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Heart of War- Act II

By ThingPaste
Created: 2024-02-28 02:59:56
Expiry: Never

  1. >You sat on your hospital bed, being briefed by Sergeant Thunder.
  2. >But you were numb for most of it.
  3. >Everything went in one ear and out the other once you heard the news.
  4. >Flurry is dead.
  5. >You ended up just wandering the streets of the city.
  6. >Eventually you found yourself in the higher levels of the tower, overlooking the Crystal Empire below.
  7. >You had your personal effects sent up to you, and you started going through them.
  8. >The letter to be given to her once you died will go unread.
  9. >You never expected to outlive her.
  10. >Nobody should outlive their child.
  11. >She wasn’t technically, but family doesn’t end at blood.
  12. >In anger you threw your memoirs against the wall.
  13. >What’s even the point in writing them anymore?
  14. >You then got your cigar box of pictures out.
  15. >She was so happy, so pure.
  16. >And you had to ruin it by letting her go off to war.
  17. >You spent hours looking through each and every picture you have of her.
  18. >The sun had set by the time you finished.
  19. >Finally you grabbed your lockbox.
  20. >After entering in the three letters you stare down at the contents.
  21. >Everything you had in this world was now gone.
  22. >You set down the box, and headed out on to the balcony.
  23. >You looked down at the distant streets, illuminated by hundreds of lights.
  24. >Jump.
  25. >Just get it over with.
  26. >What else do you have to go on for?
  27. >You started to climb over the railing.
  28. >But then you stopped.
  29. >There is still one thing you have left.
  30. >Vengence.
  31.  
  32. >You started heading down the endless stairs of the spire.
  33. >Eventually you reached the bottom.
  34. >And you headed for the train station.
  35. >It was at least midnight, but the train should still be there over night.
  36. >You boarded it and started looking for the conductor.
  37. >You found him sleeping in a cabin with a newspaper in his hooves.
  38. >Grabbing him by the neck, you force him to stand.
  39. >”Wha- what?”
  40. “Start the train, we’re heading south.”
  41. >”Who do you think you-“
  42. “Who do YOU think I am?”
  43. >”Alright sir.” The pony fearfully utters before shuffling off.
  44. >The train soon departed.
  45. >…
  46. >The next afternoon you arrived.
  47. >You’re fifty miles north of Canterlot, and you should be at Admiral Brairheart’s command setup.
  48. >Seeing as there is an army camped out next to the train station, you’d assume to find him at the command tent.
  49. >Some of the soldiers led you to the Admiral.
  50. >He was in his tent reading industrial reports.
  51. >”Sir!” He says as he stands to attention. “You’ll be pleased to know that we’ve another army ready to send south to the Saddle Arabian front.”
  52. “How many?”
  53. >”Fifty thousand.”
  54. “Good, I’ll be taking command. The other fronts can hold for now, we’re taking Canterlot.”
  55. >”But Sir, we’ve no artillery. Hundreds would die.”
  56. “Thousands.”
  57. >”If this is about the Princess-“
  58. “This is about ending the war! I won’t stand idly by as they sit in that city and continue to plot against us. But yes, with Flurry… gone, we need to strike now or else it will be all of our heads on pikes as traitors.”
  59. >”I… understand.”
  60.  
  61. >The army marched the following morning. At noon on the third day you arrived on the outskirts of Canterlot.
  62. >The men spent a few hours constructing siege ladders.
  63. >At least the direction you were coming from wasn’t on the cliff side of the city.
  64. >Just a two hundred yard dash from tree line to the walls.
  65. >Just two hundred yards to avoid cannon fire.
  66. >Your army now stood at the ready, waiting for your word.
  67. >They expect a speech.
  68. >You’ll oblige them.
  69. >You stood pacing in front of the center ranks.
  70. “Don’t die with a clean sword! I want to see blood! I want to bathe in their blood! I want to bathe in their blood for a week! Now, KILL THEM ALL!”
  71. >War cries echoed as you led the charge.
  72. >Thousands of men coming from the forest to take the city.
  73. >The defenders were quick to fire.
  74. >You watched as more than a dozen cannons fired into your force.
  75. >None impacted near you, but you hear screams of pain and death to each side.
  76. >Unicorns then started to fire magic bolts, and other ponies launched arrows at the oncoming army.
  77. >Countless bolts impacted you harmlessly, and arrows whizzed by your head.
  78. >Another round of cannon fire hit your force, one of them landing a few yards away.
  79. >That’s the last round they’ll get.
  80. >The men atop the walls continued to fire down, but there were too many attackers.
  81. >As you reached the walls, you looked down them as dozens of ladders were being raised.
  82. >You went to the nearest one and started to climb.
  83. >A few ponies got up first, and your area was cleared.
  84. >You draw your sword and start heading north for the gate.
  85. >On the walls alone you must have cut down three dozen royal guards and royalist soldiers.
  86. >But you stood atop the gatehouse.
  87. >In the streets below, ponies had formed ranks with spears to keep out any attack.
  88. >But as you twisted the winch to raise the portcullis, your own forces charged forth.
  89.  
  90. >They can handle the defenders; you have another goal in mind.
  91. >You continue along the walls, ordering any of your men that you pass to join you.
  92. >There were maybe two dozen trailing behind you as you exterminated any ponies in front of you.
  93. >You had gone around a third of the wall’s circumference, but your goal was in sight.
  94. >The royal palace.
  95. >Continuing along the wall, you soon reached the access doors.
  96. >They had attempted to barricade them, but they hadn’t enough time.
  97. >With a swift kick, the doors slam open.
  98. >You slaughter your way through the royal guards, and eventually reach the throne room.
  99. >Your men were ready.
  100. >Throwing open the doors; you view Celestia sitting in her throne on the far end, Luna standing beside her.
  101. >You start walking towards them.
  102. >Celestia starts charging up power as her horn starts glowing.
  103. >As you got halfway to the throne, she unleashed it.
  104. >A bright, near blinding light flooded towards you.
  105. >As it dies down, you see that the men behind you have… disintegrated.
  106. >Their weapons and armor lying around ash piles.
  107. >And Celestia just sat there, dumbfounded that you survived the onslaught.
  108. >You reached down and grabbed you knife.
  109. >You threw it and watched as it danced in the air before landing firmly between Luna’s eyes, giving her a second horn.
  110. >Celestia sat in silence.
  111. >You calmly walked towards the throne, locking eyes with the monarch.
  112. >As you climbed the steps up to her, you said nothing.
  113. >You only swung your sword.
  114. >One clean cut, going through her neck and her flowing mane.
  115.  
  116. >Soon after you stood in a tower, looking down at the city below.
  117. >The last of the royalists have been killed, and now your surviving men and the city’s population looked up at you.
  118. >They don’t know about their monarchs yet.
  119. >You start to address them.
  120. “My enemies are many. My equals are none.”
  121. >The scattered murmurs in the crowd have ended.
  122. “In the shade of mountain crags, they said Griffonstone could never be conquered… In the land of sultans and kings, they said Saddle Arabia could never be humbled... In the realm of forests and snow, they said Yakyakistan could never be tamed.”
  123. >You let the words set in.
  124. “Now they say nothing!”
  125. >It echoes throughout the city below.
  126. “They fear me, like a force of nature- a dealer in thunder and death.”
  127. >You watch as the crowd awaits your continuation.
  128. “I say, I am Anonymous! I am Emperor!”
  129. >You raise your left hand, your fist clenching a clump of hair.
  130. >Hanging below it is Celestia’s head.
  131. >You hear the crowd’s gasps as you throw it down to the ground below.
  132. >-
  133. >And then you wake up.
  134. >Your eyes shoot open, and your whole body aches.
  135. >There is a tube down your throat.
  136. >Needles in each of your arms, and diodes hooked up to your chest.
  137. >And the steady beeping of medical machinery remains constant.
  138. >You reach up to remove the tubes from your mouth.
  139. >Gasping for air once you’re free of them.
  140. >You then remove the two needles from your right arm before getting the two in your left.
  141. >You feel a large bandage over your central chest.
  142. >As you pull off the diodes, the machines give out a flat line beep.
  143. >And a pair of ponies rush into the room.
  144.  
  145. >You sit up on your bed and start to stretch your arm and torso.
  146. “How long was I out?”
  147. >”No no no, you need to lie back down.” A crystal pony urges you.
  148. >From her appearance and hat, you’d gather that she’s your nurse.
  149. >”Just over seven weeks, Sir.” Sergeant Thunder answers you.
  150. “Enough fussing, I’m fine.”
  151. >You get onto your feet, but lose your balance.
  152. >But you caught yourself on your bedframe.
  153. >”You are most certainly not ‘fine’ you’ve been in a coma for weeks!” The nurse pleads.
  154. “I’ve been through worse, where are my clothes?”
  155. >You notice your officer’s cap resting on one of the IV’s.
  156. >While starting to stumble over to the room’s closet, you soon find your legs once more.
  157. “Oh that’s just great.”
  158. >You take your jacket off of the rack.
  159. >The blood has set in and stained it.
  160. >Thankfully someone has put a pair of green fatigues in the closet.
  161. >You grab the clothes and head over to the bed.
  162. >The nurse has stopped trying to get you to lie back down at least.
  163. >While you sit on the side of the bed, you toss your hospital gown off.
  164. >After you finish dressing the lower half of your body and lace your boots, you turn to ask the nurse:
  165. “Is it okay to take this off?”
  166. >While pointing towards your bandage
  167. >She nods.
  168. >Underneath the bandage is a scar, maybe an inch in length.
  169. >You can still see the line where you were stitched back up.
  170. >Cadence really did a number on you, enough to put you out for seven weeks.
  171. >As you start pulling a white t-shirt over your head, you turn to the Sergeant.
  172. “What happened with Cadence, is Flurry alright?”
  173. >”Cadence was captured and is currently imprisoned in the tower. Princess Heart is… alright.”
  174. “She went to lead the army, didn’t she?”
  175. >”How did you know?”
  176. “Because I know that she wouldn’t just sit here for almost two months.”
  177.  
  178. >As you button the long sleeved top of the fatigues, you stuff your cap under your arm. You then rise and start to leave the room.
  179. “Come on, you can brief me over tea.”
  180. >As you walk through the city, your thoughts go towards your coma induced power trip of a dream.
  181. >Flurry is okay, and that’s what matters.
  182. >But you remember how you felt as you watched the yaks being fire bombed.
  183. >You reveled in the destruction.
  184. >A feeling you had never been experienced before.
  185. >But the dream has helped to cement your mentality.
  186. >You are fighting to preserve the nation, not to fulfill some delusion of grandeur.
  187. >You fight because it is your duty, not because it brings you pleasure.
  188. >As you reached a café, you sat at a table and ordered while the Sergeant brought you up to speed.
  189. >…
  190. >Clever way of stopping the yaks, you wouldn’t have expected them to reform after the bombing.
  191. >…
  192. >She could have gotten herself killed against the minotaur, but beating one in single combat is no easy feat.
  193. >…
  194. >Brilliant means of dealing with the Saddle Arabian fleet. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.
  195. >…
  196. >You’re glad that she managed to keep the other generals from squabbling while you were out.
  197. >…
  198. >Interesting plan of attack, not too dissimilar to some of your early ideas on facing the southern front.
  199. >…
  200. >”And the armies will converge in seven days. We’ve just gotten word back that her force was ambushed by forces from Canterlot. She led a counter attack and took out the enemy artillery quickly before more damage could be done. Casualties totaled under a hundred.”
  201. “Tell me more of these enemy airships.”
  202.  
  203. >”They found some type of fuel source that lets them copy our own airships, but without the need for unicorns to operate them. They look like identical copies of our own, but it will be impossible to judge their performance until we encounter them on the field. They’ve sent at least eight of them to the front, and they should be arriving just as the counter offensive begins.”
  204. “Worrying… and last I knew we wouldn’t have any of our own rebuilt until autumn, correct?”
  205. >”Affirmative Sir.”
  206. >It’s a lot of information to take in.
  207. >Flurry has performed excellently in the past weeks.
  208. >She has what has been rusting in your mind.
  209. >Creativity.
  210. >She has a spark that has long since dimmed in you.
  211. >You would have set in to face weeks of urban warfare in Manehattan, but she thought of a way to make sure that not one pony died.
  212. >Another front had been closed, but you were still at a stalemate with the two enemies that posed the greatest threats to Equestria.
  213. >And one of them is about to have air superiority.
  214. >But you might have something that can help with that.
  215. “When does the next train leave?”
  216. >”The day after tomorrow Sir.”
  217. >You should have just enough time.
  218. “Prepare any pegasi that remain here to accompany me on that train, including you.”
  219. >”Should I leave now Sir?”
  220. >He seems distraught at that order.
  221. >It’s around five in the afternoon.
  222. “Not yet, I’d like to talk some more.”
  223. >You take a sip of tea.
  224. >After being sustained through tubes for weeks, you can’t explain the feeling of drinking once again.
  225. “How has the city been since Flurry left?”
  226. >”Quiet I suppose, many of the Crystal ponies have gone off to fight, but everyday life continues.”
  227. “How many men did she leave here?”
  228. >”Just under a thousand.”
  229. “And why the shock at being ordered to leave?”
  230. >”Sir?”
  231. “Your eyes went wide when I gave the order, why?”
  232. >”Well… you see…”
  233. “Who is she?”
  234.  
  235. >”Why would you think-“
  236. “You’re what, 23? I’ve been leading men for longer than you’ve been alive. I know the look.”
  237. >”Her name is Winter Gem, she’s your nurse.”
  238. “Glad to see my personal injury got you a marefriend.”
  239. >”Sir, I di-“
  240. “Relax, it’s a joke.”
  241. >”Oh.”
  242. “Tell me something. Do you love her, and does she love you?”
  243. >”Absolutely.”
  244. “Then you know what you have to do, and you still have tomorrow to do so.”
  245. >”With all due respect, why do you care?”
  246. “Because I’ve seen too many men put it off until they get back home, but never come back.”
  247. >”Did you just imply that I’m going to die?”
  248. “No you idgit, I’m saying that even if it’s for a day or two you should make the most of it. Don’t put it off; you’ll thank me for it when you’re older.”
  249. >“Still sounds like you think I’m gonna die.”
  250. “You let your men speak casually with you, and you get this when you give them legitimate advice!”
  251. >The two of you laugh at the situation.
  252. >”Sir, could I ask you something?”
  253. “You just did.”
  254. >”Would you be my best stallion- err- best man?”
  255. “Why not? After all, it’s been ages since I was at a wedding.”
  256. >”Thanks Sir.”
  257. “Well, what are you waiting for? Go pop the question.”
  258. >”What, right now?”
  259. “Yes, you can deal with the details tonight and tomorrow morning.”
  260. >With that, the Sergeant runs out of the café, presumably to fly straight back to the hospital.
  261. >Even if the young couple never gets reunited, they deserve the small time they have in these days.
  262. >The real pain would be if they were left wondering ‘what if’ for the rest of their days.
  263. >Not knowing is worse than knowing when you’ve lost someone.
  264. >As you finished your tea and paid, you left to go give the orders to your pegasi.
  265. >Then you went to pick out your formal uniform.
  266. >Best to relax before the coming storm.
  267.  
  268. >…
  269. >The ceremony was rather basic.
  270. >The bride’s family and a couple of friends were there, and some of the groom’s closer comrades-in-arms came to wish him well.
  271. >You stood in a uniform modeled after what modern American generals wore in your world.
  272. >Then came the reception.
  273. >You were in a rather normal ball room near the tower.
  274. >First were toasts.
  275. >The bride’s father, the groom, and the maid of honor gave rather ordinary ones, wishing best of luck, etcetera.
  276. >Then, as the best man, came yours.
  277. >You stood to give it.
  278. “I’m only going to say this once: at ease.”
  279. >You hear chuckles from the military ponies.
  280. “I must admit that coming up with battle speeches is a lot easier for me, but I’ll try my best.”
  281. >You look to the bride.
  282. “Winter, I don’t know you that well; you were my nurse for almost two months, so I know that you’ll be able to take care of him. Also, I’ve seen him bluff in card games, when he shifts his right wing that means he’s lying. But, I don’t think you’ll ever need that information, he’s a good stallion and I’m glad you found each other during these troubling times.”
  283. >You turn to the groom.
  284. “I’d like to think I can read my men rather well. And when I saw Thunder here talk about his bride to be, I knew that he had found his soul mate. You’re one of the best men I’ve had the pleasure of having under my command, and one of a small handful of ponies that I know I can completely depend on. And I know that you’ll give your wife even more devotion than you’ve given to me. When this conflict is over, I wish the best to the family, and hope that many children can bless the marriage of Winter and the Lieutenant here.”
  285. >”Lieutenant?” Thunder asks.
  286. “Call it a wedding present. Now, to the bride and groom.”
  287. >You raise your champagne glass.
  288. >The crowd repeats the toast.
  289. >You down the glass in one go.
  290. “Now cut the cake already!”
  291. >The crowd cheers.
  292.  
  293. >The couple started to cut the cake, and pass it out.
  294. >Ponies stood about, eating and talking for a while.
  295. >In the corner of the hall a band played music.
  296. >Slower stuff.
  297. >There was a pianist, two violinists, and a cellist.
  298. >Your small talk was mostly about telling some old war stories.
  299. >The bride’s father was a veteran of the First War of the Saddle Arabian Coast, and you spent a lot of time swapping your tales from the conflict.
  300. >Due to the amount of soldiers here, most of the conversations revolved around old stories, and thoughts on the current war.
  301. >Mostly things were hopeful.
  302. >After the ponies had finished eating, the dances started.
  303. >First to the waltz were the bride and groom.
  304. >Then the bride and her father.
  305. >As they danced the groom joined in with his new mother-in-law.
  306. >You felt a nudge in your side, as the maid of honor bumped her shoulder into you.
  307. >A crystal pony with a light hazel coat, and a darker golden main kept free flowing in a mid-length.
  308. >Her name was Amber Dawn.
  309. >She nudges you again.
  310. >Right, best man and maid of honor are expected to dance.
  311. >You raise your right hand to accept her hoof, and join the others.
  312. >At least when ponies stand on two legs to waltz, they’re almost at your height.
  313. >The remaining wedding goes soon filter in as well.
  314. “Sorry if I’m a bit rusty.”
  315. >”Oh you can the worse than me.”
  316. “So, you’re the bride’s sister, right.”
  317. >”Yup, big sis watching her little baby sis go.”
  318. “I don’t mean any offense, but there isn’t much of a family resemblance.”
  319. >”We get that all the time, she took after mom and I took after dad.”
  320. >You try to remember how many glasses you’ve had.
  321. >Four or five.
  322. >It doesn’t really matter; you can barely feel a buzz.
  323.  
  324. >”So, you’re going back to the war tomorrow morning?”
  325. “Affirmative.”
  326. >”Won’t that be dangerous?”
  327. “Always is.”
  328. >”Is that where you got the scar?”
  329. >She’s referring to the old wound over your left eye.
  330. “Actually no, that one was from a dragon.”
  331. >”Oh really?”
  332. “Every five years or so I was sent into the Everfree forest to thin the herds of nasty creatures in it, and the second time out I found an adult dragon. Long story short, I left with the scar and the dragon didn’t leave at all.”
  333. >”Sounds a lot more exciting than my life.”
  334. “What do you do?”
  335. >”I’m a school teacher for young colts and fillies.”
  336. “Sounds like you have the tougher job; I’d take a hundred battlefields before a room full of small children. My life is only at risk once in a while, you risk it every day of your life.”
  337. >”Well they haven’t tried to kill me recently, so I must be doing something right.”
  338. “They’re obviously plotting something big, watch out.”
  339. >”Ha, is that your tactical opinion?”
  340. “Something like that.”
  341. >As you look around the room, you see that some of the ponies have stopped dancing.
  342. >You’d be okay to stop as well.
  343. “Excuse me for a moment; I’ve got something planned for the bride and groom.”
  344. >”Come back soon.”
  345. >You leave the maid of honor and head over the bar.
  346. >You order a gin and tonic before heading over to the band.
  347. >You sip your drink as you wait for the song to end.
  348. >When it does, you ask to have the piano for a moment.
  349. >You reach over and grab a microphone, placing it so it can pick up your voice.
  350. “Excuse me, I’ve got a song from my world that I think embodies the bride and groom pretty well. In keeping with the pace, I’ll take it slow as well.”
  351. >You crack your fingers, and test out a few notes on the piano.
  352. >You’ve still got it.
  353.  
  354. >You begin playing a loose cover as you sing slowly into the microphone.
  355. “Rastsvetali iabloni i grushi,
  356. Poplyli tumany nad rekoj.
  357. Vykhodila na bereg Katyusha,
  358. Na vysokij bereg na krutoj.
  359. Vykhodila na bereg Katyusha,
  360. Na vysokij bereg na krutoj.
  361.  
  362. Vykhodila, pesniu zavodila
  363. Pro stepnogo, sizogo orla,
  364. Pro togo, kotorogo liubila,
  365. Pro togo, chi pisma beregla.
  366. Pro togo, kotorogo liubila,
  367. Pro togo, chi pisma beregla.
  368.  
  369. Oj ty, pesnia, pesenka devichia,
  370. Ty leti za iasnym solntsem vsled.
  371. I bojtsu na dalnem pograniche
  372. Ot Katyushi peredaj privet.
  373. I bojtsu na dalnem pograniche
  374. Ot Katyushi peredaj privet.
  375.  
  376. Pust on vspomnit devushku prostuiu,
  377. Pust uslyshit, kak ona poet,
  378. Pust on zemliu berezhet rodnuiu,
  379. A liubov Katyusha sberezhet.
  380. Pust on zemliu berezhet rodnuiu,
  381. A liubov Katyusha sberezhet.”
  382. >There is applause as you end.
  383. >The bride and groom seemed to enjoy it.
  384. >You’ll tell them the meaning someday.
  385. >After that you took your drink and returned to the bar.
  386. >You don’t normally drink this much, but hey- it’s a wedding.
  387.  
  388. >Three of the soldiers here aside from the now-lieutenant were pegasi.
  389. >They ended up coming to the bar.
  390. “Hey barkeep, let’s get a round of whiskey over here.”
  391. >Four shot glasses are slid your way, and you give one to each while holding up your own.
  392. “To the coming victory.”
  393. >”Cheers.”
  394. >There is some idle discussion about the state of the fronts, but soon you order another round.
  395. >A third soon follows.
  396. >As your conversation with the men dies down, they end up heading back to the main floor.
  397. >And you order another gin and tonic.
  398. >You were soon joined at the bar by another pony.
  399. >”Well you’re full of surprises.” The maid of honor tells you.
  400. “I try.”
  401. >”So what exactly was that?”
  402. “Katyusha, it’s a Russian wartime love song.”
  403. >”Who are the Russians?”
  404. “Tough men that are one quarter bear and survive entirely on Vodka.”
  405. >She looks terrified at the thought.
  406. “It’s just a joke.”
  407. >”Do you know any more of their songs?”
  408. “Plenty, but I doubt they’d fit the situation.”
  409. >But you’re just buzzed enough to do something.
  410. “Hold my drink.”
  411. >You step into a clearer area and bring yourself closer to the ground.
  412. >Your knees are going to hurt tomorrow.
  413. >You begin performing various Cossack Dance motions.
  414. >You end with the prisyadka, halfway through it you unfold your arms and start waving your hat around.
  415. >Yeah that’s going to hurt tomorrow.
  416. >Returning to the bar, you hear applause behind you as you take your drink back.
  417. >Could have sworn there was less in it then you remember.
  418. >”That… sure was something.”
  419. “Spasibo.”
  420.  
  421. >There is a confused look on her face.
  422. “Means ‘thank you’ in Russian.”
  423. >”Ah.”
  424. >You down the remainder of your gin and tonic.
  425. >You whistle at the barkeep.
  426. “A medium Vodka dry Martini- with a slice of lemon peel. Shaken and not stirred please.”
  427. >”Make that two.”
  428. >While waiting or your drink, you look at the closest clock.
  429. >Just about six in the afternoon.
  430. >And the train won’t leave until noon tomorrow.
  431. >The barkeep slides over the two drinks.
  432. >You grab yours and hold it up.
  433. “For the Motherland.”
  434. >She toasts her glass to yours.
  435. >”Cheers.”
  436. “You know it’s been ages since I was at a wedding.”
  437. >”This is the first I’ve been to.”
  438. “How do you like it?”
  439. >”Well the company is great.”
  440. >Her statement was then cut short as the groom made an announcement.
  441. >”Alright everypony, Winter and I are going to be heading out now, but please stay and enjoy the rest of the party, it’s booked till midnight.”
  442. >There are some cheers about the continued party, and some whistles from the more wedding savvy ponies.
  443. >Amber then got up from the barstool and turned to you.
  444. >”Hold my drink, my sis is going to throw the bouquet.”
  445. >As you take the drink in your free hand, she rushes over to the crowd.
  446. >You lose sight of her in it.
  447. >But you do see the flowers soar through the air.
  448. >Then you see the bride and groom head over to the door.
  449. >As they open it, he grabs her in his front hooves and flies out of sight.
  450. >The maid of honor soon returns, clutching the bouquet.
  451. >You hand her drink back to her.
  452. “Congrats.”
  453. >”About time too, thirty five and still no hubby.”
  454.  
  455. “That’s what a twelve year gap between the two of you?”
  456. >”Thirteen, parents had me at twenty then Winter surprised them at thirty-three.
  457. “Your choice to wait for a later marriage?”
  458. >”No. Winter got all of the charm, and because of the wars the mares outnumber the stallions six to four…”
  459. “Sorry about that.”
  460. >”You should be, getting all of the eligible ones killed.”
  461. >She overplayed the sarcasm in that to make sure you didn’t take it seriously.
  462. >”But now I’ve got luck on my side.”
  463. “You don’t really believe in the old bouquet superstition?”
  464. >”Who said anything about the bouquet, I’m talking about this drink.”
  465. “Great, an alcoholic school teacher, that’s just what the next generation needs.”
  466. >”Well if you insist.”
  467. >She downs the rest of her glass in one go.
  468. >”And just so you know, I only drink on special occasions.”
  469. “And what exactly is a ‘special occasion’ to you?”
  470. >”You know: birthdays, hearths warming eve, weekends. Hey barkeep, let’s get another over here.”
  471. “You know, I have to hand it to you. Not many ponies keep up with the snark to snark combat.”
  472. >”In your words from earlier: I try.”
  473. “Touché.”
  474. >She picks up her fresh drink as it’s sent over.
  475. >”We need a new toast.”
  476. “To functioning alcoholics.”
  477. >You clink the glasses together.
  478. >”Spasibo.”
  479. “You’re a quick learner.”
  480. >”You’re a good teacher.”
  481. “Says the teacher.”
  482. >”Just don’t tell any of my students.”
  483. >It might be the alcohol affecting your memory, but you could have sworn that she was sitting closer to you than earlier.
  484.  
  485. >Idle conversation continued for an hour or two.
  486. >After you each finished your Martinis, you had a bottle of wine sent over.
  487. >It was nearing sundown, and you ended up pouring the last glasses of it.
  488. >You’ve settled into a solid buzz.
  489. >But even then you have an amazing tolerance.
  490. >You’d have to openly choose to take in enough to get properly drunk, casual drinking hasn’t gotten you over the limit since your college days.
  491. >It’s been nice to talk to actual people again.
  492. >It reminds you about all of the reasons why you continue fighting.
  493. >All most people want is to just live their lives; you have to stop the few who want to disrupt that.
  494. >Anyway, your conversation continues.
  495. “So there I was in the Changeling nest, the queen sat over the newest brood. I look straight at her and yell out ‘catch’. She raises her hoof and the bundle of dynamite gets lodged in one of her leg holes. After that I ran as fast as I could out of there.”
  496. >”So that was common occurrence?”
  497. “I was sent on a bug hunt every year or so, that one was two years go now. No more queens have been reported since then, so it isn’t that common anymore.”
  498. >”You have had quite the exciting life.”
  499. “Nah, it’s you pony’s lives that are the real exciting ones. You get to choose where you work, how to put your skills to use, and who to spend time with. I never had that choice in my line of work.”
  500. >You had each finished your last glass of wine.
  501. >”Sooo here’s the thing. I’m feeling a bit tipsy and I live a bit of a distance from here and it’s late. Would you, as the big tough soldier mind escorting me back? Just to be safe.”
  502. >Wait, has she been flirting with you?
  503. >Of course not, you’re getting too old for that.
  504. “After you.”
  505.  
  506. >You stepped out of the building into the cool spring night.
  507. >She began to lead you through the streets of the city.
  508. >You walked in silence, although every now and then she would bump into you as you walked.
  509. >The streets were rather quiet.
  510. >You took turns, but roughly headed north the entire time.
  511. >After about a half hour of passing by city blocks and crossing streets, she reached her destination.
  512. >A relatively small two story home that looked almost identical to the ones next to it.
  513. >She went up the three steps leading to the landing in front of her door, and then turned to face you.
  514. >She was almost at eye level.
  515. “Here you are.”
  516. >”Thanks.”
  517. “Well, adieu.”
  518. >You begin to turn to leave.
  519. >”Wait. Don’t you want to come in for some coffee or…”
  520. >Actually some coffee would be rather nice about right now.
  521. >Wait.
  522. >Oh… she… yeah.
  523. >She has been flirting with you.
  524. >How have you been oblivious to it?
  525. >You shouldn’t.
  526. “It’s getting late, and I’ve a long day ahead.”
  527. >”Well it’s a bit of a walk to the tower; you’re welcome to sleep on my couch if you want.”
  528. >She’s definitely flirting.
  529. >You really shouldn’t.
  530. “I don’t know- I really should get going.”
  531. >”Okay, I’ll be honest; I’m only at a medium buzz. But I haven’t really ever gotten off with anypony like with you, and I just wanted to spend a bit more time with you.
  532. >She looks the ground, and you see a deep blush form on her cheeks.
  533. >”And I’ve never so much as got a second date, let alone what comes… you know.”
  534. >That’s a pretty bad track record for a thirty-five year old.
  535. >On one hand, you have enjoyed yourself more tonight than in a long while.
  536. >On the other, you really really shouldn’t.
  537. >But it has been so long.
  538.  
  539. >Duty.
  540. >You strive to be the model example of an officer and gentleman.
  541. >Everything you’ve done has always put the common good ahead of your own goals and desires.
  542. >For as long as you can remember it has always been that you would sacrifice for family, friends, or even complete strangers.
  543. >No matter what happened, you always gave to the world.
  544. >Even when you woke up here, you specifically fought on front lines so that others wouldn’t have to.
  545. >In coming close to forty-six years, you never thought of yourself first.
  546. >God why are things so indescribable.
  547. >Somehow you thought that the universe would pay you back for your deeds karmatically.
  548. >But look where it’s got you.
  549. >There’s maybe one pony that cares about your fate beyond simply needing your skills.
  550. >All your life, you’ve merely been content, never truly happy.
  551. >That’s all you’ve ever wanted.
  552. >But every time you’ve had the possibility, you watched as it crumbled away from you.
  553. >And now you just keep going on until someone finally gets the best of you.
  554. >But why?
  555. >What’s the point?
  556. >Everything you do will eventually be lost to the sands of time.
  557. >And look at you; you’re just standing here having an existential crisis.
  558. >It’s pitiful.
  559. >Maybe all there is: is the moment.
  560. >Tonight you enjoyed yourself.
  561. >And maybe it has been long enough.
  562. >All of these thoughts flew by in a handful of seconds.
  563. “So how about that coffee?”
  564. >She looks back up at you while laughing a bit.
  565. >Her eyes look a bit bloodshot, like she was holding back tears.
  566. >She turns to open her door, and you follow her to the small kitchen.
  567.  
  568. >As she pulls out a can of coffee grinds, she looks back to you.
  569. >”Sorry, fresh out of it, want something stronger maybe?”
  570. >She beckons towards a bottle of wine on an adjacent counter.
  571. “Actually I think you’ve had enough to drink.”
  572. >”But I’m perfectly sober… ish.”
  573. >You close the distance between the two of you.
  574. “Shhh.”
  575. >You put a finger up to her lips.
  576. “I don’t think that in your condition you’ll even be able to reach the bedroom.”
  577. >In a swift motion you pick her up, her back resting into your arms as you look down to her face.
  578. >She reaches her head towards yours, whispering into your ear:
  579. >”Up the stairs, on the right.”
  580. >She then nibbles on your ear lobe as you make your way up.
  581. >After opening her door, you enter and place her on the bed.
  582. >Helping her out of her dress.
  583. >As she starts working at your shirt’s buttons she speaks once more:
  584. >”I’m sorry it’s just that I’ve never done this before.”
  585. “Is this what you want?”
  586. >She pulls you into a deep kiss.
  587. >That you reciprocate.
  588. >A she breaks it she goes back to your ear.
  589. >”Absolutely.”
  590. >She then pulls you down onto the bed with her.
  591.  
  592. >…
  593. >Your eyes start to open slowly.
  594. >The room is illuminated by sunlight coming through the cracks in the blind.
  595. >You’re in a soft bed.
  596. >Naked under a blanket.
  597. >A head is resting on your chest, and the sunlight gleams off of her golden mane.
  598. >You reach down and kiss Amber on her forehead.
  599. >Her own eyes start to open.
  600. >And she closes them again, tightening her grip around your torso.
  601. >”Good morning.” She quietly murmurs.
  602. “You have a good night?”
  603. >”The best.”
  604. >You glance at her bedside clock.
  605. >Six A.M.
  606. “You know I’ve got to go soon.”
  607. >”So soon?”
  608. “But seeing as it is a weekend and you won’t be needed at work, I could stay a bit longer.”
  609. >She works her way to rest atop you, lying chest to chest.
  610. >After you break free from the resulting kiss, you say one more thing.
  611. “Just enough time to go again.”
  612. >”Wouldn’t have it any other way.”
  613. >…
  614.  
  615. >A few hours later the two of you were sitting over breakfast.
  616. >She’s not that bad of a cook.
  617. >You had finally been relaxed after more than a decade of being pent up.
  618. >Though it was much longer for your new friend.
  619. >You were just finishing up breakfast.
  620. >”So, what happens now?”
  621. “Now I go off to war.”
  622. >”You won’t be gone too long will you?”
  623. >She’s completely head over heels.
  624. >But you?
  625. >Well you like her sure, but…
  626. “Hard to say.”
  627. >As you finish eating, you relocate to a couch in her living room.
  628. >She’s pressing up next to you as you sit in it.
  629. >”So when everything is all settled, you’ll come back here?”
  630. “Well, even in times of peace most of my time is spent across the nation to inspect forts and garrisons. Busy work and it almost never ends.”
  631. >Light twinkles off of her eyes before she rests her head on your shoulder.
  632. >”I don’t mind waiting.”
  633. >She’s set on the long game.
  634. >You’re not sure what to think about that.
  635. >This might have been a horrible mistake.
  636. >But you’ve enjoyed yourself more in the past twenty or so hours than you can remember.
  637. >”What time is it?”
  638. >She looks past you to a clock.
  639. >”Almost nine thirty.”
  640. “Still gives me enough time to get everything set.”
  641. >”What do you have to do?”
  642. “At this point get a fresh set of clothes, and meet my men to lead them to the train.”
  643. >”So just enough time to fit in a going away present?”
  644. “Someone’s feeling… energetic.”
  645. >”Well I’ve got my entire adult life to make up for. Also I won’t be seeing you for quite some time.”
  646. “Who can argue logic like that?”
  647. >She pushes you over, so that you’re lying on the couch before she crawls atop you.
  648. >Then she flips your officer’s cap onto her own head as you reach your arms behind her neck to bring her in for a kiss.
  649. >…
  650.  
  651. >Some time later, she remained atop you.
  652. >Both of you were exhausted from the three recent sessions.
  653. >She was gently napping while still wearing your hat.
  654. >You could stay here forever.
  655. >Your breathing had synchronized, and her light snoring and murmuring was peaceful.
  656. >For the first time in twenty some odd years, everything was right in the world.
  657. >There was no war, no mad princesses, and no missing ponies.
  658. >The weight of a nation was off your shoulders.
  659. >There was just you, Amber, and bliss.
  660. >The ever so smallest sliver of your mind considered retiring here and now.
  661. >You looked over towards a clock.
  662. >Eleven thirty.
  663. >That’s great.
  664. >You put your head back down, and closed your eyes.
  665. >But they then shot back open.
  666. >The train leaves in a half hour.
  667. >You work your way out from the pony sleeping atop you.
  668. >She didn’t wake up.
  669. >You buckle your pants back up, and put your jacket and shoes on.
  670. >As you quietly rush out of her home, you were halfway to the tower before realizing that you left your officer’s cap on her.
  671. >But there was no time to turn back.
  672. >You’d guess that ten minutes had passed as you jogged to your room.
  673. >It took you another ten to get into less formal attire and to equip your weaponry.
  674. >Five more minutes to get to your detachment of men.
  675. >Lieutenant Thunder saluted as you approached.
  676. >”Morning Sir. Though you would never join us, especially after a couple of the others saw you go off with-“
  677. “One more word and I bust your flank back to private.”
  678. >He remained silent as you led the men forward.
  679. >As you approached the train, a nearby bell tower started to ring.
  680. >You were maybe fifty feet from reaching it when the twelfth bong resounded.
  681. >And simultaneously an explosion and fireball engulfed the train car you were about to be seated on.
  682. >The car you should have been seated on if you weren’t late.
  683.  
  684. >Assassination attempt.
  685. >Make this believable.
  686. >Your let out a scream of agony, and clench your chest near your heart.
  687. “SHRAPNEL!”
  688. >You fall on your left knee while still clutching the wound.
  689. “Men, secure the area, get the other soldiers to be on the lookout. Lieutenant Thunder, get a stretcher to fly me to the hospital. It hit close to the heart, and I’m not sure how long adrenaline can get keep me going.”
  690. >You kept up the act while you waited and observed the wreckage.
  691. >No ponies were on or near the car that exploded.
  692. >And the bomb was presumably set to a timer, right when you would be leaving for the front.
  693. >But most of the city knew that you were leaving, and the train schedule is public knowledge.
  694. >As you were loaded onto a makeshift stretcher, the Lieutenant and another of your men flew you to the hospital.
  695. >You leaned over to Thunder.
  696. “When we’re there get your wife and the doctor who performed the surgery on me before the coma. Trust no one else.”
  697. >As you landed near the hospital, you were rushed to the surgery room.
  698. >Thunder, his wife, and your doctor were the only other ponies in the room.
  699. >You got off of the surgery table that had been set up.
  700. “Alright, someone just tried to have me killed. But each of you has had more than ample opportunity to kill me before this, so I trust you.”
  701. >”Orders?” Thunder asks.
  702. “We’ll remain in ‘surgery’ for an hour or two. After which you’ll send me back to my hospital room. I want you each to covertly spread the rumor that I’m alive and stable but gravely wounded from a shard of the explosive that hit a vital region. Lieutenant, I want at least three dozen men stationed in the hospital: a strong defensive pattern, but one that can easily be bypassed. Winter, doctor, I want you to set up the life support machines to work without being attached. Whoever did this will try to finish the job, but I’ll be waiting.”
  703.  
  704. >Many hours later, you sat in the closet of a hospital room.
  705. >The room was dark, and the blinds closed.
  706. >A curtain was around ‘your’ bed, and the tubes, needles, and diodes were hooked up to a few pillows underneath a blanket.
  707. >The steady beeping kept you company while you waited.
  708. >To your right you had your sword leaning against the closet’s corner.
  709. >You had your dagger in your left hand, ready to use.
  710. >The time waiting was spent contemplating possible suspects.
  711. >The intricacies of a bombing ruled out some of the possibilities.
  712. >Three possibilities remained: The griffons, Saddle Arabians, and the Royalists.
  713. >But the former two were unlikely; someone would have seen the other species skulking about.
  714. >Unless they worked through intermediaries, buying local or military manpower.
  715. >You think back to the attempt on your life in Appleoosa.
  716. >Maybe the monarchs have had you marked for death for quite some time.
  717. >Given recent discoveries about Cadence, now you wouldn’t put assassination past them.
  718. >You need to catch the perpetrator tonight.
  719. >After today, there will only be four days before the offensive.
  720. >And if you rush, you might just make it in time.
  721. >It’s been quite some time.
  722. >Through cracks in the blinds, you could see that the sun was setting.
  723. >The guards should be changing soon.
  724. >If you were an assassin, that’s when you’d strike.
  725. >You hear movement outside in the hall.
  726. >The door creaks open, and a single set of hooves enter.
  727. >You rise silently as you hear the hooves trot over to ‘your’ bed.
  728. >As you come out of the closet, you see a silhouette approaching where you should be.
  729. >You move into position behind the pony, and throw your right arm around its neck, getting ready to thrust your dagger into the would be killer.
  730.  
  731. >The pony screamed in terror.
  732. >Wait.
  733. >That sounds somewhat familiar.
  734. >And that soft smell of almonds…
  735. “Amber?”
  736. >”Anon?”
  737. >You release her from your grip.
  738. “What are you doing here?”
  739. >”I heard from my sis that you were hurt, so I came to check on you.”
  740. “Didn’t the guards stop you?”
  741. >”What guards? There were some outside but a unicorn was leading them away from the hospital.”
  742. >That’s now how the changing of the guard is supposed to happen.
  743. “What unicorn?”
  744. >”It was dark, but I think he had a pale red coat and blackish mane.”
  745. >Lieutenant Light Eclipse.
  746. >A mole in your own ranks.
  747. >You headed over to the window, and peaked through the blinds.
  748. >Another group of soldiers was approaching.
  749. >You counted about thirty.
  750. >And you didn’t recognize any of them.
  751. >They’re here to kill you.
  752. “Amber.”
  753. >”Is it bad?”
  754. “Very.”
  755. >You rush back to the closet to fetch your sword.
  756. “I need you to listen very carefully. Two dozen plus ponies are masquerading as my men; I want you to take this.”
  757. >You put your dagger into her hoof.
  758. “Now, you’re going to hide in this closet until it’s passed.”
  759. >You usher her towards the corner of the closet.
  760. >You then grab a few pillows and start to stack them around her.
  761. “You need to hide until it’s passed. If you hear anyone approach, without me personally giving an all clear, then you stay completely still and silent. If they open this closet and start to move these covers then use that knife, and run as fast as you can.”
  762. >She’s almost completely buried in the pillows and blankets now, but her head is still peeking out.
  763. >You kneel down and kiss her, before placing a final blanket over the entire heap.
  764. >As you start to close the closet doors you hear her say something.
  765. >”Good luck.”
  766. “Don’t worry, I’ll be back soon. I promise.”
  767.  
  768. >As you close the closet doors, you take a step towards the door.
  769. >But the breaking of glass stops you.
  770. >As you spin around, you see that three pegasi have broken the window, and are attacking.
  771. >The first one raises a sword, which you quickly parry away and slash towards his neck.
  772. >One.
  773. >Continuing on you bash the next on the side of the head with your elbow, before thrusting your blade into his chest.
  774. >Two.
  775. >The last of the trio starts charging towards you.
  776. >You sidestep and trip him, while grabbing onto his right wing with your free hand.
  777. >As you force him to the ground you hear bones breaking and a cry of pain.
  778. >You then end the cries of pain.
  779. >Three.
  780. >Rushing out of the room, you enter the hall.
  781. >Most of the ponies have gone home by this hour, so you won’t have to worry much about crossfire.
  782. >As you scan the hallway, it looks to be empty.
  783. >To the left is the main staircase, and you can hear hooves storming upwards.
  784. >To the right is the elevator, which then dings.
  785. >As the door slides open, you see five unicorns preparing a barrage of magical attacks.
  786. >You casually walk towards the oncoming fire.
  787. >It’s been decades.
  788. >Why do they still believe that magic can affect you?
  789. >As you near them, you see uneasy looks of fear.
  790. >Four.
  791. >Five.
  792. >Six.
  793. >Seven.
  794. >Eight.
  795. >The elevator walls were covered in a splattering of blood.
  796. >At the far end of the hall, the stairway doors open, and ponies start to charge out.
  797. >Rushing to face the oncoming attackers, you swing at the first.
  798. >Nine.
  799. >The next lunges at you with a spear, which you nock to the side and grab with your free hand.
  800. >As you thrust your sword deep into his chest, it gets jammed in his corpse.
  801. >Ten.
  802.  
  803. >Taking the spear, you back pedal and wave it to keep the approaching ponies at bay.
  804. >You back into an empty hospital room, and skewer the first of them that follows.
  805. >Eleven.
  806. >It’s a choke point, but they work both ways.
  807. >You pull upwards and the spear breaks in two from the added weight.
  808. >The following pony raised an axe, but you grabbed his hoof and stuck the remaining spear haft into his throat.
  809. >Twelve.
  810. >You then push forwards through the ponies surrounding the door.
  811. >Can’t let them make cohesive formations.
  812. >As you power through the crowd you hack with the axe a few times.
  813. >Thirteen.
  814. >Fourteen.
  815. >The entire hallway is filled with enemies.
  816. >You duck as a few towards the stairs release a few arrows above the heads of their allies.
  817. >Charging towards the archers, you dodge and block incoming sword and spears.
  818. >Fifteen.
  819. >The four archers were pegasi hovering just above the heads of the other ponies.
  820. >AS they prepare another volley, you grapple one of the earth ponies to use as a shield.
  821. >Sixteen.
  822. >Throwing the arrow peppered body into another attacker, you’ve closed the distance.
  823. >You hack into the belly of the first archer, and he falls to the ground.
  824. >Seventeen.
  825. >The next tries to charge you and you meet it with an axe head to the neck.
  826. >Eighteen.
  827. >The third begins to fly to the opposite side of the hallway.
  828. >But you throw the axe and it lands in the back of his spine.
  829. >Nineteen.
  830. >You grab the last flyer from the air, and work him down to your level.
  831. >Before snapping his neck and unsheathing a dagger from his corpse.
  832. >Twenty.
  833. >Moving back to the enemies on the floor, you kick upwards into the next one’s throat.
  834. >And stick the knife into the side of his torso a few times.
  835. >Twenty-one.
  836. >The remaining ponies start to back away from you.
  837. >Visibly shaking from the bloodbath around them.
  838.  
  839. >You drop the knife, and pickup one of the undamaged bows.
  840. >They’re scrambling to enter the elevator, as you’re blocking their only other means of escape.
  841. >You sling a quiver of arrows over your shoulder and draw one.
  842. >A harsh beep in the elevator indicates that it’s over its weight limit.
  843. >You begin taking aim at the mass of ponies that are trying to arguing over who should get to flee.
  844. >Twenty-two.
  845. >Twenty-three.
  846. >Twenty-four.
  847. >Twenty-five.
  848. >Twenty-six.
  849. >The last survivor leaves the pile of corpses, and gets on his knees to start begging for mercy.
  850. >You draw another arrow.
  851. >As you release it, it finds a new home in the ponies left eye socket.
  852. >Twenty-seven.
  853. >No more are left alive.
  854. >A silence has filled the area.
  855. >At the far end of the hall, the elevator doors continually try to close.
  856. >Only to be stopped by a pair of dead ponies.
  857. >You toss the bow and quiver to the side, and go to retrieve your sword.
  858. >You brace your foot on the body of the one your blade is lodged in.
  859. >Retracting the blade, you then wipe the blood off of it and onto a corpse.
  860. >As you sheathe your sword, you hear the stairwell door open.
  861. “Hello Lieutenant Eclipse, I see that it’s treason then.”
  862. >He stands wide eyed at the death.
  863. >”You… you should be dead.”
  864. “I get that a lot. So, are we going to do this the easy way, or not?”
  865. >He turns tail and starts sprinting down the stairs.
  866. >And you give follow.
  867. >It would have been a good chase.
  868. >But the poor fool tripped town the stairs, looks like he broke a leg.
  869. “So, answer my questions willingly, or do you need some encouragement?”
  870. >”Burn in Tartarus traitor!” He gets out between grunts of pain.
  871. “Alright be like that.”
  872. >You grab the unicorn by the horn and start dragging him to a surgery room.
  873. >You strap him onto the table, and retrieve a set of medical tools.
  874. >Tapping a scalpel against his cheek, you then tell him:
  875. “This might hurt.”
  876. >…
  877.  
  878. >A half hour or so later you were trying to wipe the blood off of your hands and face.
  879. >You heard more hoof steps approaching.
  880. >Lieutenant Thunder then entered the surgery room.
  881. “About time.”
  882. >”Just followed the blood trail Sir… What did you do?”
  883. >He asks motioning towards Eclipse.
  884. “Oh that? Nothing actually. He spilled the entire thing before I could make a single cut. Royalist plot working with Ministry of Interior Defense agents. Figured without me the monarchs could exert power over the remaining military commanders. He then fainted.”
  885. >”You’re awfully casual about that Sir.”
  886. “To be frank, I’m amazed that they didn’t try it while I was in the coma. It took them too much time to get their agents equipped with our gear. They had to steal armor and weapons from the camp slowly over the weeks so no one got too suspicious.”
  887. >”So what do you want to do with him?”
  888. “Toss him in one of the cells below the tower.”
  889. >”Do you think that this is it through?”
  890. “For the time being, but we have more pressing matters. Tell me, when it comes to flying are you better at speed or endurance?”
  891. >”Endurance… but I’m not sure I follow.”
  892. “Find nine other pegasi that are distance fliers, and get one of those air chariots. We’ll be setting off at noon tomorrow; eight will be flying at all times, with the other two having an hour rest period.”
  893. >”So we’re heading to the front then?”
  894. “Negative.”
  895. >You go over to a pad of paper on a table and start writing.
  896. “We’ll be going to these coordinates, then to the front. If we don’t have to stop, then we should reach the battle right as it starts.”
  897. >”So what are we doing before the front.”
  898. “You’ll see.”
  899. >With that you started heading back up the stairs to get Amber.
  900.  
  901. >Bodies were just starting to be taken away from the hallway.
  902. >Your men were clearing weapons and bodies out so that the janitor can earn his overtime.
  903. >You stepped over the remaining bodies to find your room untouched.
  904. “Hey, it’s me.”
  905. >…
  906. >”Me who?”
  907. >You approach the closet and open the sliding doors.
  908. “Someone who thinks you handled yourself very well.”
  909. >You say as you toss off some of the covers.
  910. >”You’ve still got a bit of blood… pretty much everywhere.”
  911. “Yeah, I could use a shower.”
  912. >She’s staring at the dead pegasi in the room.
  913. >You position yourself to block the view.
  914. “Hey, it’s okay.”
  915. >”Here.” She says while giving back your knife.
  916. >You sheathe it.
  917. “Come here and close your eyes.”
  918. >You help her out of the bundle of pillows and blankets and pick her up.
  919. “Keep them closed.”
  920. >You carry her out of the room, and through the hall past the battle scene.
  921.  
  922. >After you had gotten down all of the stairs you set her down.
  923. “Alright, it’s past.”
  924. >She opens her eyes again.
  925. >”Thanks.”
  926. “Sorry, but I think my shirt left a bit of blood on you.”
  927. >”It’s okay.”
  928. “Come on, I’ll walk you home.”
  929. >You started to escort her out of the hospital and towards her place.
  930. “For what it’s worth, you did handle yourself very well.”
  931. >”We’ll it’s like you said, dealing with a few dozen kids can’t be much worse.”
  932. “You gonna be okay?”
  933. >”ME! What about you, you’re not hurt? And I thought that you were hit from the explosion!”
  934. “I’m fine, not a scratch on me.”
  935. >”So you played injured to draw them out?”
  936. “Yeah.”
  937. >”And you’re sure that none of that blood is yours?”
  938. >She spent most of the walk fussing about making sure you weren’t injured.
  939. >You eventually found yourself on her doorstep.
  940. >She was standing at the top of the landing to be face to face with you.
  941. >”So you’re absolutely certain that you aren’t hurt?”
  942. >You shut her up with a kiss.
  943. “Amber, I’m fine.”
  944. >”Well if you say so. Come on in, I’ll get your clothes washed for you.”
  945. “Yes Ma’am.”
  946.  
  947. >You sat on her couch, naked, as she was in another room starting her washing machine.
  948. >She soon came back and sat next to you.
  949. “You know, I should thank you.”
  950. >”Me? What for?”
  951. “The bomb on the train was set to explode right at noon. I was late. If you didn’t insist on me staying a bit longer, then I would have been right there as it went up. You saved my life, and those of however many of my men would have been close to the blast.”
  952. >”You mean that if we didn’t-“
  953. “Yup.”
  954. >She pulls you into a bear hug.
  955. >”I’m so happy that you’re okay, I don’t know what I’d do if you-“
  956. “It’s okay, don’t start thinking like that. I’m here, and that’s what matters.”
  957. >”So when are you leaving?”
  958. “Noon tomorrow.”
  959. >”You know you’ve still got a bit of blood here and there. And you’re covered in sweat.”
  960. “Mind if I use your shower?”
  961. >”Only if you mind if I join you.”
  962. “I think I could live with it.”
  963. >There’s still over thirteen hours till you’ll be needed to leave.
  964. “When we’re done, we should break open that bottle of wine I saw the other day. After all I don’t plan on going till I absolutely have to. That’s worked out well for me before.”
  965. >”And tomorrow is the end of the weekend, so I don’t work tomorrow. Until you have to leave, neither of us have anything to do.”
  966. “Aside from each other.”
  967. >You share a laugh.
  968. >”Oh, also you left your hat here.”
  969. “Keep it. Besides, I like the way it looks on you.”
  970. >”Stop it you.”
  971. >She nudges you with her shoulder.
  972. >Then reaches up for a kiss.
  973. >”Just kidding, don’t you ever stop.” She says between contacts.
  974. >After continuing for a solid minute, she jumps off of the couch.
  975. >She grabs your hands with her hooves.
  976. >”Come, on. We need that shower.”
  977. >…
  978.  
  979. >You didn’t sleep much that night.
  980. >Not that you were complaining.
  981. >Around eleven thirty in the morning you were prepping to leave.
  982. >You left you dagger and its sheath off of your belt though.
  983. >Handing it to Amber you told her:
  984. “I want you to keep this with you, just in case.”
  985. >”Won’t you need it?”
  986. “I’ll be fine.”
  987. >”You’d better be.”
  988. “I’ve been doing this for most of my life, you shouldn’t worry so much.”
  989. >”And has no pony ever fussed over your wellbeing?”
  990. “No, not really.”
  991. >”Really?”
  992. >You nod.
  993. >”I’m so sorry.”
  994. >She pulls you into a hug.
  995. “I mean, I’ve got the odd ‘be careful’ or ‘good luck’ statement, but never much actual worrying.”
  996. >”Well that changes now, mister.”
  997. >She booped your nose.
  998. >What are these feelings?
  999. >You haven’t felt like this in a long time.
  1000. >Why is nothing ever simple?
  1001. >You glance over at the clock.
  1002. “It’s time to go.”
  1003. >You kiss her one last time before heading to the door.
  1004. >As you reach it you turn to wave goodbye.
  1005. >”I love you.”
  1006. >Of all of the possibilities, why did she have to say that?
  1007. >You give a slight grin.
  1008. “Love you too.”
  1009. >As you close the door, two words remain in your mind.
  1010. >Do you?
  1011. >You start to walk the streets, heading for the tower.
  1012. >Eventually, you find your men waiting for you.
  1013. “Are we packed and ready?”
  1014. >”Yes Sir!”
  1015. >You board the chariot.
  1016. “Well what are you waiting for?”
  1017. >The pegasi started moving forwards, working up to a steady pace before taking flight.
  1018. “Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen! On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Donner and Blitzen!”
  1019. >”Sir, that’s not their names.” Lieutenant Thunder tells you.
  1020. “Quiet Rudolph. And for the record out tenth man is Max.”
  1021.  
  1022. >…
  1023. >It took almost twenty-four straight hours of flying, but you reached it.
  1024. >”Sir, why are at a shack in the middle of the Everfree forest?”
  1025. “Come with me.”
  1026. >You got off of the chariot to approach the relatively small wooden structure.
  1027. >As you walked, you could feel the eyes of dozens of wild animals watching you from the forest.
  1028. >You span around the numbers on a combination lock on the door, and entered.
  1029. >It’s been at least four years since you were here, but everything is just as you left it.
  1030. >You remove your sword from your belt and get to work.
  1031. >Approaching a large set of full plate armor, you blow the dust off of it.
  1032. >The sunlight reflects off of the gold tinted steel.
  1033. “Help me into this.”
  1034. >Ten minutes later, you were clad in gilded and engraved plate armor.
  1035. >Dozens of scratches and dents peppered the set, but it still looks imposing.
  1036. >You then reach for the matching helmet.
  1037. >Made of similar materials in Roman Imperial Gallic style.
  1038. >A bright red brushed crest went forwards to back over it.
  1039. >And the Lieutenant was clasping a matching bright red cape to your back.
  1040. >It all was slightly heavier than you remembered.
  1041. >At least it still fits.
  1042. “How do I look?”
  1043. >”…Big.”
  1044. “Good.”
  1045. >You attach your sword to your hip once more, and go over to the east wall.
  1046. >You have dozens of weapons racked up on it.
  1047. >You settle on the seven foot long halberd.
  1048. >Then you approach a large chest on the western side and retrieve a large saddle.
  1049. >Stepping out of the building you set down the harness and put you pointer finger and thumb in your mouth, whistling into the forest as loud as you can.
  1050. “FREDERICK! KOMM SCHNELL!”
  1051. >The forest becomes silent as your yell echoes in the distance.
  1052. >But the silence is broken as you are met with a familiar growl.
  1053.  
  1054. >You were sitting on a cloud.
  1055. >The march went well.
  1056. >After you hit the remaining artillery encampments, most of the magical cannons were still operational.
  1057. >And now in your control.
  1058. >Your shields have gotten stronger.
  1059. >Instinct let you stop a direct hit.
  1060. >You watched as on the distance your army set up on the western flank.
  1061. >With your support last night, General Lancer was able to push the enemy from Baltimare.
  1062. >But they retreated, and were reforming in the distance.
  1063. >The soldiers from Manehattan were slightly delayed.
  1064. >Scouts put them at a couple hours away still.
  1065. >It was around midnight, but you could see torches illuminating the field.
  1066. >The enemy number a hundred thousand, and are preparing to attack the city once again.
  1067. >Two hundred and fifty thousand would be arriving with their airships.
  1068. >And they have seventeen of them.
  1069. >The city, or what little was left of it, is in bad shape.
  1070. >Almost no buildings were untouched from the fighting, and most of the city was in rubble.
  1071. >The south half of the city was completely leveled into a rugged field of debris.
  1072. >In the past weeks, a fifth of a million men were sent here.
  1073. >thirty thousand remain.
  1074. >The enemy fared far worse in terms of casualties.
  1075. >You remember one of Uncle’s stories; if he was here he would probably make a comparison to Stalingrad.
  1076. >The last news said that there was no change in his condition.
  1077. >He’s still just lying in a hospital bed.
  1078. >Alone.
  1079. >Leaving you to fight the war for him.
  1080. >A handful of pegasi were with you, ready to convey orders to your forces should the enemy attack in the night.
  1081. >Around two in the morning, they sounded their war horns.
  1082. >You watched as flashes of light sparked on the horizon, and the artillery shells came crashing down onto the city.
  1083. >Bright bursts of light arced from the north, heading down towards the enemy.
  1084. >Torches were being lit, and you watched as the enemy approached in the distance, forming groups.
  1085. >You just need to hold until reinforcements arrive.
  1086.  
  1087. >You turn to a pair of fliers.
  1088. “Have General Lancer prepare the defenses, once the enemy have set upon his lines, my army will flank to the right and hit the enemy.”
  1089. >They nod, and then fly down to their respective command groups.
  1090. >You’ve already proven proficiency at subterfuge and personal combat.
  1091. >But this is the real test.
  1092. >An open battlefield.
  1093. >You watched as waves of Saddle Arabians charged forwards to the ruined city.
  1094. >They were allowed to advance onto the leveled areas.
  1095. >Lancer’s men were waiting in the destroyed streets.
  1096. >They’ve been fighting a long while, but if things go alright, they only need to face one more night of the urban fighting.
  1097. >You watched as the enemy marched over the field of rubble.
  1098. >Cannons were firing at random into the northern half of the city, further adding to the destruction.
  1099. >Magical canons and individual bolts lighted the advancing army.
  1100. >But they had no great effect.
  1101. >It was like trying to stop a flood with a single line of sandbags.
  1102. >They soon neared the structures that were still standing.
  1103. >Street after street and house after house, the lines met.
  1104. >From your skyward perch you could hear the banging of steel on steel.
  1105. >You could hear the battle cries.
  1106. >The explosions.
  1107. >The screams of pain and death.
  1108. >You watched for ten minutes.
  1109. >The lines were being held, but just barely.
  1110. “Have the crystal ponies start the charge.”
  1111. >A pegasus flies off to deliver the order.
  1112. >Soon you heard thunderous galloping as your men started to charge wide to the west around the city.
  1113. >The right flank then collided.
  1114. >The sounds of battle continued.
  1115.  
  1116. >The enemy lines were slowly being pushed back.
  1117. “The enemy is losing cohesion in the center of the flank, pour the reserves into it.”
  1118. >Another flier goes to give the orders.
  1119. >You watch as a spearhead forms.
  1120. “The enemies attacking the western side of Lancer’s force are wavering; send the Old Guard through there.”
  1121. >”Ma’am.”
  1122. >You watch as the veterans charge through the city streets, breaking through the tired enemy front line.
  1123. >They form a spearhead of their own as Lancer’s men start following behind them.
  1124. >The rest of the cities lines are holding.
  1125. >After twenty minutes of fighting, about a quarter of the enemies are almost encircled by the advancing groups.
  1126. “Have the left flank of the crystal ponies push hard, divert more reserves to break them.”
  1127. >That group is surrounded on three sides.
  1128. >With enough pressure, they might route.
  1129. >And if that many of them start running, then the entire force might break as well.
  1130. >You watch as your men press the attack.
  1131. >The enemies in the bubble are starting to lose faith.
  1132. >And they popped.
  1133. >You watch as your men charge forth and press them away, many of the enemy that were in that area are quitting the field.
  1134. >But the main body of the opposing army is reading itself to push back on your flank.
  1135. >Your attention is drawn to the east, as war horns sound out.
  1136. >The Manehattan army has arrived.
  1137. >They number as large as the attacking force had when they started the battle.
  1138. >You watch as the fresh troops charge and quickly overwhelm the Saddle Arabians.
  1139. >Before long their entire force is in full retreat.
  1140. >As your forces meet in the center of the field, you hear great cheers as the surviving enemy force flees to the south.
  1141. >You’ve won… for now.
  1142. >But at what cost?
  1143.  
  1144. >You flew down to meet with General Lancer.
  1145. >”Congratulations your highness, the enemy is in full retreat.”
  1146. “They’ll be back.”
  1147. >”And in greater numbers, but we must count our blessings while they last.”
  1148. “I can’t imagine what it’s been like here for you. Almost two months of this…”
  1149. >”Try not to.”
  1150. “How many do you think we lost?”
  1151. >”I’ve sent men out to get the head counts, they should be back soon.”
  1152. >How many did you lose?
  1153. >And how many will you lose when the enemy reinforcements arrive.
  1154. >”At least with so many of their forces tied up here, the Brigadier should have no trouble taking back the southern cities.”
  1155. “You’re right. All we have to do is to hold them a bit longer.”
  1156. >”Just long enough for him to be able to cut off the supply lines.”
  1157. >A runner enters the battered command bunker.
  1158. >”Ma’am, Sir!”
  1159. >He gives a report to the General before leaving.
  1160. >”Ten thousand of mine lost, five thousand of the crystal ponies, and around seven thousand of the Manehattan group. The enemy lost around half of their force.”
  1161. >That still gives you 158 thousand-ish men if your math is right.
  1162. “So once the survivors join the reinforcements, they’ll almost outnumber us two to one.”
  1163. >”And they’ll have air superiority, and a superior quantity of artillery.”
  1164. “How many pegasi do we still have?”
  1165. >”Just over two thousand.”
  1166. “Think it’ll be enough to stop the airships?”
  1167. >”It’ll have to be.”
  1168.  
  1169. >But each one of them is like a small mobile fortress.
  1170. >In the air they’ll still have a numerical advantage, and however many cannons they’ve stuck onto the ships at their disposal.
  1171. “I plan to lead our air forces.”
  1172. >”But Ma’am, it’s too dangerous!”
  1173. “We need every able bodied flier up there.”
  1174. >”With all due respect, if we lose you then the war is over.”
  1175. “Well what do you say we should do?”
  1176. >”Bunker down, we only have to withstand the enemy for another week or two.”
  1177. “And let tens of thousands more die? No, you agreed that I should be put in charge, and I intend to lead from the front, just like Anon would have.”
  1178. >”If he were here, then he would want you to stay safe, not throw your life away so carelessly!”
  1179. “Well he’s not here, I am! And the decision is final, I will lead the attack.”
  1180. >Tactical discussion continues for another couple of hours.
  1181. >They are interrupted by a runner.
  1182. >”They’re here!”
  1183. >You scramble to get into the air.
  1184. >As you fly up, you meet with the other pegasi on a cloud over the city.
  1185. >Dawn.
  1186. >The sun is just starting to rise in the east.
  1187.  
  1188. >In the distance you see scattered blips in the sky.
  1189. >As far as the eye can stretch in either direction, you see men marching in the shadow of the huge war machines.
  1190. >Approximately three hundred thousand enemies were going to descend on the city.
  1191. >Just before you were about to give a speech, you were interrupted.
  1192. >”Your highness, wait!”
  1193. >Is that?
  1194. “Sergeant Thunder, what are you doing here?”
  1195. >”Actually it’s Lieutenant now. The Field Marshal is right behind me, he wants all of our forces to attack while he leads the charge.”
  1196. “Anon is awake!?!”
  1197. >”And ready to lead, as of now he’ll be taking command of the pegasi, I’m assuming that this is all we have?”
  1198. “Yes it is. But how does he intend to lead the air troops?”
  1199. >”Well, you see-“
  1200. >Thunder is cut off as an enormous lion’s roar resounds through the air.
  1201. >You turn to see Anon.
  1202. >Fully clad in golden armor, and a flowing red cape flies behind him.
  1203. >The dawn’s light gleams off of him, as if he were a figure in an imposing painting.
  1204. >He whizzes past raising a halberd in his right hand.
  1205. >His left hand is holding as set of reins.
  1206. >”FORWARD!”
  1207. >He’s on top of a Manticore.
  1208. >”Frederick, es ist Frühstückszeit!”
  1209. >The great beast lets out another ear piercing roar before it starts flapping its wings harder, barreling straight towards the enemy on the horizon.
  1210.  
  1211. >You gave the order.
  1212. >But as you pivot your head, you see that none of the men are following you.
  1213. >Most of them are just looking at the sight of you riding Frederick.
  1214. >You see Flurry shout something at them.
  1215. >The armor suits her.
  1216. >As the pegasi are brought back into reality, they start to take off.
  1217. >But you have a head start, and your steed is probably faster than most of them.
  1218. “Frederick, schnell!”
  1219. >You tought him to follow commands in German.
  1220. >You speak Latin to God, Russian to women, English to men, and German to your Manticore.
  1221. >Charles the fifth would be proud-ish.
  1222. >You look down to the enemy army.
  1223. >It’s… big.
  1224. >But there’s not a single soldier down there that hasn’t lost someone to you.
  1225. >You might be the only individual that the Saddle Arabians have ever feared.
  1226. >If they were the Romans, then you were Hannibal Barca.
  1227. >Flying over the tail end of the army were the airships.
  1228. >Seventeen of them, the one in the center was twice as large as the others.
  1229. >The flagship.
  1230. >As you get directly over the front of the army, you send Frederick into a nose dive.
  1231. >The poor souls underneath you see their personal grim reaper clad in golden armor, riding a Manticore, and heading straight for them.
  1232. >Most of them ran from where you would impact, but at the last second you pulled up.
  1233. >You flew just over the army, hearing cries of terror as you passed.
  1234. >You continued the spectacle until you were almost just under the flagship.
  1235. >Your allies were still at least three minutes away.
  1236. >Frederick flew up, and just as you passed the bow of the ship, you yelled:
  1237. “HALT!”
  1238. >You were hovering.
  1239. >Looking down at the main deck.
  1240. >There was a fifteen foot gap between the deck and the armored balloon that helped supply lift.
  1241. >The crew just stared at the sight.
  1242. >But you saw the commander.
  1243. >Standing just behind the one operating the wheel.
  1244. “Frederick, vernichten!”
  1245.  
  1246. >He flew towards the bridge of the ship.
  1247. >As you passed the helmsman, you sliced down at him with your halberd.
  1248. >Frederick chomped on the leader and started waving him about like a chew toy before throwing him off the stern of the ship.
  1249. >You motioned for your mount to turn.
  1250. >You struck down approaching crewmembers with your weapon, as Frederick skewered with his tail and clawed at others.
  1251. >When you got a moment to relax, you reached down with the pick end of your weapon and spun the wheel around.
  1252. >The ship was now turning to port.
  1253. >On a collision course with another airship.
  1254. >Just before impact, you tell your mount:
  1255. “Wegfliegen!”
  1256. >He flies away to a safe distance and you watch the ships collide.
  1257. >The fuel source they use to power them must be combustible.
  1258. >Because after impact, you watch as the wreckage is engulfed in a bright purple flame.
  1259. >The ships then barrel down towards the army below.
  1260. >You had taken out two of them by yourself.
  1261. >And the reinforcements have just reached the rest of the ships.
  1262. >Swivel cannons were being fired and arrows launched at the attackers.
  1263. >The pegasi met them with grenades and arrows of their own.
  1264. >One of the explosives must have gotten down into the powder hold, because more flames engulfed a ship far down the line.
  1265. >The Saddle Arabian’s flaw was that they precisely copied Equestrian airships, which have a clear weakness when being attacked from below.
  1266. >They’re meant to rain fire down on enemies, not repel mass waves of fliers.
  1267. >That’s where pegasi complements come into play, but they have no fliers of their own.
  1268. >And they left the controls for the ship at the open bridge rather than put the controls for their engines deeper into their ship’s superstructure.
  1269.  
  1270. >Your men are fighting for control of the open bridges of other ships, inspired by your work.
  1271. >One of the airships collides with another, and a third is sent on a descent path, eventually impacting the army below in an explosion of purple fire.
  1272. >You catch a glimpse of a magical beam busting a small hole into the top of an airships balloon, as nearby pegasi drop grenades down into the opening.
  1273. >The gas that keeps it afloat is escaping it, and it drifts towards the ground.
  1274. >Glancing at the field below, you see allied ground forces forming ranks closer to the city.
  1275. >The opposing army is scrambling to keep cohesion as chaos rains down upon them.
  1276. >As you fight for the control of another ship’s bridge, you hear at least five more get totaled.
  1277. >Setting the ship into a descent path, you have Frederick take flight, and start to observe the army below.
  1278. >Scanning the back ranks, you spy what you think is the command group.
  1279. >A handful of ornately uniformed Saddle Arabians and Zebra chiefs are arguing.
  1280. >You point towards them with your halberd.
  1281. “Frederick, da drüben!”
  1282. >He begins charging towards the ground.
  1283. >They were too busy deciding new plans of action, and they didn’t even see you coming.
  1284. >Frederick must have killed three of them on impact.
  1285. >You hacked at two others, and Frederick grabbed the last leader in his jaws.
  1286. >You pulled up on his reins.
  1287. “Hoch fliegen”
  1288. >He takes flight once more, and you steer him towards the front of the army.
  1289. >The Saddle Arabian general was screaming from the pain of the bite, and from the incoming drop.
  1290. >You were at least a hundred feet in the air when you whipped your reins.
  1291. >And Frederick dropped the enemy commander right at the foot of the army.
  1292.  
  1293. >No more airships were left in the sky.
  1294. >Thousands had died from the debris.
  1295. >Most of their high ranking officers were dead.
  1296. >And your ground forces were charging.
  1297. >They turned and ran long before your lines collided.
  1298. >You watched from the air as your forces ran them down.
  1299. “Wer ist ein gut Junge?”
  1300. >Frederick lets out roar.
  1301. “Sie werden gut essen heut.”
  1302. >You let Frederick fly down as many enemies as he wants, taking swings as he goes.
  1303. >You’ll let at least a couple thousand of the enemies survive.
  1304. >So that this battle will be well documented.
  1305. >They need to finally get it through their thick skulls that attacking anyone that has you on their side is generally a bad idea.
  1306. >Today was a good day to die.
  1307. >But a better day to live.
  1308. >And your halberd arm ached from over use.
  1309. >Maybe thirty thousand of the enemies were still running when you called off the attack.
  1310. >They also left behind almost all of their artillery.
  1311. >You had lost around two thousand, half of those being pegasi.
  1312. >It wouldn’t be fair to call the events of the day a battle.
  1313. >It was a massacre.
  1314. >At this rate the war will be won within the year.
  1315. >You let Frederick help in ‘cleaning’ up the bodies from the field as you went to find the headquarters.
  1316. >There is barely a city left standing.
  1317. >Reminds you of Stalingrad.
  1318. >With direction from the soldiers, you eventually found the command bunker.
  1319.  
  1320. >You enter the dimly lit command room.
  1321. >Sitting at a table overlooking a map of the area with models representing allied and enemy forces are General Lancer and his higher officers.
  1322. >You slap down some of the papers you’ve accumulated on the walk here.
  1323. “Casualty reports, we’ve got a kill ratio of over a hundred for every man we lost.”
  1324. >”Congratulations Sir.”
  1325. “Nonsense, all it took was the right application of force on the focal point and proper use of combined arms.”
  1326. >”Sir, you did in a few hours what I wasn’t able to do in almost two months.”
  1327. “You did your duty.”
  1328. >You remove your helmet and set it on the command table.
  1329. >”I oversaw the greatest bloodbath in our history!”
  1330. “You oversaw the turning point in the war; they’ll be completely unable to mount a resistance now. We’ll be able to push them straight back to the coast within a few weeks.”
  1331. >”Is that supposed to justify it?”
  1332. “The war is all but over. In the past weeks, they’ve lost two men for every one you’ve lost. After today the vast majority of their experienced men lie dead or in full retreat. After the two wars we fought before this, males made up barely thirty-five percent of their population. Add in this battle’s casualties and they will be physically incapable of matching us numerically, let alone matching experienced manpower.”
  1333. >”So all that remains is the cleanup.”
  1334. “Effectively, and I’d give the griffons a fifty/fifty chance of surrendering once their last allies are driven from the nation.”
  1335. >”At this rate the men can head home before autumn.”
  1336. “Then the hard job begins: reconstruction. But once the royals abdicate, the military’s popular support should be near absolute. The real question is if this is merely the War of the First Coalition.”
  1337. >”Do you really think they would attack again?”
  1338. “Honestly, no. I think that after this finishes, the world will be tired of all the fighting. At least for a generation or two.”
  1339.  
  1340. >”So at least us old men can retire and die in peace.”
  1341. “Who are you calling old? I’m still in my prime!”
  1342. >”You’re right; I don’t think I’ve seen that much spring to your step in a decade at least.”
  1343. >You remain silent.
  1344. >”Anyway, your… Manticore isn’t going to eat any of my men, is he?”
  1345. “His name is Frederick, and no. He won’t kill anything larger than a boar without my command.”
  1346. >Your attention is drawn behind you, as the door opens.
  1347. >”Uncle!”
  1348. >She’s charging you.
  1349. >Okay, you’re hugging.
  1350. >Armor clangs together as she latches on to you.
  1351. “Nice to see you too kiddo.”
  1352. >”You never told me that you tamed a Manticore, and named him after Frederick the Great no less!”
  1353. “Tamed him the last time I was sent into the Everfree. And what else would I call him, Guderian?”
  1354. >”When did you wake up? And what happened after that?”
  1355. “We can catch up after this is finished.”
  1356. >”Anyway.” The General speaks up. “With the enemy in full flight, I’d like to give the men a day or two of rest, mine have been fighting almost nonstop and I think they’ve earned a break.”
  1357. “Agreed, besides with the Brigadier moving in further to the south, we won’t have to worry about keeping the pressure on them.”
  1358. >”Then the day after tomorrow we should set out?” He asks.
  1359. “Sounds appropriate, I’d guess that they only have one or two more real battles left in them on our soil.”
  1360. >”The griffons are being held at bay, and none of the other enemies show indications of rejoining the fight anytime soon. I don’t want to jinx us, but it’s looking like we’re in the clear.”
  1361. “Good, seeing as there are no pressing matters, I think we can end. We can discuss finer points of logistics tomorrow.”
  1362. >”Sir.”
  1363. “Come on then Flurry, I’m sure we have a lot to talk about.”
  1364. >The two of you ended up on a half bombed out tower overlooking the ruins of Baltimare.
  1365. >You have quite a bit to catch up on.
  1366.  
  1367. >”So you got all of that from a book?”
  1368. “Yup, and in the entire fiasco I forgot to take off my armor for like four days.”
  1369. >”Looks like you are Twilight’s niece after all, little Miss Bookworm.”
  1370. >You were sitting in a ruined tower, when you arrived you used your magic to help anon from his armor.
  1371. >He won’t admit it, but he was definitely getting tired from wearing it all day.
  1372. >You took of your own as well.
  1373. >Anon picks up your armor’s main piece.
  1374. >”It suits you kiddo.”
  1375. “Before you get worked up, that dent on the side was because I tripped.”
  1376. >”Sure it is.”
  1377. >It isn’t, you can still feel the bruise from the sword.
  1378. “Then after the fleet went away I headed here. Not much to say past that, some ponies from the capitol ambushed us, but we took minimal casualties and captured most of their hardware. After that, we got here yesterday, you showed up and you know the rest.”
  1379. >”You did a good job kiddo, I’m proud of you.”
  1380. ”Thanks Uncle, so what happened to you?”
  1381. >”Well let’s see, I woke up eight days ago. When I did, I gave the orders to have all of my fliers on the next train out of the Crystal Empire. It was leaving two days after I woke up. The day in between Thunder got married.”
  1382. “To who?”
  1383. >”Winter Gem, my nurse.”
  1384. “Really! I thought they were so cute together!”
  1385. >”I was the best man, and in my speech I promoted him to Lieutenant as a wedding present. Before you say anything, I had been planning to promote him for quite some time; he’s got some promise as an officer.”
  1386. “And how was the wedding?”
  1387. >”It was… fun.”
  1388. >Okay…
  1389. >”So the train was leaving at noon the next day, and I was running late.”
  1390. “You, late? That’s a first.”
  1391. >”Had trouble sleeping. Anyway, so a nearby bell tower starts ringing, and on the twelfth hit, a bomb went off in the train car I was supposed to be in.”
  1392. “Presumably you survived.”
  1393.  
  1394. >”I was maybe fifty feet from the blast, and I fell to my knee and feigned that I was hit by shrapnel. My men rushed me over to the hospital. From there I had a couple ponies I trusted (my surgeon, Winter, and the Lieutenant) spread rumors that I was badly hurt but still alive. Long story short, the assassins fell for the trap and tried hit me, but I was waiting fully armed.”
  1395. “How many were there?”
  1396. >”Twenty-seven and a ringleader: MID agents working with a mole in the army who managed to see to it that the men guarding me would be sent away when they struck.”
  1397. “And I’m assuming they’re all…”
  1398. >”Captured the mole, he told me everything and is currently rotting in a cell.”
  1399. “Then what happened?”
  1400. >”Got my ten best fliers to fly a chariot for me in a cycle so they could fly nonstop. Two days to get Frederick, and two days to get here.”
  1401. “Well you certainly look to be in a good mood for someone who’s been out of a coma, nearly killed, crossed the country in days, and fought in a massive battle in the span of eight days.”
  1402. >”Really the most tiring part was the wedding, some alcohol was involved and I ended up doing a Cossack Dance. The week has not been kind on my knees.”
  1403. “At least you look energetic.”
  1404. >”I feel a decade younger.”
  1405. >He does look like he has more energy than he has in years.
  1406. >Maybe the life threatening experiences made him take another look at his life.
  1407. “All it took was seven straight weeks of sleep.”
  1408. >”… Something like that.”
  1409. >Did something else happen to him while you were gone?
  1410. >Nah, it’s probably just the rush of events that happened while he was out, and then the hectic scramble to get caught back up and into the fight.
  1411.  
  1412. >A voice echoes.
  1413. >”Mind if I pop in?”
  1414. >And Discord appears levitating just outside the tower.
  1415. >”Of course you don’t.”
  1416. >He works his way into the tower and springs a folding chair into existence as he sits to face you and Anon.
  1417. >”Q…” Anon says.
  1418. >”Oh what’s the problem Picard?”
  1419. >”Stop it.”
  1420. >”Oh, so you want me to use the Force instead?”
  1421. >”Stop.”
  1422. >”Why would I close the iris on this discussion?”
  1423. >Anon reaches for his sword.
  1424. >”Easy there Starbuck.”
  1425. >He tries to draw his blade, but it won’t budge.
  1426. >”Q!”
  1427. >”I’d say I admire your purity, but you’ve been very naughty recently.”
  1428. >Anon rises and attempts to choke Discord.
  1429. >But his head shrinks through and out of his hands.
  1430. >”Get your hands off of me you dirty ape.”
  1431. >”One way or another, I will make you bleed!”
  1432. >You watch in shock as Anon’s calm demeanor has faded away.
  1433. >”And if it bleeds you can kill it. Too bad I don’t have time to bleed. Thanks for the setup by the way.”
  1434. >Anon swings at Discord, but he snaps his fingers and appears on the other side of the bombed out tower.
  1435. >”Why. Do. You. Always. Do. This?”
  1436. >”What can I say? I aim to misbehave.”
  1437. >Anon throws another punch at Discord.
  1438. >This time Discord turns himself semi corporeal, and Anon’s fist goes straight through the now semi-see through being.
  1439. >”Oops, look at that! Who ya gonna call?”
  1440. >You can hear Anon’s teeth grinding.
  1441. >”Stop that Stannis, it’s not good for your mouth.”
  1442. >What’s happening?
  1443. >”You know, I was hoping that after Griffonstone, I’d never see you again.”
  1444. >”I told you that that I’ll be back.”
  1445. >Anon goes to lean against a wall and takes a long breath.
  1446. >”Just get it all out of your system.”
  1447.  
  1448. >Discord snaps and becomes dressed in heavy winter gear.
  1449. >He’s holding a lit flare and a stick of dynamite.
  1450. >”Anybody messes with me… and the whole tower goes.”
  1451. “Or at least what’s left of it.”
  1452. >Did you say that out loud?
  1453. >”See, she knows how to find the humor of the situation.”
  1454. >You did.
  1455. >”Are you done yet?”
  1456. >Discord snaps his fingers as his clothing is absorbed into his body, and his hand held items are transformed into a script.
  1457. >”Where are we?” Discord says to himself.
  1458. >He skims some of the pages.
  1459. >”Right!”
  1460. >The papers spontaneously combust.
  1461. >And Discord dons a doctor’s attire.
  1462. >”It’s Act Two, so you need the plot hook for the Third act. Or the Fourth, if the writer drags on for too long.”
  1463. >What?
  1464. >”Oh never you mind Flurry.” Discord chimes in.
  1465. >Is he reading your thoughts?
  1466. >”No, they were part of the script. Really am I the only actor here that’s read it?”
  1467. >”Q. Point. Now.”
  1468. >”Right.”
  1469. >He claps his hands together twice, and a small stack of X-ray results materialize.
  1470. >”Just remember, I’m a plot device, not a deus ex machina.”
  1471. >He holds up one of the papers.
  1472. >”Now if you look here you’ll see a foreign object lodged into Luna’s grey matter. Cadence has one just as large, and Celestia’s is even bigger.”
  1473. >He shows other similar looking scans.
  1474. ”What is this?”
  1475. >”Well if you’d let me explain, I’ll tell you.”
  1476. >He clears his throat.
  1477. >Literally.
  1478. >His neck vanished as he coughed.
  1479.  
  1480. >”See back in the day, your dearest Twilight brought back a friend from the Far East. A harmless little bug that lives off of the innate background magic that Alicorns produce. Only problem is that the specific frequency of magic they feed off of is fueled by negative emotions: Anger, despair, hopelessness, paranoia, and all those fun little things. If well fed enough, they then mess around with brain chemistry to amplify those emotions until the pony in question is left in a state of madness.”
  1481. >He then snaps his fingers and returns to his normal state.
  1482. >If you can call that amalgam normal.
  1483. >”Now, that being said: all my debts are paid off and my contractual obligations filled. Have fun!”
  1484. “Wait, what? You can’t go now!”
  1485. >”Fine, one free info tidbit: Surgery would just kill the infected pony.”
  1486. “Can’t you just snap your fingers and make them disappear?”
  1487. >”Of course I can.”
  1488. >”Then why don’t you?” Anon demands.
  1489. >”Because it’s so much fun watching all this chaos.”
  1490. “So what do we do?”
  1491. >”That’s for you to find out.” Discord replies.
  1492. >Why is nothing ever simple, and why is he so evasive?
  1493. >Your eye twitches.
  1494. >”Why don’t you knock it off with those negative waves? I’ve told you before; you don’t want to end up like mommy dearest.”
  1495. >”You’ve talked to Flurry before?”
  1496. >”You mean that you’re both not telling each other something about what happened while you were apart? I thought you two trusted each other, anyways- Ta-ta.”
  1497. >With that, Discord disappears.
  1498. >What didn’t Anon tell you?
  1499. >”We need to talk.” Anon says sternly.
  1500.  
  1501. >”Okay…” Flurry replies, her head nodding down slightly.
  1502. “Listen, I don’t care if everything else I’ve ever said has been lost on you. You cannot trust Discord.”
  1503. >”What happened between you two?”
  1504. “It’s a long and complicated story; suffice it to say, how do you think I got here?”
  1505. >”Wait, it was Discord’s fault that you’re in Equestria?”
  1506. “Not directly, like I said, it’s a long story.”
  1507. >”But I thought you just woke up here one day.”
  1508. >She’s dodging the point.
  1509. “Flurry, I need to know. Is there any truth to what he said?”
  1510. >”Before I left the Crystal Empire he spoke to me.”
  1511. “What about?”
  1512. >”For the most part he didn’t make any sense, all that I got out of it was that he said I have whatever Mom has.”
  1513. “Listen, I give it a fifty/fifty chance of him telling the truth, or at least a small part of it. How do you feel?”
  1514. >Something has been wrong since you first saw her.
  1515. >Her demeanor is exactly the same as it has always been.
  1516. >Too exact.
  1517. >Almost like it’s being forced.”
  1518. >”I’m fine.”
  1519. “Flurry…”
  1520. >You can tell that she’s lying through her teeth.
  1521. >But she remains silent.
  1522. “So... How do you feel about the battles you were in?”
  1523. >”I… suppose it was just a battle, I did my duty.”
  1524. “No nightmares or flashbacks?”
  1525. >”None.”
  1526. >You never forget your first kill.
  1527. >It eats away at you.
  1528. >Until you reach the point of justification.
  1529. >And even then, you never forget.
  1530. >She’s not there yet.
  1531. “Flurry, are you absolutely certain about that?”
  1532. >She’s looking at you with a look of sheer horror.
  1533. >Like when she used to sneak cookies without permission then try to play innocent with crumbs obviously all over her face.
  1534. >Your glare intensifies.
  1535. >Her left eye twitched.
  1536. >It almost reminds you of…
  1537. “So he was telling the truth.”
  1538.  
  1539. >Flurry is starting to shake, and tears are swelling in her eyes.
  1540. “Come here.”
  1541. >You reach down and take her into a hug.
  1542. “It’s okay kiddo. Just calm down and tell me what really happened.”
  1543. >You stay still as she silently cries into your shoulder.
  1544. “Let it all out.”
  1545. >You pat the back of her head softly.
  1546. >”I just couldn’t help it.” She softly says between breaths.
  1547. “What happened?”
  1548. >”Since Manehattan I’ve been feeling so different. And I just don’t know why.”
  1549. >She raises her head and starts to pace around the room, her eyes still red from the tears.
  1550. >”After the ambush I would start twitching every few hours or so. I tried to push back the feelings but it didn’t do anything.”
  1551. >This is why you didn’t want her to fight.
  1552. >But how much of it is just the emotional baggage?
  1553. “It’s alright, just tell me what you’re going through.”
  1554. >”There was the rush of adrenaline, everything happened so quickly. Then in a moment time would stop, and I’m just standing over the bodies. Thinking about how I did it.”
  1555. >She pauses.
  1556. >”And when a battle was over, everything seems so slow. Just me and my memories waiting for the next one. But…”
  1557. “What?”
  1558. >”When I was in the air earlier, it felt like I was in a trance. Or a dream that I had no real control over what I was doing. I’m not sure if it was instinct or…”
  1559. >She stops pacing, and starts to breathe in and out slowly.
  1560. “Look, I’m not sure what to make about what Discord said, but I think you should take a break. No more fighting.”
  1561. >”I think that’s a good idea. For what it’s worth I believe him.”
  1562. “Take what he said with a grain of salt, it’s just as likely that he’s behind all of this.”
  1563. >You’re not quite sure what to make of this all.
  1564. >On one-
  1565. >”Hey Uncle.”
  1566. “Yeah kiddo?”
  1567. >”How did you deal with it when you started out?”
  1568. >’it’ being the remorse.
  1569. “Come sit down and I’ll tell you. Maybe a thing or two I picked up can help you.”
  1570.  
  1571. >…
  1572. >You spent the next couple hours telling Flurry about how to keep sane after fighting.
  1573. >Eventually you found yourself alone in a tent, contemplating on today’s events.
  1574. >Let’s for a second believe that Discord was being truthful.
  1575. >In that case, all of the princesses are infected with some sort of parasite that’s driving them mad.
  1576. >The more they embrace negative emotions, the more the bug can encourage those feelings.
  1577. >The figurative slippery slope.
  1578. >It would explain why the monarch’s actions became increasingly more pronounced as time went by.
  1579. >And why Flurry didn’t go the same way as the others.
  1580. >Because she wasn’t the one with the constant weight of a nation at war on her shoulders.
  1581. >Or in the case of the sisters, carrying a millennia of baggage.
  1582. >And her mother was hit badly by the grief after Shining went missing.
  1583. >Twilight supposedly came back twelve years ago.
  1584. >In those three days the other Princesses must have been infected.
  1585. >The harsher wartime measures were first put into place shortly after.
  1586. >As far as you can tell his story doesn’t seem to contradict itself.
  1587. >But it’s Discord.
  1588. >You’ve never know him to be completely truthful.
  1589. >There has to be an angle.
  1590. >For all you know it’s a complete subterfuge.
  1591. >Still though, it’s better to err on the side of caution.
  1592. >Parasite or no, Flurry is done fighting.
  1593. >She has a good heart, and you don’t want it hurt anymore from this war.
  1594. >Once your enemies are driven from Equestrian soil, you’ll head for the capitol.
  1595. >Then you can find the truth behind this madness.
  1596.  
  1597. >”Sir!”
  1598. “Come on in.”
  1599. >General Lancer enters your tent.
  1600. “How are your men?”
  1601. >”Enjoying their rest.”
  1602. “And you?”
  1603. >”I’m… dealing with it. I’d like to apologize for my behavior earlier; it was unbecoming of an officer.”
  1604. “Not at all, it was a bad situation and you did what you could.”
  1605. >”Still, I was too preoccupied with my own image to accept my duty and I’m sorry.”
  1606. “For what it’s worth, history may yet remember you more kindly. I’m leaving the command of the counteroffensive to you.”
  1607. >”You’re leaving this front?”
  1608. “Indeed. I’ll be taking my Old Guard and the Princess to the griffon front; I hope to be able to negotiate their surrender. The ponies from the Empire and Manehattan are under your command. If at all possible capture as many hostiles as you can. With so many of their artillery pieces captured or destroyed, you should face minimal resistance from the remaining enemies. However, they still have a vast naval superiority so we have to make sure they don’t attempt another invasion. To that end, I want you to make sure that as few of them as possible can make it onto their ships when you drive them to the coast. With their manpower pools so drained, they simply won’t be able to mount another proper attack. Once driven from our soil, they’ll have the choice: Surrender unconditionally, or face the third invasion of their homeland in recent memory.”
  1609. >”So you really do think that the war is over?”
  1610. “Yes, all that remains is how gracefully our enemies accept that fact.”
  1611.  
  1612. >”Do you really think that the griffons will just give up?”
  1613. “Will they have a choice? Their King is but a boy thrust into leadership after plague took his mother. When they rebuilt their city, they had the gall to attack Equestria once. After two years of fighting, Griffonstone lay in worse shape than it did before the restoration of their monarchy. They took their chance and failed, both in that war and the current one. If they expect to have any semblance of civilization left, then they have no choice. They’ll bend the knee or be destroyed.”
  1614. >”Then all that will remain is to make an official peace with the yaks.”
  1615. “And Canterlot.”
  1616. >”Right, about that. Do you have a plan?”
  1617. “Many. I still haven’t chosen which one I want to put into place.”
  1618. >”At least with Cadence in our custody, that’s one less Princess we’ll have to deal with.”
  1619. “Fewer.”
  1620. >”Sorry?”
  1621. “That’s one fewer Princess we’ll have to worry about.”
  1622. >”Oh.”
  1623. “Remember the good old days?”
  1624. >”What do you mean?”
  1625. “You’ve been under my command for what? Twenty odd years now?”
  1626. >”Aye.”
  1627. “Don’t you miss the other wars? Back when things were simple, and we didn’t have to play kingmaker.”
  1628. >”I suppose so.”
  1629. “Take that Changeling nest back, what eighteen years ago now?”
  1630. >”The one where only you and I made it out alive?”
  1631. “That’s the one.”
  1632. >”If that’s what you remember as the ‘good ole days’ I don’t want to know what you’re going through now.”
  1633. >You chuckle.
  1634. “We had our mission and orders, and that was it. Don’t tell me you don’t miss that feeling?”
  1635. “It was a lot more straightforward.”
  1636. “You and me though, I think we’re a dying breed.”
  1637. >”How so?”
  1638. “I think the world is going to finally outgrow war. At least for a few generations.”
  1639. >”Hopefully we survive long enough to see that lasting peace.”
  1640.  
  1641. “Lasting peace. That’s what we’ve been fighting for all of these years. I’ve no idea what to actually do with it if it comes.”
  1642. >”Settle down I suppose. I know that my family is eager to have me back.”
  1643. “How’s the wife and kids?”
  1644. >”As good as a family can be during this time.”
  1645. “How did you do it?”
  1646. >”Do what?”
  1647. “Get used to the idea of settling down.”
  1648. >”I… don’t know. I think that issue’s for everypony to settle on their own… No pun intended.”
  1649. “It’s getting late, if there isn’t anything more then you’re free to leave.”
  1650. >”Sir.”
  1651. “One last thing. After all we’ve been through; you don’t need to keep with the formalities. There’s no need to apologize.
  1652. >He nods and leaves your tent.
  1653. >Leaving you to your thoughts.
  1654. >In all your years you’ve always assumed that you’d never survive the fighting.
  1655. >That you’d go down in some glorious last stand.
  1656. >But now you can see the end of the journey.
  1657. >And no final stand is in sight.
  1658. >When this is all settled and over, what use is a man like you to this world?
  1659. >What remains?
  1660. >Retirement?
  1661. >Becoming some hanger on to society as you do nothing but recount stories of old glory.
  1662. >Once the war is over and Flurry has settled into leadership (and whatever is happening with the Princesses is settled) is that all that remains for you?
  1663. >Living out your days as a grim reminder of a past era.
  1664. >Your thoughts drift north.
  1665. >It might not be all bad.
  1666. >Having some semblance of normalcy.
  1667. >Just living your life or at least whatever is left of it, like everyone else does.
  1668. >Not being plagued by constant thoughts of tactics and strategy.
  1669. >Just being a normal person.
  1670. >It’s been over twenty-five years since you’ve been able to do that.
  1671. >You barely remember what ‘normal’ is anymore.
  1672. >But then again, what is ‘normal’?
  1673.  
  1674. >…
  1675. >You awoke the next morning.
  1676. >After collecting your personal effects and finding Frederick, you went to meet with your men.
  1677. >You started this war with five thousand men making up your Old Guard.
  1678. >You’ve lost just under a tenth of them.
  1679. >They’ve been performing as you would expect them to.
  1680. >You addressed the men from a top your mount.
  1681. “Alright, listen up. The rest of our forces are going to go south and pursue the Saddle Arabians. We are heading to the northeast to face the griffons. Ideally we’ll be able to negotiate their surrender, however if that fails, then I trust that you’ll do your duty. Now finish striking your camps, I want to be on the march before the hour is up!”
  1682. >Ideally you’ll arrive at one of the major rail lines before the night is over.
  1683. >After that you’ll have a day or two to wait for a large enough train to get there.
  1684. >And then you’ll be two days from the front.
  1685. >The men were quick to get ready.
  1686. >Flurry walked along side you, but remained silent.
  1687. >You started leading your men through the ruined city.
  1688. >All of the civilians have long since fled, and once the armies leave, Baltimare will be a ghost town.
  1689. >The locals might start flooding back, hoping that their homes or businesses haven’t been destroyed.
  1690. >Some of them will stay and rebuild, others will cut their losses and move on.
  1691. >But the city will bear the scars of war for decades, or maybe even centuries.
  1692. >And the battle will scar the Equestrian culture for even longer.
  1693. >They’ve never seen this scale of death and destruction on their own soil, and they won’t soon forget it.
  1694. >…
  1695.  
  1696. >Four days later you were sitting in your personal room on the train.
  1697. >The weight of your force was slowing the locomotive considerably; you’ll be arriving tomorrow around noon.
  1698. >You’ve sent word ahead, and the griffon leaders have agreed to meet.
  1699. >They might still have a shred of sanity left.
  1700. >But your thoughts drift to a closer issue.
  1701. >Flurry has spent most of her time alone.
  1702. >Poor girl.
  1703. >She’s going through a lot, but you trust that she’ll be able to get a hold on it.
  1704. >Assuming that Discord was being honest, you’re not sure exactly what to do.
  1705. >The scholarly types at the Royal Academy might be able to help.
  1706. >But you’re not sure how sympathetic they’ll be once you storm Canterlot and depose the sisters.
  1707. >There might be one or two ponies there that might be sympathetic though.
  1708. >Your thoughts are cut short as the train starts braking.
  1709. >You check your watch.
  1710. >The last scheduled refueling.
  1711. >Where were you?
  1712. >Right- Flurry’s supposed parasite.
  1713. >It’s just as likely that Discord planted the idea to make her unsure of herself.
  1714. >That doesn’t quite explain the other Alicorns, but you wouldn’t put it past him to have orchestrated the entire ordeal.
  1715. >The train comes to a complete stop.
  1716. >But if she is infected with something, how are you going to fight it?
  1717. >If the bug is from the Far East, there wouldn’t be any records of it.
  1718. >No known ways to kill it without hurting the host.
  1719. >With your luck you’ll probably have to-
  1720. >*Knock Knock*
  1721. >”Sir.”
  1722. >You get up and open your door.
  1723. “Lieutenant Thunder.”
  1724. >”Two letters just arrived for you, no names on either.”
  1725. “Hmm”
  1726. >You take the letters from him.
  1727. >”Sir.”
  1728. “As you were.”
  1729. >The pony salutes and leaves as you close the door.
  1730. >Heading over to a small table you pull a lantern closer to inspect the letters.
  1731.  
  1732. >Both of them were rather standard, neither had a unique wax seal.
  1733. >One looked rather recent, but the other was battered by the test of time.
  1734. >You decide to open the newer one first.
  1735. >As you break the seal and unfold the letter inside, you smell the slightest hint of a familiar almond scent.
  1736.  
  1737. Dearest Anon:
  1738.  
  1739. Hey, I know it’s only been a few days since you left, but I just wanted to say that I miss you. Well write that I miss you, but that’s just semantics. And look now I’m rambling… while writing. Anyway, things have been pretty quiet up here; life has gotten back to normal and most of the damages to buildings that were hit when you were attacked have been patched over until more permanent fixes can be done. The students are being relatively kind to me, but I think that it’s just from the excitement because they’re nearing their final weeks of the school year. I know that you’re probably really busy, so I’ll end quickly. I just wanted to remind you to stay safe, and to tell you that no matter what happens, you’ll still have at least one pony that’s wishing for your wellbeing every night. Good luck and I hope that the fighting is over soon.
  1740.  
  1741. -Love Amber Dawn
  1742.  
  1743. >The train begins moving once again.
  1744. >And there’s a strange warm feeling in your chest.
  1745. >You then open the older looking letter.
  1746.  
  1747. Anon:
  1748.  
  1749. I’ve little time to explain. I’m back after three years in the east, there’s a danger there: something that could destroy all of Equestria if it made its way here. I’m here to brief Celestia on it, and then I’m heading back to try and stop it. I wish I could explain it better, but I’m not even sure exactly what ‘it’ is. I feel so different than I used to, and I’m not sure why. Whatever happens, take care of Flurry. I hope that this reaches you soon.
  1750.  
  1751. I’m so sorry.
  1752.  
  1753. -Twilight.
  1754.  
  1755. >What?
  1756. >You reread the letter.
  1757. >Why are you just getting this after twelve years?
  1758.  
  1759. >You start taking it sentence by sentence.
  1760. >Little time to explain.
  1761. >She didn’t really explain much…
  1762. >Back after three years.
  1763. >You never saw her when she did ‘return’ but it looks like her writing.
  1764. >Something that could destroy all of Equestria.
  1765. >Really… Twilight discovering some catastrophic entity, that’s never happened before.
  1766. >Meeting with Celestia.
  1767. >Collaborates with Discords story, she met with all of the other Princesses when she came back, and if she was infected with something she may have unknowingly spread it.
  1768. >Heading back.
  1769. >Explains why she disappeared again.
  1770. >Not sure what ‘it’ is.
  1771. >Ominous.
  1772. >She felt so different.
  1773. >Again collaborates with Discord… he might have been telling the truth after all.
  1774. >Take care of Flurry.
  1775. >You tried your best.
  1776. >Hope this reaches you soon.
  1777. >Why was it held up for so long?
  1778. >’I’m so sorry’
  1779. >Yeah…
  1780. >Assuming that the letter was actually from Twi, then it does seem to support Discord’s claim.
  1781. >It’s entirely possible that he just faked the letter, but that wouldn’t feel like his style.
  1782. >And twelve days would be a mix up in the mail, not twelve years.
  1783. >Someone or something had to be behind it.
  1784. >A cold emptiness takes hold of your chest.
  1785. >Before this is over you’ll probably have to go east…
  1786. >’Something that could destroy all of Equestria.’
  1787. >Shining and Twilight were merely the latest in a long line of explorers that went missing.
  1788. >All of recorded history, as well as countless legends and myths all show that almost no one has ever returned.
  1789. >The few that did left their sanity behind.
  1790. >Nothing’s ever simple, is it?
  1791.  
  1792. >That night you distanced yourself from speculation.
  1793. >You have more pressing matters to attend to.
  1794. >You arrived around noon the next day.
  1795. >In the distance you could see Cloudsdale.
  1796. >Stretching across the sky in either direction were storm cloud trenches.
  1797. >A traditional trench was dug on the ground, but then every fifty or so feet in the air there would be a horizontal stretch of clouds.
  1798. >They continued up well past the city’s height.
  1799. >Most of the either side’s manpower was at the topmost levels.
  1800. >Because if any point in the middle was breached, the defenders from a row above could rain down lightning from their own clouds.
  1801. >The enemy trenches wouldn’t be able to withstand an assault with your air ships supporting the attack, but because your air fleet is still months from being ready to deploy…
  1802. >If the negotiations don’t succeed, then the western front won’t stay quiet for long.
  1803. >One of the local troops flew to your position to brief you.
  1804. >There is a table set up on the ground in the middle of no man’s land.
  1805. >The enemy leaders as well as General Red Wave are waiting for you to arrive.
  1806. >You placed your helmet atop your head as you told Flurry to come with you.
  1807. >Stopping further down the train, you opened up Frederick’s car.
  1808. “Frederick, Zeit zu gehen.”
  1809. >He jumped out of the car, and let you get atop him.
  1810. >”Planning quite an entrance I see.” Flurry jokes.
  1811. “A bit of spectacle can go quite a far way.”
  1812. >With that you had the Manticore take flight, as Flurry flew next to you.
  1813. >The look on the griffon’s faces should be quite the sight.
  1814. >As you neared the trenches, you could make out a small grouping in no man’s land.
  1815. >Hopefully your negotiating skills aren’t that rusty.
  1816.  
  1817. >Each side of the table was flanked by a dozen honor guards of the respective side.
  1818. >Two griffons sat at the table on their side, while on your side General Wave sat next to two empty seats.
  1819. >You saw all of the men below look in shock as Frederick roared as you approached.
  1820. >You could see the fear in their eyes.
  1821. >Even your general looked shocked at the sight, breaking the normally cold look on his face as his jaw slightly dropped.
  1822. >You were fully armored once again, flying towards them with your cape flowing behind you.
  1823. >Frederick lands a few paces from the table as you dismount, you instruct him to stay.
  1824. >As you walk to the others, you remove your helmet.
  1825. >Flurry landed next to you.
  1826. >You took the center seat on your side.
  1827. >Flurry sat to your right, while General Wave was on your left.
  1828. >You set your helm down on the table with a loud thud.
  1829. >Then you sat in silence, staring down the enemy military commander.
  1830. >An old griffon in a uniform similar to what European generals would wear in the late 19th century.
  1831. >Nice hat.
  1832. >But neither of you has blinked yet.
  1833. >He gives a slight nod downwards, but never breaking eye contact.
  1834. >You reciprocate.
  1835. >”Field Marshal.”
  1836. “High Commander.”
  1837. >You have a mixed history with him.
  1838. >Before the griffons and Equestrians had their war, you were sent to support them when the yaks pressed on their borders.
  1839. >That would have been seventeen years ago now.
  1840. >You served alongside the then-Colonel Gaius Gallus.
  1841. >By the end of the fighting you called him a friend.
  1842. >But six years after that the griffons attacked.
  1843. >When you led the siege of Griffonstone you spared him.
  1844. >But his wife was killed in the bombardment, and he blamed you personally.
  1845. >*Ahem*
  1846. >The General’s cough breaks the eye contact.
  1847. >”Perhaps we should get started.”
  1848. >The other griffon springs to attention.
  1849. >To the Commander’s right is a young child, no more than twelve.
  1850. >And wearing a loose crown on his head.
  1851.  
  1852. “Why did you bring the boy?”
  1853. >”Who are you to call me boy!” The young king yells.
  1854. “The man who has killed more people in a single day than you’ve ever met in your entire life.”
  1855. >”Already boasting about casualties!” The Commander adds.
  1856. >”If you haven’t heard the news, he’s just come from breaking the Saddle Arabians. For every pony that died in the battle, your allies lost a hundred of their own.” General Wave coldly states.
  1857. >The bickering continued for quite some time…
  1858. >…
  1859. “You stand alone, in mere months I have bested the world. What can you say?”
  1860. >”That the world went against you should say quite a bit.” The Commander retorts.
  1861. >”And what’s your justification? Can’t stand losing coin on a few tariffs? How stereotypical.” Wave counters.
  1862. >”Don’t you dare mock my people!” The boy butts in.
  1863. >”ENOUGH!”
  1864. >All heads turn to Flurry.
  1865. >”Quit acting like children and take a look around.”
  1866. >She indicates to the no man’s land around the table.
  1867. >”How many died here? Hmm! That you would all sit and argue is a disgrace to every single pony and griffon that never left this field. How much blood has seeped into the ground around us? I don’t know, but I can say that not one drop more will be spilt. The war is over, deal with it! Don’t sit here and let your macho egos force it to continue on!”
  1868. >Is she okay?
  1869. >The table sat in silence as her words echoed.
  1870. >…
  1871. A few hours later the terms were drawn up.
  1872. >The remaining talks were mostly civilized.
  1873.  
  1874. >The griffons agreed to pay for the damages caused to the Equestrian territory they fought over.
  1875. >And they would pay reparations to the families of the civilians that died on this front.
  1876. >In return their traders would pay a small fraction of the pre-war tariffs for the next three years.
  1877. >After that there will be open trade discussions.
  1878. >There were a handful of smaller formalities that were inconsequential.
  1879. >But the word ‘surrender’ wasn’t mentioned in the treaty.
  1880. >Officially it’s just a white peace.
  1881. >But their leaders knew that if they didn’t sign it they faced utter destruction.
  1882. >Their Commander is spiteful, but not crazy.
  1883. >And the King is a brat, but should grow out of it.
  1884. >In the end four names lay at the bottom of the treaty.
  1885. >High Commander Gaius Gallus
  1886. >Field Marshal Anonymous
  1887. >King Grover the Fourth of Griffonstone; Scion of the Gilded House of the Restored Monarchy
  1888. >And Princess Flurry Heart of Equestria.
  1889. >Few words were said after the signing.
  1890. >The griffons went back to their side to prepare for the trek home.
  1891. >You did the same.
  1892. >The ceasefire left an uneasy feeling in your stomach.
  1893. >Neither side will truly be sated by the peace.
  1894. >The fighting was over, but the resentment on each side will remain for years.
  1895. >They have until dawn to vacate the city.
  1896. >Until then it’s back to the train to rest.
  1897. >But you really should talk to Flurry about her… outburst.
  1898.  
  1899. >After dealing with Frederick, you went to remove your armor.
  1900. >As you finish dressing in a fresh pair of fatigues, you leave your room on the train.
  1901. >Going down the hall, you knock on the room adjacent to yours.
  1902. >”Come in.”
  1903. >You open the door and enter the room.
  1904. >”Oh, it’s just you.”
  1905. “What do you mean just me, you okay kiddo?”
  1906. >You slide the door back closed.
  1907. >”Yeah, sure.”
  1908. “Come on, what’s bothering you?”
  1909. >”It’s just…”
  1910. >She stops.
  1911. “Take your time.”
  1912. >”When we were out there, everything just felt so stupid. The ceaseless bickering and arguing just got to me, and I snapped.”
  1913. “What’d it feel like?”
  1914. >”I don’t know, everything was boiling until I lost control. When I yelled, everything I said just felt so natural. Almost like I was just watching myself say it.”
  1915. >You walk over and sit next to her on the bed, putting your arm around her.
  1916. >She leans her head into your side.
  1917. “Come on; try not to think about it.”
  1918. >”What do you mean?”
  1919. “Can you change what happened in the past?”
  1920. >”No.”
  1921. “Then what’s the point brooding over it?”
  1922. >”I… suppose you’re right.”
  1923. “I know you’re going through a lot. And I know that I can’t really understand what’s going through your mind. But, I’m here for you kiddo. Always have been and I always will.”
  1924. >She reaches around you and starts hugging.
  1925. >”I know.”
  1926. “You’ll get through this. I promise.”
  1927. >”You really think so?”
  1928. “I think that we’re nearing the end of this.”
  1929. >But you have been wrong before.
  1930.  
  1931. >You spent quite some time trying to encourage Flurry.
  1932. >Afterwards you began planning for Canterlot.
  1933. >Dealing with the city should be easy enough.
  1934. >The really difficult objective is neutralizing the Princesses.
  1935. >You’re fighting the closest thing Equestia has to gods.
  1936. >Cadence was powerful, but the sisters are on an entirely different level.
  1937. >Even if their magic can’t hurt you, you still have no way to fight back.
  1938. >Any swing you take or projectile shot at them would end up being evaded: either by teleporting or by using magical shielding.
  1939. >But they can still injure you by using magic to fling objects at you.
  1940. >Or by fighting the old fashioned way.
  1941. >And anyone you take into that room to help you would be utterly destroyed.
  1942. >You have to confront them alone.
  1943. >Eventually you remember one of the plans you came up with a week ago.
  1944. >You then started writing letters to deal with the logistics.
  1945. >You’re going to need all of the men that the Admiral is training, as well as however many can be spared from the last front.
  1946. >And all of the magical cannons that Flurry captured.
  1947. >And a personal item or two.
  1948. >With the letters dealt with, you reviewed some of the kingdom’s affairs.
  1949. >By the week’s end you should have around three hundred thousand men surrounding the capitol.
  1950. >The defenders have only five thousand guards and however many conscripts they’ve been able to press into service.
  1951. >The royalists are horribly outnumbered, but Canterlot itself is one of the most to defendable cities in Equestria.
  1952. >If things don’t go to plan, then it will become a blood bath large enough make the rest of the war look like a snowball fight.
  1953. >But for better or worse, it ends at the capitol.
  1954.  
  1955. >Something has changed inside of you.
  1956. >You want this war to be over.
  1957. >Not just because it’s your job to finish it, but because you’re getting legitimately tired of all the fighting.
  1958. >Maybe it’s your age, but you’ve been feeling fatigue for the past week or so.
  1959. >Nothing is ever simple anymore.
  1960. >You miss the days where everything was clear cut.
  1961. >The days where it was just you against the enemy.
  1962. >The days where you knew who your real enemies were.
  1963. >The days where you knew you were fighting on the right side.
  1964. >Now you’re questioning every action you’ve done in this world.
  1965. >All of the killing in the name of peace, and look what it has gotten the nation.
  1966. >Nothing but more war.
  1967. >And more death.
  1968. >And once again you find yourself sitting alone and questioning your life’s work.
  1969. >No.
  1970. >Not anymore.
  1971. >You are this army’s leader, and you will end this.
  1972. >There’s no place for second guessing.
  1973. >…
  1974. >The following day you set about rallying the troops.
  1975. >You have over fifty thousand men that now don’t have to fight griffons.
  1976. >A hundred thousand will be diverted from chasing the Saddle Arabians.
  1977. >And Brairheart should have almost two hundred thousand men waiting to be deployed.
  1978. >As you marched your mainly pegasi force to the city, you couldn’t shake a vague sense of déjà vu.
  1979. >You arrived at the dawn of the fourth day.
  1980. >It’ll be a hard point to crack.
  1981. >Canterlot is built into the Cliffside.
  1982. >On the north and eastern approaches is nothing but mountain.
  1983. >The west has a sheer drop.
  1984. >That leaves the south.
  1985. >In the past decades the defenses were built up.
  1986. >Considerably.
  1987. >In order to reach the palace, you’ll have three walls to overcome.
  1988.  
  1989. >Scouts ended up giving you quite a bit of intelligence about the defenses.
  1990. >The outermost wall is manned almost entirely by conscripts and traditional artillery.
  1991. >The second is guarded by the soldiers that sided with the monarchs; they’re using both mundane and magical cannons.
  1992. >And the royal guard man the deepest wall, armed with the lion’s share of magical defenses.
  1993. >You could have flown Frederick straight into the throne room and ended it immediately.
  1994. >But your only option would have been to kill the sisters.
  1995. >You stood facing the walls, just out of range of the enemy artillery.
  1996. >You lower your binoculars and turn to your left.
  1997. “Lieutenant, when night falls I want you to take a group of fliers and install loudspeakers in the mountains pointing down at the city.”
  1998. >”Yes Sir!”
  1999. “General Wave, I want the majority of our pegasi to camp out near the bottom of the cliff. In the event of an assault I want them up and over the city to overwhelm the defenses.”
  2000. >”Understood.”
  2001. >You have set your forces up so that the defenders will be able to watch as your numbers swell in the coming days.
  2002. >When the attack comes. You’ll need to strike quickly and overwhelm each level of defense.
  2003. >If you get bogged down then it’ll be a blood bath.
  2004. >And if the battle draws on too long then the sisters might flee.
  2005. >Or even worse join the fray.
  2006. >They could cut through your army like butter should they decide to show themselves.
  2007. >If that happens then either you or the two of them won’t be leaving the field.
  2008. >You pull out a notepad and start writing a list.
  2009. >Whistling over to an aide, you give it to him.
  2010. “Need you to track these down; a few things I made for the Saddle Arabian wars that could help here.”
  2011. >He salutes then runs off.
  2012.  
  2013. >The next morning Admiral Brairheart arrived with his men.
  2014. >The southern approach was packed with soldiers, almost as far as the eye could see.
  2015. “I see you’ve been doing well keeping the nation running for us.”
  2016. >”So we’ve finally arrived here. I must say that I didn’t think we would actually have to take Canterlot.”
  2017. “A year ago and the idea would be unthinkable.”
  2018. >”For what it’s worth I protest on principal.”
  2019. “Noted.”
  2020. >The Admiral’s pitch black mane shows signs of greying.
  2021. “Looks like the months haven’t been kind on you.”
  2022. >”Can you blame it? I’ve spent twenty three hours a day trying to keep our infrastructure from collapsing into chaos without the royal authority.”
  2023. “And the other hour was sleep I presume.”
  2024. >”Something like that. Anyway, if you do plan to assault I’d recommend keeping the forces I brought as reserves. Many of them were rushed out of training and haven’t seen a real battle in their lives.”
  2025. “Did you bring the equipment I requested?”
  2026. >He whistles back to another pony, that then presents a duffle bag.
  2027. >That you take and sling over your shoulder.
  2028. >”A rather… esoteric request but it’s all there.”
  2029. “Thank you. Dismissed.”
  2030. >He leaves the table that you set up to overlook the city.
  2031.  
  2032. >You’ve spent almost every waking hour since you arrived watching Canterlot.
  2033. >Watching the distant defenders scramble.
  2034. >But your attention was drawn away from the city, as to your right you see a pair of pegasi laying wire towards your location.
  2035. >Lieutenant Thunder approaches you.
  2036. >”Speakers are set up, and we’ll have everything ready to go within the hour.”
  2037. “Good. Make sure to follow the exact specifications I passed on last night.”
  2038. >He nods and heads back to work.
  2039. >A short time after, a runner came up to you with a cardboard box.
  2040. >As you open it, you find everything from your list.
  2041. “As you were.”
  2042. >You set the box on the table as you go back to watching the city.
  2043. >This old soldier still has a trick or two left to play.
  2044.  
  2045. >But this still isn’t the time to play it.
  2046. >First you need every element into place.
  2047. >Early into the afternoon Flurry joined you.
  2048. >”So where are we?”
  2049. “The outskirts of Canterlot.”
  2050. >”Ugg.” She groans at the dad joke.
  2051. “I haven’t seen much of you recently, how’ve you been doing?”
  2052. >”Better… slightly at least. Mostly I’ve been reading, it’s helped take my mind off things.”
  2053. “Read anything good?”
  2054. >”Mainly the book Aunt Twi sent me. It feels like an eternity has passed since I got it.”
  2055. “Still more questions than answers?”
  2056. >”Yeah. And I’ve read the entire thing through twice now, I still don’t know if there are any hidden messages.”
  2057. “She always was fond of plans that only really made sense to her.”
  2058. >”I suppose. But everything in general just feels like I only know half the story.”
  2059. “That’s just part of growing up. You go from knowing everything, to knowing nothing.”
  2060. >She lets out a slight laugh.
  2061. >”I suppose it is.”
  2062. >You spent the rest of the afternoon talking.
  2063. >Not about anything in particular, just talking.
  2064. >As the sun went down, she asked you a question.
  2065. >”Hey Uncle?”
  2066. “Yeah kiddo?”
  2067. >”Will you tell me a story?”
  2068. >You chuckle.
  2069. “Okay, let me think.”
  2070. >There is one that you should tell while you have the chance.
  2071. “Alright, remember how the one of our attack fleets was decimated in the First Coast War?”
  2072. >”Yeah, and the invasion had to be delayed two more months while we tried to get naval superiority.”
  2073. “Well, did you know that I was on one of the boats that got sunk?”
  2074. >”I thought you were on the second invasion wave?”
  2075. “No, I only linked back up with allied forces around the time of the second wave. For a while I was listed as missing in action, presumed dead.”
  2076. >”Why didn’t I hear about it?”
  2077. “The war started just after your Aunt went east, your mother thought it best not to add my status to your worries as well.”
  2078. >”So what happened?”
  2079.  
  2080. “The ship I was on was hit in the powder hold; I was near the bow and got blown away by the blast. Next thing I know, I was atop a piece of wreckage that had drifted to land. As I left the water, I only had the clothes on my back and a sword at my hip.”
  2081. >You pause for a second.
  2082. “The beach was littered with a bit of debris, but there was nothing useful. I didn’t see any other survivors either. As I was taking stock of the situation, I saw sails on the horizon.”
  2083. >”Rescue?”
  2084. “They were flying enemy colors, so I started running inland.”
  2085. >”Into the desert?”
  2086. “Yeah. If I think about it I can still feel the heat of the sun.”
  2087. >”What did you do?”
  2088. “I got lost.”
  2089. >”You! Lost?”
  2090. “I wandered the rock and dunes for a couple of days. Just endless horizons of sand and a growing thirst that I couldn’t quench.”
  2091. >”How long were you out there?”
  2092. “I don’t know. But eventually I wasn’t able to survive off of scorpions and snakes that would stalk the nights. I eventually ended up laying face up in the sand just waiting for my end.”
  2093. >Old memories are flying back to you.
  2094. “The desolation out there was one of my worst experiences. I was hungry and rapidly dehydrating, in those days I came to terms with my imminent demise.”
  2095. >”So what happened?”
  2096. “You did.”
  2097. >”What?”
  2098. “I’m not sure if it was a dream or a hallucination, but you were standing over me as I accepted fate. You would plead on and on: ‘no, you stand up and come home Uncle Nonny.’ Eventually I forced myself to my feet, and you took flight. You were flying away from me, and I could barely keep up with your pace. I thought I was going to collapse from the heat and exhaustion, but whenever I slowed down you would yell back to me: ‘keep on fighting.’ I started to gain on you, but right before I reached you, you disappeared, and I ran into a tree.”
  2099.  
  2100. >”You what?”
  2101. “It was a date tree; you led me to an oasis. There I managed to quench the thirst and hunger. I remained there for week after week until an allied army detachment went through the area. After that, you know how the war went.”
  2102. >You let it sink in.
  2103. “The point I’m trying to make, is that you saved me kiddo. When I had fully given up, you (or at least my memory of you) kept me going.”
  2104. >”…Why are you telling me this now?”
  2105. “Because for most of my life, you were the only thing keeping me going. I won’t be around forever, but until that day comes I’ll always be here for you. You’re my family, and I love you.”
  2106. >She hugs your side.
  2107. >”I love you to Uncle.”
  2108. >You place your arm around her.
  2109. >”Do… are you not expecting to be around much longer?”
  2110. “Of course not! I’ve still got plenty of years left in me.”
  2111. >”But with your… line of work-“
  2112. “Stop thinking like that. I’ll be fine, I promise.”
  2113. >You stay still until she breaks the hug.
  2114. “Now it’s getting late, you should go get some rest.”
  2115. >”What am I, a young filly?”
  2116. “Don’t make me forbid you from cookies and a glass of warm milk.”
  2117. >”Haw haw haw.” She mocks as she heads off to her own tent.
  2118. >You soon went to your own.
  2119. >She’ll have a large plate in front of her soon.
  2120. >You might not get the chance to have another talk like that for quite some time.
  2121. >By this time in a few days, she’ll be ‘THE’ Princess, not just ‘a’ Princess.
  2122. >But you trust how you’ve raised her.
  2123. >And simply put, you trust her personally.
  2124. >However everything up until this point has been the easy part.
  2125.  
  2126. >The following days were spent receiving groups of men sent from the front.
  2127. >divisions would arrive every hour, and the mass of troops outside the capitol continued to swell.
  2128. >And these men were battle hardened.
  2129. >After the last of your magical cannons arrived, you briefed the unicorns operating them on their objective.
  2130. >Artillery will define the coming battle, and you need them working at top efficiency.
  2131. >To that end, you’ve arranged for Furry to be powering the largest one you have.
  2132. >When amplified, her magic should be as powerful as all of your other guns combined.
  2133. >And it keeps her safe, far from the front lines.
  2134. >She hasn’t any experience doing quite what you’re asking of her, but she promised to do her best.
  2135. >And that’s all you can ask of her.
  2136. >As night was falling, the last of the men had arrived.
  2137. >You would assault right as the sun would peak over the mountains.
  2138. >With that, you fetched the cardboard box you received a few days ago, and brought it into the tent where the loudspeakers could be accessed from.
  2139. >Time for the psychological warfare to begin.
  2140. >You sit down at the table.
  2141. >Atop it are a microphone, sound board, and record player.
  2142. >You open the box and take out one of the records.
  2143. >You spent a few weeks making these to mess with the Saddle Arabian’s heads.
  2144. >You tap the microphone, and in the distance you can hear the sound reverberating over the city.
  2145. >You set the record to play as you speak
  2146. “People of Canterlot. I am Anonymous, Field Marshal and commander of Equestria’s military.”
  2147.  
  2148. >You pause to let the ponies in the city divert their full attention.
  2149. “For twenty-six years I have served this nation. For twenty-six years I have served the people. For twenty-six years I have served you. Today is no different. For years, Celestia and Luna have eaten away at your rights and liberties. The people of this great nation live in fear from tyranny. I say: no more!”
  2150. >The music has ended, and now your voice is the only sound heard.
  2151. “Despite whatever propaganda you have heard in the recent months, I urge you to remember days of old. In your hearts you know that throughout my career I have only served Equestria and all of its people. A few months ago, we faced invasion from five sides; as I speak, the last invaders are being pushed from our soil. Across the county I rallied the people, and now your brothers and sisters outside of the city live in peace. Peace from the enemies who would see us destroyed, and peace from a government that kept its people in line by using systematic repression in the form of unjust laws and a secret police. The army outside your city is not an enemy; the real enemy is those who would keep you enslaved for their own benefit... Goodnight Canterlot, this is Field Marshal Anonymous signing off. Surrender and lay down your arms, no harm will come to noncombatants. Those who do fight will be annihilated. You have until first light to decide.”
  2152. >With that you set another record to play.
  2153. >Loudly.
  2154. >On loop.
  2155. >For the entire night.
  2156. >You could have sworn that you heard a few of your veterans start to chant alongside the track.
  2157. >You had taught the lyrics and meaning to them to the men fighting alongside you in Saddle Arabia.
  2158. >By the fourth loop, your entire army had joined in on it.
  2159. >They continued strongly for a couple more.
  2160. >You could almost smell the fear from Canterlot.
  2161.  
  2162. >You awoke early.
  2163. >The record was still looping in the distance.
  2164. >Calmly you started to put on your armor.
  2165. >This might be the last time you’ll wear it.
  2166. >An aide assisted you with the harder to reach straps and the cape.
  2167. >You could feel the considerable weight of the golden armor, but it didn’t quite register.
  2168. >After you strap your sword to your side and put on your helm, you exit the tent.
  2169. >The sun was up; however it has yet to pass over the eastern mountains.
  2170. >And your men are forming ranks in the open field to your front.
  2171. >You let out a shrill whistle, and Frederick comes flying to your position.
  2172. >You strap the duffle bag that the Admiral got for you onto the saddle.
  2173. >Then you grab your halberd and start walking to the front of the host, your steed following you.
  2174. >The men stand at attention as you pass through the ranks.
  2175. >Reaching the vanguard, you stick your weapon into the ground and wait.
  2176. >Just before the sun peaks over the mountains, the chant stops.
  2177. >And a complete silence overtakes the area.
  2178. >The conscripts on the walls just watch as the army stays put.
  2179. >Then sunlight peaks onto the city.
  2180. “Hold.”
  2181. >As per your orders, another song begins to play.
  2182. >You stand in silence for a minute.
  2183. “Wait for my order.”
  2184. >You tell to the officers near your position.
  2185. >As you start walking towards the city walls.
  2186. >Alone.
  2187.  
  2188. >You could count over two dozen gun positions on the walls.
  2189. >But they stayed silent.
  2190. >Across the entire wall, the ponies lay completely still.
  2191. >All just watching as you closed the distance.
  2192. >You were walking at a normal pace, and the music ended as you got just over half way there.
  2193. >And you continued towards the maw.
  2194. >All it would take is one spark to light the keg.
  2195. >Only one of them needed to start the barrage, and you would be destroyed.
  2196. >In retrospect this was rather foolish.
  2197. >But fortune favors the bold.
  2198. >And if it worked for Napoleon…
  2199. >As you walk, you remove your helm, and place it under your left arm.
  2200. >When you were maybe fifty feet from the main gate, you stopped.
  2201. >And stood there.
  2202. >The wind blowing your cape towards the side.
  2203. >You turned your head to the eastern end of the wall and scanned to its end to the west.
  2204. >You had the eyes of every pony on the wall.
  2205. “If there is even one pony among you that believes I should die, then so be it!”
  2206. >The words echoed across the field.
  2207. >And you made your peace.
  2208. >But the end didn’t come.
  2209. >Heads turned to another as ponies whispered on the battlements.
  2210. >A moment later, the main gate opened.
  2211. >And the defenders left the walls, opting to return to their homes while they can.
  2212. >You put your helm back on, and raised your arm to signal the army to move up.
  2213. >As the men started forward, you saw as they broke into a run.
  2214. >Because the guns from further into the city started raining down.
  2215. >Magical fire arced from the sky as barrages coordinated fire.
  2216. >But one gate is down.
  2217. >And two remain.
  2218. >Frederick lands next to you, shaking the ground.
  2219. >Lieutenant Thunder flies towards you as you mound the Manticore.
  2220. >He gives you your halberd.
  2221. “Head back to our guns, get word to me as soon as they’re in range.”
  2222. >”Yes Sir!”
  2223. >As he flies back to the camp, your army arrives around you and starts to pour into the city.
  2224. >The battle had begun.
  2225.  
  2226. >You have your mount fly upwards to get a better view.
  2227. >Your men are storming into the city, pouring into the gate.
  2228. >Some of them go to open the others to allow more in.
  2229. >The soldiers on the second walls are preparing for your men to get into view.
  2230. >Magical guns on the third walls have been arced up.
  2231. >As bolts come back to the ground, many of them come down on larger city crossroads.
  2232. >They’ve been pre-targeted.
  2233. >The enemy knew that you would take the first walls easily.
  2234. >They wouldn’t have manned it solely with conscripts had they meant to break you there.
  2235. >No, they intend to break your resolve between the second and third walls.
  2236. >They’re banking on making the fight so bloody that your men quit the field.
  2237. >Then the faith in the military would be shattered.
  2238. >Opinion would be split, and the Monarchs would look like the victims in a coup.
  2239. >If you fail to take it here, then Civil War could last much longer.
  2240. >You won’t let that happen.
  2241. >Looking below you see your men reach the second walls.
  2242. >To the west you can see pegasi start to sweep in from the air, fighting atop it.
  2243. >Ladders are being raised in the center.
  2244. >And grapeshot fired down into the streets below the wall.
  2245. >You whistle at Frederick and start to lead him down to the main gate.
  2246. >A handful of defenders are thrown from the landing zone and crushed under the Manticore’s mass.
  2247. >Other enemies on the wall retreat and you strike down the few that remain.
  2248. >A pair of ladders are put up on the gate house, and your men start to climb upwards.
  2249. >With that you take back to the sky.
  2250. >You can’t risk you or Frederick getting injured in the fighting.
  2251. >As you look back down, you see the defenders quickly retreat back to the final wall.
  2252. >Your own forces take a moment to rest.
  2253. >And the enemy guns have fallen silent.
  2254. >This is too easy.
  2255. >And that unsettles you.
  2256.  
  2257. >Your fears were well placed.
  2258. >You watch as a single magical bolt flies into the sky.
  2259. >It starts to come down onto the gatehouse you were just on.
  2260. >Frederick flies further into the sky away from the blast.
  2261. >Magical flames start overtaking the wall.
  2262. >Through the screams below, you hear a secondary explosion.
  2263. >And the gatehouse erupts in a blast of both magical and mundane force.
  2264. >And it spreads.
  2265. >The entire wall starts exploding as stone and flesh are blown to pieces.
  2266. >The earth below you shakes, and more of the city below falls to similar explosions.
  2267. >At least a quarter of the city is engulfed by flame and destruction, webbing out from the second wall.
  2268. >Canterlot had by far the largest arsenal in the nation.
  2269. >Presumably they buried gunpowder and magical storage crystals in tunnels under the city.
  2270. >You wonder how many just lost their lives.
  2271. >Tens of thousands at least.
  2272. >Maybe a sixth of your force was just hit in the hurricane of fire and blood.
  2273. >This is how they intended to break you.
  2274. >By offering up their city as a sacrifice.
  2275. >If they had to go out, it would be with a bang.
  2276. >Perhaps Celestia is playing a lute right now.
  2277. >It says a lot about you if you can take the time to throw around farce in your head while the single largest massacre in this world’s history just occurred.
  2278. >Or that you’re just coping.
  2279. >”S… Sir!”
  2280. >You turn your head to see Lieutenant Thunder next to you.
  2281. >”Is this the way the world ends?”
  2282. “If only it were that simple.”
  2283. >”The… The guns are in range.”
  2284. “Good, have them fire, then get down there. Our ranks are in chaos, you’re a Captain now- get down there and have our men divert their full attention to outing out the fires and getting people out of danger.”
  2285. >”But Sir, the battle!”
  2286. “It’s down to me to end this.”
  2287.  
  2288. >You pull on the reins and kick Frederick forwards.
  2289. >He starts flying westward, away from the destruction below.
  2290. >The city is left behind as you end up over the cliffs.
  2291. >Banking left, you turn him back towards Canterlot.
  2292. >Aiming him straight for the Royal Palace.
  2293. >The building grows ever closer, but you don’t slow down.
  2294. >Instead he crashes through the large stained glass window of the throne room.
  2295. >Then he comes to land on the floor below, his claws scratching against the floor.
  2296. >He lets out a roar as you stare at the throne.
  2297. >And you stare at Celestia, with Luna at her side.
  2298. >You flip the grasp of your halberd and strike its spike down into the floor next to you.
  2299. >”At long last Anonymous. Guards leave us.”
  2300. >Celestia speaks calmly, and the other ponies leave the room.
  2301. >Well, they dropped their weapons and sprinted for the exits.
  2302. “Why have you done this?”
  2303. >”Sister, he has a poin-“
  2304. >”SILENCE!” Celsetia yells as her eye twitches and her head croons over towards Luna.
  2305. >Luna’s eyes blink quickly a few times before she nods.
  2306. >”YOU!” Celestia screams as her focus shoots back to you.
  2307. >You jump off of Frederick and take a step towards your left.
  2308. >”You had so much potential. I trusted you so, but for years you do nothing but work against me. You stand here in open defiance now, but for decades you have plotted for your own gain. You say that I am unjust, that I would enslave my people. But they are my people to enslave, not yours to rally in chaos.”
  2309. “Listen to me! This isn’t you talking; you’ve been infected by a parasite. You’re still in there, fight it!”
  2310. >”And now you’re so delusional that you justify your actions with false. False… “
  2311. >Her head twitches.
  2312. >”NO!”
  2313. >She shoots out a beam of energy at you.
  2314. >And it has no effect…
  2315. “You know that doesn’t work on me.”
  2316. >”But this should.”
  2317. >Her horn glows as she starts levitating half dozen spears that the Royal Guards dropped.
  2318. >And they start flying towards you.
  2319.  
  2320. >They pick up speed too quickly for you to dodge out of the way.
  2321. >A brown blur appears in front of you.
  2322. >And a grunt of pain echoes in your ears.
  2323. “Frederick…”
  2324. >The beast turns its head towards you.
  2325. >You can see the look of pain in his eyes.
  2326. >The look of despair facing one’s demise.
  2327. “Du bist ein guter Junge. Gehen in den Abgrund. Ich werde dich vermissen”
  2328. >You reach out and pet his mane.
  2329. >He lets out a low growl before slumping down towards you.
  2330. >A handful of spears sticking up from his body.
  2331. >Memories flash in your mind.
  2332. >He’s been a good friend for years.
  2333. >You’ve killed more than one dragon atop his back.
  2334. >And you wouldn’t have been able to get this far without him.
  2335. >His loyalty was absolute; you had saved him as a young cub from a chimera.
  2336. >And now he repaid the favor.
  2337. >You feel the slightest tear forming in your eye.
  2338. >But you blink it away.
  2339. >”A profound display. But now you’ll follow your mongrel.”
  2340. >You look back to the Princess.
  2341. >There is a dull thump that resounds through the building.
  2342. >More soon follow.
  2343. >And a low hum resonates in the area.
  2344. >Frederick bought you the time you needed.
  2345. “Go on then. Do it!”
  2346. >You outstretch your arms to accept the next strike.
  2347.  
  2348. >Celestia’s horn glows as she levitates up another spear.
  2349. >And she holds it in the air above its resting place.
  2350. “Do it!”
  2351. >Her eye twitches.
  2352. “Kill me! I’m here, do it! Kill me now, I’m here!”
  2353. >But the spear remains in it’s place.
  2354. >A much louder thud shakes dust from the ceiling.
  2355. >That would be Flurry’s.
  2356. >And the light from Celestia’s horn starts flashing.
  2357. >Then it fails completely, and the spear falls to the ground.
  2358. >You smirk and reach down to open the duffle bag on Frederick’s back.
  2359. >”What is this!”
  2360. “Oh it’s a simple enough concept.”
  2361. >You retrieve the contents of the bag.
  2362. “Magic can cancel out magic, that’s how prison cells are made for unicorns. Wizards power up crystals to emanate anti-magical fields. Don’t worry, you’ll soon see the other side of them.”
  2363. >”TRAITOR!”
  2364. “And magical artillery works through amplifying unicorn’s natural arcane powers. So what happens when instead of firing pure attacks through them, you fire magic dampening spells? This does.”
  2365. >You step around the body of your fallen friend.
  2366. >And you place a dart into the blowpipe now in your hands.
  2367. >You let out a burst of air, and the projectile lodges itself in Luna’s chest as she is unable to raise a barrier or teleport away.
  2368. >And she begins to fall to the ground.
  2369. “Enough tranquilizer to take out a hydra.”
  2370. >”Usurping scum.”
  2371. >You load another dart into the weapon.
  2372. >Before you bring it up to your lips, you say one last thing.
  2373. “Maybe, but someone had to stop you… and it had to be me.”
  2374. >And you fire, watching the dart hit Celestia in the chest.
  2375. >You watch as she falls to the floor, unable to withstand the sedative.

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