"You kids stay here. Cadance and Pinkie and I have to talk about some things, but I assure you, everything is OK now," Derpy tried to assure the children. They were still huddled together in the middle of the room, shaking and crying. "There were some bad ponies that came here to hurt us, but it's over now."
"They're all dead?" a small aquamarine unicorn asked.
The commander was caught off-guard at the direct question and sighed gently. "Dead or captured, yes. They won't be hurting anypony anymore."
"Is Rapid Fire OK?"
"He's fine. He's with his mom and dad, and they're OK too." She couldn't tell his little friend that Pip was shot a few times. That could get them worrying and panicky again. Fortunately, the doctors who looked him over confirmed that some routine surgery and recovery would be all that'd be necessary. "But I need you to stay here until Cadance comes back. I need to talk to all my friends about some things, so I'm trusting you all to stay put like good little fillies and colts, alright?"
The numerous little ponies nodded and 'mhm'ed. Derpy smiled warmly at them and waved goodbye as the three mares headed out.
"You two go on ahead. I want to check something in the control room," the commander instructed. Cadance and Pinkie nodded silently.
Derpy headed right at the end of the hallway that led into the heart of the base while the others went left to join up with the rest of the troops. The gray pegasus marched around the bodies of friend and foe toward the base's self-destruct mechanism. However, she could see the answer to her question before even arriving at the device. It was emitting thin, wispy trails of smoke and sparking repeatedly.
She had the equipment installed soon after the stronghold was operational, in case something like what had just happened not more than an hour ago came to pass. If Celestia were to have discovered the base and they could escape, there would be no reason to return there. The only solution to Derpy at that point was to eliminate it altogether and hope to not leave a trail for the mad Princess to follow.
Unfortunately, the computers were destroyed and there was nothing she could do. Grimacing in disappointment, she left the control room and returned to the engineering wing to address her soldiers.
All of Derpy's troops were waiting patiently for their leader to return. The pegasi assigned to deal with the flames in the garden had returned. It had been partially destroyed, but thankfully, some of the food was still salvageable. Twilight, Shining Armor, Rainbow Dash were checking on Silver Spoon and Pip, who was laying peacefully on a bed the doctors had brought out for him. The Party Crashers greeted Pinkie when she arrived, and Cadance dove into her husband's waiting embrace. The few dozen prisoners, stripped of their weapons and saddlebags, were sitting up against the wall, heavily guarded but not really complaining about their situation.
A moment later, the murmurs and whispers of the crowd died down as Derpy approached and called for their attention. They formed rank and listened intently.
"Well, this has been an interesting morning, hasn't it?" she began. "I'm happy to see you all safe. I wish the rest of our brethren could be here too. They gave their lives for us. They're heroes. But unfortunately, we don't really have any time to sing any songs for them or mourn them properly.
"We're in a bind, and we need to move quickly. Obviously, Celestia's figured out where we are, so we're forced to pack up our stuff and get out of here as fast as possible. Lieutenant Spoon, Cadance, once we're ready to go, I want you to escort the prisoners, the foals, you troops who have been in this base since it was first built, anypony who's been injured, and all but two of the doctors to the Cake twin's base up in the mountains outside Vanhoover. I'll show you exactly where it is on the map before we're set to abandon this place.
"Those of you who came here with Shining Armor, I'm going to need you, Generals Shining Armor and Twilight, the Party Crashers including you, Rainbow Dash, Sergeant Applejack, and the other two doctors to march on Canterlot. It's not going to be a huge army, but we'll have to make do, and we're going to have to treat this situation as if she knows we're coming.
"Lieutenant Spoon's troops, you have thirty minutes to prepare. Get your saddlebags ready, stock your weapons, get something in your stomach, and report back here. Get the young ones and the prisoners something to eat too. You've got a long march ahead of you. My team, you'll watch over the prisoners while they're away. When they're all back, you do the same. I want us ready to move out in no more than an hour."
"Commander," Rainbow spoke up, "why not put the prisoners in the holding cells till we're ready?"
"Save a bit of time instead of walking them back and forth. You still have the Screwdriver on you?"
She nodded and held it up.
"Good. Whatever you do, don't lose that. That's all for now, everypony. I'll see half of you in a half hour. Dismissed."
As the two assigned groups parted ways, Twilight sat atop her sky blue friend's back, deep in thought. She looked away sternly and squinted. In maybe a day, she'll be back in Canterlot for the first time since she assisted Derpy in rescuing The Doctor from her former mentor, provided she make it all the way into the royal city once their attack was underway. Before that, the only other time she or her friends were in Canterlot since the war started was the day Celestia tried to kill them. It was a day she never forgot. The more she thought about it over the years, the more betrayed and angry she felt.
Twilight came to a decision. "Rainbow," she said from atop her friend's back, "I know Commander Derpy said we were part of her team and that we were to stay here, but I need you to do something for me."
"Sure, Twi, what's up?"
"We're getting our weapons and saddlebags now. We're not waiting for the others. There's," she hesitated, "something I have to do, and I'd normally want to do it alone, but I still can't really walk on my own just yet."
"You think Derpy will just let you go? I mean, she is in charge here."
"I'm going either way," Twilight stated firmly.
"At least tell me what you're up to."
The unicorn closed her eyes and sighed heavily. "We're going to Ponyville."
Rainbow jerked her head back in surprise and eyed Twilight suspiciously. "Why there of all places?"
"If we're going to be assaulting Canterlot, I need the old team back together. Despite what you said they did, I have a feeling they may want a shot at Celestia if we can give it to them."
The Princess was sitting quietly by her table in her war room, eyes bloodshot and mane unkempt. She couldn't recall the last time she wasn't plotting against her hated enemies, and tonight was no exception. She had been drawing up new plans of attack, looking for the right time and place to hit, and she finally had something she could work with. All she needed to do now was give General Tiara the assignment and she'd take care of it in the morning.
With a lack of royal grace, she lifted herself off her rump and walked over to the large double doors. She telekinetically pulled open the doors and the guards before her turned their attention to the source of the magic. With a loud gasp, they bowed dutifully. Despite being on the other side of the wall from the Princess, seeing her face to face had become a rare thing.
"Summon General Tiara. I know it's late, but I want to go over some plans with her."
The two unicorns shot their eyes open and looked at each other nervously. They slowly raised themselves from their kneels, terrified of what their news would bring.
"Y-Your majesty, General Tiara left yesterday morning."
"Sergeant Jet Set arrived late two days ago. Th-The Party Crashers found the base at Neighagra Falls and destroyed it. He must be the only survivor. General Tiara said that he told her he managed to follow them to Ghastly Gorge. Sh-She took some of your strongest fighters out there yesterday. She told the guards that morning where she was going and instructed them to pass the word along."
The Princess bared her teeth and her eyes burst into flames. "Why didn't she tell me all this?!"
"She said that sh-sh tried to, b-but you told her to go away."
She leaned forward angrily, getting snout to snout with the scared guard. "And why didn't any of you tell me this?!"
He slammed his eyes shut and shook visibly. "W-We didn't want to disturb you, your highness!"
Her royal horn glowed a burning yellow and she screamed in rage. Spinning around, she lifted her table off the ground and threw it through a nearby stained glass window, her plans and paperwork scattering into the air. The fallen banner laying on the ground flew into the air and slammed down repeatedly onto the marble, bending the metal pole and cracking the tiles. With a hard swing right, it slammed into the billboard littered with the names of her enemies and knocked it to the floor. The banner fell to the ground lifelessly and a seething blast of magic splintered the board. Releasing the last of her anger, she magically ripped one of the gigantic doors from its hinges and smashed it into its brother, snapping the two higher hinges off the wood and breaking the doors both in half.
The shattered door was dropped to the floor and the guards jumped in fright. Their leader stood there breathing heavily, surveying the destruction she just caused.
"That arrogant little fool! She should have never gone ahead without informing me, even if it took a few days!" she yelled to nopony.
"Your Highness? What's going on?"
Collecting herself, she turned and gazed at the guards. "General Tiara's already dead. Yes, Sergeant Jet Set probably found their home base. Where the Party Crashers go, you'll find Commander Derpy. But to attack their home base head on, without knowing anything about its interior, or their numbers there, was unforgivably stupid. And to make matters worse, she dragged some of my troops off to their deaths as well."
"What should we do, your Majesty?"
Celestia looked away and squinted. Her long life provided her with an equally long memory. She recalled her enemy's army destroying Detrot completely a couple decades ago. Shortly afterward, they arrived in Ponyville, looking to march on Canterlot. If it weren't for a well-timed aerial patrol, they may have taken the city or worse. It was one of her biggest triumphs that day. She finally took out that infernal Doctor after all the grief he had given her.
After Derpy succeeded him, however, things seemed to take a decided turn for the worse. The Princess seemed to lose more battles than win them in the years following The Doctor's demise thanks to that imbecilic-looking pegasus. Even after Derpy lost one of their most powerful weapons in Twilight Sparkle, she came to learn that somepony she thought long gone may have inexplicably returned.
If her suspicions were correct, this mystery pony could be just as big a threat, if not more so, than Twilight, even without magic. Her fighting spirit was always much stronger than anypony she ever knew. That alone made her extremely dangerous if she were to have sided with Derpy, and when she first heard about the sighting of a pegasus with a rainbow colored mane, a hint of worry seeped into her heart for the first time in many years. Coupled with the fact that she didn't have as many soldiers stationed in Canterlot as she would have liked, thanks to her forces being spread thinner and thinner over Equestria as the years passed, she found herself cursing Diamond Tiara again for wasting a golden opportunity and helping things continue the downward spiral they seem to have been in for years now. But the Princess wasn't finished just yet.
After a moment of contemplation, Celestia finally addressed the question. "We have to start preparing immediately. I expect that the commander will do the same thing her predecessor did when they eliminated Detrot thinking it was our main manufacturing facility. Soon after, they thought to attack us here on our doorstep. We saw them coming before, and I see them coming again. The results will be no different.
"I'm going to the Command Center and alerting everypony to the upcoming attack. But first, I need to write a letter. We're going to need more bodies here if we intend to finish this in the near future."
The Princess returned to the pile of carnage thrown about her war room and found a blank sheet of paper. Popping a quill into existence, she began to write.
The last few months were an exercise in boredom for the blue former entertainer. Commander Derpy hadn't sent more than a single attack Los Pegasus' way in a while, and before that, the only excitement the base had experienced for quite some time was Spike's sighting followed by the eventual massacre of Trixie's troops and planes.
It was starting to get a bit late. Trixie's base was a few hours behind Canterlot, not that anypony would be able to tell by the position of celestial bodies that rarely ever moved. She sat in her quarters, finishing up her evening routine and a step from getting into bed. A sudden yellow pop of magic appeared over her head and dropped a rolled up letter by her hooves, startling her wide awake.
A magenta hue encircled the note and it unfurled itself in front of Trixie. She quickly skimmed the letter, mumbling key points to herself. As she read and finally finished, a wide grin crept across her face.
"Ha! I knew Princess Celestia couldn't keep the Great and Powerful Trixie on the sidelines forever! She's finally realized how important Trixie and her troops are to the war effort!" she boasted to herself. "I had best start preparing immediately. Her Highness will be angry if Trixie is tardy, and that.. kind of scares her."
Quickly discarding the letter, she cantered out of her room and to the base's communications area, the smuggest look imaginable adorning her face. She marched up to the microphone sitting on its display and magically lifted it to her mouth, pushing down on the small red button that turned it on.
"Attention all pilots and personnel, this is the Great and Powerful Colonel Trixie. Report to the command center right away."
The normally short tempered unicorn waited patiently as little by little, everypony in the base arrived and filed rank inside the spacious room. Her soldiers and staff noticed her unusually happy look and twinkle in her eyes and were at a loss at what to think. After about ten minutes, the last of the ponies on base showed up. Trixie noticed after a few more minutes that nopony else had arrived and cleared her throat, capturing the ponies' attention.
"Good morning, everypony. Trixie has some great news for us. I just received word from Her Majesty, Princess Celestia, that she requires our immediate assistance at Canterlot. Trixie is to leave a small number of you behind to watch over the base, but the rest of you and myself will be flying out as soon as possible. So, I want all the jets fueled up and ready to go right away. When you're done, report back here. Now, get going."
Several stallions and mares in light blue one piece jumpsuits trotted off with the order.
"Since Trixie is the only ranking officer in this place, I'm putting you," she pointed to a light brown mare up front, "in charge for the time being. The first three rows of you step forward." The eighteen ponies did as she asked. "You will stay behind. The rest of you pilots will fly out with Trixie to the royal city. Her Highness also instructed that if we see any armies marching in the direction of Canterlot to obliterate every last one of them."
Behind each of the three rows stood six ponies more per column. Trixie stepped up to a dark gray stallion at the front of the second group of pegasi and pointed again. "You will fly with Trixie in her two-seater jet. While you're waiting for the jets to be prepared, go ahead and get something to eat or go back to sleep until we're ready to go. It is still late, after all, and it will take some time to get the jets ready. Trixie will notify Her Majesty that we'll be ready to depart as soon as possible. Dismissed."
Trixie returned to her abode and took one of the parchments and a quill from the desk by the wall. She informed the Princess that her message was well received and they were already prepping themselves for the trip. Once she was done, with a hint of magenta colored magic, the letter burst away in a puff of smoke.
Twilight and Rainbow stood together in the control room, alone among the bodies, as they checked their saddlebags and counted up their ammunition clips and grenades. They looked at the faces of the bodies of their enemies, curious if they recognized any of them. All but a couple were nameless faces, including Jet Set.
Rainbow Dash was involuntarily stretching her metal wings, despite not really needing to, while Twilight's still weakened legs wobbled helplessly yet she managed to stay balanced. The unicorn wished she had another month before they had to move on Canterlot, but it wasn't like she could negotiate with her old mentor for any spare time. Their ears spun and faced the main hallway that led deeper into the base as hoofsteps approached.
"There you are. I've been looking all over the base for you," Commander Derpy said. "What do you think you're doing? You were assigned to the second group. Are you thinking about skipping out on me?"
"No, ma'am," Twilight stated firmly. "We're just flying on ahead. There's something I need to do."
"And what might that be?"
"I'm going to try and talk Rarity and Spike into helping us. They are my old team, y'know."
"That is absolutely out of the question, General. They made their choice years ago," Derpy said, a hint of anger betraying her voice.
"And I believe they'd like a chance at redemption, whether they'll admit it or not," Twilight argued. "Besides, you can't tell me they wouldn't want to take it directly to Celestia again after all this time."
"Are you disobeying a direct order, General?" Derpy said with a squint.
On rickety legs, Twilight plodded over to the pegasus and went nose to nose with her. Rainbow opened her mouth to speak up and reprimand her lavender friend, but decided against it. She didn't want to risk getting on anypony's bad side at this point.
"I guess I am."
The adamant pair stared each other down for a moment before Derpy grinned slyly.
"It really is good to have you back, Twilight."
She returned the smile. "Thank you, Commander."
Derpy stepped away and saluted proudly. "Good luck, ladies. Stay safe."
"You too," Twilight said. She and Rainbow saluted back and returned to their final checks as their commanding officer departed.