• Published 19th Sep 2013
  • 2,244 Views, 200 Comments

Wind and Stone - Ruirik

The Red Cloud War saw the pegasi lose everything to the griffon hordes. Legends rose, heroes died, and through it all, Pathfinder survived. Eighty years later he must confront those painful memories. Memories of loss, of home, of the wind and stone.

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The Gathering Storms

“Pathfinder!” Phalanx shouted. Hearing no reply and not seeing his youngest son appear, the stallion’s lips pulled into a fierce scowl. “Pathfinder!” he called again with a similar result. Growling in irritation, the stallion gritted his teeth and continued his march through the streets of Altus.

Nearing fifty years of age, Phalanx’s pale brown coat was marred with scars befitting an old legionnaire. The mark on his flanks depicted an imposing formation of spears and shields. His once black mane and tail, cleanly cropped regulation short, were streaked with silver strands. Not that he particularly cared what color they were; the color hadn’t mattered when he served in the Legion, hadn’t mattered when he was hauling nets full of fish onto his small boat, and it certainly didn’t matter when he was on a mission to find the younger of his two sons.

A strong northeasterly wind whipped through Altus, carrying with it a powerful spring thunderstorm. Thick, bubbling clouds—dark, grey, and flashing with lighting—grew ever closer over roiling seas. Waves crested over four feet tall, crashing into the sandy shores and dousing the earth in salty water. The tiny flowers that grew along the shoreline collected the seaspray in their petals like perfumed chalices, the sea salt bleaching the color from their delicate petals.

Phalanx pushed through the rushing winds and trotted towards the docks, where he spotted his eldest son. A tall stallion with a brown coat and a mane black as pitch, he was a spitting image of his father, though he kept his mane and tail a fair bit longer than Phalanx liked. He seemed preoccupied helping a canary-yellow stallion with a messy amber mane tie boats to the dock. Phalanx recognized the lanky young stallion, but couldn’t recall his name.

Together, his son and his friend worked to tie one of the fishing boats to the docks. His son held one end of the rope tight in his teeth while his right foreleg hooked around the rail of the small fishing boat. His friend worked quickly, yellow hooves and teeth masterfully weaving a tight knot around an iron cleat. Each had their wings outstretched, shielding their eyes from the salty spray of the ocean waves that crashed against the dock.

“Longbow!” Phalanx barked.

Longbow jumped, surprised by the call. “Yes, Father?”

“Where’s your gods-damned brother?”

Another wave crashed against the dock, showering Longbow and his friend with cold ocean water and spume. “He went chasing after a topsail that got loose and blew into town. Is everything alright?”

“He was supposed to get that sail to your mother half an hour ago, and you’re telling me he let it fly away?” Phalanx asked angrily.

Longbow swallowed hard, inwardly kicking himself. “It wasn’t—”

“I give him one simple chore, and he manages to screw it up.” Phalanx rubbed his brow with a hoof. “Typical.”

The amber-maned stallion shot Longbow a nervous look. “Need anything else, Longbow?”

Shaking his head, Longbow faced his friend and held out a hoof. “No, I think we’ll be good now. Thanks again for the help, Pan Sea.”

A large wave crashed against the dock, spraying water over all three stallions. Phalanx shielded his eyes with a wing, an irritated frown pulling at his lips.

“Yeah, I-I’ll see you later!” Pan Sea said, quickly tapping his hoof against Longbow’s and trotting away. He didn’t like flying in storm conditions, yet even that was preferable to being around an angry Phalanx.

Longbow watched his friend disappear into town before returning his attention to his father. “Is everything alright, Dad?”

“Aside from the spring storm blowing in, and your brother—”

“Dad! Longbow!” a colt’s voice shouted over the wind.

Both stallions turned towards town, looking to the source of the call. The colt landed between them, his green coat and messy brown mane damp with sweat and the first signs of rain. The mark on his flanks depicted a bronze compass rose. He dropped a crumpled sail on the docks and panted to catch his breath.

Phalanx took a step towards his younger son. “Pathfinder, where in the—”

“There’s a legionnaire in town asking for everypony to gather, Dad!”

Phalanx halted, a brief moment of concern making him forget the reprimand.

“Boys, come with me,” he ordered, turning around and trotting into town.

Longbow took the bundled sail from the dock and quickly tossed it into the boat. As he passed Finder he reached out with his right wing, giving the colt a quick hug. Finder grinned up to his brother; they followed their father side by side.

The town square was full of ponies by the time the three of them arrived. Pathfinder hopped onto his hind legs, his front hooves planting themselves on Longbow’s back so he could see over the taller stallions in front of them. Standing alone in the center of the square was a gray-coated stallion, his blue mane and tail cropped very short. Thick, iron armor, polished to an almost reflective luster, covered most of his body, his sword and a brown haversack hanging from his left side.

“Citizens of Altus,” the legionnaire began, his voice booming through the crowded town square. “I am Centurion Trail Blaze of the Eighth Legion. Early last week, our great empire was attacked! Griffon filth stole their way into the heart of Stratopolis and attempted to assassinate our emperor, The Great and Honorable Augustus Haysar, himself!”

A shocked murmur went through the crowd, Pathfinder noticed Phalanx looked particularly offended by the news. The older stallion continually flexed his wings, as though he were wearing his old wingblades and itching for blood.

“Shortly after this heinous, unwarranted, and cowardly attack, we have had griffon uprisings throughout Cirran territories east of Nimbus. Furthermore, Archduke Ottgam Magnus of Angenholt,” Trail Blaze sneered the name as condescendingly as he could, “has appointed himself emperor of the griffon's territories and has executed many of our regional governors.”

Trail Blaze continued his speech, pacing in front of the crowd. “Brothers, sisters, proud Cirrans. Should we lie back and accept this transgression?”

“NO!” the crowd shouted back.

“Will we stand idle, and let the griffons spill pegasus blood with no recourse?”

“NO!” the crowd shouted again.

“Of course we won’t!” he shouted, stomping his hoof. “So, my brave brothers and sisters, our great Empire has issued the call to arms! All stallions between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five eligible for service are ordered to report to the town hall for conscription first thing tomorrow morning. There I will record your names, then we will fly to Stratopolis for training and deployment.”

He stopped his pacing and smiled to the gathered crowd. “Brothers, sisters, the gods are with us, and we shall spill every drop of griffon blood that dares raise it’s filthy claws against Cirra.”

The centurion saluted the gathered crowd before he trotted off in search of the inn. Altus was a long flight to Stratopolis, and he wasn’t about to lead fresh greenwings through a spring thunderstorm. Pathfinder watched him disappear down the street before he looked to his father.

Phalanx stood motionless, his jaw set and a contemplative expression on his face. Finder could feel Longbow’s nervous shivering under his hooves. It confused the young pegasus; his big brother had never been afraid of anything.

“Let’s go home,” Phalanx spoke after a moment, his voice unusually quiet. “Your mother needs to know.”

Pathfinder slipped off Longbow’s back, their father’s wing replacing his hooves. The younger brother took his place at Longbow’s side, following the older stallions home.

Sea Breeze hummed to herself, the end of a wooden spoon in her teeth. She carefully mixed the bubbling stew that cooked over the small hearthfire, the aromatic smell of shellfish, vegetables, and spices filling the kitchen. Tapping the spoon on the edge of the kettle, she placed it into a thick ceramic cup before adding a small log to the coals.

She knew her Phalanx had told their boys to tend to the docks before the storm hit. Most of the time, that meant they would all come home soaking wet and hungry. She always liked to have a warm meal waiting when they returned, along with a bit of ale for Phalanx. Momentarily satisfied with her efforts, Sea Breeze allowed herself a moment to catch her breath and rest on a simple floor pillow.

Resting her head on her forelegs, Sea Breeze watched the orange and yellow flames lap at the bottom of the kettle. Pops and crackles shot tiny embers from the burning logs that danced in the hearth for scant moments before fading into the cold air. She shivered and tucked herself in closer to the fire. Phalanx would be upset that she hadn’t rested more, but she would be damned before she let him try to cook dinner again.

Sea Breeze shuddered; if that was how a legionnaire cooked then it was a miracle Cirra had even a single soldier left standing.

No knock preceded the opening of the door. Sea Breeze turned her head, smiling when she saw her family walk in. She slowly got to her hooves, taking her time to keep her balance before facing her stallions. Her smile faded when she noticed the grim look on her husband’s face.

Phalanx quickly noticed the alluring scent before he saw the kettle. His mouth watered by reflex even as he sighed. “You were supposed to be taking it easy today.”

“It’s no trouble to make a little dinner for my boys,” she countered.

Shaking his head, Phalanx moved to his wife, gingerly nuzzling against her. He extended his left wing, which he draped over her back. He turned his head back, looking to Longbow and Pathfinder. “Set the table, your mother and I need to talk.”

“Yes, Sir,” they answered.

Sea Breeze’s brows knitted together, the worry plain on her face. Her brown eyes drifted from her husband, to her sons, and back again. All three bore a similar numb expression as Phalanx ushered her into their bedroom and quietly shut the door.

Finder and Longbow waited a moment before they moved. Longbow, being the taller of the two, moved to the cabinets and retrieved four ceramic bowls and wooden spoons. Finder gathered their mother’s sewing supplies from the table and neatly placed them into a wicker basket. Longbow slid two bowls and spoons to his brother, which Finder took in his front hooves and arranged properly on his side of the table.

“I wanna go with you,” Finder said.

“You’re only thirteen, little brother,” Longbow answered, his voice quiet.

“I’ll be fourteen in a couple weeks!”

“That’s still four years too young.”

“I can help,” Finder argued, placing the spoons next to the bowls. “I know how to—”

“Finder,” Longbow’s stern tone was enough to stop the colt’s talking. “You can’t come.”

The colt’s ears fell flat and a pout tugged at his lips. Longbow smiled, moving around the table and ruffling Finder’s mane with his hoof. Finder’s protest came in a soft giggle, his own hoof batting away Longbow’s.

“Go on, get some ale from the cellar for Dad. I’ll see if Mom is okay.”

Nodding, Finder moved towards a heavy wooden door installed into the floor of their home. Biting a rope handle, he slid the door off and wiped his tongue on his foreleg. He hated the way that rope tasted.

Peering down into the dank cellar, Finder gulped. Taking a half-step back from the cellar, he glanced up just in time to see Longbow’s tail disappear into their parents’ room. He could hear his mother crying quietly; it made his heart ache.

Looking back to his task, he licked his lips and gulped. He hated the cellar, ever since his father had told him that little monsters lurked in the shadows, eager to reach out and snatch unsuspecting colts. Even after he had grown up and Longbow had convinced him that Phalanx hadn’t been serious, the trepidation had never fully dissipated. With a final breath, Finder reluctantly moved down the steep stairs. Cobwebs scraped across his face, sending a shiver down the young pony’s spine. He held his wings tight to his sides, imagining them as a warm blanket.

The cellar was a small, utilitarian space. There was only enough room for two or three stallions to stand, less if they opened their wings. Phalanx had built it before Finder was born as a place to store wine and preserves for winter.

The ale was kept in four wooden barrels, each larger than Finder. Sitting on top of one barrel was a ceramic pitcher with a carrying cord at the top. Finder jumped to his hind legs, balancing his front hooves on the top of the barrel. It was still a stretch for him, but he was able to reach the pitcher without using his wings.

Setting it down on a small wooden stool, he lined the pitcher up with the first barrel’s tap and poured. Dark, pungent, Cirran ale filled the empty pitcher, the scent wrinkling Finder’s nose and making his eyes water. How anypony could drink ale, he would never know.

Once the pitcher had enough ale so Phalanx could have at least two mugs, Finder quickly made his way back upstairs. His father sat alone at the table, his front hooves pressed together just in front of his muzzle. He barely seemed to notice Finder, even as the colt poured his ale into a waiting mug.

Finder left the pitcher on the table before he went to his and Longbow’s room. The small room hosted two twin beds, a single nightstand between them with an oil lantern in the center. Finder made his way over to his bed and pulled a simple wooden box from under it. Inside were several toy legionnaires carved by a local artisan from tree boughs washed up on the beach.

Finder reached into the box with his dexterous primary feathers, pulling out his favorite toy. The little wooden legionnaire had been painted with his coat and mane colors, a sword held in his teeth. Taking the toy in his hooves, Finder stared into the statuette’s eyes. To join the Legion was an honor for every Cirran. Even mares, while excluded from the draft, were allowed to enlist for frontline combat.

Alone on the cold wooden floor, Pathfinder contemplated the little legionnaire. He wondered what a griffon looked like. His father had fought the griffons in the previous war, but he never spoke of it to his children, despite their repeated questions over the years.

He wasn’t sure how long he sat there before his father called him to dinner.

That night, they ate their meal in silence.

Sea Breeze excused herself to bed early, Phalanx not far behind. Longbow and Finder dutifully attended to the cleaning. Afterwords, Longbow lay down in front of the hearth, his mind far away from their modest home. Finder lay beside him, resting his head on his forelegs.

Hours later, when the fire had burned to gently glowing coals, Longbow rose from his spot and went to his bedroom. Finder followed close behind, climbing into his bed as Longbow settled into his own.

Sleep eluded Finder well into the night. His back, his sides, his belly; no position worked. Rolling again, he looked to Longbow’s bed. The older stallion’s back was facing Finder, though he couldn’t tell if Longbow was awake or asleep.

Quiet as he could, Pathfinder slipped out of his bed and moved to Longbow. He chewed at his bottom lip for a moment before gently shaking his brother with a hoof. Longbow cracked one eye open which he used to shoot Finder a questioning look.

“I can’t sleep,” Finder whispered, rubbing his shoulder with a hoof.

Longbow sighed once before sliding over. “Hop in.”

The smallest of smiles pulled at Finder’s lips. With a soft grunt he climbed into the bed, still warm from where Longbow had been. His left side nestled against Longbow’s right, the contact soothing Finder to a degree.

“Longbow?” he spoke after several minutes of silence.


“Why do you have to go?”

There was a pause before Longbow answered. “It’s my duty as a Cirran.”

“I’m a Cirran too,” Finder argued turning to face Longbow. “Why can’t I come with you?”

Longbow laughed quietly, hooking a foreleg around Finder’s shoulders. “‘Cause I need you to be here to look out for Mom and Dad.”

“But who’ll look out for you?”

“The Legion will be there for me,” Longbow answered. “It’s like having thousands of brothers and sisters to keep an eye on you.”

The answer did little to ease Pathfinder’s anxieties. “You’re gonna come back home soon, right?”

“As soon as I can.”

Finder leaned his head against Longbow’s shoulder. “You’re gonna miss my birthday…”

Longbow winced. “I guess I’ll just have to make it up to you next year.”

“You promise?”

Longbow turned to face his brother, his warmest smile on display for the colt. “Finder, I promise that next year we’ll have a great time on your birthday. You and me, we’ll fly the whole coast from dawn to dusk and explore everything we can find.”

Pathfinder smiled, throwing his forelegs around his brother’s chest and hugging him tightly. “Promise you’ll think about us?”

Longbow’s left hoof petted Finder’s mane while his right foreleg returned the embrace. “I’ll be dreaming of home every night, Finder. I promise.”

“Love you,” Finder whispered

“I love you too, little brother.”

Pathfinder nodded, squeezing his eyes shut and burying his face in Longbow’s chest. The elder brother hummed a lullaby, his hoof continually stroking Finder’s mane. It was a simple, almost melancholic melody; understated, yet hopeful. It brought an easy feeling to Finder and gently carried him to sleep.

Morning came all too soon for everypony in Altus. Every stallion of fighting age, and more than a few mares, had formed a long line in front of the small table Trail Blaze had set himself up behind. Each pony signed their name to a scroll of paper and were given time to be with their families until Trail Blaze was finished.

The entire process maintained a funeral-like atmosphere that unsettled the young Pathfinder. Ponies spoke to each other in hushed voices while parents and lovers wept for the mares and stallions being sent to serve their country. They all held their loved ones close, hoping Trail Blaze would always take one more minute to finish his tasks.

Inevitably, though, he finished recording every stallion and mare that had shown up. Rolling up the scroll of names, he took a breath and cleared his throat.

“Recruits,” he shouted, his voice cutting through the gentle murmurs and cries. “We fly to Stratopolis in fifteen minutes. Prepare yourselves accordingly.”

Longbow’s heart raced in his chest. With a nervous swallow, he turned to his parents and brother. Phalanx stepped forward, pulling him into a tight embrace.

“I love you, son,” he said, reluctantly pulling away. “You make this old soldier very proud.”

“I’ll kill some griffons for you,” Longbow promised.

Phalanx smiled and nodded, stepping away so Sea Breeze could have her moment with their son. Her eyes, pink and swollen with tears, looked at him with love and regret. She brushed his bangs aside with a hoof, smiling and pulling him into a tight hug.

“My brave boy,” she began, her voice barely more than a trembling whisper. “You be careful out there and come back to us safe and sound.”

“I’ll be fine, Mom,” Longbow promised, smiling boldly for her. “I promise.”

“I put some dried berries into your saddlebag, just in case you get hungry during the trip.”

“Thanks, Mom.”

Sea Breeze smiled, tears rolling down her cheeks. She kissed his cheek and forehead. “I love you, so much.”

“Love you too, Mom,” he replied, hugging and kissing her in return. “I’ll be back before you know it.”

Sea Breeze held onto her son for as long as she could. She longed for the days when he had been a tiny foal, nestled safely in her forelegs where she could protect him. Now her baby boy was a full grown stallion, off to war in distant lands where she couldn’t be there for him.

It broke her heart.

With Phalanx’s gentle urgings, Sea Breeze reluctantly let Longbow free of her grip. Longbow took a deep breath before moving to his brother. Pathfinder sat close by, his bottom lip quivering, and his eyes full of tears he stubbornly refused to shed. Longbow sat beside him, draping his left wing over Finder’s back. The younger brother leaned into the embrace, gently nuzzling Longbow’s shoulder.

“Take good care of Mom and Dad while I’m gone.”

Finder nodded. “I will.”

“I’ll miss you.”

Finder gritted his teeth, struggling to contain his tears. Slipping out from under Longbow’s wing, he reached into his little saddlebag and pulled out his favorite legionnaire toy. He stared at the green painted legionnaire for a moment before offering it to Longbow.

“I want him back.”

Longbow laughed, taking the wooden toy with a hoof and tucking it into his bag. “I promise I’ll get him back to you.”

Finder hugged Longbow tightly. “I love you.”

Longbow returned the hug, kissing the top of Finder’s head. “Love you too, kiddo.”

“Recruits!” Trail Blaze barked. “Form up!”

The brothers reluctantly parted, Finder returning to their mother’s embrace while Longbow prepared to fly to war.

“All right colts and fillies,” Trail Blaze began with a broad grin, “We’re off! For the Emperor, for Cirra, for Glory! Follow me!”

With a mighty flap of his golden wings, Trail Blaze took to the skies. Nearly three dozen stallions and mares followed after him, their wings kicking up dust as they left the earth. Trail Blaze flew in a circle around them, his voice singing his legion’s anthem.

The letter came to town today
We’re up and warring far away
The letter came to town to say
All the stallions up by the end o’ day.

My Recruiter came and told me-o,
All you stallions you’re set to go
I looked down the line and found it so,
Just like my recruiter told me-o!

We found ourselves so far from home
We ain’t got time to read no tomes
Get up with your gear and set to roam,
Maybe when you die we’ll send you home.

As the voice faded to the winds and the newly recruited pegasi disappeared into the horizon, the anthem's last line hung over the town with an oppressive bleakness, indifferent to Pathfinder's sobs as they commingled with those of his mother's and so many more.

They were watching him.

Even through the pitch black of night, he could tell they were watching him. Hungry, lusting eyes, that seemed to manifest through the interminable blackness. Like a predator, they watched him. With hatred, they watched him.

Figures, cloaked in shadow, leapt out at him, their eyes burning like fires in the darkness. They screeched, the sound at once silent yet loud enough to make the world itself tremble. He saw teeth, white, sharp daggers that smiled at him. Hunger, lust, predator, prey.

He turned and ran, as fast as his hooves could carry him. Through a dense forest of oak, ash, and pine, he ran. Thick boughs whistled past his ears, as though determined to take his head from his shoulders. The screams nipped at his heels, the cold breath of his pursuers washed over the back of his neck. For an eternity, he ran, barely a hair's breadth in front of the beasts, until he burst out of the dark forest.

It was daylight, the high-noon sun bathing everything in a washed-out light. He was standing on a great stone bridge over a deep ravine. A shallow stream trickled far below, the waters clear and pure.

Lining the center of the bridge was a long row of corpses, many wrapped in clean, white linens. Ponies clutched, cradled, and wailed over the bodies, yet somehow no noise met his ears. When his eyes fell to the body nearest him, he recoiled. His mother cradled the naked body, Longbow’s body.

The body was withered from exposure, the hair of his mane and coat having fallen away, revealing burned, brown skin. His wings were gone, bloody, ragged stumps the only indication of where the limbs should have been. Longbow’s eyes, once blue and full of life, were gone. Empty sockets full of the blackest shadows stared back at him.

“Not my baby!” she screamed, cradling the withered corpse in her forelegs. “Gods above, please! Give me back my baby!”

He took a step towards his mother, reaching out for her with a hoof. She recoiled, slapping his hoof away. Longbow’s body fell to the stone road, making no noise at the impact.

“You did this!” she shouted “You!”

He tried to speak, but no words escaped his mouth.

“Why did you kill him?!” She demanded. “Why didn’t you save him?!”

Pressing her hooves into her eyes, his mother wept for her dead son. Longbow’s corpse sat upright of its own volition, as though the gods themselves answered Sea Breeze’s desperate call. His mouth hung ajar in a silent, terrible, scream.

“My baby!” Sea Breeze cried, holding her forelegs out to embrace her son’s body.

Slowly, the corpse leaned forward, falling onto its belly. Throwing its forelegs forward, it dragged itself towards the edge of the bridge. Sea Breeze leapt up, following the corpse as it pulled itself to the edge.

He could see down into the ravine. A small creek filtered between white river stones. He could see countless bodies littering the riverbanks. The corpse edged closer, its dry flesh scraping across the stone road.

“Longbow, w-what are you doing?” the mother pleaded. “A-are you saying you want to die?”

Longbow’s corpse didn’t answer, pulling itself over the ledge and plummeting to the rocks below.

He looked back to his mother, only to find her gone. In her place, a massive griffon stood, its feathers black as coal and claws that seeped blood in thick rivulets. It smiled at him with it’s wickedly hooked beak. With a terrible screech, he fell.

He landed onto a pile of bones which split and shattered under his weight. The river ran dry, thick flames overwhelming it. They leapt towards him, forming axes, spears, swords, and daggers that seared his coat and feathers. He screamed, terror overwhelming his senses.

A cold rain fell from the interminable heavens, dousing the flames.

Pathfinder awoke with a deep gasp, his lungs greedily sucking in air. The candle on his nightstand flickered a gentle orange flame, bringing a moment of panic to the young stallion. Rubbing his hooves over his face, he sat there for a time, breathing and allowing his fear to melt into the sweat-soaked mattress below him. Only once his heartbeat had reached a more reasonable level did he open his eyes.

He was in Longbow’s bed, again. He had trouble sleeping in his own in the four weeks since his brother had gone to war. The nightmare that had woken him up was the latest in a string of terrible dreams he had experienced.

Pathfinder’s fourteenth birthday two weeks earlier had been anything but celebratory. His father had barely said a word since Longbow left and his mother had been in a constant depression. There had been no songs or gifts, only an all-encompassing emptiness that all three had shared in.

Letting out a trembling breath, Finder looked out the window. He could see lightning flickering over the open seas. Like the creatures of his nightmare they encroached towards shore, eager to swallow him whole.

No matter how he tried, he couldn’t shake the pit of dread that had steadily grown in his stomach as time went by. There had been news of bloody fighting east of Nimbus, and no word from Longbow as to where he would be deployed. If Longbow was sent to Nimbus, would he be okay? Would the Legion watch his back the way Finder would?

He couldn’t leave that to chance, he wouldn’t.

Grabbing his saddlebag, Finder snuck into the kitchen and took enough dry food to last several days of flying. He didn’t have a canteen, but he wouldn’t need it. There were plenty of rivers and streams he could drink from along the way.

Lastly, he sat at the kitchen table with some parchment and a charcoal. He stared at the blank sheet for several minutes before he drew a picture of his brother, a picture of himself, and an arrow pointing him to his brother.

Satisfied, the colt put on his saddlebags and his winter cloak. He took one last look at his parents’ closed door before he slipped out into the night.