Solar Wind

by Radiant Dawn

Chapter 3

Chapter 3

As usual, Diedrick’s hearing was the first of his senses to awaken, followed shortly by his sense of smell. Both quickly informed him that the previous day had in fact happened, and that he was not on his ship. This allowed him to wake with a sense of comfortable relaxation instead of hostility or fear, which was a welcome change from the majority of his past endeavors. The scent of breakfast cooking made his mouth water as his stomach grumbled, so he sat up and stretched before standing.

The sounds of early morning in a city reached his ears, and he glanced over the nearby awning to see many gryphons already out on the streets, even before the sun was up. The scent of cooking on the air advised him that this family seemed to wake early as well though, which was fine by him since he often woke at early hours. Still, he could admit to himself even in the unfamiliar environment that being able to watch the sunrise would be nice.

The faint sound of wings catching air caught his attention, and he turned to see Gilda dressed in a pair of shorts and a tee shirt, smiling at him. “Morning. Feel like some breakfast?”

Diedrick nodded before stretching once more. “Sure. Let me take a quick shower and get dressed, and then I’ll meet all of you downstairs. Give me like seven minutes.”

She nodded before taking to the sky again. “Sure thing. I’ll tell my parents that you’ll be down shortly.” With that, she dropped down below the roof, presumably to her own room.

Diedrick gave a yawn before grabbing the corner of the roof and swinging expertly back into his guest room.

As Diedrick finished dressing and strapping his energy pistol to his thigh, he ran a hand through his damp hair before opening the door...and nearly tripping over the small gryphon that was preparing to knock.

After righting himself, Diedrick hurriedly offered his hand to the youngest member of the household, who had fallen onto her behind. “Are you alright?”

Tara smiled up at him and nodded, taking his hand to stand. “Mmhmm, I’m okay. Mum says breakfast is ready, so she told me to make sure you didn’t forget or something.”

Diedrick nodded to her and smiled. “Well thank you for checking on me, miss. I’ll follow you down.” With that, he proceeded to follow the child gryphon (or “chick”, as they were more commonly referred to) out into the overhang and down the stairs to the bottom floor.

When he arrived in the dining area, he found a nice assortment of breakfast-style meats, vegetables, and fruits upon the table. Already this gryphon family was far more helpful than he had known the “ponies” to be, but he couldn’t help but feel a little put off by it.

“I hope you aren’t doing all of this on my account.” he said with a frown.

Typhoon shook her head, taking her seat at the head of the table as the rest of them sat down as well. “Of course not. This is actually a very common meal for us, as well as the instance itself. As a family we share breakfast and dinner every day.”

Smiling faintly, Diedrick nodded as he took his seat. “That actually sounds very nice, and it’s something most of my kind shares in common with yours. We are a very close-knit people, and often large extended families will all live within the same town together.”

“Hmm, that actually sounds nice.” Steelbeak replied as he began dishing up food for himself and his youngest daughter. “Unfortunately, no such thing would ever work for gryphons. We’re far too independent. We have enough trouble most times just putting up with our immediate family.”

Diedrick shrugged. “Evolution does many things, and to my people, it changed our minds and behaviors. Over time, what was once a race of people that fought amongst themselves with wars more commonplace than I care to admit, we became a race united for the first time in our history as a sapient species.”

“This sounds like something we should be writing down.” Typhoon commented offhandedly.

Diedrick shrugged. “I’ve got ways to give you all the relevant history about my people that you might want, and I’m more than willing to provide it if and when I decide I can fully trust you and your kind with it.”

Steelbeak nodded. “Understandable. Well, today we want to see some of those things we can learn from you, so first we’ll be dropping by the barracks to meet with Colonel Silverstreak at Bloodfeather Arena, where our troops are trained. If and when we see the information you provide become useful to us, we will provide you with the star charts you were promised.”

Diedrick nodded with a smile, heaping a respectful serving of food on his plate. “Straightforward and simple...I like it.” After taking a bite of some sort of salted pork-like meat, Diedrick continued. “After we finish up here, I’ll give you a taste of what I can do for you. You won’t be disappointed.”

Gilda released a breath of relief as she stated, “For a second there, I was afraid you guys were gonna start glaring at each other and posturing for a fight.”

Steelbeak shook his head, glancing to his older daughter. “It’s a common way of establishing comfortable boundaries for new acquaintances in the military; a sort of status quo for soldiers, if you will.” He gestured a hand toward Diedrick. “You see, it would be foolish for Diedrick to provide us with everything he knows simply on the chance we might be able to help him. So, what he’s planning is to give us just enough that we are satisfied, while still palming is best cards.”

Diedrick nodded to Gilda. “And he knows that I’ll do that, just like he knows that I wouldn’t believe him even if he promised to provide me with what I needed. Instead, I’m ensuring both of us come out of this situation happy, until or unless true trust is established between us. I don’t know your father all that well yet, so I can only trust him insofar as a man who has provided me with living quarters.” He then shrugged. “Depending on how long I stay here though, I can see a nice friendship forming between us, provided neither of us stabs each other in the back.” Steelbeak nodded to him, winking at his daughter with a smile.

“If you two are finished,” Typhoon began with a roll of her eyes, “perhaps we can eat the breakfast I lovingly prepared.”

As he bit into a forkful of egg, meat and toast, Diedrick groaned happily. “I can definitely taste the love in this.”

“Can we not talk about tasting mom’s love?” Gilda whined. “It’s giving images I don’t want.”

Diedrick barely stifled an outright laugh, but joined Steelbeak in a chorus of chuckling snorts. Typhoon, thankfully for all involved, had a good sense of humor, and shook her head with a smile as the family and guest ate and chatted.

Diedrick was following Steelbeak through the streets of Cragsbreach, dressed in his full armor and armed with his rifle, knife, and energy pistol. The sight of such an unfamiliar creature dressed in unconventional armor was more than a little intimidating to the gryphons, not to mention the fact that he was taller than all of them by at least a foot, but seeing Commander Steelbeak escorting him assuaged their fears. Nonetheless, the two found themselves on the receiving end of quite a few confused stares.

Luckily for them both, Steelbeak’s house had been strategically built to be close to both the barracks and the king’s Bedrock Keep, so that he could quickly make his way to either from home. Within only a few minutes of walking, they had reached the military barracks, drawing entirely new stares from the recruits and officers gathered around the entrance.

“Wow, he does look kinda weird.” muttered one of them -- a gold and brown gryphon female.

Augmented hearing allowed Diedrick to hear the comment, and he chuckled as he replied, “I’ve never met your kind before, so you all look pretty weird to me too.” He pointed to his ears. “I can hear you whisper from about a hundred paces away.” He then shrugged. “I bet you all probably see better than I can though, seeing as how your top half appears to take after an eagle. How far can you all see?”

“I would be able to clearly see you from up to two miles away.” Steelbeak answered, chuckling. “I have to admit though, hearing is quite a bit more versatile than sight. While we must be facing what we’re looking for to see it, you can hear no matter what direction you’re facing, and hearing isn’t affected by light or darkness either.”

Diedrick nodded. “True. So, what are we doing today?”

“Well first,” Steelbeak began, pointing to an elderly gray gryphon in front of him, wearing an officer’s uniform, “I would like to introduce you to Colonel Silverstreak; he handles the day-to-day operation of our standard military, and is the one you have to impress today.”

Turning his eyes to the tall gryphon, Diedrick extended his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Colonel Silverstreak. I’m Captain Diedrick Thompson, ship captain of starship Hyperion, and your resident alien for the foreseeable future.”

Taking the captain’s hand in his own and firmly shaking it, Colonel Silverstreak gestured to the man in front of him. “See boys? Along with hard work and dedication, respect is what will let you go far in the military. Respect those more experienced than you, and respect yourself enough to become stronger, faster, and wiser.” He looked back to Diedrick and said, “And it’s a pleasure to meet you as well, captain.”

As the two got to know each other, Steelbeak announced, “I’ve got to check in with the other guards at the keep. I’ll leave you all to it.” Looking directly to Diedrick he added, “I’ll return for you in a few hours. Try not to hurt them too much.” Diedrick chuckled and nodded, so Steelbeak retreated toward the keep.

As he released the hand, Diedrick did a quick lookover of the soldiers gathered. About three-quarters of them appeared to be mere recruits or similarly low in rank, while the rest were officers of varying degrees. “So, what’s the plan today?”

“I was thinking a bit of a sparring match, if you’re up to it.” Colonel Silverstreak answered. “In gryphon culture, you must earn respect from our warriors.”

Looking around briefly, Diedrick nodded. “That seems fair.” Removing his armaments and setting them aside, he flexed his back and rolled his shoulders before asking, “So who’s first?”

Smirking, the colonel turned to a tall, burly gryphon soldier. “Boulder, you’re up first. Try not to break anything this time.”

Diedrick watched as a gryphon nearly as tall as he was stepped out of the crowd, removing a large two-handed hammer and pistol-like weapon and placing them aside. The gryphon then cracked his neck from side to side before stepping forward, a mere dozen or so paces away from him. Diedrick tensed his muscles as he waited patiently for an attack. To his surprise, the burly gryphon was also waiting, so Diedrick decided to push the bout on his own.

Taking a single step forward and springing off the ground, Diedrick launched himself nearly twenty feet into the air as he raised his heel high above his head. His opponent only had a second of shocked surprise to react as he rolled away, just in time to see the booted heel of Diedrick land and crack the stone of the ground he had previously been standing on.

Attempting to catch Diedrick off-guard as he recovered from his attack, Boulder used his wings to bolt forward and throw a punch at his face…

Which Diedrick caught by the wrist with one hand.

Twisting the wrist sharply, Diedrick soon had his opponent prone on the ground, helpless as he manipulated the weak joints of the arm, which were thankfully nearly an exact match for his own. He then spun around and mounted the downed gryphon, and began to pull back on the trapped arm.

“Judging by the fact that you can’t get up for fear of breaking your own arm,” Diedrick observed with a smirk, “I’d say I’ve won this round.” Punctuating his statement with a tensing of his arms, he began to pull on the limb, causing the gryphon to groan in pain under him. “Unless of course you want to keep going.”

“I think that’s enough.” answered Colonel Silverstreak. “Boulder won’t be much good to me if he can’t use both of his arms.”

Releasing his sparring partner and stepping away before helping him up, Diedrick was silently surprised he had lasted as long as he had. It would mark only the tenth time someone had survived more than two or three seconds against him. He almost wished Boulder had used his wings to fly; he would have lasted longer.

“I hope he’s not the best you’ve got.” Diedrick muttered.

Colonel Silverstreak raised an eyebrow at him. “What do you mean?”

Diedrick pointed to Boulder, who was rubbing his shoulder. “His reflexes were painfully slow, his attack was sloppy and took too long to hit, and he wasn’t flexible enough to escape my arm hold. Had this been a real fight, he would have been dead. If you care about your troops, you need to train them better so they don’t die the first time they come across someone like me.”

Grinning, the colonel shook his head. “No, he’s not the best. Powerful, imposing and ready to fight, but not the most skilled. He has quite a way to go until he’s graduated from the academy.” He then glanced at the recovering gryphon soldier. “Boulder, head to the infirmary to make sure your arm and shoulder are alright. Windcutter, you’re next.”

This time Diedrick saw a much smaller soldier step forward, and took note of her different body structure. She was well-developed and toned, but not enough that it would limit maneuverability or flexibility. Furthermore, she wore much lighter armor, and had multiple crests adorning her chestplate. Diedrick assumed the marks signified rank of some sort, so he figured this fighter would be far more capable than the last.

“I’m looking forward to this, Captain.” Windcutter greeted, her stark white feathers shining in the sunlight. “It’s been quite some time since I’ve been able to spread my wings, so to speak.”

There was a subtle confidence in her words that made Diedrick smile; this was going to be fun.

Luna was not having a good day.

Not so much because she was up running on nearly thirty-six hours without sleep (though that added to her irritability), but rather because her dear sister was moping. While it was true Celestia was strong and radiant as a ruler, as a mere pony she was very fragile, which was something only three on the planet truly knew about. Both Luna and Celestia had been forced to take the reigns of a growing kingdom from a young age after all, which left their personal emotional growth somewhat stunted.

It was by that token that Luna had mentally dubbed Celestia the unofficial “Princess of Pity-partying”.

Luna had heard of her sister’s first meeting with “the visitor”, and how badly it had gone. While it was true that the gryphons were much more civilized than they were a few hundred years ago, it was unheard of for someone to choose them over the ponies of Equestria for their hospitality. It might have had something to do with Celestia’s arrogant behavior toward the alien guest, but “familiarity breeds contempt”, as the saying goes. For so long Celestia was seen and praised as the strong ruler of a prosperous kingdom, and though alicorns were many things, they were not immune to fault.

Night court was a half-day away, which left Luna with the choice to either gorge herself on sweet fruits to stave off exhaustion, or comfort her sister. It seemed that the night princess’ hooves made her decision for her as she found herself hurriedly making her way toward the lunar wing of the castle, where the royal apartments were.

Celestia lay sprawled on her bed, mane and tail in disarray and clothes haphazardly strewn about the floor and bedposts. Truthfully, she didn’t care about the state of her room at the moment, as she was spending her time on much more important actions: judging herself. It was not something she was unfamiliar with, nor was it uncommon, but never before had she felt so thoroughly chastised by someone millennia younger than her.

Steelbeak was a friend after all, and one she had confided in quite a few times. As such, he was one of the only ones who knew the pony beneath the crown, and had the authority to tell her when she was doing something stupid, selfish, or downright wrong. Twilight would never outright criticize her mentor of course (at least not at her young age), and Luna was known to personally deal with many of the affairs that her royal cabinet would normally handle; Celestia was not going to bother her niece unless it was of dire importance, which left Steelbeak as the only one she regularly had contact with who she felt she could speak to as an equal. Since such bonds between her and others were rare, she cherished the few she had, and placed great importance on what transpired between them.

Her morose thoughts were interrupted by a familiar knock on the door -- familiar because of the pattern that had been created between her and only one other, thousands of years ago.

She sighed and pushed herself to a sitting position, covering her nearly nude body with sheets in case the princess was not alone. “Come in, Luna.”

The door opened and shut quickly as the lithe form of Equestria’s lunar diarch entered the room, and shining cyan eyes settled on the slumped form of the sun’s steward.

Celestia released another sigh -- one of relief -- and dropped the sheets from around her body as she stood to greet her sister. “Good afternoon, Luna. Can I help you?”

“No,” she clipped quickly, “I am not the one who needs help at the moment.”

Celestia released a sigh as she sat down heavily on her bed. "Luna, I'm fine. I am simply a bit out of sorts."

“It is unhealthy to bottle up your emotions, sister.” Luna admonished sternly. She pointed to the bed and ordered, “Sit, and talk to me.”

Knowing there was no way she was going to otherwise placate the lunar diarch, Celestia released a heavy sigh and plopped upon the cushioned mattress. After a few moments of collecting her thoughts she asked, “Luna, am I a good pony?”

Luna raised an eyebrow in surprise. “Er...what?”

“I’m serious, sister; am I a good pony?” Celestia clarified. “It seems since-”

“Your run-in with the visitor;” Luna surmised, “that is what this is about?”

Celestia shifted and wrapped her wings around herself, as if trying to block out the shame that began to overtake her. “The first visitor we’ve ever had from beyond, and the first thing I do is try to lock him up. Perhaps the fear of another great enemy has clouded my judgement, but if I truly am benevolent, why did I attempt to detain an innocent without probable cause? What have I become?”

Luna slowly walked toward the bed before sitting beside her sister, embracing her tightly as she did so and nuzzled her comfortingly. “Celestia, you are a good pony; some may say the epitome of good. Regardless of what you have done, you have ever only acted in Equestria’s best interests.” She then stopped and pulled away, looking into Celestia’s eyes. “However, you have let your fear rule your decision here. Perhaps you should get to know this creature before you pass judgement.”

Celestia nodded with a sigh. “Steelbeak tells me he is settling in well enough, and will likely need to speak with us about the stars in our sky. He appears to only wish to find his way home, and will require our star-charts to find it.”

Luna cocked her head to the side as she asked, “Does he know about-”

Celestia shook her head. “No, and I fear it will be quite the revelation to him. It seems he still does not fully grasp what magic is, much less how it works. From what Steelbeak has told me, his world has no magic, and his species has evolved without it. His people are a race of technology and science, not magic and Harmony.” She sighed again, rubbing her eyes. “I fear we will come upon quite a few problems early on, regardless of how hospitable we are.”

“Then we must show him the love our people are known for.” Luna answered with a smile. “Equestria is not its military, nor is its heart one of fire; Equestria is love and harmony, and we must show that to him when we next meet. He could be a powerful ally to any who befriend him, so we must not let this chance pass us up.”

Celestia nodded. “If any more of his kind appear, it would work to our advantage to have one of them on our side.”

If there are any more, sister.” Luna corrected. “You know what happened to the others…”

The elder sister nodded again, this time with a heavy heart. “Yes, I remember. Best to leave those thoughts for when we know for sure the specifics of his arrival here.” With a shrug of her shoulders, she turned her thoughts toward what the visitor might be doing.

‘I hope he’s staying out of trouble.’

 “Stop, stop! I give, I give!” shouted another gryphon soldier as he was pinned against the ground, his arms twisted behind him as the armored boot of Diedrick pressed on the back of his head.

Diedrick released the gryphon and offered his hand, hoisting his opponent to his feet with a smile. “Well done; you almost had me. Unfortunately, you overlooked the fact that I am still faster, stronger, and larger than you.” He chuckled and added, “I mean no disrespect by saying this, but none of you are going to be able to beat me.”

Colonel Silverstreak looked over the beaten soldiers behind him and sighed. “I never thought I’d say this, but you’re right. You’re on an entirely different level.”

Diedrick smirked and said, “My people have had thousands of years to evolve, and we’ve basically been bred to fight. From the time we’re young, we’re taught how to survive in a hostile environment, and how to use our abilities to the fullest in all situations.”

Steelbeak could be seen coming up from behind the group, and waved jovially. “Hello boys. So, how did he do?”

Colonel Silverstreak motioned to the defeated gryphons, most of which were still nursing sore joints and bruises. “How do you think he did? It seems his weapons aren’t the only thing dangerous about him.”

Diedrick merely grinned. ‘Oh, if only they knew.’

Steelbeak made eye contact with Diedrick and jerked his head away. “Come, we’ll meet the rest of the community; if you’re going to be staying here, it would work to your advantage to be familiar with our city and the people within it, at least to some degree.”

Diedrick followed, and once they were out of earshot of the others, asked, “Might I ask where you went for the past few hours?”

Steelbeak glanced to his companion. “I compiled a report for Princess Celestia, and met with the king again to advise him of your first day here.”

At the mention of the pony-princess, Diedrick’s mouth curled into a frown. “I can’t say I trust these ponies, Steelbeak. They made a horrible first impression, and didn’t even have it in them to earn my respect by being good fighters.” He shook his head roughly. “The wilds would eat them alive.”

Steelbeak chuckled at Diedrick’s reaction. “The ponies may not be the best warriors, but do not underestimate them. Beyond the fact that they have fostered peace within their lands for over a thousand years, they wield powers we can only vaguely comprehend, and have cultivated both the world’s greatest minds and its greatest artists. True that they are a bit soft by gryphon standards, but there is a reason that the other nations ally with them instead of declaring war.”

Diedrick eyed Steelbeak curiously. “You seem almost afraid of these ponies.”

The gryphon shook his head with a grin. “No, simply cautious. One alicorn has the power to destroy entire cities in the blink of an eye, without so much as breaking a sweat -- Equestria has four of them. They are a peaceful people, but to underestimate their protective nature is to walk the path of the fool.” As they approached what looked like a large park, Steelbeak motioned ahead of him. “We’ll take a quick jaunt through the city and have you meet some of the more influential members of society; get in good with them, and you’ll have no problems with others.”

Diedrick followed without complaint, eager to see more of the gryphon city.

Twilight stood out on the balcony of her home, resting against the crystal railing and thinking about what had happened in just the past few days. The fact that Princess Celestia had not been seen anywhere but her room and study worried Twilight, since she was well aware of what actions she would take if she were depressed. She didn’t like thinking of her mentor being unhappy, but Luna had assured her that things were being taken care of.

“Bit for your thoughts, Twi?” greeted a voice from behind her, just as two scaled arms snaked around her waist and a chin settled on her shoulder.

Twilight smiled as she leaned back into the embrace of her partner and hummed happily. “Just thinking about that alien and worrying about Celestia, even though there’s not much I can do about either right now.”

“Worrying is your thing, Twi.” the other responded.

Twilight turned around in the grasp and looked upon her oldest friend, and more recently, lover. “I know Spike, but I just wish there was something I could do besides sitting here and waiting. You know I hate feeling helpless.”

The dragon tucked Twilight’s head beneath his chin and stroked her mane comfortingly. “All we can do right now is prepare for the inevitability that at some point, he’s going to meet all of us, and we need to make a good impression. I’ll send out a letter to Pinkie, but you need to go and prepare the rest of them. Together we can make sure his second impression of ponies is a good one.”

Twilight nodded against his chest, simply enjoying the embrace of her drakefriend for a moment. “So how did your foalsitting thing go?”

Spike barked a laugh, his chest shaking with chuckles as he struggled to compose himself. “H-he’s definitely a chip off the old block, I’ll tell you that, and I’m not speaking about Rarity’s block. I can’t get him to sit still for anything, so I just took him out and let him run with me through the town to tire him out. We played tag, hide and seek, and even had a sparring match or two before he finally collapsed from exhaustion. He’s gonna be a nightmare when he learns how to fly, and from how fast he’s growing, I don’t see that being too far off.”

“Speaking of our fashion-centric friend, how is Rarity?” Twilight asked with a grin.

Spike shrugged and answered, “She’s alright I guess. She’s a little bummed that her quicker half had work this week, but she knew the week before that this would be an off-week, so all we have to do is wait until tomorrow.”

Twilight smiled again at the thought of the odd couple. “Dash is in Las Pegasus this week, right?”

Spike nodded in return, grinning at the thought of Equestria’s own city of lights. “Yep, and she wouldn’t shut up for it for like a week before she left. I swear, the only time I’ve seen her more excited was when she was accepted into the ‘Bolts.”

Twilight nodded once again before turning to look at Canterlot in the distance, her mouth dropping into a worried frown. “So did you hear about the visitor?”

Spike settled his weight upon his elbows as he leaned against the railing, also looking to Equestria’s capital. “Uh huh. Scootaloo sent me a message about it; she wasn’t on Celestia’s personal guard detail though, so she only knows bits and pieces of what’s happened.” He brushed his hand against the soft spines on his neck, shaking his head with a sigh. “Word is this thing took out four armed guards without even breaking a sweat, and then threatened them with ‘a weapon that fires molten energy’ if they didn’t let him go. If nothing else, this guy’s pretty ballsy; I’m kinda excited to meet him.”

Twilight shook her head, slapping a palm to her face. “It figures you’d want to meet something that threatened to commit regicide.”

“From what I heard, Celestia threatened him first.” Spike retorted with a grin. “That’s pretty stupid if you ask me, no matter who you are.”

Twilight’s face twisted into a grimace. “She had to-”

“She threatened an innocent visitor with no grounds for it besides fear, Twi.” he interrupted sternly, glancing at the princess out of the corner of his eye. “Seeing as how Equestria is the land of tolerance and love, that’s a pretty stupid thing to do when making a first impression.”

Twilight didn’t like it, but realized he was right. With a sigh, she leaned against Spike and turned her attention to the mountain city. “Well, if things pan out the way I think they will, we’ll get our chance to mend the tarnished image our guest has of Equestria. There’s so much we could learn from each other -- so much we could do to help each other.”

With all thoughts toward what might happen next, the dragon and pony silently basked in the late afternoon air.