• Published 17th Nov 2011
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Fallout: Equestria- The Last Sentinel - Adder1



It's hard to kill memories when you remember everything.

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Reflection Twenty-Four: Pulling Under

Reflection Twenty-Four: Pulling Under

“You are either with us or against us.”

Didn’t go directly to Luna to deliver the message. Not immediately. Had to stop somewhere else first. Had somepony else important to talk to first.

Hesitated a little just outside her doorway. Felt that wave come up under me. Raised my hoof, held it there for a few seconds. Seemed like centuries.

I knocked.

“Come in.”

I entered.

Celestia’s place at the School was well-furnished. It had a broad, welcoming desk along with a terminal. Plenty of books. Had a window with a view of Ministry Walk and Castle Canterlot. Also had a twin-sized bed off to the side. Realized with a start- she was now living here.

The storyteller let out a soft, misty breath.

I often saw Luna without her regalia. It was a comforting sight, seeing my Nightingale like that. It reminded me that she was done with work and ready to relax with me.

I rarely saw Celestia without hers. The only time up until her abdication was after the first night I spent with Luna in the castle. Without that glittering gold and violet, she seemed… smaller. Weaker. Fragile.

Vulnerable.

“Hello again,” I greeted, my grave tone so incredibly loud in the stark silence.

“Hello again,” Celestia greeted in turn, her soft tone so incredibly delicate. She beckoned me closer with a gentle smile. Never did lose that motherly feel to it. “Come in. Come in.”

I stepped past the portal and clicked the door shut behind me. Sat down across from her. Silence surrounded us for several seconds.

No. Not silence. A steady ticking drew my attention to a grandfather clock. She was still counting the seconds. Her recompense.

And I had the feeling there was now something else she was keeping time for.

My eyes met hers once more. “What can we do to stop it? The War.”

She let out a quiet sigh made deafening by the reticence. “I don’t know anymore.” She cast her gaze downward. “I remember a time when ponies were all so timid that a stampede of rabbits could cause some to faint. A small part of me was hoping that every bit of news of horror on the battlefield would shock everypony, everyone enough that they would understand what war truly meant and seek an end to it. Zebrica started using lethal weapons, and that only steeled their resolve. And then… Littlehorn…” Her voice drew to a whisper, and the room fell silent once more.

I continued to watch her, letting out a soft, misty sigh. “You still blame yourself for it.”

“All for a joke, Frost,” she said exasperatedly and with her tone rising, speaking before I’d even finished. “All for a joke. Just so I could tell her I was sending her students to the moon.” And now her tone wavered.

“You couldn’t have known,” I said, my own tone rising.

“I did,” she countered, her shaky tone growing ever louder, ever angrier. “I knew about the tensions between us and Zebrica over the gem pirates. I knew the site might be too close to the ocean, and when war broke out, I didn’t even propose that the academy be moved! I ignored the signs, just like over a thousand years ago!”

I was stunned into silence. By now, she stood and loomed over me with her wings flared out dominantly. Her teeth were gritted, and tears trickled down her face.

On and on the grandfather clock tick-tocked, cutting deeper and deeper into her weary heart with each swing of the pendulum until she could bear it no more. In but a second, she collapsed back down, wings splayed limply to her sides as she squinted her eyes tightly shut.

“I let it happen all over again, Frost,” she hissed. “I… I can’t sit at the throne after that…”

I stood. I moved around. And I drew her close.

The storyteller let out a deep sigh.

And she surrendered to it. Absolutely no resistance. And she was so warm. Was painful for me. But she needed it. She needed it. She needed somepony. Anypony.

When the tears eventually dried, I whispered, “I spoke with Chief Thunderhooves. He… wanted us to continue to uphold what we stood for. He wanted us to keep holding onto the promise of peace. I need your help, Celestia. So does Luna.”

“I don’t know what help I can give,” she whispered over my shoulder. “We tried everything. And… in spite of all of the tragedy, all of the lives lost, they still fight harder than ever. I don’t know what madness found its home in the hearts of equinekind.”

The storyteller stood a little straighter, a little firmer.

Her next words… they still haunt me to this day.

“I don’t know what to do, Frost. I want to end it all peacefully. But I don’t know what to do. And that scares me.

“It scares me because this war is going to change everything.”

* * *

Then I went to her. Down the hallways. Past her two Guards. Into her office.

I didn’t come alone.

She greeted us with a smile first. The lines etched into her brow had thinned somewhat. She’d been getting sleep.

The storyteller smiled softly, shortly.

Good…

He let out a soft sigh.

That smile disappeared as soon as she took notice of Celestia standing beside me.

“We need to talk,” I said simply, seriously.

We sat down together around her desk, seated before that panoramic view of the Heartland. Shared to both of them- word for word- what Chief Thunderhooves told me: why he opposed the War, why he declined to join NETO, and his personal message to us.

And so we’re gathered here in order to discuss what we can do to bring a peaceful resolution to the War.”

I made eye contact with each of them. “We’ve always stood for peace. Or tried to. I admit that… as of late, I saw that the only way to end the War was to finish the fight as quickly as possible, that because so many of us still clamor for Zebrican blood, there would be no way to silence the beating of the war drums.”

I made direct eye contact with Luna. “That was a mistake. Our mistake. Chief Thunderhooves reminded me that we must… do… better. We must continue to stand for what we believed in, for those ideals you stood for.”

I turned to Celestia, “Ideals that led the world to an era of peace and prosperity. The end of the Almarinian War paved the way to the Age of Industry, and look at all of its fruits! We can’t be daunted. We can’t be dissuaded. We need to be the ones to stand firm against the tide and declare, ‘No.’ And I’m very glad that Chief Thunderhooves reminded me of that.”

I looked to all three of them. “Equestria sees you as its leaders- we see you as our leaders. Even as much as you don’t want us to, Celestia. You may not have the heart to rule, but I hope you have the will to act. We’ve all yielded in the wake of Littlehorn, but if we can show that we continue to strive for peace even after that, it might just send a message to enough people to consider what we’ve lost… and that it isn’t worth losing more. To that end, I’ve decided that I will speak to Ministry Mare Fluttershy. She too always wanted peace, but she lacks a firm voice. I can give her one, especially with my ties to Manehattan. If we can spread that message through the most populous city in Equestria, it’s a start. At the same time, I’d like to hear what we can do together to bring a peaceful resolution to this great and bloody war.”

Celestia inhaled deeply and cracked a smile- a thin one, but it was a smile. “You make a fairer prince than my nephew, that’s for sure.” She took a slow breath through her nostrils. “I still don’t find myself fit to rule. But you’re right, Frost. I must have the will to act. This War has claimed over four-thousand Equestrian and Zebrican lives. With the conflict escalating further, that number will only increase… and sharply. I can’t stand by and let that happen. And so I will go from Stalliongrad to Tail Aviv, Manehattan to San Franciscolt, Cloudsdale to The Deep, Berrillios to Almarinia… and speak to any who will listen.”

I swelled, feeling hope welling within me. It wasn’t much, but I had the most powerful people in Equestria on my side. I turned to Luna, eager to hear what she would do.

She smiled softly, a twinkle in her eyes. “I suppose it’s time for another State of the Principality address. Sister, I could use your presence for it, even if-”

There was a knock at the door, and as one we all turned toward it. “Princess Luna,” one of the Guards called. “Captain Obsidian has returned from Ground Zero.”

That smile was long gone. “She’s been gone for almost an entire day. I’m not going to like what I’m about to hear, won’t I?”

There was a powerful, unnatural thud behind us. When we turned, the earth dracopony mare was there.

“No,” she answered, stance firm and expression dour, “but it’s important that you hear it. Right now.”

Luna let out a soft sigh and turned to us. “I’ll be back shortly.” Then to Obsidian: “Captain, take us to debriefing.”

She gave a stout nod and turned to us. “Celestia, Frost, if you would so kindly blink.”

I did. We did. And they were gone with that same loud thud.

We shared a look. “Ground Zero,” I repeated.

“Littlehorn,” Celestia surmised. Gone was that swelling hope.

Especially when they returned fifteen minutes later.

The storyteller inhaled deeply.

She had that look as she sat back down.

He held up a hoof in front of his lips as if contemplating, glancing away.

A very specific look. Eyes downcast, hoof rubbing against the mouth. A very specific look.

It wouldn’t be the last time I’d see it.

He looked back at the audience.

But I knew the moment I saw it… I wasn’t going to like what she was going to say.

“Frost, Captain Obsidian, would you please excuse us?” she asked, glancing up at me, keeping her hoof there at her mouth. “Please remain outside.”

I closed my mouth, straightened my gaze and my posture, and nodded silently. Obsidian, in the meantime, bowed stoutly. “Yes, Princess,” she uttered before righting herself. We saw ourselves out.

Deafening, deafening silence. So silent that the sound of the breath from my nostrils made my skin crawl uncomfortably. I looked between the two Lunar Guards at the door and then finally Obsidian. She was standing attention much like the other two, but the moment I looked at her, she already had her draconic gaze on me as if expecting it.

“What did you find out?” I asked.

“I’m not at liberty to inform you,” the ash-gray mare answered. “That is for Luna to decide. And no, I don’t expect you to be satisfied by that answer.”

I let out a soft, misty sigh. “How bad is it?”

She was silent, continuing to watch me with that unblinking gaze.

“You’re not even allowed to tell me that?” I inquired.

Now she let out a soft sigh of her own. “Not in public.”

I stared at her, then down the hallway, then back to the two Lunar Guards at the office doors. “‘Not in public,’” I parroted wryly.

One of the pegasi dracopony- the one without the engraved eyepatch- cleared his throat. “Our operations demand that we have very specific definitions and requirements for what we refer to as ‘public’ and ‘private,’ Frost.”

I let out another soft, misty sigh and nodded stoutly, yielding. So it was going to be a waiting game.

I was there for a… must have been close to a half-hour. The doors glowed a golden yellow, signalling the pegasi dracoponies to stand aside as Celestia parted them and strode on through. She spoke not a word to any of us, passing us with a hard, glazed look to her eyes.

Eyes full of hurt.

“Celestia?” I called quietly. But too loudly in the deafening, deafening silence. The brilliant mare with the colorful cascade of a mane and tail… she gave pause for a few seconds. Then she went on. Her movements were lifeless… almost robotic.

“Frost.”

Looked back. Luna was still seated where she was. With that very specific look. Eyes downcast, hoof rubbing against the mouth. A very specific look.

“May we talk in private?”

He let out a deep sigh.

I went back in. And she told me something. Something horrible. Something that, in my… utter inexperience with war, had never- never!- crossed my mind.

The Lunar Guard wanted it kept secret. With good reason.

The storyteller rocked slightly in his seated position, glancing away.

I argued with her, you know. Even with the facts in front of my face. Argued, because I just couldn’t accept that. We rarely argued.

He rubbed his beard.

And the thing was… she listened. Patiently. Got me to calm down. Got me to think about it. And I understood. I looked at those facts- the ones in front of my face. Connected the dots. Saw the picture they made.

And… frankly, folks, that picture horrified me.

He fell silent for several seconds, stock still, eyes staring a thousand yards ahead as if reliving that moment.

It was the truth. And she came to me.

He placed his hoof on his chest.

Me. For advice.

A millennia-old goddess-princess. Came. To me.

For advice.

And in the end, it resulted… in… a choice.

He held up a hoof to the side.

Reveal that horrible truth to everyone.

And the other.

Don’t.

He folded his forehooves back in, leaned back, and breathed out an icy mist. A lot of it.

You know, folks, some Equestrians were bound to have thought of it. Just randomly, maybe on a hunch. But… from experience- personal experience from wiping out the Mumei- it would just be a whispered word, a joke, something… not, not taken seriously. Those who thought they’d figured it all out would… they’d just end up being labelled as conspiracy theorists or branded as laughingstocks or something.

‘That couldn’t happen,’ people might respond to them. ‘No way.’

He let out another misty sigh and lowered his gaze.

So Luna… came to me. Told me this horrible truth- truth that I initially refused to accept- and then convinced me it was nothing but. Then she asked me… me… for advice. And it boiled down to a choice. A single… choice.

The storyteller inhaled deeply and grimaced briefly, working his lips and continuing to avoid the eyes of the audience. He clicked his tongue.

I wasn’t new to power. I learned it from a very young age. The power of words, the... power to manipulate... the traditional view is that power is something attributable to a person, something that a person can possess in varying amounts. Equinpologists, I later found out, add another layer of meaning to that. They say that power is anything that exerts an energy that can be used to achieve an end.

Then those intense eyes flashed back on the audience.

Remember those... remember those words? It, it wasn’t too long ago that I last spoke them. The example with the speed limit signs supposedly enforced by radar- do you remember?

I just started realizing that I had power of my own forty years earlier, exerted through words to achieve an end- to beat Sunny at his own game, to bring him to my side, to win over his parents and the district officials barring him, and to gather a circle of supporters. After being so weak, so helpless for so long... this power felt good. And I wanted more. Manehattan was the City of Lights and Legends, and I wanted to be one of those legends. I had the name, I had the anonymity, and I had the power.

He pulled away slightly, eyes shifting as if looking into those of the audience.

Ah… now, now you remember.

I learned lessons since. But I still always had that power. Ready to be tapped, ready to be flexed, ready... to achieve... the end. That I. Desired.

I so easily- easily- brought the Mumei back under my control in order to support the war effort. And I so easily- easily- convinced Princess Celestia- I told you just now- to continue to strive for peace despite being brought to her knees by regret.

He pressed his hoof repeatedly against his chest.

I was ready to to continue that effort. I was.

Not a shout, not a protest. Not a defense. He spoke it as a statement.

I was.

And then Luna came to me and presented me with this choice.

His voice lowered- deadly quiet.

And she gave me the power to help her make it.

Call it what you will. Say I was just giving her my opinion on it. Maybe you could even call it an “educated” opinion.

He shook his head slowly.

It doesn’t matter. My words… my words have power. They did before. They do now. They did… then. I helped her make that choice. I unwittingly exercised that power, my power… and achieved an end that… even now I continue to hope is just all a nightmare.

He straightened out, glanced away for a few seconds.

I’m sorry. Just like last time I told this story. Delaying. Again.

Back in Stalliongrad, I looked directly at Rig and Soraya.

He looked to a specific place in the audience, peeling back the years.

I told them, ‘You asked me why I chose to hide who I was. You asked me why I silenced Miranda and Wendy. This is the first reason. Of many.’

The old buck stood and strode for his belongings. Each step was measured, mechanical, and yet so jittery and clunky as if all the gears had gone for ages without grease.

He removed his next memento. A single cassette tape.

Walked over to Roanoke.

Handed it over.

Play it.

And as the Razorwing switched the jukebox on, the storyteller turned back to the audience.

And at this moment forty years ago, I turned to Chief Thunderhooves. I asked him, ‘Are you proud of what I did? Are you proud of what I told them? Of what I tried to do?’

Fearing the worst, as if remembering what happened next, he was silent. But aghast. And I saw. I saw.

He remembered what happened next.

And then I said to him, ‘I was. But pride is fleeting.’

The jukebox crackled with static, the audio poor and grainy.

“Greetings, my fellow Equestrians. I speak to you now bearing… grave news.

“Many of us are still trying to come to terms with what is now known as The Littlehorn Massacre. Four-thousand-eighty-nine students, four-hundred-ninety-nine faculty, and their assistant dragons- equals both in partnership and in number- lost their lives to that tragedy. I told you that an infiltrator working with the Zebrican KSV used an alchemical weapon known as the Maaier agent primarily to silence one or more refugees who were in possession of critical military intelligence that could be used against the Empire, and I told you that this came at the expense of all of the refugees and nearly the entirety of the School.

“I was wrong.

“My fellow Equestrians, I ask you this- if only the refugees were the primary targets, why use a weapon of such obvious mass destruction and such horrible power, a weapon never before seen or used on or off the field of battle? If only the refugees were the primary targets, why hadn’t they been eliminated before they set sail and reached Equestrian shores? If only the refugees were the primary target, why strike them when they had sought aid at an academy filled with people of all backgrounds, ages, medical conditions- a whole diverse, isolated city all to its own?

If… only the refugees were the primary target, then why have we captured a team of scientists from the Zebrican KSV at Littlehorn?

“My fellow Equestrians, the refugees were never the primary target! They were collateral- and a means for the infiltrator to reach his true target!

“My fellow Equestrians, the Littlehorn School of Magic was specifically targeted as a test site for a new and deadly weapon of mass destruction in the Zebrican arsenal, selected for its biological and sociological diversity including but not limited to: species, sex, age group, disease state, and pre-existing conditions; selected for diversity in its local flora and fauna, selected for its isolation in order to avoid confounding data from nearby populations, selected for the nearby mountainous terrain and to analyze how the wind there would affect delivery and distribution of the agent, selected for the campus’ many buildings of different shapes and sizes to analyze penetration of the agent through multiple surfaces of different composition, and lastly selected for its impact on Equestrian morale!

“Khotek, false Caesar, puppetmaster, greatest demon of this Age! From the onset of The Great War, my sister, my daughter, and I myself have only sought a peaceful resolution to this horrible conflict! I believed that we could restore the centuries-old era of harmony and friendship that my sister started and that the Equestrian Parliament ended!

“But now I see your true colors, Khotek! You never wanted peace! You never wanted it, and in our endeavors to achieve it, you drew first blood, seized dozens of our territories, and! Now! This! We gave you the benefit of the doubt again and again when you did not deserve such sympathy! No more! I now know that the only way we can restore that centuries-old era of harmony and friendship is if you are not a part of it!

“By the power vested in my office as Princess of the Principality of Equestria, I declare total war on the Holy Zebrican Empire!”

~ ~ ~

The tape faded into static, and Roanoke switched it off. It was silent. Dead silent.

The storyteller carefully removed the tape and with the utmost care replaced it among his belongings. Each and every clack of metal, creak of wood, stretching of leather was wrongly deafening.

Then he faced the audience once more.

Back then… it was certainly… something, knowing you just escalated the War that already claimed so many thousands of lives, betraying a close friend in the process.

It’s certainly another to look back after all these years, knowing how it all ended.

He looked to a very specific place in the audience.

And to see the look on that friend’s time-etched, age-worn face. To see the horror in his eyes.

The storyteller closed his eyes and let out a deep, misty sigh. He kept them closed for a long time.

He asked me… ‘Why?’ In this horrible, scratchy whisper.

His eyes opened, their luster lost.

Evil prevails when the righteous fail to act. On some days, good days, I’m a righteous stallion.

But I’ve failed many, many times.

Melt away.

* * *

That evening. Alone. Back at my home in Ponyville. Lying back in bed, feeling utterly… lost as I stared into the rafters.

There was a light tapping at my window, beyond the shutters. Let out a deep, misty sigh. Just wanted to lie there. To keep feeling lost, staring up into the rafters.

Came again. Tapping was more insistent this time. Let out a sharper sigh, hissing out steam. Pulled myself out of bed, marched over, unlatched the window, tore open the shutters.

And found Pinkie Pie dangling in the air- from a giant bundle of colorful party balloons, no less. She smiled sheepishly at me and gave me this rapid, tiny wave with her hoof. “Hi, Frost.” There it was again. It had always been a broad, bright smile. And she never said ‘Hi, Frost.’ Was always ‘Hey, Frost,’ ‘Hi there, Frost,’ ‘How’s it hanging, Frost?’ Never just… ‘Hi, Frost.’

Remember, folks. No more laughter.

Sighed softly, feeling the rising irritation simmer back down. “Hi, Pinkie,” I greeted in turn flatly with little inflexion in my tone “What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be at the MoM hub in Manehattan or something.”

The outrageously pink- even after all these years- mare rubbed the back of her neck and chuckled softly, “Yeah, I know, but, uh… I had the… elbow twitch and lip tingle.”

Tunneled back through ten years. “That means Luna is sad,” I whispered.

She nodded solemnly. “I… also had the tail flick and hoof jitter.”

I didn’t need to dig back to remember what that meant. We fell quiet for a moment after that.

“Then I heard the news,” she said quietly. Stared her for several seconds. Remember… remember what I said about history, folks? Has a funny way of repeating itself. There I was, feeling like those ten years tunneled forward to me.

Just like before, I didn’t say anything. Only watched her.

“Do you wanna talk?” she asked quietly.

The old buck let out a soft, misty breath.

We talked. She came all the way from Manehattan just to see an old friend. She already knew about me and Luna, Luna and me. Could only oblige her. She tied her balloons down to the roof so her “ride home” wouldn’t fly away without her. Let her inside. And we talked. About Littlehorn. How much it hurt, hurt me and hurt Luna. About Chief Thunderhooves. About Celestia. About the meeting. Hurt, hurt, so much hurt.

“When… when she found out the truth about Littlehorn, she went to Celestia first,” I told her as we sat down on the edge of my bed together. “I don’t know what happened between them. I don’t think I’ll ever know. But she stepped out with this… looking like she was just absolutely lost. Then Luna told me. The evidence was all there, Pinkie. I argued with her. I rarely raise my voice at her like that. But she was right. She convinced me so.” I looked up at the pink mare, listening in earnest silence with open eyes and open ears. So… unlike her. “She asked for my opinion on… what she should do. Tell everyone. Or don’t.” Flattened my lips and hissed out steam through my nostrils. “I deferred to her judgment.”

Then came that question- that same question.

He looked back to that specific place in the audience.

“Why?”

“They attacked an academy of magic, Pinkie,” I said quietly, slowly, dangerously. “Civilians. There was… Littlehorn had absolutely no military importance whatsoever. You heard the news. It was selected specifically as a test site for all those twisted reasons! Diversity, isolation, terrain, architecture, and impact! You don’t just casually select for those things. It must have been scoped out for months- that and who knows how many other sites. And if it was a test, that implies they’re still trying to perfect that weapon, Pinkie. The Legion is planning to use it again.”

A part of me died, watching her tuck back her ears and turn her gaze away like that.

“Pinkie, the Legion showed that they were fully committed to war against Equestria to the point that civilians were a viable target.” I leaned closer to her. “The Legion doesn’t want peace if they’re willing to do that. We can’t just ignore that and continue to try for diplomacy. We gave them that chance for over ten years, and each time we thought they would play along or turn around, they spat back in our face. We’re done with diplomacy.” She shut her eyes. Tightly. And nodded.

Power in my words. It’s a dangerous power. Because you don’t know how far it’ll reach.

Let out a deep sigh. Pulled back. Sat straight. Looked away. “How are the others taking it?”

“Badly,” Pinkie answered quietly. “Especially Flutters. She took it really, really badly. She locked herself away for hours before flying all the way back to her cottage. I’d never seen her fly that fast or that far. She just wanted to be away from everypony. She didn’t talk to me, Rainbow- any of us. But…” She looked down at her hoof, flexing ever so slightly, “I know it’s bad. Really, really bad. I don’t know what she’s going to do. I know she won’t go...” She swallowed, “go that far. But I don’t know what she’s planning to do once she gets back to the Ministry of Peace. Because she’ll go back. I can feel it.”

Nodded slowly. “What’re you going to do?”

Pinkie closed her eyes for several seconds. When she flashed them open, I saw that old fire burning behind them once more. She hopped off of my bed and turned to face me, vitality behind her voice once more. “Well if Zebrica’s planning to test the Pink Cloud again, I’m going to make darn sure they don’t get the chance to reach Equestrian soil! I’ve got a lot of work cut out for me if I’m going to help the war effort! If those zebras want a fight, I’ll give ‘em a piece of my cake! … mind! I meant to say mind!” She nickered. “You get what I mean. What about you, Frost?”

I glanced at my nightstand. “Well, I’m going to speak with Luna.” I sprouted an ice arm and picked Silver Skean, popping her open in a Behind the Eight-Ball. “I need to get back to work.”

* * *

The storyteller let out a soft, misty breath.

Total war. You know what that means? I don’t think anyone but the princesses knew what it meant. I certainly didn’t know. The buffoons in Parliament who ratified Luna’s declaration certainly didn’t know. And yet when Parliament saw that the Princess that had once tried so hard to hinder the Equestrian war effort became its new figurehead, they ratified her declaration all the same Difference was... I cared enough to ask.

The storyteller’s words were crisp, exact.

Total war boils down to two things.

Number one, it meant that our government and its new ministries had much wider powers to manufacture, mobilize, and maintain the Equestrian war machine. Remember all those wonderful technologies I talked about? Portable terminals? Web cameras? High-definition television sets and monitor screens? Even the new smartphones trickling in from the Aldornan market?

Practically all of it was reclaimed, recycled, and repurposed into the bits and pieces that went into the modern Equestrian war machine. Somepony in MWT came up with the idea of asking for civilian electronics donations, and with so much peer pressure all around to support the war effort, only the upper crust of society could refuse. Wires and circuit boards became the guts of everything from command centers to fire control systems. Cameras and screens went into optics and sights. Even remote control toys found a home in the fledgeling robotics development department of the Ministry. It’s why all the tech you see is more CRT than LCD. It may not be flashy, it may not be elegant, but it was cheap, it was durable, and the military needed the rest.

Number two, all resources and infrastructure that could contribute to the enemy war machine were deemed legitimate military targets. Sound like a loose, vague definition to you? That’s because it is. Those “resources and infrastructure?” That meant civilian assets too, folks. If a Wirani wagon factory built engines that could be used in a Legion KMGT-99 armored fighting vehicle, it was a target. If a cannery packed fish for dragon consumption, it was a target. If a fucking textile workshop made officers’ uniforms for Legion decanii, it was a target.

So you may be thinking, okay, that’s a little harsh, but with what happened at Littlehorn, it’s justifiable, at least to some extent. With such a tragedy, you might be left with at least two questions: Why did Zebrica do it? And why didn’t Aldornan support swing toward Equestria after the revelation?

I couldn’t answer the first one yet, but… well folks, all resources and infrastructure that could contribute to the Zebrican war machine were deemed legitimate military targets.

Nobody said they had to be Zebrican.

* * *

I was back in Manehattan. Several more wagon factories wanted to contribute to manufacturing armored vehicles, and they needed direction, materiel, and subsidy- not in that order.

A desk job. Me. At a Goddessdamn desk job. Smoothed out the transition of businesses joining MWT. Handled logistics of setting up shipping of goods and capital. Made sure everyone stayed in line. Hated it. Felt like I was running the Mumei again.

I hated it.

But what else could I do? Serve as an ambassador? Featherfall’s been our emissary to Aldorna for twenty-three years. I might be an equinpologist, but he had the tenure and political know-how. And as an internal ambassador?

The storyteller let out a deep, misty sigh and looked to that specific place in the audience again.

Couldn’t bear the thought of seeing Chief Thunderhooves again after all that. Unthinkable. And I wouldn’t see him again for one-hundred-sixty-five years...

Continue my research? No. Because those three words kept on echoing in my head.

Repay the debt.

Repay the debt.

Repay the debt.

Kept echoing. Beat like war drums.

I knew what I was doing. I was fighting in my own way- behind the scenes, behind closed doors, out of sight, out of mind. I didn’t need to fight on the frontlines to set policies for the industrial engine that funneled resources and ponypower to it.

I was checking out forms in print and online when Applejack stormed into my office. I looked up from my work immediately, and warning bells went off in my head from her stern expression.

Closing the door behind her, she uttered, “Frost, y’all been listening to the radio?”

I furrowed my brow. “More than I should be but not recently. What happened?”

Without asking, she trotted up to mine and switched it on. It was already on the news. I only needed to listen for several seconds before I seized the phone on my desk and punched in the number.

The moment the secretary picked up, I spat with a rising tone, “You know my voice, you know who I am, now get me on the line with Princess Luna right damn now!”

* * *

“Frost…” Sigh. “It’s good to-”

“Luna, are you- I hate to cut you off like this, but are you aware that one of our destroyers opened fire on an Aldornan freighter?”

“... I am.”

“Did. You. Authorize this.”

“I did. I gave direct orders to do so, and before you think about saying anything else, you better check that tone.”

Flexed my hoof and bit on the insides of my cheeks, hissing out a breath before I went on. “Luna… Nightingale, please, please tell me you had a very good reason to sink an Aldornan mercantile vessel and send it and our efforts at forging some kind of continued partnership with the griffins to the bottom of the ocean.”

“That vessel was en route to Zebrican waters, Frost. I was assured that the captain in command of the HMS Stormbreaker hailed the freighter and warned all occupants to evacuate the vessel. When they did not comply, I authorized a warning shot and a repeated call to evacuate. When they did not comply, I authorized the destroyer to inform the freighter they were going to fire a single shot at the bow and then do so after one minute. After a minute passed, I gave the command to fire. After firing and restating the order to evacuate, the freighter’s captain yielded and ordered her crew to abandon ship.

“After confirmation that nobody was left onboard, I authorized the destroyer to torpedo the freighter amidships in the cargo hold. Afterward, all crew members were detained. Some will be released and delivered back to Aldorna with reasonable accommodations. Most will be detained as temporary prisoners of war for extradition to Aldorna.

“Secondary explosions were confirmed by the Stormbreaker’s captain, and the vessel sank in eighteen minutes, Frost. Only a freighter carrying munitions could have met its demise that quickly. Those prisoners are members of the Twin Eagles Company, a private military company allied with Zebrica. This is the same address I am going to give in fifty minutes. I may not be a warmonger Frost, but I am neither naive nor a stranger to war. I hope that qualifies as a ‘very good reason’ as per your words.”

Deep sigh. Quiet for a while. “... yeah. I’m sorry.”

Deep sigh. “War is as new to you as much as the rest of those around your office. You are forgiven. Just remember that I know a thing or two of war and its playbook.”

* * *

Set down the phone and rubbed my muzzle, frowning hard. As much as my dour expression tried to hide it, my heart was racing. I never talked to Luna like that. Not since Roam… and yet it had happened twice in a matter of days.

I looked up at Applejack, who in turn looked down at me expectantly. I let out a deep sigh. No time for that right now. She was expecting an answer. “Munitions and mercenaries bound for Zebrica,” I stated. “No civilian casualties.”

She cocked a brow at me. “That’s it, then? One of our warships sank an Aldornan merchant ship, an’ that’s it? Sweet Celestia, when did we suddenly start justifyin’ things like that? ‘Taint right!”

“No it isn’t,” I sighed,giving a dull nod in agreement. “Neither was it right for Zebrica to test a weapon of mass destruction on a school. You know how Luna feels about that.”

Exasperated, Applejack nickered, “Oh so we’re gunna just punish a neutral nation over it. Y’all’re fine with the idea of that?”

Irritation and tone rising, I stood and pressed firmly on the desk as if bearing a great burden and replied firmly, “No I am not, Applejack! Goddessake, if anything, I’ve been trying to foster some sense of cooperation or at least some sympathy with Aldorna over Littlehorn! I don’t like where this is going any more than you do! I’m a businesspony, equinpologist, historian, and pianist, not some policymaker just because of my relationship with Luna!”

The orange mare tucked her hat lower at that and let out a sigh. “... I guess ‘taint right for me to see you as one.” She frowned harshly. “So the hay we gunna do about all this?”

I puffed out my cheeks and sighed deeply, mistily. “We’re going to hope this didn’t just shoot us in the hoof in negotiations with Aldorna.”

The storyteller eyed each griffin in the audience.

This is the story of how the world died. And you know how it goes.

* * *

It was a month later on the news. Applejack and I were in the office. I called her over this time.

“The High Council stresses that The Griffin Republic of Aldorna is and will remain neutral in the face of this Great War, and we will continue to foster peaceful relations between the belligerent nations. We’ve attempted to do this through the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council, by seeking to maintain dialogue even if we must be relegated to the position of an intermediate, and by encouraging free, unrestricted trade between all nations.

“Today, the High Charter put forward a measure by overwhelming majority, a measure the High Council ratified by unanimous accord, a measure declared falling within the bounds of the Aldornan Nonpartisan Compact.

“Powers of the world, greater and lesser, The Griffin Republic of Aldorna has tried to rebuild bridges torn up by this great and terrible war. But it is no use if hooves don’t meet halfway. After the atrocities committed by The Holy Zebrican Empire, the unrestricted naval warfare waged upon our mercantile vessels by The Principality of Equestria, and the unanswered calls for them to denounce private military companies originating from our country, it seems we can only be burned by the flames of war as we try to put it out.”

I could see by now that many others gathered around anyone that had a radio in their office. Applejack and I were joined by her aides and my own.

And with each of the following declarations from that member of the High Council, murmurs and low curses filled the room.

“As of this moment, The Griffin Republic of Aldorna is closing all embassies within Equestrian and Zebrican borders and territories.

“Trade to both Equestria, Zebrica, and their holdings will be restricted indefinitely following recall of all mercantile vessels.

“Individual and group travel to belligerent nations and territories are now restricted and will be reviewed for approval on a case-by-case basis by a new travel board.

“Individual and group travel from belligerent nations and territories for governmental and commercial purposes will be denied.

“Current traveling Aldornans are encouraged to return as soon as possible, and current travelers in Aldorna from abroad will be given one week from noon Avalon time today to leave the nation.

“Afterwards, any foreigners remaining in our borders will be located, detained, and subjected to review for immediate removal.

“All financial assets belonging to the Equestria and Zebrica regardless of purpose or affiliation are now frozen.

“Communications with government and businesses in Equestria and Zebrica for purposes excluding emergencies will be suspended for one month.

Then, wearily: “For all the eyes and ears of the world upon us… know that we tried. Xicis, Stark Widow... deliver us through this dark hour.”

Even the newscaster struggled to find her words to move onto the next segment just as we struggled to make meaning of this sudden new development.

* * *

Wasn’t the only country to make an address in that time frame.

He spoke again at last. In that guttural undertone yet with such measured, exact words.

“It is not often I speak in the tongue of the enemy. So listen well.

“The Holy Zebrican Empire was founded on the ideals of mutual responsibility between one and another, ideals that date back to when equinekind lived in fear of the Wild Unknown and when zebrakind was sequestered to the scorching Dune Sea.

“We put our trust and faith in one another to survive and banded together to eke out the means to live and later thrive. We depended on one another to keep one another safe, secure, and sated in those trying times where our continuation as a species was not guaranteed. You are your brother’s keeper. And from that sacred vow was borne a family, then a camp, then a band, then a collective, then a Legion, and then a glorious Empire.

“After the end of the Age of Empires and the start of the Age of Industry, our oath of responsibility expanded to our international neighbors and especially The Principality of Equestria. We were partners in trade and later allies in warfare against the then Griffin Kingdom of Aldorna. We were responsible for our continued mutual success and well-being.

“I am not ignorant of our pasts.The Empire, the Principality, the Republic. The Bloodborn Oath, the Six Cardinal Virtues of Friendship, the Sacred Contract. The vow of responsibility, the magic of friendship, the ties that bind. We are stronger when we act together. Our strides grow longer, our wisdom greater, our brilliance brighter. The accomplishments of the Age of Industry are monuments to what we can accomplish when we work as one.

“But all good things, it seems, must come to an end. During the crisis of the Far North, the Empire dedicated vast resources to the Equestrian aid effort- untold sums of monetary and material support. The Empire was responsible for the continued well-being for everyone under our oath. The Great Exodus ruined not only the Far North but everyone else with it. The failure to save the Northerners ended in the loss of all the resources dedicated to it and sent the world into a spiraling recession.

“If you are not yet convinced of the magnitude of the recession, ponies, the Holy Zebrican Empire has always prided itself on a microscopic poverty and infant mortality rate. We aid our fellow neighbor, for who knows when that fellow neighbor will save us from the thief, from the debt collector, or the jaws of death?

“For the first time since the Age of Struggle, we could not provide for one another. The rich tried to stave off their neighbor’s destitution, and they too became destitute. How many zebras, minotaurs, dragons- the three races most loyal to the Legion- fled to the Republic or the Principality in search of a better life? How many oaths were broken? To add insult to injury, the recession not only ruined Zebrican financially but morally as well. I was ruined! So many futures stolen, and mine with them!

“The Republic and its industrious griffins innovated and adapted. The Principality made do. The Empire suffered, and what happened to that responsibility for continued mutual success and well-being?

“The Empire survived, but we did not forget. We did not forget that our ally of centuries’ age looked for themselves as we wasted to the point that both the dragons and minotaurs revolted against the cause that once united us.

“The Empire survived, united once more through the ties of spilled blood, blood that we were forced- that I was forced to spill. The blood of our own brothers and sisters. You ruined us morally again, Equestria.

“The Empire survived, and the Principality did as well. But you… you are changed. We are bloodied, battered, but we remain true to our values of responsibility to our fellow brother and sister.

“You, Equestria, are tainted.

“Honesty to deceit, kindness to cruelty, laughter to hurt, generosity to greed, loyalty to betrayal, and magic to the machine. And like the machine, you hunger for fuel. Through the Northerner Crisis all the way to the end of the Minotaur Uprising, you clamored for more and more of our coal and oil, never considering you were asking for more from a nation crippled by its own generosity and sacrifice.

“Hmph, generosity and loyalty… virtues I believe many of my brothers and sisters respected of you. So fitting that we now despise you for your greed and betrayal.

“I know not how it came to be this way, Equestria. Perhaps in your idealistic, innocent world, you felt wronged somehow. But consider.

“Consider that you never came to us in our own time of need after we came to your side for not one but two international crises.

“Consider that you had the gall to meddle in our affairs by brokering deals with the dragons that put Raj’M’Kora in power and led to another revolt not even a generation later.

“Consider that you declared war on our nation over a resource dispute- over resources we were rightfully owed for so long despite us weathering so much far worse from you.

“And consider that you lashed out at Aldorna for merely trading with us.

“How soon? How soon will it be before this evil engulfs us all? Equestria is tainted, vile, rife with corruption. The Empire has watched on and suffered for too long. You claim me as the greatest demon of this Age? I see a different and far greater demon. We’ve watched from across the water, catalogued your sins. You may choose to forget or ignore, but you are not innocent.

“And so I ask the Senate and Court to ratify and I ask for Aldorna… no, the world... to answer my call to arms- to purge the world of the great ignorant, insidious evil of our era, to put down this sick animal, to bring an end the Lunar regime.

Barra barra!

* * *

War, war never changes.

But Celestia was right. The war was going to change everything.

Including me.

* * *

Footnote: Frost- Level Up! Level 24 Reached!
Perk added: For the Princess!- Sunlight guide you and moonlight hide you. Enemies of Equestria beware- you now do 10% more damage to them.

Unlockables added: Soundtrack- War Changes Everything

Soundtrack- United for Peace

Soundtrack- Revelation

Soundtrack- Through the Airwaves

Soundtrack- Coup de Grâce

Author's Note:

Yeah... it's been a stupidly long time, hasn't it? But finally, it's here at last. I can't say much other than I hope you can all forgive me for making you wait so long before a new installment.

Special thanks go to Caesar Saladin for pre-reading this for me.

As usual, I encourage any sort of constructive criticism or feedback. Also, this still exists!

Until next time,
Adder1

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Comments ( 18 )

Well, this still exists. Hopefully you can get to the action soon, been waiting a long time to see how things pan out.

It's Alive!
Nearly two years and I'm thankful I still had this in my favourites.

and I already want more. :ajsleepy:

I have never been so happy to resurrect a story from my "Dead Fics" file!!!

Yay! Frost is back! :pinkiehappy:

Its back! After 15 months, glad to see it resurrected. I've been wondering how this would continue. As I've said before, awesome work Adder.

AW YES. ANOTHER ONE PLEASE!

It has been a long while

You still alive, mate?

ngl this is the edgiest foe sidfic I've ever read but I still enjoy it every time I read it

Hello there,
I was just curious as to the status of your story.
Is it still in progress?

You know what? This story doesn't just contribute with its awesomeness, it also gives us an amazing taste in music. Drive Hard is my new jam!

Amazing story, reading it never fails to make me squee in delight, keep it up! Can't wait for next chapter!

Mein Neger, I sure do hope you'll start wirting again, because this masterpiece should be finished!

Just dropping by again to say I miss this story. Hope you're doing well Adder.

I do hope you come back to this. Elsewise, I'll just pay my respects to the dead and move on.

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