• 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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VIII. Westmarch, Equestria. November, 1251.

VIII. Westmarch, Equestria. November, 1251.

The kettle began to whistle. Rainbow Dash's eyes perked up. All right, she thought, coffee time. Awesome. She jumped up and bounded over to the fire. Funny how war changes you: I never liked coffee before. Wait, no, that didn't quite sound right. She glanced at the darkening sky. What am I saying? I still don't like coffee. And army coffee is terrible. But there was still the undeniable fact that she had just called coffee time "awesome." Oh yeah. Right. I like coffee time because it's the only time anything actually happens in the evenings. Ugh.

She poured a mug and sat with it. A month of marching. A solid month. Eating small portions of bland food. Doing the same training drills every daylight hour. Doing nothing at all in the evening. Sleeping a few hours on the dirt. And every few days, picking up everything and marching again.

Meanwhile, the gryphons had swallowed a third of Equestria. It was hard to tell exactly what they had taken; reports were that they tried to administer some areas, had given up in others, were marching little armies back and forth across supposedly “pacified” areas for...for who knows why. Dash didn't know what was happening behind the Gryphonic front. Nopony did. But given where the two main Gryphonic armies were, a third of Equestria, including Stalliongrad and Fillydelphia, was inaccessible to free ponies. Maybe Gryphonia had conquered all that. Maybe ponies were resisting. Maybe it was a wasteland. No sense speculating about it.

Just one of the many parts of army life that frustrated Rainbow Dash. There was the fact that she took orders from a crusty old unicorn who had never even been in a barfight. There was the horrible repetitiveness of army life. There was the fact that they kept getting up to run away from gryphon armies instead of standing and fighting. There was the fact that nopony seemed to know what the gryphons were doing, or even what the ponies were doing. Celestia said war would be scary. Rainbow Dash had prepared herself for scary. She hadn't prepared herself for frustrating, boring, and pointless.

A pegasus colt trotted over to her. “Lt. Dash? 3rd Pegasus Lancers?” His voice was cold. Efficient for his age. Dash nodded, sipping her coffee. “I have a report for you. New recruits. Start training them tomorrow.”

“Alright, thanks, kid,” she said, eying him over the mug. She took the papers, and he started to leave. “Hey...wait. Kid. How old are you, anyway? How'd you manage to enlist?”

He looked at her, unfazed. “My birth records were lost when my family farm was burned, so my mother vouched for me. I'm of age.”

“A'right, sure, carry on.” Dash waved him away as she scanned through the report. Whatever. If he's a stallion, so am I. The report was the same as every week's. Names, birthplaces, professions. All useless. She learned that kind of thing face-to-face, not by reading a sheet of names without contexts. But hell, it was something to do. She started from the top.

Redmoon. Trotsdale farmstead. Weather engineer. She'll be hardworking, though maybe not the quickest hoof.

Starsong. Hoofington. Entertainer. Ugh. Can't wait to hear her to complain the uniform doesn't match her eyes.

Cloudburst Dazzle. Manehattan. Dock supervisor. Hm. Might have had to pitch in loading at the docks.

Spitfire. Cloudsdale. Entertainer. Two showponies in one week?They're trying to kill me, I know it.

Ruby Glow. Manehattan farmstead. Weather engineer. All right, another weatherpony. That'll make up for...

Wait. Cloudsdale. Entertainer. Spitfire? She read the name, over and over. Spitfire. Cloudsdale. Entertainer. There it was. Though she hardly believed it. She put her mug down. Spitfire. Cloudsdale. Entertainer.

She checked the sky. It'd be at least two, maybe three hours until curfew. And if she had the report, Spitfire was in camp. Somewhere....probably at the commesariat. Yeah, definitely the commesariat; the first thing they did with every new recruit is issue them a uniform, supplies, field rations, that kinda stuff. And Dash knew that took forever; they had no sense of efficiency there. Well. Time to pay Rarity's girls a visit.

She ran back to her tent, and tossed the report on her sack; she could file it later. And then she headed off for the center of the camp, at as brisk a walking pace as she could get away with.

The camp was hectic, as always. For twenty thousand ponies who never seemed to actually get anything done, they sure seemed to do an awful lot. Tents were always going up and going down. Carts overloaded with supplies were always being dragged from place to place by exhausted-looking unicorns. Cannons were always being disassembled for cleaning. Armor was always being repaired. There were always units drilling, always inspections, always new recruits wandering confusedly. And there were always thousands of ponies, apparently wandering aimlessly, yet always quick with an explanation if they were challenged. Dash slipped easily through the crowd; you couldn't survive in the army and not be able to navigate the churning sea of ponies.

She arrived soon enough at the commesariat. Rarity stood somewhat behind the makeshift counter, tallying on a scroll while five other unicorns floated boxes and sacks around the huge tent, from shelf to shelf, and sometimes onto carts or into the hooves of waiting ponies.

"Hey--HEY!" Dash shouted. "Rarity!"

Rarity didn't look up. "I am a Captain in the New Equestrian Army, Lt. Dash, and I will be addressed as such."

Dash rolled her eyes. Ridiculous. She was in charge of putting boxes on top of boxes and she was called Captain. Fine. Whatever. She was still useless.

"Okay. Captain Rarity, Ma'am. Have you seen Spitfire here?"

Rarity kept writing. "I see lots of pegasi, Lt. Dash, I don't know which ones are yours. I always try to take very good care of all of them, because I understand that a blanket is all a poor soldier has sometimes. I promise your girl will have whatever her problem is taken care of as soon as we get around to her report form." She adjusted her glasses. "But I'm very behind schedule, so if you could let me get back to this, please."

"No, Rarity! Spitfire!" She banged a hoof on the counter. "The wonderbolt! Have you seen her?"

Rarity looked up. "Lt. Dash! Show respect!" She glared at her old friend. Dash glared back. Rarity sighed, and floated her clipboard on top of a nearby box. She walked over to the counter, and spoke in a quiet voice. "Rainbow Dash, dear, Rainbow Dash. Please don't take it personally. You know I respect you as a friend and as an equal. And I don't know how it is with you rough-and-tumble pegasi and earth ponies."

Dash started to interrupt. Rarity talked over her, quietly but firmly. "But I simply can't make my department run unless my ponies respect rank. They must see me as superior to them. I don't like it more than you do. Please don't make this hard on me, dear. The system must come first. Regardless of our feelings."

Dash bit her tongue. There were quite a few things she wouldn't mind saying. But it wasn't the time to start a fight, especially with a superior officer. Even if that "superior officer" was nothing but the queen of blanket-stitchers and shirt-menders. She sighed, short and sharp. "Right. I'm sorry, Captain. Ma'am. So you haven't seen Spitfire?"

"I told you, darling," Rarity said, shaking her head, her perfect mane swaying. "I see many pegasi, and frankly, the only way I can identify those 'Wonderbolts' of yours is by their hideous costume. Which I assure you, I have not seen today. Now please. I really must get back to work. Authority comes with many responsibilities~" she trailed off, in a cheery, melodious voice, as she floated her clipboard back in front of her.

Dash spat on the ground and walked off. Yeah. Sure, Rarity. I don't like it any more than you do. The system must come first. Bunch of horse apples. Dash saw through it, all right. Rarity loved pulling rank. She loved being higher up than any of the others. Her and Twilight. What, because Captain Twilight Sparkle came up with some stupid chartbook the gunners could use? Because Captain Rarity had reorganized the 'dreadfully inefficient' process the tailors were using? Ridiculous. This was an army, designed to fight, and the ponies being rewarded were the ones who came up with new ways of sitting around not fighting. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Rainbow Dash had turned a bunch of cloud-pushers into a deadly, unbreakable spearhead, and nopony even knew she had done it. Pathetic. Absolutely pathetic. Why, she ought to-

"Oh my gosh! Rainbow Dash! Oh my gosh, oh my gosh!" A familiar voice broke her angry reverie. "Over here!"

A yellow pony with a flame-orange mane came bounding up. "You remember me, right? Spitfire?"

Dash shook her head in shock. "Uh...y...yeah. Yeah! I'm Rainbow Dash. Hi."

Spitfire laughed. "Yeah, I know, that's what I called ya! So you're my commanding officer, huh? How about that! That's awesome!"

Dash felt beads of sweat on her forehead. She wiped them off. "So...Spitfire? I can call you that, right?"

Spitfire nodded, still cheery. "I think so. We're in the same platoon. And I'm a sergeant, ha ha, crazy. So it's not like breaking rank or anything. Or is it? Hey, you don't mind if I call you Rainbow Dash, do you? I mean, I'll call you Lt. Dash if you want. That might be better. Yeah, that's better. Hey, are you feeling all right, Lieutenant?"

Dash laughed, trying not to sound nervous. "Y...yeah. Long day. Lots of flying! Ha ha. You'd know about that. Ha. Of course. So...you've got your things?"

Spitfire motioned with her head to a sack nestled between her wings. "Yep. I was going to head towards the 3rd Lancers now! I figured I wouldn't see you until tomorrow though, so that's pretty cool."

"Great! Great. So...uh...do you like coffee?"

"Eh...not really." Spitfire glanced aside. "Never been my thing."

Dash laughed, this time genuinely. "It will be. C'mon, I'll take you to the cavalry officers' tents. Let's get a cup."


Spitfire took a sip and screwed up her face. "Lieutenant, I know said I didn't like coffee, but that wasn't a request for whatever the heck this is."

Dash smirked. "Welcome to the army, Spitfire. Wow. Spitfire. I...I gotta say. I totally idolized you when I was younger."

Spitfire shrugged. "Yeah. Comes with the territory. Kids everywhere fall in love with ya. Isn't it silly? I'm just a dancer if you think about it. We all work real hard at it, but we're still just dancers at the end of the day."

"What? No! You're great! You guys are like the best fliers in Equestria! Anypony would be honored to fly with you."

Spitfire laughed. "C'mon, Lieutenant. We loop around in the sky. What you do here is real flying. Lining up a mid-air flanking lance charge against some gryphon heavy cavalry? Plotting out the next 30 seconds of three-dimensional maneuvers involving hundreds of soldiers? That takes the kind of skills you can't practice." She took another sip, then frowned. She set the mug down on the ground, then pushed it away with her hoof. "Y'know, I pulled some strings to request your unit. Some of the other girls wanted to, too, but they said it would be a distraction to morale if too many of us joined one platoon."

Dash was confused. "Wait. You wanted to fly with me? But...I'm nopony. I'm not even good enough to be one of you yet. I practiced every day in hopes I'd be good enough for you someday."

Spitfire laughed, louder. "Are you serious? You're pullin' my hoof here. Seriously? You've gotta be the fastest pony in recorded history. I mean, nopony else has broken the sound barrier, have they? You can fly quickly and precisely enough across a ballroom filled with ponies to pick up a falling glass before it hits the ground. We'd have made you a member ten times over if Celestia hadn't vetoed it each time we asked."

"Vetoed..." Dash whispered.

"And thank goodness she did, really. We're entertainers, Lieutenant. We don't get dibs on national treasures. Imagine if you'd been off in Stalliongrad performing with us when Discord returned." Spitfire shook her head, laughing again. Her shock of orange hair rippled with the movement. "Man. And you really did want to be a 'bolt. Ain't that crazy. Well, maybe I'll teach you a few of our tricks, but they're really not that hard. It's mostly showponyship; when you're on the ground it's hard to judge what a pony in the air is really doing. Heh. That comes in handy in the cavalry, I'm sure."

Dash's eyes opened wide. She had been trying to digest the term national treasure, but suddenly she felt a sense of kinship she hadn't known she had been needing. She grinned. "Oh. My. Gosh. Spitfire. That is exactly right. That's what I'm doing here! Oh, Spitfire, nopony understands, not even my girls. They do it but they don't understand! And I try to tell the unicorns and they understand even less! "

Spitfire smiled and nodded.

Dash continued, gesturing wildly, trying to illustrate as she spoke. "There are so many things you can do to disguise your true heading and position. You just have to plan out how you want it to look, and then there's all sorts of tricks you can use to make it look that way I mean, we're talking a difference in time before impact of seconds. Seconds! I mean seconds, Spitfire, whole seconds! And I know it doesn't sound like much to the unicorns, but you know what a second means in the air! When the lions or gryphons or whoever think they've got 20 seconds to get into position and they've only got 15, you'll hit them before they've braced their spears. You'll plow right through 'em! Oh, Spitfire! You have to see my plans! C'mon!"

She stood up, and flung her head towards her tent. "C'mon! Back to my tent! I'm not a good artist, but you'll understand the diagrams, I know it!"

Spitfire followed, feeling increasingly confident in her decision to sign on with Lt. Dash.


In the headquarters tent, Celestia stared at the map. "I will ask you again, General," she intoned. "How. Did. This. Happen."

The old unicorn shifted his weight. "We...told the pegasi to scout around the area. To keep a watch for movements. They must not have--"

Celestia cut him off, wheeling her glare to him."--do not tell me what the scouts did not do. It is your job, General, your only job, to ensure that the scouts do it. How is it the case that there is a gryphon army within three hours' march? What have you failed to do? And what do you expect me to do about it?"

The old unicorn was silent. Celestia looked back at the map.

"We're going to have to fight them tomorrow. We're in no condition to retreat. We'd have to abandon our entire camp if we did that. We wouldn't be an army; we'd be a rabble of refugees." She moved a few tokens around the map. "No. We have to fight. And we have to rout them completely. Or it's over."

She turned to her sister. "Luna. The Generals, it seem, have forgotten the necessity of thoroughness in preparations. Prepare a tactical deployment for tomorrow morning. Be creative; you're quite devious when you wish to be." Celestia winked. Luna smirked back. "I myself am going to round up and address the troops. I'll return in an hour and we can discuss what you've come up with."

Luna sucked on a strand of hair. Hm. The gryphons would be expecting a panicked retreat. That's all they've seen so far. And they wouldn't have yet learned any respect for Equestrian generalship. Well, then. A "panicked retreat" will be the order of the day. Why, our caravans will retreat right up this hill here. Right into the cloud cover we'll set up before dawn.

She smiled, and began to draw lines on the map.

There'll be a panicked retreat, all right.

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