Upheaval: Breaking Point
Chapter 25: Other Battles
While the battle raged fiercely by the walls of Bastion City, a battle of a different sort began for the ponies further in. Civilians locked themselves in their houses as both a final measure to avoid the attacking wolven that might slip past and to avoid getting in the way of the city's defenders. Reserves stood at the ready should reinforcements be needed at any part of the wall. Patrols moved through the streets, keeping an eye out for infiltrating wolven. Though there was yet any combat within Bastion City, its citizens still considered it part of the battlefield.
Among the busiest parts of the battlefield was the medical ward where Doctor Redbrand and his subordinates tended to the steady stream of injured that the battle produced. They worked in an empty building close to the northern walls where the fighting was the thickest. There were other medical wards for the other sections of the city walls, but it was at the northern ward Chief Medical Officer Redbrand operated.
Work began almost immediately after the wolven howl signaled the attack. One unfortunate pony was carried into the ward with a wolven bolt through his right foreleg. Others soon followed: a unicorn with a gash across one eye, a pegasus with a crumpled wing, and bolt wound after bolt wound.
Fluttershy was quick to notice the disturbing trend among the injuries. More than a dozen barbed, wolven-crafted bolts lay in a pile next to her. Enough blood had dripped from their points to pool beneath them. "This is going to hurt, alright?" she would tell an injured pony reassuringly. They would nod without speaking as they had some rope clamped between their teeth to bite into when the pain came. Then she would pull as quickly as possible. Each time, she would close her eyes involuntarily to avoid seeing the spurt of blood, but she could still feel the warm, sticky liquid on her hooves.
They had proper disinfectants in supply this time and plenty of bandages so there was no need for burning, red-hot brands. Still, cleaning and bandaging had to be done swiftly. The rate by which the patients were arriving was increasing and the ward began to struggle to keep up. Redbrand's temper began to flare as the pace started exposing the inexperience of the new recruits in his division. He shouted at them when they fumbled with bandages or forgot a step in a procedure, all the while working on patients of his own.
Fluttershy felt sorry for the new recruits. She realized that she was in the same boat as all of them. They were newly brought into an understaffed, overworked division, and thrust into emergency after emergency. It wasn't fair that they be constantly yelled at. To her mind, all that yelling was probably panicking them and causing them to perform even worse. Even she had felt the bite of a sharp reprimand from Doctor Redbrand when she took too long with a patient.
The senior medics didn't seem to mind the least bit. On the rare occasion that Redbrand yelled at them, they corrected what mistake they had been making without even a flinch. Fluttershy wondered if she would eventually reach that kind of state. As for now, she almost jumped each time she heard Redbrand call her out.
As the battle continued, more patients were brought in. Each time a pair of ponies brought a patient in, Fluttershy felt her heart skip a beat as she looked to see who it was. She dreaded the moment when one of her friends was brought in. Twilight Sparkle, Applejack and Rainbow Dash were at the thick of the fighting. She knew that her friends were brave and strong. Twilight was the smartest and most magical pony ever, surely nothing could even catch up to Rainbow Dash once she started flying and Applejack could take on anything with her hard work and determination. But one look at the increasing number of laid up ponies filled her with doubts.
"We've got a bad one incoming!" one of the senior medics called out.
Fluttershy looked to see what had happened. She and the rest of the ward had treated a lot of ponies who had been shot by bolters or badly torn up by the claws and fangs of the wolven attackers. The senior medics had never made such a comment. Just how badly injured was this one to elicit that remark?
A pair of pegasi brought in somepony on a stretcher. The darkening expressions from all the nearby senior medics and the horrified expressions on the recruits nearly froze Fluttershy's heart. She caught a glimpse of the injured pony's coat. Sky blue. A hundred protests reared up in her head and she pushed her way past some of the recruits to see who it was.
A clash of emotions brought her up short once she got a better look. To her relief, it wasn't Rainbow Dash, but a sky blue-coated pegasus stallion. Guilt quickly followed for feeling relieved even though there was still a badly injured pony. Horror and urgency were not far behind. The laid up pony was covered in enormous gashes and tears. One of his wings was crumpled while the other one was just gone save for a bloody stump. Blood soaked the stretcher and the pieces of cloth that the pegasus carriers were futilely using to stanch the massive bleeding.
Nausea wrestled violently with Flutteshy's insides. This was bad. Not just bad, this was horrific beyond what she had ever seen and she had thought just moments ago that she was slowly getting used to the bad stuff. The injured pegasus's breathing was quick and shallow. His eyelids fluttered and his eyes were glassy and vacant.
"Move over!" Redbrand snarled as he went to the injured pony's side.
"Bolter clipped him on his way back from a sortie," Fluttershy heard one of the pegasus carriers tell a senior medic. "He flew right into the wall and fell into the middle of the wolven. They were tearing him up before Flight Dreadwing managed to chase them off long enough to get him out of there."
"Leave it to Dreadwing to never give up on anypony," the senior medic replied. "But I don't think there's anything that can be done for this one."
Fluttershy frowned at the answer. This pony needed help more than anypony else and here was a medic who was giving up after just looking! She looked towards Doctor Redbrand. If there was a pony he should be yelling at, it should be this senior medic.
Redbrand, however, didn't pay attention to onlookers. He inspected the injuries, then went for something in his harness. Fluttershy expected bandages or some disinfectant. To her surprise, he pulled out the flask that he carried with him at all times.
"Here," Redbrand said. He unscrewed the metal cap and put the open flask against the injured pony's lips. The pony winced and drank several mouthfuls before laying back.
"It's medicine," Fluttershy thought aloud. "I see. That's why it tastes so awful. It has to be very strong medicine."
"It's brandy," A senior medic said in response. "For the pain and nothing more."
"But even if he doesn't feel any pain-!" Fluttershy protested. Before she could finish, she saw the injured pony's quickened breathing grow steady, then stop altogether. She rushed forward to try something, anything, but the senior medic held her back.
"King welcome you to the Eternal Herd, colt," Redbrand said softly to the now dead pegasus. He looked over to the ponies watching and snarled. "What's the matter with you ponies? Get back to work!"
The other medics scrambled to tend to new incoming patients. Fluttershy remained standing there even as the dead pony was carried away. She tried to move, but found herself rooted to the spot. Another emotion welled up inside her, something that she didn't recognize right away. She turned her gaze towards Redbrand and finally put a hoof one what she felt: betrayal.
Doctor Redbrand was always angry and always shouting. She thought that it was because he was so dedicated to the point of being a perfectionist and the constant lack of resources as well as the inexperience of his coworkers grated on him. But that wasn't the case at all. He gave up on a pony who needed his skills without even trying. He wasn't a dedicated perfectionist, he was just a grouchy old stallion and a bully who shouted at his subordinates because he could.
She hadn't noticed that she was staring for a long time until Redbrand looked up. "I'm not your patient, Fluttershy!" he snarled. "Keep spacing out and I will have you whipped!"
A dark cloud hanging over her, Fluttershy returned to treating the next wave of injured. For the rest of the battle, some of the spring in her step was gone and patients had to go through slightly rougher treatment.
The initial wolven rush had ended just as quickly as it started. It wasn't so, however, for Medical. Injured had kept on coming after news came that the wolven had backed off. As a result, it was already afternoon by the time Fluttershy finished with the last patient. The recruits and some of the senior medics collapsed where they stood, glad to be able to get some rest after a frantic first day of the siege. Redbrand watched them for a while, a frown still on his face. He opened his flask and took a pull from it before heading out. Still resentful, Fluttershy followed right behind him.
The two of them were walking along an empty street when Redbrand turned around. "What do you want from me, Fluttershy?" he asked. "You should be resting up in case of an emergency."
"I can't believe you did that!" Fluttershy said indignantly. "How could you just give up on that dying pony without trying anything?"
"Easy. I assessed his wounds, determined what treatment can help, then decided that he was too far gone so I gave up."
"That was his life you were dealing with!"
"His life was gone," Redbrand said sternly. "The best that could be done was to ease his pain a bit while he died! What did you want me to do, Fluttershy? Patch him up desperately, then cry when he's dead? It would have been a waste of supplies and a waste of time to do so. We don't have a lot of those in case you haven't noticed!"
"So you let him die to save on bandages?" Fluttershy said aghast. "I thought you were a good pony, but I was wrong. You're a cold-hearted pony who only cares about procedures and supplies, not the lives of others!"
Redbrand walked closer until he was but a foot away from Fluttershy. "And who's a good pony?" he asked with a glare. "You? You think weeping and getting angry over a lost cause makes you so much better?" Redbrand's voice rose to a roar. "Well, you're wrong! You have a lot of compassion to go with your skills, Fluttershy, but you're arrogant! Arrogant at a level that is staggering if you think you can pull everypony from the brink of death each and every time! It's about time you learned some humility and if watching somepony die is what will do it then so be it! So be humbled! Be humbled by how fragile life is and how harsh the world is!"
With that, Redbrand turned his back so abruptly that something fell from his harness. Fluttershy glanced at it. It looked like a tuft of lavender hair tied up with a piece of yellow ribbon. She noticed Redbrand's hard scowl soften when he saw it and picked it up. "Be humbled," he said in a more subdued voice, "by how painfully imperfect you will always be."
"The stallion's old enough to be your father!"
Fluttershy remembered the recruiting officer's words. She hadn't really noticed before, but, right now, Doctor Redbrand did look much older than her. There were lines on his face, especially his forehead for scowling so much, and some stubble on his cheeks and chin. She was now aware that he looked quite tired and that she was intruding on time when he should be resting.
Redbrand tucked the ribbon-tied bit of hair back into his harness and walked away without another word. He took another pull from his flask, a longer one this time, leaving Fluttershy behind to stare at his back and wonder about what she felt about him now.
In the southern section of the city, Hammer Chain's smithy continued to operate even with the fighting by the walls.
"Put those molds out faster, Rarity!" Hammer Chain called out from his anvil. "I've got a few more uses for them so they better not burn out because you're slow!"
With her telekinesis, Rarity dumped a bucket of water on the burning bolt-head molds. "Honestly," she said. "We've been making crossbow bolt heads all morning. Just how many of these things does the legion need?"
"As many as we can make," Hammer Chain said. "You can read any Barrier Lands history book and you won't find any tale about some hero who was known for his legendary crossbow bolt, but the Legion goes through these so quickly, you'd think they were rocks that they just picked up from the ground!"
With the molds put out, Rarity dumped the cooled bolt-heads into a small pile and began to file edges and serrations on them as she had been taught just yesterday. "I suppose there are no stories of legendary bolt-head makers either?" she asked. She had no problem with engaging in small talk with Hammer Chain. Just yesterday, she was afraid that he was going to be gruff and no-nonsense like Mage Captain Owlsight. However, she discovered that Hammer Chain was a lot less strict. The smith enjoyed small talk even if he had to talk over the loud ringing of his hammer striking his anvil. He showed an interest in what Ponyville was like and she was happy to oblige him with stories while she learned more of his trade.
"Bah! You'll find maybe a footnote or two about a smith, that's about it!"
Making bolt-heads made up their first lesson out of necessity. The legion needed a lot of them and the sooner she could start helping, the better. Rarity didn't mind. She sharpened each head to a fine point and added the serrations neatly and precisely, paying attention even to the distance between each one. Hammer Chain didn't dissuade her from such a practice, saying that it's fine so long as she didn't lose much time.
With another pile of bolt-heads ready, Rarity lifted the pile with her telekinesis into a crate that was full of them. A lone bolt-head escaped her magical grasp however, falling and skipping into a dark section of the smithy. With a grunt of annoyance over the magical drift's messing with her spells, she put the pile inside the crate, then headed over to the fallen bolt-head.
As she approached the section of the smithy however, her horn lit up with magic. Surprised and curious, she followed its pull to a nearby crate. "Hammer Chain, what's in these crates over here?" she called out.
"Those? Just some old projects," Hammer Chain replied. "What's the matter?"
Rarity opened the crate and discovered the cause of her magic's agitation. Inside the crate was a set of four six-inch long objects bundled together with a piece of cloth. She pulled out the bundle and removed the covering to find four delicately tapering blades. Along the flat of each was a small blue gem, no wonder she started detecting them. She lifted each blade with her magic, marveling at how light they were for their size. "Hammer Chain, what are these?" she asked in wonder.
Hammer Chain finally stopped pounding long enough to look. When he saw the floating blades, his eyes widened in horror. "You idiot, watch-!" he stopped however, as he continued to stare at them. "Well, that's interesting."
"What do you mean?" Rarity asked.
"Those are the mage-blades I helped Magical design. It was supposed to give unicorn magi a set of blades they can use to slice up wolven even at a distance. That way, even if all a unicorn knew was telekinesis, he'd still have a powerful weapon. The mana crystals embedded on them makes them easy to maneuver with telekinesis so a unicorn can move them swiftly and cut up his foes while remaining mobile and alert. The idea was scrapped however."
"Scrapped!" Rarity said in shock. "Why would such beautiful things be scrapped?" She marveled at how gracefully she could move the blades and spun them slowly in a circle with the points outward.
Hammer Chain continued to watch in interest. "For one thing, the mana crystals work too well. Our testers flung them out of reach or even sliced themselves up when they tried to use them. They were also unstable at times. One moment easy to move, the next moment hard. The amount of precision needed to keep them in control was just too much for your average unicorn mage. When we tried them out without the crystals, the amount of telekinesis needed to maintain hold of a blade and maneuver it at a distance just took too much focus. The same reason why telekinesis isn't so useful in combat. Unicorns were better off learning on-the-fly spells like fireballs and lightning bolts."
"But they're not difficult to maneuver at all," Rarity insisted. She spun the blades above her quickly, making them dance about.
"I've noticed," Hammer Chain said. "Maybe it's because of those gems on your flank. Why don't you keep them, Rarity? You never know when you need to slice a wolven up."
"May I?" Rarity asked incredulously. "They looked expensive and well-crafted!" She didn't relish the idea of attacking wolven, let alone slicing them up, but she had to admit that having something to defend herself with would be reassuring. Especially since she lacked Twilight's magical power.
"Why not? They were just gathering dust anyway."
"Thank you. I'll practice with them when I have time."
"Good. I'd hate to lose a good apprentice because she skewered herself with my old failures. Now back to work, you've got more bolt-heads to make."
With a smile, Rarity put the blades away and re-wrapped them in cloth before going back to work.
While his friends fought by the walls or worked in their specific stations, Spike found himself wandering the streets of Bastion City. He wanted to stay by Twilight's side while she was off fighting the wolven, but Mage Captain Owlsight would have none of it. "The front lines are no place for babies, hmph!" Spike groused to himself. He walked towards the southern part of the city, thinking that maybe he could help Rarity. However, the streets were unfamiliar and he soon found himself second guessing the paths he took. 'Great, now I'm lost.'
The southern part of the city was quiet with the residents remaining inside their homes. Spike continued to wander about, hoping he'd chance upon the smithy Rarity was working in. He stopped when he heard loud scuffling sounds come from one alley followed by screams and howls. Curious, he ran over to the spot.
"Oh! Hey, Spike, what are you doing here?"
Scarlet Rabbit's voice emerged from the shadow corner of the alley, causing Spike to jump in surprise. "Scarlet Rabbit?" he asked. "What am I doing here? What are you doing lurking in an alley? Shouldn't you be helping with the fight?"
"Special Operations, remember?" Scarlet said with a smile.
It soon became apparent to Spike that he wasn't alone with Scarlet in the alley. As he looked farther in, he saw more legionnaires including Vanguard Clash. They stood over the dead bodies of several wolven and twice as many ponies. Next to Vanguard was what appeared to be an uncovered sewer opening. "What happened here?" he asked in confusion.
"Just a little cleaning up," Vanguard said. As he spoke, another pony emerged from the opening, a dark blue unicorn mare who dusted herself off after being helped out by Scarlet. "Did you collapse it?" Vanguard asked her.
"Right on top of another group of them," the unicorn said with a smile. "The wolven won't be using that tunnel again."
"Just in time too," Vanguard said. "Let's hope Blaze Trotter's squad got to their target in time as well."
"Don't be such a worry wart," the unicorn said. "He'll be fine." She caught sight of Spike and inspected him curiously. "What's this?" she asked.
"His name is Spike." Vanguard replied. "He's a baby dragon who came along with the chosen."
"Dragon, hm? I've read that there are only a few scattered ones down the Western Barrier Land," the unicorn lifted Spike up with her magic and held him up to only a few inches from her face. "Aren't you a cute one?" she said playfully. Spike swallowed and tried to back away despite being helplessly caught in the unicorn's magic. He'd been called cute before, but not by a unicorn with such a cat-like playfulness on her face.
"Captain Nightcanter," Vanguard said sternly.
"Oh, relax. I'm not a freak," Nightcanter said. She put Spike back down. The baby dragon immediately scampered near Vanguard.
"I can't be too careful with you," Vanguard replied. He turned his attention to Spike. "No mentioning this to anypony, alright?" he said.
Spike nodded. He looked at the dead ponies and realized that they hadn't been killed by wolven. There were no bite or claw marks on them. Instead, they had sword cuts, the sort that Vanguard's enormous weapon would leave. "You killed them," he said to Vanguard. It wasn't a question.
"Yes," Vanguard replied. He glanced coldly over the dead ponies. "Equestria has a lot of enemies, Spike. Not all of them will come with claws and fangs."
The lack of emotion sent a chill down Spike's spine. He hadn't known Vanguard Clash for long, but he had already believed that the grim, silent stallion was a good pony who saved Twilight from being mauled by a wolven. Right now, he was more coldblooded killer than kindhearted rescuer. He turned his stare to the bodies even as the other ponies with Vanguard began to wrap them up in cloth to drag them away. It was less than week since he found out that Equestria had enemies. Now he had to worry about some of them being ponies? "Now, I'm starting to wonder how we've survived for so long," he said mostly to himself.
"One battle at a time," Vanguard answered with a wry smile. "That's how."