• Published 17th Mar 2013
  • 899 Views, 106 Comments

The Devil's Details - Carabas



Three stallions are hurled to the other side of the world from Equestria, and must survive the journey home across a vast and perilous continent. Worse still, they may even have to become friends.

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Tinder

A timber wolf howled in the dusk, the sound faint as if carried by the wind. A second's delay, and then two more joined it in a remote chorus. The sounds of a pack moving, if Zephyr was any judge.

Considering the circumstances, he acknowledged he should perhaps be a little more practical and concerned about the sound being in their proximity at all. But it was hard not to thrill to it as well. A natural song for the scenery about him.

Zephyr stood next to the campfire, letting the warmth suffuse through him and relax his weary muscles. He looked up at the mountains, their craggy ridges running like a spine across the top of the world. Rose-pink sunlight peeked past them and blended into a darkening violet sky. The first stars appeared amidst that expanse, one by one.

"What did you say the name of these mountains was?"

"They've got several. For the sake of convenience, I'm giving them the name Dawn Chaser gave them. The Scunner Peaks." Skewbald lay by the fire, holding his map in the air above him. Zephyr saw their line of travel had shifted westwards incrementally. Only a small change since he'd seen it last, but the comfort of the fire after having gone through the swamp was all but enough to banish any sour thoughts.

It was another step home, another step closer to Trottingham. To his little brothers. To his mum and dad. To the smell of flowers in window-boxes and red-tiled roofs under cool grey skies.

"Queer name," said Chevalier, breaking Zephyr's brief wistful line of thought. The cadet was sitting with his back to the fire, looking out and over the bay as he cleaned his armour. The scarring on his back, Zephyr was pleased to see, had healed nicely. Only faint silver lines remained under his white coat.

"It's Auld Corvic, or something like that," replied Skewbald. "Dawn Chaser passed through there on her way to explore this part of the North."

"How long ago was that?" asked Chevalier.

"Eighty-seven years. Why?"

"Hah. Just after the Corvid Incursion then." Chevalier spat on his helmet and scrubbed a gleam into the dirty metal. "Brave mare. Skilled as well, if she survived the journey in and the journey out. Or daft as a brush."

"She did her research before she went," said Skewbald, a note of approval briefly entering his tone. He glanced once more over the map and vanished it away. "Some clans would be friendlier to her than others, the ones hugging the edge of the Greycairns proper most of all. They weren't friendly with the old Cormaer when he decided to declare war on the whole continent at once."

"Political differences and attitudes aside, they still generally suffer from being a collective pack of foal-eating savages." Chevalier frowned at where a spot of muck on the cloth had spread across the helmet and scrubbed with renewed vigour. "Bad enough we share a landmass with them already. There's no need to spread their language around as well."

Zephyr raised his brows. "That's … a little harsh."

"Yes, well, when your family lost several ponies at Dream Valley and the survivors of that generation made sure to pass down the stories of what they saw, what they experienced … then harshness is a little deserved. If you care about defending Equestria, then you have to remember what happened before. You have to be ready for it happening again."

"Yes," remarked Skewbald. "Surely we must never dismiss the ever-present importance of that one battle that happened over a century ago. Who knows, maybe any second the corvids will come flying back over the hills to get their tail-feathers resoundingly kicked once again. Let the new Element of Paranoia be our touchstone."

"Better ponies than you or I died doing that tail-kicking," snapped Chevalier. He shook his head and looked back out to the dusk-shrouded waters of the bay. "Look, never mind. The North's not treating us too badly at the moment. Let's talk about something more cheerful."

"Let's," Zephyr said quickly, jumping at the chance to turn the discussion around him down a less combative route. "Having a plan for tomorrow seems sensible. There's a gap up through the mountains that goes between two of the lower peaks, as far as I can tell. We can walk up to it – there seems to be a curving route that goes around a lot of the steeper bits, I'll show it to you both in the morning once there's more light to see by. We take it up to the gap, and with any luck, we'll find a similar trail going down the other side. I'd suggest I fly on ahead to be sure -"

"- But you know we need to be safe in a group. We can learn something from mantaghasts," said Chevalier with a grim smile that grew sunnier. "But that sounds excellent. A straightforward walk up and hopefully the same down on the other side. Any idea of what's on the other side, Skewbald?"

"Forests and hills and the odd lake, according to most accounts," Skewbald replied. "The mountains break down into a mess of wooded foothills and streams. Literal Minded speaks about a river that flows down from this side into a lake, and on the other side of that lake there's the mouth of a river that leads up to the next range of mountains we'll have to cross. Keep an eye out for that, and if we're lucky, we can have a smooth journey walking by its side. Or as smooth as you can get in the North anyway. There's apparently a large elemental density in these parts."

"Elementals?" said Zephyr. "I assume we're not talking about the harmonious, Equestria-saving variety."

"No. Wild magic can get into things, distort their properties. Make them behave indecently. Rocks can float. Rivers made to flow upstream. Sometimes, once in every thousand instances, the magic randomly assembles something like a mind in an object. And in one in a thousand of these cases, the object can act upon it."

"Give us a nice life-threatening example," said Zephyr, settling down by the fire. A strange, almost joyful light had switched on behind Skewbald's eyes when he'd started talking. Whatever could draw him out of his sour shell was worth cultivating.

"Volcanoes," said Skewbald. "That's the name that's become attached to mountain elementals. No moving forces under the earth like the old myths say, no last Fires of Creation still burning or any of that nonsense. They're living mountains, and they think. They move, albeit slowly. And they dig into the ground for their energy, consume it in whatever passes for their respiration, and blast the waste out when they've had their fill."

"That ..." started Chevalier. "That … adds a distinctly undignified dimension to the whole of the Burning Mountains. You know, where the dragons live past the Sea of Smoke -"

"They made their mountains that way, using their own strange magic. Something religious about it for them, apparently." Skewbald shrugged. "You get a few mountain elementals in the North as well. Luckily for us, they'll be pretty spread out, so it'll be easy to avoid them."

"That's good," said Zephyr.

"Of course, their eruptions are hard to predict, and they're hardly doing it all the time. So it's entirely possible that we'll walk over a peaceful mountain and have it erupt right underneath us. Unlikely, but possible."

"... That's less good."

"We could try avoiding blasted landscapes, but the time interval between eruptions for a given elemental means -"

"We'll cross that explosive, death-dealing bridge if we come to it," Chevalier said hastily. "Again, a cheerier topic to discuss than fiery death or corvids would be much appreciated."

A hush fell over the group. Sparks spat up from the campfire and trailed into the darkness. From a distance, the tide pounded upon the shore of the bay. Inspiration, fuelled by a sudden wash of memories and nostalgia, hit Zephyr at that moment.

"Stories," he said aloud, and quickly sought about for a sane-sounding elaboration. "Were either of you ever in the Colt Scouts?"

"Yes," Chevalier immediately replied, a grin flashing across his face. "I get you. Should have thought of that myself."

"Creator's quill, no," Skewbald said.

"Well, I was thinking we could just tell stories around the campfire. Quaint, I know, but -" Zephyr blinked. "You weren't in the Colt Scouts?"

Skewbald snorted. "I lived in cities, not in some backwater surrounded by wilderness and muck. What would have been the point?"

"No Daring Do, no Colt Scouts." Chevalier shook his head. "What sort of foalhood did you even have?"

"An educational one," replied Skewbald stiffly. "But let's change the subject away from your undoubtedly vast list of petty criticisms. Why did Zephyr just blurt out 'stories' as if it was meant to mean something?"

"Excellent," breathed Chevalier. "A chance to educate."


Sparks spat up into the darkening sky. Blackwards Bay yawned open at their backs, jagged horns of land curling around it like the head and tail of a coiled predator. Between the horns, where the twilight sky brushed across the horizon, black ocean waters glimmered.

Chevalier's white coat burned orange in the firelight. His red eyes gleamed as he looked from the rapt Zephyr to the unconvinced-looking Skewbald. He cleared his throat, and began.

"There was a pegasus explorer a hundred and fifty years ago, Tumbleweed. And he was about as close to a real-life Daring Do as you can get. He crossed the Sea of Smoke and the Burning Mountains and bartered with the Queen of Dragonkind in her own hall. He ventured into the Greycairns, sounded out sites for new Diamond Dog underholds, and came home richer than the King of Zebrica. He set new records for the furthest ever ventured North. He'd seen it all, and just about done it all."

The fire sparked and crackled. The sea pounded softly on the rocks far below. The cadet raised his gaze, looking towards the horizon.

"And one day, he decided that he'd do what nonpony had ever done before. He was going to circumnavigate the world for the first time in all of history. He'd cross the Black Ocean with a whole expeditionary squadron, and come home to tell the tale."

"I've heard of this," said Skewbald, looking up from where he'd been letting himself fall into stupor. "It all ends with -"

"Yes, yes, shut up. Story in progress. Anyway." Chevalier drew in a breath. "There was every preparation you can think of. Tumbleweed even hired an island from a corvid clan as an embarking point for the ships – this was back before the Incursion. Three great wooden windjammers were built from scratch and stuffed to the ballistawales with every provision they could need, with sails that looked like clouds skimming across the sea. The Spirit of Adventure, Celestia's Wing, and the Beauty of Baltimare. Veteran teams of earth pony sailors on each one, unicorn astronomers to plot their course and to keep them in touch with Equestria, pegasi flight teams to keep the winds in their favour and settle any storms. Expert volunteers from Asinia, Capra, even a couple of corvid outfliers."

"So they set off from their hired island the minute they had everything in order. Celestia herself gave Tumbleweed her blessing, and the last anypony saw of them was Tumbleweed himself waving farewell from the top of a mast on the Spirit of Adventure."

"A month passed, and Equestria kept in touch with the squadron. Steady progress, apart from a couple of ocean squalls. Nothing but open water, but they had enough food stocked to last a couple of years. They'd be fine."

"Another month. Communications begin to slip, but that's to be expected across a distance."

"Integral decay," said Skewbald. "When you send a magical message, then it's going to run into wild magic in the air and inevitably degrade."

"Yes, thank you, that happened. So by the third month, when the squadron's unicorns fell silent for good, nobody was surprised. They were surely just sailing on. No cause for concern."

Chevalier settled into silence. The ocean continued to whisper.

"And then?" Zephyr prompted.

"Two years later," said Chevalier, "A scouting party of Zebrican pegasi were flying over the Cheval Sea when they noticed a ship passing by, coming from the empty Western Ocean."

"They flew down to investigate, and found the Beauty of Baltimare completely empty. Battered and rough around the edges, like you might expect from a ship that's been through a storm or two, but nothing else. No bloodstains. No signs of a struggle. Nothing apart from the personal effects aboard to suggest that there'd ever been a crew aboard."

"Nothing apart from one thing. As the zebras were preparing to fly home to report the strange appearance of the ship, they heard somepony crying in the lookout's nest. They flew up and found a mare, one of the earth pony sailors. Skinny with lack of food, though there was still a hold half-full of provisions. Delirious with thirst, even though there were water barrels on the deck below her. She tried to hide from the zebras, and only babbled the same thing over and over at them no matter what they said to her."

"'I can't stop them! I can't stop them! Sounding out in every thought at every time, and I can't stop them! I can't stop them! I can't stop them!'"

"They tried to calm her, but she never stopped repeating that. She didn't stop when they delivered her and the Beauty of Baltimare home to Equestria. And she didn't stop until she died in an asylum three years later. They didn't find anything else aboard the ship. No diaries, no captain's log, no records of any sort to suggest what had happened out there."

"Nothing apart from one sentence scratched into the wood of an underdeck. Make it stop."

Silence fell like a shroud. Chevalier contemplated the horizon, while Zephyr glanced with a shiver at Skewbald.

"Yes, a strange business, all things considered," said Skewbald after a while. "Why tell it?"

"It came to mind," admitted Chevalier. "And I suppose it's possible at a stretch to interpret something upbeat from it. No matter where we are, we could be somewhere much worse. Right?"

"Next time, I set the tone for the stories," said Zephyr.

"Oh, good. A next time," said Skewbald to himself.

"Well, I thought it was good tales-around-the-campfire material," muttered Chevalier. "In the meantime, I'll take first watch. Skewbald can go after me, followed by Zephyr. Dream up good stories, now."


It was the first relatively decent night's sleep Zephyr had gotten in the North. Sheer physical fatigue overwhelmed any restlessness, the campfire's warmth was enough to drive out any lingering chill from the swamp, and no feverish nightmares tormented him. Up until Skewbald poked him awake for his own turn at the watch, it was as close to serenity as he could get out here.

And even the early rise was no trouble. It meant he could wait to watch the sun rise over Blackwards Bay, while the others were quiet and still.

In the darkness, in swamp mist, on the march, the North only ever loomed from behind an hard and imposing veil. Memories of home were a fire that kept it at bay. But when it caught daylight...

Zephyr looked out over the edge of the world, and watched the reflection of the rising sun forge a shimmering gold line across the dark waters. Clouds higher than the mountain-tops cut pale pink furrows across the belly of the sky, darkening as they neared the eastwards horizon.

Below them, the outstretched arms of the land ran rugged and verdant under the dawn. Deep splits in the sides of rocky cliffs made black, inviting portals. The forest ran above and below the cliff faces. Thick clusters formed whorls in the green canopy, accented by the impenetrable shadows beneath.

Take a look, urged a little voice in the back of Zephyr's skull. Who knows what you'll find there?

Zephyr stood upon the precipice, his body so still it almost seemed to shiver. Had any pony looked from here below? Had the few explorers who had made it this far looked from this exact point, seen this exact view? Would he ever have the chance to venture here again?

Chevalier and Skewbald stirred behind him, but was he necessarily tethered to them? He could just be gone a few minutes, no more time than would be necessary to relieve himself in the bushes. They'd be safe, surely.

One hoof came to rest on the absolute edge. Something new and oddly familiar and wildly blazing in his soul keened for it, to take that plunge and fly back down into the tumult of the North. He licked his lips as the vague impression grew into his head, became an idea, became, for a fleeting and dizzying moment, a plan

And when it did so, memories hammered hard at its hooves. Struggling and whimpering in the darkness, disorientated and upside-down, trying not to wet himself with terror as jaws snapped closed mere inches from his face again and again.

He closed his eyes. The fire that had blossomed briefly dampened abruptly, becoming mere embers. He looked up and away from the trees. Back towards the clouds.

Fly to them. Brush your wingtips through clouds no pegasus has ever touched before, whispered the voice. Home's thousands of miles away. Spread your wings when you have the chance.

Daring Do and Tall Tale and Munchorsen wouldn't hesitate. His colthood heroes would lunge for these alien skies head- and heartfirst. The air currents were strange here. How liberating would it be to glide upon them? Where would they take him? What could he make of them?

One cloud at the absolute edge of his vision uncoiled. In its depths, dark specks shifted.

They might have been anything other than mantaghasts. But why take the chance?

The embers crumbled into ash. Zephyr turned away from the cliffside and clouds and wilderness, his head downcast.

There came an answering grunt, and Zephyr looked down. In his sleep, Skewbald stirred as if troubled by a nightmare. His legs intermittently kicked and his eyes flickered. Little wild bursts of magic gathered around his horn's base and sparked off the tip.

Zephyr regarded the unicorn and bit his lip. It was all but the rising hour for all of them, and so he gently nudged Skewbald with his hoof. "Hey," he said. "Are you alright?"

Skewbald's trembling ceased, and his eyes slowly cracked open to fix Zephyr with a befuddled glower. He fumbled for and donned his glasses, and his gaze sharpened. "What?" he demanded.

"You looked like you were having a nightmare. Sorry if I -"

"Not a nightmare. Not exactly." Skewbald rolled over onto his belly and shrugged himself up onto his hindlegs. A questing feeler of magic found the thermos, and he swigged water from it. A wary frown hovered on his face.

"Are you alright?" Zephyr pressed.

"I'm alright, here and now." Skewbald hesitated.

Zephyr patiently gestured for elaboration, and eventually got it. "We may not be."

"Um. What do you mean?"

"It's … there's something out there I'm detecting. No Celestial aegis, nothing between us and all the wild magic in the North. I can feel the larger things. They leave ripples, send tides out, leave marks." Skewbald drew breath. "There's something big moving around us. I think it's watching us."

Zephyr routinely disliked mornings, and this one was proving to be no exception. "We're being watched? Do you know anything about whatever's doing it? Are they dangerous?"

"They're … big." Zephyr opened his mouth, and Skewbald cut him off. "That's as accurate an impression I can get. Taking the ripples and tides metaphor further, we're floating on the surface of the sea. Somewhere in the cold darkness under our hooves, there's something else. Circling. Watching. It could be a shark scenting for blood. It could just be a curious whale. It could be one of those hideous things you hear about deep-sea fisherponies accidentally dredging up and which Celestia has to personally dispatch."

Zephyr closed his eyes and took a moment to regret waking up. He forced a grin. "You do hear about landwhales in Dactylia, lumbering across the savannahs. Getting some of their sustenance from any plants in their path, and getting the rest from the sunlight hitting the forests on their back. If the universe loves us, it's going by that metaphor and putting one of those in the North to follow us."

"What?" Skewbald's expression swithered between confusion and frosty contempt. "No, don't be stupid. The whale's a metaphor."

"Well, if you listen to some of the Gazellen philosophers, maybe. Depending on which one you listen to, the landwhale's a metaphor for time, their God, or itself."

"What?"

"The landwhale." Zephyr contrived to look innocent. "It is a metaphor in a lot of Gazellen literature as well as an actual animal. Unless you were talking about your own example. Can you even have a metaphor of a metaphor?"

Zephyr ventured his best friendly-inane-joshing smile. It bounced clean off Skewbald, whose mouth opened and closed a few times before he said, "What are you dribbling about?"

"I heard metaphors mentioned. It's too early in the morning for those," came the befuddled mutter from Chevalier. He yawned and unsteadily rose to his hooves beside the two. "Both of you sleep well?"

Zephyr nodded sharply, and then glanced at Skewbald. Skewbald returned the glance and then heaved a sigh.

"I'll explain how I slept," he said. "Start an inane tangent and I will set somepony on fire."


The morning sun slowly rose before hiding itself behind a high screen of encroaching grey-black clouds. The three broke their fast on grass and wiry shrubs speckled with bright flowers, Zephyr keeping an ear open as Skewbald explained this latest promising development to Chevalier.

Chevalier considered it in silence as he chewed. Eventually, he asked, "Can you glean anything more about it?"

"No. Focusing that sort of attention while sleeping is like trying to stack a house of cards with one hoof, on stilts, and in a thunderstorm. One wrong move on your or anything else's part and you'll just get a rude awakening and a hornache for your troubles."

"Any guesses as to what it might be?"

Skewbald's mouth narrowed and his expression darkened. He shrugged, as if the motion was physically painful.

"Is there anything we can do about it, then?"

"...Not as such."

Chevalier breathed out, and patted Skewbald's shoulder. "Well then. We'll keep our eyes open and deal with it if it comes. It can't be too much worse than what we've been through so far."

"Feh." Skewbald turned away, radiating disgruntlement. At whom wasn't apparent to Zephyr's eyes. "Fine. It can join the queue of things that wish to dispute our survival."

"That's the spirit," said Chevalier, returning to his own grazing. One bramble bush was heavy with gleaming black berries, and he nipped off and swallowed one after another.

Once all three of them were approximately functioning ponies, they set off once more up the mountainside. Overhead, the darkening skies rumbled.

Rain began to fall. It was refreshing for a while, where under the remains of the tree canopy a few heavy droplets intermittently fell. The arduous tasks of stamping through heavy, scratching undergrowth and manoeuvring between tight tree trunks were made cooler.

But soon enough, the slope steepened and the canopy began to fade, offering no protection from the deluge. Skewbald was quick to summon a faintly-glowing protective hemisphere over his own head, but silently declined to extend it to the others. Chevalier soldiered on, seeming to withdraw into the paltry shelter offered by his armour.

Zephyr, now having the room to fly for short periods, spread his wings wide. Raindrops shivered across them and coursed off their tips. A constant patter, a tiny harmonious sequence that gave him some instinctive inkling of the great clash and sweep of the sky's own forces far above. It was easy to get lost in, where you didn't know the pattern or any of its sources. A pegasus could lose track and fly into things trying to sort out the intoxicating chaos of it all.

Luckily, Chevalier was only bemused and sympathetic when he flew into a tree, and Skewbald only rolled his eyes and snickered a little. After that, Zephyr stuck to trotting.

A few hours in, the forest had disintegrated altogether into solitary trees and odd copses rising out of the forty-five-degree slope of rock and heather. Boulders and spurs of rock broke from it like seafoam from a tide, and it was underneath a rocky overhang that the three took their daily breather.

It was one spent mostly in silence, broken only by the odd snort as one of them sneezed water from their dripping muzzles. Zephyr craned his head out from around the overhang's side to get a sense of their path.

Beyond, where the mountain continued to rise, the way was all but hidden behind a shroud of rain. Zephyr still fancied he could make out the vague outlines of the mountains. They were still on course for the gap between two of them, a formidable rise a fair distance away in itself. Nothing insurmountable, though, and he expressed such to the others.

"There's good news, at least," replied Chevalier.

Whether from a great distance, or whether partially muffled by the driving rain and growling thunder, a timberwolf's howl sounded.

"And there's a counterbalance," said Skewbald in the echoing silence that followed.

They looked at one another. Chevalier cleared his throat. "We press on," he said. "We'll get as high as we can for the day and hunker down. We'll see what happens. If they're not after us, well and good. If they are, we don't make it easy for them. We outpace them, however we can."

"And if they outpace us?"

"Turn around, buck their teeth out, and hope fate loves us." The rainfall began to thin, and Chevalier poked his head out from under the overhang. "But that's our last resort. Let's move."

Eventually, the trees vanished altogether. Scree slopes, crowding boulders, and sheer vertical expanses of rock made forging an increasingly steep and winding path harder and harder. Grey skies above continued to send drizzle down upon the grey terrain, and Skewbald and Chevalier frequently slipped on the wet rocks.

Zephyr flew overhead constantly, watching the trail ahead like a hawk. There had to be a path through the mountains, but nearly all he examined led to dead ends. Rock faces sat grim and immovable at the end of promising routes, scree slopes descended into sudden chasms. One path led to the mouth of a large cave. Claw marks and dark brown stains covered the entry and ground before it, and in the darkness, what seemed like the fragments of massive bones glistened.

Zephyr led the other two in a different direction, and resolved to finish this journey over the Scunner Peaks if it killed him. This wasn't the most auspicious resolution he'd ever made to himself.

At least the rain was letting up. The drizzle had diminished to a general grey clamminess, and the sky above was fading closer to something that could be considered blue. The further they went, the more Zephyr could make out a great expanse of thin clouds on the other side of the mountains. They seemed strangely vivid, given a faint but persistent orange undertone. Dusk must have been coming in more quickly than he thought.

Eventually, they came to the only thing like their desired route. A trail that ended at a relatively short vertical rise of rock. Beyond that, the ridge rose gently to a stop. Beyond, the path could only lead downhill.

"Vines," he said aloud. Skewbald and Chevalier looked up at him.

"I can just fly up there, but the same's not true for you two. I don't know if there are any vines growing wild here, though I'd guess there's going to be some sort of tendrily foliage clinging on somewhere. If I find some and dangle them down ..."

Skewbald rolled his eyes, gathered green energy around his horn, and teleported both himself and Chevalier to the top of the rise in a flash of light.

Zephyr paused, muttered, "Or that, that works," and flew after them. He found Chevalier wobbling on his hooves, looking disorientated. Skewbald stood by his side, wobbling even more alarmingly. His face was screwed up with discomfort, and he reached up to his gently smoking horn with a hoof.

"Ah," he managed. "Agh, next time we -" His sentence was truncated by an almighty hiccup, which finished the job of knocking him off his hooves. Chevalier offered a hoof to help him up, which was grudgingly accepted.

"What was that? Are you alright?" asked Chevalier.

"Next time, the pegasus flies your armour up separately," growled Skewbald. "Or you just find a way to climb. That's too much mass to fling around at any one time for my liki –" Another hiccup ballooned out of him. "Star's sake."

"Drink from your thermos," Zephyr said. He alighted beside them and began to trot towards to the ridge.

He stopped short as a howl pierced through the world behind him. He turned back towards the cliff edge. Down in the grey mirk, shadowy figures bounded and milled. Pairs of green eyes, more than Zephyr cared to estimate, cut through the pall like torches.

"Looks like that was a timely teleport," said Chevalier, only a tiny note of tremble in his voice.

"I'm inclined to ag -" A hiccup. Skewbald hissed with irritation. He attended to retrieving his thermos from his saddlebags and waved a hoof dismissively in the direction of the timberwolf pack. "Scat, the lot of you! You missed your chance!"

"Here's hoping," murmured Zephyr, turning away from the indistinct figures in the mist. He flapped up into the air and towards the ridge. Another view would do his nerves some good.

He crested the ridge's summit, and hung still in the air, only held aloft by the gentlest of flaps. A strangled noise escaped his throat.

"Zephyr? What's the other side like?" asked Chevalier. He got no answer.

Zephyr saw fire as far as the eye could see.

Author's Note:

I aten't dead.