“Barrier! You up?”
Barrier didn’t reply, instead tugging the door open with his horn. He appeared to be sitting on his cot perfectly still, horn glowing brightly and seeming to drip excess mana which spread out and dissipated on the ground.
“I gathered all of the guards most eligible out in the yard for you.” Shining winced as Barrier’s horn died down and left the spear of bone glowing almost white hot. The unicorns in the guards were required to build their mana-reserves to a certain point, but Barrier’s had been somewhat extreme at a glance.
“I’ll be along shortly.” The unicorn finally spoke, seemingly out of breath.
“Uh, right.” Shining Armor tugged the door close, teleporting to the training yard…to see Magic Barrier already there, having appeared just before him, and appearing almost exhausted. “Uh, Barrier? You want an espresso or something? I could get you one from the mess hall…”
The charcoal stallion didn’t reply, instead gazing out at the hundred or so assembled ponies. These were the most eligible? He almost scoffed. They’re not bad, they’re just not what you’re used to.
“Barrier, did you hear me?” Shining jabbed the unicorn in the side. “Do you want an espresso or something? You look like you’re dead on your hooves.”
“An espresso?” The pony’s head tilted curiously. “Is that the modern term for cocaine? Why would you keep cocaine in the mess hall instead of the infirmary? Nevermind that; if it is, then yes. I was unable to sleep last night and am exhausted after my magical exercise.”
“Uh, cocaine’s illegal, Barrier. Like really illegal.” Shining pressed a hoof to his muzzle; for some reason, he was beginning to feel tired.
“Yes, the princess said something along those lines on my return, but if cocaine is illegal, then what do you use to energize troops in extended combat, or to numb pains?”
“Just wait here.” The younger unicorn groaned and disappeared with another teleport.
“Right, while he’s doing that, do any of you ponies know why you’re here?”
All of the ponies held their silence initially until finally a mint-green earth-pony mare stepped forward out of the front row. “Sir, we’re here to see if we’re the right ponies for a secret mission to the north!”
“Gold star.” Barrier perked up slightly and began to pace along the front row of ponies. “Three of you will be selected. One unicorn, one earth-pony and one pegasus…” he spotted Cobalt a row back, her height making her stick out. “Or thestral will be selected for this. It will be dangerous. There is a very good possibility you won’t be coming back from it.” Barrier’s gaze hardened as some of the ponies swallowed nervously. “So,” Barrier’s put an edge into his tone and threw on his usual hard stare. “Those among you willing to sacrifice everything for Equestria, take two steps forward. The rest of you, go back to your duties.”
Much to the unicorn’s surprise, almost everypony took two steps forward. I can respect that, at the very least. Barrier turned his back to the group as the familiar smell of ozone reached his nose, followed by Shining Armor winking into existence across from him, a solitary white cup floating across him. “Drink this,” he thrust it into his companion’s magic. “It’ll perk you right up. Probably not as good as cocaine, but it’ll do the job with less harmful side effects.”
Barrier did as instructed, taking a sip and hissing as the bitter liquid ran across his tongue. “It certainly isn’t as smooth as cocaine. Still, if it doesn’t have the low then I’ll not complain. Now then,” his gaze shifted back to the guards. “Take two steps apart from each other!” Barrier waited until they did so to start perusing the rows. For ten long minutes, the unicorn sipped his coffee - most certainly enjoying the rush - and eyeing each of the guards with as soul-crushing a gaze as he could muster while drinking said coffee.
“So,” Shining started as soon as Barrier had separated himself from the group. “Got some ponies in mind?”
“Mint-green earth-pony and the female unicorn with the rainbow-mane and tail.” Barrier drained the last of his coffee and regretfully disposed of the empty cup with his magic; Princess Celestia would not be happy to find trash lying about.
Shining nodded and yelled out.“Ensign Moonstone, Lieutenant Spearmint, step to the front!”
Barrier watched as mint-green earth-pony mare stepped forward and saluted sharply. Mint-green coat, four-tone green mane composed of lime green, pine-green, forest-green and a single stripe of white. Green fleur-de-lis with three white sparkles for a cutie mark. Barrier committed her appearance to memory before shifting to the unicorn that had joined her. ...Rainbow Dash…? Barrier had almost wondered if his eyes had been playing tricks on him earlier, but now that she was apart from the rainbow of ponies, he could tell that it was, in fact, not. The mare was almost identical to Rainbow Dash, save for the fact that she had a horn poking out of her prismatic mane rather than wings and a pink bow attached to the base of her tail. The only other difference was her cutie mark, composed of several blue and silver planets, a ring wrapped around the larger planet in the center.
“And the third pony?” Shining Armor asked, glancing back at his distant relative.
“Cobalt Lancer.” Barrier replied without hesitation and went back to eyeing the two ponies he’d chosen once more.
Shining Armor reiterated the name. “Cadet Cobalt Lancer, step forward!”
As the familiar mass of thestral broke from the ranks, Shining Armor took a deep breath and boomed out: “Everypony else, dismissed! Go back to your regular duties!” Almost immediately the guards began to file back into the castle, muttering amongst themselves. “Do you need anything else, Barrier? If not, I’ve gotta go start the paperwork on these three being reassigned.”
“No, you’re good to go, Captain. Thank you for the assistance.”
Barrier and Shining shared a salute before the white unicorn also made his way back into the castle, forgoing teleportation for whatever reason.
“All three of you report to the training yard at zero-five-hundred tomorrow morning. From now until the conclusion of the mission, your flanks belong to me.” And I swear I’ll not let you down…not like the others.
“Aren’t you gonna buy us dinner first?” Moonstone asked with the slightest hint of a grin. “Seriously, our mission better not be just being your damned herd. I know I can do way better than you.”
Both Spearmint and Cobalt looked at the mare like she was insane.
By Faust, you even sound like Rainbow Dash, “Don’t flatter yourself, bastard twin; I’m out of your league. You three have the rest of the day off. Get your affairs in order because starting tomorrow, from sun up to sun down, you begin your training and tuition under me. You’ll either die, or get good enough to be a part of the mission.” Barrier left no room in his tone for a response. “Dismissed.”
Barrier’s eyes snapped open almost immediately as the alarm clock began to ring. With practiced movements, his hoof fell onto the switch and the stallion rolled out of his cot. The room was little more than a plain stone room with a cot the stallion had commandeered from the barracks, a nightstand he’d taken from a storage closet, and the alarm clock which he had ‘borrowed’ from the princess of the night. Letting loose a deep yawn, the unicorn rubbed the crust from his eyes and stumbled towards the door, willing his body to take him to the single luxury he’d been afforded - by his own choice - in the twenty-five days that Daring Do had been gone; the royal bathing area.
Twenty-five days with the perfect bathing area…normally, one wouldn’t even consider bathing in the princesses’ bathtub, but Princess Luna had insisted after she realized Barrier was once more staying at the castle and that his schedule somewhat lined up with her own; she had insisted that the company would be nice.
“Tis open,” the familiar voice of Princess Luna rang out, the large stone door tugging itself open as it was encased in the princess’s magic.
“Ma’am.” Barrier gave a sharp salute as he met the gaze of the lunar diarch.
“We’ve told thee every day for the last three weeks that you don’t have to salute Us, Barrier. We believe we’re past such formalities at this particular point.” Luna’s magic tugged her mane straight and twisted it tightly, wringing the water from it.
“Apologies, Luna. Old habits die hard.” The unicorn slipped into the water himself, inwardly groaning as relief rolled through him. Wasting no time, his magic flared and set about washing him as he and Luna shared a brief exchange.
“We take it thou art going out to exercise before the rest of the guard?” Luna’s horn died out as she approached the edge of the pool and hefted herself up, paying no mind to her dripping.
“Yes ma’am.” Barrier had already lathered his coat and mane up. “And then I’ll run through their drills with them, along with Captain Armor.” He took a deep breath and submerged himself entirely in the water.
“We see.” Luna sighed, having already expected the response. Barrier, like Celestia, seemed to have been overtaken by a single focus since the departure of his pegasus companion; the Empire, or more specifically, preparation for it. “Why not take a day off? It wouldn’t do for you to burn yourself out, now would it?”
The unicorn resurfaced and took a quick gasp of air. “With all due respect Princess, I’ll be fine. I need to be as ready as I can be, physically and mentally. Since my return, I’ve not kept up with exercise or my meals.”
Luna sighed and nodded her head as the conversation went the exact same way it had before. “Very well, Barrier. We will see you when you return to bathe for the night.”
“Princess.” The unicorn waited until the mare had left to start swimming laps around the pool-sized bathtub, the only real reason he’d agreed to use the princesses’ tub rather than the servants’; surprisingly, the castle didn’t have any dedicated swimming pools.
“Cadet Cobalt, Lieutenant Spearmint.” Barrier tilted his head in acknowledgement of the two mares as he stepped out onto the training field in a full set of armor, sword and shield dangling off of his left and right side.
“Barrier.” Cobalt nodded in return and gave a slight smile, shifting her spear to the other hoof.
“Captain Barrier.” Spearmint saluted sharply with one hoof while balancing herself on the spear held firmly in the other.
“Just Barrier, Lieutenant.” Barrier fixed his gaze on the mint-green earth-pony mare as he repeated the line he’d used four times before. “I’ve not yet been officially reinstated. Also, tie your mane up.”
Spearmint’s salute dropped and she moved a hoof up to her mane to do as instructed.
“Where’s Moonstone?” The unicorn glanced to the side of Cobalt, seeming to try and peer behind her, drawing a deadpan stare from the large thestral.
“Sorry!” The mare in question slid into the training field, helm held firmly in her magic and her rainbow-colored mane shaking as she tried to collect her breath from her mad sprint. “I overslept since I was up late checking out Orion’s Comet last night.”
“That makes the third time in just over three weeks.” Barrier gave her a flat stare. “Mayhaps I made the wrong choice in choosing you for this assignment.”
“Oh don’t be like that, the whole reason I joined the guard was to help me keep in shape and get bits for college. This will help me get both.” The mare tried to smooth her coat out in her magic. “Besides that, I can’t lose the bet I have with Spearmint no matter what.”
The earth-pony didn’t reply.
“Right, now that Rainbow Dash the unicorn is here, let’s get started. Assuming you’ve all already limbered up,” Barrier took a deep breath and stretched his forelegs out. “One-hundred and fifty push-ups.”
The three ponies all followed the order, dropping into position and beginning their push-ups; only Moonstone groaned as she did so.
“Why does he keep comparing to that shopaholic earth pony?” Moonstone took everypony’s silence as an opportunity to talk. “Other than colors, what do we even have in common?”
“You always dress in style?” Cobalt Lancer offered, “What with that bow on the base of your tail.”
“Hey, it’s also a really good improvised weapon!” Moonstone started to argue only for Barrier to cut them off.
“If you can talk, you can do an extra thirty pushups!” Barrier’s statement received a groan and silence.
“As soon as we finish here, we’re going to do one-hundred and twenty sit-ups, fifteen pull-ups and then we’re going to the royal washroom to swim laps!”
That statement got him three groans, allowing the stallion to grin inwardly.
All of the ponies snapped to attention as the regal voice of Princess Luna graced their ears. Looking up, they realized they had an audience in both princesses.
“I didn’t say stop, ponies!” Barrier snapped harshly at the cadets who all quickly went back to the exercise.
“Princess Celestia, Princess Luna,” Barrier’s salute held even as the ponies continued to do their push-ups. “How can I be of assistance?”
Luna was the first to answer, waving Barrier’s salute away. “We have just received word that the Crystal Empire has returned, Captain. Your train leaves at fourteen-hundred hours today.”