• Published 10th Jan 2018
  • 2,704 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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20. Tea Minus One Week?

“Huh…” Aaron said, seeming to speak for everyone.

“...Yeah, you definitely told it better than I could have,” Johnathan noted.

Aiden shrugged slightly, tilting his head as he stared blankly forward, lost in thought.

Rarity cleared her throat quietly. “I… thought you said Keia had… passed on?”

He glanced over at her, sighing through his teeth. “I think so, yeah. We heard later that the Generals who failed to defend their Spires were executed by their King. It was their Grand Marshal who told us, so there wasn’t much reason to doubt him.”

Rarity’s eyes widened, her initial anger towards Keia all but forgotten. “That’s horrible. Why would he do such a thing?” She frowned, thinking on it a bit. “Honestly… why would he do such a thing? It doesn’t seem to match their… well… carefree mindset. It’s horrid that they came to your world and caused so much devastation, and yet… they don’t seem the sort to take failure so seriously.”

Grumman nodded. “You’re not wrong, Miss Rarity. Their King was a different sort than the rest of them. I wish I could say more about him, but he never showed himself planet-side that we know of. Yet every indication we had of him suggested he was more driven, and cruel, than any of his subjects.” He grimaced. “It’s been speculated, and I agree, that peace could have been achieved if not for him.”

Cade chuckled. “Soldiers are often more willing to make peace than politicians… they have a better understanding of costs. But if we could set that aside, fascinating though it is. It’s history; the Oni are gone. One of the few Oni ships left needs its batteries charged, and Paladin Williams, crippled or not, may be able to accomplish the task, yes?”

Aiden nodded. “Right… yeah, yeah I can’t see any harm in asking,” he said as he took out his phone.

Grumman cocked an eyebrow. “You’re just going to call him… right now? You’ve had a phone number this whole time?”

“General, are you jealous?” Aiden grinned at him while hovering one finger dramatically over the touchscreen.

“No, Aiden. I’m envious… the word would be envious.” He smiled wryly and shook his head. “In truth I’ve never believed I had any special connection to any particular Esper. I couldn’t allow myself to feel that way and still perform my duties as a leader in wartime. Even so… Bellerophon Williams and I worked together as long as any two in the war. I raised that boy as much as I did you, and several other First Generations who fell under my charge by simple virtue of being from this country.”

Aiden nodded, pressing the screen a few times. “And that’s one reason I stayed where I could be reached easily. ...Or so I’d say, if you hadn’t arranged it with Aunt Lynn’s house and all. Will wanted to get away from the world even more completely than I did. Only natural, since he was more famous…” he grinned. “And I can duck away from reporters easier than pretty much anyone, if it comes to it.”

“I don’t quite understand, darling. Why does Paladin Williams have so many names?”

Aiden chuckled. “Sent him a message. Shouldn’t take him long. And he doesn’t. Lero is short for Bellerophon, his first name. He kinda hates it because it’s odd, as were clearly his parents, so he got teased a lot in school… before the war started, of course. So he prefers Will, which would be short for his last name, in case that wasn’t obvious. ...Now that I think about it… there’s pegasus ponies on your world, right?”

“Yes…?”

“Heh. Maybe he’d be okay with using it there then.”

Rarity tilted her head, wordlessly asking for an explanation, when Aiden’s phone beeped.

“Ahh, good. Like I said, he keeps up with Discord.”

“With who?!” Rarity exclaimed.

“Who… what?”

“You said… oh nevermind for now. What does he say?”

He stared at her with a raised eyebrow a moment, then shrugged. “Given what’s been happening he’s not surprised to hear from me. I’m putting it on speaker.” He tapped the screen a couple more times. “Can you hear me?”

“Yeah, Aiden, I hear you,” a soft baritone answered. “This is more than just getting an Oni ship into space, isn’t it? NASA’s already accomplished that much.”

“It’s good to hear your voice, Paladin.” Grumman said, smiling. Rarity remembered that smile from when she’d first met the General. He didn’t wear it often enough.

“...General? I’ll say the same. It’s been awhile. My fault, of course, but I’m glad to hear from you, just the same. So what’s this really about?”

“We do need a ship into space… and further to another world. We’ll have our exact destination worked out soon. We can’t just go to NASA though, not given our passenger, who needs the ride home. We’re not ready to disclose her presence to the world. It would introduce too many variables. Once we have safe passage secured between our worlds, I’ll revisit that matter.”

There was a moment of silence. “I’m guessing not an Oni?”

Grumman snorted. “If the Oni still have a home world, they’ve erased it from any records we’ve ever recovered. Our guest is a unicorn. Say hello, Rarity.”

“Hello, Rarity,” she intoned.

Aiden blinked. “Huh… you guys have that joke, too?”

“Some things seem quite universal, darling.”

Will chuckled on the other end of the line. “That’s a surprise. ...This wouldn’t be related to that old book I’ve seen you carry around, would it?”

“It would indeed, young man. I’d be happy to relate the full story to you, though I’d prefer to do so in person.”

“Reasonable. Where are you now?”

“Sacramento, at Adstrum Technologies. As Aiden may have mentioned, they’ve offered a ship but we need the aether batteries charged fully. Equus, her home world, isn’t across the street.”

“Unfortunately, neither am I. I moved back to Baltimore… near there anyway.”

“Perfectly acceptable, that’s not too far from General Grumman’s current base of operations,” Johnathan said. “Can you meet us there? That way you don’t have to give away where you’re living now.”

“We’ve taken to calling it Fort Friendship.” Aiden interjected. Rarity rolled her eyes, but smiled.

Will chuckled. “...Fort Friendship it is then. I’ll go there after meeting all of you elsewhere, for tea.”

"I will only accept coffee," Aiden replied.

"Monstrous... but in the spirit of friendship I accept, for now," Will countered.

Grumman had tilted his head slightly, frowning. “Distrust, young man?”

“Prudence, General," Will corrected amiably. "Aiden can take me to anywhere, from anywhere, with no one really able to notice or follow. He can take you to a location of my choosing in the same fashion. At this point, I don’t need to tell you that your Fort Friendship is a hotbed of media activity. That mess with Veritech was a ticking time bomb. Now that it’s gone off, I don’t want to increase the speculation by showing up there in plain sight. They see ‘The First Esper’ rolling up after everything that’s already happened, when I’ve been MIA for over five years…”

“I understand. Though you should know that the reason we’ve had open hostility with Veritech after all these years is because Rarity appeared there. She found a Command Crystal, fully charged and waiting, on her world. She activated it by mistake, via her people’s natural aetheric abilities, and was returned along with it to its ship of origin.”

“That’s… remarkable. It stuns me that one of those crystals could store that much energy. I’m guessing her world can’t be too close to us, or we’d have noticed in the records we’ve stolen from the Oni.”

“Quite true. We don’t believe she’s from our galaxy, at this point. We’re decrypting the Crystal and will know for certain within days. That said, magic doesn’t follow the usual rules, as you know better than most. My point in bringing it up is that… one way or another that media hotbed is only going to get hotter. Either we establish peaceful contact with an alien civilization by helping one of its citizens get home, or we fail spectacularly, possibly expose our goals, and keep going by continuing to get ships from other sources. Again, the primary reason I haven’t already brought NASA in on this is because I’m not ready to expose Rarity to any of the possible xenophobes out there… particular any among the Esper population. ...Prudence, as you’ve said.”

“As usual, we’re on the same page, General. I do appreciate the occasional nostalgia. I’ll let Aiden know where to meet, in five days. Between then and now, I’ll focus on shoring up my energy. As I’m sure he told you before this conversation, I’m not what I used to be. Still, I think I can help you.”

“Either way, it’ll be good to see you again, young man.”

“You too, General. Aiden, talk to you soon. ...You get to explain this ‘unicorn’ to me, since you hinted about meeting an amazing girl the other day, and now I just have to know if-”

“Oh, hey!" Aiden exclaimed suddenly, "Look at that, wouldn’t you know, the call just got cut off! How surprising and unfortunate!”

“Darling, your fingers are glowing orange… as is your phone.”

“Whaaaat? No… that’s silly. You’re a silly pony, Rarity.” Aiden said loudly as his phone vanished through a portal.

She stared at him with one raised eyebrow, though the grin tugging at her lips killed the deadpan expression she was trying for. “Amazing, eh?”

“...Silly, silly pony.”

“Hey, I’m curious, too. When did you have time to meet an amazing girl? You’ve spent like every waking moment with Rarity. Plus you two sleep together, so-”

Rarity snerked and started giggling while Aiden choked on air and turned to glare at Aaron. “God… dammit… Private…”

“...What?”

Talia patted Aaron’s shoulder. “We’ll explain when you’re older.”

Cade cleared his throat. “We’d be more than happy to provide transport back to Virginia for all of you. I’m assuming Mr. Windborne can carry the vessel through his talent indefinitely?”

“Correct,” Aiden replied, attempting to force down a blush with no real success.

“Then let us go retrieve it, along with any pertinent equipment, and make ready to travel. Johnathan and I will be accompanying you.”

Grumman raised an eyebrow. “Will you, now?”

Cade didn’t budge. “Yes sir, we will. Johnathan is the most discerning aether reader in the world, possibly excepting Miss Rarity here based on what you’ve told us. But she doesn’t know the vessel's components and expected readings as he does. And I’ll be going because, while I agree with this venture, I don’t fully trust Johnathan alone with you. Giving away the ship is one thing, and again I do approve. However… his loyalty to you, and his… enthusiasm for succeeding at even absurd projects requires a cooler head to be present.” He smiled faintly. “Besides… I’d like to be there to see this work.”

Grumman stayed quiet a moment, and then nodded. “Very well then, Mr. Kneargum. I seldom entertain civilian guests, and given recent happenings the accommodations may be a bit Spartan, but we welcome your continued assistance with this.”

“I appreciate that, General. I’m in no position to force the issue, but I really believe that we’ll have the best chance at success working together.”

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

Once again Rarity gazed up at the ship that she was, more than ever, convinced would take her home. She could feel Aiden’s aether building and in just seconds the ship vanished. Her ear flicked as the air in the room resituated itself. The flower tucked there felt warm for a moment; it seemed to still have some connection to Aiden’s pocket verse. She made a mental note to ask him about that when they were alone. It was one thing to worry about disturbing any of the… bodies that may still have been there. Were they preserved by the same aether that kept the rest of the place pristine? But how could flowers grow? It did seem to be light or dark based on day or night, but rain? And why did Aiden seem so odd about the fact that she’d taken it? So many questions.

“So many questions, Mr. Windborne,” Cade said, echoing her thoughts.

“Eh?” he asked distantly, as more portals absorbed the other pieces of equipment that might be useful, as Johnathan went about the room pointing them out.

“With a talent like this you could do practically anything… perhaps more so than Mr. Williams, even had he maintained his strength. Yet you chose to fade away, and pursue a simple life of manual labor.”

“What, you mean like bankrobbing or something?”

“...Or something.”

Aiden chuckled. “One of my first memories is watching my sister Moira play video games. One of her favorites ends with the hero seeming to sacrifice himself to let his friends escape a castle that’s collapsing into the sea. They all thought he died. But the epilogue shows him getting out… and going to work in a village, tending the fields. I remember the line ‘that sounds like just what I need right now.’ ...I didn’t get it back then. Why wouldn’t the hero go back out adventuring again? He’d won! He could go be a hero and get a parade or whatever. But whoever wrote that line understood. And I did, too, after the war ended. Doing something simple, but honest, and quiet… yeah, that was exactly what I needed after the war ended.”

“I see…” he smiled. “I can understand that… better than I can say, in fact. Still, there are exciting times ahead, and you can no longer avoid them. Are you ready?”

Aiden blinked, then chuckled. “I can see why Johnathan needs you around. I think… I’m ready to be ready. If that makes sense. I feel like saying ‘I’m ready’ will jinx it somehow and I’ll get hit with something completely unexpectable. I believe we’re walking the right path.”

“Then I eagerly await the destination.”

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

Aboard another plane, after a limo ride whose tinted windows had made Rarity’s presence a non-issue, the emotional roller coaster of the day had caught up with them. Aiden and Rarity sat together, strapped in and leaning against each other, sound asleep.

Valerie was grinning as she watched them. She discreetly snapped a picture, to be sent to one Lynn Marcusson. Grumman was busy with some correspondence on his tablet, Aaron was listening to a podcast through a headset, and Talia and Johnathan were both looking over something on the latter’s laptop. But Cade watched Valerie from a seat away. “Is it so easy to accept this level of… familiarity with an alien being?”

“Should it not be?” she asked in return. “It might be another matter if Grumman didn’t have the information he has.”

“Knowing her language, and the state of her world 1500 years ago… that isn’t nothing… but is it enough?”

“No… having met her, and knowing that… actually just having met her, it’s enough. You spoke to Aiden yourself. You know the life he chose?”

Cade nodded.

“He gave that all up, in just minutes, after meeting her. And while we all joke about it, and you see there,” she gestured to the sleeping pair, smiling fondly, “they’ve formed quite the bond… it’s not easy to put into words.”

“Species aside… love at first sight?”

Valerie covered her mouth to stifle an outburst of laughter. “No, no, and that’s exactly what I mean. They way they were pulled towards each other, and the way we’ve all gravitated around her, pulled together to help… the way it’s all felt like the right thing to do… there’s a connection between us. Our two peoples. It’s something that, now that we have the chance, we’re seeking to rekindle. I think… more than anything else we gained from the Oni, in the face of all we lost to them… this we owe them thanks for.”

“I see. Perhaps I’ll understand better in time.”

Valerie frowned slightly. “You’ve seemed rather cool to the whole situation. I thought you approved?”

He smiled faintly. “I do, Corporal. I simply don’t do so as fervently as the rest of you, it would seem. This is a unique opportunity and I’d be a fool not to seize it. But I needn’t do so in blind enthusiasm. Whatever magical friendship power is hovering in the air around us, it seems to be avoiding me and I’m quite content with that.”

Valerie chuckled. “Fair enough then. But I reserve the right to say ‘I told you so’ the moment I see you join our little herd here.”

He laughed lightly. “So noted.”

Author's Note:

I really wanted to get something up before now, but my work schedule going up to EFNW is nonstop, so I've been short on writing time. That said, there will be another chapter Thursday as we enjoy a few breather days before the meeting with Will. Then on Friday morning I catch a plane to Seattle.

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