• Published 12th Jan 2013
  • 3,852 Views, 372 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 3: Cursed Snow

Chapter 3: Cursed Snow

“Wait, that Typhoon guy was actually a mare?” Rainbow Dash’s brows creased in thought. “And not only that, but she was also Hurricane’s daughter? I didn’t know that Hurricane had children.”

Twilight set aside her emptied bowl of soup with her magic and relaxed in her chair. “Of course Hurricane had children, but I had never known Typhoon to be related to him. The only child of his I had ever heard of was Princess Platinum III, known as the Warrior Princess. Early Equestrian history is very murky, so we don't know what's really true or not, but the stories say that she was the offspring of Hurricane and Princess Platinum the First. I’m close to labeling that information as false, though. From what I’ve read in his journals, Hurricane and Swift Spear had a really steady relationship, so it makes sense that if any pony was Hurricane’s child it would be Typhoon. And on top of that, Hurricane and Platinum really didn't like each other. The Warrior Princess' story is likely the tale of some popular unicorn noble who believed he was related to her and wanted to throw in a few extra bits of worth to his heritage. Still, we don't know enough to disprove it.”

“What about Cyclone? Didn’t Typhoon say a bunch of times that he was her older brother? How come I’ve never heard of him?” Rainbow flinched at a tug of cold air that pulled on her mane from the surface, and she glared at the open door.

“That’s the funny thing. I’ve never—and when I say never, I mean never—seen anything talking about him or his role. It sounds like he had a fairly important role in Cirra’s Legion, but for him to be absolutely forgotten leaves much to the imagination. This is the first Cirran text I’ve seen referencing his existence, and if anypony should have information on him, it would be the Cirrans.” She grumbled like she was prone to do when a mystery escaped her ability to solve it, and instead she turned to the book for answers. “Regardless, whatever other information there might be about him would be in here.”

Rainbow had gotten up and was intently examining the mechanisms for the door. After a few puzzling seconds, the pegasus found the latch and promptly tugged on it. With the grinding of polished stone sliding across smooth tracks, the doors closed again, effectively blocking off the pestilent cold air that kept drifting in from outside. “Then let’s get back to it. I want to learn more about Typhoon. She seems like a pretty cool mare.”

As Rainbow Dash returned to her seat, Twilight noted the similarities between her friend and the description of the long-dead Praetorian. The same kind of colorful mane and tail, magenta eyes, even the similar construction of their cutie marks—at least from what she had read. She briefly considered mentioning this to Rainbow, but ultimately decided against it. The last thing she needed to do was build connections where there were none.

“Right then. Well, we’ve got plenty of time, and now that you’ve closed the door we shouldn’t have any more drafts in here.” She was happy that Rainbow hadn’t seemed to have lost interest in reading yet, although she dared not say that to the athletic pegasus. “I recognize this date. The Twentieth of Bare Trees, Four Hundred and Twenty-One After Empire. The day the Windigo curse began in earnest.”

-----

There was always something about the skyforges that Commander Hurricane found calming. Maybe it was the rush of hot steam and soot past his feathers, or the Empatha-fueled chill condensers, whose blasts of cold air froze the sweat on his down to provide icy relief. Or perhaps, simplest of all, the forge was the only place where the other pegasi saw him as an equal, not a superior.

Grabbing a pair of tongs from the fireside, Hurricane reached into the pit of bluish Empatha fire that the skysteel was roasting in. Heated skysteel was notoriously difficult to handle, as the pegasus Empatha still hadn’t crystalized the water vapor into its rigid form and the material was very slippery. Dragging the glowing piece of skysteel out of the fire, Hurricane quickly threw it on an anvil and grabbed his hammer.

Shaping skysteel was almost as hard as handling the stuff, and a smith never had more than a few seconds to mold the metal before it would begin to diffuse back into its original cloud form. Giving three swift blows along the length of the steel, Hurricane began to flatten out the edge of a blade for the sword he was making. Seeing the vapor trails leaving the orange surface, he pulled a thick iron box next to him with his rear leg and transferred the weapon blade into it.

Working with skysteel was, for the most part, alternated cycles of heating and cooling, providing barely enough time to shape the metal in between. Focusing his energy on the condenser, Hurricane supplied the Empatha necessary to chill the blade and help solidify its form. After cooling the metal for ten seconds, he opened the condenser and withdrew the steel.

The metal was considerably closer in semblance to a sword than it had been before, but the balance still wasn’t quite right and the blade was nowhere near sharp enough for his liking. Turning back to the blue Empatha fire, Hurricane plunged the blade in again and let it heat.

Out of the corner of his eyes, the stallion saw a pale brown figure round the corner of the building adjacent to the skyforge and walk closer to him. Knowing that the sword would require some time to heat back up to the level where he could work on it again, Hurricane took a rag from his workbench and rubbed the soot off of his face before turning to face the new arrival.

“Busy as ever, I see. Is the soot you trying to appeal to the Low Valleys, or…?” the mare’s voice trailed off into a friendly smile, and the two pegasi met in a loving embrace.

Hurricane laughed softly and shook his head as they separated. “No, Swift, that’s just me working. Cyclone’s got my blood pressure through the roof, and I need some way to expend my excess energy. Besides, I’ve had that piece of storm cloud hanging out in the workshop for long enough, so I figured I’d finally put it to use.”

Swift Spear ran a hoof through her short, brown mane and looked over Hurricane’s shoulder to where the skysteel was glowing a brilliant orange. “About time. You got that cloud from the last hurricane to pass through here—what was it, three months back? At least you’re finally doing something with it rather than just letting it take up space.”

“Heh. That wasn’t just any cloud, that was from the eyewall. That took a lot of effort to drag that one back without getting ripped to shreds in the process. Fun.” Hurricane slowly walked back to the forge with his wife by his side and began to work on shaping the metal again.

“Yes, fun. You disappeared for five minutes in there! I thought the storm had torn you to pieces!” She sighed, then laughed. “I should have known that you’d be able to tame your namesake at least.”

“And now I’m going to have a new sword from it.” Satisfied with the final shape of his sword, Hurricane put it in the condenser and redirected his Empatha from the blue fire to the iron box. Forging skysteel required excessive use of Empatha, and since that magic consumed emotions, it was a good way to cool off after a stressful day.

Swift watched her husband’s work with genuine interest. “What happened to your cumulonimbus sword? I thought you liked that one.”

“I did. The lightning and fire charges in it did wonders on the front line. But it wasn’t my own creation. The blacksmiths made it for me twelve years ago, and the skysteel smithing process has changed considerably since then. I figured it was time to get a new one, and I might as well put some of my personality into it.” Giving the condenser a light tap, Hurricane cracked his neck and looked towards the gray winter skies. “Nopony’s ever made a sword out of the center of a hurricane before, but that was a strong cloud that I wrestled out of it. I think my Empatha suits it.”

Skysteel was an art of many intricacies, and matching a wielder's Empatha with their sword was almost as essential to its creation as shaping the steel itself. Since the production of the metal required an intensive investment of the smith’s Empatha, the weapons made from it tended to be more particularly attuned towards their creator and their preferred magic. Imperator Typhoon’s cirrostratus sword and its icy charge worked much better for her, for example, than Imperator Cyclone’s cumulostratus and the fiery slashes it produced ever would, were she to wield it.

Swift Spear maneuvered herself around Hurricane and kissed his cheek. “That’s good to hear. Would you like to spar, then, and test it out?”

Pushing off the lid to the condenser, Hurricane withdrew his sword and held it up to the light. The blade was a cloudy mix of white and gray steel with intricate etchings running the length of the metal. Directing his emotions into the blade, the Commander felt out the character of his new sword. It was very light but incredibly strong, and he could feel the resonance of fire, ice, and lightning charges in the metal, courtesy of the unique composition of the eyewall cloud. That there were three charges in the weapon excited Hurricane, as most skysteel weapons could only carry one or two.

“Yeah, I could use some friendly competition. That is, as long as you don’t want to get beaten too badly.”

Before he could even laugh, Swift already had his neck in the grip of her headlock. “Please, Cane, wait until we take it to the field.” Releasing his neck, she began to walk towards the sparring grounds. Hurricane chuckled to himself and grabbed his new sword, holding it in his mouth as he walked to test the weight.

Side by side, the two pegasi leisurely trotted around the grounds that the palace was built on top of on their way to the sparring arena. The palace, much like the building it was based off of in Stratopolis, rested on a section of cloud considerably higher than the rest of the city, giving it a commanding view of everything that transpired within its borders. Thousands of pure white buildings lined streets that stretched outwards from the palace in every direction like the spokes on a wagon wheel, cascading in a seemingly random pattern of two and three story buildings right up to the city walls.

The positioning of the city itself was along the border of the northern edge of the mountains that surrounded the Diamond Kingdom and the plains that stretched to the southwest towards Amber Field and the Low Valleys. Being situated on the boundary of two distinctly different topographical environments gave the city strong winds to anchor it in place as well as the raw material needed for the skysteel that Cloudsdale used as its primary export. Cumulus clouds were often trapped against the sides of the mountains, providing ample foundation for the cloudstone mortar that the pegasi used to construct their buildings, while the stronger clouds of all types, especially nimbus and cumulonimbus, were prevalent enough to supply the whole Legion’s need for skysteel.

Other than the ornamental or structural skysteel that the pegasi forged for export, there wasn’t much else that the floating city produced for the other tribes save a vigilant and impressive military that not even the earth pony and unicorn nations united could muster. An entire wing of the city had been dedicated to housing and training the thousands and thousands of legionaries in Cirra’s military, and this section had been symbolically placed in the east, the direction of the lost homeland.

Here Hurricane stopped to watch the dim sun rising through the gray skies, shedding its feeble light over the countryside below. That ever-powerful longing in his heart returned as he watched it, wondering what had become of the beloved land he had once called home. It was morning in Cloudsdale, but thousands of miles to the east it was surely close to noon. Did the sun even rise there anymore, now that its equines had been driven off by the barbaric hybrids? Did the griffon emperor Magnus revel in his final victory at Stratopolis, or was he still there, seething in demonic rage that his enemy had escaped extinction, and planning to find them and wipe the pegasi out once and for all?

Swift Spear saw Hurricane’s distraught expression, and she calmly rested a wing across his back. “It’s okay, Hurricane. They won’t find us, and I doubt the average griffon cares much about whether we survived or not and where we are. Magnus may despise us, and he may spend the rest of his life dreaming about our destruction, but he’s only one griffon. As skilled or as powerful as he may seem, without an army that’s willing to follow his every command, he can’t bring us to our knees.”

Hurricane sighed and looked at the sword he had set on the cloud by his hooves. “I don’t know, Swift, I just don’t know. I see everything that we’ve accomplished since we came here, and I wonder if it could have helped defend the Empire had we known about it then. Skysteel, Empatha, everything that’s a regular part of the Legion now; would it have saved Stratopolis or Nimbus? Would the Empire still be here today otherwise?”

“Hurricane, if you keep thinking like this, you’re going to drive yourself insane. Yes, it was very unfortunate that our smiths didn’t discover skysteel until after we had fled, or that we didn’t understand the power behind Empatha in time to turn the tide of the war. The Senate was so sure of their power and so afraid of change that they didn’t let our smiths and our soldiers experiment like you have. But you can’t dwell on it. Think about everypony who died for us, and let’s honor their sacrifice by living our remaining years to the fullest, not mourning their loss. Come now,” she placed a hoof under Hurricane’s chin and angled his head towards her own, “Silver wouldn’t have wanted to see you like this.”

It took great effort for Hurricane to hold his tears back, and that effort was transformed into freezing the cloud beneath his hooves into ice. “You’re right. I just wish I could see it all one last time. I want to know how he died, and what has become of our lands. To visit the ruins of Zephyrus one last time…” His voice betrayed him, and he coughed to shake the emotion away. “But it won’t be so. It’ll never be. Perhaps it’s for the best that we avoid opening old wounds.” Turning away from the rising sun, Hurricane continued his walk towards the training field.

There was nothing Swift Spear could do or say to comfort her husband, so instead she simply walked by his side. She knew the sparring would be good for him, as it always was. It provided one of the only outlets for the Empatha Hurricane stored within his collected atmosphere, and with the lack of Crystal Pony activity as of late, he needed that release more than ever. Skysteel forging was good for clearing the mind, but actual combat, attuned to the very nature of the pegasus soul, was the best remedy for clearing the heart as well.

The sparring field was a wide stretch of flat cloudstone covered with a springy layer of cumulus that was similar in texture to the grass on the fields below. Situated directly behind the palace itself, the grounds were also home to the training regimen of the Praetorian Guard, as well as numerous festivities for any popular occasion. Now, however, it played host to only two pegasi in the chill of the early morning.

Swift separated briefly from Hurricane’s side to trot towards the weapon rack where her personal armament was carried. There were swords of all colors and sizes lined neatly along the rack, but there was only one weapon that truly interested her. It was a long spear, with a nimbostratus spearhead and a body of pure nimbus skysteel. True to her name, it was her weapon of choice, and the body was curved slightly to improve her grip on the weapon and allow it to cut through the air faster.

Hurricane had already taken his spot adjacent to the centerline and was feeling out the balance of his sword in controlled swings and lunges. Satisfied that he had a basic level of familiarity with his new weapon, he turned his eyes to where Swift was watching him. With a smile, the manila mare fluttered to her spot across from Hurricane and planted the base of her spear in the ground.

“Better watch out, Swift. The new sword feels even better than the old one,” Hurricane quipped, beginning their usual pre-sparring friendly bantering. The blade moved up and down in his jaws as he spoke the words, and he could feel the incredible weightlessness of the solid weapon.

Swift smiled but was otherwise unimpressed. “You said that when you got your first skysteel sword twelve years ago. It didn’t seem to make a difference then, and I don’t think it would make a difference now. You’re still behind, you know.”

Hurricane’s response was an inaudible grumble as he thought back to the scores they kept for their ‘friendly’ competitions. There was only one mare, one pegasus even, that could keep pace with him in combat, and she was standing directly across from him. The last few rounds they sparred she had come out on top, and Swift’s lead on the mental scoreboard was slowly gnawing on him.

“Not my fault. I’ve been having back problems the past few weeks. I’m not as young as I used to be, you know.”

“And you think that I’ll buy that excuse? You do realize that most emperors didn't ascend until they were forty-four. You’re only forty!” The mare, who was thirty-nine herself, stuck out her tongue and teased her husband from across the centerline.

“I’m still replacing that damn mattress anyways,” Hurricane muttered before he suddenly blitzed across the centerline towards his wife.

Despite Hurricane’s sudden attack, Swift Spear was nonetheless ready for it. Spinning her spear across her body, she caught the flat of Hurricane’s sword and repelled his advance, spinning under his airborne form to strike at his exposed chest with the end of her spear. Hurricane twisted out of it, using his hoof to slam on the spear and push it back into Swift’s face. The skysteel pole nicked her ear but didn’t cause any harm to the lithe mare.

The two pegasi settled down on opposite sides of the centerline and stared each other down. They were only there a second before Swift lunged at Hurricane, spinning her spear loosely between her forelegs before finally clamping her jaws around the body of the weapon and jabbing it forward towards Hurricane’s midsection. There was no restraint behind the action, and the spear itself was not blunted in any way; if Hurricane failed to react, it would penetrate his unarmored body and most likely kill him. But that was how they usually practiced, with no holds barred, because they both knew the other was skilled enough to take it.

Hurricane spun to the side to avoid the attack and slammed his sword against the spear as it passed. The action shook Swift’s weapon loose from her mouth, and she had to abandon her spear entirely to avoid the next attack from Hurricane’s sword. Jumping and ducking under the swinging blade, she crouched low and propelled herself straight into the black pegasus’ chest, knocking him over and affording herself the opportunity to retrieve her spear from where it lay in the ground.

The mare slid across the turf, gripping her weapon between her forelegs just as Hurricane scrambled up from where he lay on the cushiony cloud. Seeing the stallion come sprinting towards her, Swift jumped onto her rear hooves and thrust her spear forward with all the force she could muster.

Hurricane saw the spear coming at him, but it was too late for him to roll to the side. Instead, he leapt over the speeding point and Swift Spear entirely, quickly pivoting on his hooves to try and tag her with his sword and claim victory. Swift was trying to reel her spear back in, swinging the weapon in a wide arc across her body as she tried to turn and face Hurricane. He knew that now was his best chance, so he dove forward with his sword held high above his head.

Seeing the incoming attack, Swift transitioned her motion into holding the spear horizontally across her body to block it. Throwing her weight into the counter, she propelled her spear upwards to meet Hurricane’s descending sword and hopefully force him to rebound, providing an opportunity for her to attack. All she needed was a solid hit…

There was a ringing smash as steel collided with steel, but it also brought forth an incredible snap and tingle as if a column of marble suddenly was broke in two. The two weapons had met with so much force that Swift’s spear shattered into splintered pieces of steel where Hurricane’s sword met it. Despite that, the sword was still travelling at a high rate of speed, and the stallion had to choke back on his weapon to turn it away from Swift’s neck. The blade missed her body by a hair’s width, and indeed did shave several short hairs from her shoulder as it passed. The skysteel hit the ground with a resounding crack, and the cloudstone underneath the cumulus turf fractured with the impact.

Abandoning his weapon where it lay embedded in the turf, Hurricane rushed over to his wife. “Swift! Swift, are you okay?!” He wrapped his anxious wings around the lithe mare and examined her side.

“Yeah! Yes, Hurricane, I’m fine.” Swift brushed off Hurricane’s hooves with shaking legs and looked at the shaved patch of her coat. “Cut it a little close there, huh?”

Hurricane gave the mare another strong hug and kissed her neck. “I’m sorry, Swift. I didn’t think that the sword would be able to punch through your spear like that. I’m sorry…”

Swift gave her worried husband a rough shove. “Hurricane, I said I’m fine! It’s my fault, really, I tried to block your strike when I should have dodged.” Laughing softly, she shook her head. “At least we know that your sword’s the strongest weapon I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of weapons in my life.”

Hurricane released a sigh of relief and went to retrieve his sword. Throwing it into the scabbard by his side, he helped Swift Spear back towards the palace grounds. “So… does this mean I won?”

Blue eyes rolled under a brown mane, and Swift flicked Hurricane’s head with her wing.

“Thought so,” was all he said, carrying his smug expression with him.

They were halfway back to the palace when a set of hooves clopped gently on the cloudstone path behind them. Hurricane originally intended to ignore the intrusion, but a familiar, diminutive voice gave him pause in his step.

“Um, sir, I have news from the weather teams.”

The voice belonged to a smallish pegasus stallion with a pale yellow coat and amber mane. He was adorned in legionary armor of an old make, dating back some twenty years to the Red Cloud War. Despite his diminutive size, he was easily thirty-seven years of age, and Hurricane recognized the pegasus immediately.

“Pansy! How are you? The weather patrols been treating you okay?” Hurricane nodded with his head for the stallion to walk with them, to which the uncomfortable pegasus complied.

“Y-yes sir, of course, sir. It’s been pretty good on the southern watch over Amber Field, you know, but—”

“That’s good to hear. I’m glad I appointed you there. We haven’t had any serious problems with the weather for months. Do you like your posting, Pansy?”

Legionary Pan Sea nodded his head in affirmation, too tense and shy to correct the Commander Maximus for slurring his name together like he usually did.

“Good, good. Anything for a member of the Old Twenty-Third. Now, what were you saying? Something about the weather?”

Despite the relatively friendly tone Hurricane reserved for communicating with Pan Sea, who was the last surviving member of Hurricane’s own century when they were both young legionaries in the Red Cloud War, the diminutive pegasus was nevertheless intimidated by his superior. It wasn’t Hurricane personally that frightened Pan Sea, although his title and the authority he carried with him did amplify the effect, but the legionary was genuinely uncomfortable around other equines. He had turned down several promotion opportunities solely to avoid having to accept the burden of commanding other troops, and as such he was the oldest milite in the entire Cirran Legion. That he was one of the few soldiers in the Legion who had actually fought in the Red Cloud War (brief as his service may have been) lent him a level of respect amongst the newer recruits who would otherwise have made life miserable for the poor creature.

“Um, yes, sir, I just—”

“And you don’t have to call me ‘sir’, Pansy. You’ve known me long enough that Hurricane or even just Commander will do.” Hurricane had transitioned his attention towards making sure that Swift Spear got up the steps towards the palace alright, to which the mare slapped her feathers against his nose for worrying over her.

“Right, Commander. Anyways, the weather teams from River Rock report that a, um, disturbance has broken through their ranks.”

“Broken through their ranks? It’s weather, not a flight of griffons. It’s not like Grabacr himself is leading a charge against them.” Grabacr, the Cirran god of the weather, was usually portrayed as a tall, white pegasus with wispy limbs spiraling the clouds to his liking. Quick to anger and slow to forgive, the god was often associated with sudden and immediate disaster, and he was one of the few that the Cirrans still made direct offerings to. The reference to one of the more powerful Cirran gods did little to calm Pan Sea, however.

“Um, not really, sir, I mean, Hurricane, I mean, Commander, but they’re requesting reinforcements to try and contain the storm. They sounded like they wanted, er, the Praetorian”

Hurricane rolled his eyes as he crested the top of the staircase. “Reinforcements? I know lightning storms can be dangerous, but that’s why I assigned the best weather teams to that sector. They should be able to handle an outbreak of rogue winds like that. Just how big is this storm, anyways?”

A fierce wind tore at the cloud near Pan Sea’s hooves, and he nervously shuffled his limbs. “About… that big.”

Hurricane took a frustrated breath and turned to address the legionary. “And what exactly do you mean by—?”

The shrill winds stole the astonished words from his breath.

-----

“I appreciate your concern, representative, but the Legion is justified in its actions! Or would you rather that we take our soldiers off of your streets and let loose the hell we’ve contained within downtown?”

Legatus Twister’s golden eyes were fixed squarely on the face of Representative Smart Cookie of the Low Valleys. The orange earth pony sat flustered in his chair, loosely hanging onto his feathered hat with his forehooves on the table in front of him. His light brown mane was clearly exposed over a pair of angry green eyes, and the pleated collar of his brown governmental suit was ruffled slightly, no doubt in response to the tense events that were transpiring under the roof of the Amber Field courthouse.

“I would rather that the Legion cease this needless bullying of our townspeople! Every day, our citizens are harassed and searched by this rampant and power hungry police force in its search for ‘criminals’. You may feel justified that your soldiers are doing the right thing, but to Amber Field, we’ve simply traded disorganized gangsters for an organized company of villains!”

“For once, I would have to agree with Representative Smart Cookie, Legatus,” began the unicorn ambassador, Bright Sheen. “Legionary meddling has reached such a point in the Kingdom that last week there was a confrontation between the Diamond Guard and a detachment of pegasi directly outside of the castle!”

Twister shifted her hard gaze from Smart Cookie to Bright Sheen and frowned. “Right, and the inability of your nation to keep your own soldiers in line is what worries me the most. The centurion in charge during that incident responded to harassment from several of your privates who were using their magic to interfere with their patrols. The brawl that resulted would have been avoided if your officers disciplined the enlisted and made sure that they left the Legion alone to perform its duty!”

Bright Sheen set his white hoof on the round table and leered at Twister. “Twelve Diamond Guards were hurt in that brawl. Seven of them won’t be fit to return to service for three months, and another two are in critical condition! How do you explain that? Is it common practice for the Legion to beat hapless opponents into submission?!”

“No, it’s common practice for the Legion to kill hapless opponents and drive their nation into submission. Insubordination such as your soldiers exhibited in that event is usual grounds for hanging in the Legion. That the legionaries involved didn’t kill any Diamond Guards, pathetic as they may be, leaves me to commend their actions, not condemn them.”

Smart Cookie tapped his hoof against the table in an attempt to regain control of the situation. “Please, settle down! Legatus, despite how much you support this sort of unruly behavior, it has got to stop! Has it ever occurred to you how much the pegasi have become universally disliked in the past ten years? The gangs that you are trying to ‘protect’ us from have been offering aid to any earth pony or unicorn suffering from ‘police brutality’. If you recall, they tried this kind of scam fifteen years ago when there was little for them to go on. Now, unlike then, they’re making thousands of bits off of it! Ponies are scared of the Legion, and they trust the criminals that you try so hard to put down over the organization that is supposed to make them feel safe! Can you explain that?!”

Twister tapped her hooves on the ceremonial headpiece she held before her as she thought. The design of her diplomatic garb was ironic, she thought, as she was the only member of Thunder Gale’s bloodline who had never wielded a sword in her life. Despite that, she wore an ornate cuirass of onyx and gold coated with wide plates of cumulus skysteel, complete with a short red robe that draped over her left shoulder. The look reminded her of what the Emperor used to wear back in Dioda. Perhaps that was the point.

Military philosophy was never her thing, but here the Legatus felt herself drawing on it for her argument. “Cirra has always fought by the doctrine of strike hard and strike fast, and this is why. When we came here twenty years ago, we were weak, and so we eased what military units we had to spare into policing these lands over the more traditional approach of spending a week or a month driving out all the criminal scum we could find and make the cities inhospitable to them. The Blizzard Revolution of 387 AE or the Social War against Nimbus in 271 AE are perfect examples of how we quashed insurrection and crime within our cities. That we didn’t have the ability, or rather weren’t allowed to besiege these centers of crime initially is the reason why the situation has decayed to what it is now.”

Bright Sheen’s hoof slammed the edge of the table as he stood up in anger. “You rattle off names and places we have never heard of in an attempt to soothe us, but really you only insult our governments and our people! You speak as if raiding a city with fire and steel to drive out crime is preferable to curbing and eradicating its growth over time simply because war is the only thing your accursed race knows! That does not excuse you from maintaining what your part of the Tri-Pony Compact demands that you do; establish order and promote peace! These past few days have proven exactly how much you fail to understand your task!”

Twister had never understood exactly why Empatha works or how a pegasus uses it despite how often her brother had tried to enlighten her on the subject, but she could imagine herself burning away Bright Sheen’s pompously stylized mane and tail with a well-directed application of pegasus magic. But she had a job to do, and she couldn’t let herself get worked up over the unicorn’s superiority complex.

“We have tried our best to maintain peace, but the spiraling of crime rates left us with no choice but to tighten down our patrol regimen and contain the gangs to the point where we could hopefully wipe them out with a single fell blow. Although, this practice is hard to pursue when we have to deal with problems such as a resistive populace and food shortages.” The last words were hissed through her teeth, and Twister’s golden irises threatened to rip Smart Cookie to shreds and use the remains of his coat as a rag to clean her feathers on.

“You speak as if those are both problems caused by the way that the Low Valleys are governed, as if it is my fault and the fault of the Chancellor. Look to yourself, Legatus. The populace responds to how they are treated, and the staggering growth rate of the pegasus population has strained whatever reserves of food that we have for the winter months! Just what do your mares do up there, anyways?!”

Smart Cookie’s appalled face was enough to bring a slight giggle to Twister’s lips. “Make up for the population we lost during the war twenty years ago, mostly. Our stallions are very compassionate.” Enjoying the disgusted looks from her two peers, Twister continued. “We once numbered fifteen million across the entirety of Dioda; maybe one day we’ll surpass that.”

It took a second for Smart Cookie to get his thoughts in check, and even then he still stammered out his response. “Y-you’ll never be able to do so if we run out of food! Half of all the food we produce goes to Cirra alone, half! Last year we cut it dangerously thin with the supplies we had left by the end of winter. I doubt we’ll be able to pull through again, unless Cirra cuts back on its consumption!”

“Pegasi have a faster metabolism than earth ponies or unicorns, so we need more food. Having an extra set of limbs requires an extra intake of calories.” Here, Twister opened her soft, brown wings and fluttered them gently for effect. “We already limit our consumption as best we can, which is as much as the earth ponies or unicorns eat in the summer months. Anything less and our feathers start to fall out.”

“Then maybe you can try growing your own food, damn it!” Bright Sheen shouted. “The Diamond Kingdom supplements its intake of food with plant roots that we grow along the banks of the river, so I see no reason as to why Cirra can’t adopt the practice as well!”

“We have tried, ambassador, but even then it is not enough. We have a few farmers who do the best they can on the silty fields under Cloudsdale, but most of our stallions prefer more honorable lines of work. Not only does the Legion need soldiers, but it needs smiths who can work the skysteel and engineers to expand the city. We simply don’t have the population to support farms on our own. If the Compact did not prohibit us from hunting, then we would not even be having this discussion!”

Smart Cookie and Bright Sheen were both appalled. “How could you even think of doing something like that?! Ponies shouldn’t be eating cows or pigs! It’s just…wrong!” The orange earth pony stuck his tongue out in disgust, while Bright Sheen looked like he was going to vomit.

“What? Surely you’ve heard tales of how Cirra used to get food back in Dioda. We aren’t as skilled of farmers as you earth ponies are, and meat was a readily available source, rich in protein and good for a developing legionary's muscles.” Seeing that her company was inches away from needing to put the meeting on recess and clearing their stomachs, Twister sighed and took a drink from the glass of water in front of her. “I don’t really see what the problem is. Cows aren’t even that smart.”

The representative of the Low Valleys placed a hoof to his forehead. “They’re still living creatures. But enough! Why are we bickering about this? We’re supposed to be discussing reforms on our policies so that we can find some way to get through the winter without ripping each other to shreds!”

Bright Sheen used his magic to levitate his drink to his lips. Setting it down, he gently touched the tips of his hooves together and leered over them at Twister. “I’m all for peace and compromise, but let me make this one thing clear. The Diamond Kingdom will not, and I repeat, will not tolerate any more of these kinds of confrontations between our two tribes. If another were to break out…”

“Then what, Ambassador? Tell me! I would very much like to know what kind of threats I should be reporting back to the Commander when this meeting is over.” Twister saw the slightest shift of Bright Sheen’s eyes, but she knew that she had shown him Cirra’s cards. Regardless of what he thought of his own nation, the threat of pegasus military intervention was now plainly laid on the table.

The unicorn’s throat bobbed as he swallowed nervously. “If we were to have another kind of confrontation between the Legion and the Diamond Guard, then the Kingdom will have no choice but to cease the export of manufactured goods to Cirra. We would also tariff skysteel and rainbow imports at thirty-three percent. You would be economically sanctioned, and Cirra would collapse without us.”

Twister flicked her wings in annoyance and slouched back in her chair, forcing the congregation to wait on her response. She could tell Bright Sheen’s heart was pounding, even if he was doing a remarkably good job of keeping his features controlled. Smart Cookie, on the other hoof, was seconds away from having a panic attack. He felt like the peasant caught in the power struggle between two titans, which at this point wasn’t too far from the truth. He gnawed on the edge of his hat while he waited for the mare’s response, unsure of what she would say.

With a short laugh and a slight curving of her lips, Twister leaned forward and gave Bright Sheen a pleasant smile to accompany her ultimatum. “War is always good for the economy.” Then she returned to her seat and decided to trace the intricate carvings in the ceiling with her eyes while she waited for the unicorn ambassador’s rebuttal.

“Please, everypony just stop!” Smart Cookie burst out, slamming his hoof against the table. The action caused Bright Sheen to nearly jump out of his seat while Twister raised an interested eyebrow in the earth pony’s direction. Collecting his breath, he began to speak slowly and softly. “We have to stop this right now. This was supposed to be a meeting for peace, to rebuild unity amongst our tribes! Instead, we’re threatening each other and moving ever closer to the cliff! Once we’re over the edge, there’s no turning back!”

Twister sighed and set her hooves down on the table in a business-like manner. “Under normal circumstances, I would be compelled to argue that the Representative’s metaphor is irrelevant to any creature with wings, but I agree. Despite how callous or warlike I may seem to you, friends, the last thing I want is for our tribes to get tangled in a bloody conflict, especially in the cold of winter when supplies are already low enough as it is. I am completely interested in developing some sort of compromise that will see us all through these next few months, but I must put the best interests of the pegasi first and foremost. We will scale back our involvement in Amber Field and River Rock if and only if our shipments of food and material continue to arrive in a timely and complete manner. If anything is deemed amiss with a shipment, say, two bushels of wheat are inexplicably missing or half of the lumber we ordered is rotten, we will not hesitate to intervene and complete the shipments ourselves. The pegasi are willing to play along, but like it or not, we are going to get what we need one way or another.”

Bright Sheen and Smart Cookie both nodded, and Twister released a stressed breath of her own. “Good. Now that that’s over with, what else is there for us to discuss?”

Smart Cookie pulled out a scroll from one of his pockets and opened it on the table. “Right. We do need to talk about restructuring the Cirran patrols in Amber Field—”

“And River Rock,” Bright Sheen added.

“Yes, and River Rock as well.” Smart Cookie continued. “We also need to discuss how we’re going to ration out the remaining food between our equines, as well as discussing the economics aspect of the winter shipments…”

A massive gust of wind shook the courthouse to its very foundations. The windows howled with the force of the frigid air trying to break in, and the noise drew the heads of the three diplomats away from the table.

“Blasted noise! What sort of storm is that?” Bright Sheen wondered aloud, turning in his chair to look out the window. Twister, being seated closest to the glass, had to turn completely around to catch a glimpse of the storm outside. When she did, her jaw dropped in alarm.

“By the Gods… It’s as if Grabacr himself came down to curse us.”

The skies were turned a horrible shade of gray, and clouds the size of mountains hurled their snow at the lands below. The winds tore their way through the countryside, ripping the roofs off of several poorly constructed buildings directly across from the courthouse. Hail clattered noisily against the windows, threatening to break the frigid glass under its ferocious assault. In only a few short minutes, nearly a foot of snow had accumulated outside of the courthouse window. Twister felt her feathers shake, and she flattened her wings against her sides for warmth. There was no better thermometer than a pegasus’ wings, and Twister’s told her that the air had dropped nearly twenty degrees in a matter of seconds.

“Sun and Stars…” Bright Sheen muttered under his breath. “I’ve never seen a storm like that.” As if to accentuate his point, a demonic shrieking seemed to fill the valley, stretching far across the now frozen plains that surrounded Amber Field in every direction.

“Then may Mobius cast his mercy over our skies,” Twister prayed.

In the premature night, the only thing that answered her was an onslaught of snow and the howls of ethereal creatures high above the surface of the world.