A rusty brown pegasus shuddered in the icy wind. The same thoughts ran through his mind over and over. Thoughts that kept kept him going during the past six and a half frigid hours.
“I’m a lieutenant,” he grumbled at nopony in particular. “So why am I on guard duty? This is work for the recruits, or anypony else other than me. I haven’t even seen anypony in hours, and nopony’s going to steal food from the vault. My being here is pointless. I swear, the next time I see the commander, I’ll...” he sighed, trailing off. As if he’d be able to confront the commander and keep his hide intact. Besides, he knew the importance of what he was doing. Food was getting scarce, and winter didn’t seem to feel like going away. Rationing was stricter than ever, and he was actually surprised that he hadn’t seen anypony else. His mind was wandering as he nibbled on a bit of dried fruit, made bitter from the cold, but a nearby voice caused him to snap to attention.
“Uhm... Lieutenant Tempest? I have a message for you, it’s from the commander.” The voice came from a shy, pink haired mare that Tempest instantly recognized as Private Pansy, the commander’s chosen recruit. “Well, you see... she said that she wanted to see you at once. If that’s okay. She was very insistent. I’m here to relieve you from your post as well.”
Tempest scoffed, but quickly apologized as the mare shrunk back in response. “I’ll be right there. Try to make my tombstone sound meaningful, I have a bad feeling about this.”
The private nodded meekly, and Tempest flew off towards the commander’s office. When he arrived, he became acutely aware of all the flaws in his appearance. His fiery orange mane was sticking out from his helmet, and his armor was lopsided. He fixed both before announcing his entry.
‘Probably a moot point’, he thought. On the other hand, however, he didn’t want his superior to see any flaws if he could help it. The commander’s office always impressed him. Murals of great pegasi warriors covered the walls, and a large table in the center served as both her personal desk and a place for the military leaders to discuss important matters. The table itself had maps scattered all over it, with a cyan mare poring over each one in turn. Once he was satisfied with his appearance, Tempest took a deep breath and stepped inside.
“Commander Hurricane, sir?” He made sure to speak loud to mask his nervousness, causing the mare in front of him to raise her head. “Lieutenant Flame Tempest, reporting. I was told that you needed to see me?”
“Good, it’s about time you showed up,” Hurricane said in a forceful voice. Tempest was used to her volume, as she always yelled to keep everypony in line. “We have a situation, as I’m sure you’re well aware. Winter hit us hard and fast, and we won’t have the supplies to last much longer. We simply cannot survive the next several months at this rate, especially considering how early this all happened. I know those unicorns are behind it, but that doesn’t matter now. What’s important now is that we need to leave.”
“Leave, sir?” Tempest was taken aback. “As in leave the country?”
“I thought that was clear, Lieutenant. We won’t survive if we stay.”
“But...” He hesitated. Tempest had lived here his entire life, and knew the commander had as well. Leaving was an option that she would only consider in the most dire of circumstances, yet he was still skeptical. After a moment to think, he continued. “With respect, that seems too risky. We don’t know for sure whether we can find a place to sustain us. Much less be able to get everypony there. I... I just...” The commander stared him down, causing him to withdraw and trail off.
“Lieutenant, let me explain the situation better, since this isn’t something to be taken lightly. That vault of food I had you guarding, how much is left?”
“I... uh, not much, I suppose. Maybe enough to last another month or so?” Tempest said, confused at the question.
“And did you also know the reason I had somepony of your rank guarding it? Because it wasn’t because of your diligence,” Hurricane snapped, glaring at the lieutenant. She then sighed, her face softening. “That is our entire food store for the moment.”
“What?!” Tempest recoiled, his mind beginning to race. “But... No, that’s impossible. We had at least three other identical stores to last us until spring! How can-” Hurricane raised her hoof, silencing her lieutenant.
“That’s my point. Unless there are some very drastic weather changes, we’re done for. I’ll also take the opportunity to remind you that our weather teams can’t seem to get this under control.” The commander’s tone darkened. “However, we don’t know of any other lands suitable close by, that’s why I’m personally scouting out a lead with another pony.”
“I’ll do my best, sir,” Tempest said, giving a salute.
“No, not you. This needs to be kept quiet,” she clarified, causing her lieutenant’s face to flash indignant for a split second. “If two high ranking officials disappear in a time of crisis, the people could panic. No, I’ll be taking Private Pansy. She has a good eye for scouting, and she’s the only other pony that knows about this plan. Besides, nopony will notice her missing. You, on the other hand, will be staying. I need somepony to keep everypony else in line, and you’re the one I trust most to do this. Understood?”
“Lieutenant? I need your cooperation here. Am I going to get it?” It was amazing how she could be yelling and sound sincere at the same time.
Tempest hesitated. He wasn’t ready for this, but forced himself to look calm. He wanted to at least appear confident if the commander was trusting him with so much.
“I understand, Commander,” he said, putting on a bravado.“You will be leaving to scout new lands, and I am to maintain order among the ranks until you return.” The facade calmed his nerves somewhat, but he was far from assured.
“Good, now I need to prepare. Remember, morale is the most important thing here. If anypony realizes that I’m gone or learns of this conversation, it could start a panic. Ultimately, this will be left to your discretion, but keep us out of a fight,” Hurricane said, turning grim. “With the food situation, the pegasi are hostile and desperate. They want to fight because they think it will solve our problems, but we can’t afford to start any conflict. If we got into a war now... well, I don’t think we’d be able to recover from it.”
“Yes, sir!” the lieutenant said, giving a salute. “I will try to the best of my ability to keep the pegasi from getting involved in a war, and I will keep your absence a secret. When will you be leaving?”
“Dawn tomorrow, I won’t waste time. I know this is sudden, Lieutenant, but I’m glad I can count on you.” Hurricane hesitated a moment, choosing her next words carefully. “One more thing, Lieutenant. This authority of yours, it only lasts until I return... Which is to say, if I don’t, then you’ll take the helm of command permanently.”
“I... yes, Commander.” Tempest met her gaze. “Although, if I may speak freely, don’t let me get comfortable in your position. I want you back in command when you lead us to that new land.”
“Good,” the cyan pegasus smiled. “Until then, you’ve got a tribe to lead, Commander Tempest.”
“So we left those magic-mongers battered and beaten, and scored a bit of food on top of it, too!” a lithe, grey colt bragged to a group of recruits. He was wearing saddlebags over his armor, both stuffed to the brim. “And that isn’t even the best part!”
“Oh? Then what is?” a voice came from behind the colt, causing him and his two companions to flinch in surprise. “Please, continue your story.”
“Lieutenant, sir! Corporal Gust, reporting!” the grey colt said, giving a hasty and nervous salute. “I was just telling some of the recruits about our raid on the unicorns, sir!”
“Really? Because I recall giving some rather specific orders telling all soldiers not to attack either of the two other tribes,” Tempest spat. “So can explain to me why you decided to go against a direct order and attack the unicorns?”
“We were provoked,” Gust lied, trying to keep eye contact with his superior.
“Oh, well then I suppose it was just and necessary,” the lieutenant snarked. “Tell me everything, Corporal.”
“They’re the ones causing the blizzards! It’s their fault that the rationing is strict. They’re trying to starve us and the earth ponies with their magic, any food we steal won’t be missed!” Gust yelled, realizing his mistake a second too late.
Tempest chuckled, and gave the corporal a small smile. He managed to keep that smile for a full couple of seconds, but inevitably fell prey to his temper. The recruits flew off, satisfied with hearing about the resulting explosion later.
“You hoofbrained dolt!” the lieutenant shouted, punching a small hole in the clouds at his hooves. “I’ve half a mind to knock you into the mountains! You managed to not only disobey several direct orders, but even compromised the truce between the tribes! For pity’s sake, it’s even only been three days since...”
“Do I sound like I’m done? I’m your lieutenant, which means I’m responsible for every foal stunt you pull. You attack another tribe, you steal their food, that’s on me! Now I need to go suck up to Princess Platinum, so that maybe she won’t decide to go to war. So you better hope that she’s in a good mood, because when I get back, you’ll be the first one I come to talk to.” Tempest rubbed his throat. He usually managed to keep his anger in check, but he could scarcely control himself.
Gust tried to speak, but could barely open his mouth, much less form the words of any kind of apology.
“I’m leaving,” the lieutenant said after a few moments of trying to calm himself down. “You’re lucky this is more important, or I’d be kicking you out of the sky right now. And give me that food, you nimrod.”
Gust sat in silence as he watched Tempest fly off towards the unicorns. When he was out of earshot, the corporal let out a small laugh.
“I can’t believe he bought it.”
End Chapter 1
Tempest touched down right outside of the unicorn’s royal palace with a soft crunch. The feeling of solid ground was a bit strange, and he realized just how long it had been since he left the clouds. He ran inside, not wanting any lookouts to spot him before he’d had a chance to make peace. A small gasp escaped him when he saw the inside of the palace.
He tried to notice everything around him. He’d never been here before, with good reason, and was wary of any potential traps and ambushes. The entrance from outside led into a huge, arched corridor, which was lined with torches for light, but was otherwise disturbingly empty. Not only was the hall devoid of decoration, save for an ornate blade on a wall, but Tempest couldn’t see or hear any signs of life. His shoulders shook from the tension.
“Hello?” he called out, his voice echoing greatly. Just being here was bad enough, and he definitely didn’t want to be accused of spying. “Is anypony here? I need to speak with Princess Platinum.”
His voice seemed to echo eternally through the halls, but was soon drowned out by soft hoofbeats on the stone floor.
“Who’s there?” an elderly grey unicorn came from around a corner, followed by a small, white filly. His face tensed when he saw the lieutenant, and his horn glowed a soft green.
“I’m here to speak to the princess. Some of my soldiers attacked here and stole some food, and I want to apologize for their actions and make peace. They acted against my orders,” Tempest said. He made to walk towards the elder, but realized his hooves were stuck to the ground.
“Tia, I’d like you to go wait in your room while I talk to our guest,” the unicorn said to the filly. “It’s alright, I’ll be right there.”
The filly looked back and forth between the two older ponies, then walked off, but not before giving Tempest a sour expression. When she was out of earshot, the elder turned towards the lieutenant. His face contorted with rage.
“You have some nerve, coming back here,” he said quietly. “Where’s my granddaughter?”
“What?” Tempest twitched his head in surprise.
“I’m being patient,” the elder raised his voice, his horn glowing brighter. “You sent your troops to raid our tribe, and one of them foalnapped my granddaughter. Now tell me where you’re hiding her.”
Tempest’s wing extended, though not of the lieutenant’s will. It was enveloped in an eerie green glow. He looked on in fear as the elder began twisting it with his magic.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Tempest said frantically. “Those troops acted on their own. I thought they just stole food, so I’m here to return it and make peace.”
“You’re lying!” the elder shouted. The wing twisted more, and the lieutenant could swear he heard bones crack. “You sent those three to attack us, and take my granddaughter hostage. If you enjoy your ability of flight, you’ll tell me where she is. I’m not an idiot, I know she isn’t in the clouds. So just give me a location.”
“No, I’m telling the truth!” Tempest said, growing desperate. “I don’t even know who you are, or who your granddaughter is. I definitely don’t know where she would be, but I think I know who does. I can bring him here and you can ask him yourself. You’ve got to believe me when I say that I didn’t know anything about this!”
“Fine, if you want to be stubborn. I’m Elder Mulberry, temporary leader of the unicorns while the Princess is away. You knew that she was leaving, and thought to attack us while she was gone. I failed once when you’re little posse came and took Luna, but I won’t fail again.” He twisted the wing ever more, letting go after a sickening crunch was heard. “Tell me where she is, and you might be able to fly again.”
“I don’t know!” Tempest cried. He couldn’t move his body, but he felt his wing fall limp and useless to his side. “Gust acted against my orders, and I don’t know where your granddaughter is!”
“Then I don’t have a choice!” Mulberry shouted, pulling the blade from the wall with his magic. “Consider yourselves at war, only you’ll lose a leader of your own to even the odds!”
He aimed the blade at a gap in Tempest’s armor and drove it forward. A bright flash passed over the Elder’s eyes, and the lieutenant had disappeared.
“What?!” Mulberry screamed in frustration as the sword clattered to the ground. A voice behind him sighed.
“I know your granddaughters are your life, but you can’t let it cloud your judgement.” The soft jingle of bells were heard as a blue clad, bearded unicorn stepped out from the shadows.
“Starswirl,” the elder sighed. “You saw everything, then?”
“Enough to know that the pegasus who’s life you were ready to take was innocent.”
“No, he had to know something!” Mulberry said, his eyes watering. “Why did you have to stop me? You could have let me have that, at least!”
“And what would you tell Celestia? Your other granddaughter is still here. What kind of message would it send to her?” Starswirl asked softly, putting his hoof on the elder’s shoulder.
“I...but...” Mulberry sighed again, feeling defeated. “You’re right. I just want to see her again.” He looked up, becoming determined. “And I will. I’ll find that other pegasus and make him tell me where Luna is. Tell the soldiers to prepare for a fight.”
“Have patience, we planted a seed in sparing that pegasus. He knows his underling betrayed him, and will want justification himself. Let us see how the situation grows before arming ourselves for war.”
Tempest looked up into the cyan pegasi’s eyes from the flat of his back, trying to remember how he got there.
“Commander?” he said groggily. “Is that you?”
“Oh, you’re doing worse than I thought,” came a voice from above him. Not the commander, it couldn’t be. It was too soft. “I don’t know much about magic, so I didn’t know what to expect when you teleported in like that.”
“Magic... teleport?” the lieutenant muttered and rubbed his head. It was like trying to see through a cloud. He catapulted up, and started to remember. “Unicorns! I went to see them, to make peace. How did...? Oh my wing...”
“Please, rest, you’ve been through a lot,” the mare said firmly, and pushed him back into the bed. He could see clearly now, and was a bit embarrassed that he confused the mare with the commander. She was cyan, but her mane was a deep purple. Very unlike the commander’s distinctive coloration.
“You’re the nurse?” Tempest asked as he sat back up, not wanting to rest. His side felt heavy and he glanced over at his wing. He wasn’t an expert on anything medical, but he was fairly sure there were far too many bandages on the injured appendage.
“Yes, I’m Nurse Zephyr. I’m new here, but I bandaged you up as best I could!” she said happily, beaming at the lieutenant. “Don’t try to fly for a while though, your wing was pretty messed up.”
“Right...” he muttered as he closed his eyes and tried to focus. “When did I get here?”
“Uh, about four hours ago? That’s when you were found, I think.”
“Where is Corporal Gust?” Tempest asked firmly. He remembered now. Gust must have foalnapped that unicorn elder’s granddaughter.
“I’m not sure, you did have a visitor earlier. A dark grey pegasus. He just walked in, grinned and walked out. It was a little creepy.” Zephyr frowned, too lost in thought to notice the lieutenant climbing to his feet.
“I need to find him. He knew that the unicorns would attack me if I left. I owe him a... speech,” Tempest grumbled, getting angry at the thought.
“But, sir, uh, Lieutenant!” the nurse stammered. “Please, you have to stay here. You were hurt, and-”
“I’m going, but I’ll come back after I speak with Gust,” he said, walking out of the building.
“But... Oh, okay. Be careful!” Zephyr called out. She sighed, then muttered under her breath. “Stubborn nit.”
“Ugh, you haven't seen him either?” Tempest sighed, after asking what felt like the hundredth bystander.
“No, sorry, sir,” the bystander said nervously, and flew off.
‘Probably doesn’t want to be around after the show this morning,’ Tempest guessed.
It was nearly sunset. He was nearly ready to give up looking for the corporal when he saw a familiar silhouette on the edge of town. It was Gust, looking down from the edge of the clouds towards the other two tribes.
“Oh! And if you look over there, that’s where I had my wing broken because of you!” Tempest snarked as he approached, his anger rekindling.
Gust remained still, as if refusing to acknowledge the lieutenant’s presence.
“Turn around before I give you the same kindness I got from the unicorns,” Tempest snarled. “All because you decided to take up foalnapping.”
The corporal chuckled softly, then turned towards Tempest with a smile.
“You know, we pegasi are strong,” he said. “Stronger than any of those ground-bound ponies below.”
“Where’s the foal, Corporal?”
“We could easily defeat them, you know.” He gestured towards the other tribes. “We have enough power and ability to conquer them all. The pegasi could rule over them, and make them work for us. It would be better than dancing around some treaty.”
“Answer the question, Gust,” Tempest said firmly. “That’s an order.”
“It’s funny, really, that the commander doesn’t see that,” the corporal continued, his voice completely calm. “But then, she doesn’t see much of them anymore. With her running off as soon as things got tough, and all.”
“What?” the lieutenant stepped back. “What are you talking about?”
“Oh don’t pretend you don’t know,” Gust said smiling. “Everypony figured out that Hurricane was gone when you started your silly little tough act.”
Tempest growled, but the corporal kept going.
“You are tougher than you look, though,” the corporal admitted. “I didn’t expect you to survive your encounter with the magic-mongers. A shame, too, makes things more difficult. Not impossible, mind, just difficult.”
“What are you talking about now?” the lieutenant asked, trying to keep himself calm and focused. “Explain yourself.”
“Well, the idea was I send you to go chase your tail with the unicorns, and you don’t return,” Gust said simply. “Then I would reveal to everypony that both you and Hurricane are gone, and I step up to fill the resulting power vacuum.”
Tempest was stunned. He must have hit his head after being teleported. Either that or he was hearing a plan for a coup told straight to his face.
“Well, then I’m sorry to disappoint you,” the lieutenant spat. “That won’t work while I’m still here.”
“Technically true,” Gust admitted, giving a small shrug. “Although I suppose I can always- what was that you said earlier? Oh, right, ‘kick you out of the sky’. It’s not as if you can get back, anyway.”
“Really?” Tempest remarked, amazed at the gall. “I think there’s a key flaw in your plan. I’m not going anywhere, and you really are a dolt for thinking you can beat me.”
“Oh please,” the corporal laughed. “I’m surprised you’re still even here. I’d have expected you to turn tail and run back when Hurricane did. It’d fit your style.”
Tempest lost it. He yelled something that was planned to be some witty retort, but came out as an incoherent mass of syllables. He lunged at Gust, tackling and grasping him as hard as he could as they both fell out of the clouds.
Gust smiled, then kicked out with all four limbs, causing the lieutenant to spiral towards the ground below.
“Twice in one day,” he said, chuckling to himself. “This is easier than I expected.”
Tempest cursed as he fell, watching as Gust’s silhouette shrank into the distance. He couldn’t believe he let his anger get the best of him again. Looking down, however, he had more pressing concerns.
He couldn’t fly, he knew that much, but he still had one good wing. He flapped as hard as he could to try to slow himself down, with little success. He then tried to keep it steady to glide, but just wound up spinning faster.
It was getting difficult to breathe, and he was losing focus. Through the blur of colors that was landscape, he saw a spot of blue. A lake? It wasn’t much to aim for, but the lieutenant had few options. With his good wing, he tried to steer himself towards it. As he reached the ground, he heard a loud shattering sound. He felt freezing cold all over as his vision went black.
End Chapter 2