• Published 15th Dec 2011
  • 5,169 Views, 295 Comments

Wild Sky Yonder - Mysecsha

Basic training turns into a harrowing adventure for Spitfire and Soarin'.

  • ...

Chapter 03: Wake Up

Chapter 3: When the Beast Wakes Up

“...legend of Hearth’s Warming is surprisingly faithful to the histories I’ve found in the vaults, though certain accepted beliefs must be challenged. Then, as now, all of ponykind depended upon earth pony agriculture for food. A typical history will assert an equal balance of power: cultivation was the province of the earth clans, but the all-important sunlight and rainfall were regulated by the other races. In this case the conventional wisdom falls far short of the truth. You see, bargaining power in this context depended upon one’s ability to threaten the food supply. For the unicorns, denial of sunlight was a simple matter of inaction. The earth clans owned the means of production and distribution: inaction sufficed for them as well.

“Our situation was less desirable: the skies were wild in those days and a water blockade was no easy feat. A campaign of water denial required active dispersal of wild clouds, sabotage of wells and irrigation systems, diversion of rivers -- it was an expensive endeavor, in labor and lives. It stands to reason therefore that in times of peace the denizens of Pegasoniki stood at a clear disadvantage: what their rivals could accomplish through inaction they could accomplish only through sweat and sacrifice.

“Consider that for a moment. From the standpoint of the Weather Lords, the pursuit of peace involved voluntarily accepting the lowest place at the table. Is it any wonder they turned to conquest? Enter the Corps...”

Spitfire paused at the workbench and rubbed her temples. It was Friday morning and she’d reported to the museum as requested. It certainly hadn’t been an exciting morning, but it kept her mind off of the sickening, ice-cold worry that she’d contended with for the last few days. The old stallion had been right about one thing: this was better than staring at the wall in her room. Barely.

The doctor had been speaking without interruption for hours. Spitfire tuned him out and turned her attention back to the deadly device on the bench. The museum’s display cases contained at least a dozen old gravity blades and Firelight had wanted them all cleaned, honed and oiled. It wasn’t a difficult task but even the slightest mistake brought the fickle stallion’s wrath to bear.

Captain Firelight put her on edge: nothing about the old stallion made any sense. When he was angry, he was an absolute terror. For a time last week Spitfire had convinced herself that the old goat was intentionally hurting her and sabotaging her chance to recover and rejoin her training squadron. Now that he was being nice...

No, not nice. Solicitous and patronizing. I don’t think he can do ‘nice.’

If anything his new attitude made her even more uneasy. He shifted from topic to topic, which made her jumpy. He made cryptic comments, then watched her reactions to them. He’d invited her to help out at the museum, then hovered over her to make sure she didn’t harm his precious artifacts. Everything he did or said was a test, and if last week was a fair indication she could fail without knowing why and he’d be a nightmare again.

Worst of all, the mercurial doctor was the only pony who could declare her fit to fly. She was already far behind the other cadets, and every day grounded was torment. She was determined to stay on his good side -- but she’d already blundered out of his good graces and then blundered back into them, and she still wasn’t sure why.

She reassembled the blade and strapped it around her foreleg. This part had been kind of exciting, the first four or five times. She flicked her hoof and a latch released, letting eight inches of sharpened steel slide out of the boxy sheath. Another flick locked the blade in place. She waved it about experimentally and tapped it against the table to make sure it was locked before working the latch again to re-sheathe the blade. Eleven down, one to go: that was worth a sigh of relief. She loosened the straps on the ancient weapon and went to replace it and grab the last one.

“By then the Corps was a professional, finely tuned strike force which answered only to the Weather Lord. Their masters sent them on deep raids into unicorn territory to gather intelligence, steal supplies, et cetera. Without their pride and discipline they’d have been little better than pirates and murderesses. During the migration, when the three lieutenants usurped power from their leaders and founded Equestria -- I see in your expression that you take exception to that description. I’m afraid it’s quite accurate. The duly appointed leaders of the three nations valued autonomy over unity. Their subordinates seized power while the leaders were incapacitated, brokered a deal, and presented it to their superiors as a fait accompli. We may believe that they were justified, that it was necessary, or that we are all better off for it; this is no excuse for white-washing it. We must call a coup a coup. Dissimulation serves no good purpose.” He stared at her expectantly until she nodded her assent.

“Where was I? Ah. Given our history and purpose, it’s not surprising that the other nations had, shall we say, hard feelings towards the Corps. The unicorns flat-out refused to ratify the Unity Charter until the Corps had been decommissioned. Thus began the Interregnum. During this period the Corps existed only as pockets of bandits, holdouts and malcontents. It is here that the histories become spotty and we...”

Spitfire tuned him out again. She rolled her eyes when she was sure he wasn’t looking. As she finished honing the final blade she wondered if he’d actually let her go when morning exercises ended or if he’d drone on all the way to Monday.

“Oh but I’m sure this is quite enough to absorb in one morning. Any questions, cadet?”

She tensed. Her mind raced, groping for something she could say to prove she’d been listening.

“Yes... sir. Back then, the Corps was mares-only? Why? Was the whole military that way?”

He chuckled. “Many stallions served the Weather Lords with distinction, but they did so in the artillery. You may know it by its modern descendant: the Weather Patrol.”

“The Patrol? But that’s just... a utility company! Not a military force!”

“Yes, they have largely abandoned their legacy, as have the remnants of the Earth and Unicorn forces. It falls to us and to the Royal Guard to remember.” He trailed off and his eyes glazed over a bit, lost in thought. After several long moments he shook himself out of it and continued, “So, the artillery: at that time males were more likely to have a strong affinity for weather control but unlikely to be as fast and agile as females. We still see a shadow of this trend today but back then the difference was much more pronounced. Your Sergeant Thunderhead is in many ways a throwback: whatever his faults, he is a virtuoso cloud sculptor. The Patrol lost a superstar the day he followed his mother into the Corps. The Weather Lords saw the value in efficient division of labor: they decreed that male combatants were to focus on weaponized wind and lightning, and females on stealth and hoof-to-hoof combat.”

He looked at the clock. “Make that your last piece, cadet. Thank you kindly for your assistance; I do enjoy having an attentive audience. Now perhaps you should tell me what’s bothering you.”

Spitfire gave a start. Another abrupt change of tone from the unpredictable stallion. She set aside her work and silently weighed whether or not to voice the worries that threatened to consume her. His steely gaze told her she’d better ‘fess up.

She took a deep breath. “I’m not flying. I won’t be for another week. That’s a total of twelve daily exercises missed and I don’t see how I’ll be able to make them up -- I’m too far behind and I’m going to wash out.”

The doctor said nothing for a long moment; his expression was unreadable.

“Yes, that is a problem. Quite insurmountable if your plan of attack is to mope about and feel sorry for yourself.”

Her nostrils flared and fire blazed in her eyes. How dare he? She didn’t mope. She was better than that. When the going got tough, she fought. Even after that thunderbird had damaged her wings -- had effectively killed her, she fought and bit and tore and took it down with her. The small, suppressed corner of her soul that delighted in her special talent took a grim, perverse satisfaction in the memory. The monster inside of her savored the rip of the thing’s feathers giving way, the look on its face when it couldn't regain control, when she’d done to it just what it had done to her...

But somepony had saved her; the bird hadn’t been so lucky. She remembered the piteous cry the poor creature had made when it hit and a wave of repulsion washed over her, pushing down the beast.

“Good! Be angry! Let it light a fire in you and live up to your name! Show a little initiative, a little fire. If you recognize the problem then I can promise you that Sergeant Thunderhead and Captain Aurora are well aware of it. They may even be waiting for you to bring it to their attention.”

She stiffened as a humiliating realization struck her: he was right. She’d been thinking of her condition as an affliction to be endured, not a problem to be solved. She hadn’t done anything -- not a single damned thing -- to address the problem except wait it out and sulk. If the doctor was right about Aurora then her downtime was a test, and she was failing. Time to pony up, face the challenge head-on, and change that.

“I see you’ve finally realized you’re at war and I’m sure you have battle plans to draw up. That will be all, cadet. ”

“Thank you, sir.”

An hour later Spitfire stood outside of the officer’s mess. Her stomach growled: she’d sacrificed lunch for a chance to catch Captain Aurora before afternoon studies stole the rest of the day.

She smoothed out her uniform. She’d rarely worn anything her entire life, and the garment was baggy and uncomfortable. Uniforms were only required when in flight or off-base, but most of the cadets were still wearing them all day. The uniform marked them as SaR ponies, and they took pride in that. She did, too. She felt the reassuring weight of her canteen in a side pocket: the uniform also let her keep Dad close, and that calmed her nerves considerably.

Presently the captain exited the mess.

“Ma’am! Cadet Spitfire. Northwing Squadron. May I have a word?”

“What’s this about, cadet?”

“Ma’am, I’m falling behind. I won’t be flying until week three. I’d like permission to use my mornings to get ahead in any subject I don’t need wings for, and permission to double my flight time once I’m cleared. I’m confident I can be completely up to speed in two weeks.”

A hint of a smile flickered across the captain’s face. “About time, cadet. Walk with me.”

Spitfire fell into step with the captain.

“Your plan involves missing most or all of navigation and trailblazing. You are exceptionally lucky to be in B Flight: Northwing Five is a born navigator and knows it well enough to be the instructor-specialist. Have any previous experience?”

“I used to go camping, Mom liked orienteering games.”

“Then you likely have as good a foundation as any recruit typically comes in with. Good. Next week you will trade wingmates with Northwing Six. Six and Eight will participate in exercises together, and Five will teach you navigation. If by this time next week you have mastered navigation to my satisfaction then you will be excused from afternoon lessons for the following week, during which time your flight sergeant will bring you up to speed on formation flying. Tomorrow you will find me in my office when exercises begin; we have an important item to discuss. Technically your Sundays are your own, so I cannot make this next bit an order: I strongly encourage you to spend your next two Sundays in the company of your wingmate and your sergeant. Ninety percent of the formation training you’ve missed is mental: learning the forms and the timing, keeping them all straight, and reacting instinctively. A good head start on the mental portion will make the physical element easier. Now hop to it, Cadet: you’re due for instruction in ten minutes.”

“Yes ma’am!”

“What’s this I hear about you borrowing my toys?”

B Flight was sitting together in the mess at dinner. It was Spitfire’s first trip to the mess: she’d insisted that she didn’t need food delivery anymore. She wrinkled her brow at Red’s question.


“You’re borrowing my Stargazer next week. I expect you to return him in the same condition you found him.”

Spitfire stifled a laugh. “And if he’s going to get kicked out the fun way it’d better be with you, right?”

“Exactly.” Red mock-scowled and pointed a hoof first at her eyes, then at Spitfire.

The toy in question rolled his eyes. “Soarin’, are you going to be able to handle her?”

The ice-blue stallion shrugged. “If you can do it, it can’t be that hard.”

Red turned on him. “Was that a challenge? I think that was a challenge.”

“Whoa there, Red. No fair breaking mine if I can’t break yours.”

Soarin’ ignored the girls and asked his brother, “When did we become property?”

Stargazer shrugged. “About five minutes after they arrived, I’d say. It’s a mare’s world, and we’re just so much baggage. But now that I think about it the lower number in a pair is traditionally the leader: you might belong to Seven, but technically Six belongs to me.” He shot his wingmate a smug grin. “Not vice-versa.”

Red rubbed up against him and purred, “I’m OK with that.”

Stargazer hung his head, a wry smile on his face. Spitfire and Soarin’ laughed.

“Five, never play innuendo chicken with Red. She’s shameless.”

“Yep. Had my shame removed years ago.” Red straightened up and plucked a roll off of Stargazer’s plate.

Stargazer gave an exaggerated sigh, admitting defeat. He turned his attention away from Red. “So, Seven, how much do you know about maps and navigating? I guess I have a lesson plan to make for Monday.” He made a face at the words “lesson plan”.

“Oh, my mother and I would go camping all the time. She loved orienteering and scavenger hunts. I picked up a lot of it for a little filly, but that was a long time ago.” She absent-mindedly patted the pocket where she kept her keepsake. “”I mean, I know which end of the compass points north.”

Red perked up. “I do believe that’s the first thing you’ve said about life before camp, to any of us. Is it story time now? I think it’s story time.”

Spitfire shrank back and stared at her food. “No... no, it’s not story time. I-” Her voice caught in her throat. Red placed a hoof on hers, and there was a silent apology in her eyes.

“Some other time, maybe. Hon, we are your friends. If you want to talk about it...”

“Thanks, Red. Really though, I’m fine.”

The gleam reappeared Red’s eyes. “Are you sure? ‘Cause I could set up a therapist’s couch, charge you fifty bits an hour. Whatever ails you I’ll prescribe a roll in the hay as the cure. Soarin’, I’ll need you to help her fill that prescription.”

The pale stallion flushed. Spitfire giggled, “Red, you’re incorrigible.”

“If you ever catch me being corrigible, you’ll know that something is very wrong.”

The conversation lulled as B Flight returned to their meal. Presently Soarin’ groaned. “Heads up, A-holes at 12 o’clock. Pointing and whispering.”

Spitfire frowned. “What’s this?”

Stargazer answered, “A Flight. Real charming bunch. We’d ignore ‘em but they’re the lead element in our squadron.”

Red placed a hoof on Spitfire’s shoulder. “They haven’t had the nicest things to say about you this week.”

Spitfire arched her eyebrows in an unspoken question.

“They’ve been suggesting... creative nicknames for you. They really get into it. The Hermit, because you’re hiding away in the room all the time; Patches, because of the cuts and stitches; Queen Bee because you’re all black and yellow and the rest of the B’s bring you things; other things about your colorful wing grafts. A few lewd comments about you and Eight, and how you might be rewarding him for saving you... that kind of thing. I’m sorry.”

Spitfire took a deep breath.

Get determined, not angry. Be aggressive but not confrontational. Don’t ever get mad where others can see.

Keep the beast on a leash

“Don’t be sorry, Red. I’d rather know about it than not. And since when do you back down from passing along a lewd comment?”

“Mine are fun and innocent and usually about me. This is different. Please, just try to keep your cool if they come over here.” She turned to point an accusatory hoof at Eight. “That goes for you too, Soarin’!”

He frowned and looked up. “What’d I do?”

“Wednesday? Red One called Seven ‘Rainbow Cripple’ and asked if you put those bruises on her in the bedroom? Your brother had to hold you back, does any of this ring a bell? I swear you were about to bite him.”

Soarin’ half-stood and snapped, "Maybe if I had, he'd keep his filthy mouth shut!"

Spitfire laid her hoof on his. "Soarin', that's very sweet of you but I have a rule: I do all of my own biting. You're my partner, not my protector."

He blushed and sat down. "Sorry, seven."

Red made a face. "Ugh. Bogey inbound. Quick: somepony say something interesting. Don't give them an opening."

Stargazer took up the challenge. "So, today’s session mentioned thunderbirds. They’re territorial and usually won’t attack unless provoked? I don't think you've told us yet, Seven: how'd you wind up fighting that one anyway?"

Red slapped him on the shoulder. "What a thing to ask!"

Spitfire rolled her eyes. "Red? I'm injured, not traumatized. You know, it's a strange story: I woke up on a cloud, I guess it was Sunday afternoon by then, and this big ugly bird was pecking at my bag. I was groggy and mistook it for a wyvern, so I kicked it in the face. I couldn’t just let it tear the bag, all of my supplies were in there. It, ah... it took exception to that." She offered a self-effacing grin.

The other three ponies stared in disbelief. Stargazer recovered first.

"Wait a second: you kicked it in the face because you thought it was a wyvern?”

"Yeah. Give a wyvern a good swift kick -- just a firm tap on the nose, really -- and it'll leave you alone, go look for some easier prey. Discovered that... lets see, Tuesday? No, must have been Wednesday. Worked three out of four times.”

The navy stallion sputtered, “What happened to the fourth wyvern?”

“Oh, there were only three. The third one was bigger, I had to kick it twice.” She shrugged. “I had to do something about 'em. Can’t outrun a wyvern like you can a manticore.”

Stargazer had his head in his hooves, a shell-shocked expression on his face. "A manticore?"

"Yeah... I spent most of Saturday night running away from a manticore. They aren't fast but they are persistent: it was almost dawn by the time I lost him. I was exhausted, so I picked a little cloud that looked like it was headed north-ish and went to sleep."

“And then you woke up with a thunderbird in your face.” He shook his head. “What were you doing out there in the first place?”

“I had to get to camp somehow.”

Red found her voice. “Honey, most of us took the train.”

“I had enough bits for food or a train ticket. Not both.”

Stargazer’s eyes were distant, like he was doing calculations in his head. “Where did you say you were from?”

“Cloudsdale, outside the capital.”


“Monday before last.”

“You left from outside Canterlot, flew across the plains and over almost five hundred miles of the Trackless Pines, all the way to the Whitecrowns, in seven days?”

Spitfire tried to be nonchalant about it. “Yep.”

Stargazer glanced over at the others. “I say we call her 'Lunatic.'”

An unfamiliar voice joined the conversation. “Really? How about ‘Liar.’ Or ‘Anchor,’ as in 'anchor around Red Squadron’s neck,' pulling us all down. How about ‘Stain,’ as in something that needs to be washed out?”

Spitfire wheeled on the new voice. Red One towered over her, sneering. Red Two stood behind him wearing an insufferable smirk. The verbal assault had damaged her calm; she hung on to her temper for dear life.

“Get bucked, One.”

“Watch your mouth, Five. Don’t say something I’ll make you regret.”

Stargazer gave a derisive snort. “You're all style and no substance, One. All flash and no thunder. Why don’t you take your little sidekick and go find somepony else to bully? B Flight’s too much for you.”

Red One shot back a mocking smile. “Ooh, I thought SaR brat number two was Stain's knight in shining armor. You guys going tag-team now?”

Spitfire snarled.

“How about it, Stain? If I pretend you’re a real member of my squad, can I have a ride?”

She closed her eyes as the beast slipped its chain. She smoothed her expression until it was entirely placid. She slowly stood and turned until she was looking the tall, arrogant stallion in the eye. She ran a hoof through his mane.

“Nice dye job. The color’s just about perfect. Kinda sad that you go through this much trouble just to look like a Royal Guard - there are plenty of cheaper and easier ways to let the world know you’re a wannabe. Still, complements to your stylist.”

Her mouth turned up in a vicious, feral smile. “As for the rest of you --what little there is -- you’re welcome to test me any time you like. I will outrun you, I will outsmart you, and by next week I will outfly you. And if you want to make this a physical thing?”

She laughed and snapped her hoof down hard on the floor. Her eyes blazed.

“Just try it, hotshot. I will break every bone in your body. I will pluck your feathers one by one. I will grind you into paste, and when I’m done the only thing left of you will be a stain on my uniform.” With every word, she leaned forward just a bit farther, her smile got just a bit bigger, and her wings unfurled just a bit more. By the end of it, her nose was a hair’s breadth from his.

He quailed at the hungry fire in her eyes. Shaking ever so slightly, he poked her in the chest with his hoof.

“Dead weight with a sharp tongue is still dead weight. You wanna do these three a favor? Leave. Save us all the trouble of waiting for you to wash out.”

She snarled and lunged at him, a feint that caused the big stallion to flinch. He snorted angrily and stormed off. Red Two shot her a dirty look and turned to follow.

Spitfire slumped and began to tremble. She’d come here to get away from the beast. She’d hoped that she could just leave it behind in Cloudsdale. Not only had it followed her, she’d just let it out right in front of her companions. She turned a fearful eye back toward B Flight, expecting a row of three scared, disgusted faces.

Instead, Stargazer looked impressed. Red was positively giddy.

“That was amazing! Nopony’s shut him up all week! Honey I figured you were tough -- I mean, I knew that: you never complain about how much all that hurts -- but that was... wow.”

Stargazer chuckled. “Careful, Seven. I think you just made yourself an enemy.”

Her relief was palpable. She shook her head. “This mess? This is on his head. Not mine.”

After that, B Flight’s dinner went back to normal -- except for one thing: Spitfire thought Soarin’ was quieter than usual, and he never quite made eye contact with her.