• 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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Fruit of the Vignette

⚜ ⚜ ⚜

It was once remarked by an esteemed member of our species that 'Diplomacy is the art of letting someone else have your way.' However, in my experience, diplomacy is best represented in the achievement of the mythical pegasus Aeolus, who it is said gave to Roamulus (the semi-fictitious founder of the Cirran Empire) a series of enchanted bags in which he had captured the four winds. For you see, diplomacy is the art of getting all your windbags in one room, where they can't bother other, more useful ponies.

Shortly after the arrival of the dragons, with so many words to say between so many parties, the stallion whom history remembers as Tsar Tsyklon arranged to disperse the gathered masses. Overtly, this was because there were too many beings who actually wanted to speak in the room. More subtly, this was because there was a very real risk with so many in the room that the secret of Equestria's existence (as more than just a frozen renaming of a random city north of River Rock) would spill out to the griffons.

Cyclone divided his guests and allies thusly:

In order to distract the griffons present, Aela and Artorius were… shall we say inflicted upon the venerable Cirran veteran, Iron Rain? Though Aela went quietly, Artorius insisted on returning briefly to the griffons' collective quarters in the castle to retrieve something—a thought which made Rain briefly, quietly, check that in addition to the massive iron 'zweihufer' she carried on her back, she also had her trusty throwing knife secreted in the crook of her wing.

With the griffons out of the way, Cyclone dispatched Tempest to attend to Clover—directly tasking him not with any deception (given Clover had more than earned the tyrant's trust), but rather with the straightforward task of explaining to the long-distant archmage of all the events that had transpired in Equestria and River Rock alike in her absence amongst the dragons.

That left Krenn and Torch to Cyclone's personal attention, as had originally been his intention anyway.

What Cyclone did not know is that there was a fourth such gathering in his cruelly won castle. And it was that fourth gathering which would decide the course of Equestrian history for centuries to come.

⚜ ⚜ ⚜

"Princess Rain…" Aela whispered to herself in awe as Rain chose a room (literally at random, though she gave no indication of this fact) off one of Burning Hearth's many corridors in which to host the two griffons.

With a nod to one of Cyclone's guards accompanying them, Rain ordered "See the other one… Artorius—?" Aela nodded. "Make sure he gets here once he gets whatever he's looking for."

"Of course, ma'am," said the pegasus.

The room Rain had randomly chosen had once been the quarters of the elder Queen Platinum's hoofmaiden, Marigold—not that anypony present had any way of knowing that bit of trivia. What was apparent, however, was that they were a bit of an odd choice for a detente between griffons and pegasi; the only seating in the chamber consisted of a stool and the wooden frame of Marigold's bed.

"Do you… want to find a different room?" Aela asked.

Rain grunted in response, wandering over to the stool, sweeping off a layer of dust from its seat, and then slowly lowering herself onto it. The motion sent dust and cobwebs fluttering from a nearby vanity desk, the ostensible purpose for the existence of the stool in the chamber in the first place. "I don't have a damn clue where a better room in this place would be."

"You don't live here?" Then Aela shook her head. "No, of course not; otherwise you would have been around when we had to fight that other pony… Wrest."

Rain huffed in curmudgeonly frustration. "Do you wish I was? Ponies don't live to be three-hundred like you griffons. I'm retired. And even when Hurricane was around, I didn't get down here much."

"Down here?"

Rain nodded idly. "We built a sky-city, Cloudsdale. But it…" She sighed, both in genuine wistfulness and to buy time to think up a suitable lie. Eventually, the veteran mare decided that, since she was never one for clever lies and politics, the best play was to stay as close to the truth as possible, while still concealing Equestria. "We went to war with the unicorns when the food got too scarce." She felt the lie go rough over her tongue; the 'we' felt bitter given all the lives she'd taken, but a bitter pill was still a pill. "That's why Cyclone sits on the Diamond Throne now, and not a unicorn."

"Cirra manet," Aela answered with a quiet frown—an idiom that translates to 'Cirra survives'.

Rain nodded sagely, and answered. "Nihil erit post Legionem. You were with the canii, weren't you? Given you and your son have Cirran names?"

Aela sighed. "I was. Up until Emperor August gave the order to kill all griffons in Cirra, obviously."

That comment made Rain hang her head, and she muttered "Imbecile…" under her breath. "Were you at Stratopolis, then?"

The hen firmly shook her white head. "I was wounded at the siege of Nyx; I missed most of the war. Small blessings… I don't want to sound rude and not ask in turn, but I'm pretty sure every griffon in Dioda knows the story of Iron Rain." Aela had obviously meant the words as a compliment, and she found herself struck with surprise when Iron Rain tiredly rolled her sole remaining eye. "Did I say something wrong?"

"By 'my story', do you mean how I lost my eye?"

"That, and the Battle of Altus. I met Yngvilde once; I can't imagine what it must have been like facing her down."

"No. You can't." Rain broke gaze with Aela, let out a slow sigh, and rolled her neck as if the slight popping of her vertebrae represented a break in the tension of the sitting room. For Aela, however, it did not.

After a very heavy silence, the hen spoke up again, perhaps inelegant in her change of the topic. "I've been wondering, if you don't mind: I heard it's always winter here, but I never got a chance to ask Maelstrom why."

While the pivot was inelegant, Rain was no connoisseur of segue and so lost some further tension. "It's a long story, but I'll try and make it as short as I can. Have you ever heard of the strange monsters that live in the jungles of the Striped Tribe?"

Aela shrugged. "Our apothecary fought an Adze once, and I've heard about the giant snakes and eels, but I've never actually seen anything."

The comment was answered with a small shrug from Rain. "You'll still get the point. The creatures here are even stranger than those. So much so that the unicorns who were native to this land developed a special group of ponies called 'wizards' whose only job was killing them."

"Wizards? What a strange word. Wiz-ard."

Rain nodded. "They're odd ponies. Clover that you met in there is one of them, although she might be the most normal one I've ever met. But the point is, they fight monsters that a standard legionary—or even a Legion—isn't equipped to handle. Monsters that take over your mind or trick you or trap you. Monsters that aren't solid, that you can't fight without magic. Some of the worst of those monsters were called Windigos, creatures that feed on anger and hatred, and use it to create ice."

"Hatred?" Aela asked. "Of us?"

Rain chuckled. "No. Us, and the unicorns, and the earth ponies. The unicorns and the earth ponies had been living here since Roamulus founded Cirra. Adding a whole new tribe broke centuries of tradition and history. I think the worst of it was that, from the moment we showed up—even broken and hungry as we were—they knew that if it came to war, we'd win. The unicorn spells and earth pony crossbows can't shoot as high as we can fly, and it takes them weeks—sometimes months, if it's crossing mountains or rivers—to march as far as a Legion can fly in a single day. So as the hate festered, the windigos fed, and it started getting colder and colder. And when the food started to get scarce, fighting broke out.

"So you went to war, like you said." Aela nodded. "But you have magic now, don't you? Why didn't you hunt down the windigos? Or the wizards?"

Rain shook her head. "Well, we didn't know they even existed until later. Hurricane…"

What Aela assumed was a mournful pause was actually full of frantic thinking as Rain rushed through what lie was best to deliver.

"You're right that we have magic, but out of all the legions, there are maybe twenty ponies who are any good with it. Hurricane and his foals, my late husband, a couple others—"

"Foals?" Aela asked.

"Cyclone had a younger sister, Typhoon. She was killed by the unicorns; that was what actually started the war. Before that, Hurricane had been pushing not to go to war. August's mistakes were always on his mind. In the cold, not many ponies had the magic to stay warm and scout; really, only Cyclone, and my old friend Summer, and Hurricane himself had enough fire magic. Hurricane didn't trust Summer, and he wasn't willing to send his son out and risk never hearing from him again, so he flew off on his own to try and find where the snow ended. His plan was to just push our sky city away from the snow and see if that solved things. The windigos stopped him. He killed two, but the third took his life. But more importantly, he was gone when Typhoon died. By the time his Auditoris limped back, Cyclone had already won the war."

"That fast?"

"Remember, they don't fly," Rain explained, as the door opened to reveal Artorius' sizeable form. "Imagine if you didn't have to get past Nimbus to fly on Stratopolis."

"I doubt Cirra would have lasted very long at all, if any of the stories I have heard are true," said Artorius with an unabashed grin, stepping fully into the room. What he carried in one arm left Iron Rain's jaw hanging slackened. Her eye beheld the lacquered red shield with its intimidating single spike, something she had last laid eyes on some half a century earlier, hundreds if not thousands of miles away in a land she knew she would never see again.

"Dad's shield…" she whispered, rising from the squeaky stool slowly. "How do you have this? I thought Magnus took it when Nimbus fell." (Non-pegasus readers should note that the fall of Nimbus, being a Cirran sky-city, utilized both meanings of the word 'fall'.)

Artorius offered a shrug, and then winced halfway through the motion—a sign of lingering wounds from the Battle of the Short Hallway. "I mean no offense, Lady Rain. I know it must weigh on you to see the shield in a griffon's talons, but I swear on my honor as a knight—"

The tercel's mother let out a sigh. "Artorius, speak plainly."

Artorius hung his head. "Um, yes. I am sorry. Here." Stiffly, he extended the shield in one hand. (Rain raised the brow above her eye at that small feat; the shield was enormously heavy, requiring years of training to be hefted by the wings of even the formidable ponies of the House of Rain.) "I took it from a Herald of Magnus. But it belongs in your hands."

"Hooves," Aela corrected her son, before nodding to Rain. "But he's right. I admit, I only brought it along because it's a damn good shield, and before August ordered our deaths, the Canii were shock troops. Now that we know you're alive though, it's better you have it."

"Well, I…" Rain gingerly took the shield in her wings, and stumbled slightly with its weight before she got it closer to her torso. Tentatively, almost hesitantly, she turned the shield over and slipped her left wing into the leather straps that allowed a legionary to hold it. They were loose, most recently fitted to a griffon's larger wings, but that was easy enough to fix with a bit of fiddling with the buckles. Her mind was elsewhere, remembering her foalhood a lifetime ago struggling with the shield's weight in the huge open throne room of the palace of Nimbus. Her father, Lord Winter Rain, had been there, and his trusted lictor, Downburst, watching the eleven year old filly insist she was strong enough to use the shield, just because she was finally tall enough to put her wing in the straps while its curved, tower-like face was standing upright.

"Thank you," she said finally.

"You do not need to thank us," said Artorius (stiffly). "All that matters is that it was right." Then, his eyes broke gaze with Rain for a moment, and sheepishly he asked. "But… Can I ask you for a favor?"

"What do you want?"

"I want to learn magic," said Artorius. "To be a better knight, and help more griffons—or ponies. But there are very few griffons who know much of magic. I've learned all I can from Tapfer, but sorrow and mist aren't in my nature."

Rain grunted. "Kid, you're coming to the wrong pony. I'm not exactly flinging fire and ice from my wingtips."

"But you killed Magnus' daughter!" Artorius protested. "And you wounded Magnus himself! I've heard the stories! Surely you're the mightiest of the pegasi!"

At that, Rain's expression soured, if only slightly. "Just like Gale… I'm sorry to break it to you, Artorius, but those stories aren't honest. It took four of us to kill Yngvilde, and I wasn't the pony whose magic got the job done. I just held the blade to finish the job. And I don't talk about Magnus." With a shake of her head, she concluded "Also, I'm old as dirt. I'll have grandfoals soon. And I haven't been in a real fight in going-on twenty years. But you did get my shield back to me, so if that's what you really want, I'll find some time to show you a trick or two." Rubbing her temple with the wing not stuck in her father's shield, she added "But if you mention fighting Magnus again, we're done. Understand?"

Artorius gave a firm nod. "You have my word."

⚜ ⚜ ⚜

Clover the Clever knew her way through Burning Hearth Castle much better than anypony else in the little diplomatic gathering, Cyclone and his family included, so it was no surprise that when Cyclone had sent Tempest off with her to explain the situation at hoof, she very quickly took the lead.

"Look at how you've grown up, Tempest," the archmage noted almost as soon as the door separating the duo from the rest of the group had closed. "Are you growing out a beard, or…?"

"I wish," Tempest muttered. "It isn't worth the weight bringing a shaving kit when Mom sends me out to the back end of nowhere. But Wallflower hates it."

"Your marefriend?" Clover asked. "I can't believe you're old enough to date. I feel like the last time I talked to you, I could still pick you up with my magic."

Tempest cocked his head. "Can't you still? I heard Diadem picked up whole loaded wagons to build her school instead of using a crane."

The olive green wizard couldn't help but chuckle. "In terms of sheer brute strength, Diadem has me, and I'd bet even Master Star Swirl beat. I could probably still pick you up, Tempest, but only just. Now I'm curious, though; tell me about this mare who won the heart of Commander Hurricane's grandson."

"Oh, for the love of…" Tempest rubbed his brow. "You really want to know?"

"There isn't exactly a lot of juicy gossip in the dragon lands. And, as hard as I tried not to, I spent enough time around Platinum when I was your age that some appreciation of that kind of thing did rub off on me." With a harsh glance over her glasses, she concluded "Double-entendre not intended."

"Hey, I'm not Gale," Tempest answered, a comment to which Clover raised a brow. But the sky blue scout continued on before she could press him. "Wallflower and I aren't actually together; we're just friends. She's dating an earth pony mare, and her parents are kind of… Ante legionem kinda ponies, if you take my meaning. So I let her bring me home once to meet them. The problem is, word got around from them, so now I can only really date when I'm outside Everfree or everypony thinks I'm cheating on her."

"Wait, do they object to her dating a mare, or an earth pony?"

"Both, because they want grandfoals to join the Legion. But mostly the earth pony part." Tempest shrugged. "Just don't tell anypony, okay?"

"Who would I tell?" Clover asked in reply, before adding "That's very sweet of you, Tempest. I promise your secret is safe with me. How about your family?"

Clover accompanied the thought by gesturing with a hoof through one of the castle's many seemingly identical doorways, and then beginning a slow climb up a spiral staircase.

"Where are we going, anyway?"

"Master Star Swirl's study. Or, I guess technically my study now, but… I dunno, I guess I'll always think of it as his." Clover shrugged. "The point is, the door's magically locked so I doubt Cyclone rearranged the furniture to different rooms like he did to every other room in this place."

"That's what you're mad about?" Tempest asked quietly.

Clover shook her head and huffed through her nostrils. "If I let myself be mad about what he did, I'll start asking myself if it's worth it spending three years of my life choking on volcano ash and eating meat to help the ponies who are left here, and… look, let's talk about something else. I was asking about your family, right? How is Typhoon these days? And Hurricane?"

"Mom never really changes; all business, all the time. Even when she's with Frostfall, she never really lets up. Grandpa's… well, up until Sirocco showed up with Uncle's letter, I would have said he was just getting older and curmudgeonlier."

"More curmudgeonly," Clover corrected.

"Right." Behind the unicorn mare, Tempest rolled his eyes. "Anyway, now he and Sirocco are trying to get food sent here in the short term, but without going through Gale and Puddinghead."

"Ah, yes; I can imagine that would be a political non-starter… Wait, did you say Gale and Puddinghead?"

"Ah, right." Tempest paused for a moment as Clover led him out of the spiral staircase and along a stub of a hallway (more like a waiting room, given its pairs of couches) and toward a pair of dark hardwood doors filigreed with a curling, vaguely arboreal pattern of silver. "A couple months ago, Gale became Queen."

"What!? What happened to Platinum?!"

Tempest jumped back when the wizard whirled on him, and frantically, he waved his wings in the air between them. "Nothing! Nothing! She's fine!" After Clover's worries faded, Tempest took a moment to breathe, and watched as Clover adjusted her glasses. "Platinum said it was because she never got the chance to rule while her dad was still alive, and she wanted Gale to have a better transition into rule."

Clover waited for a very long, contemplative moment. Then, showing a bit of the cunning that earned her epithet, she asked "She said?"

Tempest nodded hesitantly. "I don't know what is going on, but she's been up to some stuff in quiet. Especially with Morty of all ponies."

"Morty… meaning Mortal Coil? Wintershimmer's apprentice?"

"Celestia's, now, but yeah." Tempest sighed at the mention of me.

"Ah." Clover turned back to the door, lit her horn, and fired a single bolt of magic directly into the groove between the doors. As ripples of her mint-shaded mana flowed across the silver, the doors creaked and groaned before finally beginning to laboriously swing open. "Well, hardly an issue for today, but I'll need to remember to grease the hinges. After you, Tempest."

Star Swirl's private quarters were in every conceivable way the opposite of Wintershimmer's; where Wintershimmer's quarters were utilitarian and sparse and entirely practical, Star Swirl's quarters were richly decorated, well furnished, and non-trivially chaotic. Bookshelves surrounded a tall cylindrical chamber wrapped with spiraling mezzanines—a pony on the ground floor could go up a set of stairs to one gallery, walk in nearly a full circle, and then ascend another set of stairs just above the first—to go up three floors until finally they reached the highest level of the chamber, just below an ornate skylight (which still projected a little light, despite being largely covered in snow). Tiny diamonds hovered in the air, rushing over to the guests to illuminate their surroundings even further. Little golem creatures ('cherubs'—a kind of gargoyle styled like infant alicorns, if one is being technical) flitted back and forth tending to the room's many now quite overgrown plants. Curved couches and tables adapted to the space.

Perhaps most notably, though, most of the books and artifacts in the room had been moved to Everfree following Cyclone's rebellion, so despite all the aforementioned features, most of the bookshelves were empty, as were the majority of the tables and workspaces.

"Woah," Tempest muttered nevertheless.

"You should have seen it when I was your age. This was the quarters of the Court Mage of the Diamond Kingdoms for almost seven hundred years. Now it's mostly just a nice place to rest when I stop in River Rock. Grab a couch or a chair, and tell me what happened with Morty. I assume Star Swirl and Celestia dealt with whatever Wintershimmer was up to?"

"I think Celestia helped, but it was mostly Morty and Gale."

"I think I must have misheard you there," said Clover (without any of the delay that is appropriate for such a comment). "It sounded like you said an apprentice unicorn and the Queen of Equestria beat Wintershimmer the Complacent."

"Ugh, you sound like Morty." (I do take offense, Tempest, even after all these years)

Clover had the audacity to teleport herself across the room so she could flop on her back onto a couch, which she then sunk into with a sigh of satisfaction before continuing "I can understand if you don't understand why that sounds insane. But even Master Star Swirl was afraid of Wintershimmer."

Tempest shrugged. "Look, I don't do this whole 'wizard' thing. All I know is Morty apparently died during the fight—"

"Oh no!"

"Not like that; he's fine. He brought himself back or something. But it bought Gale enough time to teleport up on Wintershimmer and cut off his horn with grandpa's sword."

"Gale can teleport?"

"She bothered Diadem until she taught her," Tempest answered (I apologize on his late soul's behalf for the horror that is the subject ambiguity in that sentence.) "If you want any more detail than that, you're better off talking to Morty. Just be prepared to sit through how great he is."

"Well, I'm glad he found some stability. He was in a terrible state when we fought. Celestia's tutelage should be good for him." Folding her forelegs over her chest in what, on a younger mare, would probably have been interpreted as a rather seductive pose (and something I'm certain Tempest interpreted that way, even if I'm equally certain Clover was actually just trying to get comfortable), the archmage pressed on. "I take it from what Cyclone said that the existence of Equestria is being hidden from the griffons?"

Tempest offered a small nod, unable to keep his eyes from wandering over the mare in front of him. "Um, yeah. Grandpa says these ones are probably honest about fighting Magnus, but even still, Magnus might come after them. And if he does, I guess the idea is that we let him think this is all that's left of Cirra."

"That sounds unusually selfless of Cyclone. Not sure it would actually fool Magnus, if he really is like the sisters, but I suppose it's worth the attempt to avert war. I do still wonder if we wouldn't be better off establishing some kind of diplomatic contact, though."

Tempest shook his head. "I mean, I don't know about this myself, but from what Grandpa says about meeting him, Magnus doesn't care about diplomacy. He likes war. Or something."

"Dangerous," said Clover, though whether she meant the comment in reference to Magnus, or to Hurricane's interpretation of the griffon god, one could only guess.

⚜ ⚜ ⚜

Cyclone sat back in the Diamond Throne and idly adjusted his crippled wing as he waited for a few long moments after the doors out of the room had shut, ensuring his words would not be overheard by griffon meatuses (that is, ear-holes).

"What are you waiting for, pony?" Torch demanded when his patience ran thin, well before Cyclone's or Krenn's had. "Did you drag us all the way here just to waste our time? Krenn told you what he wants. What more is there?"

Cyclone sighed. "Dragon Lord, I'm sorry if this business offends you. I truly only needed to speak to Lord Krenn and my archmage."

"Your archmage?" Torch let out a low growl. "Do you think I'm an idiot?"

"If that upsets you, then I do," Krenn noted idly. "Sit down and shut up, Torch. You might learn something."

"You dare address your Lord—"

Krenn struck his iron staff on the stone floor just once, but the threat that blow implied was enough to silence Torch.

"Winning the Gauntlet of Fire proves you're strong and quick, not that you're a good leader. You're still a child, Torch. And while I prefer a young dragon to rule over a wyrm like me, set in our ways and our mistakes, we are here to get back what remains of your predecessor—my son—from the ponies. If you jeopardize those negotiations, it will not bother me to host another Gauntlet over your bones."

Cyclone cleared his throat gently, and waited for Krenn's slitted eyes to meet his gaze. "I will do what I can to get your son's remains, but it may take us a few weeks. You are welcome to stay here, so that I can keep you informed, and so that you can take possession of them when they arrive. But I am afraid I do not have weeks to wait with griffon mouths to feed."

Krenn cocked his serpentine head. "I know the earth ponies were the best farmers, but surely you understand: even if I heat the earth to melt some of the snow and give you fields, crops will not simply grow overnight."

"I know how plants work," Cyclone grumbled. "My point is that I had hoped to offer another trade in the meantime. We respect one anothers borders, so I would never send hunters across the mountains into the dragon lands. Even if I did, it is a long flight for a pony to cross the volcanic wastes to the fertile grounds on the coast, and even farther to fly back with any meat or fruit to eat. But a dragon can carry a great deal, and the cold and the heat don't bother you the way they do us. So I hoped I might make a trade for you. Gold and jewels for food."

Krenn chuckled. "You're mistaken, Tsar Cyclone. It's very good that I brought Lord Torch here."

Cyclone raised a brow. "You don't value gold? I thought all dragons had a hoard."

That question earned a sigh from the charcoal colored wyrm. "Every dragon has a hoard, but not every dragon hoards gold. My lust for gold is what let the demon curse our race in the first place; that is what Clover is trying to help me undo. So no, you cannot tempt me with gold and jewels and glittering things. I do not take offense at the first offer, but I will if you offer a second time." Glancing to his side, he added "But I won't begrudge Torch a hoard. It will be good for him to learn to temper his greed and gain the strength of size without losing his mind."

"What?" Cyclone asked.

This time, it was Torch who answered. "Huge dragons aren't always old. It takes hundreds, even thousands of years, for a dragon to grow as big as we get. But if you build up your hoard, you can get that size and strength and power—" even the way Torch pronounced the word seemed laden with greed. "—as early as you like. But the more you build your hoard, the more it consumes your mind. Lots of dragons have died because they let their hoard get too big and tried to steal from an even bigger, older dragon. The old guy here usually does a lot of the work convincing hatchlings to calm down if they get a couple too many coins… or putting them down if he can't get through to them."

"It is my burden," Krenn ominously agreed.

"I see," was all Cyclone replied, before taking a moment to adjust his posture on the throne. "Well, Lord Torch, are you willing to trade with me?"

"Depends on how much gold you've got?"

"Three wagons," said Cyclone. "Everything the unicorns left behind when they left. And unlike food, I believe I can get more if we need to extend our deal."

Torch greedily rubbed his claws together and smiled. "Well, thanks for dragging me along."

⚜ ⚜ ⚜

Blizzard finally emerged from her bedroom after a long hour of silent mourning. The fur below her eyes was matted with tears, and her wings and head hung heavy in grief; much more than Sirocco, Maelstrom had been the closest of her half-siblings. But there was no point hiding, so she set about finding her way back to her father and Rain and Tempest, to see how she could help.

Her path might well have gone right back to where her father and the dragons were talking, had she not overheard a strongly accented voice while walking down the hallway that connected the private rooms of the royal family—that is, the rooms Cyclone had claimed for himself and his progeny.

"Now, Herr Dewpoint, this is schnapps. Do you know what that is?"

"My name isn't 'hair', it's just Dewpoint," said a much younger, quieter voice in reply.

"Ahaha, no, in mein tongue, 'herr' means… well, it is like 'sir', you understand? It is how you be polite to someone to who you do not have another title to say. I—Who is there at the door? Come in, but do not be a stranger."

Blizzard hadn't even realized she was eavesdropping, but when the shrilly masculine voice called out to her, she found herself heeding it without a second thought. Behind the door lay a small room full of cupboards and shelves centered around a workbench; Blizzard had heard once that one of the old kings or queens practiced carpentry as a hobby and the room was a chamber for that.

Now, it had been converted into a makeshift doctor's quarters, with tools and herbs and a small pot filled with recently boiled water set along the flat surfaces in meticulous spacing.

On the workbench in the center of the room was a brown and gray earth pony colt, quite young, and standing over him, a speckled gray and white griffon decorated by a pair of spectacles, holding a flask aloft.

"Oh, I, um…" Blizzard swallowed in nervousness at the scene.

"Do not be timid, little one," said the apothecary (or rather, the Apothecary, though the capitalization was unknown to Blizzard). "Come here, I will not hurt you. You are distraught, I can see that; are you hurt?"

Blizzard shook his head. "I, um… I just heard about my brother."

"Your brother? You… ah." With a nod, the apothecary took a deep breath. "You are one of the Haysar's kinder, yes? I… well, we griffons are all very grateful for what Maelstrom did for us, but I am very sorry for his loss. Um… have you met this little one?"

The colt shook his head. "I'm Dewpoint. Are you my big sister now?"

"Am I…?" Blizzard seemed lost in the question. "Father adopted you?"

"Maelstrom did, in your father's absence," the Apothecary explained. "This little one was on the wrong side of a big, bad volf; a… what do you call it?"

"A fenrir," Dewpoint explained. "Mister… 'hair' Artorius saved me."

The Apothecary chuckled. "Yes, he did. But unfortunately, you did get hurt some, no? Your leg cracked, and unfortunately it needs to be set." Nodding to Blizzard, he added "Which is what is happening here. I am the Apothecary, you see."

"Oh," was all Blizzard said, at first. Then, after a moment, it occurred to her to say "I'm Blizzard."

"Ah," said the Apothecary, "It is good to meet you, Blizzard. Are you a legionary too, since you are grown?"

Blizzard shook her head firmly. "I, um… I mostly take care of the foals. Sometimes, I carry messages for Father. I don't fight."

"A kindred spirit." The apothecary smiled. "Actually, if you are good with the foals, perhaps it is to be good luck you are here. Setting a bone, it is not a fun thing to do, and even if I am a healer, I am also a griffon. Would you, perhaps, be able to help me make sure this little one is calm and as comfortable as we can make him?"

"Alright," Blizzard agreed, stepping into the room properly and moving over to Dewpoint's side. "I don't know a lot about healing, but I'll do what I can." Utilizing her long practiced skill, Blizzard pushed aside all thought of her own grief and donned a hard, comfortable face for Dewpoint's sake. "It's nice to meet you, Dewpoint."

"You too, big sister!" Dewpoint answered enthusiastically. "Do you know what 'snaps' is?"

"Schnapps," the Apothecary corrected. "It is not mein accent; the schnuh noise is important."

"Oh," said Dewpoint. "That's a funny word, 'schnapps'."

"I've never heard of them," Blizzard noted. "Some kind of potion?"

The apothecary chuckled. "It is liquor from fruit. Peaches in this case."

With heavy concern in her voice, Blizzard asked the old griffon. "You're going to give him liquor?"

"I was not able to bring willow bark with me when we fled Dioda, and milk of the poppy is very dangerous for little griffons, and ponies especially. But do not worry; liquor is bad for the little ones, yes, but one time will not hurt. I have used it many times. Most often, they just fall asleep." Yanking the cork from his flask (in those days, threaded screw caps were rare things indeed), he offered the receptacle to Dewpoint. "Be careful; it is sweet, but it will feel like it burns. Sip slowly at first."

But Dewpoint seemed completely unbothered by his first experience with alcohol, drinking down three swallows so quickly that both Blizzard and the Apothecary had to lunge in to pull the flask away from him.

"Goodness, little one… I do worry a little bit for you," said the Apothecary. "You take to the bottle too well, I think."

"Well, earth ponies do have the other half of griffon magic," Blizzard offered.

The apothecary cocked his head. "Hmm?"

"The faster healing, and strength, and… well, I've heard earth ponies are more resistant to alcohol. Like griffons."

"Ah. So this little one, he will not be able to make fire, or wind, or what have you?" The apothecary tutted once.

"No," Blizzard agreed.

Seemingly idly, without even looking up from Dewpoint, the Apothecary asked "Can you?"


"Make ice or fire or what have you, I mean?" the Apothecary clarified, seemingly making small talk. "I know the little griffons, and our Artorius especially—though he is very large, he is I think very little inside—they are forever delighted by the little tricks. Dewpoint here might think it fun to see one, if you can."

"Oh, um… I can make a little ice," Blizzard agreed. "I'm nowhere near as good as Father or Grandfather though."

"Well, no, I hope not; I would not want you to kill either of us," the old griffon joked. "The water there in the pot, it is okay if you take a bit with the ladle. But do not touch it with your body; it must stay clean."

Dewpoint sat up to watch as Blizzard ladled out a little water into a wooden cup the apothecary had at hoof (or rather, claw). Then, gently raising her wing and closing her eyes, she left the still quite present thoughts of Maelstrom's passing come flooding back.

The sound of wood cracking, and the crinkling of a vein opening in deep ice burst within the room. "Mein kaiser!" the Apothecary gasped, and Dewpoint likewise let out a scream, albeit devoid of words.

Blizzard opened her eyes to find that the wooden cup had completely exploded, and the water inside had taken the form of a cluster of outward pointing icicles, in a shape like the head of a morning star or a flail. A few of the spikes had impaled bits of the broken cup, while the rest of the wood lay in splinters on the table.

"Oh my…" Blizzard whispered to herself.

"That was awesome!" Dewdrop added.

"I… am sorry," the Apothecary noted, daring to put a wing on Blizzard's shoulder. "I should have thought, after hearing about your brother." Then, with a swallow, he added somewhat jovially "But it seems you are less unlike your father and your grandfather than you think? Can I ask you a personal question, Blizzard?"

"I, um… if it's about Maelstrom, I'd rather not."

"Oh, no, no. Just a curiosity of mine," the Apothecary turned away from Blizzard for a moment and told Dewdrop. "Watch my talon." Then, raising a single talon, he waved it back and forth before the colt, who followed it quite deftly with his eyes. "Good. Blizzard, who was your mother?"

"My mother?"

"I, and griffons who live long enough to know such things, wonder if magic comes from ones parents. You are from a very strong father-line, yes, but I wonder if you also have strength from the other side. It is just curiosity, you do not have to tell me; I just—"

"Her name was Summer."

Abruptly, the Apothecary lost all interest in Dewpoint. "Aestas Celsus? The Summer of Iron Rain's Rainstorm?"

"I, um… yeah? I think so." Blizzard sheepishly nodded even as she agreed.

"But… Forgive me, I should say: there are not very many Cirrans whose names we griffons still remember. I had expected your mother might have belonged to a gens like the Rains of Nimbus or something, but…"

"No. I guess miss Rain is my godmother, sort of. I can introduce you if you'd like."

If he weren't already white from his snowy owl head, the Apothecary would surely have turned flush white. "Iron Rain is alive? Iron Rain is here?"

"Yeah, Father asked her to come back to River Rock after what happened; why? Do you want to meet her?"

"Nein, nein… Sorry, no, no…" It didn't escape Blizzard's notice that the first denial of the old griffon was very nearly snapped at her in anger. Or desperation. "Better not to. I did not fight your ancestors, Blizzard; like we said, we are both not fighters. But… there was a time I served Magnus, and it is better we not create problems when tensions are already high, you understand?" When Blizzard nodded, the Apothecary wasted no time in adding "Lady Rain's name is famous for all griffons; second only to your grandfather. That is why I was surprised; that is all."

Neither adult noticed the way Dewpoint's ears perked through that discussion.

"But to return, I think, to what you before had said. Was Summer not the same age as your grandfather, Hurricane Haysar? That is a… you would say 'scandal', I think, no?"

"It's a long story," Blizzard replied. "I'd rather not…"

"Of course, of course," the Apothecary replied. "I do not mean to pry. Oh, and I am being a bad doctor, no? My own little curiosities, and I have ignored mein patient."

But when both griffon and pegasus glanced to Dewpoint, they found him asleep.

"That was fast," said Blizzard. "I wish I could get the other ones to sleep that easily sometimes."

"Like magic, schnapps. So 'potion' perhaps is more right than you know. But, like we said, it is not good for little ones too often. Now, gentle; we do not want to wake him. But hold his shoulders, please. He may wake with a start from the pain. I will hold the leg."

For all the qualities of the Apothecary that might worry a reader, he was at least a capable healer, and under his gentle touch, not only was Dewpoint's leg set and fixed with a split, but the little colt slept through the procedure with barely more than a slight shift.

"Thank you, Blizzard," said the Apothecary, when their shared work was done.

Blizzard smiled. "You're the doctor. Or, apothecary, I guess. I just held him."

"Perhaps," said the Apothecary. "But you have the manner of a healer. I think you put him at ease better than I could. I will carry him to bed; no doubt your Father would like your company."

"It was nice to meet you, um… Oh, I didn't get your name."

"I am just the Apothecary," the old griffon replied. "It is a long story; I may tell you another time, Blizzard, if you would like."

"I think I'd like that." With a smile, Blizzard left the room.

The Apothecary then went back to tending to his tools and implements, packing away his kit and tidying the room before he set about carrying Dewpoint back. Had he turned away from the shelves and toward the workbench, he might have seen Dewpoint's eyes shoot open, and the foal silently sit upright.

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