• Published 26th May 2020
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Tales from Everfree City - LoyalLiar



Princess Platinum and Celestia's first student face changelings, a magical curse, the specter of war with the griffons, and the threat of arranged marriage in early Equestria.

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10 - Procellarum

X

Procellarum

⚜ ⚜ ⚜

Blizzard was quite proud of what she'd put together for the family dinner. Wearing the pendant I had 'enchanted' for her, she had purchased all the ingredients herself, in addition to taking the lead on the preparation alongside the unlikeliest of companions, at least in her eyes: Queen Platinum I. Truly, that had been an unexpected triumph from the young mare; even if she didn't admit it to herself, she had been fearing that her step-grandmother's (quite justifiable) distaste for her father would rub off on the mare herself.

But Platinum, having no reason to see Blizzard as a political threat (unlike yours truly), had nothing but the highest kindness to share. Blizzard slipped into that oh-so-comfortable mentorly role, despite being by far the younger pony, as she quickly realized that a lifetime of rule had taught Platinum next to nothing about the craft of cooking (though, at least, she was not once more thrust into a motherly role with the older mare). As they worked, the pair bantered, shared a bottle of unicorn wine, and worked on a vast selection of little dumplings to go in a stew for the family's dinner.

When Hurricane, Typhoon, and Gale returned from a quiet trip to some undisclosed venue (if I know Hurricane, almost certainly a fishing trip on a nearby lake) to discuss the particulars of the soon-to-be-formed Royal Guard and its division of responsibilities with the Legion, they entered to the smell of rich vegetables, succulent beef (I… dislike that adjective, but memories pulled from the long dead sometimes have poor taste that must be tolerated), hearty bread, and a sweet dark red wine decanting on the table. The smell was so good, Gale almost bowled over Tempest (who had likewise returned from his patrols of the city) to get to a seat at the table. Hurricane and Typhoon were likewise slower, fulfilling the timeless tradition of placing Procellarum and Hiems Osculum respectively in the sword rack by the door before they entered to sit.

For Blizzard, it would certainly have been a perfect meal, if it were not for the knock on the door that came two bites in, just as she had finally seated herself beside her newfound friend in Queen Platinum.

"Are you expecting Morty?" Hurricane asked, glancing between Blizzard and Gale.

Both shook their heads; the latter added "I'm guessing since you're asking, it's not Pansy either?"

"Pan Sea; he's very…" Hurricane let his complaint trail off at Gale's grin. "I see you already know."

"I do," agreed Gale. "And I'll get it." Then, rather than standing up from her chair, she lit up her horn and popped over to the entryway.

Or at least, rather close. Gale's spell actually teleported her slightly above the stairs that forked the villa's entry hall, and with the expectation that she would be landing on flat ground, she immediately tumbled down three steps to land on her chin.

"Ow! Fuck!" As the room announced their concern (or in Tempest's case, filling in the role of honorary big brother, offered "Slick, Your Majesty"), Gale waved off their concerns. "I'm fine, I promise. I can take worse hits than that." And then, just as she was standing up, the door was hammered on again—three percussive strikes in what sounded to Gale like a shod hoof. After rising up fully, she opened the door.

The mare standing on the doorstep was clad in an outdated style of Legion armor, its trim painted white, and the skysteel helmet she had taken off to stow under her right wing was crested with a red plume; the symbols of the office of a Cirran Imperator—the right hoof of the Legion. Which stood at stark odds with the fact that Gale knew Typhoon's second-in-command, Imperator Phalanx, who was both a stallion and something like forty-five.

Gale frowned in vague recognition. "Uh… You're one of Cyclone's kids, right? Uh, fuck… The one with the weird name—Siro-something?"

"My name is Imperator Sirocco, Princess," Sirocco retorted with not especially concealed detest at the slight, if not for the mare herself. The comment was also quite loud enough the rest of the dining room heard, even if they could not see the speaker around the corner. "I'm here with a message from my Emperor, for Grandfather only. Is he here?"

Gale glanced around the corner, knowing she didn't need to repeat the question. Hurricane raised a brow in concern, and glanced briefly to his wife for approval as he nodded to one of the empty seats at the long dinner table. Platinum gave a small, hesitant nod, and only then did Hurricane speak. "Come on in, Sirocco; we're just sitting down to dinner. Blizzard actually made it for us."

Sirocco, being the pettiest of all possible petty bitches, pushed past Gale with a wing (still wearing wingblades, and so coming dangerously close to cutting the seated Queen of Equestria in the face) just so that she could make eye-contact with her elder half-sister before she answered the offer. "I won't eat anything that traitor's hooves have touched, Grandfather. But thank you for the offer." As the table winced, the burnt orange mare with her blue-fire mane continued before they had a chance to object aloud. "I have a message from Cyclone Haysar, and then I am to carry your reply back, and I do not have time to waste."

Hurricane sighed, and extended his one wing. When Sirocco handed him the wrapped letter Cyclone had written, though, he did not open it. Instead, it was set calmly on the table next to his stew. "You flew here from River Rock?" he asked. "Did you stop at all?"

"My orders were that the message was urgent," Sirocco answered. "And because I know what it says, I know it is the most urgent a message can be." Glancing around the room, she mysteriously added "It concerns Equestria's safety."

At that, Typhoon leaned forward and cocked a brow. "If it's a military matter, why did Cyclone send it to you, Dad? He knows you're retired, right?"

"He does. If I had to guess, it isn't a military matter, and it's between myself and Celestia."

Typhoon frowned. "You know, Dad, you said I was supposed to be responsible for this kind of thing. Twenty years ago. I don't really like you going behind my back, keeping secrets."

At that, Gale seized the momentum of the conversation by teleporting back to the side of the dining table that held her seat (this time, devoid of an awkward blunder, though she did wind up about a stride away from where she had intended), and added "Oh, now that I'm Queen, do I get to call him on this kind of vague secret bullshit too?"

Hurricane let out a scoff. "You're welcome to 'call me' all you want, Gale, but it isn't something you need to know." Glancing to Typhoon, he added "Either of you." And then, to Sirocco, he said "Sit down."

"I need to return—"

"You won't be serving your father if you die on the way back and my answer gets buried in a snowdrift somewhere," Hurricane interrupted forcefully. "And you're going to apologize to your sister for what you just said by eating the meal she's prepared. Take a seat."

"You're not my Commander."

"I'm your grandfather." Hurricane answered. Still, the granddaughter refused. And then, in a display of forcefulness he rarely used, the stallion's brow furrowed and his eyes locked with Siroccos. For the young mare, light seemed to drain from the room. The distance across the table from her seat to Hurricane's compressed with the subtle power of his magic, but he was strong enough that even the others at the dinner table felt it, weighing on their chests, gently tugging at breath. "Sit. Down."

Immediately, Sirocco fell into the open seat beside Gale. It took a second of blinking and a wing on her chest to catch her breath before she was finally able to refocus herself. "What—what kind of magic was that?"

Hurricane bluntly ignored the question, instead finally taking up Cyclone's letter and unfurling it. It read thusly:

Father,

I write to you so urgently because there is a griffon in River Rock.

He calls himself Artorius, son of Theod, and he claims you knew his father from your trip to Dioda with Celestia. He has come to me asking for refuge for his companions, who intend to flee Magnus like Cirra did.

I have concealed Equestria from the griffon, and told him you are dead and that River Rock and the Compact Lands are all that is left of Cirra; this way, if he is a spy for Magnus, or if Magnus does come, he will not be tempted to strike your shores. I do not want to reignite the Red Cloud War; if nothing else, I learned that from my mistakes.

I need three things from you; two are simply knowledge; the third will be harder.

Firstly, did you meet a griffon named Theod in your search for Luna? Was he truly a rebel against Magnus, as Artorius claims? And if so, is it wise for me to offer this band shelter, or is their presence likely to draw Magnus across the sea?

Second, if I must defend River Rock against griffons, how do you suggest I do so? I will consult with Thunder Hawk, since he is old enough to remember the Red Cloud War, but such old tactics seem unwise now that we have access to so many more soldiers with training in empatha—to say nothing of unicorns, if I am able to persuade Clover to join our cause in such a battle. I know I am not the most beloved of old soldiers to ask for training, but perhaps the desperation of this cause could convince my old teacher, Iron Rain, or some other of your veterans to come to River Rock discreetly and help me train what forces I retain.

Finally—and here, I know I ask a lot, but know that I am asking it ultimately to help Equestria and not myself—concealing Equestria from this griffon means that I have had to stop Equestrian ships from traveling up the Volgallop to River Rock's docks; I can't let merchants and travelers (ha - but then, consider Gale) give away your existence with an idle few words. However, I also can't hide the griffon locked up in the castle; that might give him reason to think I have something to hide. So now, and especially if I allow more griffons to come, we will need more food. Clover's negotiations are yielding some results, but we can't wait that long. I need you to somehow convince Equestria to send us more supplies.

It hurts me that I now cannot even ask you to come and see me, but know that I miss you and Typhoon every day. It was a joy to meet Gale; send her my best.

And give Blizzard my love; I fear she will not get it from Sirocco. I hope she is happy with you. And I have to ask you to protect her from what Luna has turned her mother into, now that she is beyond my reach.

- Cyclone

Hurricane set down the letter with a steel in his expression that his wife had quite literally never seen since before they were married. "Dear? Cane, what's wrong?"

"It's…" Glancing to Gale and Typhoon, the weathered old stallion sighed. "Gale, do you think you can pull off another miracle with the Stable?"

"Uh…" Immediately, Gale's near-constant confidence faded. "Depends?"

"River Rock needs more food. Cyclone is making a major sacrifice for Equestria; one we'll discuss later. The problem is, you won't be able to explain that part to anypony outside this room."

Gale cocked her head, then glanced to her mom. "That's… actually fucking impossible, right? Like, even you couldn't do that?"

Platinum nodded. "The saying goes that nothing is impossible in court. But for that request I would make an exception." Although Gale had asked, and Platinum's words still referred to her at least in pretense, she pointed her eyes at Hurricane. "To say nothing of your grandfather, the rebellion killed both Grand Duchess Chrysoprase's foals; she will never agree to support him, and without her support, you might get all of three unicorn votes in Parliament… but if I were a betting mare, I'd wager what you just suggested would receive the first unanimous vote in Equestrian history—you couldn't get a single earth pony, unicorn, or pegasus to stand up for Cyclone on good will alone. And if I'm being honest: it would do a great deal of harm to your rule to even try."

"So we starve? Because we're Cyclone's foals?" Sirocco spat in the still untouched food she had been offered, and then glared at its chef. "Do they hate you, Blizzard? Or did you disown us?"

Wilting into her mane and her hunched up wings, Blizzard answered "I… I haven't told anypony…"

"Nor should she have to," Platinum added firmly, raising herself up to her most firm parental posture (not that it had really ever worked on Gale). "Cyclone and his followers were exiled, but that sentence has no business applying to foals who weren't even born at the time of the uprising. Neither of you bear his mistakes."

"So we're allowed to abandon our families, but you'd never stoop to something horrible like giving us food? I have to spit in my father's face if I want to live?"

Platinum winced. "I never said—"

"You never say any of it. It's obvious enough without talking. Grandfather's come to see us, what, twice—ever? And I know you—" (here, she pointed to Gale) "—had to run away for the chance. Was the food good when you had your little fight with Morty, and he almost killed Father? I doubt you even thought about how much that set us back."

(Quietly, to her husband, Platinum whispered "Morty almost killed Cyclone?" Hurricane frowned at the admiration in her voice, and after a moment of self-awareness that she'd said that about me, Platinum refocused herself on the conversation elsewhere at the table.)

"And Aunt Typhoon? Nice to meet you for the first time, by the way. You all have your excuses, but at the end of the day, it's all the same; you don't want to see what's really happening in River Rock, because if you did, you'd have to admit to yourselves that you hate Father so much, you want us all to die."

"Sirocco!" Blizzard snapped. "That's completely wrong! The ponies here are so kind, so helpful… you can't say that sort of thing about them!"

"Really? You want to take that bet, 'sister'?" Siroco stood, plucked up her helmet to tuck it under her wing, and turned toward the door. "Come on. Let's tell the first pony we see on the street who we both really are, and we'll see how they react. You want to take that bet?"

With a pop, Gale appeared in the entryway, blocking Sirocco's exit. "The fuck you will. You want to go outside, I'll be glad to buck your teeth down your throat."

"Gale," Hurricane chided. "There's no need for violence."

"Isn't there?" Sirocco retorted, despite not breaking fierce eye contact with Gale. "It seems like destiny that I'd fight a unicorn queen. Think you'll fare better than your grandpa?"

Queen Platinum cringed, and moved to intercept the duo, but was stopped by her husband's wing. The one-winged stallion sighed. "There won't be violence between family here, Sirocco. I can see you have strong opinions, and some of them are fair. I'm going to ask you to come up to my office with me so that I can write your father a reply, and then we'll all go our separate ways quietly. Is that acceptable?"

"Whatever you want, sir. I have my orders. But for the record; we're not a family."

In those words, something snapped in Hurricane. With a placid expression, the old stallion eased himself out from between the table and his chair, putting heavy weight into his braced bad foreleg, until he finally arrived to stand alongside Sirocco and Gale at the door of the villa. There, he fixed his granddaughter with a stony gaze beneath a furrowed brow. "I know Cyclone didn't teach you that. I understand you feel abandoned, but we have tried to make you welcome in this home, and time and time again you've thrown it back in our faces. What do I need to do to convince you that we are still a family? That Blizzard is still your sister?"

"I think I made it pretty clear," Sirocco answered. "She can own up to Father, or we can disown her for the traitor and the coward she is. Go ahead and write your letter, Grandfather; I'll be outside introducing myself to the 'locals'." Reaching a wing across her chest, she rested her leading feathers on the sheath of her gladius. "Unless one of you wants to stop me."

At that, Typhoon rose firmly in her seat. "I used to spar with your father. I can deal with this without either of us getting hurt."

"Typhoon, do you mind?" Gale asked. When Typhoon raised a brow, the mare who I will remind you was the seated queen of the unicorns rolled her neck, eliciting two audible pops. "I think this will go over really well with my… what's the earth pony term? 'Constituency'?"

"No," Hurricane said with a sigh. And then, to the surprise of everypony present, the old stallion reached his one remaining wing up, and plucked his sword, Procellarum, from the rack by the door.

"You're joking," said Sirocco.

"I wish I were," answered Hurricane. "But if all you are going to understand is violence, I won't make Blizzard suffer for it. Sirocco, let's step outside."

"What?" Gale gasped out. "Dad, um—"

"I really have to insist you let me handle this," said Typhoon. "You haven't seen combat in twenty years, and your body isn't what it used to be."

As the door to the villa swung open and Sirocco stepped outside, Hurricane shook his head. "She won't hurt me."

"'Cane, I am not certain I share your optimism." Queen Platinum rushed over to the group that had huddled at the door. "She's made it quite clear she doesn't have any fondness for you. Perhaps we should let Typhoon—"

"This isn't Typhoon's fault," Hurricane replied. "I raised Cyclone, so some of this is on my shoulders. And I promise, nopony is going to get hurt."

"Uh, Grandpa, if you really think nopony's going to get hurt, why'd you grab your sword?" Tempest asked.

In a staggering reflection of something I would say completely unironically, Hurricane let out a small hint of a cocky grin and replied "Because if I just used my magic, I'd kill her."

⚜ ⚜ ⚜

The venue Hurricane chose was a long patch of his lawn behind the Villa, right up on the riverbank (albeit well above the level of the water, where stone bricks had shored up the river's edges to control flooding). Instead of the hops and barley and Cirran grains ubiquitous in the front of the house, the back yard was largely grass and meadow flowers, unchanged from the wildlife that had been present before Everfree was built up.

There, Hurricane and Sirocco stood, a dozen paces apart. Each had their sword sheathed; Sirocco rested her leading feathers on the hilt, ready for a Cirran leading slash—the art of flicking the blade out of its scabbard far enough that the head could reach over and grab the hilt, then twist back into position in a slashing motion, since drawing from a fully sheathed position with the mouth meant craning one's neck far further, and exposing one's throat for a solid several seconds.

Hurricane, by contrast, wore Procellarum beneath his one remaining wing, making it functionally inaccessible to such a tactic. Its amethyst-set guard in the shape of a thin '+' and its braid-wrapped hilt were all that could be seen of the legendary weapon.

Off to Hurricane's left and Sirocco's right, on the house's veranda, the other members of the Stormblade family (for whom Hurricane' sword was collectively named) watched in varying states of concern and outright panic.

"Is he going to be okay?" Platinum asked the group at large. "I know everypony says he has so much magic because he bucks lightning, but…"

Gale shook her head. "I think we need to do something; those stories are bullshit. I can teleport him away if she gets in too close."

"Dad should be alright," Typhoon interrupted. "You give him too little credit, Gale. The old stories are true. I watched him him buck lightning when we were fighting Halite and the crystals. He might not be in as good of shape as somepony like Iron Rain, but he was always a competent swordstallion."

"Twenty years ago," Gale countered. "Back when he had six working limbs, and he didn't bitch about his back and his shoulders all the time. This is insane. This is stupid. And this bitch is actually going to kill him if somepony doesn't do something."

"We don't know how good Sirocco is, either." Typhoon noted. "Somepony that young doesn't often have strong memories to build powerful magic on."

"Yeah, it would be a shame if we had an example of somepony who was literally an elemental prodigy at about exactly that age, and—oh, wait, it's fucking you."

"I wasn't that strong with my magic until after Cyclone's uprising," Typhoon countered, before bitingly adding "As you well know."

Though the words hit home, they only gave an opening for the elder Platinum to speak up. "Would you say emotions like the rejection and spite she was describing earlier would be a source for that kind of magic?"

Swallowing heavily, Typhoon offered a single nod. "Not like what I have now, but… enough."

And in that very moment, Sirocco drew her blade and charged forward.

Hurricane, it seemed, had grown slower in his old age. Even as she closed to ten strides, nine, eight, he still did not so much as move to draw his sword. "Dad!" Gale screamed, and her horn lit up, but by seven strides it seemed obvious he was acting purposefully in restraint.

Seven strides.

Six. Five.

And then at four, Hurricane extended his wing—not toward Sirocco, but straight out to his side. When he did, a squall of wind rose up to tussle his well kept mane and ruffle the feathers on his wing.

Three strides, and Sirocco stopped with a metallic clang!

Nopony had seen Procellarum move; one moment it had been in Hurricane's scabbard. The next, it was halting Sirocco's advance, its profile pushing back against her standard-issue gladius' blade. But most notably, Hurricane had not moved. His sword had, apparently, moved under its own power. There was no aura of unicorn magic on its handle, no slight audible thrum of arcane power, and the blade was not so steadily held, instead bobbing and almost rolling on the gentle breeze of the riverbank that summer day. But for every other conceivable purpose, it seemed Hurricane had a hidden horn somewhere, and had drawn his blade via telekinesis.

The sudden motion took Sirocco by just as much surprise as it did the watchers, and in the moment it took her to register what had happened, Hurricane did flick his wing toward her. The ensuing gale, catching the mare's half-extended wings, was enough to flip her hooves over head and deposit her spine-down on the grass very nearly back where she had started. A moment later, with a swish, her sword stuck blade down into the dirt, a leg's reach away.

When Sirocco reached for the sword, there was a sound something like a whistle and something like a crack of lightning as Procellarum moved again. The hole in its blade seemed to be the source of the former sound, while the latter came no doubt from the frightening, barely visible speed of its motion. This time, its flat came down on her exposed foreleg, concluding the array of odd noises with a punctuating thwap—and depositing a small makeshift manacle of pure ice to arrest her motion.

Curling up her face in some mixture of petty frustration and genuine rage, Sirocco's foreleg burst into flame—but even with the full force of her magic, it was obvious that she struggled to break the simple band of frost Hurricane had made from several strides away. When the ice finally cracked, she lunged for her sword again. And this time, neither Hurricane nor his flying sword made any motion to stop her.

Sirocco took a moment with the sword in her mouth to steel herself, though the flames on her legs and wings did not falter. Then, without another word, she flung herself at her grandfather again.

Hurricane, it seemed, had grown tired; his wing sagged and a heavy breath escaped his nostrils. But the stallion's piercing eyes, that magenta bordering on true red, focused intently on his granddaughter. And with one last flick of his wing, Procellarum outsped Sirocco, flying right over her shoulder point first toward Hurricane. And then, with a hiss less like steel into a scabbard, and more like hot metal plunged into water, the blade was sheathed at his side.

A moment later, Sirocco's blade caught Hurricane's throat. The sound that rang out over the little stretch of grass by the river was steel ringing on stone. Sirocco was flabbergasted for a moment at her failure, then pushed harder, as if the motion had any hope of victory.

Hurricane sighed, lifted the more functional of his two forelegs, and pushed the blade away from his neck. That little motion, it seemed, was enough to make Sirocco accept reality—no rage left her eyes, but the fire was tempered by the realization of defeat, and with another nudge, she let her blade drop from her teeth to clatter on the ground.

"Why?" she snarled at her grandfather. "Why do you care so much about her, but let us starve and—" Sirocco's words ended abruptly when the same hoof Hurricane had used to push aside her blade touched her chin, gently raising her gaze to meet him eye-to-eye.

Hurricane didn't say anything, but everypony watching could tell something had happened. It wasn't the strange cold pressure he had occasionally exuded against misbehavior from younger ponies (myself included) that made one's breath catch in their throat and seemed to drain the color from the world. This was… deeper, somehow. More personal.

But the effect was much the same.

Immediately, the fires across Sirocco's body went out. Shortly after, she collapsed alongside her sword at her grandfather's forehooves, and wept. Despite the proclivity of her magic, tendrils of hoarfrost spread from her feathers onto the surrounding green. And, though nopony watching could hear the conversation they shared, we have the advantage of magic to fill in the quiet words they offered.

"What… was that?"

"The strongest magic we have," Hurricane answered. "Empathy."

"I'm too old for stupid fairytales."

"I'm serious," Hurricane replied. "The strongest magic a pegasus can wield isn't catching on fire or bucking lightning or changing the weather; it's making somepony else feel what you're feeling. Even at its most basic—when I ordered you to sit at the dinner table, using just fear and a harsh stare—settles conflict before swords are drawn."

"Your fear? What the Hell could you possibly be afraid of, with magic like that?"

Hurricane answered with a long hard stare at the eastern horizon. "Iniquitatem patrum."

"Uh, what? My old Cirran's useful, but…"

"It means 'sins of the father'. It's from Mobius' holy book; my dad used to worry about it… That was before I knew… well, a lot of things."

"Dad always said you didn't believe in the old gods anymore. Because of the war."

Hurricane chuckled. "Oh, no, I believe in them. I've met more than my share. I just don't worship them anymore." And then, with unprecedented spite, more to himself than his granddaughter, Hurricane added "They don't deserve it."

Silence hung between the two ponies, before Hurricane realized that questions were likely to follow; questions he had no interest in answering. And so he picked up where he had trailed off. "As for what I shared with you: that's everything a lifetime has taught me about family. I knew I couldn't show you just by talking. Words failed. Swords failed. But this is the truth. I love Blizzard, and I love you, because you're family. And family is everything."

"Why is it so sad?"

"Because I learned that lesson the hardest way a pony can." With obvious physical pain, in spite of his wounded knee and general arthritis, Hurricane lowered himself to sit on the grass facing Sirocco. "When I was your age, I respected my father, but I also resented him. His weird tendency to keep secrets, his quotes from the old scriptures. Because he'd been crippled in the war, I ran our farm. While all my friends were out playing, I sweated in the fields. My mother, rest her soul, could at least help, but she was hardly a young mare. And my sister, Twister, was useless; sometimes I really hated her running around chasing colts and playing tricks while I was working." Swallowing to make sure his emotions did not ruin his words, Hurricane concluded "I never got a chance to say goodbye. While I was fighting the war… running the war, if you want to call it that, the griffons came for them. Twister, at least, survived. But…" Hurricane's eyes ran away from his granddaughter. "I hardly need to tell you what happened with your father, and Swift, do I?"

Sirocco shook her head.

"It was everything I could do to get Platinum to spare his life—and truth be told, I only did it at the time because it was Swift's dying wish. I think, deep down inside, I hated Cyclone. Hated him like you feel now. But… that dying wish was the kindest thing Swift ever did for me. I don't know how I'd have faced myself in the mirror all these years if I had chosen differently.

"When you lose family, whether they pass too soon or you cast them away yourself, it scars you. It tears up something inside… your soul, if you want to call it that." (Hurricane was more right than he knew.) "I agreed to fight because I needed to know if you'd really follow through. If you'd fight your own grandfather because there was something deep hurt in your own soul, or if it was just…" The aged stallion let out a chuckle as his words briefly failed him, and then concluded "Just piss and vinegar. Like Gale."

"So now what? Now that you know? I… I tried to kill you."

"I noticed," Hurricane replied, massaging the (no longer petrified) front of his throat idly with his wing. "I won't take it personally, as long as you don't try again."

"You're just going to let me go back to River Rock?"

Hurricane smiled. "Well, now, I didn't say that. Come on, let's talk to the others. I hate repeating myself." Then, with a sigh, the aged soldier began the rather laborious process of standing up. After fumbling with his braced knee, he looked to Sirocco again. "Can you lend me a hoof?"

"Sure," Sirocco answered, offering both a leg and a wing to her grandfather after she hopped to her hooves. "But can't you just use your magic to get up? The wind you could control was incredible; I'm sure you could lift yourself. Hell, you could probably fly, even with one wing."

"It's bad for my heart," Hurricane answered, putting quite a lot of weight onto his granddaughter as he slowly got back to his hooves. "And it's exhausting. Worth it for family, but not for silly stunts."

To Hurricane's mercy, when he turned his attention to his wife and two daughters, they seemed to take the hint, and headed across the lawn to meet him before he had to walk too far on his apparently shot legs.

"Dad," began Gale, the youngest and thus quickest of the trio to arrive. "What the actual fuck was that? Everypony I asked my whole life said all those stories about you were overblown, and then you turn around and make your sword fly on its own faster than anypony can even see? You're a total badass!"

Hurricane rolled his eyes at his youngest foal. "I'm not interested in being a 'badass', Gale. I'm a tired old stallion who just wants to spend the end of his life with his family." As Tempest, Blizzard, Typhoon, and ultimately Platinum arrived, he smiled and nodded to each of them in turn. "Make a big deal about your skill with a sword or magic, and you wind up with young ponies knocking on your door, demanding you teach them. I understand Iron Rain has had problems like that for years with a certain pestering unicorn filly."

Typhoon nodded. "You're right, Dad, but I feel I do have to ask for the sake of the Legion: when did you learn that kind of power? I know you have a wing memory, but that's something different altogether. You certainly didn't have that kind of magic back when we were dealing with Cyclone' surprising. And can you teach me, so I can pass it on?"

"I learned from Celestia, after Vow's monsters cost me my wing." Hurricane looked mournfully back at his scarred side. "And I won't teach you."

"Dad?" The single word was full of Typhoon's worry as well as her confusion, and Hurricane let it hang in the air for a very long time.

In fact, it took Typhoon a moment to realize her father had stopped not for effect, but because he was still exhausted from the effort of his confrontation. In his moment of hesitance, Blizzard stepped over to his side and gently braced the stallion; the motion earned her a glare from her younger half-sister, but neither spoke a word.

"Thanks, Blizzard." Then, leaning against his granddaughter, Hurricane sat down on the grass. "There is a way to use a wing memory for more powerful magic than even what you or I can naturally do, Typhoon. But it consumes the wing memory."

"Wouldn't I want that?" Typhoon asked suddenly. "Dad, I of all ponies would want to get rid of—" Ever the root of discipline, Typhoon's words stopped abruptly when her father shook his head.

"If I could spare you what you went through, Typhoon, I would have taught you twenty years ago. This isn't that. A wing memory is a part of you. A defining part. Ripping it out and using even a part of it to power your magic… as Celestia put it, it hurts your soul. You lose the ability to feel that emotion—not just from your wing memory, but from anything. Not only would you lose your magic, you'd lose part of your identity. Your other emotions sweep in and replace it; you get more unpredictable, more spiteful. And the damage is permanent; even into the Great Skies."

After a fairly long silence, Gale muttered "Holy shit… and you just used that to show off kicking this bitch's ass?"

"I used a fraction of a moment of that power to help Sirocco understand the importance of family, Gale, yes." Hurricane accompanied that correction with a very stern glare at Equestria's queen. "It cost me the joy of a memory; coming home to Swift Spear after the dragon campaign."

"Dad!" Typhoon declared in worry, wincing; but when she moved to embrace him, Hurricane held her at wing's distance.

"I did it in her memory," Hurricane answered sadly. "She would have wanted me to make peace in our family. And I have lots of good memories left. Now, I'm more concerned with making sure River Rock doesn't starve tomorrow."

"I thought you said it was hopeless," Sirocco grumbled, glaring at Platinum.

"No; she only said we couldn't get the crowns to help." Hurricane laboriously lifted a foreleg to place it on Sirocco's armored shoulder. "But one advantage of retirement is that I don't have to care about my reputation anymore. I have friends in low places, and a lot of old debts I can call on. What I'll need is the assistance of somepony young and spirited, and who can haul my sorry flanks on a chariot when it comes to that."

"I…" Sirocco's mind caught up with the words, and she pulled her neck away from her grandfather's reach. "My orders are—"

Hurricane hurriedly interrupted her. "Blizzard, this is where I have to turn to you. And Tempest, if the Legion can spare you." That comment, he directed at Typhoon, rather than the young stallion.

Typhoon frowned. "I can get you a different scout, Dad; Tempest only just got back from chasing Gale and Coil there and back."

"I know you have better fliers," Hurricane countered. "This isn't about speed; I need discretion. I don't want a loyalty problem in the Legion. This needs to stay in the family."

"It's that important?" Typhoon pressed her father. "You don't trust me to send a loyal scout?"

Hurricane sighed, and then nodded. Worriedly, he glanced around the group—at first, it seemed he was scanning his family's eyes, though it soon became clear when he looked up that he was more concerned with anypony behind or around them. Finally, satisfied, he uttered a short sentence that stole all thoughts of magic and violence and family and inter-Equestrian politics from the minds of those present. "There is a griffon scout in River Rock."

The first pony to find her hoofing from that shock was the elder Platinum. "Dear… surely you don't mean you're worried about war? It's been, what, forty years?"

"Enough time for a new generation of griffons to grow up," Hurricane answered. "They grow much more slowly than we do. I don't know if that's the reason for the timing. But Cyclone has made a monumental sacrifice for Equestria. He has led this scout to believe that he is all that remains of Cirra."

"Time out, time out," Gale insisted. "How do we know Magnus even still wants to carry on the war? And for that matter, are we even still afraid of him? We've got two gods of our own now. And for all I know, Morty can just walk up and—"

"Gale, one gods-damned time will you stop contradicting every word I say?!" Hurricane snapped, fire (literally) in his eyes. "You have no idea what war is like. Real, inescapable, bloody war. You grew up in a world where all the stories you hear are me and Iron Rain and Pathfinder and who knows who else—and I'm damn glad everything we lost could buy you that—but war isn't about 'heroes'. It's about the thousands of average ponies who don't rise to glory. It's a sticky, boring, heartbreaking slaughter. Ponies die; they burn to death or bleed out and you have to watch and hold them and tell them bullshit stories about how you'll spread out their wings so they can rise up and fly off to the Great Skies, even though one of them is lying ten yards over that way! And all that slaughter is so the so-called 'gods' can indulge petty squabbles and settle arguments that predate every country you've ever heard of! Do you understand? I won't let you throw away the peace of Equestria for those half-baked stories!"

When Gale wilted back, Hurricane saw genuine fear in his daughter's eyes, and immediately, his expression fell into a mire of shame. But the words had been said. Gale, for perhaps the first time in her life, was cowed back out of a deep shame that tore up her very image of the world, and after offering her father a slow apologetic nod, she retreated from the circle of her family.

"Gale!" Hurricane called, but the damage was done. After a wince, he glanced to his wife, who nodded and moved after the young mare.

Which left Hurricane surrounded only by his pegasus family.

"Typhoon… you know I can't ask you to get involved in this."

"I know…" The pegasus leader hesitated. "But… if there's anything I can do—"

Hurricane nodded. "If it comes to that, I know I can call on you."

Typhoon then followed Gale and Platinum away from the surreptitious discussion in the middle of Hurricane's wide-open lawn, leaving Tempest, Blizzard, and Sirocco huddled around their grandfather.

"Tempest, Blizzard, to be completely clear, I want you two to deliver my answer back to Cyclone."

"You… want me to leave?" Blizzard asked with a wince.

"I'll make it very clear your father is to let you come back," Hurricane answered. "And if it's a problem, I can always send Morty after you." That comment put a grin on Blizzard's face, and she gave Hurricane a firm nod. "I'm going to see if I can talk Iron Rain into going with you. She'll complain the whole way about helping Cyclone, I'm sure, but once she understands what's at stake I'm sure I can convince her."

Tempest cocked his head. "No offense, but even if she's huge, she's kinda past her prime too, right? What's Rain going to do?"

"As I understand it, Cyclone's forces aren't as magically gifted as we are here in Equestria. If he winds up having to fight the griffons, it'll be with the old Cirran tactics. And in that domain, Rain has me bested. Also, Cyclone told the griffon I was dead, so I can't go myself."

"Huh. Wish he'd said I was dead," Tempest muttered. "This is the last time I'm flying to River Rock for a year, okay? It was bad enough chasing Gale the first time."

Hurricane nodded. "My apologies."

"What about me?" asked Sirocco.

"Hmm? Oh, well, I don't think I can talk Pan Sea out of retirement. So you're going to have to be my new Auditoris."

"I'm not a secretary."

Hurricane rolled his eyes and pointedly looked away from Sirocco, letting his eyes flit between his other present grandfoals. "Is this how ponies get curmudgeonly? Here I am, proposing calling in old favors and going behind my daughters' backs and getting involved in organized crime if I have to, all for the sake of making sure my son and his city are fed, as was requested, and I have to put up with the fact that it isn't violent enough? Foals these days…"

"I'll trade with her," offered Tempest, but this time, it was Sirocco who aggressively shot down the offer.

Hurricane bore a small smile at the exchange, before his mind drifted back to his youngest daughter.

⚜ ⚜ ⚜

"You know he means well, right?" Platinum asked, when she found Gale in the kitchen, holding a thick mug full of tea in her magic (despite the house having plenty of proper teacups, I never once saw Gale willingly take the beverage in so small a quantity). "He'd never hurt you. I'm sure the fire was just because he'd been dealing with Sirocco."

"I know," Gale muttered to her mother, staring down into the steam of her drink. "It's not that. It's just…" The young queen seemed to expect her mother to offer another guess, but the elder Platinum remained silent, waiting for her daughter to finish the thought. "Well, it's a lot of things. Part of it is seeing Dad do that crazy magic and wondering if all those stories about him really are true, then why would he never talk about it? What was he ashamed of? And I guess he pretty much told me. But… I don't know."

"I'm certain you do if you think," Platinum prompted. "And finding the words might help."

Gale let out a scoffing noise, and then sipped a bit of her drink. "There's two things. The first is I'm worried you were right."

"Hmm?" prompted Platinum.

"A while ago, when you were talking to me about who I could trust, remember? Over breakfast. And I thought it was total bullshit when you said I couldn't trust dad. But you made a big deal that he knew what the… what's the fucking… the Cruel Mirror. Sorry, that he knew what it meant to look in the cruel mirror or whatever. And I blew you off."

"It was a difficult morning," Platinum admitted.

Gale shrugged. "Yeah, but you were right. I think today is just the first day I ever saw it. Like… I feel like I saw a little bit of 'Commander Hurricane' that everypony else talks about. And it's… it feels wrong."

"Why?" Platinum asked. "I would think it would mean you could sympathize with him more, given your current situation."

"But I don't know him," Gale muttered. "At all. My whole life he bums around downplaying everything he's ever done and spending all his time on his stupid beer and family-this, family-that… and then Sirocco shows up and immediately he makes a huge show of it for her." Then, with a sigh, she shook her head. "I probably sound like a whiny fucking filly, don't I?"

Slowly, Platinum dared to sit down beside her daughter, and to wrap a foreleg around her shoulders. "There have been a number of our interactions recently where I would say you've been… petulant, shall we say? But no; I don't think you're wrong to feel the way you do. That being said, I also have the benefit of wisdom, and age, to know at least some of what your father has lived through. You brought up the Cruel Mirror; consider that from your father's perspective."

"What do you mean?"

"'Commander Hurricane', as you put it, is his Queen, right?" Gale nodded, and Platinum continued "That's the pony your father had to become to protect and lead the pegasi. And think about what being Commander Hurricane cost him."

"What, his wing?"

"His son," Platinum answered, with a wince. "And I daresay his relationship with both your half-siblings, even before the rebellion. Have you spoken to Typhoon about her foalhood?"

"A little," Gale answered with a frown, before taking another sip of her tea. "Probably not enough."

"Hurricane wasn't there for either of them growing up," Platinum explained. "Because Commander Hurricane was constantly in the field, fighting off crystals and dragons and bandits and Celestia knows what else. When he wasn't there, he was dealing with my father, or the Cirran senate, or whatever else the day called for. Consider how he views the Cruel Mirror."

Gale sighed. "You're saying he had it even worse than you or me?"

"Not just that," Platinum elaborated. "Your father hates what he sees in the mirror. You remember that I warned you: if you let her, 'the Queen' would consume you? That's very nearly happened to your father. I admit, I don't need to imagine to say that; he's told me as much, in blunter words. When you think about his regrets from being 'the Commander', everything about the way he is now falls into place."

"Yeah. Yeah, I guess so. I just… It hurts that he keeps so much of this shit secret."

"You want to hear what he's ashamed of? Even though it hurts him?"

"I want to know my fucking dad. Not other ponies' made up stories. Though after today, it seems like more of them were true than I thought." After leaving that thought lingering for a very long few seconds, Gale's attention was stolen when Typhoon slipped into the kitchen.

"You okay, Gale? I know Dad can be intense, but he means well."

"Yeah, I know." Gale blew once on her tea remaining tea, then pounded it back like it was a mixed double-shot at a bar, including flipping the mug that had held the liquid over and putting it down on the countertop upside down. "I'll be okay about that. But now, I guess I need to talk to you as Commander Typhoon."

"Politics? Gale, are you up for that?"

In a response that made both Typhoon and Platinum wince, Gale uncharacteristically corrected "Queen Platinum." Seeing the effect the uncharacteristic insistence had produced on her family, she then added "Look, I'm fucking fine. You're the ones who wanted these rules… though it pisses me off that I'm starting to think they're right."

The cursing calmed Typhoon's concerns, and her worry lifted, if only to her usual state of ice severity. "Alright, Your Majesty. Your thoughts?"

"I hope you both know that I don't want Equestria to be in a war, despite what Dad snapped at me. But I do want to be realistic about this griffon."

"What do you mean by 'being realistic'?" Typhoon asked.

"Equestria isn't a small country. I'm pretty damn sure we're already bigger than Cirra ever was on Dioda, and we're a lot bigger than the old Diamond Kingdoms. We can't hide from Magnus forever."

Platinum gave a firm nod; Typhoon's response was more hesitant.

"So when I say 'being realistic', I mean that letting Cyclone and Dad handle this is stupid. If Magnus does want to continue the Red Cloud War, Cyclone's bluff can buy us time, but it's not like Magnus is an idiot. That was my point about the gods. I don't want to start a fight, but if the griffons are coming back for blood…"

"Let me worry about that," Typhoon noted. "You aren't wrong, Your Majesty, but Equestria's military defense is my responsibility."

Gale nodded. "Good enough for me."

Platinum steeped her hooves and gently asked "What if he doesn't want war?"

"What?" Typhoon glared—actively, spitefully glared. "What is that supposed to mean?"

"It means that there are still very strong feelings about the griffons amongst the older pegasi in Equestria." Platinum glanced to her daughter. "But Equestria isn't Cirra. I admit, I haven't studied Cirra's wars as well as you two likely have, nor am I a student of war in general, but if Gale is right and this 'Emperor Magnus' can't fight Equestria—or simply isn't interested in more bloodshed—what is our response? Do we trade with the griffons? Do we sign some kind of treaty?"

Typhoon's look at Platinum only hardened further. "Did Dad ever tell you what happened when he tried to offer Magnus surrender?" When the elder statesmare shook her head, Typhoon donned a sort of sick grin at the corner of his her mouth (though her eyes still carried all her racial fury). "Magnus sent back the messenger's head in a box."

"Then perhaps Morty right be the right choice for dealing with him after all," Gale, in my defense, frowned at that, but it did break the tension in the room. "I'm not telling you what to do in such a circumstance. Remember; I'm not the queen anymore. I'm not telling either of you to do anything. I'm merely pointing out that, as long as you are considering an inevitable future—and for the record, Your Majesty, you were right to bring up the issue; well observed—we shouldn't be caught flat-hoofed if Magnus sees the same reality that we do. And in that event, we need to be sure that nopony on our side decides to ignite a new war."

Perhaps it is telling that, in response to that height of wisdom, from one of the greatest statesmares Equestria has ever known, Commander Typhoon responded in Cirran. "Si vis pacem, para bellum."

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