• 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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Divided Feelings

Upheaval: Reckoning

Chapter 7: Divided Feelings

To walk the halls of Fangbreaker Fortress again was a triumph in itself for Vanguard. It didn't matter that many of the walls were covered in wolven graffiti. This was his home. More so than the house he was born in back at Bastion City. He hoped that his quarters had not been heavily vandalized. One infantry captain had the misfortune of discovering that his quarters had been converted into a latrine.

Vanguard’s destination wasn't his room for now. He descended the stairs to the dungeons, one of the first few sections of the fortress that the Legion had operational after reclaiming the fort. Fangbreaker reclamation concluded quickly after Nightmare Moon’s disappearance. The sight of their “Moon-Shadow” being blasted by light so soon after their army had been decimated by a similar spell all but crushed the wolven defenders’ morale. What followed was more of a slaughter than a proper battle. The Legion smashed the wolven resistance into isolated pockets, then systematically crushed those pockets. Vanguard kept his new squad out of most of the fighting. When Twilight disappeared, and their jewelry shattered, most of the fight had been knocked out of them anyway. He had them busy searching for their missing friend; a fruitless search in the end.

A pair of guards stood in front of the main entrance; the first of several pairs assigned to guard the two prisoners taken during Fangbreaker’s reclamation. Both saluted when Vanguard approached. “I want to talk with the prisoner,” he said.

“Of course, Captain Vanguard Clash,” one of them replied. He opened the door, and stepped aside.

Echoing the same principle behind Bastion City’s prison, Fangbreaker’s dungeons were small for its population. Vanguard walked through the torch-lit corridor, and passed by two more pairs of guards. He eventually came upon an occupied cell. Two more guards stood nearby. He looked at these ones closely, taking note of the damage on their plated barding. One guard’s champron was severely dented inward. Blood oozed from beneath the plating. The other guard’s chest plate was badly dented as well. “How’s the prisoner?” he asked.

“Still alive, sir,” the guard with the dented champron mumbled through a missing tooth, and a swollen cheek.

“I want to speak to her alone,” Vanguard said.

The two guards looked at each other. “I-I don’t know, sir, she was a member of your--”

“You've already taken some liberties with the pony who almost burned my face off,” Vanguard said. “I’m sure you can grant me that opportunity as well.”

Both guards blanched at his hardened stare. “Just a few minutes." Both of them left the hall, and closed the door behind them. Once they were gone, Vanguard peered between the tempered steel bars.

After she surrendered to the same scouts that had found Twilight, Pyre had been thrown into the dungeons. There was no doubting the sort of penalty she was going to get. Indeed, the only reason why she was still alive was because she was to be executed before the prince.

“Come to gloat?” Pyre asked in a weak and ragged voice. The flickering light made out just enough of Pyre to show the heavy shackles that bound her legs. She dragged herself closer to the cell’s door. Her left eye had swollen shut, her right was only a little better. She was bleeding from her nose, from a split lower lip, and from a long gash across her forehead. She wore the steel of a horn-lock, the disruptor crystal embedded in the band glimmering pink.

Though it hardly mattered, Vanguard felt a little glad that they had a horn-lock in supply. He doubted that Pyre would have attempted to blast her way out of prison if they didn't. Without it, however, the Legion would have been forced to saw off her horn. “Why should I gloat?” he asked. “You got everything you wanted, Pyre. The barrier is down, and the chosen are being drafted. Oh, and hundreds of ponies are dead. Just as you planned. I'm surprised you're not dancing in your cell.”

Pyre dragged herself to her hooves. The chains around her legs jangled heavily. “Those deaths were a necessary sacrifice, Vanguard,” she replied. “I didn't want them, and I certainly didn't plan them.”

“But they’re there, aren't they?” Vanguard snapped. He removed his champron, and banged his head against the bars. “What do you do with that, now that your ‘cause’ is over?”

“I’m going to die, Vanguard!” Pyre Valor snarled. She pressed her face against the bars. It was as close as she could get to bring her head against his. “I’m going to hang in front of the Legion, and die! What else do you want from me?”

“How about regret?" Vanguar spat. "Or fear? Anything besides your high and mighty, inconsolable, self-righteous anger!”

They fell silent. With their faces so close together, Vanguard did not doubt that Pyre could see the burn that marred one side of his face. Some fur was beginning to grow on the spot again, but the area was still discolored. In return, he could pick out each bruise on her face. He could smell blood whenever she exhaled.

A minute passed before Pyre broke the silence. “I don’t feel any regret over betraying Fangbreaker,” she said. “Maybe responsibility, but not regret. I’d do it all over again if I have to.”

“Then you’re already dead, Pyre,” Vanguard growled. “Your execution’s just a formality. Your cause killed, and ate you long before the guards even dragged you here.” He was about to turn away, but the sudden softening in Pyre’s gaze held him fast. She raised a hoof to touch his face, and he let her.

“That’s almost true,” Pyre said softly, “but, I do regret something.” She ran her hoof across Vanguard’s burn. “I should have never struck you, Vanguard. I’m sorry.”

Vanguard closed his eyes. For a moment, he was a colt again, sitting in an alley, and tending to his bruises while the local gang of bullies dragged themselves out of sight. There was Pyre in front of him, grinning ear to ear, and pressing a damp handkerchief to his face. Two against six, and they still came out winners. Then, he opened his eyes, and he was a legionnaire once more, standing inside Fangbreaker’s dungeons, and talking to a condemned criminal. It was just the two of them here, and they had both come out losers. He held Pyre’s hoof briefly, then set it aside. “The burn will heal, Pyre. Soon, I’ll look in a mirror, and find it gone, but you’ll still be dead.”

Pyre smiled wryly, stepped away from the bars, and lay on the floor. “True,” she said, “but you’ll have others with you by then, Vanguard. You already do, right?”

Vanguard watched Pyre settle down for a moment longer, then turned around. ‘Goodbye, Pyre,” he said.

“Goodbye, Vanguard,” Pyre replied.

Vanguard headed for the exit. As the two guards walked in, he grabbed the both of them by their chest plates. “If I see any new injuries on her by morning, I will murder the both of you in your sleep,” he growled. He shoved them aside, and left. The dark, dreary atmosphere was starting to bear heavily down on him. He needed something to stave off the awful mood. He had considered going over to visit Blademane, but he changed his mind. The stallion had nothing to say to him, and he had nothing to say to that stallion either.

It was close to midnight. Rather than sleep, the forces that reclaimed Fangbreaker were still celebrating. Vanguard decided to join in. A quick stop by his old quarters, and he was free of his barding, ready to relax. Several bonfires burned brightly while groups of ponies danced away around them. He scanned the courtyard until he found Scarlet, who was shouting over the crowd, and waving a bottle in one hoof. Scarlet noticed him, and flew over.

“Hey, Captain, ready to join the party now?” Scarlet asked. “They found a bunch of barrels of booze the wolven hadn't touched! Can you believe it?” He guzzled the bottle he was holding, and let out and excited yell towards the celebrations.

Applejack heard Scarlet's yell, and glanced towards his direction. To her delight, she also spotted Vanguard, who, surprisingly, was out of his barding. She walked over to talk to him. Scarlet flew off, leaving Vanguard to focus his attention on her. “Still up, Applejack?” he asked.

“I didn't want to be a party-pooper, and go off to sleep while everypony’s so happy,” Applejack replied. She looked over to the celebrating crowd. “I mean really happy. A lot of ponies were crying and everything when we started to occupy this place.”

“Not surprising,” Vanguard said. “This fortress means a lot to the ponies who defend it, and not just because of strategic value. How are Twilight and the others?”

"Twilight's gone to sleep in our new quarters. Poor filly looked exhausted when the guards brought her back." Applejack glanced at the party behind her. She didn't mention to Vanguard that all of them were still weighed down by the Elements of Harmony shattering. It was a bleak several hours for them when Twilight was gone. When she came back, it became an unspoken agreement to set aside the loss. For now, they should celebrate with the Legion for having defeated Nightmare Moon again, and seeing that Twilight was safe. "Rainbow's having fun with her flight, Pinkie's helping out with the food, Fluttershy's asleep in the medical ward, and Rarity let Scarlet convince her to try out some of that stuff he's guzzling. She's passed out over there." She pointed towards a quiet section of the courtyard where several legionnaires were sleeping off a combination of exertion, elation, and too many drinks.

Vanguard smile a bit. “You really did keep tabs on all of them, didn't you?”

“I figured you’d want to know,” Applejack replied with a grin. “We’re all fine, Vanguard. You should go have some fun too.” A look of concern dampened her cheery mood. “You’re looking under the weather.”

Vanguard’s fell silent, and his expression darkened. He seemed to notice this, however, and forced the smile to stay. Applejack wasn't buying it for a second. “You need to talk about something?” she asked.

“Over a drink perhaps,” Vanguard said after another moment of silence.

Applejack smiled and nodded. “Sure!" She glanced briefly at Scarlet, who was still guzzling that bottle he had. "Just not whatever he’s drinking.”

They headed over to the stack of barrels that the legionnaires had brought out. One pony was in charge of refilling mugs as they came while a pair was tasked with keeping the more inebriated ponies from making off with entire barrels. “You’re in luck,” the pony in charge said. He handed both of them a full mug. “This is the last of the ‘Good Stuff’. The next pony gets a mug of 'Stormbrew’s Passable If You’re Wasted Enough Swill’!”

With their drinks in hoof, they settled down by one side of the courtyard. “So what’s bothering you?” Applejack asked.

Vanguard took a sip from his mug. “I just came from visiting Pyre,” he said.

Applejack recognized the name. That was mostly because Twilight had mentioned it several times. All she really knew about Pyre Valor was that she was the pony that Nightmare Moon had possessed, she was once a member of Vanguard’s squad, and that Twilight really, really, didn't like her. As a good friend, Applejack was inclined to share in Twilight’s animosity. If that wasn't enough of a reason to dislike Pyre Valor, there was also her betrayal of the Legion, beating up Twilight, and burning Vanguard’s face. Ever since Zecora, Applejack had never disliked anyone before meeting them. Pyre Valor was proving more and more to be the exemption. The lack of any anger or hate in Vanguard’s tone, however, was a little troubling. “So what happened?” she asked.

“Nothing,” Vanguard replied. “I don’t know what I was even expecting. She wasn't the least bit remorseful for what she had done and, even if she was, I wouldn't have been able to forgive her anyway.”

“Sounds like the two of you were friends,” Applejack said. Her boldness surprised her. She glanced worriedly at Vanguard.

“We were. I think we still are, and I don’t know if that’s good or bad.” Vanguard took another sip from his drink. “As ridiculous as it seems, she now has me considering things I shouldn't be.”

“Ain’t a crime to be just thinking of things,” Applejack said. “What were you thinking about?”

“Before you came here, Pyre asked me to help her with her plans against the Legion. I refused, and she burned me. Now, I can’t help but think that I failed her as a friend by not supporting her, even if I knew she was wrong.”

“If you helped her…” Applejack’s voice trailed off, and her throat went dry. Flustered, she took a large gulp from her mug, and winced at the electric shock. She imagined that first hour into this land without Vanguard. “If you’d done that, then I’d be dead. We’d all be dead.”

Vanguard lowered his mug, and looked at Applejack. “Would things really be that dire?”

“Ya darn tootin’ they’d be! That wolven would have torn Twilight’s face off, and we’d all have followed! None of us would have made it far out here without your help.”

“Except that none of you would even be here if it wasn't for me.”

Applejack softened her tone. “I’m no good with these messy friendship troubles. I don’t study it day in and day out like Twilight used to do, and I wouldn't know what to do if I had to fight any one of my friends like you did yours. I sure as hay can’t tell you if you did right by not helping your friend, but I…” She hesitated, afraid that she sounded pretentious.

There was no backing out for her, however. Vanguard now looked at her curiously. “You what?” he asked.

“I’m...I'm just really happy you didn't. We wouldn't have met you if you did. Meeting you…well…” Applejack’s voice shrank until it was barely audible. “...it’s almost worth getting banished for…” She felt herself shrink to match her mouse-like squeaking. Vanguard looked at her as if he didn't even hear a thing. And why would he? The partying was still pretty loud even if it was beginning to wind down.

Vanguard chuckled. “The both of us are getting sentimental. At this rate, we’ll be maudlin once we get to the bottom of these mugs.”

Embarrassed, and eager to move to a new topic, Applejack nodded. She took another gulp, gritting her teeth, and shaking her head at the inevitable shock, before setting her mug on the ground. “We should do something fun!” she said. “Land’s sakes, we’re at a party and we’re acting like sticks in the mud!”

As if to answer Applejack, the music began to shift. She followed the sound to a group of legionnaires with flutes and a guitar. Vanguard stood next to her, his mug also on the ground, and listened. The ponies that hadn't passed out yet laughed, nudged each other, then started forming pairs.

“Is that a dance they’re starting?” Applejack asked.

Vanguard bobbed his head slightly at the music. “I know this one: Snakedodge. Looks like somepony has a taste for Southern Barrier Land dancing.” He smiled at Applejack. “Come on,” he said.

Before Applejack could say anything, Vanguard grabbed her by one foreleg, and pulled her towards the gathered ponies. “Hey, wait!” she said. “I don’t know that dance!”

“Do you really think I’m letting you use that excuse now?”

Now among the other legionnaires, Applejack could only bob to the music. “Snakedodge” was a fast paced jig of a dance. Some of the more tipsy dancers only got in a few seconds before falling over laughing. Applejack concentrated on following Vanguard’s movements. Seeing such quick steps from him was a little surprising.

The music sped up just as Applejack was starting to get used to the movements. “Snakedodge” was appropriate. The music did have a lively, frantic feel to it. So frantic that she tripped over her own foreleg, and stumbled forward.

“Steady there.” Vanguard caught her before she could fall face first to the ground. The music began to wind down afterwards, allowing the ponies still dancing to catch their breath.

“Sorry,” Applejack mumbled, glad that the early morning darkness made it difficult to see her face. Vanguard didn't seem to hear her, however. Applejack turned around to see what had caught his attention. She quickly noticed a familiar white unicorn with a bedraggled purple mane. She had to stifle a laugh at the sight. “Rarity!” she said. “You up already?”

Rarity answered with a bleary squint from her bloodshot eyes. She stumbled forward, forcing Applejack to step in, and hold her. “Steady now, partner,” Applejack said.

Rarity didn't say a word. Instead, she leaned against Applejack with her head low, and opened her mouth. A stream of nearly clear fluid gushed out, splattering onto the ground.

“Oh for-- Gross! You got it all over my hooves! That’s it, no more boozing for you, ever!”

Chuckling, Vanguard stepped aside, and let the two of them walk to the sides of the courtyard. “You better take her to your shared quarters, Applejack. In fact, I think it’s time we all turned in.”

“Sure,” Applejack replied. “Goodnight, Vanguard.”


As Applejack walked away, Flight Captain Tailwind walked past her, and towards Vanguard. “You watch yourself, Captain Vanguard Clash,” Tailwind said over all the partying. “There are some nasty situations even my flight can’t provide extraction from.”

The halls of Fangbreaker were eerily quiet compared to the celebrations going on out in the courtyard. Applejack half-dragged, and half-carried Rarity through one stone hall after another, looking around to make sure that she hadn't gotten herself lost.

“I saw that,” Rarity muttered.

"Saw what?” Applejack asked.

“You foaling around with Vanguard Clash.”

“We were just dancing." Applejack snorted. "Nothing foalish about that.”

Rarity planted her hooves on the ground, forcing Applejack to stop. “You know that Twilight likes him, don’t you?” she asked. Though she still slurred, her tone brooked no nonsense.

Applejack raised an eyebrow. “Of course she does. He’s a likeable pony. You like him too don’t you? I’m sure, Rainbow, Pinkie, and Fluttershy--”

“Oh my stars, how dense can you be? You know what I mean!” Rarity snapped. “You have a crush on him! You’re in love with him! You want to push him to the ground, and mash your lips together! And so does she!”

Applejack's jaw dropped. “What? No I don’t! And Twilight--”

“For the Element of Honesty, you have a remarkable talent for deluding yourself, Miss I-can-do-all-the-farmwork-by-myself!”

Applejack's eyes narrowed. “Are you picking a fight? I’m letting this slide ‘cause you’re drunk and all, but--”

“Oh, you don’t have to worry about me picking a fight. If there’s a brewing fight here, it’s between you and Twilight. I’m here trying to nip it in the bud while you're pretending that nothing’s wrong.”

Applejack couldn't respond beyond a confused look. Rarity stepped away from her, and gave her a hard stare. “I’m prying," she said. "I know. I’m sorry. This shouldn't be any of my business, but you’re making me worry, Applejack. We’re supposed to be in harmony, and it would be simply dreadful if Equestria’s fate is ruined because of a botched love triangle formed by our captain, and two of the densest ponies I know.”

Applejack's eyes hardened as well. “That ain't gonna happen!”

“I hope so," Rarity said with a sigh. "You’re both my friends, Applejack. Far be it from me to decide who makes a better match for Vanguard, but you should know that it’s impossible for this to have any pleasant end. As soon as you stop deluding yourself, you have to realize that one of you has to give way.”

“So why are you only telling me?" Applejack asked. "Have you told Twilight?”

“I would. Except that…well…” Rarity's lips twisted.

“Well what?”

“She’s been quite scary lately,” Rarity said. “Now she has to deal with her teacher losing power, Spike going away, whatever happened to her this afternoon…making her deal with this might cause something bad. I know this is unfair, but you’re the more sensible between the two of you as of the moment, Applejack. You have to step aside while this is still nothing but a passing crush.”

The hard stare turned into a scowl. “Unfair is right!” Applejack said. “I’m not even sure if what you’re saying is true. What do you want me to do, start giving Vanguard the cold shoulder?”

“Just put some distance between the two of you. No more dancing in the moonlight for starters.”

“I...” Applejack's face softened. "I can't."

It was Rarity who was frowning now. “You mean you won’t,” she said. “This is only going to get much worse, Applejack. Now, while it’s not yet too late--”

Applejack turned around. She didn't want to hear any more of Rarity's explanations. She placed a hoof over her chest. “Besides,” she mumbled, “it probably is already." Flustered, and more than a little angry, she left Rarity behind. “Since you can walk on your own now, I’ll see you in our quarters," she called out. "Get some sleep, Rarity."

“Sleep?” Rarity said from a distance. “Between the two of you, I think I need another drink.”

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