• Published 5th Nov 2011
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Equestria: Total War - emkajii



War comes to Equestria: with despair, with starvation, with sacrifice and with heroism.

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IX. Westmarch, Equestria. November, 1251.

IX. Westmarch, Equestria. November, 1251.

The cold dawn sun shone through the haze--the haze the pegasi had assembled in two hours of frenetic work. Through the mist, they could barely make out the skeleton of a camp sprawling just down the slope. And beyond that, they could see nothing, though they heard the faint rapping of snare drums in the distance.



"The orders have been given, sister?"

"Yes, Luna."

"The lieutenant commanding the 3rd Lancers. We have told her nothing of the plan, correct? This time there have been no last-minute changes of heart causing you to override me?"

"No, but I am still uncomfortable with it. While I suspect Rainbow Dash will survive, the fact remains that she may give her life. She should at least know why."

"It is necessary. Her cavalry are the most disciplined in the army, but even they are not capable of willingly undertaking a suicide mission. They shall charge, thinking they shall be supported, and they will rout when they realize they are alone and endangered. The rout must appear natural. It would ruin things if they were to think about their task beforehand. I do not like relying on the acting talents of soldiers to win battles."

"I know the pony commanding them, Luna. She thinks about things. She's canny."

"The blue-and-rainbow one? You misjudge her. She doesn't think. She acts. She is perfect for this."

"I'm not so sure that's true."

"You know how to be popular, sister. I know how to win. I must defer to you on matters of diplomacy. You must defer to me on matters of tactics."

"Yes. I wouldn't dream of interfering."



Rainbow Dash stared at her orders. This...this couldn't be right. Her ponies were lancers. Only 300 lancers. And they were supposed to charge the gryphons' lion infantry head-on? And then, after the charge...break formation and scatter in retreat? That's it? What...what was that supposed to accomplish? That wasn't how you used cavalry. What were the unicorns thinking? Did any of those puffed-up, know-nothing wanna-be eggheads know a single thing about cavalry combat? She smacked the paper with a hoof. She couldn't believe it. She had trained her girls painstakingly. They were good. No. They were awesome. And they were just going to throw away their lives on an idiotic frontal charge, which would be completely unsupported by the rest of the army. Is that what she was supposed to do? Was that really going to be her ponies' first and last taste of war? To be killed because some stupid general didn't know how to use them?

Her girls trusted her. Each of them did. Mayweather. Starshine. Whisper Breeze. And now, Spitfire. All good ponies. And Dash was responsible for bringing each of them home alive. How could she throw their lives away on some idiot unicorn's mistake? How could she order a head-on charge? Heck, how could she order the the army's best cavalry unit to commit suicide? Wouldn't that just hurt the army pointlessly? She couldn't betray the army like that. She couldn't betray her soldiers like that. She couldn't betray Spitfire like that. She couldn't betray herself like that. She had never betrayed anypony in her life, not willingly. She read the orders again. And then she looked at her map. And she began to plan.



Fluttershy's lip trembled as the unicorn strapped her to her gurney-cart. So, it was happening. It wasn't a nightmare any more. It was real. There was going to be a battle. Ponies would get hurt. Ponies would die. All so they could hurt gryphons and lions. And she would try to help some of the hurt ones. And she would patch them up, and then they would go get hurt again. Or worse, go and hurt someone else. She looked around the near-empty medical tent, which had been relocated to the far side of the hill. Soon it would be filled with suffering ponies. Dying ponies. She had never seen a dying pony. Her grandma, maybe, but that was different. Natural. Peaceful. This...wouldn't be peaceful. And she didn't want to have anything to do with it.

She glanced nervously around. The fog made it hard for anypony to see more than a few dozen meters. And she could fly fast, when she wanted to. Fast and low. One of her boys had remarked that it would make it easier to slip in and slip out to rescue ponies. It certainly would make it easy to slip out, she thought. And then she thought of what they had said in the tavern a month ago. Could she really leave Pinkie Pie or Rainbow Dash to die on a battlefield, they had asked. She shook her head. That wasn't the question they should have been asking. They should have asked if she could really be supporting something that was about to put Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash on the battlefield in the first place. She looked around again. Nopony was watching.



The 1st Support unicorns had worked themselves to exhaustion. So Rarity had thought, four hours ago. By now, they had worked themselves through exhaustion to...well, whatever was worse, and then to whatever was worse than that. Two stallions and three mares had already collapsed and been carried to the makeshift rear camp. And still they worked. Everything had to be packed. Everything had to be ready. And they had to be in motion, in unguarded retreat up the foggy hill, when the gryphons arrived. She didn't like how exposed she would be, but the army was close. It would descend on the Gryphonic army before they could get near the retreating ponies. But for that to work, the gryphons had to be pursuing the "retreat."

And for that to happen, the 1st Support needed to be ready. She stumbled, and then steadied herself by leaning against a crate. The gryphons were almost here. But the 1st Support would be ready to do their part.



Pinkie Pie bounced excitedly, her ill-fitting uniform flopping around her. "Oh girls! You'll do great, I just know it! ...oh, come on now, don't be scared. Remember what I told you? About laughing at being scared?"

One of them, Bubblepop, responded hesitantly, her green-and-pink mane falling in front of her face. "Lieutenant...we know. But that was about things that can't hurt you. Gryphons and lions can hurt you. Bad."

Pinkie chuckled. "They can hurt you just as much if you're scared as if you're happy. You just need to believe in yourself. And besides. We've got an easy job. We just run around the lions so they can't get away and they get scared! Now. Let's see some scary faces. Grrrar!" She growled and bared her teeth. It was surprisingly intimidating. She smiled again. "See? Easy peasy pumpkin pie."

Peach Cream, a newer recruit, looked fornlornly at Pinkie. "Lieutenant. We're...um...we're gonna be okay, right? We're gonna be fine. Say we're gonna be fine."

"Girls, c'mon! You're all gonna be fine. We've got a great plan. And we've done tons of really hard work. Trust me! I'm your Auntie Pinkie. Auntie Lt. Pinkie. Lt. Auntie Pinkie. Either way! You'll be fine."

Peach Cream looked down the hill. "Okay," she said softly. "Since you say so."



"Uh, Lt. Apple, what do you mean, 'they didn't know?'"

Applejack shrugged. "I mean they didn't know. 'Swhat Twilight told me, at any rate. Somepony didn't give out the right orders or somethin', meanin' they didn't know where the enemy army was. So now we gotta fight, 'cause they let the gryphons get too close."

The ponies murmured unhappily. Applejack put on a cross face.

"Now, don't get sore 'bout it, gals. Sometimes ponies make little mistakes and that makes big problems. But we can get through 'em. We just gotta buck up and fight!"

More murmuring. From the middle of the line, somepony called out, "They don't know what they're doing! Do they even know what they're doing today?!"

Applejack shrugged again. "Maybe. I certainly hope so. Hmm. Can't know for sure, though. Could be they ain't got a clue. Oh well. It don't change what we gotta do. "

Still another wave of murmurs swept through her lines. Applejack reared up and put her hooves on her hips. "Now I don't wanna hear you talkin' like that. It ain't the whole gryphon army. It's just a lil' detachment they reckoned was more'n big enough to wipe us out, on account'a how we're so green." A pony raised a hoof. Applejack rolled her eyes. "No, Sgt. Cloverluck, there ain't anythin' wrong with actually bein' green. It's a figure'a speech. Now c'mon, y'all knew what I meant."

Applejack dropped back to all fours, then turned and faced downhill. "All right, everypony. Rocks out!" They each took the three large stones out of their bags, and stacked them directly in front of them. "Now everypony down!" They all crouched down, into the grass, their thin armor clinking as it hit the ground.

She wasn't worried. Her soldiers trusted her, because she was always honest with them. Always honest, no matter what. If she knew ponies, then they'd repay that honesty with bravery.



At the top of the hill, in the haze, Twilight Sparkle peered through her binoculars. She could just make out the dim form of the gryphon vanguard. A green-and-fuschia pony stood beside her.

"I don't think it'll work, Captain Sparkle."

"It will work. Luna's crafty, believe me."

"They won't break formation to pursue the retreat. It's too obvious."

"That's what the lancer charge is for. It'll look like a botched screening action. One mistake might be a ruse. Two mistakes looks like incompetence. They'll break to take advantage, even if their generals don't want them to. And then we'll wipe them out."

"Gryphons aren't stupid, Captain."

"But they think we are, Lieutenant. It will work. Are your guns zeroed in?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"And Lt. Dazzle's?"

"Yes, ma'am. So are Lt. Goodpart's."

"Goodpart? ...Oh, right, the new officer. That's a funny name. Where's he from?"

"Isle of Clopsica, Captain. He transferred in a few days ago, to replace you when you got promoted. I hear he was part of a local militia that had gotten its hooves on some ancient 12-pounder relics."

"Is he any good?"

"Seems to be good enough. Your ponies have certainly taken to him."

"Good." She breathed in deeply, and then exhaled. "All right, Lieutenant Glow. Return to your guns. When I give the signal, all batteries are to fire at the center of their front line. Once our infantry engages them, you may pick your targets. It'll be carcass shot today, so careful while you're loading, mind your range and keep your fire away from our girls. We shouldn't need any counterbattery work, but keep the explosive shot ready just in case, and be prepared to do some quick rangefinding. And as always, keep the tables handy. "

The green-and-fuschia pony saluted. Twilight returned the salute. The rattling snare drums were louder, now. It wouldn't be long.

---------------



With one hoof, Rainbow Dash readjusted her her dull gold helmet. Her white-and-yellow uniform was crisp and clean, though those two words had somewhat less impressive meanings in an army camp. Her cavalry hovered in wedge formation behind her. Her eyes narrowed. She grinned. Time to show those unicorns how a pegasus should fly. She tripped her lance's mechanism. It creaked satisfyingly as it extended from her shoulder, iron on iron. Behind her, she could hear the reassuring sound of two hundred ninety three more lances doing the same.

She blew her whistle, then took off at high speed, parallel to the ground, leaving a faint rainbow trail behind her. Her girls stayed with her in a tight formation. The lion army, marching in loose squares, was directly ahead. She glanced up, checking her target, then fixed her gaze directly ahead. Won't they be surprised. 10 seconds to impact. 7. 6. 5. The lions braced their spears for the charge. 3. 2. NOW.

She spread her wings wide and tilted them to increase drag and lift. Her stomach lept as she suddenly lost speed and gained altitude, popping up and over the lion lines. Her lancers followed, and expertly re-aligned themselves into a conical formation behind her. And with a sudden start, they accelerated again, now streaking directly upwards.

Above them was a formation of four hundred gryphon hussars, similarly unarmored, which had been getting into a position overlooking the apparent point of impact for the pegasus charge. To tear us apart once we begin to rout, no doubt. Betcha didn't know we could do this, huh? The gryphon hussars began to re-adjust their formations. They didn't expect this. She could hear panicked squawking. No, I don't think so. Not a chance.

The pegasus cone ripped into the unprepared mass of hussars. Dash winced with visceral disgust as her lance tore through a gryphon's throat. But she kept flying. She had to; the impact didn't even slow her down. She kept charging, kept flapping, straight on through, trying to guide her lance into and through as many gryphon bodies as she could. All around was a writhing, shrieking mass of wings and spears and lances. And suddenly, she was in the clear. She had flown through the gryphon formation. She looked behind her, and saw her lancers were still in formation--not quite a precise cone, but still intact. And below, the gryphons fell and scattered like flurries. Suicide charges? That's not what a pegasus does. A pegasus flies.

She scanned around. 100 meters to the northeast was a formation of gryphon heavy chargers, about equally matched to her forces. 100 meters to the southeast was another. They both hovered in a tight defensive formation. That's right. Stay right there, thought Dash. Either one of you flocks of seagulls tries to move, and we do this again. Far to the south-southeast, the main body of gryphon cavalry was now airborne.

She heard a husky voice over her shoulder. Spitfire's. "Well, Lieutenant, we did our part for now. I just hope everypony else does theirs."



Twilight shut her mouth. It had been hanging, slack, for the last 30 seconds. This was not right. The 3rd Cavalry were supposed to look like they were trying to delay the infantry advance to let the caravan retreat. That was the feint. That was the plan. Why would...Rainbow Dash. That was Rainbow Dash's unit. Why hadn't she remembered that? She suggested the 3rd Lancers to Luna because they had scored the best in inspection. If she had known it would mean sending Rainbow Dash to...oh, but it was too late for that.

And now Rainbow Dash had demolished a wing of light cavalry and was pinning two formations of heavy cavalry. And the lion infantry could still advance completely unimpeded. She was trying to deny the gryphons use of the sky over the infantry. It was a pure support tactic. Executed shockingly well, she had to admit, but a support tactic regardless. Anypony with an ounce of military sense could see it wasn't a retreat. It was a battle, and now the gryphons had to know it. The ambush had been spoiled.

She lifted the binoculars to her face. The lion infantry were deploying, forming lines of battle. They were still a good half-kilometer from the pony lines. And they wouldn't know where the ponies were exactly, but they would be ready when they found them. The gryphon cavalry, too, was deploying off the flanks of their infantry lines. Playing it cautious, it seems. After Rainbow Dash's little display, it seemed the gryphons were reluctant to send cavalry out unsupported. Well, at least something good came out of that astounding act of insubordination. They weren't advancing, though. She raised an eyebrow. That was smart of them. But at this point, either the gryphons would have to advance or the ponies would, and ponies fought better on defense.

Twilight kept scanning. She couldn't reveal her positions until...until now. She had found her target. Twenty gryphon cannons, in one square battery, all being hurriedly unlimbered and deployed near the rear of the gryphon lines. They hadn't even bothered to find high ground, or tree cover, or anything. And they were closely packed. Did they even know the ponies had artillery? No matter. They likely wouldn't give her such a gift again, but she wasn't going to refuse it if they were offering.

She lowered her binoculars, and gave her orders to the unicorn standing beside her. "Target, gryphon artillery battery. 15 degrees, range approximately 800 meters, that's an estimate, they need to range it themselves. Explosive shot. Commence fire immediately; do not stop until ordered." He saluted, and presently a bright, shining gold orb appeared above his head, blinking out the message in code. About twenty seconds later, from three points on the hill, there were two dozen flashes of light. And immediately after that, there was the sound. A cracking noise, as loud and painful as if her horn was being broken off. As if the Earth had splintered. In drills, she had heard one cannon going off at a partial load. She hadn't heard twenty-three going off fully loaded at once. She raised her binoculars again, watching the gryphon cannon. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Had they missed? Nothing. Wait.

A half-dozen shells exploded in a flash of light, in, on, above, below, and around the gryphon artillery battery. She couldn't tell what the damage was; too much dirt and dust and smoke had been kicked up. She kept waiting. After a minute or so, the smoke began to clear. She was amazed. Only four gryphon cannons were still being manned. The rest of the crews were dead, or wounded, or had fled, or their cannons were out of commission, she couldn't tell which. But regardless of why, the fact remained that she had nearly annihilated the gryphons' artillery in one volley. She had never read of cannon fire that was so effective. She was still staring in awe when there came another round of light-flashes. She covered her ears, but not in time. There was another crack, horrible and ear-puncturing and awe-inspiring.

She issued another set of commands, her voice sounding dull and otherworldly to her pained ears, the volleys still ringing in her head: "Good shooting. Switch back to carcass. Aim at the center of the gryphon lines. Continue firing until they begin advancing. Once they begin to advance, fire at will, picking your own targets. If they stop, go back to hitting their front center. Mind the locations of friendly forces. Carcass is a really bad way for a pony to die. Or for anyone to die, really. No, stop. Don't send that. Please don't send that. Nothing after the part about being careful not to accidentally hit anypony." He saluted impassively, and his light began blinking again.

She peered through the binoculars again, in time to see the tail end of the second volley hitting. This time at least a dozen shells exploded in the gryphon battery, maybe more. She didn't need to wait for the smoke to clear. The gryphon artillery was out of the picture.

She lowered her binoculars and sized up the gryphon army spread before them. It was big. A bit smaller than the pony army, but gryphon armies were always small; conventional wisdom was that a lion was worth more than a pony in a scrap. Well...I guess we're going to find out exactly how much more, she thought, a thrill of fear rising in her. Yet their army stood still, unmoving, daring the hidden pony army to come out and fight. No, you're going to move. I have artillery and you don't.

A third flash. A third crack. Twilight's stomach churned. She dropped the binoculars and looked at the ground beneath her. She knew she had ordered it, but she really didn't want to see this part.



Applejack crawled through the grass. This clearly wasn't going to plan. First those pegasus ponies went off and did a bunch of fancy flying instead of what they were supposed to do. Then Twilight's artillery opened fire instead of lying quiet until the ambush happened. Well. She didn't trust the pegasus fliers to do the right thing, but she was sure that if Twilight decided to give away her position, she must've had a darn good reason. She heard yet another series of cracks--the sixth volley she had counted--and shortly after, yet more shells popping open in more bursts of flame. More anguished screams. She shuddered, imagining what it was like to be suddenly covered in liquid fire. Well, they chose to come here, didn't they; it's not like we're killin' 'em in their homes. Aw, hell, that don't make it right. Only good thing about those cannons is they're not pointed at us.

She heard snare drums again. Guess they realized if they kept sittin' around they'd all get lit up. Took 'em long enough, bunch of featherbrains. Hmph. Good thing it took 'em so long, too; we're not even finished redeploying yet. She whistled twice, sharp and short: double-time. The ponies hurried their pace, and slid into position.

She watched the lions advance. They were close, now. But not close enough. They needed to hit with all three rocks. A little closer. A little closer. A little closer. To the left, a platoon of ponies kicked a volley of rocks. Well. Guess that's our cue. She blew a long, sustained whistle. And then she lined up a shot and kicked.

The lions didn't bother ducking, or flinching, or hurrying their advance. It was, after all, only rocks. A thrown rock is practically an emblem of futile resistance, and as such the prospect of a line of ponies suddenly appearing and kicking largish rocks at them was far more amusing than frightening. But yet, consider this: an earth pony's kick is easily capable of crushing a skull or collapsing a chest. And a missile of any sort is fundamentally an energy-transfer device--it takes all the energy used to propel it, and deposits it into whatever it strikes. A rock propelled by a swinging arm is quite different in effect than a rock propelled by an earth pony's explosive kick.

The preceding paragraph is an academic discussion, touching on physics and psychology, neither of which were studies Applejack understood or cared to understand. However, the results were sharp and comprehensible to all parties involved, whatever their intellectual inclination. The ponies kicked rocks. The lions were standing in front of them. As a direct result of these two combined factors, neither of which would have been particularly noteworthy on their own, an interesting effect was produced: many lions fell over with a sudden inability to breathe, or to walk, or to feel their lower extremities, or to circulate blood, or, in some cases, to keep their brains inside their skulls. During the second volley of rocks, the lions were quite in shock over the effects of the first, resulting in the second having similarly murderous effects on their well-being. After the third, they apprehended the gravity of the situation, and charged.

A pony's kick is capable of killing, this is true. However, so are many things a lion can do. The lions leapt into the ponies' defensive lines, their numbers reduced significantly but their bloodlust heightened immeasurably. The first wave of lions were mostly dispatched with a series of well-aimed kicks to the head and chest; the ponies were prepared and had carefully timed their blows to the lions' leaps. However, the second wave of lions, coming seconds after, found a line of ponies that was off balance and flat-footed. They tore into the ponies with homicidal glee. The infantry battle, bloody and brutal, began in earnest.



At the top of the hill, Celestia watched the battle impassively. It hadn't begun as she had hoped, due to Rainbow Dash's predictable gross insubordination, but she had caught some breaks. Their cavalry was mostly unengaged out, likely of fear of more hidden lancers. Twilight's artillery had dispatched the gryphon artillery shockingly quickly--though the gryphons had practically invited it with their deployment--and had inflicted significant damage on their forces with those distasteful carcass shells. Plus, the line infantry was acquitting itself well enough; she liked Luna's ambush plan because it meant that the ponies' untested soldiers wouldn't have had to stand and face a lion charge. But yet, to Celestia's surprise, most of the ponies didn't break ranks and flee at the first sight of teeth. Quite impressive. But still, the infantry had by now been fighting for nearly an hour. She couldn't imagine they'd be able to withstand too much more.

Another volley of artillery, this one a ragged series of cracks as individual cannons fired. They were becoming undisciplined; they were firing as soon as they had loaded and aimed. It would lose the demoralizing horror value that massed simultaneous explosions had on a target, but she didn't expect them to be expert gunners their first battle. She didn't even expect them to hit anything, really. The fact that they had accomplished both their primary tactical objectives was quite impressive. Capt. Sparkle would certainly deserve a promotion. There weren't any more responsibilities to give her; the army only had 23 cannon at the moment, and Twilight was responsible for them all...but that was a problem for another hour. Shells burst randomly across the gryphon lines. Celestia frowned. Undisciplined, indeed.

She noticed gryphons massing on the left flank. So they were going to charge, then. She signaled her chief of cavalry. The old unicorn limped over. Celestia gave her orders coldly, still watching the gryphons intently.

"General. Send the First through Fifth Cuirassers to the left flank. Have them hold formation directly above our lines. Their primary goal is deterrance, but do not hesitate to order a charge if the gryphons commit. Have the First, Fourth, and Seventh Lancers engage in a hammer-and-anvil if practicable. And avoid having the lancers charge head-on. They wouldn't survive long enough to do any damage."

"Yes, princess." He bowed, and began to limp off.

"I'm not done yet, General," she said, in the same cold voice. "Send the Sixth and Seventh Cuirassers and all remaining lancers to the right flank; it looks like some of our infantry are starting to break. Have the cuirassers charge the gap immediately. And have the lancers ready to commit at a moment's notice. Now go." She turned to another aged unicorn, this one a mare. "That won't be enough. Our right flank needs to be reenforced. What do we have?"

The old warrioress coughed as she spoke. "We have over 500 recruits held in reserve, but they have had no training at all. We have nearly 800 light infantry we were hoping to use to cut off their escape during the ambush; they're also in reserve right now. And we have the Royal Guards. They're quite good."

Celestia shook her head. "We can't commit them unless the fight turns on it. They're the best weapon we've got, but we've only got 200 of them. It would be foolish to use them to plug a gap. The recruits would just break immediately. It'll have to be the light infantry..." She paused. Her heart softened momentarily. "...and I am quite sorry about that," she whispered.



Applejack ran, shouting furiously. "Ya...ya bunch of cowards! What're ya doin' runnin' off like that! The battle's still goin' on! The army needs ya!"

One of her soldiers shouted back over his shoulder as she ran, "the army's the one gettin' us killed out there! You said it yourself, they don't have a clue!"

She stopped, panting. Hopeless bunch of cowards. So her 5th Infantry of Line had routed, despite all the training. Despite all the honesty. Some repayment. Well. She'd fight, anyway. She wasn't a coward. She was an Apple. She turned back towards the lines. At least one pony in the 5th was going to stay to the end.



"2nd Light Infantry! Ooh! That's us, girls!" She put on a growly face. "Looks like we're gonna...oh. Um. Oh." Her fierce expression evaporated.

"What's it say, Lieutenant?"

There was a pause. Pinkie looked up, sadly, from the parchment the pegasus had handed her. "Um...we're gonna go down there now. We're gonna...it says we've gotta fill a gap? I don't understand. That's line infantry down there. We're light infantry. We don't stand there while lions charge at us. We don't even wear..." She looked down at her cloth-covered chest.

"...Lieutenant? We're going down there? To the front line?"

"...yeah. Yeah, we are." Pinkie bit her lip. She closed her eyes. This wouldn't be easy. But she could pull it off. She had to pull it off. She could, if she just...there. Bingo. She did it. Her eyes sprang open.

"Yeah! We are," she repeated, now smiling, almost giddy. "because our buddies down there need us to! It'll be really hard, but we can totally do it. Because we're friends, and we're strong, and besides, the lions are probably really tired now! So let's run down there and kick 'em!" She pantomimed a kick as she spoke.

Her soldiers looked incredulous. They had learned to live with Lt. Pie's quirks, even to appreciate them, but this was insane.

"Now c'mon! Last one down's a rotten gryphon egg! Ha ha! Get it?" She bounced down, towards the front. Her soldiers followed, uneasy and afraid.



Dash scanned the battlefield below. She knew her lancers were tired. They had been flying and fighting for two hours. They had made seven charges against various gryphon formations that had wandered too far from the others. Each charge was successful, and each charge was made on her own initiative. By her reckoning she had taken over a thousand gryphons out of the battle, whether as casualties or as deserters. And after the most recent headcount, her sergeants said that she had lost only thirty-one ponies so far, and most of those were minor wounds. But they were tired. She doubted she could get more than one more charge out of them. Better make it count.

Hm. The ponies' right flank was faltering. Applejack's unit was over there. Maybe they could...hm. Reenforcements were headed down the hill. That should take care of things. But who was reenforcing? She had counted 30 line infantry banners earlier, and there were only 30 divisions of line infantry. Unless...

She squinted. Diamond banners. Light infantry. And...oh, no. No.

"PINKIE!" With a yelp, Dash was off. And her 3rd Lancers, surprised by the sudden flight of their leader, followed.



Twilight Sparkle watched, frustrated. The gryphon reserves had already withdrawn to just out of range. It took them an hour of getting pelted with carcass, but either their generals had relented or their soldiers had simply decided to take things into their own paws, and now they were safely beyond the reach of the Equestrian guns. As for the lines of battle, well, they were just one chaotic mass of ponies and lions and gryphons. She couldn't very well fire into that.

Hm. Rainbow Dash's lancers were making another charge. She'd lost count of how many they'd made. At this point, she wasn't sure whether Dash would be court-martialed or be promoted to General of Cavalry after the battle. Wait, no...they just flew over the lines. Odd. Twilight picked up the binoculars. She'd gone back to the reserves, where three more wings of lancers were. Was she actually asking for orders after spending two hours completely ignoring them? She peered through the lenses. Dash was gesturing wildly--furiously--at the leaders of the other units. No. No, Rainbow Dash was not asking for orders.

Rainbow Dash was giving orders.

Her 3rd Lancers shot back towards the front. And then, to Twilight's surprise, so did the 2nd, 5th, and 6th. They overshot the lines, then made a wide, lazy-looking loop, so they were flying directly at the Gryphonic flank, parallel to the line of battle. But they were going up, or maybe down. It was strange. They weren't just charging straight in. And the lions saw them, but they weren't bracing for the charge. Almost like they couldn't tell where the pegasi were.

The lancers crashed into the Gryphonic lines. And through them. And the three formations of lancers behind them followed. They sliced through the exhausted and flat-footed lions, like a sickle through wheat. They charged deep, deep into the enemy infantry. And then, as they lost their inertia, they pulled back, up out of reach. And they looped back. And they charged again.

They offered even less resistance this time. The lions were going to break. If they didn't get reenforcements, their flank was going to collapse. Well. It was up to her to make sure the lions didn't get any reenforcements, then.

She turned to her signalpony. "I want a line of carcass shot--a solid line of flame--fired 100 meters behind the line of battle along the right flank. That's it. No other targets. Begin fire immediately, and don't bother synchronizing our fire. I want to make it impossible for the gryphons to reenforce that flank. Go."

A few lions at the far end of the line began to flee, as yet another wave of lancers crashed into them. They couldn't resist the charges, even though they knew they were coming. It was just a matter of time before the gryphons' flank collapsed. And then it was just a matter of time before their whole line collapsed.

Twilight watched in fascination. Rainbow Dash single-hoofedly started this debacle. Fitting she'd end it the same way.



"I didn't...I didn't order it, Princess!" the aged unicorn wheezed. "I had nothing to do with this!"

A sudden crack of artillery fire caught her attention. She lifted her head to watch. Surely Twilight wasn't going to fire into the...ah. She was aiming between the gryphon reserves and the lancers' flanking attack. Area denial. She had done her homework, as usual. She snapped her attention back towards the general, her gaze withering.

"Obviously you didn't have anything to do with this, General; it's actually effective. I want you to put everything we have into supporting that attack. Pull cuirassers out of the line. Throw the recruits at it. Throw the Royal Guard at it. Throw the Support unicorns at it, if they're handy. I want everything on that flank. Roll the gryphons up. We're going to end this fight now."

She looked back out at the attack. Her left and center were holding firm. And on the right, the lions were already starting to break en masse. It was almost over. It just needed one little push. One little push, and it would be over.

The Royal Guard flew down the hill, armor glinting in the sun.



------------



The sun hung low in the sky. Celestia looked out across the field. Charred pockmarks marked where the artillery fire had been. The unicorns were slowly dragging the gryphons' abandoned baggage train back to the camp. In impromptu pens, ponies were binding the legs of the lions who had managed to surrender. Ponies walked up and down the line of battle, finding the injured and carrying them to tents if they could be moved, or treating them where they were if they couldn't.

"Congratulations, your highness," an old unicorn said. "Quite magnificently done!"

Celestia kept staring out. "Why?" she said, simply and honestly.

"The battle, your highness," the unicorn said, a bit confused. "We won today's battle."

Celestia looked out at the line of broken bodies where the battle had been fiercest. She could hardly believe she had that many ponies in the army to begin with. There were thousands of dead. Thousands more were injured.

She looked out at the ponies tending to the wounded. She looked out at the ponies' camp circles, where the victorious soldiers sat, staring silently at their campfires, at each other. There was silence in the command tent.

"No, general. We won today's fight. Today's battle is only beginning."

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