• Published 10th Dec 2020
  • 3,882 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 32 - A Queen’s Whispers

Humming, Barrier rubbed his muzzle against Tail’s thigh as he emerged from his sleep. He opened one of his eyes and rolled before focusing on the mare who had spent the better part of her day acting as his pillow.

Still locked in her seated position atop the library bed, the pegasus softly smiled at her coltfriend and moved her foreleg out of the way. “Feeling better, Magic Bear?”

“Yeah,” the unicorn answered bashfully after he pushed his chest off the mattress and stretched. “I’m sorry, though. I shouldn’t have dumped that on you. It’s probably not part of modern relationship etiquette to burden one’s marefriend with such history. I imagine it’s not all that reassuring to know that she can have that effect either.”

“Barrier,” Tail countered flatly. She injected a momentary pause while she leaned to the side to kiss his cheek. “You’ve told me how important Ember is to you. You don’t have to justify your feelings to me, but if you continue to think that I feel threatened or cornered, then I can always show you how catty I can be on the field.”

The melodious giggle that followed Tail’s remark got the stallion snickering. “That’s what you said the other night, and we know how that went,” he answered, returning her kiss by depositing one of his own.

A prompt squeak wiped the smirk from the scientist’s expression. Her feathers ruffled, and a reddish hue crept onto her muzzle. “You know what I mean. I don’t think that you care about me any less because you still care about Ember. I won’t ever ask for you to stop caring about her. So much for making that point clear in a silly way, and to think you tell me that Princess Luna is the insufferable brat.” Tail huffed and flopped onto her back—much to the grinning Barrier’s bemusement.

“You made it perfectly clear,” the captain replied as he gradually ventured into the sprawled Tail’s line of sight. “This morning, when you knew what I needed without me having to say it. It’s another sweet thing Cadet Tail would have to run laps for.”

“Good thing I’m not Cadet Tail anymore.” With images of B.C.T. flooding her memory, Tail fashioned a half-lidded stare and an asymmetric smirk. Her nerves tingled to the fresh sensation of support that cradled her frame, and a contented sigh leaked through the gap between her top and bottom teeth. “Mm, probably shouldn’t have flopped. There’s a lot more work involved with being someone’s pillow than a pony might think. Your mane was an irresistible target too. I don’t have the luxury to be tired, though. Got to get up! Got to get to the lab.”

Barrier’s attention noticeably wandered over the reclined pegasus, and he spontaneously purred. “I thought you said you had a vacation day. Maybe I can make it up to you with a thorough massage, especially if your wings are available for some extra affection.”

“Perhaps we should save that for a bed not owned by princesses,” Tail muttered after her mentioned wings had already spread over the quilt. Her namesake swished violently, and she closed her eyes for a moment to reset the more scandalous thoughts bouncing about her brain. “I’m no longer sure that the day can be cleared. Luna and I spoke while you slept, and she filled in some details about the history of the Crystal Empire—about the day she and Princess Celestia confronted Sombra.”

“You know about Cady then.” The quilt puffed and the mattress bounced once Barrier shifted his legs and carefully plopped his body over one of Tail’s outstretched wings. “It was one of those things I drank through, I suppose. I knew as soon as I saw her cutie mark that the Crystal Heart was in her future. Just kind of thought I’d be gone by the time it came to that.”

Tail’s feathery appendage flicked against Barrier’s barrel as she rolled onto her side to face the unicorn. The relaxed state she had garnered yielded control to a perked brow that betrayed her concern. “And what do you think now?”

“I met somepony who showed me a better place, so I don’t think being gone is in the cards anymore. If they need me when he returns, I’ll be there this time around. I didn’t stop him once, but I can make amends for that failure. Equestria, today, isn’t broadly equipped to deal with a menace like Sombra anyways. Cady will need all the help she can get, and she is my family.”

Tail fidgeted with her hooves as she listened to her coltfriend. When he finished, the physicist pressed her forelegs together and began speaking in a whisper that quickly transitioned to her normal voice. “No more secrets. Luna told me something else while you were asleep. I’m eager to get back into the lab because my research is part of their plan to actually equip Equestria.”

Flinching, Barrier clenched his eyelids shut and pressed his lips together. He stayed in that pose until Tail’s elevated limb draped over his withers, and by the time he affixed his sights to the mare, she had already wrapped him up in a hug. “I’m not surprised,” he sighed. “I wish they had told me that from the start, but it just means that I was right about the training you’d need.

“Going to be honest. Hearing that makes me think about a lot of uncomfortable things. They gave you full control of your program, so who’s doing the equipping? Who’s doing the defending? Are they planning to send you to the line? It’s not impossible with how Celly throws around Twilight, but”—he gritted his teeth—“we haven’t even covered survival or the emotional elements of battle. I think I, we, we should talk to Celestia.”

Tucked away in a relatively small chamber adjacent to the throne room, Tail, Barrier, and Celestia gathered. The space carried the same cozy characteristic that the private library possessed. Though, in this case, there was no bed to lounge upon, and a random fountain was nowhere to be found. Still, stained glass windows provided ample natural light for the marble decor, particularly in the afternoons, and gigantic, velvety cushions offered plenty of seating options for the three ponies.

The Princess of the Sun opted to sit on one such cushion that matched the color of her eyes. She took a sip from a small cup of tea that floated in her golden grasp, and she visibly relished the scent that rose with the steam. “Are you sure I couldn’t interest you in a cup? It’s really no trouble at all.”

Tail flailed her forelegs from her perch at Barrier’s side. “Don’t worry about me, Princess,” the pegasus insisted after noticing that the alicorn had definitely placed her in the spotlight. “I’m not much of a hot-drink mare. Hot cocoa? Maybe on a winter’s day, but cold drinks are more my style.”

“I see,” Celestia responded before sharing her focus with both of her subjects. “I imagine you’re here because of Sombra.”

“I need to know your intentions with Tail, Celly,” Barrier replied before he repositioned himself atop his navy-blue seat. “Luna told her that her research was part of your defense plan, but that only leaves two options. Either telling Tail that she was in control of her own program was a lie, or you’re planning on sending her north to defend Equestria herself. B.C.T. wouldn’t have been enough to justify that kind of deployment, but there wasn’t much pushback on me restarting an executor program, was there?”

The drone of Celestia’s magic graced the air while she moved her porcelain teacup and saucer to the ledge of a towering ebony bookcase. “Like many things, Barrier, the proper answer to that line of inquiry cuts many layers, both rosy and bitter. Ms. Tail is not the only recipient of our initiatives, but what she’s done could very well address one of the fundamental problems we saw when we directly confronted Captain Sombra.

“With the Crystal Heart in his possession, he corrupted Luna’s and my magic. He nullified the Elements of Harmony, and if Aislynn had not been there to tie our auras to Amore’s will, then we both would have assuredly perished. The hope that arises with Tail’s work is what does Sombra have to corrupt when the magic that’s used is separated from the source?

“The current plan is to send Cadance to the line with Shining Armor as her escort and Trigger as the striker. Sombra is unfamiliar with their magics, so there is a window, especially when one considers that Trigger has Aislynn’s attack capabilities. Incapacitate or distract in that time, and Cadance can remove the Curse of the Heart without risking exposure to Sombra’s counter. If Trigger were to be trusted with a weapon that could keep his own power hidden, the duration of that window only grows.”

Tail lifted her head as the implications dawned on her, and she peered into Princess Celestia’s steady magenta eyes. She doesn’t even seem like the same pony, Tail pondered, contrasting the alicorn’s demeanor with how she had acted during their library rendezvous. Is that how many moves you’ve had to think ahead?

“So that’s your plan? You’re going to send three ponies, only one of whom has even set hoof on a field of war, to fight against Sombra—the most experienced combat specialist of my era.” Barrier’s interjection pulled Tail from her examination, and she promptly pitched her head to observe her coltfriend’s scowl. “That can’t be it. You can’t seriously be sending a force that small when it took so much to just make a seal.”

“There are others involved. Colonel Wing has been using his position in the E.I.S. to prepare additional strategic lines. The Prophecy of the Tree might also come into play if Twilight is ready, but that remains to be seen. Either way, the core of the plan is the same, and who else would I send? You’ve already done so much for Equestria, and you made your desire to retire clear soon after you returned—”

“I’m not the stallion I was when I returned. This isn’t a position that allows holding back. If he gets through them, then what? If I’m here, I’ll go. Captain Sombra was my mentor. He deserves to be properly put to rest, and I don’t want ponies I care about to live in a world that his warped state would create.”

Celestia rose from her seat before an audible breath slowly moved through her nostrils. “Are you sure, Barrier? Yes, I can acknowledge that your general attitude towards life, and yourself, has improved drastically in these last few months. However, facing your past hasn’t exactly been your strongest suit.”

“I know,” came the inevitable answer. Barrier’s ears drooped in the short silence that followed, but the captain never deflected his focus from the alabaster royal. “I should have sought something, cared more, listened to the stories you wanted to tell. I didn’t seek closure with regards to Ember, and maybe if I had, then I wouldn’t have fallen to pieces this morning. But Shining is my blood. Cadance is my family, and Ember would probably smack me on my ass if she learnt that I ran away when there’s still a pony I love around to protect.”

Blushing, Tail scooted atop the cushion while her own ears perked to Barrier’s words. Her pupils darted about as her attention shifted between the unicorn and Celestia. The physicist quietly played the chess match in her head. The B.C.T., her additional training, the grants themselves, Wing’s aid, his mathematics, Trigger’s guidance, and Aislynn’s mantra factored into the calculation Tail tried to grasp.

Even those steps necessitated standing on the shoulders of giants. Would she have been able to pull off the Bullet Flash—would Wing have been able to convey his ideas—if not for innovators like Farahay or scholars like Starswirl? The board had been set a thousand years before she had been born. But why would Aislynn show up in my dream, and why would Ember come to both Barrier and me—

“If he’s going, then I’m going,” Tail answered after her body jerked into a stiff, upright position. Through the cushion, she could feel Barrier’s muscles tense, and she immediately blanketed his trunk with the closer wing. She continued to gaze at Princess Celestia, whose expression had noticeably softened in the aftermath of Tail’s latest outburst. “Yes, I would trust a pony like Trigger with my research, and yes, I understand the value in the technology being deployed against Sombra.

“You and Luna can’t be on the front line while his psychological state is degraded, but your shells could be. However, the math of that construction doesn’t add up. If everything was in Trigger’s hooves, then I could have expected more pushback on the subject of my expanded training. It also doesn’t explain the cues. Aislynn and Ember showed up in my dream too. Why bother if the piece on the chessboard is Trigger? It’s like Wing wrote in his notes, Your Highness. How many times have you stared at the board in a thousand years of living?”

Stepping towards the two ponies, Celestia unfurled her white wings and corralled the couple. She bowed her head as her massive feathers pressed against their flanks, and she replied to both in an even tone. “My sister was right about your astuteness. It would be unwise to not throw everything we can into this one. I will ask you both. How long will it take to have something you can deploy to the field? What else is necessary to bring Tail’s training up to the standard you desire, Barrier, and what help do you need to prepare yourself?”

Tail wiggled to the strange sensation that accompanied being hugged by the Princess of the Sun. She instinctively squeezed Barrier with her still-draping wing in what was, perhaps, an act of pegasi pride at play. “The complicated stuff is mostly done. With Barrier’s help, I think I could have a demonstration in a week, week-and-a-half.”

“Aside from the sessions allotted for sparring, I’d like to take her on one of the survival trails, if any still exist, that is,” Barrier added once Tail had finished. “As for what I need, one piece of advice that I’ve received repeatedly is to accept that I don’t have to confront things by myself. It’s time for me to hear where she’s buried, and if it’s alright with you, Tail, I want you to come with me.”

The pegasus tilted her head towards Barrier and opened her mouth to speak, but another squeeze from Celestia silently told her to wait.

“I can’t say that the survival trails have the same functionality that they did when you ran them. The practice of bandit-squading has been outlawed for about seven-hundred years, and with the peaceful times, almost all of the trails have had major segments go completely out of service. There’s one that I gave landmark status, though, and that is the trail to Trottingham.”

Tail placed several augurite rods and a couple of augurite sheets down on Workbench 9 before she looked towards the waiting, lab-coat-wearing Barrier. “Alright, Magic Bear, I’ll leave these bits to your skills. I’d like another coil, the same dimensions as the Nines, but this one can be about fifty-percent longer. It’ll be a backup infused with the barrel.”

With one of her wingtips, the physicist gestured towards a schematic she had previously laid upon the tabletop. “I’ll also need some pieces made out of the sheets according to these designs. I know the assortment seems pretty random, but this mix of curving v’s, cute birdies, and a wonky hook makes up both the revolver mechanism and the part of the circuit that’ll link my leg to the cylinder.

“I’m going to work on the springs and rods for the trigger mechanism over at Workbench 10. If we can get through this today, then I’m fairly confident I can demonstrate to Celestia and Luna by the end of next week. We already demonstrated the coils work, so now it all comes down to assembling the accompanying hardware.”

“You’ve gone over my head again, Blanket, but that’s not much of a surprise anymore. I don’t foresee a problem with me making these. Shouldn’t take me too long.”

Tail giggled as she watched the stallion slide his goggles into their proper position. “Make extras then,” she hummed, giving a jovial flick of her namesake before she shuffled towards the adjacent bench.

“Tail,” Barrier called, causing the pegasus to halt her trot to glance over her withers at the stallion. “Thank you, for having my back.”

Another, albeit more exaggerated swish of Tail’s namesake followed. “Sweety, you thanked me over a dozen times just on the way down here. Need I remind you that you’re currently the one who is helping me out with all of this lab work? Besides, you’re the one who exhausted his courage supply today. Though, I’ll definitely take that massage later if you’re still offering.”

“Of course I am. I’m thinking I can fit it in while I take the measurements for your new armor kit. I’m going to have to get those numbers to the Quartermaster sooner rather than later. Sad to say that there’s probably no way it would be ready before we hit the Trottingham Trail, but still, it’s something that has to be done.”

A mischievous smirk crept across Tail’s countenance while she kept her focus homed in on Barrier. “Feather Boy seems quite eager to take my measurements. I’m starting to think that you’re just after another excuse to wrap rope around my thigh.”

Author's Note:

Happy Tuesday, folks! I hope you're continuing to enjoy the chapters as we make our way through the endgame. As always, thank you for your time, readership, conversations, comments, likes&subscribeslol. You are always appreciated.

Stay tuned for Chapter 33 - Quartermaster Starts with Q, coming next week to a browser near you.

PreviousChapters Next