• Published 23rd Nov 2013
  • 4,148 Views, 190 Comments

A Kingdom Divided - Samey90



For many years, Elements of Harmony were responsible for keeping peace in Equestria. But sometimes, magic of friendship is not enough...

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11. Big Macintosh

In modern war... you will die like a dog for no good reason.
Ernest Hemingway


“So, why exactly are we here?” Lyra asked. “After all that ‘you’re not gonna be sent into fight’ and ‘crystal ponies came to save the day’ talk?” She shuddered and wrapped herself in her cloak in a futile attempt to protect herself from the wind.

“Y’all should ask that fancy dude who’s our commander...” said another soldier, a yellow stallion with an orange mane, barely visible from under his helmet. They were crowded in a gondola of a small airship with seventeen other soldiers, flying to Ponyville. Twenty four similar airships were flying behind them through the blizzard, the pegasi pulling them barely seeing anything.

Above them, the battle had already started. When pegasi from Canterlot had created a storm, they had managed to catch bat ponies off-guard, but this time they weren’t so lucky. Trying to protect the snow clouds from the Moon Air Force squadron was a dangerous and ungrateful task, and Lyra Heartstrings thanked all the gods ponies, griffons and zebras worshipped, for not creating her a pegasus.

“We’re close,” Captain Time Turner, a brown earth pony muttered. “Braeburn, Heartstrings, Big Mac, keep an eye on–” He rolled his eyes. “–Major Hot Blood.”

“Eeyup,” Big Macintosh agreed, and looked at the white unicorn standing on the other side of the gondola.

“Yes sir.” Lyra tried to salute, but resigned, seeing that she’d have to hit at least two other soldiers to do that. “Losing a commander would be…”

“Commander, my flank,” Time Turner whispered. “He’s not much older than you, filly, but his uncle is a big fish in Canterlot. He plays a soldier, while I’m in charge. You know, if they kill him, I’m fucked; if he screws something up, I’m fucked too…” he paused when they heard several shots fired in the distance.

“Welcoming committee!” Braeburn exclaimed. Two of the soldiers jumped to the cannons, mounted provisionally on each side of the small airship, ready to shoot at anypony wearing Moon Army uniforms.

Something exploded close to them, causing the gondola to rock back and forth. Soon, a series of smaller explosions followed it, flames visible in the blizzard. Time Turner, who was standing next to Big Macintosh, was first to see the red signalling flare thrown out of one of the airships.

“Clean!” he shouted. “Get out of the airship, ready to attack!”

When the gondola almost touched the ground, they opened the door, and began jumping out of the vehicle, aiming their guns at the dark silhouettes of the houses. Behind them, ponies from the other airships did the same, lying on the ground just after getting out of them, afraid of the enemy hiding somewhere near.

“It’s too silent…” said Braeburn. Big Macintosh didn’t even have time to agree with his cousin, when they saw a projectile, fired from between the nearby buildings. A HEAT warhead flew above their heads, leaving an igneous trail, and hit one of the assault blimps, which wasn’t yet completely left by its passengers. An explosion tore the sky, throwing the pegasi pulling the vehicle on the ground, and crushing them with the burning remains. A series of flashes blinded Big Macintosh for a moment when they started to fire at the place where the projectile came from. Someone screamed, and they saw a bat pony, trying to take off clumsily, when a burst from their guns nearly cut him in half.

“Forward!” the brown pony ordered, and Big Macintosh stopped thinking about going back to the deck of an assault blimp, which was now flying back to Canterlot to bring reinforcements. Five hundred soldiers ran down the street, taking cover behind the walls of abandoned houses.

“I know that place,” said Lyra when they hide with Big Macintosh and Braeburn in some backyard. Her voice almost drowned in blasts of explosions and gunfire. “There’s the Carousel Boutique nearby.”

“Ah can see a barricade from there,” said Braeburn, looking behind a corner. “Ah wonder if our shiny friends have some idea how to deal with that…”

Big Macintosh saw some crystal ponies on the other side of the street, gesturing towards them.

“Cover me, cousin,” he said, and, keeping his head low, he ran to them. He saw some movement with the corner of his eye, but then heard a sound of Braeburn’s gun, followed by some others.

“They’re somewhere close,” said the crystal pony when Big Macintosh joined them. “Is there any other way to get there?” he asked, pointing at the barricade near Carousel Boutique.

“Eeyup. We can approach them from their right. It’s a wide street, difficult to defend, and the nooks are good to hide,” Big Macintosh said.

“Good. Topaz.” He turned to the pony carrying a radio. “Tell the company Bravo to attack from the right, we’ll then join them from here. How much time did the pegasi give us?”

“Thirty minutes, before they’ll run out of ammo and will have to leave the clouds unprotected,” said Topaz, and turned on the radio, forwarding the orders.

“So, we don’t have much time…” the crystal pony muttered. Somewhere in front of them mortars started to fire, rounds exploding near the barricade guarded by bat ponies.

“It’s Bravo!” he shouted. “Let’s go!”

Big Macintosh followed the crystal ponies, soon joined by Braeburn and Lyra, the latter wielding her submachine gun with her magic, ready to shot anypony in sight. They ducked behind an abandoned cart.

“Where’s the captain?” Lyra asked. She was panting heavily, throwing nervous glances around. Even though it was cold, she was sweating. Braeburn looked around, and spotted Time Turner, hiding with Hot Blood behind the corner of a nearby house.

“Let’s go to them,” Big Macintosh said, trying to overcome the sounds of firing shots. “Ah’d rather not stay here till somepony throws a grenade at our cart.”

“Eeyup,” Braeburn muttered, leaning from behind the vehicle, and firing in barricade’s general direction. “Cover us, Heartstrings.”

A distance between the house and a cart was short, but for Big Macintosh, galloping through the snow was one of the longest moments of that day. They barely jumped from behind their cover, when several bullets hit the snow and ricocheted of the house wall a few inches from them. Lyra shot back, and followed them, covered by Braeburn. She was only a few feet from their new hideout when another dark silhouette emerged from the shadows and tackled her, revealing two retractable blades attached to the hooves.

Her scream echoed through the battlefield. Lyra thrashed, causing the bat pony to miss the first hit, blade stabbing the snowy ground.

Seeing that, Hot Blood jumped forward, and before their new opponent could react, he casted a spell, restraining him – for about half of a second, but it was enough for Lyra to recover, get her gun and shoot automatically.

With a high-pitched shriek, a bat pony, pierced by at least ten bullets, fell to the ground, thrashing and twitching in a growing crimson puddle. Lyra watched it, her face pale like a snow surrounding them. Then she switched her gun to semi-auto, raised it once again and fired with her eyes closed. The pony immediately stopped thrashing, and went limp on the ground, with half of the skull crushed by the bullet, covered only by remains of a maroon-coloured mane, one yellow eye still staring at the sky.

“A mare…” said Lyra, when she joined them. Even in darkness, they could see her expression of disbelief. “It was a mare…”

“That’s a weird way of saying ‘thanks for saving my life, Major’,” Hot Blood muttered, standing in front of Lyra, as if he expected that she’d kiss him.

“It was a mare…” Lyra rolled on the ground, making a gagging sound and spat some bile on the snow.

“You shouldn’t have shot her then,” said Hot Blood. “Those crystal ponies are doing a good job, we could play a bit. I heard you like fillies...” He looked at the body once more, not noticing the disgusted looks of his companions.

“So, what are we doing now? Sitting here and waiting till our shiny friends capture the barricade?” asked Braeburn.

“Works for me,” said Time Turner. “They don’t need us at the moment…”

Suddenly, he was interrupted by the loud blast, when the top of the house they were hiding behind exploded. They fell to the ground, covering their heads with front hooves, when a rain of bricks and dust fell on them.

“I… I think they know we’re here,” said Lyra, when everything went silent.

“You don’t say!” Hot Blood exclaimed rising from the ground and trying to get rid of the snow in his helmet. “Captain, I order to attack before they kill us here!”

“At your service, Major,” Time Turner muttered, rolling his eyes. “We should circle the house. I think there’s a narrow street there… I think I found my stepdaughter there once… If they forgot about it, we can catch them off-guard.”

“Sounds like a plan,” said Braeburn, and looked at Big Macintosh, who confirmed his words. Carefully, they crawled to the opposite wall of the building, spotting at least a dozen bat ponies standing in the street behind the corner, and shooting at the incoming crystal ponies.

“How many grenades do you have, Heartstrings?” asked Time Turner.

“Only three left,” she replied.

“That’ll be enough. Everypony ready?”

“Eeyup.”

“Ok, on three then… One… two…”

When he said “three”, Lyra removed the pin from one of the grenades and threw it at the bat ponies.

“Granate!”

“Achtung!“

Shouts of bat ponies drowned in an explosion, throwing the shrapnel and the snow around. Big Macintosh galloped from behind the wall, shooting into the blizzard. The barricade, hit by crystal ponies’ mortar, exploded and started to burn, flames soon engulfing the Carousel Boutique.

“Crystal Empire!”

“Celestia!”

“Stop shooting, Big Mac,” said Time Turner. “I think we won.”

Several crystal ponies, including their commander and the radio operator called Topaz, emerged from the smoke.

“Hot Blood! You here?” the commander asked.

“Yes sir,” said Hot Blood. “It was my idea to choose this way.”

“Good job soldier.” The crystal pony looked at the burning buildings. “I’m afraid that we woke up everypony in town. In weather like this, they’re mostly a bunch of sitting ducks, but they’re still dangerous.”

“How are the pegasi?” Time Turner asked.

“They had to leave,” said Topaz, looking up. Some dark silhouettes were visible between the clouds, trying to dissolve them. The crystal ponies regrouped, counting the dead and injured. The rest of Big Macintosh’s company joined his little group.

“Where should we go now?” asked the crystal ponies’ commander, looking on the plan of Ponyville.

“Town hall is there,” said Time Turner, pointing at one of the streets. “But the pegasi reconnaissance shown that it’s heavily guarded. Heavy machine guns and mortars everywhere, not to mention that those guys we just fried probably had many friends.”

“So what should we do? We can’t just wait for the reinforcements here!”

“Excuse me, Captain Turner, but I’d like to remind you that I’m a Major here,” said Hot Blood, levitating the map and looking at the marked positions of Moon Army. “I think we should advance further. Their morale seemed to be rather low, with some luck, they’ll surrender when they’ll see us.”

“Yeah, especially that one who tried to kill Lyra,” Big Macintosh whispered to Braeburn. “Her morale was really low…”

“Stop muttering!” the commander called. “We’ll advance further towards the Golden Oak Library. According to our data, there’s a similar outpost there. We’ll try to make a clear road for the second group.”

The crystal ponies saluted quickly and started to march, carefully observing the surroundings. About half of them took the alternate road in order to flank the enemy. The first rays of the Sun started to pierce through the clouds.

“So silent. Ah don’t like this,” said Braeburn, looking nervously on Lyra, who was walking near them, her face pale and her eyes focused on one point, somewhere in the distance. She was barely paying attention to her surroundings.

Hiding behind abandoned carts and some pieces of plundered furniture lying on the street, they slowly approached the Golden Oak Library. Its windows were smashed, but it looked like the Moon Army hadn’t devastated it.

“It seems there’s nopony home,” said Topaz, emerging from the shadowy street. “Maybe they ran a–”

A single shot fired from the building, piercing through his helmet as if it was made of paper, and obliterating his skull. His body fell to the ground like a puppet with cut strings, giving only a few final twitches. At the same moment, some crystal ponies started to fire at the library, trying to avenge their fallen companion. Another bullet fired, hitting Lyra’s saddlebags and destroying the radio inside. The unicorn screamed, collapsing on the ground.

“Lyra!” Big Macintosh shouted. Braeburn darted to her and dragged her behind the corner of the nearby building.

“I’m fine,” Lyra panted, coughing. When they removed her saddlebags, they saw a nasty bruise on her side; but she soon stood up, grasping her gun firmly with her magic.

“Cease fire!” Tungsten Heart, the commander of the crystal ponies ordered. “It’s no use,” he added when the soldiers followed his order. “We can’t reach this motherfucker from there…”

One of the crystal ponies started to advance towards Topaz’s body.

“Wanna be next, Realgar?” the commander asked.

“Our only working radio is there, Colonel,” Realgar said, pointing at the body. “Don’t you think we should warn the second group?”

Another shot fired and somepony screamed in the distance.

“Seems they already know,” said the colonel. “Cordite!”

“Yes, sir?” One of the ponies, carrying a large tube on his back, stood in attention.

“Take that sniper down.”

“Yes, sir!” Cordite exclaimed, and moved forward, taking the tube from his back, and, with Realgar’s help, loading a round into it. As the cloud cover was now almost destroyed by the bat ponies, the sky coming back to its dim colour, they had no trouble spotting the bat pony sitting on the top of the library, and watching the other group through the telescopic sight.

“A bit to the left…” Realgar muttered, looking into the reflex sight. Cordite moved, awaiting for an order to fire.

“Now.”

Cordite pulled the trigger of his launcher. The flames exploded from the rear end, and a projectile flew out of the barrel. The sniper heard the blast and looked at them just before the rocket hit one of the branches near him, exploding. Some branches fell off the tree, along with unrecognizable carmine chunks.

“Nice,” the commander said casually. “Realgar, take Topaz’s radio and let’s go!”

Trying to remain in the shadows of the buildings, they got past the Golden Oak Library, heading to the City Hall.

“Hey, Big Mac,” Braeburn whispered. “Look at this…” He pointed at the snow in the middle of the road, which now, in the sunlight, had a faint orange tint. Big Macintosh followed his gaze to see the characteristic trail imprinted on it.

“Caterpillars… Ah don’t like it… Lyra!”

The unicorn stopped, followed by Time Turner and Hot Blood.

“Shit,” she muttered when they showed her the marks. “We’d better warn Colonel whatshisname…”

“Tungsten Heart, if I recall correctly,” said Time Turner. “Colonel!”

The crystal pony stopped the soldiers and approached them. His reaction upon seeing the trail was as phlegmatic as usual.

“Cordite, keep your launcher ready. Be quiet. Remember that they can hear us better than we can hear them…” he said, and went back to his soldiers.

Lyra looked at the road one more time, and said to Big Macintosh, “Tungsten Heart… sounds like that nurse who gave us a check-up back in Canterlot. You know, the one who gave your cousin her photo before we left…”

“Eeyup,” said Big Macintosh absentmindedly, focused on bat ponies and their tanks.

“Her name was Atom Heart, Lyra,” said Braeburn. “Besides, we promised Bon Bon that we’ll bring ya back alive, and it’s hard when y’all tempt fate by talkin’ ‘bout yer loved ones… Not to mention that Bon Bon wouldn’t like ya talkin’ about sexy nurses...”

“Oh, come on...” Hot Blood rolled his eyes “You earth ponies still believe all those superstitions?” He shook his head.

“Some of them really work,” Time Turner deadpanned. “For example, the one which says that soldiers who annoy their brothers in arms tend to die quickly.”

“Thinking about some friendly fire, Captain?” Hot Blood asked, giving him a nasty look.

“Shut up, all of you!” Colonel Tungsten Heart hissed. “I hear something…”

Soon they also heard it – the low-pitched burr in the distance, accompanied by caterpillar tracks clattering.

“It’s here! On the left!” one of the crystal ponies shouted.

“Another one!”

Big Mac looked to his left, and saw a tank – it wasn’t as modern as the ones used by Sun Army, for it was lacking a turret and its cannon was instead mounted on a sponson on the front, but it still looked impressive – an enormous mountain made of grey iron, crawling slowly to them.

“Get down!” he shouted just before the cannon fired, the round missing his group by inches, and exploding in a crowd of crystal ponies. Smoke and snow obscured the view. He got up quickly, galloping to the nearest building to hide. Both tanks started to fire their machine guns, catching the crystal ponies in the crossfire.

“Braeburn, where are ya?” Big Macintosh shouted, trying frantically to see something through the smoke.

“Here, cousin!” He heard Braeburn’s voice near him, and soon saw him running out of the cloud of smoke with Lyra and Hot Blood.

“Where’s the captain?” asked Big Macintosh.

“Running away with the crystal ponies,” said Braeburn. “They want to regroup near the Golden Oak Library, Ah think.”

“Tungsten Heart?”

“Wounded, but he fled too,” Lyra said, hyperventilating. “Cordite… He managed to immobilise one of the tanks, b- but I’m afraid they massacred him…”

The tanks stopped firing, but they heard roaring of an engine close to them. Big Macintosh looked behind the corner and saw the bodies of at least thirty ponies lying in the middle of the street, the snow around them turning red. One of the tanks stood there with a broken caterpillar, abandoned by its crew.

The other tank was slowly advancing towards the group of crystal ponies, running away in a disorganised group, shooting at them mercilessly with its machine guns.

“We need to save them!” shouted Hot Blood, attempting to run behind the tank. Braeburn stopped him.

“Not so fast, Mr. Fancy,” he said. “We need a plan.”

Checking carefully if there was no bat ponies around, they went on the street.

“Lyra, take his radio,” said Braeburn, pointing at Realgar’s ridden-down body lying in front of them. Somehow the saddlebags with the radio were intact.

“I don’t like it,” said Lyra, putting them on. She winced when the blood-stained fabric touched her back. “Radio guys seem to die pretty fast today…”

“Yeah, but we’d like to know what’s going on,” said Hot Blood. They started to run behind the tank, hoping that none of the crew members would see them.

“Ok, it has to take the right turn now,” Braeburn muttered. “Let’s take a shortcut. Behind this building…”

“It’s Sugarcube Corner,” said Big Macintosh, when they stood in the backyard. The back door was closed, but he shot through the lock and they entered the abandoned bakery.

“Second floor,” Braeburn ordered. They rushed upstairs and stopped by the window. Below them, the tank was slowly crawling through the street.

“Lyra, ya still have two grenades, right?”

“Yeah, sure,” Lyra replied absentmindedly.

“Great,” Braeburn concluded. “Give me one, I’ll go first.”

“No time,” Hot Blood replied, watching the tank. “She needs to go…”

“What?”

“Come on! Before it passes the window!”

Lyra closed his eyes, and jumped out of the window, landing on the top of the tank. Big Macintosh followed her, leaving his cousin and Hot Blood behind.

The sound of their hooves clopping against the metal surface alarmed somepony inside, but they only waited for it. When the hatch opened, Big Macintosh quickly shot at the pony who appeared in it. The soldier didn’t have time to make any sound, when his headless body fell off the ladder. Before any of his companions could react, Lyra levitated a grenade and threw it inside, closing her eyes and muttering something that sounded like “sorry”.

The tank shook from an inner explosion, followed by the screams. However, it didn’t even slow down. Big Macintosh and Lyra looked at each other and jumped inside.

The interior was dark and smelled of fumes, blood and excrements. Upon landing, they slipped on the floor. Lyra lit her horn, but soon regretted it – when she saw the crew, she threw up on the tank’s floor.

Most of them were killed in an explosion, the sole exception being a dark brown mule lying in front of them. One of his hind legs was torn off, and he had a large wound in his stomach, but somehow he was still breathing.

“They’re not bat ponies…” Lyra whispered, shocked. “And I killed them…” She looked into the eyes of mortally wounded mule in front of her.

“They’re not bat ponies, but ya saw what they did…” said Big Macintosh, recalling the crystal ponies’ bodies lying in the snow. “Don’t look, Lyra.” He lifted his gun and shot at the mule, ending his suffering. Seeing his dead body, he started to think about his life.

Before the war, his life was so simple. A family, friends, days of hard work… Cheerilee and Fluttershy... Back in these days, his biggest problem was to overcome his shyness and ask one of them out.

But then, everything changed when the Moon Army attacked. They solved his problem once and for all, with bombs and napalm. Fluttershy, Cheerilee and his beloved sister, Apple Bloom were dead, Applejack was missing, he was standing over the body of some mule he didn’t even know, and his only friend now was a young unicorn, who was just having another attack of nausea.

He sighed, and rushed to the driver’s seat. A dead earth pony with a large wound in his back was hanging on the tank’s acceleration levers. Big Macintosh pushed him off his seat, only to realize that one of the levers was jammed in “forward” position, and the tank suddenly turned left, throwing him out of balance. He recovered quickly and hit the lever, which moved back to its starting position. The tank started to lose speed, but when Big Macintosh looked out of the small window in front of him, he saw a rapidly approaching brick wall.

“Watch out, Lyra!” he shouted, throwing himself on the floor, next to the driver’s body.

With a terrible sound of crushed bricks and torn metal, the tank hit the wall, demolishing it, and drove into the house. The floor was too weak to withstand thirty-two tons of iron – it collapsed and the tank fell into the basement.

“Big Mac! Lyra! Are y’all okay?” they heard a worried voice somewhere above them.

“Eeyup,” said Big Macintosh, emerging from the cloud of dust. He was soon followed by Lyra, still wearing the crystal ponies’ radio on her back. The saddlebags were ragged, but the device, except of some scratches on its casing, seemed intact.

“Turn it on,” said Hot Blood. Lyra didn’t react; instead she collapsed on the snow, hyperventilating.

“What the fuck is wrong with her?” the Major asked, poking Lyra with his hoof.

“Look into the tank,” Big Macintosh replied. “That’s what’s wrong.”

Braeburn took a paper bag he’d put in his saddlebags before they were boarded and gave it to Lyra. After inhaling and exhaling into it for a few times, she calmed down a bit, but when she stood up, her legs still were wobbly. When she tried to levitate her gun, her magic faltered and died down.

“Oh, come on…” Hot Blood groaned. He levitated a small, white pill out of the pocket of his uniform. “Take this.”

Lyra took the pill automatically and swallowed it. She drank some water from her canteen and when she finally got up, she looked much better, even though her face was still pale.

“Turn on the radio, let’s see what’s going on,” Hot Blood ordered.

Lyra pushed the switch, and the crystals inside of the radio lit with a dim green light. She turned the knob with his magic, but all they heard was a heavy static.

“Where are they…” she muttered.

“We’re under attack!” some voice emerged from the static. “It’s Liquid Crystal from Bravo company! We’re in Golden Oak…” The signal disappeared. Lyra turned the knob, but all she got was faint echo of bat ponies calling:

Vorwarts! Feuer frei!

“We need to help them,” Hot Blood decided.

“Just the four of us? That’s suicide!” Lyra shouted.

“Ah’m almost out of bullets,” said Braeburn, lifting his gun. “We have a tank, but Ah don’t think it’ll ever go somewhere…”

“Earth ponies with their narrow minds and limited imagination…” Hot Blood sighed. “Bullets! We have two unicorns here, we can do whatever we want with them…”

“Don’t look at me, sir. I almost failed the Magic Kindergarten.” Lyra’s voice was hollow. “I don’t know any useful spells...”

Hot Blood slammed his hoof against his forehead.

“Now I know why are we losing this war,” he finally said. “What do you want to do now? Surrender? Crawl into some hole and wait for the reinforcements?”

“Not a bad idea, Mr. Fancy,” Braeburn deadpanned. “At least it’s better than chargin’ at them…”

Scheisse!” a voice from the Lyra’s radio was filled with panic. Somewhere in the background the shots could be heard through the static.

“Seems that at least they are not giving up,” Hot Blood commented. Suddenly, an idea struck Big Macintosh’s mind.

“Lyra, can ya talk to ‘em with this?” he asked.

“I think so, if you really want to chat with them…”

Big Macintosh turned to Hot Blood.

“How’s ‘retreat’ in Pferdisch?”

The white unicorn smiled mischievously.

“You’re quite wise for an earth pony, soldier. Heartstrings, give me the radio. You still have their frequency?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good.” He pressed the button on the radio and shouted, imitating the bat ponies’ accent, “Alle Verbanden zurück! Sie attackieren das Rathaus! Ich wiederhole: alle Verbanden zurück!

The ether became flooded with the voices repeating his orders, and soon they heard clopping of hundreds of hooves, echoing through the streets of Ponyville.

“Seems that they still can’t fly,” Braeburn observed.

“Eeyup,” said Big Macintosh. “If ya had no fur, ya also couldn’t walk when it’s so cold.”

Another group of the crystal ponies was running through the nearby street, stopping from time to time to shoot at their retreating enemies.

“Big Mac? You here?” they heard a familiar voice. Time Turner, along with some crystal ponies, galloped to them, his rifle hanging from his neck. “They surrounded us near the library, but then something happened and they started to run away!”

“I pulled a little stunt with the radio,” said Hot Blood before Big Macintosh could reply. “Now, chase them before they find out!”

They ran after the bat ponies, Lyra and Hot Blood taking advantage from the fact that, being unicorns, they could shoot and run at the same time. Somewhere in front of them, another grenade exploded. They saw the group of their enemies splitting, one part of it turning around to face them.

“Get down!” Time Turner shouted. The first volley of bullets flew above their heads. They quickly retreated to the side streets, shooting back at the bat ponies and mules who also were in that group. Some stray round hit the radio on Lyra’s back, scratching the casing, but leaving the crystals inside undamaged.

“I’m okay!” she shouted when Big Macintosh ran to check on her. She looked much happier than a few minutes before, courtesy of the pill she had been given. She prodded the radio with her hoof.

“Much better than my old radio… After the war, I’m gonna go to the Crystal Empire and thank the guy who made it…”

“What now?” Braeburn asked when they hid behind the corner, firing his last rounds at the enemies. “They’ll find out that we tricked ‘em, and they’ll come back…”

“Don’t worry,” said Time Turner, pointing at the sky. Between the sun and the moon, they saw a rainbow trail. It quickly descended, and they saw the silhouettes of six pegasi, wearing black outfits fitted with a gun and two bombs strapped to them. Another group, consisting of twelve pegasi wearing blue and yellow armours, was flying behind them.

“Air support!” Lyra shouted. “Our reinforcements are close!”

With a loud whistle, a bomb fell on the detachment of Moon Army defending the street, sending a torrent of shrapnel around. Some of them tried to escape, but one of the pegasi, wearing a black armour with three dragonflies on it, flied behind them, firing at them from the weird-shaped weapon shooting buckshot in rapid series. Some bat pony took off, trying to attack her from behind, but another pegasus fell on him, pinning him to the ground. A quick swing of a knife and the bat pony stopped thrashing.

The pegasus’ helmet fell when she tore the knife out of his body and for a moment Big Macintosh saw her long, blonde mane and narrow eyes of a madpony. He didn’t have time to watch her closer, as Hot Blood ordered them to advance further.

The Wonderbolts chased the Moon Army from the other side, advancing towards the city hall. Assault blimps, now covered in scratches and holes, landed on the empty street, a new detachment of crystal ponies emerging from them.

“Where’s Tungsten Heart?” their commander asked.

“In the Golden Oak Library,” said Time Turner. “They shot him, but he seemed okay last time I saw him.”

“He’s a tough guy, soon he’ll be on his hooves again,” the commander smiled. “Now, let’s get this City Hall before our brave pegasi finish them off!”

Several crystal ponies gave Big Macintosh and his companions new magazines, and they marched to the City Hall. The building, surrounded by barricades and heavy machine guns, was burning, hit with the bombs. The Moon Army, however, didn’t want to give up: one of the Wonderbolts, a blue mare with a white mane, was lying in the mud, her armour pierced with numerous bullets. Her companions were circling above her body, shooting at anypony who showed up, trying to get to the guns. Big Macintosh noticed a blonde mare flying among them. She’d smeared the dead bat pony’s blood on her face and chest plate of her armour.

Big Macintosh turned to Lyra to draw her attention to that, but then he noticed the unicorn’s stare. Her pupils were shrunk to pinpricks and her expression looked much the same as the crazy pegasus’.

“Seems that it’s over,” said Hot Blood. “We can wait for them to fry inside, or–”

Another Moon Army soldier left the burning town hall. The Wonderbolts immediately aimed their guns at him, but Spitfire, seeing that he was waving a piece of white cloth frantically, stopped them.

“We surrender!” he shouted, dropping his gun. About forty soldiers, who also emerged from the ruins – bat ponies, earth ponies, mules, donkeys, even some unicorns – followed him, dropping the guns and sitting on the ground. Crystal ponies ran to them, surrounding them.

On the outskirts, the fight continued, the fresh detachment of crystal ponies chasing the Moon Army to the Everfree. Bombed by the pegasi and shot by the infantry, Luna’s soldiers ran away in shame, to bring the princess the news about their failure.

***

“What will we do with ‘em?” Big Macintosh asked. Rainbow Dash’s squadron just brought to them another group of soldiers who had surrendered, and the total number of the POWs, sitting in the place where the town hall used to be, guarded by him and his brothers in arms, was now about two hundred.

Surprisingly, only a few of them were bat ponies. Their group was sitting together, in some distance from the other prisoners, who were looking at them askew. Scared, with their wings chained together, they looked pitiful, nothing like bloodthirsty creatures from the propaganda posters.

“Most of ‘em will probably stay here,” said Braeburn. “Let’s see what they’ll say.” He pointed at the small building, where the commanders of all the detachments which took part in the battle met. Even though Time Turner’s rank was lower than Hot Blood’s, he was asked to join Spitfire, Rainbow Dash, Tungsten Heart and Colonel Lanthanum, the commander of the reinforcement. The Major, affronted by such a lack of respect, was trotting around the square, glaring at the prisoners angrily. He was soon joined by another pony from Big Macintosh’s detachment, a white, elegant unicorn with a black mane called Black Marble, who, according to Time Turner, spent most of the battle hidden in the library.

“Ah’d watch out for ‘em,” said Big Macintosh. “Lyra, what do y’all, unicorns, usually do when pissed off?”

Lyra didn’t answer, resting against the saddlebags with the battered radio and staring in the distance. She was like this since the battle finished, and Big Macintosh, who at first thought that his companion fell asleep, started to worry.

“Lyra?”

“Yes?” she asked groggily. “I’m okay, don’t worry.”

“Are ya sure?” Braeburn asked, still watching Hot Blood and White Marble carefully. The unicorns now approached the group of bat ponies, talking with them. Lyra didn’t answer, instead she took her gun, and started to clean it automatically.

The conversation with bat ponies grew louder, some of them yelling at Hot Blood and Black Marble, who tried to separate one of them from the group.

“Ah think Ah know what’s goin’ on…” Braeburn muttered and rushed to them. Big Macintosh followed him. They got past the blonde pegasus mare – she was nodding off, still smeared in blood. She didn’t seem to care about the other mare, with a whimsical, white and blue mane and a shooting star painted on the armour, who was yelling insults at her.

“Kicker, I got used to you being a fucking junkie…” she muttered when they trotted next to her. ”But that’s just sick!”

“Yeah, sure…” Kicker replied groggily. Big Macintosh heard the bat ponies’ screams growing louder and began to trot faster.

There was a single mare among the bat ponies – similarly to the one who had attacked Lyra, she was an assassin, armed with the retractable blades attached to her front hooves. In the final part of the battle she tried to kill Spitfire who landed on the ground to protect the Fleetfoot’s body. Luckily, Soarin was there to watch her back and together they knocked the assassin out. Now she was screaming angrily, trying to hit Hot Blood with her hoof.

“What are y’all doing?” Braeburn asked angrily.

“Chill out, cowpony,” said Black Marble. “Major and I only want to play a bit.”

“Then play with yourself, pricks!” another voice called. They all turned back to see Spitfire, who just left the house which served as a temporary headquarters of the Sun Army.

“Major Hot Blood!” she shouted, taking off to be on an equal eye level with him. “An officer… A noble… What a disgrace…”

“What’s going on, Group Captain?” asked Tungsten Heart. He emerged from the building, limping slightly, supported by Lanthanium.

“They were trying to rape one of the POWs!”

Tungsten Heart wasn’t a very emotional pony. As a colonel, he knew the names of all of his soldiers, and it was probably the biggest sign of attachment in his life. There were only few things that could make him drop his usually calm demeanour and rape was one of them. When he spoke, his voice was ice cold, “Major Hot Blood, you’ll be immediately sent back to Canterlot, together with your friend,” he stared at Black Marble, who gulped. “Princess Celestia herself will be informed about your behaviour.”

“A propos Canterlot,” said Spitfire. “We got a message from Princess Twilight Sparkle. She ordered us to send two soldiers, named Braeburn and Big Macintosh, back to the capital.”

“Why?” Big Macintosh asked.

“She didn’t say. Who are we to question the Princess’ wisdom?” Spitfire sighed, rolling her eyes.

“Ah guess it has somethin’ to do with Applejack,” said Braeburn. “By the way, colonel, we’d like to ask ya to send another soldier with us. Name’s Lyra Heartstrings.”

“That one over there?” Lanthanium asked. Lyra was trying to attach a new magazine to her gun, but her magic was failing her. “She doesn’t look well…”

“Yeah, that’s why she shouldn’t stay here, sir.”

“I don’t know…”

“We need someone to escort those bat ponies to Canterlot anyway,” said Tungsten Heart. “Rest of the POWs will stay here, but Princess Celestia would be glad to interrogate her sister’s elite soldiers… You can go with Heartstrings and those two…” he muttered silently something that sounded like “bastards”.

“And she’ll stay here too,” Spitfire added, pointing at the bat mare, who was staring at them with a dull look on her face. The officers called several crystal ponies to guard Hot Blood and Black Marble, and went back to the headquarters.

Big Macintosh sighed.

“Ah’ve been there for so long and didn’t even visit Sweet Apple Acres… Who knows, maybe Applejack’s there?”

“Sweet Apple Acres? Is it that farm near the Everfree?” one of the crystal ponies asked.

“Eeyup.”

“Why are y’all asking?” Braeburn asked, but seeing the crystal pony’s grim expression, he didn’t expect any good news.

“There’s nothing there now,” the soldier said. “They burned it down.”

Big Macintosh collapsed on his haunches.

“D-did ya find somepony there?”

“Only this,” another crystal pony took a Stetson hat out of his saddlebags, “It was lying in front of the ruins.”

“Applejack…” Big Macintosh whispered, taking the hat from him.

***

Getting out of Palace was the most difficult part of her plan, but luckily she managed to accomplish this. Carefully avoiding the guards patrolling the garden, she finally made it to the street. She looked at the building once more and went to the army magazines.

Although it wasn’t raining in Canterlot, the sky was dark, something the citizens of the capital hadn’t experienced since the day the war had started. Most of them was at their homes, sleeping peacefully, something Applejack was glad of. Seeing the Elements of Honesty weaving through the streets would be something no witness would forget. She was trying to avoid the darker parts of the town – she didn’t want to meet the members of any infamous underground group of Luna’s followers. Their activity was usually limited to random acts of vandalism, but she heard that some members of The Lunatics (or maybe The Fireflies?) recently murdered somepony in broad daylight.

She sighed with relief when she finally got to the magazine. There was a single pony guarding the gate, but he didn’t even bother with talking to her – as a quartermaster, she had the right to visit them twenty four hours a day – and let her in.

She didn’t have to search through the magazine for long. The vehicle was standing in the middle of the hall, covered with a piece of cloth. She removed it to watch the machine in its full grace.

Although the internal combustion engines were invented some time ago, they were still expensive, and most ponies, including Applejack, didn’t trust them. Tonight, however, she had no choice – since the railroad between Canterlot and Ponyville was bombed, the fastest way to get there was an automobile.

It was another prototype, built of wood. It resembled rather a carriage fitted with an engine than an elegant machine some rich ponies like Fancy Pants or Prince Blueblood owned, but when they’d tested it with Pinkie, it proved to be capable of driving about 20 miles per hour, and Applejack, to her surprise, found out that she was a decent driver.

There was still some fuel in the tank, and she hoped it’d be enough to get to Ponyville. She dropped her saddlebags in the back and sat behind the handlebars and started the engine, waiting for it to warm up. A guard showed up in the gate to the magazine.

“Ms. Applejack! What are you doing?” he asked.

“Ah’m just takin’ it for a little test!” she said, hoping that he didn’t see her wince. “I don’t want ponies to see it, that’s why I’m doing that at night.”

“Okay then,” he said, going back to the entry. “Have a nice ride.”

Come on, she thought, It wasn’t a lie. It’s really a test drive.

She pulled the handle, switching to the first of the two gears, and the vehicle moved forward. She was steering it carefully – she didn’t trust the brakes, and last thing she wanted was to run somepony down or hit a cart someone had left on the street. The wheels rumbled against the cobblestone, she felt wind whistling in her ears, and had to hold her hat to avoid losing it.

Finally, she left the Canterlot outskirts behind. The cobblestone street changed into dirt road. She was driving slowly, about ten miles per hour – the road was slippery, and the wooden wheels didn’t help in handling the vehicle.

“It’s not normal,” she muttered. “A pony drivin’ such a thing…”

Several times she had to brake hard, seeing a rabbit standing in the middle of the road, scared by the lights of her automobile. Each time, watching the rabbit running away, she was thinking of Fluttershy.

She died somewhere nearby. Who knows, maybe the forest animals still visit that place?

A lightning tore through the sky. She slowed down even more, steering through the puddles of water getting harder and harder. She couldn’t see anything through the rain, and the lights weren’t any help. Eventually, with a loud splash, she drove into some hole. The vehicle leaned to one side when the leaf spring broke, and Applejack almost fell out of it. She braked hard and stopped the engine. The automobile was damaged beyond repair, but she left it without regrets – she planned to abandon it anyway, as Moon Army would probably ask many questions if she tried to drive with it through Ponyville.

She took her saddlebags from the back of the carriage, and, not caring about the rain, she started to walk through the forest. She decided to circle the town and, hoping that there weren’t any guards there, approach Sweet Apple Acres from the north, from the Everfree.

As she was walking through the fields the rain clouds slowly started to dissipate. The sun pierced through them, bathing everything in an orange light. She looked at the faraway silhouette of the farm, glad to see her home. But when her eyes accustomed to the light, she suddenly screamed and started to gallop towards the house.

At first she thought that it was a cloud obscuring the view, but when the wind brought the smell of burnt wood to her, she realized her mistake. When she was approaching the farm, she noticed more horrifying details: a large stakes of cut down and half-burnt trunks, piles of wet ashes and a scorched ground beneath her hooves caused her heart to pound wildly against her chest.

She stopped by the still smoking ruins of her house and collapsed on the ground, not caring about getting her coat dirty. She curled into the foetal position, sobbing loudly and banging her hooves against the ground. She called her grandma, only to hear the distant echo of her own voice. Not caring about the soldiers who could hear her, she started to curse them, the Princesses, her friends and herself.

She banged her foreleg against the ground so strong, that the hoof broke. She didn’t even feel the pain; she only realised that she was hurt when she saw drops of blood dripping on the ground.

Finally, when she couldn’t shout and cry anymore, she got up, panting, and searched her saddlebags, now dirty and squished. She found a piece of rope there and, relying completely on a muscle memory, tied it into a noose.

She looked around and collapsed on the charred grass again, this time laughing hysterically: there wasn’t a single tree left anywhere in sight, every single of them was cut down by the soldiers who’d burned the farm down. She threw the rope away and dropped her hat on the ground.

She regretted that she hadn’t taken a gun. It didn’t matter whether it’d be an assault rifle or one of the deadly SMGs. Any would do. Well, even a knife would do. She looked around, but she knew she didn’t take a knife with her. There wasn’t even a single stone in sight. For a brief moment, she thought about biting through her veins, but then she got a better idea.

Slowly, she stood up and headed to the Everfree Forest. Her breath was heavy, as if something was squishing her lungs. Her coat was covered in ground and ash. The broken hoof was sending the jolts of pain to her brain, but she ignored it. Her eyes lost their shine; she was barely able to see her surroundings when she walked into the forest. The green veil engulfed her, muffling all the sounds.

“Ah can’t even kill mahself,” she muttered, swallowing her tears. “Let the wild animals or Luna’s soldiers do that for me…”

***

“We’ll mourn ‘em later, cousin,” said Braeburn grimly. “Now we must go.”

Big Macintosh slowly rose from the ground, putting Applejack’s hat in his saddlebags. Fiddle was standing next to him, still pale, but looking a bit better since he was told that he was going home. Hot Blood and Black Marble weren’t so happy, standing next to the group of about thirty bat pony POWs, barely covering the expressions of pure disgust.

“Five soldiers to guard them? Don’t you think it’s too few?” Spitfire asked Tungsten Heart.

“We need every soldier here in case of a counterattack. Don’t worry, they’re chained together, they pose no threat. I’m more worried about those two…” he looked at Black Marble. “Especially this one,” he whispered. “Hot Blood’s uncle will probably get him out of trouble, but he has nothing left to lose…”

“I’ll tell Big Macintosh to keep an eye on him,” said Spitfire and flew away.

***

“Sweet Celestia, is it really only twenty miles to Canterlot?” Black Marble groaned. They were walking through the snow, leading a group of their prisoners only for an hour, and they already had enough of it, especially Lyra, who stayed somewhere in the back and they had to stop, allowing her to catch up.

“If y’all weren’t so horny, ya’d be now sitting in a warm room hitting on our air support,” Braeburn laughed. “But of course ya’re the kind of ponies who want everything now…”

“I’d like to remind you that you speak to your major,” said Hot Blood coldly.

“Yeah… how long ya’ll be a major after this stunt ya pulled? In Appleloosa we have one way of dealing with such ponies like ya… Ya take a hammer and a nail…”

“Braeburn, stop,” Big Macintosh muttered. “Blueblood will talk to the Princess and he’ll still be a Major…”

“…and then we give him a knife, possibly a blunt one, and say ‘either ya’ll cut yerself off or…’” Braeburn sighed. “Can’t Ah dream, cousin?”

“Yer dreams will get us into trouble,” Big Macintosh said, still lost in his thoughts. Applejack’s hat in his saddlebags grew heavier with every step.

“Couldn’t they give us one of those airships? Or a tank?” Black Marble asked, hitting one of the bat ponies with the butt of his rifle.

“Most of them were losing hydrogen, and they need them to attack Luna’s castle,” said Lyra, who just joined them, “And both of their tanks were destroyed…” She suddenly paused and stared into the distance.

“Eeyup,” Braeburn confirmed. “And don’t be cruel to ‘em, Marble, or else…”

“They were trying to kill us!” Marble shouted, hitting the bat pony, who screamed and tried to reach him with his hoof, but with no results.

“But we shouldn’t be like ‘em!” Braeburn jumped to him, ready to grab his rifle.

“Shut up!” Big Macintosh exclaimed suddenly. “Ya too, cousin. Marble, go with Lyra, Ah’ll look at ‘em.”

Not talking to each other, they reached the boundary of the forest and started to walk through the fields. Soon they were completely lost in a mist – a side effect of the recent tampering with the weather. Unable to see anything, they were forced to stop again. Black Marble took an opportunity to sneak to Lyra and put his hoof on her flank. Too bad for him, even though she barely said a word since they had walked from Ponyville, she reacted instinctively: she kicked him and levitated the gun out of her saddlebags, aiming it at him. Braeburn immediately galloped to them.

“Leave him, Lyra…” he said. “He’s not worth it…”

He shuddered when she looked at him. Definitely, the unicorn in front of him wasn’t the same cheerful mare he’d met a few days ago. He thought about Big Macintosh’s friend called Bon Bon – he only saw her once when she’d come to visit Lyra, but he felt that she wouldn’t be grateful for how they’d protected her marefriend.

Lyra finally lowered her gun.

“She’s not worth me…” Black Marble muttered. “Dirty fillyfooler…”

“Should I leave her with ya?” Braeburn asked politely. “Ah wouldn’t piss her off, if Ah were ya…”

“I think we’re lost,” said Hot Blood.

“Eeyup,” Big Macintosh replied.

“Stop doing that! I think there’s a hill somewhere nearby, we should go there and take a look.”

“With ‘em?” Braeburn asked, pointing at the bat ponies, who, as soon as they stopped, collapsed on the ground, panting heavily.

“Not necessarily,” Hot Blood said. “Black Marble and I will go.”

“Yeah… and we’ll never see ya again…” Braeburn smiled.

“You earth ponies are sometimes really dumb…” Hot Blood shook his head. “Where would we escape? We could either go to Canterlot alone and be caught by the Princess, or go back to Ponyville, where Tungsten Heart and that crazy pegasus only wait to pour the boiling oil on our balls…”

“Not a bad idea,” Braeburn deadpanned.

“I think they should go and check the way,” said Lyra. “I don’t want to freeze to death.”

Braeburn sighed.

“Ok, y’all can go. But if ya won’t come back, ya’ll see how bad the earth ponies can be…”

“Don’t worry, we’ll be back in an hour or so.” Black Marble smiled and both unicorns disappeared in the fog. Braeburn took a blanket out of his saddlebags and gave it to Lyra, while Big Macintosh went to check on their prisoners.

“Hey, you!”

Big Macintosh looked at the pony who called him. Like many bat ponies, his coat was dark grey, but his mane was navy blue with a dark red stripe, something unusual for them.

“May I ask ya summfin’?” he asked.

“Eeyup.”

“Can ya release me?”

“What?” Big Macintosh looked at him in disbelief, but a bat pony was completely serious.

“Release me. Yer commanders don’t know how many of us ya have here anyway, and if they learn what I did, they’ll hang me.” His face now wore the solemn expression.

“Don’t worry, we don’t hang the POWs,” said Braeburn, who joined them with Lyra. She looked much better since Hot Blood and Black Marble went away, but she still was pale and Big Macintosh was sure that it wasn’t the low temperature’s fault.

“I know, but… war criminals…” his head drooped. For a moment the only sound they could hear from him was sobbing.

“Ya’re a war criminal? What have ya done?” Big Macintosh asked.

“They told us it was a Sun Army’s Hauptquartier…” the bat pony said. “I don’t know, maybe we lost the way or maybe Militärgeheimdienst was wrong but… They later told us that we’d bombed the hospital…”

Suddenly, before Braeburn could react, Big Macintosh jumped forward, pinning the bat pony to the ground. Other bat ponies were trying to escape, but being chained to their companion, they didn’t have many possibilities to move.

“Mah sister was there!” he muttered to the thrashing bat pony through gritted teeth. “She was only fifteen… She was there because ya first dropped bombs on her and her friends and then… then burned her…”

“Enough, Big Mac!” Braeburn grabbed his tail in his mouth and, aided by Lyra’s magic, dragged him away.

“She had nothing to do with the war!” Big Macintosh shouted.

“I… I’m sorry,” said the bat pony, breathing deeply and rubbing his neck. “It was an accident…”

“An accident? An unarmed pegasus mare flew to ya to explain… and y’all shot her!”

“Do you think I can live with that?” the bat pony shouted. “I still have nightmares… that hospital… that farm they made us burn… There was somepony there… An old mare… They made us lock the door and–”

When Big Macintosh tried later to recall what exactly happened, he couldn’t remember the moment of pulling the gun out. The only thing he remembered were the eyes of the bat pony, wide in shock, as he was staring at the two holes in his chest. Blood stained his coat and dripped on the snow as he collapsed on the ground. Big Macintosh looked at Braeburn, who was also holding his gun, aiming it at the rest of the bat ponies.

***

“You heard that?” Black Marble asked Hot Blood when they were threading their way through the knee-deep snow. The shots were still echoing through the fields.

“Seems that our friends are in trouble.” Hot Blood smiled maliciously.

“Are we going back?”

“No, Marble, I have a much better idea…” said the noble unicorn, watching the three small silhouettes trying to climb up the hill, about three hundred yards from them.

***

“What have we done…” Big Macintosh cried, lying on his back and panting. His gun, with no ammo left, was resting next to him. Braeburn was sitting on his other side, turning his face away from the field, where the bodies of their prisoners, still chained to each other, were now lying on the crimson snow, shot mercilessly in a futile attempt of escape. Lyra was walking among them, staggering and laughing hysterically.

“They killed Apple Bloom… Applejack… and Granny…” Braeburn panted.

“Yes, but…” Big Macintosh looked at the closest body, which was almost cut in half by the bullets. Another bat pony had been trying to shield his companion with his own body, when a round, fired at point blank range, blew his head almost completely out.

“Ya started it, cousin…”

Big Macintosh said nothing, instead turning to Lyra, who now sat next to the bat pony, who took so many bullets that his body was almost unrecognizable, and was muttering something to him. He wasn’t sure if it was an apology, farewell or just a casual talk. During those two minutes, Lyra hadn’t fired a single shot; she hadn’t even made a sound. However, when Big Macintosh looked into her eyes, he knew that the unicorn he knew was gone.

“What’ll we tell Bon Bon…”

“Ah’d rather think what’ll we tell Celestia…”

“Definitely not that…” Big Macintosh said, looking around. “Bon Bon… She also shouldn’t hear about that. Ever. Lyra! Are you okay?”

“Of course… I’m okay…” said the unicorn, grinning at them. Big Macintosh shuddered – even the blonde pegasus mare who’d smeared the blood of the fallen enemy on her face looked saner than her. “I’ll be even better soon!”

She levitated her gun, switching it to full auto, and before they could stand up and react, she put the barrel in her mouth and pulled the trigger.

Author's Note:

Long time ago, when I was writing this chapter, I was like "no way, I'm not gonna destroy the Library"...