Upheaval: Breaking Point
Chapter 46: Questions
Two days had passed since the wolven retreat and the Legion had reacted swiftly to their change of fortune. Supply wagons were already on the move while repairs were made to both the walls and their equipment. It was their turn to pursue the wolven and make them pay dearly for this invasion. There was no hesitating lest the wolven find the time to regroup. The first step was to retake FangBreaker Fortress, a prospect that many ponies, especially those who survived its fall, relished. The smithies rang loud with activity while medics hustled about in the wards. The skies were full of pegasus squads returning or heading out to harass the retreating wolven.
Sitting on a stone throne within the Grand Meeting Hall, Terrato looked out of a window and stared at the morning sun for a while. Even though it was Black Rose's first attempts at raising and lowering the sun, the cycle of day had not missed a single beat nor had there been any anomalies. He had expected some kind of signature to remind all of Equestria that the sun was under a new pony's control. This show of humility was…unusual. He attributed the lack of mistakes to his former protégé's natural skill and flair. Black Rose took to anything with ease. It also sounded better than thinking that Celestia's former duty was ridiculously easy. He heard the double doors to the hall close and focused his attention on those who had gathered.
The effects of the last battle, from the wolven retreat, to the inability of the Elements of Harmony to deal with an enemy they had beaten before and Black Rose's ascension, were still settling in and it showed on the faces of everypony that had gathered. He surveyed them slowly, gathering his thoughts before this audience began.
First, there were his two sisters. Luna was still bandaged up and she trembled with each step she took. Terrato didn't feel too worried for her physical health. Healing was Luna's domain and, once she recovered some of her magical strength, the burns would be trivial. Celestia, on the other hoof, was a different matter. There were no external injuries on his older sister. Not even a mark on where Black Rose had stabbed her with a blade of enervation. Celestia had slept through the past two days with her student remaining by her side the entire time. He made sure that there was food waiting for her when she woke up just earlier this morning but he hadn't so much as visited her room during the past two days. This morning, both his sisters stood to his right with Luna being the closer one. Celestia looked dazed and lost, her now pink mane limp around her neck. Luna leaned in close to offer support while the other ponies in the hall watched her in concern.
Then there were the bearers of the Elements of Harmony along with Vanguard Clash, Scarlet Rabbit and Spike. Terrato focused first on "the guilty ones" as he thought of them. He actually felt sorry for Spike, who was busy groveling before Celestia. To his mind, no one, pony or otherwise, should bear that much guilt at so young an age. Even though Spike was instrumental for Celestia's loss, he didn't even think of punishing the baby dragon. No corporal punishment could even come near what Spike was experiencing now. Next to Spike was Legionnaire Rarity. After it was known what Spike's "mana battery" had done, she handed over the coin she received from this so called "Bright Flame", who was obviously one of Black Rose's false identities. Terrato recognized the scrying device with a glance. No wonder Black Rose was able to easily coordinate her movements with the chosen. This device had also been magically modified to allow Black Rose to channel some of her power to protect her unwitting spy and make sure that Nightmare Moon didn't get too out of hoof. Like Spike, Rarity was weighed down by guilt due to her role in Black Rose's plan. It may be to a lesser degree but the enormity of what resulted because of that trickery made "to a lesser degree" truly relative.
The next two were Legionnaires Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie. He hadn't much to say about the two except that they looked completely out of their element, much more so than the other chosen. One look at their subdued faces told him that not every chosen can cope with life out here. He would have sent them home if they weren't needed to complete the Elements of Harmony and if he didn't know that they would wilt faster without their friends.
After those two were Legionnaires Applejack and Rainbow Dash. Now here were two ponies who looked as if they were made of sterner stuff. Rainbow Dash's back and head were covered in bandages but she bore her injuries with a soldierly indifference that pleased him. Applejack, on the other hoof, was likely his favorite out of the chosen: a not as much a stand out like Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle yet brave and reliable. He always did favor earth ponies. He doubted that he was her favorite royalty though. Her comrade, Twocolt, was still languishing in a dungeon after being interrogated. She had spent the past two days trying to make sure that he didn't end up hanging. He was going to make a decision about that today. He also noticed that her sides were no longer bandaged. It took a mere five days for her to recover from a life-threatening wound. She was either incredibly tenacious, another trait that he admired, or his mother had gifted her with this favor, which still ranked her high in his list.
Captain Vanguard Clash and Scarlet Rabbit looked like the only ponies who were comfortable in the hall, which was odd given that Terrato nearly had Vanguard hanged and Scarlet Rabbit looked far more at home flying about and killing things.
Also in the hall was Commander Dreadstep. The old stallion carried himself with slightly more dignity now, likely because he hadn't lost Bastion City to the wolven despite the strange manner by which it had been spared. There were no guards present in the hall. Terrato wanted to limit the number of Barrier Lands ponies that his older sister was exposed to for now. It was also probably a good idea to not let the city know that their princess was among them and had lost most of her power.
Then there was Twilight Sparkle. She hadn't stopped looking worriedly at Celestia. Terrato moved on. What else was there to think or say about Twilight Sparkle?
"Looks like everypony's here," Terrato began. At his words, Spike slinked back to his friends and stood quietly among them. He focused his magic and summoned a large container that should be familiar to the chosen present. Without any preamble, he opened it and lifted the physical manifestations of the Elements of Harmony to their bearers with his magic. He didn't remember these things as gaudy jewelry but he supposed that, after a thousand years, he shouldn't count on anything he remembered about Celestia and the Heartland as staying the same. "Maybe now that you have these, you'd actually be useful as the Elements of Harmony," he said.
Twilight and the others received the elements graciously enough. However, the look on their faces told him that they were going to need more than just these trinkets for the coming battles. To Terrato, the jewelry looked even gaudier now that it was on them. Especially the crown. The thing looked too big and it marked Twilight Sparkle out as surely as painting a sign on her that said "kill me". He considered having the jewelry broken down to the essential part, something he might discuss with his sisters later.
"When did you get them, big brother?" Luna asked.
"I made quick trip to Canterlot yesterday," Terrato explained. "I fetched them, then decided to have a look around the city in secret." His voice lowered in displeasure. "I didn't like what I saw." He turned his focus back on the chosen. "Now, some of you are here on a particular agenda." He shifted his attention to Applejack. "Now's the time to speak up."
Taking that as her cue, Applejack stepped forward and bowed. "Your highness, what's going to happen to Twocolt?" she asked. "Are you going to hang him? He doesn't deserve to be hung!"
Terrato looked to Dreadstep. "Tell me how deep the colt is in," he said. Just yesterday, the Legion caught Twocolt hiding out in the cellar of his family home. They had him for dereliction of duty but interrogation revealed a more grievous crime.
"He claims that he is part of 'The Order of True Equestrians', your highness," Dreadstep replied. "They're apparently a group dedicated to preserving Princess Celestia's reign and stopping your 'conspiracy' to rule all of Equestria."
Terrato frowned at the report. Dreadstep normally kept his feelings out of work but the derision was obvious in his tone. "So where is the rest of this oh-so-noble order?" he asked.
"He also claims that Special Operations arrested and executed most of them," Dreadstep replied. "But we have no records of making such arrests."
"Black Rose used them and killed them," Terrato said flatly. "Just like the so-called "Black Rose Rebellion" after she was done with them. She's not going to leave loose ends floating about. The fact that she spared this one means she still has plans for him."
"True, your highness," Dreadstep replied, "but wouldn't she have taken steps to protect him instead of leaving him in our clutches?"
"Maybe she's banking on our mercy," Terrato said darkly. He shifted his gaze back to Applejack. "Maybe that's why she made sure he was friends with somepony who's willing to speak for him."
"I still think he should be spared," Applejack insisted. "He ain't done enough to be hung."
Terrato turned towards Luna. "What do you think of this?" he asked her. "Should I play it safe and kill this colt?"
The question caught Luna by surprise so that she couldn't answer right away.Terrato surprised himself as well. He had never asked her for her opinion before. She recovered swiftly and looked glad for this chance. "The boy was deluded, big brother," she replied. "Black Rose used him but he meant well and she knew it. I don't think he should die for this."
"I'm not going to have him killed then," Terrato said. "But-" he quickly added before anypony could breathe a sigh of relief. "I'm not giving Black Rose any opportunities to use him any further." He turned towards Dreadstep. "Have him transferred to somewhere he'll be harmless. He can continue to serve Celestia in some small remote outpost. It only follows that he's not to be given any important position and that he is to be kept track of."
"Yes, your highness," Dreadstep replied. Terrato looked around to see if anypony questioned his judgment. Applejack's face was downcast. He assumed that it was because she was likely never going to see her new friend again but he saw traces of relief in there as well.
"Now that that's settled let's move on to what will be happening from now on," Terrato continued. "The Northern Equestrian Legion will continue to pursue the wolven and reclaim FangBreaker Fortress. I want you chosen to stay together and take part in this advance in case Nightmare Moon is still at it. We will operate under the assumption that, while she seems inclined to help the Legion, Black Rose won't be doing any more direct attacks. Reinforcements are still on the way from the Western and Southern Legion. Once FangBreaker has been retaken we will begin our march into Wolvengard."
"Are you saying that we will launch our own offensive against Wolvengard, your highness?" Dreadstep asked. He looked at his prince incredulously.
"Not saying. Ordering," Terrato replied. "You've seen the bodies still smoking outside the city. This is the worst defeat that the wolven have taken in centuries. The Legion will capitalize on this to bring the fight to Fenrir's realm." His voice lowered and his eyes narrowed as he went on. "I will inflict a loss on Fenrir so great that he will be forced to surrender on my terms. The wolven will never be a threat to Equestria once I extract a promise from him."
As Terrato expected, while Dreadstep and Vanguard Clash took to his orders with ease, the rest of the ponies present could not hide their shock.
"But what about Black Rose?" Twilight protested. "We have to bring her down and take back Princess Celestia's power!"
"Is that so?" Terrato asked. "Sounds like you have a plan, Twilight Sparkle. Do you know where Black Rose is, what her plans are and how she's going to go about them? Do share!"
Twilight fell silent but she didn't take her indignant gaze off Terrato. He responded by matching the stare with a glare of his own. "Make no mistake," he went on. "I will kill Black Rose for what she's done and Celestia's power will be restored but I am not wasting this opportunity to lessen the number of fronts we are fighting in. I will take steps towards bringing the fight to Black Rose but the Legion will not sit on its tail while we wait for a chance to find her." He turned towards Dreadstep. "The barrier to the Heartland has been down since yesterday. Send some troops there to begin a realm-wide draft. Relay my orders to the other Legion commanders. I want an army of chosen reserves ready in six months. They will occupy our walls in the less threatened areas so some veterans can be freed up for the offensive."
Dreadstep saluted in response. "Yes, your highness."
Celestia finally snapped out of her miserable state. "What is the meaning of this, Terrato?" she asked. "You are going to force my little ponies into your army?"
"It is a draft, but I hardly think we'll be doing any forcing." Terrato replied. "Once the chosen see that their nation is at war and their help is needed, they'll be clamoring to take up arms. We'll be lucky if we have enough gear to outfit all of them. Wouldn't that be the case, Legionnaire Twilight Sparkle?"
Celestia looked to her student. Hearing the title of "legionnaire" attached to Twilight's name struck her like a blow. Likewise, the sight of her mentor coming to realize that she had joined the Legion did the same for Twilight. The pained admission in Celestia's gaze seemed to make the purple unicorn wither on the spot. "I…" she replied hesitantly to Terrato's question. "It's true that the ponies of the Heartland should be given a chance to fight for their homes. But forcing them…"
"Celestia will issue a decree regarding our situation," Terrato said. He turned towards his older sister. "I will leave it to you as to how you will break the news to your little ponies," he told her. He then returned his focus to all of them ponies present. "Black Rose may have stolen Celestia's power but not her authority and she's certainly not going to be residing in Canterlot anytime soon. The chosen should have no problem fighting for their princess as opposed to fighting for a prince they've never met."
"And what if I refuse to make that decree?" Celestia asked defiantly.
"You can make this transition as easy as possible for the Heartland," Terrato responded. "Or you can force me to resort to cruder methods. I'm going to get that army ready with or without your help."
"So this is how it is," Celestia said with a hint of resignation. "You give me orders like one of your legionnaires, Terrato. Am I a princess in name only now?"
"You tell me, dearest sister. You say the Legion is 'my army' when it's called "The Equestrian Legion". You tell me just what you're princess of now."
"Big sister, please," Luna said quietly beside Celestia. The tension rising between her siblings made her nervous. "The Legion needs all the help it can get."
Celestia looked around, first to Luna, then to Twilight, then to the other chosen. Her defiance crumbled when she realized that she had nopony's support within the hall. "I will issue the decree," she said softly. "All I ask is that you use them in defense of Equestria and not have them take part in your invasion."
Terrato nodded curtly. "Good. You all have your tasks to accomplish," he said. "Leave this hall and get to them." He closed his eyes briefly and let out a sigh as he heard the hoof-steps leaving the hall. When he opened his eyes however, he found Twilight Sparkle still in the hall. "Did all those explosions yesterday leave you a little hard of hearing, legionnaire?" he asked in exasperation. "I said leave this hall!"
"I still have something to say," Twilight said. She was still shaking when he loomed over but she no longer looked as if she was going to bolt any second. Replacing that emotion was a sense of resignation that if he was going to be so petty as to kill her for speaking her mind then so be it.
"Don't you always? Gamble with your life too often, Twilight Sparkle, and the odds are going to catch up with you." Terrato paused and looked towards the now shut double doors to the hall. "Why not?" he muttered with a frown. His lapse of attention didn't stop Twilight however.
"What do you have against me, your highness? Every time I try to talk, you're always angry. Vanguard said that you don't share in the petty hatreds of your ponies."
"He's right, I don't. I happen to have my own petty hatreds."
Realizing that Terrato had just brought that topic into a dead end, Twilight decided to focus on what she had stayed to say. "I can't believe you. The princess has just lost her power. The barrier that she's been trying to protect for so long has been brought down but, instead of trying to comfort her, you're ordering her around and putting aside her concerns! How can you care so little for your sister? You're just a bully who cares for nothing other than fighting and killing!"
Twilight spoke loud enough to cause her words to echo in the empty hall. For a few moments, the two of them didn't say anything while the sound bounced off the walls. She tensed, ready to stand against a roar from him. When he remained silent, she relaxed a little.
"So tell me, Twilight Sparkle, how was your first century?" Terrato asked gently.
"My first what? I haven't-"
"That's right, you haven't. You don't even have half a century to your name do you? You've been Celestia's student for what? A couple of decades? Less than that?" Terrato's voice rose. "I have fulfilled Celestia's wishes for more than a millennium! Don't you dare tell me that you have even an inkling of what it means to care for another!"
Terrato stomped at the floor with both front hooves, causing a section of it to rise just beneath Twilight and knock her on her back. Before she could get up, he was standing over her and staring down. "Do you want to know why you piss me off so much? You stand there with your blink of a lifetime and you spout your little principles at me as if you had an idea as to what they could mean! You've seen and lived through nothing, Twilight Sparkle! I should beat you within an inch of your life. Maybe, while you're three-quarters dead, you'll be able to get a view of the Eternal Herd. You'd have a glimpse of what I gave up to stay by Celestia's side. You've spent less than a month in my Legion, what could you have possibly sacrificed for her sake?"
He let her stand and walked back to the throne, turning his back on her. "You want me to explain how I can care so little? You should be the one explaining, scholar. Explain to me how somepony can spend a blink of a life with Celestia and become so important to her that she would risk what she's protected for so long. Explain how that same pony could betray her yet still be so close to her that she would stupidly let this pony close enough to stab her with a knife-shaped void!"
Against the sudden barrage of questions, Twilight didn't even know where to begin. "I…I don't-"
"While you're at it, maybe you can explain how my centuries of unquestioning loyalty can be shoved aside by the accusations of the first random unicorn who stumbles into her court!" Terrato's frown deepened into an angry scowl when Twilight didn't answer. "What's the matter, faithful student?" he roared at her. "Haven't Celestia's lessons prepared you for this test? Give me an answer or I'll break every bone in your body!"
Even Terrato's threat was met only with silence. He raised a hoof and pointed it at the double doors. A wave of force struck them so violently that they shattered into splinters. Their stone frames cracked and a cloud of dust rose from the blast. "Since you don't have an answer, maybe your mentor can help you out," he growled.
The cloud of dust settled and Twilight saw both Princess Celestia and Princess Luna standing just past the door. Luna had raised a shield in time to protect herself and her sister from the blast.
"Standing on stone is not a good way to hide from me, dearest sister," Terrato said. "And I am not surprised that you've forgotten some aspects of my power.
It was Luna who stepped forward to speak up, fearing that if nopony continued to answer, her brother might really turn violent. "Big brother, I know you're upset-"
"Of course you do. You're Luna and you've consistently showed that perceptiveness ever since you first came to me after your timeout." Terrato exhaled loudly and rested his head on a hoof. "Just get out of my sight, all of you."
The three left the hall quietly, leaving him to his thoughts.