He should never have been fighting like this.

Fighting, yes. Charr were born to a life of fighting, and he’d taken to it well – in his own way. But his own way was not this way. A crush like this was where the Blood Legion belonged. Just get right in there and hack at the enemy – they loved that. And with the ghosts flocking all around them, thick as morning fog, there were certainly a lot of enemies to hack at.


Autumn was a hard time to be a working pegasus in Horseshoe Corners. While summer mostly called for clear days with just enough rain to keep crops growing well, in autumn things were more complicated. First, the pegasi needed to stir up a lot more wind to keep things properly cool. Rain was just as important – letting crops dry out just before harvest-time would be disastrous. But rain at the wrong time would be bad, too; the fields couldn’t be too wet for the farmers to harvest them. So all the pegasi were worked to the wingbones to move clouds into place when it was time for rain, make sure they rained properly, and then shoo them off over the surrounding hills when enough had fallen on the fields.

And somepony needed to be sure all of it was happening at the right times – and in Horseshoe Corners, somepony meant Stormchaser.


Most of the Academy hopefuls had come a long way. Stormchaser was glad to see it; it was always nice to see people doing well.

Not everypony agreed with that assessment, of course; but for all Comet Trail griped about the others catching up with them, Stormy knew the paler pegasus wasn’t serious about it. For one thing, despite the progress the others had made, Stormy and Comet were still well ahead of the rest in all trials; and the subtler thing, the thing Stormy wouldn’t have spotted before coming to know him, was that even if the others did catch up, Comet Trail loved a challenge. Oh, sure, he liked to win – but part of his frustration with the pace of things here was that a victory with no real competition was no real victory at all.

Not the way Stormy usually liked to look at the world, but he could at least see some merit to it, now – just like the more-driven Comet Trail had come to learn that winning wasn’t everything, so long as you gave it your best.


Stormchaser glowered at the bulletin board, tail flicking anxiously behind him. Lead pony. It was a vote of confidence, sure, and he wasn’t going to dismiss that out of hand – but when he’d come to grips with the stiff competition he’d face at the Academy, it had actually sounded somehow restful that he might not have more eyes on him than would be on anypony else.

And now, this: lead pony.

It wasn’t too much of a surprise that he’d be working with Comet Trail – he and the Las Pegasus stallion had been neck-and-neck in everything they’d done at the Academy so far, both at the top of the class in everything but raw speed and not far behind on that, both of them agility fliers. But on reflection, it seemed a little bit weird. Why pair him with someone who was already pretty much a match for him? Why not have him mentor a pony who was struggling to keep up, and put Comet Trail in a similar spot with another such pony?

At least if he’d been put in that kind of spot, sure, he’d still have been saddled with the extra responsibility, but he probably wouldn’t have been scrutinized quite so closely as he would be now that his team was the two best candidates here.


It was the biggest thing this side of the Summer Sun Celebration. The ribbons were hung, the streamers were flying, and dozens of merchants had set up stalls or sales-wagons in the main square of Horseshoe Corners.

With this much bustle happening and traders from the nearby towns and beyond setting up shop where the trade roads crossed, Rough Rider had been a bit shocked, in the way of foals, when he’d learned that the oddly-named First Harvest Fair was just a local thing, not something celebrated across Equestria. Even more than the holidays that were in fact that widespread, this was the day everypony looked forward to. No Summer Sun formalities or Heart’s Warming pageantry or Nightmare Night offerings – instead there were games, foods from near and far, and wonders from all across Equestria to see as their little town turned into one big market for a day.


“Well, well.” The bass rumble, rough and gravelly as always, cut through the hiss of bellows and the crackle of flames, clear even under the ring of iron and steel. “I hear someone’s moving up in the Citadel.”

“Please. You don’t need to remind me.” The leonine figure remained hunched over the workbench a few moments more, making one last, careful twist, before he laid down his wrench and stood a bit taller. Tugging off one thick leather glove, he reached up to the monocle over his left eye and gave it two twists – once swiftly, to bring his vision back to normal size, and once more carefully, to restore proper focus. “You got business to talk about, Varuk, or did you come all the way to the Canton Factorium just to talk my left ears off?”


“What are you waiting for?” Cerise asked, bouncing on her heels and clutching her purse in both hands. “Open it!”

“This isn’t just another birthday present,” scolded Rowan, standing beside her with his hands crossed behind him, looking for all the world like a serious businessman in his thirties instead of a boy of sixteen. “He’s taking it seriously. Like it deserves. Let him be.” But he, too, was leaning forward a little, watching the third member of their little group – and the brightly-wrapped box on the table in front of him – with dark, intense eyes.

Drake hadn’t taken his eyes off the box since they’d come upstairs and seen it. Oh, his mother had told them Professor Juniper had dropped by, had told them what the Professor was giving them. But to come up here and see it waiting for them, bright green with an equally-bright red ribbon wrapped around it… to read the note and learn that, yes, the Professor trusted the three of them to each take charge of one of the lives waiting within, to go out and see the world and learn more about the creatures that dwelt in it…

Rowan was right, and Drake knew it. It was a big thing.