• 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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XIX. Rollinghoof, Equestria. March, 1252.

Rollinghoof, Equestria. March, 1252.

Lyra shivered. The mud was cold. It was warmer than it had been, but winter still influenced the weather. And they had spent so long just lying there on their stomachs in the mud. The cold, cold mud. The tall grasses--General Hooves said they'd block the gryphons' vision--blocked the sun, too. Somehow, they didn't do anything against the wind. But it wouldn't be long now. They could hear voices, low and throaty. Grass rustling. The noise, coming closer. Closer. She felt her heart pounding. Her fur--the part that wasn't caked in mud--was covered in a cold, oily sweat. She swallowed. This was always the worst part. She looked to her left. Grass. She looked to her right. More grass.

She whistled, softly, gently, sounding like a far-off bird. To her left, a creamy hoof slid into view. She pressed her own hoof against it. They clicked together. Lyra was ready. So was Bon Bon.

Suddenly, there was another whistle: high, piercing, and loud. And immediately, as she had practiced, Lyra stood up. She felt the tension disappear; only adrenaline remained. She had been drilled. She had been tested. And her training took over. One long whistle means stand and charge. And so she did. And, she saw, so did everyone else.

The charge was surreal, as it always was. It was a horrible flight of imagination; it was a slow-motion fantasy. Six hundred colorful ponies, running through the grass, closed in on eight hundred bewildered gryphons standing around cow-pulled carts. Behind the gryphons were the thatched-roof huts of Rollinghoof. In every other direction was a quickly-closing mass of ponies. The gryphons squawked and extended their wings and took off, a cloud of feathers and fur and steel armor. From the safety of the air they apprised the situation. Their forces were clearly larger and noticiably better-equipped than the charging pony army. They began to coalesce into attack formations, their talon-held spears glinting in the sun. The ponies stopped charging. They began to form a defensive line. Bon Bon stood next to Lyra, her lame legs shaking.

Then the winds came. Two hundred pegasi came rushing through in an earsplitting roar, tearing the air above and under the gryphons from every direction, each propelling the winds with all the ancestral ability they could summon. Low clouds disintigrated into wisps--and wisps into mists--as the sky became a rats' nest of intertwining gusts. Controlled flight became impossible, and gryphons and pegasi alike tumbled to the ground. The pegasi were prepared; they spread their wings in a makeshift parachute and focused only on trying to make as a soft landing as possible. The gryphons, trying to stay aloft and in formation, crashed hard to the ground--into the mass of waiting ponies.

The gryphons hit the ground in a clanking pitter-patter. As each crashed to the ground and struggled to pick his battered or broken body off the ground, he was dispatched by a series of kicks to the skull. It was in no sense a battle. It was a massacre. The gryphons who managed to survive the landing--and who managed to avoid being mobbed--retreated towards the town in a panic; there a small band of officers waved rally flags or ran around ordering each of the cow-pulled carts to retreat.

When the last airborne gryphon had fallen to the ground, Derpy took stock of the situation. The road that ran through the town was being blocked by about a hundred gryphon survivors in tight formation: they braced their spears against the ground as if they were lions defending against a pegasus charge. The marshland on either side of the town was barely passable. The gryphons were unflankable and a charge was out of the question.

She motioned with a hoof to the unicorns manning the army's salvaged 6-pound cannon. They carefully floated a cannonball out of their makeshift little wood furnace, loaded it, and fired directly into the town. The super-heated cannonball crashed through the straw roof of a two-story cottage. Immediately flames spread through the roof from the singed point of entry, and whipped by the wild winds, spread to a nearby roof. Within a matter of minutes, the blaze was a conflagration consuming half the town.

Through her binoculars, Derpy watched the gryphons begin to turn and run back through the burning town. A flaming building collapsed into the street, cutting off the retreat of all but a few. They stopped, hesitated for a half-minute, then ran back out at Derpy's army in a desperate charge--clearly they had heard stories of what the Grey Mare did to her prisoners. Derpy shook her head, then ordered defensive lines to be reformed. She hated her reputation, but it was certainly helpful at times.

She looked over at the tree she had told the Crusaders to sit in. They would have had a clear view of the whole proceeding. Surely now they saw how unforgiving war was; surely they now knew how unfair and brutal it had to be. After the suicide charge had been swept aside, perhaps she would go and talk with them about what they had seen.

She blinked. The Crusaders were nowhere near their tree.



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



Stripengeti Savanna, Punda-Milia. March, 1252.


Now: Gilda saying, "Screwball? You there?"

A foal smiling. The black, endless space punctured by stars. The husks of blind, mindless gods floating at the edge of reality and potential. A gryphon child being fed by its mother. A field of grass gently swaying. Rock stretching for miles in every direction. Discord's face contorting in pain and terror as his body turns into stone. A school of fish swirling and playing in the ocean. Diseased pony corpses being thrown into empty pits. Space. The sun shining on a mountain face. Now: Gilda, saying "Screwball, listen. They said we should look in the city of Akhana. Is that right?"

City. City. City. Remember. A city on a mountain, populated by gryphons. Capture and interrogation. Meeting Gilda. No. A city of ponies twisted by chaos. Freedom. Discord's return. His imprisonment. No. A city of zebras. Gilda reading in the library. Yes.

A city of zebras!

Flower petals falling in an autumn breeze. An elderly doe lying peacefully down to die. Space. Now: Gilda, saying "We know that, nutbar. Is it the right one?"

City of zebras. Look. Many of them. A city of high walls and houses carved into a mountainside. We are not there. No. A city of tents stretched out across the plains, pigs in cages. We are not there. No. A city of twisting alleys under cotton awnings. We are there. We are dead. Yes.

A city of twisting alleys under cotton awnings. But I think we die there.

An apple falling to the ground. The sun and moon swinging through the sky. An apple rotting on the ground. Now: Gilda saying "That sounds like the place, but it ain't gonna fly, Screwy. Where do we find the scroll and live?"

Scroll. Live. Look. A library. Me talking to the zebras. They are angry. Gilda talking to the zebras. They are helpful. They give her a scroll. A zebra talks to me. I respond. They are angry. I do not respond. They are angry. I am in the guise of a cripple. A zebra does not talk to me. They are helpful. Yes.

The same city. They're angry after they talk to me. Don't let them talk to me. It looks like it's okay if I'm dressed up like I'm really sick. Then they don't like to look at me so they don't talk to me and we can find our target and get back to the war!

A large cake being eaten by a pink pony. Now: Frankie saying "Um...so how's the war going? Do you know what's going on there?"

War. Look. A pebble shifts and bounces down the mountain. A boulder sits silently in a forest of evergreen trees. Space. A snowflake falls over an ocean. Rock. Dust. Ash. Ash blowing in the wind. Fire. Yes.

A town on fire. Look. Gryphons scatter. There is shock. There is fear. A Talon is there. He has a letter from the king. He will give it to the general leading their army. He will change their principal objectives. He does not fight in the melee. But he flees when the town is on fire. He must protect the letter. A building collapses. There is fire. He is pinned by a beam. He burns. He dies. Now he will not give the letter to anyone.

There's a battle going on. One of Frankie's friends was there. He's dead now. Or will be. The army won't receive orders it needs to.

Fire. The town is on fire. The letter is picked up by a gryphon. The gryphon runs through an alley. The gryphon captures a pony. A pony. There are young ponies in a building. They are frightened. They leap out a window. There are gryphons all about them. Young ponies standing in a street. A street winding through a marsh. Tadpoles swimming through marsh water. A wave breaking on a beach. A crab skittering across the sand. Rock stretching for miles below. Molten rock flowing. Now: Gilda saying, "So what'll happen to the army?" Now: Frankie saying, "Who was it?"

I don't understand. What are you talking about?

Now: Gilda and Frankie saying, "The battle." They are frustrated.

Battle. Remember. A gust knocking a dead tree branch down. A gryphon shopkeeper weighing a leg of mutton. New grass growing. Thunderclouds covering a plain. Stars dying in a dying galaxy. A bird landing on a singing pony's head.

I'm sorry. I don't remember a battle. Is there a battle? I'll let you know if I see one!


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



Rollinghoof, Equestria. March, 1252.


Scootaloo pressed her snout against the window, her breath intermittantly fogging the window. Beyond her stretched fifty yards of closely-clustered wooden houses, and beyond that, a field and a marsh, both filled with ponies and gryphons in one-sided combat. She exhaled sharply, sending a quickly-vanishing cloud of fog across the window. "Look at it. They're tearing 'em apart."

Apple Bloom's face was right next to Scootaloo's. "I'll say. Big brother's kicked like ten of 'em. I think he killed 'em dead, too; ain't none of 'em gotten up since. I...I ain't never seen him hurt anypony before." She looked uneasy.

"Yeah, isn't it cool? See, Sweetie Belle," Scootaloo said, nudging her in the ribs. "You said this would be dangerous. Look at what a great view we've got."

Sweetie Belle was on the other side of Scootaloo. "I dunno, guys, a bunch of 'em have run back to where we can't see them. What if they come in here?"

"Nah, why would they even bot--kkhkhbm--to do someth--eeeeeEEEEEXKCHKBM" Scootaloo's reply was cut short by the sudden report of a cannon firing and a shot crashing through the roof. All three immediately collapsed to the ground, covering their ears. One second. Five seconds. They huddled in shock. The house creaked ominously. Ten seconds. They heard wood collapsing. Fifteen seconds. One by one they gingerly turned to look behind them. Dust filled the room. The floor and back wall were splintered where the shot had crashed through, leaving ragged holes a pony could stick her head through. The rough edges of the impact points were smoldering, and a few small flames were beginning to kindle.

The fillies looked around the room, now standing on their feet. Sweetie Belle noticed a crackling noise, and an odd draft. She glanced upwards. "...fire," she said in a quiet, nervous voice. The others didn't reply. "Fire," she said again. There was a pause. "There's a fire," she said a bit louder, and began backing towards the rickety staircase.

Apple Bloom looked at Sweetie Belle, and then at the roof. The thatching above their heads was on fire. A clump of burning straw and pitch fell to the floor and onto a rug, which itself began to burn.

Sweetie Belle turned and broke into a run, but stopped when she reached the staircase--or, rather, where it had been. It had collapsed after the impact. She looked down; it was now a broken mess of shattered wood.

Apple Bloom came up beside her. "...I think we gotta jump," Sweetie said, her eyes wide.

"We can't jump down on that," Apple Bloom replied. "It'll tear us up."

Scootaloo ran up between the two, then slid to a halt. "C'mon! We've got to! The building's on fire!"

"We know it's on fire," Sweetie shouted. "It's obviously on fire. And we shouldn't even be here!"

"And I know we shouldn't be here," Scootaloo said. "But we are and it's on fire so we've got to get down!"

Apple Bloom looked over her shoulder, through the smoky room. "There," she yelled, then jumped, twisted her body around, then took off sprinting towards the window--or rather, where the window had been. She leapt through the open hole, then fell out of sight.

"Right," said Scootaloo. "The window. There we go. We'll be fine--"

"--no we won't, Scootaloo. It's just as far a drop there as here."

"It's a second-story window. We'll be fine!"

"No, you'll be fine. You have wings. I don't."

"Look, the staircase is only dangerous because of all the broken wood. We can--"

"--maybe there's broken wood outside too."

"Rrrgh! C'mon!" Scootaloo turned and ran through the smoke, then jumped through the window, her wings fluttering as she glided gently to the ground. She hit the ground softly, next to Apple Bloom. She picked herself up off the ground, then coughed the smoke out of her lungs. "You--khh--okay, Apple Bloom?"

"'Course I'm okay," she said, shrugging. "I've jumped off things way higher than this. Where's Sweetie Belle?"

"I'm up here," she called from the window. "I'm...I don't wanna come down. I don't think I can--"

"C'mon!" Apple Bloom shouted from the narrow alleyway. "This entire place is nothing but wood and straw, we need to get--"

"--GET DOWN NOW!" Scootaloo shouted. She grabbed Apple Bloom and pulled her under a watering trough against a nearby wall.

"Hey, what the heck're you try--urk--" Apple Bloom's complaint was cut off as Scootaloo wrapped her front leg around her friend's mouth.

"Shh," she whispered, motioning with her other hoof to the left. "Gryphons coming down this alley." Scootaloo began pulling Apple Bloom futher back, through a hole in the wall.

Apple Bloom's eyes bugged. At that moment, Sweetie Belle's voice called out. "...guys? Where'd you just go? All right, I'm coming down. You better not have ditched me."

Apple Bloom tried to shout a warning, but Scootaloo had already wrapped her other leg around her mouth.

They head Sweetie say to herself, "Here I go." Two seconds later, they heard her hit the ground roughly. For three more seconds, they sat in wide-eyed silence. And then they heard Sweetie shriek.



Smoke choked out the sky, but the flames in every direction made the alley brighter than any daylight. The two fillies shouted to hear each other over the rushing winds.

"SCOOTALOO, WHAT'S THE HAY IS WRONG WITH YOU? YOU JUST LET HER GET KIDNAPPED."

"THERE WERE THREE OF THEM! WE'D ALL HAVE BEEN KIDNAPPED OR KILLED OR SOMETHING."

"WE ONLY CAME HERE SO'S YOU COULD FIGHT GRYPHONS, RIGHT?! WHY BRING US HERE IF YOU WERE JUST GONNA CHICKEN OUT SOON AS YOU SAW ONE?"

"ONE AGAINST THREE ISN'T BRAVE; IT'S STUPID!"

"IT WOULDA BEEN THREE AGAINST THREE IF YOU HADN'T PULLED ME INTO THAT DUMB HOLE!"

"IT DOESN'T MATTER! LET'S JUST GET OUT OF HERE ALREADY!"

"WHAT, YOU MEAN LIKE RUN AWAY? WITH SWEETIE CAPTURED?"

"I MEAN LIKE 'NOT GET BURNED TO DEATH!'"

"NO! THEY WENT THAT WAY. WE'RE GONNA RESCUE SWEETIE BELLE."

"TWO AGAINST THREE IS IMPOSSIBLE."

"THREE AGAINST THREE WOULDA BEEN TOUGH. THEN YOU CHICKENED OUT, SO NOW WE GOTTA GO TWO AGAINST THREE, AND THAT'S GONNA BE TOUGHER. IF'N YOU CHICKEN OUT AGAIN, I'M STILL GOIN', AND THAT'LL BE ONE AGAINST THREE. HIDIN' JUST MAKES IT WORSE FOR EVERYPONY."

"STOP CALLING ME A CHICKEN!"

"YOU WANTED TO BE AT THE FIGHT, AND NOW WE'RE AT THE FIGHT. SO C'MON AN' FIGHT ALREADY."

"ARE YOU STUPID OR SOMETHING? I WANTED TO WATCH A FIGHT, NOT TAKE ON A BUNCH OF GRYPHONS BY MYSELF. WE'LL JUST GET KILLED!"

"OH, YEAH? THAT WHAT YOUR RAINBOW DASH DOES, SCOOTALOO? RUN AWAY AND LET HER FRIENDS ALL DIE 'CAUSE SHE DON'T WANNA GET HURT?"

"IT--IT'S NOT THE SAME! I JUST DON'T WANNA-"

"IT'S THE EXACT SAME! BEIN' BRAVE DON'T JUST MEAN DOIN' DANGEROUS FUN STUFF. IT MEANS DOIN' DANGEROUS SCARY STUFF. NOW GET YOUR HOOVES IN GEAR!"

Apple Bloom turned and galloped through the town. Scootaloo hesitated, grimaced, then took off after her, her wings buzzing to give her extra speed.

The two ran through the burning town, squinting their eyes against the ash, running in the center of the road to avoid falling planks and embers.

"Do we--*kff*--have a--*kuff*--plan," Scootaloo coughed out as she ran.

"Yeah. *kff-kff* Shut up and follow me." Apple Bloom began to run a bit faster.

Scootaloo matched her pace. "But how do--*kaff kff kff*--we know--*kff kff*--"

"I said shut up! Don't breathe--*kff*--more'n you need to!"

They charged through the street, past the last buildings, and out of the town entirely.



The cold mud stuck to their fur as they crawled through the reeds. Ahead, they heard piercing voices arguing. They moved slowly, never making more noise than the wind or currents did. They came up to where the brown, dead cattails began to thin out, and peeked through the waving strands. Ahead were three gryphons, a map, a bag, and a bound white filly. Scootaloo swallowed hard. They were big--big even for gryphons. Their bodies were thick and muscular, and their thick armor shone in the sun. Near them they had a few swords and spears leaned against trees.

"Told ya I knew how to find 'em," Apple Bloom whispered.

"Big deal," Scootaloo whispered back, "there was only one way they could have ran."

"Hmph. You didn't seem to figure it out."

"'Course I did. I just...y'know. Didn't want to say it. Wanted to know if you knew. You know."

Apple Bloom rolled her eyes. "Anyways. We're right on top of 'em and they ain't gonna bicker forever. So here's what we do. You distract all three of 'em for a minute while I untie Sweetie Belle. Then us two jump one of 'em, and we go two-on-one while you keep the other two busy. Then we go two-on-one again, then three-on-one for the last one."

"That's kinda complicated. And...they look really strong. Can't we just fight 'em and get it over with?"

"Scoot, they're like twice our size. More than. We're probably not gonna win this even with some thinkin' beforehand. We'd have no chance if we just ran at 'em."

"So...you're saying that we were smart to not just fight 'em in the alleyway without a plan or anything? Is that what you're saying? I mean, look at them, we obviously can't--"

"--we can argue about it later," Apple Bloom hissed. "Now c'mon. Three. Two."

"--wait, no, I don't--"

"One."

Scootaloo yelped as Apple Bloom shoved her forward, causing the gryphons to all turned to look at the sudden appearance of an orange filly ten feet from them. Scootaloo glared back over her shoulder, then back at the gryphons. Then, with a sudden cry, she sprinted forward--directly at them. They stood and faced her. She swerved off to the side, and began running tight circles around them. They looked quizzically at her: the ambush had been surprising, the windstorm more so, and the firestorm more so, but a tiny screaming pony running angry little rings around them was stretching the limits of what constituted a normal day's work.

"Oh, hi Scootaloo," Sweetie Belle said cheerily.

Scootaloo then leapt into the air, and kicked one in the face. She fell on her back in front of him. He flinched, and lifted a claw to his face, but was otherwise unaffected.

"Pony girl," he said in a thick accent, "vhat are you doing?"

"Apple Bloom!" Scootaloo yelled. "C'mon and...wait, huh? Aren't you gonna like kill me now?"

He shrugged. "Zere are more? Interesting. Come out, little pony. You are safe. Vhy vould ve vant to kill you?

Another gryphon nodded. She spoke in a similar accent. "Yes, ve have no interest in killing children. Our goal is to liberate Equestria, yes? How vould killing children help zat?"

Sweetie nodded. "I'm a hostage," she said with a smile.

The first gryphon chuckled. "She seems quite taken vith the prospect. But she is right. Ve simply need a bargaining chip to assure us passage to safe territory. Ve do not vish to harm any...how do you say it...to harm anypony."

Apple Bloom came running out. "That's a load of horseapples and you know it! You gryphons have killed thousands of ponies! I've seen it!"

The second one shrugged. "Yes, our generals have ordered it, so ve hear. And so has your Grey Mare. Zis I hear too. And she tortures and kills gryphon prisoners, too, does she not? But I hear she vas a lovely voman before. Var is not a pleasant business. Ve cannot judge vhat others have found necessary to do."

The third one, a male, interjected. He had a different accent entirely. "Heck, I never thought I'd be kidnappin' some lil' girl to stay alive, but we ain't gonna hurt her, and it sure as heck beats gettin' my head kicked in or some business like that. We're just gonna trade 'er at a town for safe passage back to liberated territory. Then she goes back home, we go back home, and everyone's happy."

Scootaloo picked herself up off the ground. "You...don't want to hurt us?"

The second one laughed. "Pony girl, if I vanted to hurt you, vouldn't I have done it vhen you vere on your back gaping up at me?"

The first one nodded. "Yes. Ve do not quarrel vith you. You may go if you vant. But ze vhite vun must stay."

Scootaloo huffed. "I don't care how friendly you act. You're gryphons and I don't trust you and I'm not just gonna let you walk away with her."

The first one shrugged blandly. "You can come too, if you vish to see for yourself that she is not harmed. Actually it vould be better for us if you did; ssree ponies are vorss more zan vun. But ve vill not demand it. It is your choice."

The third one interjected again. "Yeah, Nicky, but if take 'em then we gotta bind 'em too. If they let the white one out when we're sleepin' or somethin' then we're screwed, y'know?"

"Zat is true," the first replied.

"Actually," Sweetie Belle said, "My name isn't 'the white one.' It's Sweetie Belle."

"And I'm Scootaloo, and I'm not gonna let you take Sweetie Belle alone!" She walked next to Sweetie Belle and struck a defiant pose.

"And I'm Apple Bloom, and I'm coming too, and you better be honest about this." She walked to the other side of Sweetie Belle.

The second gryphon smiled fondly. "Zey are cute, Nikolai." She leaned in. "It is nice to meet such brave young ponies. You may call me Anna."

The first raised an eyebrow. "So ve are taking all ssree? Very vell. If ve are introducing ourselves, then I am, as she says, Nikolai."

The third spoke as he rooted through his bag. "And I'm Rolf, and I guess I'll be your captor today." He pulled out some rope. "Nothin' too harsh; I just gotta keep you from flyin' or runnin' or kickin'. I promise you'll have it off in less than a week."

Scootaloo narrowed her eyes. "I'm not gonna let some gryphon tie me up and take me prisoner."

"You are not a prisoner," Anna said. "Only Sveet Bell is. You may come vith her and vith us if you like. Ve have some conditions for our safety. If you do not like zem, zen you may leave now. If you do come, you may leave at any time you vish. And if you come, you all vill be free first town ve arrive at."

"How do I know you're not trickin' us? That this ain't some big plan to take us back to your leader or somethin'?"

Anna laughed again. "Pony, vhat possible reason vould ve have to drag ssree pony girls a ssousand miles? If ze king vanted a pony girl, zere are easier vays to get vun zan to send nearly a ssousand gryphons vith a month of supplies for ze army, lose zem all in an ambush, have us ssree escape vith only our lives, have us come across a trespassing pony girl, zen have us valk her halfvay across ze continent."

"Yeah," Rolf said, "we'd probably just kidnap somebody from the borderlands. Or, from what I hear, we could just put up a flyer in Fillydelphia or somewhere sayin' 'hey, the gryphons want a volunteer,' and we'd get a hundred applications by sundown."

"Well..." Apple Bloom said hesitantly.

"We'll do it," Scootaloo said. "So bind us already."

Apple Bloom looked back at the plume of smoke behind them. "...yeah. Okay. But hurry. We got people who'll worry 'bout us."


---------



Davenport saluted, carrying the post-battle reports. "It wasn't pretty to watch, General, and I don't think it'll work again, but I can't argue with the results. 620 of the enemy dead, 150 prisoner, and nearly every supply cart captured. Fewer than ten casualties on our own side. Plus minimal loss of life among enslaved cows, and Rollinghoof was an evacuated tinderbox anyway. One to be proud of, to be sure."

Derpy kept painting. On the scroll in front of her, in rough brushstrokes, she had outlined three fillies. A teardrop fell between the wings of the middle one.

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