• Published 12th Jan 2013
  • 4,313 Views, 368 Comments

A Song of Storms: Snow and Shadows - The 24th Pegasus



With the onset of the windigo curse, Commander Hurricane and the other tribal leaders leave in search of new lands. They aren't the only ones to face challenges, as the tribes inch closer and closer to ripping each other apart with each day.

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Chapter 14: A Trial of Ice

Chapter 14: A Trial of Ice

Twilight had no real idea at exactly what time the sun had dawned. It was simply impossible to see the yellow orb beneath the curtain of gray clouds and white snow. All she knew was that the world had inched its way out of the dark and into marginal brightness at some point, technically qualifying for what most considered a ‘day’.

She yawned quietly and looked around, still struggling to blink out the drowsiness that the frigid cold and her lack of sleep had bestowed upon her. Rainbow Dash shambled along by her side, obviously suffering from sleeplessness more so than herself. Ahead of them, Safe Haven scouted through the snow and ice, the hilt of his sword just ever so slightly drawn against his side.

Twilight grumbled and reluctantly accelerated her pace to come within a few feet of the stallion. Most of his cocoa fur was hidden underneath layers and layers of coats and jackets, but his neck and jawline were barren and exposed to the harsh elements. A peculiar beard of frozen alcohol and spittle had attached itself to his chin, and Haven occasionally ran a numb hoof over the irritating appendage.

“How’s that working out for you?!” she asked, probably louder than she needed to, but the hood she wore over her ears muffled most of her own voice.

“Funny,” he replied without turning his head. “At least if the vargr come back I’ll be ready to grab my sword and fight, instead of having to undress first.”

Somewhere behind them, Rainbow Dash giggled. Safe Haven only rolled his eyes and huddled down at the top of a hill.

“I still don’t understand why we couldn’t have just gone south,” Twilight insisted as she huddled down next to him. “Why do we have to go away from civilization? I mean, sure, you’re with the rebels, but I didn’t see any wanted posters with your name on them in Saraneighvo.”

“This isn’t like in those westerns about San Palomino with the cowponies and such. I do my best to keep my outlaw status a secret.” He sighed and scratched at his chin again. “Of course, that’s a little harder now that I came face to face with Serp and swung a sword at him. I reckon any Black Cloak that sees me is bound to know who I am now.”

Twilight gently pushed an errant strand of her mane from her eyes, wishing for the hundredth time that she had taken the effort to properly tuck it behind her hood when she first put it on. “Right, but couldn’t you have just brought us to the city limits and then left to go galumphing through the snow with the rest of your rebel buddies?”

“Tell me; would you rather or rather not be interrogated by Serp and then held in a cell in Stalliongrad for a week before the Princess can get you passage home?”

“They wouldn’t do that!” Twilight protested. “They’re the Domain’s police force! They’re sworn to protect the weak and helpless!”

Safe Haven laughed quietly. “You really believe that… I thought you would. I can’t blame you; Canterlot’s quite a deal safer than Stalliongrad.”

“Whadda ya mean by that?” Rainbow Dash piped up as she reclined her back on a snow bank opposite the two unicorns. “Don’t the Princesses make sure that life’s all cheery and safe across all of Equestria?”

“Tell me, Rainbow Dash,” Haven calmly replied, “did life seem cheery and happy to you in Saraneighvo?”

“Well…” She paused and massaged one of her wings with a protected hoof. “They could’ve been just a little more chill.”

Haven groaned and placed a hoof to his brow.

Rainbow Dash rose an eyebrow, obviously not understanding what she had just said. “What? I’m pretty sure if you guys just removed the sticks up your asses and worked together, you’d be fine.”

“The problem is, it’s hard to do that when Saraneighvo is the poorest, most oppressed city in the Domain, not to mention all of Equestria.”

Twilight shifted her haunches slightly. “It would probably be a whole lot better if you ponies just obeyed the law and lived in harmony with each other.”

“Easy enough for you two to say when you’re both Bearers.” Gently pulling his sword out of its sheath with his Arcana, Haven slowly looked the blade up and down. “You know how the rebellion began, and why ponies continue to fight to this day?”

Both Bearers shook their heads.

Stretching himself out into a little hollow against a snow bank, Safe Haven let out a breath. “Well, it’s only another hour’s walk to where we’re getting to, so I suppose there’s time for a history lesson. So, where to begin? I suppose we should probably start with the Blizzard Revolution.

“The Revolution was around five years ago. I was twenty-five then. Baron Frostbite ruled the Domain like a proper noble; keeping himself rich and well-fed while the rest of us commoners suffered and starved. My family was slightly better off. My father was the head farmer at a little village outside of Saraneighvo. The farmer bastard who married a unicorn. He sure was lucky for being a commoner under Frostbite, especially considering Saraneighvo was even more of a smear of poverty on the northern shoreline then.

“I loved my father. My mother too. She was the one who taught me my Equiish.” He smiled and shook his head, gazing into the distance. “How a proper Trottingham mare ever fell in love with a poor Stalliongradi farmer, I have no idea. But she wasn’t going to let a little cold have the best of her.”

Haven coughed and tapped a hoof on the snow bank. “Right. Eventually, ponies started getting tired of Frostbite’s rule. Those on the fringe territories began to take up arms against him; nothing too major or organized, but most of the farmers stopped sending food to Stalliongrad in protest. My father was one of them. Things got… complicated, fast.”

Haven looked off to the distance and took a deep breath before continuing. “Frostbite was determined to hold onto his rule. When the fringe territories revolted, he crushed them in a bloody massacre. Dozens, if not hundreds of ponies died. My father was one of them. They came in the middle of the night and executed him and my mother and burned down everything. I was lucky enough to escape, and I found myself in with a bunch of ponies who were just like me. They too had lost family and loved ones to Frostbite, and we were all looking to make them pay.

“Even so, us backcountry farmers had no chance against Frostbite’s trained army. Uprising after uprising was crushed and silenced. Eventually, when things got bad enough, ponies from Frostbite’s government turned against him and came to our aid. Now, we had a real revolution on our hooves.

“I remember my first real battle. I was terrified, scared beyond belief, but I knew how to use a sword.” With that, he held up the sword and slid it back into its scabbard. “I won’t get into the details of the fighting, but in the course of two years, the revolution found strong leaders in the ponies Stoikaja and Roscherk Krovyu. I don’t know their Equiish names, but they gave the revolutionaries training and tactics that helped us defeat Baron Frostbite. In the wake of the baron, Tsar Watchful Eye, the alicorn ruler of the Domain, and his sons took over. His sons, Roscherk and Polnoch, as well as Stoikaja, became commandants of the military. Roscherk was the one that was trained by the Honor Guard captain.”

“Yes, I’ve read about all this in the Canterlot libraries,” Twilight interrupted, “but if you finally overthrew Frostbite, why would you then turn your back on the new rulers and rebel against them?”

“Remember how I said things got complicated, fast?”

Twilight nodded.

Haven exhaled through his nostrils. “It only got even more so when the Revolution was finished. There were those who wanted to split off the spoils of war to the soldiers who did the most fighting. Commandant Roscherk Krovyu was particularly emphatic about this. Others, however, did not see it his way. They wanted the Baron’s land and wealth to go to those who needed it most—simple farmers and refugees who had their lives destroyed by Frostbite’s rule. I fell into the latter camp.

“I had nothing after the war; I didn’t particularly like serving with the police, and all I wanted to do was return to Saraneighvo and try to scrape some sort of living back together on what was left of my parents’ farm. Money came for a little while from the capital. Those who opposed Roscherk were more numerous and powerful than he. Then their leaders “died”. One of them was Roscherk’s brother, Polnoch, or ‘Midnight’ in Equiish. Suddenly, I and several thousand other farmers across the Domain had nothing, and Roscherk had the entire police force under his hoof. It adopted the name ‘Black Cloaks’ shortly thereafter in honor of the jacket the commandant always wears. ”

The stallion stared off into the distance before climbing to his hooves. “With a little funding from ponies who particularly didn’t like this change in dynamic, I signed on with the rebellion, opened a tavern in Saraneighvo, and gave my fellow brothers in arms some much needed shelter and information. Well, until it got burnt down, that is.”

“Hey, I told you about a hundred times that I’m sorry for that,” Rainbow grumbled as she began to walk after him.

“Actually, it was more like seven.”

“Yeah, well, I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, Rainbow,” Haven assured her. “I doubt the inn would have been left standing after the coup anyways. It’s just unfortunate that Serp interrupted us on the night that it was planned to happen. Otherwise, we would have had his head and a sizeable chunk of land to work with. It would have tied down the Commandant’s Black Cloaks in the north, allowing us to go after Trotsylvania in the south.”

Twilight up to this point had been uncharacteristically silent, her unease tying her lips shut. On the one hoof, she was consorting with an outlaw of the state, and was allowing said criminal to lead her to someplace she had never heard of before. On the other, Haven was her friend, and that knowledge outdated knowing he was a rebel by several days.

Rainbow Dash seemed to have no qualms about their current relationship with Haven. He promised them food, safety and shelter; what was there to complain about? Instead, she walked happily by his side, rambling about the Wonderbolts or her grandfather. Safe Haven returned her comments and conversation, but he kept glancing over his shoulder to where Twilight trotted behind them, concern written across his face.

After Rainbow had worn her voice out with chatter, the stallion slowed his pace until Twilight caught up with him. The two unicorns walked in silence with nothing but the wind to speak for them.

Eventually, Haven decided to try and break the ice with a painfully blunt observation: “You don’t trust me.”

“Trust you?” Twilight replied as she subconsciously took a step away. “You’re an outlaw! How do I know you’re not taking me someplace away from civilization so you can ransom me to the Princess?”

Haven cringed as if Twilight’s words had physically struck him. “Because you’re my friend, Twilight. At least, I consider you to be a friend. I hope you do as well.”

The wind filled the silence with its jeering.

“I understand why you don’t trust me,” Haven continued. “Especially considering what you saw back in Saraneighvo. But I also think you’re being naïve. Life isn’t a book, Twilight. Morals are a lot grayer outside of Canterlot. Just because I’m aligned against my government does not mean that I’m an evil pony. And just because a pony works for the law doesn’t mean that they’re righteous.”

“It’s just…” Twilight shook her head, sending a hundred tiny snowflakes scattering from her hood. “This is all more than I bargained for. I just came to Saraneighvo to do a little research, not get caught up in a bloody, gruesome rebellion.”

Haven sidestepped a little closer to Twilight and breathed a small sigh of relief when she didn’t draw away. “I know, and I’m doing all I can to make sure that you don’t have to get any more tangled in it than you already are. We’ll get you out of here before the month’s end.”

Rainbow Dash had apparently become unsure of where to go, and she quietly dropped back to let Haven retake the lead. Together, the three ponies trotted on in a small wedge formation.

“Haven?” Twilight began. “Can I ask you a question?”

The stallion lightly bit on his tongue and steeled himself for one of the many lethal daggers mares preceded with that statement. “Of course.”

“Where exactly are we going, if we’re not heading south to Stalliongrad?”

Haven released his breath in one relived sigh. “We’re heading west to Coltpenhagen.”

“Coltpenhagen? I thought that town was burnt down in the Revolution.”

“I wasn’t there, but I can tell you that it wasn’t the first time the town’s been burnt down.” As the ponies ascended a rather steep hill, Haven began to separate his words into pairs denoted with a huff between each. “Us rebels kind of made it a base of operations after the Revolution. We should be coming across it any minute now.”

With several last agonizing strides, the trio of ponies climbed the snowy slope and looked out across a shallow valley in front of them. While most of the surrounding countryside was as bleak and as white as ever, one particular smear of inky black ash stood out in stark contrast to the snowy land around it.

Every building was at least half razed, and there wasn’t a wall that had virgin paint unmarred by gray ash. Gnarled and twisted trees and brush added to the dreary landscape as a testament to failed life. On the remains of several charcoal buildings were simple banners worn ragged by the wind and ice and snow. At this distance, it was impossible to see any sort of movement that signified life.

One landmark in particular stood out from the rest of its charred brethren. In the very center of the remains of the town was a looming castle of black stone, even darker than coal. Its ramparts were rounded and withered from age and fire, and the walls were blanketed in thick and heavy lichens. Small piles of rubble lining the base of its walls testified to siege after siege that had plagued the behemoth throughout its life.

“Is that… Onyx Ridge?” Twilight breathed, her eyes growing wider the longer she stared.

Haven shook his head. “I’m afraid not. This is simply called Castle Black. If this ‘Onyx Ridge’ is what I think you’re referring to, we’re about a hundred or so miles east of it. It’s overrun with feral beasts and vargr; both us and the Black Cloaks try to stay away from it.”

“Hey, wait a minute,” Rainbow Dash chimed in. “Coltpenhagen? That sounds a lot like a town from Hurricane mentioned in his journal.”

“You’re right,” Twilight breathed as she pulled out the book. With a quick flutter of pages she located the appropriate chapter. “He mentioned a town called Coal Hagen that the deserter Streak Wing burnt down long ago.”

“Is that so?” Haven asked. “I always wondered why Coltpenhagen was called the Thrice-Burnt City when as far as anypony could tell it had only been burned twice; once during the Dragon Wars and again by Roscherk’s doing in the Revolution. Anyhow, come. There are warm meals and beds waiting for you all in town.”

The trio of ponies began to descend the slope of the hill into the bowl that held Coltpenhagen. As they did so, the air only became colder and the winds fiercer. Even Rainbow Dash seemed to be having trouble resisting the cold despite her pegasus blood. Eventually, they came to a point where Twilight could hardly think with the pounding headache she was getting.

“What… is this?” she asked, raising a hoof to her head. As she did so, she accidentally dropped one of her notebooks onto the snow. She tried to pick it up with her Arcana, but instead of responding to her wishes her horn only spiked her skull with pain that quickly resided into a dull ache.

Even Haven was grimacing as he turned to face Twilight. “It’s something to do with the land. Coltpenhagen’s been a mining town for as long as its been around. They used to just extract coal and shale, but then Frostbite found something else in the ground. I don’t know what it is, but it absolutely thrives off of devouring magic.”

“Void crystals, perhaps?” Twilight suggested. “The Crystal warlords that used to inhabit this land apparently had easy access to them.”

“Sombra’s crystals?” Haven replied with skepticism. “I don’t know about that, and I certainly haven’t ever heard of Crystal ponies living in the Domain before, but Frostbite stockpiled these rocks around town. For what reason we’ll never know why. Roscherk destroyed those stockpiles when he burnt down the town to drive out Frostbite’s soldiers. They say the crystals detonated and scattered ash into the air that leeches off of any creature’s magic. Don’t worry; the pain goes away after a day as your body becomes acclimated to the poison.”

They eventually found their way into what was once a main street. Guiding them past building after abandoned building, Haven wound through the sideroads to a rather large tavern about two streets away from Castle Black. There Twilight could see the soft yellows of muted oil lamps spilling through the windows onto the road around them. She could also hear drunken laughter, something she hadn’t heard for several days straight.

With a knock on the door, Haven unlatched the heavy oak and pushed it open. Warm air and aromatic smells instantly assaulted the weary Equestrians as he ushered them inside. Only after he walked in as well and shut the door did he turn and offer them a smile.

“Welcome to the rebellion.”

-----

“It can’t be,” Hurricane snarled under his breath. Leaving the flag pole behind, he quickly galloped to Pan Sea’s side and peered over the edge. At first, all he saw was gray stone and green fields rolling in the midday breeze. Gritting his teeth, he leaned further over the edge and looked straight down.

Princess Platinum and Clover the Clever were staring back at him with hostility and surprise, respectively. As soon as Platinum saw Hurricane’s face, her features contorted into hate, and she took several steps backwards to try and distance herself from the Commander.

“Commander Hurricane!” Platinum spat as she came to a stop. “What in the blazes of Tartarus are you doing here on sovereign unicorn land?!”

“Unicorn lands?” Hurricane began, his wing crests dangerously pulling away from his shoulders. Although the body language was distinctly pegasus, it carried enough intimidation to accurately convey the threat to the Princess. “By what right?”

Platinum raised a dainty hoof off of the ground and dangled it as some sort of shield in front of her chest as she backpedaled once more. Both her and Clover had started to tremble under Hurricane’s stare, and it took the nervous princess several seconds to steady her voice. “By right of royal decree, in the name of King Lapis and all the great kings before him, these lands are exclusive domain of the Diamond Kingdom and all its citizens. We—”

“You invoke the name of your father as right to claim land?” Hurricane harshly interrupted. “By the divine blessings of the gods, this land and the skies above belong to the Cirran Empire. From now until the end of time, the Legion is sworn to protect this piece of territory as part of its own through blood and steel. And there is no greater Legionnaire than I.” With a shower of sparks from his wingtips, Hurricane accentuated his claim with a threatening display of Empatha.

Platinum took another step back, and a sudden gust of wind alerted her to just how close to the edge of the hill she was walking. Gulping down fear and just a little bit of air, she quickly placed Clover in front of herself with her Arcana. “You mean to attack royalty? How barbaric! Clover, please, discipline this pegasus hothead.”

Clover took one look at Commander Hurricane’s fierce figure and bit down on her lip. “Uh… Princess? I don’t think fighting is the best way to go about it.”

“Clover the Clever!” Platinum exclaimed, her expression turning to one of abject horror. “You mean to abandon this new land we found to the pegasi just to avoid a fight?!”

“Whadda ya mean, your land?!”

All four ponies on the hillside turned to locate the obnoxious voice rising up from the field below. There, awfully tiny from the distance, Hurricane could see two ponies standing next to a flag planted firmly in the mud. Both of them wore earth pony garb, and the larger of the two had the dumbest looking hat Hurricane had ever seen affixed to his head.

“Chancellor Puddinghead?” he murmured to himself. When a second look confirmed his suspicions, Hurricane simply pinched his hoof to his brow and sighed. This was exactly the last thing he wanted to deal with right now.

Ever quick to the point, Platinum turned her attention from Hurricane and Pan Sea to Puddinghead and Smart Cookie. “Chancellor, Representative, just what exactly are you doing here in the sovereign territory of the Diamond Kingdom?”

“The Diamond Kingdom?! More like… uh…” Puddinghead’s eyes searched the horizon for his answer before resettling on the Princess’ regal figure. “More like Shmiamond Shmingdom! Yeah! These fields are all part of the Low Nine-and-Three-Quarters Valleys! No unicorns or pegasi allowed!”

Smart Cookie groaned and buried his face in his hat.

“You can’t make laws in territory you don’t own!” Platinum protested. “You have to have authority and a well-defined nobility to make and uphold laws!”

“Believe me, it takes a lot less than that,” Hurricane countered. With a few slow flaps of his wings, the pegasus fluttered down to Platinum’s level. “Laws are no different from Kingdoms and Empires; without force to back them up, nopony cares what you say or do.” With a very blunt nod to the hilt of his sword, he advanced another step towards the annoying unicorn. “As far as I can tell, I’m the only one here with any means of showing force. Now, I’m going to be reasonable and ask you to go elsewhere and find your own damn land. The pegasi have travelled far enough. This land is ours.”

Although somewhat fazed by Hurricane’s words, Platinum nevertheless trotted right up to him and stood nose to nose with the pegasus commander. “Now you listen here, Hurricane, I am a princess. I answer to nopony except for my father. When I say something is mine, that thing is mine.” Withdrawing with a small smirk to her face, she leered back at Hurricane. “Of course, I wouldn’t understand you barbaric pegasi to understand nobility and royalty. All you know is war and killing each other. Great will be the day when your kind kills itself off with your bloodlust, while us, the unicorns, sit and watch it all from our comfy castles built onto little hilltops like this one.”

“Tell me,” Hurricane replied softly, his words dripping venom. “Do you recall what happened at Coal Hagen? Do you recall what happens if you piss on the honor of pegasi less restrained than I am?”

Down below, Puddinghead had been simmering the whole time. Finally, after being ignored for far too long, his anger boiled over and quite literally launched his hat skywards. “Hey! Stop arguing up there and come down here where I can join in! The earth ponies will not be left out like every other time before!!”

Both Hurricane and Platinum paused their argument to glare at Puddinghead before returning to trying to shout louder than their opponent.

Meanwhile, Clover the Clever, Pan Sea, and Smart Cookie all stood awkwardly in the background by their respective leaders. As the shouting only continued to increase in volume, Clover took a deep breath and forced her way between Hurricane and Platinum.

“Enough!” she shouted as she pushed Platinum away and (attempted to) shove Hurricane back. “Stop bickering like foals! Perhaps if we just calmed down…”

Smart Cookie took a step closer towards the hill, pointedly placing himself between Puddinghead and the rest of the leaders. “I agree. Let’s all just take a deep breath and relax.”

Pan Sea looked at all the ponies separately before meekly chiming in: “I vote for calm.”

Hurricane turned to glare at Pan Sea, causing the pegasus to cower, before returning his steely gaze towards Platinum. “There can be no calm while she’s around.”

Thunder rumbled in the distance, accompanied by a rush of wind.

Platinum hardly seemed to notice as she leaned back into Hurricane’s face. “You’re the one causing all the problems, pegasus. You’re so anxious to take your daily bath in blood that you’ve lost all reasonable thought. Things would be so much easier if you just sat back and bowed to true royalty like you’re supposed to!”

“Hey!” Puddinghead shouted from below. “You’re not MY princess! You’re only the princess of the unicorns! I’m the leader of the earth ponies, fairly elected with absolutely no voter fraud whatsoever!”

“Is that why there was only one name on the ballot?” Smart Cookie mumbled.

“Exactly! Now, if we’re gonna be talking about real authority here, you should just look to me! See? I’ve got the biggest hat out of all of you!”

“Gods save me,” Hurricane whispered before pushing Platinum and Clover aside to walk to the edge of the rocky outcrop. “Chancellor Puddinghead, for the last time, hat size has nothing to do with political prowess!”

“That’s what royal blood is for!” Platinum called out over his shoulder.

“That’s what demonstrating you’re a worthy leader is for!” Hurricane retorted.

“Guys, seriously!” Clover shouted. “None of you are acting like worthy leaders! Just stop and calm down! Maybe we can think this through—”

Clover’s words were lost to her shock as a solid wad of cold ice and snow promptly smacked her across the muzzle. After a few stunned seconds, she shook the snow off of her face and glared towards the ground where Puddinghead was gathering another snowball.

“Ha! About time she shut up!” Puddinghead cheered to Smart Cookie, who was sharing none of the Chancellor’s enthusiasm. Instead the Representative was looking around wildly at the sudden appearance of snow.

“What in the name of…” Pan Sea began as he too looked around him. With a nervous gulp, he, Hurricane, and the rest of the ponies on the hill tilted their heads back to see the sky above them.

Instead of clear blue and cheery sunshine, swirling and angry clouds of gray and black hovered over their heads, spewing snow and sleet onto the ground below. Somewhere, the howling of some sort of demon spilled out across the land.

All six ponies quickly abandoned their arguments to look up in fear at the suddenly gray and dying world around them. In but a few short seconds, the paradise they had been so happy to find had been stolen from them. Now it was swiftly becoming just like the Compact lands. Gray. Bleak. Cold.

As they quickly scrambled for shelter, each one asked their gods why. Nopony received an answer.

-----

Swift Spear started in her bed, a cold sweat running down her face. Her breathing was hyperventilated, and her limbs trembled as she rose up from under the heavy covers. Stumbling out of bed, she managed to make her way to the washroom, where she splashed cold water on her face. It was just a nightmare. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Except this one was out of the ordinary. Whenever she had nightmares, Swift dreamt of the Red Cloud war. Nimbus, Feathertop, the time she was pursued by griffons, all were regular guests in her subconscious mind. Sometimes, even Fire Star would make his way into her head and haunt her dreams. Those intrusions were thankfully few and far between, but even they would have been much more welcoming than what she had just seen.

“Just a dream,” she muttered to herself as she made her way back to bed. Her right wing brushed against the wall as she leaned on it for support. “Just a dream. Just a dream, just a dream, just a dream. It’s not real.”

Even as she settled back into the covers, some maternal instinct kept her awake. She would not find sleep again as she stared at the ceiling while the room gradually brightened in miniscule increments. When the gray light that was supposedly the sun finally pierced through her bedroom window, she blinked for the first time in what felt like hours.

There was a knock on the door, and Swift’s wings propelled her off of the mattress and nearly a foot into the air before she landed uncomfortably on her side. Gathering her frayed wits about her, she spoke to the cloudstone portal with firm authority. “What is it?”

The soldier’s voice on the other side carried no emotion with it. “Imperator Swift Spear, ma’am, Imperator Secundus Cyclone has returned from his mission in River Rock.”

Swift’s wings tensed up. “And Typhoon?”

The noticeable pause felt like an eternity. Eventually the soldier responded noncommittally: “Imperator Secundus Cyclone wishes to meet with you in the throne room.”

Swift Spear wanted to growl at the Praetorian but her worry suppressed it. With a weak grunt, she slid out of bed and walked over to her armor stand. Taking the cuirass off of the mannequin, she carefully slid her wings through the holes in the skysteel and draped the armor over her body. After that, she slid her legs into the shin guards and fastened them down. Next, she stripped the wingblades from the mannequin’s sides and placed the assembly over each wing, taking extra care to fasten down the skysteel scales as tight as she could manage. When that was done, she walked towards a rack hanging on the wall.

The simple wood held several weapons, from swords and wingblades to spears both long and short. With a forlorn sigh, Swift passed her eyes over her husband’s swords on the right until she settled them on a long spear hanging on the extreme left of the carpentry. Lifting the weapon off of its rack, Swift’s neck almost dropped to the floor with the sudden weight of the pure nimbus skysteel in her jaws. With a careful twirl, she tucked the weapon under her left wing and opened the door.

The Praetorian standing outside of her door saluted and stood aside so she could pass. Still troubling, however, was how his eyes followed her as she walked. They watched her every step and read all of her subconscious body language until Swift was finally able to put the corner of the hall between herself and the officer. As she passed more guards on her way to the throne room, Swift took a deep breath and swallowed sharply. The Praetorian was getting restless. Cirra needed Hurricane back now.

The doors to the throne room were already ajar when she approached them, and the Legionnaires standing outside had worried looks on their faces. The steady pacing of angry hooves and the occasional crack of cloudstone from within gave Swift a good idea of what they were afraid of.

“Cyclone!” she shouted. Her voice was commanding, but it did little to stop the raging pegasus inside.

“Damn them!” Cyclone spat as he made his way to another column. With a single punch from his foreleg, he put a crack into the cloudstone. Bits of white vapor escaped as the fiery Empatha running across his wings and limbs melted the mortar. As soon as the column yielded and acknowledged his superiority, Cyclone tore off his helmet and flung it at another column. “Damn them all to hell!!”

Swift winced as the helmet struck the pillar and then stayed there, lodged about two inches into the cloudstone. “Cyclone! Cyclone, what happened?!”

Cyclone turned to look at Swift. There was an incredible amount of hatred in his eyes, but Swift could tell that it wasn’t for her. Furthermore, there was a tinge of hurt behind the flames of his rage that showed through, no matter how much he tried to cover it.

“Typhoon!” he shouted back. His voice wavered ever so slightly at the end, and it sent a chill through Swift’s spine. Her nightmare suddenly came back to her.

“No…” she whispered. With a flutter of her wings, she galloped over to Cyclone and placed her hooves on his shoulders. “No… she isn’t… she’s not…”

“Dead?” Cyclone breathed. Lowering his head, he gave it a few shakes before focusing his attention on his hooves. “No. She’s not dead.”

Swift nearly collapsed. A smile came to her face, but along with it was an empire’s worth of apprehension. “Then what happened? Tell me.”

Cyclone took a deep breath and stepped away. With a few angry shakes of his wings he was able to flick most of the sparks and tongues of fire out of his feathers. Only when he stopped in front of the massive panoramic window and placed his hooves on the sill did he begin to speak.

“We were in River Rock. We went to Star Swirl’s house, no problem. We gave him the book, which he said he could translate for us. He asked for us to stay while he went upstairs to get some notes to work on the language.”

There was a pause, and in that time, Cyclone’s wings suddenly stiffened against his sides. “We sat there for five, maybe ten minutes, waiting for him to return. Just as we were starting to get impatient…” He stopped and lowered his head.

Swift Spear took a step closer to him. “What happened? Cyclone, please, tell me everything.”

Cyclone took a breath and raised his head. Steam began to swirl from his wingtips as his Empatha returned to them. “The bastard betrayed us. The street was absolutely swarming with Diamond Guards. We fought our way out. Tried to fly off, but a unicorn clipped Typhoon’s wing with some magic. I was airborne at the time, and I saw her fall. I… I tried to go after her. I landed and immediately began cutting apart every last one of the horned bastards in my way.” He paused to wet his lips and grit his teeth against each other. “There were too many. I couldn’t get to her. Couldn’t save her. It’s my fault. All my fault.”

Swift bit down on her hoof and looked off to the side. “Star Swirl… he would never… he’s been friends with Hurricane for as long as we’ve been here. I can’t believe—”

Cyclone spun around, his entire body igniting into an inferno. “If he didn’t, why isn’t Typhoon standing here with me?! If he didn’t, how did the Diamond Guard find us and attack us?!” He took several fiery steps towards his mother and spat on the ground. “I don’t care if Star Swirl was father’s friend or his Gods damned uncle! He’s a horn, and when the horns aligned against us, I should have known he was going to as well!”

“Cyclone!” Swift commanded. The fireball of a pegasus turned to glare at her before finally cutting off his Empatha. With a reassuring wing, she touched her son’s shoulder. “I’ll have Twister go and visit King Lapis tomorrow. With any luck, she’ll get this whole mess sorted out, and we’ll get Typhoon back.”

The stallion’s next words were uncharacteristically soft. “Diplomacy is dead, Imperator. We need to get Typhoon back now. There’s only one way that a true Legionnaire does that.”

Swift Spear stepped back and steeled her gaze against Cyclone’s. “No. We will not.”

Cyclone met Swift’s gaze with as much resolve. “They will kill her. If we don’t act now, she will die.”

“No. She will not.”

Cyclone bared his teeth against Swift. When the mare remained unmoved, he closed his lips and gave her a short nod. “Her death is on your hooves.”

Without so much as a second glance, Cyclone pushed Swift Spear aside and walked straight out of the door. The heavy wood closed with a resounding thud, leaving the mare alone inside the throne room.

She finally gave in and collapsed onto the floor, tears streaming down her face.

Outside, Cyclone stopped next to a pair of Praetorians. With a single nod, he turned and pulled two red feathers out of his wing. He handed one to each soldier, and as the pegasi took them they saluted their donor.

“Gather the others,” he commanded. “No more games. If we wait much longer we lose our window.”

The Praetorian Guards saluted with their wings before splitting in opposite directions away from Cyclone. The red pegasus waited until they had gone before taking a deep breath and throwing open the doors to the palace. With a snap of his wings, he lit himself on fire and began to fly towards the south.

As he did so, dark shadows all across Cloudsdale flew up from the buildings to meet him and began to follow.

-----

“Are you sure there isn’t something else around here?!”

Hurricane chomped down on the end of his words and raised a wing across his face in a desperate struggle to keep the sleet out of his eyes. Around him stood the four leaders of the other nations, while Pan Sea hovered in front of a gaping cave entrance.

“Yes sir, I checked everywhere, sir,” Pan Sea shouted through the wind. “There’s nothing for miles other than this cave, and it’s getting awfully cold. I say we just wait it out until the front of the storm has passed, and then we can go looking for new land… sir.”

The Commander cursed and spat at the ground. There was a loud crackling sound and a large clump of ice embedded itself in the snow by his hoof. It was so cold that spittle was freezing over before it hit the ground. Around him, the leaders of the Low Valleys and the Diamond Kingdom were shaking in their outfits.

“Alright,” he called into the wind. “Everypony pile in if you don’t want to freeze to death! We’ll wait out the storm and then I’ll be on my way back to Cloudsdale.”

“And for what reason would you do that, Commander?” Platinum challenged as she stood in front of him. “Don’t you still have to find a new land?”

Puddinghead literally burst up from the ground between the two leaders, sending both stumbling backwards. “Hey! I don’t know what you’re implying, but stop implying that the Low Lakes are yours! They’re sovereign territory of ME!”

Smart Cookie simply walked past the leaders along with Clover and Pan Sea into the cave. “There aren’t even any lakes around here, Chancellor,” he called over his shoulder.

“I don’t care! These fjords are mine! All mine!”

With a glare, Hurricane separated himself from the other leaders and began to walk into the cave. “If either of you survive the night, I must have done something to piss off the Gods.”

“I already know the Gods are punishing me for not raising taxes last year,” Platinum grumbled. “It was a hard decision, but I caved under the pressure and kept them where they were at. I knew that three percent hike would have made all the difference in the world!”

“Heck, I don’t know what the Gods have against me!” Puddinghead chirped as he bounded into the cave ahead of Platinum. “I must not have thrown enough parties for their liking! Do you think I can pull off a ‘This is a cave’ party? Oh, wait, why am I asking you? Unicorns never have fun!”

Platinum growled and briefly bared her teeth before deciding to simply abandon the argument with Puddinghead.

The three leaders entered the cave to find their subordinates clustered awkwardly in the center, each one reluctantly avoiding the gaze of their compatriots. With pointed purpose, each of the three found a side of the cave as far away as possible from the other two and beckoned their companions over.

Not a word was spoken for at least a good five minutes. The only sounds were the howling of the winds through the cave mouth and the breathing of the ponies inside, with the occasional grumble or squeak from the Princess.

After ten minutes, Hurricane stood up and began to walk the length of the cave. His hooves made a steady clop clop clop against the stone to counter the roaring of the wind outside. All the other ponies in the room simply watched him, silent.

A few chunks of hail skittered across the stone floor.

Hurricane slowly made his way to the open maw of the cave and stared into the storm. The blizzard had struck so fast that visibility had dropped to just a matter of feet in little more than fifteen minutes. As he stood there, a chilly gust washed over his body. His feathers made an odd crinkling sound as they brushed over each other in an effort to conserve heat.

After fifteen minutes, Hurricane left the cave entrance and continued to traverse the length of the entire room. His journey took him past Chancellor Puddinghead, who simply glared at the Commander and stuck his tongue out. Hurricane, in response, didn’t respond. He continued onwards, his hooves still etching out the clop clop clop that echoed throughout the cave.

When he neared Platinum, however, the Princess made it a point to recline against the wall and block his path. Hurricane’s lip twitched, and he began to move around Platinum, making sure to cross directly over her legs as he passed.

“Please, Commander Hothead.”

Hurricane paused less than a foot away from Platinum and responded without turning his head. “It’s Commander Hurricane.”

Platinum sneered and placed extra emphasis on clearing her throat. “Please, Commander, could you just stand back and give me my royal space?”

Hurricane twisted one hoof a fraction of an inch away from the Princess. “You mean like this, your highness?”

The venom dripping from the last two words almost melted the stone underneath Hurricane’s hooves.

“Indeed not!” Platinum exclaimed as she jumped to her hooves. With a rough shove, she pushed Hurricane a step back and scowled. “You see this invisible line? This,” she gestured with flailing hooves, “This land belongs exclusively to the Diamond Kingdom! In fact, this very second, you are currently renting unicorn lands for your own safety. And if you continue to irritate me, Commander, I shall have you thrown out!”

Hurricane stepped three paces away and turned to face Platinum. Extending both of his wings, he gestured across the entirety of the cave in one smooth motion. “Do you see all of this? These stone walls are already part of Cirra. If you think differently, then I welcome you to try and take them from me.”

Puddinghead flopped up from the ground and quickly readjusted his hat. “Hey! By the Law of the Hats, I already claimed this entire continent as part of the Puddinghead Confederacy! So how about you all skedaddle!”

“Your ‘Law of the Hats’ is absolutely ridiculous!” Platinum exclaimed. “Unlike earth pony customs, the ways of the unicorns are steeped in thousands of years of rich history and tradition! When a noble makes claim to the land, it is held as true in the omnipotent light of the sun and the moon and stars. No opposing claim can be made against it, for it has already been blessed by Celestis and Lunis themselves.”

Hurricane slowly drew his sword and rested the tip against the ground. With practiced measure, he slowly placed his hooves on either side of the skysteel cross that made up the crossguard of the hilt. “This is not a civilized nation. In Cirra, if you wanted land, you damn well better have been ready to defend it.”

Even before he finished speaking, however, Puddinghead was busy drawing a line into the dirt. As his hoof reached the stone wall, he boldly stepped on the half of the cave he had carved out. “Ya see this?! This is Earth Ponytropolisville! No flying-types or magic-types allowed!”

Platinum growled and sparked her horn to life. With a powerful burst of Arcana, she enveloped Puddinghead’s body in a light blue aura and flung him against the far cave wall. “How dare you try to carve up my lands like a filthy barbarian! If you want a place to stay, how about you let the sovereign leader of these lands lay out lines for you!” Turning to look behind her, she spotted Clover sitting near Smart Cookie and Pan Sea against the far way. “Clover the Clever! Grant the serfs small parcels of land for which the Diamond Kingdom has rented to them in its overflowing generosity.”

With a flick of his tail, Hurricane summoned Pan Sea to his side. “If you even think about trying to silence me with a scrap of stone and soil, we’ll find out if unicorn horns bleed magic or not. I personally think they do.”

“What you’re all forgetting is that earth ponies are the masters of the dirt!” Puddinghead proudly exclaimed. “My representative Smart Cookie of the Mundane Mountains will be happy to find you seating outside of this cave!”

“For the love of…” Smart Cookie muttered. “Chancellor, what is with all the names?!”

Puddinghead cocked his head. “What do you mean, Smart Cookie? I’ve been calling them the Dry Dikes this entire time!”

“Stupidity or not, I think we can all agree that earth ponies shouldn’t be in charge of this new land!” Platinum asserted. “And neither should a group of flying barbarians that will burn it all to the ground in less than a year!”

Hurricane placed a hoof towards Platinum and began to advance. “Careful, Princess. You don’t realize how easy it would be to kill you right now and be done with it. Your father would never know either. He’d simply think it was a bandit or the cold that got you. It’s not like he actually cares whether or not you make it back alive.”

“What do you mean?!” Platinum hissed as she took a trembling step backwards. “Father has only my best interests at heart!”

“Then why didn’t he send some soldiers to accompany you on this journey? I think he knew very well that the princess of the Diamond Kingdoms has quite a bit of coin on her head, and that you’d be going straight through Crystal barbarian territory.”

Platinum clenched her teeth and took two steps towards Hurricane. “He knew I could handle myself! We broke out of Onyx Ridge and tore it apart from the inside!”

Smart Cookie sputtered and spun his head towards the princess. “WHAT?! You were at Onyx Ridge?!”

“Yes,” Platinum answered as nonchalantly as possible. “What of it?”

The Representative stumbled over his words several times before finally making a coherent sentence. “I was at Onyx Ridge too! I was with the Union armies that attacked the fortress and climbed the walls! I opened the gatehouses and let the rest of the army tear the place apart from inside!”

Clover excitedly stepped closer to Smart Cookie. “That was you?! I knew I saw an earth pony on those walls! You were fighting alongside Commander Jade!”

Smart Cookie nodded. “Aye, I was. And then the Chancellor and I helped her kill warlord Halite.”

Puddinghead butted in between the two. “And it was awesome!”

Hurricane raised an eyebrow. “And you all somehow survived that? How in the blazes…”

“Yeah!” Puddinghead exclaimed before invading Hurricane’s personal space and putting his nose within inches of the Commander’s. “And just what exactly did you do, hmm?”

“I killed a traitor.”

“That hardly sounds quite so glorious,” Platinum muttered off to the side.

“Streak Wing killed nearly a hundred soldiers by himself. He could have killed your ‘Commander Jade’ if he had wanted to.”

The conversation stalled and fell flat.

“…Pegasuses are stupid anyway.”

Puddinghead’s comment was enough to resurrect the arguing.

While the three leaders bickered and fought, their respective subordinates sat off to the side, watching. They glanced nervously between each other, waiting for the pivotal moment when blows would be exchanged, and the only armed one amongst them drew his sword.

Before that could happen, a loud cracking noise drew their attention towards the exit of the cave. With a collective gasp, they scrambled away in shock.

A solid wall of ice stretched and twisted across the entrance until it sealed the cave shut.

Clover ran in between the bickering leaders and broke them up, desperately pointing towards the ice. “Look! Everypony, look! The entrance!”

The leaders turned to look at the ice penetrating deeper into the cave from the frozen entrance. With shocked backtrotting, each one separated themselves from the others and came to stand near the edge of the cave wall.

“Damn it!” Hurricane cursed as he slammed his sword back into its scabbard. “Gods above! We’re trapped!”

“You two deserve this horrible fate!” Platinum wailed from across the room. “You’ve done nothing but argue and fight with each other!”

“You’re one to talk!” Hurricane countered, leering at her. “Most of the errant screeching in this cave has come from your mouth!”

“Yeah!” Puddinghead chimed in. “I haven’t been fighting nearly as much as you!”

None of the three leaders noticed as the ice began to climb around their hooves. All they saw was a red haze of hatred, and no matter how much they tried they couldn’t shake it away.

“How ridiculous! A unicorn never stoops to fighting!”

“That’s just because your Diamond Guard is absolutely pathetic! In a real world military engagement, it could never stand up on its own!” Hurricane’s eyes slid towards Puddinghead, not seeing the ice beginning to cover the Chancellor’s body. “Even the idiot Chancellor could raise an army that would make a mockery of it!”

“We don’t need an army to rule!” Platinum shouted back at him. “We aren’t totalitarian, power-hungry barbarians! The noble unicorns have no reason to stoop down to the brutish ways of the pegasi!”

“Yeah, well,” Puddinghead began, “um… unicorns are snobs!”

The three leaders growled at each other until, with a final cracking of ice, they were trapped as still as statues.

Clover, Pan Sea, and Smart Cookie all scrambled away from the ice until they found their backs pressed against each other in the center of the cave. With hideous hissing and popping, the frozen glass only continued to slither its way closer and closer towards them.

“We’re so dead!” Smart Cookie screamed. “So dead! We’re going to get all frozen over just like they did!”

Pan Sea held his hooves together and gestured towards the sky. “Garuda, keeper of the Great Skies, please have mercy on my soul, for I gave my life for the Empire to ensure its safety. Garuda, keeper of the Great Skies…”

Clover meanwhile tried to summon enough mana to her horn to break through the ice at the door. She squeezed her eyes shut and concentrated, her horn growing brighter and brighter with each passing second. She was just about to release it when a torrent of wind inside the cave blew her green mane into her face and broke her focus. Mana dissipated into the air along with hope.

“How in the world…” she began. Her eyes followed the swirling clouds above her up, up, up, until they came to rest on a circuit of thunderheads upon which three ethereal horses raced.

With a collective howl, the horses began to gallop faster, and the storm only worsened.

Pan Sea broke off of his prayers long enough to see the creatures spiraling above him. “What… are those… demons?

“No,” Clover responded with a breath. “They’re windigos.”

“Windigos?” both Pan Sea and Smart Cookie replied in worried unison.

Clover nodded. “Star Swirl the Bearded taught me about them. They’re spirits of the winter that feed off of fighting and hatred. The more hate the spirit feels, the colder things become!”

“Then… this is our fault,” Smart Cookie murmured. “We three tribes… we brought this blizzard to our home by fighting and not trusting each other. Now… now it’s going to destroy this land, too.”

“B-but that doesn’t make s-sense!” Pan Sea stammered. “The tribes have been at each other’s throats for the past five years! Why now?! What do Grabacr’s minions want with us now?!”

“Perhaps our hate was so powerful and for so long that it woke the windigos from whatever plane they slumber in,” Clover said. She flinched as the ice made contact with her hoof, and she broke it free only for its polished sheets to ensnare her other hooves. “And now our bodies will become as cold as our hearts… all because we were foolish enough to hate.”

Around her, Pan Sea and Smart Cookie both stiffened as the ice fastened their hooves to the ground. They struggled briefly, but at the roaring of the demons above, it only continued to strengthen. Soon it had frozen their flanks to the ground, and a chilling numbness swept over their bodies as it began to climb their spines.

After a small sigh, Pan Sea turned to look over his shoulder at Clover and Smart Cookie. “Well… I can say that I don’t hate you two. You’ve done nothing to deserve it. I think you’re both admirable ponies.”

“I don’t hate you guys either,” Smart Cookie said as he pulled his chin away from the ice beginning to wrap around his neck. “It’s a shame; I would have loved to give you all a proper tour of Amber Field someday.”

“And I would have liked to have shown you Castle Burning Hearth.” With a small smile, Clover tried to twist her shoulders against the ice to frame Pan Sea and Smart Cookie in her sight. “But it’ll never be. We’ll never leave this cave to see our homes again.”

“But we’re all friends here, together,” Pan Sea said.

“Right,” Smart Cookie affirmed. “No matter what our differences, we’re all ponies.”

With sad smiles on their faces, each of the three ponies closed their eyes. The ice overcame them, crawling past chins, noses, eyes, and ears. It climbed to the tops of their skulls, finally ending just around Clover the Clever’s horn. With a final few pops and squeaks, another three immortal statues were added to the frozen wastes of the cave.

And all was quiet for a long, long time.