• Published 12th Jan 2013
  • 4,297 Views, 368 Comments

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



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

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Chapter 6: Sky Above, Wind Behind

Chapter 6: Sky Above, Wind Behind

The sun was barely crested over the dim eastern horizon by the time Hurricane was ready to embark on his journey. His family stood around him on the western wall of Cloudsdale, silent and clad in the best vestments they owned. Even then, there would be no ceremony for the departure of Cirra’s mighty leader, and that was the way the Commander liked it.

There was a light dusting of frost on the cloudstone blocks of the wall, but the wind was quickly and efficiently blowing it away. Hurricane felt the wind pulling on his tail, urging him to leave Cloudsdale behind and begin his journey. But there was still much to do.

Twister walked up to him first. The robe draped over her shoulder fluttered around her body, but a well-placed pin near her flank kept the fabric down. Her onyx cuirass, which Hurricane knew she despised wearing as she was no part of the Legion, was polished with incredible patience and persistence that even some of the top Praetorian lacked. The wreath of gold feathers that she wore around her head pricked Hurricane’s ears as they embraced.

“Fly till your wings can carry you no longer, and then fly some more,” she whispered to him. “The weight of Cirra rests on your shoulders, as it has for so long under your rule, but I know there is not a stronger pony in the world to bear it. Make Cirra proud, make the Gods proud, and make yourself proud. You have more reason to be than most other ponies.”

Hurricane nodded as they separated, and Twister stepped back to allow Imperators Cyclone and Typhoon to approach their father. They each carried a share of Hurricane’s equipment, which they set at his hooves. Bending down to shoulder his gear, the Commander muttered a quick “thanks” and strapped the bags to his flanks. Before he could stand up again, he felt Typhoon’s warm embrace around his neck, even as their respective armors clanked together.

“Thank you, father,” the young mare murmured to Hurricane. Loosening her embrace just enough for Hurricane to raise his head back to full height, she trained her magenta eyes on Hurricane’s own magenta irises. “Thanks for everything you’ve done for Cyclone and I. We may have had tough lives, what with all the training and everything, but I don’t regret it one bit. I’m proud to call you my father, not because you’re the leader of Cirra, but because you’re the greatest stallion in the entire world.” Separating, she held Hurricane’s sword out before him. “Find Cirra a new home.”

Cyclone had nothing to contribute other than a stiff nod and a salute as Hurricane strapped the scabbard to his side. Fire burned in his eyes, the passion of a soldier eager to prove himself, ever-ready to show his father that he was able to lead Cirra if the call to do so fell on his shoulders. He was determined to not only maintain, but better the nation in Hurricane’s absence, and he would start by giving the Commander Maximus a proper sendoff.

Finally, Swift Spear’s hooves brought her to Hurricane’s side. Giving the straps of his saddlebags a quick onceover to make sure they were tight, she wrapped her forelegs around her husband’s neck and brought him close. The two remained locked in embrace as the snow swirled through the air and into their manes, until Swift leaned back to gaze lovingly into Hurricane’s eyes.

“Are you sure you have to do this alone?” The question took on a pleading tone, despite the stability and strength the mare weaved into the sentence. Hurricane only held her tighter, wrapping his black wings around her blond body.

“I can fly faster and farther than anypony else. Time is of the essence, and you’re needed more in Cloudsdale. I would love to bring you along; nothing breaks my heart more than leaving you behind. But Cyclone and Typhoon are still young, too young to take over a nation at a time like this.” His eyes wandered to the east, and a cool chill ran down his spine. “Believe me, I know what that feels like. That’s why Cirra needs you. Besides, I’m just one pony. I’ll raise a lot less attention in the wilds by myself, and I’ll be back soon enough.”

Despite the hurt that she felt in her heart, Swift knew in her mind that what Hurricane spoke was the truth. “Okay, Hurricane. I believe in you. Just please be safe. Don’t put your neck on the line when there’s no need to.”

Hurricane kissed Swift’s bare forehead and nuzzled her mane. “I’ll be safe, don’t worry. I love you, Swift.”

“I love you too, Hurricane.”

Reluctantly ending their embrace, Hurricane tightened down the saddlebags fixated to his armor and flexed his wings. He carried with him little more than a canteen for carrying water and several hunting knives along with his sword. Being a pegasus, he did not need a map to navigate, and other than a few loaves of bread he brought no food with him. Eating meat was something he had no qualms about, unlike the unicorns or earth ponies, and he envisioned resorting to the hunt for most of his meals. With nothing else other than his own resolve to accompany him, Hurricane saluted his family one last time, trotted towards the edge of the walls around the city, and dove.

The wind whistled past his ears as he fell, and Hurricane could feel the air shrieking through his mane, despite how much the helmet covered the short, steel-blue hairs. Snow and gales buffeted his body from every angle, threatening to put the pegasus into a tailspin, but still Hurricane kept his wings tucked against his sides. Only when the pressure in his ears told him he was little more than three hundred feet above the jagged highlands below did he open his wings, feeling the air tear through his feathers as he slowed his descent and converted his momentum into a westward slingshot.

There was a good tailwind, a byproduct Hurricane could count on with the perpetual storm raging over the Compact lands. Tilting the tips of his wings in opposite directions, he spiraled once, twice, three times as he ascended back up to a cruising altitude. In the frigid air, his feathers formed tiny contrails of ice crystals as he glided, the patterns wrapping around each other like ribbons from his wings. Hurricane smiled as he looked back over his shoulder at them. No matter how old he would live to be, the art of flight and love for the sky that was such an inextricable part of the pegasus soul would always be calling to him, not satisfied until he threw his emotions to the wind and embraced his natural instinct; fly high, fly far, fly fast.

At ten thousand feet above the surface of the earth, the world spread out beneath Hurricane like a map of grand proportions and infinite detail. To the north, the blue sea stretched on towards the pole, its shores choked and clogged with glaciers and icebergs. The sheer amount of snow and ice that the storm had produced in not even a week was already sliding down the mountains by the ton, pushing massive glaciers out in all directions that gouged the land before them.

To the south, the holdings of the Low Valleys and the city of Amber Field were barely visible under the snow that clogged the land. Ramshackle farmhouses sent forth little plumes of smoke, almost like cries of distress for help against the blizzard that continually assaulted them. Even farther behind Amber Field, nestled amongst several rocky spires sharp cliffs, was Castle Burning Hearth and River Rock. Hurricane took the time to twist his wing towards the structure, cursing the princess he knew resided within.

Behind him, Cloudsdale was quickly receding back into the eastern horizon. The massive spires of cloudstone were becoming engulfed in the blizzard, the snow and clouds obscuring the city more and more as Hurricane flew. First the low-lying residences melded into the gray, then the walls, followed by the three story houses within. The last thing to disappear was the mighty palace, standing tall and defiant against Grabacr and demanding that the God come and finish Cirra himself if he wanted to extinguish the fire of the pegasus race.

With a low sigh, Hurricane lowered his helmet farther over his brow to cut the wind from his eyes and stroked his wings with renewed vigor. Far before him, the frosted plains glittered in the early sunlight, leading Hurricane on through low fog and snow towards a ridge of distant mountains on the far horizon. Unlike the mountains around Cloudsdale, however, these rocky projections bore no snow on their tips. It was all the evidence Hurricane needed to see that the storm did not stretch on forever.

Relaxing his pace and feeling the wind slice around his bladed wings, Hurricane set his sights on those distant mountains. The spires were at least a three day’s flight away, and the last thing the Commander needed was to burn through his energy before he even arrived. Food would be hard enough to come by, and he didn’t want to tire himself out and strip his ability to hunt effectively.

Smiling, Hurricane found his rhythm and located the altitude with the best tailwind to help him on his journey. Then, humming to himself the tunes of an empire long lost, the pegasus locked in his course and began to make headway towards the mountains, where the salvation of his ponies lay.

-----

The glittering snow nearly blinded Clover as she opened the doors to Castle Burning Hearth. The sun had found a small opening in the sky, which would probably last for barely a minute before the storm swallowed it up again. Still, the sheen produced from all the ice and snow in River Rock and focused onto the mare’s face was almost enough to set her mane ablaze.

Dozens of pounds of equipment and gear were fixed to Clover’s sides in her saddlebags or hung from canvas loops, the tools clattering against each other and her flanks. Much of it was useless clutter, or in other words, Princess Platinum’s personal baggage. Expensive dresses, makeups and perfumes, and other fashion items dominated a large portion of the limited space Clover had on her back for hauling. At least she had dissuaded the Princess from bringing other, heavier items, such as the solid oak and velvet couch she loved to lounge in.

Platinum, on the other hoof, bore only a heavy coat over her royal garments to block the wind and a light burlap sack for carrying food in. Two canteens hung around her neck, one considerably larger and more decorative than the other. The Princess had insisted that she be the one to watch the food, claiming that ‘somepony responsible’ should perform that duty. Clover, however, knew that if that were the case, she would have been the one carrying the rations, not Platinum.

The wind nearly pushed Clover back into the castle as she tried to exit, and only the weight afforded her by the equipment she bore on her back anchored her to the stone floor. As soon as there was a lull in the gale, she and Platinum strode out of the doorway and onto the main thoroughfare, where they were greeted by a loud blast of trumpet fanfare.

Platinum had gone all out on her departure ceremonies. A division of Diamond Guards flanked the streets through which she and Clover walked, their diamond halberds firmly planted in the snow and ice with thin, purple tassels fluttering off of the tips of their weapons. Banners and flags of the Kingdom had been hung from every street corner, celebrating the heroism of the Princess who humbly put aside her royal vestments to venture out into the wild and find the unicorns a new home, one in which they would be able to prosper without the meddling of the other two lowly tribes. But despite the expenditures and pomposity of the affair, crowd turnout was minimal. Most of the nobles preferred to watch from their windows, sheltered with the safety and warmth of their houses. As for the poorer unicorns, they simply didn’t care, and Platinum was happy that they were absent anyways.

Even with the apparent power that the city put on display for Platinum’s departure, it was still all too clear that the blizzard was taking its toll on the Diamond Kingdom. Several of the poor that did actually show up to the procession shivered under the winds, their expressions and features haggard from starvation and disease. The nobles on display were more lethargic than usual, and they moved as if they had every intention of conserving whatever calories they could. Even among the members of the Diamond Guard, many of the smaller soldiers looked absolutely miserable under their armor, their eyes bloodshot from a lack of sleep likely brought on by the crippling famine.

There was a great rumbling from the southern gate as the sentries began to raise the impressive wooden structure for Platinum and Clover to exit through. As they neared the looming tower, the Diamond Guard began to break off to the sides and assemble in their regimental formations, saluting their princess as she passed. Clover, who had been trotting to keep up with Platinum as a result of the burden on her back, almost ran into the white mare as she slowed down before the exit from the city. The Princess knew that once she left, the gates would ultimately shut behind her, barring her return into River Rock until she provided proof that she had found new lands for the unicorns to settle in. So, taking one last, deep breath of River Rock air, the Princess and her companion set their hooves outside of the city walls and began to follow the snow-laden valley to the south.

Platinum stopped and stamped her hooves against the snow twice before shrugging her shoulders and staring at the high valley walls. Releasing a frosty breath, she shook her purple locks and mumbled a string of shaky words. “Well, Clover, I guess this is it. So, which way should we go?”

Clover pulled a rough map out of her saddlebag and held it before her with her magic. Gently undoing the seal, two separate bands of light-green aura stretched the parchment apart. “This valley continues south for several miles before opening up into the Sapphire Lake. From there, we could probably climb through the highlands and make our way westward. There’s uncharted territory beyond the strait, which I imagine is frozen over by this point. If we’re going to start looking for new lands to settle, well, that’d be the place to start.”

Brushing some snow off of her hooves, Platinum put a weak smile to her lips and began a slow canter along the banks of the frozen river. “Good. Well, let’s get to it, then. The sooner we find this new land of ours, the sooner I can get back to River Rock. I miss the castle already.”

As the Princess led the way, Clover grunted under the weight of the equipment she bore on her back and set off after her. If she could just make it to nightfall, she might be able to ‘lose’ some of Platinum’s spare luggage. Losing the Princess, however, was something that she wouldn’t be able to do, despite how much she wished she could. It would have been a long journey under normal circumstances, but having to accompany Platinum would make it longer, both physically and emotionally. Even with that, she sympathized with the mare’s desire to return to the castle, although for different reasons. There was much more knowledge in the library that Star Swirl owned than what she would find in the frozen wastes, not to mention what was within the confines of the stallion’s mind itself. A frosty gust of wind forced its way under her hood, and Clover had to yank it back down with her magic.

Celestis, how she wished she had a book to read.

-----

Smart Cookie groaned as his hooves struggled to gain traction on the snowy expanse to the west of Amber Field. The packs on his back weighted his every step, and the frost and ice covering the hills was not kind to his burden. Twice he had slipped and fallen to the bottom of the hill, forced to start over again and hope that he might be able to get to the top.

Amber Field was still only two miles behind him when he finally crested the hill and paused to catch his breath. Puddinghead stared at him, a bored expression dominating his brown features. “Jeez, Smart Cookie, took you long enough to get up here. I thought I was going to freeze to death in the meantime!”

The Representative groaned and set his gear on the ground next to Puddinghead. “You know, if you helped out a little, your chancellorship, it would be easier for the both of us to get to where we needs be going. We’d already be at least five miles out by now if I wasn’t the only one carrying the equipment!”

Puddinghead scoffed and fiddled with his hat. “Now why would I ever do that, Smart Cookie? I am a Chancellor, so I shouldn’t have to do any work! That’s what servants are for, right?”

The orange stallion ground his teeth as he unloaded more of his burden onto the hilltop. “Chancellor, you’re not a royal! The unicorns have servants; here, you’re an elected representative of the Low Valleys!” Smart Cookie used the term ‘elected’ lightly, knowing full well that no such election occurred when Puddinghead came to power. In fact, elections were due to be held at the summer of the coming year, and the Chancellor was likely to be voted out of office faster than Smart Cookie could drop his hat. Speaking of hats, the Representative planned on throwing his into the ring when those elections came around.

“So? I deserve to be! The Low Valleys love me enough, anyways.”

That was blatantly inaccurate, as Smart Cookie knew all too well. Even the departure ceremonies that they had concluded not two hours ago had shown that to everypony except the Chancellor. All that planning thrown to the wind, and what a waste of a good night’s sleep it had been!

The ceremony had opened quietly enough, with a small rally outside the capitol where Smart Cookie made a few quick speeches. The Representative knew his way with words, and he had managed to pitch optimism and morale into the populace of Amber Field by praising the resiliency of the earth pony spirit and suggesting that the Low Valleys held more cards in dealing with the other races than one would think. There was something he had never seen on their faces in a long time; hope and optimism. The Low Valleys would be okay. The earth ponies would survive. Smart Cookie thought he had even felt the wind stop howling as he spoke.

Then came Puddinghead. Roughly dressed and obviously on a sugar high from some stash of maple syrup he had found, the Chancellor promptly made a fool of himself, of the entire earth pony government, and of the Low Valleys in general. His speech of garbled and meaningless words dragged on for hours—Smart Cookie couldn’t remember the last time somepony had managed to string ‘like’ together fourteen times in the same sentence—and all the work Smart Cookie had put into inspiring the population was dashed to pieces.

When that abominable display of leadership was finally over with, Puddinghead tried to turn the rally into a massive party, with himself as the central character. It took much urging from Smart Cookie and the Board to get the Chancellor to calm down and get organized for the departure. Then, quietly and behind the scenes, Smart Cookie guided Puddinghead out of Amber Field before he could cause more trouble. Much to his chagrin, however, he found himself stuck with the inane Chancellor and burdened with his equipment. A silent and bloodless coup, that’s what it was. The rest of the Board had tried to get him and Puddinghead out of the way so that they could campaign against them while they were gone and unable to defend themselves!

So when Puddinghead suggested that the Low Valleys absolutely loved him and that he deserved to have Smart Cookie as a servant, the Representative had to sit on his hooves to stop himself from ripping open his own ribcage and gouging out his eyes in response. Instead, he shouted into the wind and collapsed onto his back, flailing his limbs in frustration.

Puddinghead, completely oblivious, failed to notice anything wrong about the Representative’s actions. Trotting over to retrieve the map from one of Smart Cookie’s saddlebags, the Chancellor held the furled piece of parchment before him as if he were observing a new species of creature. After twisting and rotating the item in his hooves several times to ascertain how it worked, he quickly unfurled the paper and held it up to his face.

Lines. Nothing but lines. He couldn’t even see where he was going, either! Earth pony cartographers really needed to step up their game if Puddinghead was going to continue to trust them. Really, how could nopony think of how one was going to see if they held the map in front of their face?

Holding the map against the ground, Puddinghead punched three holes through the parchment, tearing off the excess paper on the other side and tossing it to the wind. Then, taking two clothespins from another satchel, he affixed the map to the brim of his hat. The first attempt was only marginally successful; he had attached it sideways, and could only see out of one of the holes he created. The second attempt was much better. Now he could see where he was going and talk, all while keeping the map to his face! Puddinghead giggled at his own brilliance. He needed more ponies like himself to help him out.

The Representative had vented enough of his frustration to clear his head, having soaked his coat with the frigid snow he floundered about in. Rising to his hooves, he took several slow and deliberate breaths to calm himself. In through the nose, hold for five seconds, out through the mouth, hold for another five seconds. Everything was going to be okay. He would get through this, one way or another. He turned back towards the Chancellor, ready to tackle the next hill.

Puddinghead was smiling at him through the remains of the map. “Well, come on, silly hillbilly, we got a nation to save!”

Smart Cookie put his hooves to his head and screamed.

-----

The stony walls of the valley were slowly descending as the frozen river began to open up to a frozen lake. As the cliffs lowered, the trees grew in height, until soon Clover and Platinum found themselves in the middle of a forest of evergreens. The snow hung perilously from their wide boughs, and every so often a large collection of ice would tumble to the ground in a nearly silent fwhoosh. The soft twitter of cardinals and other winter birds in the branches made the walk a pleasant and refreshing experience for Clover.

“This is taking forever! My hooves are killing me! How long have we been walking for?”

Well, almost pleasant. Clover delicately bit her lip as she pushed aside a thicket of brambles to reveal the distant spires of Castle Burning Hearth, barely visible beyond several winding valley walls. “Only about an hour, your Highness.”

The Princess huffed and began walking with her head down. “Ugh! I never imagined finding a new land would be so hard! But it will all be worth it. Don’t you agree?”

Clover rolled her eyes as she started to follow. “I actually think that the three tribes could have tried harder to—”

“Stop!!” Platinum wailed, pulling her hoof towards her chest as she drew back in alarm.

“What’s wrong?!” Clover shouted, galloping towards the Princess’ side. She scanned ahead, looking for something that could cause the white mare such distress, but she saw nothing. Surely it couldn’t be something insignificant like…

…a tiny stream, barely more than three feet wide. Clover glanced at her princess, then back at the stream, before settling on Platinum again. “Um, Princess? That’s just a stream.” Pointing to the stepping stones that bridged one side to the other, she brushed her rags around her flanks and stepped on the first of the rocks. “We can cross easily, see?”

Platinum turned her nose up at the suggestion. “I refuse to get my gown wet. I have no intention of arriving at my new land like a bedraggled earth pony, or worse yet,” she shuddered, “a rough-and-tumble pegasus! I, for one, will not stoop down to their level.” Glancing over her shoulder, a sly smile crept onto her lips. “On the other hand, I have no trouble watching you stoop down. Come on, chop chop! We don’t want to be late!”

Clover groaned and set her gear down on the opposite side of the stream before crossing back over to retrieve Platinum. Squatting down, the green mare allowed the Princess to mount her back, carefully lifting her and her expensive robe off of the ground. Straining to hold steady, Clover began to cross the stream.

“And do watch the gown, darling. It’s worth more than all the books in your library.”

Reaching the opposite bank, Clover bent down to let Platinum hop off of her back. “It’s actually Star Swirl’s library, you know.”

Platinum simply huffed and began walking onwards again, not bothering to wait while Clover collected their things. “Honestly, what does it matter? It’s not like all those spell tomes would be of use to me, anyways. I prefer more classical works from the likes of Coltuthus, or perhaps even Neighto. All the works of the classic philosophers, not complicated magic studies.”

Clover grumbled under her breath as she reassembled her burden. She was surprised the Princess could even read at all.

Several more miles of walking through the forest brought them to the edge of Sapphire Lake. True to its name, the waters sparkled in a deep and perfect blue, seemingly undisturbed by the blizzard that had frozen over its main tributary. Clover paused to test the air, pulling her hood down and letting the breeze glide past her horn. The winds had certainly slowed down the farther they travelled from River Rock and the other pony tribes. Could that mean something?

Without further evidence to test her hypothesis, the pistachio mare had no way of telling. Instead, she and Platinum began to navigate the banks of the lake to find a suitable camping spot. Darkness was beginning to fall on them, and even though it was still midafternoon the sky had blackened almost to a twilight-like state. The birds were beginning to return to their roosts, and the lake was growing quiet with the stillness that preceded night. Clover breathed deeply, allowing the serenity to loosen her muscles. Even the Princess had stopped her whining and seemed to be enjoying herself.

The two mares found a suitable spot to set up camp on top of a broad, flat stone set a short distance back from the shores of the lake. Being in a better mood, Platinum was willing to help gather tinder and kindling for a fire while Clover began to set up the tent. Gently humming an improvised tune to herself, Clover leisurely erected the shelter, her light-green Arcana helping to pull the cords taut and stretch the firm canvas between the poles. It was actually a relaxing job when she didn’t have to worry about Platinum standing over her back and commanding her around.

The Princess returned shortly afterward with a large bundle of twigs and sticks she held in her light-blue Arcana. Setting the bundle down in a natural divot in the rock that would serve as their fire pit, the daughter of Lapis then proceeded to peruse through the contents of her luggage until she found her bedspread. Setting the spread within the tent, Platinum claimed her space and went to sit on a log outside, near where Clover was beginning to start the fire.

“I do say, Clover darling, this is turning out to be a fine night after all.” Platinum chirped as Clover managed to force the twigs to accept the sparks she provided them. Within a few minutes, the mareservant had created a crackling fire to warm their hooves by.

As darkness took hold of the land, the sky also opened up, revealing innumerous constellations that stretched on towards the infinite. Laying on her bedspread, which she had placed next to the fire, Clover traced several with her hoof.

“Gemini,” she mumbled to herself, recalling the names of the starry patterns. “Cancer, Taurus, Aries, Leo, Orion.”

Platinum glanced over from where she was sitting, one eyebrow raised. “Did Star Swirl teach you those?”

Clover laughed softly and nodded. “Oh yes, the constellations were some of my first lessons. He loved the stars in the night sky and wanted everypony he could teach to share that love with him. I mean, his name is Star Swirl, for Celestis’ sake.” She smiled softly, looking closer at some of the intricate designs. “Although I believe currently, the better phrase would be ‘for Lunis’ sake.’”

Even Platinum quietly chuckled. “Right, right. Doesn’t old Unicornian mythology say that the stars are the roads to the Summer Lands? Where all unicorns go when they die?”

“Yes, and a similar belief is held by the earth ponies,” Clover added. “They believe that the more good that you do on Earth, the more connections between stars you form. Do enough good, and you’ll have an unbroken path to the afterlife. Do bad or evil, and you have to hitchhike your way there, essentially. Or you could just end up in Tartarus.”

“What about the pegasi?” Platinum questioned, suppressing an involuntary shudder at the name of her most hated rivals. “What do they believe in?”

Clover scratched her head as she tried to remember the lessons Star Swirl had given her a few years back. “Yeah, they believe in something else entirely. I remember, Star Swirl had me devote an entire month to studying various bits and pieces of their culture, their mythology. They’ve been separated from us and the earth ponies for who knows how many years, and it shows in their beliefs. For example, they believe each star to be a soldier that has died in battle, or an ancestor remembered with honor. Their greatest officers and emperors are the brightest stars in the sky, lighting the night to protect their homeland from surprise attacks.” Studying a spiraling galaxy high above, Clover brushed her mane with a hoof. “They even have different gods than us.”

Platinum huffed and leaned back on her makeshift seat. “Oh believe me, I know that. Religious and cultural tensions were some of the biggest sources of conflict between the pegasi and the other tribes when they first arrived. Why, you must have been only five or six at the time, and I was nine.”

“I can only imagine, but it’s calmed down a lot since then—or, at least, enough so that it isn’t a major cause of conflict. Technically, they believe in the same gods we do—the heralds of day and night, who we know as Celestis and Lunis, they call Celeste and Lūn—but they have a lot more. There are gods for almost everything: Mobius, the god of mercy, Garuda, keeper of the Great Skies, Grabacr,” her eyes shifted towards the cloud mass to the north, “the god of storms. I think they have something like thirteen or fourteen major gods, and then a whole pantheon of lesser entities.”

Platinum whistled. “However do they keep track of them all? I’m sure it gets incredibly complicated.”

Clover sat up and stretched her back. “It would seem so, but I guess it just isn’t to them. From what I gather, each pegasus devotes themselves to a specific god of their choosing from the pantheon. I know that Commander Hurricane, for example, is a follower of Mobius.” She let out a happy sigh as she worked the tired muscles of her limbs. “Still, one’s chosen god is their own business in pegasus culture. To each their own, I suppose is the best way to put it.”

The white mare nodded and let out a lengthy yawn. “Whew! That’s all very interesting, Clover dear, but I’m afraid I shall be needing my beauty sleep. Wake me in the morning, and maybe we’ll have another pleasant day for hiking.”

Clover nodded and wished her princess a good night, but she stayed up longer to look at the sky. She must have laid there for two hours before she finally felt the need to relocate within the tent and the warmth it provided. Carefully gathering up her bedroll, the pistachio mare began to trot over towards the canvas structure but stopped before entering.

Something in the distance caught her sight. It was difficult to make out across the fog rolling in over the lake, but she thought it was a light. Waiting several seconds longer, she was able to catch a glimpse of it through a lull in the fog. There definitely was a light coming from the opposite shore of the lake, and it looked like it was coming from a campfire. A rather large campfire, too, which she could see several small figures darting across.

Oh well. They were probably just other hikers or explorers, or perhaps traders returning with exotic goods from the southern shores. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to investigate…

Clover stopped herself as she let out a loud yawn. It was getting late, and she shouldn’t bother with that sort of thing when she was this tired. There was always tomorrow for investigation. Tonight, though, she needed to get as much sleep as she could for the next day’s journey.

Gently opening the flap, the green mare made her way into the tent, settling into her warm bedroll. Drawing the cover shut with her magic, she let out a quiet yawn and made herself comfortable, leaving the fire burning outside to light the night until it burnt itself out.

-----

Hurricane began a slow descent towards the forest below when the sun was little more than an hour from retreating behind the western mountains. Holding his wings to the sides, the black pegasus used the tailwind to coast for the better part of a mile until he landed in the middle of a clearing surrounded by tall pines on all sides. Taking a brief trot as he landed, the Commander arched his wings over his back and worked on loosening the muscles for the next day’s flight. The last thing he wanted to do was forget his cool-down and have to try to fly with cramped wings.

There was little to do except gather some firewood and eat before retiring to the safety of a nearby tree to spend the night. The wind blew softly through the trees as the pegasus scoured the immediate area around his camp for dangers. When he found none, he set about bringing sticks and branches back towards a circle of rocks he made to hold his fire.

Amassing a sizeable portion of wood, Hurricane dipped his wingtip into the center of the pile and ignited it with a burst of Empatha. The heat began to instantly melt the snow around the campsite, and Hurricane had to clear a place to sit with his wings. With the fire crackling behind him, the pegasus stood up and grabbed his hunting knife, fluttering into the trees to stalk prey.

Pegasi are well adapted for hunting, and Hurricane was exemplary at it. Silent wings carried him from treetop to treetop much like an owl, and his eyes were similarly just as sharp. Even in the dim twilight, the pegasus could see tiny animals scurrying around in the snow and undergrowth. Several large rats dug at the roots of trees while scrawny squirrels ventured out of their holes for one last nut before retiring to sleep. Many white-coated rabbits, surprisingly fat for this time of year, scurried from bush to bush, hoping to stay out of sight.

It was the rabbits that interested Hurricane most, and he followed a trio of the creatures from above, careful to cushion his hooves as he jumped from branch to branch. When the rabbits finally stopped under a large berry bush, the hunter found a limb to inch out from until he was directly over their heads.

Using his wings to stabilize himself, the pegasus rotated until he was hanging from the branch with his legs, his neck craned downwards and his knife pointed directly at the skull of the fattest rodent. Twisting his wings in preparation for the roll he would have to perform as he fell, Hurricane silently released his grip on the tree branch.

His knife sailing straight and true, Hurricane drove the blade into the rabbit’s brain, killing it instantly. The other rodents were so startled by his sudden appearance that they flinched before attempting to flee. Hurricane was thus able to twist one wing and decapitate another rabbit with his wingblade before it could escape. The last of the three rodents disappeared into the undergrowth to his left.

Smiling, Hurricane picked up the two kills and trotted back to his camp, the orange glow of his fire lighting the way through the trees. Settling down in front of his fire pit, Hurricane placed a bowl full of snow over the fire to get some fresh water while he worked on skinning his two kills. The rabbits were cleaned with expert precision, with not a tendon of meat going to waste. Hurricane had cleaned kills hundreds of times back in Zephyrus, and the motions were as familiar to him as strapping blades to his wings.

Placing the two rabbits on spits, Hurricane quickly seasoned them with some salt and charred the meat to his liking. The aroma made his mouth water with anticipation, and he nibbled on some of the bread he brought with him to placate it. When the rabbits were finally done, Hurricane took the spits away from the fire and bit into the meat. It was moist and tender, with just the right amount of seasoning. The Commander laughed aloud as he swallowed the first bite. It had been a long time since he had meat. The mountains around Cloudsdale offered poor hunting, and he simply didn’t have the time to go any farther when he was Cirra’s ruler. That, and the Compact stipulated that the Cirrans would refrain from hunting on the lands of the other tribes, who considered the consumption of meat to be one of the greatest sins an earth pony or unicorn could commit.

Finishing off his meal with a splash of water, Hurricane filled his canteen and spread his wings by the fire to capture its heat. His feathers separated slightly, allowing the warm air to become trapped within their bristles. After half an hour of staring into the fire and collecting heat, Hurricane stood up, kicked snow over the pit to extinguish it, and flew towards the top of the largest pine in the area to get some shut eye. With his wings and the warmth they contained held tightly against his sides, sleep quickly found the weary pegasus commander and took him for her own.

Unfortunately, she did not have him long. The snap of a twig quickly alerted the pegasus, trained to wake at the slightest sound from months of sentry duty during the Red Cloud War. Careful not to reveal his position, he loosened the latch on his sword and leaned out precariously from the crook of the branch he was resting in.

There was a small light wandering around his clearing, waving back and forth from the mouth of the pony who carried it. That it was a pony, Hurricane had no doubt in his mind. Whether it was a pegasus, unicorn, or earth pony was another matter entirely. If the intruder wasn’t alone, Hurricane had to know what kind of company he would be going up against.

Sliding out of his makeshift nest, Hurricane began to hop from branch to branch as he descended towards the ground. The pony had found his fire pit, letting out a little ‘oh’ as he did so. The lantern then swiveled from tree to tree, searching for any sign of the resident. That the glow of the lantern was fixated at the tops of the trees instead of at the bottoms gave Hurricane a clue that the intruder knew whom he was looking for.

Despite that, the pony was not very aware of his surroundings. Hurricane set his hooves down on the opposite end of the clearing from the intruder, then slowly began to stalk him. The light the lantern shed from its sides revealed a set of armor along the pony’s flanks and back, as well as a sword and a large axe affixed to his flanks. A small glimmer of light that curved around his sides revealed the presence of bladed wings. Knowing that he was dealing with a fellow pegasus, Hurricane adjusted his approach accordingly.

The Commander was barely more than two tail lengths from the pegasus when he leapt. The intruder heard hooves leave the ground, but was too slow to avoid the tackle of the larger stallion. The two figures rolled across the snow as Hurricane struggled to pin down his opponent. Despite the size advantage he had, he found it difficult to hold onto the squirming pegasus, and he had to knock back wings aimed for his face or neck several times. When he finally grappled one of his opponent’s wings into the crook of his arm and had the other roughly pinned with a hoof, Hurricane was able to grab the nearby lantern and reveal the identity of the pony he subdued.

A short, amber mane atop a terrified yellow face greeted him, and Hurricane quickly loosed the pressure he had been exerting on the stallion’s neck. “Pansy?! By the Gods, what are you doing here?” Scrambling off of the private’s armor-clad figure, Hurricane helped Pan Sea to his hooves and brushed the snow from his shoulders.

“I-I didn’t mean to s-sneak up on you or a-anything, sir,” the diminutive pegasus stammered, averting his gaze from Hurricane’s face.

Releasing a sigh, Hurricane sat down on the snow and gestured for Pan Sea to sit next to him. “It’s alright, Pansy. Just tell me what you were doing out here in the first place. Why did you follow me all the way from Cloudsdale?”

Pan Sea shuffled his hooves nervously as he sat in the snow. “Well, I was on patrol around Cloudsdale’s western border, Commander, when I saw you dive towards the ground. I thought you had a death wish or something, the way you were plummeting. But then you turned that momentum into an impressive launch towards the west, speeding off like you were on a mission.” Again, Pan Sea bit on his lips in anxiety and shifted his position on his haunches to something more comfortable. “I’ve seen a lot of the countryside in my time on the weather patrol, so I know a lot of what’s out there. I’ve never been far to the west however, and, well, when I saw that was where you were going… my colt days got the better of me.”

Hurricane chuckled softly and shook his head. “So I assume you wanted to be an explorer when you were younger?” When Pan Sea nodded, Hurricane briefly smiled before continuing. “Hmm. I don’t blame you. Altus was a small town from what I saw, even in the hour I spent there before… well, you know. So, you came all this way just to do a little exploring, eh?”

“Um, y-yes, Hurricane, sir. I mean, that was my intention originally, but then I realized I hadn’t cleared it with my superior officer, and then I realized that if I came back I would have been tried for desertion. So… really, I kind of didn’t really have any other sort of choice but to follow you. Sorry.”

“No, Pansy, it’s quite alright. But while I am technically doing what you would consider exploring out here, most of it is going to be from the air. I’m trying to find new lands and skies for Cirra to relocate to, since the Compact lands have gone to shit in the past week. Grabacr’s determined to wipe us out if we stay, and we’ve already survived one scrape with extinction. I need to minimize our second encounter if we want to live.” Sighing, Hurricane shook his head. “And that’s why I’m out here, Pansy. If you want, I could write you a note to present to Imperator Primus Swift Spear that would pardon you from any accusations of desertion, and you could be on your way home.”

Pan Sea seemed relieved, and nodded his head. “Oh, that’d be much appreciated, Commander. I wasn’t prepared to be flying through the wilderness anyways. I mean, I just have my Legionnaire’s equipment, plus this axe.” Raising his wing, Pan Sea revealed a skysteel battle axe of incredible quality, even if the stratus head had seen some use.

Hurricane raised his eyebrow and inspected the weapon more closely. “This… this is some incredible craftsmanship, Pansy. Where did you get this?” Minutely detailed Cirran carvings decorated the surface, including the letters SPQC. Senātus Populusque Cirrus. The official seal of Cirra and the Legion.

Taking out the axe, Pan Sea set it on the ground for Hurricane to look over. “Oh, this? Why, I found it at another campsite not too far from here.”

Author's Note:

The following chapters feature optional musical accompaniments at certain points, indicated by hypertext. While listening to them is not mandatory, it helps to set the mood if you so desire. Use "ctrl + click" to open them in a new tab and not leave the story.