• Published 10th Jan 2018
  • 2,708 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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25. First Last Steps

He landed hard on cold stone. His wounds were healing, and he could feel the foreign aether of the unicorn’s weapon searing away at some deeper infection. He snorted. “Cleansing me? It will take more than a flesh wound to dig deep enough…”

“Welcome home, Warbrave Caedum.”

“Paugh! I’ve not held that rank in fifty years… your majesty…” Garken practically oozed disrespect as he spat the address in reply.

His king stepped forward, clearly visible despite the dim illumination. Taller than Garken by a handbreadth, his presence made him seem larger yet. Red eyes stared down imperiously, almost mockingly. “You are fortunate I’m willing to reinstate you at all. And that is how you greet your king?”

“You yanked a choke chain I didn’t know I was wearing, so forgive me for growling at you. Or don’t… I’m long past caring. Why did you bring me back here?”

“Is it not enough I saved you from certain death? It has been your will, your magic, that kept me from recalling you sooner. Here, let me show you...”

Quicker that Garken could react in his weakened state, his king’s hand shot out and two claws pierced deep into his skull. Fighting a feeling of paralysis as his body shut down, his consciousness fled into his aether. He could still feel what was happening as his skull was torn at, and then the claws came back out… clutching a long, thin sliver of pulsing, black crystal.

Garken fell to his knees, his mind returning to his physical brain far too quickly. “That… is…”

“Corrupted aetheryte,” his king said, examining the blood covered bit of gemstone. “I placed it there some time ago. Did you think it coincidence that you were more than twice as strong as even your most dedicated peers?”

“But it… could summon me here?” he choked out, gasping for breath as all his strength poured into both healing and temporarily bypassing his many injuries.

“Of course… it’s not unlike a Command Crystal, when properly enchanted. I did need my Grand Marshal ready to be called at a moment’s notice. As you said… a choke chain. And yet, you resisted it so many times over the years. It was extremely annoying.”

Garken chuckled.

“You dare laugh at your king?”

“I never knew. I suspected… you’d done something to me. I felt myself fighting something inside, but I never knew what. I was carrying that extra weight… and now it’s gone. You say it made me stronger? ...Then why do I feel so much lighter without it?!”

With that he rose quickly, and threw a punch at his king’s face. Taken off-guard, he barely managed to catch the fist… and not well enough to escape harm. A blast of aether, strengthening the strike, pulsed through the arm, which seemed to shatter…

Revealing a bird-like talon where a hand had been. Red eyes narrowed in yellow sclera as Garken’s own went wide. “No…”

The taloned hand squeezed Garken’s fist, carving into his flesh. “...This wasn’t for you to see.”

“You… you can’t be… you aren’t…!?”

The king spun, pulling him forward and stabbing down with the crystal shard towards Garken’s eyes, but went wide as the warrior moved with the momentum, tackling the monarch. “Impostor!” He shouted, knowing he wouldn’t be heard. They were in the bowels of the mothership, where the harshest training was possible because the shielding was thickest. Garken could sense no one else. He threw punch after punch, each blocked by the taloned hand that belonged to no Oni. Even his king’s magic felt wrong. “Where is my king?! Is this why we kept fighting? Is this why we killed so many?! What have you done with-”

In an explosion of dark magic, Garken was thrown back. He caught himself after rolling and was ready to counter, but no attack came. Instead, his king simply stood up… and up.

Thick white hair framed a long, almost equine face complete with a narrow, fang filled muzzle. The short, gray fur of that face seemed composed of metal rather than anything organic, and yet it was clearly a living being. At nearly five meters, he now towered over Garken. His taloned hands resembled giant eagle claws, and his feet appeared like those of a massive jungle cat, covered in white fur. His body reminded Garken of a red-scaled dragon, if a dragon could easily stand on two legs and had broad, well muscled shoulders. From each of those shoulders a pair of wings spread, fanning out surprisingly prismatic feathers. The head leaned down on a sinuous neck, a grin showing off obsidian teeth.

“I have always been your king, little puppet.”

Garken held his ground. The aether of the thing before him hadn’t increased much, and his own was recovering faster than he was letting on. This wasn’t over… if anything having that crystal removed had been a major boon. He had to play it carefully though. “Always, you say?”

“For fifteen hundred years, since you were taken from your world… and brought to mine.”

“But… that would have been…”

“Yes. I am Kirin… of Equus. Of the Draconequii, perhaps the last of them. I am every king your kind has ever known. Every new face to wear the crown… me. Me. Me. Me… and now… I am so close to finally going home again, and completing what our masters once started.”

Garken felt a chill, but kept his face impassive. “I won’t help you find it.”

Kirin laughed deeply, and held up the pulsing, bloodstained crystal. “You already have.”

Before Garken could respond there was a flash of pain, followed by oblivion.

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

“What the Hell happened?!” Aiden demanded.

“That… that looked look the same sort of teleport that brought me here…” Rarity replied.

“A Command Crystal? He had one of those?”

“I don’t think he intended to go,” Moira added.

“Agreed," Will said. "He was never one to run… not to mention his reaction at the end. Rarity, can you feel where he went?”

She shook her head. “No idea, darling. He’s… just gone.”

Aiden grimaced. “Can’t say I’m too satisfied with that… but if he’s gone, he’s gone. So… I’m going to focus on who’s not gone…” he turned with zero subtlety to Moira.

Who laughed lightly. “Nice segue, little brother.”

“As I understand it, I don’t have time for lead ins.”

“Yeah, guess not.” She stepped over and threw her arms around him. “Good to see you again, so to speak.”

His eyes were wide as he slowly returned the hug, as though afraid she’d vanish or break. Rarity swallowed a lump in her throat at realizing those were real possibilities. The frailty of her form, the instability of her aether… they were clear. She had minutes, or less.

He let out a shuddering breath at feeling a solid form in the embrace. “I don’t want you to go… not again.”

“Aww, come on… I wanted to rib you about still being taller. You’re taking the fun out of this.”

“Moira…”

“Shhh, it’s okay. I’m already gone, and you know it. This is just… our chance to say goodbye. I’m really glad about that. I know you are, too.”

“Yeah… I love you, Moira.”

“I love you, too, Aiden. I always will… no matter where I end up. There’s always a part of us that we shared with each other. That’s a form of magic, too. Family… and the friends that become family. We got to share something that this silly little death nonsense doesn’t get to take away.” She squeezed him extra tight, before letting her arms go slack. Sensing she wanted to move back, he let go. She grinned at him… that same wide, happy smile, and kissed him on the forehead. Then she turned to Rarity, walked over and kneeled down by her.

“No matter where you two go, and how you walk together… you got my blessing. Keep an eye on him for me, will ya? He may be the big damn hero type, but he’s also completely hopeless. Needs a ‘big sis’ type girl to look after him, ya know? Think you can manage that?”

Rarity laughed a small laugh, failing to hold back tears. “I promise.”

Moira shook her head. “I’ve seen things, clotheshorse. That’s not going to be enough. You know what I’m looking for here…”

Rarity bit her lip, nodding. “Cross my heart… hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye…”

Aiden choked on something between a sob and a laugh. “What?”

“Nothin’ for you to worry about, little brother. Just getting the important stuff out of the way.” She reached forward and hugged Rarity tightly. “Thank you,” she whispered in the mare’s ear. “I really can go without worrying. Don’t let him wander off alone again.”

“I won’t. You didn’t need a Pinkie Promise for that… but if you know what it means you know how much I mean it.”

“A sacred bond between friends… I do know it. I wanted to hear it, just once before…” she laughed softly. “Yeah… thank you, Rarity.”

She pulled back from the hug and stood up, sighing contentedly. “It feels warm. I think… I think that’s all for me. I’ll see you both again… someday. I know it. Goodbye...”

“Goodbye, Moira.” Aiden said, smiling through the tears as she glowed more brightly, before dispersing into a brilliant display of lights. All too quickly, they were gone.

Aiden took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. He twitched, shuddered, and slowly slumped to the ground. He shook once, looking down with his eyes shrouded by his hair. Rarity had already crossed the distance to throw her forelegs around his neck, hugging him tightly. His arms encircled her and held on as he sobbed quietly. It didn’t last long; within a minute he took a last, shuddering breath and completed it with a steady sigh. “Thanks.”

“Always.”

He gently nudged her away, standing up. “We need to go. I don’t want to talk to the media, or the military. Let them sort this out; I don’t care. Let’s get Johnathan and go home. ...First ours, then yours.”

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

Arlington National Cemetery was crowded that day. Despite that, it was devoid of any unwelcome sounds or conflicts as Knight Captain Johnathan Ferreles was laid to rest. At the request of his remaining family, no media was permitted at the funeral. Even had they been there, it would not have stopped Rarity and Aiden from attending. There had been no question: they had already missed the funerals for the others who’d died for this cause, they wouldn’t let it happen again.

It had been two days. Aiden had, for the most part, recovered after a single night. Despite saying so in advance, said night had not involved wine. Instead, it had involved a visit from Aunt Lynn, and a great deal of commemoration of family from all present. There had been tears, but also laughter, and the strength that came from sharing both sadness and joy. They had decided, for the sake of those that had passed on, that this would be their last day of dwelling on those lost. They would not forget, not ever, but they would walk forward. They would carry the happiness and the dreams they all wanted for the future. Rarity had already spoken of plans for a memorial on Equus, to remember those who sacrificed in the name of forging new friendships between their peoples. Aiden fully intended to help build it.

With the interment complete, they left via one of Grumman’s vehicles rather than Aiden’s power. The moment there were off of the cemetery grounds, pictures began flashing. It was pointless unless the photographers wanted pictures of the car, and Valerie commented as much from the driver’s seat. Not that it was going to matter much longer, given their destination.

Upon arrival at the predetermined location, Aiden did use his power to get them where they needed to be while avoiding the crowd in between. When they appeared at the podium, exactly on time, the room fell silent.

The two stepped up to the twin microphones, set to their appropriate heights so the assembled throng had a clear view (mostly of the unicorn mare, naturally). Aiden started off.

“We’ll be giving a statement… a real one this time rather than our annoyed reaction at the invasion of our privacy. To clarify though… no actual wedding plannings. All those ‘weddings are between two humans only’ folks… while maybe progressive compared to what my parents might have recalled, can relax. ...For now.”

The room tittered a bit nervously.

“As you know, anyone interrupting at the moment will be ejected from the room, by me. You know me. Knight Lieutenant Aiden Alexander Windborne, decorated hero of the war the media has taken to calling the Demon War. But the Oni-koru were not demons… they were a lost people, and still are. I hope they find their way, out there somewhere. ...Far from here.”

Another chuckle.

“My talent as an Esper involves the use of portals into and out of my pocket dimension, an area of space trapped inside the aetheric concentration of my soul. I’d explain the physics of that, but I left my dry erase board at home. Suffice it to say, and based on your self control you already know this, I can easily take any of you from where you’re standing and place you anywhere else within about a football field and a half. I’d prefer not to, but if we let you just go crazy Rarity won’t be able to follow what you’re saying. Speaking of…”

“Yes, thank you, Aiden,” she said, dropping her usual form of address for the occasion. The translator carried it over to English fine and dandy, but without the context of knowing her it gave the wrong impression here. “I am Rarity… and I’m obviously from out of town.”

This got a laugh.

“Yes. It’s no coincidence that Earth has mythology concerning unicorns… as well as many other magical beings found on my home world. Further, it’s no coincidence that Espers greatly resemble, in their magical abilities and the sense of the aether within them, members of my own race. There is a connection between our two peoples, one which brought me here but more importantly, forges a path ahead of us that we have the chance to walk together. General Grumman will be handling an extended Q and A elaborating on the details of that. ...That will be his penance for sharing private details from interactions between Aiden and myself.”

Another laugh, though this one was distinctly nervous and in some cases slightly guilt laden. Not surprising, given many of the media representatives in the room had spent far too much time analyzing those interactions.

“For my part, however, my immediate intention is to return home. I did not intend to come here, and I have family, friends, and a life waiting for me back there. I fully intend to do everything in my power to aid in opening cordial relations between our two worlds… and I can best do that back home. I’m pleased to add that Knight Lieutenant Windborne has graciously accepted my invitation to accompany me there, and enjoy the hospitality of my world, the best I can personally offer.”

Aiden nodded. “For the time being, there is no safe form of travel between our worlds for anyone who doesn’t have their own aetheric concentration… or pool, if you prefer. The Oni ships' shields are simply not designed to protect against forms of energy that were never a threat to them. Because of the volatility of the forces involved, it isn't even safe for Espers to shield other humans at this point. The shields have to be redesigned from scratch, and we’re just not there. No magic, no intergalactic space travel. ...Yet. I’m confident our best and brightest will solve that problem before much longer, with the prospects we now see before us.”

“Now then… we’ll be turning this over to General Albert Grumman, who will be filling you in on our shared history, and then taking questions. Thank you all for your attention-”

As she said this, several started speaking up, desperately asking questions despite being told it would be fruitless.

...And it was, as the two of them disappeared through a portal.

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

Rarity looked up at the sky, sunny despite the clouds in the real world, from the field of flowers. Much of Aiden’s pocket verse hadn’t changed. The aether flowed normally now, and much of that flowed in Aiden directly. ...And in her. She wasn’t sure how they’d managed to split that power between them, but Aiden didn’t seem to mind. Keia’s sword stood, floating just above the ground, on the other side of the field. Its connection to the aether there remained, but after drawing it out and allowing the trapped souls to escape, there was no sense of foreboding, or even strange, distant laughter to confuse one’s senses. There was simply tranquility.

She leaned against Aiden, who’d sat down beside her to relax for a moment before they headed back home. Really, they could start doing so any time; he needed only to begin channeling their travel portals. Neither felt rushed.

“Think Grumman can handle that crowd? They were about to boil over.”

“Oh please, darling,” she giggled, “I think he’s up to the challenge of a few hundred reporters.”

“I dunno… he’s pretty much not allowed to shoot any of them.”

“Hmm… that will complicate matters.”

“All I’m saying.”

She chuckled softly, and nuzzled his cheek. “How are you doing?”

He smiled. “Better, really. I’d made my peace with her dying a long time ago. As to Johnathan… I’m coping. We weren’t close, even during the war, but still...”

She nodded. “I understand completely. He died to save me… and I can’t let myself fall into despair over it without shaming that sacrifice. But…”

“...Yeah.” He wrapped an arm around her, holding tight. “...So. There’s at least a few more days until we’re ready to launch, assuming we can keep feeding all this extra aether into the batteries the way Will’s been so far. ...Coffee? Donuts?”

She blinked. Then giggled. “Dear sir, are you inviting me to several days of binging on coffee and donuts to forget my troubles?”

“Also bad movies. You’ve seen some of the best… only fair to temper that.”

“And what of my delicate figure?”

“Hah. Delicate… not the word I’d use.”

She cocked an eyebrow at him. “Oh really? Do tell, dar~ling…”

“Hmm,” he said, seemingly oblivious to the current minefield he’d wandered into. But then Rarity’s eyes fluttered shut as his hand began kneading her shoulders. “Well… svelte, certainly. Toned… seems fair. Soft in a good way… other than a little point of tension right there…” he worked his thumb around a little knot as Rarity groaned in quiet contentment. “But firm. Delicate… is doing you a disservice.”

“Mmm… yes… I do prefer service to disservice, darling… now that you’ve pointed out the difference. Do go on…”

He laughed quietly, continuing the massage as he channeled portals, taking them back to Fort Friendship.

Author's Note:

Join us again this coming week for the final chapter of this, Volume 1 of 2! Thanks for reading, everyone!:twilightsmile:

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