With a crash, Barrier rolled off of the bed in a mess of limbs and blankets as a loud blaring rang throughout the hotel room. In a panic, he flared his horn…just in time for the splitting headache and dry mouth to set in. Rather than the intended teleport, he found himself groaning as he stared upright at the familiar pegasus, a pair of earmuffs clamped tightly over her ears and a strange object (that he would later learn was an air horn) in her mouth.
“Morning.” The pegasus grinned down at him, amusement dancing in her eyes.
With a tired sigh, Barrier’s head fell backwards, bouncing slightly off of the carpet.
“Do you wake everypony up that way or just me?” Barrier held a bag of ice to his temple and sipped a glass of water.
“That was for not pulling out last night, Captain Super-Soaker. You’re damned lucky I’m on the pill.”
“You had my hips in a death-grip! I couldn’t even move.”
“That’s bull and you know it! You were on top!”
The pair stared at each other intensely for a brief moment before half-smiles broke out on both of their muzzles.
“So,” Daring sipped her own water, nursing a far less intense headache than her counterpart.
“So…” Barrier glanced up, his eyes locking with hers. “Apologies if this comes out weird, I’m new this sort of thing, but what did last night mean? To us I mean.” Barrier wasn’t entirely a stranger to one-night stands—even he had needs—but for the longest time, he’d had Ember. What even were he and Daring to each other at this point? Acquaintances? Friends? Something more? You could do far worse than her, you know. The irritating little voice in his mind made it’s presence known.
Daring stayed in silent thought for a moment before shrugging. “I don’t really know. I know how I seem sometimes, but I don’t take that many to bed. Usually too busy for any of that really. Maybe we’re friends with benefits, maybe we’re something more. Why don’t we just play it by ear for now and see where we end up, hm?”
Barrier nodded silently, eyes closing as he took another long drink of his water. “So, what’s on the agenda for the day?”
“Well, you will probably have a job interview.”
Barrier’s eyes opened to Daring’s grin.
“You agreed to meet with a friend of mine last night for potential modelling, assuming you suit her needs.”
“Buuuut, since you probably need some time to sort out that hangover and clean up, how about we go see the sights? I can put the Masquerade outfit on, fake cutie-mark included in under two minutes.”
“Let me shower first, and we’ll go from there.” Barrier slowly pulled himself off of the bed, draining the last of his water as he did so.
“Fair enough. I’m gonna order some breakfast. Want anything?”
“I’ll have whatever you’re having.” The unicorn arched his back, eliciting several sharp cracks and a groan of relief. “And Daring?”
The pegasus tilted her head slightly.
“Thank you,” Barrier nuzzled her gently before stepping past her and into the bathroom. “For everything you’ve done for me. Were it not for you…well, thank you, in any case.”
Daring’s smile softened slightly and she simply nodded as the unicorn’s magic shut the bathroom door behind him.
“The museum?” It was Barrier’s turn to tilt his head in curiosity.
“Yeah. There’ve been a lot of new exhibits set up since you were last here, thought you might want to check a few of them out. There’s one in particular I personally put a fair amount of time and effort into. Just try not to turn it into ash, okay?” ‘Masquerade’ nosed her way through the front doors, her companion following closely behind, his horn absently flaring to pay for the tickets.
Within minutes, the unicorn found his gaze drawn upwards to the dark purple lettering and surprisingly foreboding wing of the museum done up in equally dark-themed colors.
“Welcome...” Daring swept a hoof extravagantly. “...to The Nightmare War exhibit.”
“One week in Tartarus.” Barrier took several steps forward, crossing into the exhibit, eyes almost immediately settling on a life-sized statue of Nightmare Moon.
The disguised pegasus nodded. “That’s what the exhibit says.”
Barrier did a complete three-sixty, trying to take in the entire exhibit before stopping at the statue of Nightmare Moon once more, as well as the thestrals standing around her, or strung up from the ceiling as if in flight. Across the room stood a similar statue of the solar diarch, her body covered in form-fitting battle-armor. Even as nothing more than a statue, the Princess’s form and armor seemed to inspire confidence in the unicorn. Slowly, his eyes drifted to her side and his breath hitched in his throat when his gaze rested on a strikingly lifelike representation of himself, as well as ponies that were clearly modeled after his former comrades-in-arms.
Barrier opened his mouth in an attempt to speak, but words escaped the unicorn, so instead he just stood there, taking in the statues until a tan hoof rested on his withers.
“Hey, you okay?” Daring’s fake eyes met his briefly before he nodded.
“Aye, just…astonished. I wasn’t expecting anything like this.” Barrier moved forward, phantom pains running through his limbs as his mind flashed back to the fight with Nightmare Moon and subsequent banishment.
“I did what I could to make sure your sculpture look as much like you as possible. We had to cheap out on the armor though. We ended up getting it from a Nightmare Night costume store. Still, I think it looks pretty good, and it’s definitely period-accurate.”
“It looks spectacular. And it’s good to see them,” he motioned to his comrades. “Even if only as statues.”
“We didn’t really have any period of reference for them beyond an old painting of Captain Sentry and there’s surprisingly little documentation on any of them, even in the castle library.
Aye, most of what we did was never documented. “Is there anything here about the atrocities Flash Sentry committed after the war?”
“You mean the attempted genocide.” Daring replied, but it wasn’t really a question. “There’s not here. Schools take field-trips here. The ponies designing the exhibit thought it best if certain things were omitted. It’s not really a secret or anything, but the stuff they have about Captain” Daring emphasized the rank, “Sentry is pretty much just for ponies studying history in late high-school or college.”
Barrier only hummed slightly in response before staring intently at the statue of his long-deceased best friend. “You know, he still owed me quite a lot of bits.” Barrier reached out and pressed a hoof to the cool plaster. “Well, not so much this day I suppose.” Taking a deep breath, Barrier slowly exhaled before removing his hoof. “Goodbye Flash,” his gaze shifted to the other side and fell on the rough recreation of Ember. “Goodbye Ember.” He looked to the back row. “Styx, Braeburn, Silver…it was an honor.” Blinking back the tears before they could start, Barrier gave a hard salute before turning and leaving the exhibit, his companion following close behind.
Neither pony spoke, instead simply walking throughout the museum. At some point Daring had leaned into him and locked his gaze once more. “You okay?”
Barrier seemed to roll the question around for a moment before nodding and slightly leaning his own weight into her; a show of trust among ponies, indicating they trusted each other not to let them fall. “Yes. It…it felt good to really say goodbye to them. Well, the best goodbye I can give unto them anyways.” Barrier took another deep breath, a smile forming on his muzzle as he exhaled. “It feeleth like a weight hath been lifted. I-”
Barrier’s words fell short as his gaze fell on another sign, each word striking him like a hammerblow. “The Fall and Return of Gallopfrey.” Entirely of its own volition the unicorn’s body moved forward, though no sooner than he’d entered the room did his body tense tighter than a coiled spring as his eyes fixated on the exceptionally well-made statue of one of his most-hated enemies, from the sharp golden eyes to the black feathers and her massive size.
“Easy, she’s just a statue,” Daring’s voice calmly stated. “Her skull’s locked up right there in that case.” The tan pegasus nodded towards a display-case next to the statue.
“I know, it’s just… very life-like. She’s one of the very few things that truly scares me. She was the closest I ever came to death, save my fight with Nightmare Moon. She was quite literally seconds away from killing me. Had she not wanted to toy with me, I wouldn’t be here. She levelled me. I’ve never been so powerless.”
“You were betrayed,” the pegasus counselled. “You didn’t have any magic, you were fighting with a magic-inhibitor on.”
“That’s no excuse.” Barrier shook his head in annoyance. “I should have been expecting it. I should have been ready for everything, but I was too trusting. I was trained for years to kill Griffins in almost every way fathomable.” Barrier snorted as Daring draped herself over his back, her weight strangely comforting to the unicorn.
“I lost.” Barrier shrugged and snaked his head around to the pegasus he was now supporting the weight of almost entirely. “I fared better against a dark alicorn with complete control over the night. Nightmare Moon was tapped into the darkest magics known to ponykind, and even she didn’t beat me as badly as Grimhilde.” Barrier gazed balefully at the statue. “But so long as Grimhilde is gone, I’ll cope. I’ll not let her drag me down. Had she survived the war though…”
Barrier found his mind drifting to a dark place, almost wondering how he’d have reacted if they’d had to surrender to the griffins because of the Nightmare Moon incident; he didn’t like where the thoughts took him, and luckily, a sharp hoof to the back of his head snapped him out of them.
“No brooding. You’re supposed to be having a good time. Come on, why don’t we go meet Fleur and see if we can’t land you a job?”
Barrier glanced at the statue once more, his gaze following Grimhilde from top to bottom before his eyes fell on the pony beneath her claws, the curly grey hair and rust-colored coat sticking with him. He glanced briefly at the plaque. Time Turner the Third. The final mayor of Gallopfrey. The unicorn tore his gaze away and departed, his companion freeing him of her weight as she took up stride alongside him. “Did any good come from Grimhilde historically?”
“Uh…” Daring thought for a moment before nodding. “Yeah, her daughter, Varia, ended up becoming an ambassador to Equestria and a big peace advocate during the rule of Queen Farica if I remember correctly.”
“A shame I’d never the opportunity to meet her. She sounds like a more agreeable griffin than her mother.” Barrier’s ear twitched and he found himself staring intently down a nearby hallway. The feeling of being watched seemed to be becoming a regular thing. “Right, let’s go meet your friend and see what she has to say before I find something else to brood on.”
I wonder who is thinner, this mare or Cadance?
“Ah, Masquerade!” A light-gray mare with a heavy Prench accent began. “It’s so good to see you again!” The mare hugged ‘Masquerade’ lightly before turning her gaze to the charcoal unicorn in the room and her eyes almost seemed to light up. “This is the stallion you mentioned to moi?”
“This is him. Magic Barrier, meet Fleur Dis Lee. Fleur, this is my good friend Magic Barrier. He’s looking for work and I figured he might suit your needs.”
“Hm…” Fleur walked towards her fellow unicorn and stared at him intently, her eyes tracing every curve of his body, occasionally poking or prodding his siders or shoulder.
Why do I feel like a piece of food on display for a starving crowd?
“Hm...we will need to allow some makeup to draw attention away from the flank. Is terribly flat, no? Perhaps a little magic…”
“Trust me, with what he’s got downstairs, you won’t need to worry about the pancake-plot.”
Fleur clopped a hoof to the floor in satisfaction. “Very well, come Monsieur Barrier. I hope you don’t have problems with all of Equestria seeing you wear a tight lace ensemble.”
Barrier swallowed nervously as both Daring and Fleur began to tug him towards the back room; what had he gotten himself in to?