Mavis' hoofblade slashed across the back of the monster's neck. She hoped that by scoring a cut as deep as possible, she might damage the creature’s spinal cord sufficiently to paralyze it, or at least render it unable to mount any further threat. Not knowing whether the armored plates covering the neck area were comparable to those of a dragon, Mavis pushed her mind to think of how she could react once her hooves met the ground. If her attack were to simply bounce off, she needed to have a plan B ready to go fast.
That’s IF my hooves meet the ground first.
There was a deep schlick as the blade hit home, carving a slit through the brute's flesh before jerking to an abrupt stop against something much harder. The impact wrenched Mavis’s right shoulder backwards, violently slowing her down and causing her to cartwheel over. The forest pitched over sideways and then upside down as Mavis spun out of control.
With her flight speed hot, Mavis knew she only had an instant to react in an effort to minimize the damage. She flared her wings and shot her hooves out in a desperate effort to slow her angular momentum, but the roll caused her to hooves to simply be in the wrong spot. She didn’t even have time to cringe before she hit.
Tumbling across the ground, Mavis registered slashes and impacts as branches and vines tore at her hide. Those slashes were soon forgotten as she collided with a tree trunk, pain exploding across her left ribs and wing as she bounced off to the side. The impact knocked the air from her lungs, and she winced as she struggled to breathe. Struggling to reorient herself, she noted there was also sharp pain at her right elbow, with almost electric-like shocks shooting down to her hoof.
A throaty roar let Mavis know that she had at least scored a good hit. Whether it was good enough to protect her own hide or not was yet to be determined. Gasping, she fought to regain her footing as she scanned the foliage ahead. If this creature was as hardy as it seemed, she wouldn’t get the luxury of checking her wounds. Planting her three good hooves on the ground, she gutted through her vertigo and stood up. The creature couldn’t be more than ten to fifteen meters behind the bramble she just crashed through. Why couldn’t she see?
Confused for a moment, Mavis reached up to tap at the night-vision setting of her VEOS-V. Instead of pressing against the embedded amulet on the side of the device, her hoof pressed against the side of her forehead.
Ah, bloody brilliant. That roll in the bushes must have dislodged my goggles. Tartarus, tonight just gets better and better!
Snapping her gaze back and forth, Mavis spread her wings, preparing to take flight at first visual. Ground-to-air combat tactics, the same ones she’d drilled into the minds of the recruits back in Canterlot, demanded that she get a positive visual before blindly picking a vector for take-off. She had seen it time and time again: still-green recruits taking flight in a panic, flying right into a waiting snare or trap, or Celestia forbid, the jaws of a creature. She knew better. She also knew that it had been about ten years since she'd seen any real action in the field, having only worked as an instructor. She wiped some grit from her eye and looked around wildly again.
“C’mon you reptilian fortress. Give me a—”
The rest of what she had to say was drowned out in another roar as the beast charged straight in, tearing through the foliage as if it were nothing but tulips. Either the brute was too stupid to flank its prey, or it’s armor was so tough it couldn’t be bothered with what little damage she could do. Mavis hoped she had enough tricks up her sleeve to not lose a limb. Or her life.
Well, come on then!
Mavis reared up, hoofing a flask from her bandolier. She ripped the stopper away with her teeth, and crouched, preparing to take evasive maneuvers. The monster continued charging forward, ever intent on its prey. Its prey merely flicked her wrist, sending the opened flask sailed right down the brute's gullet. The impact was heralded with a muffled burst before a flash of fire erupted from its mouth.
Grinning in satisfaction, Mavis sprang back, giving ground before she pivoted on a hoof to spring off into flight. However, her left wing had other ideas, and on the first downward flap Mavis cried out in pain, a tearing sensation lancing through the shoulder joint. Without grace or form, she tumbled forwards about three meters before flopping onto the back of her head with a thud. Dully, she noted the knock sounded a little hollow. Scrambling and trying to ignore the numerous pain sources that were now clamoring for attention, she rolled over her other shoulder and tried to regain her hooves.
Ow... Wing must be busted. Tempest, I hope you are a light sleeper, cause I would really rather not become the main entree tonight.
Tempest flew off of her bed roll, startled awake by a painfully loud roar. Tumbling out of her tent, she whipped her head back and forth before noticing some thing in the dim light of her dwindling campfire. Whatever it was, it was huge, and roared as it ran headlong into the bramble, making its way towards the brook. She didn’t know why the beast was heading away from her campsite, but she wasn't going to stop it and ask a few clarifying questions. The thing might just pick up a quick snack and chew thoughtfully while thinking up a reply.
Wait a minute. Where’s Summer Wind?
A sudden eruption of green fire caught Tempest's attention, the flames spewing forth from the creature's mouth.
Not good! Of all the predators for me to come across, why did it have to be a dragon? I suppose Summer Wind is already lost to it's clutches... unless he turned chicken an fled.
Tempest brought up her magic and focused on her Alicorn Amulet. It didn't have near the energy that it used to, but she judged it was still more than a match for a moderately sized dragon. Digging deep into her magical reserves, Tempest directed her magical energies into Amulet, releasing a furious bolt of energy. She watched as her aim proved true, piercing the creature cleaning as the energy continued on, flashing great shadows from the surrounding brush as it slammed into the opposite bank of the river. The beast crumpled to the ground from the shot, twitching a few times before growing still.
Giving a sigh of relief, Tempest's hackles suddenly rose again as her eyes were drawn to some movement behind the smoking heap. Readying her magic again, she began to tap into the amulet again before she noticed a pegasus mare emerging from the thicket. The pony had a cap over her mane, though the covering struggled to completely contain her prodigious braided locks. She wore a camouflage bodysuit, fitted with utility pockets and a bandolier, and her left wing seemed to be hanging at an odd angle. The mare made eye contact and grinned, inclining her head with a bow.
“Well now! That was quite the shot, if I do say so meself.” She reached up, straightening her cap and tucking her blond braids back under. “In my humble opinion, t’was rather anticlimactic though, don’t you think, Temp? Skewering the poor brute with a beam of supercharged plasma? For Celestia’s sake, have ya ever heard of overkill?”
Tempest couldn’t believe her eyes. “Mavis?” Tempest gasped. “ What in Luna’s starry skies are you doing here?”
“Well lass, somepony had to make sure you didn’t go losin’ yer head during your little camping holiday.” Tempest grinned at Mavis’ Griffish accent, something the mare could easily hide, but seemed to always let out when relaxing around friends. Mavis tried to extend her wings in one of her cocky poses, but winced with the attempt. Growing concerned, Tempest intensified her light spell and trotted forward for a closer look.
Before Tempest could see her clearly, Mavis had turned, trotting back into the brush and reeds again. As Tempest wordlessly followed, the pegasus unclasped her bandolier, dropping it to the ground while she started to search the vicinity muttering to herself. Tempest found herself unable to contain her curiosity any more. “Did you lose something, Aunt Slushy?”
Mavis bolted upright and whirled on her. “Oi! I haven’t taken on the guise of your kooky neighbor for years, you little upstart! That’ll be Major Morel to you!” She ducked back down to root through a few more clumps of taller grasses, grumbling under her breath about not receiving a visit from her little ‘upstart niece’ in over six years and only receiving the occasional card.
Tempest pursed her lips, watching the pegasus look around for another few moments. She'd known her aunt for too many years to take any offense at her brusque manner, so she waited for the other horseshoe to fall. Mavis had been present in her earliest memories, a constant influence to her and a best friend of her adoptive earth pony mom, Sweet Potato. Ms. Morel gradually became known as Auntie Morel, until at age six Tempest had given her the moniker Auntie Slushroom after watching her brew mushrooms into a sludgy potion of some kind.
After a moment, Mavis turned around with a smirk. Before long, the smirk morphed into a grin, until Tempest returned it with a snicker, until the both of them finally broke into hearty fits of laughter. Tempest sat back on her haunches, wiping the tears from her eyes. She couldn’t help herself—she had been traveling without hope or a friendly face for ten days, and she was emotionally past exhaustion. This exchange was like a breeze of cool air on a stifling night. She trotted up and met her old friend in a warm hug.
The pegasus winced again and gave a cough of pain. “Ah! Easy on the ol’ ribs there, lass; and watch the wing. Took a bit of a tumble there when I tussled with your party crasher.”
Startled, Tempest let her friend go only to see Mavis turn and start searching through the thicket again, mumbling something that sounded like ‘stupid vay-oh’s fives.’
“So… are we hunting mushrooms again?”
Mavis hesitated for half a second before she resumed searching “Mushrooms… Yeah, good one Lass... I think—” Before she could reply further, Tempest activated a modified light spell, brilliantly illuminating everything within a ten-meter radius by making the ground glow. It was probably overkill for what she needed, but after seeing Mavis for the first time in such a long while, Tempest was filled with an immature yearning to show off a little.
“What in the name of—“ Mavis clutched at her heart before whirling about and pointing an accusing hoof at Tempest. “Warn me before you do something like that, you... you horn-headed boffin!”
Tempest only cocked her head innocently to the side. Snorting, Mavis glared for a moment more before bending to search again, this time squinting in the glow. Two seconds later, her eyes lit up she found what she was hunting for. “Ah, there ye are!” Standing back up, she used a combination of her right wing and left hoof to slip a goggle-like device over her forehead.
As Mavis walked past, Tempest’s eyes widened in surprise. “Is that amulet-enhanced eye-wear?” Her voice quivered with excitement. “With three crystals set along the right side of the device, does it have more than one function?”
“What, these things?” Mavis gave a mild harrumph in mock irritation. “If you hadn’t been such a hermit these past few years, doing Luna-knows-what, you would have known more about the newest applications your amulets have helped to pioneer. These are just the most recent developments in visual enhancement, though it’s only for military purposes. And a word of advice: don’t fly while the magnification mode is activated—should be printed on the side as not recommended. Never been given such a start in me life!”
“Oh?” Tempest failed to hide a smirk.
“Bah. You groundbound ponies wouldn’t understand. I know! Sprint as fast as you can towards a brick wall and then switch the mode on. Give ‘er a try an’ experience the thrill!” She held the device out.
Tempest was openly smiling again. “No thank you.”
“Anyhoo, this is the VEOS-V, the unified guard's new Vision Enhancing Omni-purpose Surveyor." Mavis slipped the goggles back on before she started tapping little amulets to the side, each tap producing a slightly different color gradient on the lenses. It can magnify objects at a distance ten times, and this crystal here enhances night vision for those of us lacking thestral blood. And this third crystal below is a new feature: heat detection, illuminating anything hotter than the surrounding environment.” Mavis furrowed her brow and began to mutter to herself. “If I hadn’t been such a git, I would’ve had that mode activated and caught with that beastie sooner.”
That reminded Tempest. “Where is Lance Corporal Summer Wind?”
Mavis wrinkled her nose in distaste. “What, that wanker? I relieved him of duty. Turns out he was a little lax on his assignment… Any reason he took up a station so far off?”
Tempest felt some color rise to her cheeks. “I might have… offered to warm him up.”
Mavis raised a brow in surprise. “Oh?”
“By lighting his tree on fire.” Tempest gave a weak smile.
Mavis’ other brow headed up to join the first before she gave a loud guffaw. “Oh really?” She continued to chortle for a few moments. “Well, in all honesty I don’t think he felt too threatened.”
“Why is that?”
“Well, let’s just say I spied him setting up his bed, getting ready to take a kip.”
Tempest frowned as she thought about that. She wasn't sure what Mavis meant by 'kip,' but could infer her meaning by the context.
“Still… Tree on fire, eh?” The older pegasus smiled mischievously. “That isn’t like you Tempy… but I like it. Oh—and you are welcome, by the way.” Mavis placed more wood on the fire, the flickering light revealing a wince as she pushed it into the flame. “I sprained me left wing in the battle. While it doesn’t hurt as much as my elbow, a wing is a mite more important out here!”
"Um, yeah, thanks.“ Tempest said. "Anything I can do?”
“Well, now. I’m glad you asked, Tempy." Mavis turned from the fire, the soft light flickering across the right side of her face. "I need my gear." She pointed her good wing up at a large oak where her gear was ensconced along with her hammock. "But in my current condition, it’s rather out of reach. Would you mind too terribly magicking it down for me?”
Tempest followed her hoof, spotting the station in the upper reaches of a nearby tree. “Sure Mav. Although, I can’t really see much up there. I don’t suppose you’d mind too terribly if I gave your VEOS a trial run?” She tried to hide her grin.
"Cheeky little upstart."Mavis said, chuckling in the back of her throat. She pulled off her goggles before hoofing the device over. Tempest took it eagerly, pulling it over her eyes before blinking in surprise as the forest around her seemed to light up in the green glimmering display. She gave the crystals on the side a few taps, testing the different settings of the device.
"Whoa!" Tempest's grin grew ear to ear, quickly looking from tent, to tree, to distant bluff. Finally, she turned to regard her companion, looking for all the world like a green-eyed bug with its mouth hanging open. “Wow! This is something! Wicked cool…" Tempest continued to alter the settings, still staring at Mavis with an amused smirk. "Heh, you look kind of funny, all green-glowy and stuff.”
“Sure, sure.” Mavis,rolled her eyes. “Get it out of your system, Tempy. Just like all the rest of my recruits.”
Giving a gasp of surprise, Tempest was no longer smiling. “Oooh, Mav! You’re covered in cuts and scratches!”
“Aye. And if you’re done there faffin’ around with me equipment, you can help a mare and keep her from getting all gammy!"
“Right, right... Wait hang on!"
Tempest had been in the middle of taking off the VEOS-V when a sudden thought took her. Snapping them back in place, she spun around and tapped the magnification crystal, staring at the moon. She studied the magnified image, her eyes darting from crater to crater, from shadowy maria to the glowing plains. After a moment, the image became hazy as Tempest’s eyes filled with tears. It was a nice thought, but there was no sign of her mother up there—it was barren... lifeless.
My attack on Celestia... It was my one chance to make things right. To bring my mother back. I thought I was prepared! I thought I could win... I wasn't even close.
“You alright there, Temp? What are you—oh.” Mavis fell silent for a moment while Tempest kept staring up at the moon. After a pause, Tempest felt a hoof press gently across her shoulders. “Tempest? Look, I’m sorry that—”
“—It’s fine, Mav.” Tempest yanked the goggles free, sniffling before wiping at her muzzle with a hoof. “Totally fine. I’ll get your gear.”
Tempest began to hoof the VEOS back over before she thought better of it and slipped them back on, trotting over the tree where Mavis' gear was stored. Switching back to night vision, she looked over the encampment: a hammock stretched tightly between two limbs, and a clump of bags fasted to the girth of the trunk with a strap. Struggling for a moment, she puzzled out the knots before working her telekinesis just so, undoing the tie-downs and then lifting all of the gear in the air.
Mavis chewed on her lip as she watched, relaxing just a bit once her gear made contact with the ground. "Nicely done there, lass." The pegasus trotted away from the fire to where Tempest had set down her gear. Rummaging through the larger of the two saddlebags, she pulled out a flask before unstoppering it and gulping down a few swallows.
Watching with interest, Tempest’s curiosity was peaked. “Healing potion, or strong cider?”
“Neither. And I wouldn’t want to heal anything just yet anyway, just in case something is dislocated. Wouldn’t be pleasant to magically tighten up the ligaments if the bone isn’t where it’s supposed to be. This here is a pain killer.”
“So… cider then.”
“Oh, hah hah...” Mavis slid the bottle back into the bag. Rummaging around again, she pulled out some bandages and a jar of ointment. “How about a little less cheek, and a helping me with mine?" She pointed to the slashes across her rump.
Tempest gave her a weak smile. “Sorry.”
Tucking the bandages to her side with her injured leg, Mavis held up the jar of ointment with a wing before turning to Tempest. “Alright, what sorts of medical spells or scans do you know?”
Tempest frowned for a moment. “I didn’t take many electives in the medical branch of the Academy," Tempest said slowly. "I managed to pick up a few basic scanning and mending spells along the way, but... I sort of focused on spells of a different type. Well, those and amulets of course.”
Mavis narrowed her gaze for a moment before shrugging. “Remind me to ask you about that later.” She grunted as she straightened out the hammock on the ground before gingerly laying on her side trying to hide the fact that she was starting to shiver. Tempest pulled a blanket out of her tent spread it over top of Mavis' form, tucking it around the edges before using the hammock to pull Mavis closer to the fire. Despite her lack of medical training, she knew enough to recognize the signs of shock. Once there, Mavis turned her head, gritting her teeth to keep them from chattering. “So, scanning spells?”
“The best I have is a third-level scanning spell: it will let me see most of—”
“—Brilliant. Let ‘er rip.”
Nodding, Tempest closed her eyes, reviewing the mechanics of the spell. It had been awhile since she had used this one. Her horn started to glow again.
“Oh!” Mavis mused. “If I do have a fracture, Temp, do you think a mending spell would work? Especially if you amplify it with your amulet there?”
Tempest pursed her lips as her concentration was broken, and then sighed, scratching at her mane in frustration. She wasn’t exactly comfortable casting a spell that she hadn’t tried for years, and it made her nervous. “Look, uh… I don’t think we should really try that. I'm a little out of practice, and I'm not sure you want to sprout half a horn and a third wing.”
Mavis chuckled, laying back on the hammock and bunching up the blanket around her crest, her braids cascading out haphazardly. “No, no… that’s quite alright. You’re the horn-head. You know your onions.”
Tempest smiled at the Griffish vernacular. “Well then—shut up, or I’ll end up calling you Mavis More-wing.” Mavis opened her mouth to retort, but then thought better of it and just lied back down as Tempest’s horn began to glow. Tempest focused on the right foreleg first, frowning while she paused there for a moment. Scanning it again to be sure, Tempest then moved on to the main joint of the left wing.
While Mavis had been a special operative for Luna, it still shocked Tempest to see her injured. The last time was when she was only a filly, and she had no idea back then that Mavis was anything more than an exuberantly friendly neighbor. Now that she was seeing her like this, the idea frightened her. Tempest pulled the VEOS-V off with a sigh.
“So, your wing took quite a blow, and it looks like the main joint is sprained: lots of inflammation. You also managed to crack a few ribs. But your right elbow…”
Mavis looked at it. “Feels like it’s out. Is it out?”
Feeling ill, Tempest nodded. “Yeah. Your ulna bone has slipped right out of of the joint and is sitting behind the end of the humerus. Dislocated. What do you want to do?”
Mavis sat back up, pulling the blanket with her so it draped over like a hoodie. Her teeth weren't chattering as much. “Nothing much for it, but to fix it. Can’t very well hike the countryside with you on a dislocated elbow, now can I?”
“Well no, b-but, to reduce it? Isn’t that like, dangerous to do on your own?”
The pegasus quirked an eyebrow before pulling her hoodie back. “Dangerous? Lass, that Gnasher Lizard we just dealt with was dangerous. All we have to do here is perform a lil’ bit of backwoods osteopathic care!”
Mavis held her cocky grin for a moment before it slid off her face and she laid back down. “Besides, this darn thing has popped out before. Once I had to do it by myself while in the field. A bollockin’ good time, that was.”
Tempest tried to laugh at her joke, but only managed a dry cough. She was starting to feel queasy, as there were certain reasons why she didn’t delve further into medical studies. Specifically, the sight of trauma or blood quickly caused her stomach to churn. Moving closer, she forced the feeling down and extended a hoof. “What do you need me to do?”
“Heh. All you’re gonna do here, is hold my foreleg. Take your fetlock, and wrap it around mine like so… and then brace it against your body.”
Tempest’s eyes widened. “You want me to put you in a leg lock?!”
“Aye. Sounds about right. And whatever you do, whatever I say—even if Celestia herself were passing a smelly solar wind at ya—Don’t… Let… Go…”
Tempest could only look back, frozen in place. She wasn’t sure she could go through with this.
“You got that, Tempy? Ol’ Auntie Slushroom is countin’ on ya.”
Hearing a twinge of anxiety in Mavis’s voice shook Tempest out of her daze. She couldn’t remember any point in her life where Mavis sounded less than cocksure. Taking a moment to refocus, Tempest grabbed a firm hold of Mavis’s wrist. Aunt Slushy needed her, and she wouldn’t let her down. Even if she felt sick to her stomach, now was no time to be weak. She gulped noisily. “I understand Mavis. I won’t let go.”
“Good lass.” Mavis tested Tempest’s grip for a moment before giving an emphatic nod. “Good. Now here we go. One, two…” Before Mavis reached three, and before Tempest could think about backing out, the pegasus planted both her hind legs into Tempest’s barrel and pushed. The force yanked her forelimb straight, held as it was against Tempest’s body, and a audible clunk was heard.
“Gah!” Mavis hissed out in pain as she recoiled, cradling her limb to her body before breathing out a string of rather colorful curse words involving Celestia in general and her plot in particular. Luna's name was not mentioned, present company being considered.
Tempest hardly cared. Her stomach was lurching hard and she tasted bile. She turned and dove through a clump of tall grasses to reach the brook, unceremoniously heaving up whatever was left of her dinner. Once she had stopped and was using the water to rinse the foul taste out of her mouth, Tempest thought she could hear Mavis chuckling.
“So, if you’re done playing in the stream, I could use another favor." Tempest stumbled back to the campsite to find Mavis wrapping some poultices on some of her larger gashes, struggling to get the right angle to wrap one around her flank. "I can’t quite reach around well enough with a sprained wing. Could you help me to bandage this one?”
Nodding, Tempest got to work, swallowing uncomfortably as she wrapped the bandage as best she could. “Heh heh. yeah. Like wrapping a pony during our first aid studies in Filly Scouts. Good thing you made my mom sign me up, right?”
Mavis chuckled before she winced. “You were the most reluctant Filly Scout ever, Tempy. That being said, you also picked up new ideas the quickest. You always did pack quite the brain under that horn of yours. What did you think, that if you finished assignments before the other scouts they would let you to go home early?”
"Was worth a try," Tempest muttered. Finishing the bandage, she sat down to lean her head against Mavis’ shoulder. A peaceful quiet settled over the camp as Mavis and Tempest shared the same blanket joining their warmth together. Eventually, Tempest broke the silence, looking around furtively. “Do you think there are any more Gnashers out here? Geeze, Mav. When it strarted spurting flames, I thought it was a dragon!”
“Yes, it was a Gnasher Lizard. The flames you saw were from a flask of alchemist fire. I was trying to evade the brute, and thought giving him a case of heartburn would give me an opening. Heh. Turns out, you gave ‘im a bigger opening, what with that overpowered amulet of yours. Thanks for that, by the way.”
Tempest glanced down at her Amulet, lightly stroking the gem set in the front of the necklace with a pensive expression.
“To answer your question," Mavis continued. “We won't see anymore around here. Those creatures only pair up during the spring to make little gnashers, but other than that, they are very territorial. You didn't hear this guy..." Mavis picked up a rock and threw it at the downed beast in the brush. "Let's call 'im Earl. You didn't hear Earl over there because occasionally the bigger ones gain an ability to project an aura of silence around them. Kind of terrifying when you think about one sneaking up on you. And as for Earl? I’ve never seen bigger.”
Tempest gave a little shiver as she huddled closer to Mavis under the blanket. She knew Mavis was trying to comfort her, but her getting excited about the deadly nature of that carnivore didn’t help.
“Thanks, by the way,” Tempest said quietly. “Your fast actions kept my camping holiday, from coming to an abrupt end. Although, maybe that would just be better.”
Mavis was quiet for a moment before letting out a long sigh and draping her good wing around her niece. “Listen, Temp. I don't know everything about what you've been up to lately, but I am sorry all of this had to happen. Feathering Tartarus you're in quite the mess.”
Tempest didn’t answer, watching the fire pop and crackle for few minutes. Finally she stood up, shaking the blanket off and beginning to limber up her legs again before collecting a few loose items around the campsite.
“Listen, lass. I want to know what happened that night,” Mavis murmured. “But more than that, I want to know what you've been doing, hiding from everypony these last few years.”
Tempest readied a deflecting reply, but decided instead to stay silent. Mavis stood up to join her, cleaning up the site as well. “Listen. You you don’t have to tell me right now. Or at all, if you really don't want to. But more than anything you probably need a good friend right now. And a listening ear.” Mavis stretched her sprained wing out slightly, testing the joint a little. “But whatever you'd like to share, you don't need to worry about that right now. Right now you need your rest. Lot's to do tomorrow. Off you go, Lass.”
Tempest looked up, thankful for Mavis' comforting words. She wanted to talk about it, but needed to gather her thoughts. She was glad of the reprieve, and studied her tent before looking back at her friend. “Thanks Mav. I think that would be good. But what about your rest? You're injured—you need me to stand watch over you while you rest up?"
“Nay, lass. You don’t have the benefit of wings and a tree hammock. You have honored privilege of carrying some kind of curse with you, a curse that won’t let you stay two days in the same spot… You—” She began to smirk, “—are a Celestia-damned pony.”
“Oh, that’s brilliant, Mav.” Tempest rolled her eyes.
“Right? And as for me, I’ll be fine." She began stretching her wing out again. "I’m gonna help myself to some healing potion, followed by a little more pain reliever, and follow that with a few coffee chasers. By morning I’ll be able to wing my way back up to my spot in the trees. Then, after a few hours of sleep to refresh meself, I’ll catch up with you in the afternoon, aye?
Tempest nodded mutely, beginning to feel the effects of a post-adrenaline crash. It had been an eventful night, and now it was her turn to start shivering in the chilly night air. She wrapped Mavis in a deep hug, hoping the gesture would convey the great love and appreciation she had for this singular mare.
“I’ve got your back, Temp.” Mavis murmured as she patted Tempest's withers. “And thanks again for finishing off little Earl over there."
Tempest smiled at her words, and after exchanging a few well wishes, she entered her tent. Lying on her blanket, she drew comfort that she could still hear Mavis moving around.
“Aaaah,” Mavis sighed loudly. “Ugh. Why can’t they make healing potion taste like cider, or licorice eh? Oh maybe a warm chamomile? It is magical after all, right? Why not magically alter the taste?”
Tempest grinned as she replied through the tent wall. “Sounds like you should take it up with the brewer of said potion. Whatever was she thinking?”
“She’s thinking she’ll box your ears if you get too cheeky, you little upstart!” Tempest giggled in reply.
“G’night, Aunt Slushy. Wake me if there is any trouble, okay?”
“G’night, Temp. It’s good to see you again, lass.”
Mavis sat quietly, thinking while facing away from the fire, allowing her eyes to adjust to the low light. While it was unlikely a second Gnasher might come by, there were other predators out there, not to mention scavengers that would inevitably zero in on their location once the breeze carried the scent of the downed beast. Fortunately, potions science had an answer for that. Mavis slipped two vials out from the back of her bandolier and stood up with a shiver.
Fanning her uninjured wing out to get a more accurate sense of the wind’s speed and direction, Mavis focused as she concentrated. Satisfied with the info, she headed downwind retracting her wing as she walked. She pulled the stoppers out of each vial and began to scatter the contents in an arc across the wind's vector, trying her best to keep her sensitive nose away from the awful smell.
This should do it. Unless the wind surprises us and does a one-eighty.
The downwind perimeter having been set, Mavis returned to the fire. She began to employ standard night-guard procedures, such as rolling uncomfortable pebbles under the frogs of her hooves and humming a few energetic songs under her breath. As she bobbed back and forth to the music in her head, her mind wandered to the painful experience of her last conversation with Sweet Potato.
"To think, after all of this time everything was a lie! You moved into the house next door only a week after Tempest arrived! You helped me raise her! I thought of you like family and it was all a ruse? All of the time you spent in my home, the—the things we shared together!” Sweet Potato’s voice had been steadily climbing until it boiled over into a shaking rage, her earth pony muscles bunching in agitation. Tears streamed down her beige cheeks in an angry flow.
Mavis winced. This was exactly what she was afraid of, and now she was going to have to face the full force of this little earth pony’s wrath. The wrath of the most treasured friend she had ever had. She had never wanted to break her vow of secrecy as much as she did at this moment, but she couldn't betray the princess. Compared to hoof to hoof combat in the field, compared to the brutal physical training of the Lunar Special Ops—this was somehow worse.
Things had steadily become more strained, ever since Tempest's graduation from Sisters' Academy. Sweet Potato had become more and more distraught, finding her daughter to have returned such a changed pony. Instead becoming a confident and competent mare, Tempest was only cold and aloof—closed off and despondent, often spending many hours ensconced in her room. No friends ever came to call. No letters were sent or received.
Ever the watchful observer, Mavis waited. She was still under orders to protect Tempest, Luna's banishment notwithstanding. It was painful to watch the dynamic between Sweet and her precocious daughter become so strained. To watch the gentle and confident mother give way to fits of anxiety episodes of doubt and depression. Mavis had been hopeful that once her job was complete, and Tempest's identity went public, Sweet could perhaps be brought to the palace. Not only would Mavis be able to maintain their close relationship, but maybe Sweet could come into some type of privileged position, or even be granted a title and lands. Maybe then they could continue their wonderful relationship, and Sweet would come to know Princess Luna like family.
Instead, Luna was gone, and their prospects had become bleak. Tempest had become closed off to everypony, and the neighbors were murmuring some nonsense about her having gone psychotic. The young mare wasn't crazy, but she was intensely driven about something. Exactly what was anypony's guess—Tempest never opened up about any of it.
It went on like that for two and a half years, until one morning Tempest went from brooding to manic. She shocked her mother with rediscovered words of affection and love. It almost gave Sweet Potato emotional whiplash, but the mare couldn’t be happier.
That was when Rosemary Rune appeared. Rosemary was a unicorn researcher from the Canterlot Department of Magical Technologies. Apparently there had been a clandestine meeting and an exchange of a large sum of money, and this was when Tempest abruptly moved away. She promised to visit oft, and that her business was crucial to the core of Equestria, but over the next few years, she visited less and less until she disappeared altogether.
Nine years had passed since Tempest's graduation. Mavis had started using some of her paid time off to search for Tempest’s location, and find out if she was even alive. It was also during this time that Sweet discovered Mavis' true identity, after asking the right questions. She learned that Mavis' entire mission was to act as a body guard for the daughter of the princess, and when she cornered Mavis to ask her about it, she did not take the confirmation well.
Shaking her head, Mavis wrinkled her nose, pouring out the dregs of her fifth cup of coffee onto the fire. The eastern sky was beginning blush with the first hints of dawn. Mavis stood up again, stretching her legs and giving her wings a few test flaps before thinking better of it and snapping them back down to her sides to stay warm. The sprain was mending nicely but there was no need to push it yet.
Narrowing her eyes, she thought about the rest of her unfinished business with this beloved family. She would see Tempest to safety, and then she would seek Sweet Potato out, now that recent events had transpired. She owed it to Sweet to tell her the rest of the truth about what had happened, regardless of how the printed news would spin the story. Tempest had acted rashly, but she did so out of the dedicated feelings of her heart. She was trying to right a wrong, trying in her own misguided way to make the world a better place.
“Are you sure you’ll be okay, Aunt Slushy?”
“I should be fine,” Mavis replied, straining to finish her last wing-up. “While I may not be able to propel myself up to cloud level just yet, a simple tree-hammock will do me just fine. It'll be safe enough from scavengers and carrion birds as they close in on Earl over there.”
Tempest shuddered, looking at the grotesque reptile again in daylight conditions. “Well, if you are sure. See you in the afternoon?”
“Aye. Be safe, Temp.”
“You too.” They shared a quick embrace before parting.
The day passed quickly enough as Tempest continued her trek east, but she couldn’t help wondering why she felt so disheartened. She should have been feeling elated, swapping out an acetic Lance Corporal for a beloved Major Morel, but instead her emotions were feeling raw and fragile. Maybe it was due to the fact that being reunited with an emotional anchor reminded her about the stark realities of her situation. She had lost almost everything she had ever loved, and when the time came to leave Mavis behind, she would lose her too.
As the shadows began to lengthen from the sun's slow descent, Tempest began to scan the skies for a certain lavender pegasus. She didn't have to wait long, as her eyes eventually caught some movement high up in the distance. Tracking the speck, she smiled as Mavis banked before gliding down, flapping her wings once or twice to correct her path of approach. It was a welcome maneuver compared to what Summer Wind tended to do, always approaching in a silent glide to land behind her, startling her with his stealth.
Mavis leveled out her approach, her flight speed becoming a canter as her hooves met the ground. In a moment she had trotted up, trying to make it sound like she wasn’t out of breath in the slightest. “Well now! That wasn’t so bad after some limbering up. All right there, Tempy?”
“Just peachy,” Tempest gave a smile that didn't reach her eyes. “But I’m glad you are airborne again.”
The two ponies walked on for a few moments before Mavis raised an eyebrow. “So then… how are you really doing?”
Tempest gave a light snort before looking down. “It’s not your fault I am out here, Mav. But I can't help but blame myself that you’re injured.”
“Hey, hey now!” Mavis sternly replied. “We’ll have none of that. Thinking like that will just bring you down, and out here, thinking like that could actually put us both in danger.”
Tempest didn’t reply. There wasn't much more to say to that, so she continued her same steady pace. The silence began to feel awkward, so she brought up a question that had been nagging her. “Not that I'm complaining, but why did you send Summer Wind back to Canterlot?"
Mavis winced. "Well lass, about that." She looked ahead, the setting sun casting a shadow over her face before she turned to look back. "There is a lot of tension between some groups of ponies right now. Well, you know this, but after your little stunt, tension is putting it mildly."
"Heh." Mavis huffed out a laugh. "Are you really that surprised? It's not every day a Sisters' School graduate makes an unannounced visit to the new castle and takes a highly effective shot at Celestia! All during your tenth class reunion, too!"
Tempest winced at the memory. She knew the maneuver was unbelievably audacious, but she had built her entire life around the attempt. She had focused her full energies and fortune on one goal, and had made a super-amulet that she believed would elevate her power to be on par with her aunt. But she wasn't unaware of the fallout from Luna's banishment as there were factions defending Luna's cause, even today. "So... what is happening back home?"
"You, my dear niece, have become a lightning rod for dissent and unrest. 'Tis probably why Celestia sent you afield so quickly. Fringe groups are calling for your release and asylum... Other fringe groups are calling for your head."
Tempest's heart clenched as she thought about that. Were there seriously entire groups of ponies wanting her dead? Was her name being batted about on the streets of Equestria? What did the common pony really think of her? Shaking her head, she stopped that thought dead in its tracks. Why should she care? She committed to this attempt long ago, no matter the consequences. Why should she care what others are thinking?
But even so, she did.
"So... you're hear to defend me?"
"I'm here to make sure you can get someplace safe. There is a plot on your life. Summer Wind didn't know of it, but your ship in Turtle Bay more than likely has four to five hit-ponies lying in wait. It would be easy for a pony to say, sneak into your room, flick out a knife, and then drop you over the taffrail."
Tempest swallowed, rubbing at her throat at the thought.
"My position in the guard affords me a lot of information, and inside contacts all over the place. when I caught wind of what was about to happen, I took it personally. Celestia ordered you exiled to Gryphus, and I'm here to make sure that order is followed out with you remaining alive."
Tempest's eyes trailed to the insignia marking Mavis' uniform and gear. It was the new insignia, marked only by Celestia's cutie mark and labeled in the newly minted term Unified Guard. Perhaps Mavis' loyalties had split between those loyal to Celestia as well as Luna? How else could she gain such good intel?
Mavis followed her eyes. “You are wondering why I have gear and supplies labeled with the Royal Guard’s insignia.” It wasn’t a question, and Mavis didn’t wait for an answer. Mavis stepped ahead of Tempest and sat down, letting her saddle bags flop down to the earth. “Yes, I am a retired Major in the now fully-integrated Royal Guard. My current assignment is teaching at the training facility, where I educate new recruits on the methods infiltration, espionage, and potions’ use in the field. But you are going to want some context before jumping to conclusions.”
Tempest nodded for her to continue, hoping that her face betrayed no emotions. It hurt to think that her beloved adoptive aunt was actually working for Princess Celestia, but why not? Mavis had a duty to her country.
“My duty is to Celestia and the stability of her regime, but it is for the good of our nation. My highest allegiance is to Equestria. Times have been tough lately, and there has been a need for strong leadership and stability. But I also must act to defend my own, and you are like a daughter to me. When my informed me about the plot... well, I flew right out after making other arrangements for you.”
Tempest raised an eyebrow. “Does Celestia know that you came?”
Shaking her head, Tempest gave a small smile. “What do you mean, other arrangements?”
“Your ship is supposed to depart from Turtle Bay two days hence. We are going to miss that boat. We are boarding a smaller, sleeker vessel: one preparing to launch from the southern end of the bay tomorrow.”
“The southern end of the bay?”
“Aye. There is a developing little fishing village called Pike’s Inlet. Along their shores we will connect with Gale Glider and his crew. Captain Glider’s vessel is faster than most anything else on the sea, and if he leaves when planned, our enemies won’t be able to overtake you. With luck, no fliers will even be able to find you. Also, Captain Glider is an Agent of Moonlight, but you didn’t hear that from me.”
Tempest’s eyes widened as she made a connection. “You're an agent too, aren't you?”
Mavis smiled. “Well, not anymore. If you didn't know, the Agents are made up of many of the surviving members of the former Lunar Guard. Most often after they found out they wouldn't get treated as "equally" as the guards from the solar unit. As for myself, I'm in retirement! I teach for fun... so I can yell my head off at the recruits. But Celestia trusts me. I went through some rigorous examinations and interviews to be vetted—even submitted to magical scans and the like before I was allowed my current level of clearance.”
Mavis stood up and started to put her saddle bags on before draping a wing around Tempest. “Before your mother was banished, she renewed my covenant to keep you safe. But then she added one more thing."
Tempest's eyes widened. "What did she say?"
"She asked me to keep watch over the kingdom. She asked me to keep the lunar spirit strong, and to keep ponies to the Lunar Way. I didn't know what she meant at the time. But now? I think I do.
“Did you organize the Agents of Moonlight?”
Mavis blinked before giving a half smile. “Eh. Not at liberty to say."
"Well, it was a joint effort. I will say I was there at the founding. And I served a critical role to their success in the early going.” Mavis retracted her wing, but Tempest turned and gave her a strong embrace. Mavis patted her back for a moment before clearing her throat.
“My allegiance is to Luna, and if she isn’t here, then my allegiance is to Equestria. I serve Celestia’s interests only so far as they are benevolent and achieve the greater good. But if she becomes what you and I both fear? Then the Agents of Moonlight are still there. We can provide hope, and we can thwart her power if need be.”
Tempest pulled back, wiping at an eye with a hoof. "I wish I had known! Maybe If we had coordinated together—”
“Nay, Temp. She needs to stay in power, and she needs to remain benevolent. If the Elements of Harmony remain inert, and we don't have Celestia's power at our helm, what would save Equestria from its next dark foe?"
“Well, maybe Celestia has to die for the Elements to come back alive!”
“Death is awfully final, Tempest. And if you are wrong?”
“Then Luna can come back, and she can defend Equestria!”
“...but what if you are wrong about that too?”
Tempest opened her mouth to retort, but couldn't come up with something good enough. Frustrated, she stomped her hoof on the ground.
“I’m sorry, Lass."
Tempest stalked off, grinding her teeth. Mavis' hoofsteps soon followed. “So Tempest, a change of subjects: would you mind explaining to me how you thought you were going to win?”
Tempest gave a loud snort as she continued ahead.
“It’s just a question,” Mavis shrugged. “Oh, and here's another one: why didn’t you even write to me over the past three years, you sod?” Without warning Mavis had sneaked up behind the younger unicorn and cuffed her in the back of the head with a wing.
Tempest glared at Mavis, rubbing her head for a moment before her face betrayed her with a small smile. “Well, I guess I could just tell you that it's a long story and stay silent, but that won’t work, will it?”
“What's better for a long hike than a long story?”
Tempest heaved a sigh. She couldn't argue with that logic.
* * *
The first stars were starting to appear as the sun's last rays darkened in the horizon behind them. Tempest had spent the better part of the past two hours talking as they hiked, and Mavis was amazed by her tale. Not very much had gone right for her adoptive niece over the past decade. Not since Princess Luna had been banished. It wasn't until her skirmish with Celestia only days ago that anypony even knew that Tempest was the daughter of the Lunar Princess.
"So you hid from everypony. Even from Sweet Potato and myself, all to create an amulet of vast power you hoped would defeat Celestia. All because you found a way to link it with all of the other amulets acting as a conduit for a massive collection system?"
"It's called networking," Tempest said. "It's gonna be big: I'll let you buy the first shares of stock."
The temperature was beginning to fall as the two pones began a slow descent into a valley blanketed with tall grasses that seemed to sway in waves from a steady crosswind. The light of the moon was starting to illuminate the meadow from the side.
"Networking. Right. So all of the amulets that the Canterlot Department of Magical Technologies was pumping out, after you signed that contract with Rosemary Rune---how did you gain access to all of them?"
"I made sure they would follow my instructions to the letter. Embedded in the instructions was a backdoor that would allow me to perform my link... It's complicated."
Mavis gave a low whistle. "It's also bloody brilliant."
"So then I waited. After eight years, I had connected to an incredibly large power supply. I wasn't even worried if my attack would drain the entire network briefly, as the CDMT was only making them for government and military use. It won't be until next year that the public can gain access to the technology."
Mavis pursed her lips in thought. "And that's if Celestia doesn't mothball the whole project. You shook up a lot of ponies with your highly effective attack. Even the top pony. Many are chattering about whether it represents a threat to national security."
"Mm." Tempest made no other reply only staring at the ground in thought. Mavis chuckled after a moment, recapturing Tempest's attention. "What?"
“You!" Mavis shook her head before looking up at the constellations. "And me! I mean, are we so cavalier as to just flippantly refer to your attempt at assassination as if we were talking about the weather?
Tempest looked up, staring at Mavis for a moment. “You mentioned a point earlier, Mav. About Celestia becoming what we fear. Princess Luna assigned you to ‘keep watch.’ She assigned me to take action. I was the only pony who could. Given my heritage, I was the only pony that should.”
“Aye mare." Mavis blew out a sigh. "And I'm still not sure you have the right of it from a conversation between you and your distraught mother twelve years ago. Tempest, I just want to protect Equestria and our ponies. The actions you took as a lone maverick, gunning for our current ruler? I can’t condone that. Again I ask you, what would we do with no Elements and no Celestia?”
Tempest's voice was flat. “I wouldn’t trust a ruler that would destroy the Elements of Harmony to satisfy her own ambitions, I’d feel safer without her. Tempest lifted up her head, looking around. You think this region will give us a decent camping spot, Mavis? There isn’t much cover for a few miles…”
Accepting that her niece was ready to change the subject, Mavis replied, trotting ahead to bump her shoulder. “Let’s go on for a bit. I haven’t told you part of my plan.”
“Ooh!” Tempest smiled. “A nefarious plan by the founder of the Agents of Moonlight?”
“So cheeky, I swear…” The older mare affectionately rubbed the top of Tempest’s mane with a wing before snapping her wingtip against an ear, causing Tempest to stumble in surprise. We need to go on. What if the parties that ordered your death have also arranged for a fast ship as well? What if they equip fliers with powerful magics? In order to leave as early as planned, we have to get that head start I talked about. Only then can Captain Glider have confidence that he can deliver you safely to port in Gryphus. We have to walk straight on into morning.”
Tempest put her head down and grumbled under her breath, causing Mavis to chuckle.
“I know you’re tired, Tempy. Your hooves are probably throbbing, your knees aching, but we need to keep going. We absolutely have to keep going.”
Pushing her bangs back out of her face, Tempest breathed out a sigh. “I understand, I just don’t know if I can. After ten days of this, and now I have to keep on until morning? I’m exhausted!”
“Tell you what," Mavis said. "We make it to the other side of this valley here and I will pop open a vial of my rejuvination potion. You heard of it?”
“Yeah, I know of R.P.” Tempest gave a toothy grin. “All the students back in school called it 'Rip.' We weren't supposed to have it. So, naturally everyone had their sources."
The corner of Mavis' mouth twitched upwards a little. “I have no idea who could have supplied it...”
True to her word, Mavis brought out two vials and passed one to Tempest. The concoction went down with a citrusy, spicy effervescence, and while it felt bitter in her stomach, Tempest felt a surge of heat and power like her muscles were pushing outwards against her skin. It was almost like a vibration, and Tempest couldn’t help but bounce in place a little.
Grinning, Mavis rubbed Tempest’s head with a hoof. “Better than coffee, eh? Save the bouncing, though. We can make good time if we put all this pep to good use. Let’s go.”
The hours flew past as both ponies slipped in and out of animated conversation. Tempest knew she would be exhausted in the morning, but she hoped she would be safe enough to sleep most of the next day aboard the boat. If what Mavis told her was true, then she would be able to do so in some comfort and security. Or maybe just security. Comfort was probably unlikely.
* * *
The expanse of the bay was beautiful as morning sun glimmered off of the water. They arrived near the southern end where a smaller peninsula half a kilometer long jutted out in a southeastern direction. Tempest had never traveled here, but she knew of the region’s geography from her studies. A much longer peninsula on the north side of the bay contained the town of Turtle Bay, named after the Bay itself. The town was too distant to make out clearly, overshadowed by a combination of early morning mists across the water and the sun’s clashing glare. Turtle Bay’s population was close to around fifteen hundred souls, a bustling port city known for its rapid growth and expanding commerce now that Gryphus was under a more stable central government.
As they made their final descent toward the coast and the now visible fishing settlement of Pike’s Inlet, Tempest noticed a dark gray ship moored at some rather simple wharfs. By the looks of it, this ship was a little larger than what this settlement usually dealt with, dwarfing the smaller pier and ponies working on it while they hauled crates aboard..
Feeling her knees nearly buckle from exhaustion, Tempest paused for a moment to take in the sight. Her mind was starting to feel a little fuzzy after the long hike, and her hooves were nearly numb with fatigue. She wanted to express her profound gratitude to Mavis but the whole ordeal had left her feeling speechless.
“Mavis. I don’t even know what to say. If I make it to my destination in once piece, I am going to owe you for saving my life twice over.”
“Think nothing of it, Tempest. I love you like a daughter. This is the least I could do.”
Reaching into her saddlebags with a wing, Mavis retrieved a roll of parchment. “In Gryphus, you will be staying at the estate of Ravorsch. He is an especially influential tiercel, with deep connections not only to the military but to several merchant guilds. In the past, he has been one of Princess Luna’s most trusted contacts, representing her interests on that side of the Celestial Sea. You should be safe there for as long as you need, at least until things have cooled off enough for you to acquire some land finally settle down.”
“Can I really trust him?”
“This parchment is a magically warded document, hoof-written by Luna almost two decades ago and given to me for safe keeping, if ever a day came where you needed to use it. The document can only be opened with your magical authorization—only by pressing the tip of your horn to the wax seal and activating it. “Inside is Luna’s written testimony that you are indeed her daughter. Guard this document well, for it is your ticket to safety once you reach Gryphus.”
“Mavis… I just don’t know what to say anymore.”
Mavis reached out to give Tempest another hug. “When you do get settled in, don’t think you have seen the last of me, either. I am not too far from officially retiring, and I plan on patching things up with your mum. Off of Equestrian soil and under Ravorsch’s watch, you will no longer be under my protection, and as such, I will finally be able to tell Sweet Potato the rest of the story.”
“Hopefully both Sweet and I can come to visit you soon. Heh, in the meantime, perhaps you can put your considerable magical knowledge to use and develop a couple of amulets that can carry a two-way conversation across the sea?”
Tempest increased the hug, until Mavis winced and murmured that she was still sore. “I… I will try to find a way to keep up correspondence with you Mavis. I’ll never give you the silent treatment again. Thank you for everything - I owe you so much.”
“Well. You’re not through all of this yet, Temp. Anyways, let’s go meet Captain Gale Glider and the crew of his ship.”
“...And what’s his ship’s name?”
“Cast of Fate.”