• Published 12th Oct 2015
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A Pony Displaced: Another Path - NoLongerSober



Legend has it that on the longest day of the thousandth year, the stars will aid in her escape. There once was a stallion who faced Nightmare Moon and was sealed away with her. Now he returns in the modern age, hoping to find a new path.

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Chapter 36

“Alright ponies, get your scarves and goggles on. It’s coming down hard out there.” Shining Armor was wrapping his own scarf around his neck as he spoke.

Barrier didn’t respond, instead looking through the window of the train at the blizzard that awaited them. You’ll fail again… The familiar voice in his head taunted. You’ll let them down. You’ll- It was Cadance’s voice that snapped the unicorn out of it.

“Barrier.” The pink mare flared her magic, wrapping the charcoal pony’s scarf around him.

“I’ll be fine, Princess.” You’ll fail. Barrier’s horn flared as well, snapping the goggles tightly to his head before he looked back to the group. “The weather should abate somewhat when we reach the empire.” The door to the train slid open, allowing the dull roar of wind into the compartment, forcing Barrier to raise his voice over it. “Until then, keep your scarves and goggles on! If Shining or I say anything, you do it!” Barrier was taking the first to step into the blizzard that awaited them. The chill that ran through him was something even the small heating crystals couldn’t help stave off. Let’s go!”

***

“Stay quiet and stay low, ponies.” Barrier raised a hoof to his goggles and tugged them off as they passed through a farm on the outskirts of the empire, the blizzard being reduced to heavy winds as if by magic.

“Faust…” Cobalt Lancer hissed silently and rubbed at her nose. “What is that smell?” She glanced up at the dark crystal buildings they were approaching, swallowing as a strange sense of foreboding washed over her.

“Ash,” Barrier replied simply, his eyes constantly scanning the path they were taking, Shining Armor doing the same at the rear of the group. “It took us just over a week to hear of Sombra’s treachery and almost as long to mobilize a small group to make the trip here. By then, those still struggling against Sombra had begun to burn corpses.”

“Pestilence control at its most basic…” Shining grimaced as the scent grew stronger and moved his scarf so that it also covered his nostrils.

Barrier’s expression tightened as he elaborated. “It was as much to prevent plague as it was to prevent Sombra raising the ponies as undead servants.”

“Z-z-zombies?” Spike asked shakily from his spot on Twilight’s withers.

“Precisely. You may need to face former ponies while here. Remember to aim for the heads as well as to burn the bodies if at all possible.”

“Oh, why couldn’t I have just stayed in Canterlot?” Spike buried himself into Twilight’s mane, shaking just slightly.

“You’re our communications officer, Spike. We need you to send letters to the princesses to keep them updated on what’s happening here.” Shining tried to give the drake a reassuring smile, though he couldn’t see it through Twilight’s mane.

“Alright ponies, silence from here on out.” Barrier turned back to the group, mentally noting how Twilight and her friends, as well as their escorts had been almost entirely silent since their departure from the train. They’re too green for this sort of thing. You’re going to get them all killed, just like in your dream.

“That alley up there looks good, Barrier.” Shining Armor thrust a hoof out in guidance.

Barrier carefully poked his head around the corner and peered into the alley, mentally noting the open door at the end of the alley. “Alright,” the group filtered into the alley. “Shining Armor and I are going to scout deeper into the city and get the feel of things. We haven’t seen any corpses or fires yet, which has me worried.”

“I’ll come with you.” Cadance volunteered, raising her hoof to silence Barrier as he began to make his objections. “We’re more likely to encounter Sombra further into the city rather than here on the outskirts, and if you do, then you’ll need me.”

“She’s got a point, Barrier.” Shining Armor interjected, bringing a small smile to the princess’s face. “Her magic is pretty strong, and I’ve seen her practicing her shield spell. She’s really good. Besides, a third set of eyes should help us find a good place to make camp before nightfall.” He then pointed west, towards the sun as it started to set.

Barrier glanced at his alabaster counterpart in silent askance, only sighing when the pony in question gave him a nod. “Very well. Shining, Cadance, and myself, will scout further into the city and try to find somewhere to set up something of a temporary base. Spike, while we’re gone, write to Princess Celestia and tell her that we’ve arrived and that we’re looking for a place to set up shop. The rest of you, catch your breath, but keep your eyes and ears open.” Barrier approached the mouth of the alley, Cadance and Shining Armor following suit after saying their goodbyes.

***

“I’m sure she had a good reason for it, Twilight.” Applejack was flat on her stomach, hat resting on the cool ground beside her. “She wouldn’t have kept it a secret fer no reason.”

“I know Applejack, I just wish I knew the reason. There was never a single mention of the Crystal Empire in any of the history books I read. I can understand keeping certain things a secret, but the entire story of the Crystal Empire? It’s important ponies know about their history. It’s how we learn from our mistakes.”

“I think it was a good idea for the princess to keep hush about it all.” Rarity offered. “If ponies had known about it, they would have tried to locate it for one reason or another, and what would happen if a group of ponies searching for the empire were here when it returned? Somepony could have been injured…or killed, judging by what we’ve heard of this Sombra fellow.”

“Eh, this Sombra guy sounds overrated.” Rainbow Dash flew lazily around her friends. “I mean, he’s just another unicorn at the end of the day, right?”

“A unicorn that managed to fight off both princesses.” Applejack pointed out.

“And hid an entire empire for over one-thousand years.” Rarity reminded the group.

Rainbow Dash shrugged. “Eh, I could take him.”

“Not to mention,” Applejack made eye-contact with the prismatic pegasus. “That we haven’t seen a single guard or sign’a life since we got here, meanin’ they were likely all…”

“...killed.” Fluttershy finished the thought with a heavy whimper.

“And turned into z-zombies…” Spike glanced around nervously before once more seeking solace in Twilight.

Spearmint glanced at the element bearers and then around the corner of the alley. “Cobalt, can you smell anything?”

“No ma’am.” Cobalt replied promptly. “The smell of death and ash in the air…I can’t smell anything. It’s far too strong.”

Rainbow Dash chimed in as silence began to settle. “Can you do that echo…thingy to tell if anypony is coming near? Fluttershy gave me a lecture last week on how bats can do that sorta thing.”

“Echo-location…” Fluttershy whispered softly.

“First of all,” Cobalt huffed, “I’m not a bat. I’m a twenty-six year old mare.”

“That’s a mare?” Spike whispered softly in askance to Rarity.

“I heard that.” Cobalt half-hissed. “And while thestrals can use echolocation, it’s something that takes a lot of practice. It’s mainly used in the dark and I’ve done pretty much everything in the daylight for all of my life, so I never developed the skill. While my hearing’s not good enough for echolocation, it’s still probably the best we’ve got. In any case, I don’t hear anypony, so I think we’re fine.”

“Just keep your eyes and ears open, everypony. I have a bad feeling about this whole thing.”

Unbeknownst to the group, five cloaked figures watched them from a distance, each of them gazing at the element bearers through spyglasses.

“What are thy orders, commander?” One of the bulkier ponies asked, collapsing his spyglass and tucking it beneath his cloak.

“Make thy way onto the roofs beside them. I shalt lure them unto the streets. Should they prove to be our allies, we shalt welcome them with open forelegs. Should they prove to be hostile, then thou art to use thy darts on the three trained for combat. After that, we shall each capture a pony, save the for the plump mare and the small demon. With their allies captured, they should hopefully surrender. Our leaders would not desire us to spill their blood if possible, but if such a choice is forced upon us…do not hesitate.”

All of the ponies gave a sharp salute before silently moving to follow their orders.

***

“Faust, I can’t believe this…” Cadance struggled to keep the contents of her stomach down as the main street came into sight and her gaze found the heads of ponies mounted on long poles that had been driven into the ground as examples.

“This is worrisome.” Barrier paid no heed to the mounted heads, instead focusing on the piles of charred of remains lining the road. “We should have seen something by now.”

“Well, I’m not complaining…” Shining Armor winced at the mangled remains of a pony that dangled limply from a shop window.

“We need to get back to the rest of the group. Somepony has already been here to clean up in some capacity.” Barrier motioned to the charred corpses. “They didn’t finish their work, but this close to the palace, I’m not surprised.”

“Do you think Twilight and the others could be in danger?” Cadance asked as she moved to follow the pony.

“Of course they’re in danger.” Barrier snorted. “We’ve all been in danger since we got off of the train. That we’ve yet to encounter anything is a gift from Faust.”

***

Cobalt’s ears flicked and her hoof snapped to the spear that had been resting on her shoulder. “Heads up, we’ve got company.”

“Ponies in the alleyway, step forth and identify thyself or taste my wrath!” A mare’s voice called out, her tone firm and unyielding.

“Wait here.” Spearmint directed the element bearers with her hoof before motioning to Cobalt and Moonstone. “Both of you, let’s go.”

The three carefully crept around the corner, eyes falling on the darkly cloaked mare that had addressed them.

Cobalt, eyes widening as she saw the dark cloak, lunged forward almost immediately.

“A poor decision.” The cloaked mare spoke almost idly as a soft whistling reached her ears, followed by the mass of thestral collapsing to the ground, perfectly still.

Spearmint’s eyes widened and she quickly barked out, not hearing the second whistling. “Moonstone, back into the alley!” As she began to backpedal, she saw the prismatic unicorn collapse, followed by a sharp stinging pain in the back of her neck before her world spun and she too, collapsed, her mind vaguely noting the element bearers rushing out to see what was going on before darkness overtook her.

“Girls, get out of here!” Rainbow Dash quickly took charge. “I’ll hold her off and catch up with you!” Rainbow Dash made to dive for the mare, only to jerk around as several thuds sounded from behind her.

Four ponies had dropped down from the rooftops as soon as Rainbow Dash had turned around, each of them landing on one of her friends, save Applejack who was grappling with her opponent.

“One thing ah’ know for sure’s that an Apple won’t go down easily!”

The mare wrestling with her seemed to grin beneath her hood. “I agree!” The cloaked pony delivered a rapid headbutt followed by a hard uppercut that sent Applejack to her back where she soon found a hoof to her throat.

Rainbow Dash’s mouth opened to say something only for a cry of agony to escape it as a blast of magic dispersed across her back, sending her to the ground where she, like her friends save for Applejack, soon found a blade pressed against her throat.

“Thou hast been bested.” The mare that had orchestrated the entire event stared down at Rainbow Dash, almost daring her to move. “Now…” she turned her gaze towards Rarity and Spike, noting their horrified expressions at the sight of their friends held at knifepoint and Applejack who was starting to turn a lovely shade of blue as she continued to struggle against her captor.

***

Despite the urgency, the trio continued to walk silently, ears perked as they carefully listened for sign of danger.

“Aaaaahhhhh!”

Sounds like that… No words needed to be spoken as all three of them threw caution to the wind and bolted towards the source of the shout; the sight that met them was less than desireable, and three horns flared to life in anticipation.

“Foul cur, you and your demon-spawn shall surrender, lest you desire to see your compatriots’ blood spilt upon the crystalline soil!” the cloaked figure standing over Rainbow Dash yelled out, her blade pressing closer to the pegasus’s neck.

That voice… Barrier’s heart almost stopped in his chest. is that…?

“What is your answer, plump one?” The cloaked mare once again demanded. “Shall they meet their end in a dungeon long from now, or shall they depart for Elysium immediately?”

“All of you, stand down immediately!”

Shining Armor found his horn dieing out almost on reflex as Barrier used a tone he’d yet to hear from the stallion.

Like Shining Armor, all of the cloaked ponies also followed the order, taking several steps back and standing at attention.

Applejack coughed and scrambled backwards before climbing to her hooves. “Why’d they listen tah yah, Captain?”

“Because they’re our soldiers.” Barrier replied matter of factly. “Their cloaks were standard-issue for cold-combat missions in my time.” Barrier’s tone grew harsh once more, “What are your names soldiers?”

“Sir,” the mare that had pinned Rainbow Dash threw back her hood and saluted in the same movement, the other four following suit.

“It can’t be…” Barrier stared in disbelief at the blue-coated unicorn saluting him, and then to the four that were following her example.

“Acting field commander Swiftsword and squad nine-eight-two, reporting for duty, sir!”

Barrier half-choked, half-grinned. “They’re my soldiers.”

Author's Note:

So, show of hands: who saw this coming?

In other news, a friend of mine {and occasional editor} has finally gotten his story posted to fimfic {he's been toiling away at it for quite some time now} and I'd immensely appreciate it if you could go and give it a chance and let him know what you think.

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