• 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 46

“Tell me something, young Sparkle.” Barrier commented as the two of them walked out of the palace, eyeing the ponies that had begun to set up stands as a festival slowly began to bloom. “What I must do to Fleet… It’ll be a great ordeal… Could you tell me something to take my mind off it as we travel?”

“Um, okay?” Twilight eyed him curiously. “Uh, well, it’ll be great for researchers now that the Empire’s back. It’s probably got tons of things that modern Equestria’s never seen. Like…” Twilight looked around before noticing a row of smooth, polished stones resting on a makeshift wooden stand. “Like this stone!” Twilight grabbed one, the stone lighting up in response. “It looks like it’s some sort of touch-activated portable light source. It’s like…” Twilight fell silent at Barrier’s muffled snicker.

“Twilight, that’s something from my era called a Maiden Stone. It lights up when it’s being held by a virgin.” Barrier grinned at the intense blush that crossed the mare’s face as she fumbled the stone and ended up sending it sailing through the air with a shout. “For what it’s worth, I’m not terribly surprised.”

Twilight wasn’t listening, instead following the Maiden Stone with wide eyes as she saw where it was headed. “Fluttershy, look out!” The lavender mare yelled, quickly trotting towards the butter-colored mare as she caught the stone.

Fluttershy held the stone up as it faded. “Oh my, did I break it?”

Barrier’s eyes widened just slightly in surprise.

“Um, well…” Twilight chuckled nervously. “I’ll explain why is stopped glowing later.” She retrieved the stone in her magic causing it to glow once more before depositing it on the pony’s stand. “Barrier and I need to go break the hard news to his sergeant.”

Winter Gem inhaled sharply. “Good luck, Captain.”

***

Barrier licked his lips in a pointless effort to moisten them, desperately wishing he’d brought something other than a flask of hard liquor. Deep breaths, Barrier…

“Barrier?” Twilight tapped the charcoal pony gently on the withers, drawing his gaze. “Are you going to be alright? I can tell them if you’d like…”

Twilight chewed on her lip pensively. Ever since they’d gotten the bare essentials worked out, Barrier had been uncharacteristically quiet, sitting by himself in one of the bedrooms and seemingly doing nothing.

“I’m fine, Twilight. No offense, but Fleetfeather and Wind Whistler deserve to hear it from me. I owe them that much and more.” Dry-swallowing, Barrier raised his hoof and gave the cellar door three sharp knocks before calling out clearly. “Majesty’s Son.”

Almost immediately, the door creaked open and a familiar blonde mane with red tips poked through the door before waving them in, quickly closing the door behind them.

“Twilight, can you explain things to Thunder Aegis and Nurse Lifeline for me? I’m going to pull Fleetfeather and Wind Whistler outside for this…”

Even as he awaited confirmation, he headed further into the cellar and motioned for the two.

“Sure,” Twilight quickly acquiesced, pulling the unicorn in question a short ways to the side as Fleetfeather stalked past her and through the door, Barrier following close behind with a ball of fluff and feathers dangling from his jaw in determination.

***

“Barrier… Please tell us what hast happened. Apparently, thy cadets returned whilst Wind Whistler and I slept. It would seem that Private Thunder Aegis didst not question why they had returned to spirit away with Princess Cadance and thy new guards.” Fleetfeather hadn’t wasted any time asking the question, the door to the wine cellar having just clicked shut.

Barrier’s eyes crossed in an effort to stare at the filly doggedly attempting to climb up his muzzle. “Very well, Fleet.” Spots erupted across the stallion’s vision as he instinctively tried to flare his horn to remove the filly and he stumbled backwards onto his flank. “Faust d-” He cut himself off when Wind Whistler slipped from his jaw. “By Celestia, this is going to get take some getting used to…” Barrier clenched his eyes shut and slowly exhaled…before a blue-furred forehoof snagged his jaw and sharply tugged him downward, eyeing the bandaged horn with her one eye.

“Courtesy of Sombra, I assume?”

“Aye…” Barrier massaged the hinge of his lower jaw gingerly. “But that’s a story for another time. You’re gonna want to sit down for this.”

“Dost this mean Sombra is vanquished and we can all go home?” Wind Whistler gave a sharp flap of her wings, generating just enough lift to allow her to scramble onto her mother’s back where she settled between her wings. “I can’t wait to see Father again!”

“That must certainly be the case.” Fleetfeather turned and nuzzled the filly. “Uncle Barrier being in one piece is clearly a sign that Sombra is most assuredly dead. We should see your father and siblings again in a week's time, at most.”

“Fleet…”

Barrier’s tone was empty in a way the mare had only heard on one occasion; when he’d returned from Gallopfrey after the failed mission with less than a fraction of the prisoners. It was a tone that indicated he had -in his opinion- failed himself and those he held dear to the utmost.

“The reason everything’s been so odd here in the Empire…why Sombra wasn’t there on your return and why the princesses and I weren’t here…” Barrier swallowed again. “Sombra caused the Empire to disappear for a millennium. The Castle of the Two Sisters and the city surrounding it…they don’t exist anymore, Fleet. They’ve been abandoned for over nine centuries.” Barrier looked away from the powder-blue mare as the expression of shock settled on her countenance. Wind Whistler only tilted her head in confusion as several key words went over her head entirely.

“...Barrier…” It was Fleet’s turn to utilize a hollow, emotionless voice her legs nearly buckled, only remaining straight for the sake of the filly on her back.

“You, me, the cadets…the ponies of the Empire and the princesses…” Barrier hesitantly faced the mare once more, despite her gaze being fixed on the ground. “We’re all that’s left, Fleet. We’re-” Barrier was cut off as his head snapped to the side, followed immediately by Fleetfeather burying her face in his chest to muffle her cries. Whether for her sake, or Wind Whistler’s, Barrier didn’t know, but regardless of which, he leaned into the mare and embraced her, awkwardly patting her on the withers.

“Uncle Barrier?”

Barrier met eyes with the filly that was still clinging to her mother’s back. “Dost… dost this mean… my father... and brothers and sisters... are all dead?” The small filly choked out between sniffles, tears start to form in her eyes.

“I’m sorry, Windy…” Barrier closed his eyes and reached a hoof further down Swift’s back, nearly buckling and crying himself when the filly took the hoof and began to let out choked sobs into it.

Twenty minutes later…

Wind Whistler had cried herself to sleep and was curled up between Fleetfeather’s wings, leaving the adults to lie down on their stomachs a short distance from each other.

“Barrier…” Fleetfeather pointedly ignored the damp chest of her friend. “How art thou still alive after one-thousand years? Thou were not in the empire when…”

Barrier gently cut the mare off. “Princess Luna fell into madness, becoming a twisted version of herself called Nightmare Moon. Princess Celestia and I tried to combat her in what’s now the old palace. In the end, Princess Celestia had to seal us away using the Elements of Harmony. One thousand years passed before the seal broke and Twilight Sparkle and her friends bested Nightmare Moon, restoring Princess Luna to us.”

“So thou returned with Princess Luna then?”

Barrier nodded his affirmation.

Silence began to settle over the pair before an awkward cough shattered it.

“Barrier…” Fleetfeather began by locking eyes with the unicorn. “Did Flash ever remarry?”

After an extremely brief internal struggle, Barrier nodded. “Yeah. About a year and a half after the Empire’s disappearance, he married Silver Wind.”

Fleetfeather nodded sadly. “Iron Forge’s mother, right?”

“Yeah.” Barrier sighed softly. “They were…as happy as they could be, given their individual circumstances.”

Fleetfeather nodded in understanding. “I suppose that’s for the best. At least the foals had somepony to call their mother. No doubt after thy disappearance, Flash turned his rage on Equestria’s enemies. None would escape his furious campaign.”

Barrier began to chew just slightly on his lower lip; the mare narrowed her eye as he did so, recognizing the reaction as one of the stallion’s very few tells.

“Fleet, about that…” Barrier looked away from her. “Captain Flash Sentry…when Princess Celestia left to grieve, he…took his anger out on the thestrals. Unfortunately, he didn’t limit himself only to the ones that sided with Nightmare Moon. He tried wiping out the entire race. I…Faust, mares and foals included. Flash…lost himself.”

Fleetfeather nodded somberly and stood up. “Tell me Barrier, where art the privates now?”

“They’re likely around the front of the palace, doing what they can help the populace. When I left, the crystal ponies were setting up stands and preparing for their festival.”

“Let us go see how the civilians are doing. Mayhaps seeing some smiling ponies will help better my mood. Help to affirm the knowledge that our sacrifice… and those we lost… was worth it in the end.”

Barrier nodded and turned back to the cellar. “Just give me a moment to tell Twilight, then we can see Cadance’s new empire.” Barrier disappeared behind the door for several moments before returning with a silent and contemplative lavender mare.

Barrier motioned with a hoof and the three of them started towards the palace.

“Barrier?” Twilight was the first to break the silence. “Can I ask you something?”

“Of course. What’s on your mind, young Sparkle?” Barrier’s dialect shifted just slightly towards olden speak.

“Why did the elements leave Sombra in such a terrible state? I…I never thought the elements would kill a pony.”

“I do not know, Twilight, but I don’t think the elements killed him. The best I can think of is that he was so consumed by dark magic that when the elements purged it, his body couldn’t keep up. When the elements cleansed him, he simply couldn’t keep going. Make no mistake, you and your friends didn’t kill Sombra. If anything, you saved him from a fate far worse than death. Beyond that…who can really say?”

Twilight sighed as they approached the entrance to the palace which was absolutely swarmed with crystal ponies.

“I suppose you’re probably right. What caused Sombra to end up like that is likely one of those mysteries that has no real answer, like, ‘how did ponies come into being?’ ‘Was there really a strange guardian creature named Megan in ancient times?’ or ‘why was I banned from an ice-cream store I’d never been to before?’. The world just may never know.”

An…odd choice of comparisons… Barrier noted.

Fleetfeather tensed as a wave of magic suddenly washed over them. Glancing around for the source, Fleetfeather saw that the source was a beautiful sight: the symbol of the empire, the Crystal Heart, had been returned to its proper place.

“This is good.”: Fleetfeather’s lips curled just slightly into a smile. “Tis good to see things starting to improve.” The mare turned to Barrier and gave him a brief hug which the unicorn returned. “Thank you, Barrier.”

Barrier pulled away with a smile of his own. “Don’t thank me. I served as little more than a distraction. In anypony deserves thanks, it’s Twilight and her friends.”

Twilight blushed as she found both soldiers’ gazes. “Barrier, stop…” the mare stated bashfully, much to the stallion’s amusement.

“Twilight, you and your friends stopped Sombra. Hay, you stopped Nightmare Moon as well. I owe you my thanks, and so do many others. Do not be afraid of praise well earned.”

“Barrier, Segreant Fleetfeather, Twilight!” Cadance gave her wings several hard flaps and flew over the crowd between the trio and the heart. As she landed, the former cadets also congregated around the charcoal-coated unicorn. “How are you all doing?”

“As well as can be expected, Empress.” Fleetfeather bowed as best she could without jostling Wind Whistler.

“I’m okay, Empress. A bit sore in the horn, but otherwise fine. Now then…” he turned to Verdant Range. “We need to discuss Private Range’s disregard of my previous orders.”

Verdant Range swallowed and stepped forward, followed by Swiftsword who began before he could.

“Sir, I ordered Private Range to disregard thy orders. We had the situation well in hoof and he was better aiding thou than us, due to him primarily being a ranged combatant. The undead and narrow hallway rendered his arrows ineffectual. I believe I made the best tactical decision available to me at the time.”

Barrier gave them both a hard stare and a harder tone. “Regardless, you’re both responsible. You for ordering him to ignore my orders, and him for doing so. That said, I am immensely grateful for your assistance, Private Range…regardless of my feeling on the matter however, you disregarded my orders to remain in the hall.” Barrier paced in front of the two, aware of the dumbfounded expression that both Cadance and Twilight wore.

“Are you crazy?” Twilight began, “Your punishing them after everyth…” The lavender mare was silenced by Fleetfoot closing her mouth for her and giving her a hard stare that told her not to interfere.

“Were it up to me, you’d both be awarded medals…hell, you’ll likely still be awarded medals if I can help it, but the fact remains that you disobeyed orders, however justified it was. As punishment…” Barrier stopped to think before a moment before tapping the ground with a hoof as he reached a decision. “You’re both to chew a Ruby Reaper for thirty seconds and swallow.” Swiftsword and Verdant Range paled, but nodded without hesitation. “I intend for your punishment to be carried out upon our return to the Capital. Until then, consider yourself relieved of duty. Enjoy yourself at the festival while you can.”

“Uhm, Barrier?” Cadance raised her hoof as if she were in a classroom.

Barrier stared at her with one eyebrow raised in amusement. “Yes, Empress?”

Cadance blushed at the title. “Spike and I just got a letter from Princess Celestia. She and Princess Luna are going to be arriving on the train tomorrow. They’re bringing guards, doctors, food and medicine, in addition to a bunch of other stuff, all charitably donated by several big companies. She’s also bringing somepony else you know. Professor A.K. Yearling.”

Barrier smiled and just as quickly it was gone…everypony present noticed it regardless.

“That aside, Barrier; there’s something very important I need to address.”

“And what is that, Empress?”

“Gonna take forever to get used to that…” Cadance muttered to herself before clearing her throat and explaining. “When the Empire was lost, it was allied with Equestria and thus at war with the Griffin Kingdom. The war between the Crystal Empire and the Griffin Kingdom was never officially ended, for obvious reasons. Queen Leena Imperator of the Griffin Kingdom will be coming with Princess Celestia and Princess Luna on the train so we can sign a peace treaty. They’ll all be here fairly early tomorrow morning.”

All of the soldiers present save Barrier tensed as Cadance’s speech tapered off.

“…very well, Empress.”

“One more thing. Princess Celestia has been keeping the Queen informed of the situation since her forces came to help defend Equestria’s northern border, just in case Sombra escaped. Queen Leena wishes to shake the hooves of everypony who helped to save the Empire…” she glanced at the privates. “Which includes all of you.”

That drew silence from the stallion, his lips set in a narrow frown.

“That said, I’m not going to force any of you to do that. I’m asking for volunteers.”

“I’m sure all of my friends would love to meet her.” Twilight offered.

“Excellent. Right,” Cadance addressed the soldiers again, this time with a much more authoritative tone. “If you wish shake hooves with her, I ask you to take a step forward. If you don’t, please take a step back.”

The ponies separated without hesitation; Verdant Range, Swiftsword, and Magic Barrier stepped forward while Forge, Gem, Hat Trick and Fleetfeather took a step back.

Three soldiers were going to meet the queen.

Author's Note:

For our second in the cast-picture series, we have Squad 982 and their sergeant, courtesy of our resident slave artist and editor, Alticron.

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