• Published 10th May 2019
  • 178 Views, 48 Comments

Homecoming - Antiquarian

The Great War sent thousands into battle. Rarity stayed, and she can't help but feel guilty. Now Applejack has a favor to ask: help a stallion from her unit re-adjust to civilian life. Rarity intends to do just that, and maybe square the debt.

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Declaration of War

I remember when my little sister first introduced me to her friends. She said, “This is my big sister, Rarity. She makes pretty things, and she makes things pretty.”

A gross oversimplification of what I do, perhaps, but an accurate statement nonetheless. I do indeed try to make ‘pretty things,’ and to make the existing prettiness of things shine forth. Some may consider it shallow, but I believe that there is beauty to be found in almost anything.

But war…

War is ugly. It’s muddy, bloody, and full of tragedy, and even without ever seeing the front lines it’s possible to get the muck on you. I learned that lesson years ago. After all, I was there when the war began.

To this day, I can picture it as though it’s happening right now.

It’s a Sunday in early autumn, bright and cheerful, with barely a cloud in the sky. The air has just enough of a crisp snap in it to be invigorating without being truly cold. Under other circumstances, it might have been a good day for a pleasant walk with friends or for catching a carriage around Hoofenberg to see the sights.

Then, in an instant, it’s transformed into the worst day of my life.

It starts so well: we six Element Bearers, and Spike of course, are riding in the open-topped chariot down the avenues of Hoofenberg, waving to the crowd as the military parade takes us around the old city’s districts. The citizens of the independent city-state, both pony and griffon, are ecstatic at our coming. Well, really, they’re ecstatic at her coming. Twilight Sparkle, the Princess of Friendship, here to host the Summit that will stave off the war that threatens to consume them. I can see the hope, the joy in their eyes as they look to their savior, to the pony who will make the Dominion back down without further bloodshed. Many have tears in their eyes as they shout her name.

Twilight, benevolent, noble, radiant in her royal regalia that so carefully hides the discreet armor plating beneath, beams back down at them, showing none of the nervousness that I know she must be feeling. My friend does not show them the frantic pacing, the panicked breathing, the self-doubt that she displays so eloquently for us. No, the crowd needs to see her as the pillar of diplomacy and authority that will protect them from being gobbled up like so many other independent city-states. And so that is the only face she shows.

I feel so proud of how far she’s come; so in awe of her poise under pressure; so blessed to be one of her closest friends.

And then he comes.

An unassuming griffon, barely an adult, looking to be more student than soldier, comes to the edge of the crowd, just past the line of guards. There is nothing to distinguish him from the hundreds of other griffons among the citizenry; nothing about him to draw a second glance.

Nothing, that is, except for the look in his eyes.

I’m a businessmare. I know how to read people, even non-ponies. I’ve always had a knack for picking up on moods and intent. But what I see in his eyes, I’ve never seen in the eyes of an ordinary citizen before.

That bloodlust. That hate.

What I see in him belongs to the likes of Chrysalis and Tirek.

The comparison shocks me into silence for a heartbeat. Just one.

One heartbeat too long.

A double-barreled pistol appears in his grasp as he takes aim at the carriage, his beak twisting in a snarl. Time slows as guards swing to stop him. Twilight’s gaze meets his and her hoof stops mid-wave, a her smile freezing at the sight of his hate.

For Talon!” he shouts. Then the roar of the gun silences all else.

I have a detail-oriented mind. When properly focused on something, there is nothing that escapes my notice. Till that day it was only a blessing.

With accursed slowness I see the bullet tear into her. It penetrates her body right where the wing meets the barrel; the one place on her torso that the armor doesn’t cover. The impact sends her body sideways as her head is whiplashed in the other direction. Flecks of saliva spray from her mouth as her face twists from shock into dawning agony. Then the spray of blood paints the air in vivid crimson, a color suddenly so bright and terrible that it’s as though nothing else exists. The gunshot echoes in a rolling thunder, but it is no longer alone. The wail goes up; the sound of grief, loss, and shattered hope.

The sound of death.

We are, all of us, caught in the same horrendous slowness, scrambling from our seats as our minds attempt to grasp what they see. But they cannot. It is too horrid, too unthinkable.

The shooter lines up for the second shot as guards lunge to tackle him. Spike, the loyalist of all assistants, is the only one of us to shake off the stupor. He flings himself in front of his oldest friend, shielding her with his body, his face a mask of rage as he screams a final defiance at his foe. The gun barks again, and my eyes cannot but stare as blood erupts from his skull—

But it is only a glancing blow, as the guards tackle the shooter to the ground and the bullet flies wide.

Then the slowness ends and I am brought crashing down into the maelstrom of chaos. Spike drops with a cry, holding a claw to his bloodied head. Fluttershy is instantly at Twilight’s side, applying pressure to the wound as she cradles our princess in her wings. Pinkie Pie is wrapping a bandana that she pulled from nowhere around Spike’s scalp as a makeshift bandage. Rainbow Dash bodily flings me to the floor of the carriage and shields me with her frame. Applejack, swearing like I’ve never heard her swear, is doing her best to shield Twilight. From my place on the floor, I can see the barrel of a breech-loading rifle, held by one of the guards who tackled the insurgent, being raised and swung downwards like a club, followed by an animal squeal that echoes even over the panicked cries of the crowd. I try to look around, I have to know, I have to see, but Rainbow shoves me back down with a string of expletives. My shouts demanding to know what’s happening are cut off by an explosion that shakes the cart. Rainbow loses her footing and I scramble to my hooves.

Carnage at the front of the carriage. All four of guards who were pulling are down, either dead or likely to wish they were, their flesh rent open by the bomb. The perimeter guards are trying to keep the crowd back; unicorns throw up magic shields while rifle-ponies seek targets. But the crowd is in a panic, and the guards can’t shoot. A gunshot cracks and the carriage splinters next to me. The last thing I see before Rainbow Dash drags me back down is a halberdier reaching his weapon over the milling heads of the crowd to hook a pistol-toting griffon around the throat. The insurgent gives a warbling carrion cry as he’s hoisted bodily into the air. Even from the floor I can see him die as three rifles bark and three horns spark and he’s ripped apart.

What I’m seeing is too horrible to comprehend, so my mind doesn’t even try. I’m reacting, and not even sure what I’m reacting to. I fight to get out from under Rainbow Dash. To get out and do something. “Let me go, Rainbow! We have to help her! We have to help Twilight!”

“Shut up! Shut up!” Another bullet cracks against the wood. “Shut up and stay down! We’ve got to—"

Unicorns are sensitive to magical surges, so I feel what’s coming before Rainbow does, but it leaves us both equally shocked. The magical energy crackles through the air in a form so potent that I can taste it on the backs of my teeth. Tendrils of crimson energy flash in the sky, accompanied by the roar of stallion immersed in agonizing rage. There are several shrieks, and the air is filled with the cloying smell of immolating flesh, leaving the taste of wrath in the back of my throat.

Wrath tastes like copper, it turns out.

The sky turns crimson and there’s scraping on the sides of the carriage. Rainbow rises with a snarl, but backs down as four rifle-ponies and Shining Armor himself clamber into the carriage. The prince looks like death, though he appears untouched, and his horn sparks as he powers the dome shield that now covers us. He spares a single glance at his sister, and I see something die in his eyes, replaced with something different.

Something colder.

“Big Mac! Get us the buck out of here!” he barks.

Rainbow’s shock matches mine. Big MacIntosh?

Eeyup!” is the answering bellow, and my head cracks against the seat as we jolt forward.

Tentatively I raise my head. Hoofenberg is a blur as we plunge through the streets at speeds better suited to a pegasus than to a gilded carriage laden with ponies. All around us sprint guardponies; a dozen; a score; three score. I look to the front, somehow managing to look past the blood-soaked Fluttershy and the weeping Spike to see who is pulling. I expect to see a team of guards, along with apparently Big MacIntosh.

I see Big MacIntosh. Only Big MacIntosh. He’s pulling a carriage built for four draft ponies, with twice the intended number of passengers, by himself… and yet somehow I get the impression that if we or the guards were to offer our help we’d only slow him down.

Besides, the guards are too busy keeping the path clear. Several griffons rush to block us. Guns speak. Horns gleam. Three insurgents are chewed apart by bullets. The other three are simply incinerated.

But the guards still can’t shoot into the crowd, and shots from their ranks strike guards and shield, causing the former to fall and the latter to crack. Shining Armor grunts, sweat pouring down his face as he shunts more energy into the dome. Catching sight of me, he bellows, “Rarity, stay down!”

“I-I can help!” I protest. I want to. I need to. If I’m not helping I have to think about— “I can shunt power to you for the shield!”

He groans as another volley rips against the barrier. “Fine,” he grits, “but do it from down there.”

Gratefully, I concentrate all my power, all my will into transferring my power to him. It takes total focus to keep the transfer going, and I’m glad. If I’m doing something, then I’m not thinking. I’m not thinking about Twilight, I’m not thinking about the blood, I’m not thinking about how she’s not moving, or how Applejack and Pinkie have started sobbing, or how Fluttershy is begging—


We’re storming the hospital. Guards pour into the building as though charging a gate and clear a path for us to the surgeons. We strap Twilight to a gurney and gallop along with her, calling out encouragement, assurances, anything we can say to her, but she’s not moving, she’s not breathing she’s just not—

Spike is riding on the gurney with her, stroking her mane and wetting her head with tears as he begs her to say something, rattling off every little misdeed he can think of in the hopes that her big-sister instincts will kick in and wake her up so she can reprimand him.

When the nurses remove him to take her into the operating room, he claws at them. It takes Rainbow Dash and Applejack both to restrain him, and Fluttershy to calm him.

Pinkie is pacing back and forth, chattering incoherently. She makes what sound like jokes from time to time or, at least, she laughs to herself intermittently, but the laughter isn’t real; her mane is straight.

Shining Armor is giving orders with the speed of an auctioneer as he makes the hospital the most impregnable fortress on the continent.

Big MacIntosh, who was just supposed to be a bystander in the crowd, moves into the midst of the mares and simply sits himself there. Applejack gravitates to her brother and sags against him, tears welling in her eyes as she stares sightlessly ahead. He puts a hoof around her. Soon, Pinkie Pie ceases her wandering to accept his other hoof and sags against him, still trying to make herself laugh through the sobs.

Rainbow is flying in circles, accosting every guard she sees, demanding to know what happened and swearing bloody vengeance against whoever is responsible.

Fluttershy just stands, staring at the door, her wings and torso stained red with blood. With Twilight’s blood. And that’s her in there. Our Twilight bleeding out on the table, unconscious, violated, dying. That’s our Twilight who—

I vomit until I can’t stand.

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