• 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 39 - Knight to c3

Tail sat up atop her bed and leaned against the minimalist, metal-tube headboard. Dark bags lingered beneath her half-lidded eyes, and she groaned as Amora put her through the fresh hell of having every single one of her achy feathers inspected. “Nnngh,” she weakly protested, wincing once a nerve opted to spike her brain instead of providing the annoying, yet tolerable droning signal.

“Well, the good news is that your fever finally broke, and it actually stayed broken,” the doctor commented while leaning closer to the extended wing. Her horn lit, and an iridescent ring swirled around her cobalt irides. Amora scrutinized the fibers of Tail’s feathers, and short, hummed notes exited her mouth while she carried out the examination. “Circulation looks okay, but there’s still some remaining inflammation.”

The pegasus lowered her head, and her forelegs wrapped around the soft surfaces of Magic Bear Bear. Barrier had fetched the gifted toy after the days of Tail’s stay stretched in number, and the cuddly little guy repeatedly found refuge in the grasp of the recovering physicist. In this instance, the stuffed animal also found itself cloaked in the dangling locks of Tail’s mane as it sat in her lap.

Despite the cozy comfort, however, being awake exposed Tail to the plights that accompanied her infection. Her muscles throbbed, sending the message over and over again that they just wanted to relax atop the mattress—no matter how much it reminded her of a college dorm. At least this time around, she didn’t believe that she’d keel over upon standing, but the mere thought of flight made her stomach churn. On cue, her barrel rumbled, and she groaned while tightening her hold on M.B.B., “Just make me feel better already.”

Giggling, Amora patted the top of Tail’s head. “That’s not how it works, you silly filly, and I know that you know that. But, since you’ve been a good patient, getting lots of rest and taking your medicine and fluids, I’ll remind you that there’s a good chance you’ll be back on your hooves in a couple days. You’re definitely on the upswing.”

“I can’t wait,” Tail sighed and peered around Ams at the unopened crate. “I should be practicing and getting used to my new kit.”

Barrier strode into the room before Tail finished her sentence, and his discerning gaze fell upon her figure as he toted a cylindrical container with his magic. “Mm, I don’t think that’s going to get clearance from Amora, Blanket. It’s certainly not going to get clearance from me. I did bring you some noodle soup though. It’s an old recipe that saw a lot of use during the ill seasons of the past, so I’d say that what you should be doing is getting good nourishment.”

Tail peeked up at the off-white cup and smacked her lips. She watched steam rise from the hidden soup after Barrier pulled off the paper lid, and her stomach immediately replied with a far happier grumble. “Noodle soup, you say? Well, there’s no way I’m turning down that, especially if you made it for me.”

“She can purr and flirt, so she must be getting there,” Amora added before she stepped away from the bed. “I’ll leave you two to it, but Tail, make sure you send your colt home to sleep in a bed tonight. He should also be getting good rest, and if you think the beds in this department leave a lot to be desired, you have yet to experience our chairs.”

Glancing over at the padded maroon seat, Barrier shuddered. “My spine has some complaints. Maybe I can bring it up with the princesses when I get a chance. Get some more funding for some room upgrades or something.”

Amora shook her head after she started trotting towards the doorway. “It’s not a funding issue. Stuff’s easy to clean, and if we need to toss it for health reasons, it’s not much of a loss. We’re also primarily serving guard ponies in this wing, and I’m pretty sure they, including you, would sleep on rocks and not bring it up unless provoked. Either way, Tail, enjoy your soup, and Barrier, actually go enjoy your bed.”

“Yes, ma’am,” the pair answered simultaneously.

Tail eagerly eyed the carton once Amora made her exit. The closer Barrier came to the bed, the more Tail relaxed, and a dreamy demeanor shaped her visage once she took in the scents of chamomile, dandelion leaf, nettles, and marigold. “Proving that you’re the better chef again, Magic Bear? You’re going to make my mom scold me when she finally meets you.”

“Just thought you might like something that I know is gentle on the stomach. I figured it must also still pass as comfort food since I’ve seen enough similar recipes around too.” The unicorn reached his post at Tail’s side before he affectionately brushed his muzzle against hers. “And I don’t think you have to worry about your mother scolding you. I have a feeling I will be in the far more precarious spot during that engagement.”

“We might both get lucky and she’ll get distracted by your vibe. Sincy gets a lot of his mannerisms from her. He’s a mama’s boy through and through.” Tail set M.B.B. on the side of the bed opposite Barrier and immediately made the largest grabby-hooves motions that she could muster in her current state.

Barrier met her excitement with a warming smile. Obliging his marefriend, he guided the cup of soup between her waiting hooves and ceased his spell once she had clearly grasped the paper sides of the cylinder. “Does that make you a daddy’s girl?” he asked, sneaking in the question before Tail’s first sip of the broth.

Tail moaned as soon as she finished swallowing. The impressive magic Barrier cast with his horn was nothing compared to the straight-up witchcraft he had provided with this unassuming cup. Of course, given that Tail still had a battle against her ailment, the crazy combination of appley, earthy, and citrusy flavors provided a psychological boost akin to strutting into a freshly outfitted laboratory.

“This is literal perfection,” she mumbled, clumsily devouring the noodles and herb-filled liquid. “And I think it’s pretty obvious that I’m a daddy’s girl. Dad gave me my first glimpse of real research science, and where do you think the I-can’t-quit attitude came from?”

“Guess I’ll have to thank him for that, and I’m glad you like the soup. I don’t know if I’d call it perfection. It’s a pretty simple recipe and takes very little skill to prepare—”

“Mmhmm!” Tail interrupted while she tilted her head back and downed the contents in a series of ravenous gulps. Her fiery glare caught the sheepish stallion by surprise, and she grinned when he fashioned a defensive smirk. “You can keep telling yourself that, but I’ll stand my ground on this one. Your ingredients also promote good sleep and a boosted immune-system response. Are you going to tell me that the best tactician I know didn’t make those decisions to help out his marefriend?”

The pegasus countered the subsequent silence with an unwavering stare and a smug expression.

Eventually, Barrier caved and retrieved the emptied container. Angling towards Tail, he deposited a kiss on her forehead as a rumbling buzz brewed in his throat. “Mm, no. I love you too much to try a con like that. Just want to do what I can to help you feel better.”

Tail melted under his kiss. Happily dazed, she slid under her covers and clutched M.B.B. after her head encountered the pillow. “I think we’re due for some sweet dreams tonight, and you absolutely make me feel better. Ams is right though. You should get some good rest in your own bed. We’re on the clock, and I don’t want you to be exhausted because you were taking care of me. You’ve done a lot, and I love you too.”

Shivering as Barrier wrapped her up in a kiss, Tail wiggled in the endless field of forget-me-nots. The plates of her executor-style armor rattled thanks to the stallion’s insistence, and Tail blushed once the bulkier, metal-clad unicorn had her pinned to the ground. Blood marred the fur above his eyes, and several fresh nicks traversed his muzzle. Ordinarily, concern would have consumed the pegasus at the sight of these features, but in this instance—

“Mm, Blanket,” he huffed in between kisses, “you were incredible.”

Tail could feel the dopey smile that blossomed and reappeared in between each of his displays of devotion. She gasped when he shifted his head and started a trail of soft kisses that inevitably led to him nipping her neck. Her hind legs trembled, and as she stared up at the vibrant auroras that arced across the sunny sky, the scientist’s brain entered scramble mode.

I don’t think we just dueled. We’ve gone hard, but I’ve never cut him up like that. And if it were, I don’t think we’d still be geared up. Tail’s thoughts were momentarily interrupted by a more dominant bite to her neck. Her feathers ruffled, brushing against the nearby plants, and it became extremely tempting for the mare to lose herself in the stallion’s embrace.

Nevertheless, one question continued to nag the colonel. Her brain carried no recollections of how she and Barrier had landed upon this field filled with her favorite flowers. No data existed to explain how he had gotten bloodied or how the heavens had surrendered their normal hues to the bands of radiation that crawled over the visible dome. Nothing explained, “What did I do that was so incredible?”

Suddenly, Tail’s body reacted to a rapid shift in barometric pressure. While she could still feel Barrier’s weight on top of her, along with the tender kisses he kept providing, her sense of hearing succumbed to a ringing that grew louder with each passing second. The environment itself started to fade away as well in a glowing haze that engulfed everything Tail observed.

Her heartbeat raced once Barrier’s presence vanished to her sense of touch, and she immediately rolled onto her hooves and stood up. A periodic click joined the whine of the tinnitus, and Tail tried to shake off the noises by jerking her head. The maneuver failed, but in the wake of its accompanying squint, the scenery shifted to a barren tundra beneath a menacing obsidian sky.

She gulped, staring down a silhouette that carved a homogenous void into the icy expanse. The looming figure did not move from its spot. However, as Tail stared into the daunting darkness, the thunderous ticks that jarred her hearing became more prominent. Her chest tightened, and the muscles in her legs tensed. Quivering motions flicked various feathers into sporadic positions, and despite Tail’s instinctive desire to escape from the maddening nothingness, she did not flee.

Piercing red eyes, surrounded by haunting lime-green sclerae, formed on the skull of the apparition. Tail clenched her jaw and crouched. The longer she glared at the gaping unknown, the more prepared she felt to act. Of course, fleeing couldn’t be an option. She couldn’t run away now, especially not when two creeds echoed in her mind. The time had come to finally fight.

A blustering swirl of snow erupted to the mare’s left, and a flash of magic sparked to her right. Hooves crunched against the frozen ground to announce the arrivals of River Styx and Silver Dust to the front line.

Supported by reinforcements, Tail took a step towards the shrouded stallion. Her irides sparkled at the behest of her internal fire, and no longer did dread find a home on her countenance. She extended her armor-covered foreleg towards the abyss and waited as a yellow-cream pegasus swooped down from the skies, landed, and pressed against Tail’s right flank.

“Oi, sorry I’m late!” Ember shouted to the squad. “Sometimes it’s just hard ta beat the message right into a fucker. Ya’d think it obvious, but I guess it’s just gotta be said aloud. Ya two are clearly stronger together as one, ya daft shit.”

Barrier sat up on his bed. Heavy breaths fled his lungs, and a nasty, chilled sweat clung to his fur. His quilt had tumbled from his frame, exacerbating the icy sensation that gripped the startled stallion. His eyes darted, taking in the greyscale scenery that had yet to be fully conquered by the band of morning light that snuck in through the barely parted drapes.

Stronger together… Ember’s voice captured his thoughts, sending the stallion scrambling off the mattress. He tore open the drawer on his nightstand and fumbled around until he snatched a small box with his magic. He then targeted the feather Tail had given him, corralling it in his aura as well before dashing out of the room as though lives depended on it.

Ponies dashed, flew, and galloped in the vast chamber that housed the Equestrian Intelligence Service. Shouts carried across the corporate office space as commands started being issued. Papers, recently thrown off oak desks in droves, piled atop the navy-blue carpet so E.I.S. personnel could plant new parchments upon the wood surfaces.

In the center of this data carnage, Wing sat in the middle of a circular counter that had been installed on a raised platform. A city of clutter covered practically every square inch of the mahogany ring, but Wing’s attention hovered squarely on a black plastic cube that staked out a visible piece of real estate. The red light of an emitting diode pulsed from its post on top of the hoof-sized structure, and the pegasus knew precisely what it meant.

The Crystal Empire had seen the end of the Temporal Drecht. Operation Loadline had begun.

Inhaling deeply, Wing slapped his hooves against the tabletop. The reverberating clapping noise brought an abrupt end to the commotion that had captivated the sprawling rows of benches, and the colonel reared up to take the helm. “Send the order to Autumn Tea. Have her teleport to Ponyville and escort the Element Bearers to Canterlot, and make sure they bring the bloody fucking dragon. Harmony depends on it.”

“Got it, Boss!” a pony squealed in a nasal voice from amidst the fray before Wing glanced towards the nearest station.

There, Dr. Batsy frantically dragged the tip of a quill over a sheet of paper. The purple pony’s gaze narrowed while her sights homed in on the scribbles of mathematical equations that she rapidly calculated. Her tongue partially stuck out from her muzzle, and it appeared as though the mare held her breath until she wrote a final number, circled it, and punctuated the effort with a strong strike of the lavender pen.

“4.753 A.E.U. per square meter at the shell,” Batsy answered before Wing even spoke the question.

Tilting his head back, the colonel let his sights wander over the protective patterns carved into their bunker’s ceiling. “It’s a damn shame that I don’t know the delta-T, but the array’s intact, so it’s probably long enough to not pose a major issue. Still, it’s better to be safe than moronic. North Division! Send the word to Whynnyapolis. Bluster Alert with a five-minute E.T.A. It won’t freak out the civilians, but Gracious will read between the lines and rally the troops.”

The pegasus wheeled to the right as another train of thought shot to the forefront. “House Guard, alert Callie and Luna! Royal, tell Captain Armor right away! He’ll have to get Princess Cadance, but heh, she probably felt the pull of the Crystal Heart even before our alarm went off. Either way, instructions are to meet at the throne room at once. Major Amora in Medical and Captain Spitfire will also need to move to standby positions, and I want some others plucked out of the City Guard as well. See if the newly minted Lieutenant Indar and Corporal Bonecrusher will answer the call. Don’t hold it against them if they don’t, but”—Wing paused when Trigger appeared at his side through a dissipating swirl of silvery mist—“everypony dreams.”

“Couldn’t have said it better myself, Kiddo,” Trigger spoke as he leaned up against the edge of the desk. The Coltston-wearing stallion lifted his right foreleg to tip his hat to Wing—and to show the pegasus the glimmering revolver strapped to his limb.

“I take that to mean Colonel Tail is still on the mend?” One of Wing’s calculating eyes zeroed in on the stainless-steel contours before the stallion’s focus wandered to Trigger’s dark-brown vest. “The look suits you at least.”

Snorting, Trigger lowered his leg and shook his head. “Amora hasn’t cleared her yet, and last I checked, she was still sleepin’ off the last of her infection. I already told Barry that ya picked up a signal, but I have a feelin’ that he already knew. Boy was marchin’ with purpose towards Tail’s room. Seemed to me like he wanted a moment, and I ain’t one to interrupt somethin’ like that.”

A grin gradually crept along the colt’s muzzle after he turned to properly face Trigger. “I’d expect nothing less from you. I would ask what you think the odds are that she’ll somehow show up to the battlefield, but I can already tell the answer by looking at your leg.”

“Well shit,” Trigger halfheartedly laughed, “and here I thought I had actually done a decent job sellin’ the work as her genuine article. Should I bail on the whole thing? Could just say fuck it and go with the blunt approach of ignorin’ a royal. Wouldn’t be the first time. Won’t be the last.”

Wing thoughtfully hummed while that smirk of his remained firmly plastered in place. He rolled his head to glance at Batsy again, but he definitely directed the first part of his response to Trigger. “Nah, it won’t matter. Callie’s not the only one who’s been moving chess pieces around the board. You could just say that there are some extra benefits that come with me holding onto Aurora’s Eye. Either way, we should get going to the throne room.

“Battu, I’m going with Trigs to see the first squad off. It’ll be taxing to keep our dreamshell link at that distance, especially during the initial commotion, so don’t get extra floofy if I drop off the radar for a bit. Plans never go as expected anyway, though. There’s still that risk that the arrays will get knocked out, so just in case, I’d like for you to go to Lab Two and prep the Armistice for liftoff-on-demand.”

Reaching out, Wing snatched the plastic cube with one of his namesakes. He lifted his muzzle, casting his gaze across the windowless chamber—over those under his command—and roared, “I’m counting on all of you, so do your best and have each other’s backs! This is a moment that defines why we’re here, and the lives of every single pony and creature you hold dear could very well be riding on the kind of soul you choose to have today. The only currency in war is life, and the cost of harmony sure as shit ain’t free. Yet, here we are, paying those dues by fighting for something bigger than ourselves. Here we are, finding our resolve in the shadows together.”

A boisterous cheer erupted amongst the roughly one-hundred ponies that occupied the office. Some hit their paperwork with newfound enthusiasm, and others focused on keeping the com lines to different branches of the Equestrian Defence Forces open.

“Repurposin’ my lines now, huh?” the creature of reverie quipped before he suddenly plopped his hat on the crown of the pegasus. He grunted with amusement when Wing flinched, and his gritty voice quickly reemerged. “Gonna make ponies think ya should be a general with speeches like that. So proud.”

“We can reminisce after we win,” Wing countered. “Transceiver Team! It’s time to pack up your shit. We’re booking it to the princesses. Wave 1 will deploy as soon as all members arrive at the L.Z. Keep ties to the other members of the Joint Chiefs as open as you can. Nothing withheld from those seven, and nothing off the table from Gracious Waters, either. Subsequent waves will depart on a staggered schedule that is completely dependent on inbound recon. You know the lists. Make sure those who need to know actually know—and those that don’t stay out of harm’s way.”

Barrier stood beside Tail’s hospital bed and quietly watched the sleeping mare. To the stallion, she looked quite peaceful. The audible quality of her breathing had noticeably improved over the last couple of days, and her fever had truly been conquered. Still, the clock had run out, and this visit to the pegasus had been only facilitated with the borrowed time that Trigger had readily provided.

It seemed as though he wasn’t the only pony with cards to play. Amora had doubled down at the eleventh hour by putting the physicist under a sedation spell the previous night with the hopes that Tail would awaken refreshed and Feather Flu free. Yet she had not emerged from that slumber, and in spite of his quivering, lifted limb, Barrier couldn’t bring himself to wake her prematurely.

From beneath his breastplate, Barrier retrieved the navy-blue ribbon that Tail had haphazardly fashioned from her dress uniform. Her golden colonel pins still dangled from the end of the fabric, and upon inspection, the unicorn had to smile at how far she had come.

A ripple of blue light snaked along Barrier’s horn as another pin emerged through the gap between his neck and the closest metal plate. A joined pair of black powder-coated bars slowly tumbled around in the colt’s magical field before he affixed the pin to Tail’s ribbon. Atop the gradually curving surfaces, depictions of lightning bolts, wings, and daggers had been etched through the dark coating, leaving behind images in sharp, glimmering silver.

“I know you’ll understand it when you finally wake up, but on the off chance that the lovable Blanket can hear me, I’ll say it aloud now. You’re the strongest pony I know, not in terms of raw strength, but you’ve got more determination than most bother to dream about. You’re more than a colonel now. From this day forward, you are the Scythe of the Crowns and Captain of the Executors. Maybe that rank means a bit more today than most, but to me, it marks indelible loyalty every day.”

He placed the ribbon on top of the pine crate before he snagged a small white card from underneath his helmet and set it beside the pins. Tail’s feather became the next trinket to emerge from the darkened confines beneath Barrier’s kit, and the mage affixed his icy-blue sights to the flier’s figure.

“You’ve done a lot over the last few months to show me your loyalty. It’s time I did the same.” Steadying himself, Barrier watched the adorable pegasus for a few more seconds before he closed his eyes. Energetic spikes pulsed outward from the scintillating region around the stallion’s horn, and Barrier squinted and jerked his head when the appendage started radiating a silvery light.

Gasping and groaning from the blistering heat, the captain coaxed a needle-like object from the spiral of his horn. With each powerful gulp of air, and at the urging of the unicorn’s power, more of the calamus came loose from Barrier’s spire until the distinctive barbs of a yellow-cream feather were fully pulled away from the stallion. A blue auguric tendril adjusted its hold on Tail’s feather, and with a swift coiling motion, Barrier absorbed Tail’s offering into his sacred core.

He hunched over while the appendage cooled and transitioned back to its usual charcoal color. A cadence of deep, pained huffs accompanied the process, and he looked up with a single eye to stare at the ancient feather that floated in his cast.

“She’s with me now,” he spoke in a hushed tone after gingerly realigning his posture. He slid even closer to the bed and grazed Tail’s forehead with a tender kiss. The gift he had received from Ember oh-so-long ago found a new refuge in the strands of Tail’s mane, and Barrier’s heart lingered on the yellow fibers as the last threads of his spell finally let go. “I’m counting on you. Look after her for me.”

The unicorn snuck in a second kiss and turned towards the doorway. As he passed the crate, his attention drifted to the propped note that he had left for his beloved Blanket to find. Three words, etched in his hoofwriting, stood out even in the dim light, and Barrier hoped with every bit of his being that Tail would see them when they still meant something. I need you.

Author's Note:

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the beginning of Wing's literary psychosis. From here on out, I damn near lost my mind with this. There are things that I'll reveal once we reach the other side of the fence, but until then, sit back and enjoy the ride because the craziness only grows. To build this entire sequence up through the end of NLA, I legit acted things out and spoke things aloud with timers running to get things aligned to the second. My neighbors heard me screaming lines from a certain villain, and legit thought I had entered some kind of self-abuse zone that had one of them ask me if I was okay. When I found out what they were asking out, we had a good laugh, but now you know. Next week is Chapter 40 - To Answer the Call, and there really is no turning back.

As always, thank you for your time, readership, comments, discussions, likes&subscribeslol. It's a little strange that we're getting this close to the end. Kind of makes me think about what will happen next. Only time will tell.

See you next Tuesday.

Day 165 has arrived. A+0.

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