Steel flashed in the afternoon sun. Thaummotors whirred and whined in accompaniment to the susurrus of insects. The scent of oil filled the air.
“Rarity! Where are those nets?” Twilight Sparkle yelled above the din of the battle.
Ponyville was under siege. Sometime the previous morning, pony-like machines had begun pouring out of the Everfree Forest in huge numbers. The local detachment of the Equestrian Guard had gone to investigate, but come back shortly thereafter beaten, bruised, and crestfallen. They had not been able to stop the advancing horde or determine where it came from.
“They're almost ready,” Rarity called back. “Fluttershy, be a dear and pass me that ribbon, would you?”
Without a word, the machines had marched into the outskirts of town and begun leveling every edifice they encountered. So far, everypony had fled in time to avoid serious injury. But at the current rate of destruction, it was only a matter of hours, a day at most, before Ponyville was completely leveled.
“We don't have time for tying these things up pretty-like!” Applejack cut in. She was interrupted as a mechanical pony loomed over her, rearing to strike her with its steel-shod steel-hooves. Without turning around, Applejack delivered a buck to its gut. With a loud clang, it launched a short distance before landing prone. “We need them silk nets now! Mah hemp ropes ain't stoppin' em!”
Twilight Sparkle had been the first to organize the defense, gathering her friends in the town square to confront the automaton menace. She had sent Pinkie Pie to find help and organize other groups to challenge the robots on other fronts. Pinkie had averred, at first, until Twilight had explained that the town needed more than one party of defenders if it wanted to stand to see another day. At the word 'party', Pinkie Pie had sprung into motion.
A crow alighted on Fluttershy's back, and screeched something. “Um, Twilight, he says Rainbow Dash is almost here. And he's telling us that we might want to get indoors...” She went unheard, however, as Rainbow Dash made her entrance.
Organizing what little of the town had stayed to try and defend, Pinkie Pie had set up a series of traps, pranks, to delay the horde's advance. Working like a skilled demolitions expert, she had supervised the conglomeration of party poppers into gunpowder charges. She stationed party cannons and charges at key intersections and choke points to try and get the unexpected guests to the main party in the middle of town.
“Taste the Rainboom, motherbuckers!” Rainbow Dash buzzed the square at a breakneck speed, leaving broken glass and sprawling equine forms in her wake. Unfortunately, four of those equine forms were her friends. The crow had not delivered its warning in time.
As the parade proceeded through the streets to the town center, Pinkie felt a touch of disappointment. Her advertisements might be working a little too well; it didn't look like all of the guests were going to make it. The disappointment faded though, when she remembered that the party/guests routine was just the game she was playing. The game had one purpose: keep everybody laughing. The stallions and mares helping her didn't seem to be panicking. Nervous, certainly, but not panicking. A grin overtook her features.
“Not much further, everypony!” she reassured them. “Get me satchel charges on that intersection there! Get that cannon reloaded!” Pinkie began giving orders to prepare for one last ambush. If things were going to Twilight's plan, the square around City Hall would be clear by the time the Pinkie Pie piper arrived.
A boom resounded overhead.
“That was Dashie! Come on everypony! You all go ahead, I'll arm the tripwires and catch up to you.” Making the necessary adjustments, Pinkie looked down the avenue to the encroaching mass of robots. She made a rude gesture in their general direction, as well as insulting their choice in party attire, and then went to follow her volunteers to the square.
Pinkie Pie looked out and immediately knew things had gone wrong. There were still robots everywhere, most of them still on the ground or getting up from the ground-burst Rainboom. But of her friends she could see no sign.
No sign, that is, until she saw them fleeing from behind Town Hall. The robots that had regained their feet were moving to follow. Their lumbering gaits carried them straight into the side of Town Hall, through it, and out the other side as if it weren't there. The first dozen left the first floor incredibly airy. After the second dozen, it began to wobble. And as the last of the robot ponies crashed into it, it collapsed on them. The trapped robots did not reemerge.
“Twilight!” Pinkie called out, struggling to be heard above the crash of timber-framed destruction and iron hoof-falls.
Twilight Sparkle heard her, but was in the rear of the retreating group. As a result, when she came to a halt and whirled about, the three mares ahead of her continued for a short distance. Realizing their friend's absence, they, too, turned around to see what the matter was.
“I brought company!” Pinkie Pie advised Twilight.
Twilight considered their options for a moment. With Town Hall leveled and overrun, most of her plans would have to be tweaked. While the square had given her great lines of fire, she was still the only Unicorn in town that could reliably cast in a fight, the others lacking the training necessary to stay focused under that kind of pressure. Abandoning the city center meant falling back, and falling back meant more homes and businesses destroyed. But it would have to be done.
“Girls! Fall back to Market Plaza,” Twilight ordered. The militia, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, and Fluttershy all began trotting in that direction. Applejack turned to follow them, but hesitated when she noticed that Twilight Sparkle was not following with her friends. Twilight was still lost in thought, staring off towards the Forest.
“Come on, sugar cube. This ain't no place for a pony to be out on their own,” AJ coaxed. She took Twilight's tail in her mouth and gave it a light tug. Twilight reflexively pulled her tail away with a gentle flick.
“Hmm?” Twilight turned around. “Oh, sorry Applejack. I got a little lost in thought.” She began trotting down the road towards the Plaza. “I just wish my brother were here. He's always been better at this sort of thing.”
Applejack cantered to catch up to her friend, then settled into a trot to match her pace. “Now ya know he'll be here as soon as he can; Canterlot's a long ways away.”
Twilight sighed. When she and Spike had sent word of the attack to Canterlot, the reply had been swift but bittersweet. It promised aid as quickly as possible, but the Guard would have to be recalled from its drills on the other side of Canterlot Mountain, first. The letter had estimated a day for the Guard to be recalled and sent to Ponyville by train, a deadline that had expired that morning. It was now late afternoon.
When the two arrived at the plaza, the militia was already at work building barricades. Carts and stalls, already barren of goods since the evacuation, were thrown into piles to constrict the approaches. The piles assembled by Unicorn magic were a bit more well-fitted and robust, but most of the militia consisted of Earth Ponies.
Preparations continued until there was nothing left to do. One thing that the defenders had been grateful for was the slow speed of their opponents to regroup. If their opponents numbers had been filled with ponies instead of automotons, Ponyville would have been overrun in minutes; such was their adversaries' numerical strength.
As the sun began to sink, the ground began to shake. Thousands of steel hooves beat the ground in unison, just out of sight. A cart toppled off the top of one of the shoddier barricades. Above them, thunder growled. The weather team had finally mustered enough clouds to generate lightning, and not a moment too soon. The vanguard of the mechanical army had just rounded the corners into the final approaches to the plaza.
Applejack pulled a crate into the middle of the plaza. Only containing soap, it had been left behind by the refugees. She climbed on top of it so the crowd could see her better.
“Listen up, y'all!” she called out. “These here no good varmints have spent all day wreckin' ponies' homes and businesses.” She looked about her, gauging the mood of the militia. “Now, Ah reckon they ain't gonna stop. They don't got enough manners to.” She paused for a moment, eying the robots' progress. “Somepony's got to teach them some manners.” She stomped her hoof for emphasis, and cracked the crate. “What do ya say, Ponyville? Are y'all ready to teach these tin cans a lesson?”
A deafening roar answered the townsfolk's assent.
“Then saddle up and let's crush 'em!” With that, Applejack reared up and brought both front hooves down on the crate, smashing it and returning her to ground level.
The ground shook in time to ferric footfalls.
The ponies of Ponyville were nervous, but none of them fled as the hordes continued plodding down the roads. When they were no more than ten yards from the defenders, the robots suddenly ceased their advance and stood at attention. That is, most of them did. In the distance, one set of hooves could still be heard. The reverberations suggested that it was colossal, bigger than anything they'd yet seen.
As if in answer, a rainbow contrail descended from the sky, and alighted near Twilight and her friends. Rainbow Dash looked worried.
“Girls! I'm so sorry, we should have warned you sooner,” Rainbow Dash slurred at a nearly mile-a-minute pace. “We were working on the clouds one minute and the next we look down and that thing is wading through Ponyville!”
“Rainbow, slow down,” Rarity began. “Start at the beginning. What is it you should have warned us about?”
Dash took a deep breath and collected herself. “There's a giant robot heading this way. Way bigger than those guys.” The booming seemed to draw nearer, like an answer to prophesy. Fluttershy's ears flicked back, and their owner seemed to recoil from the news.
Twilight didn't hesitate. “Are the clouds ready?”
Rainbow Dash replied, “Almost. With just a little more work we'll have a thunderhead we can keep alive all night.”
“We're going to need that lightning as soon as that thing gets here,” Twilight said, half to herself as she drifted back into calculation.
“No can do, Twi. If we let it loose too soon it'll dissipate too fast. We'll only be able to hold it together for an hour, two tops.” Left unspoken was how long it would take to assemble a new storm. The current one had taken an entire day and a half.
Twilight chewed her lip, before appearing to come to a decision. “If that big one gets close to the plaza here, hit it before the lightning can do any collateral damage to the defenders.” Her shoulders sagged. “After that, just fire for effect, I suppose.”
Dash saluted, grimly. “Stay safe.” She hugged each of her friends in turn, coming to Fluttershy last. Dash whispered in her ear, “Be brave for them, Fluttershy.” Before her friend could reply, Dash leaped back into the sky, returning to the storm to relay orders.
The defenders continued to stare down the horde as the giant's hooffalls drew ever closer. After what seemed like hours, but was only several minutes, a bolt of lightning flashed down from the heavens. The burst of light etched the tableau into Twilight's eyes; ponies faced down their mechanical doubles just a stone's kick away.
One last thud resounded through the town, the sound of a huge metal object crashing down all at once into soft earth.
Suddenly, all hell broke loose. Rain began sheeting down as a second bolt of lightning lanced a target in the distance. The mechanical ponies ceased holding their position and began to charge.
Pinkie Pie shouted words of encouragement to those around her.
Applejack faced her rear towards the charge and sighted over her shoulder, legs tensing to deliver the first blow.
Rarity picked up a bolas with her magic and set it spinning, looking into the charge to see where it would cause the most confusion.
Fluttershy hoisted a cart into the air to be used to shore up broken barricades, aided by the few Pegasi that had also elected to remain ground-bound.
Twilight Sparkle centered herself, closing her eyes and planting her hooves. As she found the familiar nexus of her magic, she began to draw it outwards, focus it. She opened her eyes to the street in front of her.
Combat magic was some of the simplest, really. The only trick was being able to concentrate to build the power in the first place. It's application was simple. All it took was a simple nudge...
A purple beam of coruscating energy erupted forth. Everything in its path was swept aside, save the one robopony unlucky enough to be directly in front of it. It simply ceased to be. Eyes aglow with the residue of power, Twilight began looking for another target, but was interrupted by a sound in the distance.
The peal of trumpets. Guard trumpets.
The second and last night of the Battle of Ponyville had begun.