Lessons Learned from Loyalty

First main installment in the Tutelary Spirit universe. Recommended reading order: Loyalty, Honesty, Generosity, Kindness, Laughter, and Friendship.
Many ages after the original adventures of the Elements of Harmony, a young stallion soars high into the clouds, searching for the Element of Loyalty.
Her original life lived and gone so long ago, Loyalty, like the rest of her friends, has changed and grown over her many lifetimes to guide the ponies of Equestria.
Because even after so long, the Elements of Harmony will always share their lessons of friendship.

https://www.fimfiction.net/story/213635/lessons-learned-from-loyalty

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1. Into the Sky

In the sea of the eternal blue sky, in the cumulative collection of white, bulbous clouds that dotted the sea like foamy islands, there was a brown dot that glided upward through and around these great masses, across the overhanging and surrounding blue field.

Popping out through the top of a particularly small cumulus, the brown dot slowed to rest over the white cover. Landing atop the puffy sheet, it took a moment to look at its surroundings. It was able to do this because it was actually not a brown dot at all; it only seemed like one because of the great, empty distances that surrounded it and the titanic clouds that diminished it. Moving away from the expansive view of the sky to a more narrow and focused perspective revealed the brown speck to not be a dot at all but rather a brown pegasus.

This pegasus, a stallion as his broad frame indicated, felt the firmness under his hooves as he landed on the cloud; his skyborn ancestry prevailing him the natural ability to trot through and on them. Stretching his neck downward, his muzzle peering over the side of the cloud, the stallion looked below to find more sailing masses of puffy whites that glided over the singular color of grass.

Below him, green pastures stretched for miles across every direction. Green was all he could see of the land, even when he knew that there was a much larger variety of colors down there than just that simple one. But alas, he had flown so high into the sky that the majority greenness of the land was all that his eyes could catch. Everything else was either too small in the distance or obscured by the shadows of the clouds to be clearly made out.

Diverting his gaze upward, he grimaced slightly at the view above. Even so high, the swirling masses of clouds climbed higher still.

His posture slackening, the stallion let loose a disheartening groan while his tired muscles ached and his wings silently screamed in pain as they hung by his sides. The journey that he was partaking in was not an easy one: already miles off the ground and he still needed to fly higher still, to where the cold was harsh and where the air was thin. Even for the most athletic of ponies, the sheer height that this journey demanded one to climb was a daunting effort, and while the stallion would hurriedly claim that he was no slouch, he knew that what was before him was going to take more effort out of his body than he had ever attempted in his life.

Worst part was that he didn't even know if this was all going to be worth it in the end.

Sighing his head low, the stallion felt a weight shift over his back. Swerving his green eyes behind him, he laid his gaze to the satchel that was strapped across his body. It wasn't heavy really, only packed with a few basic necessities: a water bottle, some food packs, a compass, a map...

And a single picture.

"It's me or him, pal. Make your choice."

These soft words whispered across the wind, slicing harshly into the stallion's coat with every syllable as they passed him by. Like poison in the bloodstream, the pain quickly traveled deeper into his body and coiled around his heart like barbwire, squeezing out the dearest of memories that were held within. But these memories were splotched with frustration and left a bile of bittersweet taste on his tongue that spurred a fire of determination to light up behind his eyes as he remembered why he had climbed so high into this journey already.

Fiery, green irises cast themselves upward towards the stallion's goal, towards the top of the collection of thick clouds above him. He had to get there, he could feel it deep within himself, like a prodding of his very soul...

She was calling him, beckoning him to find her.

Tensing his muscles, the stallion let his wings screech in pain as he launched himself off of the thick cumulus and flew once again upward. Determination his fuel, he flew up higher and higher, passing numerous clouds in his ascent without a second glance. Flying through sheer force of will, every increase of height became more difficult as his wings ached worse each time they flapped and his breaths became hollow as the air turned thin around him.

Yet still he rose on.

Eventually, the stallion's ascent brought him before a humongous mass of a cloud and he could not help but pause before it. As big as a floating mountain, the cloud was an imposing sight to be flying so close to, even despite its fluffy appearance. For a moment, the stallion only hovered before the mountainous cumulus as he contemplated on his next course of action. Since the start of this journey, an unknown, pulling sensation had taken up residence deep within his chest. He didn't know what it was or where it had come from, but the stallion had followed the pull into the sky regardless, a measure of hope in his heart. Now he was being pulled towards the massive cloud, somehow knowing that his sought-after destination was hidden inside of it somewhere.

Flapping wings burning from strain as he wasted time hovering there, the pegasus stallion quickly set about with a steely resolve on his face and dived into the mountain cloud.

Piercing through the cumulus's exterior into its cotton ball insides, the stallion soon found himself confused.

He was lost.

Well, not entirely lost actually. He knew exactly where he was: he was in a cloud, and if he flew in any direction long enough he would be out of that cloud. So it wasn't exactly true that he was lost...

It was just that he could no longer find what he was looking for.

Flying around inside the white interior, the stallion had somehow lost the guided sense of direction that had mysteriously been bestowed upon him on this journey. But he was not perturbed by this though, even if it did frighten him a bit. He had come so far already and he was not going to give up now, not when he felt he was so close.

So he continued his search in the massive cumulus.

Surrounded by the wet gas, the thick streams of watery smoke muted the sun's rays that attempted to pierce through, causing the fluffy white cloud to be a dull gray everywhere the pegasus turned. The stress of his flying had become even more difficult now that the airborne liquid of the cumulus's composition collided and stuck to his coat, making him irritatingly wet and freezing. There was also the fact that with every direction he turned he was fooled into a false hope by the twisting shadows that originated from the ever shifting mass of the cloud's form.

The stallion was dead tired: the icy water and cold temperature that collided against his form weighed him down heavily, while the thin air that was brought into his lungs strained his efforts to breathe. All in all, it was quickly becoming increasingly difficult to even muster the will to flap his wings.

That's when he saw it.

A shadow hidden behind a wall of gray.

Relief surged within the stallion as he saw the distant shadow, hope warming him up better than any fire ever could. This was not the cloud's own twisted shadows that had fooled him in his search before; it was too solid and with form to be anything like those. The silhouette of the shadow also appeared to be large and wide too, like something that the stallion could easily land on and rest his weary body.

It was at this time that the guiding sense of direction pulled at his heart once more, and he knew.

Weakly, and yet with so much strength, the stallion angled himself forward, towards the promising shadow.

So happy was the pegasus that he finally reached what he was searching for all this time, that he barely noticed just how lightheaded he had become, or how darkness seemed to be slowly encircling at the corners of his vision. It was only when he blinked and the darkness advanced further across his vision that the stallion quickly realized he was blacking out.

Knowing full well of his fate if he blacked out here and now at such a height, the stallion began flapping his heavy-soaked wings as hard as he could in an effort to quicken his pace towards safety. But in his panic, this only served to condemn the pegasus even further as his strained body ate up even more energy, the darkness in his eyes encroaching even further as his mind slowly succumbed to sleep.

Eventually, his body just couldn't handle it anymore, and flying quickly turned into falling.

Wind howled in the stallion's ears as he fell through the cloud, his back towards the ground and his wings above him being dragged down along with him. As he fell, his eyes focused on the large shadow floating high above him, its promises of his resolutions so far away now. Too tired to feel any sorrow for himself, the stallion only stared up at the shadow hidden away deeper inside the cloud, allowing it to be the last thing he sees before blacking out.

But just before darkness encompassed all of his vision, the last thing that the falling pegasus saw was an array of rainbow colors that flowed in the air before him like a mane in the wind.

"Eh, good enough," spoke an amused voice just as the stallion blacked out.

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