• Published 10th Dec 2020
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No Longer Alone - NoLongerSober

Sass, science, and surviving shipping! Postage paid! The gruff captain put a certain pegasus professor to the test and learned that she just couldn’t quit. Now come the hard parts: an actual relationship and maybe a villain or two.

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Chapter 25 - Flowers, Coils, and Pegasus Pride

Sighing in relief, Tail made her way up the apartment steps after making a run to the post office. A week had passed since her magical date with Barrier, and the mare had finally decided to come clean by informing her parents of the news. Of course, Sincerity Chain had likely already beaten her to the punch. He was notoriously terrible at keeping secrets after spending all those years sweating his emotion out on the stage.

Tail simply shook her head and snickered at the thought. After all, she didn’t particularly mind her brother’s antics, especially when they proved to be useful, and it was not as though she had a strong base on which to mount a complaint anyway. A smile swept over her countenance at the behest of Exhibit A, and her wings fluttered and tingled as the echo of Barrier’s touch raced around her memory.

She pranced through the living room and marched down the short hallway before slipping through the first doorway on the left to enter her room. There, a portion of the Pop’s Place Forget-Me-Not Meadow had found a new place of refuge. The pots covered every available surface that hadn’t been drowned in paper clutter, which meant the top of her bookcase and the portion of her desk by the window.

Whistling one of Sincy’s songs, the physicist flopped onto her desk chair and opened her journal. “A lot happened in the last seven days,” she spoke to the leaves of paper, “so let’s make sure I got it all down.”

Night 93 — It was kind of silly having Trot and Candy bring out a multicourse meal to us in the diner, but Trot was exceptionally sweet. I swear! Every time we go there, he just lets Barrier and me carry on our conversations until closing time becomes a distant memory. In this case, it was more letting us get cozy on the same side of the booth without too many interruptions. :3c

Still, when we decided to leave, Trot went and pulled out two big Princess PushRPull style wagons so I could take the plants if I wanted to. Figured that my office and bedroom could use a little more lively decoration. Though, keeping the plants in the lab will require some experimentation. Not sure if the lighting down there is a sufficient source of U.V., but that’s what monitoring is for. The exciting bit happened when—

Trying to quietly push carts through Canterlot in the night was not an easy feat. The rattling of the axles as they battled the cobblestone road peaked just below Tail’s anxiety on the matter. But if one of those wheels squeaked? Her guilt-ridden frown returned.

“I’m going to have to put a stop to that,” Barrier spoke up after the worrisome expression got plastered onto Tail’s muzzle for the second time. His horn lit, and once his bluish aura coated the red and white wheel caps, the pestering whine was heard no more.

“My hero,” Tail crooned, playfully batting her eyelashes at Barrier. Without having to worry about the noise disturbing the peace, the mare relaxed. She already had to deal with her muscles raging about the minuscule force that had to be overcome to push the wagon. The last thing she wanted was for some angry Carin’ to show up and derail the perfect day.

“I don’t know if I’d go that far,” the stallion muttered. “That sound is grating, clearly bothering you, and would likely bother somepony else. Definitely not how I plan to end the night that I become a feathery little Blanket’s coltfriend.”

Tail’s wings ruffled, drawing a warm chuckle from the captain. She held a sweet, alluring hum while taking nearly a dozen steps. The note dwindled, setting the stage for a quick breath and the answer that followed. “You really did surprise me tonight, Magic Bear. The dinner, the diner, the flowers, and the Magic Bear Bear?” Her feathers blissfully shuddered again.

“I’m just glad I didn’t screw it up,” he laughed, glancing towards the pegasus as they pushed their respective carts through the cool Canterlot night.

Tail bit her lower lip and calmed her rambunctious appendages as the couple started trotting by one of the few buildings in the capital that seemed out of place. While most of the structures within the city walls stuck to the alabaster, regal aesthetic, this large, two-and-a-half-story building was constructed using mostly red brick.

The Revival architectural style, terra-cotta cornices, and window surrounds weren’t lost on Tail either. However, the most notable feature ended up being the armor-clad stallion standing at the main entrance of what turned out to be Canterlot Orphanage.

“Indar?” Tail asked, tilting her head before the unicorn turned to face the officers. The pegasus immediately brightened at the sight of her old squadmate. “It is you. How is O.C.S. going?”

The taupe stallion instinctively popped a salute the second after his umber eyes registered that he was standing before Barrier and Tail. “Captain, Colonel,” he spoke crisply as his gauntlet-plated hoof rested against his helm. “O.C.S. is going well. I just decided to slip home for the weekend to check in on the family, ma’am.”

Flexing her foreleg a few times, Tail teasingly scolded the guard, “Indar, it’s date night. Put it down. Neither of us is on duty, and from the looks of it, neither are you.”

Stepping between the wagons, Barrier lifted his eyebrow and stared at his former pupil. “You said you were slipping home for the weekend, Sergeant?” he asked. His eyes slid up the railed steps, and he confirmed the signage printed above two windowed doors.

“Yes, sir,” Indar responded as his dropped forehoof tapped against the cement. His facial features stretched into an awkward grimace that conveyed a sense of unease. “You see, I’m an orphan, so before I signed, this was home.”

“It still is your home, you silly foal,” an elderly voice dribbled from an opened window. Behind a mesh screen, the darkened face of a yellow mare flirted with the notion of appearance. “I was starting to think you’d finally forgotten about us, but lo and behold, there you are. Now, why don’t you be a dear and come inside? Invite your friends in too. Some of the older ones are still up, and I know they’ll all love to see you.”

It’s kind of amazing how far Indar has come, considering what he’s had to struggle through. Really explains his demeanor! But my goodness, was he a sweety with those kids. And! An entire cart of forget-me-nots is now in the hooves of excited caretakers — with their mother’s help, of course.

Day 98 — Dr. Secret really confuses me. The pony’s — creature’s? — mathematical expressions look right. I mean, I got through Shining’s shield by testing an application of one of them, but things are strange when you start thinking about theoretical abstractions. An A.E.U.-limiter, for example, looks like a failing concept in the face of the divergence formula. Is this a firm basis for what I saw with Barrier in Las Pegasus, or are there just further layers to the constants? Do I have to wiggle my hooves and throw around some tensors? Just makes me wonder if I’m flirting with new physics here, or if this is just uncovering a case of society growing complacent because alicorns are around…

Whatever, that’s your problem, Future Me. Present Tail has better bits of news that are far more concrete! 1) My legs don’t feel like they’re getting bucked off anymore, and 2) Barrier and I found an incredible set of coils!

“By Luna’s moon-stamped ass!” Tail wailed as she scribbled down her collection of data entries for coil Barrier 9-F. The physicist unloaded an exuberant squeal that ascended to the ceiling above before producing an echo. “This one lasted thirty minutes too? That’s all six in the set. I’m going to have to fiddle around with these some more.”

“We are right here,” Luna deadpanned, swishing her star-kissed tail in a momentary fit of worn agitation. “And it seems unlikely that my ass has anything to do with the results of your test.”

Tail spun her chair around as Barrier grunted with amusement. The pegasus met the lab-coat-wearing alicorn with a sparkling stare that completely overwhelmed the Princess of the Night’s fatigued disposition. “Au contraire, I think that both of your asses now have everything to do with it.” Tail adjusted her goggles, leapt out of her seat, and sped towards one of her waveguides.

“I need coffee,” Luna groaned, her eyelids drooping behind the protective goggles. She rolled her head to the side and loosed a sigh in Barrier’s direction.

“Still not as bad as Twilight,” Barrier teased after a smirk spread across his muzzle. “You shouldn’t have volunteered to wake up in the afternoon if you couldn’t handle the responsibilities that go along with a sciencepon on a mission.”

“And to think we offered you the library bed!” Luna boomed in a shout that swelled dangerously close to the famous Royal Canterlot Voice.

Tail snapped into a straightened posture after she slipped an uncharged shell into the output end of the Generosity Waveguide. She gestured with her hoof to the potted forget-me-nots that occupied the tabletops and replied, “Don’t scare my plants. And, for the record, I would repay the favor and put a bed down here for you, but Amora would definitely come after me. If you need to go back to sleep, I’m not going to hold it against you. We can arrange a more suitable time for me to get another sample from you. Barrier can help me put Generosity through its paces, and then I can retest the 9-type coils using a shell of his magic at the core.”

Scoffing, Luna lifted her head and grunted. Her ethereal mane seemed to frizzle, and once again, her tail quickly traced a swooping arc. “You dare issue such a challenge to me, Tail? Your princess has the power to move a celestial object across the heavens. Charging a thaumium crystal is a filly’s errand compared to the incomprehensible force required to set my moon on its path.”

“Hm, interesting,” Tail retorted. She pushed one of the waveguide levers into a locking position and started trotting towards Luna. The scientist’s lab coat fanned behind her in a dramatic wave that followed a small goggle adjustment. Tail flicked her used wingtip outward just as a sly grin formed. “During the Summer Sun Celebration, it took you two-point-seven-five seconds to fully ramp your moon to the desired angular velocity. Assuming optimal directional control, that means you apply roughly 750 septillion units of incomprehensible force to your heavenly body.”

Watching Tail slam a forehoof down in triumph, Luna blinked. She gawked at the scientist until another groan gurgled from her throat, and the declaration that emerged on the ensuing breath carried all of the alicorn’s energy from her slumping figure. “I need coffee!”

Day 99 — Today was the last day of my sparring regimen with Shining Armor. That’s not to say that there is nothing left for him to show me — because that is definitely not the case. Let me remind you — if you somehow forgot — that anypony who thinks that the Royal Guard is unsuited to do combat has never seen Shining when he is in Captain Armor mode. Making any dent in his shield spell while he is actively countering was absolutely impossible three sessions ago.

Now, I’m at least putting up a fight. I even got to test the other two potential methods in an active scenario. Spoiler: my hunch was pretty much right. They require a lot more precision than I can currently muster on the fly, but progress is progress. I still can’t believe I was beating myself up over stuff a couple weeks ago. I mean, I know Barrier is in my corner, but I should have also known — implicitly — that Shining and Trigger had my back too…

Bolts bounced along Captain Armor’s horn as he launched his counterattack. The spell that Tail had grown accustomed to being spherical in shape now resembled a stained-glass variant of a traditional soldier issue. Its surface slammed into the pegasus with enough force to lift Tail off the ground, but Shining was far from done. His horn sparked again, and an identical barrier spawned above Tail’s position to execute a pincer maneuver.

Tail growled the instant she felt her hooves leave the dirt. Her ears swerved to scan for any sign of the coming tactic, and her wings cocked in preparation for flight. She’d been sandwiched by the officer’s moves more than enough times that morning, and the scowl that beset her visage telegraphed her frustration—along with her desire to utterly obliterate said frustration.

With a sudden second buzz prodding her senses, Tail’s brain clicked. Her feathered appendages sent her into a rolling motion. She retracted both of her forelegs, simultaneously spinning two Bullet Flash pikes into existence in the process, and after she had made a single half rotation, Tail threw her limbs outward to slash each of the defenses.

The glowing rods of lightning dug into Shining’s spellcraft and produced deafening squeals that shot across the yard. Unfortunately for the flier, her assault did not fully shatter the intended targets. Instead, Tail had ripped out sizable chunks in the captain’s namesakes that left a pair of massively exploitable holes.

Shining snagged the mare in the fallout of her own attack. He forced her limbs through the openings and marched his shields onward until they neatly pressed against her barrel. Her rotation stopped, Tail simply dangled in midair—frozen in place by the restrictive casts.

You’re learning. You’re learning! Tail’s logical thoughts tried to wrangle the inferno that blazed everywhere else. Her nostrils flared as a heated breath escaped, and her blood boiled. The scowl she had been wearing morphed into an even more intense glare as that pesky pegasus pride kept urging her to fight. Even if the previous 1919 engagements had demonstrated the pointlessness of extraneous struggling, the feeling that pushed Tail’s pounding heart didn’t care too much for rationalization. She wanted to shred the damn things.

To his credit, Shining did not keep Tail in that position for very long. He completed her unfinished rotation and dissolved his magical aura in such a way that Tail gently returned to the earth. “You kind of look like you want to kill me right now,” the Captain of the Royal Guard carefully spoke.

Two more deep breaths passed through the mare’s lungs, and her sights remained completely affixed to Shining’s face. She read him—searching for the spark, the twitch, the line, anything that would help her conquer the questions in her head. When’s he going to attack again? What change do I need to make to get the upper hoof?

“You know that Cady was a pegasus before she became an alicorn, right?” Shining added, maintaining his more reserved tone. “I know that Hurricane’s Way runs deep, so I think I can make a fairly good guess about what you’re asking yourself right now. Probably some variation on ‘how do I win.’”

Tail flinched. The longer Shining’s words bit into her consciousness, the more embarrassed she felt. She slowly folded her wings, tucking them tightly against her sides before responding with a nod. Despite the acknowledgment straight from the Captain of the Royal Guard, her hubris still plucked premonitions of arrogance to prepare her mental defenses. That part of her mind fully expected some cocky continuation. Her rational side thanked the stars it didn’t happen.

“We’re not competitors. No matter how quippy I might get, or how much it might feel like I’m pot-shotting your ego, I’m here to provide some tools to help you grow.” The blue-maned unicorn’s expression brightened as he pointed to Tail with a white foreleg. “Your only competition is Past Tail, and you’re definitely winning that fight. Your endurance has gained a few stat points. Your strength is getting a nice buff also, so you’re making good progress here.

“That being said, I think you can grow even more if you slightly tweak your mindset when it comes to sparring. Asking yourself how to win might be enough in certain instances. For example, having useful intelligence on an enemy will make all the difference in the world once you’re in combat. I’m not trying to push you away from that with this advice, but the questions that I think you should address are a little different. If you’re pinned in a shield sandwich, what technique do you have to get out of it? Can you fashion something to help yourself?

“You can carry charge over your body, but are you reliant on your forehooves to produce the Bullet Flash? In this scenario, splitting your forelegs between targets led to an entrapment. Is there a different motion that could be applied to minimize that danger? Those are the types of things that shift Pegasus Pride away from the notion of winning and towards the notion of surviving.”

The scientist’s racing pulse relaxed in the wake of Shining’s insight, and her stare finally softened as she sat upon the grass. “Hm, I’ve really only tried my cloud compression techniques with my forelegs. Hadn’t really had a reason to do otherwise, but you make a good point. Turning that into a reliance is a hindrance in combat, and in hindsight, spreading my legs was really dumb. I just didn’t want to get pincered again, but that’s what ended up happening anyway.”

Shining snickered, rolled his shoulders, and cracked his neck. “I believe you would claim that is what collecting data is for, Colonel. Seems to me that there’s still a little bit of daylight left for me to work with, and I’m down for running through some more scenarios until then. It’s technically the last session of my three-week set too, so if there’s anything you’d like to ask or try, now’s the time.”

Tail glanced down at the tufts of fur around her unshorn hind hooves. “I guess I could give it a try,” she mumbled, biting her lower lip before returning her attention to Captain Armor. “Do you mind if I give bucking a shot?”

Beneath the archways, Barrier and Trigger shared a few chuckles of their own. Pitching his muzzle towards the creature of reverie, the former spoke up once he had made eye contact. “So, what do you think, Trigs?”

“I think Shining did a half-decent job,” Trigger replied through a sly smile. “And I think Flicker has already got the skills to answer the shit she got asked. I have some ideas of my own on how to move her along. By the time I give her back to you, Barry, she’s gonna be a lot better on that pitch.”

Author's Note:

Happy Tuesday, everyone! Hope you're doing well! In the time of NLD, I probably would have prefaced this chapter with a sung, "Can I get a midweek montage? Montage!" But the MWM chapters in NLD were short, and this thing essentially turned out to be average in length.

It's been a while since I wrote this chapter, obviously. Still, I have a lot of saved fondness for writing Tail-Luna interactions in NLA. In NLD, it was left as a mystery for 20 chapters as to what Luna even saw in Tail. The interactions like these show one of the benefits of bringing Tail to Canterlot to continue some of her research efforts.

I also enjoyed putting together the incremental progress with Tail and Shining, cementing that Tail getting through Shining's shield under pristine conditions isn't quite the same as doing it in a fight. One of the critique points delivered to NLD (in a fantastic review by ambion) was that while NLD's dialogue was awesome, the reader didn't really get a lot of time to see the quirks of Tail. This was something I thought about with NLA, especially with tackling of her insecurities. She understands getting grants for resources. What if she's using resources out of her league? We also get more Trigger-Shining shtuff, which :3c.

Anyway! Thank you for your continued readership, time, support, comments, thumbs-up, etc. I love reading the theories folks are developing with each chapter. I find them more fun when we have everything written. It's only a matter of time. See ya next week!

A.A.N.: I may have snuck a little Carafluff reference in here. :3c

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