• Published 10th Jan 2018
  • 2,698 Views, 228 Comments

Back and There Again - Sun Sage



A strange gem takes Rarity to a world she almost recognizes. She's going to make it back home no matter what, but she might need some help to do it. And why is it all so familiar?

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10. Calm Between the Storm

Aiden fell on his face inside his pocket dimension. Rarity winced as he called out “Report,” in a muffled tone.

“Private Cooper, no blood no report.”

“Not that kind of report, Private.”

“Sergeant Henson, no injuries.”

“Knight Trellis, tired, hungry, and shields weakening, but no major injuries.”

“Corporal Martinovich… I need medical attention soon.”

“Knight Rarity, no injuries, but my horn hurts and I want to spend a week in bed. Owens is here, too, unconscious.”

“Good,” Aiden muttered, not bothering to rise. “I got everyone I wanted. If I hadn’t already been working towards a larger portal we might’ve gotten a bit crispy there.”

“Are we okay to stay in here and recover?” Talia asked as she began rooting through her pack for painkillers and first aid supplies for Valerie.

“No,” Donovan replied flatly. “Aiden and I are both wiped, and he can’t stay in here on a good day. My shield will start fading in another minute or so, normal shields like this don’t play into my talent so I can’t hold it any longer; we need to go before then.”

“Right,” Aiden said, still lying on his face. “I just didn’t want to port us out too soon. If we jumped back into real space too fast and the blast wave hit us I’d feel pretty stupid. For a moment, anyway.” With that they reappeared in the real world, away from the compound amongst the trees. Despite the roaring blaze coming from the destroyed hangar, the blast seemed to have been mostly contained. Aiden sat up; the rest hadn’t moved much beyond Talia examining Valerie’s injuries. “Oh right,” he muttered, “The shielding around the hangar was pretty heavy. Good to know.”

“Agreed, since I really wasn’t ready for that,” a new, familiar voice added.

“Vera?!” Rarity called out in surprise.

Vera Elleway grinned sheepishly. “Hi.”

Donovan’s eyes narrowed as he stared her down. “How’d you escape, and why are you here?”

“I felt Windborne’s portal from where I took cover when fire shot out of the hangar door. It was a pretty big tremor, too.” She shook her head. “And I didn’t escape. Grumman let me out a couple minutes after you all left. The moment Aiden first portaled you guys, our comms went LOS. He suspects sabotage. I was the only one who could get here fast enough to matter with things going pear shaped. Other reinforcements are at least another five minutes out.”

“Pear shaped sums it up,” Talia confirmed as she applied a medicated patch to what could only be a bullet would in Valerie’s left arm. “Samuel Ferguson was working for Owens, and nearly got us all killed. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”

Vera grimaced and shook her head, though Talia wasn’t looking at her. “Sorry, but I don’t. Owens sent me with a single mission, which I’m happy to have failed. I don’t know any of his other plans regarding anything beyond the ship attacking Grumman’s forces. And now I’m thinking that was a smokescreen.”

Valerie shook her head, gritting her teeth against the pain of her wounds. “I’m not so sure. I think he rigged the ship to blow regardless, with a trigger if anyone deactivated the shields. He could still use it as a weapon, but if we tried to take it… boom.”

“So what have you been up to that we didn’t see you until now?” Aiden asked.

“I can’t move as fast as you, ‘riding the lightning’ isn’t literal, ya know. When I got here I took down the other guards who were moving to pincer you. That said… it wasn’t all of them. The main building’s been all but abandoned.”

“We expected that, actually,” Valerie confirmed. “No matter how Owen’s assault on us went, he would have to move a lot of his assets, especially the legally questionable ones, to a more secretive location. We assume that started after Rarity escaped him, we just hadn’t been ready to do anything about it then. It’s worse now. There’s going to be a lot of eyes on this area. I’m just surprised Owens left himself as the distraction.”

“We can ask him about that later. What now?” Aiden asked.

“I can’t carry anyone out of here safely. I’d suggest we wait for Grumman’s air support, which is inbound and nearly here. They’re monitoring my channel. We can figure things out back at base.” She smiled wanly. “Well, you all can. I go back to my cell.”

“Surely you’ve earned your forgiveness now?” Rarity asked.

Vera tilted her head in confusion, and Rarity facehoofed. Her translator was set to only transmit to their headsets. Aiden repeated the question in English.

Vera’s smiled widened a bit. “One mission to come play clean up crew after what I did isn’t going to wipe the slate. Thanks though, I mean that. And anyway I don’t really mind. I’ve got a good book to read. For the first time in a long time I’m feeling a bit peaceful.”

“Other than all the explosions.” Donovan noted, looking at the smoking hangar and destroyed building in the distance.

“Meh, I grew up in the war, too, remember? This is different. This is walking forward.” Her smile became positively beautific as a distant hum of approaching aircraft intruded pleasantly on the conversation.

Rarity sighed deeply, feeling a bit of the tension breathe out of her. She sheathed Joyeuse at last, and the sword seemed content to rest. The world was sideways now, and she tried to wonder about that as she heard voices calling out to her in concern.

How silly. Don’t worry about me; I’m fine here and the ground is cool and soft. But Aiden… help Aiden. He looks to be laying on the grass with a blank…

Blackness took her, as it did him.

---------------------------------

While getting the injured into the Stormcrow (the Osprey's Oni tech inspired offspring) was easy enough, Donovan Trellis had never considered himself a leader. He preferred working from the background, behind the scenes. Center stage was not his preference, no matter how flashy his special talent was. Unfortunately, with Aiden and Rarity unconscious, Talia her usual taciturn self, Valerie on heavy painkillers, he was all that remained. Vera was obviously right out, and then there was Aaron.

Donovan did not even consider that option, no matter how many more reports it meant he'd have to write himself, as he borrowed Vera’s headset. “Knight Trellis, confirming what Knight Elleway reported. We have three needing immediate medical care. The rest of us are relatively unharmed. Corporal Martinovich has a head injury and two bullet wounds, one serious but not life-threatening, the other minor… as bullet wounds go. Knight Lieutenant Windborne and Knight Rarity-” he paused as a confused response came back, and chuckled. “No, because we don’t have a Squire rank. Who’d want to be that anyway? She’s an Esper Knight now, field commissioned by our commander. Deal with it. Tell Grumman to set her up with a salary.”

The response to that was downright snarky.

“Hey, you face down an Oni and help capture a renegade Colonel, you get paid for it. It’ll be in my full report. Point is, as Knight Elleway told you, they’ve collapsed. Windborne was severely wounded but I think the worst is past. Their reserves are just very weakened, we believe mostly from a phenomenon involving the General’s sword. I don’t think either of them are in danger; Rarity’s aether seems to already be recovering,” he glanced at Vera, gesturing to Aiden. She nodded; her senses for pulses of internal aether exceeded his own. Aiden was recovering also. “Correction, they both are. Fluids, examinations, and patching up won’t go amiss though, so be ready. We’ll be home shortly.”

-------------------------------

An hour later found him sitting in Grumman’s office while the General looked up from his hastily typed account of the mission.

“Certainly an interesting report, Knight Trellis.”

“Yes, sir, though it's just preliminary,” he replied. “...Permission to speak freely?”

Grumman snorted. “You don’t need to ask, Donovan.”

“According to what I saw, and even more what Talia saw, that sword turned Rarity-”

“Knight Rarity, apparently.” Grumman said with a small smile.

“...Even better, sir, because she was acting like a Jedi Knight out there.”

“You’re sure this isn’t a response to Valerie referencing Star Wars?”

Donovan chuckled. “That was actually her observation on the ride home. That being after Rarity deflected several shots from a turret in the hangar without even paying attention to it. If you knew it would help that much why not tell us beforehand? For that matter, why not give it to an Esper… years ago? You’ve had that cane as long as I’ve known you.”

“I didn’t tell you because I didn’t know the effects it would have in the possession of an Equestrian. I also note that Miss Rarity, per the notes she’s already given me, has a special gift for working with gems. It’s how she ended up here. I could not know for certain that that would mean a greater symbiosis with Joyeuse. I did not want to create false hopes and we didn’t have time for testing. I could only trust my instincts on the matter.” He grimaced. “And it did once belong to an Esper, Knight Captain Franz Schumer.”

Donovan sighed through his teeth. “Since I never met him… I’m guessing a very young Knight Captain?”

“The first, and the youngest to die while holding that rank.” Grumman shook his head. “At my age, I often see what I consider ‘children leading children’... the early days of the war were a time when that was all too real. Franz Schumer died at twelve, after two heroic years of leading his fellow Espers against the Oni-Koru.”

“A full year before any Second Gen Espers awoke.” Donovan noted. “I take it… after that…”

“His talent came from an Oni-Koru ship’s repulsor,” Grumman continued, seemingly lost in thought. “It allowed him extreme speed and maneuverability as well as flight. The sword improved his abilities nearly to Paladin Williams’ level, and for a time I thought the two of them might win the war by themselves.”

“So what happened? I never heard about this early stuff.”

“He had the misfortune of leading the first squad that met Oni-Koru Grand Marshal Garken Caedum in combat. We learned a great deal at a horrible price that day.”

Donovan winced. That name he’d heard of. “As I recall, only two people survived that encounter, but I didn’t know the casualties.”

Grumman nodded. “Knight Aiden Windborne, promoted afterwards, and First Lieutenant Mary Rossin, who was honorably discharged for incapacitating wounds received that day.” He smiled faintly. “I remember her telling me she’d sign back on as soon as we perfected military grade prosthetics.”

“Did she?”

He shook his head. “...What we’ve developed didn’t sufficiently replace what she’d lost. I kept tabs on her over the years, as I did with as many as I could. She can walk again, and see, but not at levels that would be acceptable for military duty.” He sighed. “In any case, Aiden recovered the sword from that rout and returned it to me. He didn’t know its significance at the time, and it looked a bit different back then. So don’t rib him for not remembering it. I don’t think he likes recalling those days much and I don’t blame him.

“But the moment I took it back I felt something I hadn’t since my father handed it down to me, on the day I joined the Marines. It was waiting. That was the sense I got. When my father handed it to me, I passed it off as a feeling of premonition. He’d passed it to me, this ancient family heirloom, and I would pass it on in the future as well. Decades later, Franz felt like the right person to give it to: a knight’s sword for a Knight Captain. Since then… it was waiting again. I had the feeling giving it to the wrong person would hurt rather than help.”

“Didn’t you say you worked with it some, even got magic to work through it?”

“I did. After getting it back, it felt… nearly alive. Unlike the first time I’d been given the blade, I was aware that the feeling of biding its time was more than just my own projections. I worked with it, had it examined and re-examined, even chipped away at, to the point of removing bits of metal and reforging it to its current appearance, after we discovered that the gem was all but impervious to any of our efforts. Oddly, it seemed to… appreciate the gesture. I have no other word for it. Doing so made my connection to the gem clearer. I was able to shield myself and those around me from harm a few times. ...Each preceded a day of bed rest.”

“That sounds familiar. They’ll both be down at least that long. Better than if we hadn’t had it, though.”

“Agreed. To be fair if not for Rarity showing up things wouldn’t have escalated so quickly. Valerie would still have been in place as a spy, and would have had more time to understand and even sabotage Owens’ efforts. In that case, we would have had fewer surprises going in.”

“Are you speaking of the Oni, or…. Ferguson?”

Grumman tsked, sounding self-deprecating. “I’d known Samuel Ferguson for four years. He was no plant, like Knight Elleway. Owens bribed him, considerably, starting over a year ago. It was shortly after I’d planted Valerie at Veritech, in fact. I didn't find that out until looking into it while you were being retrieved. I don't normally monitor my people's finances.”

Donovan waved that aside. “Good thing he wasn’t in on her being there.”

“I may seem lax, but telling my entire base about my espionage operations is a bit much even for me. By the same token, Valerie had no way of knowing about him. ...And I have other projects I’m monitoring as we speak that don’t require full base disclosure. Just yet.”

Donovan grinned. “Anything you want to say to me?”

“Yes. Your penchant for watching stage magician performances is baffling. You’re a living, breathing wizard.”

That got a laugh. “Sure, but I can’t work illusions and such so they’re really fun to watch. I wanted to go into special effects when I was a kid.”

“Michael Bay’s loss is our gain, I suppose.”

“Please, he’s way too flashy.”

Grumman snorted in amusement. “Speaking of flashy, and as to the Oni…”

“Yeah… that was just messed up. Look, back during the war, when we were better equipped that encounter would have been a joke. Stronger armor and weapons, and for that matter a full platoon, and he would have been trivial. As it was… Aiden nearly paid for our surprise.”

Grumman shook his head. “Such a thing has never been seen. You can’t blame yourselves for being unprepared. Blame me, if anything, for not discovering how far Owens had gone. I’ll have his reasons soon.”

“You think he’ll talk?”

“I believe so. He’s been out of the spotlight for too long, gambling on a glorious return at the head of a new era. Now his chance to reach that is gone. He’ll throw all the opportunities we’ve destroyed at me for the chance to play the maligned, misunderstood patriot.” Grumman snorted derisively. “After that I’ll just need to separate fact from fiction.”

“Some days that’s easier than others. So… what now? For the rest of us, I mean.”

“Steady on with our new primary objective. We still need a unicorn friendly spaceship. Assuming our two newest members make a full and speedy recovery, we start more seriously looking into other options along that line. Owens was an obvious choice, but not the only one. This just makes things a little more complicated.”

Donovan nodded. “Is our location secure?”

“It’ll have to be. With Veritech literally up in smoke I have to be here to put out the media fires. I doubt any of his people will come forward to gainsay my side of things now, but I still have to present that side. I don’t like keeping the public in the dark any more than necessary. If you mean personnel I’m conducting full background sweeps now. Anyone who dislikes it knows how to find the door.”

“I can understand that, but-”

Grumman’s tablet beeped and he immediately tapped it. “Yes?”

“Sir, this is Doctor Hamada. You’d better come down here. Our patients are showing some odd readings. I don’t think it’s bad but… you may want to see this.”

Grumman and Donovan shared a look before quickly rising. “We’re on our way.”

-------------------

Aiden was pacing quietly in his Boutique. ...No, that wasn’t right, was it? He tried to shake his head, clear it, but it wasn’t his head. He was there, those hooves were his, but they weren’t. They were hers. The carpet was odd beneath them; it was surprising how well he could feel it.

It was dark, only a couple of candles lit the workroom. He tried to look around, but he was only a passenger to the eyes he saw through. They walked quietly up to a small, rather cute looking purple and green… lizard person? Spike. This was Spike, the dragonling. Whelp? Baby? By dragon standards maybe. Still, adorably asleep on a large cushion. Aiden/Rarity smiled, and their horn lit. Aiden couldn’t express the surprise he felt at the way the aether moved. It was effortless, like a friend that was happy to help. He didn’t feel stronger from it… just more… he wasn’t sure how to describe it. There was a peace to it. Harmony. That was the best word he could find. His eyes might have welled up at the beauty of it, but his own eyes were elsewhere, and (he assumed) quite closed. A blanket levitated over Spike before the merged pair trotted off to the door, telekinetically grabbing a shovel and saddlebag that leaned against the wall on their way.

They sighed, though Aiden wasn’t sure why, as they put the bag on across their back. Deadlines? Gems? Her thoughts weren’t quite being shared. They left her home, for it was clearly that as much as a place of business, and trotted lightly out of town towards foothills in the distance. She was tireless, and moved at a quick trot while scarcely breathing heavy. Aether flowed gently through her, so naturally it was almost unnoticeable.

before coming here I’d never really noticed or thought about the differences in how magic felt

He understood those words far better now. If this was how things were here… she’d been saturated by magic from birth. Earth’s aether field, in its natural state, was no weaker than this… but it wasn’t nearly this cooperative. Aiden would’ve snorted at the thought of Earth being a stubborn planet, but he wasn’t using his own nose at that moment. And then again, maybe her people simply channeled better. It felt easier, but not stronger, so maybe...

That idle thought disappeared as their horn began channeling again. He was back to ‘their’ because this was much more mutual as he felt the aether flowing through his own consciousness with intent. The design for that intent… was quite another matter. The glow from their horn was deceptive in its simplicity. The way the aether responded was math and poetry at their most beautifully complex. He was trying to find the words...

And then the soil nearby started glowing. With businesslike efficiency, the shovel went to work, and within minutes they’d unearthed a couple small gems. Aiden was no geologist, but that just didn’t seem right. Yet he couldn’t argue the results as Rarity moved on, repeating the process with varying but always somewhat successful results.

They had perhaps two dozen before a glow in the dirt ahead marked their next digging spot. The novelty had began to wane for Aiden, but somehow this spot seemed… brighter? Rarity felt a sense of excitement that Aiden didn’t share as they dug into the soil. This hole went considerably deeper, but the glow led them on until Aiden felt a touch of cold at what he saw.

Grasped in their levitation, a forest green gem the size of a fist floated up into sight. They examined it carefully, or rather Rarity did. Aiden knew what he was seeing. He could even feel the strange aether seething around inside it. As he felt it, his consciousness began fading deeper into the memories. His thoughts quieted.

Rarity spun the gem around, searching it for flaws or odd facets. Then she felt the odd aether for herself. He felt her gasp and the eyes they shared went wide. She knew this gem was dangerous. It had a curse of some sort, she thought. She had to get rid of it. Somewhere far away, or no! Twilight! She could take it to Twilight and they could cleanse the curse so nopony was at risk. If only she knew how to teleport, she wouldn’t have to carry this-

In a blinding flash, Rarity vanished from the face of Equestria.

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