• 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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X. Westmarch, Equestria. November, 1251.

X. Westmarch, Equestria. November, 1251.

The wind blew, cold and wet, a mist coating everything in a frigid dampness. Her workbench, her papers, her body. The tent may as well have not been there. Rarity shivered, and turned the collar of her flimsy coat out to protect her face from the chill. It was a futile gesture; her coat hung wet and damp, and everything it didn't cover was already soaked through. Her wet fur clung to her skin, and her mane drooped pathetically beneath her officer's cap.

The pegasi had called in the misty rain as part of the evening's funeral ritual, to purify the battlefield from the taint of blood. Klainoz-tagr, in the ancient speech, cleansing tears: the ancient Equestrian method of seeking absolution for slaughter. By tradition it was to be invoked the same day as the bloodshed, but the ponies hadn't even cleared half the dead and wounded from the battlefield, and most of the wounded who were being treated were laid exposed on the ground, as the medical tents were overwhelmed. Rarity tried not to think of the thousands of anguished ponies shivering under damp blankets. After all, she needed to focus. She and her girls were working as hard as they could sewing camp tents into tarps that could be used to shelter the wounded. They had done much. There was much to do.

A middle-aged peach-colored unicorn stallion trotted up to her work tent and saluted. She returned the salute, not looking up from her sewing. "Captain," he said cautiously.

She glanced at his uniform and then went back to sewing. "Sergeant," she replied, still working.

"We have a problem with some of the prisoners, ma'am."

She kept sewing as she replied. "You're a bit lost, dear. This is the 1st Support. You want the military police tent. I do believe that's 3rd Support...hm...I think they're back behind the canteen, perhaps? Yes, that seems right. Off you go."

"I...er...went there first, ma'am. They said you were the one to talk to about this problem."

She set down her needle. Her horn dimmed. She looked up, a bit irritated. "Sergeant, I am quite busy. In the event you have not yet noticed, hurt ponies are out in this awful weather, and somepony needs to sew new medical tents. So tell me. What--having to do with prisoners--do you feel is a more important use of my time?"

"Many of the prisoners are hurt and sick as well, ma'am. We've moved our most injured to shelter, but many of the enemy are dying in our care. I was told to come here and see if you could spare a medical tent and some blankets to give their most wounded some shelter and comfort."

Rarity's expression softened. "You're telling me those poor dears don't have anything? They're just sitting hurt in the rain with nopony to help them?"

The officer nodded. "Ponies need to come first. Once we've treated everypony, we'll save as many of the prisoners as practicable."

"But...but they surrendered! They're our guests now, sergeant. Surely we must treat them as we would our own."

The officer glanced around. "Ma'am, I don't make the decisions. I was just sent to find out if you have a tent and blankets you can spare."

Rarity thought a second, then called over to a creamy-pink unicorn mare. "Pvt. Bubblesweet?"

"Yes, Captain," she replied.

"How far are we on filling this requisition?"

"We've sewed and sealed 26 tents, ma'am. We have fourteen more left to make."

"Make it fifteen, Bubblesweet."

"Yes, ma'am."

Rarity turned back to the peach stallion, and spoke in a soft, somewhat hurried voice. "Yes, we can spare a tent for the poor dears. And...we'll say a hundred blankets. I'm sure they need more, but it's all we have at the moment. Take them and do hurry."

Rainbow Dash sat in the command tent. Before her, five unicorns and two alicorns. Beside her, nopony. Celestia spoke, her voice icy. "Lieutenant Dash. What were your orders?"

Dash bit her lip. "I did what was best for my ponies, your highness. And what was best for the army."

"Lieutenant Dash. What were your orders?"

Dash looked helplessly at the board, then at Celestia. "But...my orders would have killed all my soldiers. You saw; the lions had braced their spears and the gryphons were hovering, ready to pounce on us! My girls all would have died!"

"Lieutenant Dash, you were not asked for your opinion. You were asked a very simple question. What were your orders?"

"My...orders. Yeah. Okay. My orders were to charge directly at the enemy infantry, engage, and scatter in retreat. But--"

"Did you follow those orders, Lieutenant Dash?" She overenunciated the word "Lieutenant," making it sound like a four-syllable word.

"No! Of course not! I--" confusion, frustration, and seeds of outrage swirled within her. Why weren't they letting her talk about why she had done it? Hadn't she saved everypony?

"So you disobeyed a direct order. Is that what you are saying you did?" Celestia was terrifyingly cold.

"I-I-I...no! No! I buckin' kicked ass is what I did!" she said, gesturing to the opening of the tent, her stew of half-cooked emotions pouring out. "I won that battle practically by myself--taking almost no casualties in the process--and I don't understand what's going on! I...I...why are you angry?" She extended both hooves out in desperation.

Celestia stared, silently. Dash looked hopeful. Then the princess turned, her mane flowing gracefully, and spoke to her sister. "Luna. Please explain to Rainbow Dash the effect of her actions this morning."

Luna nodded, and stepped forward as Celestia returned to her spot behind the long desk. The younger alicorn spoke, her voice a grave tinkling of chimes. "By the positioning of our forces and our supply train, the gryphon army was led to believe that our forces were in a hurried and disorganized retreat. You were to engage in what would appear to be an incomptently botched screening action, which would embolden their soldiers to the point where they would begin a hurried and unguarded pursuit. Our army would then reveal itself, encircle them, open cannon fire, and then achieve either a rapid surrender or a quick rout, which would allow us to scatter them, permanently eliminating this particular detachment of the gryphon army as an effective fighting force. I estimated our casualties would not exceed one thousand dead or injured, and would possibly be significantly lower."

Dash shook her head, still confused. Luna continued.

"You instead executed a textbook-perfect cavalry support maneuver, in which, by destroying one light-cavalry formation and pinning two more, you denied the use of the skies to enemy cavalry, allowing our own cavalry to act unimpeded in that area of the battlefield, and allowing our infantry to maneuver and fight without fear of sudden molestation."

Dash nodded. That was exactly what she had done, and done well.

"In doing so, you alerted the gryphon army that our goal was not retreat but was to defeat them in a pitched combined-arms battle. The result was that they formed lines of battle. We had lost the tactical initiative. There was no ambush. There was a battle on roughly even footing. We won. But at least 7000 ponies, out of an army of 30,000, are now in medical tents, or lying helpless on the field of battle, or are dead. And that is largely on your hooves."

Dash's eyes were enormous. She felt sick. Horribly, horribly sick. Sicker than she had ever felt in her life. She had walked past the tents full of sick, hurt, dead, and dying. She had walked past the rows of dead, mangled and broken, their lifeless faces now permanently twisted in anguish. She had seen a cuirasser pegasus shriek in pain as his wing was being clumsily amputated by a novice unicorn surgeon. And now she was told it was her fault. All because she had been loyal to her girls. The nausea dulled a bit as a lightheaded faintness edged into her consciousness.

There was silence. Luna returned behind the long desk.

Celestia then stepped forward. "Lieutenant Dash, you deserve to be, at the very least, stripped of your rank. You likely deserve far worse. Your actions, whatever your reasons, are stained with the blood of quite literally thousands of ponies."

Dash felt nothing, nothing but an overwhelming sense of sickness.

Celestia continued speaking, now a bit softer. "However, punishing you would, at this moment, be unwise. Only a few officers are aware of the magnitude of your crime. However, every pony in this army either is or soon will be aware of your heroism throughout the battle. You have cost Equestria dearly by turning an ambush into a battle, but, as you say, you did win the battle. You took a number of enemy standards while suffering few losses. Your commandeering of the cavalry in reserve, while strictly speaking an act of insubordination, was inspired leadership during a moment in which quick action saved lives that paralysis would have wasted. And your 3rd Lancers are, through their demonstrated skill and courage, the pride of the Equestrian Cavalry. We don't need another villain, Lt. Dash. We need all the heroes we can get."

Dash's head swam. She had no emotions. Just nausea; just disorientation.

"You don't deserve to be a hero, Lt. Dash. But you are. You've made a name for yourself, a name you've built on thousands of unnecessary deaths. The officers may be outraged by you, but the cavalryponies all respect you. You are hereby promoted to Major, and will henceforth be the commanding officer of all Royal Lancers of the New Equestrian Army. In battle you will continue to lead the 3rd Lancers; otherwise the unit will be under the leadership of soon-to-be-Lt. Spitfire. Congratulations, Major Dash."

Dash's numb sickness suddenly parted, and a thrill of horror shot up her spine. She began to babble. "No, but, no, Princess, your no your highness I can't no but I did it was all the injured ponies all the dead ponies no but you can't--"

"--I can, Major Dash, and I have. You've gotten everything you desired: the respect of the cavalry, fame throughout the army, the safety of the 3rd Lancers, and, of course, your promotion. Your first order in your new capacity is to head to the commissariat, bearing your new commission, where you will receive your new uniform, which you must wear. Whether you tell Capt. Rarity what exactly you have done to deserve it is up to you. Your second order is to visit the medical tent. The Expectant tent, please: where those poor ponies for whom medical care would be a waste of resources have been placed to suffer and to die. You are to walk among them for at least two hours, speaking to them and tending to their comfort. Whether you choose to accept their deluded congratulations on your heroism or to disabuse them of their dying respect for a hero in order to personally apologize for killing them is, again, up to you. Your third order is to deliver to Sgt. Spitfire her new commission as Lieutenant. I would highly advise confiding in her, Major. She is trustworthy, and now a commissioned officer as well. I am aware you desire her respect above all others', but she will be able to help you."

Dash tried to nod. She couldn't. She tried to speak. She couldn't. She could never live this down. She could never make up for this. She could never face the army again. She could never...but she would have to. And she would have to start with those who were soon to be dead on her account.

Celestia stepped closer and spoke again, now with her once-customary softness. "I know it will pain you to consider your actions, their consequences, and the values that have caused you to act as you did. Please, consider these things regardless. You will have questions. Search for answers. Lean on others if you must, being mindful of the responsibilities of your rank, but do not stop searching. War makes many heroes, Rainbow Dash. Some ponies earn heroism. Others stumble into it and must grow to match their image. Grow, Rainbow Dash. Reflect and grow." She looked fondly on the pegasus, and saluted. "You are dismissed, Major."

Dash saluted back, her hooves shaking, her body shaking. She felt emotion--unchecked, unadulterated, undifferentiated emotion--swelling through her body. And as she wobbled out of the command tent and into the cold, blowing mist, it erupted. She stumbled sideways, whimpering, and leaned against a crate. She let out a long, plaintive moan--a wail of desperation--growing louder until her lungs ran out of air, and it broke into a series of weak coughs. She laid her head on the crate, and she breathed in, deep and ragged. And she moaned again, hot teardrops running down her face and falling, down, into the frigid puddle below.

Applejack sat alone in her tent. She didn't have anything to say to anypony. Nothing at all. She had been honest with them. Honest with them all, because that was how she showed loyalty. She said what's true, no matter what, because she respected her ponies. And all she asked in return was that they be loyal to her, too.

But it didn't work out that way. Everypony she asked had said that they ran because the army was sending them to die for no reason. And everypony had justified that on what she had told them. She lay down on her bedroll. Did being a leader in a war mean being good at lying to ponies? How could she do that?

She stared at the side of the tent for a very, very long time.

Pinkie Pie sat in the mist, dragging a hoof in circles in a puddle. Beside her lay Peach Cream. Pinkie ran her other hoof through her hair.

Sgt. Bubblepop sat beside her. "I...don't know what to say, Lieutenant. I just don't. That was...I don't know how to...it was awful. Awful."

Pinkie lifted her hoof out of the puddle. A film of mud clung to it. She wiped her limp hair out of her eyes, and then dropped the hoof back into the dirty water. And she spoke, quietly, softly. "I'm sorry, Bubblepop. And I'm sorry, Peachy. I shouldn't have laughed so much. I shouldn't have told you it was like a game. It wasn't fair."

Bubblepop shrugged uncertainly. "You didn't know, ma'am. None of us did, really."

Pinkie rubbed her eyes. "You can call me Pinkie today. Please. And I did know. Celestia told me. And when I was a filly my dad would sometimes tell me things about how bad it could get in other parts of the world, and how we should be thankful for how quiet it was on an Equestrian rock farm." She blew her nose into her sleeve. "And I just did what I did whenever I'm scared or confused or upset. I pretended it was okay."

Bubblepop looked back at Pinkie, her face betraying mild confusion.

"No, Bubblepop, I know! I know it's dumb. It's really dumb. But things always turned out okay back home if you just pretended they were okay to begin with. Because back home the only way bad things could happen to you was if you let them, and if you pretended you were okay, then you wouldn't let the bad thing happen. But here bad things happen even if you try really hard to make them not happen. And that means that pretending they can't hurt you doesn't help." She looked sadly at Bubblepop, then at Peach Cream.

Bubblepop spoke first, grabbing Pinkie's attention. "Ma'am. Um, Pinkie. Pinkie, right. Pinkie. It's okay. It helped some of the girls cope. We knew it would be bad. But we needed something to keep us going. Your...silliness helped, maybe."

Pinkie shook her head. "No. It didn't. It just made it worse when we came to the front. When Rosepetal got her tummy ripp--when she got killed."

They sat in silence.

"I don't know, Bubblepop. I just don't know. It doesn't make sense. We were sitting in the water, water up to our flanks, and Peachy couldn't say anything but how thirsty she was. Why does that make sense? And so many ponies are hurt, and so many are dead, and why? Why are we fighting? Why are the gryphons even here?"

Bubblepop started to respond. Pinkie wiped tears out of her eyes, and cut her off.

"Because a king somewhere else wanted part of his map to be a different color? Is...that it?" She whimpered. "Is that it, Bubblepop? That's all it is? That's it?" She lowered her head to look at the gently flowing ripples and clouds of blood in the puddle. Her back was to the misty wind, but her face was wet with tears.

"Maybe, Pinkie. I don't know. Maybe."

She kicked the water. "He shoulda bought a crayon." And she thought a bit, and then laughed, sharply and joylessly. "We shoulda sent him a crayon. Ha, when we show up at his palace, we should bring him a crayon. Ha ha ha. And I know just what I'll make it out of." And she put her head in her hooves, and she breathed heavily, and quickly, and raggedly, and loudly.

Bubblepop put a hoof on her shoulder. "I know it's hard, Pinkie. I know it's hard. But we'll get through it. I know we will."

Pinkie peeked through her hooves. "I'm--khh--not crying, Bubblepop." She choked back a sob, and wiped her bloodshot eyes clean of tears. "I'm laughing." And she lowered her hooves, and her face was a cold, helpless, miserable grin.

Bubblepop popped back in suprise at Pinkie's expression.

Pinkie continued: "Ha ha ha. It doesn't make sense. None of it does! None of it! It's dumb. It's crazy. It's silly, silly, silly, silly, silly silly! It's all silly. The war is silly. That king is silly. We're silly. Ha ha ha ha ha. It's silly and we're here anyway! Isn't that funny? It's not! But I'm laughing! I'm laughing, Bubblepop! And it's not funny at all." And she bent over, and went back to her ragged breathing. Bubblepop honestly couldn't tell whether she was laughing, or crying, or both, or neither.

Pinkie popped up again with a start. "Why...why isn't everypony laughing? Don't they see? Look at Peachy, Bubblepop. Look at her. We told her she'd be fine. We told her that her wound wasn't that bad. We told her she'd be okay. And she believed us, Bubblepop! And now...oh God isn't it awful?" She stroked Peach Cream's hair again. "And now she's cold, and she's stiff, and she'll never laugh or smile or do anything but stare dead ahead, straight ahead, looking at nothing, feeling nothing, being nothing, nothing, nothing how can a pony be nothing that doesn't even make sense does it Bubblepop? Does it?"

And she laughed again. And she looked at Bubblepop, and she started crying again, sobbing, bawling.

"And--khh--why--hss ukh hhh--how come you aren't--khh hh hhh--laughing too?"

Fluttershy ran through the forest. She wasn't going to stop. Not now. Not until she found someplace safe, someplace where the war wasn't happening, where her friends weren't going to die, where ponies weren't going to die or kill. And if she didn't ever find that place, then she supposed that meant she wouldn't ever stop.

Rarity smiled to herself as she tied off the thread. The last tent was done. Everypony would be taken care of. Another job well done. 36 hours of work was at an end. Now, finally, she could sleep. Suddenly, the brassy sound of a bugle calling a general alarm pierced the promise of repose. She quickly stowed her sewing kit and ran out to respond, following the noise.

And when she reached the source of the disturbance, prisoner pen #18, she gasped. At least a dozen guard ponies lay mauled in a rough circle, next to a handful of dead lions. The pen was empty. And draped over the layers of barbed wire and spikes that formed the security barrier for the unmanacled wounded prisoners were a thick tent and dozens of blankets, all layered on top of each other, forming a safe path for anyone who might wish to climb out.

A unicorn military-police guard next to her shook his head, and pointed to the layered tarp and blankets. "Damned shame, giving them that stuff. Just goes to show ya: let up on those bastards for a second, and they'll thank you with their teeth."

Rarity looked at the dead guards, and then back at the impromptu escape route.

"...yes," she said, at last. "I...I see that. You can't give them anything." And she swallowed, hard. "Or somepony will get hurt."

Twilight sat in her tent, polishing her new star-and-crown insignia. Colonel Twilight Sparkle. Master of all Royal Artillery, present and future, in the New Equestrian Army. 22 guns right now, given the explosive misfire in Lt. Glow's battery at some point in the battle. But 31 guns next week, if the caravan wasn't intercepted. And more the week after, most likely. And more after that.

It was a rough battle, she knew. She only saw it from her vantage point, high above. And she hadn't walked through the front lines, or through the medical tents, or through the triage field. But she was so busy. She had debriefings to give. She had reports to write. She had to update the artillery field manual she was writing. She still hadn't met with the Princess to discuss the idea for an anti-cavalry shell that she had come up with. And there was so much more to do.

She was beginning to enjoy her work--at least when she was able to ignore the thought of gryphons and lions and ponies bent over, choking on the smoke from their own burning flesh. But she found that the work kept her busy, and that when she was busy she didn't have to think about what the work meant.

She set her uniform insignia down beside her. Dash had been promoted, too. Kind of a surprise, but she did do more than anypony else to win the battle. She hoped the rest of her friends were still okay. They had been down in the thick of things, after all.

And then she smiled. Of course they were okay. They were her friends. As long as they were true to themselves--to the virtues they embodied--nothing bad could happen to any of them.

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