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Upheaval: Breaking Point
Chapter 2: The Prince's Legion
"You've broken some of your Princess Celestia's very important laws to go where you shouldn't be, chosen."
The black-armored pony's words struck Twilight even harder than the white unicorn's blow. She had always prided herself as Princess Celestia's favored and most trusted protégé. The mere thought of breaking any law, even the smallest one laid down by the princess, made her guts twist violently. "But I haven't done anything!" she protested. Her own outburst against these hostile strangers surprised her. She struggled to her hooves, succeeding after a few shaky tries.
"You've come to this place, and you've seen us," the black-armored pony replied. "Your princess has taken great pains to keep either from happening. While my squad is not going to kill you, chosen, I can't say if the same will be true for her."
"You're lying," Twilight said indignantly. "Princess Celestia would never kill anypony. How dare you badmouth her!"
The black-armored pony walked towards Twilight slowly. She could feel the ground beneath him shake with each step he took. She noticed one more odd thing about him. Strapped to his back was what appeared to be a staff of some sort, tightly wrapped in white cloth. Despite her indignation and resolve to face these ponies, she took a few more steps back as he approached. "If she believed that it would protect her realm from a disaster she has been trying to prevent for more than a thousand years, do you believe she still wouldn't?" he asked.
"I-I don't understand," Twilight replied. She wanted to believe that this pony was only mocking her, but he spoke gently and patiently.
"I don't understand either!" the unicorn behind him shouted. "Why should we bother keeping this chosen alive? I say we kill her, and use her as wolven-bait!"
"But it's not your say, is it?" the dark-armored pony answered. His patient tone cracked as he glanced back to the rest of the ponies standing behind him. "I ordered you to set up camp, vice-captain. The sun's going down, and I don't see one!" He looked up sternly at the pegasus. "Scarlet, you should be on reconnaissance by now!"
With one last glare at Twilight, the angry unicorn turned around and walked away. Blademane was right behind her. She also noticed that the steady flapping of wings above her had disappeared. For the first time since she came out of the teleportation spell, she became truly aware of her surroundings.
A rocky plain stretched out as far as Twilight could see, with patches of short grass and bushes scattered across it. There were mountains by the horizon, though they were difficult to make out. The sky was overcast with gray, shapeless clouds. Though the sun couldn't be seen, the steadily failing light meant that night was approaching. Twilight wondered just where the miscast teleportation had taken her. After that quick look around, she returned her focus on whom she assumed to be their leader. "Who are you ponies?" she asked.
"Even out here, it's customary to give your name first before asking for somepony else's," he replied.
"Oh, um…sorry," Twilight said. "Being attacked by strangers after landing in the middle of a strange place made me forget my manners. My name is Twilight Sparkle."
A ghost of a smile seemed to crease the stallion's lips. "I am Captain Vanguard Clash, of the Northern Equestrian Legion. The angry unicorn setting up camp over there is Pyre Valor, the earth pony who stepped on you is Blademane, and the pegasus who was flying around here earlier is Scarlet Rabbit."
"Northern Equestrian Legion?" Twilight asked. "I've never heard of that before."
"Not surprising," Vanguard replied. "You're not supposed to." He gestured for Twilight to follow, and walked over to where the other ponies were. She noticed a pile of twigs and bits of wood on the ground. Pyre Valor walked over, and pointed her glowing horn at the pile. A quick flash of magic set the kindling ablaze. Vanguard Clash sat just a few feet away, and motioned for Twilight to sit next to him.
Seeing that Pyre Valor was glaring at her once more, Twilight did as he asked, and edged away from the other unicorn. "Why shouldn't I know about the Northern Equestrian Legion?" she asked.
Vanguard quietly stared at the fire for a while. Twilight waited patiently. So far, he was her only chance at finding out more on what she had gotten herself into, as well as the only one who was going to be even remotely helpful.
"The Legion… does things out here that would only cause disruptions if they became common knowledge," Vanguard finally answered.
"Oh, stop coddling her, Vanguard!" Pyre Valor stomped her hoof. She had taken a seat directly across Twilight, the firelight making her scowling visage even more menacing. Just a foot to her right sat Blademane, who was content to quietly watch the fire. "Nopony in the Heartland knows about us because your mighty and wonderful Princess Celestia likes to pretend that her realm of peace and rainbows doesn't need us!"
Twilight stared at Pyre Valor. "What?" she asked.
"That's enough, Pyre," Vanguard said sternly.
"She should know," Pyre Valor hissed. "All of the Heartland should know!"
"That's not for us to decide!"
"If not us, then who?" Pyre Valor picked up a twig, and snapped it in two before tossing it to the fire.
"We're bringing her to the fort once the mission is done. We'll present her to his highness afterwards."
"She isn't worth a second of our prince's time," Pyre Valor muttered. "None of them are."
"Prince?" Twilight asked. "His highness?"
"Our prince," Pyre Valor said proudly. For once, her angry expression gave way to something else, pride. "Prince Terrato: Ruler of the Barrier Lands, Defender of Equestria, and a damn better ruler than your nag of a princess!"
"He's also a pony who won't appreciate having his eldest sister called a nag," Vanguard added.
"Nopony is perfect," Pyre Valor groused. "Not even alicorns."
"Eldest sister?" Twilight asked. "B-but-!" she spluttered. "Princess Celestia never mentioned she had a brother!"
"You're in luck then," Vanguard replied. "You're going to meet him as soon as we complete our mission. He'll decide what's to be done with you."
"You're seriously going to bring her along on this mission?" Pyre Valor asked.
"She won't make it to the fort alone," Vanguard replied. "We can't afford to send somepony off to escort her either. Besides, a unicorn with enough magical power to go through Celestia's barrier might be useful."
"Or she could just-!"
The distant yell broke through the conversation before Pyre Valor could finish. All of them turned towards where it came from, and found Scarlet winging his way towards them. Despite the steadily worsening darkness, Twilight could see enough to tell that he was red, as befitted by his name. She didn't have to squint for long, however. Scarlet Rabbit moved from being a distant figure to right in the middle of camp so quickly that she gasped involuntarily. Up close, she noticed that his mane was a much darker hue of red, tied off into a long, simple pony tail. Like Blademane, he also wore some barding around his face, chest, and flanks. His barding didn't look metallic, however.
"I found him!" Scarlet Rabbit said. His voice trembled, and he hopped in place as he spoke. His green eyes, wide in anticipation, practically gleamed in the dark. "He's not that far, and he's about to meet with some wolven! A whole pack of them!"
"Wretch," Vanguard growled. "So, he really has sold us out." He turned his attention towards the rest of his squad, who were already getting to their hooves. "Move out! We're intercepting that exchange." He shifted his gaze towards Twilight. "You're coming along." With that, he galloped towards the direction Scarlet Rabbit pointed out, with the rest of them following.
"Wait!" Twilight called out. She jumped to her hooves, and followed them. Despite all their armor, they ran swiftly. Scarlet Rabbit had flown off into the distance the moment Vanguard told them to move out. She found herself struggling to keep up as they kept going. She was tired, hungry, and her face was still aching.
Seeing that Twilight was lagging behind, Vanguard gestured for his second to take the lead. He slowed his pace to gallop next to her. "Stay close to Pyre Valor," he said. "You'll both be casting spells once a fight breaks out. Just follow her lead, and you'll be fine."
"But she hates me!" Twilight protested, her words coming out between pants.
"True," he replied, "but she hates wolven even more. If you don't get between her and the enemy, you won't end up roasted."
Twilight swallowed nervously, and nodded without a word. She had to save her breath for galloping. Her heart was racing, and it wasn't just from exertion. These ponies were heading towards a fight. They certainly acted like this wouldn't be the first one either, and she was about to be dragged along into their next one. If that wasn't troubling enough, her conversation with Captain Vanguard gave her a hoofful of questions for a pinch of answers. What were these wolven, and why did they have to be fought? Where was she? What was the Northern Equestrian Legion? Why wouldn't Princess Celestia want her to find out about either?
"Hold!" Vanguard called out after several minutes of hard galloping.
The other ponies stopped quickly in response, with Scarlet descending next to them. By the time Twilight shoved aside all the things running in her mind, she was about to run right into Pyre Valor. Her hooves skidded against the ground in a desperate attempt to stop, which she managed to do with only a light bump against the other unicorn's flank.
Pyre Valor turned on her so fast that she had to stifle a yelp.
"Vanguard wants you alive to be shown to our prince, chosen," Pyre Valor hissed, "but get in my way and I'll show you how much room 'alive' gives you for interpretation!"
"Quiet!" Vanguard growled. He hunkered down, and signaled the others to follow. "I can see their campfire over there. Scarlet, what exactly are we up against?"
Even though Scarlet had hunkered down like the others, his tail was twitching in excitement. "Mostly scouts," he replied. "A few skirmishers too."
"What about Cold Hoof?" Pyre Valor asked.
"Oh, he's there," Scarlet Rabbit answered. "He's probably given them his info."
"That settles it then," Vanguard said. "Recover the information first. Then deal with Cold Hoof. Clean up the rest once that's accomplished."
Twilight squinted at the distant lights of the wolven's campfires. They haven't been seen yet mostly because it was now completely dark, but also because they were still a good distance from them. Unfortunately, that also meant that she could hardly see what these wolven looked like. She could see some four-legged silhouettes shaped like dogs. They were big, each likely the size of a pony. Each one of them had long, wild fur. Other than that, she couldn't make out anything else, although, from the name and what she had seen so far, she guessed that they resembled wolves. There was something else that Vanguard had mentioned as well. "Who's Cold Hoof?" she asked. "That's sounds like a pony's name."
"He is a pony," Scarlet Rabbit answered. "I shared a couple of rounds with him. Nice pony."
"Are we here to rescue him then?"
"No," Scarlet Rabbit replied cheerily. "He's a traitor who's selling out the layout of our fort to the wolven. We're here to kill him, and get it back."
"No more talking," Vanguard said. "We're moving in." He reached for his back with one hoof, and pulled out the cloth-wrapped, staff-like object he had been carrying. With his teeth, he untied the string that held the cloth in place, revealing what appeared to be a pair of swords with the ends of their hilts stuck together. He held the thing in his mouth, and unsheathed the blades. With his weapon out, he signaled for his squad to follow, then galloped straight towards the camp.
"Fighting time!" Scarlet Rabbit cheered. He launched himself into the air, promptly disappearing into the night sky. Twilight looked to Pyre Valor, then galloped right next to her, making sure to stay out of her way. Pyre Valor's horn was already glowing deep orange. Blademane galloped ahead of them, keeping by Vanguard's side.
As they came closer, Twilight finally got a good look at the wolven. She had guessed right. They were wolves, enormous, feral wolves with over-sized jaws and front claws. Their eyes glowed bright red in the darkness. They were covered with wiry, grayish-white fur, and they wore enormous spiked collars around their necks. Despite their size, they were very lean. The closest wolven spotted them, and howled before meeting their charge. The others followed suit. In a second, the entire camp was in an uproar.
Before Vanguard and Blademane could collide with the rush of oncoming wolven, a coruscating ball of white-hot flames flew past them. The spell alighted gently on the snout of the lead wolven…
…and then erupted into a massive sphere of flames that consumed everything several feet around it. The wolven near the blast yelped, and leaped away. Their pelts caught ablaze, forcing them to roll on the ground. The lead wolven and those who were charging next to it had simply disappeared. The smell of burned flesh and singed fur wafted towards Twilight, who looked at the unicorn next to her in horror. Pyre Valor smiled at her handiwork. Already, her horn was glowing for another spell.
Taking advantage of the hole left in the wolven charge, Vanguard galloped into the fray. One wolven was still getting up from having put out its burning fur when the left end his two-bladed sword cut through its chest. With a swing of his powerful neck, he dragged his weapon from the dead wolven, and jabbed its other end to another foe to his right. He charged on, plunging deeper into the fight.
Blademane was several feet behind his captain, keeping back several of the wolven to prevent them from surrounding Vanguard. He smashed a hoof into one of them, knocking it down to its side, and reared up. Both of his hooves fell on the wolven's head with a sickening crunch.
"We're not putting a show on for you, chosen, make yourself useful!" Pyre Valor shouted at Twilight. A pair of wolven broke from the fray, and headed straight for them. Panicked, Twilight's mind raced through the spells she knew. She needed something to stop a pair of rampaging wolf-like creatures before they knocked her down, and ate her.
The shout came from above them, followed by a streak of red that landed directly on one of the charging wolven. Scarlet Rabbit wrapped all four of his legs onto the wolven, then launched himself back up into the air.
There was still one more charging wolven, however. Forcing her panicked thoughts into order, Twilight concentrated on a spell. Her horn glowed a steady purple light, and the charging wolven soon found its claws no longer touching the ground. A nimbus of purple energy encased it, lifting it high into the air. With one swift motion of her neck, she hurled it back for several feet, sending it tumbling across the hard packed ground.
"Enjoy the trip!" Scarlet Rabbit shouted above them. A wolven fell head-first to the ground with a dull crunch and a loud snap. It didn't move after that. The one that Twilight had thrown to the ground stood up, and shook its head. With a snarl, it made another charge towards her.
"Cute," Pyre Valor groused. "Now try something more lethal!" She pointed her horn at another clustered pack of wolven, sending another ball of flames towards them.
"Lethal?" Twilight fell back as the wolven came closer. She looked desperately at Pyre Valor, who showed no interest in dealing with her attacker. When the wolven got too close, Twilight held it up again with a telekinetic grip. The wolven snarled, and clawed at her viciously, struggling as hard as it could against her magic. Beads of sweat dripped down Twilight's face as she struggled to maintain the spell. The exertion surprised her. She could normally lift much heavier weights than this wolven. Why was she having so much trouble? Did that faulty teleportation spell take that much out of her?
"What are you waiting for?" Pyre Valor asked. "Beat it against the ground until it's dead!"
"But I-!" Twilight hesitated. The savage gleam in the wolven's eyes promised her that, if she hurled it somewhere, it would simply get up and try harder. "I've never-! I can't-!"
"You've never killed anything in your life, have you?" Pyre Valor walked up to Twilight, getting in her face.
The question jolted Twilight out of her concentration. The wolven dropped to the ground, and leaped, claws and fangs extended.
Only to be incinerated in mid air.
Pyre Valor's horn stayed aglow, the dark red-orange magic casting her face in a lurid light. There was no scowl on her face this time. Twilight could barely recognize the emotion. A moment later, she pinpointed what it was: contempt.
"I am hardly surprised," Pyre Valor said flatly. She turned her back, and walked away from Twilight, unmindful of another wolven crashing to the ground just a foot away. Twilight could hear Scarlet Rabbit's distant laughter.
The battle dwindled down to nothing quickly under the fierce assault. The still-burning campfire illuminated the grisly scene in an orange glow. Scores of wolven lay across the ground. Most of them had their ribs or the skulls crushed by Blademane's metal-shod hooves. Mixed in with those were wolven killed by falling to their deaths.
Twilight felt her stomach heave in protest to the sight. Any trace of hunger she had felt earlier had been completely obliterated. While the sight of the dead wolven made her gag, it was the ones she couldn't see that were the worst. There were scorch marks everywhere, as well as a foul, lingering odor that sent her retching. She looked towards the ponies around her, and found them walking away.
"Get your guts in control, chosen, let's go!" Pyre Valor called out to her. Twilight followed after them. She kept her eyes focused directly in front of her, trying to blot out the sight of all the carnage.
Pyre Valor and the other ponies were following a trail of dead wolven. These ones were slain by enormous slashing wounds across their bodies. Twilight remembered the two-bladed sword that Vanguard carried in his mouth and his fearless dash into the midst of a pack of snarling, howling wolven. She hadn't seen him after that, and his companions didn't seem concerned about what happened to him.
A moment later, they caught up with Vanguard. His two-bladed sword had been plunged into the ground next to him as he stood over something. As she walked closer, Twilight saw that it was a pony, a dark blue stallion with a long, white braid of a mane. The stallion had fallen on his side while Vanguard stood over him. His face was twisted by a mixture of anger, defiance, and fear for his life. She guessed that this must be Cold Hoof.
When Vanguard noticed the other ponies behind him, he tossed a bag towards Pyre Valor, who inspected its contents. She paused for a moment, frowned at what she saw, then closed the bag. "It's all here," she said.
"Good," Vanguard said flatly. He turned his attention back to the fallen stallion. "You are about to be executed. If you have anything to say, do so now. A reason for this insanity would be appreciated, Cold Hoof."
"Insanity? You're the one who's insane, Vanguard Clash!" Cold Hoof spat. "Mindlessly fighting on against an unending tide of wolven. All for what? A pat on the back from Terrato? The oh-so-sweet knowledge that a land you will never see and will never see you is safe?"
"Is that all?" Vanguard replied. "Goodbye, Cold Hoof." With that he pulled out the two-bladed sword from the ground, and raised the blade for a killing strike.
"Wait!" Twilight cried out. She ran forward before the other ponies could stop her, and placed herself between Cold Hoof and Vanguard. "He's hurt and beaten! Don't kill him!"
Vanguard lowered his weapon, and stared at Twilight, his face an emotionless mask.
"Stand aside, chosen!' Pyre Valor snarled. "This is none of your concern!"
"Killing is wrong!" Twilight insisted. "No pony should ever need or want to do it!"
"You filthy, spoiled nag!" Pyre Valor shouted. "Is that the sort of thinking you chosen get when you let others do your killing for you?"
"Pyre!" Vanguard rebuked her. Cold Hoof's eyes grew wide at the mention of "chosen". He focused on Twilight, his gaze drawn to her flank.
Before Twilight or Pyre Valor could say anything else, Vanguard spoke again. "If we bring him back to the fort, he'll be hanged for treason," he told Twilight. "If we leave him here, he'll starve in a few days, if he doesn't die from exposure, or get eaten by wolven. Tell me, Twilight Sparkle, just what do you think we should do then?"
"I…" Twilight swallowed nervously as everyone's attention focused on her.
"Curse you, chosen nag," Cold Hoof suddenly spoke. "How dare you come here now, and make a show of your high and mighty 'mercy'? I'm not letting you drag me back to your princess so she can watch me get strung up. Wolven gnaw on your bones!" With that, he pulled out a knife he had hidden beneath him with his forelegs. Before anypony could stop him, he plunged it into his chest.
Twilight scrambled away from the dying pony. Her back legs caught on a loose stone, causing her to land on her tail.
"Well, he had some semblance of honor left," Pyre Valor muttered. "Mission accomplished, Captain." She turned away from the dead pony and walked on.
Scarlet Rabbit let out a low whistle while Blademane followed Pyre Valor without a word.
Vanguard walked over to Twilight, and offered her a hoof to help her stand. She stared at it numbly in response. "By tomorrow, we'll have you meet our prince," he said softly. "He'll send you back to where you belong, and you can leave this place."
Twilight took the hoof and stood up. She knew that he wasn't sure as to what Prince Terrato would do to her. She also knew that, while she might leave this place, it would probably never leave her. 'Where have I come to?' she asked herself miserably.