Upheaval: Breaking Point
Chapter 45: Dark Sun Arising
"Listen closely, Twocolt. With most of the order captured or dead, I can rely only on you to carry on the order's goals. Can I trust you to do so despite the risk and can you trust me to have Equestria's best interest at heart no matter what?"
"Of course, my lady! I can't back down or fail now that so many of the order have sacrificed their lives! Tell me what to do and it's done!"
As Twocolt made his way through the streets of Bastion City, the gravity of his answer to Lady Bright Flame only now occurred to him. He had abandoned his post in order to do this. As a legionnaire, that proved more difficult than how he had expected it to be. There was the threat of punishment of course. Dereliction of duty was a serious offense in the Legion. But what he feared more was the thought of what would happen to others because of this. His fellow legionnaires could very well die because he wasn't there to do his part.
"There will come a time when your friend, Applejack, will be called to join her friends and fight away from your platoon. Once this happens, you must make sure that you are nearby and able to observe them. Be brave, Twocolt, you will witness frightening things if you do this. Keep a close eye on Twilight Sparkle and whoever tries to aid her when she falls. One of her friends will produce a black orb and use it. It is of the utmost importance that you get that orb. They will be distracted by this time. When you see it glow purple, knock out whoever has it and get it. After that, escape."
"I don't understand, my lady. What is so important about this black orb?"
"It is a tool of assassination that Terrato has planted among the chosen. I do not know which, but I know that he has convinced one of them that it is a harmless mana battery. Will you do this, Twocolt?"
"I will, my lady."
Twocolt didn't understand how his mission could possibly affect anything regarding Prince Terrato's plot against Princess Celestia, but he knew quite well that he was only a low ranking stallion within the order. It was only to be expected that he didn't have the knowledge or vision of Lady Bright Flame. He was no leader. He was never going to see what ponies like her saw. But he had his faith and he had his loyalty. He could put these things to good use by trusting in her and doing what he was told.
It wasn't easy looking for a single group of ponies in a city under attack. Earlier, a blizzard had whipped up from out of nowhere, leaving him paralyzed with fear in the bitter cold. It was only later that the blizzard abated slightly so he could move again, albeit with some difficulty. He made his way to the northern gates, where the thick of the fighting was. He had heard that Applejack and the rest of the chosen were formed into a squad of their own and stationed there somewhere. A few ponies speculated that they were all recruited into Special Operations under Captain Vanguard Clash.
Regardless of what actually happened, he still needed to find them. He heard several explosions nearby. 'From within the city?' he thought in horror. Despite the danger, he headed towards there. He remembered the sight of Twilight Sparkle's power during her sparring sessions. It could be one of her spells going off as it was quite close to the northern walls.
"Once you have the orb, retreat to our meeting place."
"But, my lady! The rest of the order was caught there!"
"The Legion believes that the order has been eradicated completely. With an attack in progress there will be nopony there. I will be waiting anxiously for you in that place. Please don't let me down."
Remembering those words spurred Twocolt on despite the horrible cold and the danger he was heading to. Lady Bright Flame was waiting for him. If he failed or ran away now, she would be waiting there for who knows how long only to have the dreadful feeling that nopony was coming slowly creep up on her. He would never be able to face her or himself again.
He finally approached the northern walls and what he saw there froze him in his tracks. "You will witness frightening things" was correct. Just past the northern walls was a forest of blackness. The trees had trunks made out of shadow and dark flames for leaves. Battling this field of monstrosities were several ponies. He recognized Applejack and Twilight Sparkle. The two of them were fighting to protect a collapsed pony from the writhing mass. He fought back the urge to jump in and help out especially seeing Applejack doing her part despite being recently injured. But he couldn't show himself now, he had a job to do. He could only hope that his friend would come out of this battle much better than she did the last one.
Then came that great clash.
In one moment, Twocolt was watching the group slowly be overwhelmed by the mass of tentacles, especially a big one that somehow kept bouncing off something rather than crushing them. It was then that Twilight Sparkle fired off a massive spell so bright that he had to close his eyes. He heard somepony cry out followed by two consecutive explosions. After that was silence.
A brilliant sunburst dazzled Twocolt further. With a grunt of pain, he shut his eyes at the lost moment. When the glare faded, he shook his head and blinked. After that, he simply stared. Above the chaos of all the fighting hovered Princess Celestia herself. Confronted by the sight of the alicorn he had been secretly serving despite the dangers, He momentarily forgot what he was supposed to do. This was a day of reckoning for the traitorous leader of the Equestrian Legion. Princess Celestia wasn't alone as well. Enormous gouts of white flame, each shaped like a winged pony, materialized near her. Finally, things were going to be set right. Sun Gazer had succeeded and, despite the losses, Lady Bright Flame's cause was about to be won.
'Wait. The assassination device! Where is it? I have to get it!' Twocolt looked around frantically. As Lady Bright Flame had predicted the other ponies were distracted. Finally, he spotted the black orb in the claws of the baby dragon. With everypony looking at the princess, he snuck up behind his target. A swift blow to the head and the baby dragon was down. Twocolt made sure that his strike was measured and he had taken his trampler off. He wanted to knock Spike unconscious not beat his skull in. Before the purple glowing orb could roll from Spike's limp fingers, he grabbed it with his teeth and made a dash for it. Just as he thought he was about to make a clean get away, he heard an all too familiar voice call out for him.
"Twocolt! What are you doing?"
Applejack's confused call sent a pang of guilt through Twocolt's chest. He didn't look back lest he catch sight of her expression. He had to do this. The cause was far more important than any personal friendship he made. For Equestria and for Lady Bright Flame, he would cast aside everything else.
For Applejack, the mere sight of the reunion Princess Celestia and Twilight was warmth seeping into her body. The bitingly cold winds of the Northern Barrier Lands gave way for now. However, it was difficult to fully enjoy the sight. In the back of her mind, she was still worried about what had just happened earlier with Spike and that strange black orb. The others, save for Vanguard Clash, hadn't noticed. She couldn't blame them. Princess Celestia reminded them of home. Seeing that tender hug between teacher and student made it seem that everything was about to become better. Surely this was the turning point of their fates.
Applejack looked back in time to see Spike fall face first to the ground. Behind him was a barded earth pony. Despite the armor, she easily recognized who it was. "Twocolt, what are you doing?" she asked in alarm. There was no response. Her friend simply grabbed the black orb and ran. The others didn't even seem to notice. She moved to chase after him, to make him explain his strange behavior and why he wasn't at his post, but she could only take a few half-hearted steps, then look back to Princess Celestia. She couldn't shake the feeling of wrongness in this situation, so she stayed to figure out why. She walked over to Spike, who was waking up…again. "You okay, sport?" she asked.
"Ow…" Spike rubbed his head painfully. "What happened?"
"Uh…somepony hit you from behind and made off with that thing you were holding." Applejack pressed her lips together. She wasn't lying, but even omitting details about the truth made her feel uncomfortable. Still, she didn't want to mention Twocolt to the others until she got to the bottom of this.
"Of all the-!"
Applejack didn't hear the rest of Spike's words. In fact, in the next moment, she didn't hear anything else. A cry of pain from a voice she never expected to hear it from was all she could pay attention to. Her head snapped towards the sound while her heart hammered against her chest. "Princess Celestia?" she murmured. The princess didn't hear her. From the expression on her face, it didn't seem that she heard or saw anything past Twilight Sparkle.
Celestia's face twisted in pain as she looked down towards her chest. Twilight's hoof was glowing black and had touched right where her heart was. Magic, like a barbed blade of ice, pierced her coat and flesh until her very heart felt cold. "Twilight…" The words caught in her throat. When she tried harder to speak, all that came out was a weak, gasping whisper. "Twilight, why…?"
Twilight Sparkle withdrew her hoof and stepped back. The hoof she had pressed against Celestia's chest was coursing with dark-colored magic which extended from it like an immaterial dagger. White light, the color of Celestia's magic, flowed through the thing like blood. Without her support, Celestia fell forward and collapsed on her knees. "Please rest assured, Princess Celestia, that your student is as faithful to you as she has always been." It was Twilight's lips that moved and her voice that made the sound, but somepony else was speaking. Celestia's eyes widened. "I would even say that her faith is even stronger. She has witnessed your folly, but she has not wavered.
"Who are you?" Celestia asked. She the words between shallow gasps. The others had galloped over. To their horror, her colorful, flowing mane was slowly transforming into a soft pink. Without the magic that summoned them, the Equi Ignei around them quickly dissipated.
When Vanguard Clash advanced with his two-bladed sword in his mouth, "Twilight Sparkle" shook a hoof at him disapprovingly. "I'm just a guest in this house, Vanguard Clash," she said slyly. "The owner won't appreciate it if she returns and finds it in ruins." Vanguard stopped and glared at her in frustration. She turned towards Celestia and gave a slight bow. "I believe we've met already, your highness. I understand that it must be difficult to recognize me like this. My name is Black Rose. Well, a temporary fragment of Black Rose to be precise. A simulacrum if you recognize the term. No need to panic. In a few minutes, Twilight Sparkle's body will reject me and we will exchange places once more. I will return to the soul jar I gave Spike and she will have her body back. Of course, I will keep this power I've just taken."
At the mention of soul jar, Applejack instinctively glanced towards where Twocolt had run off to.
"Wishing you had chased after him, Applejack? No need to feel guilty. You would have run into the rest of me and I would have had to kill you. Be relieved that you chose wisely and stayed here."
"Celestia!" A thunderous roar caused everypony to flinch as Terrato came flying towards them. He raised a hoof to strike down "Twilight Sparkle", but Celestia raised a hoof to stop him.
"Terrato, you musn't! Twilight is…" Celestia winced in pain as she tried to get up only to fail.
Terrato's rage gave way to a tender concern as he gently nudged his eldest sister. "Celestia, are you hurt? What did she do to you?"
"She will live," Black Rose said. As she spoke, the white light that had enveloped her hoof was already spreading to envelop the rest of her. "I've taken everything else, but I left behind enough to let her keep her immortality."
"This was your plan all along." Terrato growled.
"Yes," Black Rose replied. She looked sadly at the two alicorns. "I never wanted to kill Princess Celestia. When you came upon my plans, it was true that they required that I kill her, but I was still refining my methods to avoid that. You always have been so passionate, my prince. I love that, even if it translates to murderous rage at times." Her expression brightened. "From now on, I will be Equestria's sun and it will be a united Equestria that I will shine upon, not this fragmented mess." With that, she turned her gaze upon Celestia. "Why so shocked and sad? You should smile and be happy! I have relieved you of a burden you should have never carried. When I have accomplished all of my plans, I hope that we can all put these terrible proceedings behind us and move on together."
"Why have you done this?" Fluttershy asked. "What did Princess Celestia ever do to you?"
"This is not revenge, Fluttershy. As its bearer, you should recognize kindness when you see it." Black Rose turned her attention to Spike. "Speaking of kindness, you have my utmost gratitude for yours, Spike. This would have failed if you had used it with while Twilight possessed so much as a modicum of power to guard against me, but your timing was simply impeccable. I will remember this day when I ascend to my rightful place." Arcs of black electricity began to course through Black Rose. She smiled and looked at her hoof. "Right on schedule. Now, excuse me, I have a few more things to take care of before this day is done."
There was a flash magical energy and the arcs of black electricity mixed with the white glow before leaving Twilight's body. The purple unicorn fell limply to the ground like a rag doll that had been tossed aside. Her friends surrounded her in concern while Terrato followed the streak of black and white magic with his gaze. He looked as if he was about to follow, but then changed his mind. Instead, he flew over to Luna and lifted her gently to his back with his magic. 'So you've been wearing yourself out while your two siblings made foals of themselves, hm?' he said softly. 'You're starting to make me think that you should have been eldest, Luna.'
"Uh…" somepony groaned.
Terrato's admiration turned into irritation as he noticed Twilight Sparkle, the real one this time, get up.
"What happened?" Twilight asked. She looked around and quickly noticed Celestia's fallen form. "Princess!" she exclaimed. She hurried over in a panic. When she got to Celestia's side, she turned her attention towards her friends. "What happened? Why is she here?" Her eyes narrowed in anger even as the first tears started to drop from her face. "Who did this to her?"
"Twilight, it was…" Applejack hesitated. What was she going to say? The truth could very well break Twilight. She looked to one side to see Spike already on his knees and staring at his claws. He was thinking that it was his fault for using that orb on Twilight. Part of her felt responsible for not going with her gut feeling when she noticed that something wasn't right with Twilight. 'No shield protects like the truth, huh?' she thought. 'Nothing hurts like it too.'
"Are you hurt anywhere, your highness?" Fluttershy asked. She tried to look over Celestia, but couldn't see any sort of wound. The princess clutched at her chest as if she had been stabbed. Fluttershy could only look on helplessly. Celestia tried one more time to stand before fainting completely.
"Princess Celestia!" Twilight cried out. She looked to Fluttershy desperately. "Do something, Fluttershy! Please!"
"There's nothing the medic can do," Terrato said. "Celestia will live so calm down. In case everypony's forgotten, there's still a battle to deal with."
Enraged, Twilight turned her focus on Terrato. "She's your sister! How can you stand there as if she just slipped and fell?"
Terrato didn't respond to that. The other ponies cringed, fearing that he would lash out at Twilight's words. He didn't. His face was a stony mask and he didn't even look at Twilight when he lifted Celestia with his magic to place her on his back as well. "No more standing around, legionnaire," he finally said. "There's more fighting to be done."
Before Twilight could reply, a burst of light filled the sky above them. They looked around and saw its source, a great pillar of sunlight emerging from somewhere in the city.
"Black Rose blooms once again," Vanguard Clash said softly.
Twilight stomped at the cracked pavement repeatedly with her front hooves as tears continued to flow down her cheeks. "Why?" she sobbed. "We've been fighting so hard, but we can't seem to protect anypony!"
Twocolt continued to gallop through the city streets, thankful that Applejack had not decided to chase after him. The orb in his mouth felt warm and the magical power within it made him feel uneasy. Eventually, he made it to the order's old meeting place. He felt a twinge of sadness as he burst through the door, remembering that Verdant was no longer around. When he reached the secret chamber, he found Lady Bright Flame waiting there as she had promised. He dropped to his knees and transferred the orb from his mouth to his front hooves to offer it. "My lady, I have it. Just as you asked!" he said proudly.
Bright Flame responded with a smile that Twocolt found utterly radiant. She took the orb and gazed at it lovingly before returning her attention towards him. "Thank you so much, Twocolt. You have done more than your part in saving Equestria for doing this!"
Twocolt felt some blood rush to his face. He couldn't find anything to say to that. Even the questions he had thought of asking dribbled away. He looked at the black orb that she held with her telekinesis. To his surprise, the purple light that surrounded it rose up, then flew away in a bright streak. A second later, a streak of black electricity mixed with white light struck the orb. Whatever the light was, the orb couldn't contain it. It shattered like glass, sending shards flying everywhere. Twocolt raised his forelegs to protect himself, gritting his teeth when a couple of shards bit into his flesh. "Lady Bright Flame!" he called out.
When he lowered his forelegs, Twocolt found Bright Flame completely unharmed and with her eyes shut. Not only that, she was suffused by the white light he had seen just a moment ago. When she opened her eyes, the same white light shone forth from them. "I will not forget this, Twocolt," she said. Her voice reverberated within the chamber and the walls began to crack. The aura of light around her intensified and shot upward, burning through the ceiling completely. Awed and frightened, Twocolt looked up and saw the sky from where he was. "You have done me a great favor, Twocolt, and I always remember my debts. But I must go for now. There are a few more details for me to take care of."
Twocolt looked on breathlessly as Lady Bright Flame's coat changed from yellow-tinged white to completely black. Graceful, feathered wings sprouted from her back and her mane went from golden to a deep crimson. He didn't understand what was going on. Had Lady Bright Flame transformed into an alicorn? How was that even possible? He said nothing as she flapped her wings and took off, leaving him to stare at the sky as the pillar of light that had illuminated her gently dissipated.
The battle for Bastion City raged on despite everything that had happened within its walls. With the blizzard completely gone, the city's defenders were now pushing against the wolven. Scaling ladders were unhooked and thrown down. The wolven that had managed to climb up were slowly surrounded, then slain.
This battle proved to be Bastion City's costliest yet. Dead ponies were scattered along the walls and nopony could keep count of the legionnaires who had fallen outside the walls where the wolven tore through them almost instantly. Blood and feathers rained upon pony and wolven alike as pegasi struggled for control of the skies while wolven bolters shot many of them down. Spells rippled through the air followed by explosions and the howls of wolven. Ugly, red splotches covered the fresh fallen snow.
From her vantage point, Black Rose surveyed the battle with a smile. This was the Legion she still loved. No matter how desperate the battle, nopony ran away screaming or cowered in a corner. It was time she rewarded their courage. She didn't miss the sight of the giant wolven standing among the rear lines of the enemy. Fenrir had spotted her. From the shock in his stare, she guessed that he knew what was going to happen next. "You sent Nightmare Moon against the city thinking that her being outside the pact was to your advantage. I admire both your honor and your cunning!" she called to the king of Wolvengard. Her voice, soft as it may be, was carried by the power of the sun. It cut through the clamor of battle as easily as sunlight cut through morning mist. She saw more than a few legionnaires look towards her in surprise and awe. "I too am not part of the pact. Fitting that what you believed was your greatest advantage has become the downfall of your army."
Black Rose raised her hoof. Sunlight gathered around it, transforming into a dazzling orb of golden radiance. With a flash of magic from her horn, the orb exploded so brilliantly that it was as if the gray clouds that covered the sky had parted to let the sun shine through. The spell was more than light though. Hundreds of beams of light arced from the burst and streaked towards the wolven. Wherever one struck, a silent explosion flared up, consuming everything around it in golden flame. Howls and panicked shouts went up as chaos broke out within the wolven army. Siege equipment and supply wagons burst into flames. The wolven hit directly by the explosions simply disappeared, leaving not even traces of ash. Those caught at the periphery fell to the snowy ground, howling in agony while their fur caught fire. "Long live the Legion," she whispered. She flapped her now true wings once and let a teleportation spell carry her away. Despite his losses, Fenrir will not break the pact. That much she was sure of.
'Tomorrow will be my first sunrise, beloved. My dawn will herald a new age for Equestria.'
"Sally forth!" Dreadstep shouted from his command post. He didn't need to. Everypony still capable of putting one hoof in front of the other was rushing to bring the fight to the wolven. The gates swung open and the Legion stormed out with fearsome battle cries and neighs.
"Long live the Legion!"
"For our prince!"
Dreadstep glanced at the sky. The pony responsible for this miraculous turn of events was gone. A single spell from the black alicorn decimated Fenrir's forces as if the very sun itself had attacked. The wolven were scattered and disoriented. Many of them had been blinded by the light and the others were so confused that they were lunging at allies. The ponies broke through their ranks as easily as one could crush a few twigs.
With a dolorous chorus of howls, the wolven began to retreat. They were brought down by enraged pursuing ponies while bolts rained upon them with impunity. Everypony understood that each wolven slain meant more time for them to recover. It could very well be centuries before the wolven ever dared to cross their borders again. Victorious cries followed as the ponies eventually broke off pursuit. Even Dreadstep, who always looked to the future with a degree of pessimism, had a grin on his face as he turned towards his officers. The city was saved. This was victory. The others grinned back at him and raised their hooves in exultation.
"We crushed those wolven bastards!" one pony yelled, tears streaming from his eyes.
"The Legion is invincible!" cried another.
Before he could fully join in on the impromptu celebrations, Dreadstep caught sight of his prince approaching him. On the gray alicorn's back were two unconscious ponies and he was accompanied by Vanguard Clash's temporary squad. The grim look on Prince Terrato's face said it all.
This wasn't a victory yet.