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Heart of War- Act I

By ThingPaste
Created: 2024-02-28 02:58:36
Expiry: Never

  1. >The train left at noon.
  2. >The soldiers split off and were conversing.
  3. >You found yourself in a private compartment with Anon and Sergeant Thunder.
  4. >Anon responded to a knock on the sliding door.
  5. >”Sir.”
  6. >”Lieutenant Crop. I assume that because you’re onboard you have news.”
  7. >He enters the room, as Anon closes the door behind him.
  8. >”Can we trust him?” The lieutenant says regarding the pegasus.
  9. >”He’s my second, unless the general was specific, you can tell him whatever you plan on telling me.”
  10. >”Sir.” Thunder salutes to Crop.
  11. “So what is it?”
  12. >”General Lancer wants me to bring you up to speed on the current situation. It’s been kept quiet until now, but we’re at war.”
  13. >”With who?” Anon inquires.
  14. >”Well that’s the thing…”
  15. >”Out with it Lieutenant.”
  16. >”Everyone.”
  17. “What?”
  18. >The lieutenant continues to explain.
  19. >”The Griffon Kingdom is pressing from the northwest, Yaks are pushing into the Crystal Empire to the north, Minotaurs are threatening Manehattan in the northeast, Dogs are harassing the southern borders, and the Saddle Arabians have landed in the southwest reinforced by allied Zebra Tribes. The coalition formally declared war two months ago.”
  20. >That’s… what?
  21. >”Impossible, why wasn’t I informed?”
  22. >You detect a hint of outrage in Anon’s generally calm demeanor.
  23. >”With all due respect, that answer is way above my pay grade.”
  24. >You can’t imagine all of the thoughts that are streaming through you Uncle’s mind.
  25. >”What’s the status of the fronts?” Anon inquires.
  26. >”The griffons are massing for an assault on Cloudsdale, the Yaks are setting up a siege of the city proper, no confirmed reports on the minotaurs or dogs, and the Saddle Arabians are pushing north along the eastern coast at an alarming pace. Our own forces are preparing to stop the advance at Baltimare.”
  27.  
  28. >”That sacrifices almost three hundred miles to them!” Sergeant Thunder proclaims, outraged at the thought.
  29. >”I didn’t make the orders.”
  30. >”How large are our forces?” Anon asks.
  31. >”Estimates put them at just over fifty thousand.”
  32. >”WHAT! At the end of the last war we numbered one and a half million! What about the fleet?”
  33. >You’ve never seen Anon snap like that.
  34. >”Three quarters of our ocean going vessels were decommissioned, as well as the entirety of the air fleet.”
  35. >”Did the idea ever pop into anyone’s mind that reducing the size of our forces to barely five percent of their previous numbers would be a mistake while surrounded by nations that we have been at war with for over two decades?”
  36. >”When General Lancer voiced his warnings about just that, he got reassigned to Fort Expanse.”
  37. >Widely regarded as being a useless post in the middle of nowhere.
  38. >”In fact.” Crop continues. “Most of the soldiers and officers disapproved, but when orders saying to disband are given…”
  39. >”Fools.”
  40. >Anon isn’t wrong.
  41. >What was Celestia thinking?
  42. “So why does General Lancer want to meet with us?”
  43. >”The General is arranging a war council off the records. If we are to survive as a people, we need a strong leader.” He turns to Anon. “Sir, he intends to bypass the government and reappoint you as the Field Marshal of our entire armed forces. Most of the remaining military leadership will be there, and unlike the Princesses (present company excluded), they have not forgotten your service to this country.”
  44. >”I… I need to think. Excuse me.”
  45. >Anon quickly exits the compartment.
  46. >”Not that I don’t agree LT, but that all sounds real close to treason.” Thunder adds.
  47. >”We’re treading a fine line, that’s for sure.”
  48. “I’m going to go talk to him.”
  49.  
  50. >You started to scour the train.
  51. >You found him in an empty car, looking out the window.
  52. >Watching the plains as the train rolls past.
  53. “You ok?”
  54. >You trot over to his side.
  55. >”It just doesn’t make sense.”
  56. “I know.”
  57. >”Why would Celestia demilitarize so much? At full capabilities we would still be outnumbered by half a million men.”
  58. “Maybe she just wants you to have the cherry on the top of your record- ‘won a war outnumbered forty to one’”
  59. >The joke didn’t do much.
  60. >”Her actions have been getting more and more irrational, and I don’t understand why. The vast majority of the recent conflicts weren’t on Equestrian soil, but in the past dozen years conditions on the home front have steadily deteriorated. Why?”
  61. “I don’t know.”
  62. >”And what the general asks. If I take command, then it will be treason, the nation will likely fall to civil war before the enemy can tear it apart. Celestia’s old fears of a military coup would become realized, even if our goals are merely the preservation of the country.”
  63. >He sits on the train booth he was standing next to.
  64. >You’ve never seen him so visibly unsure of himself.
  65. >He looks into your eyes.
  66. >”What should I do?”
  67. >Why is he asking you?
  68. >He’s the one with the decades of experience.
  69. >You go by your gut instinct.
  70. “I think you take command and end the war.”
  71. >”Celestia will view it as an uprising.”
  72. “But it’s the right thing to do. Why? Because it is.”
  73. >He’s used that line to you enough times, about time you returned the favor.
  74. >He sighs.
  75. >”Every foreign power invading, the military a mere shadow of its former self, and openly defying the monarchs… This will be my final war. For good or ill, the coming campaigns will define how the world remembers me.”
  76. “So what will you do?”
  77. >”My duty.”
  78.  
  79. >Anon stands, the look of uncertainty gone from his face.
  80. >Once again, he was the man you know.
  81. >Ever ready to take on the world.
  82. >Which is exactly what he needs to do.
  83. “So… are you going to pull a Caesar or Napoleon?”
  84. >”Very funny.”
  85. >You tease further.
  86. ”Oh the great Marshal, returning from exile in Appleoosa to bring stability to all of France.”
  87. >…
  88. “What?”
  89. >”I’m just waiting for the melodrama to pass.”
  90. “Oh haw, haw.”
  91. >”Well forgive me for taking the news of a continent spanning war as serious as it should.”
  92. “I… I’m sorry, I just really thought that all of the fighting was over, you know? It hasn’t really set in yet.”
  93. >”You’ve never seen war for yourself.”
  94. “But now I can, right?”
  95. >”Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”
  96. “No! Uncle, I want to help you fight.”
  97. >”Kiddo, it’s too-“
  98. “Don’t give me any of the ‘it’s too dangerous’ speech. You have taught me so much, and you need every able bodied pony you can get.”
  99. >”Flurry, I don’t want to lose you. I can’t lose you, not now.”
  100. “And I don’t want to lose you! Just let me be at your side. You talk about doing your duty, but as a Princess it’s also my duty to protect Equestria.”
  101. >…
  102. “Anon, please trust me. I know that I can do it, but I need your support.”
  103. >”Flurry, I know that you can. But I vowed to myself that I wouldn’t let you make the mistakes that I have. I don’t want you to ever feel the guilt of taking a life, or the weight of knowing that whatever order you make that hundreds or more souls will come to an end. You have a pure heart, and I don’t want to watch it be corrupted by war.”
  104. “Even if it means that untold thousands will suffer when I could have made a difference?”
  105. >Anon replied in a low, somber tone.
  106. >A broken tone.
  107. >”You’re all I have left…”
  108.  
  109. >You stood there in silence for quite some time.
  110. >The only noise was that of the train rolling on its tracks through the seemingly endless plains.
  111. >The defeat and pain from Anon’s voice echoes in your head.
  112. >Are-
  113. >Are you the only thing keeping him going?
  114. >How long has he been like this?
  115. >And the exact wording of it confuses you.
  116. >’You’re all I have left.’
  117. >What has he lost?
  118. >It feels like an eternity has passed before he breaks the silence.
  119. >His tone remains similar.
  120. >”If that’s what you want, then I can’t stop you.”
  121. >He begins heading towards the front of this train car.
  122. “Are you okay?”
  123. >”No.” He replies before leaving you alone in the car.
  124. >His blunt honesty hurt.
  125. >But nowhere near what you did to him.
  126. >You can’t help but feel that he was injured more than any battlefield wound ever inflicted upon him.
  127. >Looking outward, you watched the empty fields roll by.
  128. >It must have been so much more than him just not trusting your ability.
  129. >That wouldn’t have broken him.
  130. >As you watch the void outside of the train continue to remain, you feel evermore sure that he was being completely honest with you.
  131. >He does believe in you.
  132. >He always has.
  133. >But why wouldn’t he want to have you at his side in the coming battles?
  134. >Why was he so afraid of his ‘little soldier’ becoming an actual one?
  135. >You thought that he would have loved it.
  136. >But, you were starting to realize that you were his rock.
  137. >The only peace in his life of war.
  138. >You sat alone in the car for a long while.
  139. >But you were strong.
  140. >And you never cried.
  141. >Because this was something that you needed to do.
  142.  
  143. >Within a couple of hours the train arrived at Fort Expanse.
  144. >It is one of four star fortresses that Anon had constructed to guard the Equestrian heartland.
  145. >Each of them is located five hundred miles in a cardinal direction from Canterlot.
  146. >Expanse lies in the western plains.
  147. >To the east, on the coast is Fort Shipbreaker
  148. >In the south, near the land borders between Equestria and Saddle Arabia is Fort Gateway
  149. >North, nearing the Crystal Empire is Fort Snowbound.
  150. >Fort Expanse was always less staffed than the others.
  151. >The bison in the west are just about the only group that has been on mostly good terms with Equestria.
  152. >The train stopped in a small, unnamed town adjacent to the fort.
  153. >There was a considerably larger military force than the area usually had.
  154. >Armored and uniformed ponies were scrambling around, and the sound of soldiers training permeated the air.
  155. >You flew over the glacis to catch up to Lieutenant Crop as he led Anon and the Sergeant into the fort.
  156. >As Anon strode through the town and into the fort, countless ponies stopped.
  157. >Some saluted and others simply watched- dumbfounded by who they saw.
  158. >You heard whispers.
  159. >’Is that really?’
  160. >’That’s impossible.”
  161. >’We… we’re gonna be okay.’
  162. >Crop led you into the command building.
  163. >You entered a dimly lit room, with four ponies sat around a table. This was the war council.
  164. >On the table was a map of Equestria, with countless figures atop it representing the various forces.
  165. >A few of their higher ranked officers stood behind each of the seated ponies.
  166. >Two seats were left open: one for Anon, and the other for you.
  167. >The seated ponies continued an argument as the two of you took your seats.
  168.  
  169. >”Glad you’re both here.” A pale blue earth pony with a greying black mane whispered to you and Anon.
  170. >”This is General Lancer.” Anon whispered to you.
  171. >You watched as the other three ponies continued to yell.
  172. >”Fools! The Saddle Arabians pose the greatest threat to us; ALL of our forces need to be sent to that front.” A beige pegasus with a darker brown mane yelled out.
  173. >Anon tells you that the bombastic one is Brigadier General Lightning Offense.
  174. >”And let our enemies advance through the other fronts unchecked? We should take Canterlot. With the government under military authority, we can mobilize the entire country for total war.” Calmly replies a pale red earth pony with a balding mane the color of dried blood.
  175. >Anon’s whispers identify him as Major General Red Wave.
  176. >”You would instigate a civil war!” A gold unicorn with a pitch black mane replies. “Half of the nation would rise up against us, seeing us as traitors.”
  177. >Anon names him as Admiral Brairheart. Before being decommissioned, he was commander of the air fleet.
  178. >”Our mere presence here means that civil war has already started. If we are to survive as a nation, then Celestia must be overthrown.” General Wave retorts.
  179. >”Coward. Our duty is on the battlefield not playing politics.” Brigadier Offense declared.
  180. >”ENOUGH!” Anon shouted at the bickering ponies.
  181. >Silence immediately fell, only Anon’s echo being heard.
  182. >”If there is to be a civil war, we will NOT be the ones to initiate it.”
  183. >”Forgive me Marshal, but our duty is to the Monarchy.” Admiral Brairheart speaks up.
  184. >”On the contrary. We are the national army, our duty lies with Equestria and her people.”
  185. >”So you do intend to take Canterlot?” General Wave asks.
  186. >”Before any decision is made, I need specifics on our forces.”
  187.  
  188. >General Lancer starts to brief Anon.
  189. >”Sir, combined our forces number 53,000. Forty thousand earth ponies, ten thousand pegasi, two thousand unicorns, and a thousand assorted others. The new lady of the Admiralty is a royalist, so we have no naval support. We have twelve combustion cannons at our disposal, but all of the magical cannons as well as the artillery stockpile are located in Canterlot. However, the Royal Guard only numbers a thousand, supported by the five thousand army members not accounted for at this table.”
  190. >General Wave speaks up.
  191. >”This is why we need to take the capitol and prepare the nation for total war. Civil war is imminent, if we give the royals time to build up their loyalists then even if we manage to defeat the enemy, we’ll then be facing the full economic and military might of Equestria.”
  192. >”That is why we should align with Celestia, she will recognize that we only have the nation’s best interests at heart.” Admiral Brairheart counters.
  193. >”Doubtful, the fear of a military coup is why she demilitarized in the first place, and why she exiled myself and the Field Marshal out here.” General Lancer adds.
  194. >”More reason as to why we should take the capitol now and be done with it.” Wave condescendingly utters.
  195. >Anon appeared deep in thought as the ponies resumed arguing.
  196. >”What would say we should do once the capitol is ours? Set up a junta and rule through force? Would you rule it as a perfectly benevolent generalissimo, Wave?” Brairheart attacks the notion.
  197. >”Celestia’s actions have been deteriorating, would you simply watch as Equestra falls to chaos? The Princesses can’t be trusted to make sane decisions anymore.” Wave counters.
  198. >”Liar!” Brigadier Offense yells, bombastic as ever. “There’s still one princess that hasn’t lost their mind. And if you insist on playing politics, I say we should rally behind Princess Flurry Heart.”
  199. “What?”
  200.  
  201. >The Brigadier explains himself.
  202. >”Your highness, every pony at this table knows that you’re the only one who still cares for the small folk, that you’re the last Alicorn that has the sanity to run this country away from its doomed path. If you declared for the throne, I would follow you in a heartbeat.”
  203. >”It would keep the population on our side.” General Wave adds.
  204. “But I don’t want the throne. I’m sure that Celestia will see reason, she has to!”
  205. >”I must admit that reason has become increasingly lost to her.” Brairheart concedes.
  206. >Why has Celestia been becoming so irrational?
  207. >She’s ruled for a millennia and has always been open to reason.
  208. >What’s changed recently?
  209. >”I’ve reached a decision.”
  210. >The room falls silent as all heads turn to Anon.
  211. >”This is a complicated matter, and as such we need an elastic defense. You all have valid points.”
  212. >He pauses before continuing.
  213. >”Flurry is right, Celestia might still show reason. If we make a show of force outside of Canterlot, then there is a chance that civil war might be avoided.”
  214. >”And if she doesn’t?” General Lancer asks.
  215. >”Then we will subvert the capitol entirely.” Anon continues. “We would lose too many men attempting to take the city, and then any of the Princesses that are not in our custody would raise banners to divide the nation.”
  216. >”So what exactly do you propose?” Admiral Brairheart probes.
  217. >”We leave the royals in Canterlot, and gain the support of the rest of the country. Liberate work camps, lower taxes, and abolish unjust laws as we go. We gain the hearts of the people, and they will rally behind the army as we stop the invaders. Our ranks will swell as old soldiers return to duty, and new ponies flock to defend their homes. Once all the invaders are driven out, we will have so much support that Celestia won’t have a chance but to accept peace.”
  218.  
  219. >”And once she does?” Wave asks.
  220. >”Then Flurry will rule until the other princesses regain their senses. I’m sure that they will realize their follies. All of you need to understand something: this war is not simply to preserve the nation. We are fighting for the soul of Equestria. This war will define the future for generations to come. The nation could be destroyed, as foreign powers fight over its territory. The nation could remain, but continue to become ever bleaker as its leaders lose all grip on reality. Or we the few in this room act against it. We have the chance to return Equestria to what it once was, so long ago. When given a choice between bad or worse, we can seize the day. This war will shake the very core of the nation. But if we remain strong, no matter how grim our possibilities seem, we can secure peace. True peace for generations to come.”
  221. >The room erupts in applause and huzzahs.
  222. >Anon faces you.
  223. >”Flurry, I know that this isn’t what you wanted. But we need you. Equestria needs you. Will you give this country something to hope for?”
  224. “I… will.”
  225. >Anon turns back to the rest of the council.
  226. >”Ready your men, we march for Canterlot at dawn.”
  227. >Brigadier Offense stands, and draws a knife, slamming it into the map towards the Saddle Arabian front.
  228. >”For Equestria!”
  229. >General Wave does the same, striking his knife at the capitol
  230. >”For the people.”
  231. >General Lancer attacks the north.
  232. >”For the Field Marshal!”
  233. >Admiral Brairheart aims at the griffon lines.
  234. >”For Princess Flurry Heart!”
  235. >That night shouts could be heard all across the fort and the encampments.
  236. >’Equestria, the people, the Marshal, and Princess Flurry Heart.’
  237. >’Equestria, the people, the Marshal, and Princess Flurry Heart!’
  238. >’EQUESTRIA, THE PEOPLE, THE MARSHAL, AND PRINCESS FLURRY HEART!’
  239.  
  240. >You were resting in the fort after taking stock of your forces.
  241. >You have to best the world with fifty thousand men.
  242. >Alexander conquered with less.
  243. >But then it all came crashing down after his death.
  244. >If you can’t gain the support of the general population then it’s over.
  245. >You could win every battle, but still lose the war.
  246. >Just over two years ago the army was a million and a half strong.
  247. >You’ll need those old soldiers to return.
  248. >Thankfully the current men you have are almost all battle hardened.
  249. >You organized the strongest and most experienced five thousand into an Old Guard.
  250. >They’ll be with you personally for the duration of the conflict.
  251. >After a forced march you should reach the capitol in fifteen days.
  252. >You hope that Celestia accepts the reality of the situation.
  253. >If she does then you could have the war ended within two months.
  254. >But when are things ever that easy?
  255. >No, she’s going to hold onto her power.
  256. >The reports are unsettling.
  257. >Supposedly Celestia and the other Princesses grow increasingly (to be frank) insane.
  258. >Uncontrolled laughing, paranoia, drooling on themselves, thousand yard stares, short tempers, and a plethora of other stories from the throne room have been circulating.
  259. >Something is wrong with them, and they need to be removed from power before something disastrous happens.
  260. >But Canterlot will be near impossible to siege.
  261. >You outnumber the defenders almost ten to one, but they’re sitting on huge weapon stockpiles.
  262. >Even if you took the city, you would lose too many soldiers to effectively mount a defense against the foreigners.
  263. >And it would take time to raise new forces.
  264. >By the time you had an army ready to strike back, much of the nation would be occupied.
  265. >At that point you’d give yourself a fifty-fifty chance of having the necessary infrastructure to repel the invaders.
  266. >If Celestia opts to fight, then Canterlot has to be saved for last.
  267.  
  268. >You needed some air.
  269. >Leaving the building, you head to the walls.
  270. >You begin waling on the battlements, looking down at the tents below.
  271. >Lanterns illuminated your force in the night.
  272. >Sixty percent of your forces are here, with the remaining men fighting on the fronts.
  273. >They’ll be in desperate need of reinforcement.
  274. >Two front wars are a bad idea, let alone five.
  275. >You’re still unsure of what to approach first.
  276. >The griffons will be too difficult to root out until you can rebuild some of the air fleet. Until then, they’d have undisputed air superiority.
  277. >You lack the sheer numbers to comfortably face the Saddle Arabians and their allies. Eventually your forces would be depleted against their wave tactics.
  278. >The dogs are a joke. The worst they can do is harass supply lines and infrastructure. You’ll probably send one of your generals to put them down.
  279. >That leaves the yaks and minotaurs.
  280. >Both are stronger individually against ponies.
  281. >The yaks will have a new generation fighting, so what they lack in experience they’ll make up for in numbers.
  282. >But the minotaurs are warriors. If you let them get momentum, then they’ll be increasingly difficult to stop. They don’t have a huge population though, so they won’t be able to field a force much larger than your own.
  283. >You’ve been dealt a horrible hand.
  284. >And you’re all in.
  285. >You’re standing at the tip of one of the fort’s star points, leaning on the parapet.
  286. >Moral is surprisingly high.
  287. >The men fully know what they’re up against, but they’re fighting on their home soil.
  288. >Each and every one of them would give their lives to drive the invaders back.
  289. >Many of them will.
  290. >You hear the fluttering of wings behind you and the sound of hooves landing on the ground.
  291. >”Hey Uncle.”
  292.  
  293. “Hey kiddo.”
  294. >You turn to face her.
  295. >”I just wanted to apologize for what happened on the train. It was-“
  296. “No. You were right.”
  297. >She waits for you to continue.
  298. “I don’t want to lose you. I’m afraid that my little girl will ride off to war, never to return again. But, you’re an adult and a Princess of Equestria. It’s your duty as much as mine to defend it. I’ve taught you what I could, and I trust you more than anybody else in the world. If you still want to, I’d be honored to have you at my side in the coming battles.”
  299. >She shoots forward and latches front legs around your waist, trapping you in a bear hug.
  300. >”Thank you! I promise I won’t let you down.”
  301. “I know Flurry.”
  302. >You wait until she detaches herself, and then kneel down to get at eye level.
  303. “But there’s nothing you could ever do that would let my down.”
  304. >You ruffle her hair as you stand back up.
  305. “How’re you handling things?”
  306. >”I’m… handling.”
  307. “I know that you don’t want to take over, but it’ll only be temporary. When the others calm back down everything can go back to how it was before all of these wars.”
  308. >”Wow, since when are you an optimist?”
  309. “You know, is it too much to ask to just have one moment with my niece that doesn’t end in sarcasm?”
  310. >”Oh don’t give me any of that, you do the same thing.”
  311. “What can I say? You have that effect on me.”
  312. >”Oh so it’s still my fault?”
  313. “Heh, something like that.”
  314. >You stay there in the cool spring night for a while.
  315. >The two of you are looking.
  316. >Just looking.
  317. >At the stars, the camp, the moonlit horizon, at everything.
  318. >It was so calm, but while you took in the sights, countless ponies were fighting and dying on the front lines.
  319. >But, you should enjoy the peace while it lasts.
  320. >It might be the last of it for quite some time.
  321. “I know I don’t say it as often as I should, but I love you kiddo.”
  322. >”It’s okay, I know that you do. And I love you too Uncle.”
  323.  
  324. >The following morning you awoke early to take your place at the head of the army.
  325. >Flurry joined you at the head of the force.
  326. >Behind you were the Old Guard.
  327. >Following them was Admiral Brairheart and his retinue.
  328. >Then came Brigadier Lightning Offense, preferring to keep his force as close to the front as possible to form a vanguard should the need arise.
  329. >General Red Wave took his men next.
  330. >And General Lancer, having the most troops, brought up the rear.
  331. >…
  332. >Day 1.
  333. >You set out early.
  334. >The weather was clear.
  335. >There was some complaining about being on a forced march, but the men know the stakes.
  336. >…
  337. >Day 2.
  338. >The plains continue on.
  339. >No other relevant occurrences.
  340. >…
  341. >Day 3.
  342. >The sky was overcast with clouds.
  343. >You can only hope that the weather holds.
  344. >…
  345. >Day 4.
  346. >It stormed.
  347. >The rain trapped your artillery and supply carriages in the mud.
  348. >You made no real progress.
  349. >…
  350. >Day 5.
  351. >The plains had dried enough for you to continue.
  352. >Trees started becoming an uncommon sight, signifying the end of the plains.
  353. >…
  354. >Day 6.
  355. >The grassy countryside was a welcomed sight after days of repetition of the previous days.
  356. >…
  357. >Day 7.
  358. >One week on the march.
  359. >Your men continue on, ever preparing themselves for the coming conflicts.
  360. >Flurry is handling herself well.
  361. >…
  362. >Day 8.
  363. >You halted the force.
  364. >You’re approaching an old quarry that has been made into a work camp.
  365. >You move in with the Old Guard.
  366. >You had them halt just out of view.
  367. >You went in with a dozen of your best men.
  368. >Flurry stayed back to maneuver your artillery.
  369.  
  370. >As you looked down into the quarry, you see a complex near the bottom.
  371. >A larger building is surrounded by smaller longhouses meant to house the workers.
  372. >The main building looks sturdily built, and guard ponies patrol on the roof.
  373. >Down on the ground you see endless dozens of ponies with pickaxes working the stone.
  374. >Multiple rings of barbed wire fences discourage the ponies from attempting to flee.
  375. >As you work your way down the slopes, the guards start scrambling around.
  376. >Reaching the fence, you glance over your shoulder.
  377. >As ordered, your Old Guard has lined up encircling most of the quarry.
  378. >And a dozen cannons are aimed down into it.
  379. >Reaching the fence it remains closed.
  380. >You yell towards the guards.
  381. “Bring the warden!”
  382. >Soon you see an older looking pony come out of the main building and approach the gate.
  383. >It remains closed as he approaches the chain links.
  384. >Speak softly, but carry a big stick.
  385. “You know who I am?”
  386. >”Aye, that old general or such.”
  387. “How many ponies do you have here?”
  388. >”Just about 400. Why?”
  389. “Because I’m here to liberate this camp.”
  390. >”HAHAHA on whose authority?”
  391. “Mine.”
  392. >”And why should I listen to you? Army has no jurisdiction here.”
  393. >You raise your arm, and swing it down.
  394. >A crack is heard in the distance, and a cannon ball comes crashing into the ground a hundred feet from the complex.
  395. “Because I’m the only one keeping you alive. From my men or the prisoners here, neither you nor your men will survive past this day without my word.”
  396. >”You can’t do this!”
  397. >You glare down towards the warden.
  398. “The next one will not be a warning shot.”
  399. >He looks at you.
  400. >Then at the men surrounding the quarry.
  401. >He nods over to a guard and the gate opens.
  402. “Good choice. Now get the prisoners assembled, I’ll be speaking to them momentarily.”
  403.  
  404. >You stood atop the main building.
  405. >Below hundreds of starving ponies stood.
  406. >They were all bruised and tattered from months of work.
  407. “People of Equestria, I am here to free you!”
  408. >There were a few unsure cheers from the crowd.
  409. “The country is at war. On all sides enemies seek to invade and pillage. I will not allow that to happen!”
  410. “I am Field Marshal Anonymous, and I will not stand idly by while the people of the nation suffer from foreign or domestic threats!”
  411. “At my command, my armies will liberate camps like this across Equestria. The people will no longer be unjustly imprisoned.”
  412. “My men will be through shortly to get you fed. Once that happens each one of you has a choice.”
  413. “You may go back to your homes and families. I will not stop you from returning to your lives. I only ask that you spread the word of what I have told you today. That the Equestrian army is once again serving the people of this nation.”
  414. “Or you can join me. You will be well fed and taken care of. I ask that you fight to defend the people of this land, and help me make sure that what has happened in the past months and years never happens again.”
  415. “The choice is yours, because you are free once again!”
  416. >The crowd erupted into applause.
  417. >At the end of the day, three quarters of the now freed prisoners joined you.
  418. >Then you continued the march.
  419. >…
  420. >Day 9.
  421. >Spirits were high.
  422. >You’re passing through smaller villages and towns.
  423. >News will surely spread quickly.
  424. >…
  425. >Day 10.
  426. >Old soldiers are flocking to your side.
  427. >Each town you go through give you a boost in numbers.
  428. >…
  429. >Day 11.
  430. >See day 10.
  431. >…
  432. >Day 12.
  433. >You made good time, easily making up for time lost due to the weather
  434. >…
  435. >Day 13.
  436. >You’re deep into the Equestrian heartland.
  437. >By now your force has almost doubled in size.
  438. >Rumor is that many of the old soldiers near the fronts have also joined the fighting.
  439. >The lines are holding.
  440. >For now.
  441. >…
  442.  
  443. >Day 14.
  444. >You should arrive on the outskirts of Canterlot on the morrow.
  445. >You were marching just south of Ponyville.
  446. >Flurry left the group to go check out the castle’s library.
  447. >She was gone most of the day, returning only after you had set up camp for the night.
  448. >She said that she took a dozen or so books from it.
  449. >…
  450. >Day 15.
  451. >When you set out from Fort Expanse you had barely thirty thousand men at you back.
  452. >Now your force numbers seventy-five thousand.
  453. >You deployed your army just out of reach of the scores of cannons you could see lining the city.
  454. >But well within the view of the city’s population.
  455. >You set up the army so that the cover of nearby woods would hide the end of your force.
  456. >Let them speculate on how many have flocked to your banners.
  457. >Appear strong where you are weak.
  458. >You were waiting at the front of the force with your commanders.
  459. >Sergeant Thunder had been sent into the city with a letter outlining your terms.
  460. >Throughout the entire army, not a single whisper could be heard.
  461. >It was in this moment that the fate of Equestria would be determined.
  462. >Celestia has this one last chance to accept reason.
  463. >If she doesn’t, then although you don’t like it, you’re playing kingmaker.
  464. >You all just stood there, looking up at the royal palace.
  465. >Waiting for Celestia’s decision.
  466. >You soon got your answer.
  467. >A bright but sickly white light emanated from the throne room.
  468. >You see one of the stained glass windows shatter as a familiar form is thrust through it.
  469. >The Sergeant is plummeting to the ground.
  470. >As he nears the ground, he must have regained his senses, and starts flapping his wings.
  471. >Mere feet from impact, he slows himself entirely, then heads towards you.
  472. >The army stayed put while you went to the command tent with Flurry, your commanders, and the Sergeant.
  473.  
  474. “So what happened in there?”
  475. >”As I entered the city, the Royal Guard apprehended me.” Thunder begins to tell his story. “They took me straight into the throne room, and one of them gave Celestia our terms.”
  476. >He pauses.
  477. >”That’s when things got… strange.”
  478. “How so?”
  479. >”She crooked her head and read through the terms. Her right eye twitched a couple of times, and then she remained silent for a solid five minutes. She just stared upwards at a chandelier until snapping back into reality. Then after one look at me she just screamed ‘TREASON!’ There was as bright light, and the next thing I remember was falling.”
  480. >Flurry speaks up.
  481. >”That doesn’t make any- what’s wrong with her?”
  482. “We’ll find that out after securing the borders. Good work in there Sergeant, head over to get checked out by a medic, I’m still seeing some shards of glass in your back.”
  483. >”Sir.”
  484. >As he leaves, a camp aide enters and gives three letters to General Lancer.
  485. >”News from the front Sirs.”
  486. >He salutes and takes his leave as Lancer starts reading.
  487. >”The Saddle Arabians will be at the gates of Baltimare within the week, the defenders are asking for reinforcements.”
  488. >He moves on to the next.
  489. >”The yaks have besieged the Crystal Empire. They aren’t assaulting yet, but the city only has the supplies to last a few months.”
  490. >And the last.
  491. >”The griffons have taken Cloudsdale. They have occupied the city and are planning their next moves.”
  492. >He sets the letters aside.
  493. >”Looks like it’s one of those days.”
  494.  
  495. >At least it gives you a better idea of how to divide the forces.
  496. “Alright, now is when we’ll be going our separate ways.”
  497. >You turn to Admiral Brairheart.
  498. “Admiral, I’m leaving you with ten thousand ponies, two thousand unicorns, and a thousand pegasi. Your job will be to protect the interior, and make sure that royals remain isolated in Canterlot. As well, I want you to head to industrial sectors and start making cannons and air ships, because without them we won’t be able to retake Cloudsdale. You’ll also deal with recruitment and sending reinforcements to the fronts as you see fit.”
  499. >Then you face General Wave.
  500. “On that topic, I’m leaving you the remaining fourteen thousand pegasi. Your goal is to contain the griffons to the Cloudsdale. I want round the clock lightning storms forming trenches around the city.”
  501. >Next is Brigadier Offense.
  502. “I’m giving you ten thousand ponies. With them you’ll crush the dogs in the south, after which you’ll await reinforcements from Brairheart to attack the Saddle Arabian’s southwestern flank while their focus in in the north at Baltimare.”
  503. >Finally is General Lancer.
  504. “The remaining thirty-three thousand ponies and unicorns will go to you. Aside from me, you have the most experience fighting the Saddle Arabians so I want you to relieve Baltimare. The city must be held at all costs, you’ll be drastically outnumbered so don’t try to go on the offensive.”
  505. >”And what about you sir?”
  506. “I’m going north with the Flurry and the Old Guard to face the yaks.”
  507. >”Sir, you’d be outnumbered at least fifteen to one. And that’s assuming the yaks don’t get reinforced.”
  508. “Look around Lancer, we’re all outnumbered. You have your orders, split the troops immediately. Free whatever work camps you pass, and make sure that all of the people see you as their liberators. With the right application of skill, and just a bit of luck, we might just come out of this yet. Dismissed.”
  509.  
  510. >You left as soon as you could.
  511. >Because you’re traveling only with your veterans, you might be able to get to the Crystal Empire more quickly.
  512. >Thankfully most of the way north has roads, so the supply carts and the four cannons you’re taking with you won’t get stuck in forests or mud.
  513. >You need to get there before the yaks assault the city.
  514. >If you can drive them back, then you’ll get a large and secure population base to plan your next moves.
  515. >The last reports place the yak horde at sixty thousand and growing.
  516. >You have five thousand.
  517. >But the yaks don’t have flight capabilities or magic at their disposal.
  518. >You’ll have to make the most of those if you’re to take victory.
  519. >The next ten days on the march you formulated possible plans.
  520. >Fortune favors the bold.
  521. >You’ve gotten reports in from all over the nation.
  522. >The ponies are burning down Ministry of Interior Defense buildings where ever they can find them.
  523. >The secret police are being thrown into hiding.
  524. >But it remains to be seen how the ponies will respond to forcing Celestia to abdicate.
  525. >Nothing much to do on a march but review the state of the fronts.
  526. >War is funny like that.
  527. >It’s either one out of a hundred days having an actual battle.
  528. >Or one out of a hundred days having a time for rest.
  529. >Very rarely is there anything in between.
  530. >Before long you past Fort Snowbound.
  531. >The next afternoon, on the 27th day of the campaign, you reached the entrance into the Crystal Empire.
  532. >You halted your force.
  533. >The way forward is through a mountain pass.
  534. >Twenty feet wide, and almost two hundred deep.
  535. >Prime location for an ambush.
  536.  
  537. “Tell me Flurry, what do you see?”
  538. >”Cliffside, a mountain pass, the road into the Crystal Empire.”
  539. “That’s what it looks like, but what do you see?”
  540. >”… A choke point?”
  541. “Indeed. No one would leave their backs wide open to the enemy, not even the yaks.”
  542. >”So it’s a trap, what are we going to do?”
  543. “Spring it. Watch and learn.”
  544. >You begin barking orders.
  545. >…
  546. ”Alright Corporal, remember. Goad them into counterattacking; the yaks won’t let a fleeing enemy just go.”
  547. >”Sir wouldn’t it make sense to use the pegasi to do this? You know, because they can fly.”
  548. “Negative soldier, the yaks wouldn’t give chase to an enemy they can’t catch. That’s why you’re in front of the five hundred fastest earth ponies we have. It’s just two hundred feet you’ve got to get past, then get out of the way.”
  549. >”Understood sir.”
  550. >The pony goes to get ready to lead his men forward.
  551. “Understand why everything is set up this way?”
  552. >”I think so Uncle.” Flurry replies.
  553. “Great, now get up on that ridge and watch from above.”
  554. >She flutters up to a safe point to watch the coming battle.
  555. >You take up your position and watch as the forward force heads into the pass.
  556. >It’s a big force to send through to spring a trap, but if there is an enemy force behind the mountains, they won’t attack in force unless there’s a large force to actually fight.
  557. >This will be the first true battle you’ve led in two years.
  558. >Let’s hope you’re not rusty.
  559. >It’d be incredibly anti-climactic if after all this setup, there actually isn’t an ambush planned.
  560. >The echoes of trampling hooves seem to indicate that you were right.
  561. >And you see the forward group scrambling to retreat back to safety.
  562. “READY!”
  563. >The men stand to attention.
  564. “HOLD!”
  565. >The sun is blocked by a spotty overcast.
  566. >A cool wind comes down from the mountains.
  567. >Today is a good day to die.
  568.  
  569. >Your forces are in a crescent around this side of the pass.
  570. >You’ve left a hundred foot circle of no man’s land.
  571. >The first rank are all unicorns, behind them the earth ponies.
  572. >The pegasi have their orders.
  573. >You stand in the directly in front of the entrance to the pass, flanked by two cannons on each side.
  574. >The last of the forward force has gotten out of the pass, fleeing to either side to get behind the lines.
  575. >You stood, watching the yak horde charge through.
  576. “HOLD!”
  577. >They’re half way through.
  578. >The force of their hooves makes the earth tremble before you.
  579. “HOLD!”
  580. >The leader of the charge nears the mouth of the pass.
  581. ”HOLD!”
  582. >You watch the first dozen chargers spill out into the field.
  583. “FIRE ONE!”
  584. >You watch as grapeshot perforates the front ranks of the charge.
  585. “FIRE TWO!”
  586. >Cannon shot rings in your left ear as more ranks fall before the dozens of tiny projectiles.
  587. “FIRE THREE!”
  588. >The cannon immediately to your right does the same.
  589. >You pause to let the yaks get over the mounting corpses clogging the pass.
  590. “FIRE FOUR!”
  591. >The final cannon brings down the next wave.
  592. >You let the artillery reload.
  593. >The charge lost momentum, but now dozens of staggered yaks work their way away from the pass.
  594. “VOLLEY!”
  595. >Hundreds of different colored magical bolts are let out from your front rank.
  596. >After the rainbow of death dies down, still more yaks come from the pass.
  597. >They’re hardy; it can take upwards of a dozen unamplified magical blasts to bring a healthy one down
  598. “FIRE AT WILL!”
  599. >The unicorns start firing at their own discretion
  600. >You watch the mixed results of firing as the yaks mass in the field.
  601. >They’re forming tight lines, getting ready to charge en masse to break your own ranks.
  602. “ALL BATTERIES FIRE!”
  603. >Simultaneously the cannons fire a fresh payload of grapeshot into the tightly packed targets in front of them.
  604.  
  605. >Before they have time to reform you give the order.
  606. >You drawn your sword and point it in the air towards the enemy.
  607. “CHARGE!”
  608. >The earth ponies move past the first rank of unicorns and advance.
  609. >While closing the distance, you look to the skies.
  610. >Your pegasi are flying straight into the pass, lighting grenades and dropping them throughout the back ranks.
  611. >Arrow fire brings down a couple, but the earth shakes as hundreds of grenades pepper the yaks with explosive force and shrapnel.
  612. >The yaks will be wavering, and your charge has to crush their moral.
  613. >To your left and right, the best your ponies can do is slowly push the yaks back.
  614. >It’s up to the center to break them.
  615. >You run pas the first yak and slash through its right side.
  616. >Moving forward you bash another in the eye with your pommel, and thrust the blade into the neck of the yak next to him.
  617. >the ground is saturated with yak blood.
  618. >You kick upwards at the next enemy, impacting his throat before bringing your blade down into his skull.
  619. >The blade is stuck in the bone as you notice a yak charging on your right.
  620. >You let the blade go and draw your knife with your left hand.
  621. >As you sidestep the charge, you thrust your dagger into the yak’s eye.
  622. >You release the blade as the yak goes continues on from his momentum, crashing ten feet away from you.
  623. >Placing your foot on the other yak’s skull, you free your sword free before continuing on.
  624. >Continuing forwards.
  625. >You must have lost yourself in the heat of the battle, as you reach the front of the pass; you pause before climbing over the mound of tattered corpses that the first few cannon shots made.
  626. >You’ve personally have advanced further than the lines have.
  627. >There’re still a couple dozen scattered yaks putting up resistance.
  628.  
  629. >You work your way up the mound of gore and corpses to view the pass in front of you.
  630. >Many of the advancing yaks lie dead or dying from the bombing run.
  631. >You can see a fresh batch entering the other side of the pass.
  632. >You charge down towards the survivors.
  633. >Most of them fall quickly, shell shocked or wounded from earlier.
  634. >Meeting the new wave in the center, you notice arrows coming down on the back ranks.
  635. >Some of your pegasi have taken positions on ledges looking down at the pass.
  636. >Soon no more yaks remain.
  637. >You walk forwards to the passes exit.
  638. >Reaching the field on the other side you see at least two thousand more yaks camped out fifty feet from you.
  639. >They’re all just staring at you.
  640. >Upright man as tall as they are, with a sword in hand.
  641. >And covered in yak blood and guts.
  642. >You hear one voice ask to another.
  643. >”The yeti returns?”
  644. >Feeling the trampling of hooves behind you, you scream out.
  645. “RAAAAAHHHHHH!”
  646. >You hold the war cry while charging towards the line ahead of you.
  647. >Your own ponies trample out of the pass as you narrow the gap.
  648. >This had better work.
  649. >The yaks look unsure.
  650. >Do it.
  651. >They blinked.
  652. >One of them yells out:
  653. >”RETREAT!”
  654. >And the horde lost cohesion, scrambling to run away.
  655. >You continue chasing until the entire horde had fully turned its back on you.
  656. >When it does, you collapse to your knees from exhaustion.
  657. >You’re getting too old for this.
  658. >A pegasus flies down to you, asking for orders.
  659. “Fly them down, but make sure at least one gets back to tell the tale.”
  660. >You then lay down in the field to relax your aching muscles, as the army works its way to this side of the pass.
  661.  
  662. >You lay there coated in blood, warmed by the heat of the sun.
  663. >You should be able to reach the city by nightfall.
  664. >No.
  665. >Let the rumors spread through their camp.
  666. >And let your men rest.
  667. >And let you rest.
  668. >One of the men found your knife on the field and brought it to you.
  669. >Good man.
  670. >You still have no idea how you’ll beat the main force.
  671. >Magical and air superiority can only go so far.
  672. >You need to best the brunt of the horde in one fell swoop.
  673. >If you can shatter them, then they’ll take at least half a year to reform.
  674. >But how?
  675. >They number fifty thousand plus.
  676. >You can’t win a straight fight, so that leaves subterfuge.
  677. >The sound of a pony landing nearby brings you from your thoughts.
  678. >”Are you okay Uncle?”
  679. “Just tired.”
  680. >You open your eyes to see Flurry fussing over you.
  681. “It’s alright, none of it is mine.
  682. >”You were amazing out there! It was just like the stories but with more blood and guts. And there was the smell.”
  683. “They never tell you about the smell.”
  684. >As you stand, you whistle over to a pair of nearby pegasi, who bring over a cloud to shower you off.
  685. >”So what are we going to do now?”
  686. “Well, their force is too large to face in a straight up fight.”
  687. >”So we need to think of something else.”
  688. “Exactly, I want to take a look at some of their yurts before any decision is made. Might be something useful.”
  689. >With most of the blood washed away, you set off to look through the yak’s abandoned encampment.
  690. >You’ll let the men loot the camp after you get a look.
  691. >No documents that tell you anything beyond what you already knew.
  692. >No artillery to take possession of.
  693. >As you enter a storage tent, you get a devious thought after seeing its contents.
  694. >One.
  695. >Fell.
  696. >Swoop.
  697.  
  698. >You spent the next two hours furiously writing.
  699. >Everything had to be perfect.
  700. >Or else the entire plan would fail.
  701. >You can only hope that your memory was correct while recalling the details.
  702. >As you put the finishing touches to paper, you call in Sergeant Thunder.
  703. >”Sir?”
  704. >You hand him a thick stack of papers.
  705. “I need you to fly over the enemy lines and deliver this to the leader of the city’s defense. Then make sure he gets it ready to start at first light.”
  706. >He looks through a couple of the papers.
  707. >”I don’t see how this will…”
  708. “Trust me. It will. Oh, and have them prepare any artillery they have in the city, tell them to wait for our own cannons to fire.”
  709. >”Sir!”
  710. >He takes his leave.
  711. >Your men were getting equipped.
  712. >When night falls in an hour, you’d be setting off.
  713. >The area surrounding the city is very hilly.
  714. >You’d be setting up just out of view of the yak’s camp.
  715. >It’s a risky play, but it might just pay off.
  716. >You almost feel bad for the yaks.
  717. >Almost.
  718. >…
  719. >Night gathers, and now your march begins.
  720. >They crystal ponies would be hard at work by now.
  721. >…
  722. >The encampment is massive.
  723. >You’d guess that at least eighty thousand yaks are below.
  724. >Your guns were just behind the apex of the hill.
  725. >The men waited below, the army just out of sight.
  726. >Now you just need to wait until dawn.
  727.  
  728. >The sun cracked over the east.
  729. >You peaked over the hill, looking to the walls.
  730. >They’re set.
  731. >You watch a pony initiate it.
  732. >You hear them echo in the distance.
  733. >The orchestra is set up on the walls.
  734. >Wait for it.
  735. >Let the yaks look on in confusion.
  736. >You motion to the pegasi behind you.
  737. >They light their torches.
  738. >You strike down your arm, and they take flight.
  739. >They start to circle the yaks from above, little sparks in the early morning sky.
  740. >The first payload starts dropping.
  741. >You found barrels of oil in the yak storage tent.
  742. >Each of your fliers has a half dozen Molotovs.
  743. >Flames start to ignite the yurts, causing chaos in the camp.
  744. >Almost the entire yak encampment is flammable.
  745. >They’re aiming at larger tents, those that the flames will most easily spread in.
  746. >As well as the yak artillery encampments.
  747. >Great bombards that would break the city walls after a single shot when they decided to assault.
  748. >The earth shakes as gunpowder below catches.
  749. >With that, you order your cannons to the top of the hill.
  750. “Fire at will.”
  751. >You walk over to Flurry, who is a few paces away from your guns.
  752. “I’d give credit here to the firebombing of Tokyo and the entirety of ‘Nam.”
  753. >”It’s… certainly a spectacle.”
  754. “It’s even better with proper napalm.”
  755. >After your guns fired the first volley, you see the walls flash as the defensive cannons start to shell the yak camp.
  756. “Wait for it.”
  757. >Your fliers hit the last of the enemy cannons.
  758. “They’re scrambling for water right now, if it runs out then the horde is done for. An army marches on its stomach, and many of their rations are burning. No food or water will force the yaks to retreat, or assault the city with no siege weapons.”
  759. >You hear screams from bellow.
  760. “All of that hair and grease means that yaks are rather flammable. They’ll break soon enough, all of the fire from cannons and flames will get to them.”
  761.  
  762. >Just break already.
  763. >The cannon fire continues to riddle the camp.
  764. >You can see a couple of individuals heading for the hills.
  765. >The fires grow, as the blaze encompasses about half of the camp.
  766. >They have to realize that they lost.
  767. “They’ll break.”
  768. >And they do.
  769. >YES!
  770. >Waves of yaks start fleeing to the west.
  771. >With their supplies burnt, they’ll have to return to their homeland to resupply and reorganize.
  772. >”Wow, the horde broken without a losing a single pony. Somebody wants a statue.”
  773. “I’d settle for a street named after me.”
  774. >You return the joke to Flurry.
  775. >You look down to the camp, as the flame engulfs the remainder of the tents.
  776. >Soon there will be only charred remains.
  777. >A monument to the victory.
  778. >But the yak defeat shows something much more significant.
  779. >You’re back.
  780. >It’s been ages since you’ve felt this good.
  781. >The rush of the battle, with armies fleeing at your mere presence.
  782. >There’s no doubt any more.
  783. >You will win this war.
  784. >But for now, you have a new goal.
  785. >Cadence should be in the city.
  786. >Let’s hope she isn’t as far gone as Celestia.
  787. “Come on, we need to get down there.”
  788. >You begin walking down the grassy hill, Flurry and your men follow.
  789. “Ob’s stürmt oder schniet, ob die Sonne uns lact,
  790. Der Tag glühend heiß, oder eiskalt dieNacht,
  791. Bestaubt sind die Gesichter, doch froh ist unser Sinn, ja, unser Sinn.
  792. Es braust unser Panzer im Sturmwind dahin,
  793. Es braust unser Panzer im Sturmwind dahin!”
  794. >A shame that tanks don’t exist in Equestria.
  795.  
  796. >You’re walking down the hill, Anon is singing Panzerlied.
  797. >He told you what it meant once.
  798. >After the first verse it gets grimmer.
  799. >Well, there’s still a lot of war to fight.
  800. >But it was just so… so terrifying.
  801. >The bloodcurdling screams as yaks down below burnt to death.
  802. >They had to be stopped, but not like that.
  803. >And Anon.
  804. >It looked like he enjoyed watching it.
  805. >He watched like one would their favorite sports team score the winning points.
  806. >As he leads the army to the gate, you pass by the charred camp.
  807. >You aver your eyes from the burnt bodies.
  808. >But the smell…
  809. >It’s worse than the field the other day.
  810. >You remember how Anon was in the pass.
  811. >You watched as he executed helpless yaks.
  812. >Sure, it was a mercy for some of them.
  813. >But the others just stood there shell-shocked from the bombs.
  814. >He just cut down yak after yak.
  815. >No hesitation, and no remorse.
  816. >He never one looked fazed by the destruction.
  817. >The sooner this is all over, the better.
  818. >You distance the thoughts from your mind as the gates are opened.
  819. >Flags are waving, and the crystal ponies are cheering on the triumphant army.
  820. >Anon leads you through the streets, as confetti rains onto you.
  821. >You’re heading straight for the tower.
  822. >This isn’t how you imagined coming home.
  823. >You hope that Mom isn’t as bad as the rumors say Celestia is.
  824. >She’ll see you and immediately come to her senses.
  825. >She has to.
  826. >As you enter the tower, the guards back off after seeing the group.
  827. >Not a single word was uttered.
  828. >You neared the doors to the throne room.
  829. >Anon paused.
  830. >He cracked his neck both ways.
  831. >Then, with all his might, he kicked in the door.
  832.  
  833. >You could see the throne at the end of the room.
  834. >It was empty.
  835. >As you and Anon took a few steps into the room, the doors slam shut behind you.
  836. >You hear the soldiers trying in vain to open them up.
  837. >Scanning the room, to looks to be devoid of any ponies.
  838. >Then a wailing laugh, somewhere between a cackle and melodramatic boast, echoes through the room.
  839. >”MUHHAAAHAAAHHAA”
  840. >It resounds against the walls for quite some time.
  841. >After it dies down, you hear a familiar voice cry out.
  842. >”Baby, is that you?”
  843. >She sounds hurt, physically and emotionally.
  844. “Mom?”
  845. >”QUIET TRESPASSOR!”
  846. >You hear your Mom’s voice cry out in pain.
  847. >”Mommy loves you very much.”
  848. >You jump as Anon taps you on the shoulder.
  849. >Looking over, he’s nodding upward.
  850. >Crawling on one of the large crystal chandeliers is your Mother.
  851. >You watch as her the words come out of her mouth.
  852. >”USURPER!”
  853. >Her head twitches before she talks again.
  854. “Get out of here! Save yourself!”
  855. >She twitches a final time.
  856. >”DIE!”
  857. >She releases from the chandelier and falls to the ground, not breaking her fall with her wings.
  858. >Uninjured, her horn starts emanating light.
  859. >A near blinding light blue that seems off from her normal color.
  860. >A cone of pure magical energy is launched that will hit you and Anon.
  861. >He didn’t have time to react, leaving you to deal with it on your own.
  862. >Instinctively you remember your practice on force fields.
  863. >You focus all of your energy on raising the shield around yourself.
  864. >The bubble goes up, and starts to absorb the blast.
  865. >But it shatters under the sheer force of the attack.
  866.  
  867. >You are shot back into the door.
  868. >It remains firmly shut.
  869. >You slump to the ground after losing your breath and possibly getting a concussion.
  870. >You can only watch the coming confrontation.
  871. >Anon looks over to see if you’re alright before facing your mother.
  872. >Good thing he’s immune to magic.
  873. >”IMPOSSIBLE!” Your mother yells as she starts flinging dozens of magical bolts at Anon.
  874. >All of them simply stop as they impact him.
  875. >”I don’t want to hurt you Cadence, give up now and it can all be over.”
  876. >”NEVER!”
  877. >You watch Mom charge at Anon.
  878. >At the last second he sidesteps to the left, and tries to grapple her to the ground.
  879. >They struggle on the floor as she gets in a right hook to Anon’s face.
  880. >Blood splatters from his mouth.
  881. >Anon works his way to put her into a choke hold.
  882. >Just as he manages to close his grasp, her wings shoot out.
  883. >She begins to fly towards the ceiling of the room.
  884. >Anon struggles to keep his balance on her back.
  885. >As she nears the top, you see her horn glow.
  886. >She disappears, having teleported a few feet to the side.
  887. >Anon is left in the air, plummeting towards the ground.
  888. >He impacts flat on his back after a twenty-five foot drop.
  889. >You hear him moan.
  890. >Mom flies down to the ground.
  891. >Anon reaches out to the wall, as he tries to stand.
  892. >Gasping for breath, he unclasps his chest piece, the back dented in.
  893. >He manages to get onto his feet, leaning against the wall for support.
  894. >She begins charging at him once again, but this time Anon can’t get out of the way.
  895. >Her horn impales him in the mid chest.
  896. >As she removers her horn, blood dripping off of it, Anon slides to the ground.
  897. >He sits up against the wall for a moment before slumping over to his left.
  898.  
  899. >You sat there, dazed and confused.
  900. >This can’t be happening.
  901. >It has to be a dream, or a trick.
  902. >Something, anything!
  903. >She was approaching you, blood trickling onto the floor.
  904. >Drip.
  905. >Step, step, step.
  906. >What’s wrong with Mom?
  907. >Why would she do this?
  908. >Drip.
  909. >Step, step, step.
  910. >Is- is Uncle Anon okay?
  911. >You don’t see him moving.
  912. >Drip.
  913. >Step, step, step.
  914. >This can’t be real.
  915. >Drip.
  916. >Step, step, step.
  917. >It isn’t happening.
  918. >Drip.
  919. >Step, step, step.
  920. >This can’t be real.
  921. >Drip.
  922. >Step, step, step.
  923. >It isn’t happening.
  924. >Drip.
  925. >Step, step, step.
  926. >This can’t be real.
  927. >Drip.
  928. >Step, step, step.
  929. >It isn’t happening.
  930. >Drip.
  931. >Step, step, step.
  932. >This can’t be real.
  933. >Drip.
  934. >Step, step, step.
  935. >It isn’t happening.
  936. >Drip.
  937. >Step, step, step.
  938. >You see your mother standing over you.
  939. >Anon’s blood still dripping off of her horn, impacting the floor next to you.
  940. >Her horn starts to glow.
  941. >This is real.
  942. >It is happening.
  943. “NO!”
  944. >The anger and confusion fuels your rage.
  945. >It felt so sickening, how you could feel so outraged anything.
  946. >It was hard to explain.
  947. >You never focused anything; it just built up and up.
  948. >A light emanates in the room.
  949. >From you, not Mom.
  950. >It all happened so fast.
  951. >First she was standing over you, getting ready to attack.
  952. >Then you blinked.
  953. >And she was being shot across the room as your magic threw her away, into the wall.
  954. >Then you blinked.
  955. >And she was lying on the floor, unmoving.
  956. >Then everything was dark.
  957.  
  958. >Everything is soft, but your back aches.
  959. >So does your head.
  960. “Ugggggg.”
  961. >Your eyes slowly open to reveal a different room around you.
  962. >Sterile white surroundings, a curtain blocking off half of the room, a steady beeping behind said curtain.
  963. >You’re in a hospital.
  964. >Your throat is dry, and you start coughing.
  965. >A female voice from the hall calls out.
  966. >”She’s awake, get one of the soldiers.”
  967. >The source of the voice then hurries into the room, the nurse asks you:
  968. >”Oh, are you alright sugar?”
  969. >Between coughs you get a word out.
  970. “Water.”
  971. >She hurries over to a nearby table and pours a glass of water.
  972. >Coming to your side, she holds the cup as she helps you drink.
  973. >As you finish drinking you clear your throat.
  974. “What happened?”
  975. >”Everything is ok; you’ve just got a minor concussion. A good night of sleep and you’ll be good to go.”
  976. “I mean in the throne room, are the others okay?”
  977. >A different voice cuts in before the nurse could answer.
  978. >”I think I can answer that Ma’am.”
  979. “Sergeant Thunder? What happened, how did I get here?”
  980. >”When the doors slammed behind you two, no pony could get through. After a second flash of light the doors just opened. All of you were unconscious; some men locked Princess Cadence in a magic dampening cell, while you and the Field Marshal were sent here.”
  981. “Is Anon okay?”
  982. >”They took him into surgery for a few hours, he just got out. Soon after that the nurse called- saying you were awake, I was the closest soldier, I ran over here, and you know the rest.”
  983. “Where is he?”
  984. >The nurse pulls back the curtain, showing Anon laying on a hospital bed, hooked up to a dozen different tubes and machines.
  985. >”I’m so sorry.” The nurse starts. “More than a few bones got bruised, one or two of them cracked. On top of that he lost a lot of blood that we can’t exactly replace. For now he’s stable, but he’s fallen into a comatose state.”
  986.  
  987. >”Ma’am, until the Field Marshal wakes up, we’ll need a leader. The officers held a conference, and to be honest, most of the men here agree with it. News of the decision was taken to the local politicians, and they unanimously voted to accept it. The Old Guard and the Crystal Empire are at your command if you’ll have them.”
  988. >You suppose that you’d have to do this sooner or later anyway.
  989. “I accept.”
  990. >”Thank you, your highness.”
  991. >”Oh do you really have to set all of this on the poor mare now? She just woke up.”
  992. “No, it’s alright. I’m feeling better already.”
  993. >Slightly better at least.
  994. >”Sure you are.” The nurse says, seeing through your understatement. “But you’re staying overnight. It’s almost sundown, so you won’t be missing anything. You may be a Princess, but when you’re sitting in that bed doctors out rank you.”
  995. “Alright.”
  996. >How’d she know that you were going to insist on checking out early?
  997. “If it’s okay with you both, I’m going to try and get some rest. I’m still pretty exhausted from earlier.”
  998. >”If you need anything at all, just call.” The nurse tells you before heading out.
  999. >Sergeant Thunder salutes.
  1000. >”Ma’am.” Leaving the room, you hear him say before the door closes. “So nurse, I was wondering if you’re not doing anything tomorrow-“
  1001. >Go get her tiger.
  1002. >For once you’re not going to sneak out when told to stay put.
  1003. >You actually are still pretty tired.
  1004. >You just laid there in bed, listening to the beeping of the machines hooked up to your Uncle.
  1005. >If he doesn’t wake up soon then the entire defensive plans could fall apart.
  1006. >If he wakes up at all.
  1007. >No, don’t think like that.
  1008. >He’ll be fine, he always is.
  1009. >Mom will be too.
  1010. >What was wrong with her?
  1011. >And the other Princesses for that matter.
  1012. >Questions like this danced in your head before soon drifting off to sleep.
  1013.  
  1014. >As you awake, you still feel your bones ache.
  1015. >At least the headache has died down.
  1016. >Anon still lies in the bed next to your own.
  1017. >The beeping ever steady.
  1018. >You head out of bed, and go to hold his hand for a moment before setting out for your day.
  1019. “Hang in there Uncle.”
  1020. >As you leave your room in the hospital, you see four soldiers waiting to accompany you.
  1021. “No escort, that’s an order.”
  1022. >”But Your highness-”
  1023. “Understood?”
  1024. >”Yes Ma’am.”
  1025. >You’re almost going to miss having to ditch your entourage whenever you can.
  1026. >Almost.
  1027. >As you exit the hospital, the sun catches you off guard.
  1028. >After taking a second to adjust, you head towards the tower.
  1029. >You see ponies in the street wave towards you as you pass.
  1030. >Children are playing, ponies look happy, and the soldiers are relaxing.
  1031. >Home hasn’t changed that much.
  1032. >Sure some of the buildings are taller and there are more ponies, but it’s still the city you remember.
  1033. >Watching the city go past, you wouldn’t know that there was war going on.
  1034. >As you pass a café, you notice Sergeant Thunder having coffee with your nurse.
  1035. >What was her name?
  1036. >Winter Gem maybe?
  1037. >It just now strikes you that almost every nurse in Equestria has a white coat and red mane.
  1038. >Curious.
  1039. >But that’s neither here nor there.
  1040. >You were going to the tower to address the city.
  1041. >…
  1042. >So… Many… Stairs.
  1043. >Wait… you have wings.
  1044. >You can’t explain how happy you are that no pony saw that realization.
  1045. >Soon you reach a good balcony overlooking the city.
  1046.  
  1047. >You flip the switch, and then tap on a microphone resting on the side of a guard rail.
  1048. “Hello? Is this thing on? Oh cool! Eeeccchhhooo. Right, sorry.”
  1049. >You clear your throat.
  1050. “Hello fellow Equestrians. I think I just lost any semblance of having a completely serious speech, so I’ll keep things succinct. I know that things have been tough the past few years, but that is all over now. Taxes will be lowered to more reasonable levels, political imprisonment will end, and the press will become free once again. My mother isn’t… well, but she won’t be able to hurt you anymore. We may have driven the yaks away for now, but invaders plague the rest of Equestria as well. I won’t force any of you to leave your home, but if you do wish to help protect our brothers and sisters in the south, then talk with any of the soldiers you see around the city. Only together can we return Equestria to how it was before the wars of the last generation. If we unite as one people, then I promise to all of you that peace will reign in our time.”
  1051. >You pause a moment to think if there is anything you missed.
  1052. “Thank you, this is Princess Flurry Heart signing off.”
  1053. >Cheers can be heard across the city.
  1054. >So far so good.
  1055. >But there’s a lot more to ruling than giving a speech here and there.
  1056. >Before anything else happens, you want to check on your Mom.
  1057. >You need to find out what’s wrong with her.
  1058. >Yesterday you heard her manage to overcome whatever it was, at least temporarily.
  1059. >There has to be a way to break through to her.
  1060. >You begin to descend down into the depths of the tower.
  1061.  
  1062. >The room your mother is in is a dimly lit solid stone room.
  1063. >Around the square perimeter, there is a five foot gap around the cell.
  1064. >A pair of guards constantly patrols around it.
  1065. >The cell is ten square feet.
  1066. >On each corner of it lays a stone pillar that reaches to the ceiling.
  1067. >The cell walls are comprised of horizontal metal bars resting a foot above the one below it.
  1068. >Each bar is also a foot deep, and a single vertical support bar runs equidistant from the corners on each side.
  1069. >As you enter the room, your mother shoots out a magical bolt at you.
  1070. >It harmlessly is absorbed by a light cyan force field that lies on the interior of the cell.
  1071. >As the spell dissipates, the shield goes back to its fully transparent state.
  1072. >You tell the guards.
  1073. “Give me a minute alone.”
  1074. >They filter out of the room and wait at attention.
  1075. >You approach the cell.
  1076. “You in there Mom?”
  1077. >Her head looks almost as if it’s going to twitch.
  1078. >”Fool.”
  1079. “Come on Mom fight it!”
  1080. >”Insolent usurper. This cage will not hold me forever, and when I break free… you will die.”
  1081. “I know that you’re still the pony I remember, you can break through.”
  1082. >”The only thing I’ll be breaking is your bones.”
  1083. >You’re getting nowhere.
  1084. “You know what? I’m going to let you sit in time out until you’re ready to apologize. Tell me when you’re over the doom and gloom phase, get well soon.”
  1085. >”You will pay for this child.”
  1086. >You had already turned your back.
  1087. “We’ll see. Guards!”
  1088. >The guards enter and resume their patrol.
  1089. >You leave the room and start heading for the stairs at the end of the hallway.
  1090. >Reaching them, you open the door and go through.
  1091. >As you blink, you find yourself in an empty field.
  1092. “What?”
  1093. >You turn around, only to see more of the grassy field.
  1094. >Is this a dream?
  1095.  
  1096. >A voice falls over the area.
  1097. >”Oh this most certainly isn’t a dream young Padawan.”
  1098. >You look around, seeing not a soul as far as the eye can see.
  1099. “Who are you?”
  1100. >”Search your feelings young one. I thought you knew your history.”
  1101. >The fields start to fold up, raising high into the sky before crashing down.
  1102. >You close your eyes from the impending collision.
  1103. >But nothing happens.
  1104. >When you open them, you’re standing in the middle of a small wooden room.
  1105. >No doors, no windows, and no lights.
  1106. >But it’s perfectly lit.
  1107. >The room is empty, save for a table and two chairs.
  1108. >the one closer to you, but the far one is occupied.
  1109. >By a… mix match of various creatures.
  1110. >He’s sitting lazily in the chair, leaning back and has his different fingers linked together and raised to just under his bearded chin.
  1111. >You remember seeing a picture of him in one of the magical theory books you’ve been reading.
  1112. >Some of Aunt Twilight’s old stories and journal excerpts are coming back as well.
  1113. “…Discord?”
  1114. >”The one and only! Tea and muffins?”
  1115. >He snaps his lion’s fingers together, and a tea set materializes on the table.
  1116. >Grabbing the kettle, he pours into a cup.
  1117. >And tiny muffins come out of the spout, filling the tea cup.
  1118. >Snapping his other hand a large bowl full of tea appears next to the kettle.
  1119. “What am I doing here?!”
  1120. >”Oh let’s just say I’m fulfilling an old promise to your dearest auntie… or was it because I lost a bet to Herr Generalfeldmarschall?
  1121. “Wait, how do you know my Uncle?”
  1122. >”Because the Author says so, of course!”
  1123. “What?”
  1124. >What?
  1125. >”What?”
  1126. “Never mind, just tell me. Why am I here?”
  1127. >”It’s one of life’s greatest mysteries isn’t it? Why are we here?”
  1128. “Stop dogging the question.”
  1129. >”Oh you’re no fun.”
  1130. “Just. Answer. The. Question.”
  1131.  
  1132. >”Take a seat and I will.”
  1133. >You humor him.
  1134. >”Now that we’re being civilized.” He reaches out his paw. “Discord: Spirit of Chaos and Disharmony, at your service.”
  1135. >You refuse his hand.
  1136. >”Oh come now, it’s only the polite thing to do.”
  1137. >Hesitantly you reach out your hoof and shake his hand.
  1138. >”Now, we can get down to business.”
  1139. >He pulls out a stack of papers, and begins to flip through them.
  1140. >”Ah, here’s the scene.”
  1141. >He clears his throat and dons a pair of glasses. Sunglasses.
  1142. >”I’m here to tell you…” He begins skimming the sheet. “Right!”
  1143. >He balls up the paper and places it in his mouth, chewing twice before swallowing.
  1144. >The Sunglasses break up into a dozen butterflies that fly away.
  1145. >”You see, despite what you’re probably thinking right now, I am not to blame for your Princesses being three fries short of a happy meal. It’s hilarious, but not me.”
  1146. “Then what is it?”
  1147. >”Oh I know exactly what it is.”
  1148. >…
  1149. “I’m waiting.”
  1150. >”Oh, I’m not allowed to tell you that until Act II.”
  1151. >You’ve had enough of this.
  1152. >You reach over the table and give him a right hook to his face.
  1153. >He falls backwards, still seated.
  1154. >”Twilight never hit me.”
  1155. “Well I’m not Twilight!”
  1156. >He works his way to his feet- err, hands.
  1157. >He’s standing upside down.
  1158. >He reaches his hoof down.
  1159. >”Grab it.”
  1160. “NO!”
  1161. >”Fine.”
  1162. >You hear his hand snap below the table.
  1163. >And you’re standing on the top of the spire in the Crystal Empire.
  1164. >As he cartwheels back to his feet, he sternly says to you.
  1165. >”You know, you should really knock it off with those negative waves. It’s bad for your… sanity.”
  1166. “How so?”
  1167. >”Fine, I’ll give you a hint: You’ve got what your dear mommy has.”
  1168. “WHAT?!?”
  1169. >”Ta-ta!”
  1170. >He materializes an umbrella, that he expands and points in the air.
  1171. >He begins flying upwards with it.
  1172.  
  1173. >After getting a few feet off of the ground he disappears, leaving behind a scrap of paper that you grab with magic.
  1174. >You unfold it.
  1175. >’P.S.- ask Herr Generalfeldmarschall about the w-‘
  1176. >The paper disintegrates into dust before you could finish reading.
  1177. >Ask him about what?
  1178. >What did any of that just mean?
  1179. >’Negative waves’?
  1180. >You have what Mom has?
  1181. >So it is some sort of illness?
  1182. >Did he have to be so cryptic?
  1183. >And so annoying!
  1184. >You feel your eye twitch.
  1185. >What?
  1186. >Wait…
  1187. >What?
  1188. >You gulp.
  1189. >Negative waves bad. Understood.
  1190. >Or he’s just being subversive.
  1191. >That’s just as likely, but you might want to avoid any undue stress. Just in case.
  1192. >You stood there on top of the spire for a while.
  1193. >Nothing’s ever simple, is it?
  1194. >Soon you decided that you shouldn’t brood too much on Discord.
  1195. >The self-proclaimed spirit of chaos and disharmony of course will lie.
  1196. >And none of the encounter changes anything.
  1197. >You have the Crystal Empire to run, and an army to lead.
  1198. >Until Anon wakes up that is.
  1199. >No pressure.
  1200. >Just the fate of all Equestria on your shoulders.
  1201. >What can possibly go wrong?
  1202. >You should head down to the throne room.
  1203. >You’re in charge, and no doubt you’ll have official duties to perform.
  1204. >You take a last look outwards over the Crystal Empire.
  1205. >It is beautiful.
  1206. >Then you stretch your wings, and head for lower ground.
  1207. >As you reach the throne, you see a crowd of ponies waiting for you in the throne room.
  1208. >You have a job to do.
  1209.  
  1210. >…
  1211. >You.
  1212. >Are.
  1213. >Exhausted.
  1214. >It was just hours of receiving ponies saying ‘thank you’ or signing edicts to end wartime laws.
  1215. >You’ve signed your name more times today, then in the rest of your life combined.
  1216. >And they just kept lining up.
  1217. >When the crowd looked like it was being thinned, another group would come in and fill the throne room back up.
  1218. >But you managed to keep a cool head.
  1219. >You were relieved that when nearing sundown new arrivals stopped coming in.
  1220. >There was just one more item on today’s agenda.
  1221. >A war council.
  1222. >You retreated back to a smaller chamber to meet with the officers.
  1223. >Only Anon’s second-in-command spoke.
  1224. >Major Steel Arrow, a pegasus of a light brown coat with a steel colored mane and tail.
  1225. “So, where are we?”
  1226. >He replied.
  1227. >”The crystal ponies have accepted us with open arms, and many are flocking to join up. I’d estimate that around fifty thousand will join up, however if we started conscripting able bodied ponies we could easily quadruple that number.”
  1228. “There will be no draft.”
  1229. >”Understood your highness, we’ll have proper training yards up within the next couple of days.” He reluctantly replies.
  1230. >”What else?”
  1231. >”Now that we’re in an urban center we should get you a proper suit of armor, somepony will be around at five tomorrow night to get your measurements. That’s all at this time.”
  1232. “Major, about a two day’s march to the southeast is a camp; in it are 121 political prisoners. I’d like you to send somepony with half of the Old Guard to liberate it. Take a couple of our cannon to intimidate the guards there, and there shouldn’t be a problem.”
  1233. >”Understood Ma’am.”
  1234. “I’d go personally, but I have a feeling that I should stay here for a while as the transitional period passes. Is there any news from the front?”
  1235.  
  1236. >”Actually, yes. Brigadier Offense has routed the dogs in the south, and is building up his forces. Meanwhile we’re managing to hold both the griffons and Saddle Arabians for now.”
  1237. “And the minotaurs?”
  1238. >”Still massing near Manehattan. Additionally, our scouts still show the yaks in full retreat.”
  1239. “Noted.”
  1240. >”One last thing, the men have brought both your and the Field Marshal’s personal effects up into the tower. I had them sent up to your personal quarters.”
  1241. “Thank you Major. Dismissed.
  1242. >You wait for the officers to filter out of the room before leaving yourself.
  1243. >It’s so eerie walking through these halls once again.
  1244. >When you were about sixteen you moved to Canterlot.
  1245. >You visited back up here every other couple of months, but it just feels different now.
  1246. >With Mom locked up, and you in charge.
  1247. >You never wanted things to turn out like this.
  1248. >You feel your locket bouncing against your chest.
  1249. >Why did all of this even happen?
  1250. >You wander through the spire before reaching your old room.
  1251. >As you open the door, you find that it hasn’t been touched, aside from a couple of boxes that the soldiers brought up.
  1252. >It’s like stepping back into time, to a much simpler time.
  1253. >You jumped onto your bed, welcoming the soft release of being able to relax after a long day.
  1254. >Sweet relief.
  1255. >You lie there for quite some time.
  1256. >You might have drifted off for a bit.
  1257. >Feeling rested; you sit up on your bed.
  1258. >You look around the room.
  1259. >The painted hoof prints that you and your parents put in the corner are still there.
  1260. >You wonder how much of the clothes in your closet will still fit you.
  1261. >On the ceiling is a painted map of Equestria.
  1262. >Everything is just how you left it.
  1263. >Except those.
  1264. >Levitating over the two boxes, you place them onto the bed next to you.
  1265. >Opening one, you find that it’s yours.
  1266. >A half dozen book atop a small suitcase.
  1267. >You set them aside.
  1268. >You shouldn’t pry into Anon’s stuff.
  1269. >Should you?
  1270.  
  1271. >No, you shouldn’t.
  1272. >You get off of the bed, and start to unpack your own suitcase.
  1273. >You stack the books on your bedside table.
  1274. >You finished Twilight’s introduction to magic book, but have made varying progress on the others.
  1275. >Three of them are further books by her on magical theory and practice; they’re part of a series.
  1276. >But you hadn’t started any of them.
  1277. >One is on the military history of Equestria (As of thirty years ago).
  1278. >The final is about the geography and exploration of eastern lands.
  1279. >As you finish setting down the books, in the corner of your eye, Anon’s box catches your attention.
  1280. >You shouldn’t.
  1281. >But…
  1282. >There’s no harm in taking a quick peek.
  1283. >You jump back onto your bed, and drag the box closer to you.
  1284. >You open the top of the box.
  1285. >It’s surprisingly sparse.
  1286. >There’s a smaller watertight box that contains what look to be like his memoirs in process.
  1287. >Next is a small lockbox with a combination lock.
  1288. >Need three letters to open it.
  1289. >Something small rattles around in the box when it moves.
  1290. >Also there’s a letter for you to be delivered upon his death.
  1291. >You leave those be.
  1292.  
  1293. >The last item is a cigar box.
  1294. >As you open it, you find that it’s filled with pictures.
  1295. >You start flipping through them.
  1296. >There’s one that must be from when he first arrived in Equestria.
  1297. >He’s so young.
  1298. >And his face!
  1299. >No beard, he looks so wrong without it.
  1300. >You skip through some more.
  1301. >There’s one of him in full plate armor, a plume sticking up into the air.
  1302. >Looks heavy.
  1303. >There aren’t many from early on.
  1304. >Most of them are from when you were young.
  1305. >One has Anon grimacing as he holds you out from his body, Aunt Twilight is laughing to the side.
  1306. >By the state of your diaper, you can imagine why.
  1307. >Another is of you chasing a butterfly at a picnic.
  1308. >There’s one of him cleaning barf from his shirt.
  1309. >And the one following it is of Twilight cleaning it from her hair, while a mirror’s reflection of Anon grins smugly.
  1310. >You skip forward.
  1311. >There’s one of your dad playing chess against Anon as you watch and study the pieces.
  1312. >You were four at most, so it’s likely that you had no idea what was happening.
  1313. >Of the remaining pictures, only one catches your eye.
  1314. >Judging by the state of Anon’s face, you’d say it was around fifteen-ish years ago.
  1315. >His beard wasn’t greying, and it wasn’t nearly as large as its current state.
  1316. >It’s at night, but you think you can make out the Canterlot skyline illuminated in the background.
  1317. >He’s dressed formally, but not in military uniform.
  1318. >He’s wearing a black tuxedo, holding a wine glass in one hand.
  1319. >And he looks so happy.
  1320. >His eyes aren’t weighed down from stress, and his laughing face is lighter than you think you’ve ever seen it.
  1321. >What happened between now and then?
  1322.  
  1323. >Not many pictures follow that one.
  1324. >But in most of them he looks closer to the man you know.
  1325. >Stoic, only breaking it for dry wit and deadpan humor.
  1326. >Or the occasional snark to snark combat with you.
  1327. >And always in uniform or armor.
  1328. >Something Anon said a while ago comes back to you.
  1329. >’You’re all I have left.’
  1330. >Maybe he’s tired of all the war?
  1331. >What if he only keeps on fighting because that’s all he’s known?
  1332. >Maybe all he hopes for is a lasting peace so that he can set down his sword for good.
  1333. >Whatever it is, the years are weighing on him.
  1334. >All of that fighting, and all of that bloodshed.
  1335. >Has he ever done anything else in Equestria?
  1336. >The only thing you can think of is that he raised you.
  1337. >It would explain why he didn’t want you to fight.
  1338. >After taking so many things out of this world, you were the only good he added to it.
  1339. >And even then it’s not like he could ever have children of his own.
  1340. >You’re not even sure he has any real friends aside from maybe General Lancer.
  1341. >In centuries, when he’s gone he’ll be little more than a historical footnote: the strange creature that fought in wars.
  1342. >Any legacy he has will be passed down to you, but even then as generations pass he’ll be only known in histories from long ago.
  1343. >Is that what he thinks about as he’s getting older?
  1344. >That for all his accomplishments he’ll be forgotten?
  1345. >Or does he really just want to retire in peace?
  1346. >Why is he always so impossible to read?
  1347. >Anyway, it’s getting late.
  1348. >You put Anon’s things back how you found them, then clear your bed.
  1349. >As you lay down to sleep two thoughts haunt your mind.
  1350. >Your previous train of thought regarding your Uncle.
  1351. >And ‘You’ve got what your dear mommy has.’
  1352.  
  1353. >The next morning you distanced such thoughts from your mind.
  1354. >Aside from getting sized up for armor, the next few days bled together.
  1355. >In the morning you would get ready for the day.
  1356. >You still opted to wear no regalia aside from your locket.
  1357. >During breakfast various aides and advisors would tell you give you a rundown of scheduled events.
  1358. >Then until noon you would sit in the throne room.
  1359. >Fewer ponies came in to thank you than your first day (thankfully).
  1360. >So your meetings with the citizens generally revolved around one of three topics.
  1361. >You would mediate disputes, sign edicts, or have meetings with city officials.
  1362. >At noon you would head out of the tower and enjoy the city.
  1363. >You tried not to keep an exact schedule so the ponies couldn’t expect you.
  1364. >First you would stop by a café for tea or coffee.
  1365. >After a quick lunch you would visit the markets.
  1366. >You didn’t usually buy anything, but you liked talking with the ponies.
  1367. >Sometimes you would head over to one of the schools.
  1368. >Then you would tour the training yards.
  1369. >You would spend some time relaxing in a park.
  1370. >And finally you would visit Anon in the hospital.
  1371. >Still no change.
  1372. >Around three or four you would arrive back at the tower for another round of work.
  1373. >Then comes a civic council with local politicians and administrators.
  1374. >And finally the military council.
  1375. >After that you would retire to your room to read or practice your magic.
  1376. >On the fifth day the detachment sent to the southeast returned.
  1377. >No conflict came up, and the prisoners went back to their various homes.
  1378. >They were treated better than the ponies at most other work camps at least.
  1379. >On the sixth day you were awakened early by one of the soldiers knocking at your door.
  1380.  
  1381. >”Ma’am, your presence is needed in the council chambers immediately.”
  1382. “Understood.”
  1383. >You rush out of bed, quickly waking up.
  1384. >As you leave your room, you start galloping through the halls to reach your meeting room.
  1385. >You find Major Arrow and Sergeant Thunder waiting for you.
  1386. >”Your highness, The Sergeant has just briefed me on some troubling scouting reports you should be aware of.”
  1387. >”Our pegasi scouts are reporting that one of the yak chieftains has rallied part of the retreating horde. They’re returning to the city, and at this rate they’ll arrive an hour before nightfall.”
  1388. “What do they intend to do without artillery to breach the walls.”
  1389. >”Unknown at this time.” The major replies. “It’s possible that they intend to merely blockade the city from the outside world, or they could intend to rush the gates with a ram and hope they can overtake our fortifications.”
  1390. “Were our scouts noticed while spying on enemy movement?”
  1391. >”Negative.” The Sergeant answers. “They were flying at a high level behind cloud cover, the yaks have no idea that we will be able to prepare.”
  1392. “And how many yaks are coming?”
  1393. >”Somewhere between thirty and thirty-five thousand.”
  1394. “Major, what’s the status on the local volunteers?”
  1395. >”Not ready, not by a long shot.”
  1396. >If they manage to overrun the defenses how many civilians will be caught in the crossfire?
  1397. >Would the Old Guard even manage to stop them if they got that far?
  1398. >What do you know about yak tactics?
  1399. >They’re slow to start, but when charging are hard to stop.
  1400. >And they’re not too bright.
  1401. “Major, I have a plan.”
  1402. >You begin describing it to them.
  1403. >”Hmmm. Risky but it might just work.”
  1404.  
  1405. >…
  1406. >Clouds covered the sky.
  1407. >Just enough so that the ground below was still well lit, even though the sun would be down in just over an hour.
  1408. >You were atop one.
  1409. >You made a small hole to peak through.
  1410. >The hill that the yaks would soon arrive over stood to the east.
  1411. >The city gates, some five hundred feet away from the apex of the hill, were wide open.
  1412. >No ponies were present on the walls, its cannons unmanned.
  1413. >When you hear thousands of hoofsteps resound through the air, you look to the east.
  1414. >The army was approaching.
  1415. >Its leader, an old grey yak, led the host.
  1416. >He was climbing the hill.
  1417. >As he reached it he looked down at the unsuspecting city.
  1418. >He stood there for a minute in silence.
  1419. >Before turning and letting out an immense war cry.
  1420. >As he stands there the horde starts charging past him, towards the helpless city.
  1421. >They trample down the hill.
  1422. >Tripping and sliding the entire way.
  1423. >You had pegasi coat the area with rain water; the entire ground from the top of the hill to the city gates was turned into a thick mud underneath the grass.
  1424. >At least a fifth of the horde is caught into it, their momentum almost entirely lost.
  1425. >You nod to a pegasus next to you, and he flies down into the city yelling ‘NOW!’ as he circles the gate.
  1426. >The gates are slammed shut, as earth ponies and unicorns start climbing the stairs leading up to the battlements.
  1427. >Earth ponies rush to cannons, and unicorns take the first rank looking down at the advancing horde.
  1428. >Another pegasus gives you a flare, that you strike and drop down onto the field bellow.
  1429. >As it passes in front of the troop’s field of vision, the cannons start to fire and unicorns unleash magical bolts unto the muddy field.
  1430.  
  1431. >You watch as scores of yaks succumb to the attack.
  1432. >The remaining yaks in the mud are scrambling to retreat.
  1433. >And their leader just watches, amazed at what he’s seeing.
  1434. >This is your chance.
  1435. >Without the chieftain to keep the horde together, these yaks will quit the field just like the others did.
  1436. >You look to the top of the clouds; all of your pegasi are waiting with bows ready.
  1437. “ARCHERS- VOLLY AT THE TOP OF THE HILL!”
  1438. >You watch as the troops take flight, letting themselves fall to just below the cloud cover.
  1439. >You fly below the cover as well, to get a better look at the battle field.
  1440. >You watch as hundreds of arrows are launched down at the yak chief’s location.
  1441. >At least two dozen arrows peppered the old yak.
  1442. >And he falls to the ground, unable to withstand the volley.
  1443. >The archers then start to fire at will, most aiming for the main body of the horde.
  1444. >You watch as the yaks lose cohesion.
  1445. >After the third round of cannon fire they appeared to be in full retreat.
  1446. “HOLD FIRE!”
  1447. >The archers stop, and one of the officers flies over to ask you:
  1448. >”But Ma’am, we have them routed, we could press the attack.”
  1449. “No, let them run. Every survivor down there will know not to try attacking here again. If they’re massacred it will only give the other yaks more of a reason to fight.”
  1450. >”Understood.”
  1451. “Also get down there and have the ground forces stop the attack as well.”
  1452. >He flies down to the wall, shortly after the firing stops.
  1453. >You…
  1454. >You did it.
  1455. >It worked!
  1456.  
  1457. >Celebrations started almost immediately.
  1458. >But you rushed over to the hospital.
  1459. >You could hear the ponies shouting victory cries in the streets outside.
  1460. >You were sitting next to Anon.
  1461. “Hey Uncle. I know that you probably can’t hear me, but I just wanted to say that we won.”
  1462. >Wait, he doesn’t know that there was even a battle.
  1463. “See, some of the yaks reformed, and tried to rush the gates. I had the ground softened by rain, then set up a hidden crossfire to hit the yaks when they got caught in the mud. They only saw an unsuspecting city before they charged.”
  1464. >He remains unresponsive.
  1465. “I know that it wasn’t a long pitched effort, but I wanted you to know that I won my first battle.”
  1466. >Nothing interesting happens.
  1467. “Ok I’ll admit it. I hoped that the news would shock you awake.”
  1468. >The machines steadily keep beeping.
  1469. “I hope you get well soon. Equestria needs you, the army needs you… and I need you.”
  1470. >You sigh.
  1471. “I’m doing my best out here, but I could really use your advice. The other commanders don’t know that you’re out of commission right now, and I’m afraid that without you they’ll just fall to petty squabbling.”
  1472. >But you know what he’d say right now if he could.
  1473. >’Then you’ll have to make sure that they don’t, I believe in you kiddo.’
  1474. “I just don’t know if I can finish the war without you. Today was a victory, but we just defended a wall. I know that if they got into the city with even half their force remaining, then the city would be decimated. But all we had to do was keep them away from the gate.”
  1475. >Maybe you’re being too hard on yourself. The day was a victory with no ponies being lost.
  1476. >And all without ‘the yeti’ leading the army.
  1477. >You smile at remembering his old stories.
  1478. >Before you take your leave, you tell Anon one last thing.
  1479. “At least when you get up I’ll have some war stories for you.”
  1480.  
  1481. >You decided not to partake in any of the celebrations.
  1482. >Instead you headed back to your room in the tower.
  1483. >Stepping out onto your balcony, you could still hear the joyous times from the streets below.
  1484. >You watched the city below as the soldiers and ponies had their not-so-little shindig.
  1485. >It was past sundown, and the city was illuminated, showing the streets filled with ponies.
  1486. >Fireworks were sporadically being set off across the city.
  1487. >It was a beautiful sight.
  1488. >But at what cost?
  1489. >How many thousands of yaks died in the fighting?
  1490. >How many families lost a father, brother, or son because of your actions?
  1491. >When you watched Anon lead, you were almost disgusted at how casual he was about the death.
  1492. >You wanted to disavow war entirely.
  1493. >But actually being there and giving the orders changed that.
  1494. >Yes, the scale of the death and destruction is horrible.
  1495. >But the war is happening; you didn’t cause it, and you can’t change it.
  1496. >All you can do is to end it as quickly as possible, and save as many of your people as possible in the process.
  1497. >And when it’s over work to preserve the peace.
  1498. >You owe that to each and every pony down there.
  1499. >Your ponies.
  1500. >This is all for them.
  1501. >So that the future generations can grow up without wars looming over their childhoods.
  1502. >So that family members don’t have to be shipped off to faraway places, never to return.
  1503. >So that ponies can once again be free to express themselves how they like.
  1504. >So that the people don’t have to live in fear of foreign enemies, or domestic threats.
  1505. >And so that they will simply be allowed to live their lives.
  1506.  
  1507. >You eventually left the sights and your thoughts.
  1508. >You had a good night of rest, the best you’ve had in quite some time.
  1509. >Ironically, that morning your armor was finished.
  1510. >When it arrived, you rushed to try it on.
  1511. >It fit perfectly, and surprisingly was quite light.
  1512. >It was made from the finest steel in the Crystal Empire, shaded in light shades of blue.
  1513. >Ornate engravings lined the piece, but not as to make it less effective.
  1514. >A trio of amethysts was imbued into it- one on the front, the others just above the center one to each side.
  1515. >And a set of hoof guards matched the body piece.
  1516. >The entire set gave plenty of mobility for your legs and wings.
  1517. >You’re not exactly sure what you thought it would be, but it exceeded any of your expectations.
  1518. >You decided to wear it today, in order to better get used to having it on for extended periods of time.
  1519. >Unfortunately for you, much of the day was taken up receiving more ponies thanking you for the defense of the city.
  1520. >You gave all of them a variation of the same answer.
  1521. >That the real thanks go to the brave ponies that fought in the defense of the city.
  1522. >Honestly, you were really settling into the day to day aspects of running the state.
  1523. >And not to sound egotistical, you’re actually pretty good at it.
  1524. >The ponies here not only looked to you as a leader, but as a friend and advisor.
  1525. >On a grimmer note, the guards in the dungeon have noted no changes with your mother.
  1526. >She just sits there in the center of her cell, barely moving all day long.
  1527. >You would have her checked out by medical officials, but she’d just use the opportunity to escape.
  1528. >And you doubt you’d be able to find the magical energy to stop her this time.
  1529. >So until further notice, she stays down there.
  1530. >Also, the other fronts are at a standstill.
  1531. >Although more ponies are being sent to each of them, the enemy is getting reinforcement as well.
  1532.  
  1533. >Equestria’s central position was both a blessing and a curse to the coalition.
  1534. >They managed to pull the country into a multiple front war, but because many of the enemies don’t border one another, your forces fight armies comprised of a single type of opponent.
  1535. >If the griffons weren’t tying up most of the military’s pegasi, then the Saddle Arabian front would be much easier fought.
  1536. >From the start, the griffons and Saddle Arabians were the two biggest threats. It’s imperative that the minotaurs be knocked out of the war as quickly as possible to focus on the bigger powers.
  1537. >To that end, you’ve decided to lead your forces to that front once crystal ponies have finished their training (or in some cases re-training).
  1538. >They should be ready to march in about two weeks, so you’re really hoping that Anon wakes up before then.
  1539. >Until then you have nothing to do aside from continue your daily duties, study battlefield tactics, and practice your own magical skills.
  1540. >You should use some of your free time to ask the unicorn soldiers for assistance with combat magics.
  1541. >But as this day came to a close, you found yourself lying on your bed, staring up at the map of Equestria on your ceiling.
  1542. >You imagined various plans of grand strategies to use against the invaders, particularly the griffons and Saddle Arabians.
  1543. >If you end up fighting either of those two, then the fighting will be far more extensive than a single battle or two to decide the fate of the entire front.
  1544. >Day after day you would have to play a grand game of chess against your foes.
  1545. >The slightest mistake would end up in immense setbacks.
  1546. >The worst mistake would end up in complete annihilation.
  1547. >As you imagined these scenarios, one question kept popping back up.
  1548. >’What would Anon do?’
  1549.  
  1550. >In the next two weeks, life went back to a routine.
  1551. >The same meetings with civilians.
  1552. >The same civil and war councils.
  1553. >The same practice for the coming days.
  1554. >You were making progress on combat applications of magic.
  1555. >Your shields could last more than a couple seconds, and you were just starting to be able to launch bolts of pure magical energy.
  1556. >The city was getting ready for you to be absent; the locals shouldn’t have any problem keeping things running.
  1557. >On the eve of your march, you went to see Anon.
  1558. >Still no change.
  1559. “Hey Uncle, I’m leaving tomorrow morning. We’re going to fight the minotaurs that are threatening Manehattan.”
  1560. >He just lays there.
  1561. “I’m leaving a fifth of you Old Guard in the city, they’ll make sure to brief you on what’s happening when you’re up.”
  1562. >No movement from him.
  1563. “We really need you. The other fronts are holding, but just barely.”
  1564. >Exactly what you expect happens.
  1565. “Come on soldier! You’ve survived more than this!”
  1566. >Nothing.
  1567. “Alright, no more second guessing myself. I won’t have that luxury on the battlefield.”
  1568. >The room is silent aside from your words and the beeping of medical machines.
  1569. “Look, this is going to be the last time I’ll see you for quite some time. I just want you to know, that I’m going to make you proud. And you’d better be awake the next time we meet.”
  1570. >You get up from the chair you pulled up to his bed.
  1571. >Then you grab his hand with your hoof for a moment.
  1572. “Goodbye Uncle. I love you.”
  1573. >With that you head for the tower to rest before the march.
  1574.  
  1575. >In your room, you found yourself reviewing reports.
  1576. >Manehattan sits on an island, the river surrounding it runs south in to the sea.
  1577. >The minotaur force is camped out on the east bank, building their numbers.
  1578. >There’s only one bridge connecting the island to the east, and the locals have set up a series of walls o atop it.
  1579. >It seems like the enemy is waiting to build enough numbers to assault the bridge, or are constructing barges to sail directly to the island.
  1580. >Either way, you’ll need to get there quickly.
  1581. >It’ll take one or two days to get out of the Crystal Empire, and at least another week to get to the city.
  1582. >Some of the officers have said that a single minotaur is worth a dozen ponies in battle.
  1583. >You have just over fifty thousand ponies at your command.
  1584. >And you’re facing at least twenty five thousand enemies, with hundreds more pouring in every day.
  1585. >You have no superiority in artillery, as the some of them use their strength to personally wield light cannons.
  1586. >Previous engagements indicate that generally five to ten percent of their forces are equipped with hand cannons.
  1587. >They’re also more resistant to magical attacks than the yaks are.
  1588. >The only thing you can exploit is that they fight as warriors, not soldiers.
  1589. >Your forces work in formation with their comrades, while minotaurs fight as individuals.
  1590. >In previous conflicts with them, Anon would overwhelm them with immense numerical superiority.
  1591. >He would never fight them unless he outnumbered them five to one.
  1592. >And he led the charge personally, breaking the enemy vanguard almost entirely on his own.
  1593. >But, as the hours ticked by, you decided it was best to head to bed.
  1594. >You’ll have plenty of time on the road to think of battle plans, and you’ll need your rest.
  1595.  
  1596. >In the morning you watched from the tower as the army marched from their encampments, heading out of the city.
  1597. >They marched deep, not wide.
  1598. >Thousands of spears were waving in the air over their carriers.
  1599. >Hundreds of banners flew in the wind.
  1600. >Artillery and supply carriages were being dragged throughout the line.
  1601. >You could hear fife and drums setting the pace for the host.
  1602. >As the last men passed through the gate, you flew to the head of the army.
  1603. >Your army.
  1604. >As you passed in your armor, the soldiers cheered.
  1605. >When you reached the front, Major Arrow spoke to you.
  1606. >”Should you wish, a carriage can be pulled up for you.”
  1607. “No, I will walk with the army. I’ll go through whatever the rest of the men go through.”
  1608. >”As you wish.”
  1609. >You made good time.
  1610. >By nightfall you set camp at the pass leading out of the empire.
  1611. >Although the rail routes are secured, there are far too many ponies to take it to your destination.
  1612. >Walking the rail road out of the Empire would have saved a day or two, but it is a treacherous mountain route.
  1613. >You won’t lose anypony before the first battle, that’d be just insulting.
  1614. >That night you got word from Manehattan.
  1615. >The Ministry of Interior Defense tried to re-enforce their rule in the city.
  1616. >Riots broke out, and the secret police were routed.
  1617. >Any of their survivors either fled or were captured.
  1618. >This was happening across the country as the royalists tried to subvert the military.
  1619. >However after news of both the yak and dog fronts being won, popular support remained in favor of the military.
  1620. >For now the people trust the army.
  1621. >But that trust might not last for long if the enemy starts making gains.
  1622. >Or if the standstill continues for too long.
  1623.  
  1624. >That night you reread part of one of your books.
  1625. >You looked through the military history of Equestria for every conflict against the minotaurs.
  1626. >Every fight against them was won either by having an incredible numerical advantage, or by completely cutting off their supply lines so they starve out.
  1627. >You don’t have either of those options.
  1628. >But what are they waiting for?
  1629. >Historically the minotaurs have always pressed the attack almost immediately.
  1630. >Here they’re waiting for something.
  1631. >There is one bit that might have helped, but it just was a reference to The History of Equestrian and Minotaur Relations: Volume 2-The Early Pony Unification Period.
  1632. >Why is almost every book you read a maze?
  1633. >There must be something you’ve picked up from Anon that could help.
  1634. >Maybe there’s a minotaur holiday coming up, you could pull a Washington in the night.
  1635. >If you cross the river far to the north, you could leave their army and attack their homelands.
  1636. >No, Hannibal had elephants and it didn’t work out in the long term.
  1637. >On a matter of principal, you’ll leave burning the camp with oil as a last resort.
  1638. >There has to be a better way.
  1639. >However it escaped you that night.
  1640. >…
  1641. >The next morning the march started early.
  1642. >Nothing of importance occurred in the next three days.
  1643. >Until that night, as you were in the command tent.
  1644. >The Major briefed you on the situation.
  1645. >”Ma’am, we’ve news from Baltimare. No changes in the front, but their scouts have seen a Saddle Arabian armada sailing north.
  1646. That explains why the minotaurs have been waiting.”
  1647. >”Their speed and heading puts them at Manehattan in 8 days. The letter was sent 5 days ago, we have three before they arrive.”
  1648. “And we’re still four days out.”
  1649. >”Affirmative.”
  1650. “Then strike camp, we need to get there before the enemy.”
  1651.  
  1652. >The men were quite unhappy at facing a forced march.
  1653. >But because you’re walking it with them, they dealt with it.
  1654. >There will be time to rest in Manehattan.
  1655. >With only three resting periods of three hours each, you’ll arrive at evening in two days.
  1656. >That gives the men a full day to rest and prepare.
  1657. >And a day for you to take stock of the situation in the city.
  1658. >Until then, you just need to keep your army moving.
  1659. >…
  1660. >After the first rest, the men got moving no problem.
  1661. >…
  1662. >After the second, there was some opposition, but they eventually got moving.
  1663. >..
  1664. >After the third, they were reluctant.
  1665. >They were exhausted, and so were you.
  1666. >After having triple rations of coffee sent out, they got moving quickly enough though.
  1667. >You were all nearing three days without proper rest, lugging heavy equipment and armor all the way.
  1668. >But it’ll be over soon.
  1669. >…
  1670. >You arrived on the west bank of the river just before sundown.
  1671. >You gave the men until noon tomorrow to rest.
  1672. >Meanwhile you went to meet with the city leaders before resting yourself.
  1673. >Given the circumstances, many pleasantries were dropped.
  1674. >Many of the veterans in the city organized a militia.
  1675. >They won’t join with any offensive actions, but if enemies set hoof in the city there will be a force as large as your own fighting to defend it.
  1676. >Fortifications were being built across the island.
  1677. >If it came down to it, the urban warfare would be bloody.
  1678. >Combined you maybe have enough to repulse the minotaurs, but not if the Saddle Arabians can reinforce them.
  1679. >You eventually found yourself in your tent, struggling to sleep as scenarios played out in your head.
  1680. >After about an hour of that, you were just drifting off to sleep.
  1681. >When your eyes jolt back to being fully open.
  1682. >You remembered something.
  1683. >You ran out of your tent and back into the city.
  1684. >The only thing keeping you going was adrenaline.
  1685.  
  1686. >What they say about the city never sleeping is true.
  1687. >Even with a hostile army parked just across the river, life continues for the ponies of
  1688. Manehattan.
  1689. >And everything is so fast paced.
  1690. >In your drowsy state you almost got ran over.
  1691. >Twice.
  1692. >Make that three times.
  1693. >You duck into a corner café that’s still open for more coffee.
  1694. >Supposedly you got the strongest thing they serve, but the caffeine is barely affecting you as you continue towards your destination.
  1695. >Still better than nothing though.
  1696. >The slight increase in attentiveness keeps you from almost getting run over a fourth time.
  1697. >While passing in front of a shop window, you can see large bags under your eyes.
  1698. >And that you’re still wearing your armor.
  1699. >Now that you think of it, you didn’t actually remove it in the past three days.
  1700. >Eh, there is time to remove armor once the war is won.
  1701. >But that might just be the sleep deprivation talking.
  1702. >It actually feels much heavier now that you’re aware of it.
  1703. >Curse you whatever it’s called when you become aware of something and then it becomes much worse!
  1704. >That’s definitely the lack of sleep.
  1705. >Anyway, where were you?
  1706. >Right!
  1707. >You were looking for a building that you don’t actually know the exact location of.
  1708. >Right…
  1709. >You continue searching the streets.
  1710. >Somehow you managed to find it.
  1711. >It was actually just around the corner from the café you stopped at earlier.
  1712. >The Manhattan Public Library.
  1713.  
  1714. >You enter the building and walk up to the main desk.
  1715. “Good evening. Would you mind telling me what floor the history section is on?”
  1716. >The reception pony is busy filing her hoof.
  1717. “Hello?”
  1718. >She points to a sign on the wall, never looking up at you.
  1719. >Titled: DIRECTORY
  1720. “Sorry.”
  1721. >You could swear that you heard her say something about ‘lazy students.’
  1722. >You walk over to read the directory.
  1723. >History is on the ninth floor.
  1724. >While heading for the elevator, you toss your now empty coffee cup in waste bin.
  1725. >Elevator music commences before you hear the ‘DING’ signifying the end of the trip upwards.
  1726. >You then begin wandering through the seemingly endless selection of books.
  1727. >Curse you decimal system!
  1728. >After eventually finding the section on minotaurs (next to a list (that you missed) explaining where historical subsections are located) you start looking.
  1729. >Now where is The History of Equestrian and Minotaur Relations: Volume 2-The Early Pony Unification Period?
  1730. >Soon you find the six part History of Equestrian and Minotaur Relations series.
  1731. >Grabbing the second volume, you retreat to find a chair to read in.
  1732. >If you recall the reference from the history of war book, you need either page 285 or 582.
  1733. >You flip to 285.
  1734. >It’s on agricultural developments and how the ponies and minotaurs differed in developing them.
  1735. >Probably not it.
  1736. >So you try 582.
  1737. >You start reading the events of almost two thousand years ago
  1738. >A grin forms across your face.
  1739. >And a plan is forming in your mind.
  1740. >As you fall asleep in the chair, with the book in your grasp.
  1741.  
  1742. >It must have been at least ten hours later when you work up.
  1743. >You were sitting rather uncomfortably in a chair.
  1744. >Still armored and with the book in your hooves.
  1745. >You rise from the seat and start to stretch your legs and wings.
  1746. >After putting the book back, you left the library.
  1747. >You know what you have to do.
  1748. >But, first you need to stop by the camp.
  1749. >As you fly over to the tents, it looks like the Major had already started to have your men assist in last minute fortifications.
  1750. >You heard from some of the soldiers that the Major is overseeing the fortification personally.
  1751. >And most of the Old Guard is still in the camp.
  1752. >Good.
  1753. >You head over to where the pegasi are at.
  1754. >They stand to attention as you approach.
  1755. “Alright, I need the twelve best fighters among you to come with me.”
  1756. >There’s a bit of discussion, but soon twelve pegasi step forward.
  1757. “If anything goes wrong, our only option will be to fly away. If I give the order, then retreat.”
  1758. >They nod in acknowledgement.
  1759. >Now you just need two things.
  1760. >After assembling one of them and searching trash bins for the other, you stood on the eastern bridge.
  1761. >Before you lay no man’s land.
  1762. >On the far end you can see minotaurs resting on barricades.
  1763. >As you and your men flew beyond your own fortifications, you heard confused questions from the ponies manning them.
  1764. >You landed in no man’s land, and started walking towards the enemy.
  1765. >Here goes nothing.
  1766.  
  1767. >As you approach, you wave the red flag that you made. For the minotaurs it signifies that you’re not here for open battle.
  1768. >They lower their weapons when you near them.
  1769. >And clear a path to their leaders command tent.
  1770. >You pass through the camp, and the entire way armed enemies tower over you.
  1771. >But you do your best not to appear intimidated.
  1772. >If things go south, then you’ll have barely a second to fly out of reach before they attack.
  1773. >In front of a large and ornate tent you see what looks like their general sitting in front of it.
  1774. >As he stands, he looks to be at least a foot taller than any of the others.
  1775. >A huge albino bull, clad in heavy steel armor and wielding a large warhammer- the head almost as large as your entire body.
  1776. >He begins laughing as you approach.
  1777. >”Here with terms of surrender tiny one? I, General White Rage, will accept it.”
  1778. >Courage Flurry.
  1779. >You spit on the ground beneath his feet, and levitate the bucket you brought over to his tent.
  1780. >Then you fling its contents at it, showering the tent with rotting fish.
  1781. “On the contrary, like Bronze Star almost two millennia ago, as leader of the opposing army I demand trial by combat to decide the fate of the war.”
  1782. >”HAHAHAHAHA!”
  1783. >The army around you starts joining in on his laugh.
  1784. >”Ha, you think that arcane customs from countless generations ago still apply? I haven’t laughed that much for a long time pony, thank you.”
  1785. >This is bad, you think as the crowd continues to laugh.
  1786. >”ENOUGH!” You hear a single voice form the crowd yell.
  1787. >An elderly looking minotaur comes forward leaning on a cane, is beard almost scraping the ground as he walks.
  1788. >He then whacks the general in the head with it.
  1789. >The entire crowd is silent at this point.
  1790.  
  1791. >”Fool, how dare you dishonor your ancestors! That rite was never overturned, just never put into practice for two thousand years. She has spat on your ground, and assaulted your tent with rotting fish carcasses. It is your duty as war leader to oblige, or else you will face the wrath of the gods in this life and the next.”
  1792. >”It can’t possibly still be in our laws. Check.”
  1793. >The old one hobbles over to a tent, and retrieves a huge book bound with iron rings.
  1794. >He opens it and starts reading.
  1795. >”Come here boy.”
  1796. >The general approaches and starts looking at what the other is pointing at.
  1797. >A look of shock is seen on his face.
  1798. >The general falls to his knee.
  1799. >”Forgive me sage, I will oblige the rite.”
  1800. >He rises and turns to you.
  1801. >”Single combat, leader to leader, for the fate of the war.”
  1802. >He hefts his enormous hammer over his shoulder.
  1803. >You really didn’t think this part through.
  1804. >You don’t even have a weapon.
  1805. >”Clear a space for an arena!”
  1806. >As the minotaurs shuffle to oblige the order, you turn to your men and whisper.
  1807. “What do I do?”
  1808. >They look visibly nervous at your question.
  1809. “Come on ponies, I need help here!”
  1810. >”There’s not much we can do in a just a few moments.” One speaks up.
  1811. >”Yeah, were do we start?” Another asks the others.
  1812. >”Stick ‘em with the pointy end. “ A third says as he offers you a spear.
  1813. >You grab it with magic and deadpan back to him.
  1814. “You don’t say.”
  1815. >You hear the general’s voice boom over to you.
  1816. >”This way pony, our space has been cleared.”
  1817. >He leads you past a few tents, to where a large circular area is waiting for you.
  1818. >It must be a hundred feet in diameter.
  1819. >A few weapon racks line the circumference of the arena.
  1820. >You take your place in it as the general heads to the other side.
  1821. >You really didn’t think this through.
  1822.  
  1823. >The old sage is to the side, and he begins speaking.
  1824. >”As a leader of your people, you have initiated the age old ritual of combat. Should you emerge victorious, then the minotaur people will be obligated to award you with a ten year truce. However, should you fall in battle then your city will be forfeited and the war will continue. The gods value actions, not words. So let you begin when ready.”
  1825. >You eye the spear you’ve been given, getting used to its dimensions.
  1826. >You start to spin it around you in a display to get more accustomed to holding it with your magic.
  1827. >As you end, it’s in the air to your right, facing your opponent.
  1828. >The albino bull brings his hammer down to the earth, and you can feel the impact even standing at least fifty feet away.
  1829. >He then bashes his left fist onto his chest piece.
  1830. >You start to charge up as much magical energy as possible.
  1831. >As you reach the peak of what you contain, the bull starts to charge.
  1832. >You unleash a blast of pure magical energy that impacts him square in the chest.
  1833. >And had no visible effect on him.
  1834. >You wait as he storms towards you.
  1835. >At the last second you roll to the left, going just under the hammer that was swinging.
  1836. >You sent the spear the other way around him, and you reunite with it behind the bull.
  1837. >Using all of your remaining magical power, you thrust the spear into his back.
  1838. >But it harmlessly impacts and deflects off of his armor.
  1839. >He turns and towers over you.
  1840. >Reaching down he grabs the front end of the spear, and uses your magical grip to snap it in half.
  1841. >He throws the part he broke off over to the side.
  1842.  
  1843. >You jump backwards as he brings his hammer down in the space that you were just occupying.
  1844. >He then starts to charge.
  1845. >You narrowly avoid getting hit by it as you fly up, just out of reach.
  1846. >Coming back to the ground, you watched as his charge continues on another twenty feet.
  1847. >And he turns to face you once more.
  1848. >You count five weapon racks around the arena.
  1849. >Focusing on the one directly behind him, you levitate the weapons from the rack.
  1850. >And send them flying for his back.
  1851. >But they harmlessly deflect off of his armor.
  1852. >You start doing the same with the next.
  1853. >He starts slowly approaching you, allowing you to pepper him with useless attacks.
  1854. >The ground is littered with swords and spears that impacted him dealing no damage.
  1855. >He begins to laugh as he walks towards you.
  1856. >You start back peddling.
  1857. >You lift an empty weapon rack to his right, and sent it hurdling towards him.
  1858. >He noticed it in his periphery vision too late.
  1859. >And he went tumbling to the ground as the wooden object broke upon him.
  1860. >But he soon stood up.
  1861. >You launched another at him, but he anticipated it.
  1862. >Just before impact, he swung at it with his war hammer- shattering it before it could hit him.
  1863. >He cracks his neck to the right and left before continuing.
  1864. >You have an idea.
  1865. >You launch another weapon rack at him that he breaks.
  1866. >And a fourth.
  1867. >All that remains is the one directly behind him.
  1868. >And you throw that one at him as well.
  1869.  
  1870. >The minotaur general turns to strike it down.
  1871. >All this time you still had the broken spear floating next to you.
  1872. >You grab what’s left of it with your right hoof.
  1873. >And start flying towards your opponent.
  1874. >His back is turned as he strikes down the wooden object being sent towards him.
  1875. >Just before you reach him, he turns back to face you.
  1876. >But he didn’t have time to react.
  1877. >You were feet away from his un-helmeted head.
  1878. >Tightening your grip on the wooden shaft, you plunge the broken end into his neck.
  1879. >Your hooves impact his chest as your charge is broken.
  1880. >He’s still standing there.
  1881. >A wooden stake through his throat.
  1882. >He blinks once or twice, unable to speak.
  1883. >Then he falls backwards, leaving you standing atop your defeated foe.
  1884. >The crowd is completely silent.
  1885. >Some of the minotaurs look at you in shock.
  1886. >Others have their hands ready on their weapons.
  1887. >Your men are looking quite nervous as well.
  1888. >Looking down, you see blood flowing from the general’s wound.
  1889. >Some of it from the impact had spattered onto you.
  1890. >the silence is broken as the old sage starts to speak.
  1891. >”Today, the gods have favored you young one. Our law is clear, there will be no war between our people for ten years from this day.”
  1892. “Just like that?”
  1893. >”Just like that, our forces will be gone from your lands immediately.” He then talks to the others. “Break camp, we are going home.”
  1894. >There’s a lot of grumbling from the minotaurs as they’ve been denied a chance at battle, but they do start to filter away from the arena.
  1895. >Your horn glows as you retrieve both halves of the spear you started the combat with.
  1896. >Walking over to your men, you offer the halves back to its owner.
  1897. “Stuck ‘em with the pointy end.”
  1898. >”That you did. You can keep them.”
  1899. >Taking flight, you and your men left the now neutral camp.
  1900. >You had your men go off to brief the Major on the situation, as you went back to your command tent to rest.
  1901. >You kept the spear halves as mementoes.
  1902.  
  1903. >You were in your command tent, cleaning the blood from your coat.
  1904. >Things were still troubling, as tomorrow the Saddle Arabian armada would arrive.
  1905. >It’s unclear if they’ll still attack the city without the minotaurs there to assist them.
  1906. >They could still shell the city from a far.
  1907. >You need a way to convince the enemy not to fight.
  1908. >But how?
  1909. >Your thoughts are interrupted as Major Arrow stormed into your tent.
  1910. “Afternoon Major.”
  1911. >”Your highness, you could have gotten killed!”
  1912. “But I didn’t.”
  1913. >”We can’t afford to take such risks at this time.”
  1914. “Would you have preferred to be attacked from two fronts as the minotaurs and Saddle Arabians flanked the city?”
  1915. >”Ma’am, you shouldn’t have taken action without consulting-.”
  1916. “ENOUGH- I am the leader of this army, and I took action to prevent battle. You would never use that tone when speaking to the Field Marshal, and I expect you never to use it again while speaking to me. Is that understood Major?”
  1917. >You emphasize his rank.
  1918. >”Yes Ma’am.” He says, being put back into place.
  1919. “Now, while you were wasting time leaving the oversight of the cities fortifications to come complain, I was constructing a plan to circumvent the coming battle entirely.”
  1920. >The Major stands at attention to receive orders.
  1921. “I want our men to work with the city militia and any civilian volunteers. The need to make scale models of our cannons, it doesn’t matter out of what. All that matters is that from a spyglass they look real. By dawn I want at least a thousand of them lining the south side of the island, the bridges, and the banks of the bay across each side of the river. When the enemy fleet arrives, assuming they don’t flee immediately, I’ll send a flyer with an ultimatum demanding they retreat now or be utterly destroyed.”
  1922. >He remains standing.
  1923. “Go on then, dismissed.”
  1924.  
  1925. >You didn’t like putting him in his place, but you can’t allow your authority to be circumvented.
  1926. >If the chains of command fall apart, then the entire military will fall to chaos.
  1927. >While thinking of how to word your letter, you went into the city.
  1928. >You were pleased to see ponies scrambling to construct and paint wooded cannons.
  1929. >Eventually you found a book shop containing what you needed.
  1930. >The First War of the Saddle Arabian Coast
  1931. >And
  1932. >The Second War of the Saddle Arabian Coast
  1933. >With the two books you purchased in hoof, you returned to your tent and started composing your ultimatum.
  1934. >You struggled to find the perfect blend of formality, truth, and exaggeration necessary to make them turn and run.
  1935. >The first draft wouldn’t frighten a single enemy.
  1936. >And the second was obviously a lie.
  1937. >The third was too specific at naming numbers.
  1938. >You worked well into the night.
  1939. >After many discarded pages, you ultimately settled on:
  1940.  
  1941. To the leader of the Saddle Arabian fleet,
  1942.  
  1943. By now you are aware of two things. One, that your allies have quit the field. And two, that the cities defenses are far more considerable than you had thought. The reasoning as to why your allies have fled back to their homeland, quitting the war entirely, is that I have killed General White Rage in single combat. The reasoning for the latter observation is because this nation’s military has rallied, and many of the nation’s two million combat veterans have returned to active duty. If you attack, then you will find over half of this city’s population rising against you, in addition to the hundred thousand battle hardened soldiers leading the defense.
  1944.  
  1945. Simply put, you will be annihilated. I would use the phrase decimated, but that implies you would lose one of every ten men rather than the inverse. If you still feel like attacking Manehattan, then you should note the two books I’ve sent to you. Histories of the First and Second Wars of the Saddle Arabian Coast, a matter you should be very familiar with. Take note of the individual leading the wars against you, Field Marshal Anonymous. Supposedly, he individually killed more of you than died in the last three centuries of any causes combined. While he is busy overseeing the entire war effort, he has put me in charge of this front. That man raised me as a daughter, and taught me everything he knows. If you still feel like attacking then you are certainly welcomed to break upon this city. But if you have any shred of sanity then you will turn back. Whether you and your men survive to see another sunrise is in your hooves.
  1946.  
  1947. -Princess Flurry Heart, Vice-Commander of the Equestrian Armed Forces
  1948.  
  1949. >With the letter finished, you heated wax and sealed it up.
  1950. >Then pressing your seal into the drying quickly hardening wax.
  1951. >You have scouts further down the coast that will notify you when the fleet will be arriving on the horizon.
  1952. >So you tried to rest as much as possible before they arrived.
  1953. >If they call your bluff there will be a tough fight ahead of you.
  1954. >This was the first time in four days that you were able to remove your armor.
  1955. >And it felt glorious.
  1956. >…
  1957. >In the morning you washed off yourself and your armor.
  1958. >And then went for breakfast.
  1959. >You sat in your tent contemplating yesterday’s events over tea.
  1960. >You had killed somebody… with your own two hooves.
  1961. >It was so much more personal than just giving an order.
  1962. >The adrenaline pumping through you, the fear of losing, the rush of victory.
  1963. >It was surreal to say the least.
  1964. >You had ended another sentient creature’s life.
  1965. >All of those potential memories and actions have been prematurely ended.
  1966. >Granted, many of those immediate actions would have been to kill who knows how many ponies.
  1967. >You don’t like killing, but you suppose that if done for the right reasons then it’s necessary if not justified.
  1968. >As you were finishing breakfast, a runner asked for permission to enter.
  1969. “Of course.”
  1970. >”Ma’am, the enemy fleet has been sighted; they should be on the horizon within the hour.”
  1971. “Thank you.”
  1972. >With that you headed to your forward observation area.
  1973.  
  1974. >You flew to the top of one of the skyscrapers on the southern tip of the island.
  1975. >There, many of your officers, as well as city militia leaders were present.
  1976. >You watched and waited.
  1977. >There was some grim idle chatter that you stayed out of.
  1978. >It was a cloudy day, but sight lines remained clear across the horizon.
  1979. >You scanned with a pair of binoculars every minute or so.
  1980. >Their sails will pop over the horizon soon enough.
  1981. >You looked towards the defenses.
  1982. >On the island, four hundred mock cannons lined the southern tip of the island.
  1983. >Each of the bridges leading to either side of the bay had two hundred.
  1984. >And the coast lines on each side had another two hundred.
  1985. >Each of the fake artillery pieces was manned, and there were army and militia formations behind the guns.
  1986. >Then you saw the first sail.
  1987. >And the next one.
  1988. >And the armada.
  1989. >You started counting.
  1990. >Five dozen war galleys, each with two to four forward facing guns.
  1991. >Twelve galleons, you don’t have a clear view, but with maybe thirty-two guns each.
  1992. >And a massive ship of the line, you’d guess it has at least a hundred and twenty guns, and on its deck is a large mortar.
  1993. >Presumably that’s the flagship.
  1994. >The fleet has stopped, most likely to take stock of the situation.
  1995. >You turn to your pegasi courier and give him the box containing your letter and the two books.
  1996. “Take this package to the flagship over there, the big one, drop it off at the captains hooves, then fly back.”
  1997. >He nods and starts flying.
  1998. >You watch as he soars over the bay, becoming a tiny dot in the distance.
  1999. >He looks like he’s reached the ship.
  2000. >Now he’s coming back.
  2001. >As he approaches, you see that the package was delivered.
  2002. >Nothing to do now but wait.
  2003.  
  2004. >…
  2005. >The armada is just sitting there.
  2006. >The admiral will have had plenty of time to read the letter by now.
  2007. >He’s judging the situation, wondering if you’ve bluffed.
  2008. >Which you have.
  2009. >There can’t be more than twenty thousand enemies ready to land, but they wouldn’t have to land.
  2010. >They could just shell the city until nothing but rubble is left.
  2011. >But based off of the sheer size, most of the enemy fleet must be here right now.
  2012. >Would they sacrifice losing that much if it isn’t a bluff?
  2013. >They’re still waiting well out of cannon range.
  2014. >Your forces are locked in a staring match, but who will blink first?
  2015. >You see movement.
  2016. >The fleet starts to lurch.
  2017. >But will they turn or head forward?
  2018. >They’re moving…
  2019. >And…
  2020. >Turning.
  2021. >Your army watched in silence as the enemy fleet disappeared over the horizon.
  2022. >You had ordered them to stay silent if they turned back.
  2023. >Can’t have any cheering tip them off.
  2024. >The celebrations came later that night.
  2025. >Well after scouts confirmed that the fleet was heading back south.
  2026. >But you had the scouts follow for at least a week, and you left the fake guns standing in the field.
  2027. >Just in case.
  2028. >That night, you once again skipped out on partaking in the festivities.
  2029. >Instead you sat in your tent, reflecting.
  2030. >You had stopped two armies and an armada, all without losing single pony.
  2031. >But this streak can’t last forever.
  2032.  
  2033. >As fireworks were going off outside and cheering was persisting through the night, you wondered on your next move.
  2034. >Head south to relieve General Lancer with the Saddle Arabians, or see if Admiral Brairheart has rebuilt enough of the air fleet to retake Cloudsdale?
  2035. >Or head back north, and hope Anon will have woken up by the time you get there?
  2036. >Is this what it’s like to be a general?
  2037. >Never able to enjoy a victory, because you need to plan for the next.
  2038. >Anyway, you would have received word from the Admiral if the air fleet was ready.
  2039. >And each of the fronts appears to be at a stalemate.
  2040. >But Brigadier Offense is massing troops to hit the Saddle Arabians further to the south.
  2041. >If you take your own fresh army to Baltimare, then their entire front could collapse.
  2042. >With volunteers from Manehattan bolstering your force, you could have at least a hundred thousand men to relieve the front.
  2043. >They’ve managed to keep the enemy on the outskirts of the city.
  2044. >So if you split your force, letting the Manehattan soldiers march to the east while your force from the Crystal Empire takes the west, you could encircle the enemy besieging Baltimare.
  2045. >You’re two weeks march from there though.
  2046. >But first you need troops from this city to join up.
  2047. >Give yourself two weeks to recruit and train, then another two to get there and you might have a plan.
  2048. >You start writing letters to General Lancer and Brigadier Offense outlining the idea.
  2049. >You’ve proposed that if Lancer can hold the city for just one more month, then you and Offense can pincer the occupied territory.
  2050. >Make them be the ones fighting on multiple fronts for a change.
  2051. >You also included news of Anon’s status and your victories.
  2052. >Politely you suggested that you be placed in command of the military while Anon is out.
  2053. >It will increase popular opinion even more.
  2054. >After all, a Princess of Equestria leading the fight is more sympathetic than a General.
  2055.  
  2056. >Besides, you’ve seen how the commanders can squabble.
  2057. >You’ve actually amazed yourself in the past days.
  2058. >You’ve managed to prove proficiency leading both on and off of the field.
  2059. >Clearly someone taught you right.
  2060. >Thanks Uncle.
  2061. >Your thoughts drift north.
  2062. >He’s still just lying there in that hospital room.
  2063. >No pony aside from his nurse is probably even keeping him company.
  2064. >Meanwhile you’re out here doing what he should be.
  2065. >You doubt that this would be how he saw his ‘little soldier’ going off to war.
  2066. >But life just happens that way you suppose.
  2067. >Twenty five years ago no pony imagined the coming decades of conflict.
  2068. >Twenty years ago your Dad didn’t imagine he would never see you again.
  2069. >Fifteen years ago Auntie Twilight didn’t imagine she would disappear while looking for him.
  2070. >Ten years ago not a soul would have imagined the other Princesses descent into madness.
  2071. >A few weeks ago you would never have imagined you would have to fight your own mother and take her throne.
  2072. >But that’s just how things turned out.
  2073. >That night you planned for the coming days.
  2074. >You would give speeches around the city asking for old veterans to return and for new recruits to sign up.
  2075. >Manehattan is a huge city, and finding fresh blood shouldn’t be an issue after the events of the past few days.
  2076. >The city is also a great location to make sure that supply lines to the Saddle Arabian front remain moving.
  2077. >But when you get down there, you won’t be able to cheat the enemy like you have your last three foes.
  2078. >It’ll be frontline warfare.
  2079. >You can only hope that you’ll be as proficient leading a straight fight.
  2080.  
  2081. >Recruitment started the next day.
  2082. >Almost all of the city militia joined up.
  2083. >Your speeches were well received as well.
  2084. >Days started to bleed together.
  2085. >Manehattan was in a buzz for the two weeks.
  2086. >Weapons and armor were being made, and the local soldiers were busy training and enjoying time with their families before being sent off.
  2087. >The camp had gotten considerably larger.
  2088. >Each day more ponies joined up.
  2089. >Thankfully you were able to keep them all supplied.
  2090. >Aside from Canterlot itself, the nation is firmly in support of the military.
  2091. >You got word back from the other commanders; they had agreed with your proposals.
  2092. >Half of Baltimare is little more than ruins at his point, but Lancer will hold it.
  2093. >The enemy is constantly pushing, but as they make gains in one area, they lose in another.
  2094. >Those gains and losses are often single city blocks.
  2095. >The fighting is brutal.
  2096. >Although the enemies vastly outnumber the defenders, the narrow streets are making numerical superiority worthless.
  2097. >At least most of the civilians were evacuated long before the fighting started.
  2098. >On the other front, trenches have been formed in the clouds.
  2099. >Waves of pegasi and griffons are being thrown at the other’s defenses.
  2100. >It’s contained the enemy to Cloudsdale, but many lives are being lost.
  2101. >If you can’t end the stalemates soon, then an entire generation might be claimed by the conflict.
  2102. >The night before you set out for the front, you got final estimates of the men at your command.
  2103. >In addition to the Old Guard and forces from the Crystal Empire, almost a hundred thousand locals joined up.
  2104. >You were leading the largest active army currently deployed by Equestria.
  2105.  
  2106. >At least it was before you split it up.
  2107. >On the second day of the march, it came time to split the troops.
  2108. >The men from Manehattan were sent directly south along the coast.
  2109. >More or less a straight shot down to Baltimare, but the terrain would slow them slightly
  2110. >Your route to the west was almost twice as long, so to arrive on schedule you had to take the roads.
  2111. >By heading a bit further into the Equestrian heartland you were able to march along clear highways the entire way.
  2112. >However, the route would take you relatively close to Canterlot.
  2113. >…
  2114. >A few days later you were reading a report in your command tent.
  2115. >Matters of espionage.
  2116. >Apparently under the sands of Saddle Arabia a new energy has been harnessed.
  2117. >They’ve found abundant deposits of a strange mineral.
  2118. >Large bright purple crystals, that when finely ground can be used to imitate pure magical energy.
  2119. >Not to dissimilar from how Equestria harnesses magic to power weapons of war.
  2120. >They call it Sahar sand, and they have been testing its potential usage to copy Equestrian airships.
  2121. >An airship needs three specially trained unicorns to properly operate.
  2122. >One helps to counteract gravity so the armored dirigible can actually be lifted off of the ground. This unicorn also controls the altitude of the ship.
  2123. >A second provides thrust and brakes to move the ship forward and back.
  2124. >The last one deals with maneuvering to the left or right.
  2125. >A unicorn for the X, Y, and Z axis.
  2126. >However the Saddle Arabians have developed a single engine, powered by the Sahar sand, that can do all three of those jobs, and with none of the training.
  2127. >And the first batch of them is being sent to the front.
  2128. >With Equestria’s air fleet being reconstructed and most of the trained pegasi fighting the griffons, the enemy could easily take air superiority.
  2129. >And they should be arriving right around the time your forces attack.
  2130.  
  2131. >Your contemplations on how to deal with the enemy aircraft was interrupted as the Major burst into your tent.
  2132. >”Ma’am, were under attack!”
  2133. >You then heard explosions nearby.
  2134. “By who?”
  2135. >”The Loyalists have set up artillery encampments to the west; they’re shelling the camp with magical cannons.”
  2136. “Have the main body of the army scatter away from the camp. I’ll take half of the Old Guard to storm the southernmost encampment; you take the other half and start from the north. We’ll regroup at the center.”
  2137. >”Understood.”
  2138. >He rushes out of the tent while you put your armor on.
  2139. >As you leave the tent, you see a few officers waiting for your orders.
  2140. >The area is lightly forested on each side of the road, so you tell them to wait while you fly upwards to get a better view of the enemy.
  2141. >Although the sun had set hours ago, the bright magical lights tell you what you need.
  2142. >You can make out four- no, make that five artillery nests.
  2143. >Each one periodically shoots out three or four different colored bolts high into the sky, arcing down onto your camp.
  2144. >Going back down to the ground you give your orders.
  2145. “I’ll take the pegasi to rush the south guns, approach the second with the ground forces.”
  2146. >They go off to divide the men as you fly towards the pegasi members of the Old Guard.
  2147. >You only have a hundred or so fliers at your disposal.
  2148. >It’s a risk, but the enemy can’t have more than a thousand ponies total.
  2149. >They wouldn’t leave Canterlot without the lion’s share of their men to defend it.
  2150. >You then take flight with your force, coasting low, just over the tree line.
  2151.  
  2152. >As you fly towards the beacons shooting into the sky, you realize something.
  2153. >If you had the army march wide, then many more of your men would have been caught in the initial bombardment.
  2154. >But because they camped deep, alongside the road, the enemy couldn’t target large groupings.
  2155. >A final barrage goes up as you near the encampment.
  2156. >Four magic cannons, pointed to the skies.
  2157. >Each of them has a unicorn firing into them, and two earth ponies to deal with removing and reloading amplifying crystals.
  2158. >Surrounding the guns are two dozen or so assorted ponies.
  2159. >But they expected attack from the ground, and your men quickly swarmed the defenders.
  2160. >You fired a few magic bolts down before the impact.
  2161. >Arrows flied past you, and pegasi charged down with spears.
  2162. >Half of them fell, and the rest broke almost immediately, fleeing to the north and west.
  2163. >You landed in the artillery encampment, the men continued to circle overhead waiting for orders.
  2164. >But you just stood there, looking at the bodies.
  2165. >These were Equestrians.
  2166. >Your people.
  2167. >And you ended them.
  2168. >You’re fighting this war so the opposite happens, not to send more of them to their deaths.
  2169. >No.
  2170. >Stop thinking like this.
  2171. >They attacked your camp, killing how many of your men?
  2172. >You weren’t sure how long you were thinking, but a shout brought you back into the now.
  2173. >”MA’AM, LOOK OUT!”
  2174. >You look up and to the north.
  2175. >Just in time to see a large bolt of red magical fire, maybe thirty feet away and rocketing towards you.

Heart of War- Prologue

by ThingPaste

Heart of War- Act I

by ThingPaste

Heart of War- Act II

by ThingPaste

Heart of War- Act III

by ThingPaste

Heart of War- Act IV

by ThingPaste