• Published 10th Dec 2020
  • 3,925 Views, 372 Comments

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.

  • ...

PreviousChapters Next
Chapter 26 - Cowgirl Under the Sun

Trigger tossed his hat to Magic Barrier and stepped out into the afternoon light. As he claimed the training field, his silvery mane parted and his horn decloaked, an action which unleashed a wave of energy that flowed over the yard. While the release made both Barrier and Amora tense up, the vest-wearing stallion didn’t seem particularly concerned with their reactions. Instead, he kept his focus tuned to Tail as his aura continued to radiate.

The mare’s wings quivered from the relentless pressure, and an impulsive gulp raced down Tail’s throat. She gawked at his glowing horn, hypnotically observing the amber band that wrapped around the dark spire.

“We talked about this already, Flicker. Ya couldn’t sense inbound teleports, includin’ one from my fuckin’ kid, and that’s a problem for an officer of your caliber.” He lifted one of his forelegs and shrugged. “Now, your performance with Shining Armor brought some other shit to my attention that I want to get to sooner rather than later, so for now, I just want to do one thing on the topic of your sensitivity range.”

Pawing the grass, Tail nodded. “What did you have in mind?” she asked, her feathers still wiggling about at the behest of both Trigger’s auguric field and her mounting curiosity.

“Ya clearly feel this,” he answered, referring to his own spell, “but I want to know when ya can’t anymore. Shut your eyes, ignore everything other than the sensation I give ya, and let me know when it goes away.”

“Okay, experimentation. Got it.” Shaking out all six of her limbs, Tail closed her eyes as instructed and tried to ignore the routine rumbles of the castle grounds. She homed in on the unease that pressed against her feathers and chest, and she fought to cling to that awareness with all of the mental might she could muster.

However, like the simmering coals in the pit of a dying fire, the signatures of Trigger’s presence became fainter as the seconds passed. Tail’s ear flicked and her muzzle scrunched when she realized the tightness in her chest had vanished, yet the tingles that trickled along the edges of her wings loitered for about half a minute longer. Eventually, they subsided as well, and once they did, Tail blurted, “Now!”

“Don’t open ‘em yet,” Trigger commanded, his unchanged volume hinting to the pegasus that the stallion had not moved from his known location. “The muzzle scrunch, what was it about, Professor?”

Tail tilted her head, cooed, and lifted her brow. “I really didn’t take you to be the quizzing type, Colonel, but—uh—the feeling I had in my chest went away first. I could tell you were still casting, thanks to my wings, for a little while after that point.”

“I’m still casting, Flicker,” the mage quipped and snorted. “Just dialed back the strength. Ya don’t spend a lifetime around a scientist and educator without pickin’ up a few habits, so let’s roll with it. Why do ya think your wings were the last to go?”

“Well, that one makes a lot of sense on a fundamental level. Wings are generally the preferential guiding channels for weather magic among pegasi. I’d naïvely expect them to be the most magically sensitive body part.” Still drifting within her sightless realm, Tail bobbed her head as she spoke and swayed one of her wingtips around as though she were addressing a lecture hall.

“Nailed that one, which isn’t much of a surprise comin’ from a science horse. So, I’ll do ya a favor and stimulate your data-driven mind. I’m currently pumping out about two-tenths of an A.E.U. at a distance of five meters. A competent unicorn’s standard teleport would make noise at around this level. I’m going to get closer, and I’d like ya to tell me when ya get that feeling in your wings again.”

Tail crouched and fanned her feathered appendages. Her limbs twitched and her ears perked in search of the unicorn. Of course, Trigger didn’t make a detectable sound during this portion of the experimentation. That additional piece of information would completely invalidate the result, and the impressive stealth with which Trigger moved did not go unnoticed by the pegasus.

Once a minute had passed though, the anxiety began to weigh more heavily on the waiting mare. She clenched her eyelids shut with greater force and began rolling her wings back and forth. Is he already right on top of me? she pondered, crouching a bit lower to brace herself for a jump scare. Come on, why am I not feeling it? He’s got to be close. Just find him!

A frustrated breath burst from her nostrils as she fought the increased urge to just say something and be done with it. That’s no better than quitting! What kind of example is that? Just wait for it…

And thus, Tail endured the darkness for a duration that seemed an order of magnitude longer than what Trigger actually put her through. Her facial features contorted and shifted throughout the tense battle, and the flier kept sidestepping the psychological pitfalls that converted every distant sound or unrelated physiological response into a signal detection.

“Finally!” she squealed once significant pinches sprinted down the nerves in her wings. Her eyelids popped up, revealing Trigger’s location to be about one meter in front of her muzzle, and her ears splayed in response to the closeness. Keeping her gaze affixed to the stallion, Tail inhaled slowly before releasing a knowing sigh.

Trigger just shrugged. “It’s not great, Flicker, but it’s not hopeless either. At least ya didn’t fall for the baiting and tell me that ya could sense my ass when I was over by the archways. That would have been straight trash. Now, since Shining isn’t here to hear me say it, I’ll reiterate his message. I’m here to help ya grow.

“He’s also right that ya gotta get into the mindset of askin’ the right questions. If a pony can teleport to this distance without any inbound indicator, that pony will likely wreck your shit. How do ya counter? How do ya live? How do ya make it to tomorrow? Right now, all that jazz is philosophical bullshit, which is nice and all, but I think ya got a potential, practical, hoofs-on answer in your pocket already.

“Ya spent the last three weeks attackin’ defenses, but what are ya gonna do when ya get matched up against a striker who’s stronger? How are ya gonna stay on guard, and what are your own counters going to be? At the end of the day, there are two options in that scenario: run or fight harder. As far as I’m concerned, ya spent—what?—three fuckin’ months learnin’ how to run yourself ragged around this yard. It’s time to learn how to kick some ass.”

Listening intently, Tail gradually morphed from a calm, seated student into a vibrating, pumped pegasus. She huffed and fashioned a determined expression that had been anchored by a furrowed eyebrow and tightly pressed lips. For a moment, Tail relished Trigger’s abhorrently blunt, yet exuberant delivery. The raw beats and abrasive colloquialisms reminded the mare of a history professor she had during her undergrad days. If that were any clue, it meant she was in for a good time.

Intrigue also worked in mostly expected ways. Tail’s wings flapped with excitement to a particular verse from the stallion. “You think I have an answer already?” she asked before a smile broke her more serious demeanor.

“Yup, I sure do,” Trigger answered. His horn started to glow brighter as the intensity of his spell increased. “The second method ya tried with Shining—the one with the field loops—looked promisin’. Why don’t we start there? I would like to experience the demonstration myself.”

“You want the second method?” Tail reiterated. One of her cheeks floated on a rising sense of disbelief, and she punctuated her abrupt bewilderment with an embellished flick of her namesake. “Really? I backed off of it with Captain Armor because it felt like I was entering secondary effect territory. That one tackles the field ramp over time, and it didn’t seem to be as effective when going up against him in a more active sparring environment.”

“Different circumstances, Flicker. With Shining, your startin’ goal was to get through a stationary object while he stood around. Ya had to work to make the Bullet Flash, right? Now, are ya tellin’ me that ya’d rather sit around because a technique didn’t help ya get through Shining’s bubblegum crap?” The creature of reverie snickered and shook his head. “Nah, of course not. That doesn’t sound like ya, at all. So I’m gonna work ya until that skill becomes natural. Don’t worry though! I’ll be turnin’ this exercise into a game to make it a bit more fun for us—at least for today anyway. Once ya get good, it’ll become a full-on brawl.”

Tail stood once the notion of Trigger’s game piqued her interest. The echoes of astonishment faded from her countenance as the muscles around her muzzle relaxed. “And just how do you plan to make it a game, Colonel?”

Sweat soaked Tail’s trapped fur as she fought to stay upright. Exposed portions of the mare’s coat appeared matted and smudged—as though she had been hit by multiple objects and dragged through the dirt. Exhausted, she wobbled atop three hooves while her raised fourth limb commanded a pulsing ring of electrical current that hovered in the air in front of her worn frame.

Her wings trembled with tiredness as well, but the determined physicist kept them partially opened. Weather magic poured through the feathered appendages, which produced two additional current rings that guarded Tail’s flanks.

“Bring it,” she muttered under her breath as her fiery sights locked onto Trigger. Despite the fact that the two had been going at it for hours, the stallion looked no worse for wear. Tail could not resist gritting her teeth at the ridiculous spectacle again and again, and her mind could not escape the frequent question that now plagued its processes. How the fuck does he have that kind of stamina?

Trigger fired off three amber pulses that zipped across the field. With a separation of roughly ten meters between the stallion and the scientist, Tail did have a window of opportunity to adjust the locations of her magical defenses to optimize the interceptions. In this case, however, no additional optimization was necessary. The mage of dreams accurately dumped the rounded, translucent attacks right through the centers of the mare’s swirling fields.

Shouting and squeaking after the rings did nothing to slow down the bombardment, Tail recoiled. Colliding with her body, the magical bolts popped and disintegrated once they had transferred enough momentum to resemble a foam-dart projectile that had been amped up with an industrial spring—or some other form of toy-conglomerate sorcery.

While the strikes themselves hadn’t been devastating in the slightest, Tail gasped for breath. Her wings drooped. Her foreleg fell to the ground, and she began to lean forward as her balance succumbed to the costs of manipulating that sort of weather magic for the entire afternoon. Suddenly, her chest and muzzle found sanctuaries in the warmth of Barrier and Trigger, both of whom had moved to her location with a speed that Tail’s brain just could not currently comprehend.

“Oh, hello,” she mumbled dazedly after her lungs had settled enough. She struggled to keep her eyelids open once Barrier had gently removed her helmet, and that effort proved even more daunting when she managed to shift her muzzle a bit deeper into Barrier’s wonderfully smelling coat. “I don’t think that went very well, Trigger.”

“Is she fuckin’ kidding me, Barry?” the stallion retorted as he reclaimed his hat with his magic.

Barrier grimaced as he took on more of Tail’s limp mass. “I think she’s done for the day, Trigs,” he answered in a reserved, concerned tone.

“Of course she’s done. I know that already, but it definitely went well. Ya made three simultaneous counters, Flicker, used different parts of your body to do it, and kept goin’ until ya just couldn’t go anymore…”

“I hate quitting,” Tail mumbled again before she shifted her burrowing target to Barrier’s heavenly mane.

Trigger hummed as he repositioned his levitating Coltston over Tail’s head. He plopped the hat onto her battle-ruffled mane and chuckled. “Since my magic is gonna be on display for a few weeks anyway, I think ya best hold onto that for me until ya realize that no one’s gonna say that ya did.”

Lunch was already being served in Canterlot by the time Tail awoke. Her second session with Trigger hadn’t exactly produced dramatic changes in the scientist’s progress. She still was incapable of slowing down the stallion’s projectiles, and a test in which she incredibly made four stacked field rings yielded yet another fruitless result.

Her eyes rolled skyward, catching sight of the Coltston brim that swept out from the crown of her head. “You’re right though,” she muttered to an imaginary version of the unicorn. “A 33.33-percent increase isn’t anything to laugh at, but just what am I going to do when one of your spells is enough to rip through all four?”

Turning her attention from the overcast sky to the saddlebag dangling at her side, Tail nickered. Amora and Barrier had been explicit in their instructions for her off-day. Lab work that involved magical manipulation was out of the question, and since forging stainless-steel components was the next step on her program checklist, that wasn’t going to happen without breaking two-and-a-half cardinal rules. Don’t fuck with the medic, and don’t fuck with your C.O.-turned-coltfriend.

Thankfully for the physicist, there was another checklist to tackle—one that involved a package from Sincy, a new notebook, and a rendezvous with a secluded library. “I should also think up a good name for that technique too,” Tail pondered aloud. “Loops and rings just don’t stand up to the Bullet Flash.”

I have to see what’s in that package from Sincy, as well. She briefly glanced at the padded brown envelope that had been tucked into the cloth confines of her carrier. He’s probably written some elaborate apology message because I bet he couldn’t resist blabbing about Barrier to Mom and Dad.

Tail spent the remainder of the walk allowing her brain to slosh between thinking about her brother’s antics, potential names for her maneuver, and what her research into Dr. Secret’s notes would uncover next. When she stepped onto the palace grounds, most of the guards paid her no mind—though a few tried to sneak looks at the familiar hat that sat upon her head.

Getting into the private estate without Princess Luna serving as an escort, however, proved to be a more difficult experience. Two guards crossed their spears in front of the imposing gold-plated doors that separated Tail from that beautiful library, and a third, rapidly shifting his gaze from Trigger’s hat to Tail’s bag, circled around the colonel like a cat on the prowl.

“Guys,” she spoke, pulling an ornate iron key from the satchel. She held it out towards the scouring soldier and deliberately showed the decorations depicting the royal seals. “I literally have a key to the building. Please let me in.”

“Would be a breach of protocol,” the patrolling white pegasus spoke up. He tapped Tail’s canvas pack with his wingtip and affixed his silvery gaze onto the physicist’s visage. “What’re you carrying, ma’am?”

“What am I carrying? Seriously? A package from my brother, a blank notebook, some ink, and my own feather quills. You’ve been gawking at it all for like a minute. You can see what it is.” Tail’s cheek twitched after she answered, and an annoyed scowl gradually usurped her expression.

“What’s in the package?” the blue-maned stallion continued, his resolute stare unwavering.

Tail lifted her foreleg and dramatically slapped her hoof against her cheek. “What’s in the package? I don’t know yet. I haven’t opened it.”

“Could be contraband,” the guard flatly replied before briefly peering at his squadmates. “Princess Celestia is due to return from an extremely important sortie at any moment. It would be against procedure to let somepony into the estate until she is returned to a verified safe zone.”

Taking a deep breath, Tail carefully lowered her leg. She exhaled slowly in an effort to dissipate the aggravation that made her heart furiously pound. Calm down, Tail, she reassured herself. They could be rookies for all you know, and maybe this is an example of standard protocol that Luna didn’t tell you about. You’re dealing with the Princesses’ private abode, after all. It is not some regular hall.

“I see,” Tail eventually replied. Dragging her focus up the facade of the structure, Tail silently noted how faded the white stone appeared under cloudy skies. The burgundy tile roof, on-the-other-hoof, blossomed in its pairing with the grey, and the covered watchtowers that capped the corners of the estate loomed overhead. “So, if I wait here for Princess Celestia, would that work with your procedure?”

Celestia’s laughter carried along the interior corridor that led to the Private Palace Library. “I can’t believe they made you wait! I just went on a muffin run to Lilac and Lavender. Though”—she snapped her head side-to-side—“I may have snuck in a couple of cupcakes, and Moon Glow threw in some extra little treats too.” Still giggling, the Princess of the Sun jiggled the two paper bags that she held in her magical grip.

“And I still can’t believe the extremely important sortie was just about foodstuffs,” Tail grumbled as she kept pace at the alicorn’s side. “Though, I really don’t have any basis for complaint. Ambrosia and Moon Glow make exceptional goodies, and your house guards have to stick by the judgment calls that they think are right. Minor inconvenience for me? Yes. Worth not being yelled at by superiors? Also yes.”

“Well, at least that will not be a problem going forward. I’ll make sure that all the squads on that detail know that you’re to be admitted without a royal escort during standard court hours.” Celestia shared a warm smile with the pegasus. “On a more personal note, Luna has been keeping me updated on some of your advancements, but we haven’t had a substantial one-on-one chat since your adventure began.”

The Princess of the Sun halted her trot in front of a pair of stained-glass doors that depicted seven ponies floating around the planet. The characters bathed the world in what Tail presumed to be the Light of Knowledge, but ironically, the only one of the bunch the younger mare recognized was Starswirl.

Golden bands wrapped around Celestia’s horn before the paned gateway parted at the behest of the alicorn’s magic. She tilted her head to reaffix her gaze to the lavender pegasus and continued, “From what Luna has told me, it seems you might have some exciting things to share. Considering that you are wearing Trigger’s hat, I am definitely now inclined to believe her. What I mean to ask, since I have some time until my next appointment, is if you wouldn’t mind some company.”

One of Tail’s ears flopped against the Coltston. She scanned the princess’s bright-pink irides for any hint that there was a classic royal troll in progress. When she found none, the scientist snickered and shrugged. “Are you actually asking me if you can join me in your own library, Princess Celestia? That seems kind of backwards to me. Of course you can. As for Trigger’s hat”—Tail lifted opposing legs and struck a heroic pose—“he told me to keep it until we were done, so I’m going to rock the cowgirl look.”

“Hehehe, excellent!” Celestia shimmied enthusiastically before practically leaping into the library. “I haven’t had a study party in ages. I can even offer some of these treats, but only after you tell me what is happening with your training first.”

Watching the plumes of white feathers bundle ahead of her, Tail crossed the threshold into the pristine study. She immediately swayed her course towards Section W and replied to the alicorn in a contemplative stream of vocalized thoughts. “Mm, well, it’s been pretty tough. That’s for sure. Definitely got the impression that both Captain Armor had and Colonel Trigger have a game plan for me. With Shining, the task was to break his shield spell, and that was what led me to this spot.”

Tail plucked Dr. Secret’s notes from the bottom shelf and held the book up to the princess. “This,” she continued, “was extremely helpful in opening my eyes to some things. I was able to develop an extension of my cloud compression method to combat Captain Armor. Now I’m hoping it will help me deal with the insanity that is Trigger’s firepower.”

“Oh my, that is interesting,” Celestia mumbled around half of a chocolate cupcake that she had unceremoniously shoved into her muzzle. The Princess of the Sun lightly nudged her own throat and emphatically swallowed the bite of the dessert before she proceeded. “A pegasus successfully confronting a mage like Sir Trigger on the battlefield would be quite impressive. I don’t think you’d see challenges like the one from Proud ever again.”

Loosing a high-pitched hum, Tail sheepishly rubbed her cheek. “Well, that’s the thing. Trigger suggested I explore a specific technique, and I just don’t see it working yet. I’d demonstrate if it weren’t for doctor’s orders, but I’ll do my best to explain. The concept is to create electromagical field loops that counter inbound attacks, but those require a lot of stamina to form. Yesterday, I managed to stack up four of them—only to watch as the record-breaking arrangement failed to have any measurable impact on Trigger’s spell.”

The scientist plopped down on her haunches after expending her breath, and she threw in a sullen slouch to boot. “I think there are real scaling problems,” came the extra admission. “Ineffective and tiring do not make for a very successful combination.”

Again, the jingle and glow of Celestia’s magic tenderly swept through the room. In a few seconds, a chocolate chip muffin hovered within Tail’s reach, and the princess encouraged her subject to lay claim to the delicious acquisition. “Recharge, and come at it with a fresh perspective. Though, I imagine that’s why you’re here, and I’m probably more of a distraction than anything else.”

“Hardly,” Tail responded as she corralled the muffin with her left foreleg, “and thank you. Honestly, I think you and your sister have every right to know how my efforts are going. You’ve thrown an awful lot of resources my way, and without that opportunity, I wouldn’t be here at all. It’s possible that I wouldn’t have even found a permanent job. Plus, come on, it’s like a filly’s dream to munch muffins with the Princess of the Sun.”

Donning an impish grin, Celestia took a seat on some floor space adjacent to Tail. “You say that when the questions are about your research, my little pony, but I also want to know about you and Barrier. Cadance may have mentioned that he planned to make your relationship a bit more official…”

Tail completed a bite of her muffin right as the redness of a blush conquered her entire countenance. Her ears stood upright through the slits in the cowcolt hat, and her heart thumped as Celestia’s punctuated inflection immediately retrieved the physicist’s memories of that special date. She nodded. “We have.”

“I see,” the princess carried on. Celestia’s teasing timbre sent a shiver sliding up Tail’s spine, and the vulnerable pegasus found her wings and namesake flicking through an assuredly deliberate pause. “Well, as you know, your brother will be performing at the Grand Galloping Gala this year. Magic Barrier means a great deal to both my sister and me. The Crowns would be honored to offer an invitation to the new couple, especially if such a date night would make two of our finest officers happy.”

Author's Note:

Happy Tuesday, everyone! Hope you're all doing well, and if you're in/from the States, I hope you had an excellent Memorial Day Weekend. There is some Tail+Barrier lore related to this day that will show up eventually. However, for now, it's all about Professor Trigger. More bits and pieces of all that math fallin' into place, and... Sunbutt! :3

As always, thank you for your continued readership, time, comments, likes & subscribes (lol). I know there are a lot of stories out there, so I'm stoked you choose to make NLA a part of your day. This chapter is actually interesting for a statistical reason. The published length of NLA now exceeds the published length of NLD, and while we may be over halfway through the chapters, we are about a month or two out from being halfway through the words. The back 17 are kinda nuts.

PreviousChapters Next