A Song of Storms: Snow and Shadows

by The 24th Pegasus

Chapter 1: Prologue: Frozen Caverns

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A Song of Storms: Snow and Shadows

The 24th Pegasus

Prologue: Frozen Caverns

There was no movement within the black halls. Stone crested stone, only to stop in reverence towards what lay within. Stagnant air filled the structure, having not moved for centuries around the artificial corners of the forgotten masonry. Not even spiders or other vermin dared to ruin the sanctity of the crypt, or disturb what holy treasure might lie within.

It was cold, hellishly cold under millions of tons of rock and mountain. If there had been any water within the caves, it would have frozen at the slightest contact with the bitter stone. But the still air was dry, and unbearably so, with not a trace of moisture in the halls. Their creators had made sure of that, long ago.

A deep bass tremor reverberated through the rock, shaking loose tiny specks of dirt and gravel. Such a movement seemed to disturb the solemn sanctity of the caves, and the stone began to rumble angrily, violently. As more and more of the rock began to collapse from the ceiling and into the open space below, the timeless ward of the crypt was breached. The first trace of a lavender glow faded from sight in the newly opened ceiling.

Mane, horn, and purple irises peered cautiously into the settling dust, waiting to see if any more stone would collapse from the ceiling. After a few rocks popped out of the walls and clattered across the rough floor, the solemn silence returned to its home. Using her caution to overrule her academic excitement, the unicorn mare climbed over the boulders in front of her to look into the void of darkness within the crypt.

She waited there for several seconds as if expecting something to materialize from behind her. After no such event happened, she huffed and turned back towards the entrance to the cavern. Feeble northern sunlight provided meager illumination to the immediate area, but after traveling past nearly fifty feet of jagged and smoldering stone, it might as well have been nonexistent.

“Rainbow Dash!” Her voice echoed in an alien manner amongst the walls of stone that had not known the burden of sound for innumerous years. After receiving no response, the unicorn’s brow furrowed in annoyance and she released another foggy breath. “Rainbow! Could you please come down here and bring those torches you have with you? It’s dark in here!”

A distant voice reached her, pitched and cracky in a pleasantly endearing way. “Can’t you just use your magic, Twilight? Why do I have to go in there?” Reluctance permeated her words as they strained to travel through the roughly-carved tunnel into the mountain. The unicorn known as Twilight Sparkle only swished her purple and magenta tail in agitation at Rainbow Dash’s reluctance.

“Because I just spent the last half hour blasting through all that rock! My horn is spent, Rainbow. Even I need to take a break sometime!”

A sigh of defeat was barely audible from outside the tunnel, and a vibrant pegasus mare fluttered into the cavern and set some torches down in front of Twilight. “There, I got them. Can I go back outside now?”

Twilight picked up one of the torches and provided a small spark from her horn to ignite it. After placing it in a sconce, she set it aside and turned back to Rainbow Dash. The colorful mare, with her powdery blue coat and prismatic mane and tail, was flashing her magenta eyes to the flickering shadows among the walls and ceiling. She took great effort to keep her knees from shaking, but her ever-active wings betrayed her. The tips of the sleek and powerful limbs twitched nervously, and the feathers were slightly flared to her sides in worry.

“What’s the matter, Rainbow? Are you nervous?” Twilight had precisely calculated her question, and it brought forth the reaction she wanted from Rainbow.

“No! I’m just…” Rainbow slid her hoof over a few gravelly pebbles as she willed her anxiety away. “I just don’t like caves. They’re a little, you know, small.” Not one to be shown up, she grabbed a torch and lit it before trotting deeper into the tunnels. Twilight smiled and grabbed her own torch before following her. One of the many natural quirks of the pegasus race was their aversion to confined spaces, as they preferred the open sky to subterranean spelunking. Rainbow Dash’s concern, as much as she tried to hide it, was therefore understandable to the unicorn scholar.

The hallway continued on into the darkness, and even after lighting several sconces, the exit remained hidden in shadow. The stone floor was blisteringly cold, and the explorers’ hooves were becoming numb. Stopping at a bowl filled with tinder and other fuel, Twilight and Rainbow Dash paused to warm their bodies and admire some of the ancient glyphs carved into the walls.

“Amazing!” Twilight whispered as she studied the carvings. Reaching into her saddlebag, she withdrew a roll of paper and some charcoal. Using her magic to hold the paper against the wall, she quickly made a rubbing of the characters and prepared the materials for more.

“I don’t get it. Just looks like some of Scoot’s mouthwriting to me,” Rainbow half-grumbled, half-joked to herself. The alphabet, if it could be called one, consisted largely of simple, scratchy lines interspersed with occasional pictograms. The panel of the hall as a whole looked like little more than a nasty tangle of hair or spider webs to the untrained pegasus, although with some intrinsic order behind it.

Twilight rolled up her third rubbing of the wall and sat back to admire the work as it was. “They’re ancient pegasus glyphs, actually. Before the unification of the three tribes under the Equestrian banner, the pegasi used this sort of simple alphabet to form their messages, unlike the earth ponies or unicorns.”

Rainbow Dash’s ears perked ever so slightly. “What, you mean like in the story? Like that play we did a while back on Hearth’s Warming Eve with Commander Hurricane and all them?”

“Yes, exactly! After that play, I was interested in learning about the three tribes. There’s so much history that's been lost to time!” Twilight’s eyes glowed with the academic gleam that possessed her whenever she got the chance to talk about something she learned, but Rainbow angled her head to the side in confusion.

“I thought the story was the history of the three tribes. You know, how they all hated each other and then that big blizzard came and they’re all like ‘Oh no, we need to go find a new home!’ and then they go find a new land but they all claimed it at the same time so then they fight but they get trapped in a cave and almost get frozen but then the fire of friendship drives away the Windigo thingies and they all live happily ever after? Right?”

Twilight chuckled at Rainbow’s very succinct retelling of the traditional Hearth’s Warming story and shook her head. “Yes, well, that’s what the official story is now. Don’t forget this was almost two thousand years ago. A lot can be forgotten in that time. For example, have you ever heard about what life was like for the tribes before the blizzard other than that it was bad and they hated each other?”

Magenta eyes searched the intricate wall for answers, but ultimately Rainbow shrugged her wings. “Can’t say that I have. So what, you think you found more of that forgotten history or whatever in this place?”

Twilight slowly stood up and used her magic to grab her torch as she began to walk again. “Exactly! Actually, I found a lot of information about the ancient unicorns and earth ponies in the Star Swirl the Bearded section of the Canterlot Library, but there’s almost nothing on the pegasi. Any information I came across was secondhoof and dated within two decades of the Eternal Blizzard event, and by that time the tribes hated each other so much that half of the material was little more than slander and rumors against them. The only direct accounts of pegasus history come from burial temples like these scattered throughout the north.”

“Wait, so you’ve already been to one of these places before?” Rainbow raised an interested eyebrow as she brought her eyes off of the ceiling and back to her friend.

“No, but I know of their existence, so I could find this one. I got most of my research from the Canterlot Library. A few months ago, the librarian found this, and it provided a lot of startling but interesting information about the ancient pegasi.” Stopping to look through her bags, Twilight withdrew a tattered book. The binding material caused Rainbow Dash to drop back in alarm.

“Leather? They used leather? That’s disgusting!” Although the pegasus stuck her tongue out at the tanned hide of another animal, Twilight simply continued to trot along—although not without keeping the book a good distance from her.

“It is appalling, but these pegasi came from a different time. A different landmass, even. Without the farming magic of the earth ponies, they had to resort to some extreme measures to provide food for themselves.”

Rainbow Dash stopped in place as the words sunk in, then quickly galloped back to Twilight’s side. “Wait wait wait wait, a different landmass? No earth ponies? What do you mean?”

Twilight opened the book with her magic as she walked. “This book is actually the journal of Commander Hurricane. He described a pegasus empire called Cirra that existed across the ocean to the east, in what is now the country of Grivridge. He was actually the emperor for a few months before it collapsed.”

Temptation to grab the journal and read it for herself to make sure Twilight wasn’t messing with her crossed Rainbow's mind, but she quickly realized it was encoded in the same scratchy lettering that had adorned the wall behind them. Instead, she just had to assume Twilight was speaking the truth, even if it didn’t make sense.

The pages of the book fluttered by rapidly as the unicorn stuck her nose in it and reviewed the material. “Apparently, the Cirran Empire was the original home of every pegasus in the world. They neighbored the griffons—and they most certainly didn’t get along.”

“And by ‘didn't get along’ you mean…?”

“They hated each other, and fought because of it.” Twilight’s eyes grew dark as she closed the book and levitated it back to her satchel. “Their entire history was nothing but war and death, first with the pegasi dominating the griffons, then with the griffons destroying the Cirran Empire. Millions died, millions! The only reason the bloodshed stopped was because the Cirrans fled to the Equestrian landmass. Otherwise,” she turned to Rainbow, “the griffons might have killed all the pegasi.”

A heated anger awoke in Rainbow Dash’s chest, though for what reason she couldn’t tell why. “You don’t know that! I mean, Gilda told me tales about Grivridge’s military ancestry and whatnot, but there’s no way they would do something like that!” Steamy puffs of breath escaped from her nose, and her wings were flared open in anger and shock. Startled, Twilight quickly moved closer to Rainbow and placed her hooves on Dash's blue shoulders to calm her down.

“Rainbow, I didn’t mean anything by it. I’m just saying that both sides have a very dark history, as hard to believe as it is today. And like I said, it was a different time. Ponies and griffons alike have changed for the better. War on such a scale hasn’t been seen in years.” She took her hoof off of the pegasus’ shoulders and waited.

Taking several deep breaths, Rainbow glanced at her hooves. “You’re right. It’s just—I don’t know. It’s pointless. Who knows what those ponies or griffons could have done if they hadn’t died.” She sighed, and with a powerful shake of her wings she seemed to fling away her bad thoughts and began to walk again. “Guess that explains why they were known for being tough. It had never occurred to me that their—my—entire history was founded on war.”

Twilight sympathized with the colorful mare’s plight, but they continued to walk on in silence. As torches were lit and sconces were filled, the end of the hallway finally came into view in the form of a massive, featureless wall.

Rainbow Dash nearly dropped her torch as she groaned aloud. “Please don’t tell me that we went the wrong way.”

“I don’t think so,” Twilight answered as she stepped forward to observe the wall. Setting her gear down, she withdrew a few tools from her satchel and dusted at the surface. The stone was incredibly smooth, and cut with the kind of craftsmanship that any mason today could only dream of. If the rock were made out of a lighter stone such as marble instead of the darker granite, it would be possible to see one’s reflection in it.

Rainbow was content at first to watch Twilight scan the surface of the wall with her magic, but after the first five minutes the boredom became unbearable. She had nothing to read, and attempting to glean anything from the scratchy Cirran writings that decorated the hall was doomed to failure. Flying sprints up and down the length of the passageway and timing herself would have occupied Dash for ten or so minutes, but the air was so cold her feathers were freezing and her wings were beginning to numb. Instead, she had to resort to helping Twilight study the wall in what was bound to be a fruitless endeavor against the unicorn’s trained eye.

That was why she was surprised when her eyes glanced across a symbol of a horseshoe encompassing a thunderbolt that Twilight had apparently missed. Instead of a carving, however, the icons glowed a soft white. Getting up from her seat against the wall, Rainbow Dash walked over to the symbol and lowered her nose towards it.

“Hey Twilight, what’s this funny thing mean?” She pointed towards the symbol, and Twilight trotted over for a closer look.

The lavender mare’s eyes narrowed and she angled her head to the side. After a few seconds of study, she raised a skeptical eyebrow towards Rainbow Dash. “What are you talking about? I don’t see anything.”

Confused, Rainbow rubbed her eyes to make sure she wasn't seeing things and tightened her expression. “What do you mean you can’t see anything? It’s right here!” She gestured to the wall, but Twilight simply shook her head. Mildly annoyed, Rainbow pressed her hoof on top of the symbol…

…then jumped in surprise as it slid into the wall. There was a precursory click as stone met stone, and a tiny blade pierced the soft frog of her hoof. The pegasus shouted and quickly withdrew her limb, licking at the trickle of blood the blade had spawned. Alarmed, Twilight quickly grabbed a thin strip of gauze from her bags and wrapped it around Rainbow Dash’s leg.

“Oh my gosh! Rainbow, are you okay? Here, let me see what I can do.” Her horn flared up briefly as she prepared a spell, but Rainbow Dash shook it away.

“Geez, Twilight, calm down! I’m fine, it’s just a little scratch. Stupid Cirran booby-traps,” she muttered. Setting her hoof down, she approached the newly formed insert into the wall and looked at it cautiously. “Just what in Tartarus was that supposed to do—”

A deep vibration from the wall cut off her words. Surprised, the two ponies leapt back several feet from the now-shaking partition as it shook ancient dust and gravel loose. With a hideous groan, the massive rocks over five feet thick split apart at the center and withdrew into the walls. Rows of torches suddenly sprang to life from within, providing their dim, orange light to illuminate the massive stone crypt.

Rainbow Dash had never been more stunned in her life. If her jaw could have hit the floor it would have, but instead she found herself lying on her back and grasping her scratched foreleg in awe. Twilight was no better off, and her horn crackled with the excess surprise escaping in the form of diffuse magic. Together they stood up, and Rainbow glanced between her hoof and the opened chamber with incredulity.

“What the… How the… wha?” was all the confused Pegasus could produce. Once Twilight had overcome her initial shock, she began to apply her encyclopedic knowledge to the situation. Turning back to Rainbow Dash, she unwrapped the bandage from her blue foreleg and looked at the cut again. A smile at unexpected fortune lit her face.

“I get it now! The door is attuned to pegasus Empatha! That’s why I couldn’t find the opening, because it was specifically designed to be opened only by a pegasus!” Twilight’s hooves clopped against the stone as she jumped in excitement. “I’m so glad I brought you along, Rainbow!”

The pegasus scratched her mane abashedly and chuckled. “And here I thought that you only wanted me for my speed to get up here. But wait, didn’t you say you went through one of these places before? And what the hay is an empa-hooza?”

Twilight gathered her bags and began to trot into the crypt, with Rainbow Dash not far behind. “No, I've never been to one, but I have read about them. Nothing I read mentioned a secret door like this. And second, it’s Empatha. It’s what gives the pegasi their magic.”

“What, like standing on clouds and stuff?”

“Yes, exactly! Princess Celestia taught me about this last week before I started this expedition. The three different pony races all have natural magic. The unicorns have Arcana, the earth ponies have Endura, and the pegasi have Empatha. They all manifest in different forms.” Twilight set her bags down on a nearby table and crackled her horn for effect. “Arcana is the most direct form of magic. By channeling a unicorn’s mana, it allows us to cast spells that affect the world around us, whether they be physical or illusory. Endura is the reason why the earth ponies can grow food so well and why they’re naturally stronger than pegasi or unicorns, and Empatha allows pegasi to fly, stand on clouds, and control the weather and elements of nature. Fluttershy’s “Stare” is an expression of Empatha.” Grabbing a few tools and pouches, Twilight began to examine the crypt’s contents. “The magic is carried in a pony’s blood, which is why unicorns can’t give blood to pegasi, and so on and so forth.”

“Wow.” Rainbow Dash brushed her hoof lightly against the stone ground as she thought. “I guess you wouldn’t have gotten in without me then. But wait, how come I’ve never heard of this Empatha stuff before? It seems like it’s a pretty important part of being a pegasus.”

“That’s probably because the majority of pegasi only use it passively. The pegasi in the Royal and Honor Guards are trained how to use it actively, but I wouldn’t know anything about that other than that it can help in combat. Frankly, and pardon my generalization here, but most pegasi don’t go on to study the magics like unicorns do. They just know that it works and they don’t bother to question it.”

“Heh. Well I guess you’re right. I never bothered to figure it out either, but it is kinda awesome.” The torches in the crypt were finally bringing heat to the frigid air, and Rainbow Dash began to hover and stretch her wings. “So what do you wanna find? Hopefully I won’t have to go sticking my hooves into any more of those symbol thingies.”

Twilight surveyed the room and pointed to some bookshelves against the far walls. “Find anything that seems interesting over there. Leather-bound books would be a good start, because they were only used by the Cirrans before moving here. Thick tomes as well, the thicker the better.”

Rainbow Dash nodded and flew towards one of the towering bookshelves to paw through its contents. Most of the books were made of canvas and tree-bark backing, but there were a few leather books as well. She set those books aside, as well as some of the larger ones she came across.

As she pulled off more and more books, a hidden space behind the bookshelf began to appear. Curious, Rainbow took the whole section of books off the shelf and carefully set them on the floor. A rectangular hole opened up before her, with a simply bound yet perfectly conditioned book inside. Gingerly taking the tome out of its compartment, Rainbow opened the pristine cover and looked at the perfectly white pages. Equiish alphabetical symbols greeted her, eliciting a small grin of triumph from the pegasus. Being careful not to damage the work, Rainbow Dash fluttered down to where Twilight was sifting through books by their Cirran titles.

“Hey Twilight! Check this one out!” Depositing the book on top of the stack that the unicorn was reviewing, Rainbow dropped onto her hooves and waited. Carefully levitating the tome in front of her, Twilight began to flip through the pages. Her eyes widened with each successive page of Equiish print, accompanied by fine mouth drawn sketches adjacent to blocks of text. Trotting over to one of the stone tables, she set it down and began to scrutinize the volume in question.

“Rainbow, this—this is incredible! Where did you find this?”

The sly grin that was common on the accomplished mare’s face returned once more as she glided towards Twilight’s side. “In that bookshelf over there. It was placed in a little hole behind a whole bunch of other books.”

Twilight flipped the book over and tested the pages. “Such a perfect condition… and in Equiish too! I would have said that this was made within the last twenty years, but Commander Hurricane’s signature is right here, inside the cover! It’s definitely from the time, even if it doesn’t look it.”

“Couldn’t somepony else have just forged it and put it here for us to find?” Rainbow Dash said as she shrugged her shoulders and poked the book warily. Twilight shook her head and opened it up to the beginning narration.

“There are some things that can’t fool good magic, and luckily you’re dealing with an expert. Besides, it wouldn’t make sense. Why make a fake historical record, travel all the way to some hidden crypt, hide it amongst several other books, and leave without taking anything? It wouldn’t add up. No,” she tapped her hoof affirmatively against the first page, and began to flip through the chapters, “this is genuinely Hurricane’s work. Although this name I don’t recognize. Commander Typhoon?”

Rainbow Dash pushed a stone chair closer to the table and sat down. “Maybe we should read it then. I bet that Typhoon guy explains himself at some point in the text.”

Twilight nodded and used her magic to pull a chair of her own behind her. “Well, there’s no time like the present to start. Let’s get some food cooking, and while we wait we can read.” Taking a deep breath, she turned to the first page and began to scan the text.

‘The following events have been compiled from my memory to the best of my recollection. It is with absolute certainty that I say that the events that happened during these years will be scrutinized to their fullest extent by the pony historians of generations to come. History is a malleable thing, and it is essential that it is recorded and preserved by those that lived it. Clover the Clever has written her own log of what happened, but the sentimentalism in her works assuredly glides over some facets of this history and rewrites others. My simple narration here will be enough to fill in my part of the story, and logs provided by Commander Typhoon will complete what transpired in my absence.

‘My name is Commander Hurricane, leader of the Cirran Tribe, Commander of the Royal Guard, and triumvir of the Equestrian Triumvirate. Within these pages lies the tale of a winter thought eternal, of rising tensions, of famine and death, and of frozen hearths. Forget what you thought you knew, for in all likelihoods it has been tainted by the deluge of time. Here begins the tale of the founding of a nation and how it almost came not to be.

‘My name is Commander Hurricane, and this is the truth.’

Next Chapter: Chapter 1: Siege Estimated time remaining: 15 Hours, 3 Minutes
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