A swift flutter of her wings propelled her back upwards, looping around to slot back into position. To Rainbow Dash, flying was life, she couldn't imagine a world without it. Even to this day, with the epaulettes of Sky Marshal of the Equestrian Royal Air Force weighing down her shoulders, she found it hard to resist showing off. Today was a simple assignment; a routine scouting flight along the border with the Griffon Confederation in the company of the Royal Flight Instruction Academy's finest cadets, a reward of sorts for their studiousness.
Rainbow Dash snorted, sound echoing loudly in her enclosed combat gear. Memories of her own academy days drifted through her mind, fragments of how much she was not like these cadets, who were so full of promise.
"Yes Ma'am?" One of the cadets enquired, attention stirred by the sound of her snort on the radio. It was this she hated most about times of war and worry; having to rely on technology. Most of Equestria lived an ascetic life off the land after several hard learned lessons in their history, but when it came to dealing with those ready to kill, a pony had to pull out all the stops, hence why she and the rest of the formation was encased in flight armor with pylon mounted Long-Range Suppression Missiles (LRSMs).
"Nothing, just thinking about the last time I flew over these lands. Lets descend to angels-five and prep to make our turn at point bravo." Dash flared her wings out slightly, bleeding off some speed and sloping down to the target altitude. The plains north of Ponyville were beautiful as ever, a gentle breeze swaying the grass, teasing the tops of the few hardy trees dispersed about. Further to the north, a thick line of coniferous trees stood, blocking out the horizon and casting a dark shadow beneath their needles. All told it was a beautiful day for a region that only saw occasional sweeps from the weather patrol.
"Copy that" answered the voice of her wingpony for the flight, and current valedictorian of the academy. Nimble Sprint was his name. Or something, she wasn't entirely sure (in her defense she was rather preoccupied with the defense of the Kingdom's frontier).
"Eyes open my little ponies, the Griffins have stepped up their patrols in this region. Keep one eye on your radars and one on the ground." A chorus of affirmatives answered her. "How's the big picture lookin, CLYDESDALE?"
The distant voice of their combat controller crackled over the radio "My screen shows clear all along the border. Got some interesting concentrations building to the North though ma'am, will advise if they move to intercept, how copy? over."
"Solid copy CLYDESDALE, proceeding to next waypoint." As the formation of battle-armored pegasi glided along the border, Dash's mind began to wonder to her former companions. All of them, herself included, had moved on to bigger and better things, but they still managed to keep in touch as much as they could. The only pony that Dash hadn't seen much of really was Pinkie Pie, who somehow became the Equestria's ambassador to the Griffons. If Dash had to guess it was for her eternal light-hearted nature, it was hard to be around Pinkie Pie and not be happy.
"Ma'am, I'm seeing something... odd off to about our 10'oclock." There was a brief pause as Sprint thought about it "pretty deep in Griffon territory whatever it is, but somethings tearing up that forest something fierce."
"I've detected a massive force movement, estimate 40-plus bogies bearing to your position, what are your orders ma'am?" CLYDESDALE crackled over the radio. The formation stopped where they were, hovering just inside the Equestrian border.
"I'll bet my left wing it's another bluffing attempt, but if they want a fight I'll give it to 'em." Rainbow Dash ground out fiercely "scramble the 31st and 45th squadrons, and relay this to General Archer, see if he can't get a Quick Response Team out here."
"Copy that ma'am, the 31st is airborne; eta 5 minutes. The 45th is gearing up now and should be there in 10. General Archer informs me that he will personally be hoofing it up to your position, eta 20-30 minutes."
Rainbow Dash flitted back and forth as she struggled to fight the urge to simply dash across the border to see what it was. This did NOT match their previous behavior at all, even if she said it did for the sake of the cadets. They would have little hope in stopping an invasion by themselves, but they could stay in contact as long as possible till backup arrived, keep them busy.
Minutes dragged on, but still her backup had not arrived. Surely they must be close-"By Celestia, that's a pony!" one of the cadets swore loudly over the open frequency. Rainbow Dash was about to tear a stripe off the Pegasus when she saw it too. Just inside the tree line, at the center of a hurricane of motion stood a small group of ponies, fighting and running at the same time. In their center stood a distinct pink splash.
"Pinkie Pie!" Dash exclaimed. The group of ponies must have been her embassy staff. Though outnumbered they fought on bravely, every time a Griffon came near them, they beat them off. It was as though the griffons were attempting to take them alive, for they fired no ordinance at them. Either way, her friend was under attack, and Dash would be DAMNED if she would let a few griffons get away with it.
Swooping down into a dive and pumping on the speed, Rainbow Dash strained to the limits of her ability as a flier. Faster and faster she dove, piling on the speed. Air buffeted her armored form as the roar of a hurricane consumed her ears. Confused chatter broke out among the cadets behind her as they watched. Dash's heads-up display threw up warning indicators as she crossed the border but onward she sped. Radar now had solid locks, 10 griffons with another 50 following behind them, all carrying combat loads. She ignored them, pumping her wings even faster, mind consumed by the sight of her bloodied friend in the distance. A shock wave started to build in front of her as she neared the speed of sound, vision tunneling slightly as the acceleration became too much for even her to bear. As if a switch were flicked on, all noise fell away, the world silent as an explosion of light and sound filled her wake; her trademark sonic rainboom.
It definitely worked as intended, as she angled upwards straight for the Griffon formation. Her combat suit blared its klaxon in her ear and her radar warning receiver lit up as ten separate radars locked on. Two klicks out from her, 10 griffons shuddered as missiles rocketed from their rails. Dash flashed a slight grin behind her visor as their contrails grew steadily larger in her vision. Her suit however was far less calm; chaff canisters spewed ribbons of metal across the sky in her wake, joining the rainbow light show to give it a slight twinkling effect as sunlight reflected off them. Powerful jammers went into overdrive on her back, blasting electronic white noise and blinding the sensitive radar seekers of the missile barrage. Half of the missiles wandered off course immediately, self-destructing as they lost their target.
Pressing on, Dash locked onto her targets. Two griffons in the center of the formation. With a slight kick of her front-left hoof to the trigger on her chest, the rails flushed as powerful rocket motors ignited, quickly speeding away from Rainbow Dash. She was now only 500 meters from her target. Explosions fell away behind her as she darted inside of the Griffon missiles turning radius. Cruising at slightly above Mach 1, Dash's only regret was that she lacked a gun pod.
Loud shrieks filled the air as her targets were far less fortunate. Having only six missiles, she had split them evenly between the two targets. Vain attempts to evade did protect them-for a few extra seconds. LRSMs speeding along at four times the speed of sound detonated as proximity sensors told them to; dispersing a deadly cloud of fragmentation into their targets. Armor shredded, tissue cut, and flesh exploded outward as the two griffons were ground into barely recognizable pulp; plummeting to the forest below, streamers of crimson blood falling in their wake.
Instinct took over as Dash neared the flock. Flaring her wings out, the sudden deceleration appeared to catch them off guard. A quick scan of the remaining eight swiftly revealed to her experienced eyes who the leader was, and Dash slammed into the griffon.
A loud snap sounded as the impact knocked the air out of the griffon. The two became a tangled, thrashing mass of limbs as they fell, bouncing off trees and each other. Dash kicked as hard as her hind legs could, shattering the knees of the Griffon's rear legs. Down and down they tumbled, errant tree-limb knocking Dash's helmet from her head as she staggered to the ground, exhausted and gasping for breath.
"I... I know you." Dash said, wheezing slightly. "Those moves." Dash trotted up on top of the griffon, keeping it firmly under hoof. Gingerly she lifted the helmet off, tossing it to the side. Purple tipped feathers and eyes greeted her; aged slightly, but still familiar. "G..."
The griffon turned her beak to the side with a moan, spitting out a thick glob of blood "Dashie, long time no see."
"Fancy running into you, Gilda." Her name came out sounding like a swear more than a name, and Dash put more pressure on her hooves. It didn't show on Gilda's face more than a more pronounced grimace.
"I'm still cooler then you" Gilda moaned.
"Why? Why all of this?"
"The world is different, Dashie. We Griffons have played second fiddle to Equestria for far too long. Today, we. change. that." With that, the griffon drifted off to unconsciousness. The Sky Marshal looked up. Right on schedule, the 31st was there. The Griffons, now without leadership withdrew from the area. Dash slowly limped further along the path. If she remembered right, she saw Pinkie Pie's group in this area.
The group seemed to have come to a stop, clustered around Pinkie Pie who was sprawled out on the ground, bloody, beaten, and as far as Dash could tell, lifeless. Tears welled up in her eyes as she pushed the aides around her body aside. The damage was severe, but Dash had seen soldiers live through worse; and she was an earth pony, they tended to be hardier anyway. Bloody furrows raking her length marked where griffons had come too close to snatching the pony away, and she was covered in dirt as if she had been running for days.
"You there, trooper!" she called up to one of the hovering ponies of the 31st "Come down here and help me lift her; we've got to get her to Fort Equinox or she's as good as dead."
"Yes ma'am." As they worked, a medic was called over. Dash watched as she did the best anypony could do, but it was still little more than bandage the worst of it. Dash positioned herself on one side of the stricken Pinkie Pie and motioned for the trooper to take the other side.
"3...2...1." with that they lifted off into the sky, still sparkling blue with bright sunlight; such a contrast to the melancholy in her heart.
As the team pulled back into their borders, everypony stopped what they were doing in mid-wingbeat. The triple burst beep of a transmission on the emergency broadcast frequency immediately consumed their attention. "All commands are to go to case ORANGE immediately. Full readiness reports are to be filed by 1500 today. The situation is as follows. As of 1400 Equestrian Standard Time, the Royal palace was attacked by unknown assailants who killed all of the Royal Guard and escaped with the Princess. How they were able to subdue the Princess is unknown, but as of this moment, Equestria is without a leader. This is not a drill. Repeat. This is not a drill."