• 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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Two Royal Sisters

Upheaval: Reckoning

Chapter 6: Two Royal Sisters

“Your papers are in order, Sun Drop. I'm glad to see more volunteers coming to help out here. Report to Task Sergeant Moldbreak over there so you can start.”

The sentry handed Celestia’s “papers” back, and nodded her along. A mere half hour since she left the Grand Meeting Hall, some guards challenged her for "lollygagging". She wasn't surprised. Every pony in Bastion City moved with purpose while she wandered. At first, she wanted to visit Twilight and her friends, but one of the Special Operations ponies mentioned that the Elements of Harmony had been deployed earlier that morning.

Fortunately, Special Operations had provided her the appropriate papers: she was Sun Drop, one of the many volunteers now streaming into Bastion City to help prepare for the offensive.

However, staying true to her disguise also meant that she had to take part in the work the volunteers were tasked with. She walked over to Task Sergeant Moldbreak, a burly, square-jawed earth pony with a tan coat, and a cropped dark brown mane. He was directing several groups of earth ponies when he noticed Celestia. With a frown, and flick of a foreleg, he gestured for her to come over. “You come to this city alone, lass?” he asked. “Where're you from?”

“Hearthstone City, sir,” Celestia said.

“Hearthstone!” Moldbreak exclaimed. “Haven’t been down there in ten years! Is old Blackdamp still running the mines?”

Celestia's heartbeat quickened. This was certainly an unexpected situation to come to so early. A quick and innocent admission would be better than a steadily rising mountain of lies. “I’m afraid I don’t know who that pony is,” she replied.

“Pah, filly!” Moldbreak said. “Let’s put you to work, Sun Drop.” He looked at his list. “Let’s see…they need a few more hooves for corpse duty. Head on over to the execution grounds to start off.”

Celestia swallowed a lump in her throat. “May I ask what ‘corpse duty’ entails?” she asked.

Moldbreak looked at her as if she had asked what the hair growing on her head was called. “We’re still cleaning up after all the recent battles,” he said. “We need ponies to haul our dead in for identification and burial. You and a bunch of others are going to spend your time dragging corpses around, and digging graves. Now, get over to the execution grounds. You’re starting with that latest batch of Black Rose rebels they caught.” He motioned to a couple of earth ponies, a stallion and a mare, who were already on the move. “Follow them if you don’t know where the execution grounds are.”

Celestia nodded, and did as she was told. She felt a little awkward, taking orders from a mortal pony. Far from it being unpleasant, there was a certain comfort in being told what to do, instead of deciding for others.

“So what’s your name, miss?” the stallion asked Celestia. They rounded one corner, then took a side road, avoiding the incoming heavy traffic brought by a long line of supply wagons.

“It’s Sun Drop,” Celestia replied. The friendly smile on the stallion’s face let her relax a bit. For all her fears of Terrato's ponies being savage monsters, they had behaved politely, and calmly.

“I’m Knifepoint and this is my sister, Hilt Twist,” the stallion said. He had a coppery coat and a long, unkempt mane of green. His sister was a more subdued golden-brown, and had a short, curly mane of the same green as his.

Hilt Twist frowned, and poked her brother with a hoof. “You promised to keep your flirting in line,” she said. She also smiled when she shifted her attention to Celestia. “Did you come to Bastion City all by yourself?”

“I came with my siblings,” Celestia replied. She looked towards the Grand Meeting Hall. Terrato was occupied by his invasion plans, and how to best utilize the Heartland. Luna was back in Canterlot, dealing with the mess that she should be dealing with. While they worked on those agendas, she was out here merely observing. “They’re busy with their own tasks at the moment,” she added.

“Who isn't?” Knifepoint said. “It’s been crazy these past few days. First, there are all the horror stories about the north about to be overrun by wolven. Now, we’re actually launching our own invasion!”

“About time we took the fight to Wolvengard, I say,” Hilt Twist added.

Celestia watched the two carefully. They weren't bloodthirsty killers. Far from it, they looked like simple farmers who came out here to help. “Do you really think that invading Wolvengard is a good idea?” she asked.

“Of course it is!” Knifepoint said. “Can you imagine what would it be like if we wiped the wolven out, or got them to stop attacking for good? No more worrying about their raiders sneaking into your farm, or attacking a vital caravan! We'd have a peaceful Northern Barrier Land. We can send support to the west and south so it’ll only be a matter of time until they start pushing forward.”

“I’m only calling it a good idea once we win,” Hilt Twist said. “Who knows what’ll happen in Wolvengard? Even if we win all our battles, it’s going to be a long, and brutal march to the north. How many of our own will die before we win?”

“Dying to bring an end to Wolvengard’s invasions?" Knifepoint said. "I think that’s a good end.”

“How come you haven’t joined the Legion, then?” Hilt Twist asked.

An embarrassed look crossed Knifepoint’s face. “You know I want to,” he said. “But who’s going to manage the farm if I sign up? Dad’s not getting any younger, and you can’t do it alone. With Wintercoat and Grizzleback already signed up, the farm can’t afford having me gone.”

“If your farm needs you, why have you come all the way here?” Celestia asked.

“Harvest’s done for this year," Knifepoint replied. "With all the big things happening to the Legion, everypony should be coming here to help with invasion preparations. Even if it’s just a few months worth of volunteer work, I’d--”

Hilt Twist prodded her brother again. “We’re here already." They stepped out of the street, and into their destination.

The execution grounds were wide, flat spaces of concrete just behind Bastion City Prison. Here, punishment was meted out for criminals of all sorts. The prison itself was small. Luna had mentioned earlier that there were few crimes in the Barrier Lands punishable by imprisonment. Preferred non-lethal punishments included whipping, branding, docking, and heavy fines. Ponies stuck in prison were those unable to pay their fines, and they usually spent most of the day in hard labor.

They entered from behind the gallows. Another earth pony mare, this one wearing the chain barding of a legionnaire, was waiting for them.

“About time I got some volunteers over here!” the earth pony shouted. “The first batch just got finished! Get over here, and haul these rebels off before the next batch piles in!”

Celestia barely heard the barked orders. For a moment, she stared at the huge, wooden gallows that dominated the execution grounds. Eight ponies, their heads covered in black cloth, hung by their necks. A crowd watched from the opposite side of where she was. The bodies were already limp, and a steady breeze made them swing slightly, and slowly spin in place. A pony was already cutting one of them down while Knifepoint and Hilt Twist stood at the ready.

“Over here, Sun Drop!” Knifepoint called out. When the first body dropped on his legs, he and Hilt Twist wrestled with the sudden load.

Celestia went over to them hesitantly. Her face remained calm, all the while she fighting down the horror. Ponies killing each other. Not just that, they were doing so with an eager audience, and a process that reduced the act to just one more task. She doubted that she’ll ever get used to this sight. Knifepoint placed the first dead pony on his back, and carried it over the wagon while the legionnaire on top of the gallows cut down a second body.

“Who are these ponies?” Celestia asked. “Why did they have to die like this?”

“Save your pity,” the legionnaire on top of the gallows said. She dropped the second body on Hilt Twist’s waiting hooves. “These are Black Rose rebels. Ponies who turn on their fellows don’t deserve any mercy.”

With a grunt, Hilt Twist lifted the corpse onto her back. “Black Rose rebels?” she asked. “What are those?”

“Prince-damned traitors are what they are,” the legionnaire replied. She cut down a third corpse, and motioned for Celestia to get into position. “They helped the wolven so our prince would be forced to break the barrier, and turn to the Heartland for help.”

Though Celestia had braced herself for the weight, the impact nearly buckled her legs. She shook as she recovered, remembering that it had been a long time since she had lifted anything physically, and that she may have overestimated how much she had recovered from having her power stolen.

“You alright there, Sun Drop?” Knifepoint asked. He walked over, but both Hilt Twist’s hoof on his shoulder, and a shake of Celestia’s head, stopped him.

“Nopony likes being a burden, Knifepoint,” Hilt Twist said. The two of them walked past Celestia as she made her way slowly towards the cart. She placed the body there, then wiped some sweat from her brow. She paused midway to check her now damp foreleg. Exertion…yet another thing she had yet to get used to. She had tired herself out before, but it was from using up her magical strength. Sweating, breathing hard, and feeling the burn in her muscles were not everyday sensations.

“What’s the matter there, volunteer?” the legionnaire on top of the gallows shouted. “Never seen your own sweat before? Hurry, they’re lining up the second batch of rebels!”

They repeated the motions, eventually placing all the bodies onto the cart. When the ninth body was loaded, Celestia was panting heavily. She looked up in time to find that the gallows were occupied again. Six more ponies were being led to prepared nooses. Four of them already had black cloth draped over their faces. The fifth was struggling against the pair of legionnaires holding him.

“Nags!” the pony shouted. “You nags! Killing me won’t bring back the lives that were lost!” One legionnaire struggled to get the black cloth over his head. “You hang us as traitors, but we were the ones who did what had to be done! Look to the south, the barrier’s gone! Who do you think you should thank? The Legion?”

The crowd booed and jeered at the outburst. Celestia wanted to stop the gristly affair, but she knew she would accomplish nothing other than causing more trouble. She also thought about speaking to Terrato about his methods, but how long had he been executing ponies like this? How many rebels had he killed to protect her barrier? A weight greater than any corpse slung over her back came down on her shoulders. She pictured hundreds of ponies hanging by Terrato’s orders, all for the sake of protecting the Heartland.

“An ocean of blood has soaked him, and the corpses of millions weigh down on his shoulders. You would know of what he has become!”

‘An ocean of blood has soaked me as well…and I didn't even notice.’ Celestia lowered her head, unable to watch the execution.

Finally, one of the legionnaires smashed a hoof against the struggling pony’s face while the other one slipped the cloth over his head. They dragged him to position and placed the noose around his neck.

“Is there no way they can be pardoned?” Celestia asked Knifepoint. The muffled shouting the condemned clawed at her insides. Her two companions continued to watch while a second wagon wheeled into place behind them.

“Why should we even try?” Knifepoint asked. He smiled grimly as the proceedings continued. “I hated that barrier too, but they turned on their brothers and sisters in the Legion. Nothing’s worth that. They should hang.”

The trapdoors beneath the condemned swung open. They fell, and jerked once before going limp. The legionnaires inspected each body, then they cut them down. Celestia and the others moved into place. When all the bodies were hauled onto the second wagon, they were handed shovels. “That is a lot of graves to dig,” Celestia said quietly as she stared at the two wagon-loads of corpses. A couple of volunteers were already pulling them away.

“Graves?” the legionnaire that had cut down the bodies said as she walked past Celestia. “We’re not burying these ones. Traitors don’t get to be absorbed into our prince’s element. We’re going to have an open pit fire for this lot.”

A second legionnaire walked over, and watched the wagons pull away. Celestia and her companions were about to move on when he spoke. “With the barrier down, maybe the stink will waft all the way to the south, so Princess Celestia can choke on it,” he said.

The two legionnaires laughed among themselves. Celestia glanced at them before moving on. Her shoulders were aching, and she already felt sick. ‘She already is,’ she thought.

“Greetings, citizens of Ponyville,” Luna said before a gathered group of ponies. She kept her voice soft this time, having learned her lesson from a previous visit. While she was not greeted by screams of terror, the town’s reception did not exactly exude warmth. She had come without any guards for this part of her tour. Their presence would have made it more difficult to talk to the increasingly worried citizens. Though, now that she thought about it, the Heartland was going to have to get used to the presence of grim, armed, and armored, pony soldiers from now on. Even now, she could practically smell the fear from the crowd. The only reason that they didn't cower like the ponies in Manehattan did was because she had spent just a bit more time to get to know these ponies better.

It grated on Luna to admit it, but she was relieved that Black Rose continued to perform Celestia’s duties. If the sun had stopped rising, Celestia’s sudden absence, and the strangeness of her decree would have sparked a realm-wide panic that Nightmare Moon had returned. All of these ponies would be fleeing in terror.

“Your highness…” The mayor stepped forward hesitantly, her head bowed so low that it almost touched the ground. She held up a copy of Celestia’s decree with a shaking hoof. “We received this a few days ago, but we’re not sure what it means.”

“I am here to explain just that,” Luna replied. The other ponies stepped closer. Her first attempts at Canterlot had not gone very well, partly because the ponies of the Heartland found it difficult to even grasp the idea that she was presenting to them, and partly because she was unsure of the best way to clarify the situation. The nobility took some time to let the truth sink in. When it did the reactions were…unclear. There was no panic or rioting, not even outrage over the idea that Celestia had hidden something so important from them. Instead, there was a slow, simmering fear; a fear that she doubted that they understood or were even aware of when they returned to their homes. An unseen terror was permeating the Heartland, and none of its inhabitants had any clue how to deal with it. They instinctively knew that running or hiding in one’s house did no good. They couldn't even pinpoint the source of this fear. All they knew was that Equestria now had enemies. There were so many things to consider and worry about that they were simply overwhelmed into inactivity.

Even with Luna there to speak about it, the ponies of the Heartland simply could not grasp the gravity of the situation. It was frightening, and saddening to think that they would probably only see what was now being asked of them when they were finally faced with Equestria’s enemies. ‘When legionnaires start knocking on their doors, they might have a clearer idea,’ she thought.

“Your highness, what is this Equestrian Legion?” one pony asked.

“Are we going to meet this Prince Terrato? Why haven’t we heard of him before?”

“Is Princess Celestia alright? What happened to her?”

“Can I join this Legion for a week, then go back here? I can’t leave my garden for too long.”

“Can’t the Royal Guard deal with whatever’s attacking us?”

It was the same heart-breaking questions in every settlement. It almost felt that Terrato was asking for too much. That she as was asking for too much.

“What about my sister and her friends?”

There was no mistaking that high-pitched voice. It cut through the confused murmurings of the crowd with such ease that everypony turned to see who it was. Luna looked at the yellow earth pony filly with a bright red mane. She had seen this one before, back in Canterlot when she was angrily leaving her sister’s room. The filly was flanked by her friends, a white unicorn with a curly, pink and purple mane, and an orange pegasus. Behind her was the red stallion, and the old light green mare she had also seen in Canterlot before.

“The letter said Applejack ain’t a criminal, so where is she? Is she still banished?” the filly asked.

“No, she is not,” Luna replied. For the first time since she came back to the Heartland, she found something to smile about. She approached the filly, and gave her a reassuring pat on the head before turning to speak to the crowd. “Applejack and the rest of the so-called ‘criminals’ are, in fact, heroes, and should be welcomed as such when they make their return here!”

The wide, beaming smile on the filly’s face alone made this trip worth it. Much more so the wave of joy from her family. Ever since Luna promised the Apples her help, she had hoped to accomplish something like this. The murmurings among the crowd began to take a tone of relief. Ponyville had not dismissed Twilight and her friends as criminals after all.

“Then, they’re coming home soon, right?” the yellow filly asked. She and her friends were already doing a little dance among themselves.

“No…” Luna replied sadly. Their smiles turned into confused dejection. “They’re part of the Legion now, and they have much to do to continue protecting Equestria.” It warmed her heart to see some hope return to the three.

“Then, can we join the Legion so we can help them out?” the pegasus filly asked.

The curly-maned unicorn brightened at the idea. “That’s a great idea! Maybe we can earn our cutie marks there!”

The response took Luna aback. That was something she hadn't thought about. Cutie Marks. For the first time in the Heartland’s history, cutie marks involving the Legion's work would start appearing. That would certainly be quite a conversation between her siblings. Those enchantments were still in place, a strange choice by Black Rose. Would Terrato start marking the Barrier Lands ponies, or would he insist on removing the ones on the Heartland ponies? A yank on her tail put a stop to all her speculation.

“So can we join the Legion, your highness?” the three fillies asked.

“I’m afraid that the three of you are too young,” Luna replied. She was about to add “perhaps when you’re older”, but she stopped herself. That just didn't sound right. She wished that the need to draft ponies would no longer be there by the time these three had grown up.

“What about us, your highness?” a pony from the crowd asked. “Are all of us going to join the Legion now?”

“One pony per family,” Luna replied. More questions followed, and she began to answer each one in earnest.

It was almost evening when Luna prepared to leave Ponyville. After making the situation as clear as possible for the villagers, she had spent some extra time visiting the families of Twilight’s friends, just like she visited Twilight's parents back in Canterlot. Seeing their relief and pride as she told of what had actually happened was likely going to be the one bright spot in this long tour. She wanted it done as quickly as possible. Legionnaires was already entering the Heartland, but she had instructed them to camp out in the wilderness until she gave the go ahead. There were other things entering the Heartland as well. The Royal Guard had already reported hearing a great amount of rumbling from the dragon territories. The Draco’dim had already begun enforcing their “code”. That was another problem that had to be dealt with sooner or later.

For now, she had to raise the moon, then fly off to the next settlement.

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