The ponies are about to carry out Summer Shutdown and bring back winter. This does not sit well with a small breezie colony living in Applejack's orchard. Someone has to stop the ponies and save the world...
Life's hard when you're small, especially if you're a breezie. The ponies keep trying to knock down your tree-home, steal all your fruit, and now they're about to bring back winter and doom your hive to a frozen fate.
Misty has had enough. She's going to leave her tree, stop the Summer Shutdown, and save the world.
Misty gazed out from the highest branches of the World Tree. Long minutes of climbing up ancient staircases and hovering through air pipes that had been built by the oldest breezie settlers had rewarded her and her father with a majestic view of the world. Above them, the treacherous breeze whipped the leaves into a frenzy while below their fellow breezies could be seen fluttering near the safety of the bark or exploring all the way to the borders of rootspan.
She barely listened to the words of her father. From on high, the sun shone on like it always did during the long day. She watched her friends below, fascinated. They were tiny to her, like dust mites, scuttling about their daily tasks.
She leant over the edge of the branch for a better look, and felt a sudden lurching as one appendage slipped on a patch of lichen. She squealed, her tiny wings fluttering like mad before a strong grip pulled her back.
Her father looked down at her with a concerned smile. “Careful, Misty,” he boomed in that rich, brown voice of his. He ruffled her antennae affectionately and gave a laugh. “What am I saying, you’re old enough to fly now. Sixteen weeks. It feels like only yesterday you were a little breeziegrub and look at you now. Your mother would be so proud.”
Misty beamed back, giving her wings an experimental flap, feeling the cool outside air run over them. Ever since her wings had fully developed at the slightly late age of fourteen weeks she had been itching to test them out properly, but like the rest of the children she was only allowed to practice inside the confines of the World Tree. “I’m gonna fly forever!” she chirped boastfully, peering back over the edge at the breezies below. “Look, there’s uncle Zephyr!”
She waved frantically at one of the tiny specks below, but to no avail. She briefly considered trying to fly down the whole length of the World Tree, but decided against it. Her father probably wouldn’t be impressed if she accidentally plummeted to her death.
Seemingly not noticing her sudden desire to leap, her father spread out an appendage, gesturing all around them, from the canopy of leaves at the very top of the World Tree that protected them from the ravages of the wind, to the old crumbling pillar of bark that was their home, all the way down to the roots that staked out their territory in the dirt far below. “At this hour, you become an adult, Misty,” he announced, more to the tree than to her. “My little Misty, sixteen already. And one day, all this will be yours.”
Misty furrowed her brow. “No, you’ll always be in charge, dad! You’re not going anywhere!” She tugged at his side in concern, voice falling to a low timber. “Don’t go away too.”
She was met with a reassuring smile. “No, Misty. But I am an old breezie. Soon I will be fifty… I have seen many months and I know what the winter brings. It will be hard and cold, but we will endure, as we always have.”
Misty tilted her head to one side, pursing her lips. “What’s a winter? Is that like night?”
Her father shook his head solemnly. “When winter comes, the days are as cold as night, and the nights colder still. The fruit no longer grows on our World Tree and the ground becomes hard as rock. Soon, the ponies will take away our sun and shroud the land in ice.”
A long shadow flickered across the top of the World Tree as far above, something vast, terrible and pastel flew. Despite herself, Misty felt a shiver run down her spine. “Why do the ponies hate us so?”
“It is their way.” Her father’s eyes were drawn towards the flying creature high in the sky, watching for a moment as it started to slowly push a cloud over the sun. “They have warred against us since recorded history began. They steal our food, they smash our homes, they hunt us with their Death Wheels, but…” He leant down to Misty as he saw her face crumple at the last phrase. “But we endure!” He gave her a gentle hug.
Misty’s head rested against his shoulder. She tried to sneakily raise a limb to wipe away the tears. She was grown-up now. Grown-ups didn’t cry. “Why don’t we move to another World Tree?” she mumbled into his neck. “Where the ponies don’t know where we live and there is more fruit and better bark?”
She felt her father shake her head. “This is our home, Misty. Our hive has lived here ever since the first breezie came to this land. Years of history. It is history to be proud of.”
Misty pulled away to look down at the ground again. It was so far away. The rays of the sun had been blocked by the cloud, and the breezies below had slowed in their task of gathering and farming within the safety of rootspan. In the distance, she could see more trees. As a breeziegrub, she had been enraptured by her uncle Zephyr’s tales of adventures, flying as far as ten trees in a dangerous and death-defying journey. Her father had never approved; even adults were discouraged from travelling too far if they could help it. A hive that stayed together, stayed alive, that was what he said. And it was true.
She had never been past rootspan before, into the terrors that lurked beyond.
No. She had. Once.
The memory rose unbidden, and she scrunched her appendages tight against the bark floor.
Her father turned to her. “Are you ready?”
A pair of limbs grasped around her waist and lifted her unsteadily into the air. Her father grunted with the effort, and Misty’s vision swam as she bobbed about in his grip, hefted over his head. There should have been two lifting her. Life wasn’t always fair. Despite the strain on him and the vast height at which they were, she still felt safe. He was her father, after all.
“There comes a time in every breezie’s life,” her father began, with words that were familiar to her from all the books she had read, “when your parents put you down, and never pick you up again.” With a relieved puff, he gently placed her back down on the firm floor of the branch.
Misty looked up at her father. “We lift ourselves,” she whispered, her wings starting to buzz madly, the cool air circulating around them faster and faster until she rose on her own, hovering over an inch above the branch. “We lift ourselves.”
A tear glistened in her father’s eyes. “We lift ourselves,” he echoed back.
She was nearly a proper adult.
Misty was still trembling from the adrenaline of her first flight outside, short and tiny as it was, as she and her father made their way back inside the World Tree. More than once, she stumbled down a stair that had finally given way to the woodrot that infested their home.
As they finally approached the living area, Misty’s ears pricked up at the familiar thumping of a nut-drum. “The party’s started already!” she squeaked in annoyance. “It’s my birthday, they can’t start without me! That’s not fair!”
“They’re excited for you.” Her father pushed open the ornate square of red ribbon that marked the doorway to their nesthome. “A leader must put the happiness of the hive ahead of their own. Especially when winter nears.”
Misty shivered again, hugging herself as she sunk down into the embrace of a half-acorn shell that served as her favourite chair. “You’ve gotta stop the ponies, dad, if this ‘winter’ is as bad as you say…”
“They are too big, Misty. Some things you cannot stop. But you can endure.” Her father rummaged through their dresser made of carefully stacked matchboxes, before pulling out a large square parcel wrapped up in foil. “I thought I would give you your birthday present here. I don’t want the others to resent you.”
Misty’s eyes lit up as she saw the shining silver cube. “Foil?” she gasped. “Seriously? You’re serious?” She clapped her front limbs together. “For me?”
Her father grinned and placed the package in her lap. “Not just foil,” he said through a beaming smile. “Your uncle and I were out foraging past rootspan over three days ago and came across this. We agreed you should have it.”
“Wow, you kept it for ages, I wonder what…” Misty’s words trailed off as she carefully opened the foil. Her mouth dropped open and she tried to process what was sitting in her lap. “A sugar cube? A whole cube?” She flicked her face up to meet her father’s gaze, wide-eyed. “I thought they were just stories for breeziegrubs!” She hefted the cube up and thrust it at her father. “I can’t! You should have it!”
“It’s the least you deserve.” Her father nodded affirmatively before turning back to searching through his possessions. “Don’t eat it all at once though, we will need to conserve food for the winter.”
Leaf, her faithful pet aphid came scuttling up at the scent of sugar, and Misty broke off a crystal, placing it in Leaf’s jaws. He rolled over, cooing as he devoured the treat. “You’re a good boy, Leaf,” she said, rubbing his chitinous stomach. “A good boy.”
“Ah!” With a cry of triumph, her father pulled out a strange wooden object, holding it aloft for Misty to see. She stopped petting Leaf and gave him a pat to indicate he should scurry off.
“What is it?” Misty turned her head this way and that, gazing at what her father was holding. It looked like an ordinary wooden stick, but one end was covered in a rough sand-like powder that was bright red.
“This is what I brought back when I reached my sixteenth week and took the Quest past rootspan.” Her father breathed deeply, savouring the memory as it returned. “We were deep in winter then. The ponies had brought the cold and the snow to try and wipe us out, but we were strong! I crept all the way up to one of their Death Wheels and struck a blow for breezie-kind by taking their most precious possession!”
Misty’s mouth fell open, but she was none the wiser. “…What is it?” she asked again.
“There were more, of course,” her father continued. “When they were struck against this-” he pointed out the side of the matchbox dresser “-they created fire! And that is how we survived that terrible cold.”
“Wow!” Misty’s chest swelled with a newfound respect for her father who had dared to steal fire from the gods. “Dad, that’s amazing! You never said!”
“You are old enough to know now.” Her father walked over to a small crack in the bark that served as a window and stared out at the lands beyond. “When winter comes, I want you to be the one to use the last of the firesticks to light the fire within the Great Hall. But remember, only the strong will survive. There can be no room for the weak when the ponies’ terrible onslaught begins. We lift ourselves.”
“I won’t let you down, dad!” Misty nodded firmly. “We lift ourselves.” She flapped her wings proudly, hovering in the air before thumping back into her chair. “But uh…” she paused before broaching the subject. “What did mum bring back on her Quest?”
“Ah now…” Her father turned back to the box and carefully produced a thick tube of felt. He unrolled it, to reveal a gleaming silver shaft. One end finished in a wicked point, whilst the other was marked by a long oval hole. “A mighty sword! She took their most precious weapon from them and doubtless saved the lives of many innocent breeziegrubs.” He offered the sword to Misty.
Misty took it, surprised at the heft of it as she stared down in wonder at this piece of history. Her mother would have been the same age as her when she got this, questing out far beyond rootspan to strike a blow against the hated ponies and prove herself as an adult. Misty didn’t feel anywhere near as brave or valiant as her mother must have been.
She passed the sword back to her father. “Is that why the ponies…” she began softly. “Were they angry at her for taking it?”
Her father knelt down and brushed a strand of hair from her cheek. To Misty’s surprise, it was plastered down with a hot tear. “The ponies hate all of us,” he said quietly. “They spend their lives trying to destroy us and steal our food, but we endure.”
Misty nodded quickly. She scrunched up her eyes to chase away the tears that wanted to come, and blinked them clear. “I won’t let you down on my Quest! I’ll strike the biggest blow against the ponies since Sunny Breeze, and then I’ll be a proper adult and can help beat the winter that they send!”
Her father cupped her chin in one of his appendages, looking deep into her eyes. “You don’t have to, Misty.” His powerful shoulders slumped, and he seemed to lose some of that inner self-determination which he extruded about the hive. “The Quest is an important part of growing up, but any blow against the ponies will count, however small. Don’t go too far past rootspan, hide if you see any beasts prowling, don’t take any risks, don’t go past three tree-widths…”
“Dad!” Misty exclaimed. “Don’t worry, I’m big now! I’ll make you proud.”
Her father’s lips curled into a faint grimace. “Just promise me you’ll return safe. You’re still my little girl, I couldn’t take it if anything happened to you too.”
“I promise!” Misty leant forwards to give him a hug.
“Attagirl.” Her father ruffled her antennae again. “Come on, I think there’s a party waiting.”
A cheer rang out around the Great Hall as Misty descended the stairs. She tried to gracefully fly down them, but the confined space was not conducive to flight, and she found herself bumping and thumping downwards as she repeatedly banged her head against the ceiling and her behind on the stairs.
Still, everyone was happy to see her. The entire Great Hall, which ran the entire diameter of a good portion of the World Tree, was decorated with some of the finest bunting she had ever seen. There was coloured string that crossed the ceiling, daubs of glitter on the walls that looked almost like stars, and a large, cheerful banner across one wall that read ‘HApPy bIRfDay MiSty’.
Misty beamed giddily. Nearly everyone in the hive was there, apart from those unlucky enough to be on watch, and the room heaved with the bodies of nearly two hundred breezies as they danced and sang and ate from the buffet table that had been laid out in one corner. She could see plates of apple and lichen and nuts, and even a berry.
She was about to make a dash for the table before all of the berry had been eaten when her father clasped a limb firmly to her shoulder, stopping her in her tracks.
“Friends! Comrades!” her father’s voice boomed out across the Great Hall, and at once every breezie fell silent. Two hundred pairs of eyes looked towards them both, and Misty couldn’t help but feel a new burst of pride for the respect her father commanded. There was nothing he didn’t know, nothing he couldn’t do. Not like her. She flattened her wings against her back, trying to fight back against the sudden pang of inadequacy that suddenly stabbed at her.
Her father gripped the banister at the bottom of the stairs and swept his gaze across the crowd. “Many of you may be worried!” he began. “Many may fear the coming winter. Many may tremble at the next attack by the ponies in this terrible war. But we are strong!” He punched the air to assorted cheers. “The World Tree endures! They hunt us and attack us, but they can never win, for we are breezies! We are strong! We lift ourselves!”
“We lift ourselves!” the crowd chorused in unison. Misty hopped up and down beside her father, shouting out as loud and as enthusiastically as she could.
“And now…” Her father placed a limb around her neck, pulling her close in a hug. “Now, my darling daughter is nearly a full-grown breezie! As the sun starts to sink and the long night begins, she will begin her Quest past rootspan to strike a blow against our enemies and prove herself an adult!”
The crowd cheered again. Misty did her best to pull a confident face, but the twitch at the sides of her smile betrayed her fear. Her father had brought back fire! Her mother had taken a sword. She remembered tales of how her uncle had brought back the first grape from his Quest, which the hive were still trying to cultivate into grape trees. They were so much stronger and wiser and better than she was, what could she do?
Instead she just kept her fake smile and chirped up with “I will strike the biggest blow since Sunny Breeze!”
The crowd went wild at this, throwing celebratory seeds into the air. Misty almost let herself get caught up in the moment, puffing out her chest. Of course she would do better, she was her father’s daughter. What else could she do?
“Oh no, what’s this?” her father suddenly boomed, though with an oddly jovial tone. Misty craned her neck as a hubbub began at the end of the hall, hearing the squeals of the little breeziegrubs who had been allowed by their parents to attend the party and seeing them frantically trying to crawl away from…
“Fe fi fo fum!” shouted a breezie painted in red dye and wearing a large red head fashioned from wasp paper, doing his best to storm into the Great Hall, though failing as he couldn’t quite see out of his mask. “I am so evil!”
“It’s the Red Destroyer!” Misty’s father exclaimed, overly dramatically, clasping a limb to his forehead in mock panic. “Who will save us now?”
“Sunny Breeze! Sunny Breeze!” squeaked one of the breeziegrubs who had shuffled its way to the front in order to hide behind the largest breezie it could.
Misty couldn’t help but clap along with the crowd as from the ceiling, a breezie clad in yellow petals fluttered down. “Sunny Breeze!” she shouted happily, hopping up and down at the display. It wasn’t Sunny Breeze, of course. He had lived many years ago in breezie prehistory; in fact it looked to Misty like it was Windy wearing the costume. That had clearly been the ‘secret project’ he had been working on instead of going on his foraging duties. That, or he was just lazy.
“Have at thee!” ‘Sunny Breeze’ shouted, landing on top of the Red Destroyer’s head to a cry of annoyance from below. “I will take your precious treasure!”
With that, ‘Sunny Breeze’ leapt into the air again, fluttering over the heads of the assembly and triumphantly holding up a crudely torn circle of yellowed leaf. “I’ve got it, I’ve got it! Victory for the World Tree!”
“No, I am defeated by the breezies! My precious treasure!” The Red Destroyer promptly fell over in an exaggerated manner, and then moments later when he thought no-one was looking, started to slide across the floor to the buffet table.
It was just a story, of course. No, more than a story. Misty couldn’t help but feel pride and joy and satisfaction as she watched their most ancient legend play out. Sunny Breeze, the first breezie to strike back against the hated ponies and steal their precious treasure. Before him, they had cowered, running and scared without anywhere to call home. Sunny Breeze had changed all that, he had shown them the way forwards.
That was many years ago though.
“Thank you, ‘Sunny Breeze’,” her father nodded to Windy, who flopped down in amongst the crowd with relief. “Your bravery will never be forgotten. While we have the treasure, we know we are victorious over our hated enemy!”
He nodded across the room to where Misty’s uncle Zephyr stood under a pair of ornate felt curtains. Misty’s heart started to flutter as she remembered what was about to happen.
Zephyr pulled on a piece of twine, and the curtains parted to reveal the ancient treasure of the ponies. An awed hush descended upon the crowd.
A disc of shiny golden metal was mounted on the wall, bigger than even the largest breezie and inscribed with strange symbols. On the side that faced the crowd was a carving of a pony’s face wearing a crown. It was clearly their queen who had declared war on the breezies, and many treatises had been written on the cold evil of this monster.
The treasure belonged to the breezies now, not the ponies. It was proof that they were superior, and despite their enemies’ enormous size, they would prevail.
“Go on,” Misty’s father whispered to her, giving her an encouraging pat. “Go on, Misty.”
Misty gulped, nodding as she frantically tried to recall the words. Her wings flared into life as she took off, hovering unsteadily over the heads of the audience until she was face to face with the treasure, looking into the metal eyes of her enemy.
“I… uh… I promise…” she began, her throat drying out from nerves. “I promise to undertake my Quest and strike a blow at the heart of the pony war machine, for me and for all breeziekind. As long as I am strong and can fly, I promise to protect the World Tree from our enemies, and uh…” She faltered slightly, scrunching up her brow. “Uh, and love my family and the hive.” She finished up by staring into the merciless eyes of the pony queen and giving the carving a punch on the nose with her fist.
She turned and slowly sunk to the ground, to be greeted with cheers and whistles. Her uncle patted her on the back as her father made her way through the sea of bodies towards her, shaking appendages with everyone he passed, beaming with joy.
“You did good, Misty,” her uncle whispered down to her, before moving to pull the cord on the curtains and hide the treasure from view once more. “Your mother would be so proud of you.”
“Thanks.” The smile on Misty’s face faded as her uncle’s words brought back unbidden memories. “I just hope I can do as well on my Quest.”
“Take the third root counter clockwise,” her uncle replied with an enigmatic wink. “That’s the best direction.”
“Okay.” Misty nodded, making a mental note of that. She didn’t really think it mattered, but her uncle Zephyr was one of the best breezie foragers who had ever lived. He knew what he was talking about. She peered her head up over the party guests, anxiously looking at the state of the big, juicy berry on the buffet table. It already had a few chunks taken out of it, but she if she could get there quick…
Her father loomed in front of her and moved to scoop her up.
Misty pulled away. “I’m an adult now, dad, remember!”
Her father just laughed and shrugged his front appendages in mock-resignation. “That you are, Misty. That you are. Now, have fun, you have a tough night ahead of you.”
Misty caught him glancing to her uncle, who nodded back. It was strange, but she thought no more of it as she pushed her way to the buffet table. All around her, familiar faces bobbed, wanting to congratulate her on growing up, but that delicious berry was all she could think of. She reached out her front limbs greedily, licking her lips, and –
“Emergency! Emergency!” A harsh clanging noise echoed over the Great Hall as one of the breezies on watch duty ran in, frantically beating a branch against his tin bell. The mood of the party was instantly shattered, moving from merriment to terrified babblings as everyone looked around to see what was going on.
Misty put the berry back, turning to her father who had taken to the air, hovering above the gathering. “What is it, Whistler?” he called over to the guard.
“Sorry sir!” Whistler shouted back over the din of his bell. “They’re coming! The ponies are coming! It’s the Red Destroyer!”
At this news, the hubbub turned to squeals and shouts of alarm. Mothers scooped up their breeziegrubs and started to flee for the safety of the underroot. The breezie who had been playing the part of the Red Destroyer cowered under the buffet table, hugging his paper mask tight to his chest.
Misty pushed through the panicking crowd towards her father. Above everything else, he was the calm one, the cool one. Totally in control. “What can I do, dad?”
Her father turned to her with a look of steel in his eyes. “Down to the underroot, Misty, you’ll be safe there.” He wheeled around to address the hive. “Take your breeziegrubs and youngsters down below!” he roared, waving his appendages firmly. “Blue Squad, start to buttress the walls of the World Tree for when the Destroyer strikes! Gold Squad, fetch resin! Mauve Squad, open up the wire storage, secure as much fruit to the branches as you can!”
A deep rumbling started up under Misty’s feet, and she looked around in alarm. She started to move to follow the others to the underroot, but stopped. “No!” she yelped. “No, dad, I’m grown up now! I can help!”
“No, Misty!” her father snapped back. “It’s too dangerous. Besides, you’re not an adult until you have finished your Quest; now do as I sa–”
He didn’t get to finish his sentence, as with an enormous rending smash, the far wall buckled and exploded in a shower of splinters and chunks of wood that were thrown into the Great Hall like shrapnel, blocking off the escape for those mothers and youngsters unfortunate enough to be too slow. Misty’s vision whirled as she became overwhelmed by the dizzying screams all around here.
“Buttresses! Resin!” her father yelled over the din, taking to the air with his fragile wings despite the destruction all around. At his word, dozens of breezies poured up to the affected wall, some pushing large chunks of hardwood and hammering them in with splinters. Others began to liberally coat the cracks with nut shells full of resin.
“Dad!” Misty wailed in confusion, her knees giving way. She started to sink to the ground, a familiar panic welling in her chest. She was crying again.
Her father turned quickly. “Get back, Misty!” he urged as he hurtled towards the front line. “Brace yourselves, he’ll try again!”
Another almighty tremor smashed into the wall. Several of the breezies manning the buttresses were thrown clear, but the wall held firmer this time, thanks to the swarm of breezies pushing back against it. Those thrown clear picked themselves up and launched back up against the wall, taking the strain.
Again. And again. And again. The entire World Tree shook with the pounding that the pony gave it. Misty crumpled into a ball, hugging herself tight and wishing she was still a breeziegrub safe in her mother’s care, where nothing bad could ever happen. Tears stained her cheeks as she realised that the strange wailing that rang in her ears was coming from her mouth.
Finally, the assault stopped and a strange silence descended over the Great Hall. Misty blinked through teary eyes at the dust and devastation all around her. The buffet table had been smashed in the first onslaught, and the banner which had celebrated her birthday was fallen and torn. The far wall of the Great Hall was still covered by breezies, who were using the opportunity to firm it up even more.
In her mind’s eye she could still see the skin of the World Tree cracking as the pony smashed its evil hoof against it. The World Tree was old. It had endured many such attacks, but could it endure many more? Would they just have to wait until the ponies finally destroyed their home?
Above it all, her father floated, magnificent as he directed the rebuilding efforts. Misty could never imagine herself in his place. He was so firm and decisive. It was thanks to him that they were safe and their ancient home still stood. She was just…
Misty’s shoulders slumped. A coward who hid. “Dad?” she squeaked, and was taken aback as she realised how trembling her voice was. “I’m sorry. I’ll do better.”
Her father paused and turned to her, a look of relief washing over his features. “You’re safe, Misty. That’s all that matters.”
Misty stumbled through the rubble to hug her dad, but a moan caught her attention. She looked to the side and her heart sunk, a cry of shock and alarm coming from deep within. Her father saw it too, rushing towards the scene.
One of the breezie mothers who had been rushing towards the exit with her breeziegrub hadn’t made it in time. A large chunk of wood had been blown free in the first attack and smashed her to the ground.
Her father’s voice shouted out loud and clear as he took control of the situation. Those crowded around stopped panicking and began to lift the wood out of the way, revealing a battered, terrified breezie. Misty didn’t even know her name.
Misty’s father bowed his head. Those around them moved into a circle and did likewise. Misty wanted to run away and hide again, but something compelled her to walk forwards and stand beside her father, looking down at the poor breezie who had been the victim of the pony’s wrath.
“We are breezies,” her father intoned over the hyperventilating sobs of the fallen breezie. “We are strong. We endure. We are made of the air and the wood and those things are immortal and forever.”
The hubbub in the Great Hall died down as the workers busying themselves to repair the wall stopped to watch. Misty bit the inside of her cheek to force herself not to make a noise, watching the poor breezie painfully lift one broken appendage.
“We who are strong fly free,” her father continued solemnly. “We who are not will return to the stars and light the way for our children. We are breezies. We lift ourselves.”
There was a thick silence that fell over the Great Hall as no-one dared even breathe. The fallen breezie coughed out, struggling and whimpering to get up, her tattered wings slowly and painfully flapping. Misty wanted to move forwards and help, tell her everything would be all right, but that wasn’t the breezie way. To survive the terrible war the ponies brought, the hive had to be strong. That was just how life had to be.
“W-we…” The breezie on the floor shuddered and fell with a gasp. She gulped, and with a titanic effort sped up the flapping of her poor wings. Slowly, but surely, she picked herself up and hovered in the air for one agonising moment. “We lift ourselves!”
A ripple of relief passed through the Great Hall. Misty saw her father wipe his brow and smile. Another breezie passed a little breeziegrub wrapped in a swaddling pouch of silk to the injured breezie. It gurgled upwards with joyful cries of “mama!”
Misty turned, her face crumpling as she walked away, the happiness ringing in her ears. But they were not tears of joy that came flooding down her cheeks. “Stop it!” she half-sobbed to herself. “Stupid, selfish Misty.” No, that was how life had to be, and it wasn’t fair.
“I know, I know.” Her father wrapped a comforting limb around her, holding her tight. Misty let out a warble of despair and pressed her face into his warm, reassuring chest. “I know, Misty. I’m sorry. You don’t have to do your Quest this night. Wait another day.”
Misty gave a long sniffle and tried her best to look composed. It didn’t work. “No dad,” she said with what she hoped was a determined look, but fell again into a self-pitying frown. “I do.”
Misty stood outside the trunk of the World Tree, the cool wind whipping through her hair. The sun was setting and the long night was about to begin. Normally she would be tucked up safe in her nesthome, hibernating through until morning, but not tonight. This night was when her Quest would take place and affirm her ascension as an adult, and a true breezie.
The events of the previous hour still ran through her mind. She kicked herself again and again for being so pathetic, so self-pitying. Sunny Breeze never would have been such a coward. Neither would her father. Or her mother. She had to be better than she was.
She looked up into the branches of the World Tree that towered far above her. It seemed massive and invincible, but the earlier attack had reminded her of just how fragile her home really was. It was her home though, as her father always said. Her heritage. If the breezies fled, then the ponies would win, and they couldn’t let that happen.
Misty tasted the chilled air as darkness descended. Her father had spent ages fussing, giving her all sorts of advice and tips. He had even packed her a little knapsack that she had strapped to her back, full of useful and precious tools, pieces of string, and even a quarter-nut in case she got hungry.
She had just focussed her attention on Leaf. The attack had frightened her pet, and it took all of her patience to get him to come out of his cage to say goodbye. She’d given him another crystal of sugar though, as a special treat. She let a smile crease across her mouth as she thought about the delighted expression on his little face. Her father might think she was wasting her sugar on her pet, but she knew better.
Misty began to walk alongside the root, tracing one limb over its ancient, gnarled surface. She had never been outside in the dark. In fact, she had never been alone before at all. She suddenly felt very, very small and vulnerable as she made her journey away from home, following the path of the root to the edge of rootspan.
The sun finally sunk below the horizon, orange light fading fast. Above her, the stars began to come out, twinkling through the canopy of branches to light her way. “Thanks, mum,” she whispered upwards, savouring the moment.
In the dappled starlight, she could see that the branches above her were bare. All of them had been stripped clean of their life-giving fruit. As she had been putting Leaf to bed, she had overheard her uncle talking to her father about this, about how the pony attack had been even worse than they had thought, knocking loose all of the fruit. Even the fruit that had been wired to the tree had fallen under the powerful strikes of the pony. There was nothing left for them now; the ponies had stolen all the fruit from the World Tree, as well as every other tree for as far as the scout patrols could see. Then they would be sending in the winter to finish the breezies off.
Misty took a deep breath and continued forwards. She shook her head to chase away the worried thoughts. She shouldn’t worry, her father would protect her like he always did. Only, he said he wouldn’t always be about. Would it really be up to her to save the hive?
She was so lost in her thoughts that she almost walked straight into the object that was embedded in the edge of the root. She gave a gasp of alarm and astonishment as she took in the sight. It was a tall, thin metal rod with an oval hole in one end, glinting in the cool starlight.
“I’ve done it! I’ve done it!” she cried out, looking at the object from all angles in delight, thinking of how proud her father would be. “I’ve got a pony sword!” She wrapped an appendage around it and pulled hard. It didn’t budge. She put both her front limbs to the task, grunting and heaving until finally it slid free, and she sat down on the ground to examine her prize.
There was something very familiar about it.
Misty gazed up at the stars, creasing her brow with thought. Then she looked back towards the warmth of home that lay invitingly behind her. Her Quest was done. She had struck a blow for the breezies, taken a pony treasure like all those before her, and would be welcomed back as a hero into the loving embrace of her family.
Only… it was her mother’s sword. She hefted it again, feeling the weight. There was no doubt about it. Right at the edge of the third counter clockwise root, just as her uncle had said. In that moment, she understood the look that had passed between her father and her uncle. She could go home now. She was safe.
Safe to wait for winter and starvation and the end of all things.
Misty bowed her head, watching the starlight as it bounced and flickered in the sleek metal of the sword. “Oh, mum,” she said softly. “What would you do?”
But she knew. She knew what her mother would do.
Misty was not her mother though. She sat alone, letting the cold night air brush over her wings, looking down at the sword, back to home, and then across to the edge of the root that marked the border of rootspan. Past the safety of the World Tree.
Misty came to a decision. She unpacked a length of string from her knapsack and tied the sword to her back, being very careful to place it in between her wings. She gave one final look at the World Tree and her father who she imagined was waiting anxiously for her swift return, and whispered: “Sorry, dad.”
Then she stepped past rootspan and into the world.
In that moment, she knew her father was wrong. She knew that if the breezies kept hiding, kept trying to stay safe, that the ponies would eventually wear them down. They had to strike a greater victory. Someone had to stop winter. And that someone had to be Misty. Poor, cowardly, self-pitying Misty. Because no-one else would.
She tried to calm her breathing as she moved amongst the long grass that covered the land, snatching furtive glances back at home as it slowly receded. She had never been past rootspan before.
No, she had. She had, once.
She tried to quell those memories as she moved in that same direction once more. She had to be strong for her task. She had to be like Sunny Breeze and storm the ponies’ castle.
She was five weeks old again, blinking back the sleep from her eyes as her uncle woke her from hibernation. She was wailing and grumbling with confusion as he led her outside into the night, not understanding.
Misty screwed her eyes tight and blinked them open again. No, she wouldn’t cry. Heroes didn’t cry. She wasn’t a hero though, not really. But she would have to do. Dew started to form on the blades of grass as she crept through them, splattering against her coat and soaking her wings. She gave them a quick shake to keep them dry. She would make better time if she flew, but knew it was too dangerous, both from the wind and the creatures of the night.
There had been other breezies too, surrounding her and walking solemnly as they passed rootspan. Misty had looked up at her uncle for reassurance. She knew she was not supposed to go past rootspan, only adults were. All he would do though was look down at her and whisper “Don’t be sad, Misty,” again and again. He had been crying. That scared Misty more than anything else ever had in her life.
Misty ducked under a flower as a rustle of wings and the caw of a bird echoed through the air above her. Despite the sword strapped to her back she wasn’t confident about fighting anything off, much less a bird. She waited until the sound of dark wings receded into the distance and began her journey again, past the other trees that towered high above her. She was almost past the border where most of the scouts patrolled. If anything happened, they might never find her. Perhaps that was for the best. She was almost at the plain.
She remembered frantic whispers as her little group reached the plain. Misty looked out across the desolate expanse of gravel that so nearly bordered the grass forest in a straight line as far as the eye could see. Behind her, the World Tree was tiny. It seemed so wrong, somehow. A giddy thrill overtook her and she leapt onto the gravel with a cry of delight. How jealous all the other breezie youngsters would be when they found out her uncle had taken her all the way to the plain!
And then she saw her father. And she didn’t smile again for a long time.
Misty stepped out onto the plain. Standing there alone, its desolation was even more pronounced. She found that she was shaking as she started to walk across it, eyes glancing this way and that. Up for predators, left and right for Death Wheels. Just like the stories she had read when she was little always said. If only they were just stories. One step. Two steps. Three…
“…Who are strong fly free.” Her father had been speaking, his usually powerful voice cracking up as it swept over the landscape. Misty remembered how hunched his shoulders were, how his eyes had lost that confident gleam. There were other breezies there, all in a circle, heads bowed and silent. “We who are not will return to the stars and light the way for our children.”
Misty had stopped walking. She had frozen and turned back to her uncle. Something had overtaken her. A cold chill that clawed at her heart and told her to walk no further.
“Go,” her uncle had said, pushing her towards the group. “Please, Misty. Go to her.”
Misty’s steps crunched in the gravel as she walked ever onwards. There was nothing here. She was alone with her thoughts. The feeling of the sword at her back kept her moving, kept fuelling her determination. They couldn’t live like this, not one day more. She had to make a stand. She had to change the world. Because this was not how the world should be.
“Mummy?” Misty had wanted to hide behind her father. She turned again, but her uncle pushed her into the circle. She didn’t understand. She knew, but she didn’t understand. She had known as she was walking up to her father, before she could even see what was going on, that terrible gnawing feeling in her stomach that told her nothing would ever be the same again.
Her mother was lying there, on the plain. Someone had draped a felt cloth over her, but somehow that made it worse. Remnants of wing were scattered nearby. Dark smears in the moonlight
“Misty?” Her voice was so weak. It wasn’t what Misty was used to. Her parents were invincible, immortal. She looked up at her father for reassurance. He would make everything right. He always did.
Misty stopped in the middle of the plain. Fire flickered inside a massive cube in the distance. It must be the ponies’ castle. A new wave of determination flooded over her, and she patted her sword to make sure it was still there. Ponies lived only to hunt and steal from the breezies, attacking her home while they stayed safe in theirs, probably laughing every night at the misery they inflicted. How dare they? She gritted her teeth and began to march forwards. How dare they?
Her father had just looked down at her, a hollow, defeated look in his eyes. “We are breezies,” he said simply with a sigh. “We lift ourselves.”
Misty wanted to run to her mother, to hug her and tell her everything would be okay and she would love her forever and ever. She knew she couldn’t. Her mother tried to rise with one shuddering motion with her good appendage, and then fell onto the gravel. Misty knew she couldn’t do it. She heard stories of what the ponies’ Death Wheels could do, but that was always something that happened to others.
“Oh Misty, my Misty,” her mother gasped out through ragged breaths. “My darling little breeziegrub. I’m so sorry. I will watch you from the stars always. I promise.”
Her father took her shoulder and turned her around. Then all of the breezies in the circle did the same.
There had been a terrible silence across the plain.
And then just the sobs of a little five week old breezie, crying for what she had lost.
Misty steeled herself against the memory, daring it to make her cry again. It would serve some greater goal. She looked up at the sky again, to see her mother and ask for comfort and guidance.
Instead, there were just the jet black wings of a vast, predatory bird.
She screamed as she bird shot down quick as lightning, grasping her in its beak. She had been stupid, but there wasn’t time to beat herself up about it, not now. A searing pain stabbed at her midsection as the bird bit down. Her limbs beat against the bird’s face in agonized frustration, but to no effect.
The bird’s glassy black eyes stared back at her hungrily as it soared into the air. Misty didn’t even dare look down as the trees turned into grassy specks beneath her, the wind whipping violently about her fragile wings.
“No!” she shouted through gritted teeth, wailing out as the bird shook her in its mouth, causing its beak to cut deeper. “Not like this!” She squirmed this way and that, trying to break free from its titanic grip. Something cracked inside her, and she felt blood welling up in her mouth.
They soared through the sky. She couldn’t even see the World Tree now, it was just another green smear in a field of green. Her vision started to blur and her breathing became ragged.
Below her, she saw the ponies’ castle.
“No!” she shouted again, her vigour renewed by a sense of deep injustice. “No!” In one motion, she pulled the sword free from her back and brought it down on the bird’s head. Once, twice, again and again. She thrust back and jabbed the point right at the feathers in the centre of its forehead.
The bird squawked with annoyance, instantly letting go of Misty and letting her tumble into the air as it took flight in the search for easier prey.
Misty cried out as she helplessly fell, her wings whipped by the wind, unable to get them flapping fast enough to control her descent. The ground span towards her, faster and faster in a blur of grey and green. Face red and pouring with sweat, she strained as hard as she could, wing muscles exploding with effort.
She slowed with jerky motions, bobbing and swaying in the night sky before one final gust of wind slammed her straight down into a bush.
She lay at the bottom of the bush for what seemed like forever, torn and battered and aching in agony. She was alive though. Alive! Grimly, she pulled herself up in the bracken undergrowth, testing her wings. They hurt at every flap and the fall had torn some of the edges, but they were still flightworthy.
“I’m alive!” she whispered to herself, scarcely able to believe it, moving out of the bush. As she hit open space, she gave an experimental hop and a painful flutter of her wings. They still worked. “We lift ourselves.” The words came back to her as a mantra, reassuring her and giving her strength.
She knew she would need it.
Before her, stretching impossibly high into the sky, lay the ponies’ mighty castle. Perhaps it was her woozy head, but Misty couldn’t process the size at all. She knew their castle had to have been huge, but even so…
It was made of wood. How many World Trees had the ponies destroyed to build it? Were there other, less fortunate breezies who had lost their homes to these monsters? Misty moved closer, holding out a shaking appendage to touch the wood. Even in the starlight she could see that it was no ordinary wood. They had dyed it with some sort of red dye. Breezies had dye, of course, but they made it from the petals of plants. Misty couldn’t even begin to understand how many flowers the ponies must have destroyed to decorate their castle.
She spent a moment in silent contemplation. Her sword was still grasped tightly, and she brought it closer to her body for protection. No breezie since the days of Sunny Breeze had come to the ponies’ castle. None that had returned to tell the tale, that is.
She looked around for a way into the castle. The entrance seemed to be sealed tight, but up above there were panels made from a strange transparent material. One of them was open to the night air. Misty shook her head at the arrogance of the ponies. It would be their downfall.
She threw herself upwards, fluttering close to the edge of the castle walls in order to avoid the wind. She used her forelimbs to clamber against the smooth glassy surface until she reached the top and hoisted herself over.
Misty was inside the ponies’ stronghold. She held her breath, unwilling to make even that noise in case she was discovered. She froze as she heard another noise in the room. A booming, snorting that sounded like some mighty beast was sleeping.
Perhaps it was. Misty gently let herself drop to an inside ledge with just the softest flap of her wings to help her land. The luxury she saw laid out before her was boggling. There were cloths and all types of wood, and pieces of metal pushed into strange and wonderful shapes just lying about. In the centre of the room atop a massive platform slept one of the ponies.
Misty watched the sight in a strange mix of awe and apprehension. She hadn’t even considered that the ponies might need to hibernate during the long night too. She always thought they never rested, forever plotting new fiendish plans against the breezies. But here one was, defenceless before her.
As silently and quickly as she could, Misty clambered forwards to get a better view. She knew there were three ponies that lived in the castle. The fearsome Red Destroyer with its hooves of steel; the Disc Head, a strange pony who sported a massive misshapen head the top of which could detach into some sort of breezie-catching instrument; and the mysterious Terror, who was smaller but the fastest of all the ponies, and who wore a gigantic piece of cloth in its hair to wrap up breezies for dinner.
It was the Terror who slept in this nesthome. Misty crept onto its heaving chest, staggering as it moved up and down, her mother’s sword tightly grasped. She looked down at the cruel beast, hardly daring to move. A mix of emotions flooded up in her. Fear. Pain. Worry. Was it the Terror who had driven the Death Wheel that had murdered her mother? Was it the Terror who was about to bring down winter on the breezies and wipe them out?
Misty didn’t know. All she knew was that she was a hero, and was about to save the world.
“Sic semper tyrannis!” she squeaked as loudly as she could, old words from her books rising unbidden for the moment as she stabbed the sword down onto the pony’s throat. “Sic semper tyrannis!” She started to hyperventilate, plunging the sword down again and again and again, all the pain and fury and frustration bubbling up into that one moment of catharsis.
Nothing happened. The sword simply bounced off the pony’s invincible hide.
She kept on stabbing uselessly, her cries descending into babble as she realised the hot sting of tears on her cheeks had welled up again. She dropped to her knees and toppled sideways, hugging her mother’s sword on top of that awful pony.
She couldn’t do it. She could never have done it. She wasn’t like them. Stupid Misty. Stupid, useless Misty. She cried and cried in shame, not caring if she was caught any more. She could never save the world.
There was a large wooden platform beside the pony’s nest. Misty had dragged herself up to it and sat down. The stars from outside shone their light into the nestroom. Misty wondered what her mother would think of her now. Her weak daughter, who had come so far yet been unable to make the hard choices that would rescue the hive.
It didn’t feel right. Nothing felt right. She should go home and just wait for death with the rest of the breezies, and –
The quiet was shattered by a roar from above. Misty barely had time to turn as a shadow fell over her and a transparent cylindrical prison slammed down, the noise as it collided with her platform echoing all around as she was sealed in.
The echoing became high-pitched, and Misty realised that it was her screaming. Bolts of agony shot through her back and she tried to move but couldn’t. To her mounting horror, she saw that the edge of the prison had come down on top of her right wing, crushing the delicate membranes. She whimpered, tugging gently at it to see if she could pull herself free but was rewarded only with more pain.
“No no no!” she cried, a new panic flushing through her. If she couldn’t fly, she was dead. Had the cruel pony killed her, just like that? Something caused her to turn, and she saw the vast eyes of the once-sleeping Terror pressing close to her prison, massive and unblinking. Misty threw a limb in front of her face and scooted back against her injured wing.
The pony let out a long, low roar of triumph and started to scrape the prison along the floor. Misty yelped piteously as the pressure on her wing intensified, the friction burning off scraps of membrane from the portion that was trapped. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” she screamed, forced to painfully scuttle along with the motion of the prison lest her wing be torn from her entirely. “I’m sorry I tried to kill you!”
The pony quickly lifted the edge of the prison and slid under a flat metal cap. Misty barely had time to pull her wing free as the pony sealed her in. The prison began to rotate, somehow sinking over the cap, and then in a sickening lurch, the entire container was tilted upside down and slammed back onto the wooden platform.
Misty gasped for air, clutching her poor wing for dear life. The edges were torn and frayed, and there was a curved crush-line across the top portion. She tried to give it a flap, but could barely manage three gyrations before she had to stop, a thudding mist of pain clouding her vision. “We lift ourselves!” she chanted, trying again. Her right wing flapped and twitched uselessly under the effort, causing her to sink to the floor. “We lift ourselves!”
It was useless. She saw her pitiful reflection and realised she was crying again. She wiped her cheeks as clean as she could get them and held back a sniffle. She wasn’t a brave hero like Sunny Breeze, but she wouldn’t give the pony the satisfaction of seeing her cry.
She shrunk back again with a scream as a large cracking noise boomed out across her prison. The pony was stabbing holes in the top with some sort of metal implement. Misty pressed herself into the floor as tightly as she could, hiding her precious wings against her back, waiting for the pony to finally break through and impale her.
It didn’t happen. When the roof was full of tiny, tantalisingly small holes, the pony stopped. It rumbled to itself in that terrible sound that came from its throat, and apparently satisfied, went back to its nest.
“No! Let me go! Please!” Misty thumped a limb helplessly against the wall of her prison, but to no avail. She could see the pony happily roll over in its nest and begin to hibernate. Misty desperately looked for her sword, but found that it had fallen from her grip and rolled away when she had been captured. It lay so close on the platform but on the other side of the breezie-prison, it might as well have been metres away.
Misty slumped against the cold, hard surface of her new home, rocking back and forth. From above, a gentle breeze flowed down. She wouldn’t suffocate, but she had nothing to eat. Did the pony want to watch her starve to death?
She could still see the stars outside, even further away and more impossible to reach than ever before. She rested the side of her head against the prison surface, her gaze fixed upwards to a patch of black where a lone star twinkled brighter than the rest.
“Sorry, mum,” she whispered softly. “I wasn’t good enough.”
She settled onto the floor, resting her weight on her good wing. Perhaps in the morning, one way or another this nightmare would be over.
Misty woke with a start as her prison began to violently judder and shake. It had been fixed to some sort of harness on the pony’s back, and if Misty stretched upwards as far as she could, she could see the world outside.
It was dizzying. The pony moved so fast - Misty had never realised how quick they could be. It covered metres in vast bounds, and effortlessly skipped down immense staircases, each step as big as the breezies’ Great Hall. She caught a glimpse of the Red Destroyer as it hefted up some sort of large bladed instrument, and ducked, half expecting it to attack her, but the Terror continued on.
There was a green pony with skin like bark which Misty had never heard of before. She wondered how old ponies could get, and how ancient and mighty ones like that must be to be so old yet still lift itself. Then the Terror opened the mighty doors to the entranceway and bounded down the gravel plains, her speed making a mockery of Misty’s journey the night before.
Misty looked longingly back to the trees as they receded into the distance. In the sky she saw the sun slowly rising, and flying ponies start to move fat, grey clouds to cover the warm rays of light. She remembered her father’s words: “Winter is coming.” Was it already too late for the breezies?
Captor and captive sped faster and faster across the plains until they rounded a hill, and Misty let loose an exclamation of shock and horror. There was another castle. And another. Dozens of them, getting closer and closer, and in the streets were hundreds of ponies. It was almost too much. She covered her eyes and sunk to the bottom of her prison, whimpering.
There were noises outside. Loud, rumbling pony voices. Perhaps she was going to be paraded about as a prisoner of war before being smashed to pieces on their Death Wheels? Maybe they wanted to torture her and pull her wings off and make her reveal the location of their treasure?
Misty checked herself over. She was in a sorry state. Battered and bruised, covered in lots of little cuts from her journey to the castle, and a large painful welt over her midsection where the crow had grabbed her. One of her antennae was bent at an angle, and her right wing looked so fragile now. She gave it a waggle and winced at the stiffness of her muscles.
The sounds outside got louder. Misty cowered at the bottom of her prison so she didn’t need to see what was happening. Flashes of light from above told her that they were still moving, and a sudden fall of shadow indicated that the Terror had moved into another castle.
Her world lurched again, and the prison was unceremoniously tipped out onto a hard wooden platform. It rolled along before a mighty hoof descended from on high and stopped it in its tracks, causing Misty to gain a few more bruises in bouncing to a halt.
There was no escape now. There were eyes. Eyes all around her. Massive eyes belonging to what felt like infinite ponies, all as large as the Terror, staring at her intently. Misty quivered, turning in a full circle in her transparent prison, taking in the horrific sight. She was surrounded. Surrounded by what must be the High Council of the ponies.
She wanted to hide again, but knew she couldn’t. She had to be brave like she hadn’t been before. She had to be like Sunny Breeze or her mother or her father or any of the better breezies. She launched herself forwards, hammering on the glass walls as hard as she could. “Stop it!” she screamed at the top of her voice. “Stop the winter! Stop the war!”
The ponies around her threw back their heads and let loose with booming roars. They were laughing. Misty was trying to save her world, and they were laughing at her. Suddenly they all grabbed for her at once, dozens of deadly multicoloured hooves lunging for her prison and trying to snatch it up. The air filled with hollers and thundering yells, and the prison span around and Misty threw her forelimbs over her face and she started shaking and the prison span faster and faster and she was just five weeks old again, crying in the dark for her mother and –
A roar louder than the rest cut through the air. Through the dizzying motion of her prison, Misty saw the ponies scatter in fear. A purple pony even bigger than the rest stalked into the room and placed a hoof onto Misty’s cell to stop it spinning, causing her to tumble to a halt. It started to bellow at the Terror, who quivered before it like a pathetic breeziegrub.
Misty blinked in confusion. Were they fighting over her? Did the bigger one want to claim her for its own prize? The purple pony picked up her prison and took her outside, the Terror trailing behind and roaring out indecipherable noises as she followed.
They were moving towards a structure that towered far above even the pony castles. She strained her neck to look upwards and take in the whole view, and her jaw dropped as she processed the object. It was a World Tree! The ponies had a World Tree! It was impassive, mighty limbs stretching out from an impossible trunk that was as big as a castle. She steeled herself for what was to come.
After a short climb, the roof of her prison was removed and she was tipped out onto a large circular wooden platform, yelping all the way at every bump and bruise. She was free though! There was nothing to keep her penned up! She flexed her wings, and winced at the pain that shot through her body. That was why she didn’t see the ponies at first. She knew they were there, of course. The purple one, and the Terror, peering up at her from below the platform. There was another one though, one she hadn’t seen before. Slightly taller, a darker purple and with a sharp spike that jutted out of its head.
Misty skidded backwards in shock. Was this the ponies’ queen? No, she remembered the image engraved on the treasure. They all looked the same to her, but there was that same spike. No crown though. Maybe a local leader.
They were looking at her intently. Misty would not be cowed, she would not be found wanting when she stood before the gods. Climbing to her shaking limbs she raised herself as straight and determined as she could muster, and shook a forelimb. “Stop the winter!” she shouted up at the leading pony. “Stop the winter! Do what you want to me, but stop the winter!”
The dark purple pony blinked, and turned to the other. “It’s definitely a breezie,” it boomed in a low, rumbling voice. “But what’s it doing here? Where did you find it?”
“It was in my room!” the Terror roared upwards. “I’d never seen one before up close, I wanted to show everyone!”
“You hurt it, poor thing!” the lighter purple pony exclaimed, leaning closer to Misty.
Misty’s mouth dropped open and she looked between the three. “Y-you can talk breezie?” she squeaked. Ponies just made noises. She didn’t think they could be words.
“Sort of,” the dark purple one began, and Misty found herself flung backwards by the exhalation of air from its mouth. “It’s really a translation spell that – ”
“Stop it!” Misty screamed at the top of her voice. “Stop the winter! Stop it! Stop trying to kill us! You can never win the war, we are too strong! We lift ourselves!” Her wings flapped weakly as if to illustrate the point.
She was met by silence. Finally, the leader spoke. “War?”
“Yes, the war!” Misty shook a limb angrily. “Your eternal war against us! You attack our World Tree and steal our fruit a-and kill us with your Death Wheels, but we have your treasure!” She smacked an appendage against her chest proudly. “We will never give in. S-so please, stop the winter!”
“I’m sorry, I have no idea what you’re talking about,” the leader said softly, tilting a curious head to one side. “What war? What treasure? We don’t attack anyone, we live in peace with nature!”
Misty tore at her hair and started to walk in a circle, venting her frustration. “Why are you saying that?” she shouted up, not holding back against the creatures which could snuff out her life at the flick of a hoof. “Why are you lying? You hate us! You don’t live in peace! You steal and you rip thngs up and you build and you make it rain! You’re murderers! You killed my mother with your Death Wheel, an- and you want to kill all of us with your winter!”
“We’re not…” the leader began, and then stopped. “If you need help, we can help you.”
“Lies!” Misty pushed her limbs into her ears to blot out the noise. “You’re using pony magic on my head and trying to trick me! It won’t work!” She continued to storm in an ever increasing circle until she walked straight into a huge metal disc that was lying on the platform, tumbling to land head-first on it.
She was staring into the metal eyes of the pony queen. “The treasure!” she gasped, a hollow pit opening in her stomach. “H-how? You’ve got the treasure!” She picked herself up. Next to the treasure was another treasure. And another. And another.
“It’s just a coin,” the pony leader said, and she flipped one of them over. It landed with a heavy thump. “There’s loads of them, see. Nothing to be scared of.”
Misty staggered backwards in shock, landing hard on her behind. “We’re nothing!” she croaked, through a dry throat. “We never mattered!”
“Where’s your hive?” the light purple pony asked, eyes creasing in concern. “We can help you get back to the land of breezies. The pegasi can create a breeze for you to fly in. We’re not your enemies we work togeth– “
“No, stop lying! You can’t trick me!” Misty was hoarse with shouting now, and she was shaking so hard she couldn’t stand up. “You’re not our friends! You’re nothing like us, you’re evil monsters who want to destroy us!” Before anyone could stop her, she flung herself off the table, her injured wing burning with agony as she skidded through the air and onto a ledge that led out of a window. “I’m getting out of here!”
She wobbled unsteadily on the ledge, at the top of the ponies’ World Tree, and looked down upon their town. It was the day before, and she was stood at the top of the breezies’ World Tree with her father, watching her fellow breezies scuttle about in the distance like dust mites.
In the streets, the ponies were tiny as they went about their daily business. Like dust mites.
Misty had never given a second thought about dust mites.
“It’s true,” she squeaked, barely able to say the words, clapping her limbs to her mouth in shock. “It’s all been a lie!” She turned, and slumped piteously against the ledge, watching the ponies in the room. “Please, stop the winter,” she begged. “You’ll kill us all.”
“Where’s your hive?” the leader moved forwards to gently pick Misty up. She didn’t resist. “We can’t stop the Summer Shutdown, but we can keep you safe until the next breezie migration. Then you can live with the rest of the breezies and never have to worry again.”
“In the World Tree,” Misty mumbled. Her damaged wing felt like it was tearing up from the exertion of her flight. She just wanted to rest. “It’s the old tree in the far corner of the apple treelands. You attacked it yesterday.”
The Terror shrieked at this. “The dead tree?” she exclaimed, starting to leap up and down in an animated fashion. “My brother said it was dead but just didn’t know it yet! He was gonna cut it down today before winter to give the rest of the orchard a chance to grow!”
Misty sat bolt upright. “No! No, you can’t!” She looked at the ponies with a mixture of fear and trepidation. “Please don’t kill us!”
It took even less time to return to the World Tree. The ponies had hollered like frightened breezies, gathering up more and more of them as they raced with Misty towards home. They were too late though. The World Tree was shattered and broken. Chunks were sliced out of its mighty trunk, and its branches were broken and bare.
The Red Destroyer had stood to one side, watching the tree and holding his weapon, a strangely melancholy crestfallen expression on his face. “There ain’t nobody in there!” he kept repeating to anyone who would listen. And then: “Ah didn’t know!”
Misty knew, though. Her father would have kept the breezies in the tree, hiding and safe, just waiting for their heritage to finally collapse and kill them all. At her instigation the ponies had stepped away from the tree, letting her get closer. “Come out, come out!” she shouted, but her voice was too little and weak to carry.
Above hovered several mighty winged ponies, waiting to herd the breezies safely out. They would have to wait a long time.
“I’m going in!” Misty turned back to the purple leader one last time. “Promise me you’ll make sure they’re safe.”
“Of course,” the pony replied. “But I can’t let you go in, it’s too dangerous, it could collapse at any moment, and you’re hurt.”
Misty bowed her head. “I’m not a hero,” she said gently. “I just do what I can. Please, promise me.”
She didn’t wait for a reply. She made her way into rootspan, and home.
Misty swallowed hard as she stepped back inside the World Tree. It felt like an eternity since she had last been there, and it had changed beyond all recognition. Destruction was everywhere. She pushed through the secret entrance at the bottom of the trunk, clambering up ruined and broken stairs. The walls creaked ominously, sections buckling as the structural integrity of the World Tree began to fail at last.
Her aching limbs moved through piles of wood chippings that had fallen during the initial onslaught. She pushed onwards, passing the nursery where she had spent most of her youth. One of the walls had collapsed, and there was a jagged slash in the bark that had thrown in splinters. Thankfully it didn’t seem that anyone had been in there. Her father would have kept everyone safe.
She bristled. There wasn’t any safety here. There couldn’t be. “Hello?” she called out, making her way higher. “It’s me, Misty!”
The Great Hall opened out in front of her. It was a mess of debris and rubble. Breezies covered in dust cowered under makeshift shelters, waiting for the end. Mothers clutched their wailing breeziegrubs to their chests for comfort. Panicked eyes turned to her as she entered.
“I’m back!” she cried. “Where’s my dad?”
“Misty!” A pair of limbs grabbed her. It was Windy, his face marred by a fresh scar and eyes wide with panic. “You shouldn’t have come back! It’s the end of the world!”
“No, it’s not!” Misty gently pulled him off her. “It’s not, Windy. We need to leave. All of us!” She gazed over the room, addressing the terrified breezies. “We can go somewhere else, somewhere safe!”
She was met with silence. Only the creaking of the World Tree filled the air.
“Please!” Misty begged. “Follow me!”
“But… the war…” Windy yammered. “The ponies are waiting outside to kill us all!”
“They’re not! There is no war, there never has been a war!” Misty pointed upwards at the ceiling. “You’ll die if you stay here!”
“Well, what do you call this?” growled a stocky red breezie smeared with dust and sap. “If this ain’t war, what is it?”
“It’s…” Misty struggled for the right words. “It’s a misunderstanding! Please, you need to trust me, I found out what’s been going on! You’ve got to fly before the World Tree collapses!”
As if to underscore her words, from high above came an almighty crashing, sending shockwaves through the Great Hall. It sounded like a heavy branch finally giving up and tumbling down.
The gathered breezies cried and hugged each other, but none of them made a move. Misty looked around desperately. It wasn’t fair. She had come so far only to fail now.
A familiar figure stepped down from the stairs that led upwards. “Uncle!” she gasped, running forwards to leap at him in an embrace.
Her uncle looked down with momentary shock at Misty’s ragged appearance, and then allowed himself a smile. “Misty, you’re safe! They came so fast, with weapons we hadn’t seen before. The underroot was sealed off by rubble in the first attack but your father kept everyone safe. He’s upstairs now with the rescue teams. Don’t worry, we’ve got a plan to strike back and -”
“No!” Misty pushed past her uncle, tearing up the stairs as fast as she could. “Dad!” she screamed into the darkness. “Dad, please, you’ve got to listen to me!”
There were other breezies upstairs, turning to see her with a mixture of alarm and relief as they continued their work. Some teams were busy pulling breezies from the wreckages of their nesthomes, while others were armed with shells full of sap and doing their best to patch the holes. It wouldn’t work this time though, Misty knew that. The World Tree was dead, it just didn’t know it yet. Everywhere she stepped her home was full of destruction and chaos. Where there had been a neat stack of single-breezie dwellings there was now a tangle of broken wood. Great holes were ripped in the floor, and continued to tear themselves apart with every creak of the tree.
“Dad?” Misty pushed open the entrance to her own nesthome. If her father wasn’t supervising the relief efforts, this was the next most likely place he would be. She faltered as she entered, taking in the sight. For some reason, despite what she had seen, she’d thought her own nesthome would have been spared the worst of the destruction. Instead, it was ruined. Chunks of ceiling had fallen in, crushing the little cabinet her father had made her that sat by her bed. Her belongings were strewn out over the floor, some of them falling into the cracks that appeared on the floor. And there, in the middle of it all, was her father.
“Misty!” He turned, almost dropping the last remaining firestick that he held in his limbs. His eyes trembled and he launched himself forwards, wrapping her tightly in a hug.
Misty tried to hug back, but could only yelp as her father knocked her damaged wing.
He pulled back in alarm, dismay clouding his face. “Oh, Misty, my poor little breeziegrub, are you okay? Can…” His traced a limb carefully over her wing. “Can you still fly?”
Misty nodded. She didn’t know if it was true, but she couldn’t disappoint her father. “I’m back, dad!” she squeaked. “You’ve got to listen to me!”
“Don’t worry, Misty.” Her father patted the firestick. “Those ponies won’t get away with this! We’re going to use the firestick on them! Then we’ll rebuild and -”
“No!” Misty shook her head and slapped the stick from her father’s grasp, ignoring his horrified look. “No, dad! This is more important! I’m back from my Quest, and I’ve brought back –”
“A weapon?” Her father looked her over for any mysterious artefact she may be carrying.
“No…” Misty furrowed her brow, looking for the right word. “I’ve brought back understanding. It’s not a war, dad. I saw the ponies! I spoke to them! There’s not a war, there never has been a war!”
Her father raised a limb to slap her, and then thought better of it. Instead, he reached down to pick up his firestick. “You don’t know what you’re saying, Misty.”
“No, you don’t!” Misty wailed back. “The ponies don’t hate us, they’ve never hated us. We’ve just… not been important to them! We’re like dust mites. They never noticed us!”
“Don’t you dare!” Her father’s face flushed an uncharacteristic shade of red. “Don’t you dare, Misty.” He thumped his chest, proudly. “We are important! We’ve held out so long against the ponies, and that is something to be proud of. Do you want everything - all our sacrifices - to have been for nothing?”
“No.” Misty’s head sunk down. “I don’t. But it’s still true, dad.” She looked up at him again, eyes sparkling with renewed vigour, grasping at his limbs pleadingly. “Please dad, the others won’t listen to me! You’ve got to talk to them, get them to leave! I spoke to the ponies, they said there are other breezies! They’ll help us get to them, we can be safe! We don’t have to live like this! The world doesn’t have to be like this!”
Her father just shook his head. “No, Misty. They’re trying to trick you. This is our home, our heritage. We’ve fought so long to live here, we’re not going to let them beat us now!”
“But…” Misty’s bottom lip quivered. She struggled to regain her composure. “They don’t need to trick us! They’re massive and powerful, if they wanted to destroy us, they’d have done it by now! We’re just… swept up in their wake!”
“Stop it!” Her father slammed the firestick down on the floor. “Misty, we’ll hear no more of this nonsense. How dare you disrespect your mother like that! Join the others in the Great Hall or help with the repairs. When this is over, then we can talk.” He softened slightly. “I am so, so glad you are all right. Please, remember that.”
Misty tore at her hair in frustration. “No! No! You know it’s true! All of it! Think, dad! You’ve saved everyone in the past, save them now!”
Another mighty rumble coursed through the World Tree, knocking Misty onto the ground. A section of ceiling finally gave up, collapsing in a shower of wood and dust. A familiar, high pitched squeal cried up from the wreckage.
“Leaf!” Misty exclaimed, looking around for her pet, a strangled cry rising from her throat. “Leaf, where are you? Are you okay?” She began to mvoe towards the fallen section, but a strong limb fell on her shoulder.
“No, Misty,” her father said softy. “No. We are breezies, remember? For the sake of the hive, the strong survive. We lift ourselves.”
Misty gently pushed her father’s limb off her, and turned away from him. “No, dad,” she echoed back. “There’s a different way of living. A better way!” She pushed forwards into the rubble, digging furiously until she emerged triumphant, her darling aphid held safely. Leaf was scratched and battered, but seemed to be otherwise unhurt. “See, dad?” she called back, holding out her pet. “See –”
Her words were cut off as yet another tremor rocked the World Tree, a screeching tumultuous crash heralded part of the wall buckling, fanning out jagged spikes of wood that stabbed brutally forwards.
Misty’s father was silent, staring at her. There was something wrong, his face had turned the palest white. It looked like he was starting to cry. Why was that? Misty started to move towards him, Leaf safe in her grasp, but found that she couldn’t.
“Oh.” Misty looked down. Everything seemed slightly fuzzy. “Oh.” There was a long splinter of wood from the wall protruding out of her chest. “O-oh.”
“Misty!” Her father gave a cry of alarm, rushing forwards. Her knees buckled and she toppled forwards, Leaf falling from her grasp and scuttling away. The spike that impaled her slid from her back as she crashed to the floor, her ragged breaths bubbling with fluid from her lungs as shock set in.
“D-dad,” she gasped, trying and failing to pull herself forwards. “I don’t want to die. Help me.”
She could feel his breath against her as he bent over her, the quiver in his voice as he spoke. “Misty, my poor Misty. I told you, you should have listened and been safe.” She could hear him crying. He was her father, he shouldn’t cry.
Misty tried to lift her head but couldn’t. There was a sharp pain in her chest, but it was hurting less and less, feeling softer. “Please,” she begged.
“We who are strong fly free,” her father said quietly over her. “We who are not will return to the stars.” He gently kissed the top of her head. “We lift ourselves.”
Misty tried to look up. She tried so hard. Her injured wings spasmed and her limbs couldn’t even gain purchase on the broken floor. Through the ground she could hear the creaking of the World Tree as it tore itself apart and the cries of the terrified breezies within.
Shoulders slumped, her father turned his back and began to walk away.
“No!” She couldn’t even raise her head to see him. He might have been gone. Leaf scuttled forwards to lick at her cheek. She weakly drew him forwards into a hug. “Dad – daddy, please, I know what you’re thinking!” She panted hard. The words were getting harder and harder to come out. “I-if I’m wrong then you’re a hero and you’ve saved the hive. B-but if I’m right and you’re wrong, then…” She gritted her teeth hard. Tears were running down her cheeks now but she didn’t care. She knew she wasn’t a hero. “I-if I’m right then everything that’s happened has been for nothing b-because we don’t have to live like this. E-everyone that’s suffered and died. Mum. B-but that’s okay because no-one knows everything. It’s not your fault. We can find a better way.”
There was silence except for the rumbling of the tree and the gentle tongue of Leaf as he lapped at her tears. Was he gone? Had he even heard?
“Dad… I’m sorry… I can’t lift myself…” Misty whispered. There was black fog on the edge of her vision. Her wound didn’t hurt any more. It was over.
Two strong limbs wrapped themselves around her and hoisted her up. She trembled as she looked into the face of her father, his cheeks smeared with dry tears. He hugged her tight and kissed her on the head again. “No, Misty. You’re right. Of course you’re right. We lift each other.”
Misty clutched her father, Leaf held weakly in one limb as she let him drag her out of the nesthome. The tree continued to rumble and creak and split.
“Breezies!” her father cried out. Misty rested her aching head against his chest, feeling his voice reverberate through her and around the World Tree. “Follow me! Take the sick, the injured, take everyone and rise!”
Two breezies who were standing over a third who had fallen stared at Misty’s father in shock. One of them looked down at their fallen comrade and slowly picked him up. “Rise,” he echoed.
“Rise!” her father repeated, and his wings blurred into life. From below, the call continued, and breezies started to emerge from the Great Hall, frightened and unsure, but with a new determination welling up. “Rise!”
“Rise!” came the chorus as the breezies flexed their wings and pulled up their injured. They ascended the stairs and squeezed through cracks in the World Tree’s bark.
“Rise!” Misty croaked weakly against her father’s chest as he lifted her into the air, through the ruined maze that was the remains of their home and into the sky.
Misty was surrounded by hundreds of wings, and the World Tree bloomed one last time with greens and yellows and purples and blues as the breezie hive lifted each other into the air. She was crying again, but this time she didn’t mind. They weren’t tears of sadness.
“Rise!” came the cry, again and again, all around her. “Rise! Rise! Rise!”