Misty stood outside the trunk of the World Tree, the cool wind whipping through her hair. The sun was setting and the long night was about to begin. Normally she would be tucked up safe in her nesthome, hibernating through until morning, but not tonight. This night was when her Quest would take place and affirm her ascension as an adult, and a true breezie.
The events of the previous hour still ran through her mind. She kicked herself again and again for being so pathetic, so self-pitying. Sunny Breeze never would have been such a coward. Neither would her father. Or her mother. She had to be better than she was.
She looked up into the branches of the World Tree that towered far above her. It seemed massive and invincible, but the earlier attack had reminded her of just how fragile her home really was. It was her home though, as her father always said. Her heritage. If the breezies fled, then the ponies would win, and they couldn’t let that happen.
Misty tasted the chilled air as darkness descended. Her father had spent ages fussing, giving her all sorts of advice and tips. He had even packed her a little knapsack that she had strapped to her back, full of useful and precious tools, pieces of string, and even a quarter-nut in case she got hungry.
She had just focussed her attention on Leaf. The attack had frightened her pet, and it took all of her patience to get him to come out of his cage to say goodbye. She’d given him another crystal of sugar though, as a special treat. She let a smile crease across her mouth as she thought about the delighted expression on his little face. Her father might think she was wasting her sugar on her pet, but she knew better.
Misty began to walk alongside the root, tracing one limb over its ancient, gnarled surface. She had never been outside in the dark. In fact, she had never been alone before at all. She suddenly felt very, very small and vulnerable as she made her journey away from home, following the path of the root to the edge of rootspan.
The sun finally sunk below the horizon, orange light fading fast. Above her, the stars began to come out, twinkling through the canopy of branches to light her way. “Thanks, mum,” she whispered upwards, savouring the moment.
In the dappled starlight, she could see that the branches above her were bare. All of them had been stripped clean of their life-giving fruit. As she had been putting Leaf to bed, she had overheard her uncle talking to her father about this, about how the pony attack had been even worse than they had thought, knocking loose all of the fruit. Even the fruit that had been wired to the tree had fallen under the powerful strikes of the pony. There was nothing left for them now; the ponies had stolen all the fruit from the World Tree, as well as every other tree for as far as the scout patrols could see. Then they would be sending in the winter to finish the breezies off.
Misty took a deep breath and continued forwards. She shook her head to chase away the worried thoughts. She shouldn’t worry, her father would protect her like he always did. Only, he said he wouldn’t always be about. Would it really be up to her to save the hive?
She was so lost in her thoughts that she almost walked straight into the object that was embedded in the edge of the root. She gave a gasp of alarm and astonishment as she took in the sight. It was a tall, thin metal rod with an oval hole in one end, glinting in the cool starlight.
“I’ve done it! I’ve done it!” she cried out, looking at the object from all angles in delight, thinking of how proud her father would be. “I’ve got a pony sword!” She wrapped an appendage around it and pulled hard. It didn’t budge. She put both her front limbs to the task, grunting and heaving until finally it slid free, and she sat down on the ground to examine her prize.
There was something very familiar about it.
Misty gazed up at the stars, creasing her brow with thought. Then she looked back towards the warmth of home that lay invitingly behind her. Her Quest was done. She had struck a blow for the breezies, taken a pony treasure like all those before her, and would be welcomed back as a hero into the loving embrace of her family.
Only… it was her mother’s sword. She hefted it again, feeling the weight. There was no doubt about it. Right at the edge of the third counter clockwise root, just as her uncle had said. In that moment, she understood the look that had passed between her father and her uncle. She could go home now. She was safe.
Safe to wait for winter and starvation and the end of all things.
Misty bowed her head, watching the starlight as it bounced and flickered in the sleek metal of the sword. “Oh, mum,” she said softly. “What would you do?”
But she knew. She knew what her mother would do.
Misty was not her mother though. She sat alone, letting the cold night air brush over her wings, looking down at the sword, back to home, and then across to the edge of the root that marked the border of rootspan. Past the safety of the World Tree.
Misty came to a decision. She unpacked a length of string from her knapsack and tied the sword to her back, being very careful to place it in between her wings. She gave one final look at the World Tree and her father who she imagined was waiting anxiously for her swift return, and whispered: “Sorry, dad.”
Then she stepped past rootspan and into the world.
In that moment, she knew her father was wrong. She knew that if the breezies kept hiding, kept trying to stay safe, that the ponies would eventually wear them down. They had to strike a greater victory. Someone had to stop winter. And that someone had to be Misty. Poor, cowardly, self-pitying Misty. Because no-one else would.
She tried to calm her breathing as she moved amongst the long grass that covered the land, snatching furtive glances back at home as it slowly receded. She had never been past rootspan before.
No, she had. She had, once.
She tried to quell those memories as she moved in that same direction once more. She had to be strong for her task. She had to be like Sunny Breeze and storm the ponies’ castle.
She was five weeks old again, blinking back the sleep from her eyes as her uncle woke her from hibernation. She was wailing and grumbling with confusion as he led her outside into the night, not understanding.
Misty screwed her eyes tight and blinked them open again. No, she wouldn’t cry. Heroes didn’t cry. She wasn’t a hero though, not really. But she would have to do. Dew started to form on the blades of grass as she crept through them, splattering against her coat and soaking her wings. She gave them a quick shake to keep them dry. She would make better time if she flew, but knew it was too dangerous, both from the wind and the creatures of the night.
There had been other breezies too, surrounding her and walking solemnly as they passed rootspan. Misty had looked up at her uncle for reassurance. She knew she was not supposed to go past rootspan, only adults were. All he would do though was look down at her and whisper “Don’t be sad, Misty,” again and again. He had been crying. That scared Misty more than anything else ever had in her life.
Misty ducked under a flower as a rustle of wings and the caw of a bird echoed through the air above her. Despite the sword strapped to her back she wasn’t confident about fighting anything off, much less a bird. She waited until the sound of dark wings receded into the distance and began her journey again, past the other trees that towered high above her. She was almost past the border where most of the scouts patrolled. If anything happened, they might never find her. Perhaps that was for the best. She was almost at the plain.
She remembered frantic whispers as her little group reached the plain. Misty looked out across the desolate expanse of gravel that so nearly bordered the grass forest in a straight line as far as the eye could see. Behind her, the World Tree was tiny. It seemed so wrong, somehow. A giddy thrill overtook her and she leapt onto the gravel with a cry of delight. How jealous all the other breezie youngsters would be when they found out her uncle had taken her all the way to the plain!
And then she saw her father. And she didn’t smile again for a long time.
Misty stepped out onto the plain. Standing there alone, its desolation was even more pronounced. She found that she was shaking as she started to walk across it, eyes glancing this way and that. Up for predators, left and right for Death Wheels. Just like the stories she had read when she was little always said. If only they were just stories. One step. Two steps. Three…
“…Who are strong fly free.” Her father had been speaking, his usually powerful voice cracking up as it swept over the landscape. Misty remembered how hunched his shoulders were, how his eyes had lost that confident gleam. There were other breezies there, all in a circle, heads bowed and silent. “We who are not will return to the stars and light the way for our children.”
Misty had stopped walking. She had frozen and turned back to her uncle. Something had overtaken her. A cold chill that clawed at her heart and told her to walk no further.
“Go,” her uncle had said, pushing her towards the group. “Please, Misty. Go to her.”
Misty’s steps crunched in the gravel as she walked ever onwards. There was nothing here. She was alone with her thoughts. The feeling of the sword at her back kept her moving, kept fuelling her determination. They couldn’t live like this, not one day more. She had to make a stand. She had to change the world. Because this was not how the world should be.
“Mummy?” Misty had wanted to hide behind her father. She turned again, but her uncle pushed her into the circle. She didn’t understand. She knew, but she didn’t understand. She had known as she was walking up to her father, before she could even see what was going on, that terrible gnawing feeling in her stomach that told her nothing would ever be the same again.
Her mother was lying there, on the plain. Someone had draped a felt cloth over her, but somehow that made it worse. Remnants of wing were scattered nearby. Dark smears in the moonlight
“Misty?” Her voice was so weak. It wasn’t what Misty was used to. Her parents were invincible, immortal. She looked up at her father for reassurance. He would make everything right. He always did.
Misty stopped in the middle of the plain. Fire flickered inside a massive cube in the distance. It must be the ponies’ castle. A new wave of determination flooded over her, and she patted her sword to make sure it was still there. Ponies lived only to hunt and steal from the breezies, attacking her home while they stayed safe in theirs, probably laughing every night at the misery they inflicted. How dare they? She gritted her teeth and began to march forwards. How dare they?
Her father had just looked down at her, a hollow, defeated look in his eyes. “We are breezies,” he said simply with a sigh. “We lift ourselves.”
Misty wanted to run to her mother, to hug her and tell her everything would be okay and she would love her forever and ever. She knew she couldn’t. Her mother tried to rise with one shuddering motion with her good appendage, and then fell onto the gravel. Misty knew she couldn’t do it. She heard stories of what the ponies’ Death Wheels could do, but that was always something that happened to others.
“Oh Misty, my Misty,” her mother gasped out through ragged breaths. “My darling little breeziegrub. I’m so sorry. I will watch you from the stars always. I promise.”
Her father took her shoulder and turned her around. Then all of the breezies in the circle did the same.
There had been a terrible silence across the plain.
And then just the sobs of a little five week old breezie, crying for what she had lost.
Misty steeled herself against the memory, daring it to make her cry again. It would serve some greater goal. She looked up at the sky again, to see her mother and ask for comfort and guidance.
Instead, there were just the jet black wings of a vast, predatory bird.
She screamed as she bird shot down quick as lightning, grasping her in its beak. She had been stupid, but there wasn’t time to beat herself up about it, not now. A searing pain stabbed at her midsection as the bird bit down. Her limbs beat against the bird’s face in agonized frustration, but to no effect.
The bird’s glassy black eyes stared back at her hungrily as it soared into the air. Misty didn’t even dare look down as the trees turned into grassy specks beneath her, the wind whipping violently about her fragile wings.
“No!” she shouted through gritted teeth, wailing out as the bird shook her in its mouth, causing its beak to cut deeper. “Not like this!” She squirmed this way and that, trying to break free from its titanic grip. Something cracked inside her, and she felt blood welling up in her mouth.
They soared through the sky. She couldn’t even see the World Tree now, it was just another green smear in a field of green. Her vision started to blur and her breathing became ragged.
Below her, she saw the ponies’ castle.
“No!” she shouted again, her vigour renewed by a sense of deep injustice. “No!” In one motion, she pulled the sword free from her back and brought it down on the bird’s head. Once, twice, again and again. She thrust back and jabbed the point right at the feathers in the centre of its forehead.
The bird squawked with annoyance, instantly letting go of Misty and letting her tumble into the air as it took flight in the search for easier prey.
Misty cried out as she helplessly fell, her wings whipped by the wind, unable to get them flapping fast enough to control her descent. The ground span towards her, faster and faster in a blur of grey and green. Face red and pouring with sweat, she strained as hard as she could, wing muscles exploding with effort.
She slowed with jerky motions, bobbing and swaying in the night sky before one final gust of wind slammed her straight down into a bush.
She lay at the bottom of the bush for what seemed like forever, torn and battered and aching in agony. She was alive though. Alive! Grimly, she pulled herself up in the bracken undergrowth, testing her wings. They hurt at every flap and the fall had torn some of the edges, but they were still flightworthy.
“I’m alive!” she whispered to herself, scarcely able to believe it, moving out of the bush. As she hit open space, she gave an experimental hop and a painful flutter of her wings. They still worked. “We lift ourselves.” The words came back to her as a mantra, reassuring her and giving her strength.
She knew she would need it.
Before her, stretching impossibly high into the sky, lay the ponies’ mighty castle. Perhaps it was her woozy head, but Misty couldn’t process the size at all. She knew their castle had to have been huge, but even so…
It was made of wood. How many World Trees had the ponies destroyed to build it? Were there other, less fortunate breezies who had lost their homes to these monsters? Misty moved closer, holding out a shaking appendage to touch the wood. Even in the starlight she could see that it was no ordinary wood. They had dyed it with some sort of red dye. Breezies had dye, of course, but they made it from the petals of plants. Misty couldn’t even begin to understand how many flowers the ponies must have destroyed to decorate their castle.
She spent a moment in silent contemplation. Her sword was still grasped tightly, and she brought it closer to her body for protection. No breezie since the days of Sunny Breeze had come to the ponies’ castle. None that had returned to tell the tale, that is.
She looked around for a way into the castle. The entrance seemed to be sealed tight, but up above there were panels made from a strange transparent material. One of them was open to the night air. Misty shook her head at the arrogance of the ponies. It would be their downfall.
She threw herself upwards, fluttering close to the edge of the castle walls in order to avoid the wind. She used her forelimbs to clamber against the smooth glassy surface until she reached the top and hoisted herself over.
Misty was inside the ponies’ stronghold. She held her breath, unwilling to make even that noise in case she was discovered. She froze as she heard another noise in the room. A booming, snorting that sounded like some mighty beast was sleeping.
Perhaps it was. Misty gently let herself drop to an inside ledge with just the softest flap of her wings to help her land. The luxury she saw laid out before her was boggling. There were cloths and all types of wood, and pieces of metal pushed into strange and wonderful shapes just lying about. In the centre of the room atop a massive platform slept one of the ponies.
Misty watched the sight in a strange mix of awe and apprehension. She hadn’t even considered that the ponies might need to hibernate during the long night too. She always thought they never rested, forever plotting new fiendish plans against the breezies. But here one was, defenceless before her.
As silently and quickly as she could, Misty clambered forwards to get a better view. She knew there were three ponies that lived in the castle. The fearsome Red Destroyer with its hooves of steel; the Disc Head, a strange pony who sported a massive misshapen head the top of which could detach into some sort of breezie-catching instrument; and the mysterious Terror, who was smaller but the fastest of all the ponies, and who wore a gigantic piece of cloth in its hair to wrap up breezies for dinner.
It was the Terror who slept in this nesthome. Misty crept onto its heaving chest, staggering as it moved up and down, her mother’s sword tightly grasped. She looked down at the cruel beast, hardly daring to move. A mix of emotions flooded up in her. Fear. Pain. Worry. Was it the Terror who had driven the Death Wheel that had murdered her mother? Was it the Terror who was about to bring down winter on the breezies and wipe them out?
Misty didn’t know. All she knew was that she was a hero, and was about to save the world.
“Sic semper tyrannis!” she squeaked as loudly as she could, old words from her books rising unbidden for the moment as she stabbed the sword down onto the pony’s throat. “Sic semper tyrannis!” She started to hyperventilate, plunging the sword down again and again and again, all the pain and fury and frustration bubbling up into that one moment of catharsis.
Nothing happened. The sword simply bounced off the pony’s invincible hide.
She kept on stabbing uselessly, her cries descending into babble as she realised the hot sting of tears on her cheeks had welled up again. She dropped to her knees and toppled sideways, hugging her mother’s sword on top of that awful pony.
She couldn’t do it. She could never have done it. She wasn’t like them. Stupid Misty. Stupid, useless Misty. She cried and cried in shame, not caring if she was caught any more. She could never save the world.
The ponies had won.