• Published 16th Nov 2012
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A Great Endeavor - Rune Soldier Dan



On July 3, 1943, Equestria declared war on the Axis Powers. These are the stories of those times.

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Prelude: The Road to War

”Equestria will not know of our actions. If they do find out, they will not go to war. If they do go to war, they will not be effectual. There is no danger from that quarter.”

-Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmer, 1940



September 15, 1939



It was silly. The horses were stupid beasts, far dumber than even the goats of Equestria. But the steeds towered head and shoulders above Sweetie Pie, and she couldn’t help but be a little scared of them.

Most of the cavalrymen ignored her, thoughts turned towards the crisis at hand. A few sent her sly glances, mentally comparing their huge chargers to the stubby pony. Others frowned – the Poles had no love for Equestrians, or any other outsider for that matter.

Still, it was better than Germany. She went to Konigsberg University to study physics, but it had gotten…bad. Bad enough for her to make an unscheduled move to Poland.

She poked her companion with her hoof. “Are we done? How many pictures of horses do you need?”

“The editor loves cavalry,” the human offered with a shrug. His camera flashed once more, and he stood up.

They were an odd pair, to be certain. Sweetie Pie was a deep pink earth pony with an enviable mane: its red and white twisted around each other like a candy cane. Her Polish wasn’t great, but she had been blessed with a patient partner. The photographer – she didn’t catch his name – was a lanky, quiet man, with a trim black mane and brown overcoat.

She frowned, tilting her head as the man stretched. That was…basically all she knew about him. He never seemed to speak unless directly addressed.

“Hey, what’s your name?”

He shrugged again. “You couldn’t pronounce it.”

Sweetie Pie snorted and punched him playfully. “Try me, I’m sharp. You’re looking at the first earth pony EVER to get her master’s at Konigsberg.”

The photographer grunted, but a wry smile was playing on his face. “You couldn’t even get the editor’s name right. ‘Marcodovich,’ it’s not hard. What did you come out with, ‘Marco-dove-ick?’ During your own interview?

“Oh, shut up!” But she laughed as she spoke, the two of them walking side by side.

She needed money, and the Warsaw newspaper was the only thing that bit. It wasn’t her greatest interview, but the editor didn’t care for her brains. He saw a horse that came cheaper than a real horse, and assigned her as the photographer’s transportation. It was a bad fit – he was too tall to ride her comfortably. But he didn’t seem to mind walking, moving everywhere with long, stork-like gaits.

The pair followed in the cavalry’s wake, an amicable silence between them. Sweetie Pie inhaled deeply – the wind smelled like good, honest dirt. She was a city pony and proud of it, but somehow she never lost her love for the simpler things. Maybe Grandma was right, and the farm ran in her blood.

Grandma was DEFINITELY right about one thing: she never should’ve left home.

Grandma…and Mom and Dad, too. Maybe she wouldn’t see any of them again.

Her throat bobbed as Sweetie Pie swallowed. Her last letter had been months ago. If she died here, that would be the last they heard of her. Excitement that she was one year away from her doctorate, a few complaints about her roommates, then…nothing. It would be like she just vanished.

She sighed, allowing her head to droop.

“The war will be over soon,” the photographer said, evidently reading her somber mood. “Warsaw will hold, France will strike from the west, and Hitler will topple.”

He stepped a bit closer and tousled her mane. “And you, I expect, will be on the first boat to Equestria. You could even leave from Konigsberg, once they let ponies buy tickets again.”

It wasn’t that simple, and they both knew it. Sweetie Pie bit her lip, eyes still to the ground. “You know what I’m really scared of?”

“Hm?”

She shook her head. “Dying, sure, dying is scary. But I don’t have any children. I’ve never really made anything, or did anything. I haven’t even kept in touch with my family. If a bomb hits me or something, that’d be the end. It’d be like I never existed.”

Sweetie Pie swallowed again, looking far away with tear-stained eyes. “I wouldn’t leave anything behind. There’d be nothing to prove I was here. I’d just be…gone…”

The camera flashed in her face, startling her out of the introspection.

“Problem solved.” The photographer smiled slightly as he clicked his camera to the next slide. “But I don’t think I got your good side.”

“They were breaking cameras in Germany,” she grumbled, but the old smile was starting to show through.

“This isn’t Germany.” He said it matter-of-factly, without the heady patriotism other Poles were exuding. “Now, let’s see if this colonel will talk to us.”

Theirs was a low-budget newspaper, where a photographer and his mount would readily double as reporters. Conscripts talked to them without complaint. The soldiers were nervous and chatty, and spoke readily of their ‘real’ jobs as farmers and factory workers. The pair hadn’t had much luck yet with people of higher rank.

As the headquarters came into view, they both knew this probably wasn’t going to be an exception. Brown-uniformed soldiers were dashing to and fro, trying to find the best positions before the storm came. And come it would – they were outside Warsaw’s easternmost suburb, astride the most obvious attack route. This ground would not be spared the war.

The colonel commanding them was just as harried. The scowling man was shouting at everyone he saw, barking orders and extolling them to make every preparation they could. They needed to move, move, MOVE, and he didn’t have time for-

“Warsaw Free Journal, Sir, a moment of your time?” The photographer leaned forward past a guard, raising his hand. “Colonel Sosabowski? A few questions, Sir?”

The officer paid them no heed, continuing to brief several lieutenants. “…And I want a dedicated runner at each of your command posts. You see panzers, send him back and let the artillery know. They’re all we’ve got to stop the tanks with. See to it, and if you’re stationed outside the city, I want every man in a trench or foxhole. No easy targets. Any questions?”

One red-faced lieutenant raised his hand. “Colonel, my men have no spades to dig with.”

“Then dig with your hands,” Sosabowski said curtly. “Dismissed.”

Sweetie Pie stepped forward, stopping as a guard raised a warning hand. “Colonel, Sir? Care to make a statement for the people of Warsaw?”

Her high voice must’ve caught his attention, because Sosabowski actually acknowledged them this time. He turned toward Sweetie Pie, then did a double-take and squinted.

“An Equestrian? Here?”

His surprise was valid – Pony wanderers could go as far as their passports would take them, but such roads rarely led to Poland. A few unicorns made good livings aweing crowds with magic, but they stuck to wealthier, friendlier nations. More intellectual ponies sought out the great physics schools of Austria and Germany, studying the natural laws their land defied on a regular basis. But now…

Her mouth opened to speak, but Sosabowski was faster. “Doesn’t matter,” he said abruptly, turning away to some other task. “Go home. This isn’t your fight.”

“Oh, if ONLY it was that easy,” she snapped, but the colonel paid her no mind. The guard shrugged sympathetically, but still gestured with his rifle. No more harassing the officers.

The pair turned and left without protest. It would be an hour’s walk back to Warsaw, but the photographer made no move to mount her.

She paused as a dozen sharp whistles screeched. Muted crumps sounded in the distance as artillery shells exploded on their targets. But her and the photographer were moving away from the fighting – the shelling continued, but the noise diminished, then stopped altogether. This far behind the lines, all was peaceful.

Just like home.

Sweetie Pie glanced back, pondering what it would be like to be closer to the battle. She literally had no idea. Equestria had no wars, nor did it deal much with those who did. Humans weren’t even allowed beyond the ports. To stand beneath those shells, to hold a weapon…it was all alien to her.

She shuddered a little, imagining what it would be like there. When men died, did they scream, or just fall silently? Was there pain, or were they numb? Did blood trickle from a fresh corpse, or did it erupt like a geyser?

Those men marching to war, those farmers in soldiers’ uniforms…did they know?

Humans knew war best, she supposed. Sweetie Pie had read a little bit about fighting at the university. Her roommate’s boyfriend lent her a few books about knights, ogres and dragons.

Stauller, that’s what his name was. If his books were right, things would work out well enough. The black knight was always defeated, the ogre was always killed. Justice and virtue strengthened those who fought against evil. And no matter the odds, those who stood in the right would always find a way to prevail.

A thought crossed her mind, and she smiled a little. It sort of made sense, didn’t it? Princess Celestia was the most just and virtuous of anyone, and she was the mightiest being on Earth. Maybe the two things were related. Sweetie Pie knew those knightly stories were just old ponytales, but maybe their authors were on to something. No matter how bad things looked, Good would always triumph in the end.

The photographer caught her smiling and arched an eyebrow. He gave a confused smile of his own, doubtless wondering what she was thinking. No interview meant no bonus for the cash-strapped pony.

Sweetie Pie shook her mane and winked, keeping her little revelation to herself. It was a good feeling, this sense that everything would work out somehow.

“When I get my doctorate, I’ll hire you to take my graduation picture,” she said to her bemused companion, letting her hope carry the words. “Be sure to get my good side.”



------



Humans kept to humans, ponies kept to ponies.

Since the dawn of history, Equestria had always stood apart from the other nations. The separation was physical: inhabiting an island in the midst of the Atlantic, the land of ponies had never been seized by the conquering hand of Man. But even greater than the ocean's divide was the one between their hearts. Humans have ever been ambitious and unsatisfied, always seeking to improve their lot. Ponies, by nature, were content. So long as they had food, shelter, and friends, they would be satisfied.

Ponies and humans belonged in different places, and everyone accepted that. Students and traders would travel back and forth, but that was it. There weren’t even any diplomats between the species, for there was nothing to discuss.

Humans kept to humans, ponies kept to ponies, and that was that.



Until the photographer came.

Unheralded, he arrived on Equestrian shores and promptly advanced inland. No guard stopped him. Maybe his destiny would not be denied. Maybe his passage was Celestia's will, the goddess unwilling to stop him from delivering his terrible burden.

Either way, he passed through Ponyville in his stork-like walk towards Canterlot. Most had never seen a human before, though anypony could see something was wrong with him. The photographer had become pale and gaunt, with shaking hands and haunted eyes. He clutched a stained parcel in one hand, and a battered camera in the other.

Many ponies were surprised to see him, but nopony knew what to say or do. So they held their greetings, warnings, and questions, and returned to their lives. Maybe he was a refugee – a mare thought her cousin mentioned there was a war going on somewhere.

A single unicorn approached him, a blue-green mare with white in her mane. She was Lyra, she said with a smile, and he was the first human she had ever met. She was saving money to vacation in America, and wanted to know what the human world was like.

It was then that the photographer did cry. He knelt and wrapped his arms around the neck of the innocent, confused mare, and wept. “I’m sorry,” he said, over and over.

After a long moment, the photographer stood up again and looked down at her. "There is greed and madness, and blind indifference. And I carry it with me. I'm sorry for what I must do, but if I do not, they will have never existed. They will have vanished, and not another word would be said."

“Who is ‘they?’” Lyra managed.

“Soon,” he said. And he walked past, continuing his stumbling journey to Canterlot. Again, no guards stopped him, and he reached his first destination: the nearest newspaper office.

The unicorn behind the desk gaped at the human. But the grey stallion was a kindly sort, and knew what skinny looked like on any species. He wasted no time in fixing his guest a hay sandwich. At the last minute he remembered that humans didn’t like hay, but no sooner did the thought hit him than the photographer devoured the food.

"Have you eaten since you got to Equestria?" The pony – a disorganized old fellow named Header – asked.

The photographer shook his head.

"But that's four days' walk, at least, and you've only got two legs!"

The photographer laughed, a noise that sounded more like a strangled gasp. "I had to go two weeks without before I escaped to Switzerland. This was easier. No one shot at me here.”

He laid his package on the desk. “Now…I have tomorrow’s headlines, and the pictures to go with them.”



When the human showed the contents of his parcel, Header's eyes went wide and he reeled backwards. "I can't publish this!"

"You have to," the photographer said, voice tired, eyes pained. "Just as I had to bring them here. We're the only ones who can prove they exist."

Header looked down and swallowed, knowing the human was right. He looked up, and the photographer was already out the door, headed for the next newspaper office.



Humans kept to humans, ponies kept to ponies. The day after the photographer delivered his load, the old rule was gone. The front page of every newspaper carried names. Names like Sweetie Pie, Carnation, Noteworthy, and Flyby.

There were the names of places, too. Names like Dachau, Treblinka, and Auschwitz.

But it was the photographs that accompanied the words that truly shattered the old rule. A dirty pegasus with head low, eyes fearful. Her wings were already clearly broken in several places, but her captors had tightly bound weights to them. She stood in a line of sallow families wearing yellow stars, holding up hands as they were marched into a train car. A boy in one of the families had his hand settled on the pony's mane, offering what comfort he could. Human or pegasus, they were worth the same to the armed, uniformed men keeping watch.

A different newspaper, a different picture. A unicorn behind bars with a sawed stump where his horn should be. Reading unicorns gagged and swooned at the sight. Losing a horn was like losing a limb, and no less painful. Horns regrew quickly, too. Would his captors keep sawing it off? How could they?

An earth pony tied and humiliatingly muzzled, beaten to death and tossed in an alley. A pair of pegasi hunched against a stone wall, bleeding from pinioned wings. Several hornless unicorns trying to push boulders up greased stairs, bored guards looking on. A trench, where human and pony bodies were tangled so badly they seemed to meld into a single corpse.

A human might have seen these and frowned, then flipped to the sports section. But the community spirit and empathy that kept Equestria so peaceful now pushed it to war. Questions were being asked.

"Who are those soldiers?"

"Why us?"

"Why would they do this?"

"It doesn't make sense!"

Like humans, ponies despise feeling helpless. The dialogue of Equestria became focused around one sentiment:

"We need to help them. We need to act."

Long uncaring of the wide world, Equestrians now turned their eyes to it, frantically searching for news and information. Talk of apples and parties turned to talk of alien words like Allied Powers, democracy, and Nazis. Sailor taverns were filled as ponies listened to seamen telling of U-Boats and Pearl Harbor. Some men were happy to be fighting the Germans, some complained that they should fight the Soviets, and the ponies exchanged awkward glances, not following in the slightest.

They needed to learn more. After centuries of isolation, Princess Celestia dispatched emissaries across the globe. The Allies greeted her envoys with indifference. Mired in war for years, many were contemptuous of Equestria's sudden righteous indignation. They knew of the concentration camps, but what of it? People killed people all the time. Just because ponies were involved didn't make the act somehow viler.

A sympathetic Swiss leader arranged a meeting with Von Ribbentrop, the German Foreign Minister. Wishing to show strength, Celestia dispatched her own pupil to determine the truth. The meeting shocked Twilight Sparkle. The Nazi didn’t deny or dodge the claims, he acknowledged them with casual ease. Germany was in the process of "removing" Equestrians from Europe along with other "threatening races." The polite man offered vague explanations of the threat of magic, but Twilight was already leaving. She had heard enough.

Maybe Von Ribbentrop underestimated the sense of fellowship the ponies shared. Maybe he didn't think Equestria would ever go to war. Maybe he didn't care – in this age of panzers and artillery, what difference would a smattering of ponies make?

After the results of the meeting were made public, ponies began readying themselves as best as they could. It was no longer a question of 'if' they would go to war. It was a question of 'when.'

------

His destiny fulfilled, the photographer finally gave in to his failing health. He was rushed to Ponyville Hospital, but Nurse Redheart found a note in his pocket asking that they let him die.

For a while, it was as though he was sleeping. Behind him lay a long, lonesome journey, with not a moment of joy or hope. Everyone he photographed was dead. The only acknowledgements he ever received were bullets from the guards, and the howls of their dogs as they pursued him across Europe.

"Hey there, Sweetie Pie," he said without opening his eyes.

He gave that strange gasp-laugh one more time. He last saw her by that train. That damn train that would take her to Forever. Men with hearts of steel had done everything they could to make sure she never existed.

They failed. He proved Sweetie Pie was there. And now all the guards, dogs, and iron-hearted men in the world couldn't prove otherwise.

The photographer gave one tiny cough and tears sprang to his eyes.

Nurse Redheart placed her hooves on his chest, trying to keep her voice level as tears ran freely down her own cheeks. "It's alright!"

The voice came out like a squeak. She swallowed, and continued a little more calmly. "It's alright. You can rest. It's alright."

"I know," he whispered.

-----------

His grave was never found. Maybe a few ponies gave him a quiet burial in a forest glade. Maybe Redheart helped them move the body. Maybe he died in Europe, but refused to let death stop him. Maybe he was just a sad spirit who was finally allowed to vanish now that his task was done.

Maybe he was in Heaven, with all his friends. Maybe Sweetie Pie was there.

There were a lot of maybes. There were some facts, too, facts that proved the photographer existed. Hitler laughed when his advisers told him the news. The Allied chiefs greeted it with vague smiles and indifferent shrugs. But to the Equestrians, this was the time everything would change.

On July 3, 1943, Equestria declared war on the Axis Powers.

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