Alright readers, we actually passed the one year anniversary of Across the Sea just two days ago! So to celebrate, I've drawn up this bonus chapter. To any passers-by, this will make absolutely no sense unless you've gotten at least a good way through the main story. There's no spoilers for the main story, just revelations on why certain characters are the way they are. Maelstrom
“What's the situation, Hearth?” Asked Maelstrom, anticipating more bad news. The campaign map before didn't look the way she wanted it to look. There were too few Blackwind banners, too many Swiftrain banners. It didn't matter if they were residing Castle Greatfall, the seat of house Farpeak which they had just seized a few hours ago, things were still not going well.
“It's not what you want to hear.” Replied her brother, gazing intently at the map.
“Lay it on me, I can take it.” She sighed. Every day it gets worse.
“The Sun Queen is sending Princess Celestia in, leading the alicorn's personal army. They'll be here in a soon.” Stated Hearth, putting down a new marker on the edge map, the sun and moon of Everfree. “I estimate that they'll link up with Queen Ember's army in two weeks, at most.” He pointed to the emblem of Unicornia, which lurked in the south of the map.
“We've been outnumbered from the start, this isn't anything unusual.” Maelstrom said. “We'll just need to re-adjust our tactics. Abandon our holdings, retreat into the mountains.”
“I don't think that will help.” Hearth said, giving her a condescending look.
“Well, tell me your plan, if you think you know so much.” Retorted Maelstrom.
“Surrender to Swiftain and Celestia, end this madness. It's gone on long enough.” He answered. “There is no way this can end in victory for our house, now.”
“Surrender?” Maelstrom's ears fell back, and she narrowed her eyes. “We haven't lost the war!”
“We lost this war the moment you named that bastard daughter of yours as your heir over me!” Spat Hearth. “Give up now, maybe they'll spare your life.”
“Highcrest belongs to me, I'm not going to throw it to usurpers and traitors.” She declared firmly. Hearth sneered at this.
“You want to talk about throwing around, do you? Well, maybe you shouldn't have thrown yourself at so many stallions; we wouldn't have-” He was silenced with a slap to the face.
“Some brother you are.” Maelstrom growled. “Get out, Hearth.”
“I wonder if you even know who the father is.” Muttered the other pegasus, skulking away.
The rightful Queen of Highcrest exhaled deeply, resisting the urge to go after him and attack some more. I've had it with his attitude! Hearth was supposed to be her older brother, he was supposed to support her! Instead, he treated her like a little girl incapable of making her own decisions. Sure, she liked to use her looks to get what she wanted, but that was her decision alone. And that had brought her Tempest, the best thing to ever happen in her life. But her brother did not like Tempest at all. The way Hearth treated her daughter sometimes was absolutely infuriating.
Maelstrom closed her eyes, and sat down at the table. When she opened them, she stared blankly at the campaign map. Hearth's right, Maelstrom. Whatever chances you had at winning the throne are gone. Would they spare her if she surrendered? I don't know... Somepony else was here to speak to her, now.
“My Queen.” Greeted a blue mare, bowing her head as she entered.
“Ah, Coldstar, my friend! I hope you brought me some good news, my brother didn't.”
“Well, the castle stocks are full. But I found an individual of interest, hiding down in the dungeons.” Coldstar stepped aside, and pushed forward a beige filly. She had a blue mane, and looked to be about eight. And she looks half-starved. But she knew those green eyes anywhere.
“Now this is unexpected.” Remarked Maelstrom, walking over to the two. “Which daughter of Silver Farpeak are you?”
“S-S-Snowy, m-my Queen.” Stammered the girl softly, not looking up from the ground.
“And why were you hiding in the dungeons here, instead of with your sister and parents?” Questioned the true Queen of Highcrest. There was no answer from little Snowy, and it didn't look like she was going to answer.
“Truthfully, I don't know myself.” Coldstar commented. “This one seems too afraid of her own shadow to tell us anything. I guess we could sell her back to the Farpeaks for ransom.”
“Please, n-no.” Squeaked Snowy, still bending her head. Maelstrom and Coldstar exchanged a glance of confusion.
“We'll deal with this later.” Maelstrom finally said, eyeing the beige filly. “Wait for her to calm down, and then see what information you can get out of her.”
“By your command, my Queen.” Coldstar saluted, and then herded the firstborn daughter of Lady Farpeak away. Well, I wasn't expecting that. What could have spooked the girl so badly? She'd have to find out tomorrow; a peek out one of the narrow windows of the castle revealed that the sun was setting. It was time to go check on her daughter.
She found Tempest sitting in the small room that had been given to her for the duration of their stay. There, the young filly was intently studying a book full of pictures of various exotic animals. Friends of Mankind, Maelstrom identified. It was a book she had brought back from Sarathûl last time she visited Prince Aharôs of Athair, a friend and ally in war and politics. He himself had recommended it, in fact. “Having fun?” Asked Maelstrom.
“Mother, where are these?” As usual, Tempest ignored the question and stated exactly what was on her mind. She didn't know where her daughter got that, it just seemed to be something she had done, ever since she learned to talk.
“Well...” Maelstrom sat down next to Tempest, and put a wing around her. “Across the sea, to the west, there's another land called Sarathûl. And a long time ago, the race of man came down from the Far North, bringing all their beasts with them.”
“Where does it say that?” Asked Tempest, her eyes darting all over the page. They weren't gold like the rest of the Blackwind family's, but red. A gift from her father.
“It's written right on the page, dear.” The Queen of Highcrest put a hoof on the page.
“That's not writing, mother. That's a scribbling. Somepony drew in this book.” Tempest stated with exasperation, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“But it is writing. Not our writing, though. This is the human language. They write vertically, and their letters make it so entire words can be written without taking the pen off the paper.” Explained Maelstrom, pointing out the columns and breaks in the lines. Her daughter just tilted her head and squinted at them.
“Huh.” She remarked, before looking up. “Are any of these animals here?”
“No, Tempest, they're all in the west. I've seen a few myself when I went to visit Prince Aharôs.”
“Will I go west?” Her daughter asked again, curiously. “Will I get to meet Aharôs? Can I see the eagles, and three-hoofed ponies? And the elephants with the upside down tusks?” Maelstrom had to give a small laugh at Tempest's enthusiasm.
“Maybe you will, dear. I hope not any time soon though, Sarathûl is no place for young ponies.” She hugged Tempest tighter with her wing. “It's not even a place for grown ponies on their own.”
“I'll still go there.” Defiantly claimed her daughter. “I'll see it all. All the way to the Far North!”
“I'm sure you will.” Nodded Maelstrom, making sure her face didn't betray what she really felt. She'll be going sooner than she thinks, if things keep going bad... “But that's for another day. It's getting dark, you should go to bed.”
“I'm not tired!” And so began a long process of making sure Tempest went to sleep. It wasn't too much of a burden, though. Maelstrom saw it as an exercise in diplomatic abilities and reasoning. Tempest rarely backed down from something unless given a good reason to; a trait that could both help her and harm her later in life. I'll just have to be there to make sure she knows when to stand and when to yield. Flexibility would be key if she was to be Queen one day. If.
As Maelstrom walked through the castle halls, taking note of where everything was, something caught her eye. A flash of movement in a stairwell... That's odd, thought the Queen as she went in its direction. Something kept tugging at the darkness between lanterns, and Maelstrom continued down the stairs after it. It led her to a long, narrow hall; dimly lit. A sign pointed towards the food storage on one end, cistern in the opposite direction. She turned towards the cistern, and saw a figure far down the hall. It wasn't a pony. With her stomach twisting, she realized there was only one person in the world this could be. As Maelstrom approached him, she called out in the human tongue:
“Queen Maelstrom Blackwind.” Replied the figure, stepping into the light once she had reached him. He was indeed a human, brown-haired and brown-eyed, remarkably ordinary for his kind. The man was middle-aged and wore a long, dark coat, seemingly made for winter. “It's been some few years since we last met.”
“Yes it has, Sidâl.” She narrowed her eyes. “Why have you come here?”
“Our mutual benefactor has lost confidence in your ability to deliver on your end of the contract we have.” Stated the human, clasping his hands and sounding almost apologetic.
“Oh great, you too, huh?” Sighed Maelstrom. “Everyone thinks I'm doomed.”
“Because you are.” Sidâl said. “We see no way in which this ends well for you, short of a miracle.”
“Nothings over yet, sorcerer.” The Queen of Highcrest stated. “Not while I'm still breathing.”
“And how long will that be?” Asked Sidâl, looking down at her.
“Quite a bit longer, I assure you.” She waved a hoof at him, wishing she had brought her sword down here. It wouldn't have helped the sinking feeling in her heart though.
“We need you alive and free to do as you will, Maelstrom. You are only alive right now, and we are not even sure how long that will continue to last. Unless you're willing to throw your life away right now to fulfill your end of the contract.” Sidâl looked at her, raising an eyebrow.
“I don't think so.”
“A pity. You're doing to die anyway.” He spoke. There was something about the way Sidâl said those words that sent a shiver down her spine, and made the walls feel as if they were closing in on her.
“I'm not going to die!” She yelled, trying to hide her uncertainty. “I have a war, I have a kingdom, I have a daughter-”
“All of which you will lose within a month, if things keep going the way they are!” Responded Sidâl, showing a rare burst of emotion. “See reason, Maelstrom! It's over for you! If you die with your end of the contract unfulfilled, that debt will pass to your daughter, Tempest. Do you want that?”
“No! Of course not!” Maelstrom said, clenching her jaw. “But I'm not going to go to certain death while I can still avoid it!”
“Then Tempest will take up the contract upon your passing.” Coldly replied Sidâl.
“And what if I break the contract?” Asked the pegasus, defiantly. The human didn't reply, he only folded his arms behind his back, and looked past her. When Maelstrom looked back, she saw the lanterns behind her going out, one by one. She looked back at Sidâl, and the lantern near him started to dim. “What are you doing?” Questioned Maelstrom, sounding more worried than she would have preferred.
“A word of advice, Queen Maelstrom: Don't turn around again.” Warned Sidâl coolly. She was about to do just that when she heard it. The soft scrape of claws on stone, and the icy frost spreading with it. Every fur on her body rose, and Maelstrom found herself frozen in fear, looking helplessly at the sorcerer. There was something behind her, bringing a metallic scent so heavy that she could swear she was breathing in raw iron. It growled and rumbled in an otherworldly tone; sounds not meant for this world.
“You see, Maelstrom, there's a price for breaking the contract with us. There's something behind you; it was instrumental in helping you start this war, and it could just as easily end it this very moment.” Sidâl spoke. The image of the late usurper Prysm Swiftain's council chamber invaded her memory, covered in frost and blood with not a single body to be found when they opened the doors again. “Is that how you want it to end, Maelstrom?” Something sharp and colder than the coldest wind she ever felt gently moved across her back, sending spikes of terror through her. No matter how hard she screamed in her mind, her hooves did not move; her wings did not open; she could not even speak. “My benefactor and I do not take kindly to being crossed. We always deliver on our word, without fail. We expect the same of others.”
“A-alright,” Stammered Maelstrom, mustering her voice. “Alright. We'll do it your way.”
“Good.” Sidâl smiled. The frost and metal retreated, whatever horror that had been lurking behind her vanished into the shadows. “Don't toy with us, Maelstrom. Now, you understand what will happen, yes? That if you should die before delivering on your end of the contract, the debt will pass to Tempest, for her to fulfill.” Maelstrom nodded quickly. “We have nothing more to discuss.”
With that, he vanished into the shadows, not reappearing again. The lanterns down the hall came back on. For a moment, she reflected on what just had happened. She had bargained with powers she didn't understand, and had not been able to deliver the agreed price. She'd bet it all on winning this war for Highcrest, but here she was, about to lose, and pass this debt to her only child. Maelstrom Blackwind sat on the stone floor in thought, finally aware of the magnitude of her mistakes.
Author's note: Yes, this was supposed to bring up more questions than it answered. It's especially relevant to upcoming Tempest chapters.