• Published 26th Feb 2012
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Upheaval: Reckoning - Visiden Visidane

Sequel to Breaking Point. The barrier is no more and the Legion is on the move. What happens next?

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A Fated Encounter

Upheaval: Reckoning

Chapter 2: A Fated Encounter

“My cousin’s out making a name for himself with the rest of the offensive and what do I end up with? Guarding Princess Pansy!” Redtail tapped the stone floor lightly, and impatiently with her front trampler.

Her fellow guard, Lowlight, looked at her askance. “You sure you should be calling her names when she’s so close?” he asked.

“Didn’t you get a good look at her, and hear what’s going around the guard?” Redtail asked in return. “She’s just some normal pony now. No special hearing powers or whatnot. Those wings, and that horn are all probably just there for decoration.”

“Interesting that you mentioned special hearing powers,” Lowlight said. “You better hope her brother’s not using his at the moment.”

Silence filled the empty hall afterwards. This was the fourth day since Bastion City was saved from a horde of invading wolven, and the two of them were tasked with guarding their prince’s eldest sister. For the most part, guarding Princess Celestia was a monotonous wait. She had spent almost the entirety of her first four days in the Barrier Lands resting quietly inside her room. Meals were delivered at a regular basis. Several times, Lowlight had to sternly warn his partner about helping herself to them as they were brought. Princess Celestia didn't dine on moss and lichens like most of Bastion City. Instead, fresh dragonspine grass, and mountain wildflowers from the Western Barrier Land were wheeled into her quarters. Redtail’s mouth watered with each delivery, and she scowled when leftovers were taken out.

This morning was different, however. When breakfast was finished, the dishes were clean when they were taken away. They snapped to attention when Princess Celestia stepped out of the room.

“Good morning,” Celestia said in a pleasant tone. There was a hint of tentativeness in her greeting. She was looking much better since she had first stumbled into her quarters a few days back. Though she towered over them like their prince, she did not have the same intimidating aura as he did.

Redtail was dangerously vocal about how that was a sign of weakness, yet one more symptom of both Celestia’s loss of power, and the centuries she spent hiding from battle. Lowlight wasn't as reckless.

“Good morning, your highness,” Lowlight replied as he saluted. Redtail said nothing, but she saluted smartly enough. Lowlight was thankful that the heavy barding that all guards wore hid Redtail’s face. Unlike his partner, he sort of liked the much softer presence that his prince’s sisters had. For him, the differences among his rulers reminded him that there should be more to Equestria than the Legion. Ever since Princess Luna first arrived in Bastion City, he had been entertaining thoughts of a more peaceful Equestria.

“If you don’t mind, I wish to speak with my brother,” Princess Celestia said.

“As you wish, your highness," Lowlight said. "We will escort you to him at once.” He took the lead while Redtail brought up the rear. Their instructions were clear: they were to escort her anywhere within the Grand Meeting Hall, Prince Terrato was to be consulted for anywhere beyond that. Nopony save for assigned legionnaires was to be allowed near the princess, and any attempt to harm her was to be met with swift and lethal retaliation. It was a relief that the princess made her brother their first stop for the day.

“He should be arriving within the week,” Terrato said.

“I will do as you command, your highness,” Seethe Scale replied. Despite her name, she answered in a completely neutral tone. Terrato had come to expect that from her. Even when he had mentioned that he was entrusting a very young dragon under the care of the notoriously antisocial kirin who specialized in hunting rogue dragons, she didn't so much as bat a scaled eyelid. She bowed low, and Terrato dismissed the spell so he could focus on other pressing matters.

With initial reports from the siege of Fangbreaker coming in along with scouting reports from his spies in Wolvengard, Terrato braced himself for a busy morning. So far, Nightmare Moon had not made an appearance, and Fenrir was staying true to the pact. However--

Terrato paused at the “feel” of hoofsteps approaching his quarters. He could identify his visitors through tremor sense before they could even come close. He recognized the hoof-steps of two of his heavily barded guards. It was the third pony that piqued his attention. There was no mistaking his light-stepping older sister. Despite being taller than any of her subjects, Celestia walked softly enough to put a filly crawling on a thick carpet to shame. When the door finally opened, he had already set aside the papers he was supposed to deal with so he could focus his attention on her. The guards bowed upon entering his presence while Celestia hesitated for a moment before stepping inside his quarters. “How are you feeling?” he asked. He gestured for the guards to leave, and remain outside his quarters, then shut the door behind them with his magic.

“I’m much better now,” Celestia replied. “Thank you.” She took another step towards him.

Towards any other pony who showed him this sort of nervousness, Terrato would have already been annoyed. For Celestia, it was easy to make an exemption. “Do you need something?” he asked.

“I would like to walk around this city, Terrato," Celestia replied. "To see what Equestria is like beyond my barrier.”

Terrato snorted. “Are you under my command now, Celestia?” he asked. Though it was good that she did take the time to ask him, part of him still wished that she didn't come here so meekly. She was their eldest. Quite possibly the next Queen. A certain degree of imperiousness was to be expected.

A puzzled look crossed Celestia’s face for a moment, then a slight frown creased it. “Certainly not!” she said.

“Then, why are you asking for my permission to do things?”

The frown disappeared followed by a look that Terrato could have sworn was apologetic. “Even if I’m not asking for permission, I still want you to be happy with my decisions,” Celestia said.

An awkward moment of silence passed. The conversation threatened to shift towards their past, but Terrato refused to let it. “Not with this one,” he said. “I would rather you stayed put for now. There are a lot of ponies out there who weren't happy with your barrier, Celestia. You risk being attacked if you decide to wander around the city. I can’t accompany you, and take care of my other duties at the same time so that leaves moving a lot of legionnaires to keep you safe.”

“Is the danger truly that great, brother?” Celestia asked.

Terrato’s face twisted in embarrassment. How he wanted to say that he was exaggerating, and that the ponies of the Barrier Lands respected and adored her. The truth, however, was that even the harshest punishments could not hold back centuries of building resentment. He knew the grumblings that his subjects thought they were hiding from him so well. “It could be just one doddering, half-blind pony with a rusty shank and a grudge, and I would still have you guarded at all times,” he answered.

“Perhaps they don’t have to know that it’s me who’s wandering around,” Celestia suggested. “Just a touch of transformation magic would do.”

“True,” Terrato replied. “And with all the preparations for retaking Fangbreaker, you won’t be drawing too much attention.” He stepped forward with his horn glowing. Black Rose may have let Celestia keep her immortality, but he could barely sense any magical power from her. He doubted that she could manage basic telekinesis without breaking a sweat. As he moved closer, however, Celestia took a step back. The surprise on her face when she noticed this movement told him that it was instinctive. He stopped, and stared at her quietly.

Celestia lowered her head, and her voice trembled slightly. “I’m sorry,” she said.

Terrato snorted. “What’s there to be sorry about? Flinching? It hasn't been a week since we fought each other, Celestia.”

“It’s not just about that fight.” Celestia said. She managed to walk forward until she was a leg’s length from him. “This ‘flinching’ is just one symptom. The way I've been thinking of you and treating you, I--” She caught a glimpse of his face.

“I see where this is going,” Terrato growled. “Now that you need me more than ever, I’m suddenly your dear brother again, am I right?”

Celestia’s eyes widened. Indignation tinged her voice when she responded. “What? That is not true at all!”

“Then don’t do this to me, Celestia, not when the back of my mind keeps saying that!”

Celestia took another step back. This time, it came as no surprise to Terrato. When he raised his voice, he had instinctively raised himself up, and leaned forward in a combative stance. He cursed at his own reflexes, his volcanic temper, and the centuries that created the two. ‘I’m sorry, Luna,’ he thought, ‘but this is going to be much more difficult than I thought.’ He lowered his voice, and the threatening stance he was in. “I swear I will restore your powers,” he said. “Until that time, don’t do this. Don’t bait me with something that I’m terrified you’ll take away again once everything is ‘back to normal’.”

“Terrato…” Celestia extended a foreleg to touch him, but he raised his glowing horn, and cast a spell before she could do so. A burst of gray magic engulfed her. When the spell settled, he was no longer staring at a weakened alicorn, but a lavender earth pony mare no bigger than Twilight. Her mane was a much darker shade of purple, cut short, and swept to one side. Her tail was short, and straight.

“There we go.” Terrato said. He smiled at his hoof-work. “You’re Sun Drop, an earth pony volunteer from Hearthstone City." He walked back to his desk, where the reports he had been ignoring awaited him. “You’ll look suspicious with armed guards following you, so I’ll have Special Operations keep a careful eye out. Try not to get into any arguments as they will be instructed to shoot any pony who so much as spits in your direction.”

Celestia looked her disguise over, even running a hoof down her mane. “Is there any particular reason you chose this form?” she asked.

“I like earth ponies,” Terrato replied. “Also, you won’t be called upon to use magic, or fly. Redtail and Lowlight will escort you out of the Grand Meeting Hall, you're on your own after that.”

Celestia stared at her brother a little longer. Terrato had already buried his nose into a pile of papers. She wasn't sure what spurred that halting apology from her. Perhaps it was the hurt she saw flash on his face when she had instinctively stepped back. Perhaps it was because she felt obligated after attacking him without cause just a few days back.

“You stubborn foal…all you had to do was visit our brother once, and you could have seen for yourself what sort of ponies served with him to protect Equestria. You could have seen how he ran the Legion, and how faithful he has been to the laws you laid down. You had more than a thousand years to spare a day to see him, and you didn't!”

Celestia’s outrage over what she felt was a betrayal had blotted out the meaning in Luna's words. Now that things have calmed down, Celestia began to consider them. A single day of visiting…perhaps that could have worked in the past, but what could be done now? There was nothing physically standing between her and her brother save for a desk of wood, and several feet of air, but it felt as if he had already constructed a fortress around him. He had centuries of experience defending both Equestria, and himself. There was no getting through to something he wanted shut away. But, perhaps there was a way around those walls…she could only hope that she would find such a way by spending more time here in the realm he had been reigning over all this time. With one last glance at Terrato, she followed her guards to the Grand Meeting Hall’s exit.

Vanguard’s hoof smacked into Applejack’s shoulder, knocking her down to the ground hard. It wasn't that he had struck her hard, or that he was wearing tramplers, the force that sent her sprawling on the pavement came more from precision and timing. Her barding scraped loudly against the stone, setting everypony's teeth on edge. Nearby, merely watching made both Fluttershy, and Pinkie wince.

Fluttershy had her medical kit ready in case of any accident. She looked towards their shared quarters, remembering another friend who had just gotten hurt recently. Earlier this morning, Twilight tried to use Rarity’s mage-blades again. One of the blades spun erratically in her telekinesis before burying itself into her foreleg. Fluttershy couldn't understand why Twilight had to insist on trying to use the weapons in the first place.

“I’m starting to see some bad habits here, Applejack,” Vanguard said. “Just because you bear the Element of Honesty doesn't mean that you have to honestly tell me every move you make before making it.”

Then, there was Applejack, another pony that had been full of surprises for the past few days. Twilight had fussed over her, trying to find out more about the strange shield she had called out during their last fight. When pressed to do it again, Applejack had been unable to do so no matter how much Twilight prodded her. There was also her promotion to vice-captain. Everypony was fine with it. At least, Fluttershy thought they were. Twilight has been looking a little edgy ever since Vanguard revealed his decision.

“What in tarnation are you talking about?” Applejack asked. She shook off the impact, and readied herself for another attack. “I haven’t said a word since we started this! How can I be telling you what I’m going to do?”

The morning after their celebratory party, Spike had left with a few pegasi, and made his way to the Western Barrier Land. The departure was short and simple enough: no tears, no long farewell speeches, just a hug for each of them, and a wave from Spike. After that, Applejack had asked her new captain for a sparring session near their shared quarters. The results so far were more than a little eye-opening. Applejack may not have been in the Legion for a long time, but she had seen her fair share of fighting, and trained everyday with her platoon. Nevertheless, Vanguard tossed her around with barely any effort. He didn't even look like he was breathing hard.

“Maybe not with your lips,” Vanguard replied. “The rest of your body is a different story. Pay attention to where your eyes linger, and how your shoulders and legs tense. Keeping your lips shut doesn't mean anything if your expressions say everything.”

“Okay, no more getting knocked on my rear!” Applejack pawed the ground, charged.

Before they continue, however, Vanguard looked to the side. Fluttershy followed his gaze, and found a pegasus standing nearby. “Captain Vanguard Clash?” the pegasus asked.

“That’s me,” Vanguard replied. He didn't recognize this pony. Fluttershy guessed that this must be one of the reinforcements from the cities to the south of Bastion City that had only recently arrived.

“I heard that you are in command of a squad of chosen," the pegasus said, "is this true?”

The mention of “chosen” caught the attention of the rest Vanguard’s new squad. Fluttershy, Applejack, and Pinkie walked over to see what was going on.

“It’s true,” Vanguard said. “What of it?”

The legionnaire's knees shook as he let out a long, relieved exhale. “My name is One Trick," he said. "I’m here on behalf of a high scholar from the Order of Speech.”

Vanguard raised an eyebrow. Seeing his puzzlement, Applejack trotted over to stand next to him."What's this Order of Speech about?" she asked.

"The Order of Speech is an ancient organization focused on the maintenance of language in the Barrier Lands," Vanguard replied. He turned his attention back to One Trick. "What does a high scholar want with the chosen?" he asked.

“High Scholar Crow Quill journeyed here as soon as he first heard the rumors that there are chosen here. He wishes to meet with the chosen if it is possible.”

Vanguard considered it for a moment, then nodded. “Alright then,” he said.

“Excellent! High Scholar Crow Quill is staying here in…”

Half an hour later, Vanguard, and his new squad were visiting the Snow Mare, one of the many full inns in Bastion City thanks to the influx of ponies coming in. They waited in the dining area until an old unicorn stallion with a dull, black coat, and a gray mane approached them. This must be Crow Quill. He wore an indistinct brown robe as well as a pair of saddlebags, one of which was stuffed with scrolls while the contents of the other could only be guessed at. Out of all of them, it was Twilight who looked on with interest. Vanguard wasn't surprised. This was going to be her first encounter with a scholar from the Barrier Lands.

Crow Quill approached the group slowly at first, but when his gaze alighted on their cutie marks, he stepped with a lot more spring. “It’s true!” he said. “Chosen!” He focused his attention on Twilight. “You there, do you understand a word I’m saying?” he asked.

Twilight raised an eyebrow. “Of course, I do,” she replied. To her surprise, Crow Quill closed his eyes, and a couple of tears ran down his cheeks. “Are you alright?” she asked.

“I’ll be fine,” Crow Quill replied. “I simply wish to relish the validation of my life’s work, and of the life’s work of the ponies before me. Despite a millennium of separation, we understand each other clearly. By your words you have brought meaning to centuries of vigilant service.”

“Um…you’re welcome?” Twilight said. She scratched her head, and took a step back, clearly uncomfortable with this kind of attention and grandiose words.

A minute of silence passed before Crow Quill collected himself. “There is one more piece of business to deal with,” he said. “As unlikely as it may be, have you perchance heard of the Apple Family?”

It was Applejack’s turn to step forward. “Heard of ‘em?" She grinned, and tapped her chest with a hoof. "Why you’re looking at one of them! The name’s Applejack, what can I do you for?”

Crow Quill’s eyes nearly bugged out of his head. “You…you are a member of the Apple Family?” He shook his head in disbelief, and stared at Applejack. “By the Three, if I were to fall down dead this very moment, I would have no regrets!”

“Uh…please don’t.” Applejack said. “There ain’t a pony here who’d like to see that.”

“Why are you looking for the Apple Family?” Twilight asked. “How do you even know about the Apple Family?”

Crow Quill fell to his knees, and fiddled with one of his saddlebags. He pulled out a silvery chain easily several feet long. With a trembling voice, he spoke solemnly to Applejack. “Centuries ago, during the first few years of the division, the Last Great Apple not only saved my ancestor’s life, but restored his honor. Before his final stand, he asked that ancestor of mine to find a way to return this to his family. This task has been handed down through the generations. Now, I have the honor of finally repaying that debt.”

Applejack turned towards Vanguard in confusion. “Last Great Apple?" she asked. "What’s he talking about, Vanguard?”

Vanguard was silent for a while. “Apple Slice,” he said. He walked over to Crow Quill. “It’s unlikely that this is even the same Apple Family as the one Apple Slice was part of. It’s been centuries, Crow Quill, that bloodline is probably long gone, and a new bunch of ponies have taken up the name.”

"Aren't there any Apples in the Barrier Lands?" Twilight asked.

"From what I've read, Apple Slice was the last." Vanguard said. "He stayed in the Barrier Lands while the rest of his family migrated to the Heartland as chosen."

“This task has been passed down my family despite all the impossibilities of it being completed,” Crow Quill said. “No matter how distant the relation, this chain will return to the hooves of an Apple.” He coiled the chain loosely around one leg, and offered it to Applejack. “Please take the burden of this debt from my family, Applejack,” he said. “I have no foals to pass this duty on to. It must be fate that I chose to travel to this city.”

“I’ll take it if it means so much to you, old timer,” Applejack replied. As soon as she touched the chain, she stopped, and looked ahead distantly as if recalling something. “Don’t worry, you got the right Apple. You don’t owe Apple Slice anything anymore.”

“Thank you,” Crow Quill said. Before he could continue, a violent cough wracked him.

One Trick helped Crow Quill up to his hooves. “I beg your pardon,” he said. “All this excitement has taken its toll on Crow Quill. I’m going to escort him back to his room now. Thank you for helping him in this, Applejack.”

As the two made their way out of the dining area, Vanguard stared at the chain. What kind of metal could survive for so many centuries? Surely, there was more to it than just being a simple tool for a long dead pony. The rest of his friends walked over to have a good look at it.

“Superb craftsmanship,” Rarity said. “Look at the detail on each link! Why it still looks brand new! It’s hard to believe that this was made hundreds of years ago.”

“That’s because it’s magic,” Twilight said. Her horn was glowing as she approached. She winced slightly each time she stepped with her bandaged foreleg. “It’s a pretty powerful enchantment too. This Apple Slice must have been a powerful unicorn, or knew one to be able to do this.”

Applejack continued to stare at the chain for a while, then looked towards Vanguard. “Say Vanguard,” she said.


“What Black Rose did was wrong, right? Stealing Princess Celestia’s power…hurting, and killing ponies to get what she wants…”

Vanguard understood the meaning behind the question. This chain could have only found its way back to its rightful owners if the division was ended, and Black Rose had done what she did. “Yes,” he replied.

“Is it bad to think that something good came out of it?”

Vanguard fell into thinking himself. “No,” he eventually replied. “Not at all. Get ready, we’re moving out.”

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