• 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 44 - A Knight’s Reverie

Shining clenched his jaw after a blistering crimson ray ripped through the chilly air and pounded against the outer surface of his defenses. A mix of pink and red arcs danced along the interior edge of the bubble, and the unicorn roared in relief when the added magics of Barrier and Philomena helped him overcome the strain imposed by Sombra.

Thick, heavy breaths escaped the Captain of the Royal Guard’s parted muzzle, and he struggled to stammer through even a shaky response. “I’ve never felt strikes like these. There’s more to them than just the raw power. He’s actually trying to pull my shield away from me.”

“You’re doing great, Shiny,” Cadance softly answered as she set a reassuring hoof upon one of the purple plates that protected his spine. While her words offered some comfort to her husband, the alicorn’s focus settled on the self-proclaimed monarch who lurked twenty yards away. Cady’s armor chattered. A flurry of shudders raked her trunk, and a budding scowl and trembling lip etched a pang of fear upon her countenance.

“Your business ain’t with her, ya loud-mouthed dipshit!” Trigger growled, materializing in a cloud of argent dust off Sombra’s left flank. The creature of reverie pummeled the unicorn’s chin with an uppercut before the frenzied conjurer could even react. Watching him reel from the blow, Trigger lowered his center of mass, charged a spell, and unloaded an explosive construct into the stallion’s seeping chest wound.

The bursting packet of energy flung Sombra through the air as though he were a ragdoll. Tumbling over the tundra, he came to a stop after a series of sickening thuds accented the repeated meetings of his armor and flesh with the ground.

Taking advantage of the opportunity afforded by his auguric artillery, Trigger prowled in a southeasterly direction. He dragged the dropped usurper’s attention with him once the Crystal Heart gave Sombra the health to rise again, and the instant Trigger realized that he had hooked the unicorn, he dashed forward to resume the attack.

“What is it that you do not understand about your fate?” Sombra shrieked. Another pair of his casts burned brilliantly as they barreled down on his enemy, and he swiftly slammed his gauntlet against the torn strips of his chestplate. Sombra yanked the iron free, revealing more of the Heart and the red-stained curse it bore upon his body. “You’ve already thrown everything at me, and I continue to rise because I am the one blessed by this divine will! You can’t kill me”—he loosed a single-note chuckle—“so you’re on borrowed time, mortals.”

Trigger’s image strobed in and out of view as he dodged the inbound barrage. He countered by hurling a vibrant silver flash at Sombra that threatened to de-crown the king, but the tyrant lord vanished before the needle could strike him down.

Phasing back into reality, the possessed sorcerer lunged at Trigger’s trunk and landed his punch against the cowcolt’s right side. He dug his iron-laden hoof into the brown vest while his rage manifested in the whipping purple tendrils that dripped from his eyes.

Absorbing the hit, Trigger kicked up with his hind legs and pivoted around his right forehoof. A pained grunt pushed through his gritted teeth, but the creature of reverie battled on. He didn’t fight the angular momentum that carried his haunches, and he threw another volley at Sombra’s guarded neck when the window to do so overlapped with his changing alignment.

The crackling plasma ate through the metal sheet. Orange sparks flew from the material, and a hissing pop preceded the screeched, gurgled yelp that rushed from Sombra’s yawning mouth. Violently thrashing, he moved away from Trigger, pressed a hoof to the wound, and hunched over the thrumming Crystal Heart. Vermillion eddies conquered the facets of the gem, and steam pushed its way through the newly formed hole to signify that the damage had been healed.

Meters away, Barrier still hovered near Shining Armor. His visor eclipsed the unease that tensed his jaw and sharpened his focus, but the reserved timbre that drenched his tenor voice made both of the younger ponies in earshot visibly take notice. “Trigsy’s deliberately pulling him away from the city, so keep tailing us as we move. If you get the chance, do it, Cady. He’s recovering faster now, so I can’t leave Trigger alone on the offensive any longer.”

Philomena made a trilling noise in her throat when the charcoal-coated stallion glanced up at her slender figure. The firebird continued to occupy her spot over Cadance’s withers, and she held her wings outstretched over the alicorn and the rocks below.

“Keep doing what you’re doing too, Lady Philomena. Without you suppressing the reach of his curse, I have a feeling we’d all be dead by now.” Barrier’s horn suddenly lit, and in a blink, he was gone.

“I already told you that your fate has been decided. You will never have what it takes!” Sombra taunted, stretching his crest and limbs before he silently teleported inside Trigger’s guard. A devilish grin yanked the corners of his lips. The stench of the tainted king’s sweat, acrid breath, and singed tissues assaulted the creature of reverie while the unicorn lingered directly in front of the Equestrian defender. Unyielding, Sombra jabbed the tip of his iron boot against Trigger’s chest with enough force that, even with the arriving Barrier providing a layer of magical shielding, the midnight charger was thrown by the blow.

“What’s wrong?” Sombra peered upon Trigger’s scowling visage after the stallion halted his slide by scraping the bottoms of his hooves against the barren ground. “Are you getting upset because your treacherous attempts to assassinate me are not getting the job done? Or maybe you’re just mad because I know your ruse!”

The green-scleral unicorn basked in the presence of his surging umbrum power. Darkness spread over the flanking purple wisps in black lines that crept out like greedy fingers. Oily tears drained from his sorrowless eyes and dripped from his pointed fangs, and when he saw Barrier stand by Trigger’s side, Sombra shifted his fiery focus to his former subordinate.

“I said you grew stronger, but now I see you’ve gone soft! Where did the Barrier go who could rip apart a griffon’s neck at my command? You knew what I was doing when I went north, and you didn’t stop me because you hated them all as much as me. Those worthless windrats wouldn’t know honor after a hundred lifetimes of tutelage. They started slaughtering our innocent and then whined like cowards when we returned in kind. What sort of lesson could harmony provide? I showed Celestia! I showed her that my heart was greater than her friendship, so she sent you in her stead with a fucking dream and a death wish!”

Sombra spat more of the obsidian globs as he spoke. His volume swelled, and he stomped the dirt with one of his hind legs while a tremor tensed the muscles in his neck and shook his skull. By the time he had uttered Celestia’s name, the sovereign’s grey facial features had been substantially concealed by the nefarious sludge, and he screamed at Barrier and Trigger without any regard for his lungs or throat.

“I know what those death wishes are, Barrier! The Heart can feel it!” Snarling, he slapped the central face of the crystal embedded in his chest. “My heart can feel where you’ve placed your ambitions. It can feel where you’ve sent your love, but that love is my property! That devotion is meant for your king! I will take it! I’ll make you see it, Barrier! I’ll make your new partner see it too! Your phoenix pet can’t keep you safe forever, and then I will end what I started.”

Both Barrier and Trigger dropped their centers of mass towards the snow, aimed the tips of their horns, and unleashed blinding beams that rocketed at Sombra. The blazing radiance of the casts outshone even the initial volleys that had skewered the umbral mage. Puddles pooled on the terrain over the flight paths, raining hints that the latest barrages could be more fatal to the former captain.

The wavy motions in Sombra’s ghastly purple mist ceased as the attacks drew closer. Erupting from his fur, strands of the smeared black ooze formed a thin, crescent-shaped bulwark in front of the Crystal Heart. “I remember and I learn,” the monarch quipped when the shield blocked the brunt of the spells. Only trickles of energy passed through the spraying, quivering fluid surface, but those drastically attenuated rays got swiftly absorbed by the alicorn artifact.

A flickering red light perturbed the Heart while King Sombra raised the tip of his muzzle and invited a reaffirming rush of air into his body. “Ahhh, there’s that first step I’ve been waiting for. The contract of your coming enslavement!”

Struck by the tang of a metallic scent saturating the cold gales of the tundra, the pair summoned another network of defenses to fill the space between Sombra and themselves. They both watched as the dark-grey unicorn gleefully reared up, and they dove away from one another when the Crystal Heart returned their stolen strikes as a single, scalding shaft that exceeded the input power by orders of magnitude.

Like a spearpoint hitting sheets of paper, the greyscale arc shredded shield after shield. Shrouded by juts of black lightning, the brighter core ejected clumps of the corruptive muck over the heated plain.

In the wake of the sizzling shot, Trigger’s hell-raising howl terrified the squad of Equestrians. Marked by a black splotch over his star-shaped cutie mark, the stallion’s hind leg gave out, and he collapsed upon the snow-streaked ground. His eyes bulged and panting gasps fled his opened muzzle as the slime began to spread over his coat like a wildfire burning in the brush. Sparks popped along the length of his horn as he writhed, but repeated attempts to conjure a light of hope thrust the creature of reverie into the dungeons of a nightmare.

Barrier pulled an about-face at the behest of those garish wails. Ignoring the goop that clung to his gunmetal armor, he sprinted across the steaming divide that the blast had carved into the dirt. He stumbled to Trigger’s side as the first sting crept through the creases in his gear, but the extra layer of protection had at least bought the captain a long enough reprieve for Philomena to land between them.

The phoenix stretched her wings over the ponies, bathing them in an orange glow that immediately allowed the colts to relax. Trigger, in particular, let out a loud, relieved sigh. However, once he and Barrier looked upon the stains that had spread across his haunch, their gazes considerably narrowed to the rising tide of concern.

During her first direct intervention against the umbral incursion, Philomena had dispelled Sombra’s darkness with an effortless flap. This time around, the firebird encountered a strong resistance from the obsidian substance, and it took nearly ten seconds of focused baking to burn away the remnants of the painful contaminants.

Sombra’s laughter carried across the tundra when Barrier and Trigger rose. “There’s the worship I deserve! The melody of your screams, a songbird serenade truly befitting as an offering to your ruler. At least you can take solace in knowing that you’ve convinced me to not kill you right away. The prospects of you two becoming my first Equestrian slaves and surrendering those sweet, humiliating sounds on command might just be enough of a payment for me to endure your upkeep.”

Barrier’s sights drifted over the Equestrian companions before they settled on Sombra’s figure. He observed the haughty deserter carry on with the hysterics while taking a winding, borderline-lackadaisical approach. The neck rim of the captain’s helmet scraped against his gorget, and his icy-blue gaze returned to Trigger.

Though the silver-maned charger had carried the bulk of the offensive load, Barrier had drenched his coat with sweat beneath those iron plates. The outside chill of the northern country seeped through his gear to nip at his fur, which provided a sharp contrast to the throbbing sensation that lingered in his overused horn.

“Our window’s closing, Trigsy,” Barrier grunted through a hushed breath. “We’ve pulled him south, but we need to give Cady an opening before the Crystal Heart gives him an even bigger gap—or before Philomena’s powers can no longer save our asses. I know it’s a lot to ask, but do you think you can buy me twenty seconds? Bonus points if you can get him airborne.”

“Yeah, ya can count on me,” Trigger answered, not giving it a second thought before he teleported right into the fray. As soon as he landed off Sombra’s rear, pikes of the vile fluid shot from the unicorn’s sides. With perspiration flying from his hair, Trigger dodged the spearing attempts and deftly utilized short-duration, small-area bursts of his amber-hued spellcraft.

The transition proved to be an intelligent one. The mad king and his heart had grown accustomed to Trigger’s dreamshell variety, and the precision application didn’t give Sombra additional opportunities to spread his control. Glass-like clanking filled the air with each jolting collision before Trigger gained a little payback by driving his forehoof into Sombra’s flank.

Steading himself, Barrier allowed the distractions of the battle to drift from the forefront of his mind. The last thing he registered prior to entering this peculiar state was the image of Philomena bolting to Trigger’s side—likely to provide some protection against the probable consequences of physical contact with Sombra. “Like pushing a swing,” he mumbled after the aura around his spire meandered between its typical icy-blue and a far darker shade.

Magical bands trickled away from Barrier in thin streams. Rather than immediately condensing to fuel an assault, the threads remained and hung in the air until they surrounded the mage in an incandescent gossamer. The captain emerged from his trance when a thunderous, percussive whack drew his attention to the flailing, launched usurper.

Through a flash, Barrier transported himself, along with his monstrous web, directly beneath his old friend and former mentor. The vast majority of the auguric fibers blasted upwards to form spiraling wisps that eventually surrounded, hooked, and locked Sombra at the center of a large spherical structure. With the exception of four entry ports, the gaps at the outer shell swiftly filled with luminescent surfaces that resembled the stallion’s usual shields.

The interior, however, proved tremendously different, for channelling networks stretched from Sombra’s floating body and traversed the space. In addition, the four holes in the exterior connected to the leftover parts of the gossamer, which abruptly had their funnel-like ends attached to the magical appendages of Barrier, Trigger, Philomena, and Cadance.

Without sharing a word, Barrier, Philomena, and Trigger discharged full-powered salvos into the conical traps. The tempestuous inferno of amber, blue, and orange flames mixed and brewed in the massive chamber until Sombra’s form completely disappeared within the suffocating, blinding swirl of magical light.

With the door opened, Cadance closed her eyes and bowed her head. Her typical cornflower-blue aura took on a raspberry color before she whispered an enchantment in a completely unrecognizable tongue. Her shimmering bolt shot through the grid, and the instant it pierced through the combined fury of her squadmates, the entire construct ruptured in a wafting cloud of dark-grey smoke.

Silence settled over the battlefield once the front-line trio vanished into the expanding cloud. Holding their positions, Cadance and Shining anxiously looked on, and the latter broke the stillness with a quietly muttered, “Is it over?”

Philomena was the first to appear from the smoke’s amorphous edge. She hurriedly flew towards the princess and her knight, but she did not make it back before a secondary shock wave dispersed the fog.

“Did you really think I didn’t know what you were doing?” Sombra growled as he held Barrier and Trigger aloft in his aura. Both of their heads had been sealed in the monarch’s mind-scrubbing helms, and thick collars—forged from the nightmarish ooze—squeezed their necks. For a moment, the unicorn bit his lower lip in pure bliss as muffled wails dribbled through Trigger’s new muzzle. Smiling, he dumped the unmoving duo onto a patch of faintly glowing dirt and commenced a methodical march towards Shining Armor’s defenses. “I’ll be back for more of that, Slave.

“As for you two, did you really think I missed your comrades dragging me farther and farther south? I commanded all of Equestria’s armies during the greatest war the nation had ever seen. You wanted to pull me away from my troops? Congratulations! Perhaps you should have read that a god doesn’t need them! They need me! They need to worship me!

“The mightiest alicorns couldn’t stop the will of my heart. What are a cheap imitation and her toy guard going to do? That was the plan, right? Celestia and Luna cried about it before the thestral wench appeared to lock me away.” Sombra halted his advance a few yards from Shining’s wavering bastion, and he promptly hurled a smug grin at the trembling ponies.

Slack-jawed, the Captain of the Royal Guard struggled to keep his wide-eyed stare planted on Sombra. His vision repeatedly blurred, and he gulped down a lump in his throat when the former executor came to a stop.

Once again, Cadance set her hoof over Shining’s withers, but the rattling that her gauntlet made atop his gold-trimmed plate betrayed her true underlying dread and compromised what might have otherwise been a reassuring gesture. The mare’s ears stood upright through the slots in her helmet, and her drooping lower lip joined her pinprick gaze in broadcasting her fear to the king.

“You cast your spell, Wannabe Princess, and it failed,” Sombra continued through a chillingly calm delivery. “Like those who came before you, you also underestimated my righteous will. You failed to grasp that I am the Crystal Heart, and the Crystal Heart is me. Now I’m going to take Equestria, and I’m going to slit Luna’s throat in front of her sister. I’ll take Celestia’s star as my own as well and let her corpse rot for ignoring the sacrifices her ponies made in her name. All of that, though, will come after I take those tens-of-thousands you ran from to Griffonia, so I can lop off Gallant’s head—or whatever dumb griffon fuck took his place.”

Sombra’s horn swiftly lit. A streaking bolt tore into Philomena’s wing and sent the bird spiraling into the snow with a crunching thud. With the last vestiges of the phoenix’s power removed from the field, Cadance and Shining had to bear the full brunt of the Crystal Heart’s umbral demands. The temperature dropped. The winds roared, and the ponies shivered upon the unforgiving wilderness.

In a blink, Sombra had thrown a manifested spearpoint through the pink barrier and into Shining Armor’s chest. The captain’s golden breastplate shattered from the impact, and the lightless, creeping substance of horror burrowed into the bleeding wound.

“I can see the love in your eyes too,” Sombra growled while Shining gasped and Cadance wept. “You didn’t make it to the edge of the Empire City to see what I did to the last ponies who placed their love in others instead of giving it to me, but I guess it would make sense for a false royal and her whore of knight to not understand.”

Stepping forward, Sombra coaxed a blood-curdling scream from Shining Armor as he drove the tip of his weapon closer to Shining’s heart.

“C-Cady, run—” the guard sputtered as his horn started to futilely spark. “Just run. It’s my duty. You have to—”

Another scream filled the air as Sombra leaned against the inertia of the officer’s mass. “The thestral bitch once told me that even shadows dream. She miscalculated too. I did dream—of a princess who wouldn’t abandon her duties. What does the toy dream of? A dutiful death to a fictitious love? An oath to an empty promise that’s devoid of sincerity? It’s fitting, really. I’m going to freeze your stallion until there’s no life in him. I’ll then rip off that horn of yours and use it as a spike to mount your garish pink head!”

A gust of heat took the equines by surprise. Seven argent pillars tore through Sombra’s pike and ripped it out of Shining’s chest. Another blast of wind sent the tyrant hurling a hundred meters through the air, and in front of the Princess of Love and her last defender, a lustrous savior reclaimed the line.

Now wearing a luminous white Coltston and vest, a rather teenage-looking Trigger reached for Shining’s injury with a scintillating hoof. He healed the torn tissues as a coy smile formed upon his countenance, and he glanced down towards the snow.

Beside him, Philomena and the liberated Barrier lay in pockets of the heavenly magic. The latter mumbled something about Ground Breaker, but he quickly fell silent when the crying Cadance threw her wings around both of her family members.

Shining, however, kept his questioning stare affixed to Trigger’s youthful visage. When the alabaster unicorn managed to garner the focus of the creature of reverie, he gradually tilted his head to the colonel’s broadening smirk.

“The cavalry’s on its way, so just rest up and recover as best ya can,” Trigger answered as his transformed silvery sights bore into Shining’s blue irides. “He called ya a toy guard, but that’s a distinction that only applies to the old Shining Armor. A colt once had a bittersweet dream about protectin’ a princess he loved with his life. It propelled him to enlist, but it sure as shit didn’t yield the honor of his rank. The notion of sacrifice got lost in old times, and the story that the kid wove into his ambition got buried in bureaucracy and the tales alicorns tell.

“It also didn’t help that some jerk bartender kept mockin’ the guy for it either, but somewhere along the way, that reverie became reality. A captain in name became the Captain of the Royal Guard, and that really poured some fuel on my fire. So if y’all will excuse me, I’m gonna go try to kill that Sombra asshole.”

Author's Note:

Trigger activated his trap card! The King is ... in deep shiz.

Some side information on this one in case you've gotten here and you're still pondering bread crumbs. It's been established through previous chapters that the Sea of Reverie is essentially a gigantic, magical power sink for the dreams, nightmares, aspirations, visions, etc. of every living thing. This makes Aislynn the governor of some pretty savage power. It also means that Trigger, as a creature of reverie, gets a huge stat bonus when he can tap into the energy of an achieved fantasy. Shining just took the Last Stand for his wife in an era when that is relegated to ancient fairy tale crap, so that fulfillment is propelling Trigs into a luminous, literal shining version of his more youthful self.

And somehow, things are still going to get crazier. Thank you, as always, for continuing to spend your time reading NLA. Next week, you're getting a double shot. Join us Tuesday, October 12 for Chapter 45.1 - The Mavericks' Wild, Part 1 and Thursday, October 14 for the scene that pushed me to the edge of lost sanity -- 45.2.

P.S. for those who have followed me for ages, The Mavericks' Wild means exactly what you think it does.

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