The Power of Freedom

by Greatazuredragon

XXII - Storm Front

Storm Front

Standing alongside Link amidst Colonel Shake Spear’s retinue as they entered the chamber of the High Council itself and went towards the empty western section, Bolt could sincerely say he had never felt more out of place in his entire life. The feeling was further reinforced as Colonel Winter Gale’s gaze found his azure-coated form after a few moments and proceeded to glare his way with such intensity that Bolt was surprised he hadn’t dropped dead.

“I see we have all gathered with no issue, most excellent,” Shake Spear cheerfully stated from his position in one of the five elevated podiums around the room. His face was calm and unperturbed, as was his voice. If Bolt hadn’t heard his orders to the troops to be ready for a possible altercation moments before he would quite possibly believe that the flamboyant stallion had completely missed the fact that a good quarter of the gathered pegasi were glaring at them. “Colonel Thunderstrike, Colonel Spring Shower, Colonel Winter Gale, I thank you all for your prompt answer to this summon.”

As the cream-coated colonel nodded his head in recognition to each of his three peers, Wonder Bolt couldn’t help but feel a foalish sense of excitement at seeing all four colonels gathered in one place, knowing far too well that extremely few ponies ever saw such a sight… only for the gravity of the situation to kill that budding excitement in its tracks. This was no time for flights of fancy.

“It gladdens me greatly to see that even during the absence of our most august Commander our response remains as swift and steadfast as ever!” he continued to elaborate, his words getting more flamboyant by the moment as he grandiosely gestured towards the highest and final podium that remained at the center of the room, the podium where the High Leader of the Armada, Commander Hurricane himself, would normally be.

“Yes, yes, greetings and all that nonsensical useless stuff,” Colonel Thunderstrike grunted in a slightly annoyed tone of voice, his eyes discreetly taking in how Winter Gale was still glaring towards Shake Spear’s entourage in general and Bolt specifically. Thunderstrike was a large ebony-coated stallion with a platinum-blonde mane that was cut short to the point of it almost reaching his coat. Upon his chest was a large scar he acquired when facing down one of Unicornia’s war mages, or so rumor said. “Enough with the pointless niceties, get to the point and explain the reason for this summons already, colonel!”

“While his manners leave much to be desired, I must say that I have to agree with the spirit of Thunderstrike’s words,” Colonel Spring Shower added in a no-nonsense tone of voice while giving the belligerent form of Thunderstrike a warning look. For his part the ebony-coated pegasus grunted in reply as he briefly flared his wings, showing his cutie mark of a sword being hit by a lightning-bolt. “So please, enlighten us as to the reason for this meeting, Shake Spear. Why have you summoned us?”

The only mare amidst the four colonels was a white-coated beauty with a light-blue mane. Her body was svelte and athletic, showing the build of a pony who had spent countless hours controlling and directing the weather with their own four hooves. Fitting, since Spring Shower was renowned far and wide amidst the Armada as the greatest of their Weather Controllers. Upon her flank, her cutie mark of a sun peeking over a rain cloud could easily be seen.

“Yes, my fellow colonel,” Winter Gale interjected with a voice as cold as his name. His tone of voice was calm and collected, but the way he was still glaring towards them all belied that. “Do explain the meaning of this. And while you are at it, why don’t you explain why you harbor enemies of the Armada amidst your number.”

A sudden wave of murmurs and whisper befell the gathering at those words. Bolt couldn’t help but gulp as every single pair of eyes in the room moved towards Shake Spear’s entourage, seeking who Winter Gale spoke of. If his fellow colonel’s words had affected him, Shake Spear wasn’t showing it, as he calmly answered with the same affable smile on his muzzle as before.

“My, oh my, what an interesting choice of words, my dear colonel,” the cream-coated stallion said, raising a wing towards his mouth as if to hide a gasp of shock that simply wasn’t there to be hidden. “Enemies of the Armada? Such harsh words! What could you possibly mean by that?”

“Stop playing the fool, Shake Spear! Wonder Bolt and his companion are wanted for attacking and incapacitating soldiers of the Armada!” the ice-blue-coated colonel tossed with another glare as he flared his wings. “They are criminals who have fled from their rightful arrest and should be detained at once!”

“Is that so? How curious!” Shake Spear exclaimed with such genuine cheer that Bolt had no way of telling if it was an act or not. “My, truly these are curious days when a supposed criminal is entrusted to deliver vital information to the Armada’s leadership, and then instead of escaping seeks one of its colonels in order to fulfill his task. Wouldn’t you say so?

“You say that Corporal Wonder Bolt and his unaffiliated companion are enemies to the Armada,” he joyfully continued, stressing Bolt’s newly changed rank amidst their forces as his eyes hardened and took a definitely steely look. “But is that the truth? Or would they be merely enemies to your ambition, my dear colonel?”

“What are you implying, Spear?” Winter Gale hissed, eyes narrowed and wings poised at his side half raised as if he was refraining from taking an attack stance. Meanwhile, a new wave of harsh murmurs and worried conversations started anew amidst the watching pegasi.

“What I mean is that I have here, on my person, an urgent missive written by Sergeant Fierce Breeze of the forty-second patrol squad detailing of a massive attack at our northern borders by a yet unknown type of creature,” Shake Spear fiercely stated with narrowed eyes, his earlier cheer and flamboyance disappearing as if they were a mask he had just removed. “And how she sent the two fastest fliers at her current disposal, Corporal Wonder Bolt and unaffiliated pegasus Link, to deliver two missives containing all critical details pertaining to the developing situation to the Armada.

“One of which was delivered to my person, and the other which was delivered to yours but a few hours ago,” the stallion continued as he tilted his head slightly to the side as if in doubt, his golden ringlets swaying at the motion. “So, my fellow colonel, would you mind explaining to this august body what has happened to said missive? The one that contains information about how the leader of the forty-second patrol squad, Lieutenant Wind Shriek, your brother, abandoned his command mid-battle and fled like a craven?”

Shouts of shock and anger resounded within the council chamber’s cloud walls, as dozens of pegasi started to try and speak one over the other. All the while Winter Gale glared at his fellow colonel as the temperature around him slowly plummeted.

As she gazed at the small red gemstone tied at the end of some strong strings she was currently wearing as a necklace, Forest Blossom couldn’t help but marvel at how she wasn’t feeling even slightly chilly despite the occasional snowflake she could see fluttering along with the wind.

Looking all around her as she kept pace with the rest of the group at the head of the caravan, her eyes were assaulted by a rainbow of colors. Green, blue, red, and the occasional purple. Everywhere she looked, a pony was wearing a small gemstone somewhere on their bodies. The small gemstones had been enchanted to protect them from the biting cold from the north.

As a gust of wind she was quite sure would’ve made her shiver without the gemstone washed over her to no effect, Forest wondered if the novelty of interacting with actually helpful and non-aggravating unicorns would ever cease to astonish her.

She knew that it was unlikely. After all, there really couldn’t be that many unicorns that fell into that category. But, considering that counting Zelda and Limelight they had actually managed to find two horn-heads that actually fit that mold, when but a few weeks back she would have sworn there were none to be found, she supposed that it wasn’t impossible.

“Looking good, Forest.” Ganondorf nonchalantly tossed her way with a roguish grin as trotted to her side as he came back from one of the periodic perimeter patrols he did around the moving group. His eyes drifted from her new necklace towards her rapidly reddening face.

“T-thanks!” The orange-coated mare managed to find her tongue after a few false tries. She didn’t need a mirror to know that her face had to be as red as the gemstone by this point. Thankfully her mother was more towards the middle of the caravan, or she would never hear the end of this.

“The Princess does good work. This isn’t bad at all, especially for something done in a rush,” Ganondorf mused as he briefly moved a hoof to bring the gemstone closer so he could inspect it. The fact that his hoof was touching her coat and that he had brought his muzzle closer to get a better look doing nothing to help with Forest’s current issue.

“Though some credit should go to the little one as well for providing the raw materials,” Ganondorf continued with a light chuckle as he let the necklace fall back against Forest’s coat. “Still can’t believe that the Kid taught her how to pull off that little trick!”

“Yes, Singing has been beaming almost constantly since she helped Zelda with this endeavor,” Forest took in the change of subject gladly as a way to calm her nerves, though a small part of her did bemoan the loss of Ganondorf’s touch upon her coat. It was the truth as well. Singing seemed unable to stop smiling every single time she saw someone wearing one of the gemstones she had… procured was probably the best word. “But I can’t help but wonder, how exactly did Link learn such an odd magic?”

As she said the words her eyes moved towards where Singing was currently babbling to a slightly distressed looking Limelight. Her eyes moved from the small saddlebags Singing now carried everywhere with her towards the filly’s shining blue gemstone necklace. She couldn’t help but wonder what other strange magic Link had taught the little filly when she hadn’t been paying attention.

No matter the small mumbled complaints that Limelight kept muttering every single time he saw Singing create a new gemstone with a faraway look on his features about how that couldn’t be magic. It had to be magic that allowed the tiny filly to turn the rocks into gemstones. For what else could it be? Though… how the throwing motion affected any part of the process frankly eluded her. Singing insisted it was very important, though.

“Now that is a question for the ages!” the large earth pony half complained and half laughed. “Link likes to keep a few things close to his chest on occasion. And that one’s sadly one of them. So your guess is as good as mine!”

Forest didn’t really know how to process that bit of information. After a few moments longer, she decided to follow Sure Shot’s advice regarding the whole situation surrounding the seemingly bottomless bags, magical arrows, mysterious gemstones, and basically everything else the Trio seemed to pull out of thin air. Don’t question it, accept it, and move on.

The fact that Ganondorf’s brow suddenly scrunched together, as if he was experiencing a small headache, and how he had tensed his muscles also helped her swiftly move away from the subject of the odd abilities Singing had learned.

“Is everything alright, Ganondorf?” Forest immediately asked, eyes quickly going over his large form in search of what could possibly be causing him the discomfort. In a moment she realized what may be the issue. “Where is your warming gem? Are you cold? If you want I can lend you mine until Zelda can make more of them!”

Upon hearing her words Ganondorf slowly untensed his muscles before letting out a small amused laugh. He looked at her with fond eyes before briefly messing up her mane with a large hoof.

“You worry too much, Forest. And I have no need for such trinkets. It would take far more than a little ice and snow to inconvenience me,” he stated with some fondness, all the while Forest felt like her blush was slowly climbing up towards her ears if she went by how warm her whole face currently felt. With a shake of his head, the large stallion continued, all traces of his earlier discomfort now completely gone from his appearance. “Nah, it’s just a small annoyance that shall be dealt with in time. Nothing for you to concern yourself with.”

“Well… if you are sure,” Forest hesitatingly agreed, not wanting to question her teacher.

They walked in companionable silence for a few moments longer, until Ganondorf briefly stopped and raised his right hoof to shield his eyes as he scanned the horizon.

“The scouts are back,” the brown-coated earth pony declared as four blots of color appeared amidst the overcast sky and started to approach the caravan at speed.

The group of four pegasi was swiftly approaching. Clearly not intending to waste a single moment before delivering whatever news they had acquired, the feathered ponies were making a beeline towards Fierce Breeze. The pink-coated warrior narrowed her eyes the moment she saw their approach.

“Let’s go see what our eyes in the sky have seen, shall we?” Ganondorf nonchalantly said as he put deeds to words and started towards where the scouts had landed and were now talking with Fierce Breeze. As she followed after him, Forest noted that Zelda, Sure Shot, and Old Oak were also hurrying towards the group.

“Are you certain about that?” Fierce Breeze questioned the scouts with narrowed eyes, her wings fidgeting at her sides.

“Yes ma’am! The storm clouds to the north seem to be picking up speed. That is an undeniable fact. But the caravan is still far enough ahead that, if we keep up the current pace, we should reach the Earth Villa before the wraiths and the storm by a large margin. Two to three days by my best estimates.” A wave of relieved murmurs washed over the gathered ponies at the news. It wasn’t a lot of time but, considering how Unicornia was less than a day’s ride from the Earth Villa, it was still more than enough to warn everypony and start getting things done.

“That’s good news,” Fierce Breeze stated with a small nod before she turned to the second pair of pegasi. Her features did not relax even slightly at the news. “What about the arm of the storm that struck at Fire Stone? How is it behaving?”

“Ma’am! The arm of the storm enveloping where the village of Fire Stone was located has also picked up speed, quite significantly at that!” the second scouting pair reported, to worried whispers all around, only for them to try and reassure everypony with a smile. “But at the same time, it seems to be veering off course from our current path. I think they may have lost our trail due to Zelda’s long-range teleportation spell.”

Quite a few sighs of relief and happy shouts resounded at that bit of news. Even Forest couldn’t help but relax a little. For while the teachings Ganondorf gave her did allow her to face the frozen beasts in combat, it was still by no means a pleasant experience.

“Very good. But we will have to keep a wary eye to make sure they do not drift back towards the caravan,” the pink-coated sergeant seriously stated as she flapped her wings once to silence the crowd before refocusing on her subordinate, “What is its current heading?”

“Ma’am, It seems to be going towards the southeast at this current point in time, picking up speed as it goes.” The feathered pony concluded his report with a salute. But unlike the rest of the gathered ponies, who had seemed to relax at the pegasus’ words, upon hearing those words the pink-coated sergeant started to curse profusely.

“Pick up speed, on the double! Old Oak, Sure Shot, pass the command along! We’ve got to get the caravan moving as fast as we can!” she barked in a tone of voice that brooked no argument, eyes narrowed in worry and anger as she demanded they move on as fast as possible. “We have to reach the Earth Villa yesterday! There isn’t a moment to lose! Now move it!”

“Ma’am?” the pegasus who had just delivered the news hesitatingly questioned, giving voice to the confusion Forest could see on everypony’s muzzles. There was almost nothing to the southeast, after all, nothing but one or two small settlements that were barely worth the name, being so small that they made their old village look large. So what was the reason for the mare’s sudden frantic worry?

“Think, you idiot!” the mare hissed as she flared her wings and took a step towards the now slightly cowering scout. “There are practically no settlements in that area! No major gatherings or trading lanes! Absolutely nothing! Nothing to gather the attention of the wraiths! Nothing to slow them down!”

At those words, a wave of confusion started to settle upon the crowd, only for it to be shattered by the sergeant’s next words.

“The only thing of note around there is the fact that Pegasopolis is currently above that area!” she spat with finality. “Now stop losing time and move it!”

As the crowd dissolved into what could be easily called organized chaos under the stern orders of Old Oak and Sure Shot, Forest couldn’t help but glance towards the southeast. Towards distant Pegasopolis, the fabled floating fortress of the pegasi. Towards where Link and Wonder Bolt had gone.

“Clever little critters,” Ganondorf grumbled at her side, a thoughtful look on his features. “If they are attempting to strike at the armed forces before the pegasi are ready, then they may be smarter than I gave them credit for.”

“Link and Wonder Bolt will surely have warned them by now,” Zelda reasonably stated as she passed close by after giving several orders in regards to the wagons carrying the few still recovering ponies. “If they are smart about it, by this point they shall have some preparations already underway and should not be caught unawares.”

On his part, upon hearing those words the large earth pony simply gave the white-coated unicorn a lightly incredulous look as he looked her right in the eyes.

Individuals can be smart, Princess,” Ganondorf said in a voice as dry as the dessert, specifically stressing the word ‘individuals’ as he spoke. He then shook his long crimson mane before letting out a very irritated huff. “But join them in a group of any significant size and unless you have a firm hold on the reins, nine times out of ten, you end up with dumb panicky animals, no matter how smart each individual of the group was before grouping together. You should know that by now better than most.”

Forest really didn’t like the implications of what Ganondorf was saying, a feeling that was not helped even slightly by the very pained look Zelda was now sporting.

“Link is there, he won’t allow it to devolve to such a point,” she stated with conviction. Though Forest noticed that the unicorn’s voice wasn’t as firm as was her norm, as she said those words.

“Oh, I’m sure he will do his best!” the stallion stated with a laugh that lacked any real mirth before he started to trot away, apparently done with the conversation. “But in the end, you cannot cure stupidity by hitting people. I know, believe me, I tried.”

Madness. This was madness, pure and simple.

The gathering of the four colonels, the greatest authorities and leaders of the Armada, the highest-ranked amidst their number, beneath only the Commander himself, had devolved into a shouting match.

Accusations were being thrown every which way. Insults were being hurled back and forth. Nerves were flying high as tempers rose and arguments sparked. And Bolt was certain that the only reason that blows hadn’t yet been traded, or weapons drawn, was due to the centuries-old tradition that no violence should ever occur within these hallowed chambers.

“You dare accuse me and mine with these pathetic lies!” Winter Gale hissed, his voice dangerously low as he glared at Shake Spear. His troops behind him shouted their agreement towards their leader’s words.

“Enough, Winter Gale, we all have seen Shake Spear’s proof!” Spring Shower forcefully stated as she stomped a hoof for emphasis, clearly annoyed with the whole situation. “So unless you can explain what has happened to the second missive or why you attempted to have Corporal Wonder Bolt and his companion arrested-“

“A fanciful tale in a piece of parchment and the words of a rogue and a half-breed,” Thunderstrike interjected, cutting Spring Shower off mid-speech, much to the white-coated mare’s ire. “If that is what you and yours would call proof, Spring, then I fear should we ever have to trust you as scouts in a conflict.

And so the arguments started anew. Now with the ebony-coated stallion trading barbs and veiled insults with the female colonel adding another layer to the whole mess.

By this point of things Fierce Breeze’s missive had been both read out loud, twice, and re-read personally by each of the other three colonels. But that had seemed to only stoke the fires of dissent even further. Ponies questioned and argued about everything in regards to it. From the validity of the missive, up to if the sergeant had been in her right mind when she wrote it, even if the missive was valid.

All the while they were no closer to resolving the whole mess and getting ready to tackle the real crisis looming over the horizon. Even worse, slowly but surely Bolt could see two camps were materializing amidst the chaos. Spring Shower and Shake Spear on one side, with Winter Gale and Thunderstrike on the other, two camps which were harboring a growing and growing animosity to each other.

With each hour that passed in this fruitless endeavor, Bolt couldn’t help but feel his anger and helplessness grow. Each hour that passed meant that the wraiths to the north were that much closer to the lands of the Three Tribes.

How couldn’t Winter Gale see what this would cause? That no matter if he won or lost this foalish argument would only weaken the Armada when pony-kind needed all of their strength more than ever before?!

“Again with this silly story of the ice creatures to the north?” Winter Gale scoffed with clear disdain as Shake Spear attempted to raise exactly said issue. “Have you forgotten that there was a war mage within that wind forsaken hamlet?

“What exactly was one of Unicornia’s oh so precious war mages doing at such a faraway place?” he questioned, his words as cold as a glacier as his hard eyes moved around the entire crowd. “Tell me, all of you, what is more likely? That one of the thrice-cursed war mages of the unicorns created the whole situation, or one of our patrols was attacked by an up to that point undiscovered hostile species, while a group of three unaffiliated ponies, one of each tribe, just so happened to stumble upon the whole situation. And on top of that, one of said ponies knows the near mythological long lost art of Storm Calling!”

He outright sneered at the last bit, as if the words themselves left a sour taste on his mouth, playing up how truly unbelievable the reality of the situation was to try and trick the others into doubting Fierce Breeze’s report and Bolt’s own words.

“Tell me then, which of these options sounds more likely? Or will you insist on supporting this foalish fanciful tale Shake Spear’s trying to push for reasons unknown?”

A wave of shouted agreements and hushed doubtful whispers filled the chamber for a moment, before Shake Spear forcibly snapped his wings and demanded attention. A decidedly predatory smile was firm upon the flamboyant colonel’s muzzle as he did so.

“Point of order. Why, if you desired proof my dear colonel, you had but to ask!” he jovially stated even as his smile grew decidedly more pointy with each word he spoke. “Link my good lad, if you wouldn’t mind, please step forward.”

“If you think that the word of a rogue with no concept of loyalty will-“ Thunderstrike started to interject, to a wave of agreements from his own followers. Only for Shake Spear to silence them with another forceful snap of his wings.

“Ah, ah, ah, now be patient my dear. And for the record, no, Link’s words will not be needed for what I have in mind,” Shake Spear gleefully continued as he gestured towards Link. And with a jolt of realization Bolt realized what the colonel was planning. “Now then, some amidst our number seem to be doubting the good sergeant’s words. Let’s put those doubts to rest, shall we? Now, Link, if you would be so kind. Play us a little tune, yes?”

A renewed wave of shouts and arguments surged forward as Link calmly grabbed his flute and rose it towards his lips. A wave of shouts and arguments that continued for a few moments longer, until suddenly stopping as a strong wind started to blow inside the council chambers, which so happened to have no windows and whose doors were currently closed.

Link kept playing the song for a little while longer in the now ringing silence, changing the tune once in a while in order to change the direction of the wind and show to all and sundry that he was indeed controlling the wind through the melody he was playing.

“Now then, I believe this puts to rest the questions about our dear green friend here being a Storm Caller, yes?” Shake Spear asked the dumbfounded chamber.

The silence that had befallen the room lasted a single moment longer. Before it was mercilessly shattered by a wave of noise that dwarfed the earlier arguments by several orders of magnitude as everypony started to try and talk over each other. This quickly devolved into shouting matches and renewed arguments between the four groups.

As the shouting grew louder and louder, Bolt couldn’t help but let out a very tired sigh as he briefly closed his eyes, exhausted with the whole affair. His breath began turning to mist as the temperature kept slowly dropping, going unnoticed amidst the growing argument.