Fire. That's what the alarm meant and that meant flying into action. I'm a pegusus so I had to fly. I jumped up from the table and shot up to one of the ceiling hatches put in for this purpose. I hoped Dinky was watching me. I hope she saw how quick I reacted. I knocked open the window and shot high above Ponyville. A pony could see everything from up here but I wasn't interested in the view. I started scanning the horizon for smoke as I heard Rinsun flapping up beside me.
“You're looking the wrong way Breath. It's a bad one today.” he said to me. I turned and saw it, the smoke, the killing air. The fire was dangerous sure but the smoke, that was what got you. “Too much for a dragon but there might still be one at the center.” Rinsun muttered.
“So full gear then?” I asked. Dragons were dangerous and could be bad news on a good day. On a bad day they were positively horrifying. Still, we couldn't be sure, that smoke was rising up from the Everfree Forest and all bets were off there.
“Yeah, time to suit up.” Rinsun dropped like a stone and I followed him. We went in through the window to the equipment room where the others were already getting ready. “It's in the Everfree Forest.” Rinsun said to everypony. “Might be dragon activity but I can't tell.”
“Dragon? I really don't want to deal with a dragon today.” Cap said.
“Put on a brave front, Cap, all the ponies in Ponyville are counting on us.” growled Coal.
“I don't know if I can handle a dragon.” Dinky sounded nervous, she hadn't dealt with a dragon yet. I would have gone over to reassure her but Rinsun was faster.
“They aren't all that tough.” he told her. “You just have to get in there before they know what's going on. Show no fear and they'll just fall down like a rotted tree.” He laughed the rather distressing laugh he always got in a dangerous situation. He'd received more commendations than anypony in the history of the station. He'd also been given just as many lectures and demerits. He could be stupidly brave sometimes. Me, I'm not that brave. I do my job best I can, I like to think, especially because I'm only a volunteer. I dropped to my locker and began to get outfitted.
“Hey Tate, do you think I should go permanent?”
“It won't help.” Tate was the only one I told about my feelings for Dinky, he was positively unsupportive about it though. I went back to getting my gear on. Talking to Tate wasn't helping me at all apparently. It tended not to.
“Hey Coal, you sure you want to do this? I mean, you've handled fires before no problem but a dragon at your age?”
“Keep it down Cap.” He muttered to me. “I'm as spry as I've ever been.” He turned away from me and that ended it. I was worried about him. He was a good stallion but he'd been doing the job for so long. I knew about his desire to retire, he didn't know it but I know far more than these ponies give me credit for. I may be considered the office slut but that's no reason I can't be socially aware. In fact it's more reason for me to pay attention. I'd finished putting my gear on and so I took a quick look to see how the other ponies were faring. I'd always been the fastest, Coal once said it's because I've had so much practice getting them off quick. He's like my wildly inappropriate dad which is probably why I feel so worried about him. Dinky was almost ready which was good. It was nice to finally have another mare around the station. The testosterone was getting way too thick. I've given her what tips I can but she seems like she can get through any troubles but I don't think she should idolize Rinsun the way she does. It might be better if she ended up with Breath. He may be a bit on the talkative side but he's rich, young, and he likes her to boot. Rinsun is way too angry at the world for a relationship to be healthy. He doesn't know that I've figured it out but he's been living at the station. I don't know what happened to his house but it hasn't been easy for him. Still, he's good if I want some rough fun and afterwards he mellows out for a little while.
Tate was the slowest to get done, as usual. It's not really his fault I suppose. Being an earth pony he didn't have the maneuverability of a pegasi or the magic of a unicorn to help him get suited up. He also double and triple checked everything on his gear. He'd be doing it until we got to the fire I knew. He's a paranoid pony sometimes but his attention to detail has helped us out many times. If only he had that attention when he cooked we might get a decent meal out of him when it's his turn to get the food.
“Have you all finished yet? We have to go.” Coal shouted. “Come on.” He galloped off and the rest of us followed. It was time to fight the fire, save some lives, and hopefully avoid a dragon.
Old. That's how I felt which was appropriate because that's what I was. The others might be fooled but Cap knew my time on the force was coming to an end. Confound her. Confound this whole day. A dragon of all things. I had to be strong for the others though. We would be the first to go in and we would be the last to come out. I could see over by the town hall a gathering of ponies. The pegasi would be making clouds and the unicorns would be trying to control the wind. That was all well and good for a fire in town or off at Sweet Apple Acres but this was the Everfree Forest. Magic tended to fail in the trees and clouds took on a mind of their own. For an instant I wished I was on one of the other teams, they would be handling the crowds and ordering the pegasi and unicorns about.
I couldn't let myself think that way. I was the most qualified pony on the force right now and I had to lead my team with all my ability. No time to go weak at the knees. It was time to get to business. I called a halt at the edge of the forest.
“Alright fillies and colts. We have a fire to take care of. Breath, Rinsun, you two get to flying over the smoke and find where the origin point is. Cap, you're my filter. Dinky, go with Tate. Remember, until we get confirmation from Rinsun and Breath we are only evacuating. Now get going.” Cap and I split off to the left and Dinky and Tate went to the right. We had a lot of ground to cover and not much time to do it in. Fortunately there weren't many ponies who lived in or around the forest but there were a enough to make the job difficult. Hopefully they'd gotten out quick but we had to make sure. The biggest hold out was bound to be that mare Fluttershy. She had so many animals on that land of hers, but she wasn't actually a part of the forest so hopefully she'd get all the extra time she needed to clear them out.
“Hey Coal,” Cap called, “Doesn't that Oats stallion live near here?”
“What?” I cursed as I suddenly remembered. He was new to town so he hadn't been put on the register. I didn't even know where his house was. “We've got to find him and get him out of here.”
“Good idea, where do we start?” It was a good question and for the life of me I didn't know.
“Nowhere. We've started already so we just keep going like any other time. We just have to keep an eye out for a house.”
Sometimes you just have to accept the smoke. You can't let it scare you. We're all going to die someday unless you happen to be a super special princess. Even then, a coup will end it all. You just have to accept it.
“Rinsun, you're going too low.” Breath shouted at me. We were plowing through the smoke like rockets. Our mastery of the wind gave us a small area of clean air to breath, the ponies who couldn't fly had to use unicorn magic to accomplish the same thing. It didn't compare to the joy of flying though. I let my hooves skim across the tops of the trees.
“You're too high. How are you going to see a dragon from way up there?” I called up to him. He was too stuffy, he always talked but he just didn't know how to put any weight behind his words. Not like Dinky. She'd only joined a few months back and she was exceptional. She had the dedication, the spirit, the ability. I wanted to see her rise to the very top. Breath flew a bit lower but it hardly changed anything. He was also trying to drag along a rain cloud. It sprayed a little rain but it was getting smaller every second. The new recruits don't pay attention, clouds do what they want in the Everfree Forest.
We flew past the trees and homed in on the dragon. I was pretty sure it was a dragon at least. A fire that spread this fast had to be a dragon's doing. I couldn't wait to go hoof to toe with the thing. The fight would be fast, it would be exciting and it wouldn't matter who won because everyone would be better off either way. I laughed at the idea. It was all so thrilling.
“I wish you'd stop laughing like that, Rinsun, it gives me the creeps.”
“Don't be such a filly. See anything yet?”
“Not yet, the fire's doing a number on the trees. I guess the forest has been having a dryer season than anypony thought.” He was still glancing around as if he might miss something. Trouble is, if your head jerks around like that, you probably will.
“Scan the area Breath. Stop twitching about like a chicken and scan. Watch for signs of movement and clashing color.” I admit I had only been doing it offhandedly. The area below was starting to get so bad that I had to rise to avoid being scorched by heat it was giving off. If anypony or creature was down there, I don't know if they'd have lasted this long.
“I think we're almost past the worst of it.” Breath called to me. “The dragon should be near the edge of the middle. If it's the origin then it will be here.”
“I know basic tactics Breath. No need to say them again. I taught you, remember?”
“Yeah, sorry Rinsun. Just making sure I've got it right. Didn't mean anything by it. I'm just trying to repeat the lessons so I don't mess anything up.”
“Well go ahead if it makes you feel better.” I called back to him. He was still new and a volunteer besides. If we met a dragon he had to be calm and cool, especially if he was the only one to return and give alert. That's why there are two of us on every job after all.
Some might say I am not clever. They're right. Others might say I'm paranoid and they're right too. What they don't seem to realize is that every moment I'm not paying attention to the world around me is a moment where I am at peace. Every moment I can get away to my garden is another moment where I can contemplate tranquility. When the fire starts though, every moment in the face of fire is another chance to get burned.
“Dinky, your focus on the left side is slipping.” I shouted.
“Sorry Tate.” She shouted back and I stopped seeing the stray ash float into our bubble. It didn't keep out the sound though. You wouldn't think it from a distance but a forest fire is loud. There's no peace in it. While Dinky was doing a good job keeping the air clear, she couldn't do anything about the residual heat. Time and time again I was glad for our thick boots as each step turned over hot coals.
“Tate, I think we're getting too close to the fire.” Dinky shouted at me. She sounded worried, I was worried too but there was nothing for it. A little nervousness could keep you alert and that kept you alive.
“There's no helping it Dinky, that zebra lives out here and we have to make sure she cleared her house.”
“Alright, but let's get there quick, if the fire turns we might get caught in the worst of it and I don't think I have enough power to stop that.” She was right, I hadn't heard of a unicorn yet with power enough to put down a full fire. Maybe a princess could do it, or maybe the librarian in town but it would take an unbelievable amount of power and effort to put a dent in it. Still, Dinky was doing well, she had the knack. If I didn't feel safe in her spell then I wouldn't have dared come this far. So much skill and she'd only been with us a few months. She would make something of herself. Still, I shouldn't tell her this, it might lead to overconfidence and then she could end up like Rinsun. He was going to get himself killed or grounded one of these days.
As an earth pony, I had strength. I had a sureness of foot for when big things had to be handled. Ponies liked having earth ponies on the force because it allowed for the unicorns to focus on their spell instead of trying to do levitation and shielding. There were some who were of the opinion that this added to the general feeling of earth pony inferiority but I've never been bothered. I know what I'm good at and I'll play my strengths.
“Tate, I see her house up ahead. It's not caught yet but we'll have to hurry.” I saw the house and I saw the signs that the fire would be on it real soon. Then I saw something Dinky had missed.
“There, by the tree.” I called to her, gesturing with a hoof. Dinky had been focused on finding the house when she should have been focused on looking for ponies. A rookie mistake but an understandable one. “There are two of them. I think one's hurt. Quick, get over to them.” I ordered. It was time to do what I always had prepared for. I've always hated this bit but it had to be done. “Check up on them Dinky, I've got the house.” I galloped off towards it, passing through the unicorn protections and into the sooty world of the forest fire. It was always a shock, like the first dive into the cold pond but very much the opposite. The hot air filled my lungs. The mask kept out the worst of it but I still wanted to cough immediately. It wouldn't have helped and would just throw off my breathing. My mouth dried up inside and my tongue felt as if it was about to bake in an oven. I ignored it, not giving in to the discomfort and ran inside the house.
Tate ran off toward the house, I wanted to go with him, it was a part of my job to stay by his side and keep him protected but the two ponies under the tree needed me more than him. I galloped to them and they came into clear focus once they entered my shield. The zebra was Zecora and the other was an old friend from school, Applebloom.
“It is good to see you here, not too late I hope and fear.” Zecora said in that rhyming way of hers. She moved and I saw the blood on Applebloom's head. “It is not too bad and she will be fine, but she must be carried past the treeline.”
“That's good.” I sighed with relief. The Apple family had lost one of it's youngest in accident last year, it would be terrible for them to lose another so soon. “Are there any other ponies or creatures inside your home?”
“All those inside have come out here, the fire played upon their fear.”
“Right, well that's good. Well I need my partner to come out quick so we can get you two back to safety. I stood over the two of them and looked at the house. Where was he. It had only been a few seconds but we needed to hurry. Zecora said it wasn't bad but I didn't know much about head wounds and it looked like a lot of blood. I was thinking about throwing a rock through a window when he finally came running out. He looked white as a sheet which looked odd his brown coat.
“That was positively awful.” he said as he gasped for air back in my shield. “Firelight plays some nasty tricks sometimes. Is she alive?” He asked, nodding his head at Applebloom.
“She is, Zecora's done something for her but we need to get them out and quick.”
“Right then, put her over my back and let's go.” He squared up his shoulders and I started a levitation spell. And with a bit of nudging from Zecora we got Applebloom on Tate. It was a good thing too because the double focus was draining and I was feeling cracks in my shield.
“Dinky, focus on the shield again. The ash and soot is getting through and Applebloom needs as much clean air as we can give her.” Of course he called me out on it. Didn't he know how hard this was? I took off my mask with a bit of magic and placed it over Applebloom. “Dinky, what are you doing?” He shouted at me. It was rash I know but I was angry and I think it did help some.
“She needs it more than I do. Now let's get out of here.” Tate shook his head at me and started running. I followed with Zecora close behind.
It didn't take long for us to arrive back by the town at the speed we were going, but our arrival caused quite a stir since we were the last pair back. “Quick, get that pony to a doctor.” Coal shouted above the hubbub. Tate nodded and ran toward where the medical tent had been set up. Zecora went with him, staying close to Applebloom.
“What's going on sir?” I asked Coal. There seemed to be a rather large amount of distress, more so than the fire warranted. The winds seemed to have changed and that meant the fire would burn back on itself and die out. It also meant the town was out of danger.
“Dragon.” Rinsun muttered and I took a look at him. He was covered in soot and ash, turning his blue coat to dark gray. He looked like a battered hero and it was amazing.
“At least one, there might have been signs of a second.” Breath said, his words were interrupted by a hacking cough.”
“Breath, I told you to stay with the medical tent.”
“What happened?” I asked. I could tell something was not right.
“He got a lung full of dragon smoke, lucky the thing wasn't breathing fire this time of year.” Rinsun said. “You shouldn't have followed me. That was against protocol.”
“You were-” he was cut off by another fit of coughing.
“Stop it, Rinsun, we'll talk later. Breath, get to the medical tent.” Coal ordered. “Cap, see that he gets there and don't let him leave.”
“Yes sir.” She saluted and led him off. Out of all of us, Cap looked the least affected. She was hardly even dirty. I don't think any fire is hot enough to bother her, she positively revels in it.
“Dinky, I have some news. While you were in there, the wind changed. One of the groups of pegasi trying to send in clouds didn't come out well.” I suddenly felt a terrible sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. “Your mother was in the group. We still haven't found her.”
“What? I thought we got them all.” Rinsun said. I wasn't paying attention. My mom. That wasn't right. That couldn't be right.
“So did I. It wasn't until we got them able to talk again that we found out we'd missed her.”
“Well we have to go back. We have to find her.” Rinsun was getting really angry about this. I was so confused. Mom had always been there for me. She'd done the best with the little she made and my sisters and I knew that she loved us. She'd do anything for us.”
“Rinsun, what are you doing? Get down here.” I was jerked out of my thoughts by the anger in the voice and I looked up to see Rinsun rising in the air.
“No Coal. I'm going to find her. Dinky, I swear to you I'll bring your mother back.” Then he was gone. I'd never seen a pegasus travel faster.
“That fool. There'll be trouble when he gets back.” Coal came over and put a hoof on my shoulder. “I'm sorry Dinky. Look, let me get you to the medical tent and they might be able to help you.”
“No.” I heard a voice say and suddenly I realized it was my own. “I can't leave my mom out there.”
“What are you saying. Rinsun's already gone out there like an idiot, there's still the fire in that area, possibly two dragons, and there's no way to know where she is now.”
“I don't care.” I started to push past him and I realized the arm around my shoulders wasn't just to comfort me but to hold me back. He'd seen this coming. “Let go of me.”
“Don't do this kid.”
“I said, let go of me.” I was so angry. I unleashed a heavy blast of magic that threw him off me and away to the side. Then I ran. I ran into the forest, into the heart of the beast. I braved the fire, the dragons, all of it for my mother. She'd given up so much for us, it was time to give back.
The young mare shot through the forest, disregarding her own safety. She hadn't the concentration for her spell, and, even if she had, the exhaustion was catching up to her. Her mask had been left with Applebloom and every second her lungs took in air they also took in the deadly smoke. Far off in another direction flew Rinsun. He was throwing his life away because he thought it was worthless. Back in town Cap was now trying to help Coal up. He had hit the ground hard and couldn't seem to get back up, his hind legs kept giving out every time he tried. Breath was fighting for oxygen as his lungs continued to try and expel the smoke that had gotten in. The thick, oily air stuck to his lungs like tar and he felt like he was drowning. Tate was lost and confused. He wanted to return to his garden and meditate but the ponies on his team needed him. He didn't know how to help them and had been overrun by the doctors and nurses all asking for his help as well.
Dinky was running, she thought she was running. Her desperation pushed her forward but her body couldn't keep up. She collapsed, every breath for air simply taking in more smoke. She thought she was moving as she lay there. She tried to call out for her mother but it was barely a whisper. She saw things in her mind, things that weren't quite real. Glimpses of memories and of what she had before. Then everything faded away.