• Published 16th Aug 2014
  • 3,050 Views, 92 Comments

The Last Trumpet's Call - Cold in Gardez



A gryphon survives a battle in the north. His friend does not. He wonders, sometimes, who really won.

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Cloudsdale

It was still dark when I landed in Cloudsdale.

Cloudsdale at night was like a lantern drifting in the sky. A thousand thousand streetlights, windows, signs, floodlights, lamps, candles and even fireflies cast away the darkness. The land beneath the city was awash in its gentle gleam, as though the sun had never quite managed to set, and the world was filled with the twilight glow of the pegasus city, drifting high above in its many-pieced splendor. It was like a comet, soft, beautiful, and never the same.

Pegasi love the night. I never understood why, or how the other pony tribes tolerate their night-owl cousins, but among the ponies I knew the pegasi were always the last to rise in the morning, yawning and blinking into wakefulness around the time the sun reached noon. Perhaps, when one has seen how beautiful the night sky is above the clouds, or how the world below transforms into a jeweled mosaic, with rivers that reflect the stars and snow-capped mountains dusted with silver moonlight, one simply appreciates the night more than ponies who only see it from the ground, and bump into each other with blinded eyes spoiled by the day's harsh light.

Alone among the ponies, it was the pegasi who supported Princess Luna when she became Nightmare Moon. That's what Cirrus told me. It had the sound of a self-serving myth, of a noble warrior people fighting for a lost cause, but when you spend much time around pegasi, you get used to that sort of thing. They like to brag – one of the things I love about them.

Anyway, all this is to say that when I arrived in Cloudsdale, it was still dark, and there were plenty of pegasi up and about. By the time I landed on one of the floating city's wide boulevards, the eastern sky was just starting to brighten with the touch of dawn, and many of the ponies seemed to take that as their cue to head home. In ones and twos and hundreds, they took to the air and sped toward their waiting beds. The city's lights went out as the sun broke over the mountains, and morning returned to Cloudsdale.

I should add that I was completely lost. I knew I was in Cloudsdale, but that city is big. When you can make streets and homes and parks and everything else out of clouds, there's no reason not to keep building and building and building until your city is a sprawling mass that drifts about, barely connected to itself. I could imagine earth ponies, so regimented and staid, looking up at it and having fits.

So I set off walking down the street. I'd landed in a commercial district, apparently, and none of the stores lining the sidewalks looked like they'd be opening for several more hours. As I watched, a bright blue pegasus trotted out of one, pulled down the shutters, locked the doors, and jumped into the air.

Odd business hours, but whatever. I wasn't here to shop.

A cherry red mare stepped out onto the street a few paces away, and I swung toward her, stopping a polite, non-threatening distance away. Her eyes widened when she saw me, but she didn't scream or bolt. Cloudsdale was a big city, and they probably saw gryphons fairly often – enough to become inured to our presence.

“Excuse me, ma'am,” I said. It's important to be polite with ponies when first meeting them. Polite is not frightening. “Do you know where Stratus Heights is?”

“The neighborhood?”

I nodded, and she continued. “I think it's on the southwest side of the city today. If not, try the north. It's usually pretty high, unless it's low. Never in the middle.”

“I see,” I said, which was something of a fib. But then, wasn't Cirrus always like that, too? Born with an incredible ability to navigate, like all pegasi, but seemingly incapable of sharing that knowledge with others. The old joke about pegasi making maps out of clouds sauntered into my head, and just as quickly was banished.

“Thank you for your help,” I said.

“Oh, of course!” She smiled, as happy as only ponies can be. “And welcome to Cloudsdale!”

I gave her a little wave and then jumped into the air, my wings quickly propelling me above the clouds. All around, Cloudsdale extended like a floating wedding cake, with each layer drifting in its own direction, unconcerned with the fate of the others. Dawn painted them pink and orange and yellow, and the wind pulled pieces of them away, white bits of cotton caught in a stream, and for a moment I wondered why anyone would ever want to leave such a beautiful place.

Enough. I shook my head and banked toward the southwest, or maybe toward the north.

* * *

Against all expectation, I did find Stratus Heights. The neighborhood was not in the southwest, or the north, but eventually enough friendly ponies managed to steer me toward it. It was an outlier, almost a suburb, a city of its own floating far enough from the center of Cloudsdale that you could be excused for thinking it was just a massive cloud passing along in the wind. The sun was well above the horizon by the time I touched down on the wide, columned avenues, and a few early birds were already up and about fluffing the clouds in their lawns. They waved as I passed, and I waved back.

I spent the next hour just wandering about the cloud, from street to street, until I had passed through the entire neighborhood. Some houses were large, some small, some the size of palaces, others mere one-room cabins. Unlike for pretty much everyone else, to pegasi, house size is not an indicator of wealth. Clouds are free, after all. Homes are as large as they want them to be.

After some more help from friendly neighbors, I found the house I was looking for. It was modest and tall, with several floors piled atop each other, each with its own balcony and wide windows. A rare flash of green caught my eye from above, and I peered closer to see the branches of a tree swaying in the wind from a rooftop garden. That was interesting – not many pegasi kept gardens in the clouds. It required a deft touch to keep them from falling out.

The door was a dark, stained wood. Etched in the lintel above it was a pair of cutie marks: a stylized swirl of wind and three feathers. The swirl was Cirrus's father; the feathers, I assumed, his mother.

So, right house, right neighborhood. I took a deep breath and shook my wings to settle them. And again.

And again. For some reason my heart wouldn't slow down, and the speech I'd spent hours rehearsing during the long night-time flight was a jumble in my head. I closed my eyes and took another breath.

Just do it. Knock on the door.

Before I could have any second thoughts, I balled my talons into a fist and rapped on the door.

Inside, I heard the mumble of voices. There was a silence, and then the soft tap of hooves on a packed cloud floor. The sound drew closer, and finally the door opened.

I stared down at a foal, no more than half my size. He was light blue with a tan mane, and he gawked up at me like he'd never seen a gryphon before.

“Mom!” he yelled. “It's a gryphon!”

Of course, it was possible he looked at everyone that way. I kept a neutral expression on my face while his mother trotted up behind him and gently pushed him to the side. She was large for a pegasus, her eyes nearly level with mine. I caught a glimpse of her flank, and yes, three feathers, bright orange against her slate coat.

“Good morning, sir. Can I help you?” Her voice was pleasant, but her ears were tilted away. Cautious.

I had a speech for this. I'd spent hours practicing it, especially that first line. How did it go, again? Something about our unit? I stared at her, lost, while the speech I'd carefully crafted and rehearsed and agonized over fled from my mind in tatters. My heart began to race, and my tail lashed against the clouds behind me. My wings flared, ready to pull me away, to escape.

The mare frowned. She pushed the colt further away, and her hoof reached to the door. To close it.

I panicked.

“I knew Cirrus!” I blurted. I was panting. This was all a mistake. Anywhere, anywhere else but this.

Silence. She stared at me, her mouth open just a hair, as though she had frozen in the midst of speaking. Below us, the colt looked back and forth, his ears up and straining.

“Oh,” she finally said. Her eyes drifted down to the chevrons dyed into my feathers. “Oh. I... I'm sorry, I... you surprised me.” She paused and glanced down at her son, and then back into the house. “Would you like to come in? I was just brewing some tea.”

I didn't want to come in. I didn't want to be there at all. I wanted to flee and forget that I came, that I made the mistake of finding this house and knocking on that door. But that was what I had done, and now it was too late to stop.

Besides, I still had to give my speech. If I could remember it.

“Yeah,” I mumbled. I swallowed and tried again, louder. “Yes, I would be honored.”

She nodded and stepped aside, and I walked into my friend's home.

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