• Published 9th Feb 2012
  • 23,165 Views, 773 Comments

Upheaval: Breaking Point - Visiden Visidane

A desperate war, old enemies returning and past mistakes come together to alter Equestria forever.

  • ...

Where Faith Lies

Upheaval: Breaking Point

Chapter 6: Where Faith Lies

Fangbreaker Fortress had always been a renowned place throughout the Barrier Lands. Standing proudly on a lone hill far to the north of the Heartland, it was the Northern Equestrian Legion's primary bastion against the armies of Wolvengard. Its walls had witnessed countless waves of vicious wolven soldiers try and fail to take over the Barrier Lands, grand showdowns between King Fenrir and Prince Terrato, and the rise and fall of many pony heroes. To be stationed at Fangbreaker was an honor for any legionnaire. It was to stand at Equestria's northern tip, to stare down the wolven king's gaping maw, and to fight side-by-side with the most stalwart of ponies. There were stories of high-ranking officers willing to be demoted if a low-ranking position within the fortress opened.

The fortress had an austere design, the hallmark of Prince Terrato's aesthetics. Regardless, its defenders looked upon it with a reverent sense of awe. Everything about it was proud and defiant against the forces that continually assaulted it: from its compound walls to its multiple barracks, to the courtyards capable of holding a large army.

Not every area in Fangbreaker Fortress was glorious and awe-inspiring, however. Within the fort's inner courtyards was a row of buildings marked by their multiple, perpetually smoking chimneys. They were the fort's great kitchens, the destination of huge quantities of supplies from the fertile south.

Most of the garrison often avoided the kitchens. It was sweltering inside, the cooks were violently short-tempered, and being splashed by boiling water or oil was an ever-present danger. Culinary experiments also occurred there on a regular basis. The fort's cooks were constantly trying to create the perfect rations for long-range patrols. Long excursions to the far north required food that was easily portable, long-lasting, filling, and nutritious. The smells from the many failed results sometimes knocked unsuspecting passers-by unconscious.

Despite the risks, Vanguard Clash made sure to visit the kitchens at least once a week. This morning, it was time for another. He had arrived while everypony had just cleared up breakfast preparations. After a quick look at him, one of the cooks called out, "Sharpfangs! Your son's here to see you!"

Vanguard's father looked up. Though surrounded by so much bustling activity, Sharpfangs stood out. His name alone puzzled anypony who had never encountered him before. His appearance, however, often left ponies staring in bewilderment. He had the same gray coat as Vanguard, but with noticeably longer hairs which feathered by his hooves. His mane was a wild, feral mess of wiry, black hair, and his eyes were bright red and slit. The most peculiar thing about him was his namesake, a pair of fangs protruding slightly past his upper lip.

"Vanguard!" Sharpfangs exclaimed. "About time you showed up! How did the new concentrate work for you?"

"It tastes like cardboard!"

Vanguard smiled. "A major improvement."

"Excellent," Sharpfangs said. "Looks like commissary managed to get better supplies this month. Are you here for more? Don't tell me the concentrate's so good that you've been snacking on it!"

"Just seeing how you are," Vanguard replied. "I just heard that Flight Dreadwing has flown back in. Have you seen mother yet?"

Sharpfangs snorted and wiped his hooves on his apron. "The big-shot flight captain has too many things to do to be bothered by an old dog."

"So you haven't seen her." Vanguard sighed. "This constant self-deprecation isn't going to help either of you, father."

"Your mother and I will do just fine, colt," Sharpfangs said with a wry smile. "We're not going to fall apart over an argument, no matter how much equipment ends up broken afterwards." He looked past Vanguard. "Besides, you have your own relationships to deal with."

Vanguard followed his father's gaze and saw Pyre Valor from a distance. She was walking towards him, her customary frown already in place. Their squad must be up for another mission. "I'm doing fine with my relationships," he answered.

"Which means you haven't proposed to her, right?" Sharpfangs's smile split into a toothy grin. "Move quickly, colt. You may not have noticed, but neither of us are studs. If you pass up a mare like that, you may as well cut them off and use them for wolven bait!"

"I think I'll keep them awhile longer, father." Vanguard replied. "It looks like I'm needed. I'll see you soon."

Vanguard went over to meet up with Pyre Valor. She saluted as he approached, a sure sign that they had work ahead of them. "Captain, Commander Dreadstep has sent for our squad," she said. "Blademane should be on his way with Scarlet Rabbit as we speak."

"Understood," Vanguard replied. "Let's go then."

A few minutes later, Third Squad stood inside Dreadstep's office. As one, they saluted their commander. Dreadstep had been in charge of Fangbreaker since before they were foals, and he had never led the defense wrong. He weathered his age well. Despite the lines around his face and his salt-and-pepper mustache, he moved with ease, his eyes still bright with vigor.

"Good that you've arrived, Captain Vanguard Clash," Dreadstep said. "Yesterday was a hectic time, what with our prince's sudden arrival and the matter with the chosen. You've yet to be properly congratulated for successfully slaying Cold Hoof and bringing back the information he stole."

"Thank you, Commander," Vanguard replied. "All in service to the Legion."

"Good," Dreadstep said. "I have a new task for your squad. Some of Dreadwing's scouts just reported that the wolven are transporting some kind of large device towards our border. We need a closer look as to what it is and your squad will be our eyes. Sabotage it if you can. Here's its last location." Dreadstep gave Vanguard a rolled up map. "Scarlet, I have a different task for you. We need an important message sent to Bastion City. Our last messenger ran afoul a squad of wolven bolters. You're our fastest flier and this message can't wait."

"Understood, sir!" Scarlet Rabbit replied.

Dreadstep looked to the others. "Take care. This will bring you to our borders. The wolven army is on the march over there."

"So, they're transporting this device ahead of their army?" Vanguard asked.

"Indeed. It's a curious object, small enough to be carried around by wolven, but it can't be good news."

"We're going then." Vanguard saluted and left, his squad right behind him.

It was close to evening when Fangbreaker Fortress faded completely into the distance for Vanguard's squad. They had been walking silently across the plain for hours now. To Vanguard, having Pyre Valor walking behind him felt like he was a second away from an explosion. She was frowning, but that was normal, as was the way she moved. Still, something about her today kept him on edge. He checked the map. They had made good time so far. The wolven detachment's last location was still a good distance away, and it was likely that it had moved on.

"They should be sending a detachment of pegasi for this," Pyre groused. "A storm of bolts and firebombs would be faster and more effective than three quarters of a Special Operations squad."

"You think Dreadstep doesn't know that?" Vanguard asked. "We don't have a detachment of pegasi to spare. Last week's disastrous ambush certainly didn't help."

"Reinforcements should be here already if they weren't skirting around the Heartland." Pyre Valor snorted. To Vanguard, it sounded like steam escaping a boiling kettle.

Vanguard looked southwest. The Western Equestrian Legion had always provided pegasus reinforcements to both the north and the south. Ursan slingers did not devastate pegasi flights as badly as wolven bolters or ophidite snipers. Earth pony infantry on the other hoof..."There's no point in complaining about something that's been going on for a thousand years," he said.

"And that's how it gets to keep happening for another thousand years."

Vanguard didn't bother replying. Pyre Valor had railed against the Heartland for as long as he had known her, and would likely continue forever. "We'll set up camp here. You know the drill, vice-captain," he said.

Despite the difficulty in gathering material for a fire, camp was ready in a matter of minutes. For once, Vanguard wished that they had taken longer to prepare. The silence between him and Pyre Valor was more exhausting than their trek. Blademane had gone off to gather more kindling, leaving the two of them alone. "If you have something to get off your chest, Pyre, now's the time," he finally said. He sat near the fire with Pyre Valor opposite him.

"I was about to say the same thing, Vanguard," Pyre replied. "I've been speaking my mind often enough. I want to hear what you have to say this time."

"What are you talking about?"

"You know the injustice that the Heartland stands for. Even now, it's affecting us: reinforcements taking too long to arrive, an untapped population of pegasi, unicorns, and earth ponies that could aid the war not being used while we have our backs driven against the wall, and all the unnecessary secrecy!"

"The Legion has overcome crises like this before, Pyre," Vanguard replied. "We stand strong on our own."

"That we stand on our own is the problem!" Pyre Valor leaned closer, the firelight reflecting brightly in her eyes. "You're right, Vanguard, the Legion has overcome crises like these before. But it has always been at a cost, and the ones paying have always been us. It's time to put an end to how things are going. Even you believe this!"

"I believe in no such thing!" Vanguard growled.

"You don't think that the truth should be brought to the Heartland?" Pyre asked.

"I don't care a mule's bit for the Heartland! It may as well be a myth. I fight for my home, the Barrier Lands. It's about time you did the same!"

Pyre's scowl deepened. The fire crackled, seemingly feeding off her intensity. "Then why did you give your legionnaire emblem to that chosen? Isn't it so that she would remember the truth once she reached the Heartland? Wasn't it so that it would spread from her to the rest of the chosen?"

Vanguard stared silently at Pyre Valor, not daring to breathe lest she take that as some kind of admission of guilt. How she managed to find out, he didn't know. "Is that what this is about?" he asked.

"You've put your faith in that chosen. Do you really think she's going to spread the truth once she's home?" She shook her head and stomped a hoof. "No, she's going to repay your trust by sending you off to die for treason!"

"I don't expect Twilight Sparkle to spread the truth or some such thing," Vanguard replied. "That's not why I gave her my legionnaire emblem. However, I do trust her enough to not try to kill me."

"Then why did you give her the emblem?"

Vanguard hesitated. That was a question that he had asked himself over and over last night. Why indeed? "She wanted to know about this place. I just wanted to give her a chance to keep that knowledge, even if she just kept it to herself."

"You're going to die, Vanguard Clash, and now you're telling me that you're going to die over a triviality?"

"Call it what you will. It's done."

"It doesn't have to be," Pyre Valor said. Vanguard eyed her carefully. She had never calmed down this quickly. "I can still set things right and save you from this insanity."

"What are you talking about, Pyre?" Vanguard asked, his voice low. "What have you planned?"

"I've been thinking about what Cold Hoof had done. You're right: he was mad and needed to be put down, but that doesn't mean that there is nothing to be salvaged from what he was trying to do."

"Get to the point," Vanguard growled. Pyre's most fiery tirades had never made him feel threatened like this one did.

"We're expecting a major attack on Fangbreaker soon," Pyre Valor said. "Cold Hoof was trying to give the wolven the advantage. Imagine what would happen if the fortress does fall."

"Hundreds of ponies will die," Vanguard answered. "Wolvengard will gain a foothold in the Barrier Lands. They'll be able to launch raids all throughout the north while the Legion scrambles to recover. It will be a disaster for all of Equestria."

"True," Pyre Valor continued. "Losses will be staggering. Reinforcements from the Western and Southern Legions will never arrive on time. Unless…" Her eyes brightened, and it was no longer just from the firelight reflecting off them. "Unless, Prince Terrato demands that Princess Celestia allow the Legion to travel through the Heartland. She'll have to, or she's going to have the wolven howling at her very doorstep. Even her barrier won't stave them off forever. The chosen will finally see the ponies that have been defending them for so long! That may not even be enough. Ursinium and Ophidus won't miss this opportunity to launch their own attacks. The Heartland's resources will have to be used. Drafts will be initiated. Legionnaires and chosen will have to fight side-by-side to recover!"

Vanguard couldn't find the voice to speak. He didn't even recognize who he was talking to. This…unicorn talked of a disaster as if it were the best thing that could happen to Equestria! "Hundreds will still die," he answered, his voice rising. "And why are you even contemplating this? Such a thing will never happen!"

"But it can," Pyre Valor said. "You didn't look at Cold Hoof's bag before giving it to me, did you?"

"No, I trusted you to check it." Night had completely fallen upon them. Vanguard felt alone in the middle of a cold plain next to a deranged stranger.

"There was more inside than just the layout of Fangbreaker Fortress. Cold Hoof has been in contact with Wolvengard's High Command. He promised them the plans and he wasn't alone. There are other ponies in Fangbreaker who are willing to give it to Wolvengard."

"You knew this and you did nothing!" Vanguard snarled. He got up to his hooves, glaring at Pyre Valor.

"I didn't want them discovered," Pyre Valor answered, her voice matching Vanguard's. "This has to happen, Vanguard! This is the only way we can force Prince Terrato to act!"

"Have you already forgotten the hundreds that will die?"

"Hundreds of thousands have already died! Died in obscurity while the chosen continue to enjoy their peace and harmony! This is the final push, Vanguard, the final sacrifice that the Legion must make so that all of Equestria can join the fray!"

"You…" Vanguard paused. The words escaped him when he tried to talk. "…you've been planning this for a long time. Even before Cold Hoof."

"I've given it a lot of thought." Pyre Valor glanced towards Fangbreaker Fortress' direction. "I only discovered that a conspiracy was already in place last night. We can take over where Cold Hoof failed. The attack is still coming. The sabotage can still take place."

"What do you mean we?" Vanguard asked, his voice low and dangerous. "You're suggesting treason, Pyre, and you want me to take part in it?"

"You've already committed treason!" Pyre stomped a foreleg. "Whatever you believe the reason was for what you did for that chosen, I believe that you wanted the truth to be known!"

"You believed wrongly. This conspiracy ends here, Pyre Valor." Vanguard reached for his two-bladed sword.

Pyre's eyes widened at the sight of the weapon. Her breathing quickened and her legs tensed. "Think this through carefully, Vanguard. We have the chance to change a millennium of injustice!"

"And where will you be when this 'change' takes place?"

"I will stay in Fangbreaker and fight to the death. There is no running away from what I started."

"How very noble," Vanguard growled. "That's not enough!"

"Nothing I do will ever be enough for the sacrifice that must be made!"

"Then you have no right to make it!"

Pyre hesitated. "Don't do this, Vanguard! I believed in you. I trusted you to see what needed to be done!"

Vanguard was done with words. This wasn't his friend. "Don't talk to me about trust, traitor!"

With both of them on their hooves, Vanguard lunged at Pyre Valor, scattering the still-burning kindling as he stepped over the fire. The flames licked at his barding, but night steel protected well against heat. Pyre answered by running. He was about to follow when Blademane slammed into his side. His hooves slid against the rocky ground, but he stayed up. With a grunt, he pushed back. "What are you doing? Don't you know what she's planning?" he asked.

As always, Blademane didn't answer.

Before he could say anything else, Vanguard cried out as he felt a horrible, searing pain on his right side. He glanced back. A portion of his barding was smoking. His coat felt like it was ablaze. Much too far away, he saw the glow of Pyre Valor's horn. He broke off from Blademane and ran for it. He needed to survive to warn Fangbreaker.

Pyre Valor was a good distance away when Vanguard made a break for it. She concentrated on a spell and aimed at the fleeing pony. Vanguard's injury had slowed him down. Despite the darkness, she could see him enough to aim perfectly. The fireball flew unerringly, as it always did. It alighted gently on Vanguard's shoulder, then exploded.

There was no dying cry. To her surprise, Vanguard staggered out of the blast. His smoking body fell to the ground in a lifeless heap. That he had not burned up completely surprised her. Did she weaken her spell unconsciously? Still, there was no surviving that blast. All she had done was leave a reminder of what she was forced to do.

Blademane came up to her and stared at their fallen captain. "Should we make sure?" he asked.

"No," Pyre Valor said softly. She looked away and walked on. "I can barely even look upon him at a distance."

"Won't the body be discovered?"

Pyre shook her head. "The wolven will be here in a day or two. Nopony will know. Let's go. We'll set up camp somewhere else then report back that we were ambushed and had to flee before we saw the structure."

Pyre Valor slammed her front hooves against the ground. A tear escaped her eyes. She wiped it away furiously, leaving a streak of dirt across her face. "You should have just said yes!" she hissed, softly enough to keep Blademane from hearing. "Just once, you should have said it! I..."

Blademane's hoofsteps came closer. She inhaled long and loudly, making sure her eyes were dry when she turned to glance behind her. 'I'm sorry, Vanguard,' she thought. 'I truly am. We'll see each other soon. Take your vengeance then.'