” Swiftsword made to continue, only for Barrier to cut them all off.
“There’s a river up ahead. That’s where we’ll make camp. We’ll get a little sleep before nightfall.”
“What’re we doing at nightfall, sir?”
“You’re going to learn some constellations and how to use them to navigate, and then once the sun starts to rise, we’re going to start small-unit tactics. Until then, get some sleep. It’s all you’ll get for the next couple of days. Cadet Range, Cadet Gem, fetch firewood. Cadet Swiftsword, Cadet Forge, you’re in charge of shelter. Whether you want to improvise an actual shelter or make your fellow cadets sleep on a pile of leaves is up to you.” Barrier turned to the purple pegasus and smiled almost endearingly. “Cadet Trick, you get to dig a latrine.”
“And 'tis all for now.” Barrier stretched tiredly in the water. “I’m getting hungry, and I’m starting to prune from being in the water for too long.”
“Aww, but you didn’t get to any of the good stuff! All we got was set-up!” Pinkie whined and splashed almost childishly in the water.
“Well now that I’ve reclaimed my siring staff, I’ll gladly tell the rest of my tale at the library.”