• Published 19th Sep 2013
  • 2,076 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 Oath

“Wow,” Pathfinder whispered, his eyes wide as Stratopolis came into view.

With a population of over a million pegasi, Stratopolis was by far the largest city in the Cirran Empire. Countless tons of super-condensed cloudstone had been shaped centuries earlier into a shield-like platform that stretched for miles in all directions. It hung over the fields of Dioda like a silent guardian, its long shadow casting darkness over vast swaths of land .

Built in several tiers, the outermost level was occupied by simple laborers’ homes in addition to shipping centers that were responsible for all the city’s imports and exports. Nearly a mile in from the edge rose the imperial walls. Hewn from the finest cloudstone and perfectly aligned, the walls rose one hundred feet above the street level. Guard towers, evenly interspersed along the circumference of the wall and topped with pristine Cirran banners, made for an even more imposing sight to the young pegasus.

Behind the wall was the commercial district. There the artisans, businessponies, and other skilled laborers made their living off of the imports and exports from the outer city. Cloudstone houses standing two, three, sometimes four stories tall filled the spaces between narrow streets and cramped markets. Even the enlisted soldiers of the legendary First Legion, charged solely with the defense of the capital, made their homes there.

Further in was the third tier, where Cirra’s aristocracy lived in lavish, sprawling mansions along with the city’s finest agoras, amphitheaters, and the famed Cloudosseum. A single one of those so-called “homes” seemed like it could have easily held the entire population of Altus with room to spare. Pathfinder couldn’t imagine what it must have been like to have that many rooms to explore.

The uppermost quarter was reserved for members of the senate, the Praetorian Guard, and the Imperial Palace. The palace and senate chambers were built of solid marble, quarried and hauled up to the city by countless griffon slaves. Finder wondered how thick the pure cloudstone base had to be in order to bear the weight of so much stone.

With a shake of his head, Finder pulled his wings in and dove towards the city. His body quivered and he couldn’t stop himself from grinning the closer he got to the outer platform. There, in those bustling, crowded streets, Pathfinder could lose himself in every nook, every alley, and every alcove.

Maybe for his fifteenth birthday he and Longbow could fly to Stratopolis and spend the days exploring.

Finder’s hooves touched down on the soft cloud, very slightly sinking into the springy cloudstone road. He hesitated, his attention shifting down to his hooves. Like all pegasi, he had been on clouds before, however traffic-compacted cloudstreets were an entirely new sensation for Pathfinder. Just for a moment, he couldn't help trotting in place, giggling at the springy sensation under his hooves.

His foalish impulse momentarily sated, Finder licked his lips and trotted into town. Nopony spared him more than a passing glance as they went about their business. Finder stopped again as the unrefined cloud was replaced by solid cloudstone. He tapped his hooves on the marble-like surface, amazed by how sturdy real cloudstone actually was.

Shaking his head, Finder resumed his trek into the city. He needed to find a recruiting officer, or perhaps a pony that could point him in the right direction. With Cirra in a declared state of war, it wasn’t long before Finder spotted a pair of legionnaires patrolling the streets. Steeling himself with a breath, Finder ran over to the soldiers, slowing down when he got close enough to speak with them.

“Hey, um, excuse me, sirs?” Pathfinder began, quite literally shivering with excitement.

The centurions stopped, each staring at him with a curious expression.

“You lose your mommy, kid?” the larger one asked.

Finder’s heart skipped a beat. For an instant, he panicked and wondered how they saw through his plan. He shook his head quickly, stalling for a few extra moments to think. “No, no, sir. I-I was just looking for a recruiter.”

“Lookin’ ta say g’bye ta yer pops?” the smaller centurion asked, earning a chuckle from his partner.

“No!” Finder answered quickly, his wings twitching with agitation. “I wanna enlist.”

Both legionnaires snorted and laughed at the idea, the larger of the two waving him off with a wing. “Go home, kid. The Legion’s for stallions, not little fillies.”

“I’m not a filly!” Finder stomped his hoof angrily. “I wanna join the Legion! I wanna fight the griffons!”

“Oi, this ones go’ some spunk, don’t he?” the smaller one grinned to his partner.

The larger stallion nodded. “Aye, not bad for a pup.”

“I’m not a pup, either,” Finder grumbled indignantly.

“Well you certainly wouldn’t make a good meatshield.”

The smaller legionnaire laughed at the quip, his hoof jabbing Finder’s side.

“Hey!” Finder yelped, batting the offending hoof away with a wing.

“No’ near enough meat on yer bones fer’ that.”

“Can you just tell me where the recruiting office is?” Finder asked again, his face burning slightly.

The legionnaires laughed again.

“Get lost, kid,” the larger one said.

“Go back to yer mum an’ hide under ‘er wing.”

“I don’t—hey!” Finder’s protest was cut off as the legionnaires casually pushed him aside and carried on with their patrol. Finder let out an exasperated growl, rubbing his face with a hoof and shaking his head. He had no doubt he’d be the favorite story in the barracks later, but he didn’t care. He would get enlisted and he would protect Longbow, no matter how many ponies laughed him off or tried to dissuade him.

Minutes passed into hours as he searched the outer ring for a recruiter. Time after time the legionnaires he found laughed him off for being too small, too young, or “just plain stupid” as one had called him. It was enough to drive even the most patient of ponies mad.

As the sun dipped towards the horizon, Finder gave up on his search, at least for the time being. He was hungry, and the few provisions he had snuck into his saddlebag were long since used up. Further adding to the young pony’s problems was the complete absence of money in his possession.

Complicating matters for Pathfinder was the produce market he had stumbled across in his search for legionnaires. Sitting directly across the square from him was a large stand full of ripe fruits and vegetables from all across Cirra. Apples and oranges, pears and bananas, fruits Finder had never heard of before! All right there in front of him for the taking, and none he could touch without money.

His mouth watered at the delectable sight. Altus didn’t have much agriculture, the ponies living there relied almost entirely on the ocean for food. Wheat grew poorly in the area, though potatoes, carrots, and other hearty vegetables seemed to thrive in the local gardens. It wasn’t the best food, but it certainly filled the belly on a cold winter’s night.

His father had told them stories of his days in the Legion during the last war with the griffons years before Longbow or Finder were born. Phalanx told them of the majesty of Stratopolis during the spring festivals when the city was filled with confetti, music, and soldiers on parade through the streets. He told them about the ripe fruits, such as the fresh apples right off the trees that crunched between the teeth and were filled with sweet, succulent juice unlike anything that could be acquired in Altus.

His father’s stories, more than anything, made Finder want to know the taste of an apple someday. Finally they were within his reach, yet the gods—in all their cruelty—had seen to it he didn’t have any money to try one. Finder swore he could hear their laughter in his ear.

A grumble from his empty belly returned Finder’s mind to the present. He frowned, a hoof rubbing his stomach as he watched the crowd gather around the market. Mares and stallions eagerly queued up to purchase items for their dinners, nearly overwhelming the lone shopkeeper in the process.

Moving into the crowd, Finder carefully made his way to the front of the stall, doing his best to look like a foal waiting for his mother. The ponies around him easily overlooked the short pegasus, most being involved in muffled conversations with each other. Waiting until he was sure nopony was looking, Finder snatched the stem of an apple in his teeth and quickly ‘sneezed’ into his wing, securing the apple safely under his feathers.

He discreetly lingered around the stand for a few more moments before departing with his purloined prize. Darting into a nearby alley, he sat down and retrieved the apple, holding in his hooves and staring at it like it was made of gold. He licked his lips in anticipation before biting into the red fruit.

The initial crunch of flesh loosed a flood of sweet juice into his mouth, a flavor unlike anything He had ever tasted before. It was better than he had imagined; better than his father’s stories described. The colt hungrily devoured the apple down to the core, any guilt he felt from stealing easily forgotten by the treat.

His hunger satisfied, Finder bit the stem and trotted out of the ally, intent to resume his search. Almost immediately he bumped into a stallion that had been jogging down the street. The impact toppled them both over with a pair of surprised yelps. The larger stallion landed on top of Finder, his weight momentarily crushing the air from the younger pony’s lungs.

“Ow,” the stallion groaned rubbing his snout with a foreleg for a moment.

“Ur ishing me!” the colt blurted.

“Eh?” The stallion blinked in momentary confusion.

“You’re squishing me!” Finder gasped louder.

“Huh—Oh buck, sorry! Sorry!” The stallion flapped his powerful wings, lifting himself off of Finder.

Groaning, Finder got to his hooves with the assistance of the larger stallion. “Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it. Are you okay?”

“I think so, yeah,” Finder answered, finally taking a good look at the stallion.

With a heavy build for a pegasus, the stallion stood over a foot taller than Pathfinder. He had a cream colored coat and strawberry blonde mane that was short and unkempt. The mark on his flank depicted a perfectly square block of stone with a set of calipers measuring it. Finder was struck by the stallion’s eyes; bright, vivid blue, just like Longbow’s.

“You sure you’re okay there?” the stallion asked, a friendly, but worried smile on his lips. “You look a little out-of-sorts.”

Finder’s cheeks burned somewhat and he quickly shook his head. “No, I mean, yeah, I-I mean I’m okay!”

The stallion laughed. “Take your time, I’ll wait.”

“Sorry,” Finder smacked his forehead with a hoof, “You just reminded me of somepony.”

“Hah, I get that a lot.” He offered his hoof to Finder. “I’m Carver, by the way.”

“Pathfinder, everyone just calls me Finder, though,” the colt smiled, his hoof bumping against Carver’s. “Nice to meet you.”

“Likewise.” Carver smiled. “Sorry I kinda ran you over.”

“It’s fine, really,” Finder said, giving Carver a smile of his own. “Are you from Stratopolis?”

Carver laughed. “Buck no, I’m from Nyx. I’m just here to enlist.”

“Me too!” Finder said, feeling a renewed sense of hope.

Carver gave Finder a surprised look. “You look a little young for the Legion.”

“I’m old enough,” Finder answered quickly.

“Really? You look like you’re my kid brother’s age, and he’s not even sixteen.”

“I’m eighteen.”

“Uh-huh.” Carver seemed unconvinced. “Why weren’t you already drafted then?”

“I was sick with the feather flu when the recruiter showed up. It took a couple weeks before I was back on my hooves.” Finder answered. “Why did you miss the draft?”

“I’m an apprentice mason,” Carver answered with a proud smile. “My master had me inspecting the marble quarries south of Nyx, which took a while.”

“You wouldn’t be able to point me to a recruiter, would you?” Finder asked, smiling hopefully at Carver.

The older pegasus took a thoughtful breath, his mind carefully weighing the situation as he understood it. “Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why do you wanna enlist? I mean, you’re young enough that it’s not like anypony would say you shirked your duty.”

“I’m old enough,” Finder huffed.

“Sure you are,” Carver laughed. “That’s still not a reason.”

“Well why are you enlisting?” Finder defensively asked.

“Cause I am eighteen and honorbound to answer Cirra’s call.” Carver answered. “Now, what about you?”

Finder sighed, his ears flattening back. “My brother got drafted, I don’t wanna sit this out if he can’t.”

Carver nodded. “Fair enough.”

“So, will you point me to a recruiter now?”

“No.”

“Why not?” Finder demanded.

Carver shrugged. “Cause you’re still not telling me the truth about your age.”

“It doesn’t matter!” Finder scowled, his wings flapping in frustration.

“Yeah, it really kinda does,” Carver sighed, scratching his eyebrow with a hoof. “Look, you’re clearly not old enough to enlist. Any recruiter with working eyesight is gonna laugh you off without somepony to vouch for you.”

“And you’d vouch for me?”

“Well, that depends.”

“Depends on what?”

“Tell me the truth; how old are you?”

Finder eyed Carver warily. “How can I trust you’ll vouch for me?”

Carver smiled. “You can’t.”

“Why do you care?” Finder asked, “what does it matter how old I am if I wanna help.”

“You wanna serve, I respect that. Besides, if the senate is right, then this war will be over by the harvest anyway so why not let you enjoy basic with the rest of us. I’m just asking you to be honest with me.”

Finder studied Carver for a long while, trying to decide his next move. The apprentice mason simply smiled and patiently waited the younger pegasus to answer. His patience, friendliness, and earnest attitude reminded Finder of his brother. In the end, that was reason enough for Finder to give him a chance.

“Fourteen,” he said quietly, “I’m fourteen.”

Carver nodded and smiled to Finder. “Well then Finder, shall we find us a recruiter?”

The young pegasus grinned brightly, almost bouncing in excitement. “Let’s go!”

“If anypony asks,” Carver began as he led Finder down the winding streets, “you’re my little brother.”

“Got it.”

Taking flight, it took only twenty minutes for Carver to lead Finder to a small building in the third tier. Tucked discreetly away at the end of a relatively narrow alley was a simple cloudstone building. Carved into the lintel was a simple inscription: “VIII Legion District Office”.

Finder’s heart skipped a beat. Longbow had been recruited by a pony from the Eighth Legion. He felt a tiny candle of hope burn in his gut; perhaps there was a chance he’d be at his brother’s side sooner than he’d hoped.

“How’d you hear about this place?” Finder asked, looking up to Carver.

The larger pegasus shrugged and shot his companion a bold grin. “I flirted with a few mares around the markets until I found a local who knew.”

“Wait, that works?”

“It’s amazing what a mare’ll tell you after a few compliments about her mane and feathers.”

Inside, the Legion office was a simple room with bare cloudstone walls and a single desk towards the back. A lone—and exceedingly bored looking—stallion sat behind the desk, his eyes staring vacantly at a ledger in front of him. He wore no armor, though there was a polished set on display behind him.

“Excuse me,” Caver began, catching the stallion’s attention.

“Ah, welcome lads,” the stallion rose to his hooves, “How can I help you?”

“We’re here to enlist,” Carver answered, smiling eagerly.

The recruiter cast a dubious look at Pathfinder. “Aren’t you a little young for the Legion?” he asked, pointing a hoof at the green pegasus.

“My brother’s seventeen,” Carver began, draping a wing over Finder’s back. “He’s always been a bit of a bit of a pipsqueak, but he can hold his own just fine.”

“I’ll need your father to come in and sign that he has permission to join.”

“Our parents passed away three years ago.” Carver lowered his head and flattened his ears; Finder mirrored the sullen look. “We’re all we’ve got.”

The recruiter sighed, rubbing his forehead with a hoof. He mulled the story over in his mind for a time before he placed a ledger, a quill, and an inkwell in front of them. “Sign your names then.”

Craver signed first, scratching his name into the records of the Eighth Legion. Finder had to stand on his hind legs to reach the ledger, his front hooves balancing on the wooden desk. Taking the quill in his teeth, he signed his name just under Carver’s.

The recruiter turned the ledger around and read their names. He made a few notes of his own and gently blew on the ink to dry it. After a moment, he looked up at them and smiled.

“Welcome to the Eighth Legion, lads.”

“Thanks, sir!” Carver grinned.

“What do we do now?” Finder asked, mirroring Carver’s enthusiasm.

“Do you two have a place to stay tonight?”

“Uh,” Carver and Finder exchanged a glance. “We didn’t get that far.”

The recruiter laughed. “That actually works better. We got cots in the back, so you two can stay here tonight. First thing tomorrow I’ll send you to Fort Updraft for training.”

“We’ll be in the same regiment, right?” Carver asked, keeping the pretense that he and Finder were related.

“We prefer to keep siblings in the same regiment, makes you both fight better,” the stallion answered, walking around his desk and standing at attention before them. “One last thing; you need to swear the oath.”

“The oath?” Finder asked, looking to Carver who offered an equally confused shrug.

The stallion nodded. “Ante Legionem nihil erat, et nihil erit post Legionem. Before the Legion, there was nothing. After the Legion, there will be nothing. These are our words. This is our truth. In the Legion, what you were before doesn’t matter, and nothing you will do after matters. You will be Cirra’s might, you will be Cirra’s pride.

“The two of you are truly lucky.” He smiled at them, taking a step closer. “Brothers born in blood, you shall be reborn as brothers under the banner. The home you’ve left behind, the family you’ve lost, think no more of them. The Legion is your home now, its soldiers your siblings, and we welcome you with open wings.”

Finder’s gaze fell to the cloudstone floors, his thoughts drifting to his family. He felt Carver’s wing tighten its grip on him. It reminded Finder of Longbow and brought a small sense of peace to his heart.

“Ready?” the recruiter asked.

“Yeah,” Carver answered.

Finder took a breath and nodded.

“Easy boys, there’s nothing to it. Just repeat after me.” The recruiter smiled and cleared his throat.

If I am to lose a wing, then so be it;
it is much better to sacrifice the skies for my country than to fly against it with two.
If I am to lose a leg, then so be it;
It is much better to be crippled for my country than to stand against it with perfect health.
If I am to lose my life, then so be it;
It is much better to die for the glory of the Empire than to live a coward.
Before the Legion there was nothing,
And after the Legion there will be nothing.