• Published 23rd May 2015
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A New Road Begins - GentlemanJ



Time has passed. The defeat of Nul now belongs to the past and life has continued on. Thus, it's finally time for Rarity to pick a new road and a new beginning.

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Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Floating.

Floating in darkness. Rising. Slowly, like a bubble through tar, he could feel himself approaching a light he more felt than saw. It was a familiar feeling, one that he’d felt before and always led to something else. What was it? So hard to remember. So hard to think. But he thought it might have been…

Moving.

Yes. Moving. He had to move. Always move.

Rousing himself as best he could, he set about to hasten his rise through the darkness. Only he couldn’t. He tried, but he couldn’t move.

Panic.

Fear.

Had to move. Had to–

“Whoa, easy there, easy. It’s okay now. You’re safe.”

Safe? What? What was talking? It was familiar, but why? What was going on? What was he talking about?

Slowly, he opened his eyes. Well, one of them at least, but that probably wouldn’t have mattered. The world around him was colorful, but hazy, as if a cornucopia of lights were being filtered through a thick pain of frosted glass. Those lights didn’t answer him anything, but the sounds did. Beeping. Regular and steady. The sound of machines. Medical.

Right, medical. He was in a hospital. That would explain the beeping of countless machines and monitors around them as they regulated the cocktails in a dozen tubes that pumped into his body. He was in a hospital, and someone, someone familiar, had said that it was okay.

He turned to look at the face. He knew that face.

Ironside smiled.

“Welcome back, son.”

Back? If that face was saying it, then that meant…

… he’d done it.

He’d actually made it back.

Feeling the residues of tension seeping out of his body, Graves gave out a long, weary sigh as he settled back into his bed. Back. He’d made it back.

“I take it he’s awake?”

“Just now, in fact.”

Reopening his one good eye, Graves looked up towards the new voice and saw Princess Celestia stepping through the healing ward with a shimmering ripple. He tried to raise a hand in salute, but the sheer weight of the pins and plaster binding his arm together made that rather impossible. Not that it was different from the rest of him, come to think of it, but right then, the arm was all that really mattered.

“Oh no you don’t. You will not be bringing out any formalities here, on today of all days,” the princess replied with tones half of mock severity and half deadly serious severity. “You have gone through more than enough tribulations, and I will not stand for you trying to add on pomp and circumstance, are we clear?”

Graves moved to speak, but all that came out was a faint, rasping wheeze. Immediately, Celestia reached for a nearby glass of water even as Ironside moved to prop the soldier’s broken body up. Aided by firm but gentle hands, the two helped Graves slowly take a few, refreshing sips. It took almost a minute – even the act of trying to stay upright and swallow was tiring – but eventually, the marshal found his voice once more.

“… How?” he asked, his words almost inaudible, but still in that same, gravelly baritone as before.

“Depends on what you’re asking,” Ironside shrugged. “I assume you’re wondering how we managed to recover you.”

Recover? Graves might have been a little addled, but ‘recovered’ was a term he could only remember being associated with equipment and remains. The confusion must have been apparent on his face because Ironside chuckled as he replied.

“Don’t worry, you’re not a specter or any other such nonsense, though it was pretty touch and go for a while. Way the witnesses tell it, one fine day, you just up and wandered into a Sierre Lion outpost, more dead than alive and looking like you just came out the back door from a tour of the nine circles. That was about two weeks ago, which is still a sight short of accounting for the time you were missing.”

“How long?” Graves murmured. For this, Ironside stroked his slate-hued beard in thought.

“Mm… a tour of duty sounds right.”

The connection didn’t come immediately. His head had been full of so many other things for so long that Graves had to think a bit to summon facts from what seemed to be another life. But once he did and the connections came back, a gunmetal grey eye widened ever so slightly.

“Oh.”

“Oh’s right boy,” Ironside grunted as a shade of heat entered into his words. “What the hay happened out there? I sent you with those girls because you were my best, not so you could go about lollygagging like a dandy on vacation.”

“General!” Celestia remarked in scandalized tones. “I get you were worried, but–”

“Worried? Oh, I'm not worried. I'm hopping mad,” Ironside snorted as ice blue eyes flashed like shards of permafrost. “You got a lot of explaining to do, so you better hop to it, soldier. Care to tell me why an active soldier took so blasted long to report back to his post? What on earth were you doing for so damned long when you had somewhere else to be?”

“Not on earth.”

“… Pardon?”

“I…” Graves coughed and Princess helped him take another drink. “I wasn’t here,” he continued. “Not on earth.”

“... You’re gonna have to explain that.”

Graves leaned back onto his bed for a moment. How should he explain it? How could he explain it? He’d been there of course, but so little of it made sense that he was still almost sure that it had all been a dream. But when a commanding officer asked for a report, you found a way to string thoughts together, so…

“After they left,” he began picking his words carefully to preserve what little strength he still had, “we… split. "The world with Nul's prison came loose. Closed off any way out.”

“But if that happened, then you would have been lost to us in a completely separate universe,” Celestia gaped with open wonder. “How the hay did you manage to get out?”

“Made a door,” Graves answered with the faintest of faint grins. “Nul’s caged in creation, right? If it makes stuff, figured I could make a way home.”

“So you're telling me you just… harness the fundamental forces of the universe, ripped a hole into another dimension, and popped open a door back to the here and now?” Ironside gaped, obviously in disbelief.

“Wasn’t that easy,” the marshal shrugged. “Couldn’t control it, not like the girls. Had to hop through a few. Weird places. Don’t recommend them. Then I found a… gap? Stuff got complicated, and the how’s a bit fuzzy, but then, well… here I am.”

Ironside stared at Graves so hard, it seemed like he was attempting to melt the young man’s face with the sheer force of his eyes.

“… I expect a full report, soldier. Copied in triplicate.”

Celestia knew she shouldn’t have, but she just couldn’t help it and burst out into peals of rich, sonorous laughter.

“I’m serious!” the general huffed as cheeks flared from righteous indignation. “You can’t just expect me to leave it at that, can you? First thing this greenhorn’s doing after he gets out of here is sitting down at a desk and filling out so much paperwork, we'll have to plant a forest for the paper!”

“That may be what you intend,” Princess Celestia answered with words still choked from restrained laughter, “but you might not be able to make him doing anything for very much longer.”

Hah? But… General Ironside was a commanding officer. The commanding officer. What sort of circumstance would make it where he couldn’t tell Graves what to do?

As if reading his mind, Celestia pulled out her wand and with a few quick flicks, summoned forth a roll of parchment. Only, instead of the normal gold seals that marked royal missives or crimson to set apart military documents, this one was brought forth in a crystal tube, one sealed at the ends with caps of shining gold and shimmering silver.

“I have few enough occasions to hand these out, and even fewer to a person more than once,” Celestia beamed, “but to you, Marshal Graves, for meritorious service above and beyond even the highest imagined calls of duty, I am so very pleased to be able to grant you this. The Right of Petition.”

At normal times, Graves was not very good with words. At this moment, he was speechless.

“You may not remember the details from before, so let me remind you,” the princess laughed. “The Right of Petition grants the bearer the right to make one request. So long as it does not endanger our nation or cause harm to its subjects, anything that is within our power to grant will be yours should you ask.”

Graves stared at Celestia for a moment, then down at the crystal tube, then up to Ironside, who merely snorted, then back to the princess.

“Um… what do I do with it?”

“Whatever you want, boy. That’s kind of the point,” Ironside said with a roll of the eyes. “But if you’re having trouble deciding, then this might help. Of all the things you can ask for, being a marshal again isn’t one of them.”

“What?!”

If Graves had been a bit confused before, the general’s most recent definitely came across crystal clear, and the rapidly increasing beeping from the various monitors made sure everyone knew just how he felt.

“You heard me, boy!” Ironside thundered. “You’re done. Finished. Kaput. Clear out your desk, head on the chopping block, fired. So help me, you will never step out into the field like that again, not if I have to personally–”

Whatever the general intended to personally do, we’ll never know because it was at that precise moment that the princess cut off his tirade with a well-placed swat to the head.

“Really now, I know you wanted to deliver the news, but this is just too much.”

“But you said–”

“I said you could have some fun with it, not be a big meany. Now go on. Tell him the whole story.”

The beeping slowly began to settle as Graves, with eyes as wide as silver dollars, stared at the general. He didn’t think it possible, but it actually looked like Ironside, the steady mountain of a man whose only settings were booming laugher and thunderous force, actually seemed to be sulking.

“Fine,” the general muttered as he reached into his coat. “What I meant to say, was that you can’t ask to be a full time field agent anymore because you’ve got a new assignment.” With that, he pulled out another roll of parchment, one sealed with crimson to mark an official military directive.

Slowly, under watching eyes, Graves lifted up his left arm, the one that was only heavily bandaged and not entombed in plaster, and popped the seal off the letter. Celestia helped him unroll it and holding it up, let him read the short message inside.

Marshal Graves,

You are hereby being transferred to the Royal Military Academy in

Canterlot and will be appointed as an instructor in the fields of marksmanship,

unarmed combat, and field survival. For this, you will be promoted to the rank

of lieutenant and given officer accommodations to facilitate your transfer.

At such later date when you are deemed fit, you will be appointed as an

instructors for novice marshals. For this, you will be promoted to the rank of

captain and given officer accommodations to facilitate your transfer.

May your valor and service continue to bless the twin crowns.

General Ironside

Princess Celestia

Princess Luna

Graves read the message over again. And again. And again. When he’d finished, a thousand and one questions were milling about his brain like sugar-addled children, too many to voice, let alone consider. So instead, he chose the simplest, easiest one.

“But… why?”

“Told you he’d ask,” Ironside snorted. “It’s because despite causing more gray hairs than a whole battalion of gung-ho cadets, you’re really, really good at what you do.”

“Too good,” Celestia chimed in, “for us to be risking you out in the field like this. Especially not after what you’ve become.”

“What I’ve… become?”

A brief exchange of glances between princess and general. Then Ironside spoke.

“Those friends of yours… quite the chatty lot they are.”

“I’m not following,” Graves frowned.

“After they got back, the only thing they talked about was getting you back. Wouldn’t shut up about what a trooper you were, how much you’d done for them, or half a dozen things you’re not supposed to talk about in a covert operation. Hmph. Civies. Always making life–”

“What the general’s trying to say,” Celestia chuckled as she swatted the general once more, “is that word got around about you. Graves, the Ghost of Thunder, who in addition to your already considerable exploits, single-handedly escorted the Elements of Harmony through the Savage Lands, then stood toe to toe with Nul of The End himself, and won.”

“But… I didn’t,” Graves blinked. “Not on my own. The girls–"

“–Were backing you every step of the way, we know,” Ironside cut in with a short bark of laughter. “But that don’t stop people from talking, especially when there’s such a bloody good story to go along with it.”

“As it stands, Graves, you’re a hero. An icon,” Celestia smiled proudly. “You’ve become an example of just what it means to be a marshal. Soldiers have been clamoring to join their ranks ever since the battle was won because of the legacy you left behind. Now that you’re actually back…”

“It’ll be a goddamn circus,” Ironside snorted, “which is why it seemed only fair that the one responsible for all the hubbub would be the one to fix it.”

If one were to say that Graves was a bit overwhelmed by it all, then that would be an egregious understatement of titanic proportions. His entire life had been one of quick and quiet; get in quick to do the job, then get out quiet to prevent a panic. The idea that he’d be not only teaching, but doing so in the limelight, was simply as foreign as a proposed career in professional dancing.

“It’s a lot to take in, isn’t it?” Celestia said with a fond smile and a comforting pat. “Don’t worry, we’ll make sure you get plenty of rest before we stick you in a classroom.”

“Not the rest I’m worrying about,” Graves muttered.

“And yet it’s what you’ve got,” Ironside chuckled, quite wickedly in fact. “You were always the one saying you went where you did the most good right? Well maybe it’s time you learned that sometimes, the most good can be done from behind a desk. Not completely of course, but… you know what I mean.”

Graves did. Or at least, he thought he did. Him. A teacher. And bucking... celebrity. Even in his wildest dreams could he ever have imagined that.

As he sat there, thumbing his earlobe three times as he tried to process the tidal upheavals that had thrown his life into disarray, another question finally bubbled to the surface.

“Oh, right. Do you, ah… do you know where they are?”

“Who?” Ironside asked, a touch too innocently for nature as he tapped his chin twice.

“They’re waiting for her, of course,” Celestia said with a wink that showed full understanding. “She said she needed to gather herself, so we came in first.”

Gather herself? Hoo boy.

“Then it only seems fair that we give you time to do the same,” Celestia suggested with far too smooth a face for anything but stifled amusement. “Ironside, what do you say we give him a few minutes to himself?”

“Fine by me,” the general snorted as she heaved himself to his feet. “Get some rest, soldier. I’m still expecting that report of yours yesterday.”

Celestia left first, the soft swish of her white silk dress suddenly cut off by her passage through the shimmering wall of light. Ironside turned to follow, but just before he did, he paused. A moment’s hesitation arrested his movements as his massive frame stood still in outline against the glittering curtain.

“Damned inconsiderate of you to disappear like that,” he finally grunted, hands clearly clasped behind his back as he refused to turn around. “MIAs are always the worst to deal with.”

“Yeah, sorry ‘bout that,” Graves answered with a wry smile. “I’m kind of an ass like that.”

“And cheeky to boot,” Ironside chuckled. He fell into stillness once more as whatever force had seized him before again took hold. It took a little while longer to begin again, but finally, like granite sliding down a rocky embankment,

“Well, ah… ahem. Well, for what it’s worth, it’s... it's good to have you back, son. Damned good at that.”

Gunmetal grey eyes widened ever so slightly at the words. Then they fell again, a bit less surprised, but a good deal warmer.

“Don’t worry, I won't be leaving anytime soon,” the young man smiled. “ Not till I pay you back for those boots.”

If the words meant anything to Ironside, his poise didn’t show it. Steady as a mountain, reliable as the stone, nothing seemed to unbalance the stoic calm that seemed to radiate from his broad, powerful back.

However, if you had been on the other side, his expression would have said it all.

*****

When Ironside had finally left, Graves settled back into his bed and turned his head slightly to the side. There on the nearby stand, were the two scrolls that had suddenly changed his life and the small, personal effects box. Idly, he wiggled his right ring finger. Even encased in plaster, it still felt more naked than before.

A lot to take in at once. Ah well, he’d worry about that later. Right now, he had more important things to worry about.

“You can come out now,” he called out.

And then, as if from behind a perfectly flawless mirror, peaked a youthfully old face with a pair of molten, golden eyes.

**********