• Published 10th Dec 2020
  • 3,923 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 37 - Lossy Lines

Wing hurled a gigantic map of the Crystal Empire and its surrounding regions onto the round table that occupied the Chamber of the Joint Chiefs. The pegasus had seen fit to light more candles this time around, making the stone room—with its carvings and bulky wood furnishings—appear less like the sanctum of some clandestine cult and more like a suitable working space.

Philomena cooed from her perch between the stallion’s folded namesakes, and she occasionally shot glances towards Celestia, who seemed cheekily amused by the whole pegasus-phoenix combo.

Luna sat in the towering chair to Celestia’s right, and she allowed her attention to wander over the details laid out on the parchment. Having woken up not too long before the attendees gathered, the Princess of the Night appeared sluggish when compared to the still-perky demeanor of her older sister.

Thankfully, Tia knew Luna well, and she levitated one of the biggest mugs of coffee a pony could safely wield to the alicorn’s side. “I brewed some hazelnut blend,” Celestia whispered shortly after the bottom of the mug clanked against the tabletop.

“Thank the stars,” Luna groaned, casting a stink eye towards Wing. “We did not realize that there would be a meeting to go over Revision Five of ‘The Plan.’”

“I would ask for forgiveness, Your Highness,” Wing quipped, “but everypony knows I’m not going to. I would be happy to dedicate an offering to your caffeine supply, however, and perhaps I’ll get some of Ambrosia’s cookies to add to your stash. Specifically, I’m talking about the one you keep under your throne that you think Celestia doesn’t know about—but she’s known for five-ish months. The scents of desserts do not escape the keen nose of a cake connoisseur. This nose knows? That nose knows? Something like that.”

Shining Armor exhaled as he planted his elbows on the aged wooden table and buried his forehead between his hooves. “Wing, please, just give us the updates. I’m going to have to write all of this down for Magic Barrier and Tail, and the two of them are supposed to return to Canterlot in a few days.”

Autumn Tea swished her rosewood-colored tail across the rear legs of her seat. A giggle bubbled from her muzzle while she glanced to her left to smile at the Captain of the Royal Guard. “I can help you take notes if you want, Shining. I’ve known Wing for far too long to think he’ll ever change his antics. Amby was our only hope, and she ended up being the biggest enabler of all.”

Sitting adjacent to Wing, Spitfire leaned towards her fellow flier and gave him a nudge. The fiery Wonderbolt wore a dark-brown bomber jacket, complete with a fluffy white interior that poked out around the collar and cuffs. “C’mon, Wing. We’ve got a tired princess still waking up, another princess who needs to go to bed, ponies with families to get home to, and Aph—who as the Navy Sec doesn’t even have forces to deploy on this campaign.”

The pink earth pony nodded in agreement as her hoof tapped the table. “Spitfire is correct, but I am here for support and input. Please proceed, Wing.”

Wing reached beneath the wooden surface and pulled out four of his own feathers along with vials of black, blue, green, and red inks. “Can’t ignore a straight shot from Aph, so let’s get started. My biggest concern remains what Sombra’s initial move will be. Philomena, Forge, and I scouted the Line of the Drecht, which is here.” He popped the cork on the red ink, dipped the first feather, and drew a circle around the illustrated city.

“Captain Sombra left behind two threats when he was sealed away. The obvious first target would be Equestria itself. He could march south from the Crystal Empire towards the Everfree Forest with the intent to attack the Castle of the Two Sisters. Eventually, he’d likely determine that things have changed, and Canterlot is close enough to the initial vector that I cannot rule out the potential danger of an assault on the capital.

“The other option is that he opts to hit Griffonia instead. Frankly, I think this would produce a more dangerous scenario. Whynnyapolis is along that route, which could expose thousands to the effects of Heart-induced corruption or hypnosis. The city would not be equipped to deal with such a calamity. However…”

“Gracious has already moved a company to augment the Whynnyapolis Garrison,” Tea added, prompting Wing to snatch his second quill and draw a tiny black rectangle on the western edge of the map. “He’s running it all under the guise of a northern exercise for now, but I really hope we don’t have to deploy our forces in that kind of defense.”

“Right,” Wing continued, shifting to feather number three and the blue ink. “The primary objective of this operation is to nullify the curse on the Crystal Heart and remove the gem from Captain Sombra’s possession. I’m not going to mince the words on this one. We’re facing a cyclic bullshit loop. As long as he holds it, our mages run the real danger of having their magic turned dark. The Crystal Heart, much like Princess Cadance’s magic, can also skew emotions, so brainwashing is definitely in the cards.

“A thousand years ago, the Drecht was carved because Sombra’s wrath proved to be a challenge even to you two”—Wing glanced at the princesses—“so what in Tartarus are we going to do? Option 1 would be to incapacitate Sombra through brute force, giving time for Cadance to retrieve the Crystal Heart and remove its curse. Option 2 utilizes distraction to give Cadance a window to cast her spell while Sombra still holds the Heart. If the corruptive element can be removed, then there’s a chance Sombra might stand down on his own accord.

“Given his familiarity with Callie and Luna, sending them to the field as part of the initial wave is out of the question. He’s used the crystal to taint their powers before. It’d only be easier a second time around, and I’d rather not watch all of Equestria die off. That doesn’t, however, mean their magics can’t be in play.”

The pegasus drew three fractal-like lines from the Canterlot edge of the map to about five kilometers outside the southwestern, southeastern, and northeastern limits of the Empire City. “I also installed these teleport transceiver chains on my journey. Once we know that the Temporal Drecht has failed, the E.I.S. will send a squad consisting of Captain Shining Armor, Princess Cadance, Colonel Trigger, Captain Barrier, and Colonel Tail to the southwest node.”

Wing stopped when Philomena bapped the top of his head with her beak. Ruffling his namesakes in response, the stallion snorted and shut an eye to the dull sting that radiated over the top of his skull. “I didn’t forget about you. I was just trying to be dramatic, geeze. Also joining Wave 1 will be Grand Duchess and Ambassador to the Phoenix Lands, Lady Philome—” Wing winced when the bird bonked him again, an action which generated some shared laughter amongst the Joint Chiefs.

“Philomena’s presence will be of critical significance,” Wing sputtered to appease the phoenix. “Starswirl’s records indicate that her species has shown immunity to alicorn-artifacting effects, and given her innate regenerative and flame abilities, she’s a cornerstone. I already know that she can stave off the frigid environment in a rather large area, and I think her aura will help slow any move Sombra makes when it comes to both potentially corrupting and brainwashing our forces.”

“Do you think or know on the last point?” Aph asked, rubbing the bottom of her chin while her green eyes homed in on Wing’s illustration.

“Think, with enough assessment to believe the risk is worth the reward,” Wing answered as Philomena settled comfortably into his mane. “Something has to break the cycle. Either Sombra gets overpowered and the Heart is wrested from his grasp, or we manage to decurse the Heart first. Time is a belligerent in both cases. Even with all their training, Shining, Trigger, and Barrier would eventually succumb to the sway of the tainted crystal. Cadance shouldn’t even try casting anything until she knows there’s an opportunity to do so without risking her own health. If Philomena’s participation can draw out the timespan in which success is possible, then yes, she should go. It’s the same deal with Colonel Tail. She hasn’t set a hoof on a front line in her life, but her research will allow Callie’s and Luna’s powers to be put to use.

“After Wave 1 gets deployed, we can determine the entry points for Waves 2 and 3. If Sombra marches west, they’ll enter through the southeastern node. If Sombra goes south, they’ll hit the northeast. Wave 2 will definitely consist of at least Captain Spitfire, Major Amora, and myself. Though, I do expect the involvement of several Wonderbolts and a couple volunteers from the Canterlot Guard. Our primary task will be to assess the state of the Empire and lend reserve support to Wave 1. We can also flank an army if the Empire’s citizens have been mobilized.

“Wave 3 will be led by Captain Autumn Tea, who will be serving as the primary escort for the bearers of the Elements of Harmony.” Wing paused again once he spotted Shining Armor’s chilled, protective glare. “To be clear, I do not believe engaging Sombra in his presumed initial state is a friendship problem. However, reversing the damage of artifact-induced brainwashing certainly could be. Your sister is ready for this, Shining. I wouldn’t formulate a plan with her in it if I didn’t believe it. Tea will cover them anyway. You should focus on your main responsibility, which, in this case, is to protect your wife.

“My greatest concern about the One-Two transition is the actual management of the deployment. Captain Sombra was arguably the most proficient combat specialist in Equestrian history. I expect him to eventually detect the first wave. In fact, I think it’d be criminally negligent to assume otherwise, so there is a nonzero probability that he could uncover and destroy the transceiver array in a retaliatory strike. That would kneecap our primary transport medium, and we just can’t risk the logistical lines, now can we?”

In the echo of the trailing inflection, a coy smile crept onto Celestia’s muzzle, and Wing locked onto her magenta eyes. She held the expression for a few seconds while, one-by-one, the other council members shifted in their chairs. Lurching forward, the Princess of the Sun kept her attention on the lavender stallion before a silky, knowing tone dripped from her lips. “And what do you plan to do, Sir Wing, should the lines be severed?”

“I’m so glad you asked, Callie. That version of Future Me would probably show up in your throne room, tell you that the Armistice has been finished and prepped, and that I’d like to give the order to initiate the arterial transformation of Mt. Canterhorn for an immediate launch.”

Tail’s eyes gradually wandered over the scroll that detailed Operation Loadline. The early morning hours of Day 160 began like many—with Amora having already left for work and with Tail still booting up. “So that’s what they have planned,” she mumbled through a loud, lasting yawn.

Emerging from the gasp and lacking the drive to roll up the scroll, the physicist zoned out as she idly stared at her stretched foreleg. Did I not sleep well enough last night? I thought I did, she pondered, curiously inspecting her appendage while a barely perceivable tingle teasingly skirted her full awareness. This peculiar stalemate lasted for almost five minutes until the brightening ambiance of the living room bumped Tail from the trance.

“No,” she blurted, rising from her seat on the couch. The maneuver generated a gentle breeze that flirted with the curling corners of the parchment, and Tail glanced down at the ottoman to make sure that she didn’t push the sheet off the furniture. Unfortunately, the abrupt motion also produced an annoying throb that tugged on the nerves in Tail’s head, and she rightfully whined, “Ugh, come on. Just get geared up. Get to the yard, and keep in shape with a little sparring. Now’s not the time to feel tired. Not when it’s all on the line.”

The pegasus shuffled down the hall and banked to the left to enter her room. She smiled at the sight of the potted forget-me-nots that she still had in her care, but a more pronounced balance-jostling wave wiped the joy from her face once all six of her limbs quivered. Recovering, Tail stood still. Her head lowered, and she methodically eyed her four legs before she slid to the foot of her bed and began donning Sally.

The consequential trek to the castle exhausted the poor colonel in ways that defied her reasoning. Several times on each block, one of her legs would feel heavy, or her wings would tremble at the behest of a sporadic burning sensation. The throbbing that had started when she rose from the sofa turned into a full-blown headache by the time she set a hoof onto the training yard. Even keeping her eyes open proved to be a difficult affair.

Barely onto the pitch, Tail resigned herself to a fate in which her eyelids remained closed for just a little longer. Her body swayed in the cool currents of wind that meandered through her coat and swept over Sally’s golden contours. Chills prodded her senses in the aftermath, but the uncomfortable feelings couldn’t force the mare to break the tranquility that came from the darkness.

Amora, however, apparently had something else in mind. Her brisk, crisp hoofsteps across the grass had fallen on Tail’s deaf ears, and the medic’s magic swiftly plucked the helmet from the unaware scientist. “Hunny, what route did you take to get here this morning?” she spoke after her hoof found its perch on the mare’s forehead.

“Huh?” Tail muttered, opening an eyelid a sliver before she squinted. “The usual? What are you even doing—”

The alabaster unicorn slipped her leg from Tail’s head. She scooted forward and positioned her shoulder against the breastplate of the physicist’s armor.

Tail purred once she felt some of the weight being taken off her extremities. Instinctively, she leaned into the support and allowed her eyelid to close yet again.

Amora glanced in the direction of the archways, and she exhaled a sigh of relief once she found that Barrier had nearly reached her position. “Take her,” she instructed. “Don’t let her near anyone, and don’t let anyone get near you. Go to Medical, the back entrance near the D Barracks, and the second you get in the door, tell the triage nurse that I sent you and that she needs to be put in the Feather Flu Unit, immediately.”

“Ams,” Tail groaned quietly while she struggled—and failed—to lift her feverish body off the unicorn, “what are you talking about? We scheduled yard time. I don’t quit.”

Grimacing at the spectacle of his exhausted marefriend, Barrier moved closer. Using a combination of his physical touch and magical ability, the stallion lifted Tail onto his back so she could drape over his sturdy, metal-clad frame.

“‘S cold,” the pegasus quietly complained before her muzzle found some degree of coziness in the dark blue strands of Barrier’s mane.

“Sorry, Blanket, you don’t have to worry about today. Let’s get you tucked into a nice bed.” The reserved tone in his answer further betrayed his underlying concern, and that timbre remained present in the comments that followed. “She’s really burning up, Amora. What are you going to do?”

“Just get her to the triage nurse, and stay with Tail until I get there. Feather Flu is a highly contagious, pathogenic virus, specifically for winged creatures. I’m going to go decontaminate the route and run some scans to make sure the city isn’t about to have an outbreak on its hooves. Since you’re a unicorn, you should be okay to stay with her. Just don’t leave until we can go over decontamination protocol.”

Tail awoke to the familiar sight of a fiber tile ceiling in a partially illuminated room. A beige quilt covered most of her figure—along with a cheap sheet that felt like the fabric equivalent of stale bread. University classrooms don’t have beds though, she thought, attempting to lift a leg as she peered up at several flickering fluorescent tubes.

Her appendage didn’t optimally obey her neurological command. That sense of sluggishness loitered about the barely raised limb. It sloshed against her muscles as though the sensation were a windswept lake and her body composed the sandy shore. Suddenly, Tail’s folded wings alerted her to the burning ache that snaked between her feathers, and she let out a raspy sigh that made her ears twitch with shock. “Fuck, I feel like shit.”

Tail’s leg thumped against the tiny mattress after she gave up trying to lift it more than an inch above the padded surface. At this moment, more details of her environment crept in on the mare’s awareness. She was no longer wearing any piece of her armor kit, and she detected the pressure of a bracelet wrapped around her cannon. In the background, an irritating beeping noise tracked her heartbeat, but the dreariness plaguing her body pushed Tail thoroughly into the domain of zero shits given. At least now she knew where she was.

The sound of scrambling hooves provided a much more intriguing stimulus, and with a gradual turn of her pillow-supported head, Tail found Magic Barrier ensnared by her sights.

“Hey there, Blanket,” he spoke quietly. The unicorn delicately touched her forehead and started brushing her mane before his haunches plopped on the floor at her bedside.

Fashioning the best smirk she could muster in her state, Tail hummed to the pleasant pets until another wave of chills raced down her spine. “Ughh, not about your presence or touch, but I do not feel well, at all.”

“Amora thinks you’ve come down with a case of the Feather Flu. She’s still waiting on your test result for confirmation, but, heh, you’ve slept for about eight hours now. Last time she checked, you were still in fever mode too. That was maybe thirty minutes ago.”

“She’d run the test anyway,” Tail croaked, “but it’s likely the dreaded F.F. Chills, aches, agitated wings, and extreme fatigue are common symptoms, and I’ve got all of them in spades.” Hesitating for a few seconds, the scientist’s eyes began to water. “Barrier, I can’t get sick now. There’s too much at stake—”

Barrier lowered his muzzle and planted a tender kiss on Tail’s cheek. “You also can’t waste your energy getting worked up over something you can’t control. Just keep getting your rest, and drink plenty of fluids. There’s no telling when we’ll be needed on the field, but I can tell you right now that taking proper care of you is the most important duty there is.”

A silly silence settled over the hospital room after Barrier’s voice trailed off. Tail managed to channel enough willpower to forge a proper smile in spite of her body’s wish to sleep again or cry. The redness that overtook Barrier’s muzzle gave the flier a much needed emotional boost. “You’re pretty adorable when you say things like that,” she remarked, watching as his blue aura swirled around his horn.

“Don’t tell anypony,” came the quick reply. Soon after, a glass of water hovered above Tail’s muzzle. Barrier guided his foreleg under her neck and head to physically support the bedridden mare as he propped her up at an incline suitable for drinking. “Especially Luna, or we might never hear the end of it.”

Tail methodically progressed through her enforced hydration with careful sips and swallows. It wasn’t until the water first made its way down her throat that the pegasus grasped how much the infection had grossly irritated her body. Her esophagus twinged to what Tail imagined to be a mucusy mess that had cast its webby spell over her insides. Her wings seemed to echo the pain through their own renegade, pulsing beats. Still, the solace Barrier offered Tail made the unpleasant experience more bearable and kept her mental burdens at bay. For that, Tail’s heart swelled with gratitude.

Once she had finished, Tail peered past her drooping eyelids at the handsome stallion. “Have you been here the whole time? Eight hours seems like a lot, but I guess Amora must be pretty used to you being in a room like this with me by now. Probably should make hospital stays less of a habit.”

Chuckling, Barrier magically escorted the emptied glass to a countertop on the other side of the room. He continued to cradle Tail’s head even after he facilitated a reunion with her pillow, and his stare remained affixed to the lavender pegasus. “As long as I follow her decontamination rules, then I’m allowed to be here. It’s another thing you don’t have to worry about. She’s making sure I eat too—with her more stubborn kind of adorable. So you just keep getting that much-needed sleep, and you’ll be back on your hooves before you know it.”

Author's Note:

Subtle Irrespective nod is subtle.

Happy Tuesday, everyone. Wing being Wing. Tail being not quite Tail... Hard to believe that it's already Chapter 37 time. As always, thank you for taking the time to read, your comments, discussions, likes&subscribeslol. It's always appreciated, considering there are over 100,000 things on this site alone for you to otherwise spend your time on.

See you next week for Chapter 38 - The Trouble with Ultimatums. We're almost to the 40s.... :O Vibrations intensify.

PreviousChapters Next