As they swiftly approached the great city of the pegasi, Link couldn’t help but appreciate the large cloud structure. Dozens upon dozens of pillars and columns stretched as far as the eye could see, supporting many tall and open buildings, all made of the same pure white material that shone in the morning sun brighter than polished marble. It truly was a magnificent sight.
And yet, his experienced eyes immediately noticed an oddity. For a moment the Wielder of Courage wondered about the apparent lack of walls and other such battlements, as their absence seemed odd when linked with the feathered ponies’ apparent martial mindset, not to mention how they referred to it as a ‘fortress’. Until, with a sudden epiphany the obvious answer hit him.
The pegasi were a flying race, the sky was their home, and their abode lazily floating more than three miles above ground only reinforced that fact. Additionally such fortifications would mean next to nothing to both themselves and any race that could reach the city in order to attack it, since any and all who could accomplish such a feat had to be capable of flight in some manner or another in the first place.
“Halt!” The shouted command stopped Link’s musings on how best to assault and defend such unique structures, as he instead focused on the group of pegasi swiftly approaching him and Wonder Bolt with weapons drawn. “There are no flights scheduled to return at this time! State your rank and file immediately!”
As the group of feathered ponies encircled them with their weapons at the ready, Link decided that their readiness and reaction time were decent enough. Sure, they clearly should’ve been able to see them and intercept long before this point, but considering how there was still about two miles before they reached the city proper it wasn’t the worst showing of a patrol he had borne witness to, not by a long shot.
“Sir, Corporal Wonder Bolt, forty second patrol squad!” Wonder Bolt promptly replied as he saluted the leader of the pegasus squadron, making Link stop his wandering thoughts about some of the more embarrassing examples of poor patrolling skills he had seen throughout his many lives. “I bring urgent news from the northern territories and a vital message from Sergeant Fierce Breeze to high command; there have been new developments to the north that they must be made aware of immediately, sir!”
The wave of murmurs and firm looks that some of the pegasi started to sport upon hearing Bolt’s words managed to make Link think for a moment that, strangely enough, the azure-coated pegasus’ extremely optimistic prediction of how things would proceed could actually come to pass. That is, until what looked like the patrol group’s second in command interjected.
“I know you, you are the half-breed from Lieutenant Wind Shriek’s squad!” a black-coated pegasus snarled in clear disgust, a reaction that Link was quite unhappy to see mirrored by more than half of the winged ponies now that Bolt’s heritage was known. “What the hay are you doing here without the rest of your squad?”
“Sir, most of the squad was injured during a battle to repel an assault against a new foe who now threatens the northern border,” Wonder Bolt continued in a precise and controlled tone of voice, showing absolutely no reaction to the open hostility now being thrown his way as he addressed the leader of the group. “Being one of the less injured of our flight, Sergeant Fierce Breeze entrusted me with the task of reporting the situation to high command as the rest of the squad recovered and aided the evacuation of the local civilian population, sir.”
A few worried murmurs started, only for them to be buried underneath a new wave of derision and name calling being thrown Bolt’s way. Link had noticed the undercurrents of distrust and racism that seemed to taint some of the ponies' actions in the village, but they had all been directed at members of the other tribes, and even then it wasn’t nearly as strong as the reactions the feathered ponies were showing to Bolt’s mixed heritage. And, as he watched the pegasi dithering about and arguing with each other about trusting the half-breed’s report or not, Link pondered if he should help things along a little in order to expedite their entrance into the cloud-fortress.
He was quite certain that they could get into it and find whomever they had to deliver the missive to before a second patrol realized the first one had been taken down.
“Enough! Half-breed or not, the mere possibility of an attack against one of our patrols must be kicked up the chain of command!” their leader barked as he frowned at them all, stopping their needless yapping and unknowingly preventing the lot of them from being rendered unconscious in the immediate future. “Now form up, you are pegasi of the Armada, act like it!
“You better be sure about your words, half-breed,” the leader spat as he sent a warning glare Bolt’s way before turning a suspicious look on Link for a moment, probably realizing he hadn’t been introduced. With an annoyed huff, he turned towards the large cloud-fortress in the distance. “Now all of you, move it!”
“Sir, yes, sir!” Bolt and the other pegasi shouted as one, the first still acting completely professional and as if he hadn’t been derided and insulted repeatedly for the temerity of existing. And as the squad formed up around the two of them and proceeded to guide the duo towards Pegasopolis, a small frown briefly made itself known upon the Wielder of Courage’s brow, before being smoothed underneath his ever present serene visage.
As they swiftly approached and entered into the pure white structures of the cloud fortress, Link carefully observed the path they were taking and the movements of the patrols he could see. For now he would trust Bolt’s plan of action and play along, but he could safely say that, as far as first impressions went, the so-called Pegasus Armada hadn’t exactly made good ones either time Link had interacted with their numbers.
Taking deep, greedy gulps of air, Ganondorf climbed out of the large crater he had been shoved into by Zelda’s newest magical assault. He shook his whole body in order to remove the worst of the soot that now covered his fur and rested his blade upon the ground for a moment as he assessed the damage to his body.
“Now we’re talking, that was a really nasty trick, Princess, well done!” he boisterously proclaimed as he looked towards the Wielder of Wisdom’s form as she climbed out of the wrecked tree he had punched her through moments ago, a blinding smile on his muzzle.
Zelda had never been a pushover, far from it, that was a fact. She was a dangerous and accomplished combatant, had a very sharp tactical mind, and was easily the most gifted magical practitioner the King of Thieves had ever had the pleasure of facing in combat. But the fact still remained that between the three Wielders of the Triforce, the Wielder of Wisdom was the weakest of them all when it came to pure martial might.
And yet, this new reality’s apparent overabundance of magic and her new species’ natural gift to control and manipulate it seemed keen to correct that little deficiency, allowing her to fling far more powerful spells than usual in a fraction of the time it would normally take her to cast them back on Hyrule. Thankfully, his own new species’ absurd endurance also seemed keen on not letting him fall behind, what with how his body seemed to simply refuse to acknowledge that he should be damaged after being hit by Zelda’s magical assaults!
“You insufferable, barbaric, buffoon! Why, when I get my h-” the little Princess kept muttering underneath her breath as she shoved wood splinters away from her mane and glared his way with eyes hidden beneath a fierce blue glow.
“Now, now, Princess, you got to relax a little!” Ganondorf cheerfully replied to the very inventive death threats Zelda was currently uttering as he prepared himself to renew their spar. And he meant it! Those were some really creative death threats! He would have to remember them for later! “Just because I’m currently in the lead, that’s no reason for you to lose your temper!”
Zelda's answer was to try and plunge her sword into his neck as she suddenly appeared at his side in a flash of magic, forcing him to swiftly block the blow with his own sword while at the same time using his slowly re-growing grasp on his own magic to maintain the barrier preventing the deluge of lightning currently coursing through her blade from electrocuting him into charcoal.
They stood like that for a moment, before he used his greater weight to push her backwards in order to give himself space to dodge the earth spike coming from below and the wind blade coming from behind in a synchronized attack. Now that was what he was talking about! Back in Hyrule such continuous and simultaneous casting would have strained Zelda at least somewhat, but now the unicorn seemed to be able to do it with ease! An ease that seemed to grow more and more with each of their now daily spars!
Unleashing a gout of flame hot enough to melt steel towards the now openly cursing mare, Ganondorf couldn’t help but smile, feeling extremely pleased and content with the world. He didn’t know why, but he had been getting more and more agitated and annoyed these past few days. It was as if some kind of persistent buzz kept ringing just outside of his hearing, a persistent yet barely perceptible feeling that he only just started to notice recently that was slowly but surely aggravating his temper. He had no idea what it was or why he was feeling that way, which only served to aggravate his annoyance even more, but what he did know was that a good bout of violence with the Wielder of Wisdom seemed to scratch it nicely.
He grunted as Zelda managed to land a direct hit with her rear hooves, which was followed by what felt like some kind of concussive spell fired point blank that promptly propelled him away and through several trees, and as the shattered pieces of wood were still falling all around him, before he could right himself, the feeling of cold steel against his neck made him stop.
He took in Zelda’s form as she held her sword firm against his neck, her horn and eyes aglow with power showing she was ready to react to any new tricks he may pull. And so, with a loud boisterous laugh Ganondorf calmly pushed the blade away and got back up. “You win this one, Princess, well done! This was a great match!”
The Wielder of Wisdom stared at him for a moment with an indecipherable expression on her muzzle, before with a huff she turned her head away muttering something about insane battle maniacs that only made him laugh harder.
“Oh, c’mon Princess, don’t be like that! Enjoy yourself a little!” Ganondorf boomed as he shook himself to get all the dirt, rock and wooden fragments free from his coat.
“You are nothing but an overgrown, belligerent, battle obsessed child with an ego the size of Death Mountain,” the white-coated unicorn huffed in response, not even looking Ganondorf’s way.
“And you are a prissy, knowledge obsessed busybody with a martyr complex as large as Hyrule Lake, so what’s your point?” the brown-coated earth pony easily riposted with another laugh. The fact that Zelda simply huffed once more and kept walking away made him tally another point to himself in their old little contest of one-upmanship.
After all, Zelda could huff, turn her nose up, and complain as much as she liked, but the truth was that, after all the centuries they had known each other, there was simply no conceivable way that the little Princess hadn’t realized he was actively antagonizing her in search of a reaction by this point of things. She was simply far too self aware and smart to not have noticed. And so, considering the fact that she still reacted anyway, the only logical conclusion was that she did like their little spats far more than she was willing to admit.
Personally, Ganondorf thought that she probably saw them as a good, ready-made excuse to allow herself some time to unwind and appreciate some good old fashioned violence with no repercussions and without tarnishing her precious royal image. It was weird, but who was he to judge? He had done far weirder in the past, after all!
“Well, if the ponies weren’t up before they are sure to be now! Let’s go get something to eat and get things going, shall we?” he loudly proclaimed to the unicorn mare that was still trying too hard to pretend she wasn’t listening, his mood far better now that the annoying itchy feeling that had been bothering him was almost completely gone.
For a moment he thought about maybe trying to see what that whole annoying feeling thing was all about, but then the sight of Forest rushing towards them made him dismiss the thought for more immediate and practical stuff, like breakfast. It probably wasn’t anything important anyway.
As they entered the outermost battlements and journeyed deeper into the main northern barracks, Wonder Bolt ignored the many looks and whispers being thrown his way with the ease of years of experience. He had long since learned to let his brethren’s myopic views about his bloodline wash over him like water off a duck’s back. Words were nothing but wind as his mother used to say, and now, with the fate of pony-kind on the balance, their words had even less weight than usual.
Thankfully the squad leader was above all else a professional, for despite his clear and apparent distaste for the ‘half-breed,’ he had taken the mere possibility of an attack against a pegasus patrol squad with all the weight such a situation demanded and, unless Bolt was completely mistaken about the ever more elaborate carvings upon the cloud structures they were passing by, was taking them straight to the superior officer in charge for this section of the defense of Pegasopolis.
“Colonel Winter Gale, sir,” the stallion said as he snapped a salute right after entering a large room filled with war maps, squad reports, and other assorted scroll-work needed for the running of the Armada. “An emergency message from the northern border has been brought by Corporal Wonder Bolt, forty second patrol squad, sir!”
“Is that so?” A large ice-blue stallion with a bone-white mane calmly asked, his posture firm and unyielding as he stared at the incoming group from behind a desk with hard eyes. His eyes briefly took in Link, one eyebrow rising minimally as he saw that the green pegasus wasn’t wearing armor or any other garment common for the Armada’s squads, before settling upon Wonder Bolt. “Very well, report corporal.”
Wonder Bolt promptly saluted,“Sir, we were patrolling the northern border when-” Wonder Bolt began reporting the situation to the north, keenly aware that Winter Gale’s rank meant that he was one of the highest ranked pegasi in the armada, only below Commander Hurricane himself. “And that’s the situation, sir.”
“I see,” the colonel spoke in a near whisper, eyes narrowed in thought as he stared intently at the azure-coated pony standing at parade rest in front of him. “And Sergeant Fierce Breeze’s message?”
“Here, sir!” he promptly said, walking forward and giving the sealed scroll to the colonel, who promptly broke the seal and started to read the missive.
“This is very interesting news corporal,” Winter Gale frostily said as he allowed the scroll to furl itself closed, his words as cold as the winds of his name. “Especially considering the fact that the leader of your squad, Lieutenant Wind Shriek himself, gave me a very different report but a few hours ago.”
“Sir-!” Wonder Bolt started to say in alarm, eyes wide and a hint of panic blooming in his heart upon hearing that the idiotic former leader of his flight had arrived before them as he wondered what kind of ‘report’ the disgraced pegasus had given the colonel. Only for Winter Gale to silence him immediately with a risen hoof.
“However, considering the fact that Lieutenant Wind Shriek’s report clearly stated his whole squad was lost fending off the unicorn ambush, and that yet here you stand, carrying a scroll with both Sergeant Fierce Breeze’s signature and hoof-writing, something is clearly amiss,” the ice-blue stallion continued, his voice now as warm as a glacier as he calmly rose from his seat allowing Bolt to see his cutie mark of a blowing blizzard. Hard eyes focused inwards as he clearly pondered about what he had just heard and read and compared it to whatever Wind Shriek had said previously.
“You and your… companion, are to wait here for the moment,” he said as he rounded the desk, hesitating for a brief moment as he pondered what to call Link now that he knew that the green-coated pegasus was not, and never had been, a part of the Armada. “I shall be clarifying the situation with the lieutenant personally.”
“Sir, yes sir!” Wonder Bolt shouted, as he fought off the desire to shiver at the barely concealed anger contained in the colonel’s last few words.
Without another word or glance their way, Colonel Winter Gale calmly trotted out of the room, only his furious eyes betraying his feelings. The pegasi who had escorted them here saluted and followed the colonel at a brief signal of his wing, closing the door as they left, leaving Wonder Bolt and Link alone.
Wonder Bolt nearly collapsed with a sigh of relief a moment later after taking a second to confirm they weren’t coming back immediately. Despite the near disaster caused by Wind Shriek arriving before them, that had gone as well as he could’ve hoped! Now they could actually start moving to properly combat the menace from the north!
Turning towards Link, ready to chastise and lightly tease him for making them waste time and endanger the mission with needless breaks, Bolt opened his mouth to speak, only for the green pegasus to beat him to the punch.
“You still have the second scroll, the one written for Colonel Shake Spear, yes?” Link asked in a serene tone of voice that nonetheless, for some reason he couldn’t point out, made Bolt stand immediately on alert. The fact the usually placidly smiling pony had a very small frown on his brow as he stared at the closed door was also not really helping.
“Yes, of course, why do you ask?” the corporal promptly replied, instinctually shifting his wings in order to make sure his wing-blades were still in place.
“Just a feeling,” the green-coated pegasus unhelpfully answered as he kept staring at the door.
That single word thundered within Colonel Winter Gale’s mind as he calmly trotted down the halls of the fortifications under his rule as he searched for his target, barely paying any attention to the pegasi that saluted him as he passed.
Most of the report he had just been given sounded utterly absurd. Unknown ice wraiths made far less sense than a horn-head ambush, not to mention the other absurd claims he had both read and heard. But all of it was secondary to a single undeniable fact, the squad was alive if injured and slowly making their way back towards the Armada, when Lieutenant Wind Shriek had clearly stated in his report that he had seen them fall to the honorless horn-head’s attack before being forced to abandon the field.
And that trumped all the other nonsense the half-breed had reported.
It did not matter if it was an attack by some new unknown species, or an ambush by the cowardly spell casters. Wind Shriek had reported his flight lost in battle, a flight that was alive and returning, and far more importantly, a flight whose report said Wind Shriek had abandoned his squad and fled from battle. Fled, like an honorless coward!
“Lieutenant Wind Shriek, a word if you would,” he commanded from the entrance of one of the barracks, the narrowing of his eyes the only sign of his inner fury as he watched the grey-coated stallion part from the group of ponies he had been talking to and hurry towards him.
Winter Gale turned around and started to trot without uttering a single word the moment the lieutenant had reached him, confident in the knowledge that he would follow. All the while the simple fact that the utter disgrace beside him had abandoned his duty and fled from battle kept thundering within his mind. By the ancestors, they were pegasi of the Armada! They did not flee!
Ignoring the uncertain looks Wind Shriek kept giving him, Winter Gale motioned towards a room after confirming it was unoccupied, and closed the door firmly shut behind them before turning to stare at the lieutenant straight in the eye.
“Congratulations are in order, lieutenant,” the colonel said, calmly enunciating every word as he started to slowly circle around the smaller pegasus’ form, not unlike a hawk circling its prey. “It seems you were not the only one of your squad to heroically survive the ambush by the cursed horn-heads.”
“Sir?” Wind Shriek questioned, a hint of unease clear in the stallion’s eyes. Only for Winter Gale to completely ignore him as he kept calmly and methodically circling, eyes never straying from the grey pegasus’ form as the temperature inside the room started to slowly but noticeably drop with every moment that passed.
“Why, yes, in fact your whole squad seems to have survived the assault. Bruised and battered, but alive and victorious against their foes despite all odds. Truly, they are a tribute to the Armada,” he continued, giving a small nod of respect to the brave ponies that had honored their duty and upheld their vows to the greatness of the pegasus race. “And yet a most curious discrepancy surfaced due to this joyous news that just reached my ears. Would you like to know what that is?”
“Sir, I-“ the lieutenant attempted to speak, only for Winter Gale to once again ignore him, as he kept his slow circular pace, the temperature of the room still steadily dropping with every step he took.
“Why, not only is the squad you reported to have seen fall in battle alive and well, but they reported through a missive and a courier that you abandoned them mid-battle and fled like a craven,” the colonel continued, his anger and fury now clear in his every word as he gesture with the scroll on his left hoof. “That you turned your back towards the enemy, abandoned your flight mates and ran away, like an honorless, cowardly, ground pounder!”
“Sir, with a-“
“Silence,” the ice-blue stallion hissed as the temperature plummeted, frost and ice swiftly growing upon the nearby cloud structures as he stopped and took a single deliberate step towards Wind Shriek, who gulped audibly. “You may be my brother, but know that this only protects you to a certain extent. Bring shame and dishonor to our family again, and there will be consequences.”
As the last word left his lips, the colonel was all but touching his muzzle to the now shivering grey-coated stallion’s, and yet the grey stallion was still standing his ground despite how ice was now starting to grow upon his fur. Maybe he wasn’t a complete waste, after all, disgrace to the family or not.
“Your pathetic behavior shames our entire bloodline. I do not care how many magic beasts the treacherous horn-heads had summoned to assault your forces, you should have stayed until victory was yours or perished with your sword in your hoof,” he spat as he flared his wings as his little brother cowered in place while a coating of ice settled upon the whole room. “If your pathetic actions and even more disgraceful lies were to become common knowledge, it would disgrace our entire family! Do you understand this?”
Seeing the lieutenant frantically nod his understanding, Colonel Winter Gale took two steps back and released his control upon the weather magic he had enveloped the room in, allowing it to slowly return to its former temperature as he pondered how to tackle this new situation.
For the first time in years he had been able to actually see a path to ascend as the newest Commander of the Armada. As Hurricane dithered and hesitated in dealing with the ground dwellers with a firm enough hoof, those who understood that only through the leadership of the pegasi could ponykind reach the heights it deserved had slowly but surely flocked to his banner.
When Wind Shriek had come with his tale of ambush and betrayal while Commander Hurricane was away at Unicornia demanding answers of the horn heads for the unscheduled change of the celestial spheres’ movement three days ago, Colonel Winter Gale felt confident that the time was right to convince the other colonels that the time for Hurricane’s half measures was over. That he should be elected as the new Commander of the Armada so that they could show the world the true might of the pegasi!
And yet, it would all come crashing down should what truly happened be let known to the rest of the Armada. Cowardice could never be condoned, and as such Wind Shriek’s actions would taint their entire bloodline, firmly placing his rightful rank beyond his reach. And that was simply unacceptable.
“Most of your squad is wounded and is slowly making their way southwards as they escort a group of civilian farmers. It will be several days before any of their voices can be heard within the halls of Pegasopolis,” the colonel spoke calmly and clearly, as if he was talking to an imbecile and didn’t want to risk the other party failing to grasp what he was saying. “The only ones here that know the truth are in this room or waiting inside my office with guards upon the only entrance keeping them in.
“You are to gather a squad loyal to me and arrest the half-breed and the rogue with him, as long as they are dealt with swiftly, by the time the rest of your command reaches us it will no longer be an issue, our truth about what happened shall be the only truth that matters,” he said as he settled his wings at his side and looked Wind Shriek straight in the eyes.
Yes, the situation was hardly ideal, but if he could push things for a strike against the horn-heads before Wind Shriek’s squad made it back the truth would be easily buried amidst the ensuing fighting as they placed the ground pounders where they belonged, underneath the righteous rule of the Armada!
“What about the report?” Wind Shriek hesitatingly asked as he gestured towards the scroll upon Winter Gale’s hoof.
“What report?” Winter Gale calmly questioned as with a flex of his weather magic the scroll froze solid and shattered into pieces. “Now go and fulfill your duty.”
With a sharp nod and salute, the still slightly shaken lieutenant proceeded to rush toward the door to fulfill his older brother’s command, only for him to stop as Winter Gale spoke once again just before he reached the door.
“And lieutenant,” Colonel Winter Gale said in a near whisper, his eyes as cold as the arctic winds of his name as his hooves nonchalantly crushed the frozen shards of the destroyed scroll. “Do not fail.”