• Published 29th Dec 2013
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Obiter Dicta - GhostOfHeraclitus



A collection of short stories, vignettes, and deleted scenes, mostly based in the Civil Serviceverse and tending to be either slice of life or comedy.

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The Nature of War

The Nature of War


They say…

In the year 356 after Banishment, the Greater Griffonstan Empire declared war on Equestria for, it must be said, no reason at all. Six hundred and thirty years hence, the Griffonstan Ambassador in a happy confluence of scholarship and diplomacy, called it ‘the most senseless of wars.’ But, at the time, the war seemed not only sensible, but inevitable. As the Emperor himself explained to an enthusiastic Imperial Council, while honor surely lies in victory, the greatest honor must then lie in victory over the superior foe. And which foe could be more worthy than one led by a living goddess?

Somewhere around the autumn of 357, the enthusiasm for war was cooling a bit. The ponies proved to be not only worthy opponents, but boring ones, too. They preferred to avoid large glorious battles and instead sulked in fortresses, and struck at supply lines and poorly defended materiel depots. Even the pegasi, who could usually be relied upon for a good stimulating bit of bloodshed, hid behind clouds and seemed to prefer striking from ambush. After conferring with his generals, the Emperor decided that the whole war started off on the wrong foot and was in serious danger of being utterly ruined. To forestall that, he devised a plan to inject some much-needed glory into the proceedings, inspired as he was by ancient sagas.

Thus, under his orders, a measure of starfall iron was taken from the imperial treasury, and conveyed to the finest smiths in all of Griffonstan, in the many caves and grottoes of the Steel Fastness Eyrie. An ancient dragon lived here, and suitably propitiated with a king’s ransom of gems, she used her fire to help the smiths purify the metal, and then forge it into the finest blade the world had ever seen. It is said twelve smiths worked it, with hammers passed from claw to claw for untold generations. It is said, also, that it was quenched in ancient, untouched glaciers, its power—even while being forged—such that the heat of it split the glaciers in twain.

As it was worked, it was sharpened finer and finer still. First on coarse stones, then on finer ones, and finally, it is said, on sounds. First, the rumble of a waking volcano, then the scrape of stone on stone, then the crackle of fire, and finally on the high pitched war-cry of a thousand griffin warriors.

The wisest griffins are said to have been summoned, and to have sat under lock and key in council for forty sleepless days and nights distilling their wisdom: the ice-runes of the fallen Crystal empire, the mysterious petroglyphs found in Northern Griffonstan so alien than no more than one in ten could study them without succumbing to madness and death, and a thousand other mysteries besides, each more terrible than the last. After forty days they had whittled down their storehouses of knowledge and hoards of ancient secrets to a mere twenty inscriptions fitting easily on the blade.

It is said that they were written in ink made of crushed diamonds, and the blood of the sages themselves. It is said that the flight-feathers of the first emperor himself were brought out of their jeweled reliquaries and used as quills. The power of the inscriptions was such that upon being written with trembling claws they sunk themselves into the metal itself, becoming part of the heart of the blade. The strain of summoning so much power into the world was terrible, and a full quarter of the sages died in the attempt, and still a further quarter went mad.

The chief of the smiths then fitted an ornate gold-and-sapphire hilt to the blade, with sturdy claw-rings lined with dragon-hide and studded with lapis lazuli. She then took the blade to the deepest hall of the mountain, and spent the night there in solemn contemplation of the work she had done. When she emerged with the sun the next day she was nameless, having sacrificed her name and her clan to the perfection of the blade. And so, even now, none know who the smith was, or where her bones lie.

The sacrifice sealed within the blade such power as had never been seen before in any weapons but those said to be used by gods in long past ages. Until that moment the blade was kept from the sun, and was only worked in the dead of night under flickering torchlight. But now it was judged strong enough, and was taken to greet the dawn with defiance. The Emperor himself held it aloft, and such was the blaze of its polished blade, and the menace of its mien that none would dare meet his eyes. He struck a light blow on a stone crag and it shattered in a clap of thunder.

This, he said, was good.

He then had blades from all quarters of the world brought to him—prized Qilin blades forged over lifetimes, curious leaflike Zebra swords, delicate Unicorn’s blades of Equestria, and a dozen more besides—and he struck each in turn. Every one of them shattered, but he would not stop until the ground beneath his talons was aglitter with broken metal.

This, he said, was better.

At last, he caused the finest of Qilin silk to be brought, and holding the blade straight, he allowed a wisp of it to fall onto the blade. No sooner had it touched the edge than it split in two. The Emperor sheathed the blade and inspected the cut. It was arrow-straight, and free of the slightest blemish or tear.

This, he said, was best of all.

The sword, then, was held under guard in the imperial treasury while the Emperor caused the greatest warriors of Griffonstan to be summoned to the White Peak Eyrie. Fully ten-score answered his call. This robbed many a unit of its commander, or finest fighter, but there was little worry. The ponies were content to sulk in their infernally effective fortresses tending to their bizarre instruments of war.

The proud warriors arrived resplendently arrayed, each more magnificent than the last. The Slayer of a Thousand, whose bones and name lie beneath White Peak, was there, as was The Red Terror, whose bones and name lie beneath Iron Crag, and whose every feather was dyed crimson, so that no foe could ever say that they were attacked by stealth, and many other storied warriors besides. The Emperor decreed that they were to fight in single combat until only a dozen remained, and so they did, joining battle with joyous fury. Such was their fierceness that, even though they fought in armor with blunted blades, fully half were wounded, and ten were killed. But their deaths were judged to be of great honor, and none grieved.

At last, only a dozen remained, and these were taken to the highest point of White Peak, where the air is so thin, that all but the hardiest cannot dwell and none but the most powerful can fly. It was so cold, so far up and in the dead of winter, that no griffin dared perch still for more than a moment, lest hoarfrost root them to the spot. There, the twelve were bid to fight in a mock battle, first six to the side, then three, and finally alone against two others. The victor would be granted the blade.

The fighting was terrifying. Not only was the cold murderously strong, the wind cruel and relentless, and the air thin, but the passing clouds could unexpectedly cloak combatants from one another, suddenly turning the long drawn-out stalking into a welter of unseen claws and deafening battle-cries. After four hours, all the Emperor’s attendants either fled to lower altitudes and into disgrace or died where they stood, obedient to the last. But the Emperor yet lived, and so did the warriors. All had survived, though most bore grievous wounds that would, in time, become honorable scars.

One stood above them all: The Breaker of Chains, whose bones and name lie beneath White Peak. He was not, perhaps, as strong as Howling Storm, whose bones and name are lost, nor was he as quick as the Red Terror, whose bones and name lie beneath Iron Crag, but he was the most fierce. He would never back down, and never fail to press home his attack. Even the toughest of foes wilted at his will, and he had no fear.

At once, the course was clear. Griffin armies converged on a powerful pony fastness near Whitetail, and, arraying themselves outside, waited as their champion was sent forth. Breaker of Chains, whose bones and name lie beneath White Peak, flew forth, in gilded armor that displayed proudly the colors of the empire, with blade held high. It blazed bright in the dawn sun, each gleam and glitter a declaration of defiance against Celestia and her children. He hovered, outlined against the rising sun, and bellowed out a challenge to any pony brave enough to step forth. He exulted. His whole life, first as a hunter, then as a soldier, and now as champion to all of Griffonstan, was mere preparation for this one moment of utter glory.

It was then that Corporal Sure Cut, of the 133rd Royal Hussars, shot him with a crossbow. How much his previous life as a mane-dresser prepared him for that moment is unknown.

The war ended shortly thereafter, with the agreement of the Diet of Whitetail, where the griffins agreed, at last, to give up a diet of pony forevermore. The blade survived, and is today kept in the Armistice Museum, at the Griffonstan/Stalliongrad border.

* * *

Carl von Clawsewitz, ambassador of the Greater Griffonstan Empire, paused, and smiled the best one could with a beak. The two foals had taken cover. The little one behind her older sister, peeking from between her legs, and the older one, the colt, behind a stack of folders perched atop a filing cabinet lying on its side.

A sign of a good story well told, children hiding behind things, he always thought.

“And that’s the story. I hope you liked it.”

“It was very nice, Your Excellency,” said Rose politely, “though not quite as I had heard it.”

Carl made an expansive gesture with a wing, expertly keeping balance on his perch atop a small hillock of filing cabinets piled together, apparently, in emulation of ancient Equestrian megalithic sites.

“Well, I do put my own spin on it, I must admit. And please, Miss Salad, ‘Carl.’ Titles are for diplomacy. This is storytelling. You can tell because it is a lot more fun.”

“Um,” came a little voice from below.

Carl bent down, until his beak was level with the tiny filly.

“Yes, little Daisy?”

“Um. Um. Why do you do the dipl—diplomaty stuff? If you like tellin’ stories why don’t you be a storyteller? ‘Cos, ‘cos, you tell ‘em really well,” the little filly said, blushing.

“Yeah,” said Dandelion perking up, “with the fighting and the sword and—” he meant to punctuate that last line with a dramatic gesture, but overbalanced and fell from his sister’s back. He caught himself before he could hit the floor, and ended up flying upside-down. This did not seem to lessen his enthusiasm to any appreciable degree.

“Well. Young Miss Daisy, Mr. Salad, I’m very glad you think so. As for why I do, ah, this diplomacy stuff, ah…” Carl cast around for something he knew about foals.

“Well,” he continued, “it’s like alfalfa. It makes you big and strong, your mother says, right, but you don’t like it?”

The two foals nodded vigorously and Rose smiled.

“But you have to eat it, yes? Well, this,” he said, sweeping a wing to indicate the office of the Cabinet Secretary piled high with paper, “this is my alfalfa. You can’t always do what you want. Even as a grown-up.”

“Oh,” said Daisy, looking sad. She crept up from between her sister’s legs, and inched forward. The she rushed forward, gave the ambassador’s downy legs a quick nuzzle, and said, “I hope you can have cake after, then, an’ tell your stories someday.” Then, she scooted back, hiding.

“Thank you, little Daisy, that’s very—” Carl stopped, hearing the sound of intemperate language coming closer. “Ah. That would be your uncle approaching. By the way he’s referring to ‘Those Bastards in the Rising Damp,’ he’s still quite put out with the weatherponies of Cloudsdale. It’s likely we are going to be snowed in for a while yet. You were right, Mr. Salad. A story really did help pass the time.”

“I wonder,” said Rose speaking a bit louder to be heard over the threnody on the subject of damages and forms that need filling in being preformed just outside, “why you picked that story to tell, Your Ex—Carl.”

“Well it is a very curious tale. The most curious, I should think.”

“Why?”

“Because it is often told and retold by both ponies and griffins alike, both of whom tell it in order to demonstrate how the other side utterly misunderstands the nature of war.”

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