Official Summary: Six months after the Battle of Stalliongrad, the world is teetering on the brink of all out war. As Equestria scrambles to rearm and readjust their weapons and tactics for modern warfare, the Hippogryph Matriarchy begins eying up its neighbors, trying to decide who would be more delicious to take a bite out of; dog or horse. Meanwhile, up north, Canida is on the verge of complete civil war, so panicked are they in going up against two powers, one of which is ruled by goddesses. Prime Minister Mation, however, has a plan to tip the scales with the help of disgraced and demoted Captain Ulrich Boxer, mad for revenge. Twilight Sparkle has been irrevocably changed by her time on the line, and is plagued by visions and nightmares, distancing herself from her friends, which is destroying the close bonds of the Elements of Harmony. To top it off, Short Stop is coming to Ponyville with an entire battalion to defend the town, and everything in the world just seems to be spiraling out of control. Who will suffer when it all comes to a head, and who will finally come out on top?
(Alright, here we go again boys and girls! May I introduce, as the creator of this marvelous masterpiece, the sequel to the wildly popular Guardians!
Now, a few things to address. Due to the length of chapters combined with the amount of time I have, you can expect a new chapter once every week, on average. That's not a sure thing, however, so don't hold me to it!
Secondly, I've had a few people ask me about Season Two: will I be following it?
The answer is yes and no. Some episodes will be heavily edited, while others written out completely altogether. Obviously, episode one and two -never- happened. Other than that, I will be following the episodes as they come out, meaning that you'll get chapters pertaining to present events...mostly, if they release quick enough.
Anyway, enjoy the new story, everypony, and let's hope that this series is like a good wine; getting better with age!)
Canterlot burned before Twilight's eyes, flames reaching up, high into the black sky beyond, licking hungrily at the very life of Equestria as Princess Celestia tried (and failed) to escape the destruction of the city, managing to flutter many hundreds of feet into the air before the alicorn's burning wings could no longer hold her up, and Celestia fell with a scream into the inferno. The violet unicorn stood there, jaw open at the tragedy before her, trying to come to terms with what she was seeing. Shadowy figures moved inside the streets and burning buildings, and the snap and crackle of gunfire accompanied by the boom of cannons reached her ears. She stumbled forward, finding herself on a downhill slope towards the city that took her from a stagger to a proper walk to trotting until she was finally galloping towards the city, screaming her lungs out as she tried to reach the buildings. Her parents were in there! Nopony was getting out, so that meant they were still in the city, along with thousands of other innocent ponies!
Suddenly, an obstacle rose up in her way, a camp of some sort, and she almost screamed in frustration before she spotted the silver shield emblem of the Equestrian Royal Army on the side of a battlewagon. Canterlot was saved! It would only be a matter of time now before the Kingdom's troops rolled in and took it back! But as she trotted through the camp, she realized that her hopes were being dashed in front of her. Wounded trooper ponies were being pulled away from the frontlines, placed onto steamwagons to take them away from here, while artillery fired from fortified positions and Pegasi flew overhead, away from the city. The Army was retreating!
Up ahead, she saw a tall stallion in the green coloring of the Royal Army's summer camouflage battledress. His body armor was scorched, his grey coat caked with ash and soot, but as he turned around, Twilight recognized him instantly and stopped dead, a chill running down her spine.
"Short!" she screamed, eyes wide as she stared at the colt. "What are you doing here?"
"We've got nowhere to go, Twilight," he replied, his expression deadpan as another pony nearby fell to the ground, blood splattering everywhere. "Nowhere to fall back to."
"You can't leave!" she screamed, tears in her eyes, almost in his face now, though she didn't remember moving. "Equestria needs you! I need you, Princess-bucking-dangit! My parents are in there, and so are other ponies' families!"
"Nowhere…" he whispered, as if he hadn't heard anything she'd said.
She pushed past him, actually able to move her legs again, leaping over a sandbag wall and continuing down the hill. Abruptly, a shell screamed overhead, and the position she'd just left disappeared in a fountain of dirt and blood and metal, and she opened her mouth again to scream-
Only to find herself snapping upright in her bed, eyes wide and gasping like she'd dashed all the way to Sweet Apple Acres and back. A hurried glance around showed that she was safe, in her room above the library, no burning cities, no fleeing monarchs, no wounded soldiers or dying ponies. It was only a nightmare.
Twilight flopped back down, still breathing hard and feeling the adrenaline pounding through her veins. It had been like this almost every night for the past four months, ever since she thought she'd gotten over the aftereffects of the battle. But, as it turned out, when the nervousness and mood swings went away, the nightmares began. Horrible, vivid things where she saw various parts of Equestria burning to the ground and close friends and family being blown to pieces before her. Several times, she'd come to Ponyville in her dreams only to find ash where buildings once stood and skeletons where her friends had been. A few times, such as tonight, Canterlot. But more and more often, she'd been going back to Stalliongrad in her mind, reliving the horror that had started it all.
Twilight groaned, rising from her bed and trotting downstairs to the kitchen, determined to find some way to rest. The clock's hands told her it was four in the morning. Perfect, she thought as she levitated some cow's milk out and poured herself a glass. Now she would also be sleep deprived, as well as avoided by most of the town.
Being a war survivor was not good for one's health.
Seaddle Naval Port
Royal Navy Shipyard (Reactivated)
6 Months after the Battle of Stalliongrad
Captain Jayce Cobalt groaned, hanging his head over the technical section before him. The things he did for his kingdom and monarchs, he thought. Like trying to memorize everything in the new Royal Navy Manual of Nautical Warfare, which happened to be the thickest tome he'd ever seen and seemed to be filled with more words than he'd ever even heard of.
Deciding to take a break and clear his head, Jayce shut the book with the flick of a hoof, turning and striding to the window to look down on his new child and think for just a moment. Some might consider him crazy for calling the multi-ton ship below him his foal, but he had done the same for his own Harbor Watch boat, even though that had been a veritable plank on the water with a single small engine and no armaments whatsoever (to be honest, it at least had a hull, and could reach a respectable speed, but it was nothing compared to the PT boats coming back out of retirement). But here, below him, was the true wonder of his life.
The Equestrian Royal Navy didn't have the numbers required to maintain a fleet quite yet. Why Princess Luna had decided to start with a capital ship, a dreadnought of all things, was quite beyond Jayce, but he didn't argue with the Commander in Chief. The story of what had happened to the Wonderbolts thanks to General (now Flight Lieutenant) Spitfire's screw-up was still fresh in everypony's mind, the Air Force especially, and the new Pegasi recruits were being pushed through the wringer to make sure that an incident like that didn't happen again. In fact, all officers the rank of captain and above in the Army had been forced to go back to High Command for a refresher course in tactics and regulations, and were only now just returning to their units after their 'reeducation.'
Jayce cast such dark thoughts from his mind and gazed down at his new beauty with fondness in his eyes, tracing over her massive skeleton and the plates of her hull that were being riveted in place. The Hippocampus Type Escort was a new kind of ship in more ways than just date of completion (only a month away, thanks to capable unicorn mage workers next to earth pony muscles). Since the Army Harbor Watch had been the least staffed sub-branch of the Royal Army, the Royal Navy had suffered from a severe lack of personnel, even with the surge in recruitment following the Battle of Stalliongrad. As a result, there was a large projected hole in the Equestrian ship lines no matter what plans were set down by the new High Sea Lord Nash Lake, head of the entire Royal Navy.
Lake had been a general of the Harbor Watch during his career, and to date was one of the few soldiers in that branch to actually see combat thanks to a small incident with overeager griffon fliers several years ago. As such, when Luna had begun hunting for new commanders, Lake had proven himself several times over, and the Princess had promoted him to take on the responsibilities of the new Royal Navy.
Unfortunately, even the salty, temperamental stallion's tactical brilliance couldn't help to avoid the obvious truth; with Equestrian naval tactics focused around supporting air combat, there would never be enough destroyers and frigates to protect the capital ships, carriers and transports on the water. So, Lake had done the next best thing.
While the Royal Navy were to still possess cruisers in their current form and battleships (not many, of course), the escorts and transports would take on a new shape. Hippocampus Escorts were both frigate and destroyer, small and fast yet bristling with flak batteries and depth charges to destroy aircraft and kill submarines. Hippocrene Assault Carriers hauled both Air Force fliers and Royal Marines in range of the shore for beach and inland assaults. It was the hope that, with these new hybrid ships, the few available ponies could be distributed more effectively and the Royal Navy could still maintain its minimum numbers of ships needed to go to war.
Or so the theory went, Jayce thought, grimacing. In the drydock "graves" next to his ship (the HMS Valiant) were three other Hippocampus Escorts (including the HMS Hippocampus, first of her kind) joined by two Champlain Type Cruisers (the main muscle of the Royal Navy, only outclassed by the Marizona Type Battleship) and a full four Hippocrene Type Assault Carriers. Seaddle's shipbuilding yards had been deactivated centuries ago, and were renovated into the new industrial port. Unfortunately, with the need for warships once more, the factories were now forced to use the commercial port while the nine ships under construction practically swamped the now-crowded shipyard. If it weren't for the efficiency and tireless work of unicorn magic, the entire project might have taken years to accomplish, but six months later and this port was close to producing her first brace of ships.
Jayce gazed down lovingly once more at Valiant, shimmering in the morning sun. The earth ponies and unicorn workers crawling over her hull had only just begun today's work, but already they had actually managed to bring the hull up to halfway done from its previous status of one-third completion. Remarkable. Whereas most shipyards elsewhere in the world possessed enormous cranes that inefficiently hauled steel and other supplies into position, Equestrian ports used mages skilled in telekinesis, able to shift heavy loads three times as quickly as any crane. And let's not forget the dragons, where they could be found. Few though they were in populated areas, dragon workers were powerfully strong, and even provided their own welding equipment for the large plates of armor on the hull (though less than a thousand had actually stepped into the entire Equestrian military when the call had gone out).
It was thanks to this efficiency and speed that the Royal Navy even had a chance against the dreaded Hegemonic Fleet, which possessed almost two hundred vessels at present. Jayce shuddered at that thought, realizing just how up against the wall they were. Projections for Royal Navy ships completed by the end of next year would only be up to about fifty, nowhere near enough to go head-to-head with the dogs.
In other words, Jayce thought, the tense peace had better hold for at least another few years, or else the waters of the Arcana Ocean stretching away to the north would belong to Canida when the war began.
Kodiak, Western Faunterra
Geisterbjorn Underground Headquarters, Einherjar Range
General Krastos was tired.
He reached up, touching a paw gently to his empty eye socket as he grunted, feeling the ache once more. Phantom pains, his healers had called it. Something that would go away in time. The problem was, it had been years already and the pain had not yet faded.
The grizzly left it alone, replacing the eye patch as he stood, jaw stretching as he yawned. It was time once more to go forth and rally the troops, try to stir up the resistance. Not exactly something he looked forward to, as he was a horrible speechmaker. The Geisterbjorn resistance seemed to follow him simply because of his tactical prowess and veterancy in the Dominion Ground Forces.
The problem, he supposed, was that bears weren't very social. Even when the Matriarchy had come knocking in retaliation for the blockade Kodiak had erected, the bears of the Dominion had been bickering amongst each other. Even as their enormous super-heavy tanks were burned by fast-moving griffon Airborne and their cities bombarded by Mobile Airbases, the bears had refused to get along. Clans, Caves, families, even friends on a personal issue always had something to argue about in the Dominion. And, thanks to their infighting and separations, they'd lost the war within a week.
No, bears didn't get anywhere when they talked about their problems. In a way, the preferred to slug it out, go claw to claw and maul their opponents to prove themselves right. A bit savage, sure, but at least that would get things done. Even among families, the occasional bite was made to ensure cubs were kept in line, and it never hurt for long. Powerful though they were, bears were tough enough to recover quickly and aware enough not to seriously injure each other.
Krastos sighed again, shaking himself out of his ruminations and what-ifs as he shifted his weight around, pushing the curtain "door" in front of him to the side. What greeted him, oddly, was not his personal attendant Rylar, but a tall, thin creature, stretching higher even than Krastos himself, almost to the ceiling cavern. The bear raised an eyebrow as his gaze traced over the various parts of his new visitor, observing that each limb was that of a different creature. This thing was a chimera of some kind, a disorganized mix of so many things that it shouldn't even be possible for it to be standing, much less smirking at the general.
"Who are you, creature?" he snarled, one hand going for the large axe at his belt, a tool more than a weapon, but highly effective for splitting griffon skulls. The birdbrains constantly sent assassins after him, but rarely actual troops. Apparently, he wasn't much of a priority.
The beast smiled wider, bowing at what Krastos assumed to be its waist. "Fear not, General! I know you are suspicious of me, but I come in peace, I can assure you! The name's Discord, and I have a proposition for you of truly…chaotic proportions!"
Krastos halted his paw on the haft of his axe, watching this Discord carefully. He didn't seem to be armed, but he knew nothing of this beast. Who knew what natural weapons it possessed?
"Where is Rylar?
"Your lackey?" Discord snorted, straightening and examining the claws on one hand haughtily. "Don't worry about him. He'll stop burping up bubbles in about an hour or so."
"What did you do?" Now, Krastos did draw his axe, brandishing it at the abomination with no quaver in his arm. Bears were the largest nationalized creatures in the world, and his axe's head was easily the size of an earth pony. He'd have no problem at all chopping the insolent being to pieces.
Discord shrugged. "Does it really matter? He'll be fine, he's not injured. Let's get past the barbarian-like growling and weapon swinging, shall we? There are bigger things to address at this point than simply swinging our arms around and displaying like two bulls competing for a cow. Important things like why I'm here for example."
Krastos paused again, his axe still held up. Reluctantly, the general admitted that Discord had a point. If it had wanted him dead by now, surely it would have killed him, wouldn't it? And Rylar was still alive and (hopefully) unharmed, and he was a large bear, a former infantry soldier before the Dominion fell.
"What do you want?" he growled, still not letting the axe fall. Discord laughed, pacing around the cavern, his serpentine body seeming to bend at unnatural angles as he turned and writhed.
"It's simple, General. Geisterbjorn wishes an end to Matriarchy rule of Kodiak. Correct?"
"Yes. But that's fairly obvious."
"So it's definitely not my point. But you are not suited for this task. You have many fighters, sure. Strong, tough, dependable, well-armed and-"
"Get to the point, Creature!" Krastos snarled, ready to drop the yammering beast. Discord paused, putting his hands up to placate the bear, a smirk still on his face.
"Of course. You need new tactics. You got your asses handed to you in your brief spat with the feather-heads because you depended too much on static defenses and heavy armor. So, to fight against the griffons and their airpower, I propose this instead; outside, I have several P-21 Anti-flier guns waiting with my…associates, as well as many more Mk. 4 Gunframes. Quite mobile, especially for your bears. Everything you need to fight a war on the Legion."
Krastos finally let the axe and his growling hackles fall, frowning more than snarling now. A stranger appeared out of the blue with so many weapons in hand, ready to help a rebel movement that the world had practically forgotten? The whole situation stunk of wrong, but Discord was right. Geisterbjorn needed better weapons, or they would just be throwing away their lives.
"Canid and Equestrian equipment. High end stuff. But what about ammunition?"
Discord chuckled, scratching his chin again with a sly look on his muzzle. "Don't worry, General. I've got plenty of rounds, and more where they came from. I'll keep you supplied for years."
Krastos snarled once more, his one eye squinted in frustration. "But that means we'll only be relying on –you- to deliver us the supplies! Who –are- you?"
"As I said, I am Discord-"
"No! That is simply your name! Who do you represent? The Kingdom? The Hegemony? Why do you want to help us?"
Discord smirked again, finding amusement at this stubborn old fool's paranoia. He was sharp, at least. Not willing to give an inch in negotiations and more than willing to use intimidation to get information. He placed a hand on the General's shoulder, leaning in to smile and say, quietly "General, I am my own benefactor. My men and I have a purpose, and Kodiak plays a large part in it. These weapons were…given to us to pass on to you, and I am simply the middle man, the grease between the wheels of the transaction machine. You should really be thanking Equestria and Canida for the generous gift. Me? I'm the delivery boy, but I'm not getting paid. I want a free Kodiak, and so does the rest of the world." He reached out his other hand, grinning wickedly. "So what do you say, General? You've got the world on your side and someone who can get you their assistance without risking griffon interception. It's just not something to turn down lightly…is it? Whaddya say?"
Central Canida, Muttreal Territory, North of Quebark City
Hegemonic Army 101st Armored Regiment, 5th Company "Ironsides"
Training exercise against the 251st Mechanized Infantry Brigade
Snow. Snow stretched away before him, rolling hills and banks like some kind of unbelievable ocean, its waves and spray replaced by sprays of…snow. He'd grown up with it, but now that he looked out and saw just how –much- was out there, he knew that his view of the world was barking small.
He stood in the cupola of his Silverback main battle tank, field glasses in hand as he gazed out at the hills beyond. The forests around them were the only interruptions to the snow, a constant reminder of the places where infantry could hide and snipe at him. Unlike Equestria, perpetually wrapped in a shroud of magic, Canida had no interaction with the changes in their environment, and nature moved all on its own, not caring a whit for the nations that lived on it.
"Hey, Sarge! Get your ass in here, the drill's about to start!"
Sergeant Henry Fangson glanced over at the hatch next to his own, the helmeted head sticking out of it turned in his direction. The poodle's eyes were hidden behind her visor, but he could tell she was staring right at him crossly, waiting to give the order to move out already.
"Right, sorry. I'll be right down, button up."
With a clang, his gunner sealed the hatch, scraping the handle to turn the lock. In case of a gas attack, a Silverback MBT was environmentally sealed to keep out all poisonous fumes. Though there was an international ban on chemical weapons, Canida still had entire warehouses filled with them, and it was known that Hippogryph and Prance did as well. All three powers manufactured the stuff, ready to use it against their enemies. Still, just the threat of retaliation was bad enough to warrant a little discretion. Gas was nasty shit.
Fangson let the field glasses hang around his neck, pulling his own tinted visor down into position. The sheet of plastic over his eyes did more than just keep the sunlight out, however, it also protected his upper face from flying debris. It fit over his snout, and he felt the edge through his fur. The Jack Russell Terrier gave the landscape one last glance before he too descended inside the metal monstrosity, slamming and locking his own hatch over his head before he seated himself in the commander's chair.
The T22A1 Silverback main battle tank used a crew of four dogs to pilot it. A commander, a gunner, the loader and the driver. If one member fell, the others were cross-trained in how to quickly take their station, meaning that unless the tank was on fire or had thrown a tread they would keep going no matter what was thrown at them. Which, thanks to the thick armor swaddling the tank, didn't seem very likely. Canida's last war, the invasion of Zebrabwe, had involved entire battalions of these tanks storming over the plains and hills. The Silverback was truly the high end of armored warfare.
"This is Hammer Actual to all Hammer units. We are mission launch for Objective Cardhouse. All callsigns advance to Line Delta and report."
"This is Hammer 4-4. Solid copy, Hammer Actual," Fangson replied through his headset, quickly setting to work fiddling with the various settings of his tank's video sights. Thanks to a basic if reliable parabolic periscope mounted in its frame on the front of the turret, the crew could take in the scope of the world outside without risking their own heads to enemy fire. The gunner and commander both had the same view, but the driver had to rely on another set of sights from a periscope on the front of the tank's chassis. This was to ensure that the entire tank could still remain operational and each crew member worked as independently as possible.
Outside, the other elements of his tank platoon burst from the trees. Three more Silverbacks, thundering across the snowy wastes, powder flying up from their treads and their hulls almost indistinguishable from the white snow thanks to the painted winter camouflage. Well, save for the red symbols on the sides, emblems of the Hegemonic Army and Canida itself, necessary identifying logos. Smoke launchers, coaxial machineguns, extra equipment and tools all jutted out from the curved turret and boxy chassis, emphasizing how Silverbacks could stay out in the thick of it for weeks at a time.
They joined the rest of their company, and Fangson grimaced at the sight of their accompanying platoons. A group of T13A6 Heavy Tank, AKA the Grizzly, were hauling ass up the middle, escorted by a second group of Silverbacks. The Grizzlywas slow as frozen molasses, and was a relic from another time, an era when steamrolling tactics consisted of driving over trenches instead of facing other tanks and infantry fighting vehicles. Though only slightly larger than the Silverback, the Grizzly carried far more armor and a larger main gun, resulting in a tonnage half again as heavy as the tank Fangson preferred. Grizzlies were a dying breed, and even now were being considered for decommission. The Army could only afford to field their best tanks, and unneeded designs were being scrapped left and right from all branches to make room for new ones.
The tank company spread out again, the Grizzlies (struggling to keep up at the company's casual pace) at the center with the Silverbacks arranged on either side, main guns forward towards the horizon. Fangson knew that there would be a dozen other squadrons like this plowing across the snow towards their destination; the 251st Mechanized Infantry Brigade's defensive lines, where they'd set up base for a 'capture the flag' match. It was up to the 101st to breach their lines and reach the flag, all the while hoping they didn't take too many casualties. There was another way to win, however. If one side could kill off half of the other, that unit was considered broken and the match would be won. However, while that meant that the tanks had to take out almost a thousand infantry and dozens of supporting light armor, the dug in troopers would only have to dust one hundred tanks.
"Enemy APCs sighted in the trees ahead," reported the poodle, Corporal Nicole DuGrowle. She was quite an able gunner, a marksman with the Silverback's cannon and sharp eyes to pick out targets. Unfortunately, she also had an attitude problem, one Fangson never bothered to correct. Unchecked aggression was exactly what was needed in his crew, especially with the world in its current sorry state, and there was no way he was going to quash that now.
DuGrowle was part of a minority known as Prench Canids, a way of speaking and acting that mirrored the cultural influences of the neighboring Prench left over from when Neighpoleon had kept the entire continent under an iron hoof. The stallion had been a military genius, but when it came to ruling an empire, he fell disastrously short. As it happened, however, the ancient occupation had brought their lifestyle to the dogs, uncivilized and living in various clans, and Prench customs had attracted a few clans to their ways. DuGrowle was a descendent of one of those clans.
"Loader, paint up," Fangson ordered, and the loader hauled out one of the specialized training rounds, sliding it into the breech before snapping it closed with the clank of moving machinery, the Scotty dodging to the side and crying "Paint up!" Private Terry Aberdeen was a good soldier as well, a bit nervous at times but he had plenty of reason to be, for when that gun fired the breechblock snapped past only a few inches away, able to pulp an unwary dog in a single strike.
"Choose your targets Corporal, but don't fire until we get the order."
She growled lightly in irritation but otherwise gave no sign of dissention, her muscles tensing and ready to stamp on the trigger pedal. Meanwhile, their dachshund driver Thomas Lebay held the tank on course, his speed matching the rest of the formation and his paws constantly making minute corrections to stay in their tank's lane. Lebay never talked much, but Fangson never considered that a bad thing. Thanks to their time together he knew that if the private at the controls suddenly started up, there was something bad right in front of them, and would either order evasive maneuvers or even a retreat.
The major came over the line again from his command tank, Hammer Actual, meant to move tank platoons around quickly. Tank commanders led from the front, directing more by eyesight than what radios and maps told them. While this did mean that armored commanders were more up to date on threats in the field, sometimes entire companies fell out of contact with each other, and a battalion could suddenly became a patchwork of tanks simply advancing to survive. Fortunately, radio strength was strong in the Canid wilderness, and there would be no errors now. Plus, this was just training.
"All callsigns, enemy vehicles and fortifications spotted. Remember, this is a training exercise. No cannons on the infantry, no retributions or rollovers. Proceed with attack, you are cleared for firing on all targets."
As Fangson gave the order and felt the Silverback shudder beneath him, watched as the paint shell splattered a bright red on the side of the Hydra APC ahead, listened to the coaxial medium machinegun hammer out dozens of rubber bullets at the dug in infantry, he contemplated how the rest of the world even remotely considered that they had a chance against such an amazing machine of war.
Over the Horsandie Coastline, Southern Prance
Equestrian Royal Air Force (RAF)
4th Air Division, 16th Fighter Wing, 7th Squadron, Dispatched from Royal Cargo Ship Endeavor
Routine Patrol of Coastline
They weren't allies. Not really.
Prance had long ago separated from Equestria, back when the War of the Moon had raged all over the southern continent and the kingdom looked to fall under the domain of Nightmare Moon. Fearing for their lives and safety, hundreds of ponies had journeyed north, to the relatively unexplored wilds, and founded the Prench Republique, a new government run on the consent of the ponies to be governed rather than presided over by a hereditary and all-powerful leader (aside from Neighpoleon, who'd seized power in a military coup centuries back). A crazy form of government, the Pegasus decided as she peeled into another turn, gazing down at the landscape whipping past beneath her. While most of Equestria had moved their seasons from summer to fall, Prance was still on the northern hemisphere's natural cycle of late winter, Spring just on the horizon. There would be no Winter Wrap-Up here, however. While Prance hadn't forgotten the importance of magic, they refused to use it on nature around them, in keeping with their paranoia about unicorns.
Flight Lieutenant Rainbow Dash tilted her wings a little more, keeping in formation with the rest of the wing. Her blue flight suit kept her warm in these cold climes and the ballistic armor encasing her torso, legs and the helmet on her head kept her safe, her helmet's eyeshields locked in position to keep her eyes from watering up. The Royal Air Force was still mostly using the same equipment as they had when they were the Royal Army Sky Corps, but they were branching away as fast as a sonic rainboom. For example, the Air Force had more officers in it than any other branch, owing to the fact that only officers could actually fly on sorties, while the enlisted were either ground crew or couldn't fly (crippled Pegasi usually filled these ranks, but the Air Force interestingly had a few earth ponies and unicorns. An odd thing, to be sure).
But Rainbow Dash –could- fly, and as soon as she'd left Fort Campbit's Basic Training, she'd gone into Officer Candidate School at Cloudsdale Flight Academy for two entire months, where she was pushed to her limits in order to discern if she did have what it took to challenge Hegemonic airplanes. Flying machines, while a relatively new development that gave the dogs a dominating edge in warfare against living fliers, were still susceptible to weapons fire, and a fast enough Pegasus could still outmaneuver them. Unfortunately, the selection process was brutal and vicious, with very tight margins of ability and an instant drop from High Speed Maneuvers Training if a single sequence was failed more than four times. While Dash had been able to meet and even surpass those expectations, the rest of her class hadn't been so lucky, and dozens of Pegasi would never be in the Bomber or Fighter programs, forced to either take a job in ground crew or (more often) simply shifted to Attack Support (strapped with a recoilless pack and told to help out ground units), where they would essentially be soft, vulnerable targets for Canid fighters. And while she'd passed through training easily enough with little to no hiccups, it would have been nice if her mother had at least warned her what was in the lineup for the recruits…
"Alright, Team," said Dash's Squadron Leader, an orange stallion named Green Gem. "Prench fliers up ahead. You know procedure, descend and give them the right of way. Remember, we're here to help."
Boy was that off the mark, thought Dash as she fell to a lower altitude with the rest of her squadron. After all, the Prench Republique had a much larger, more technologically advanced military than Equestria, even though they had a third of the Kingdom's population. If anything, Equestria needed the help of their separatist cousins. Hence why they were here, and why the RAF was flying patrol sorties next to the Armée de l' Air de Prance while negotiations were underway in Prairie, Prance's capital city.
But they weren't allies. Prance had stayed separate for so long, they'd become practically another species of pony, with different behavior, culture, even a different language rather than the world-accepted Common. They were as alien as the dogs, practically, thanks to their own militaristic tendencies. More than one Prench officer Dash had met was convinced that the Republique would hang Equestria out to dry and look to their own needs. After all, they'd fought Canida to a standstill half a century ago and survived, and their technology had only progressed thereafter. While it was obvious there was no love lost between Prance and the dogs, it was quite obvious the northern ponies would rather not get dragged into another war. Especially alongside the southern royals.
Overhead, the black uniforms of the Prench flier patrol soared overhead, streaks across the cloudy sky that paid no attention to their blue-clad counterparts below. Dash could feel their haughtiness from down here, and it irked her enough to almost make her break formation and chase after them, simply to demand what their problem was. But, at the last minute, her training took over, and she maintained the formation with a sigh, her wings still twitching to fold into full pursuit mode. But they weren't here to start a war with Prance, and they weren't here to fight Canida…yet.
But Dash still felt that burning in her gut, the yearning to engage in battle. She'd been trained to wage war against the enemy, and there was no enemy to fight yet. The anticipation was killing her, and she'd already been out here for six weeks. If she didn't get some action soon, she was going to go stir-crazy.
Might just shoot up one of those Prench patrols for sheer snottery, she thought sarcastically.
Frontier Desert, Southwestern Equestria
Royal Army Weapons Testing Facility "Fillhalla"
Conducting Field Tests for "Crusader" Prototype
The gun on the machine boomed, sending a shell soaring out and smashing into its target, barely a millisecond before the high-explosive charge detonated, blasting the thick wooden stand to splinters. For several seconds, only a dust cloud remained, obscuring vision and keeping the test from proceeding. The silence reigned, interrupted only by the rumble of smokeless coal engines and the light pattering of debris still dropping occasionally. Everypony nearby waited with bated breath, hoping that, maybe, their test results would be conclusive.
Finally, the dust cleared, and the results were there for all to see. The target, in the shape of a large bull's-eye, was half destroyed, the top sheared away to pieces…but the bottom was still intact.
"Clear the range!" called an Army major from his observation post of sandbags, chewing a wheat sprig as he watched the soldiers scramble to their positions, disarming the guns and turning off the engines, checking for damage and anything out of place. As had happened previously, the main gun had almost ripped itself from the moorings on one of the four machines, and that meant that particular vehicle would need to be taken back in for repairs while the others were reinforced to ensure it did not happen again…for the fourth time.
A bunker sat away from the range, and inside it two Magic Corps unicorn engineers scribbled furiously at their notes with levitating pencils, double checking their calculations and adding to the complex equation on the blackboard behind them. The prototype was supposed to be fully-functional and ready for mass production in the rebuilt Stalliongrad factories by now. The volume wouldn't be high, of course (less than half of the Industrial District had been rebuilt), but at least these vehicles could get out there! Of course, the real reason they were scrambling to accomplish their goals was due to the large alicorn behind them, her coat the color of a moonlit night sky and her equally blue mane and tail waving though there was no breeze to be found. Rumors still persisted of what she did to those who displeased or disappointed her.
In truth, however, Princess Luna was feeling more frustrated than angry. She had every reason to be, after all. This particular machine, dubbed the "Crusader" was her own design, built from the ground up based on data collected on armored warfare committed by both Canida and Hippogryph (and there was an astonishingly large amount of data to be found, as well as captured Silverbacks in the possession of Zebrabwe from the ill-fated invasion) and correlated to build a superb fighting machine. Indeed, just by looking at the data it was superior to the older Knight battlewagons in everything save for speed. But, for some reason, the new Crusader Main Battle Tank simply refused to cooperate. Though the prototype had been built a month ago, there had been issues with the suspension, the smokeless coal engine and the steering. While those problems had all been tempered out in a few days' time, this issue with the ordnance (shells built specifically for its new, larger battle cannon) had already halted final checks for an entire week. While the gun fired just fine, the high-explosive shells themselves were defective, misfiring or not detonating. Armor-piercing sabot rounds were working brilliantly, and had pierced through the hull of a Knight quite easily, even if it had some difficulty on the captured Silverbacks.
She sighed, teeth grit as she muttered "I have to figure this out, and soon. If Tia's right, things are not going well in the diplomatic circle…" Poor Celestia was working herself ragged trying to hold off the coming war, but talks with Canida and Hippogryph weren't getting very far, and there was now even word that the Matriarchy might even consider war with Equestria. If that happened, they were doomed, and it would be up to the Princesses to take to the frontlines and potentially stop the invasions. But not before many losses.
Equestria's first tank, the Crusader, was supposed to be their answer to the fabled Silverbacks of the Hegemonic Army. With a larger fuel tank, thicker armor, a bigger gun and treads, the Crusader was a completely different beast of machine than the Knight. But it had come with problems, too, problems that were holding them up. Luna looked down upon her tanks, watching as each one backed up to the machine shop for checkups and routine maintenance. One another of the shells had backfired in the cannon, almost destroying the gun itself, and now they were reinforcing the turret mounts on all of them, just to be sure.
More delays. More holdups. More time wasted. And time was one thing Equestria did not have in abundance.
Canterlot, Royal Capital of the Kingdom of Equestria
105th Royal Army Regiment
Victor Squad, 4th Company
Short had visited Canterlot a few times in his life, mostly during his short-lived baseball career with the Savanneigh Sharks, and one word came to mind every time he arrived; gaudy. Even after being here for the last six months, retraining and waiting to be reinforced, he still got a sense that the city might be a little –too- overdecorated. Now, standing in front of a café and waiting for his lieutenant to hurry up and get on with whatever she was doing inside, he glanced around at the packed, shining boulevards. Compared with the pearlescent buildings and cobblestone streets (the golden street signs were a nice little bonus as well) the four-wheeled steamwagon behind the sergeant seemed crude, boxy, its smokeless coal engine hissing under extreme pressure.
"Foals are easily amused, aren't they?"
Short glanced to the side, frowning at the little grouping of foals nearby, about four fillies with two colts they'd dragged along. The diminutive huddle was currently a few dozen meters down the street, talking mutedly amongst themselves and staring at the steamwagon. Short smiled a little, turning to his assistant squad leader and saying "They are indeed, Azure. Don't you remember being that way?"
"No, actually," the corporal replied, an eyebrow up and a blank look on her face. "Whatever do you mean?" She immediately took on an air of innocence, glancing around as if interested in the hustle and bustle of Mane Street.
Short snorted, turning away and shaking his head as he turned back, banging on the side of the wagon with a hoof. "Hey, Handlebar!" After a pause, the hatch opened and the driver, a Sergeant T.E. Handlebar, stuck his head out, eyes furious behind his busy moustache. "What?" he said, eyes narrowed at the infantry stallion.
"Hey, we've got some curious foals down the street. Was wondering if you might introduce them to Bernie." Handlebar grinned (partially hidden, of course) and ducked back inside. A split second later, the wagon's air horn sounded, and the foals down the street yelped in astonishment, literally scrambling over each other to escape the metal monster and its vicious, high-pitched howling. "Thanks Bernie," Short said, grinning as he stroked the machine's name, painted on her flank in red lettering with a heart in place of the I's dot.
"Next time, just call me on the dang radio," Handlebar grumbled in his headset, and Short paused as he realized that he was indeed wearing the radio. It consisted of an earmuff attached to a band stretching over his head, covering one ear and allowing him to still hear the outside world, fitting comfortably under his helmet. Though he'd retrained with it in several squad, platoon and company based exercises, the griffon-built radio set always seemed to slip his mind, and he paused before responding "Uh, right. Sorry," into the microphone extending from the earmuff to in front of his mouth. A Hippogryph radio company named Airwings Radio Communications (ARC for short) had gladly offered their services to Equestria after the Battle of Stalliongrad, and thanks to their discount the Kingdom had been flooded with these brand new radio sets. Gone were the clunky radio packs and inefficient hoofsets that never seemed to get the job done right. In their place, these ARC headsets were distributed to every Army soldier, boosting communications and expanding squad mobility.
Sergeant Short Stop turned his head towards the café once more, wondering what the hay was keeping the lieutenant. She was a good officer, for sure, but her tendency to socialize with other ponies meant she often forgot about the ponies she'd been traveling with. In this case, the squad was supposed to be heading back to the High Command Barracks, having just been tested with new tactics of mechanized warfare. The lieutenant had, on the way back, wanted to stop by the café to 'check on something for a minute'. That had been an hour ago, and Short was becoming more and more irritated. Typical officers, he thought. The Royal Army had too long played host to socialite political figures in their command ranks, and Lieutenant Roseluck was only reinforcing the stereotype.
Short sighed, grunting as he leaned against the side of the wagon. The squad was technically still on-duty, but their weapons weren't needed here, especially in the middle of a crowd. Despite the publicity the military had received, the traffic still gave them a wide berth, and Short was sickened by the amount of wary looks they were receiving, more now thanks to the horn. He should have thought that through, he decided, but that didn't change the fact that they were getting a hay of a lot of negative attention.
"Doesn't help that we're going to be protecting their flanks when war breaks out…" he muttered, pawing at the ground irritated. The green sleeve of his summer camouflaged battledress hugged his forelegs, accompanied by the olive green armor and helmet. His ballistic goggles were strung over his helmet's brim, but other than that his war gear was kept to a minimum, weapons and equipment still stashed inside the wagon.
"Don't they realize some of us are suffering alongside them?" came Azure's bitter tone, and he glanced up at the large mare, taller and stronger than him. Ever since she'd received news that Hoofington's population had gone missing on the night of the Battle of Stalliongrad, her temper had taken a nosedive, and anything under Celestia's Sun could easily get her mad enough to see red. After all, her cousin Beatrix had gone missing, and neither she nor her brother Jayce could find her. Which meant quite a few things, seeing as apparently 'Trixie' always made herself known wherever she went.
"Easy Corporal," Short muttered, glancing at their collection of new recruits, standing around the wagon to get some air like him. "Let's not scare the newbies, alright?"
Even as Azure took in a deep breath and nodded, Short could tell she was still harboring her aggression. He could only pray that Colonel Di'ac got back to the regiment on time from training next week. The sooner they got out of this retraining and into serious garrison work, the better.
The map was stretched over the wall, covered in lines and symbols. Checkmarks dotted the paper here and there in green and blue checkmarks, but the most common were the bold red Xs over most of it. Equestria was covered in them, from the western griffon border to the eastern coastline, from the swamps of Savanneigh down south to the factories of Stalliongrad in the north.
He wasn't there, or there, or even –there!- Her Royal Guard and Luna's RAIC soldiers were searching every secretive, hidden place possible! True, he was a magic spirit, but there was no way he could have simply vanished without leaving a trail of –some- kind! She'd studied her prey for ten years, after all, all that time ago, and he had always left some kind of obvious hint!
But now, -NOTHING!-
WHERE WAS HE?
(Give me an R!
Give me an E!
Give me a V!
Give me a-
Screw it, you people know what to do!)