• 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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VI. Canterlot City, Equestria. October, 1251.

VI. Canterlot City, Equestria. October, 1251.

The tavern was dark, hot, and noisy. Dozens of officers had crowded in, filling every bit of space a pony could see, and most of the space a pony couldn't. Why, she could barely hear her friends speak. Could hardly see them, too, as stingy as they were being with the candles here--there was a fine line between being responsible with their rations and just being cheap. She took a breath. The air was invigorating, in a way, to a pony used to farm air. It smelled like...activity. Like pony life. The aromas of sweat, of hot food, and of a dozen types of drink mixed freely with the dust wafting in from the street outside. But there was only one scent she was interested in at the moment. She looked down at the mug between her hooves.

The cider was good. Hot, nicely spiced, and mellow. And fresh, too, that was unexpected. She breathed in the steam, deeply. It filled her lungs, and she exhaled, smiling in sensual pleasure. As good as she herself could make, really. Ponyfolk in Canterlot might be a bunch'a overdressed snobs, but they could make good food when they weren't too busy tryin' to impress each other with how expensive they could price it.

She turned and called to the bartender. "Hey, buddy! These Ponyville apples in this here mug?"

"Trotsburg, ma'am," he said, not looking up from the glass he was polishing.

She shook her head slowly. "Shucks," she said, "if they can make a Trotsburg apple taste this good, I guess they're even better cooks here 'n I am."

The other ponies stopped talking. "Uh, Applejack?" Twilight said after a second. "You still with us?"

"Oh, sure, 'course I am. We were just talkin' about how good they made this cider here, right? Darn good."

Rainbow Dash looked incredulous. "No, we were talking about how much we were going to miss eating together like this every meal. And we've been talking about that for the last, oh, fifteen minutes? What's wrong with you, AJ? You're usually so...on the ball."

Applejack contorted her mouth, then let it go back to normal. "Oh, I don't know. I jest don't like thinkin' about it. We barely even got here, we hardly know the ponies in our platoons, and we don't know a thing we're doin', and we're movin' out already? Shucks, y'know I'll miss eatin' with you gals, but it ain't like we won't see each other. We got bigger problems to talk about. If we're movin' out this soon, the gryphons must be real close. And my ponies can't kick a rock straight to save their lives. That ain't a figure of speech, gals."

Pinkie lifted her snout out of her colorful bowl of soup. "Mhsshm ahah think my girls are doing really great! I mean, they're getting really good at playing that Simon Says March Like This game with me. And the girls love the songs I came up with to sing when we're walking around! And c'mon! Who isn't excited to bittywhack! We'll get to camp wherever we want! Ha ha! And some of 'em--"

"--Uh, Pinkie, the word's bivouac, an' it ain't--" Applejack started to say, though she knew that trying to interrupt Pinkie was like trying to interrupt a thunderstorm.

"--kinda scared of the gryphons but really we aren't going to be fighting them, well we will, but mostly just running around the lions while Applejack and the stallions are fighting them, and then we kick them in the back and they run away! Ha ha ha! I love being lighter fronty!"

Applejack rubbed her temples with her hooves. "The word's light infantry, Pinkie, and you're light because you don't even get to wear armor."

"Well, yu-eah! How can we run around if we gotta wear big dumb metal thingies on us? Dashie doesn't wear armor either, 'cause she's gotta go fast too!"

"Right!" Twilight laughed nervously. "Yes, you two certainly won't be wearing anything 'big' and 'dumb' and 'metal'. No protection at all and you're on the front lines. Yep. We're not worried about that in the slightest, no." She shook her head. Not the time to think about it. "Anyway, my turn now? Yeah. My girls are fine, I guess, but they're all so...bad. I mean, girls, listen. They're really bad. I mean, a shell fires parabolically, right? And the initial magical impulse is precisely controlled, as is the barrel's angle of elevation, as is the weight of the shell. This is simple mathematics here. Any foal could figure out how to hit a target. You could, right?" Nopony said a word. She didn't even pause to let them.

"I could do the math in my sleep." She was breathing heavily, frustration in her voice. "But when I tell 'em to hit a tree 100 meters away, that tree is the safest place in Equestria. And that's after they've spent way too long thinking about it! I don't know what else I can do! I've told them the equations, I've told them the weight of a shell and I've told them the impulse force a magic spark provides. What. Else. Is. There." She gestured with her hooves. "What else is there? Nothing. And they load the cannons slowly, and they're afraid to stick their horns in the ignition chamber just because they heard somepony got theirs blown off yesterday."

"Well, did somepony?" Rarity said, raising an eyebrow.

"...yeah. Okay, yeah, they did," she admitted, a bit carefully. "But they'll be fine. It'll grow back. Look, it's not the point! The point is...oh, I don't even have a point." She lifted a cup of tea to her lips. "We're not ready."

"I know what you mean," Rarity sighed, magically swirling a spoon through her bisque. "We haven't stiched a quarter of the uniforms we're going to need, and everypony is so slow, but so sloppy at the same time! Now, I always tell customers they can have a pretty dress in a week or a boring dress tomorrow, but if my girls worked at the Boutique, I'd be telling them 'a horrific dress two months from now,' and I'd probably be optimistic."

"Oh, that's a problem," Rainbow Dash scoffed. "Your sewing club is really bad. Wow. I'm sorry, I'm a little more concerned about the fact that most of my girls apparently can't tell the difference between flying right above the ground and flying right into the ground. And if a lancer messes that up in the middle of a battle, well, see ya, she's done, bye bye. Mistakes are a little different for a pegasus, Rarity. Some ponies actually have to fight."

Rarity raised her chin. "Well I never! Unicorns have a very important job to do! Just because we aren't as suited to the...roughhousing some other ponies do doesn't mean we don't have to get our hooves dirty. You'll thank us when you're sleeping in a comfortable tent we sewed and we put up, with lovely blankets that we made for you. And you'll be glad to have us when you're eating the food we made, and that we pulled in heavy carts, even though we're not the big strong ones. Hmph! I think somepony should apologize to unicorns!"

Dash just crossed her arms. "The only thing I have to say to most unicorns is sir and ma'am," in sarcastic imitation of respect, "and that's only because everypony apparently thinks they're the best candidates to lead everypony, even though they never have to actually fight anyone up close."

"I understand what you're saying, Dash," said Twilight in a gentle voice. "Maybe it's not fair that our superior officers are all unicorns. But they're the ones who've read about war, and they're the ones who know how to organize an army. I'm sure that as soon as a pegasus or an Earth pony proves herself, she'll be promoted like anyone else would be...or he, I guess. I shouldn't be sexist."

"Yes," Fluttershy nodded, swallowing a mouthful of salad. "it wouldn't be fair otherwise." She stopped. The ponies watched her. She smiled back.

"Are...are ya gonna tell us why your gals ain't ready?" Applejack asked. "Kinda what we're doin' right now."

"Oh, no, my unit is mixed gender. It's okay if we're different sizes and strengths and speeds and all of that. Because it only matters if we're brave and if we care for hurt ponies." Fluttershy nodded proudly, her eyes closed.

"And...and you don't mind the whole bein' brave...thing? You're not gonna have any problems flyin' into a battle and pullin' out a hurt pony while the gryphons and lions are snappin' at ya? I mean, I dont wanna fill your head with those kinda thoughts, but you're usually not so calm 'bout that kinda prospect."

"Oh, no, Applejack," Fluttershy said. "I'm not going to do that at all. I'm not brave like the other ponies are. I'm going to run away as soon as there's a battle, and I'm never going to stop." She still had the same little smile, her voice was still perfectly calm.

"Uh...that's a joke, right?" Applejack looked around the table. The other ponies shrugged.

"No, I'm not joking," Fluttershy said. Still calm. "War is scary and if I go into a battle to get a hurt pony someone would hurt me. And if even they didn't, the pony I healed is just going to go back to get hurt again, or maybe to hurt someone else. So I'm going to run away, because if everyone ran away, then there wouldn't be a war."

The table was silent.

Rainbow Dash stood up, sweeping her hoof across the table. Her empty shot glasses clattered to the ground. "What? No! You can't do that, Fluttershy! What if I got hurt! What if Pinkie Pie was hurt!? Are you saying if Pinkie was hurt, you'd just let her die? That you'd just let all of us die? Is that it? We're your friends as long as it's not scary?"

Pinkie stood too, her face unconventionally serious. "We're friends, Fluttershy. Friends stand up for each other."

Fluttershy looked away, blushing. "I knew I shouldn't have said anything. But I thought you would understand. The lions and gryphons you're going to fight have friends too. I don't want anyone to die. I don't want to be part of this."

Applejack stood up and walked next to Dash, her eyes narrowed slits. "I never took ya for a coward, Fluttershy. Shy, yeah. Nervous, yeah. Cautious, fearful, and downright terrified o' most things, yeah. But not...not yellow!" She paused, her hoof to her mouth. "All right, not the best wordin', I'm yellow, you're yellow, nothin' wrong with bein' yellow," she said offhandedly, then resumed her air of anger. "But a coward, Fluttershy. Never thought ya were a coward."

Twilight stood up, and slid to the left, so she was next to Dash. "You're part of this, Fluttershy. We all are. You can't run. Because we're friends. Even when...even when we have to do things that we don't like."

Rarity stood up emphatically. "I don't have anything to add. I'm simply expressing solidarity with their outrage. Well...I guess that is something to add. But nothing else!"

Fluttershy looked down. She dragged a hoof in a little circle on the ground. "I'm sorry, girls. I shouldn't have said that. It wasn't right. I'm just nervous."

The others sat back down.

"We're all nervous," said Twilight. "It's okay to be nervous. But we'll all do what we have to do. We're glad you will, too." Rarity nodded, murmuring assent. So did Rainbow Dash.

Fluttershy swallowed hard, and stared at her salad. I told you I shouldn't have said I would run away. She took a small bite and began chewing. I didn't tell you I wouldn't do it.


Sweet Apple Acres, Equestria. October, 1251.

Derpy looked up. There was something beautiful in the way Cloudkicker looked: a dark, winged silhouette in the brilliant red-streaked sky. Watching. Protecting. Maybe this was how the legends of guardian angels got started. She shivered a bit, and with her teeth she pulled her thin blanket tighter around her.

The evening chill was settling in, and it was getting easier to make Derpy cold. Part of it, she figured, was that she wasn't getting enough exercise sitting at her desk all day. Part of it was that she was losing weight. She thought a bit. Was it getting colder? No, that couldn't possibly be right; Celestia wouldn't bring on winter in a crisis like this. She thought a bit more. She hoped Dinky and Carrot Top hadn't managed to lose the blankets that she had packed for them. Those were really nice blankets, and it wou--

Suddenly, with a rush of wind, Cloudkicker landed in front of her. "Captain," she barked, saluting.

Derpy saluted back, her hoof getting momentarily caught in the blanket. "Private. Something to report?"

Cloudkicker stifled a laugh--making Derpy wince internally--and then stiffened her expression. "Ma'am. Pillar of smoke rising to the northwest, range well over 50 kilometers." She pointed with her hoof towards a patch of apple trees. "That way."

Derpy furrowed her brows and thought, her tongue barely sticking out of her mouth. "And Skywishes said the Equestrian army has left Canterlot, right? Headed south."

"I wasn't present for that report, ma'am. But that smoke isn't to the south."

Derpy thought a bit more. "And it's far off, right?"

"At least a day, maybe more," Cloudkicker said.

"Thank you, private." Derpy saluted breezily. "Go eat dinner. The Cakes have made you guys a surprise."

"Ooh!" squealed Cloudkicker. "Thanks! ...uh, ma'am!" She bounced off towards the barn.

Derpy turned to her desk, and pulled out some maps. She shut her left eye and began scanning them. Hmm...at fifty kilometers, nothing, unless they were burning the forest there...but they wouldn't do that. No, here we go. That must be Bridleshire, 100 kilometers out. Hm. They must be making quite a mess of the place to cause a smoke pillar Cloudkicker could notice all the way here. She's got sharp eyes, and the sunset would illuminate it, but still. Hm.

She rolled up the maps. Tomorrow they'd move out. Bridleshire could use a helping hand. She stopped. No. She should probably write something first. Thiswould be the beginning of the war for them, and she wanted them to set out feeling comfortable. She'd tell them...hmm, how to word it...

"Hey we're gonna go to war aren't we the gryphons are here oh my gosh that's so AWESOME!" A tiny voice squeaked excitedly behind her. She turned. Oh. Oh, no. Oh no, no, no, no. A small orange filly with purple hair bounced, fluttering her tiny wings. Next to her bounced a little yellow one with a bow, and a little curly-maned white one. "CUTIE MARK RESISTANCE FIGHTERS!" They cheered.

Derpy's mouth hung open. No.

She looked from one, to another, to another, and back to the first, again and again.

"Wow, Cap'n," Applebloom said, "You can size up two of us at once! I bet that's why you're the leader, huh!"

"Noooooo," Scootaloo said, rolling her eyes, "She's obviously leader because she can fly the best, you know, same reason I'm our leader."

"You can't even fly," yelled Sweetie Belle.

"I can too!" Scootaloo shouted back. "I can jump like ten times farther than you can when I use my wings! Same! Thing! And you can't use magic so...so don't say I can't fly!"

Applebloom and Sweetie Belle were both trying to shout over each other to respond. Derpy bit her lip, then stood up, and shouted "LT. APPLE! LT. APPLE I NEED YOU NOW!"

Applebloom immediately perked up. "Hey big brother is here?! Why ain't I seen him?"

Sweetie Belle narrowed her eyes. "'Cause you can't see nothin' when you're all covered in the box in a barn. If you'd cut holes for your eyes like I did you'd see him all the time!"

"Well, I didn't have the cutter thing! If you'd cut holes for me--"

"--eeyup. Lt. Apple, reportin' in," a voice said proudly. The Crusaders all turned to look. "What'dya need, Captain? I--oh. Oh my. Applebloom, what in tarnation are you doin' here? And Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle? Uh, Captain, we can't bring foals with us."

Derpy sighed. "I know, Big Mac, I mean Lieutenant. I know. I didn't know they were here. They were hiding, or something. I don't know. What can we do with them? The caravan is too far away to catch up with. I'd ask for a volunteer to stay back with them and take care of them here, but I'd just be abandoning them to the gryphons if I did that..."

"Well," said Mac, "that's a pickle, ain't it?"

"I can fight," squeaked Applebloom. "I'm a big pony! Tell 'er, big brother! Tell 'er how I can buck a tree all by myself now!"

"No!" Mac said, emphatically. He leaned down to speak directly to her, his eyes daggers. "You're a real strong little filly, Applebloom, but you're a filly. You can't fight. I can't let you. It's why you three were supposed to be evacuated." He looked back at Derpy. "I don't know, Captain. We gotta take 'em with us when we go. Maybe we can work something out before then, I don't know."

Derpy ran a hoof through her mane. "We're leaving tomorrow, Mac--Lieutenant. Tomorrow morning. The gryphons are near." She pointed at the blank parchment on the desk. "I was just about to write the announcement I was going to give later this evening...when these fillies showed up."

Mac looked around. "Could they stay in our camps with the supply carts? I mean, we'll still have guards there, and the ones like Lt. Redheart. The ones who don't fight."

Derpy bit her lip. "It's war, though. What if we get ambushed? They'll get killed!"

Mac shrugged. "They'll get killed if we leave 'em here."

"We can't take all the foals we come across. We need to move light."

He sighed. "I know. We'll come across a lot of foals. We can't be a refugee train."

Derpy looked at them. She looked back to the northwest, towards the apple patch Cloudkicker had pointed at--and towards the unseen army beyond. And she looked at the fillies in front of her. She looked at Applebloom. She looked at Big Mac. And she put her face in her hooves.

"We have to. We have to, Lieutenant. I have to. We're taking them with us. They're the reason we're fighting to save Ponyville. We can't leave them. And if we find more, we'll take them too. And if we pick up enough foals that they slow us down, or that we can't feed them, then we'll break a group off the militia to shepherd them to a safer part of Equestria."

"Could we afford to do that? Turn part of the militia into an evacuation train?" Mac asked.

"Probably not," Derpy sighed, lowering her hooves. "But I can't leave them. And neither can you."

Mac looked at Applebloom, who was happily inspecting a map that Scootaloo had taken off Davenport's desk.

"Yeah. You're right. I can't, either, tho' I know bringin' her's a plumb stupid idea. All right. I'll find a place for 'em to sleep. Need anythin' else?"

Derpy shook her head. "Just some time to write." She bit her lip, and blushed a bit. "Lieutenant?"

"Yes, Captain," Mac replied evenly.

"I...just wanted to know. If...you would be available again to...you know. Talk. Talk to me. Tonight."

Mac cocked his head. "You need to talk, Captain?"

Derpy felt her cheeks flush red. She tried to smile casually. She missed casually completely, and hit goofily. "Um. Yeah. I'm...nervous. A lot is going to happen. I need to talk to somepony. Not anypony. Somepony who I can trust to be confidential. So....could you? You know? Talk to me?"

Mac smiled gently. "All right, Captain. If that's what you need. We can talk." He called to the fillies, who were excitedly inspecting a row of hand-whittled wooden spears. "C'mon, girls. Let's find you a nice place to sleep." They walked off together, the fillies bouncing happily around him.

She watched them as they left. He was a good pony. And he talked to her like she was a good pony, too. She sighed, her heart heavy. She relied too much on him. She needed him. To give orders. To watch the troops. To give advice. To calm her down. She knew she couldn't rely so much on one pony. But who else could she rely on? Who else was Big Mac? She breathed in deeply, slowly. And exhaled. She knew she had to lean on other ponies more. But it was so easy with him.

She blew a strand of hair out of her eyes. That couldn't be today's problem. Or tomorrow's. There were things to do now, and if Mac helped her do them, then that was fine. Leadership is managing the relative importance of your problems. There will always be problems, every day. There will always things to do. a voice told her. She bit her lip and ignored it. Keep thinking like that, keep justifying it, and soon I'll be dependent on him. In every way. Her lip started to bleed. No. It was time to write. It was time to- And then he will die. Or worse, I'll be forced to choose between what's right for Mac and what's right for the militia. Derpy, Derpy. Isn't that what you just did? Ignore the book to save his sister? Just because you're so desperate for someone to NO NO NO NO NO *CRACK* she smacked her hoof into her temple. No. No doubts. Not now.

She picked up a quill with her lips, and adjusted it into writing position.

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