• 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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Dangerous Roads

Upheaval: Reckoning

Chapter 3: Dangerous Roads

The march towards Fangbreaker Fortress was the exact opposite of the shameful retreat that the Legion had gone through. Even though the weather was worse, every pony made good time. They dragged their supply wagons, and siege engines with fervor. The thought of bringing the fight to the wolven who had dared to invade their lands warmed them through the frigid journey.

With Fangbreaker just a day away, the latest wave of reinforcements picked up their pace as snow continue to fall all around them. The pilling snow drifts made each step a struggle, but nopony paid too much attention to that, especially the pegasi. Among them, Rainbow not only flew all the way up front, but she flitted about in her impatience. Her back still hurt, and her head still had some bandages, but she was ready for another battle, and another chance to redeem herself. For this march, she purposely distanced herself from her new squad mates. Applejack’s forgiveness felt…reassuring, as if she had reached out and removed an enormous load that had been dragging Rainbow down. It was for that reason that Rainbow needed to keep some distance. It was her fault that Applejack was hurt, and she had to do something to redeem herself. It was so tempting to just accept that forgiveness, and try to get back to some semblance of how they were in the Heartland, but she couldn't let it go that way. She couldn't let Applejack, or any of her friends, do everything. She had to do something truly heroic, something that would show them how awesome it was to be her friend. She couldn't just wait around until one of them was in danger, she had to keep doing things.

She looked past the gently falling snow, and saw the faint silhouette of Fangbreaker Fortress’s walls. Its retaking would be her opportunity. She listened often to her flight mates talking about the place. Every member of Flight Dreadwing spoke of the fortress with a reverence she once thought was only reserved for royalty. The fortress was more than just a bunch of buildings to the Legion. Even Flight Captain Tailwind had some wistfulness in her tone when the conversation shifted to the place. Taking it back was going to be the stuff of legends in the years to come. Playing an important part in the process…well, it would help. A lot.

Before she could go on, something hit her from the side, then carried her away like a great blast of wind. Except that this blast felt solid, and metallic. The landscape turned into a blur of grays and whites. She was soon hovering high above the line of troops, even above the other pegasi. “What in the--” she spluttered.

A hoof covered Rainbow’s mouth before she could say anything else. She focused on what had brought her so swiftly here only to find a familiar pony holding her up. Her forelegs were pinned to her sides by a red-furred leg. ‘Scarlet,’ she thought. The name shifted her thoughts into an entirely different matter, one that she had been talking with Applejack, and Vanguard for the past few days. Scarlet held her with one foreleg without so much as straining while he shoved the other one into her mouth.

“Shhh!” Scarlet searched below him, then focused on Rainbow with a grin. “Not too loud!” he whispered. “The Captain’s going to kill me if he finds out about this!”

Rainbow nodded, and Scarlet took his hoof from her mouth. He didn't let her go, however. Instead, his other foreleg encircled her as well. Rainbow tried to free herself, only to realize that she couldn't break Scarlet’s grip. “What do you want, Scarlet?” she asked. Inside, she was starting to panic. Scarlet had easily separated her from anypony before she could so much as blink. He held her in an iron grip she couldn't escape. While he was grinning casually, the look in his eyes was a little too intense.

“You know, I should be a little mad at you,” Scarlet said. “You got pissed because I raced you with my barding, and weights on, but it turns out you've been holding back on me too. Why haven’t you mentioned your sonic sparkly dash to me before?”

Under the intense, disturbing stare, Rainbow could barely get the words out. “I…uh…well, it just sorta happens.” She swallowed when the grin lessened on Scarlet’s face. “I can’t do it whenever I want to,” she said. “It just happens when it’s really important so I wasn't holding back on you at all.”

Scarlet’s silent, uncomprehending gaze filled the few moments of silence that came after Rainbow’s response. After that, his grin returned. “So you still want to race against me seriously?” he asked. “No barding and weights, just Scarlet Rabbit at his very best, and Rainbow Dash with her sparkly flashy exploding move!”

Rainbow didn't answer right away. A serious race against an unhindered Scarlet…ever since that last race they had, she had been thinking of how such a thing would play out. Scarlet was right, she still had the Sonic Rainboom. If she had managed that during their first race, she could have left Scarlet behind easily. Accepting his invitation, even if she wasn't sure she could pull it off, should be an easy yes.

Except...

“I think it’s wonderful that you’re staying here again, Rainbow,” Rarity said with an approving nod.

Rainbow didn't have much to say to that. After how she had been treating them, she wondered why any of her friends would be glad to share these quarters with her. But Applejack had insisted, and staying here was more convenient than constantly avoiding her. Flight Captain Tailwind telling her to stay with the other Elements of Harmony also helped. “What’s the matter, Rarity?” she asked with a half-forced smirk. “Couldn't stand not having my awesome self around?”

To Rainbow’s surprise, Rarity smiled. “I admit I even missed that ego, but it’s also because I wanted to talk to you about something.”

“Huh?” Rainbow eyed Rarity skeptically. She’d been doing plenty of talking with Applejack already. She certainly didn't want to have a repeat with Rarity.

“Rainbow, has Scarlet Rabbit challenged you to a race?”

Rainbow frowned. “No. Why are you asking that all of a sudden?”

“Well, I just heard this rather disturbing tale from Hammer Chain…”

Rainbow listened despite the urge to just dismiss Rarity’s concerns. She had heard this before: Scarlet’s a good legionnaire, but his sort of influence wasn't, the things Scarlet does work for him, but won’t necessarily work for other ponies, Scarlet’s a veteran, and knows what he’s doing in combat. Rainbow wasn't interested in hearing more. It wasn't Scarlet’s drinking ability, or even his skill at fighting that she admired, but she wasn't ready to talk to anypony about that.

As Rarity recounted Hammer Chain's tale, Rainbow did end up listening intently. Rarity was convinced that Scarlet had done something horrible to this Overcast, Rainbow wasn't so sure, and she wasn't going to simply speculate like the Queen of Overreacting. It was better to get the answers straight from the source.

Vanguard eventually entered their shared quarters, and Rainbow immediately spoke to him about what Rarity had told her.

“All of that is true,” Vanguard replied. He looked around to see if anypony else was listening. “I can’t fault Hammer Chain for giving the point of view of an observer, and I’m willing to fill in the details if it convinces you not to seriously race against Scarlet.”

“So Scarlet really did kill Overcast?” Rainbow asked.

“No." Before Rainbow could breathe a sigh of relief, Vanguard went on. “That's because we managed to stop him in time, which we were able to do because he was slowly beating Overcast to death as opposed to just snapping his neck.”

Rainbow tried to reply: to voice some kind of skepticism. She wanted to reason out that Vanguard was exaggerating to keep her from racing against Scarlet, but Vanguard had never been the sort to exaggerate. Every time he opened his mouth, nothing came out but growling, somber truth, even when he was trying to be light-hearted. He spoke so seriously that she did believe. “But why?” she asked. “Why did he do it?”

“You’ll need to understand more about Scarlet. He’s not a Bastion City pony like most of us in the fortress. He was sent here from the Southern Barrier Land before recruitment.” Vanguard paused, hesitating one last time about telling his old friend’s story to a newer friend. “Scarlet wasn't born like you and me. He was…built.”

“Built?” Rainbow asked. “Like a machine? How’s that possible?”

“His parents came from a line of ophidite slaves. Their owners had been selectively breeding them for pegasus racing, and Scarlet was their best result.”

Rainbow’s eyes narrowed. Ophidites. She had heard about them often whenever the transfers from the south told stories. They were enormous snakes who lived far to the south. She heard a lot of terms about them: Constrictus tribe, Cobrahn tribe, Vipren tribe, Coatl tribe, Sesyth, spitters, poison arrows. Now, Scarlet was part of that group.”How do you know all of this?” she asked.

“I garnered a lot of information from Scarlet himself. I've also spoken with some of his fellow liberated slaves.” Vanguard paused. “Scarlet’s masters applied every bit of knowledge they had on producing an unbeatable racing pegasus: experiments, medicines, conditioning…they succeeded to a great degree. To Scarlet’s luck I suppose. In Ophidus, pegasus racers were a couple of losses from being dinner. When the Southern Legion attacked the holdings of his ophidite master, Scarlet was a champion several times over.”

Rainbow swallowed again. “What does all of that have to do with challenging him to a race? I mean just because he’s got special training--”

“Don’t you understand?" Vanguard growled. "The ophidites took away Scarlet’s parents, his chance for some semblance of a normal foalhood, even some of his ability to interact with his fellow ponies and feel some emotions. They took all that away, and replaced it with speed. That’s what I mean when I say he was built. There is no beating him when he races unfettered, and I say this after seeing your Sonic Rainboom.”

“You can’t know that until I try!” Rainbow said.

Vanguard held Rainbow by the shoulders, and looked her in the eye sternly. “Don’t race him. He’ll ask you now that he’s seen what you can do, but he won’t persist if you put your hoof down. If you lose a serious race, he’ll go berserk. The ophidites conditioned him that way.” Vanguard’s voice lowered, and he let his worry tinge his words. “There won’t be a second cover up. If he tries it again, he’s dead. The only variable is if he kills you first, or not. Do you understand now? Don’t race him.”

“Rainbow.”

For a moment, Rainbow didn't even recognize her own name in the swirl of indecision.

“Rainbow!” Scarlet followed the name up with a vigorous shaking. When he finally noticed her eyes focus on him, he frowned. “What are you doing spacing out? You want that race, or not?”

Vanguard’s warning played itself in Rainbow’s mind. That, and the concern all her friends had for her. She should say no. That was all it took to put a stop to this. A single word would stop Scarlet’s pestering, and keep her safe from that dangerous, ophidite-made…thing that lurked beneath his cheery smile, and boisterous laugh. There was still a war to fight, Nightmare Moon, Black Rose, getting Celestia’s power back, and a hundred more reasons. All she had to do was say--

“Yes.”

A smile spread across Scarlet’s face. Rainbow recognized this smile. It was the sort of smile Pinkie had…when she spotted another cake to devour. “Great!” he said. His smile widened, until his teeth showed. “You tell me when you’re ready, then we’ll plan a nice private spot. Don’t worry about witnesses. I’ll be the first, and the loudest at proclaiming your awesomeness when you beat me!”

Before Rainbow could speak again, she was hovering alone in the chilly sky. All she caught was a faint streak of red from the corner of her eye. ‘Just one word, huh?’ she thought.


Not everypony was excited with the walls of Fangbreaker coming ever closer. Trailing behind her friends, Pinkie quailed at the prospect of having to fight again. It wasn't fear for her life that put a damper on her spirit. During the last fight with Nightmare Moon, she had done nothing to help her friends out. Indeed, Worse than nothing, in fact. She was a burden, having to be protected by Twilight’s shield, and watching helplessly while Nightmare Moon almost killed her friends. Despite that disastrous show of support, she was grouped with the rest of the Elements of Harmony, and sent to fight once again. She couldn't understand it. What was expected of her? She wasn't super magical like Twilight, strong and tough like Applejack, or fast like Rainbow. At least Fluttershy could help with the wounded, and Rarity had those magic blades of hers. She just…didn't fit in the front line.

“What’s the matter, Pinkie?”

Pinkie easily recognized the soft growling tone. Sharpfangs sounded a lot like his son, only a little gruffer. While she got along well with everypony in Kitchen Division, she spent just a little more time chatting with him. “I was just thinking of what I could do when the fighting starts again,” she replied. Sharpfangs raised an eyebrow. “I mean, I’m just a cook. Sure I’m also a bearer of an Element of Harmony, and Prince Terrato thinks that we can do a lot more if I’m out there helping, but what am I supposed to be doing? Hey, you’re a cook too, Sharpfangs, do you have any idea what to do when you need to fight?”

Sharpfangs cleared his throat. “I don’t know how these “Elements of Harmony” are supposed to work, Pinkie,” he said. “I can’t help you there. Maybe you should get some weapons training if you’re going to be spending time in fights.”

“I suppose,” Pinkie said with a downcast look. “More time in fights” was exactly what she was afraid of. Her tail started to shake violently. On instinct, she dropped to her belly with her forelegs covering her head. “Twitchy tail, watch out!” she yelled. “Something’s going to fall from above!” As she said that, a crashing sound came from behind them.

At Pinkie's yell, Sharpfangs looked up, and spotted a small jar about to land on him. He stepped to the side, and it fell to the ground. The jar had been saved from shattering by a large pile of snow. He stared at it for a moment, then picked it up. With the danger gone, Pinkie stood up and look at the thing as well. It turned out to be a jar of salt. Behind them, one of the supply wagons had been upended, and the pony pulling it had fallen face-first into the snow. The jar had likely flown from the wagon, narrowly missing Sharpfangs's head thanks to Pinkie’s warning. Sharpfangs looked towards Pinkie with a mixture of disbelief and gratitude. “Good call,” he said. “Thanks.”

Pinkie replied with a wide grin, then hopped next to Sharpfangs as he went to see to the wagon.

“So what happened here, Whitesnout?” Sharpfangs asked the wagon’s puller.

“Prince-damned snow was hiding a shallow pit,” Whitesnout grumbled. Several wagons passed by him as he struggled to get his back on track. “I guess I should count myself lucky I didn't break a leg.”

Sharpfangs and Pinkie lent a hoof and got the wagon moving again. They were about to get back to the march when a couple of ponies headed towards them. Sharpfang’s eyes narrowed, and he pulled Pinkie behind him. Surprised and curious, Pinkie looked over Sharpfang’s shoulder to see what was going on.

The two earth ponies coming towards them looked…odd. Pinkie had not really known a lot of Barrier Lands ponies, but she did know the sort of appearance that the ponies of Bastion City favored: thick gray furs, barding on the legionnaires, rugged faces, and the like. These ponies were clad from muzzle to tail in thickly layered browns and greens. They wore wide-brimmed, conical hats to protect themselves from the snow. The lead pony still had his face exposed, revealing a young stallion with a dark brown coat, and a white mane. The one behind him wore a wooden mask made to resemble a featureless pony. The colors made it look like it was chiseled from stone. “Who are these ponies, Sharpfangs?” she asked. “Do you know them?”

“Never met one before,” Sharpfangs growled, “but I recognize the outfits. They call themselves ‘True Earth Ponies’. They probably came with the other reinforcements from the Western Barrier Land.”

The masked pony held out a square, flat piece of slate, no bigger than a dish. There were all sorts of strange writings on it as well as four embedded gems set in a cross pattern: a ruby, a sapphire, an emerald, and a diamond. The diamond, the gem that was pointing towards their direction, was glowing softly. Upon seeing this, the masked pony turned to his companion, and whispered something. The other stallion listened intently, then nodded before turning towards Sharpfangs. “Which one of you was channeling ley energy just now?” he asked.

“What?” Sharpfangs asked. “What are you talking about?”

The masked pony whispered something again, then pointed a hoof at Pinkie. The lead pony responded by taking a step towards Pinkie. Sharpfangs blocked his path. “This doesn’t concern you, half-dog,” the stallion said angrily. “Our concern is with the novice channeler.”

“Take your ‘concern’ and shove it under your tail!” Sharpfangs snarled. He bared his teeth, revealing just how wicked and curved his namesakes were. “I’m not letting you fill this filly’s head with your worthless grudges and philosophies.”

The stallion reared up angrily. Before anything else could transpire, a shadow fell upon him accompanied by the sound of beating wings.

“What’s going on here?” Tailwind asked. She hovered close to Sharpfangs, and glared at the two ponies. “You've got a problem with my husband, colt?”

“So the half-dog is married to a bird,” the lead stallion said, his upper lip curling. Tailwind’s hoof went the crossbow strapped to her harness, but Sharpfangs stopped her.

The masked pony also held out a hoof to hold back the lead stallion. When the lead stallion backed down, the masked pony stepped forward, and spoke directly to Pinkie in an aged, cracked voice. She didn't recognize a word.

More ponies arrived to see what was going on. Many of them were more unfamiliar ponies that looked like they came from other parts of the Barrier Lands. Upon seeing the commotion, the masked pony whispered to his companion, and both of them walked away. “What was that about?” Pinkie asked. “Did any of you understand a word that masked pony said?”

“True Earth Pony gibberish,” Tailwind muttered. “Stay away from those nutcases,” she told Pinkie. “They can’t be anything good.” She patted her husband's shoulder, and flew off.

Before Pinkie and Sharpfangs could move on, one of the observing ponies, a white earth pony stallion with a buzz-cut brown mane, trotted over to them. “Sorry about that,” he said. “They came with my group. I didn't expect them to start acting out. They were pretty behaved with us, even when they were with unicorns and pegasi.”

“They probably would have stayed that way too,” Sharpfangs replied. “I think something provoked them.” He looked over to Pinkie.

“So why are they called “True Earth Ponies”?” Pinkie asked. “I mean, does that mean I’m a fake earth pony? How do they tell?”

They resumed walking. “The name’s Cold Forged,” the pony from the Western Barrier Land said. “Don’t let their name fool you. There’s nothing particularly true about them. Just a bunch of isolationist earth ponies if you ask me. I guess that doesn't sound as good as ‘True Earth Ponies’.”

“So why do they call themselves that?” Pinkie asked.

“Well, according to them, they are very ancient group,” Cold Forged replied. “They say that, even before the reign of our prince, the pegasi controlled the weather while the unicorns controlled both the sun and moon. The earth ponies were required to pay tribute to both. Their group’s ancestors supposedly started a revolt against this, then fled underground where neither sun nor moon could be seen, and the weather meant nothing.”

Sharpfangs shook his head while Cold Forged gave a wry smile. “Sounds like hogwash made up to hate unicorns and pegasi to me,” Cold Forged said. “I mean pegasi controlling weather?” He laughed derisively.

“Just stay away from them, Pinkie.” Sharpfangs said. “They’re a dangerous lot caught up in their bigoted beliefs.

“I've heard that there’s also a very rare sort of them practicing bizarre rituals to create some kind of magic,” Cold Forged said. “Earth ponies practicing magic, it’s just not right, I tell you.”

Pinkie was about to say something when Twilight and the rest of her friends galloped towards her.

“There you are!” Twilight said. “You should have said something before falling to the back of the line like this!”

“Oh hey, Twilight!” Pinkie said. Her confusion about what the masked pony had said faded to the back of her mind for now. “I just met--“

“Later,” Twilight said. She looked behind her. The walls of Fangbreaker Fortress loomed over them. The rest of the reinforcements were already spreading out to assist the besieging forces. Pinkie followed Twilight's gaze towards a great pillar of black flame burning on top of the fortress’s highest building. “This will be round two,” Twilight said grimly.

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