• 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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XVII. North of Trottingham, Equestria. February, 1252.

XVII. North of Trottingham, Equestria. February, 1252.

Rarity's legs wobbled beneath her. She stumbled to the side, and leaned against the creaking cart. Through her strained breaths, she called an order to halt. The cart came to a stop, as did the one behind it and the one behind that. One of the unicorns pulling the front cart turned to look at her. "Another breather, ma'am?"

Rarity's head was bowed; her eyes were unfocused. The cold air burned her throat as she breathed, and her lungs felt half-dead, like she simply couldn't fill them no matter how she tried. Her dirty white, bony legs shook awfully, sending ripples through her ragged mane. She spoke in a quiet voice through desperate breaths: "Yes, private...yes...please stop. Please. Thank...thank you." He nodded and looked back ahead.

Twilight Sparkle walked up alongside her. "Are you all right, Rarity?"

Rarity nodded, her jaw slack, her head hanging low. "...yes, d-dear...yes. I'm quite...quite...yes."

Twilight looked over her shoulder at the road behind them, then glanced at the sun above. They hadn't gone a third of the distance to Starskip's Junction, and the day was half over. She did some quick calculations, then shouted out, "Everypony! Scale of 1-10, how strong are you today?" No response. She repeated. "That was an order, soldiers. Scale of 1-10, how strong are you today?"

The other ponies, each yoked to one of the three carts, hesitantly gave their responses. '4.' '7.' '5.' '3.' '5.' '6.' Rarity mumbled a 'nine.' Twilight looked them over. The seven was teamed with a five. So was the six. The six was Thistlewhistle, a bit of a grumbler, and the seven was Orange Pekoe, who tended to overstate his abilities. Thistlewhistle's cart it was.

"All right," Twilight said, turning to the ponies pulling the middle cart. "Private Thistlewhistle. Private Bloom. You now have the honor of assisting your Captain. Rarity, please get in their cart."

Oh, ha ha ha, Twiiiilight darling, Rarity attempted to say. It came out "Ohatwlll...llit...rng," and her eyes fell shut.

"Well, then." Twilight's horn began to glow, and Rarity's emaciated, half-limp body began to float into the air. Twilight guided the white unicorn into the middle cart, and set her down, much harder than she had intended. Rarity whimpered as she hit the wooden bed, but she didn't move a muscle."Get some rest, Captain. Everypony else, let's get moving. We've got a lot of ground to cover."

"Yes, Colonel," Orange Pekoe said. The rest silently resumed pulling their carts. Twilight stood still a second longer, though. Her horn ached; it felt painfully drained. Lifting a half-starved petite unicorn should have been easy. No, no, it was easy. It must have been easy. She wasn't getting weaker. There was no time for weakness. She shook off the hollow sensation, and walked on.



They continued on through the afternoon and evening, stopping only on the rare instances someone noticed a frost-covered patch of uneaten grass near the road. After several hours in the cart, Rarity seemed to regain enough strength to sit up; a little while after that, she was walking again. The group stopped frequently to rest, but ate only what they happened to find growing by the side of the road; ponies headed out on supply duty were not issued rations, under the tacit understanding that they would eat some of what they were sent to load into their carts.



By the time they arrived at the hamlet of Starskip's Junction, the grey sky had become a dull blue-black. A dim circle of moonlight shone through the thin clouds, and candlelight cast a dull glow in the windows of the dozen or so ramshackle little buildings that stood uneasily along the side of the road. It was difficult to tell if there was more to the 'town' than those few shacks. Twilight squinted as she looked around. She suspected there wasn't.

She Rarity's voice over her shoulder. "Well, Twilight? Shall we rouse them and get our supplies? Or were we just going to stand here and stare at these dreadful little excuses for houses?"

Twilight looked back over her shoulder. "Feeling better, I see?"

Rarity spoke without humor. "Considering the circumstances, I feel excellent. But I am feeling just a bit hungry, so I would appreciate it if we could move on." Twilight sighed softly, and didn't bother replying. Discussions with her friends were becoming less and less enjoyable.

Together, they walked up to the nearest house, flanked by the six unicorns on cart duty. Rarity rapped a hoof against the door. Bits of rotted wood fell off with each knock. There was no reply. She knocked again, and shouted, "Army business." This time she heard hooves dragging on a packed-dirt floor. The door creaked open, and in front of them stood a small, withered old Earth pony mare.

"How can I help--oh, you're soldiers," the old mare wheezed, "I'm afraid we don't have anything for you."

Rarity spoke calmly. "Madam, your town has been ordered by the Princess herself to supply us with three carts of hay in exchange for your continued protection. If you wished to make a means objection, you should have done so when prompted by the royal representative last week."

"Orders or not, young miss, we have nothing to give you."

Rarity looked behind the old mare and narrowed her eyes. On her table, there was a small bowl of half-eaten porridge. "Do not lie to me. You are eating; you have food. Starskip's Junction has something to give. We are not going to starve you, but we ourselves are starving. You must underst-"

"-I can't help you. We have nothing to give." The crone closed the door. A scraping noise suggested she was locking it.

"Should we go to the next house?" Twilight asked.

"No, I don't think so," Rarity said. "Private Pekoe, be a dear and open this woman's door."

Rarity stepped aside--and Twilight followed a half-step later--as Orange Pekoe walked up to the door. He turned away from it, then kicked it with all the force he could muster. His hooves went through the rotting wood.

"Rarity, maybe she's not the right person to ask. Why don't we try to find a town leader or--"

"--Twilight, if there was somepony else to talk to, she'd have told us so immediately. I have made this type of request many times. You are welcome as an observer, but we know what we are doing. Again, Pekoe, this time at the hinges."

The unicorn stallion yanked his legs back, then kicked again, this time at where the door met the wall. It easily fell off the frame, and clattered to the ground.

Rarity entered, walking gingerly over the door. "Madam, we had not finished the discussion."

The old mare was back by her dinner table. "Why--you little thug! Do you know how hard it'll be to replace that?"

"I apologize for the trouble. I do. But you must understand, we are fighting and dying to defend all of Equestria, including your town. And we are starving. I know this is the hardest time of year for everypony, but surely you must be able to part with something." Rarity spoke politely, but there was a hint of an edge to her voice.

The mare looked around the room. She had backed herself, quite literally, into a corner. Rarity, Twilight, and six unicorn stallions stood in front of her. Rarity was nearly nose-to-nose with her.

"Madam, this is not negotiable. It is a matter of life and death for us, and therefore for Equestria. The royal representative found six cartloads' worth of hay in your various stores. A town this small should need only two to survive the next month. We are only asking for three. Every stem will go to feed the starving ponies who are fighting to protect you."

The mare looked around in a panic. "This is...this is thuggery! You're just more soldiers growing fat on poor farmers' food!"

"WHAT?!" Rarity yelled, then bit the old mare on the ear and neck. She then pulled back immediately, breathing heavily.

"Rarity! What are you--" Twilight began to say.

"--FAT!? WE'RE GROWING FAT?!" Rarity grabbed her dirty, rumpled uniform with her teeth and yanked it off in one sharp pull. It offered no resistance whatsoever. She turned her side to the old mare, putting her emaciated frame into full view. Her ribs and hips jutted out from her thin, sunken skin. Her spine looked like the top support of a limply hanging tarp. Her legs were bony and weak. Her dirty fur was falling out in patches. Her mane hung limp and sparse. Her malnourished face was contorted in rage. "LOOK AT ME! I AM CAPTAIN RARITY OF THE NEW EQUESTRIAN ARMY. DO I LOOK FAT TO YOU?!"

The mare cringed in horror. She realized all the ponies in front of her were equally pathetic underneath their loosely-hanging uniforms, and she shrunk back both from the sight of them and from the white unicorn's anger.

Twilight tried again to interject. "Rarity, it's normal for ponies to be hesitant to part with their food during winter. I'm sure that if we explain the situation, she'll be happy to comply..."

"Twilight, be quiet." Rarity gritted her teeth, and spoke in a dark tone to the old mare. "Yes. I am horrible to look at. But I was beautiful not too long ago. Beautiful. I was fit and trim and healthy and beautiful. My coat was lush. My mane was gorgeous. And I was rather wealthy to boot. If I might be bold, I was considered fit to marry royalty. But I didn't. I enlisted. At any moment I could have deserted--like some ponies I know did--and fled elsewhere with my gems and my beauty. But I didn't. I sacrificed everything I had for Equestria. And every day I make the decision to sacrifice a little more. Madam, I would feel justified asking you to starve as we starve. But I'm not. I am only asking you to donate some of your surplus to the army."

The mare tried to speak calmly, though her white eyes betrayed a wild fear. "...we have no surplus, Captain Rarity. A few days back some gryphons came through and threatened to burn our homes down if we didn't give them food. They barely left us enough to survive the rest of the winter."

There was silence.

"I'm sorry to hear that," Twilight said, "but perhaps we could--"

"--Twilight, darling, I asked you to be quiet; you are an observer and this is not your matter." Rarity's voice was now syrupy. "Madam, are you telling me that gryphons came through here, and that you decided to provide them with the very food that you had promised to the starving ponies who are willingly dying for your freedom?"

"Rarity, please, she--"

"--Because I simply cannot believe a pony would be so ungenerous to those who are daily laying down their lives for her own withered existence. A gryphon perhaps, but not a pony--"

"--they didn't have a choice, they--"

"--I mean, I myself have often been tempted to give extra gemstones to customers who were particularly pushy, but I would never stoop to giving away stones I had promised to an earlier customer--"

"--not the same, they were going to lose their--"

"--and that's merely gemstones, darling; we're talking about food in a time of starvation. I simply cannot believe what she is telling me, can you--"

"--RARITY!"

There was silence.

"...Twilight, darling, you know I love you deeply, but I might remind you that you are an observer on this mission. Please observe." Her voice was still painfully sweet. "Madam, as I was saying, I find it hard to believe that you gave four cartloads of hay to gryphons--who, I might add, can scarcely even eat the stuff--instead of giving it to the ponies who are dying every day from malnutrition. Is this the case?"

The old mare nodded slowly. "They were going to burn all our houses down. They locked the Swirls' foal in their home and set it on fire to prove they were serious. They made us watch it burn to the ground. It was horrible."

"And they left you two cartloads of food?"

"I...don't really know what a cartload is. They took about two thirds of our savings, yes. Maybe a little more."

"You're telling me the truth, dear? No lies?"

"No, I swear."

"All right. Thank you for your cooperation." Rarity turned back to the six unicorns, and spoke, her voice darkened. "Go house to house. Take everything edible they have. If they resist, you are hereby authorized to use force. Deadly if necessary."

"What?!" Twilight interjected. "They're...they'll die if we do that!"

"And we'll die if we don't. This food is the property of the New Equestrian Army. Our soldiers, who are dying to save Equestria, deserve it more than these...these cowards do."

"We can't sentence civilians to death, Rarity!"

The old mare began to voice her assent. A glare from Rarity silenced her.

"We're not doing any such thing. They had three cartloads of their food. They were also storing three cartloads of our food. They chose to give all their food to the gryphons, and some of ours as well. Really, they should be thankful I'm not going to punish them for selling Army property to the enemy."

"Rarity, we aren't going to do this," Twilight said flatly.

"Yes, we are," Rarity replied.

"I outrank you, Captain."

"You aren't my superior officer, Colonel; I owe you nothing but a salute."

"I order you to stand down and leave this woman alone."

"That's very noble of you, dear. Perhaps you can mention it in your next heart-to-heart with the Princess."

"If you do not stand down, I will order you arrested for insubordination."

Rarity smiled generously, and called the bluff: "Twilight Sparkle. My dear friend. I am a unicorn, not a pegasus with her head in the clouds or an Earth pony with her hooves in the mud. You simply musn't treat me like I'm stupid. I am operating under direct orders from Maj. Berry Cake, who is operating under direct orders from Col. Sugarfloss, who is operating under direct orders from Gen. Featherbreeze, who is operating under direct orders from Princess Celestia. I was ordered to take three cartloads of food if I deem it practicable, and I do deem it practicable. To disobey my orders because a Colonel of Artillery dislikes them would be insubordination. And we are both well aware of that fact."

Twilight gazed sadly at her. "..yeah. I know. But I don't want to see you do this. The Rarity I know wouldn't."

Rarity looked sympathetic, in a way. But she was unyielding "I understand, Twilight. It isn't pretty. It isn't what I imagined when I signed up, either. It certainly isn't something I could have imagined myself doing a year ago. But we've seen a lot since then. Now I understand that an act of unthinking generosity to one can be cruelty to many. I simply cannot agree to let my friends starve simply because these ponies chose to help the enemy rather than to sacrifice these awful shacks. "

"But we don't even need this food."

"Really, dear? Look at your legs and tell me that."

"I mean, it's only two cartloads. That's practically nothing if you divide it up among the whole army."

"And if we all thought like that, we would all starve. Our ponies are at the brink of death, and every day dozens do die. I've watched my girls and my boys die, Twilight." She turned to the other unicorns, still standing attentively. "You were given orders, boys. Find their food. Load it in your carts. And then we'll leave."

As the unicorns turned to walk away, the old mare suddenly pushed past Rarity, pleading pathetically. Twilight looked down at the dirt floor. Everypony else ignored the woman's pleas. Rarity picked her torn uniform up off the floor, and began to put it back on. If she tied it right, it would stay in place at least until they were out of town.



The operation took less than two hours. They had to subdue two ponies by force, but none were killed. They found just under two cartloads' worth of food, which they distributed evenly among the three carts. And they left without a word.

They walked slowly, the soldiers straining to pull their carts. It would be some time before they could reach a safe spot to camp for the night. As was her custom, Twilight walked next to Rarity. Shortly after Starskip's Junction had faded from sight, Twilight broke the uncomfortable silence. "They're going to die, Rarity."

"...it is possible, yes. If they're smart they'll head south."

"They might not be able to make it."

"We might not be able to make it either."

"I know. But I don't like making civilians suffer."

"We need to live, Twilight. If we die, then everypony suffers. Forever."

"...I know."

Twilight walked on in sad silence.

Suddenly, she happened to see a tuft of grass sticking out from beneath a recently-fallen tree. She licked her lips, then she summoned all her magic to try to lift the log. She twisted her face in concentration. Her horn glowed with a flickering, unsteady light. And then, suddenly, she stopped, and her look f concentration was replaced with confused disappointment.

She couldn't do it.



---



Valley Foal, Equestria. March, 1252.


Scootaloo galloped eagerly through the camp, back towards the house Big Macintosh and the Crusaders (among others) were living in. She burst in through the door, and skittered across the floor. She ran into the room she and her friends shared with a few of the younger female soldiers. Sweetie Belle was sitting on the bed, magically braiding Apple Bloom's hair.

"Girls girls girls girls!" Scootaloo shouted.

"Quiet there," Apple Bloom said, "you'll--OW!--see! She needs ta concentrate!"

"I told you I'm new at this! I didn't--oop."

Apple Bloom let out a sharp shriek as a clump of her hair was abruptly torn out. "You told me you weren't gonna do that no more!"

"I said I would try not to! This magic stuff is hard, okay? Sometimes my horn just does things and I don't really know why."

Scootaloo interrupted. "Oh, for--yeah we're all really excited about the horn, Sweetie. But listen! There's gonna be a raid tomorrow. We're gonna go out and fight the gryphons hoof to hoof!"

"They don't have hooves, dumbbell," Sweetie said. Apple Bloom's hair suddenly started twisting into an enormous knot. "Oh--hold on, Apple, I...um...okay, I can fix this."

"Stop touchin' my hair! I'm gonna just brush it out, okay?"

"GIRLS! LISTEN! We're gonna go on a raid!"

Apple Bloom looked up. "Like, you and me and Sweetie Belle? Didn't Big Mac say we weren't supposed to go out?"

"Well, yeah! But c'mon, they won't notice. Haven't you wondered what it's like? We don't have to fight. We'll just watch."

Sweetie Belle looked around nervously. "Um...I don't really know if that's a good idea. It sounds dangerous."

"We're sitting around all day eating the army's food," Scootaloo said impatiently. "We should start making ourselves useful."

"But...we're already useful. I've built tons a' storage shacks. And Sweetie's come up with some great songs for the ponies to sing while marchin'. And we've all been doin' lots of work around camp."

"Yeah, but I haven't gotten to do anything cool or useful yet. I bet I'd be great at fighting gryphons."

Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle looked at each other. "This sounds like a really bad idea," Sweetie said.

"Well, I'm going. And you guys should come with me. But I'm going either way. Look, I gotta get some stuff together. It'll be a long march I hear."

She ran off before the other two could say a word. They looked at each other and shrugged.

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