The Witching Hour: As The Tempest Rages

by Bryan Luna

The Journey Part One

A few days have passed since Midnight Storm had learned of the existence of the Storm Archipelago in the Shining Sea. A series of islands said not only to be ringed by a series of viscous ocean storms, but to be the home of more living kirins. As Midnight finishes some of her preparations upstairs Sapphire is placing breakfast on the table for their daughter Squeaky Wings when there is a knock at the door.

"Here you are Squeaks." Sapphire said warmly as she placed a bowl of oatmeal topped off with strawberries in front of the filly.

"Thanks mommy!" Squeaks replied with a squee. "So is mama going to have breakfast with us?"

"She will be down soon to have breakfast with us Squeaks." Sapphire replies while going to answer the door. Squeaks smiled and began eating as Sapphire reached the door. Opening it revealed a large black hippogriff and a smaller brown griffon.

"Miss Sapphire it is a pleasure to see you again." The hippogriff spoke formally with a serious tone.

"Stormer it is good to see you again. And hello to you too Slipstream." Sapphire replied.

"Hey Saphy, how's it going?" The griffon responded causing Sapphire to glare lightly at her.

Stormer stared at Slipstream. "How many times have I told you not to be so casual with the captain's wife Slipstream?"

"As of now it stands at four hundred and thirty seven ma'am." Slipstream replied receiving a stern glare from Stormer and an exasperated sigh from Sapphire.

Squeaky upon hearing this broke down into a fit of giggles which caused Slipstream to give both Sapphire and her much more serious counterpart a cocky smirk. "See, Squeaks thinks I'm funny." Slipstream retorted.

Sapphire sighed again. "Just come in you two, Midnight will be down shortly." Sapphire said ushering Midnight's subordinates into the house. "By the way would you two like some coffee while you're waiting?"

"That would be appreciated Mrs. Storm." Stormer replied.

"That would be nice actually, thanks." Said Slipstream. "So how is the captain anyway?"

"Midnight is fine, she may be having a little trouble with her packing though." Sapphire replied with a giggle. "So how would you like your coffee ladies?"

"I'll have mine with cream and sugar." Slipstream said energetically.

"I'll take mine with a little milk please." Stormer said.

"Okay one moment and I'll have it right over to you." Sapphire said as she went about adding the coffee and requested ingredients to each cup. She trotted over to the pair and hoofed them over their cups and then Midnight called from upstairs.

"Hey Sapphire, could you give a hoof with this bag for a moment? It's being a pain in the plot again." Midnight called down.

Sapphire moved to the bottom of the stairs. "Again? Alright I'll be up in a moment." Sapphire turned to the mares and her daughter. "It will be a moment longer I am afraid." Said Sapphire as Midnight muttered some curses under her breath from upstairs.

"Shouldn't you get a new bag mama?" Squeaks called up the stairs.

"When I get a chance sweetheart; and when I remember." Midnight replied muttering the last part under her breath as Sapphire came upstairs.

Slipstream looked to Squeaks. "So one of her bags is being a problem?"

"Kind of," Said Squeaks. "The zipper is kind of a pain sometimes, but I think that is because mommy over packs it." Squeaks said dropping her voice to a whisper causing Slipstream to laugh.

"Packing for a long trip does tend to be stressful." Stormer acknowledged taking a drink of her coffee.

"So what exactly does the captain want us here for I wonder?'" Asked Slipstream. "Because all I've heard is these rumors about the Everfree Forest being quiet all of the sudden."

"I find that to be unlikely," Stormer replied. "Everfree is a dangerous, untamed wild lands area and will likely always be so."

"Actually it's true." Squeaks piped up. "No pony knows why, but it's been really, really, reaaaaaaaalllllyyyy quiet all of the sudden." Squeaks said before munching on a strawberry while waiting on her oatmeal to cool enough to eat it.

Slipstream and Stormer stared at each other in disbelief. Both had lived in Equestria their whole lives and had never once known Everfree to be quiet. Both had always assumes that such a thing was impossible given what live in the vast untamed forest and were now faced with something that they had always thought to be impossible.

"No wonder Princess Luna is sending her bodyguard and an observation team." Slipstream said in awe.

Stomer merely nodded and drank her coffee.

"And that is why I wanted you two here to keep an eye on Sapphire and Squeaks." Midnight said coming downstairs with Sapphire and some of her bags. "That and to keep an eye on the forest too. Everfree has been too quiet for far to long and I am concerned by that."

Stormer hummed and replied. "Is that why Princess Luna has sent her student as well captain?"

"No," Said Midnight. "Sunset Shimmer is here to aid Twilight Sparkle with more extensive research on other kirins and where they could be located. It has become more of a priority after Sunset and I discovered the information about the Storm Archipelago in the Royal Archives."

"So now that we have more solid information it has finally become more important then?" Asked Slipstream.

Sapphire shook her head and replied. "No, it's always been important to the diarchs to find out more about kirins. We just never had much solid to go on until now."

Stormer scratched her chin thoughtfully. "Didn't the sisters know many kirins at one point in their long lives?"

Midnight sighed. "That was over a thousand years ago, and from what both princesses have told they all seem to have vanished one day out of the blue. That's why this trip is too important for me to put off until we can figure out why Everfree is so quiet." Midnight's concern was etched on her face as she spoke and her tail moved back and forth showing her worry. "That is also why I need you two here to keep an eye on Sapphire and Squeaks. Princess Luna wanted her bodyguard Moonlight Glow to be in charge of that, but Sapphire wanted you two here so as not to get underhoof."

"I see captain." Stormer replied. "This is a very delicate situation indeed."

"So what about the observation team? Do we help them too captain?" Asked Splistream.

"Only if things get out of hoof or Sapphire and Squeaks are directly in danger. The observation team Princess Luna is sending are from the second, so they are perfectly capable of handling things. That and I have heard rumors that an agent from Princess Celestia's monster hunting agency is living right here in Ponyville. I don't really believe it myself, but if it proves to be true then I am sure they will be helpful as well." Midnight said sternly.

"So we observe and report, but do not otherwise act unless it is necessary. Understood ma'am." Stormer said with a salute.

"That is correct." Midnight replied. "Sapphire here will pass along any reports and especially anything urgent."

"Yes ma'am." Both hybrids replied.

"Okay now that's out of the way lets all have breakfast. I made enough for everyopony after all." Sapphire said as she returned to the kitchen.

Squeaks squeed at the news she was having guests, she liked Stormer and Slipstream. Slipstream in particular had a habit of making Squeaks laugh like Pinkie Pie would often do.

Meanwhile in the abnormally quiet Everfree Forest a pair of ears twitch and an owl's talon flexes proving that the forest is not entirely still.

Later than morning at the train station Sapphire and Squeaks are saying their goodbyes to Midnight.

"Okay now I want to you stay safe Midnight," Sapphire said.

"Sapphire I am in the royal guard, there isn't a lot of safety in that line of work." Midnight deadpanned in reply. "Besides, I am not reckless like Rainbow is so don't worry so much alright?"

"I know dear." Sapphire conceded. "But I still worry anyway." Sapphire replied as Midnight snorted. "Now try not to bite anypony's head off or set anypony on fire while on the ship okay Midnight."

Midnight let out a snort at Sapphire's remark while Squeaks let out a squeaky giggle. "Oh come on mommy, mama is not that bad."

Midnight smiled at Squeaks. "Thanks kiddo. I am glad somepony here gets me," Midnight said while ruffling Squeaks' mane.

Squeaks squeed while Sapphire rolled her eye at Midnight's antics. "Just come back in one piece Midnight. That's all I ask."

"I will Sapphire." Midnight replied turning serious before she and Sapphire share a parting kiss. "I've got to go now or I'll miss my train," Midnight said picking up her baggage and heading into the train car.

"Say hi to the other kirins for me mommy," Squeaks said as Midnight got on to the train.

Midnight smiled and said. "I will Squeaks, I promise." Midnight trotted to a bench and sat down looking out the window at Sapphire and Squeaks and smiled and waved back as Squeaks wave at her. The train lurched forward and began to depart Midnight felt a sense of satisfaction that while she was away Ponyville would be looked after and that Sapphire would be able to take charge if she needed to.
Three days later.

Midnight stretched as she emerged from the train. It had been a long trip and she was finally in Las Pegasus where she would be meet the captain of the ship she would take to the Storm Archipelago. She had retrieved her bags from the luggage car of the train and looked at one in particular. "Squeaks is right, I need to replace this one soon." She thought to herself. Sighing she picked it up in her wing claw and started towards the docks, until she realized that she didn't know where they were. Facehoofing and grumbling for a moment she decided to ask somepony when a tap on her shoulder got her attention.

Midnight turned and looked to see a blue coated pegasus pony wearing the uniform of the Equestrian Royal Navy.

"Captain Midnight Storm?" Asked the mare.

"Yes, and you are?" Asked Midnight.

"I am First Mate Storm Rider of the Equestrian Royal Navy ship Sea Spray. It is an honor to meet you ma'am." The replied with a wing salute.

"I don't remember Princess Luna telling that there would be anypony meeting me at the train station." Midnight huffed sounding annoyed at the oversight.

"Apologies ma'am, it happened at the last minute despite Princess Luna's efforts to the contrary. The Sea Spray just came out of dry dock after a run in with a hurricane last month and we've been scrambling ever since." The first mate replied. "If you'll follow me I'll take you to the ship and the captain."

"Just out of dry dock?" Midnight said now sounding shocked. "Are you sure the ship is even ready?"

Storm Rider smirked. "I can assure you that the Sea Spray is tougher than any hurricane captain. Just follow me and you'll see what I mean," She said trotting away.

"Okay, I guess I'll take your word for it," Midnight said with a shrug as she began to follow Storm Rider. After a twenty minute trot they arrived at the docks and Midnight was guided by Storm Rider to a very sturdy looking Galleon that certainly looked like it could weather just about anything.

"I see what you mean, she sure looks sturdy," Midnight said.

"She the finest ship in the navy captain." Storm Rider replied. "Right this way and I'll show you to her captain." Said Storm Rider resuming her trot towards the ship with Midnight following wordlessly. They continued their trot up the ship's gangplank and onto the deck where Midnight saw something, or rather someone unexpected.

She saw a crystal earth pony mare standing on the deck and giving instructions to the crew who simply saluted and went about making whatever final preparations were being ordered.

Storm Rider approached the mare and spoke. "Captain Blue, Captain Storm is here now."

"Thank you Storm Rider I'll tend to my business with her while you help the rest of the crew ready the ship for departure." She replied.

Storm Rider saluted. "Aye, aye ma'am."

The Captain turned towards Midnight. "So you are the famous Midnight Storm then? I must admit that when Princess Luna said you were going to the Storm Archipelago and that you needed my ship to do that I was curious. I am Captain Naval Blue of the Royal Equestrian Navy at your service Captain Storm," She said in a soft voice that sounded more fit for an Applewood actress than a soldier.

Midnight took in the mare in front of her for a moment. She was slender, soft looking mare with a dark blue coat and a white name and tail. Her cutie mark which was a naval captain's hat looked out of place on this mare even with her being clad in a naval uniform. "You are not what I thought you'd be captain." Midnight replied in a tone that failed to mask her surprise.

The mare's sea-foam green eyes lit up as she laughed. "I know right? There aren't too many crystal ponies outside of the Crystal Empire usually. And fewer still in the Equestrian Armed Services. Anyway, because of the downturn in pirate activity in that part of the Shining Sea we have more than enough time to help you out with this."

Midnight cocked her head. "Piracy is on the downturn?"

Naval nodded. "I don't know why exactly, but the pirates have gone really silent throughout the whole region. So we'll have no real trouble until we reach the archipelago, then we may get lucky or not."

"Have you been there before?" Asked Midnight.

Naval sighed. "Just a couple of times. We ran aground in that area the first time and the second time we needed supplies due to an unexpected shortage. And to answer your next question, yes there are kirins there."

Midnight looked at her puzzled. "And you didn't report this to your superiors?"

Captain Blue facehoofed. "We did, but we were roundly dismissed. Some of the officers don't really believe that there are kirins still out there in the world Midnight. And they tend to look at you as an anomaly. Some ponies actually think that you're not a kirin at all and you're just using magic of some kind to fake it." Naval faced Midnight and looked at her very carefully. "But I can tell that you are the real thing Midnight Storm. There is no doubt in my mind."

It was Midnight's turn to facehoof. "I can't believe that some ponies still think that way."

"Buck 'em." Naval replied flatly. "They can be that way, but soon enough they'll see that they don't know everything they think they do."

Midnight smirked, she could tell that she and Captain Blue were going to get along just fine. "So my reputation doesn't concern you then?"

Naval laughed. "Captain Storm I married a griffon, so I can handle a grump well enough." Her words came with a knowing wink. "Now I'll show you to your cabin so you can get settled and we can get going. Maybe we'll catch a lucky break and the storms won't be so bad."

"I hope so." Midnight replied while following the captain.

Ponyvile, at the Ponyville school house, lunch time.

Squeaky Wings along with her friends Berry Pinch, Dinky Do, and Twist sit down at an outside table for lunch. Squeaky opens up her lunch box, pulls out a salad in a plastic container and starts poking at it with the fork she'd also retrieved from her lunch box.

"Squeakth, ith thomething wrong?" Asked Twist.

"Yeah, you seemed off all day today." Observed Pinchy.

The display of concern broke Squeaky from her trance. "Oh," She said with a sigh. "It's just that mom had to leave on some business for a while."

"More royal guard stuff?" Asked Dinky.

Squeaks looked thoughtful for a moment before answering. "Yeah, well kind of. You see mommy and and Sunset Shimmer found out a place where there are more kirins!" She squeaked out excitedly causing her friends to gasp in astonishment.

"Really?" The trio of fillies replied in unison.

"Yeah." Squeaky replied while getting a bottle of mango juice out of her lunch box and opening it. After drinking some of it and setting the bottle down on the table she resumed speaking. "But it's all of the way down in the south Shining Sea. And the, archy-pella-goo has nasty storms all around it." Squeaks said sounding a bit unsure.

" Archipelago." Dinky corrected. " And I can see why you're worried then," Dinky said thoughtfully. "However we're talking about more kirins here!" She squeed with excitement.

Pinchy nodded in agreement while munching on an apple slice. "Yeah! This is gonna be epic!"

"Oh, oh, oh. Think of the new Pillow Knighth adventurth we could come with!" Twist said excitedly getting her friends to nod in agreement.

Squeaky stuck her form in her salad and ate some it while thinking. "Hmmm, The Lost Treasure of the Storm Islands?" Squeaky proposed after swallowing the salad.

Pinchy hummed. "Maybe, but what kind of enemy do we fight?"

Dinky and Twist hummed in unison at the thought.

"Shoot!" Pinchy shouted breaking the fillies' thoughtful silence. "I can't come up with anything."

"Don't worry about it." Squeaks replied. "We'll come up with something," She said with Dinky and Twist nodding in ascent.

At the same time as the fillies are dreaming up adventures to have Twilight Sparkle and Sunset Shimmer are at the train station awaiting the observation team representative.

"So what do you know about the observation team that Princess Luna is sending Sunset?" Asked Twilight.

"Well they come from the second Lunar Guard division. So they know how to gather information. I've also heard that they are being led in the mission by a unicorn from the Royal Academy for Gifted Spellcasters." Sunset replied.

"Wait, it's somepony we went to school with? Do you know what kind of magic they use Sunset?" Twilight asked sounding a little surprised.

Sunset nodded. "Yeah, I think I remember hearing that she was a shadow magic user too."

Twilight's face showed shock. " There was only one pony that had that kind of magic for her talent Sunset."

"I know." Sunset replied. "I didn't think we'd all end up here in Ponyville at the same time together. I guess I really underestimated the Everfree Forest Sparky."

Twilight giggled into her hoof. "No pony could ever predict that place Sunny."

"True." Sunset replied while giggling back at Twilight.

As the two mares giggled and talked lightly they were approached by a unicorn mare with a dark grey coat and a dark purple mane and tail. Her dark green eyes seemed to sparkle as she saw the two mares talking as she approached and some the nearby ponies noticed the cutie mark on her flanks. After all a jet black ball of magic wreathed in purple fire was unusual.

"Excuse me," She said interrupting Sunset and Twilight's conversation. "Twilight Sparkle, Sunset Shimmer; I am lieutenant Umbra Shroud of the second Lunar Guard Division. I am here with the observation team to investigate the disturbing stillness of the Everfree Forest."

Twilight cocked her head. "I seem to remember you Umbra. You were at the Royal Academy for Gifted Spellcasters at the same time as us right?"

Umbra nodded. "That is correct Twilight Sparkle, though we didn't have much contact." Umbra studied Sunset and Twilight for a moment. "Wasn't Trixie Lulamoon usually with the two of you?"

"Yes she was. Although she is currently performing in Vanhoover right now and will be back in Ponyville in a few days." Twilight replied.

Concern crossed Umbra's face. "She isn't planning on traveling through Everfree is she?"

"No." Sunset replied.

The grey unicorn breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank Luna, we don't need any further complications in our assignment. Some ponies in parliament saw fit to object to out deployment thus the delay in our arrival."

Both Sunset and Twilight facehoofed. "Well that answers that question," Said Sunset bitterly.

"What!" Twilight squeaked indignantly. "I can't believe the bureaucrats would get in the way like that!"

"They have no sense of history Twilight, nor do they grasp just how bad this is." Umbra replied flatly. "As for the rest of my group they are already checking in the the mayor at town hall. We should be ready to start our investigation tomorrow morning. As Princess Luna and Celestia requested we will keep the mayor, yourself, and Sunset appraised of our findings."

"Very well then. Twilight replied. "Would you like our help? I'm sure that Sunset and I can provide at least some assistance in your investigation."

Umbra shook her head. "No Twilight Sparkle, you would only be under hoof, and since we have no idea what we may be up against it's best for the two of you to remain in Ponyville. And I'd prefer not to upset both of the diarchs by placing you at unnecessary risk. This is our duty as members of the royal guard and our risk to take. Besides my understanding was that you and Sunset Shimmer have important research to carry out on the matter of kirins like Captain Storm. You can best aid us in this way and by keeping in touch with the princesses."

For a moment Twilight looked as she was going to protest before Sunset stopped her. "Listen Twilight. Umbra has got a point. We're not trained for this kind of thing and would only get in their way. Besides that we do have our own duties to take care of. Both Luna and Celestia want more information on kirins and it's our job to see what we can find. So let's focus on that okay Sparky?"

Twilight deflated. "Okay Sunset, you're right. But I'm not really happy about it."

"Don't get so down Twilight. We'll be needed to look over their reports too," Said Sunset causing Twilight to brighten up.

Umbra nodded. "That is right," She said her tone now less formal. "The combined knowledge and expertise the two of you have will serve the investigation better that way. And to be honest I'd rather not have to face either princess should something happen to you in the field. That would not end well." Umbra's statement hung in thick in the air causing all three mares to shudder.

Twilight gave a nervous giggle. "Yeah, I can see why you wouldn't want that."

Sunset facehoofed. "Don't remind me Sparky. I still remember that time at the academy when that guest speaker got on Celestia's bad side."

Umbra gave a polite cough and simply said. "Quite. Now I need to rejoin my team so we can get back on track. you two can expect that first report in a day or two depending on the circumstances," Umbra said as she departed.

Twilight turned to Sunset. "Okay so what books do we start with? I suggest Tales From the Dragon Lands by A.K. Yearling."

Sunset facehoofed. "Twilight those books are just fantasy stories written by Yearling when she's not busy with her latest Daring Do book. No what we need to look at is..."


"...USING YOUR FACE FOR A SEAWEED WRAP!" Midnight snarled at the argumentative stallion in front of her.

The yellow coated stallion was not backing down however. "Now you listen here Captain Storm. This here is my galley and I don't need you getting in my way while I'm trying make lunch for the rest of the crew!"

"Celestia's plot! I won't get in your way! I just want to cook my fish!" Midnight shot back.

The stallion stood firm glaring at Midnight who glared back with equal intensity. Lighting seemed to be shooting from the eyes of both the kirin and the pony involved in the standoff until a voice broke the stalemate with a laugh.

Both contestants turn to see a light blue mare with an aquamarine mane and tail and a cutie mark depicting a placid stretch of ocean. "I swear Onion Skin, you are just far too territorial about the galley. Besides if you let Captain Storm cook her catch she'll be out of your way a lot faster. And it's not like you're going to have all of that food ready in the next ten minutes anyway," She said with a smile playing in her pearl pink eyes.

The stallion harrumphed in reply. "I guess you've got a point there Calm Seas." Onion Skin replied while turning back to Midnight. "Just don't make a habit of this okay Captain Storm. I'm the cook here and I do the cooking, He said stomping off to the back room.

Midnight snorted. "I'll cook the stupid fish myself thank you." Midnight muttered under her breath her tail flicking back and forth in annoyance. "Some ponies." Midnight huffed.

Calm Seas giggled. "Don't let Onion's gruff exterior get to you captain, he is actually just a big softy."

"I find that difficult to believe." Midnight deadpanned.

Calm rolled her eyes. "He's like the onions he is named for, he has layers captain. He is only grumpy on the surface."

Midnight snorted. "That sounds like something Sapphire would say about me." Midnight replied with a small laugh.

Calm looked at Midnight quizzically. "Your marefriend?"

"Wife actually." Midnight replied as she placed a frying pan on the stove and began preparing to cook her fish.

"Oh, I hadn't heard that you were married captain. So how is it being married?" Asked Calm Seas.

Midnight broke into a dopey grin. "It's pretty great actually, and our daughter Squeaks makes it even more worthwhile. I wouldn't trade them for anything."

Calm Seas smiled back. "You certainly seem happy with them."

"I am. " Midnight replied. "So what can you tell me about where we are going Calm Seas? What are the dragons and kirins like there?"

"Oh now there is a fascinating subject captain. First the dragons are a unique type of dragon called Storm Dragons. They tend be smaller than other kinds of dragons spit lightning out rather than breathing fire. They also have a kind of weather manipulation magic that they're born with so they can use that for different things as well. I once saw one of them wield a lightning bolt in her claw like a whip." Calm Seas replied enthusiastically.

"Really? I had no idea that could be done." Midnight replied.

"Neither did I until I saw it. It makes me wonder what else they can do with their storm magic," Said Calm Seas.

"I'm wondering that as well," Midnight said oiling the pan before adding the fish. So is there anything else you can tell. me?"

"Not much really. You'll have to talk to other crew members to find out more about it. When we get there you'll find out a lot more though," Said Calm Seas.

"Ain't that the truth," Onion said coming out of the back room. "Here captain, try these with your fish. We got them from the kirins on the islands." Onion placed some plants that looked like peppers of some kind on the counter in front of her.

Midnight eyes the peppers cautiously. "Are you sure these are safe?"

"Oh definitely, they've got quite a kick though so be careful." He replied with a chuckle. "Now where did I put that stupid pickle barrel again?"

Calm Seas rolled her eyes. "It's down in the hold Onion."

The stallion facehoofed. "Thanks Calm; I'd forget my mane if it wasn't attached," He said exiting the galley.

"And you trust him to cook when he forgets that easily?" Midnight asked.

Calm seas giggled. "Trust me, he may forget where some things are placed but he never screws up a recipe. He is kind of a genius in the kitchen."

"I guess. " Midnight replied still eyeing the peppers.

"Here, I'll show you how to cut these and use them so you don't overdo it." Calm Seas said crossing the room. "Onion want's kidding about how hard these kick if you don't use them just right. Thankfully I've watched him do it so I can help you out."

"Thank you then. I wasn't sure how this trip was going to go." Midnight replied.

"Oh don't worry about us captain. We're the best crew in the royal navy," Calm said with a smirk.

Midnight laughed. "You remind me of a certain griffon I work with. She's pretty cocky, but she hasn't let me down yet."

Calm Seas laughed in reply. "Well then you know you're in good hooves captain. Now let's get that fish cooked shall we?"

As Calm Seas demonstrates the proper method of cutting and using the peppers she and Midnight begin talking about random subjects. Calm Seas also points out the the crew members that might have the most interesting stories about kirins of the islands for her to listen to.