• Published 9th Jan 2017
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The Atlantean-Dominion War - The Atlantean



Crimson Dawn enlists in the Atlantean Reserve Emergency Army (AREA) to defend Atlantis from the Dominion of Apollo.

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16. The Battle of Emberforge Valley Part 3

The stone ceiling shook violently as the thousandth pressure wave pierced its thick, seemingly indestructible skin. The young princess, no older than fourteen years of age, looked worriedly up and sighed. Something was going on at the surface she never visited, never saw, never heard. The deep booming of explosions could be picked up by her astute ears, with the crackling of smaller ones being nearly constant.

She had a pitch-black coat that was, like all Changelings, peppered with holes. Nearly mature herself, Princess Mirage stood not quite six feet tall, with her subjects a good two feet shorter like the ponies they knew lived in this land. Her mane was the oddity about her, however; instead of a classic greenish seen on most Changeling queens and princesses, it was dark mauvish, almost a deep violet shade. Her eyes were the same color as her mane and tail. Mirage or not, the Princess was the pride of Queen Duplicate.

Mirage walked into the throne room to talk to her mother. Queen Duplicate, referred to as Queen Kate by the populace or by her guards as Queen Katie, sat regally on the throne, calmly waiting for the next report from the surface to come in. The Queen looked a lot like her cousin Chrysalis, with the spherical head, green mane and tail, and cheese-holed body, but beyond that, the two her drastically different. Where Chrysalis wanted to invade, Kate tried diplomacy. Where Kate used more subtle means to gain food, Chrysalis waltzed in and forced it. But Kate lived here, under the bluffs of Emberforge Valley, in caves carved out by the fiery molten rock of Mount Emberforge, and Chrysalis lived somewhere in Equestria. Her occasional glances upward betrayed the facade, though. A small pebble landed beside her and she shrieked like the end of the world.

“Mother, I must know what is happening up there!”

Queen Kate’s face slumped. Of course the youngling’s curiosity would come up. “Mirage, the reports from the surface are sporadic. We cannot get a concise picture of whatever situation threatens to bring down the roof! I am just as in the dark as you are, my dear.” She motioned with her hoof. “Come here, my child. I will protect you even if it kills me.”

Mirage walked to enter her mother’s embrace and sat down. “Mother, is the Dominion here to take us?”

“I don’t know, Mirage. The last report from Captain Pseudonym does not say much, but I believe the Dominion will find us. It is only a matter of time. Perhaps you are right, and they know, but I prefer to look at the bright side and hope it is in fact some kind of rebellion.”

“When was it? The report, I mean.”

“It came in last week,” Kate said. Mirage started to tear up. “My dear, I know you love him, and that it actually is love and not infatuation. But you must accept that he has a job in protecting you as your personal guard and that he may die doing so. The hardest thing a Queen must learn to do is to let the subjects she holds closest to her go. Hopefully, you will not learn this the hard way just yet.”

Right at that moment, a single Changeling guard covered in black soot and smelling of smoke burst through the doors. “Queen Katie!” he cried. He dropped to an awkward kneel before continuing. “It’s a battle! The Dominion flag flies above the bluffs, but the Atlanteans stand defiant on a low hill in the valley. They’ve been exchanging artillery shells for hours, and the forest is ablaze from the assault.”

“Captain Pseudonym, why have you not informed us of the brewing exchange of lives above us?” Kate demanded.

“I was following the Domination Army to here. They found me, but I ran into the Atlanteans and followed them. They entered the valley and I had to lie low for a while, lest they find me as well. Then, this morning, I awoke in my treetop perch to the sound of explosions! It took the remainder of the day from then to now to get inside the hive without detection,” he immediately answered.

Queen Kate stood. Her mane and tail flowed out in the cave “wind,” creating a dramatic effect on her size as she extended her wings. “Captain, return to your position as my daughter’s personal guard. If this hive is breached in any way, shape, or form, you get her out using the escape tunnel. The Guard has been on edge since this morning, so we are prepared, but the roof may still cave in and open a path. Understood?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Pseudonym took his place beside Princess Mirage, who had edged to the corner of the throne room. There the two waited while Queen Duplicate donned her morphleather armor and strode to her hive’s command chamber.

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The Dominion infantry had stopped coming and now sat back, laying siege to the heavily-depleted Atlantean army. Artillery still fired, belching its white smoke and spewing shells between the lines. Crimson held his repeater close to his chest, breathing hard from the last harrowing hours.

Platinum and Southern Lights chatted softly about South’s lost brother. Their heads hung low, not just for the sorrow, but because they liked those heads without holes in them.

Crimson pulled a wadded letter from his sister Crystal Shard and read it. He hadn’t gotten the chance just yet. It was a song, and he ended up singing it softly*:

Read to the tune of "Amazing Grace"

I wished upon a falling star
I left my home for you!
My heart ne’er left your glor-ious thoughts
And I will come home to you…

When he finished, his friends were looking at him curiously. “Crystal send you a song?” Platinum asked.

“Yeah.”

“You think we’ll get out of this?”

“It’s certainly possible, but only time will tell. The odds don’t so good right now. Today we lost North. I don’t want either of you, nor anypony from Medical, or Logistics, or the other regiments, to die. But it does happen, so we need to be ready for when it does.”

“This war really changed you. You used to be much less serious as a colt. I think Peachy had a crush on you back home. Back where our problems could be solved without losing anyone. When we still had Bats - and also North now, I suppose.” Platinum sighed. “Let’s focus on one thing at a time. Getting out of this battle is the first. With as many as we can bring with us.”

“I don’t leave without Silvercrest.” Crimson stated flatly. South agreed.

“No matter. We get her, too.” Platinum looked skyward to see a bright ball of fire descend into the hill just below them. The heat from the proximity simmered his blood. “They have firebombs!” He shot a water spell at a second close one and it plopped down like a large, wet sponge.

Then a high-explosive artillery shell zoomed in, unseen against the coming nightfall. It slammed into the ground short of the trench and collapsed a large chunk of hillside. The roar was impressive, not from the explosion itself, but from the avalanche it caused. Both sides peered closely at the tumbled rock.

“What’s our ammo?” Crimson called down the line.

“Three shots per, Warrant!” Treetop called back from his end.

“Damn.” Crimson grimaced. “We’re not repulsing the next one.”

The Dominion line infantry marched slowly under the pall of smoke and roar of artillery. Crimson glanced over the trench wall. “Shit, they’re coming!”

But the enemy stopped just short of the large hole. The ponies raised their guns and fired. Screeches of pain, agony, and surprise burned themselves into the Atlanteans’ minds. The screams and moans continued, but were silenced by the next two volleys. Crimson stared down, realizing his army defended the top of an anthill.

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Queen Duplicate sat in the command room, waiting patiently for the imminent break. Soil wasn’t impenetrable, after all, and it was the icing to the cake that was her hive. Then the rumble of artillery stopped altogether for a full five minutes, the silence nearly killing her. She glanced around, her pricking ears detecting a faint crackle of rifles. It suddenly grew louder as if it echoed through the caves.

“My Queen! The valley entrance has been breached!” a guard cried as he ran in moments later, covered in green Changeling blood from his wounds. Then he collapsed and died.

The Queen stood abruptly. “All defenders to their posts. Prepare to repel enemy troops. This is not a drill. All civilians evacuate the upper levels to clear a path for our soldiers. I repeat, this is not a drill,” she said aloud as calmly as possible.

Throughout the hive, Changelings ran to constitute the auxiliary guard, a reserve that normally protected those unfit to fight. The five main armories were quickly filled with clangs of armor and weapons and Changelings racing in and out. Civilian Changelings packed what they could and hurried to large spiral staircases that went down to deep within the bedrock while pulleys carried the young and elderly down the center of huge vertical shafts that extended miles below the surface. Torchlight flickered as more artillery pressure waves shook their perches.

“We’ve practiced for such an outcome for centuries,” the Queen said. “This is just the reality.”

“Queen Katie, the runners are coming in. Reports of several hundred ponies armed with extremely accurate guns are flooding through the breach, and more are pounding the walls in with their artillery!” her main commander said.

“Establish a perimeter around the central shafts. No pony gets through until the civilians are getting out of the escape tunnels.”

A runner raced out of the room to deliver the message. The commander issued orders for leaving the room after the next one came in, though. “Queen Katie, the enemy is barreling right through our troops. They’ll reach this area in a matter of minutes.” Already, the volume of gunfire had increased dramatically. It was getting hard to actually hear.

“I hope the Princess is out of here by now, milady!” yelled a runner. She wheezed for few seconds. “The palace caved in!”

Queen Duplicate sighed. “I hope so, too.”

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

Guard Captain Pseudonym ducked behind a wall as the Domination Army flooded the palace’s main escape tunnel. They fired multiple rounds at him, and he pulled Princess Mirage out of harm’s way. “To the secondary route!” he hissed.

She complied, clearly frightened by the sudden appearance of hostile ponies in her home. Mirage galloped to the solid rock wall and cast a single recognition spell. The wall slid open from her magic and the two ran through, closing it behind them. They hurried along the dimly lit corridor until flashes of light appeared in front of them. Mirage instantly jumped to the side while Pseudonym ducked. Bullets ricocheted off the solid granite walls.

Mirage teleported herself and her guard to the third exit portal. Luckily, no enemies had reached it yet. They ran out into the dark night, where they could spread their wings and fly. It didn’t take much encouragement to do so; the Dominion was really damn close. But once they were in the air, Mirage could see the surface battle in fair detail.

Seventeen tattered flags flapped in the wind above the valley entrance to her hive, the hill choked with blood. Artillery shells pounded the entire valley from the bluffs surround it. The forest fire had not begun to die down yet, so it provided plenty of illumination across Emberforge Valley. Red signals shot high from the Atlantean holdout. Mirage looked to Mount Emberforge as a response signal flew high above the siege around it. Neither the ponies in the valley nor those in the extinct volcano could see the other’s signals through the white smoke that hugged the valley floor.

“Princess, I must get you to safety. This area is too dangerous for one as important to our preservation as a hive as you are.” Pseudonym told her.

“I know. But those poor souls down there can’t see their allies. Give me a second.” Her crooked Changeling horn lit up with a spell. Before Pseudonym could warn her otherwise, Mirage shot the bright red bolt of magic straight up into the sky above her. It sailed beautifully in an arc to rest at the apex of its trajectory and rained magic lightning onto the bluffs. Red electricity superheated the ground and created a mirage-like effect that showed Atlantean flags on both sides of the valley to which the remaining Dominion artillery began firing at, oblivious to the ones behind them.

Several red signals were launched from the Atlanteans in the valley to the same height as her lightning strike. In response, more were seen from Mount Emberforge. Insanely bright flashes originated from long-range artillery stationed on the volcano’s highest cliffside terrace. The shells fell just short of the mountain’s end of the forest and exploded violently. Fragments flew in all directions and even made it to the low hill where the seventeen flags waved in defiance. Then the guns adjusted their aim to be slightly higher. Shells flew faster than Mirage could fly into the forest, sending their fragments over the hill and onto Dominion infantry.

“Princess! Now!”

Mirage flew low with her guard and raced to the main civilian exit points.

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The Unicorn Airship Captain Maelstrom was at the helm of his flying frigate Perplexus to resupply Emberforge Base. His storm-gray coat and raincloud-white mane and tail stood still as if the winds had suddenly stopped. No matter; he’d just have the crew turn the propeller-spinning rotors down in the hull. They hated it, but it got the job done. Plus, Maelstrom’s innovative addition to his flying frigate meant they could even go against the wind to a degree.

Suddenly, a bright red spell flew from high up to arc over the center of the valley. It sent lightning down on the bluffs below, incinerating many of the flashes that continually went off. After a few moments, the flashes continued, but shot at each other instead of whatever was in the valley. Four bright red signal spells flew up through the dense smoke and Maelstrom realized what was happening. A battle was taking place.

The wind picked back up again in the direction he least wanted: over the battle-wrecked valley. “Stow the sails!” he called.

The Pegasi on his crew flew to stow the sails that hung from great masts sticking out the side of the flying frigate. The few that were unfurled above the deck were not stowed however. They were maneuvering sails. A Unicorn called out to the anchor party to wait until the Captain gave the order.

“All gun crews, to battle stations! We may have some company soon! Leave the anchor be; we’re a sitting duck if we let it loose. All crewmembers, this is the Captain. There’s a battle goin’ on below us, and it looks like our buds are losin’. If we go in, we’ll have to do it fast; the Doms still got artillery.” Maelstrom’s sole ear, his left, pricked around for more sound than it could process like usual. His hurricane-eye cutie mark shivered with static electricity.

“Captain, request permission to ready the cargo crane and rope ladders?” his first officer asked.

“Go ahead. We gotta hurry, though. A storm’s brewing.”

“Yes, sir.” The first officer turned to the crew. “Ready the crane and ropes! Open the lower cargo doors! Unpack the rescue materials and light the lanterns! We’re on the clock!”

Perplexus coasted in nicely to be situated above the remnants of the Atlantean Reserve Emergency Army. The the rope ladders dropped onto the crest of the hill.

Sarge saw the airship fly in and light its lanterns. Orange ones - they were here to rescue. He ran to the medical tent and yelled: “We’re gettin’ outta here! Pack up what you haven’t and get the wounded to the crest of the hill!”

Nurse Lieutenant Rose Thorn relayed the orders on and made sure they were carried out. The airship’s cargo crane lowered a platform that she put two nurses and the most heavily wounded on. Then it creaked up, unloaded and dropped back down, followed by many rope ladders.

“Climb the ladders if you’re able! Wounded and supplies only on the crane!” she called. Logistics ponies came in, herded by Sarge, and climbed the ladders.

The heavy starboard anchor dropped down from Perplexus and kept her from moving anywhere. It smashed the empty mess tent and sent splinters into the canvas, which protected those on the ground from injury. The cooks scrambled up, followed by other Logistics personnel.

“Sarge, how many do we have to go?”

“Too many. Judging by the size of the ship, its a flying frigate with a maximum capacity of thirteen hundred, not counting any cargo. We’re two thousand over the limit.”

Silvercrest and the Second Coastal ran up. “They’ve all gone into that cave system. We’re in the clear for now on that side.”

Sarge frowned. He was going to regret this next decision, condemning many brave ponies. “Silvercrest, get your troops up the ladders. I know you’ve got the biggest regiment left, but you’ve also got the new toys. I must keep as many as I can from falling into enemy hooves. And tell the Midlands guys that you picked up to climb as well.”

“Yes, sir.” Silvercrest ran to the Midlands regiments she found earlier that day to retreat. They did and waited their turn to go up. The four remaining artillery pieces and scrounged ammo was sent up the crane with gun crews and a steady flow of trickling wounded.

Captain Maelstrom watched the ponies gain his deck and hoist each other up. “How much cargo are we hauling, and what is it?” he asked his first officer.

“Food mostly, Captain. A few bombs we could drop on the Doms. if we spent some ammunition hitting the enemy, we’d have slightly more space.”

“Fill up everything, including the rotor room. Have those getting up here to eat. That’ll prevent some food from being wasted. Lower the ocean emergency rafts for more space. And fire on the Dominion.”

“Yes sir.” A moment later, the thunderous BOOM of twenty cannons broadsiding Dominion forces was heard. Bombs were sent down when the crane lowered, and got spent quickly when the Dominion realized their foe was retreating. More canister rounds from Perplexus’ guns silenced many battle cries faster than the bombs could. The edible cargo was greedily accepted; most of AREA hadn’t eaten much all day.

Silvercrest was the last of her regiment to come up the ladder, carrying her flag up the ropes and tossing it up before she gained the deck. She was met by Rose Thorn, who checked her for serious wounds, then went on to meet her troops in the bow of the airship. They crammed themselves in like sardines to make more room for others. The Midlands guys did the same on one of the ocean rafts.

Maelstrom glanced worriedly at the bluffs. They’d been there too long, and he knew it. Thunderclouds were building to the south last he saw, and they were getting close now. But over fifteen hundred ponies were still down there. The ones that came aboard and were clinically healthy crammed in to make as much room as physically possible. A magic flare shot up to keep the Emberforge artillery from firing downrange at the frigate.

More and more of AREA piled on, weighing the airship down considerably. Maelstrom started to fear that he wouldn’t be able to get back up into the sky. The fighting below had intensified in some areas, so he wouldn’t be taking as many up, but his ship was literally overflowing. Ponies had filled up all the life rafts and upper decks. The only logical choice left was the twin lookout posts on the diagonal masts, but he needed those to be clear. “Cease firing! All gun crews, leave the cannons and help stuff ‘em inside!”

The twenty cannons were left sticking out of their gunports while the gun crews were able to bring ponies into the gun deck. Even more were crammed in. Perplexus’ thick cables holding her to the hovergas-filled ellipse strained noisily. If they snapped, everypony was doomed.

“How many left?” Maelstrom yelled.

“Six hundred fifty, dropping fast. We’re losing our guys down there! They’ve all sent up at least a dozen from each regiment with the flags.” Sarge called from the ground.

“What?” Maelstrom asked.

“Six-fifty,” one of the army colts said. He’d heard Sarge’s bellow even if the Captain hadn’t.

“Tell whoever’s down there that we don’t have any weight left! The lines are staining!”

Soon, Sarge himself appeared on deck and wormed to the Captain. “We lost the guys down there. I was the last one up. All ladders are stowed and the crane is raised.”

“Then let’s get out of here. How many did we pick up?”

“Probably close to two thousand. Thanks for the help.”

“If it weren’t for the lightning, I wouldn’t’ve even seen where you guys were. We can dock at Emberforge soon if the lines don’t snap on us.”

The flying frigate Perplexus rose slowly upward, out of artillery range, and Maelstrom unfurled the sails. He raised the dropped anchor as well. Meanwhile, Sarge sighed. He and most of what survived the day had escaped. Now they could get to the extinct volcano and do what they could.

Author's Note:

I believe this is the longest chapter I've written to date. My first venture into the realm of 3,000-word chapters.

This Changeling hive will get a backstory, more or less, so don't worry.

Yes, Perplexus was just going along its route, pretty high up so it couldn't be seen and hit by enemy forces. But nighttime regulations would have them fly lower just so they can be rescued easier if they crash, so that's why the airship was low enough for her crew to see the "lightning" dead ahead.

Feedback appreciated.

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