• Published 7th Oct 2013
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Diplomacy by Other Means - Georg



Princess Luna sends a diplomatic mission to the griffons in the hopes of preventing a deadly war. When disaster strikes, can their weakest member keep them alive?

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Ch 11 - The Heir

Diplomacy by Other Means
The Heir


“Wisdom consists of knowing how to distinguish the nature of trouble, and in choosing the lesser evil.”
— N. Marechiavelli, The Princess


A Thousand Years Ago…

The young Night Pegasus Pumpernickel huddled uncomfortably on top of a cloud filled with squalling little dark colts and fillies, trying not to tremble in fear. Queen Luna had blessed them almost casually just a few hours ago, and he still marveled at the silky grey coat and batwings that had replaced his own pegasus body parts. Now the distant night sky was filled with fighting, the crackle of spells and the screams of the wounded making him fully aware of his role in the battle.

Foalsitter. He was old enough to fight for the Queen, not just watch a cloud full of little squalling brats while all the excitement took place miles away. He watched a flaming ball plummet out of the sky in the distance and shuddered at the thought of that burning creature being one of his parents, or a friend.

Really. He was not afraid. Maybe the little ponies on the cloud were, but he was going to be a Royal Guard for the new Queen. Guards did not fear. Guards were brave.

Even so, he watched the fight with a growing lump of ice in his belly that even the end of the battle did not calm. He loved Luna with all of his heart, as well as Celestia, and the clash of the two sisters ripped at his soul. It was wrong. It was so horribly wrong.

He put his new membranous wings to use, emerging from the concealment of the cloud to push the little ponies on it farther away from the now quiet battle site. They should not see the blood and violence of war. The little ones had been entrusted into his hooves to protect, and he was going to see his task through to completion. Just a little further, and they would be safe. Just a little further…

The explosion of magic behind him was felt more than seen, but a glance over his shoulder revealed the blazing fury of falling pegasi, each spark seemingly consumed in ebon fire until all that rained down on the battlefield was glowing dust. The ground around the Queen blazed with fire, each burning torch a faithful follower of Luna, the glittering wave of magic flowing from them to a single point in the center that could only be her. Every instinct in him screamed to fly to his Queen, to protect her, to sacrifice his life in her defense. To die for her.

But something far deeper in him forced his wings to keep beating, to keep pushing the cloud full of children away from that growing spell of fire and destruction. The little golden eyes of his brother and the other tiny colts and fillies reflected the expanding spell as they looked back, a glittering malevolence that seemed to pursue him through their eyes.

The unstoppable embrace of the spell tugged at his heart, tearing at the magic that Luna had used to transform his body, but he redoubled his wingbeats even as the light from the stars began to dim and his breath faltered.

“You will not die,” he gasped while flying, hearing the wings of the vengeful Royal Guard behind him. “You will be safe. I promise.”

--~-~-~--*--~-~-~--

In the forest that covered the Misty Mountains, there was a small clearing, and from that small clearing rose a Royal Guard chariot. It ascended cautiously to the treeline, pointing to the west, and the illusionary safety of the far off Crystal Empire. The two Royal Guards in the harness spread their wings, one of feathers, the other not, but each of them with identical grim visages and controlled reactions, acting as if there were only one mind behind the two bodies. They hesitated as two of their passengers shifted positions: one taking her place behind the chariot with wings prepared to add her best effort to their speed, the other with the dim green light of magic barely visible on her horn, until the slow-moving chariot cleared the last treetop.

“Go.”

The word was softly spoken, barely above normal conversational levels, but before the word could echo back from the nearby trees, all three winged ponies burst into furious motion. The safety harness was the only thing that kept Primrose from sliding out the back of the chariot, and the plan would have worked if only the chariot had been slightly lighter.

There was no warning as two griffons loomed out of the shadows ahead, but both drivers reacted in perfect synchronization, yanking their flight into a sharp climb that hammered the bottom of the chariot into the griffons with a violent thud. The resulting lurch threw Primrose to the end of her safety straps twice, once on impact, the second time as the chariot leveled off and rocketed forward to accelerate out of the ambush area. It was a stunningly effective maneuver, one that would have earned high marks at the Academy for ingenuity and audacity, but it was hampered by the weight of the corpse, which slowed their escape just a fraction.

As two more griffons plunged out of the night sky.

--~-~-~--*--~-~-~--

Redoubtable was just a fraction of a second slower to react to the sudden ambush than Pumpernickel, yanking his neck to one side before the cruel hooked beak plunged down, but unable to avoid the grasp of steel gauntlets that sank talons into his shoulders while hind claws raked downwards along his back in a spray of sparks. With an unearthly shriek, Duke Plummets jabbed down repeatedly with his beak at Redoubtable’s vulnerable neck, hammering away with stunning blows but unable to penetrate the thick armor that protected it. To one side, he could vaguely see Pumpernickel with one foreleg wrapped around the neck ruff of his ambusher, and the other armored hoof smashing repeatedly into his beak. There was an abstract look of calm in the dark pegasus’ face, as if this was some sort of test at the Academy and he was scoring points with every steel-clad punch.

“Lumpy!” screamed Redoubtable as that sharp beak plunged down again. “Little help here?”

* * *

Calm swirled around Pumpernickel with the glitter of starlight and the crisp night wind in his nose, giving a surreal aspect to the rumbling screams of the griffons and a distinctive double-thump of hind hooves meeting griffon chest from behind him that he was able to identify as his wife putting her earth pony training to good use against a griffon who expected more of a pegasus combat move instead. The griffon diving down at the back of his head seemed to move slowly, as if flying through tar, and it seemed laughably easy to dodge to one side of his plunge with a foreleg twisting back, over his ruff, and around his feathered neck in a perfect chokehold just as if he had been practicing it for years. He drove an armored forehoof repeatedly into the griffon’s head, taking strange pleasure in the way the enchantments on the golden helmet sparked with every hit, dispersing the impact enough that he did not have to pull his blows. There was no screaming fire in his heart, burning to destroy, or frozen ice flowing through his nerves, but instead a warm glow guided his actions, not controlling, not overpowering, but suggesting options.

The scream for assistance from his fellow guard shook him loose from his exploration of this strange new sensation, switching his steel-shod blows to the head into a driving hoof to the breastbone to paralyze the griffon’s breathing for a short while, but still allowing the stunned griffon enough control to land instead of crashing to his death in the trees. Duke Plummets raised one gauntleted claw and raked it deliberately from Redoubtable’s wing root to the tip in a spray of blood and feathers that caused his claw to hesitate for just one moment too long within reach of Pumpernickel.

He bit it.

The sharp tang of griffon blood filled Pumpernickel’s mouth along with the grating sensation from Duke Plummet’s silver armband as it raked across his teeth. They struggled as Plummets struck down with his other gauntleted claw in an explosion of sparks and blood, driving steel claws through Redoubtable’s Royal Guard armor as if consumed by the desire to kill his first opponent before turning to the other. A flare of green light blasted the griffon away, leaving Pumpernickel with only the silver bracelet in his teeth as the world spun around them. Redoubtable gave a weak flap with one damaged wing, the other a streaming red mess of mangled feathers and flesh, trying to level out the chariot before they crashed.

But it was too late.

* * *

There had been nothing in her diplomatic training that prepared Primrose for the experience of rising slowly through the night air of a small forest clearing before the world exploded into chaos. Icy wind streaming by the chariot carried the anguished battle screams of the two griffons before they smashed into the underside of the chariot just under her hooves, flinging her up into the air at the extent of her safety harness, only to nearly slide out the back as they accelerated into the darkness. She had almost breathed a sigh of relief while trying to struggle back to her hooves when the two screaming griffons had dropped out of the sky on top of Red and Lumpy, completely missing the third one who had attempted to attack Laminia and gotten two hooves upside his breastbone for his trouble. The chariot lurched from side to side as the guards fought, only straightening out for an instant as she fired a stunning spell at the griffon. He was almost too big to miss, but for a chilling moment as he tumbled backwards, just passing over her head, she thought she had shot Red by mistake. The world continued to spin as she held on tight and tried to stabilize the chariot with magic, Redoubtable hanging from his harness like a bloody dead weight that she could not take her eyes away from in horror. Trees flashed by, and then a gravel stretch of damp streambed slammed into the bottom of the chariot, thankfully right side up and with no snaps and crunches of broken bones.

She was out of her safety harness almost before the vehicle had stopped moving, flinging herself over the front end to attend to the grievous wounds covering her coltfriend. The rest of the world vanished as she applied her magic to holding back the welling blood, trying not to look at the punctured armor and bloody feathers scattered all around, staining the dirty gravel red with his flowing life. Healing magic took as much out of the caster as it gave to the recipient, but her concentration was difficult to maintain as the sounds of landing griffons sounded from all around and they drew close.

* * *

Gravel sprayed in every direction as Pumpernickel skidded to a halt, struggling to unhitch himself from the stubborn chariot even as the world slowed its spinning from his recent tumble through the sky. It would have been nice to call their landing on the damp gravel bar besides the mountain stream planned or even intentional, but it had been a matter of pure luck, not skill. For some reason, he still held the silver bracelet between his teeth, the metallic tang serving the purpose of masking the taste of blood and feathers. Griffons settled to the ground in all directions around them, drawing near but still keeping a respectful distance from the three ponies who held themselves in close proximity. Redoubtable struggled to stand up even while Primrose kept him pinned to the ground, her magic holding closed several gaping wounds that would have been the death of him in a few minutes if not for her healing spells. Pumpernickel braced himself to their sides, a chill sweeping over him in the darkness as he looked up to where Duke Plummets was gliding to a landing.

“You will not die,” he whispered into the moonlit night.

Laminia dangled from one talon, the griffon’s powerful claw having grasped her under the armor by the front of the throat and holding her helpless despite the best effort of her steel-clad front hooves scratching at that powerful grip.

“You will be safe,” whispered Pumpernickel. “I promise.”

The big griffon landed on the ground a few trots away near a collection of griffons, still holding Laminia in front of him like some sort of obscene trophy. A few tense chuckles echoed back and forth between the griffons, their helmeted eyes glowing green in the night while Duke Plummets casually looked around the dry streambed and the three ponies remaining. Blood streaked his feathers with silver moonlight and reflected green magic, and he licked his beak in anticipation, seeming to savor the taste. Plummets seemed unaware of the way his other talon was clutched tightly to his chest, smeared with griffon blood and the white chips of bone from his wound. Instead he turned in an almost gentle manner to capture Primrose in his intense gaze. But before he could speak, Pumpernickel threw the silver bracelet onto the gravel and snarled in a series of tenor chirps and squawks that seemed to shake the surrounding trees.

“<Bravely Plummets Upon Groundbound Unknowing Prey, you are an unworthy heir to the Aerie of the Misty Mountains. You are a coward, and a murderer of the helpless, without honor or respect. Face me in combat or die.>”