• Published 11th Dec 2014
  • 2,588 Views, 31 Comments

Remembrance - Viking ZX



Most would use their day off for fun and games, seeing family, or just enjoying some well deserved R&R. But not First Lieutenant Hunter of the Dusk Guard. He's going to visit someone special he sees every year.

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Rise and Shine

“One, two, three…”

The familiar twangy opening riff of “Sweet Home Appleloosa” began to echo through Hunter’s quarters as he woke up, his cheek damp from the faint pool of drool on his pillow.

“Bleh!” He sat up, covers falling off his tan-colored body as he ran his hooves across his face, spitting bits of his mane out of his mouth. “I really need to get that cut. Yuck.” He could still feel a few clinging stands sticking to his tongue, and he ran his hoof down his face again, shaking his head as the wet bits of hair pulled free of his mouth and stuck to his chest.

The sound of his hooves hitting the wooden floor rang through the room, momentarily overpowering the voices echoing from the phonograph in the corner. He gave his head one last quick shake, feeling the bones of his neck pop and settle into a more comfortable position, and then trotted across the room to turn the device off. As much as he liked the song, and even though it’d be stuck in his head for the next little while, there was no point in leaving it on while he went to the showers for a quick wash.

He coughed, clearing his throat a little as the phonograph wound down, and then began humming the same tune himself, pausing by the mirror to give his wings a good stretch and check for any out-of-place feathers. As always, there were a few that he’d slept on wrong, and he nudged them back into place, alternating the stretching of each wing. It felt good, the rush of blood right down to the wingtips; and there was always a little shiver in return, making its way back and then down his spine.

“Now just to take care of you,” he said, glancing at his disheveled mane in the mirror. The straw-colored mass was normally unruly—he’d always been able to pull off the stylishly wild look with ease—but now that it was capable of laying across his shoulders rather than just touching them, his morning bed-mane was looking a bit bodgy. Or as Nova had put it, like it was “trying to choke him in his sleep.”

By the time he’d managed to get his mane looking at least somewhat like it didn’t belong in the pages of a comic book, his eyes had finally adjusted enough for him to turn on the rest of the magilights in his room, allowing him to make his way across it without stumbling over any of the knicknacks he’d already filled the place with. The easy chair with its cloud-cushion had been an obvious purchase; especially given the basic, wooden chair he had to use in his office. He deserved to be able to sit in something comfortable once in a while.

The second chair, on the other hoof, not so much. Who was going to use it when the barracks had a common room right down the hall? The table and the shelves, at least, he could argue the purpose of. But the chair he’d already considered selling on more than one occasion when he’d smashed into it in the middle of the night.

But if I did sell it, where would I put the stuff on it? he thought as he stepped over to it. He glanced down at the guitar laid across the seat, the familiar brown stetson that had been tossed on top of it. The towel from the showers he’d left hanging across the back.

Plus, selling it would take time. He glanced up at the duty chart he’d hung on the wall. The massive calender was surrounded by framed pictures and newspaper clippings, highlights of his home life and time in the Equestrian Rangers, but the calendar was the clear focus. There were dozens of notes written across the days in his own sloppy writing, marking out various hours and periods when he was the officer on duty or the days when he was working with various members of the team practicing something or other. There was hardly any time left on the chart to keep his own skills in practice, especially with the recent blocks of Kitchen Patrol that had been filling up his weeks.

I earned that, though, he thought, chuckling as he grabbed the edge of his towel with his teeth and flipped it over his back. One side was still a little damp from the morning before thanks to how it had been pressed against the seat, but that was alright. He was just going to use it to wash up before the morning’s workouts. He glanced back at the calendar, his eyes lingering on the red circle he’d drawn around the date. Today would be his first day off since they’d taken care of that whole mess with the golems almost two months ago.

Been looking forward to this for a while, he thought as he turned and trotted out of the room, his hoofsteps ringing out against the wood. He’d made it absolutely clear to Steel that there was one day out of the year that—barring some sort of grave emergency—he wanted off. Especially after the last few weeks of KP. I don’t think I’ll feel like looking at a potato for quite some time. Or an onion.

The hallway was empty, which wasn’t too surprising. He usually was up a few minutes before the rest of the team. Except for Steel, who somehow always managed to be up and waiting for everypony in the training yard, ready to go.

Leads from the front, Hunter thought as he pushed the door to the showers open and stepped inside, his hooves ringing off the tile. A shiver rolled over his coat, and for a moment he wished that he was there to do more than just wash his face.

The cool in the air was nothing compared to the shock of the cold water as it poured over his muzzle. His eyes almost opened in surprise, and he wondered if he would find ice in his coat when he pulled away.

He continued humming the twangy guitar tune as he rubbed his hooves across his cheeks and forehead, sweeping away the sandy feel of sleep that had caked itself across his face. And the drool. Definitely the drool.

Going to be a pretty good day, he thought as he shut the water off, allowing himself one last shiver as he toweled his face off and then tossed the damp cloth into the laundry bin. Just have to do the morning exercises, and then I can go get my mane cut, pick up some flowers and

The tune in his head faltered slightly, a faint, familiar gaping pang that something was missing making itself known in his chest.

And then that, he thought, his smile fading briefly. Then it was back as he shook his head.

No sense being sour for everypony else, he thought, humming the opening notes of “Appleloosa” once more as he headed for the doors. But the ache didn’t leave. He could feel it, resting just inside his chest.

It happens every year, Hunter, he told himself as he stepped out into the hall, switching his hum to a whistle and grinning as he passed Sabra in the hall. It’s nothing to be worried about.

He was just about to turn to head out of the barracks when the floor shook underfoot, a muffled bang echoing from the doors that lead to Sky Bolt’s workshop. Moments later one of the doors swung open, a thick, grey smoke spilling into the hallway along with a familiar grey pegasus.

“Something go wrong?” he asked as she shoved the door shut behind her, cutting off the flow of smoke.

“Huh?” she asked, putting a hoof to her ears. Her face was covered in soot, and her sky-blue mane was sticking backwards at odd angles. There were a few wisps of smoke coming off of it as well, wisps that probably weren’t just from the cloud of smoke that had spilled out the doors. “What was that?”

“A bit of a gutser?” he asked again, a bit more loudly, pointing one hoof at doorway. Sabra poked his head out of the showers, his eyes widening as he saw Sky Bolt sitting on the floor, her wings spread wide against the workshop entrance.

“What?” she said as the black-and-grey zebra darted out of the showers over towards her, water dripping off of his coat. “No, no, just something that didn’t quite work the way I’d wanted it too.” She turned her attention to Sabra as the zebra knelt next to her, still speaking a little more loudly than she likely intended to, but clearly appreciating the attention. “I’ll get it!” she called as he turned away.

See? he told himself as he headed for the front doors. That happens at least once a week, and there’s nothing out of the ordinary about that. Though it was tempting to wonder if Sabra’s attention after each minor explosion might be causing her to be just a bit less careful than normal.

He felt another twitch of emotion in his chest at the thought, and he gave his head a shake. No time to think about that now. He gave the pair one last look, Sabra helping the mare to her hooves, and then grinned as he stepped out the front doors.

* * *

Oh, now that feels good, Hunter thought as the shower started up. Steam billowed around him as the piping hot water poured over his shoulders and back, sweeping down his already darkened sides and drizzling to the floor alongside a slick of sweat. He let out a faint sigh of contentment as he ducked his head under the spigot, his ears lying flat on his head as the warm rush of water pressed down into his mane.

Would have been nice to have something like this out in the Everfree, he thought as he tugged at his mane with one hoof. I don’t mind a cold shower most of the time, but when it’s already cold out … An unconscious shiver ran through him as he thought back on those days. The Everfree Outpost had come equipped with a temperamental water heater, the kind that had only worked when it had wanted to and never held enough water for even a decently warm shower. As a pegasus, he was fairly resistant to extremes of cold, but showering in cold water when there was already ice on the deck?

Perks of the new job,he thought as he reached for the large jug of shampoo he’d set by the door to the shower stall. He ducked his head under the faucet again, sending a fresh wave of water cascading down his mane. And a welcome one. Autumn had come at last, with a shock and a fervor that had seen ponies all across Canterlot scrambling to get their winter clothing ready in the wake of the abrupt shift from warm, lingering days to sudden cold.

He chuckled as he dumped a dollop of shampoo across one hoof and smeared in his mane. And then there was Sabra. The stallion had already started wearing a scarf to the morning exercises even before the chill of fall had hit in earnest. Now that the crisp autumn air was starting to leave icy sheens across pond surfaces, the poor zebra looked like all he wanted to do was curl up in a blanket somewhere and wait out winter.

Acclimation from where he’s from must take a while, he thought. Come to think of it, hadn’t the diplomat from the Plainslands been heavily bundled the last time he’d seen her? And it’s only going to get colder. He wasn’t too worried, though. Sabra had survived a winter in the mountains before he’d joined the team. He might not be fond of it, but he’d soldier on.

The door to the stallions showers opened, and Hunter glanced over the wall of his stall, peering out with one soapy eye as a large, familiar, olive-green mass of muscle moved into the stall next to him. “Morning, Lieutenant.” It was Steel Song, Captain of the Dusk Guard.

“Morning, boss,” he replied, closing his eye again and rubbing his mane with both hooves. The sound of his shower jumped in pitch, water pressure lowering slightly as the captain turned on his own shower. “What’s the word this morning?”

There was a thump as the large stallion shifted in his stall. “Nothing much. Team looks like it’s doing well with the weather change. Even Sabra.”

Hunter let out a chuckle as he leaned his head forward into the shower spray, soap running down the sides of his head and chest. “Yeah, I was just thinking about him. He looks pretty cold, even with that scarf. Are you thinking of asking him to wear more gear?”

“Close,” Steel said. There was another thump from his side of the stall and Hunter pulled his head back from his own spray, glancing over to see Steel busily pulling a brush down one foreleg. “Dawn’s expressed a little concern about it, too. Her suggestion was that we start easing up on the workouts a little, focus a little on acclimatization exercises to get him to adjust. What do you think?”

Hunter paused, his own hoof halfway toward his brush. “Do we want to do that? Cut the workouts short, I mean.”

Steel shrugged, water cascading off of his shoulders in a sheet and hitting the floor with a wet smack. “As long as the team doesn’t drop its trim, I think we could at least afford to reduce the load a little, at least for the winter. She made a strong case for it.”

“We could double up on armor-training exercises to compensate,” Hunter said, dabbing his brush in the tray of soap he’d put in the corner and then running it down his side. He could feel the hot muscles relaxing as the brush moved over them. “Not as much of a temperature problem, keeps the team in a good nick.”

Steel nodded. “Good idea. We could use some more practice with the armor anyway. Both for the mods and the changes Sky Bolt’s made.”

“The mark-two plating?”

Steel nodded. “Yeah. I’d barely gotten used to the first model, and she’s already changing it.”

“I saw that first model, boss,” Hunter said, switching sides with his brush. “You might not have been used to it, but you got plenty of use out of it.”

“Yeah,” Steel said, nodding but not expounding further. Hunter shifted, turning in his stall and letting the spray wash over his back legs.

“So, double up on armor training, cut the workout time in half,” Steel said at last, nodding. “I’ll talk with Dawn about it later today. Check it out with her. She might have objections or suggestions as well.”

“Well, I’ll ask about it when I get back tonight,” Hunter said, grinning. “You can fill me in then.”

The captain nodded. “Right, speaking of which, where are you planning to be most of the day? In case we need to contact you for another emergency.”

“Like that hydra attack in the warehouse district a week ago?” Hunter asked with a glance at Steel. The solidly built stallion didn’t even flinch. The captain still hadn’t given a satisfactory answer about what exactly had gone down that day, at least not to him. Something about a magical accident and a broad writ of silence from Princess Celestia, and an assurance that it wasn’t going to happen again.

“Not quite,” Steel said, ducking his head under his own shower spray, his short-cropped silver mane ruffling under the water flow. “But close enough. Both the Princesses have been asking after the team lately. I think whatever this mysterious mission they’ve got for us, it’s getting close.”

“And they still won’t tell you what it is?” Hunter asked, nodding. It looked like he wasn’t the only one who was being kept in the dark on a few things.

“Only that it’ll be somewhere in the northern reaches of Equestria,” the captain said, shaking his head. “So cold, dangerous, and possibly long.”

Hunter nodded. The Crystal Mountains then. Home to any number of dangerous wildlife and natural hazards, and uninhabited unless you counted the more eastern reaches near Manehatten. But what would the Princesses be deploying them there for?

“Right,” he said, running his head over his plans for the day. “Well, I don’t have a spot on plan for the day, but I’ve got a few highlights. Gonna go get this cut, for one.” He gave his mane a small shake, the end whipping back and forth across his shoulders. “Swing by the local Ranger building and see if anyone I know is there. Not much past that, mostly just killing time until this evening.” That was what the day was all about, after all. It wasn’t just a day off to do as he pleased, though he’d be doing a bit of that. “I’ll probably just end up flying around until then. Just stretch my wings for a few hours.”

“No trip to Ponyville?”

He shook his head. “No, Derpy’s busy this week.” Although she hadn’t been happy about that, and had even asked him if he’d wanted her to take the day off to come see him. He’d told her no; he knew how tight things were for her and Dinky. She was needed in Ponyville, not in Canterlot visiting him. “And Thistle’s out of town on another long-distance delivery.” He let out a small chuckle. “Crikey, if I get bored enough, I might just come back early, run some armor drills with those mods or something.” He set the brush down and shifted again, the hot spray rolling over his sides and shoulders, soap running down his legs and across the tile in large, pillowy masses. He sometimes wondered if soap piles felt to him the same way clouds felt to a non-pegasus.

“But not before you—”

“Yeah, not before that,” he said, interrupting Steel before he could finish his sentence. The captain closed his mouth, nodding. Hunter glanced at the empty shower stalls around them, looking for something to change the subject with.

“Where are Sabra and Nova?”

“Sabra’s doing his usual post-morning-workout workout down by the training fields,” Steel said. “And Nova’s talking with Dawn before she has her meet with Sky Bolt and then leaves for her day off. Something about some possible alternative exercises to get his magic potential to stay at peak.”

“Right,” Hunter said, setting down his brush and ducking his head under the shower spigot for one final, toasty warm rinse. I forgot Dawn was taking the day as well, he thought as the warm water rolled down his back. No wonder he wants me to keep in touch, with a third of his team off for the day.

“Lieutenant,” Steel said, and Hunter felt his shoulders stiffen.

“Yeah?”

“Dawn asked me to remind you—”

She would, Hunter thought.

“—that if you want to talk to anypony about it, she’s willing to listen, regardless of what day it is. And for that matter, so am I.” Steel was giving him a somber look now.

He nodded, but didn’t say anything. Let him say it.

“I know what it’s like to lose someone you care about,” Steel said, glancing down at the tile beneath his hooves before looking back up at Hunter. “ I’ve seen a lot of friends over the years not make it back. I might not have had the same experience you did, or been as close, but I know a bit of what it’s like. If you want to talk to someone or just reminisce, I’ll make the time.”

“I understand, Captain,” he said, nodding. “And thanks for the offer, but I don’t want to make a big beat up about it.” The small hole inside his chest began to smolder slightly, as if someone had blown across a pile of smoldering embers and brought them back to a burning glow. “I’ll be alright, I think.”

“Your call,” Steel said, nodding. “I just wanted to let you know that the offer’s there.”

“I appreciate it. I really do,” he said. “I’ll keep it in mind, but I think I’ll be alright.” The shower handle let out a faint squeak as he closed it off, the soft rushing sound the water had made dying off as the flow trickled to a halt. “And I’ll keep my head up. Anything crazy happens, I’ll head back here.” He ran his hooves down his sides, water welling up out of his coat in front of each hoof, leaving a marginally dryer patch behind. “But it’s been a few years. I’ll be fine.”

Steel nodded. “Well, the offer stands. I know how it feels sometimes. Dawn too.”

“I know,” Hunter said, opening the stall door as the embers in his chest cooled once more. “But I think I’ll be alright.” He grabbed his towel and tossed it over his back, running it across his shoulders and beneath his wings. Still need to get those taken care of … Or I could just let the barbershop take care of it. They could deal with a little bit of the stubble that was threatening to poke out of his muzzle too.

“Alright then,” Steel said with a nod. “Then enjoy your day off, Lieutenant.” He gave a quick, precise salute.

“Thanks, boss,” Steel said, grinning as he returned the salute. “I think I will.” He turned and began walking out of the showers.

“And get that mane cut!” Steel called after him with a laugh as he walked into the hall. “Or I’ll have Dawn hold you down and shave it!”