• Published 22nd Sep 2013
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Brother Against Sister - CartsBeforeHorses

Teenage Pound Cake and Pumpkin Cake are fighting on opposite sides of a civil war in Equestria. Now completed.

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Chapter 6: Slipping Away

“I met a young pegasus who was on the ground in Ponyville during the invasion. He gave me a good piece of intelligence, and it sheds light on why Blueblood wanted this cease-fire.”

“Because he was losing Ponyville,” answered a General who sat at the military council table.

“Yes, but why was Ponyville important to him? Important enough to sign a ceasefire, and by doing so, show weakness?” asked Spitfire.

Nopony answered.

Spitfire continued, “The Second Kingdom has gathered all of the unicorn fillies and colts with earth pony parents that they could find. They’re all held captive right here in this barn. The Second Kingdom has surrounded the area with a force field.”

Spitfire motioned towards a map of Ponyville and pointed towards Sweet Apple Acres.

“The hostages from the invasion? They were unicorn children?” asked a sergeant.

“Yes,” Spitfire answered. “We just didn’t know it at the time. They need these young fillies and colts to farm for them, and to grow their food. Otherwise, the Second Kingdom has no way of feeding themselves. That’s why Ponyville has such strategic value to them, and why they attacked it first: there’s a lot of earth-born unicorns there.”

“Interesting theory, General Spitfire,” said a blue-coated pegasus sergeant, “but how do we know that the unicorn children are still inside of this barn? They could have easily been moved since the cease-fire was signed. Blueblood would be better served to move them to a more defensible location.”

“Well, Soarin,” Spitfire responded, “that’s the urgency here. Blueblood saw that he was losing Ponyville, and he didn’t want to lose these children when he found that the town surrounded. So, he brought down the moon over Cloudsdale and demanded a cease-fire, to give himself more time to move them. Once they are out of reach of our army, Blueblood no longer needs Ponyville, and he can afford to lose it. Then, that moon will come crashing down, and the war will resume. Since the moon is still up there, it tells me that the children haven’t yet been moved.”

“But he’s had nearly a day to do it,” said Soarin. “Why is he taking his time?”

“He probably doesn’t expect us to break the cease-fire, because the moon is right overhead and he knows we don’t yet have the ability to stop it. There are also likely over a hundred unicorn children. Blueblood doesn’t know that we are onto him, so he wants to keep this farming scheme a secret. Moving dozens of unicorn foals away from Ponyville at once would attract the attention of our spies. He’ll probably move them just a few at a time.”

“So you think this is a secret operation?” asked a lieutenant.

“Yes. Because if we did know about it, it could put the entire future food supply of the Second Kingdom in jeopardy. Only a few ponies likely know about it,” answered Spitfire. “The parents and siblings of the kidnapped unicorns would know, like the pegasus that I met, but they wouldn’t know why.”

“So what do we do with this knowledge?” asked Soarin.

“We tell Blueblood that we know about his plan,” said Spitfire. “We let him know that if he drops the moon on us, we’ll save the unicorn children from him, depriving the Second Kingdom of its food source.”

Around a table in the capitol building in Canterlot, King Blueblood, one of his generals, Princess Twilight Sparkle, and General Spitfire sat.

“So, what brings you back to the negotiating table?” Blueblood asked.

“We are here to elaborate on the terms of the cease fire, to make sure that we are both clear what it entails,” said Twilight.

“I’m listening,” said Blueblood.

“We know about your food shortage. We also know about those unicorns at the barn,” answered Spitfire.

Blueblood flinched. Spitfire smiled.

“Yes, we know about your little kidnapping spree,” said Spitfire, “and, as I recall, the terms of the cease-fire were that neither side could move any military assets. That’s why the moon still hangs above Cloudsdale, yes?”

“...Yes,” Blueblood answered after some time.

“Well, if you were to move any of those unicorn fillies and colts out from behind that force field and away from Ponyville, that would, in our eyes, violate the cease-fire agreement. If the cease-fire is broken, we’ll rescue these unicorns with as many troops as it takes to get them,” said Spitfire.

“And don’t think of moving more troops to guard that barn,” said Twilight. “That would be a violation as well. Only leave the ones you currently have. We will know if you violate these terms. Sweet Apple Acres is right on the edge of the territory you control, so we can easily see troop movements.”

“Alright,” said King Blueblood. “The unicorn children will stay where they are. But just know that getting them away from us alive will be a harder proposition than you think.”

“Alive or dead, we’ll make the rescue attempt. Either alternative is preferable to a life in servitude to you and your kingdom,” said Twilight.

Blueblood said, “Very well. I won’t risk their safety by moving them.”

Canterlot: November 2020

“Our newest economic figures aren’t good at all.”

Flam floated a sheet of paper over towards Blueblood. There were many graphs on the paper, all of them trending downward or remaining flat. Blueblood scanned his eyes over the graphs, frowning.

“I don’t understand,” replied Blueblood.

“Well, we would be getting an economic boost from war production, if that the war were actually still going on instead of in a ceasefire,” said Flim.

“We also are facing increasing food shortages, as you’re well aware,” Flam added.

“Can’t the Zebra Empire pick up production?” asked Blueblood.

“They’re involved in their own war with the griffons,” said Flam. “Their war has disrupted their crops.”

“The Department of Magical Purity is working on bringing in laborers to supply the kingdom with food,” said Trixie. “I have about 120 of the young unicorns. Once we get them trained, we can bring them to the farmlands up north—”

“That won’t be possible anymore,” said Prince Blueblood. “Not without starting up the war again. The Equestrians are onto our plan and have threatened to attack us should we move them.”

“Well, can we at least have them grow food on the farm that they are already staying at?” asked Trixie.

“That shouldn’t be a problem,” answered Blueblood.

“Well, then we might be able to get 10% of the output we could get if they had more land to work. I guess it’s better than nothing,” said Trixie. “Though I do wonder how the Equestrians found out about the unicorn fillies and colts that we were holding at Sweet Apple Acres.”

“Considering that we threw down all of our cards on the table over a simple small town, it’s no surprise they figured it out,” Fancy Pants chuckled. “The moon gambit was the wartime equivalent of trimming your hedges when your house is on fire.”

Blueblood glared at him. Fancy Pants shrunk back in his chair and said, “I told you that it wouldn’t be a wise move.”

Top Brass, the grey-coated unicorn general who commanded the armed forces spoke. “Either way, we have less of an advantage that we thought that we did. They’ve shown over the last week that their pegasi can easily take out our planes and attack our ground positions with ease. Magic or no, without a good air strategy, we’re sitting ducks.”

“Any progress on a flight spell, Trixie?” asked Blueblood. “Or, for that matter, any other magical developments?”

“None that look promising,” Trixie responded. “Though we will do it soon. I’m sure that within the next few years, we’ll find a new spell that will fundamentally alter the nature of warfare. Whether it’s flight, indestructible force fields, or something else. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if we came up with something in a few months!

Blueblood rolled his eyes, as he had heard Trixie say “a few months” half a year ago. However, he knew that she would come up with something eventually, but probably a lot later than she would claim.

Flim spoke, “As your economic advisors, my brother and I advise you to bring back the unicorn fillies and colts as soon as possible, and get them farming. Given the food shortages that we’ve seen, anything will help. Ponies are already complaining about the bread lines.”

“I wouldn’t advise breaking the cease-fire,” said the General. “Not unless you’re prepared for heavy casualties.”

Blueblood remained silent for several moments.

“What about a peace treaty?” asked Fancy Pants. “That will solve the food shortages by allowing trade with Equestria.”

“Not possible,” said the General. “The Equestrians were adamant about getting all of their land back, including Canterlot. A peace treaty won’t work unless we’re winning. We’re in a draw at best.”

“I wouldn’t do it, anyway,” said King Blueblood. “A peace treaty would be admitting defeat. I refuse allowing our unicorn empire to be weak in the face of the lesser races.”

“Then what will we do?” asked Trixie.

Blueblood remained silent for a few moments. Finally, he spoke.

“Though it may not seem so, time is on our side. It’s true that every day that we don’t act, the food grows scarcer, and our food reserves are slipping away. But, every day we don’t act, we develop new magic, new technology, and recruit new ponies for the army. Every day the cease-fire is in effect, the moon still hovers ominously above Cloudsdale, terrorizing the residents of the city, the pegasi troops, and all of Equestria.

“Through this act, we have challenged their faith in the princesses to keep them safe. For eons, the princesses have had a monopoly on control over the celestial bodies. With this single act, the Second Kingdom has shattered this notion and shown that we as a kingdom are just as powerful as them, if not more so. Every day the moon is up there and remains unmoved, the Equestrian citizens’ faith in the princesses is slowly slipping away. Never underestimate the psychological component of warfare.”

“Well, in that case, we just have to hope that their faith in the princesses slips away faster than our food,” said Fancy Pants.

Blueblood grinned. “I’m counting on it.”

Sweet Apple Acres: May 2021

Several months had passed since the cease-fire was signed. Now ten-year-old Pumpkin Cake’s eyes opened from her restless sleep as the rooster crowed, waking her from her bunk in the Sweet Apple Acres barn.

“Up and awake! Over to the machines!”

A maroon-coated unicorn stallion shouted at the fillies and colts as they got out of their bunks.

Pumpkin sighed as she descended the ladder from the bunk and reached the floor. She filed outside along with the other fillies and colts.

Sweet Apple Acres retained its status in name only. The apple trees had all been cut down and were being replaced with wheat, corn, and other crops which could be farmed by machine.

The one hundred and twenty unicorns each took turns on a few dozen machines, gaining experience in operating the farming equipment. Sweet Apple Acres, they were told, was simply for practice until they moved to their real home in the Flatlands north of Canterlot. There, they would have far more land to farm, more work to do, and each unicorn would have his own machines to use.

Today was Pumpkin Cake’s turn on the tractor. She walked over to one of the behemoths and climbed on, shoveling a load of coal into the furnace and turning the key in the ignition as the tractor roared to life. In a minute, she was driving the tractor across the fields, plowing them to prepare them for seeds.

Though not as intense as manual labor, it was still quite an arduous task to operate the tractor. For one, she had to shovel loads of coal into it every now and then to get it to work. Also, the hot sun beat down on her mane, drenching her with sweat. Even with the partial solar eclipse due to the moon over Cloudsdale, the heat was still brutal. Additionally, steering the tractor took a fair bit of effort.

She focused her telekinesis on the wheel, making sure to maintain a straight row as the tractor plowed along. After a long day at this, her horn would be quite tired and achy.

But the labor was not the worst part. Such monotonous work meant that muscle memory took over, and Pumpkin’s mind was free to focus on other things… such as the death of her parents, whether her brother was okay, or the moon which hung above Cloudsdale. She was aware of the cease-fire, having overheard the guards talking about it, and knew that at any moment, the war could resume.

The only times when she got solace from these burning questions was during sleep, but even that was no guarantee. Some nights were full of horrifying nightmares. Some nights were not as bad as nightmares, but still brought fears and doubts. Other nights she would have good dreams in which she was reunited with her family once more, only to be hit with the cold hard reality upon waking. Her favorites were the dreams which were nonsensical and had nothing to do with her current predicament. Those dreams took her mind off of her life, but sadly, were rare.

Pumpkin gazed off to the seemingly endless rows of crops. At the end, she could see the giant force field which the unicorn magicians had erected. Since it was spread out over so large an area, it could easily be broken by plowing a tractor through it, but that would of course alert the guards, who would teleport over to the broken area of the force field within seconds.

She figured that she could just use her magic to walk right through the force field without alerting the guards, and had in fact spent many hours over the last few months contemplating that very thing. The only thing holding her back was her fear of what would happen to her if she were caught. They would want to know how she escaped. They would discover her power, and they would undoubtedly attempt to exploit it for the Second Kingdom’s war effort.

They might make her come with them on some war mission to penetrate some bunker.

Just turn the walls intangible, and we can walk right in there and kill them all!” She could almost hear them saying. Or “Just use the spell on us and we’ll be invincible to them and their bullets!

She refused to be party to some one-sided slaughter. She could refuse, of course, but she shuddered to think what could happen if she refused to serve the so-called master race.

Pumpkin Cake had not entirely bought into the notion of unicorn supremacy, but did find some of the philosophy at least somewhat plausible. Over the past months, the equality of the races started to seem to her to be about as silly of an idea. If the unicorns indeed were equal to the other pony races, how could so few unicorns hold such a large continent hostage? Less than a third of ponies were unicorns, after all.

She glanced up at the sky and saw the moon. How could the princesses not stop it? How could the pegasi or the earth ponies not stop it? If superiority were defined by the ability to hold power over others, then the unicorns would win, she figured.

But, of course, if superiority were defined by honor, integrity, trust, love, and other virtues of ponykind, the unicorns were no better than the other pony races. If Blueblood were held up as a shining example of unicorndom, the unicorns would pale in comparison.

But trust and love don’t decide anything, she thought.

She reached the end of the row, right next to the force field. She stopped the tractor.

But I actually do have power. I can put an end to this nightmare. I can wake up.

Pumpkin Cake glanced around. There were no ponies around for as far as she could see.

She looked at the thin, translucent barrier standing between her and freedom. It might as well have been an annoying gnat to be swatted away. Pumpkin jumped off of the tractor. She walked right up to the barrier until she was a hair’s breadth away from it.

Her heart pounded in her chest. She was worried that somehow, a guard would know and instantly come teleporting over, holding a gun up to her head.

A minute passed and nothing of the sort happened.

She powered up her horn.

Maybe she should go back. After all, she didn’t want to be captured and forced to fight for the Second Kingdom. She couldn’t stand the thought of—

Almost involuntarily, her horn glowed as a segment of the force field glowed blue, just large enough for her to pass through.

Her heart continued to pound, but for a different reason; the fear had made way for a sense of overwhelming power. The sensation was a welcome change from the depression and weakness which had dominated her mind over the last many months. She smiled.

Pumpkin Cake reached her hoof towards the force field, sticking it through to the other side. She set her hoof on the ground. She moved the other three, and in a moment, she was completely outside the force field.

She powered down her horn, and the force field returned to normal. Grinning from ear to ear, she continued onward, slipping away from Sweet Apple Acres.

In Cloudsdale, Pound Cake had fared only slightly better than his sister. Unlike Pumpkin, he had school to attend, books to read, and other things to keep his mind off of his predicament. However, in school, he often disrupted class or was aggressive towards his classmates. He often received detention for getting into fights.

Spitfire had been able to spend more time with Pound Cake than she had predicted, as the truce had continued for longer than anypony had expected. So, he had at least a small sense of family.

But also unlike Pumpkin, Pound dealt with the stresses of living in Cloudsdale. The moon still hung overhead like a lead weight.

“Now, the second that you see that moon start to fall, I want you to push through the clouds and head down towards the ground,” Spitfire had told him. “I’ll meet you in the Hoofington town square.”

Pound had hoped against hope that he would never have to abandon his new home. He and Spitfire, like the other residents of Cloudsdale who had chosen not to evacuate, lived on constant pins and needles.

Pound would jolt out of bed most nights, fearing that the worst had happened and the moon had started to fall. He would rush over to his bedroom window and gaze up at the sky… only to see that it had just been a dream and the moon was still the same near-but-never-too-near distance that it had been before.

Other nights, he would awake screaming over the loss of his parents. He still blamed himself for their deaths, and was taking it a lot harder than his sister. Spitfire had gotten him into counselling, and had tried her best to comfort him herself, as inexperienced in raising children as she was.

Of course, Pound was not the only one to have such night terrors or other psychological issues. Even the adult ponies in Cloudsdale had fared little better.

One such pony, Lightning Dust, had just finished reconstructing her home in Cloudsdale after the wendigos destroyed it a few years back in the Wendigo wars. Needless to say, she was not eager to leave.

One day, she sat inside her home with her friends Thunderlane, Flitter, and Cloud Chaser.

“So, I was at work today, right?” Thunderlane said, rolling his eyes and frowning. “My boss says that I gotta file all this paperwork and stay overtime to do it.”

“That’s a bummer,” said Lightning Dust, taking a drag off of a cigarette.

“Like, what, he wants to get it done quickly so that it’ll be organized in time for the moon to crash down and wreck it all?” Thunderlane joked.

They all chuckled.

“Well, Cloud Chaser and I have just been managing the weather,” said Flitter.

“At least, the weather on the Equestrian side,” Cloud Chaser added.

“How do they even control the weather in the Second Kingdom?” asked Thunderlane. “No pegasi, right?”

“I think they use either magic or airplanes when they can, and just let nature run its course when they can’t,” said Flitter.

“Well, either way, they’re trying to live with only unicorns. What even made them want to do that, anyway?” asked Cloud Chaser.

Thunderlane said, “Who knows. I don’t keep up with politics. I will say that it’s weird. Like, Equestria used to be this really peaceful country not even twelve years ago. But then we had Nightmare Moon, then Discord, then the Changelings, then Discord again, then the Wendigos, then the sarin gas attack in Canterlot, then the riots, then the Second Kingdom seceded.” He counted the events off on his feathers. “Am I leaving out anything?”

“I don’t think so,” said Flitter, “but it’s been so hectic that I can’t even remember.”

“Well, after the Second Kingdom seceded, then it was quiet for four years,” said Cloud Chaser.

“Yeah, kinda lulled us into a false sense of security,” Flitter chuckled.

“Yup,” muttered Lightning Dust, exhaling smoke.

“But then,” Thunderlane continued, “the Second Kingdom just up and declares war, takes Ponyville, threatens to destroy Cloudsdale, and now we’ve been in a ceasefire for seven months, and now who knows what’s gonna happen.”

“Mmhmm,” said Flitter and Cloud Chaser.

“Hey, you’re being awful quiet over there, Lightning Dust,” said Cloud Chaser.

“Yeah, what’s up?” asked Flitter.

“Just thinking, is all,” Lightning Dust answered, taking another drag off of her cigarette.

“You know those are bad for you, right?” asked Flitter, eyeing Lightning Dust’s cigarette.

“Eh, whatever,” Lightning Dust scoffed. “Not like I’ll live long enough for smoking to kill me. None of us will. Everything will just turn… to dust.” She stubbed out the cigarette in the ashtray.

“Was that supposed to be a pun on your name or something?” asked Thunderlane, chuckling.

“No, just a hard reality,” said Lightning Dust. “The Wendigoes destroyed my home four years ago. Just last year, I rebuilt it. And now, the moon will fall as sure as I’m sitting here, and leave me homeless again. And to think that I was upset when the Wonderbolts kicked me out so many years ago. That was peanuts compared to what I’ve faced since then.”

Lightning Dust chuckled nervously, walked over to the window, and gazed out, looking up at the moon.

“You know why your boss had you do paperwork, Thunderlane? Normalcy. He wants to feel like he’s in control of something, that something being you, because it gives him a sense of normalcy despite everything that’s happening. Like everything is okay and we don’t have this giant rock hanging over us. But it’s fantasy. I can just see it now. My home, my life, even my sanity… after the moon hits, just slipping away…”

A tear fell down her cheek.

“And I just wanna find some way to end this. I just have this sliver of hope that…” she sobbed. “...That somehow, against all odds, things will turn out okay for Cloudsdale. That we can live normal lives, no matter what happens down on the ground.”

Her friends walked over to her and gave her a hug.

“I think we all feel that way right now,” said Thunderlane. Flitter and Cloud Chaser nodded their heads in silent agreement.

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