• 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 49

Barrier kept pace with Daring Do as the two approached the crystal table that had been set up just outside the palace, in front of the Crystal Heart.

“That’s a lot of peppers. Zacherle almighty, my nose is already stinging.” Daring stared in awe at the dozens of plates stacked high with the crystalline red peppers.

“Aye, and a great deal of them will be eaten. You think your nostrils burn now, wait until you feel your mouth and throat doing the same.”

Daring snorted in amusement. “Pass. I’m not into spicy foods.”

“Citizens of the Crystal Empire!”

Silence slowly descended on the crowd of shimmering bodies as Cadance’s magically enhanced voice rang out over the masses.

“We ask that you once more lend us your ears!” Cadance waited several seconds to continue. “Long ago, before Sombra’s brutal reign, this great empire joined forces with Equestria to protect each other from those were our enemies at the time. I speak of course of the griffins.” Cadance paused again.

Dramatic silence… Barrier thought idly to himself as he carefully eyed some of the crystal ponies, gauging the responses which ranged from distaste to outright hate at the mention of the griffins.

“Since the time of the Empire’s disappearance, the violent war between Equestria and the Griffin Kingdom has long ended and the two become close allies and friends.” Cadance motioned with her hoof and was soon joined on the balcony by Queen Leena.

“We gather here today to officially end the hostilities between the Crystal Empire and the Griffin Kingdom. To that end, I would like to allow the leader of those who wish to be our friends, Queen Leena Imperator of the Griffin Kingdom, to speak to you all.”

A good speech, but wounds such as this heal slowly… Barrier began to stomp a hoof on the ground in applause, the effect slowly snowballing slightly and drawing a half-hearted round of applause from the assembled.

“Thank you, Empress Mi Amore Cadenza, for this great honor.” Leena’s voice was enhanced in a manner similar to Cadance’s, thanks to Celestia. “Citizens of the Crystal Empire, I know that you’ve known my people as your enemies for so very long. No doubt most of you associate griffins with the rule of my ancestor, King Alarick, and the brutal campaign of the now dishonoured Brigadier Grimhilde LeGrande.”

The mention of the name sent a ripple through the ponies who began to murmur amongst themselves.

“We wish to be allies and friends with you.” Leena continued, the crowd falling silence once more to listen. “To provide whatever relief and assistance we can to aid your homeland heal the scars left behind and to help lead us all to a brighter, more peaceful, future.”

Barrier raised a hoof to applaud once more, only for somepony else to beat him to it. Smiling, he joined in, bouncing a hoof hard off of the ground.

“I have extended my talon in friendship to your empress and your Empire, and she has accepted. I hope that one day there will be friendship between all ponies and griffins.”

Leena waited until the applause had died down to continue. “I thank you all for listening to me. Now, Empress Cadenza?” Leena stepped aside as a table was carried out onto the balcony in Celestia’s magic, a piece of paper held tight to its surface. “May we sign the treaty?”

Cadance beamed and stood opposite of Leena. In silence, the two signed their names before Cadance held the documents up in the air. “With this treaty, we now enter a new era of peace between our nations!”

The applause began once again; Barrier smiled.

***

Not even twenty minutes had passed since the signing and ponies had went back to celebrating, a hoofful of completing the grand table, loading it down with even more peppers and buckets of milk in preparation for the competition.

“Are you certain I can’t convince you to compete?” Barrier teased the tan pegasus.

“Nope.” the disguised mare shook her head vehemently. “Spicy foods and I don’t mix. Like, at all.”

“Fair enough I suppose. Though now that I think about it…” Barrier inwardly half-smiled to himself before spotting two ponies in the crowd and opening his mouth wide. “Private Swiftsword, Private Range!”

“Sir!” Both of the ponies in question fell into the practiced salutes after they dashed in front of the unicorn.

“I want both of you to enter this competition.” They swallowed, but nodded. “We may as well kill two birds with one stone by getting your punishment out of the way here instead of in Canterlot. And though I suppose it doesn’t mean much since I’m in the process of punishing you, but thank you for the assist. Now, go sign up before it starts.” Barrier shooed both of them away before they could really react to him thanking them.

“You sounded kinda awkward when you were thanking them.” Daring noted.

“It was harder than it looked.” Barrier leaned against the smaller mare. “In truth, I’m immensely grateful to them.”

Daring nodded. “But you can’t let them know that.”

“No. Well, not yet at least. After everything that’s happened...honestly, it’s hard just to keep from smiling around them.” Barrier sighed and pulled the familiar steel flask out, taking a long drag from it. “I never realized how much they meant to me until they were gone, and now that they’ve returned all I can see is how I conditioned them and taught them. They weren’t too far from children when we met…and I took that from them. I tore them down and rebuilt them in a way that I saw as more useful.”

“You make it sound pretty bad, but your world and theirs didn’t need kids.” Daring tugged the flask from Barrier and lifted it to her own lips emptying what remained in the eighteen-ounce container in a single impressive swallow.

“In hindsight, it is bad. Necessity doesn’t excuse cruelty.” Barrier stowed the flask once more. “Until the Empire disappeared, I had every intention of sending a bunch of kids to fight a war.”

“Well, they were old enough to join the army.” Daring offered. “So it couldn’t have been that bad.”

“Swiftsword is the oldest amongst them at nineteen.” Barrier watched as some of the contestants began to take their seats at the table. “They were adults on paper only. You could actually be sent to combat at the age of seventeen, depending when you joined. Some went even younger by falsifying their age.”

"Wait a bucking second, are you saying my friends and I got our flanks kicked by ponies who aren't even old enough to buy some hard cider?” Moonstone groaned from her seat a restaurant table alongside her squadmates, a short distance from Barrier and Daring. “Man, I feel so lame after that."

Barrier just shrugged. “It happens. Don’t forget, I had far longer to train them than I did you.”

“We could have won if they hadn’t ambushed us.” Moonstone tried to argue.

“Just knock it off, Moonstone.” Spearmint interjected. “We were beaten, plain and simple. They had better training and a better lay of the land.”

“You’re only saying that because you’ve got the hots for Swiftsword.” Moonstone stuck her tongue out.

“They were trained to kill for years. I’m surprised we did as well as we did.” Cobalt Lancer tried to mediate between the two, ignoring Spearmint’s blush.

Barrier snorted. "You would have done better if somepony didn't charge in like an imbecile."

Cobalt Lancer glared at the unicorn but didn’t retort.

"Which reminds me, which would you prefer for your punishment, Cadet Lancer? Entering the contest, or having latrine duty for the week after our return?”

“Uh, I’ll take the peppers?” It came out as more of a question due to the mare’s surprise. “They can’t be as hot as a Hollow Shades Phantom Pepper.”

“Alright then.” Barrier let a half-grin cross his muzzle. “Best hurry up, I think it’s about to start.”

“I suppose you should join everypony at the table then, hm?” Celestia tapped Barrier lightly on the withers from behind. “I took the liberty of signing you up.”

Barrier jerkily turned his head to face the larger mare. “...you what?”

Celestia just smiled softly as she strode over to the table.

“Well, you heard the princess.” Daring Do nudged him forward. “Go on, wouldn’t want to disappoint her.”

Faust curse it… Barrier had never eaten the peppers himself, but he’d heard horror stories from others who had done so, and in this particular competition, chewing was mandatory. Reluctantly, the unicorn shuffled forward, taking a seat next to a mare in a guard’s uniform. She slowly took off her helmet, revealing a surprising sight.

Applejack? Barrier stared at the red-maned mare with the lighter-red coat. First a unicorn Rainbow Dash and now a red Applejack?

“Bonjour, Captain Barrier.” The mare shot him a smile as she spoke with a thick Neigh Orleans accent. “Captain Shining Armor’s told me an’ the others a great deal ‘bout ya. Name’s Pepperdance, Sergeant o’ the Guard.”

“A pleasure.” Barrier inclined his head politely before turning back to the table and letting his gaze fall over the rest of the participants.

Pinkie and Rainbow Dash sat next to each other chatting about something or another. Across from them Swiftsword and Verdant were staring in grim resignation at the peppers in front of them, while Fluttershy tried to hide behind her mane in between the cornflower-blue unicorn and Cobalt Lancer. At the head of the table were the royals, both Princess Celestia and Luna sitting on either side of Cadance, and Queen Leena on the other side of the lunar diarch.

“Everypony, may I have a moment of your attention?”

Barrier fixed his gaze on the crystal mare that had climbed onto a makeshift stage of crates.

“The contest shall soon begin and we need to go over a few rules before we do!” The pony waited until the chatter had died down to continue. “First, everypony must chew the peppers for ten seconds. Second, if you drink from your milk, you’re out. Thirdly, you must eat as the numbers are called. Eating before or after will result in disqualification. In addition, vomiting or leaving the table will also lead to disqualification.” The mare fell silent to let ponies soak in the rules. “With that said, everypony ready yourselves!” Everyone at the table picked up a pepper in their respective appendages. “Pepper 1!”

Everybody stuck a pepper in their mouth and chewed as the judge counted to ten.

Oh sweet Faust, it’s like a I’m being prench-kissed by an angry dragon… again! Barrier swallowed as the count reach ten, forcing back the urge to gag.

“Hot!”

Barrier turned and watched Pinkie Pie flip out.

“Hothothothot! WAY HOTTER THAN LIQUID RAINBOW!” The mare literally dunked her head in the milk, drowning out the sounds of her gulping in favor of bubbles.

“Disqualified!” The judge pointed at Pinkie Pie. “Pepper number two!”

Barrier closed his eyes and followed the command, dutifully chewing for ten seconds before swallowing. The sounds of milk being slurped announced another pony’s disqualification.

The noisy slurping stopped briefly, allowing Cobalt Lancer a moment of unbroken agony. “Oh gods, it still burns…” She went back to gulping down milk.

“P-” the announcer was cut off by Rainbow Dash loudly gagging and moving towards her bucket of milk…only to realize Pinkie had drunk both of their buckets.

The judge wasted no time. “Pepper three!”

I begin to wonder if I’ll survive this encounter… Barrier thought to himself as his mouth screamed in agony at the juices being rolled around it.

Nopony buckled that round, instead opting to sit in a steely silence.

“Pepper four!”

The judge began her count to ten but was interrupted at seven when Verdant Range cried out.

“Captain, I beg of thee! Release me from this torture!” He looked pleadingly at the charcoal unicorn who nodded to both him and Swiftsword before he promptly dunked himself in the bucket. Swiftsword simply nodded back as her body shook.

Pepper five rolled by, followed shortly by Swiftsword politely excusing herself…and taking her milk bucket with her into the depths of the palace.

“Pepper six!”

Barrier was silently weeping to himself at this point as he half-chewed the pepper…and finally spit it out before taking in a great heave of air and tilting the bucket to his lips before entering the crowd, where Daring and Verdant both patted him on the back.

“Pepper seven!”

After downing the seventh pepper, Celestia was looking positively green. Her cheeks bulged out before she teleported away in a bright flash. The sound of violent retching came from a nearby alleyway, followed by a shout of absolute agony, “Oh sweet mercy, it’s even hotter coming back up!”

Pepper eight passed by unimpeded.

Pepper nine saw Queen Leena politely backing away and sipping her milk, surprisingly composed given the ordeal she’d suffered through.

Pepper ten saw Princess Luna back out with as much dignity as a mare whose face was literally soaked in sweat could muster.

Pepper eleven had Fluttershy excuse herself as being full, taking only a short sip of milk before fading back in the crowd.

Only two remain… Barrier eyed Pepperdance and Cadance who shared a hard stare before sticking the twelfth pepper in their mouths and chewing.

Before the next pepper could be called, Pepperdance swallowed a large mouthful of milk. “My oh my, I do declare, I know when I’ve been beaten. Congratulations, your imperial highness.” She took several more swallows before excusing herself from the table.

“The winner is Empress Mi Amore Cadenza!” The judge declared loudly…and then stared in shock when Cadance chewed and swallowed a thirteenth pepper, along with everybody else in the crowd.

“Had…to see if I could do…one more…” Cadance gasped out in between mouthfuls of milk; she was almost entirely oblivious to wild applause of the crystal ponies.

Barrier didn’t join in the applause, caught up as he was in slowly drinking his milk, rather than chugging it as most ponies had been. Out of the corner of his eyes, he noticed Queen Leena and Princess Luna comforting Princess Celestia as she continued to uselessly scrub at her tongue.

“Excuse me for a moment, Daring. I need to check something.” Barrier wove his way through the crowd with ease before Daring could respond, stopping only when he reached the three royals. “Your majesty,” Barrier waited until Leena turned to face him. “May I ask you something in private?”

“Of course,” Leena didn’t even hesitate before following Barrier into the mouth of the Crystal Palace, out of easy earshot.

Barrier eyed the three griffin guards and the trio of his cadets that were watching them closely with some amusement before the Queen drew his attention.

“What is it you wanted to ask, Captain?”

“I was curious as to why you threw the pepper-eating competition.”

Leena drew back in well-feigned surprise. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. I ate nearly ten of those horrendous peppers.”

“Your expression wasn’t nearly as bad as some of the others.” Barrier half-smiled. “You threw the competition…why?”

Leena clicked her beak several times before looking around more carefully. “If you must know, I did it to bring smiles to some of the Empire’s citizens. I’ve no doubt many still bear ill-will towards the griffins, and seeing the griffins triumph over all the ponies would most likely sour their mood. I thought it in the best interest of the empire that they see the leader of the griffins lose to ponies, even if only in a relatively harmless way.”

Barrier cocked an eyebrow in surprise. “Really?”

“Well…” Leena chuckled slightly. “I also wanted to save some room for fish with Princess Celestia. Could I have beaten Empress Cadance or Sergeant Pepperdance at the game? Perhaps. Should I have? I sincerely doubt so.”

“I see.” Barrier bowed deeply to the Queen, drawing shocked surprise from her, as well as Winter Gem, Hat Trick, and Iron Forge, who had all been watching the pair from within the crowd. “I thank you, your highness.”

“It has been an absolute pleasure, Captain Barrier. My train departs tomorrow morning, so I don’t think we’ll see each other again, but if you ever desire to visit the Griffin Kingdom, I would welcome you with open talons.” Leena turned and began back towards her bodyguards.

Never thought I’d hear a griffin say something like that… Barrier took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. “Come cadets,” Barrier motioned them over to him from where they had been observing him. “Let’s find Verdant and Swiftsword and then do as Pinkie Pie has instructed repeatedly and party!”

The looks of uncertainty on the cadets’ faces at his statement was more than amusing.

Author's Note:

Alticron: The theme for today's picture is guard ponies. We have Barrier's new squad, We have Lt. Spearmint {Again, original design by Stephanoodle}, Ensign Moonstone {based on a G1 Pony of the same name}, and finally, Cadet Cobalt Lancer.
Sober: I think it's pretty clear why everybody mistakes her for a stallion. Seriously, that jaw.
Alticron: Quiet you.
Sober: Eat me, that's a big bitch.
Alticron: Anyway, we also have Sgt. Pepperdance {minus her Lemon Hearts Club Band}, Corporal Soundwave who arrested Barrier forever ago and Lt. Starscream, picture taken just before Grimhilde reassigned him from espionage to breakfast. Next week will be the final chapter, split up into two parts that will release on Monday and Friday. It will also have a very special picture. See you all next week for the finale!
Sober: Like the original A Pony Displaced this story will be subject to {and suffer from} the occasional bonus chapter. Something to look forward to. :3 Or not. Time will tell.
Alticron updated another picture! Give him... something dammit!

Spearmint in that updated picture was done by FlashEquestria, so give him a commission, if you'd like. He does absolutely fantastic show-style art.

Edit: Updated for consistency and to show off the updated looks for Moonstone, Cobalt Lance, Soundwave and Starscream.

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