• Published 14th Aug 2014
  • 4,473 Views, 181 Comments

Rise - Blueshift



The ponies are about to carry out Summer Shutdown and bring back winter. This does not sit well with a small breezie colony living in Applejack's orchard. Someone has to stop the ponies and save the world...

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1 - The Tree That Was The World

“Winter is coming.”

Misty gazed out from the highest branches of the World Tree. Long minutes of climbing up ancient staircases and hovering through air pipes that had been built by the oldest breezie settlers had rewarded her and her father with a majestic view of the world. Above them, the treacherous breeze whipped the leaves into a frenzy while below their fellow breezies could be seen fluttering near the safety of the bark or exploring all the way to the borders of rootspan.

She barely listened to the words of her father. From on high, the sun shone on like it always did during the long day. She watched her friends below, fascinated. They were tiny to her, like dust mites, scuttling about their daily tasks.

She leant over the edge of the branch for a better look, and felt a sudden lurching as one appendage slipped on a patch of lichen. She squealed, her tiny wings fluttering like mad before a strong grip pulled her back.

Her father looked down at her with a concerned smile. “Careful, Misty,” he boomed in that rich, brown voice of his. He ruffled her antennae affectionately and gave a laugh. “What am I saying, you’re old enough to fly now. Sixteen weeks. It feels like only yesterday you were a little breeziegrub and look at you now. Your mother would be so proud.”

Misty beamed back, giving her wings an experimental flap, feeling the cool outside air run over them. Ever since her wings had fully developed at the slightly late age of fourteen weeks she had been itching to test them out properly, but like the rest of the children she was only allowed to practice inside the confines of the World Tree. “I’m gonna fly forever!” she chirped boastfully, peering back over the edge at the breezies below. “Look, there’s uncle Zephyr!”

She waved frantically at one of the tiny specks below, but to no avail. She briefly considered trying to fly down the whole length of the World Tree, but decided against it. Her father probably wouldn’t be impressed if she accidentally plummeted to her death.

Seemingly not noticing her sudden desire to leap, her father spread out an appendage, gesturing all around them, from the canopy of leaves at the very top of the World Tree that protected them from the ravages of the wind, to the old crumbling pillar of bark that was their home, all the way down to the roots that staked out their territory in the dirt far below. “At this hour, you become an adult, Misty,” he announced, more to the tree than to her. “My little Misty, sixteen already. And one day, all this will be yours.”

Misty furrowed her brow. “No, you’ll always be in charge, dad! You’re not going anywhere!” She tugged at his side in concern, voice falling to a low timber. “Don’t go away too.”

She was met with a reassuring smile. “No, Misty. But I am an old breezie. Soon I will be fifty… I have seen many months and I know what the winter brings. It will be hard and cold, but we will endure, as we always have.”

Misty tilted her head to one side, pursing her lips. “What’s a winter? Is that like night?”

Her father shook his head solemnly. “When winter comes, the days are as cold as night, and the nights colder still. The fruit no longer grows on our World Tree and the ground becomes hard as rock. Soon, the ponies will take away our sun and shroud the land in ice.”

A long shadow flickered across the top of the World Tree as far above, something vast, terrible and pastel flew. Despite herself, Misty felt a shiver run down her spine. “Why do the ponies hate us so?”

“It is their way.” Her father’s eyes were drawn towards the flying creature high in the sky, watching for a moment as it started to slowly push a cloud over the sun. “They have warred against us since recorded history began. They steal our food, they smash our homes, they hunt us with their Death Wheels, but…” He leant down to Misty as he saw her face crumple at the last phrase. “But we endure!” He gave her a gentle hug.

Misty’s head rested against his shoulder. She tried to sneakily raise a limb to wipe away the tears. She was grown-up now. Grown-ups didn’t cry. “Why don’t we move to another World Tree?” she mumbled into his neck. “Where the ponies don’t know where we live and there is more fruit and better bark?”

She felt her father shake her head. “This is our home, Misty. Our hive has lived here ever since the first breezie came to this land. Years of history. It is history to be proud of.”

Misty pulled away to look down at the ground again. It was so far away. The rays of the sun had been blocked by the cloud, and the breezies below had slowed in their task of gathering and farming within the safety of rootspan. In the distance, she could see more trees. As a breeziegrub, she had been enraptured by her uncle Zephyr’s tales of adventures, flying as far as ten trees in a dangerous and death-defying journey. Her father had never approved; even adults were discouraged from travelling too far if they could help it. A hive that stayed together, stayed alive, that was what he said. And it was true.

She had never been past rootspan before, into the terrors that lurked beyond.

No. She had. Once.

The memory rose unbidden, and she scrunched her appendages tight against the bark floor.

Her father turned to her. “Are you ready?”

Misty nodded.

A pair of limbs grasped around her waist and lifted her unsteadily into the air. Her father grunted with the effort, and Misty’s vision swam as she bobbed about in his grip, hefted over his head. There should have been two lifting her. Life wasn’t always fair. Despite the strain on him and the vast height at which they were, she still felt safe. He was her father, after all.

“There comes a time in every breezie’s life,” her father began, with words that were familiar to her from all the books she had read, “when your parents put you down, and never pick you up again.” With a relieved puff, he gently placed her back down on the firm floor of the branch.

Misty looked up at her father. “We lift ourselves,” she whispered, her wings starting to buzz madly, the cool air circulating around them faster and faster until she rose on her own, hovering over an inch above the branch. “We lift ourselves.”

A tear glistened in her father’s eyes. “We lift ourselves,” he echoed back.

She was nearly a proper adult.



***



Misty was still trembling from the adrenaline of her first flight outside, short and tiny as it was, as she and her father made their way back inside the World Tree. More than once, she stumbled down a stair that had finally given way to the woodrot that infested their home.

As they finally approached the living area, Misty’s ears pricked up at the familiar thumping of a nut-drum. “The party’s started already!” she squeaked in annoyance. “It’s my birthday, they can’t start without me! That’s not fair!”

“They’re excited for you.” Her father pushed open the ornate square of red ribbon that marked the doorway to their nesthome. “A leader must put the happiness of the hive ahead of their own. Especially when winter nears.”

Misty shivered again, hugging herself as she sunk down into the embrace of a half-acorn shell that served as her favourite chair. “You’ve gotta stop the ponies, dad, if this ‘winter’ is as bad as you say…”

“They are too big, Misty. Some things you cannot stop. But you can endure.” Her father rummaged through their dresser made of carefully stacked matchboxes, before pulling out a large square parcel wrapped up in foil. “I thought I would give you your birthday present here. I don’t want the others to resent you.”

Misty’s eyes lit up as she saw the shining silver cube. “Foil?” she gasped. “Seriously? You’re serious?” She clapped her front limbs together. “For me?”

Her father grinned and placed the package in her lap. “Not just foil,” he said through a beaming smile. “Your uncle and I were out foraging past rootspan over three days ago and came across this. We agreed you should have it.”

“Wow, you kept it for ages, I wonder what…” Misty’s words trailed off as she carefully opened the foil. Her mouth dropped open and she tried to process what was sitting in her lap. “A sugar cube? A whole cube?” She flicked her face up to meet her father’s gaze, wide-eyed. “I thought they were just stories for breeziegrubs!” She hefted the cube up and thrust it at her father. “I can’t! You should have it!”

“It’s the least you deserve.” Her father nodded affirmatively before turning back to searching through his possessions. “Don’t eat it all at once though, we will need to conserve food for the winter.”

Leaf, her faithful pet aphid came scuttling up at the scent of sugar, and Misty broke off a crystal, placing it in Leaf’s jaws. He rolled over, cooing as he devoured the treat. “You’re a good boy, Leaf,” she said, rubbing his chitinous stomach. “A good boy.”

“Ah!” With a cry of triumph, her father pulled out a strange wooden object, holding it aloft for Misty to see. She stopped petting Leaf and gave him a pat to indicate he should scurry off.

“What is it?” Misty turned her head this way and that, gazing at what her father was holding. It looked like an ordinary wooden stick, but one end was covered in a rough sand-like powder that was bright red.

“This is what I brought back when I reached my sixteenth week and took the Quest past rootspan.” Her father breathed deeply, savouring the memory as it returned. “We were deep in winter then. The ponies had brought the cold and the snow to try and wipe us out, but we were strong! I crept all the way up to one of their Death Wheels and struck a blow for breezie-kind by taking their most precious possession!”

Misty’s mouth fell open, but she was none the wiser. “…What is it?” she asked again.

“There were more, of course,” her father continued. “When they were struck against this-” he pointed out the side of the matchbox dresser “-they created fire! And that is how we survived that terrible cold.”

“Wow!” Misty’s chest swelled with a newfound respect for her father who had dared to steal fire from the gods. “Dad, that’s amazing! You never said!”

“You are old enough to know now.” Her father walked over to a small crack in the bark that served as a window and stared out at the lands beyond. “When winter comes, I want you to be the one to use the last of the firesticks to light the fire within the Great Hall. But remember, only the strong will survive. There can be no room for the weak when the ponies’ terrible onslaught begins. We lift ourselves.”

“I won’t let you down, dad!” Misty nodded firmly. “We lift ourselves.” She flapped her wings proudly, hovering in the air before thumping back into her chair. “But uh…” she paused before broaching the subject. “What did mum bring back on her Quest?”

“Ah now…” Her father turned back to the box and carefully produced a thick tube of felt. He unrolled it, to reveal a gleaming silver shaft. One end finished in a wicked point, whilst the other was marked by a long oval hole. “A mighty sword! She took their most precious weapon from them and doubtless saved the lives of many innocent breeziegrubs.” He offered the sword to Misty.

Misty took it, surprised at the heft of it as she stared down in wonder at this piece of history. Her mother would have been the same age as her when she got this, questing out far beyond rootspan to strike a blow against the hated ponies and prove herself as an adult. Misty didn’t feel anywhere near as brave or valiant as her mother must have been.

She passed the sword back to her father. “Is that why the ponies…” she began softly. “Were they angry at her for taking it?”

Her father knelt down and brushed a strand of hair from her cheek. To Misty’s surprise, it was plastered down with a hot tear. “The ponies hate all of us,” he said quietly. “They spend their lives trying to destroy us and steal our food, but we endure.”

Misty nodded quickly. She scrunched up her eyes to chase away the tears that wanted to come, and blinked them clear. “I won’t let you down on my Quest! I’ll strike the biggest blow against the ponies since Sunny Breeze, and then I’ll be a proper adult and can help beat the winter that they send!”

Her father cupped her chin in one of his appendages, looking deep into her eyes. “You don’t have to, Misty.” His powerful shoulders slumped, and he seemed to lose some of that inner self-determination which he extruded about the hive. “The Quest is an important part of growing up, but any blow against the ponies will count, however small. Don’t go too far past rootspan, hide if you see any beasts prowling, don’t take any risks, don’t go past three tree-widths…”

“Dad!” Misty exclaimed. “Don’t worry, I’m big now! I’ll make you proud.”

Her father’s lips curled into a faint grimace. “Just promise me you’ll return safe. You’re still my little girl, I couldn’t take it if anything happened to you too.”

“I promise!” Misty leant forwards to give him a hug.

“Attagirl.” Her father ruffled her antennae again. “Come on, I think there’s a party waiting.”



***



A cheer rang out around the Great Hall as Misty descended the stairs. She tried to gracefully fly down them, but the confined space was not conducive to flight, and she found herself bumping and thumping downwards as she repeatedly banged her head against the ceiling and her behind on the stairs.

Still, everyone was happy to see her. The entire Great Hall, which ran the entire diameter of a good portion of the World Tree, was decorated with some of the finest bunting she had ever seen. There was coloured string that crossed the ceiling, daubs of glitter on the walls that looked almost like stars, and a large, cheerful banner across one wall that read ‘HApPy bIRfDay MiSty’.

Misty beamed giddily. Nearly everyone in the hive was there, apart from those unlucky enough to be on watch, and the room heaved with the bodies of nearly two hundred breezies as they danced and sang and ate from the buffet table that had been laid out in one corner. She could see plates of apple and lichen and nuts, and even a berry.

She was about to make a dash for the table before all of the berry had been eaten when her father clasped a limb firmly to her shoulder, stopping her in her tracks.

“Friends! Comrades!” her father’s voice boomed out across the Great Hall, and at once every breezie fell silent. Two hundred pairs of eyes looked towards them both, and Misty couldn’t help but feel a new burst of pride for the respect her father commanded. There was nothing he didn’t know, nothing he couldn’t do. Not like her. She flattened her wings against her back, trying to fight back against the sudden pang of inadequacy that suddenly stabbed at her.

Her father gripped the banister at the bottom of the stairs and swept his gaze across the crowd. “Many of you may be worried!” he began. “Many may fear the coming winter. Many may tremble at the next attack by the ponies in this terrible war. But we are strong!” He punched the air to assorted cheers. “The World Tree endures! They hunt us and attack us, but they can never win, for we are breezies! We are strong! We lift ourselves!”

“We lift ourselves!” the crowd chorused in unison. Misty hopped up and down beside her father, shouting out as loud and as enthusiastically as she could.

“And now…” Her father placed a limb around her neck, pulling her close in a hug. “Now, my darling daughter is nearly a full-grown breezie! As the sun starts to sink and the long night begins, she will begin her Quest past rootspan to strike a blow against our enemies and prove herself an adult!”

The crowd cheered again. Misty did her best to pull a confident face, but the twitch at the sides of her smile betrayed her fear. Her father had brought back fire! Her mother had taken a sword. She remembered tales of how her uncle had brought back the first grape from his Quest, which the hive were still trying to cultivate into grape trees. They were so much stronger and wiser and better than she was, what could she do?

Instead she just kept her fake smile and chirped up with “I will strike the biggest blow since Sunny Breeze!”

The crowd went wild at this, throwing celebratory seeds into the air. Misty almost let herself get caught up in the moment, puffing out her chest. Of course she would do better, she was her father’s daughter. What else could she do?

“Oh no, what’s this?” her father suddenly boomed, though with an oddly jovial tone. Misty craned her neck as a hubbub began at the end of the hall, hearing the squeals of the little breeziegrubs who had been allowed by their parents to attend the party and seeing them frantically trying to crawl away from…

“Fe fi fo fum!” shouted a breezie painted in red dye and wearing a large red head fashioned from wasp paper, doing his best to storm into the Great Hall, though failing as he couldn’t quite see out of his mask. “I am so evil!”

“It’s the Red Destroyer!” Misty’s father exclaimed, overly dramatically, clasping a limb to his forehead in mock panic. “Who will save us now?”

“Sunny Breeze! Sunny Breeze!” squeaked one of the breeziegrubs who had shuffled its way to the front in order to hide behind the largest breezie it could.

Misty couldn’t help but clap along with the crowd as from the ceiling, a breezie clad in yellow petals fluttered down. “Sunny Breeze!” she shouted happily, hopping up and down at the display. It wasn’t Sunny Breeze, of course. He had lived many years ago in breezie prehistory; in fact it looked to Misty like it was Windy wearing the costume. That had clearly been the ‘secret project’ he had been working on instead of going on his foraging duties. That, or he was just lazy.

“Have at thee!” ‘Sunny Breeze’ shouted, landing on top of the Red Destroyer’s head to a cry of annoyance from below. “I will take your precious treasure!”

With that, ‘Sunny Breeze’ leapt into the air again, fluttering over the heads of the assembly and triumphantly holding up a crudely torn circle of yellowed leaf. “I’ve got it, I’ve got it! Victory for the World Tree!”

“No, I am defeated by the breezies! My precious treasure!” The Red Destroyer promptly fell over in an exaggerated manner, and then moments later when he thought no-one was looking, started to slide across the floor to the buffet table.

It was just a story, of course. No, more than a story. Misty couldn’t help but feel pride and joy and satisfaction as she watched their most ancient legend play out. Sunny Breeze, the first breezie to strike back against the hated ponies and steal their precious treasure. Before him, they had cowered, running and scared without anywhere to call home. Sunny Breeze had changed all that, he had shown them the way forwards.

That was many years ago though.

“Thank you, ‘Sunny Breeze’,” her father nodded to Windy, who flopped down in amongst the crowd with relief. “Your bravery will never be forgotten. While we have the treasure, we know we are victorious over our hated enemy!”

He nodded across the room to where Misty’s uncle Zephyr stood under a pair of ornate felt curtains. Misty’s heart started to flutter as she remembered what was about to happen.

Zephyr pulled on a piece of twine, and the curtains parted to reveal the ancient treasure of the ponies. An awed hush descended upon the crowd.

A disc of shiny golden metal was mounted on the wall, bigger than even the largest breezie and inscribed with strange symbols. On the side that faced the crowd was a carving of a pony’s face wearing a crown. It was clearly their queen who had declared war on the breezies, and many treatises had been written on the cold evil of this monster.

The treasure belonged to the breezies now, not the ponies. It was proof that they were superior, and despite their enemies’ enormous size, they would prevail.

“Go on,” Misty’s father whispered to her, giving her an encouraging pat. “Go on, Misty.”

Misty gulped, nodding as she frantically tried to recall the words. Her wings flared into life as she took off, hovering unsteadily over the heads of the audience until she was face to face with the treasure, looking into the metal eyes of her enemy.

“I… uh… I promise…” she began, her throat drying out from nerves. “I promise to undertake my Quest and strike a blow at the heart of the pony war machine, for me and for all breeziekind. As long as I am strong and can fly, I promise to protect the World Tree from our enemies, and uh…” She faltered slightly, scrunching up her brow. “Uh, and love my family and the hive.” She finished up by staring into the merciless eyes of the pony queen and giving the carving a punch on the nose with her fist.

She turned and slowly sunk to the ground, to be greeted with cheers and whistles. Her uncle patted her on the back as her father made her way through the sea of bodies towards her, shaking appendages with everyone he passed, beaming with joy.

“You did good, Misty,” her uncle whispered down to her, before moving to pull the cord on the curtains and hide the treasure from view once more. “Your mother would be so proud of you.”

“Thanks.” The smile on Misty’s face faded as her uncle’s words brought back unbidden memories. “I just hope I can do as well on my Quest.”

“Take the third root counter clockwise,” her uncle replied with an enigmatic wink. “That’s the best direction.”

“Okay.” Misty nodded, making a mental note of that. She didn’t really think it mattered, but her uncle Zephyr was one of the best breezie foragers who had ever lived. He knew what he was talking about. She peered her head up over the party guests, anxiously looking at the state of the big, juicy berry on the buffet table. It already had a few chunks taken out of it, but she if she could get there quick…

Her father loomed in front of her and moved to scoop her up.

Misty pulled away. “I’m an adult now, dad, remember!”

Her father just laughed and shrugged his front appendages in mock-resignation. “That you are, Misty. That you are. Now, have fun, you have a tough night ahead of you.”

Misty caught him glancing to her uncle, who nodded back. It was strange, but she thought no more of it as she pushed her way to the buffet table. All around her, familiar faces bobbed, wanting to congratulate her on growing up, but that delicious berry was all she could think of. She reached out her front limbs greedily, licking her lips, and –

“Emergency! Emergency!” A harsh clanging noise echoed over the Great Hall as one of the breezies on watch duty ran in, frantically beating a branch against his tin bell. The mood of the party was instantly shattered, moving from merriment to terrified babblings as everyone looked around to see what was going on.

Misty put the berry back, turning to her father who had taken to the air, hovering above the gathering. “What is it, Whistler?” he called over to the guard.

“Sorry sir!” Whistler shouted back over the din of his bell. “They’re coming! The ponies are coming! It’s the Red Destroyer!”

At this news, the hubbub turned to squeals and shouts of alarm. Mothers scooped up their breeziegrubs and started to flee for the safety of the underroot. The breezie who had been playing the part of the Red Destroyer cowered under the buffet table, hugging his paper mask tight to his chest.

Misty pushed through the panicking crowd towards her father. Above everything else, he was the calm one, the cool one. Totally in control. “What can I do, dad?”

Her father turned to her with a look of steel in his eyes. “Down to the underroot, Misty, you’ll be safe there.” He wheeled around to address the hive. “Take your breeziegrubs and youngsters down below!” he roared, waving his appendages firmly. “Blue Squad, start to buttress the walls of the World Tree for when the Destroyer strikes! Gold Squad, fetch resin! Mauve Squad, open up the wire storage, secure as much fruit to the branches as you can!”

A deep rumbling started up under Misty’s feet, and she looked around in alarm. She started to move to follow the others to the underroot, but stopped. “No!” she yelped. “No, dad, I’m grown up now! I can help!”

“No, Misty!” her father snapped back. “It’s too dangerous. Besides, you’re not an adult until you have finished your Quest; now do as I sa–”

He didn’t get to finish his sentence, as with an enormous rending smash, the far wall buckled and exploded in a shower of splinters and chunks of wood that were thrown into the Great Hall like shrapnel, blocking off the escape for those mothers and youngsters unfortunate enough to be too slow. Misty’s vision whirled as she became overwhelmed by the dizzying screams all around here.

“Buttresses! Resin!” her father yelled over the din, taking to the air with his fragile wings despite the destruction all around. At his word, dozens of breezies poured up to the affected wall, some pushing large chunks of hardwood and hammering them in with splinters. Others began to liberally coat the cracks with nut shells full of resin.

“Dad!” Misty wailed in confusion, her knees giving way. She started to sink to the ground, a familiar panic welling in her chest. She was crying again.

Her father turned quickly. “Get back, Misty!” he urged as he hurtled towards the front line. “Brace yourselves, he’ll try again!”

Another almighty tremor smashed into the wall. Several of the breezies manning the buttresses were thrown clear, but the wall held firmer this time, thanks to the swarm of breezies pushing back against it. Those thrown clear picked themselves up and launched back up against the wall, taking the strain.

Again. And again. And again. The entire World Tree shook with the pounding that the pony gave it. Misty crumpled into a ball, hugging herself tight and wishing she was still a breeziegrub safe in her mother’s care, where nothing bad could ever happen. Tears stained her cheeks as she realised that the strange wailing that rang in her ears was coming from her mouth.

Finally, the assault stopped and a strange silence descended over the Great Hall. Misty blinked through teary eyes at the dust and devastation all around her. The buffet table had been smashed in the first onslaught, and the banner which had celebrated her birthday was fallen and torn. The far wall of the Great Hall was still covered by breezies, who were using the opportunity to firm it up even more.

In her mind’s eye she could still see the skin of the World Tree cracking as the pony smashed its evil hoof against it. The World Tree was old. It had endured many such attacks, but could it endure many more? Would they just have to wait until the ponies finally destroyed their home?

Above it all, her father floated, magnificent as he directed the rebuilding efforts. Misty could never imagine herself in his place. He was so firm and decisive. It was thanks to him that they were safe and their ancient home still stood. She was just…

Misty’s shoulders slumped. A coward who hid. “Dad?” she squeaked, and was taken aback as she realised how trembling her voice was. “I’m sorry. I’ll do better.”

Her father paused and turned to her, a look of relief washing over his features. “You’re safe, Misty. That’s all that matters.”

Misty stumbled through the rubble to hug her dad, but a moan caught her attention. She looked to the side and her heart sunk, a cry of shock and alarm coming from deep within. Her father saw it too, rushing towards the scene.

One of the breezie mothers who had been rushing towards the exit with her breeziegrub hadn’t made it in time. A large chunk of wood had been blown free in the first attack and smashed her to the ground.

Her father’s voice shouted out loud and clear as he took control of the situation. Those crowded around stopped panicking and began to lift the wood out of the way, revealing a battered, terrified breezie. Misty didn’t even know her name.

Misty’s father bowed his head. Those around them moved into a circle and did likewise. Misty wanted to run away and hide again, but something compelled her to walk forwards and stand beside her father, looking down at the poor breezie who had been the victim of the pony’s wrath.

“We are breezies,” her father intoned over the hyperventilating sobs of the fallen breezie. “We are strong. We endure. We are made of the air and the wood and those things are immortal and forever.”

The hubbub in the Great Hall died down as the workers busying themselves to repair the wall stopped to watch. Misty bit the inside of her cheek to force herself not to make a noise, watching the poor breezie painfully lift one broken appendage.

“We who are strong fly free,” her father continued solemnly. “We who are not will return to the stars and light the way for our children. We are breezies. We lift ourselves.”

There was a thick silence that fell over the Great Hall as no-one dared even breathe. The fallen breezie coughed out, struggling and whimpering to get up, her tattered wings slowly and painfully flapping. Misty wanted to move forwards and help, tell her everything would be all right, but that wasn’t the breezie way. To survive the terrible war the ponies brought, the hive had to be strong. That was just how life had to be.

“W-we…” The breezie on the floor shuddered and fell with a gasp. She gulped, and with a titanic effort sped up the flapping of her poor wings. Slowly, but surely, she picked herself up and hovered in the air for one agonising moment. “We lift ourselves!”

A ripple of relief passed through the Great Hall. Misty saw her father wipe his brow and smile. Another breezie passed a little breeziegrub wrapped in a swaddling pouch of silk to the injured breezie. It gurgled upwards with joyful cries of “mama!”

Misty turned, her face crumpling as she walked away, the happiness ringing in her ears. But they were not tears of joy that came flooding down her cheeks. “Stop it!” she half-sobbed to herself. “Stupid, selfish Misty.” No, that was how life had to be, and it wasn’t fair.

“I know, I know.” Her father wrapped a comforting limb around her, holding her tight. Misty let out a warble of despair and pressed her face into his warm, reassuring chest. “I know, Misty. I’m sorry. You don’t have to do your Quest this night. Wait another day.”

Misty gave a long sniffle and tried her best to look composed. It didn’t work. “No dad,” she said with what she hoped was a determined look, but fell again into a self-pitying frown. “I do.”