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Upheaval: Breaking Point
Chapter 5: Confrontation
For Twilight Sparkle, going to Canterlot always felt like going home. She had a lot of fond memories of this place: hours upon hours at the Great Library, lessons with Princess Celestia, powdered doughnuts and hot chocolate at Donut Joe's…those were wonderful days. They also felt like another lifetime, a time when she didn't really bother with friends. Her time in Ponyville had taught her differently, and she knew that her home would always be the Golden Oaks in Ponyville, instead of back here in glorious Canterlot.
Today, however, there was something different about the city. As usual, ponies went about their businesses on the streets, but there was an unusual air about the place. Twilight could see it on the faces of passing ponies, worry and fear. There was also a large presence of royal guards out today. Normally, most of them would remain at the palace, with a few patrols wandering the streets to maintain order. They were hardly needed. In Equestria, criminals were a rare breed.
Approaching one of the royal guards, Twilight asked, "Excuse me, has something happened?"
"Oh, Miss Twilight Sparkle," the guard answered with a slight bow. "We're on a realm-wide search. Princess Luna has gone missing."
"What?" Twilight gasped. "When did this happen?"
"Around yesterday evening, as soon as the moon was out," the guard explained. "The princess was on a tour of Equestria when her escorts lost sight of her."
Twilight looked towards the direction of the Royal Palace. "How is Princess Celestia taking it?"
"Rather badly, it seems. She hasn't left her chambers since it happened. I should be going myself. Ponies might think I'm slacking off. Who knows what it'll do to my paycheck!"
Twilight's eyebrows furrowed as the guard left. After Nightmare Moon's defeat, Princess Luna had toured Equestria often. Had she been kidnapped by grudge-holding ponies? That didn't make much sense. Luna had already been forgiven by Celestia, the pony she had harmed the most with her rebellion. Besides, she was a powerful alicorn who could more than handle an attack by ponies or anything else for that matter.
"I'm guessing that this isn't a good time to talk to Princess Celestia then," Spike said.
"That's true," Twilight replied. "I hope they find her soon."
"Are we still going to the library?"
"Yes. We're here already. It would be a waste to go home without doing anything."
A few minutes later, they entered the Great Library.
"Let's split up," Twilight said. "We'll cover more ground and get more research done that way."
"Okay," Spike grumbled. "I still don't get why that coin matters so much to you though."
"It doesn't matter. Keep it. Don't show or mention it to anyone."
Twilight stopped in her tracks, and clutched at her head as she felt a searing pain. 'What is going on?' she thought. 'Why is this coin doing this to me?'
"Twilight?" Spike asked. He put a claw against her foreleg. "Are you alright? Maybe going out wasn't such a good idea."
"I'm fine," Twilight insisted. "We're going to do this, if only so I can stop having these headaches!"
"I hope that you find everything in the fort running to your satisfaction, your highness."
Terrato answered that remark from FangBreaker's commander with an annoyed grunt. "For the last time, Dreadstep, I'm not here on an inspection. I trust you enough to know you can run this place without anypony looking over your shoulder."
"Indeed," Dreadstep replied with a cough. He smoothed his mustache as he walked by Prince Terrato's side, keeping a few steps behind as he did so. "I would still wish that you be pleased by how I run things, your highness, even if that is not why you came here."
"Well, I am," Terrato said. "Things appear to be running quite smoothly here. So tell me about the wolven movements these days."
"We are expecting an attack soon, your highness," Dreadstep replied grimly. "Our aerial patrols have been noticing a great mass of wolven gathering by our borders, including several groups of their berserkers and brachyurii."
"That bad, huh?" Terrato remarked. "I'm sending reinforcements then. We haven't faced Fenrir's elite in a long time. He may have been banking on getting that info on this fort. Triple your security, Dreadstep. I doubt that this Cold Hoof was alone. Fenrir may be a brute, but even he knows better than to just throw his best out there without some sort of advantage. He should know by now that he's not getting his info, but he's still massing his forces."
"Already done, your highness."
"See? Without me directing things," Terrato said with a grin. "Now, about those-!" The grin disappeared from his face. He tilted his head slightly and cocked his ears. Somepony had just passed through Celestia's barrier again.
"Your highness?" Dreadstep asked.
"The air here's getting a little stale for me, Dreadstep," Terrato said. "I think I'll go take a little flight. I may as well get out of your mane." With that, he cast a quick teleportation spell, reappearing just above the fortress. The presence that broke through the barrier was a familiar one; one that he had not felt in a thousand years. 'Does nopony respect the meaning of the word "barrier" these days?' he thought. He flew to where the presence was.
Far to the south of FangBreaker Fortress was a small circle of standing stones. They had been erected by ponies as a simple monument to the three alicorns who governed Equestria. It had been abandoned along ago, when the chosen migrated to the Heartland. As Terrato approached, he caught sight of his realm's latest intruder. He had suspected as much.
Standing at the center of the stone circle was a very dark blue alicorn mare, her mane a flowing mass of stars, and her flank marked by the night sky. It'd been so long since he'd last seen Luna, and It had not been pleasant. When she had been banished, he still tried to remember her as that filly of an alicorn who was always by Celestia's side.
Terrato had envied Luna in a way. She governed alongside their sister while he led the charge. When she entered the room, Celestia would smile, and gesture to her side. When he entered the room, Celestia braced for bad news. Luna's duty was to govern the night, but Terrato always considered her companionship with Celestia to be a far greater duty.
The sight of Nightmare Moon devastated Celestia, and the meaning behind the abomination's mere presence was a torment for her. Terrato had wanted to destroy her. He was meant to, and he believed it was a better fate than a millennium of imprisonment. Had he succeeded, Celestia wouldn't have had to live with the guilt of knowing that their sister still suffered. Not only that, the blame would have been placed solely on him.
Terrato approached his younger sister slowly. He let the ground rumble slightly as he walked forward, as a way to alert her to his presence. Sure enough, she caught sight of him, and seemed to hesitate slightly. When he came nearer, she steeled herself and stood her ground. He had to admit that he was a bit impressed. He dwarfed her in size, and she was in his territory, but she made it seem like they were looking each other eye to eye.
"The last time we met, Luna, I'm pretty sure I made a decent effort to stomp you into the bloody dirt," Terrato said casually. "Now, what part of that exercise in family-bonding made you think that it was a good idea to see me by yourself?"
"I missed you too, big brother," Luna replied. "As for how we parted the last time, that's no longer important. I'm here to talk to you about the present."
"Straight to the point," Terrato muttered. "I'll bite. Why have you come here? And why personally? You could have used your magic to contact me."
"Our sister can eavesdrop on any communication spell that goes through her barrier. You know this. I came here to ask you a question without her hearing. When was the last time you visited the Heartland?"
Terrato raised an eyebrow. "That would be last never," he said after a pause. He didn't consider the time he was there when Luna was banished. That was no time for sightseeing, and he had left immediately afterwards. "Good times," he added.
"You should have visited it when it was first established at least," Luna said. "Then, you'd understand better what has happened to it now."
"What are you talking about?" Terrato asked.
"I've been traveling around the Heartland, and I can tell that a lot has changed," Luna continued. "The dragons have become more violent, as have a lot of other creatures. The griffons are becoming more and more territorial. Everfree's influence is spreading. There are stories of cockatrice and hydra attacks going around. Even among ponies, there's a great deal more strife than before."
Terrato went silent. Celestia's pacifism enchantments on the wilder, more violent inhabitants of the Heartland were weakening. The dragons and griffons had inhabited sections of the Heartland along with the ponies when Celestia decided to raise her barrier. She was loathe to cast them out, so she had agreed to let them stay if they subjected themselves to her enchantments. Had she tried to reinforce them? He shook his head and dismissed the notion. Making it stronger would break the creatures affected and turn them into perfectly calm, walking statues. And then there was Everfree. That damned primordial forest resisted alicorn magic. It was a patch of untamed wilderness within Celestia's carefully ordered realm. "It figures that the dragons would eventually learn why they have sharp pointy things at the ends of their tails," he said. "Celestia can manage her realm, Luna. These things are not my concern."
"It's her managing that's making me worry!" Luna insisted. "Big sister won't say it, but I can tell that she's considering banishing the creatures that are becoming too unruly for the Heartland! Banishing them here!"
"Good," Terrato said offhandedly. "I could use more legionnaires. A squadron of griffons would be especially nice down south."
"Be serious, big brother! Our sister is slowly losing control of the Heartland! Who is going to be next in line for banishment? Ponies who throw their pies a little too hard?"
"And what do you expect me to do about it, Luna?" Terrato asked harshly. "Go over there and take her place?"
"Put an end to this division," Luna pleaded. "Come to the Heartland, and show everypony the truth. Big sister won't banish you with so many enemies at our borders."
"That is not my place!" Terrato growled. "Celestia is Equestria, and it is my duty to defend her, not to make her decisions for her! And why should I trust you, 'baby sister'?" I can still smell Nightmare Moon on you." He sniffed the air and wrinkled his nose. "It may have been a thousand years, but there's no forgetting that cheap soy sauce smell."
"If the Heartland turns violent, what do you think this will do to her?" Luna asked. "She needs to let go of this ideal. If she doesn't, its collapse will be too much for her. If you really are Equestria's defender, then this is your duty!"
"I don't need an abomination-infested rebel of a sister to lecture me about duty," Terrato growled. "Go home, Luna. Celestia will know that you came here. I'll tell her that you snuck here to visit me. You know, to mend things between us, and to show me that you're completely free of Nightmare Moon, which I don't think you are. She'll scold you for acting rashly, and that's it. Now go. You should be supporting our eldest sister, not plotting behind her back!"
"You cannot hide out here forever, big brother," Luna said. Her lips quivered slightly. Terrato had gone too far and he knew it. "The changes will force you to act." Her horn flashed a dark blue light. In a blink of an eye, she was gone, on the wings of a powerful teleportation spell.
Terrato looked southward, to the Heartland.
"You are the eldest, and it is your will that must be followed. That's just how things go."
He remembered telling that to Celestia. He was so sure back then, so confident that she would steer them through anything. All he had to do was his duty. She had told him that what she was doing was for the best, and he had agreed. It wasn't just him. Everypony agreed, even the ones who were to be left in the Barrier Lands. That was the kind of loyalty she inspired, and he admired her for it. He was not going to turn his back on his duty now. He flapped his wings and took flight back to FangBreaker Fortress. He had an impending attack to deal with.
The wolven-shaped target was a good sixty feet away when Pyre Valor lobbed a fireball at it. The tiny sphere flew unerringly through the air, landed gracefully on where the head should be, and exploded. The blast was controlled, however, leaving only a small scorch mark on the ground when the flames cleared. She had been practicing her aim all throughout this particularly slow morning. Commander Dreadstep had not sent her squad on any mission, and the inactivity was making her uneasy. There was a great mass of wolven out there, and she should be burning them by the job lots, not their wooden cut-outs. 'And then what?' she thought to herself. 'I could burn thousands of those misbegotten mongrels, and there will be more. There will always be more.'
"Hey, vice-captain!" somepony called out from above.
Pyre Valor looked up, and found Scarlet Rabbit. "This better be important," she said.
"It sure is!" Scarlet replied. "You look like you could use a drink. I could use one too, so how about we have a few over at Storm Brew's?"
"Have you been drinking all this time?" Pyre asked.
"Most of it," Scarlet replied with a grin. "It's not as fun if I'm the only one doing it. Blademane won't even say anything to me, and I think the Captain's still trying to recruit that chosen from yesterday!"
"Trying to do what?" Pyre asked incredulously. "What makes you think he's trying to recruit that chosen?"
"Well, I saw him hand her a legionnaire emblem," Scarlet replied with a shrug. "I chased after him after he had said that he was going to escort her to a guest room. I was going to ask him if he'd let me have a couple of drinks on his tab since he wasn't using it."
"Focus, Scarlet!" Pyre said, now serious. "Are you certain that he gave her a legionnaire emblem?"
"Of course I'm sure! I'm really good at spotting things! You're not going to argue with him about that, are you? I mean, that chosen isn't really such a spoiled, filthy nag like you said. I smelled her! She smells like she takes a bath everyday!"
Pyre Valor didn't even hear the rest of what Scarlet had to say. She walked off, leaving the perplexed pegasus to hover there by himself. The implications of what Vanguard had done were all coming to her now. He had taken a great risk all for the sake of bringing the truth to the Heartland. If he was ever discovered, he would be hanging by the fort's courtyard as an example.
It wasn't just the consequences that were shocking. She had known Vanguard since they were recruits, whacking at straw-stuffed wolven dummies and galloping laps around the fort. She never expected this from him. Vanguard would often dismiss his promotion to captain as a fluke on a coin toss, but she knew the truth of the matter. They were both good at what they did, but Vanguard was chosen for a trait she didn't and vowed never to have. He was Prince Terrato's ideal soldier: a loyal, unflinching pony who defended the Barrier Lands without question. It was as if the Heartland, and the injustice that its existence represented, didn't exist for him. As far as Vanguard was concerned, the Barrier Lands were all of Equestria.
Pyre Valor couldn't see it that way. The truth was too important to ignore. In everything that she did, it remained at her periphery, that she was doing all of these things so the chosen could live in their idyllic kingdom. She knew that the truth would have to be shown to the Heartland, no matter what the cost. There were nights when the outrage kept her awake. Once, she considered it a flaw on her part. It was why she apologized to Vanguard the other day.
But now, things were different. Vanguard felt the same way. He was just far better at hiding it than she was. He was naïve though. He put his faith in a worthless nag of a chosen. His emblem was as good as wasted. Worse, if the chosen did remember, she would run to Princess Celestia and inform her of what Vanguard had tried to do. He'd be a dead criminal in a matter of hours. Pyre wasn't going to allow that. He might be an idiot, but he knew what had to be done in the end. If she could force all of the Heartland to see the truth, he may be saved.
"Vice-captain!" somepony called from ahead of her.
Pyre Valor looked ahead to see Blademane walking towards her. He saluted before speaking, his voice monotonous as always. "Commander Dreadstep wants to see our squad, vice-captain. May I ask if you know where the others are?"
Pyre gestured behind her shoulder. "You'll find Scarlet back at the training grounds, if he hasn't gone back to Storm Brew's. I'll fetch Vanguard. Thank you, Blademane."
Blademane merely saluted again and walked on. Pyre Valor's eyes narrowed. The timing was perfect. During this mission, she had to confront Vanguard about this.