• Published 12th Jan 2013
  • 3,864 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.

  • ...
6
 372
 3,864

Chapter 4: Heated Talks

Chapter 4: Heated Talks

Realizing that it would be foolish to remain in an underground crypt cut off from the rest of the world in the dead of the Stalliongradi winter, Rainbow Dash and Twilight gathered what books they could and retreated to the modest warmth of nearby Saraneighvo. Even that city, the most distant of the three on the landmass from the epicenter of the Windigo curse that continued to plague the ancient tribal lands, was viciously cold. With temperatures that were consistently twenty degrees below freezing in the wintertime, travelling the two miles from the buried ruins to the city on the frozen coast was a day’s journey. At least it was warmer than Stalliongrad’s fifty-below winters.

Saraneighvo was old, and its weathered buildings and walls were more than happy to tell the story. The tallest of its structures at three or four stories were badly scarred by scorching dragon flame and blistering ice, and anything that exposed more than half its weight to the terrible winds listed heavily and threatened to collapse at any moment. But in comparison to the other two cities on the landmass, Stalliongrad and Trotsylvania, it was quite recently built.

Rising structures of ornate design dating back a thousand years proclaimed the glory of the frozen city on the glaciated coast, but the impoverished inhabitants knew that the heralds spoke only lies. Whatever gold Saraneighvo had once seen was squandered within a few short years of its brief rise to power, and soon the jurisdiction of the city was once again swallowed by the oppressive weight of the capital to the south that the original settlers had tried to escape from. Many of the more sensible ponies retreated back to the nominal shelter the valley walls provided Stalliongrad, but the more stubborn carved out a hard life on the blustery shores where the winds frequently topped forty miles per hour.

Stopping in at a local tavern (the only reasonably profitable profession in the frozen north, as what is a Stalliongradi without his vodka?), Twilight and Rainbow sat huddled by one of the many fireplaces struggling to repel the frigid air that seeped in through myriad cracks and separations. They each had a decent meal laid out in front of them, consisting of some sort of potato dish, if Twilight were to take a guess, and vodka in a modestly-sized mug ‘for the outsiders’, if her limited knowledge of Stalliongradi could decipher what the bartender muttered under his breath. Then again, her limited knowledge of Stalliongradi was based off of a further limited knowledge of the similar Draconic language, so her interpretation was likely too forgiving and polite.

At the urging of the more friendly locals who happened to know the slightest bits of Equiish, Twilight was trying to finish the rest of her drink. Lured on by promises and encouragement that the alcohol would warm her blood against the frigid air when she would have to depart, she brought the mug to her lips again and took a sip. The smell was dreadful, and the taste wasn’t much better. If she could have gotten a tankard of piping hot cider, she would have had no problem finishing it off, but the vodka was too much for her. At least Rainbow Dash, on the other hoof, seemed to be taking the strong alcoholic drink just fine.

Letting out an unruly belch, Rainbow set down her mug and flared her wings to trap the heat of the fire between her feathers. The tavern was loud, but just soft enough that they could hear each other without having to worry about being overheard. Watching the embers spark and dance between sheets of orange and red, the blue pegasus spoke the first words that either of them had shared in at least half an hour.

“So all this cold weather… it’s still caused by that Windigo curse from all that time ago?”

Realizing she could do no more damage to the alcohol remaining in her mug, Twilight set the wooden tankard aside and assembled her arsenal of books before her. “Correct. The reconciliation of the three tribes stopped the spread of the curse, but it couldn’t break it. Their homeland was already too far lost to be recovered, and it sure hasn’t gotten any better in the years since. Racial hatred in Stalliongrad and its holdings is only marginally less than the near-riots that the tribes had to live through day after day with the onset of the curse.”

Rainbow released a low whistle and sank further into her wooden chair. “Funny to think that ponies still live here despite this cold. I mean, I’m all for the winter coolness and everything, but even this is extreme.” Her wings were badly shaking despite the heat she was trying to soak into them, and Twilight had to feel sorry for her pegasus friend for a moment. Being able to always tell the temperature and magnetic north would certainly be useful abilities in flight, but grounded in the extreme cold, those natural instincts proved more annoying than anything else.

“Give it a few more years, and maybe they won’t have to. I know that the son of the Tsar, Foresight, is trying to utilize the magic of the Crystal Empire to repel the cold winds that plague this land. I can’t imagine something of such a scale being completely pulled off, mind you, but the idea is interesting.” The unicorn relaxed and turned to look out the thin eastern window to where the frozen seas were beginning to succumb to the black of night. How many times did pegasus eyes watch that horizon, eight thousand years ago? Although she could certainly postulate the answer given census figures from the time, Twilight decided against it. There were better times to worry about such meaningless data, like when her brain wasn’t sloshing through what little alcohol she had consumed.

Gathering up their belongings, Rainbow and Twilight retreated to the small room they had rented for their stay in Saraneighvo. Aside from two beds, a desk, and a cracked window looking over the sea and the icebergs that drifted by, it was absolutely bare and devoid of anything of value. Spreading out their notes and findings from the brief excursion into the depths of the mountains, the two Equestrians huddled around the pine desk as they prepared to delve deeper into the story.

Flipping through the pages of the book, Twilight found the thin bookmark she had stuck between two when they left the crypt. “Here we are. This is about where the Hearth’s Warming Eve pageant picks up. The Twenty-fourth of Bare Trees, Four Hundred and Twenty-One After Empire. The three tribes meet to discuss what must be done in the face of the wintry scourge.”

-----

The storm overtook the Diamond Kingdom and the Low Valleys in little more than an hour, and the fierce winds threatened to rip Cloudsdale to pieces. By the end of the first day, nearly two feet of snow had accumulated. That number quickly climbed to four by the end of the second, and Amber Field ground to a halt as the inhabitants struggled to dig themselves out. River Rock was drowning in snowfall, with castle Burning Hearth the only structure to escape the suffocating white crystals with how it clung to the side of the valley. Cloudsdale was free from the worst of the snow, as it hovered several hundred feet above the storm clouds that dashed themselves to pieces against the adjacent mountain range.

The temperature had taken a frightful plunge as well, dropping by forty degrees within minutes and continuing to decline at a slower rate over the next few days. The sudden appearance of subzero temperatures had flash-frozen whatever crops the earth ponies had grown as their winter supplement, and great care had to be taken to heat the granaries and protect the reserves they had left. With the snow so high that it was nearly impossible to walk, such a task was easier said than done.

As such, the already tenuous balance the tribes had reached on dividing the food for the winter completely collapsed, resulting in a free-for-all for whatever crops remained. The earth ponies, being the producers of the food, hoarded all they had grown, while the unicorns and pegasi set about the rough business of acquiring their rations through force. The smaller outlying villages of the Low Valleys had been ransacked by marauding regiments of legionaries and companies of the Diamond Guard, and as the two militaries began to entangle in their search for food, bloodshed was a not too distant possibility on the snowy horizon.

An emergency summit between the tribes was called for, but with the horrible weather it took three full days for the representatives from the Diamond Kingdom to claw their way out of the valley and over to the plains where Amber Field sat. Obviously not trusting the legionaries Hurricane provided for the meeting, several top officers from the Diamond Guard accompanied the diplomats and filled the interior of the courtroom with their diamond spears and halberds. Directly across from the unicorns stood the Praetorian’s two more infamous Imperators with their skysteel swords and wingblades. The two parties regarded each other with narrowed eyes, completely ignoring the miserable earth pony constables that Representative Smart Cookie symbolically appointed to watch over the Low Valleys gallery in response.

The meeting was to take place in the parliamentary building of Amber Field, a rough structure of stone and thatch that was somehow well-built enough to withstand the frightening winds that sought only to scrape all traces of ponykind off the lands it roamed across. A single wide table was planted in the center of an open room, with three chairs arranged for the leaders who would in short time emerge from their respective doorways. The gallery above was rapidly filling with eager ponies ready to bear witness to this historical meeting, although they remained rigidly divided to their appropriate sides. Were it not for the warmth that their bodies generated, the different races might not have even sat in the same room as each other.

Typhoon and Cyclone stood on either side of the doorway which their father was due to emerge from in a few minutes, their backs incredibly straight and their posture perfect in the absolute archetype of the disciplined legionary. Wings flared slightly to reveal the blades along their crests and eyes focused dead ahead, the two pegasi stared down their unicorn counterparts on the opposite end of the room. As mighty as the two Diamond Guards seemed to be with their massive halberds of diamond and amethyst, Typhoon could see their eyes darting across the room as they attempted to avoid eye contact with her and Cyclone. Were she not in control of herself, the mare would have laughed at them; Cyclone would not have needed such restraint in any case.

“How much you want to bet I can get the big one to jump out of his armor?” Cyclone whispered across the doorway. Seeing the faintest hint of a grin form on his sister’s lips, the stallion slightly lowered his head and flexed his wings to catch the unicorn’s attention. As soon as he did, all it took was one small jump in the other’s direction to cause the gray unicorn to scramble backwards in fright. Typhoon’s muzzle crumpled in stifled laughter, and a predatory smile materialized on Cyclone’s face. The other Diamond Guard was preoccupied with helping his companion up from the floor, but as soon as they were both back on their hooves, Typhoon took the time to note that their halberds were lowered several degrees towards herself and her brother.

“I see that you’re having fun making our unicorn friends feel comfortable,” whispered a voice from between the two siblings. Typhoon flinched at the sound of Swift Spear’s voice, but she dared not break discipline now to glance at her. Releasing a lighthearted breath, Swift shook her head and took the time to observe the full galleries above. “When your father enters, you two are relieved from your postings. There are a lot of big names gathered under one roof, so I’ll need your eyes to find trouble before it shows its face. The last thing we need is an assassination attempt when this is our only shot at brokering peace between our tribes.”

Cyclone and Typhoon both gave imperceptible nods in response. “Good. I’ll be down here with Hurricane. If anything happens, don’t feel too bad if you have to trash the place to stop it. This building’s little more than earth pony stone and rubbish anyway.” Seeing a company of trumpeters moving to their positions, Swift gave a quick bob of her head and withdrew to the room where Hurricane sat ready and waiting.

Representative Smart Cookie quickly stepped up to the platform in the center of parliament and adjusted his hat before coughing nervously into his hoof. Three groups of eyes—one friendly and two hostile—settled over his orange coat. At least his appearance silenced the muttering and bickering in the gallery above.

“Fillies and gentlecolts!” Smart Cookie began. “The Low Valleys are ever so honored to welcome our distinguished guests from Cirra and the Diamond Kingdom to Amber Field. I trust that I am not the only pony who wishes for us to set aside our differences this day and come together in the name of peace and harmony.” There was mumbled discontent amongst the civilians, and the Representative bit his lip in worry. Regardless, it was still his duty to provide the other tribes their due welcome.

“Well then, without further interruption, let us start by giving our fellow ponies a hearty reception. First and foremost, from Unicornia and the Diamond Kingdom, we welcome her highness, Princess Platinum, daughter of the good King Lapis!”

There was a blast of trumpet fanfare, and the regal Princess Platinum strutted towards the table in all her glory. Her immaculate white coat and shiny purple mane were absolutely blinding, and a long, purple robe with white fur hemming trailed behind her as she walked. Her horn and the crown of silver and amethyst adorning it were pointed skyward, and how the self-obsessed unicorn saw where she was going was anypony’s guess. Her arrival raised a chorus of cheers and whistles from the unicorn section of the gallery, although the opposing pegasus faction hissed at her approach.

When Platinum had taken her place at the long table and the muttering from above had quieted down, Smart Cookie gently tapped his hoof against the ground and braced himself for what he knew was coming next. “From the mountains of the north, we welcome the great Hurricane, master of the skies and Commander Maximus of mighty Cirra!”

Fanfare again preceded Hurricane’s entrance, and Typhoon watched from the corner of her eyes as her father walked towards the table with a deliberately slow and authoritative gait. Wearing his onyx armor plated with void crystals that Star Swirl the Bearded had given him so many years ago, the black pegasus was dreadfully intimidating from under his helmet. His magenta irises slid across the room as he moved in perfect silence, with the exception of the creaking the scales on his bladed wings produced. Pausing by his seat at the table, Hurricane flared his wings to Platinum in the formality of a salute, although Typhoon could tell there was a layer of menace behind it meant for the mare across from him.

After several failed attempts at calming the roaring pegasi that cheered on their leader below, Smart Cookie turned his expression into a silent plea to Hurricane to silence them. With one stomp of his bracer-shod hoof against the wooden floor, the gallery instantly quieted. The sudden transition from raucous noise to dead silence was extremely jarring for the Representative, and he nervously cleared his throat before continuing on with the introductions.

“Last, but most certainly not least, we have our most generous host and steward of all of the Low Valleys, our very own Chancellor Puddinghead!”

If anything, Hurricane would remember the Chancellor’s arrival as one of the most painful experiences of his life, even worse than having to climb the thousand steps of Stratopolis with a broken leg. There was nothing positive he could find about the earth pony leader. Puddinghead was slightly larger than the average earth pony and possessed a dirt colored coat with a slightly darker mane and tail. On top of that, however, was a hideous outfit of browns and yellows adorned with extensive frills and ruffles that no sensible pony would ever consider wearing. Hurricane wasn’t much for fashion, but he liked what looked sleek and efficient, like the plating of his armor. Platinum, on the other hoof, looked like she was about to keel over on the spot. Completing Puddinghead’s frightening attire was a wide hat that played into his namesake with a bowl of pudding balanced in the center.

As the Chancellor bounced up to his spot at the table between Hurricane and Platinum, the earth ponies above him gave a half-hearted cheer. It was abundantly clear to all but Puddinghead that they only tolerated his chancellorship, as the primary functions of the Low Valleys were divided amongst a group of representatives, which Smart Cookie himself was part of. In reality, the young orange stallion was closer to an actual leader in terms of power than Puddinghead himself was. To the Low Valleys, the son of the late Muffintop was little more than a figurehead who inherited his position from his father.

When all three leaders were gathered around the table, Smart Cookie gave a nod almost to himself and stepped away from the platform to disappear under the gallery. He wasn’t the only one to leave the room. Towards the eastern side of the assembly floor, Cyclone and Typhoon glanced to each other before stalking through their doorway and past Swift Spear, who would be watching the proceedings from the side.

“Well,” Typhoon began as soon as they were out of earshot, “think anything interesting will happen?”

Cyclone paused by one of the frosty windows and stared out into the howling blizzard that raged outside. The sun was invisible from the earth, and only a dull, gray glow showed it was still there. To the superstitious pegasus race, it only seemed like more and more proof of Grabacr’s Descent was building with each passing day.

Blowing air out the side of his mouth and flexing his wings, Cyclone began to ascend the steps to the upper levels. “If anything happens, Ty, then I’ll be damned.”

-----

The tension alone would have been enough to heat the chamber as the three leaders cast distrusting eyes over each other. Up above, their respective races did the same, although with breathless silence. The only noise present was the crackling of logs in the redundant fires that lit the hearths in the room.

Commander Hurricane moved first, taking the helmet off of his head and setting it on the table next to him. Raising a hoof into the air, he waited while his counterparts copied his actions. When all three had shed their signs of authority and were ready to swear their honor to the meeting, Hurricane began the Cirran prayer of honesty.

“Under Celeste’s sun and Lūn’s night, may our proceedings here be conducted in honesty and sincerity, lest our thirst for power and advancement leave us grounded and rend our wings to dust. Let our words be true and our resolve firm, and guide us through the dark to sunnier times.” Setting his hoof down, Hurricane sighed and flexed his shoulders. It was going to be a long day.

“Now, let’s start with the basics. A blizzard the likes of which none of us has ever seen before rips across the land, freezing the Low Valleys and the Diamond Kingdom and wiping out whatever food that you two have,” began Hurricane. “First and foremost, food reserves need to be divided. Perhaps we should—”

“Excuse me, Commander, but who put you in charge of this meeting?” Princess Platinum interrupted. “I think we should first address why it is snowing so hard in the first place. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I do believe that one of Cirra’s primary obligations as per the Tri-Pony Compact that you signed, Hurricane, was to keep the skies clear of frightful weather such as this!”

Hurricane’s face contorted into a furious scowl as he was interrupted by the one pony he genuinely despised. “Do you take me for an idiot, Princess? I know very well the contents of the Compact—”

“Then how did this blizzard appear, Commander? Only if you useless pegasi failed to disperse the clouds would such an event—”

This time it was Hurricane’s turn to cut off Platinum. “Weather teams were dispersed, Platinum, and they failed to stop the storm! Winds gusting to hundreds of miles per hour and lightning strikes were just some of the obstacles that prevented them from completing their task!” He ground his teeth forcefully as he leaned back into his chair. “Forty-two Cirrans died before the teams were forced to pull back. There is nothing we can do about it.”

Chancellor Puddinghead, who had until this point remained silent, added his own bubbly and hyperactive voice to the conversation. “Well then if you pegasusususes can’t do anything about it, then maybe the unicorns and their freaky magic should do something!”

Hurricane’s eyes glinted as he leaned forward, happy to have a point of attack against Platinum. “The Chancellor is right, princess. If the unicorns are so powerful that they can move the sun and moon, as you wish me to believe, then why not hold the sun in place at high noon and let its heat burn away this storm?”

The white unicorn flinched, but she bared her teeth and met Hurricane’s steely gaze with a glare of her own. “You dare mock the Diamond Kingdoms with this heresy? Everypony knows that we cannot hold the sun in place! It takes an incredible amount of Arcana to merely set it in motion each morning, and we cannot overcome that force in midday, lest we knock it out of the sky and bring it down on us all! Besides, we are no fools. While the world may be blessed with daylight on one side, on the other it is night. We would never force an eternal night on wherever the opposite of this side happens to be simply so that we may warm up a little!”

“Hypocritical words coming from one of the most selfish mares I know,” Hurricane retorted. “Where is your father? I would much rather speak to a unicorn that knows sense rather than a horn such as yourself.”

Platinum’s cheeks were overcome with a flush of red anger, but a spark of sadness and worry blinked in her eyes. “The good King Lapis is… sick. He was unable to attend this meeting, so he sent me in his stead. Still,” she fluffed up to her usual pompous air, “I speak with his authority, and the power to make decisions affecting the whole of the Diamond Kingdom rests in my hooves.”

“If we can’t do anything about the dumb storm, then we need to figure out how we’re going to divide up our food,” Puddinghead offered.

“I agree. Cloudsdale’s granaries are nearly empty, and until the weather passes, we need to have a secure supply of food if we’re going to keep up our duties. Now, I’ve sent regiments out to some of the neighboring countryside to find food, but we’re still reliant on our regular quotas from the Low Valleys if we’re going to survive.”

“Hey, we’re doing our best with what we’ve got, mister Hurricane, but you flying-types eat soooooooo much food that we can’t keep up!” There were angry mutterings from the pegasus gallery in response to Puddinghead, and the other two races glared at them from their respective sections. “Us earth ponies need to eat too, and it doesn’t help us out any when your soldiers raid our towns and take what little we have left by force!”

“I agree with the Chancellor,” Platinum interjected. “Cirra has become so sure of their strength that they think they can bully the other two tribes around to get what they need. Just yesterday, one of our companies was attacked by a regiment of your horrid Legion, killing seven unicorns. While the earth ponies may be pushed around in such a manner, the Diamond Kingdom will not stand for such actions!”

“Then maybe your Diamond Guard should not be trying to raid the earth pony storehouses that hold Cirra’s shipments of food if they expect to get away with it next time.” Throwing a scroll across the table to Platinum, Hurricane planted his hooves on the wood and locked the mare in his glinting eyes as she read the report. “Learn not to stick your nose where it hurts, Princess, for this won’t be the only time Cirra responds with force to actions such as that.”

“Can we stop acting like I’m not even here!” Puddinghead shouted. “This incident happened in one of our towns, and the conflict caused damage to property in addition to several bushels of wheat suddenly going ‘missing’ from our granaries! Both of you need to answer for this, or else!”

“Or else what, my dear Chancellor?” Platinum purred to the stallion. “The Diamond Kingdom is more than willing to put aside our weapons and work together with the Low Valleys in the face of this… unchecked Cirran aggression.”

“Every time I speak with you, Platinum, I always hear the same things,” seethed Hurricane. “Always quick to blame the pegasi for everything that’s gone wrong, always quick to take a stand against us for something we did or didn’t do. Unless we’re catering to your every whim, you always seem to find something that’s wrong with how we operate.”

A chorus of rough yells and shouts erupted from behind Hurricane as the pegasus gallery expressed their hatred for the princess that dared curse their name. When the shouting was answered by yells from the unicorn gallery, Platinum’s horn glowed a light-blue as she leaned forward to answer Hurricane. “You pegasi have no respect for authority! Numerous times have I expressed my wishes to you or your sister, Commander, and never have I seen them carried out! Frankly, I doubt the capacity of the pegasi to do anything they’re told!”

Shouts of ‘worthless horn!’ and other derogatory remarks answered Platinum from the Cirrans in the gallery. Hurricane was content to let them curse her for a few seconds before he finally opened his wings and silenced them all. “They do what they’re told from real authority, Princess. Cirra does not answer to you and it never will, and the sooner you get that idea through your thick skull, the better. We will not be brought under jurisdiction of the Diamond Kingdom as you seem to have brought the earth ponies—”

“We don’t answer to them unicorns!” Puddinghead protested from Hurricane’s side.

“…as you seem to have brought the earth ponies,” Hurricane continued. “Cirra has the power to defy you as much as we wish. We have the power to destroy you, even, yet we don’t. Have you ever wondered why that is? Perhaps it’s because we understand the benefit of working together, even as painful as that sometimes may be.”

Indignant at being called weak, Platinum sat back in her chair and folded her forelegs. “Well I don’t see any benefit in working with your kind. Before the pegasi came along, the Diamond Kingdom and the Low Valleys got along just fine. There was plenty of food to go around, even in the coldest of winters, and we didn’t have to deal with an ever-present military running our cities. I think it would be best if we returned to that system.”

“What are you saying?” Hurricane growled under his breath. His wings flexed with all the menace the bladed appendages could muster, which was no small amount. Platinum, to her credit, appeared unmoved by the action.

“What I’m saying is that the pegasi should leave, Commander. Go take your city and fly it somewhere else. Why don’t you fly back across the ocean and leave this place forever? Leaving your problems behind seems to be the mindset for your kind when you can’t beat them. I’m sure you could do the same here.”

The hearths in the chamber suddenly extinguished themselves as a blast of chilly air manifested itself from Hurricane’s Empatha. The pegasus had planted both hooves on the table and was breathing heavily. Looking up from the wood, he burned his gaze through Platinum’s irises and caused the unicorn to fall out of her chair in fright.

“You know nothing about what we went through! You know absolutely nothing of what the pegasus race suffered!! We were driven to the brink of extinction by a foe stronger than us, and had we not have fled, we would have been completely destroyed!!” Hurricane removed his hooves from the table, and two hoofprints were clearly visible in the scorched wood. “How dare you pretend to know Cirra’s problems when your damned race has known nothing but comfort and security for as long as you can remember.”

Off to the side, sitting under the earth pony gallery, Smart Cookie chewed on the edge of his hat. This was not going well at all.

-----

Typhoon sighed as she sat on the roof of the parliamentary building. The winds had not ceased, and the strong gusts pulled at her mane and tore through her feathers like an icy river. But that didn’t much matter to her. At least it had stopped snowing, making the climate relatively comfortable—to her, that was. She had always preferred the cold, as it matched well with the icy sedative that seemed to replace her adrenaline in combat. If she applied herself a bit more to mastering her Empatha, she would make a decent ice Empath.

Cyclone, of course, was still inside the interior of the structure, prowling around its inhabitants in the relative warmth. He much rather preferred the heat of summertime over the wintery cold, and he tried to expose himself to the outside as little as possible in the darker months. That was not always possible with his job, so instead he would set his wings ablaze with his own Empatha and let the heat warm his coat as he walked. It served as a relatively remarkable display of power, being yet another contrast between him and his sister. The phrase ‘fire and ice’ crossed Typhoon’s mind, but she quickly shot it down as soon as she knew what she was thinking. The centurions referred to the two of them by that moniker often enough.

Yet here she was again in the ice while Cyclone was probably staying near a fire. Whatever. At least she didn’t have to listen to that accursed princess ramble on about the Diamond Kingdom and giving everypony crap. One of these days, Platinum was going to get bucked in the face, and Typhoon was going to be first in line. Or second, maybe, right behind her father. The thought of pounding in the snobbish mare’s snout caused Typhoon to grin as she clung on to the roof.

Something moved in the corner of her vision. Ripping her sword from its scabbard, the Praetorian spun on her hooves and glared in the direction she thought she saw it come from. The sudden shift of her position dumped several sheets of snow off of her back as she moved for the first time in an hour, and a layer fell off of the roof towards the snow banks below.

Gray buildings obscured by heavy coverings of snow lined the streets as far as her eyes could see. Dim torches struggled to repel the shadows that were struggling to overtake the land under Grabacr’s storm, and the shutters on an abandoned house clattered in the wind. Whatever it was that she saw, it was either gone or hiding. Typhoon suspected the latter.

Backing up to a higher point on the roof, the mare tried to glance around some of the rooftops of the neighboring buildings for a glimpse of what it was that she had seen. Settling down on an embankment, she hugged her wings against her sides for warmth and waited. Remaining as still as a statue, Typhoon quelled her shivering body and disappeared from the rooftop, becoming one of the chimneys next to her for all anypony could tell.

It took an incredible amount of patience and willpower to remain still for so long, but Typhoon was rewarded when she caught a glimpse of a figure sprinting across the street and closer to the building. Her sharp eyes caught three important details in the two seconds it took for the pony to disappear into another alleyway; first, it was a unicorn stallion. Second, he was heavily armed and armored in jewels and gold. Third and most important of all, his coat was a deep shade of sapphire blue.

That was all Typhoon needed to see. Sprinting to a specific section of the roof, she pounded on the thatch and wooden support with all the force she could muster in her legs. If Cyclone hadn’t moved from his post below, he should be able to hear her alarm.

Thankfully he had not wandered off, and Typhoon heard a window shatter as Cyclone flew onto the roof. His feathers were loosely frayed from the heat inside, but they quickly tightened and compressed against his sides as he felt the cold. He must have been practically sitting in the fireplace for all the sweat and soot that covered his neck and mane.

“What is it?” he panted, stretching the scales of his wingblades and loosening his scabbard. His eyes searched the streets in every direction for signs of trouble, but there was none to be seen.

“Our friend from the Blue Coats is back,” Typhoon answered, pointing towards a multi-story building across the street. Cyclone squinted as he scrutinized the structure, then hissed as he saw the unicorn sprint from one window to the next. He would have launched himself at the figure then and there if Typhoon didn’t hold him back.

“Easy now, Cy. Remember, this guy isn’t just your average criminal scum. He moves with purpose, and I highly doubt he’s alone.” Wiping the snow off of a spot on the roof, Typhoon cleared a seat for herself and sat on her laurels. Cyclone spat at the snow before kicking a clearing for himself as well.

“Right. Well, there’s only one reason that the leader of a criminal gang would be here on a day like this. The question is, how’re we going to stop him?”

Typhoon flexed her wings and looked to where more shadowy figures were appearing in the neighboring buildings. “You really think they’re going to go after Dad?”

“Of course they are. What else would they be doing here?” Unsheathing his sword, Cyclone ran a hoof along the blade, feeling the heat that the cumulostratus steel produced.

“So how are we going to take them out, then?”

Satisfied that the blade of his weapon was sharp enough, Cyclone slid his sword back into its scabbard. “We take that blue bastard out, that’s how. These gangs, they all might look tough, but the only thing they have in common is greed and a powerful leader. Take away the leader, and their greed makes them start killing each other.”

Typhoon smiled and stood up, shaking the snow from her tail. “How about we pay Mr. Blue Coat a visit then, eh?”

Sparks flew from the tips of Cyclone’s wings as he shook them, hissing against the snow as the cold snuffed them out. Testing that his blades weren’t frozen over, he flexed the scales along the wing arms before leaping off of the building and shooting across the street. Typhoon quickly fluttered after him and caught up with her older brother in front of a large window on the building they had targeted. Thankful that he at least had the sense to not smash in the glass and lose the initiative, Typhoon gently pried the window open and set herself inside.

In older days and fairer weather, the rickety building must have been an impressive mansion owned by some unicorn merchant who found a way to plumb Amber Field’s wealth for all it was worth. Now, the spacious hallways were cluttered with covered furniture, and dust ate away at the peeling wallpaper. Pictures in shattered frames hung precariously from the walls, and the doorframes were badly gapped and splintered from years of weathering.

A cautious step revealed to Typhoon how squeaky the floorboards were, and seeing that the frigid wood was prone to creaking and groaning, the pair of pegasi maneuvered themselves throughout the building with their wings. Typhoon was just thankful that she had taken the time to oil the skysteel scales on her wings earlier that morning.

The siblings stopped when they found a room poorly illuminated by dying candles. Shadows danced across the snow that had blown in from a nearby shattered window, and the sound of voices was plainly audible from the staircase they were descending. Quietly popping the latches on their swords, the two Imperators loosened the blades within their scabbards as they slowly advanced towards the doorframe.

“…told him it was the buckin’ cold, not some of Cutter’s freaky unicorn magic,” a gruff voice was saying. Gesturing with her wings for Cyclone to hang back, Typhoon crept towards the edge of the wall and peeked around the doorframe. Two earth pony stallions, each carrying a large sword on one flank and a small bow on the other, sat in front of a hearth with a crackling fire in it. They were armored in rough plates of iron embedded with gem scraps, but the edges were all gilded in blue paint.

“That’s Clay Tail, for ya,” the other stallion, a rather large umber pony, was saying. “As soon as the boss lights up his horn, he’s looking himself over to make sure he didn’t turn into an orange or somethin’.”

“Still?! Bah ha! I thought he was over that, like, a month ago. It was just a Celestis-damned rat, for Her sake!” The stallion with the gruff voice and charcoal coat bellowed. There was a round of laughter and hoof-stomping before Typhoon saw the two suddenly scramble into an alert position and grab their weapons. The mare retreated behind the wall again, but not before she saw a blue unicorn stride into the center of the room.

“Staying warm and being hearty, I see?” the unicorn leader began as he advanced on his two subordinates. Typhoon could see their knees trembling as they held their weapons tightly in a rigid salute. The unicorn stallion weaved his way between the two of them, inspecting their armor and the very hairs of their coats. Satisfied, he paced to the windows on the far side of the room and attempted to stare down the courthouse that so many powerful figures were bickering inside.

“Th-the gang’s in p-position, s-sir,” the charcoal earth pony stuttered. “We’re r-really going to do it, aren’t we?”

“Of course we are, Gravel,” the unicorn replied. “Or did you think this a training exercise?”

“N-no, sir, not at all, sir, I just—”

“Shut it!” The blue stallion spun on his hooves and strode towards the center of the room. “I don’t care what you think, I only care that you do what I say. At some point, Hurricane and Platinum are going to be storming out of that courthouse. I want that pegasus dead before he gets the chance to flutter his wings, and get Platinum back to the hideout. The King will cut any deal to get her safety.”

The larger, umber stallion’s ears perked. “Does this mean we’ll finally get those millions of bits you promised us?”

The blue unicorn scowled and extinguished the fire with his horn. “One thing at a time, Silt. We have our orders. We take out Hurricane and nab the Princess, and we kill any pegasus that gets in our way!

Typhoon’s feathers flared in alarm, and she instinctually flung herself to the opposite end of the hall. No sooner had her hooves left the ground did the wall she was previously leaning against explode into thousands of splinters of wood and pieces of plaster. A massive cone of blue Arcana ripped through the structure of the mansion, tearing down several walls in its path before finally dissipating against the side of an adjacent building. Cyclone snarled in rage and ripped his sword from his scabbard while Typhoon struggled to kick the rubble off of her body.

“You!” Cyclone hissed as he charged into the room. The earth ponies known as Gravel and Silt already had their weapons clamped in their jaws as they lunged towards the enraged pegasus, but they quickly released them when they found that their bodies had contacted pure fire burning off of Cyclone’s wings. In two quick slashes, the Imperator had disemboweled both with his sword before they could even start to scream.

The Blue Coat leader cursed and sprinted down a neighboring hallway, taking the time to rip the supports of an archway down after him to block Cyclone’s path. Rather than stop to remove the debris by hoof, Cyclone simply ratcheted up the fire on his wings by several hundred degrees until it wreathed his body in a deadly glow. By the time Typhoon freed herself from the rubble, Cyclone had already incinerated the debris in his path and was pursuing his target through the ruins of the mansion.

“Cyclone! Damn it, Cyclone, calm down!” Typhoon shouted as she chased her brother. The flames billowing off of the pyre that was Cyclone’s wings had caught hold on the wallpaper and was rapidly spreading throughout the dry wood of the mansion. The heat tore at her mane as she plunged through several walls of fire, bringing forth unwelcome sweat to her face and neck. At least the skysteel in her armor absorbed the brunt of the Empatha fire as she passed through it, and the speed with which she galloped shook off the lingering sparks that clung to the fur of her coat.

There must have been nearly a dozen Blue Coats gathered in the mansion alone, for they sprinted out of rooms and over debris in their path to escape the raging inferno that was quickly swallowing the building. Several turned to stop and fight Typhoon, but she slid under one earth pony and cut his legs out from under him with her wingblades before leaping across a unicorn’s back, axing his horn as she soared overhead. The stallion wailed and fumbled for the bony protrusion as it fell to the ground, but Typhoon paid him no mind. The building was quickly succumbing to fire, and Cyclone was getting farther away from her.

Her trademark calm and precision guided her through the flaming wrecks of halls lined with portraits and covered with shattered glass from broken frames and windows. Again, she cursed her father’s refusal to adopt skysteel shoes for the Legion as the glass cut through the skin around her hooves. One day, when she was Commander Maximus…

Her hooves skidded across the wooden floor as she struggled to change direction. Now was not the time for dreams of glory! In her distraction, Typhoon had nearly passed the flaming passage that Cyclone had sped through. She struck a hoof against her helmet in frustration and galloped after him, keeping a close eye on the fire as the Empatha primer-fuel was consumed and the blaze switched to traditional tinder to feed itself. Cyclone was getting farther and farther from her, and the trail was dying.

Flapping her wings, Typhoon began to zip through the narrow hallways and staircases. Her speed put her dangerously close to breaking her neck against a sharp corner, but she pressed on regardless. She was the Legion’s best flier, the fastest and most agile pegasus in Cirra, and she would not be beaten by her brother in his raging pursuit.

The trail of Empatha came to a sudden stop at the remains of a shattered window. Without hesitation, Typhoon flung herself through the gap and tucked her wings against her sides as she fell the three stories towards the alley below. Rather than crash against the dirt and refuse, she flared her wings at the last second and dove through the shattered window just above street level. Tongues of fire were already consuming the kitchen she entered, and she knew she was back on the right track.

There was a powerful roar from two stories up, and the shoddy stone and brick house shook to its very foundations. The sudden shudder of the building nearly caused Typhoon to lose her hoofing, but she quickly found the nearest staircase and flew up it. She was getting close, and the sounds of battle were beginning to reach her ears. Despite her best attempts at restraint, the mare felt sorry for the unicorn trying to fight against her brother’s unleashed fury.

“I’m coming, Cy!” she shouted as she spiraled around the landing of one staircase and began to ascend the other. She had to spin and swerve around several panicked earth ponies as they tried to rush out of the structure, and the actions cost her several precious seconds. “Just please leave something for us to interrogate!”

Typhoon was fairly sure she knew what to expect when she rounded the final landing. Lots of destroyed walls and furniture would greet her, followed by a scathing heat as every wall in the room was covered in fire. Stray marks of Arcana would decorate what hadn’t already been blistered by Cyclone’s rage, and the ceiling, if it had escaped decimation entirely, would be a haphazard collection of lucky paneling that had escaped the brawl. And in the center of the room, Cyclone would be busy charring an unlucky unicorn beyond recognition.

So Typhoon immediately knew something was off when only two walls of the room were wreathed in fire instead of the usual four. Granted, there was still an incredible amount of destruction as the remains of furniture and interior walls littered the floor, but the roof had no holes punched in it. What was most alarming was that the blue unicorn was actually standing, and Cyclone was not.

The red pegasus was struggling to break free from a prison of rubble telekinetically placed around him as a sort of cage and reinforced by the unicorn’s magic. Cyclone was throwing all the fire he could into his surroundings, but the stone floor refused to be scorched and the Arcana refused to let the debris be burnt away. His energy was burning up with the fire he created from it, and in a few moments he would be too tired to struggle.

Despite the advantage that the unicorn had gained, he was still worse for wear. His coat was covered in soot and several patches of flesh were scalded from what Typhoon presumed to be the remains of Cyclone’s fiery tackles. He stood on three legs, holding a bloody and cut foreleg up against his side as his vitality dripped around him. But even with the physical abuse he had taken, the Blue Coat leader’s mind was still sharp and his focus as controlled as ever, and his command over the cage he had created was perfect.

Fortunately, it was not perfect for long. With hardly a cry other than a grunt to brace herself, Typhoon slammed against the unicorn’s side and sent him spinning across the remains of the room. The Arcana holding Cyclone’s cage in place dissipated in an instant, and with one last explosion of fire, the Imperator incinerated the remains that still surrounded him.

Taking a deep and angry breath to collect himself, Cyclone picked his sword up from where it lay on the ground and began to gallop towards the blue unicorn. Typhoon was struggling with the cretin, delivering blows to his chest and snarling as he mercilessly pummeled her face. Brute force and strength was never her specialty, and she was swiftly being taken apart by the heavier and tougher stallion above her. A powerful hoof cracked against her jaw, and Typhoon’s vision swam with unnatural colors as the ligaments in her cheek struggled to pull the bone back into its socket.

Before the unicorn could deliver another blow or spear Typhoon with his horn, his weight suddenly vanished from the mare’s chest. Cradling her skewed jaw with a hoof, she slid backwards against the scorched remains of a couch as Cyclone pounded his opponent’s armor into pieces. Shards of sapphire and gold tinkled across the ground as the gang leader found himself hurled across the room to where he collided against a blistered wall.

Cyclone had no intentions of giving his opponent time to stand up, and with frayed feathers he propelled himself towards the blue stallion. His sword was aimed perfectly at the unicorn’s neck, and sparks of Empatha flew off of the skysteel as the blade thirsted for blood. It was going to end then and there.

The blade inexplicably passed barely an inch to the right of the unicorn’s neck.

Surprise paralyzed the usually fast-acting pegasus, and the unicorn made him pay for it with a painful head-butt to the snout before scrambling away towards the remains of one of the walls overlooking the street. Spitting the blood from between his teeth, he glowered at the two pegasi struggling to get up from the stone.

“Pathetic. Absolutely pathetic,” was the stallion’s chastising remark. “I expected much more from two of the top Praetorians in Cirra.”

Typhoon had finally managed to get her jaw popped back into position, although it pained her at the slightest movement. “We… we stopped your plan, Blue Coat.”

The Blue Coat grimaced and picked up a large shard of his armor with his magic. “Yes, well, those are details anyway. I’m not the one who set two buildings ablaze in the center of Amber Field, the political capital of the world, I might add. I imagine the Representatives are going to be rather angry with the culprits, and might consider curtailing business with the nation they stand for.” Bringing almost a wistful smile to his lips, the unicorn tucked the plate of sapphire in a bag on his flank and shook his head. “And I thought that the Legion trained its soldiers to fight with honor.”

Cyclone spat and helped Typhoon onto her hooves. “Honor is for those who fight with nothing to hide and everything to lose. What are you hiding, you filthy Blue Coat? Who are you, really?”

The unicorn turned his back on the two pegasi and spoke towards the courthouse. “Nopony in particular. If you really want something to call me by, go with Jewel. I couldn't honestly care less.” Stretching his legs and back, Jewel looked scathingly over his shoulder one last time. “This is just the beginning, Praetorian.”

There was a brief flash of light, and the sapphire unicorn was gone. Cyclone and Typhoon looked in its direction for several moments longer before the two began to limp back through the carcass of the burning building.

-----

“If you non-earths aren’t going to stop using your weirdo powers, then I’m just plum out of ideas!”

The past fifteen minutes had been nothing more than the leaders hurling insults at each other, and Puddinghead’s admittance was the next of many signs that the meeting had no chance of accomplishing anything. Even Hurricane, who rarely let himself get riled, was quickly succumbing to anger and frustration the longer the bickering went on. It didn’t help that Princess Platinum brought out the absolute worst in him.

“Thank you for the update, Chancellor. It’s not like I didn’t know that before,” the Commander grumbled. He had long since resigned to his seat, not bothering to look in Platinum’s direction. To him, the unicorn mare had ceased to exist, and it was driving her crazy.

“Commander Hurricane, must we continue with the brutish insults?” she challenged, leaning across the table. There
was grumbling of assent from the unicorn and earth pony galleries, but the pegasi remained deathly silent.

For the first time in several minutes, Hurricane acknowledged Platinum’s presence. “Stop cozying up to the earth ponies. About seven minutes and twenty-three seconds ago, you referred to the Chancellor and the entire earth pony race as ‘little more than sad clots of mud that not even a boar would dare walk across’. Your hypocrisy is so astounding that you’ve lost whatever weight your words carry, and frankly, I’m done speaking with you.”

Platinum stood back and placed her crown on her head, although Hurricane noted it was upside-down. “Fine! I was done speaking with you anyways! Guards, let us be out of this accursed place!” Trotting to the door with the two Diamond Guards in tow, Platinum nearly collided with the suddenly-materialized Chancellor before she could leave.

“Well I’m done with speaking to all three, I mean, two of you! I’m leaving first!” Puddinghead kicked up several piles of dirt at Platinum’s robes before struggling to push open the pull-door. The two leaders shoved each other before Platinum managed to shift the earth pony aside with her magic and open the door herself.

The galleries were rapidly emptying, and Smart Cookie’s eyes darted about the room as the last hope for the tribes fell to pieces. Seeing Hurricane make for the door, the Representative ran over and threw himself around the knees of the mighty stallion.

“Please, Commander Hurricane! We can’t all give up now! There has to be something we could do!”

Hurricane looked at the earth pony as if a splatter of mud had stained his armor, and he spared no force in dislodging Smart Cookie from his legs. “There’s nothing I can do, Representative. Platinum is little more than a spoiled brat and your Chancellor is an idiot. Had King Lapis and anypony other than Puddinghead attended this meeting, then I might have been able to do something. Now leave me be. Cirra must make its own preparations against the storm.”

Giving one last kick to shake Smart Cookie off, Hurricane walked out of the door and across the street. He rejoined with his family and several other Praetorians before fighting the wintry winds and beginning the long flight back to Cloudsdale in the north.

“Commander! Commander, please, wait!” Smart Cookie wailed as he ran out onto the snow. His eyes quickly lost focus on the retreating herd of pegasi as a buffet of hot air blew against his coat from the side of the courthouse. Rounding the corner, the smoldering remains of two buildings greeted him as they belched smoke into the snowy skies. Several neighboring structures caught up the fire on their own, spreading it across the dry thatch of their roofs and to other targets. Amber Field constables were trying to pull residents from their homes, occasionally dragging out a charred body or two.

Smart Cookie collapsed onto his haunches in disbelief. This was definitely not going well at all.


Dedicated to James Wilson. May he watch over us from the Great Skies and the Summer Lands.