“I apologize for waking you so early, Spike, but I need you to send a letter to the princess.” In truth, it had only been five or so hours since Barrier had sent everyone to bed. It’s probably around… three-thirty hours now, give or take? In that time, the unicorn had sat down with the doctor and made out a list of everything he knew, from the supplies they had, to the ponies the doctor had treated to the apparent lack of Sombra and his magic.
“S’okay…” Spike yawned deeply before taking the scroll from the charcoal pony and with a deep breath, sent it on its way. “So what was it?” Spike sat back on his bed.
“Just a status report.” Barrier explained. “Just telling her the princess what the situation here is like as well as listing the supplies and ponies we have and their condition.”
Spike nodded, “So…what do we do now?”
“We wait.” Barrier sighed and sat next to Spike on his cot. “Sombra will return, that much is certain. Until then, we prepare. We rest up and we plan.”
Spike tilted his head curiously. “How will you know when Sombra comes back?”
A third voice was the one to answer. “We’ll feel it.”
Swiftsword shifted off of her makeshift bed. “Sombra’s magic is like having a blanket thrown over you that no matter how hard you try, you can not get off. Tis smothering.”
“Yeah…” Barrier sighed and lit his horn, pulling a thin silver flask from the saddlebags he still wore. “His magical presence is very tangible.” He threw back a mouthful of the liquid before holding it out to Swiftsword in his magic, who also took a swallow of it, before handing it back to the captain, who offered it to Spike.
“That sounds kinda scary.” Spike sniffed the steel flask before turning his head away in apparent disgust. “Yeugh, what’s in that?”
Barrier half-smiled. “Whiskey, from Princess Celestia’s private stash.”
“So, Captain.” Iron Forge’s voice joined, followed by the rest of the ponies silently gathering around Spike’s bed. “What’s the plan?”
“Hold on…” Rainbow Dash called from her own bed as she lazily stretched out. “Gimme a minute to wake up before we talk about plans…”
“Wouldst any of thee wish to partake in some cocaine?” The white-coated, blue-maned pegasus nurse offered to Rainbow Dash as if it were the most normal thing ever, her hoof outstretched with a small pile of the powder.
“Hm…” Pinkie tiredly climbed out of her cot and groggily approached the nurse’s outstretched hoof only for another pony to panic and bolt from her bed.
“Pinkie Pie, no!” Rarity tugged the pink earth pony away, eyes wide at the near-miss.
“Good call.” Barrier praised, having gone wide-eyed from his spot as well. “I don’t even want to imagine what she would be like if we gave her an upgrade from sugar.”
“Captain.” Verdant Range spoke this time. “The plan?”
“Even if we defeat Sombra, we shalt have to somehow hold the city until reinforcements arrive. The griffins will no doubt see the city in its weakened state as a prime target for attack.” Swiftsword chimed in.
Rarity paid no heed to the discussion of a plan. “Honestly, why do you have cocaine here of all places?”
“Why not? Tis a medicine one can acquire from any pharmacy.” The nurse returned the powder to its box when it seemed none of the ponies were going to partake.
“Wait until the others wake up.” Barrier hefted himself from Spike’s bed, replacing the flask in his saddlebags. “They’re as involved in this as we are. As for the griffins, they’ll no longer be a worry. Things have changed drastically during the time you’ve spent in the Empire.”
“How much could have changed in a fortnight, Captain?”
“I’ll tell you all when this whole ordeal is settled, I promise, but until then I need all of you focused and your minds here. Can you do that for me? Keep your curiosity at bay just a little longer?”
The cadets frowned, but one-by-one they gave nods of acknowledgement.
“Good.” Barrier glanced past the group and saw that the element bearers all seemed to have awoken, as well as the Captain and Princess joining them in the main room.
“Barrier.” Cadance drew the stallion’s attention. “There’s something pulsing through the empire. It’s far fainter than most anypony would notice, but it’s certainly there.”
Barrier grimaced but nodded. “You heard the princess, it sounds like things are getting started. Gather ‘round so I can go over our plan.” The unicorn waited until they had done so to continue. “The pulse that the Princess is feeling is likely Sombra’s magic gathering for his return. I have some theories as to why he didn’t return with the empire, but they’re irrelevant now. Our best chance to bring him down will be to catch him as he reforms.”
Shining Armor raised a hoof, waiting until Barrier nodded in his direction to speak. “How do we know where he’ll reform at?”
Barrier wasted no time in answering. “By all rights, he should reappear where he disappeared, which would be where the princesses last encountered him. The throne-room of the Crystal Palace.”
Swiftsword raised her hoof this time. “And the potential for a griffin attack? You said they’re no longer a worry.”
Barrier smiled at the mare. “There’s no chance of that. The griffins surrendered after Princess Celestia personally reclaimed Gallopfrey.”
“Faust…” Iron Forge had a smile of his own. “I may yet live to see my mother again.”
Barrier didn’t continue his speech, instead inwardly cursing himself. Forgive me, Forge…
Twilight took the moment of silence to speak. “We need to figure out what to do after Sombra as well. Judging by the growing cold in the Empire, Sombra’s probably removed the Crystal Heart. If we can’t find it fast enough, then we’ll need to evacuate the Empire. A lot of ponies won’t have the fortitude to survive the blizzard if it manages to engulf the Empire.”
“And how will we do that?” Verdant asked the lavender unicorn. “We have far too many ponies, many of which are sick or injured,”
“Or both,” Hat Trick offered helpfully.
“And there’s no way we could transport them to safety from here.” Verdant finished, completely disregarding Hat Trick’s addendum.
“We have a type of vehicle roughly a mile from the city called a train.” Barrier took over the discussion again. “It can transport up to one-hundred ponies comfortably and reach the center of Equestria in less than a day. Worse comes to worse, we put those in the worst condition on the train and send them further into Equestria. Hopefully it won’t come to that.”
“So,” Cadance tapped a hoof on the floor, drawing attention to her. “What’s the actual plan for Sombra?”
“The elements are our only real hope of combating him. One-on-one, none of us stand a chance. Faust, even if all of us were all to empty our magical reserves on him, we wouldn’t do little more than irritate him.”
“Is he really that strong?” Rainbow Dash asked almost incredulously.
“He fought both Princess Celestia and Princess Luna to a stand-still and managed to survive, Rainbow Dash.” Cobalt Lancer offered to the prismatic mare along with a deadpan stare.
“This is a bit off-topic,” Hat Trick chimed in, “But why don’t we introduce ourselves? We haven’t actually done that yet.”
“Right, apologies.” Barrier cleared his throat. “I forgot about that. Right, starting with the element bearers,” Barrier began to point to the ponies as he named them. “Rainbow Dash, Twilight Sparkle, Applejack, Fluttershy, Rarity, Pink Devil,” he didn’t react to the almost-horrifying grin Pinkie gave him, “Cadet Cobalt Lancer, Ensign Moonstone, Lieutenant Spearmint, Honorary Communications Officer Spike, Captain Shining Armor,” Barrier took a deep breath. “And finally,”
“Sir?” Swiftsword raised her hoof and interrupted the stallion. “Apologies for interrupting, but I thought Princess Celestia and Luna wielded the Elements of Harmony?”
“The Elements chose them as the new bearers shortly before these six defeated Nightmare Moon.”
“Nightmare…Moon?” Winter Gem asked, her intonation clearly a question.
Rainbow Dash answered before Barrier could. “Long story short, Princess Luna turned evil, we kicked her flank, now we’re the bearers of the Elements of Harmony.”
“There’s more to it than that, but that’s the gist of it.” Barrier waited to see if there were any further further interruptions. “Now that that’s out of the way, the last member of the group is Princess Glutei a Forma di Cuore.” Barrier’s tone shifted to a slightly Bitalian accent towards the end. All save two ponies looked at him in slight confusion; Cadance had a slightly amused expression on her face while Swiftsword had a deadpan one.
“Sir, dost thou really believe us to be fools? None of us would believe for even an instant that a princess would have a name meaning ‘heart-shaped buttocks’.”
Verdant chuckled nervously and his eyes shifted back and forth. “Yes, that would be most ridiculous.”
“Are you insulting my name?” Cadance asked with mock-offense, doing well to hide her grin; almost immediately all five of the cadets fell to the ground in a full-bow.
“Apologies, Princess. Please forgive my foolishness.” Swiftsword didn’t meet Cadance’s gaze; if she had, she’d have seen the grin.
“I’m kidding,” Cadance’s grin broke into laughter. “My actual name and title is Princess Mi Amore Cadenza, but everypony calls me Cadance. Only Shining Armor gets to call me Heartbutt.”
Swiftsword’s eye twitched as her head shifted just slightly, allowing her to gaze up at Barrier, who was sporting a grin of his own. Shining Armor was blushing while Twilight’s jaw dropped.
“Sir, with all due respect,” Hat Trick spoke from the ground, “this is not the time for jest.”
Iron Forge snorted. “Tis most rich coming from thou, Hat Trick.”
Barrier ignored Hat Trick’s statement and turned to address the element-bearer’s. “And these are my cadets,”
“Privates now, actually.” Fleetfeather offered from the back of the group where she’d been entirely silent beforehoof. “I field-commissioned all of them when things went south.”
Barrier nodded in response. “I see. In that case, as some of you may’ve guessed, these are my privates; The group I personally trained at the princesses’ request. Iron Forge, Verdant Range, Hat Trick,” Like the others, Barrier pointed them out. “Swiftsword, and Winter Gem. The mare out of her bed there,” He eyed Fleetfeather with a frown. “Is Sergeant Fleetfeather, a close friend.”
“So uh…” Shining raised his hoof again. “How long will they stay like that?” He motioned to the cadets.
Barrier smiled at the bowing soldiers. “Until Cadance gives them permission to rise. Right, with introductions out of the way, we should get on to the plan. Shining, the element bearers, and myself will be confronting Sombra. I want all of you,” he glanced at the privates that Cadance had given permission to stand. “Right outside of the throne room. When Sombra comes back, his undead are likely to come back with him. If we have to deal with them as well as Sombra, then we’re as good as sunk. Doctor Harvest,” Barrier raised his voice slightly, drawing the mare’s attention from where she hovered over a patient. “I want you there as well.”
The mare frowned and approached the group. “I’m a doctor, not a fighter.”
“I’ve seen the way you move.” Barrier stared hard at the mare. “And there are none better than a doctor to take apart a pony, living or dead.”
The mare returned the hard stare, but finally broke for a slight smile. “I took an oath of ‘do no harm’ Captain, I shall treat thy forces should they become injured,” Barrier made to nod but the mare cut him off. “but I will not fight.”
Barrier frowned but nodded; she technically wasn’t under his command and unless he forcibly commissioned her, she could tell him no outright.
“And what about me? Where am I supposed to be?”
Barrier turned to Cadance. “You…will be here, along with Moonstone, Spearmint, Cobalt and Spike.”
Cadance was quick to object. “Barrier, I can help! So can the others.”
“Sir,” Spearmint offered as well. “My squad can fight. We’ve recovered from the poisoning. We only have a slight itch.”
“I don’t doubt that, but if things go wrong I need all of you here to help move ponies to the train and order it back to Equestria. You’ll also be responsible for reporting our failure to the Princesses.”
Cadance looked like she wanted to further argue, but nodded to the charcoal pony, “Fine,” she turned to Shining Armor, “but before you go…” The mare turned to Shining Armor and shoved her muzzle to his, her tongue poking out in his cheek, much to the unicorn’s surprise. “You had better come back to me, Shiny.” She turned to Barrier. “I’m holding you responsible if he doesn’t.”
Barrier didn’t reply to Cadance. “With any luck, the elements should completely drain him of his power. We only have to hold him until they can be charged.”
“If that happens, then we won’t have to kill him.” Fluttershy added hopefully.
Swiftsword scoffed. “Even if we take him alive, he shalt be executed for his many crimes.”
“And at any rate, we have orders to kill Sombra at the first opportunity, but we can worry about that when we get there.” The stallion sighed and retrieved the flask from his saddlebags again. “Gear up, privates; we leave at dawn for the palace and I want everypony ready. It’s time to end this war.”