Having finished his chat with the strange unicorn, Barrier made his way to the room Daring had informed him of earlier; room three-thirty-seven, Canterlot Suites. Looking up at the overly decadent building, the unicorn groaned and put a hoof to his face. It seemed like everything in this city -barring a few exceptions- was designed to be offensive to the stallion.
I hope this goes well Barrier nosed his way through the revolving door and into the lobby. Who knows what’s considered good etiquette these days. As the stallion followed the signs to the stairs, he found his thoughts drifting back towards the dinner he’d had at the Sparkle household; it was his only real experience with modern-age dining, aside from the meals with Twilight and the ‘fast-food’ he’d enjoyed with Vinyl and Octavia. At least belching after a meal’s still a compliment to the chef, based on Velvet’s reaction.
The unicorn’s ears flicked as he approached the room in question, a soft thumping sound reaching his inner ears in a rhythm. Taking a deep breath, the unicorn raised his hoof to the door and gave it several sharp knocks, hoping once he made it into the room the infernal thumping would vanish. Barrier’s eye twitched as Daring tugged the door open and the racket grew even louder, now accompanied by previously muted words. “...got what it takes, and I’m on the attack,” Barrier’s horn flared as he set about raising a shield to block out sounds. “going after the prize, and nothing’s gonna hold me bac-” the lyrics and musical accompaniment vanished with the dome raised, much to his relief.
“Barrier?” The pegasus was waving a hoof in front of his face but stopped as the noises of the outside world vanished, replaced by the translucent glow of his shield. “Why the hay did you kill my music? It was getting to the best part.”
“I’m uncertain one can even call that music.” The pair moved further into the hotel room, the shield following them.
“Oh, it’s not that bad.” Daring rapped sharply on the bubble.“Drop this, and I’ll turn it off.”
The unicorn acquiesced, the bubble fading from existence and letting the music loose once more for all of ten brief seconds before the pegasus muted it.
“There, you happy now?”
“Very much so.” The unicorn smiled appreciatively.
“Good, then get showered. You look like a shag rug.” The mare unceremoniously shoved the unicorn into the spacious bathroom before leaving him, door being tugged closed behind her.
I needed that. Barrier stared at himself in the mirror, horn flaring before his fur erupted into a wave of steam and fluffed up almost comically. The unicorn hadn’t realized it until seeing himself in the mirror before his shower, but he had looked almost haggard, bags beneath his eyes and filthy fur.
“You done in here?” The familiar scratchy voice was accompanied by the sound of the door opening and the pony sticking her head into the bathroom, eyes settling almost immediately on the black ball of fluff staring at her.
“I will be momentarily.” The unicorn pointedly ignored the slow grin that was creeping onto the pegasus’s face.
A cracked laugh escaped the pegasus.
“Just get it out…” Barrier huffed, turning back to the mirror and levitating a brush, forcing his fluffed fur back to normal, followed by his mane.
A short bout of laughter later, Barrier found himself back in the room with a recovering pegasus.
“Your suit,” Daring tried and failed to hide another short burst of laughter, “Your suit’s on the bed.” The tan mare departed into the bathroom, still giggling as she left him alone.
Why does she even have a suit my size in a hotel room? Where does she even live…? Even as the thoughts ruled his mind, Barrier went through the practiced motions, slipping into the white undershirt and the dark jacket jacket, buttoning it up and straightening out the collar before his eyes finally settled misshapen length of red cloth. Rotating it in his magic, the stallion studied it before, with a shrug, tossing it back on the bed.
Daring reemerged from the bathroom only a few moments later on three hooves, her fourth manipulating her mane into a neat ponytail. “Hey, you ready?” Besides her working on her mane, she had donned a simple form-fitting red dress that ran from her withers along her back -with two neat holes for her wings- and finally settling just above her hocks.
“I’m…uncertain,” The stallion confessed, lifting the tie in his magic once more and turning to face her, swallowing slightly once he saw her outfit. For as simple as it was, she looked good in it. As the unicorn examined her, he realized her normally multi-tone gray tail was now two-tone teal and icy blue, while her mane remained the trademark gray. After staring in silence, Barrier finally found his words once more. “What is the purpose of this red length of cloth?”
“Ah right, you guys didn’t have ties back then, did ya? Just give me a sec to get my contacts in and my wig on and I’ll explain.” As Daring spoke, she approached the bedside dressed and tugged a drawer open, fishing around for several moments before drawing out a circular container -roughly as large as a pony’s eyes—and a wig matched to her tail, already done up in a ponytail similar to her own, “Right,” popping the container open and promptly jabbing a hoof into each of her eyes, turning each of them a deep shade of emerald, she started towards the unicorn, tossing the wig overtop of her own mane and carefully arranging it, she took the tie in her hooves and hefted herself upright on the unicorn once more.
“Stand still,” Daring instructed as she went through motions with a practiced ease, soon leaving the unicorn with a neat tie dangling from his neck; with direction from the mare, he tucked it neatly against beneath the black jacket but overtop of the undershirt.
“This suit is miserable by the way.” Barrier stretched a forehoof out, frowning at how constricting the sleeves were.
“Yeah, it’s not as good as one tailor-made for you, but you look okay in it.” The pegasus grinned, locking eyes with the unicorn. “Right, come on. Don’t wanna miss our reservation at L’anus Serré.”
“Very well, I’ll follow your lead Miss...is it Yearling tonight, or Do?”
“Neither.” The pegasus grinned almost mischievously. “Call me Masquerade.”
“Masquerade, party of two.” A beige unicorn with a styled brown mane and green eyes called out from his podium, looking around until his eyes settled on both ‘Masquerade’ and the charcoal-coated unicorn accompanying her. “Your table is ready.” the pony wasted no time motioning them both into the depths of the restaurant, both ponies following close behind.
“May I get you two a drink?” A pair of menus levitated their way over to the table, setting themselves neatly in front of the pair.
“Just a glass of cabernet sauvignon,” she replied quickly and clearly as if she’d rehearsed it.
“Uh, just a water for now, thank you.” Barrier focused his gaze on the menu, deciphering the flowing and pointlessly fancy text.
The waiter departed silently with no more than a nod.
“Water, huh? No wine?” The pegasus’s menu was still facedown on the table.
“Not just yet. I had a particularly heavy drink with an acquaintance earlier. While I’m fairly certain it’s been long enough for it to work out of my system.” The unicorn had pissed like a racehorse in the shower earlier, he was fairly certain it was gone. “I’ll wait just a little bit longer.”
“An acquaintance?” Her eyebrow show up in silent askance.
“Aye, a pony I met only today. He’s not from Equestria,” Aye, lie to her. You’re good at that. “and has seen some stuff very…similar to what I have, on a less grand scale. It was good to have someone I could talk to about such things.”
“What, I’m not good enough for you?” Daring drew her face back, almost as if insulted; Barrier only gave her a flat stare. “You’re no fun.” The pegasus huffed, briefly glancing around for their waiter.
“It’s nothing personal, D-” the unicorn caught himself. “Masquerade, but there are certain things I can’t just talk to anypony about, even you. It’s…hard to explain, but the mindset needed for such a thing is something one only gains through experience with those situations. At the risk of sounding rude, you’ll never—at least I hope—know what it’s like.”
“Relax horn-head, I was just joking with ya.” Daring smiled weakly. “I get that there are some things you can’t talk to just anypony about and that I’ll probably never understand what it’s like to do what you did. I’m okay with that.” Their drinks were placed neatly in front of them and Daring took a moment to sip her wine before turning to face the waiter who had seemingly appeared out of thin air.
“Your drinks,” he tilted his head forward slightly. “Have you decided what you will be having this evening?”
Daring held her menu out to the beige unicorn, “I’ll have the flamiche,”
“I’ll have the chicken cordon bleu.” Barrier’s menu joined hers in the tan aura of their waiters magic.
“Very good. I’ll have them out in around twenty minutes.” The waiter’s head dipped forward once more.
“Ah,” Barrier raised a hoof, “bring a glass of wine with mine if you wouldn’t mind. Same as hers.”
The waiter nodded again before, like before, departing silently.
“So.” The pair met eyes once more, Daring picking the conversation back up, “As I was saying, I’m okay with that, as long as you promise not to bottle all that stuff up. Nopony can be an island.” The pegasus’s smile warmed slightly. “Even if only a little, you gotta let someone in. Whether it’s me or not doesn’t matter, as long as you’re not trying to do it all yourself.”
Barrier felt a slight warmth in his chest as it finally dawned on him the extent that Daring seemed to care; besides his family, there had only ever been a single pony that had seemed as invested in his well-being. Finally, a genuine smile—one of the very few in recent months—settled on the charcoal ponies muzzle. “Thank you, Daring. I assure you I’ll do my best.”
“Good,” was the mare’s simple reply as she once more focused on her wine. “So, with that out of the way, what’re your plans now? What’ll you do from here? I know I’m gonna take a vacation from treasure-hunting for a little bit. At least until the princess needs me again.”
Barrier thought about it for several long moments before shrugging. “Likely I’ll do nothing until the empire returns. The princess seemed quite sure, so I assume she has something in mind. I simply have to wait and see. I will be staying in Canterlot until I know something though. I want to be as close as possible whenever it returns.”
“Makes sense I guess, but I meant what’re you gonna do besides work? I still plan on taking you out for a night on the town to show you some of Canterlot’s night-life, but even that won’t last forever.”
“I…don’t know, honestly.” Barrier confessed. “I’ve not thought that far ahead. Ironic considering it used to be a part of my job to do so, but…what should I do? I had planned on visiting more cities across Equestria, but with the Empire, it’ll not happen.”
“Why not find a part-time job or something to whittle away the time? Add a little more money to what you’ve got.” The pegasus’s eyes shone slightly as a thought seemed to cross her mind.
“You seem like you have something in mind.” Barrier took a deep breath as their plates were levitated to the table; how long had it been since he’d had meat of any kind? While ponies weren’t carnivorous, they could eat meat, in moderation, and ever since basic training he’d taken a bit of a taste to the white meat. Perhaps some subconscious link to Griffins? They were both birds after all. Sort of.
“I think I know a pony who’ll hire you, but you have to promise to at least give it a try.” Daring quickly turned to the waiter and raised the wine-glass she had emptied at some point. “Can I get a bottle of Chartreuse green and a couple of wine-glasses?”
The waiter once more nodded silently before departing; must’ve been protocol. “So, if I can get a job will you promise to at least try it?”
Barrier hesitantly nodded, despite every alarm in his head warning him not to.
“Good, now then-” a tall glass bottle with a green liquor in it planted itself on the table, as well as a pair of glasses, followed by the waiter tilting his head respectfully yet again; Daring wasted no time pouring two glasses and setting the green liquor next to Barrier’s still untouched wine. “the day after tomorrow, we’ll meet my friend Fleur Dis Lee. She’ll be the one to decide if you get the job or not.”
Daring threw back the green liquid and refilled her glass, motioning to Barrier’s own; he quickly replicated the act, though he seemed to savor the taste longer, rolling the fluid around his mouth for a moment before swallowing and sighing in satisfaction at the sweet liquid as well as the excellent burn it provided; Daring poured them both another glass and grinned.
“No…” Daring slurred slightly, moving to thrust her hoof out to him only to have it flop uselessly onto the table, their plates rattling slightly, “it’s…” Daring scrunched her muzzle up slightly as she hiccupped. “y’see, allll the schtuff under Mount St. Hillary over in Griffin Rock, it’s…it’s like a Faust-damned shi-gi movie…” Daring stopped to take another drink, drinking directly from the bottle this time before sliding it over to the listening unicorn who drank directly from the bottle as well.
“Y’me-” Barrier hiccupped, “mean Griffonstone?” Barrier’s muzzle scrunched up this time, “An’ what’s shi-gi, what’s a movie, and d’ya mean Griffinstone, not Griffin Rock?”
“Nah, yer thinkin’ bout that shithole on the mainland.” Neither of the ponies noticed the dirty stares being thrown their way from the fellow restaurant patrons. “Griffin Rock’s an island and…ah crap, Fowler said I wasn’t shupposed to talk about it…” the pegasus seemed to think for a moment before staring at the near-empty bottle of chartreuse and an accompanying, completely empty bottle of wine. “Eh, screw’em, so Gr-” Daring was interrupted by a familiar beige unicorn loudly clearing his throat. “W’you want?” Daring eyed the waiter lazily.
“My apologies, mademoiselle, but our manager has seen fit to cease serving you alcohol after your third bottle of Chartreuse and the noise you’ve caused. He kindly asks that you pay your bill and leave.”
“Eh…” Daring glanced at the bottle that Barrier was now taking the courtesy of emptying. “Might ‘s well. You gotta point ‘bout the booze too. C’mon Barrier, let’sh git back to the hotel PDQ…good as the food is, I don’t wanna taste it a second time…” Daring hiccupped and stood up only to fall forward, stumbling face-first into the floor.
Barrier hefted himself upright as well, managing to stay upright with only a slight stumble. Slow deep breaths… his mind counseled as his horn flared to life, levitating a stack of bits from…where do we store things whenever we’ve no saddlebags…? Ah well, figure it out when I’m sober… and dropping them to the table before picking the pegasus up and dropping her carefully on his back before stumbling his way out of the restaurant and back towards her hotel room.
With a tired flap of her wings, Daring managed to awkwardly propel herself from the unicorn’s back and onto the bed, sending his head spinning as he struggled to stay upright.
From the bed, the mare’s voice drunkenly slurred out, “Shay Barrier, I’m not tired and I can still mostly shee, how ‘bout you?”
“I’d shay about the same…” Barrier’s speech was slower and more measured, but equally slurred.
“In that case…” Daring grunted as she propped her hips up. “Wanna go diving into the Cave of Wondersh?”
Barrier’s vision seemed to straighten as he eyed the mare’s wiggling rump, as well another part of his anatomy straightening. “Alright, but I’m sure we’ll both enjoy what thish cave’s gon’a have…” With a drunken hop, the unicorn joined her on the bed…
And it was glorious … and sloppy.