Mount Kali'gryph, Kingdom of Gryphonia.
The rain rattled against the thin tarp. Derpy rubbed her eye, and checked the hourglass. It was fifteen minutes past dawn. Supposedly. The sky didn't agree. She stilled her breathing, and tried to listen for the now-familiar shriek and crash of battle.
Nothing. Just the rain. She heard a crack. Maybe artillery. Probably thunder.
But there was a battle, even if she couldn't hear it. Of course there was. She had given the order to open fire at dawn, and they would obey. She strained her ears. Still nothing. For the first time that she had sent ponies to die, she couldn't hear it. It somehow made it less...real. She didn't like that. It wasn't fair. It was real to them. It should be real to her, too.
She picked up the helmet sitting next to her, still brilliant and golden. The battle would be real to her soon, at any rate. She tossed the helm in her hooves a few times, testing its weight. It was satisfying as always. She put it on. For the last time? Heh. She remembered when she used to think that every time she wore the damned thing. She was such a filly then. She didn't bother with drama any more.
Not for her, at least. Drama for others was fine. She tied her cloak with expert lips. She stepped into her polished boots. And she checked the mirror. She wasn't vain, no. How could she be, with the life she had lived? But she knew the value of a symbol. And though she still couldn't believe it, she was a symbol. Looking the part was just another weapon.
She bit her lip. Well. Showtime. She nudged the tent flap open, and stepped into the lashing rain. Before her, her lancers were arranged in formation, in a tight square. She raised her hoof in salute. The din of twenty thousand raindrops beating against five hundred helmets nearly drowned out the roar of five hundred voices. As they cheered, her gaze drifted from her soldiers to the mountain-fortress behind them. This...would be difficult.
And as they quieted, she began to speak. This would be short, shorter than most. The battle had begun. Time was critical.
"Ponies! We have fought and won six battles in as many weeks. Two gryphon armies have been shattered. Thousands of the enemy have been taken prisoner; tens of thousands more lie dead in their fields. We have crossed mountains and rivers. We have taken cities. We have met a dozen impossibilities, and a dozen times we have redefined what is possible for a pony to do. Yet what we have done so far is nothing compared to what we must now do.
"We stand at the foot of Mount Kali'gryph. Ten centuries of tyranny look down upon you. The undefeated Immortal Guard looks down upon you. The Gryphon King looks down upon you. In the valley below, our brothers and sisters are currently waging a frontal assault on the land route. Their casualties will be high. Their sacrifice is given willingly, for it will enable you to end this war this very hour.
"The gryphons have numbers and altitude. But they are unaware of our coming. This is a battle fought on our terms, at the moment of our choosing. And we have never--we will never--lose such a battle. I myself will lead the charge. I myself will carry our banner. Stay with me. Fight with me. And live or die, you will become immortal, for ponies will say of you, from our celebrations tonight until the end of the world, 'She fought with the 3rd Lancers.'"
Her iron voice fell silent, and the ponies stood, entranced. One second. Two seconds. And then the spell was broken. They cheered ecstatically. Derpy smiled maternally; they always cheered like that. One last bit of catharsis before jumping into Hell. She picked up the torn, proud banner. Cannon fire--yes, it was certainly cannon fire--rumbled from the valley below. This was it. She opened her wings. So did her Lancers. She looked up, squinting her eye against the rain. So did they. And, as one, they took off.