• Published 1st Sep 2017
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Into the Storm: The Flight of Firefly - Firesight

Before the Wonderbolts, there were the Bolt Knights. And before Rainbow Dash, there was Firefly. The story of Rainbow Dash's ancestor, the founding of the Wonderbolts, and the outbreak of the Great Pony/Gryphon War.

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The War Begins: 8 - A Demon Reborn

After the plunge into war that was the first few chapters, one might think a more sedate chapter would be called for. Unfortunately, such chapters will be few in these frantic early hours of the conflict. Thus, before we continue this story, a brief interlude is in order so we can remember not just the war we fought but the peace we eventually won; be reminded of just why so many fell and that their sacrifices were not in vain.

’Tis certain that writing these chapters can be an emotional and unhappy chore for all of us, far more so than the ones of the previous book, where the war had not yet started and combat was only occasional. Here, as my beloved sister was forced to relive Windshear’s sacrifice and the very traumatic experience of her first battle around it, I took weekend leave from the Equestrian Officer Academy to visit her in the town of Spur. ’Twas my intention to soothe her hurting heart by spending time with her and her family, joined by some very special friends...

When I arrived at the Canterlot docks at dawn to board my naval transport for Fort Spur, I found a procession of Royal Guardsponies and Gryphon Embassy soldiers there to see me off.

Or perchance I should say, seeing us all off. I am pleased and honored to say I was joined by my adopted son Gavian, now a father, artist and instructor at the Celestial Art Academy in Canterlot. Now considered one of the greatest artisans of either nation and an emissary between the races of both, he wished to come because, by a very curious and unlikely set of circumstances, he owed Windshear his life; a fact he learned upon meeting him for the first and only time not long before the war began.

I was expecting him. But I was not expecting Ambassador Kaval, who, now knowing the full story of the Fort Spur battle, formerly requested to join us, seeking to honor Windshear’s sacrifice for himself and his new nation. Upon arrival of our naval transport at the base airship dock some six hours later, we were greeted with an Honor Guard by First Lieutenant Flanking Line, the Fort Spur commander, who paid his respects to us even as we came to pay our respects to Windshear. In formal uniform, he escorted us to the memorial statue that marks the exact spot my mentor fell, sacrificing himself to slay the Talaeus raid leader and the tornado of fire that would have consumed all.

Taps were played whilst Wind Whistler left a custom set of windchimes that sounded out a rather mournful melody, Gavian unveiled a custom painting depicting the battle and the very moment of the Sergeant Major’s sacrifice, and I, the old silver Sergeant’s insignia from my formal attire—the very three stripes he initially pinned on my shoulders upon graduation from Royal Guard basic so many years ago. For his part, Ambassador Kaval left a very fine Talaeus blade, engraved with Windshear’s name and deeds. Gryphons do not give medals for battle feats or other military achievements as we do, but instead honor their soldiers with higher rank and more powerful weapons and armor. In this case, to receive such an exquisite blade as the one the Ambassador presented means that the Sergeant Major is now recognized by the Kingdom as one of the greatest warriors of all time.

The ceremony was quite moving, and having witnessed Windshear’s sacrifice so many years ago, Wind Whistler cried again to see it. In an exceptionally rare event, they even halted training so all trainers and recruits could attend, standing in formation at rigid attention as myself, Wind Whistler, Gavian and the Ambassador each gave a brief but heartfelt speech, the latter about what Windshear taught both sides about the meaning of honor and how the Empire had lost sight of what it was.

’Tis worth noting that Windshear’s grandson, named Stalwart Stand in honor of him, was in attendance amongst the recruits. As much as I may have wished to, I did not meet or address him—’tis tradition of the Armored Guard that no matter what your feats or who your family, you are treated no differently as a recruit for it, and thus, I could not speak to him or give him any special recognition. Indeed, Windshear himself was an Aerial Corps Sky Sergeant before he transferred to the Guard, but then lost his rank and had to go through the six-month basic again as a raw recruit before having an equivalent Guardspony rank returned to him at graduation.

Though unable to talk to him, I did observe him as I watched him drill later, and I do have to say that even under his drab grey pegasus recruit fur dye, I could see much of his grandsire in him. In truth, methinks I recognized him instantly as he had Windshear’s build and piercing eyes, and I was later told by his trainers that he also possessed the same love of princess and province my mentor held, to say nothing of a determination to live up to his legacy. ’Tis certain I look forward to seeing him again upon his graduation, and ’tis then I will finally formally introduce myself and visit the memorial again with him. Methinks he will have no end of questions for me about his grandsire, and I will do my best to answer them all.

Given a VIP tour of the base afterwards, we were also privileged to watch afternoon drills in which a dozen gryphons participated. As part of our effort to deepen ties between our nations and militaries, we have established a series of exchange programs in which gryphon soldiers undergo Royal Guard training whilst Equestrian Army and Aerial Corps troops take part in the Gryphon Kingdom’s ‘Crucible’; their version of basic shared between all their services. It has led to some strange sights and juxtapositions; ’twas a little odd, to say the least, to see gryphons wielding wingblades! But the terms of the exchange were that both sides train and learn to fight as the other does. And that means a continent away, select ponies are likewise being trained on crossbows and scimitars.

Of course, as Ambassador Kaval and I were present, our reputations preceded us and we could not escape requests to spar. In truth, it had been a while, so we acquiesced, donning armor and engaging in a duel. Though the Ambassador is fifteen years older than I and now in his early sixties, he keeps himself in fine fighting shape, and our latest battle was, if perchance not as epic as our clashes once were, still a ferocious affair. Methinks ’tis something I have picked up from gryphons in general and the Ambassador in particular to not hold back in even a sparring match, or ’tis taken as an insult; a statement of unworthiness to an opponent. For in the end, ’tis certain there are none more worthy than he.

Our duel lasted several minutes and we each ended up battered and bloodied for it, but in the end our mock battle ended as it seemed all our real ones did: in a draw with blades at each other’s throats, at which point we stopped and saluted each other to the raucous calls and cheers of all present. Methinks it left us reflecting again how many times we once tried to kill each other... and how many times we could not. ’Tis certain neither of us knew why during the course of the war it felt so important that the other live, but in time it became clear that ’twas to the great benefit of both sides that we did.

I thank you for such a... stimulating match, Captain, a far friendlier affair than the ones we once engaged in… to say nothing of more welcome for the fact we both seem to enjoy them immensely now, for both the duel itself and what seems to inevitably happen in its aftermath!

I did indeed offer the Sergeant Major my greatest respects and the Gryphon Kingdom’s highest military honor, and ’tis quite certain I was also pleased by the progress I saw in making the exchange program work, even if I did find it a little strange to be saluted by a gryphon in the pony manner! Though as an Ambassador I am no longer a soldier, I am still very much a warrior, and will remain so until the day I die.

But such days as this were unimaginable on the first day of the invasion, as we conducted operations not just on the border, but also launched several far-flung raids designed to cripple both Equestrian morale and ability to wage war from the start. Some operations, like the one on the Royal Navy Ursa base by the Celestial Sea went well, leaving the facility in ruin as we destroyed two airships and crippled a third. In others like the Fort Spur raid, we would inflict heavy damage and losses but ultimately fail to complete our objectives…

However, in the end, that target was more symbolic than substantive. For the latter, there was a third and far more major raid launched on one of Equestria’s most iconic cities. But that story, Captain, I will leave to your friends and comrades to tell.

—Layan Kaval

Indeed, Ambassador. And ’tis there our story goes next. This tale, too, has its share of tragedy and triumph… though the hero of the day would deny his worthiness of the title, were he still with us.

As the Ambassador explained, Fort Spur was not the only location deep within our borders to be attacked on that first day of war. Cloudsdale, too, would suffer a raid, the aim being to cripple our storm cloud production by destroying its weather factories. On that note, they would be partially successful, as the factories were indeed ruined and knocked out of action for months. Thankfully, however, most of the workers were spared, thanks almost entirely to the efforts of one pony, whose name is legend no less than mine.

That raid is what this chapter will only begin to tell. For its enormous scope, it must be told in multiple chapters from three different perspectives; three ponies who were sought out—or came forward—to give their insights into what happened in Equestria’s largest pegasus population center. With one exception, these ponies had little to do with the war itself beyond this. But their views are essential, as they directly witnessed the deeds of a pony without whom not just Cloudsdale but all Equestria might have fallen.

The tale is theirs to tell, but I feel I must say this much: the Empire sought to cripple Equestria’s military by destroying our ability to control the weather or create storm clouds. Instead, they awoke a demon that had lain dormant for years, a living weapon who was an even more effective warrior than I…

And far, far more dangerous for it.


A truer statement I’ve never heard, Captain. I thank you for seeking me out for my part of this tale, however insignificant it may be.

To you who now read this, know that my name is Virga Veil, and though I was once a Sergeant in the Aerial Corps, I was forced into an early retirement due to circumstances beyond my control. Readers of the previous volume may recall the IS-2 incident, where a pacifistic earth pony village was slaughtered by the brutal Lucavi raider group; its disarmed Aerial Corps defenders likewise slain almost to the last. As one of those defenders along with my commanding officer and good friend Thunderbolt, I was either fortunate or unfortunate, depending on your point of view, to survive the massacre, though not without crippling injury.

Perchance it is for the best I have no recollection of that day, given the horrors that occurred there. My last clear memory before it was speaking with then-Lieutenant Thunderbolt about a joint herd we’d planned on forming; indeed, we’d proposed to the mares just the week prior and intended to tender our resignations from the Corps within days. Such an arrangement with multiple stallions in the same herd is rare, but not unheard of in Equestria. ’Tis more common among stallion siblings to share, but as Thunderbolt and I had been close friends for years on end, brothers in all but name starting from basic, we were both confident we could make it work. Then… nothing.

When I finally woke up in the Cloudsdale hospital, ’twas to find two years passed, my intended mares dead, my right wing gone, and Thunderbolt but a shell of his former self; the sole survivor of that day besides me. I myself was, understandably, quite disoriented. What had happened? I’ve since read the reports, learned about both the massacre and its aftermath as Equestria engaged in a retaliatory operation to crush the Lucavi raider group called Operation Phoenix Fire, launching a limited invasion of Imperial lands with nearly eight thousand troops to destroy the Lucavi forces and their bases.

The operation was a success thanks in large measure to Thunderbolt, but all the same, ’twas almost fiction to me. How could this have happened? And why could I not remember any of it? The healers told me that the shock of the physical and emotional trauma I suffered that day resulted in significant damage to my mind, including my memory. Admittedly, this has merit, as I have trouble remembering details now and again… which is why I’m writing this with the aid of a unicorn healer with a memory recall spell.

After waking up from my two-year coma, I spent another year learning how to walk again under my own power. My muscles had atrophied severely from disuse, and it took time before I could leave the hospital… to say nothing of coming to terms with all that happened and the knowledge that I would never fly again; a crippling blow to a pegasus. Between that and the loss of my wing, I could no longer serve in the Corps, and so was dismissed with honors… including receiving both the Celestial Seal of Sacrifice, automatically granted to all dead and wounded soldiers, and the Dove of Fidelity, an unhappy but purely optional award to the sole survivors of attacks and ambushes.

Whilst I am technically not the only survivor of IS-2, I asked for it anyway, and ’twas granted. I now spend my days in Cloudsdale’s weather factory helping make rain clouds, as ’tis my special talent and something I do not require working wings or fully working memory to do.

’Tis in that factory that I pick up the tale Captain Firefly wishes me to tell. I only pray I can do it the justice it deserves.

Weather Factory Raincloud Facility #5
September 1st, 1139 AC
1220 hours

Cliché though it is to say at this point in the story, September first began as but a normal day in Cloudsdale with nary an indication anything was amiss.

As was typical for that time of year, the city was drifting southeast towards the Appleachian Mountains, nearing its closest approach to the Pony/Gryphon border. But we were less worried about that then ramping up raincloud production for the all-important harvest season. We spent July and August drawing water from the Lunar Sea for that purpose, using it not just to quench the thirst of our eastern farms in advance of Autumn but to also deliver some rainfall to the thestral lands further south.

Every September, we would fill Lake Luna for them as part of their autonomy agreement with the Princess. In exchange for water and being otherwise left alone after their failed rebellion of three hundred years past, they paid yearly taxes and also kept watch over the wild lands of the Everfree; a job they were well-suited for. But such thoughts of the bat-ponies were lost as I rose, bathed, and dressed for work… and then met Thunderbolt for breakfast, as was our longtime custom.

I was grateful, as always, for his presence. He was a true friend to me, perchance the only one I had left after my ordeal. Ever since my awakening, Thunderbolt had taken pains to visit me regularly, though I did not understand why he collapsed and cried over my bed the first time he saw me awake. He visited me frequently after that, helping me recover, had even helped me find a home near the factory so I could walk there. At times we would talk about the past, about the mares we’d intended to herd together… though for the most part we studiously avoided talking about the events that had led to that plan falling through.

A powerful grey-furred and gold-maned pegasus who hadn’t seemed to have physically aged much in the twelve years since that ordeal, Thunderbolt had become a semi-regular fixture at the factory when he wasn’t teaching foals to fly at the Remedial Flight School, which was between sessions at that point. Methinks he did it because he preferred company to solitude, especially that of his sole surviving friend, not wishing to be alone with his oft dark and brooding thoughts. He wasn’t formally employed there and sought no pay for his services, but he aided me nonetheless with tasks I was not able to complete on my own, as he still had the power of flight. Whilst I would make the clouds, he would gather the vapors I needed, as well as send the finished products to the packaging line. As we worked, we talked as well, chatting about old times as always.

Today, though, seemed somehow different. “You seem on edge, Thunderbolt,” I noted as I passed him another finished rain cloud. ’Twas no idle observation; my friend had been unusually tense and distracted all morning, barely saying a word but sinking into a brooding expression for minutes at a time.

He started at my voice, looking up like he’d just remembered I was there. “My apologies, old friend,” he quickly told me, hefting the latest cloud up to the packaging window. “’Tis just… I have had this foreboding feeling all morning. I cannot help but feel something bad is happening.”

“Oh?” My own hackles were raised by his declaration. Were I a different pony, I might have thought him perchance paranoid, or at least overly cautious. However, I’d known Thunderbolt for years, even fought at his side against gryphon raiders twice before the IS-2 incident. His instincts for trouble were superb as he’d had similar premonitions before each such instance, including a particularly strong sense of them before IS-2. Knowing such, I frowned, wondering what he was picking up on this time. “Do you believe there’s trouble on the border?” was the only immediate thought that came to mind. “Twould be hard to believe after Celestia’s ultimatum.”

He considered the question, then shook his head. “I know not what to believe,” he replied after a moment, his eyes and ears now swiveling in every direction as if scanning for threats, sensing danger closing in. “I just feel that something is terribly wrong. That great peril approaches as we speak.”

For him to say such a thing was enough for my own sense of foreboding and long-dormant combat instincts to kick in, but one of the nearby workers who had overheard us, a mare barely old enough to be called such, snorted. “Please, Thunderbolt. You wouldst do well not to believe in premonitions. We’re six hundred miles from the border, and even were we closer, the Princess made clear she’d deal with the gryphons quite harshly if they tried anything,” she pointed out with a roll of her eyes.

“’Tis true...” Thunderbolt granted, and even I couldn’t help but nod in agreement. Word of the infamous ultimatum the Princess gave the Empire following a series of border raids had filtered down through word-of-muzzle by this point; we’d heard the full story from friends we both still had in the Aerial Corps, one of whom had taken direct part in the parley it was delivered during. He had told us the tale with no little satisfaction over a round of cider, leaving us both wistfully wishing we’d been there to see it ourselves. “And yet...”

“And yet, nothing. For even if they did have designs on us, what could they do?” she countered, completely unconcerned. “Think about it. We are well back from the border, well-defended by militia, and methinks the gryphons would not dare launch so brazen a raid so deep into Equestria, especially under threat of annihilation as the Princess gave them. So what possible reason is there to worry?” the mare asked dismissively, turning back to her work.

She received her answer scarcely a second later when a crossbow bolt went right through her neck, severing her spine and slaying her instantly. Seconds later, alarms and a never-heard citywide call-to-arms sounded through the factory as windows and doors were smashed inward, multiple feathered and taloned forms flying through. Despite not having seen them for years, I recognized them immediately as gryphons. Worse, I realized from the grey fur and feather dye and light leather armor they wore that these were not raiders or even Talons, but a highly trained team of Ravens, deadly warriors of shadow who were in the employ of the Empire’s feared intelligence service, the Office of Owls.

Several ponies screamed and bolted for the exits, only to be cut down by their expert aim with their crossbows or the occasional thrown blade. They moved with brutal efficiency and within seconds had secured our facility and slain all within sight. At the squawked order of their leader, some searched for hiding ponies; others began embedding a series of crystal bombs through the facility, intended to destroy it outright, and ’twas then I realized what was happening for them to be attacking our weather factory—invasion; they were trying to destroy our storm cloud production in order to win a war with us, which meant not just obliterating the facility but slaying the workers that could rebuild it after.

Knowing that fleeing would be futile, Thunderbolt and I hid in a side room with several other workers, shepherding them in quickly though we know full well ’twould only provide temporary respite. “Methinks I hate it when you’re right,” I muttered whilst the other workers cowered and sobbed, praying they would not be found and knowing we had no means to defend ourselves. Weather factory workers were not soldiers and the factory itself kept no weapons at hoof...

At least, none in the traditional sense. “As do I, in this instance,” Thunderbolt growled, a gleam growing in his eyes as he moved to guard the door with me—once a soldier, always a soldier. “That they would strike this deep into Equestria…” Methinks he understood the implications as well as I.

“Thunderbolt, we need a plan,” I said, casting about for a means to barricade the door and wishing the factory kept weapons lockers as Naval airships did, as I heard the Ravens searching for more ponies to kill, getting closer all the time. “We need a plan, and weapons,” I amended my statement in a low voice, knowing full well we wouldn’t stay hidden forever. In fact, given the Ravens were starting a systematic search of the facility, we had minutes before they found us at most, at which point our life expectancy might be measured in moments.

’Twas then that I got a good look at Thunderbolt’s face; ’twas all I could do not to recoil from what I saw. Suddenly, the reports I’d read of the ‘demon’ he’d become in the wake of disaster sounded far more plausible; rage and bloodlust growing within his gaze. ’Twas said he’d been unkillable and unstoppable whilst hunting down the Lucavi in the Phoenix Fire operation; and though I’d known him to be a superb soldier, the reports of his skill and sheer savagery were almost impossible to believe.

“The plan is that I’m going to slay every single one of those chickenhawks who dared enter this city and spilled pony blood,” he replied in an equally low voice; from the lack of any sort of warmth in it, I knew he was not only deadly serious, but ’twas fully within his power to carry out his threat. “I will deal with them. Stay hidden and do not interfere…” he warned us all, and then, without hesitation, opened the door and stepped out of the room, exposing himself fully, inviting attack.

“Thunderbolt!” I whispered to him frantically, wondering if he was insane or had a death wish—the latter, I sometimes felt, was all too plausible with him given how he sometimes spoke. “Get BACK!

But far from listening, he stepped to the center of the room in full view, calling to our assailants in their own tongue: [“GRYPHONS! Listen and take heed! I am former Lieutenant Thunderbolt of the Equestrian Aerial Corps!”] he told them as they stared at him incredulously. [“If you know who I am, then you know what I can DO! So I offer you one chance at survival! Leave Cloudsdale immediately, and I will NOT slay every last one of you!”]. I knew the Gryphon language of Aeric as well, having learned it alongside him when he was studying to enter the Equestrian Officer Academy.

Far from intimidated, the Ravens erupted in laughter at him in a rare loss of discipline. [“Lieutenant Thunderbolt, you say? Then you are the so-called ‘Lightning Demon’ who slaughtered the Lucavi? Methinks I am unimpressed, pegasus!”] their leader, a sky gryphon eagless who wore the subdued rank insignia of a Second Spear, spoke with a sneer. [“Perchance you are under some strange delusion as to your odds, so allow me to enlighten you: you are unarmed, woefully outnumbered, and face elite assassins, not wretched raiders this time! I would humor you with a duel so you might see how outmatched you are, but time is short. We are on a schedule, so slay this fool and check the room behind him for others, Akil!”] she ordered one of her subordinates, pointedly turning away from him in an expression of her disdain.

[“By your command, leader!”] ‘Akil’ obeyed instantly, swooping down on him. She then all but sauntered up to him, speaking in smug tones. [“So you speak our language, Equestrian? Then do you know the meaning of our expression ‘spearing fish in a barrel?’”] she asked as she went nose to nose with him, frowning as she saw not a single flinch or flicker of fear in him at her approach. [“No? Then allow me to DEMONSTRATE!”] She lunged at his chest with a long knife in a rapid and well-practiced thrust that would have stabbed through the heart of anybody else, killing them instantly…

And then looked down in shock and horror to realize the knife was embedded in her own chest, her attack turned back on her by a well-timed hoof strike to her wrist that had knocked the blade from her grasp, turned it over in mid-air, and landed it in the same hoof, which then sunk it into her body, all in a single smooth motion! All of it had taken less than a second; as it had been but a blur when it happened, I had to ask my unicorn healer helping me write this to play the memory back repeatedly to understand exactly how he had done it and how much he had accomplished in that one instant!

[“As it happens, I DO know…”] Thunderbolt told her, his voice ice-cold as he twisted the blade into her heart; her beak agape and eyes betraying sheer terror as she realized at that moment she was slain, unable to draw breath or even scream. [“Now let me show you just how MUCH I know!”] With that, he ripped the knife from her body in a spray of blood and then threw it at the Raven leader that had so foalishly turned her back on him, the spinning blade finding the base of her wing, severing the nerves and sending her crashing to the ground.

Shouts of alarm and anger erupted all around us as the remaining Ravens in the room turned their full attention on him. But by that time he had drawn the slain Raven’s scimitar from its back scabbard and was now wielding it in his mouth as he took flight, exchanging blows with a second surprised Raven in the air, who methinks lasted scarcely longer than the first, managing just two parries of his purloined sword before he took her head off with it. He then used her headless body as a shield to charge the others, grabbing two more blades from her belt and killing a third, then a fourth Raven with them—they did not wear more than light leather armor, emphasizing speed over strength, and here it cost them when faced with an opponent even swifter and more skilled than they.

Scrambling backwards and realizing their blades were useless against an opponent of such awful ability, the last two unwounded gryphon assassins went for their gems and crossbows, but Thunderbolt countered by generating a miniature twister with his wings and flinging it at them, rendering them blind from the sudden gale and unable to aim, tossing in a pouch full of gems from the decapitated eagless inside the funnel after triggering one. ’Twas a shock gem, and it set the rest off in a cacophony of flashes, sparks, and outright explosions, shredding their bodies almost instantly.

’Twas amazing, if not outright terrifying to watch, how savagely and efficiently he slew them all, taking down an entire Raven team in bare seconds—methinks not even the best of the Black Lances could manage such a feat! He saved the leader for last, who was wounded by the blade in her back but had found a hostage, standing shakily on her hind legs as she held her sword to the throat of a sobbing young mare.

[“Stay back!”] she ordered him in a near-panic, her eyes betraying no little fear as he continued to stalk nearer, his head lowered like a predator, a demon of vengeance approaching her with the promise of certain death in his gaze. [“I’ll kill her!”] she then threatened in a shrill voice. [“I swear it!”]

[“I care not,”] he informed her in icy tones, continuing his deliberate approach, and a chill went through me as I realized that at the moment, he very much meant it. [“Just ask the Lucavi.”]

She must have seen the truth of it in his eyes, for at that moment, she flung her hostage at him and attempted to escape out an open door under the cover of a smoke gem, but Thunderbolt simply batted the mare aside none too gently, dispersed the smoke with a wave of his wing, then took flight after her, dodging first her crossbow and then her thrown blades once, twice, and finally a third time before he caught her and simply snapped her neck with a sickening crack, letting her broken body fall to the factory floor.

“Thunderbolt!” I called to him, stepping out but afraid to approach him for all I had just witnessed. “Are you…?”

He stared at the final corpse he’d created for a moment before replying. “I am undone…” he told me quietly. “For twelve years I have fought it. For twelve years I have suppressed it. For twelve years I have feared what I could become again. But now…?”

He raised his eyes to me, showing me the pain and rage within them; yet something else was there as well. An emotion that terrified me more than any other I saw from him that day…

Pure, unadulterated joy.

“Now the demon is unleashed. Now with war upon us, I am free to kill again. And methinks I could not be happier for it!”

* * * * *

Before continuing my part in this tale, I must take a deep mental breath and explain a few things; not the least of which is how all of this was even possible for my old friend.

To begin with, it must be understood that Thunderbolt had never been a Black Lance, an Armored Guardspony or any other elite soldier. Nor had he undergone any EIS or PSD programs that might have explained his all but otherworldly combat skills. In the end, he was just a standard Corps soldier with no special training, though to be sure, soldiers and especially stallions don’t become officers without being very skilled fighters.

Though certainly a potent warrior before, ’twas nothing compared to what he had become. For what he did possess aside from an affinity for lightning were incredible combat instincts powered by nearly uncontrollable anger and bloodlust; an insatiable addiction to violence that left him with an overwhelming desire to fight and kill. He once told me that when he saw our mares slain before him, several dying to save him, something snapped inside him. ’Twas as if, he said, an internal barrier had broken and all of the sudden he had no combat inhibitions left, nothing left to defend and no reasons to hold back…

No reasons not to kill. “Methinks my mind, my body, and my very soul remade themselves at that moment,” he explained to me during one of the very few times we discussed what had happened. “Every instinct, every thought, every motion, and indeed, everything I did from that point forward was directed towards one thing—avenging the massacre I endured and slaying all responsible. And to that end… I gave up all honor and compassion to become not a soldier, but a merciless killer who slew all before him, not caring in the least who he hurt and worse… not discriminating between friend or foe, soldier or civilian.”

He told me that after several mugs of ale one night, and ’twas proven here to be no idle boast—for as at least one after-action report said following Phoenix Fire, ’twas as if he was born to kill, as he did so quite easily and fluidly; even elite warriors of shadow like the Ravens could not stand against him. “I cannot explain it except to say that I know how to slay every opponent I face instantly and instinctively; I see their moves even before they enter their own minds. And none can stand against me for it. Every sense, every desire and every thought process I now have is directed towards combat and killing, and ’tis why I dare not go back to it, ever,” he told me, his ale mug shaking in his hoof. “’Tis a great and terrible gift with an equally horrific price. For in gaining it, I also acquired an unquenchable addiction to battle and bloodletting, and thus, should I ever return to it… I fear I will be lost to the demon within me forever.”

As much as we needed that demon then, I could only pray he was wrong and my friend would come back to me after. But before then, there was a city to save and a thousand gryphon soldiers to deal with were we to survive this first day of war.

Though I have more of this tale to tell, you will forgive me, Captain, if I prefer to pass the pen for now. Methinks you will understand if I simply need to be alone with my thoughts and memories for a bit.

Methinks I do indeed understand, and will do so. I thank you for agreeing to write this, old friend of an old friend, and I can only marvel at the events you describe. No matter how many times I saw his capabilities in combat, ’twas certain I was endlessly amazed—and oft appalled—by them. Let none doubt that in terms of sheer killing ability, he was the best—and in some ominous and terrifying ways, the worst—of us, his skill in battle even exceeding my own. His struggle was constant to keep his soul intact and not be completely consumed by his demons, especially as we lost ground later, but thankfully, in the end, he was able to conquer them… though ’tis certain it came at wrenching cost to us all.

But that story lies in the future. The next chapter will continue the story of the Great Battle of Cloudsdale, and Thunderbolt’s role in it. But as Sergeant Virga does not, for now, wish to write further given all he witnessed that day, two other ponies will take up the quill to continue the tale.

If I could ask but one thing of all readers at this point, ’twould be to reflect upon what war does to those who take part in it; how it twists and traumatizes them, sometimes turning them into unrecognizable shadows of their former selves. None are immune to this, myself included, and despite my own love of battle, ’tis certain I bear my own scars from it, both physical and emotional to this day.


The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him. —G.K. Chesterton.

Author's Note:

If there is any theme to my overall writing, whether clopfic or war epic, it’s balance. Between action and downtime, good times and bad, tragedy and triumph. I’m not interested in wall-to-wall horror; that’s why I sought to balance, or at least cushion Thunderbolt’s first appearance by giving everyone a glimpse of what ponies like he and Firefly eventually won despite how bad it looked early. Nevertheless, what happened to Thunderbolt is not in the least bit pretty, nor is what he willingly became in the aftermath.

However, there is an important difference between then and now, which may change everything for him, eventually. He snapped because he lost everything he had; everypony he loved was slain before him. Twelve years, on, however... that’s no longer the case; he does have those he’s close to and cares about again from Virga to the young colts and fillies he trains at the Remedial Flyers’ school. How will they affect him and how might he be different now for it? Is it even possible for one such as him to find redemption...?

Food for thought. In the meantime, thanks as always to my loyal prereading crew of AJ_Aficionado, Silent Woodfire, and Denim_Blue, and to co-author Leo Archon for contributing a large chunk of the Thunderbolt section.

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