The Twilight War
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."
The Twilight War
Spitfire's legs trembled, aching with pain as she dragged the bloody form of Soarin' into the field hospital. She was close to Fort Equinox itself, at one of the forward positions being held by the army. Congealed blood encrusted her armor, and inside her helmet, she could smell nothing else but her own sweat. Two days in armor, with a sun that refused to go down and a busted refrigeration unit would do that. She made it just inside the tent as her legs gave out, refusing to move another step. Spitfire panted loudly, flight armor was powerful, but it was not well optimized for walking. A medic pony walking by caught notice of her and came to assist.
"Ohmygosh. I mean, Colonel, what can I do for you" she said, hastily coming to attention.
"Help. Me." She panted. The medic nodded, calling over an orderly that hefted up the limp form of Soarin'. The medic reached into the pocket of her lab coat, drawing out a flask, handing it to Spitfire.
The Colonel accepted it, grateful for something to drink besides the recycled water of her suit. She popped her visor, taking the flask into her mouth and downing it. A harsh burn ran down her throat, and she gasped in surprise. It was a good surprise though, she knew that taste anywhere. Big Mac's Original Absinthe Recipe, triple distilled. Greedily, she drank entirely more than an officer should have before reluctantly surrendering the flask.
"Feel better, ma'am?" The medic asked, soft contralto voice laden with genuine concern.
Spitfire nodded, numbly. It had been a long walk, and the news she heard over the radio while walking back was not good. To the North, General Archer's 7th Army was completely surrounded now, including the elite 45th division. To the East, Stalliongrad was surrounded and besieged, and Canterlot itself was being slowly cut off. Fortunately, the Griffons seemed stalled, though not by any success on their part; they were solidifying their gains before resuming their advance.
The medic sat down beside her. "They don't tell me much, how is the war going?"
"War?" Spitfire shook her head, chuckling sorrowfully. "War implies that both sides have nearly equal chances of success. It's a damn massacre."
The medic shrugged, walking off to attend to her patients. "It's always darkest before dawn."
"What dawn" Spitfire muttered to herself "The sun hasn't even set yet."
Slowly the jungle gave way to concrete and metal as Fluttershy prowled through the underbrush. This stop hadn't been in her original mission plans, but it was too enticing a target to pass up. The harsh yellow glare of sodium-vapor lamps stood out in stark contrast to the inky dark of the jungle surrounding it. It would have been an obscure facility, typical industrial structure with chain-link and barbed wire fencing, were it not for two things. First of all, the facility was completely isolated, its compound of one large corrugated metal-walled warehouse and outbuildings completely alone in the jungle. The other thing that made it stand out was the complete lack of roadways to it. A single airstrip was the only thing apparently connecting the facility to the outside world. Even the Griffons needed some degree of road access for heavy industry, transporting raw materials by air was incredibly inefficient. The site was well protected too, guards in security vests standing on elevated posts at the four corners of the facility.
"Oh dear... uhm... that's a lot of guards." Fluttershy said, as much to her animal companions as to herself. Beside her, one of her bunnies brandished a kitchen knife in the rough direction of the compound. Where did he get that? "Thank you Mr. Bunny, but I think I can handle this myself."
Fluttershy examined the compound methodically through her visor. Sensors covered damn near everywhere; motion detectors in the grounds, radar sweeping the airspace around the compound. The four guard posts at the corners of the compound appeared to have thermal and infrared imaging. There wasn't much chance she could make it in undetected, but with enough chaos she could get through and start taking the place apart.
The real question was what exactly what waited for her on the inside. No map in Equestria had this place on it, and the only hint that Fluttershy had was that it might be involved in the Griffons weapons development program. To be in such an obscure place, she could be sure it was important, whatever it was.
"Ok Angel Bunny, I need your help." Angel lowered his knife, turning his full attention to Fluttershy. "Do you think you could scurry along that fence for me, please?"
Angel nodded tapping his feet before running off, bunny comrades in arms chasing down behind him. Fluttershy turned to her flying companions, nesting in the tree behind her. "If you would be so kind as to fly over the building, It would make me oh so happy."The birds nodded in agreement, everything from hummingbirds up to an eagle taking flight, tree shaking with the force of their wing-beats. Fluttershy followed behind them, they were her ticket in.
Fluttershy trotted now, hooves barely audible as they pushed off the soft jungle floor. Three seconds till the birds broke the perimeter.
As if turned on by a switch, the base erupted into a cacophony of noise. Angel Bunny and his friends tripped the perimeter sensors, motion detectors alerting the guard griffons to a hundred intrusions that weren't there even as the birds set off the airborne warning sensors. It was now or never. Launching herself into the air, the recon armored Pegasus hopped over the fence with a few strokes of her wing, landing inside.
Time was now as much an enemy as any of the guards. Taking off at a full gallop, she made a beeline for the nearest guard tower. Still preoccupied with the flock of birds, the two griffons atop the tower never even saw their foe as she put a hoof through the back of their skulls, bone collapsing in a satisfying crunch. Shaking off the blood and gore, Fluttershy repeated her sneak attack on an adjacent tower. By this point, the guards had realized they were under attack by a real foe and not just false sensor readings.
Fluttershy dropped to the ground, popping a button on her chest as she fell to flip the safety off her weapons. On her back a silenced rifle sprang to life, turret mount tracking the motion of her head. A Colt Arsenals H-56, chambered for a 12mm, caseless round. Fluttershy didn't like the weapon, it was far too big and expensive for what it did, but it did have the advantage of being able to punch enough kinetic energy down-range to penetrate even ground-armored griffons. Fluttershy aimed at the closest light, squeezing the bit-trigger in her mouth in short, accurate bursts. The gun kicked, coughing slightly as she tore down the light poles.
Darkness shrouded the compound, the only lights remaining the emergency lighting on the buildings themselves. That would buy her a few seconds as the guards fumbled with their night-vision gear. Fluttershy looked around, four guards were all that remained outside. A quick burst took care of one tower, but the delay was sufficient for the remaining tower to get its gear ready. Tracer rounds scythed through the night in trails of orange glow as the Griffons sprayed near her in panic.
Fluttershy's training was good however, and she did not panic in kind. Ducking down, Fluttershy backed into a crevasse, pressing her slight form into the ground. The fire stopped as the griffons searched around for her. She took her chance, peaking up. Immediately bullets cut through the air, distinctive crack of supersonic rounds popping in her ear. Unfortunately for them, as the old adage goes, tracers work both ways. Fluttershy squeezed the trigger once more, sending bullets at the muzzle flashes in the distance. A loud curse followed as she hit her mark. The compound was once again silent.
Fluttershy smiled behind her visor, it was time to get to work.
"Consarnit!" Applejack swore, slamming a hoof on the table. "Y'all know they're comin, ah think it just makes sense to get ready for em."
Mayor Mare rubbed her temples with her hooves. She was getting too old for this crap. "I appreciate your sentiments" she reassured "and I know all that the Apple Family has done for this town, but the answer is still no. We have no place stepping into this fight."
"Now y'all know it aint gonna be up to us. They're comin' this way an' when they get here t'aint nothin' gonna stop em from takin what they want. I'm proposin' we stand up for our town." Applejack retorted. They were gathered in the Town Hall of Ponyville, discussing the decidedly downward turn that Equestria was facing. Applejack was suggesting they form a militia for the defense of the town. Most of the ponies agreed, but Mayor Mare came from an older generation, one that remembered past conflicts on the frontier with disdain. To her, and those like her, surrender and submission, whatever the cost, was worth it.
"Eeyup." Big Macintosh seconded.
"My only concern" Lyra spoke up from the back of the crowd "Is that we would be considered extra-legal forces under the Trotsylvania Accords." Bon Bon nodded in agreement as her green-furred companion sat back down, slouching in the chair in her signature manner.
"That's just gonna have to be a risk we'll have to take." Applejack said. "If I'm not mistaken, the law only says militias formed outside of the jurisdiction of governments will be considered rogue an' have illegal status."
"What exactly, do you expect to do? We have few weapons, even fewer armor sets, and they are wiping the barn with the regular army as we speak." Mayor Mare said.
"Only currently. I'ma thinkin that aint gonna be the case if we hold out. I just want to form this militia as a contingency." Applejack stopped pacing and resumed her seat, aware of all the eyes upon her.
"Eeyup." Big Mac broke the silence.
"I see you won't be dissuaded. Does anypony second the motion that we form a protective militia until such a time that Equestria is at peace again?" Mayor Mare said, breathing out a resigned sigh.
"Eeyup." Big Macintosh said, standing, his bulk towering over every pony present "This is too big for one pony to handle, I wouldn't let you do this yourself anyway." He winked at his younger sister.
"Very well, those in favor." Mayor Mare said, staying firmly in her seat. Roughly three-fourths of Ponyville rose. Mayor Mare sighed again. "Seeing as how the majority of Ponyville has an apparent death wish, by the powers vested in me by her majesty Princess Celestia, as Mayor of Ponyville I hereby proclaim the creation of the Ponyville Volunteer Militia, to be established under the command of Applejack." Applejack looked up at the Mayor, shocked expression on her face. "What, you wanted this. I think it's safe to say you are the best suited of us to lead it, you are certainly the only pony in Ponyville to have ever served in the reserves."
Applejack nodded, resolved if slightly intimidated at the prospect.
The Twilight War
"They'll come back for us, won't they? Sir?" A nervous voice enquired, one General Archer recognized even over the chaos of nearby battle. It was his staff intelligence officer, Lieutenant Sage. Though an admirable officer, she was young, and their current dire straits weighed heavily on his mind thanks in no small part to officers like her; too young to be meeting their ends so soon.
Of any of the ponies on his staff, Archer knew she realized better than most just how bad off they were. "Of course they will. Need I remind you that no Equestrian officer has surrendered to an enemy in two thousand years?"
The Lieutenant did not seem reassured by her blue-furred leader. "We weren't at war for a thousand of those years" she pointed out "and before that our last conflict was a civil war."
"Just the same, I trust the Sky Marshal-sorry Supreme Commander. I've saved her flank enough times that she owes me." General Archer nodded to himself, continuing to stare at the tactical map laid out in front of him in hopes of a sudden inspiration. His army was hemmed in, surrounded on all sides by Griffon mobile infantry and their air forces above. They had taken cover in a stand of dense trees, the last piece of cover between the Griffon border and Fort Equinox. They were only about thirty minutes away from the Fort by air, but they were fighting hoof and tail just to hold on; they hadn't seen any friendly air support in a day. If they could just get some decent support they could make a break for it, but without it they would be slaughtered in the open; their organic anti-air units were not nearly strong enough.
His reverie was broken by an abrupt explosion of sound, concussive force thumping through his hooves as a AAA battery outside of his 'headquarters' opened fire, buzz saw-like sound briefly drowning out all else. Clearly, the griffons were getting braver. The General looked around the tent, officers going about their duty with dark expressions coloring the features. He smiled to himself, fierce grin defiant of their doomed expressions "By Celestia, I love that sound."
The assembled officers shared a nervous chuckle before moving on with their duties. Archer nodded to himself again. They would hold; they had no choice. Ammunition supplies be damned. Reflexively he felt for his sidearm, making sure it's reassuring weight was on his person as he fumbled with a cigar. Today was going to be an interesting day.
Rainbow Dash knelt beside the bed that the familiar blue pegasus lay upon. It was funny, she recalled so readily how much she idolized him in her teenage years. Soarin' looked mildly confused by her presence, but then he was doped up on painkillers pretty heavily. Dash was merely relieved he was alive at all. Though he didn't yet know it, Rarity as Regent of Equestria bestowed upon him the Bridle of Valor, Equestria's highest military honor, upon hearing of his part in the charge that broke the Griffon's previous assault on Fort Equinox. If only it had stopped them. Dash gingerly placed the box on the table beside his bed, trying to ignore the many injuries covering his body, particularly the wings. Doctors said he might well loose them, a terrible fate that all pegasi feared nearly as much as death. As Dash turned to leave, her tail bumped the table, sending an apple pie falling.
"M-my pie" Soarin' mumbled drowsily.
Dash deftly ducked down and caught it, placing it back in a safer position. "Get well soon, Soarin'." Dash said, leaving the room. Fortunately, her next stop was only one building over. Not that such a short walk saved her much from her thoughts. Injured ponies, particularly pegasi filled nearly every room of the hospital, all of whom were effectively here because of her orders. She couldn't help but cringe as she realized how many of these ponies belonged to the 3rd Fighter Wing. Aside from the amount of casualties being simply atrocious, the 3rd was her best trained wing, to lose so many of them so early into the war did not bode well for them.
"The important thing was, they held." Dash struggled to remind herself as she stepped over a sleeping pony in the hall, his young form covered in bandages. "They did their job so you could do yours" Dash stepped around another pony, this one with bandages on its back where her wings were amputated. Dash tried but couldn't bring herself to make eye contact with the pegasi, her fierce glare drilling daggers into her back as the Supreme Commander walked away. "Keep it together, you've seen worse."
Nerves slightly frayed by her hospital visit, Dash paused for a moment before the briefing room door to gather herself. Breathing out a deep breath, she pushed open the door, trotting in. The room was the largest briefing room on base, long table seating her staff officers and the higher ranked generals, with auditorium -style tiered seating holding a collection of colonels and more staff officers. As many ponies as could be here without compromising their field leadership were gathered here, and as one they stood, to attention as Dash entered. Twilight Sparkle and her higher ranked mages were in attendance as well, Twilight seated at the opposite end of the table from Dash's own seat.
"As you were" Dash nodded, flying over to and alighting at her place at the head of the table. The assembled officers took their seats, notepads opening as the projector warmed, showing a static version of the tactical map in the operations center.
"I won't lie to you" Dash said, breaking the hushed silence of the room "It looks bad" she motioned to the map "I personally see a whole lot more red on this map then there should be. But" Dash looked around the room, eyes peering into those of her officers "We are not done yet. May I introduce you to what we're calling Operation Clear Skies. Captain."
From her seat next to the Supreme Commander, Captain Scootaloo stood, flicking a button on the nearby projector remote. A new slide appeared, a complicated maneuver map taking the place of the tactical map. A gasp of surprise escaped from someone in the crowd as they realized the scale of what she was proposing. "As you can see, this is somewhat ambitious. Thanks to a few tricks that we have in store though, I think you will agree that it is doable. We are abandoning Fort Equinox."
A murmur ran through the room as the officers discussed it among their neighbors. Equinox was the lynchpin of every contingency plan drawn up to date, to abandon it was interesting to say the least. Rainbow Dash spoke up, heading off General Sunny Meadow, one of her Air Force officers before she could open her mouth. No need for them to attack Scoots for what was her idea. "Before anypony says this is a bad idea, need I remind you that this will relieve General Archer's pocket? Or do you think it would be a better idea to let that cowboy continue to think he's free of us? Personally the latter worries me more than whatever the Griffons will do."
Chuckles rippled through the officers, particularly the Army officers that knew him personally; the Supreme Commander certainly had that much right. "As the Commander says, sirs" Scootaloo continued unshaken "we must relieve General Archer. His last status report indicated he had about a day, maybe two of ammunition left. If he runs out he'll have no choice but to surrender."
Rainbow Dash cleared her throat, standing and leaning on the table with her forehooves, tapping the tabletop for emphasis. "Let me make one thing clear, when we start going, we are going to go and go and not stop until we are either dead or achieve our mission. We're gonna attack all day, all of tomorrow, and however long it takes. We will not abandon General Archer, and the first pony to suggest it I'll have brought up on treason."
"To this end, we are setting up the razing charges as we speak." Scootaloo said "Moving the wounded will be the hardest part of this plan, but by leaving some of the heavier ammunition pallets off the trucks we can make up the difference. Thanks to the efforts of Archmage Sparkle and her mages" Twilight nodded appreciatively in response "We have been able to teleport those in critical condition to Canterlot General Hospital. Phase one of Clear Skies will involve an attack by the remnants of the 3rd FW, reinforced by the 511th Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron..."
"All stations, All stations, CLYDESDALE, solid readings on four-five-oh bogies bearing one-eight-zero, Angels-seven. It's game time people."
Status reports began to fill the radio as the Equestrian Royal Air Force took to the skies. Those already in the air fired whatever they could at the oncoming formation before breaking back to base, contrails of smoke and vapor carving paths through the sky.
The Griffons however, were smart. Fort Equinox had resisted their attempts to take it for the past few days, this time they were playing for keeps. Cruise missiles, flying low to the ground and driven by un-jammable inertial navigation systems streaked in, nearly invisible to the anti-air emplacements on the ground. Whoever it was that was in command of them clearly knew what she was doing, as the strike was not aimed for the command and control radar; knowing how data-linked most Equestrian systems are she had opted instead to simply blow away all of the Surface to Air missile launchers and anti-aircraft guns. Dirty orange flames and shattered chassis were all that remained of the ground defenses.
Rainbow Dash resisted the urge to show her hand immediately and blow the insolent featherbrains out of the sky right then and there. She was in the air herself, armored like any other Pegasus, albeit hanging back with some of the few aircraft of the Equestrian Air Force. With the bulk of their forces equipped with flight armor, the ERAF had little need for conventional aircraft, but they did operate a few. Essentially they were airborne "Carriers", open -topped platforms propelled by turbofan engines that could repair and rearm an entire fighter wing by themselves. Dash was nearest to one of the Airborne Early Warning and Control variants, the eponymous call sign CLYDESDALE.
Dash consulted her displays, checking the numbers. Only a hundred and eighty of the Pegasi based out of Fort Equinox remained combat capable, to answer the four hundred some Griffons coming their way. Most pegasi would have balked at such disparity, but most pegasi were not Rainbow Dash. She had a few things that would shift the balance in her favor, and she set about organizing them.
Scootaloo's voice crackled over the radio on a private channel "Sorry to interrupt ma'am, but I thought you would appreciate this. Our operatives have confirmed the enemy is being led by General Gilda herself."
Dash frowned to herself, shaking her head slowly. That griffon just didn't learn. Still, Dash had studied Gilda's work at war college, read her books on airborne infantry tactics. This would be interesting indeed.
Speeding towards Fort Equinox in formation, Major General Gilda beamed to herself. She was still slightly bruised from the thrashing Dash had given her, but it had hurt her pride more than it had injured her. Today she would make up for that. Today, she had a far more powerful force then the rookies that had been with her that day.
"I'm coming for you Dashie, let's see if you've learned any new moves." The armored griffon chuckled, watching the progress of the cruise missile salvo proceed exactly as predicted, hitting every target perfectly.
"Ma'am?" her communications officer enquired.
"Nothing. Signal all wings, Bloodied Talon is go."
"Yes ma'am, executing." The order went out. Each griffon was carrying a single extended range missile (ERAM), the Griffon answer to the Equestrian LRSM. Griffon technology hadn't managed to miniaturize rocket hardware to the degree that Equestria had, but what it lacked in sophistication the missile made up for in brute force, and actually came out slightly longer ranged. Gilda was trying something new here herself as well. The manufacturer did not suggest firing the missile from such a range as they were at now (roughly 120 klicks) due to their weak onboard sensor suites, but they had to eliminate the Equestrian carriers. They were one of the biggest problems the Griffons had to overcome, for they could maneuver and escape where stationary bases could not. To compensate for the lack of sensor range Gilda had devised a solution; Griffon Mobile Infantry force recon elements would "paint" targets for the missiles, steering them in after they were fired.
The missiles issued forth in a cloud of smoke. Gilda thrashed her wings in frustration as only three hundred of them actually fired, the remainder being duds. They seriously needed to improve their production lines quality.
Supreme Commander Rainbow Dash gasped in surprise as the missile salvo materialized on her readouts. That was the first time they had ever done that before. Dash stared at her HUD as more information streamed in. The system had tagged them as Mark I ERAMs, fired well beyond their effective range. Scare tactics again, it had to be.
Or was it?
Doubt gnawed at Rainbow Dash as she watched the agonizing seconds tick by as the missiles closed. If she ordered her forces to fire on the missiles with their dog-fighting missiles (targets they could certainly hit given the massive size of an ERAM) they could thin out the salvo pretty heavily, but if they were decoys it would significantly reduce her fighting capability.
Dash made up her mind, she would have to trust her intel and hope it was right. "All units, all units, BOOMER actual, go to defense protocol Alpha-Bravo-Mike-One and stand by." ABM-1 was a conservative call, ECM and guns only. If it was a ruse, it wouldn't waste valuable missiles.
Gilda squawked inside her helmet in laughter. They weren't doing anything, flying along fat and happy. Exactly as she planned. "EAGLE Actual to NIGHTSTALKER, go to phase two."
Less than a klick away from Fort Equinox, Gilda's force recon teams stepped into motion. Having brought with them a Command and Control vehicle, the griffons went to work. Radar pulses radiated from the vehicle, bouncing off the massive forms of the carriers with ease. Everything seemed normal, apart from something being off about those clouds. The techs ignored it; that was not their mission, and with that active radar their time was limited. With a push of the button the ERAMs perked up, new fresh targets that they could see without their pathetic sensors.
"NIGHTSTALKER-one-one, targets painted, we're exfiltrating now." With that the Griffons took to the sky, flying low towards friendly lines.
Dash was really fidgeting now. The enemy was coming into engagement range, about 50 klicks out and falling fast. That was when all hell broke loose in her helmet, Radar Warning Receiver blaring its alarm over all else. Dash squelched it. "CLYDESDALE, BOOMER actual, I'm getting active radar pings from the ground, blue on blue?"
"Uh" the controller paused, confused as the Supreme Commander was. "That's a negative BOOMER. All stations, all stations, be advised hostile Anti-air detected nearby, stand by for further updates."
"Hmmmm" Dash thought for a moment. She couldn't spare any of her close air support to stop whatever this trick was, but she did have at least one wing of Wild Weasels around. "Find whatever SEAD wings we have working in the area, and shut that down" Dash ordered. This could be closer then she expected. The missiles were getting closer. Dash paused, hovering in midair, icy despair sinking in as she realized what was going on.
"WEASEL one-one, magnum away." Anti-radiation missiles stabbed into the forest below, white hot fragments shredding the delicate radar array, but it was too late, the ERAMs had what they needed, and so they began their final attack runs, cybernetic brains driven with the simple minded desire to seek their own immolation among the Carriers. This was going to hurt.
Onboard the carriers and among the fighter-pegasi, missile defense protocols were initiated. White noise jammers began blasting out interference, swamping the missiles with clutter as decoy launchers went into overdrive. Where once were four carriers and an AWACs, there was now thousands. Roughly a quarter of the missiles immediately lost their locks, seeking out any and all nearby targets. Some acquired pegasi, but the vast majority of those that lost their locks wandered off course and detonated, unable to acquire a target with their weak onboard sensors and bereft of external guidance.
Watching in horror as the missiles sailed across the outer engagement envelope Dash was left to stare helplessly as the point defenses on board the carriers and their escorting wings began to respond. Miniguns spun up before belching out great clouds of hot lead, scything through the air like a doctors scalpel, carving missile after missile out of the air. Shredded missile fuselages filled the air, pockmarked by dirty orange fireballs as counter-missile fire tagged a few. The volley of 300 missiles was down to a hundred and fifty, and they were all aimed squarely at the only four airborne carriers this side of Equestria. The maelstrom swooped down upon them, down into the terminal intercept zone, the last line of defense. Recognizing their doom, the carriers belched all of their decoys, flares and chaff; orange fireballs encased their forms as great iridescent clouds of metallic chaff blossomed across the sky. Massive explosions stabbed through the fireworks as the downpour of missiles descended upon them.
If there was one thing to be happy about, it was that CLYDESDALE somehow managed to escape unharmed, with the carrier nearest it also coming off lightly. The others were not so lucky. One shattered into a thousand flaming shards as missile fire pummeled it into oblivion, its light armor unable to protect it. It's neighbor was shorn in two by the missile fire, halves tumbling end over end to a fiery conclusion in the forest below. Dash cut off the SAR frequency she was listening in on, it was too depressing. That was one surprise too many this battle, Dash could not let Gilda retain the initiative. "All wings, all wings, go to phase two, fire plan Thunderhead."
Gilda squawked with glee as she watched the missile salvo hit home. Two carriers obliterated and the other two damaged, that was better results then she had ever dreamed of. With their mobile support slashed, they couldn't just sit back and lob LRSMs at her forces all day, they would have to close in and engage in a good old fashioned dogfight. This was her goal, to force that close range engagement, as that was where her forces were strongest.
The griffon switched to the command channel. "Excellent job, all forces close and engage. Today we break the enemy."
Gilda was almost disappointed, she remembered Dash being smarter than this.
Colonel Spitfire stared at her radar display with emotionless, jaded eyes. Even with the tricks the Supreme Commander had up her sleeves, there was no way they could possibly hope to stop this many. They were finished. She sighed, loading the predetermined fire plan into her targeting systems. Two volleys and break, that was the plan. Craning her neck about, she could make out the stacked formation of the Equestrian Airforce, armor gleaming proudly in the glare of the stationary sun. They would make Equestria proud, no matter the cost (one that Spitfire was sure would be too high).
"All wings, stand by to fire." A timer appeared in the lower left of her HUD, ticking down as the griffon horde bore down upon them. "LIGHTNING-one-one, Fox-three."
Once more the sky filled with missile contrails, going the opposite direction this time, with much more solid targeting data. Spitfire's armor shuddered again as another LRSM left the rail, speeding off into the sky. "All units break left, let's see if they take the bait."
The air was stale and stagnant inside the crew compartment of the tank. Staff Sergeant of the Equestrian Royal Army Sweetie Belle sighed, fidgeting in her chair. It was starting to chafe her. "Dumb fabric" she cursed.
"It was made by the lowest bidder" her gunner, Specialist Sunny Days remarked "Not exactly good fabric."
"I know, but you would think they would put more effort into something as critical as a chair." All of this was, of course, an attempt to distract her crew from how crazy what they were doing actually was. Sweetie Belle should have known better, one of those universal rules of being a soldier was never be the first to volunteer for something, but when the Supreme Commander asked the army for volunteers, she had assumed it would be something sensical, now she was starting to question Rainbow Dash's sanity.
They were sitting about 5,000 meters off the ground, atop a cloud. Thanks to Twilight's incredible ability they were able to lift the better part of an armored BCT up, cloudwalking spell turning the stratocumulus cloud into an airborne fortress. The problem was, tanks weren't meant to fly. If it worked, it would be amazing.
Sweetie Belle looked out the commander's periscope, bumping up the magnification. She could just make out the distant form of the pegasi, swooping gracefully on themselves and appearing to retreat in a haphazard, disorderly manner. Sweetie Belle cursed in surprise as one passed in front of her scope, momentarily filling the screen, they were cutting in too close to the clouds. Just like them damn cocky flyboys to mess this up.
"Gunner" Sweetie Belle barked out "Set load queue, three HVAP, two canister." The main battle tank of the Equestrian army was an impressive piece of work, squat, quad-tracked vehicle with a mechanical autoloader and the full suite of sensors and protection packages. Her main gun was a lethal 150mm smooth-bore gun, originally intended for breaching walls, but equally effective against armor. If Sweetie Belle had her math right, by the time they fired the third AP round, the enemy would be close enough for the canister round to work.
The radio suddenly squawked, the voice of the Supreme Commander instantly grabbing everyone's attention. "All wings, all wings, go to phase two, fire plan Thunderhead."
Sweetie belle set up in surprise. "Gunner, stand by to fire." Sweetie Belle watched the radar repeater with anticipation; sure enough, the Griffons were scything down on them as hard as possible, apparently unaware of the tanks hidden behind a layer of deceptive electronic warfare.
Below her, the autoloader went to work. Hydraulics purred as the massive 150mm round was brought up from the magazine, dropping onto the load tray. Another ram came up behind the shell, shoving it home into the chamber with a great click-clack. The breech swung shut; the gun was ready to fire. Sweetie Belle watched her gunner work, tail twitching as she concentrated, picking out a target. Speeding along at a little bit below mach 1, the Griffon had no idea what was coming. It was pushing the limits of the system to track such a fast target, but it could handle it.
"Target acquired!" Sunny Days announced.
"Fire!" Sweetie Belle ordered.
"Shot over!" The gunner announced, squeezing the trigger. The earth-shattering explosion rattled the tank as the gun fired, the lacking traction of the cloud surface allowing them to skid backwards nearly a meter. She watched through her scope as the tracer round arced through the air with an orange glow, thirty of its fellows joining it in flight. The lead elements of the griffons never saw it coming; the hypersonic anti-armor rounds slammed into them, goring right through them and sending those unlucky enough to be hit (or what little was left of them) spiraling to the ground. Three more salvos of HVAP raced out, equally finding their targets. Confusion shattered the griffons ranks, some evading wildly in hope of avoiding the death racing towards them from the clouds like so many lightning bolts, others broke downward, intending to swoop down upon the tanks.
Sweetie Belle watched, mouth agape at the destruction. She had seen much since the war started, a whole lot more death then she ever wanted to see, but nothing matched what happened next. Anti-personnel canister rounds were certainly nasty pieces of technology; tungsten ball-bearings jacketed inside a metal tube effectively turning the tank's gun into the world's biggest shotgun. Sweetie Belle doubted the griffons had ever seen anything like it either. As the first volley went downrange, it tore through their ranks, shredding wings, lacerating torsos, decapitating those unfortunate enough to take a hit to the head; flight armor was meant to withstand the comparatively light fragments of a missile, not these massive clouds of projectiles.
A force of damn near three-hundred griffons had entered the clouds, only a hundred badly wounded Griffons remained.
Sweetie Belle felt slightly nauseous.
Gilda blinked in surprise. Were her systems malfunctioning? What happened to her forces? Despair took control as she realized what had happened. Something hidden inside the clouds had just neutralized about half of the Griffon Confederacy's Air Force.
Breaking into the confusion, the griffon bellowed into her radio "Get out damnit, retreat!"
It was too late.
Rainbow Dash actually yelled in glee inside her helmet as she watched the ranks of the Griffons crumble. "Gilda you magnificent bitch, I read your book! All units, All units, turn and engage at will." Clear Skies had proven to be even more successful then she had ever hoped, now they had a chance, a chance to defend their homes and even take the fight to the Griffons. They would not let Celestia down.
The Twilight War
Tracer rounds scythed through the air as the griffon formation made another strafing pass and the young second lieutenant huddled down in her foxhole tighter. Damnit, this was not supposed to happen; Equestria had been at peace when she joined, she just wanted a way to pay for college! "I think" she yelled over the roar "we've really stepped in it Sergeant."
"Well now Cider" the older Sergeant admonished "such is life. I'd hate to see it ruin your sunny disposition, ma'am."
Second Lieutenant Cider smirked in spite of herself behind her visor, stretching what little bit she could tiredly in her hole. She herself had been fighting for about 72 hours continuously, and was hopped up on the harsh stims the doc had given them. Everypony was pretty raw at this point, but survival instincts had overridden any tendency towards infighting or complaining. Cider flinched again as a cluster of rockets streaked overhead right into the side of the command tent, flames shooting out the flap as the canvas structure was immolated. Bumping up the magnification, she could just make out the armored form of General Archer trotting out, somepony slung over his back and flames licking at his own armor. Cider shook her head, it was almost as if the griffons couldn't kill him, merely make him angrier.
Almost as though the General was aware of her looking in his direction, a private com channel opened over the command net as he continued extinguishing the flames licking his armor. "Lieutenant!" he barked "You take your platoon up that damn hill and dig in. Get that trip-A battery back online, I don't care if Celestia herself drops out of the sky with an escort of dragons, you hold that damned dirt mound, understood?"
Apple Cider went pale behind her visor; did he understand what was involved in pushing up that hill? "Uh. Yes. Yes, sir, I'm on it." She shared a significant look with her Sergeant, even behind the visors. "Does he even realize how suicidal that is?"
"Ours is not to reason why" Sergeant Eiffel responded. He fished around in one of his armor's flank pockets, pulling out a letter. "Give this to my foals, if you would."
Cider accepted the letter wordlessly, nodding in agreement. The Sergeant's foals were currently staying with an aunt, for their mother had died when they were young. It was unfortunate that his duties kept them away from them so often, but such was the life of the service. Cider didn't even want to think of how her family would take her death. Gingerly she slid the letter into a pocket on her breastplate. "Let's be about it Sergeant."
The Sergeant took a deep breath, gathering himself. "Covering fire!" he yelled "Second squad, move up the right flank, NOW!"
As one the platoon responded like a well-oiled machine, first squad poking the barrels of their weaponry up over their cover, spraying a hail of bullets into the top of the hill, the continuous growl of the miniguns carried by her heavy weapons specialists meshing with the sporadic roars of her rifleponies as they pumped suppression down-range. The Lieutenant joined them; changing targets with swift precision as she saw a dug in griffon flap his wings as if to take off. Digging her forehooves into the soft dirt, the pony grunted as she triggered the weapon. Griffon armor was thick, but their guns were big enough to cope; .50 caliber armor piercing sabot rounds blasted from her barrel in a bone-jarring muzzle flash of flame, large casings falling around her and filling her hole as she tracked her target. Three rounds punched through his thinly armored wing, tearing a hole in the delicate membrane and shattering the wing joint. The unfortunate griffon flopped to the ground, blood pouring from the wound. His comrades were quick to react, dragging him behind the anti-aircraft emplacements atop the hill.
Second platoon took advantage of the lull to move forward, reaching half-way up the hill before the fire became too thick, one of their number (Private Daisy, a distant part of Cider's mind remarked)collapsing as return fire rendered her chest bloody tatters, the rest of second squad digging in behind what cover they could. "Dump yer K-racks and move up!" the Lieutenant ordered.
The K-rack was a staple of the Equestrian Army; in lieu of the grenades most armed forces were accustomed to, the Equestrian armed forces carried an array of micro-rocket launchers on their backs. Aimed by the main weapon's sight, they were laser guided and had a fuse that could be set to multiple detonation modes from contact to air-burst. Each army soldier carried four. Those of her platoon that still had loaded K-racks fired, small rockets tearing through the smoke-filled sky. Reaching their pre-programmed air-burst altitude, they detonated, chain of explosions forcing the griffons back down as lethal fragments showered the ground around them.
Moving up with the first squad, the Lieutenant stopped only to prod the second sqad. "Move! Up that hill or the griffons will be the last of yer problems!" Two of the privates looked at each other and back to the el-tee, she was right, they decided, about the griffons being the least of their worries and they resumed their advance. The Lieutenant flinched as the supersonic crack of a round barely missing her head whizzed past her, only to watch as Sergeant Eiffel popped up, firing back on the unfortunate griffon with short, controlled bursts. A trio of neatly placed rounds hammered in through the griffon's visor, pulping her face and putting her down. The Sergeant nodded wordlessly, trudging up the hill after the rest of the platoon.
Only this war, a distant part of the Lieutenant's mind noted, would result in this craziness. They were damn near in hoof-to-hoof range. They had only another ten meters or so to go till they reached the top of the hill; the problem was the last three was a nearly vertical grade. "First Squad!" she bellowed over the hurricane of noise "Covering fire, Second Squad up 'n over!"
The platoon was nearly at the top of the small plateau; only a small ledge separated them from the AAA battery that was their objective. Even unmanned and deactivated the vehicles comprising the battery were impressive; quad-tracked mobile SAM launchers formed the core of the battery, with a handful of towed, quad-barreled, radar controlled Anti-Air guns to provide close-in protection. What griffons remained to defend the hill was huddled behind the battery, but Cider knew that was deceptive. Whoever was in command over there had to know just as well as General Archer that this battery was a critical part of their defenses, they wouldn't yield easily.
The Lieutenant hefted her hoof up, armor and muscles straining as she edged over the lip. Bullets arced over and around her everywhere, friendly suppressive fire apparently having little deterrent effect. Her immunity didn't last long; the large caliber rounds favored by Griffon Mobile Infantry were quite capable of shearing even through ground armor. Impact after impact slammed into her armor, cracking the plates and thudding into her body. Cider uttered a strangled cry, pitching forward into the ground even as the rest of the platoon continued to advance.
Effiel saw his Lieutenant go down, eyes narrowing as he locked in on her killer. The griffon was obviously panicked, crouched down behind one of the Surface to Air Missile vehicles, spraying fire from its rifle. He had no more rockets in his K-rack, and he couldn't get a clear shot on her. It would have to be a melee kill. The Equestrian Army did not make a habit of engaging in close quarters battle, but it was one of those anachronisms they still trained in for this very occasion. Ostensibly, one would presume that a Griffon, with their powerful talons and higher agility would have the edge in such combat; what they forgot was that a pony in armor out massed a griffon by almost twice as much. The Sergeant flicked a safety off on his armor, and then stamped his fore hooves in the ground. Heavy, spring loaded blades clicked into position. Lacking opposable digits, melee combat became a little more difficult for a modern army, and the engineers that built their armor had gotten a little creative. Whilst Equestrian dress uniform still carried a lance for ceremonial purposes, they were far too cumbersome for battlefield use; instead they had opted for deployable blades in the fore hooves where they could be utilized with the most precision. Effiel crouched down on the other side of the vehicle, waiting for his moment to pounce. Watching as the griffon swung its gun around to engage another target, he pounced. Powerful leg muscles toned by a decade of PT and augmented by a layer of reactive material and hydraulics catapulted him up and over, his knives scything down and into the side of the griffon's skull with a sickening thud. Her comrades turned to engage him, but not even they had time to do more than utter a startled squawk as he turned and lashed out with his rear legs, knocking the lighter griffons to the ground with the force of sledgehammer. Follow-up stabs with his fore hooves put them out of their misery, crimson blood splashing across his armor as he dispatched them with cold detachment.
Triumph and relief flooded through the platoon as they realized what they had accomplished, though it was short lived. Sergeant Effiel trotted back over to the el-tee. She raised her head groggily, breath coming in heavy pants. He looked her over; all told he'd seen worse. The heavy-caliber rounds had cracked her chest plate, but the under layer held so she just had the wind knocked out of her, her legs were a little worse off, at least one round had scythed clean through her front-left leg. He stamped his hooves in the ground again, sheathing his blades. Gingerly he rolled her onto her back, sprawling the pony out in a decidedly undignified manner. Ripping off the Velcro cover, he examined her medical display. As he predicted, she was in pain, but otherwise healthy, with the armor's integrated tourniquets already in place. Typing in the medical override code, he gave her a small dose of morphine, rolling her back upright. She swayed in place, but stood, huffing and shaking her head to clear it.
"We take the hill?" she enquired.
A griffon ground-attack squad swooped over their companions in the distance, and Cider narrowed her eyes in anger. "Let's get that battery back online, Sergeant."
Eiffel nodded. The battery's original crew were all dead, corpses scattered around their charges, but they all had enough familiarity with the system to set it up, they just needed someone to bring the system back online. "Megabyte, get your flank over here!"
The armored pony trotted over obediently, even as the rest of the squad fanned out to start fending off the Griffons counter-attacking up the other side of the hill. The Lieutenant looked past him out onto the battlefield. Their pocket had shrunk more even in the short time it had taken them to retake the hill, and she could just make out the 2nd Brigade Combat Team engaged heavily in the distance, tracer rounds and missiles arcing back and forth. The pony came up to them, bracing as if to salute but catching himself as he remembered his surroundings. "Ma'am, sir" he nodded respectfully.
Megabyte was their resident "techie", if any of them could get their defense net back online it was him. "I need this battery back online yesterday, but we don't have the manpower or know-how to crew these vehicles, can you tie them into the tac net with the other batteries and let them control the guns?" the Lieutenant asked.
The techie hummed to himself as he thought it over. "It's not the best solution, but it should be doable. The problem is the guns. Respectfully, they are relics we never thought we'd actually need, and their firmware isn't compatible with the cross-"
"A simple yes or no will suffice" the Lieutenant interrupted, smiling in spite of herself.
"Oh" he seemed slightly embarrassed "then yes."
"Get on it then, we're going to have company soon." The Lieutenant looked down the slope of the hill. Already she could see griffon fire teams skulking around cover and behind trees. What were they waiting for?
She didn't have long to wait for the answer; the high pitched whistle of incoming artillery coming for them was followed by the massive explosion of a 155mm howitzer round, gouging out a giant fountain of dirt. Explosions began walking up the hill as the battery zeroed in on them, and Cider felt the cold sweat of fear trickle down her back, in spite of the moisture absorbing cloth she was clad in. Counter-battery fire answered from behind her, rumbling boom of the guns mixed with the whoosh of an MLRS battery. The artillery barrage ceased and the griffons made a break for it, suppressive fire pelting the ponies cover and the hillside. The Lieutenant ground her teeth; 12 ponies even with the advantage of terrain couldn't hope to hold the ground against what looked like damn near an entire battalion of griffons! Cider was about to issue an order when she felt the massive bulk of Sergeant Effiel pin her to the ground, just as a barrage of unguided rockets streaked in from the clouds, reducing the inactive anti-air gun behind them to so much scrap. The griffons pierced the cloud layer, swooping in over them and rolling neatly out of the way of the answering small-arms fire from the ponies.
Cider stood to her feet, stamping the ground angrily. Clicking through her com channels she selected General Archer. "We've taken the hill" she said without introduction "but I don-" she was cut off as another rocket streaked overhead, explosion carrying clearly through the radio "don't think we can hold!"
"You damn well better!" the General answered "I've got a BCT about to be cut off and surrounded, I ain't got nothin to spare!"
"General" she said hotly "I'm asking you to re-task some support to this hill, or we're all dead!"
"And let more of them slip in behind BCT 2? There's nothing more I can do! Hold damn you, or I'll come up there and kick your flank myself! Archer clear."
Effiel stared at his Lieutenant, not needing to hear the conversation to know what had been said. "I take it we're alone."
"Copy that" Cider responded gruffly. "Let's dig in and hope they don't bring anything heavy to bear on us." Cider settled in behind some heavy ration crates, scraping away enough dirt to be able to duck down. An exultant whoop from behind her startled her, and she turned just in time to see a full barrage of surface to air missiles streak into the sky. At least that would be one threat she wouldn't need to worry about. All other sound of the battlefield was drowned out as the guns came online, spewing a torrent of proximity-fused rounds into the air.
"Here they come" the older Sergeant remarked. The El-Tee tore her gaze from the sky, attention forcibly brought back to the battlefield as grenades sailed towards them
"Down!" she ordered, dropping behind the crate. A grenade landed barely a meter away, detonating with a great thunderclap of noise and sending up a fountain of dirt. Lieutenant Cider popped back up, spraying fire at the horde of rushing griffons, some flying low to the ground, others galloping at them in a long, loping stride. Clearly they had abandoned all pretense of subtlety. "Gentlecolts" Cider said "Prepare to defend yourselves." Cider checked her sidearm and the ammunition feed into the rifle on her back.
The enemy was at the base of the hill now, popping heated smoke grenades that not even their thermal could see through to obfuscate their movements. The platoon filled the clouds with lead to little effect. It was as though they were pouring water on an ant mound, merely causing more to swarm forward. Eager griffons rushed through the cloud, emerging to fall short as the entrenched ponies mowed them down, and their comrades using their bodies for cover to return accurate fire of their own.
Cider winced as one after another of her own platoon fell to the onslaught. And another. One of her young privates fell to the ground, clutching at a wound before the pony next to him dosed him with morphine and he got back up into the fight. They were half-way up the hill now, grenades exploding all around the platoon with deep concussive booms. Time seemed to slow for Cider as a griffon; his armor decorated with the stripe of a veteran scaled the hill just as her gun clicked empty. She yanked her sidearm to bear, squeezing the trigger desperately, the massive revolver style weapon slamming back into its mount as the griffon fell backwards off the hill. The gun clicked empty and Cider ducked down, flipping her visor to drop the spent cylinder with her teeth, slamming a spare home.
Sergeant Effiel toppled over backwards, staggering as a round slammed into his shoulder. The burly pony merely grunted, staggering back to his feet to return fire. Panic began to well in Cider as she realized how surrounded they were; griffons were now on the hill behind them, exchanging pot shots with one of her heavy weapons specialists even as the SAMs continued to fire into the sky.
Shearing through the tornado of bullets, missiles, and grenades enveloping the hill, a three-griffon formation blasted by overhead, sonic boom forcing everyone, griffon and pony alike down as it buffeted them. "Wait a minute" Lieutenant Cider thought to herself "if that was griffon, it wouldn't have gotten that close."
"Megabyte!" she called out to the pony still managing the SAM battery "Was that one of ours?"
"Yes!" he cried ecstatically "I've got the Supreme Commander herself on the horn, she wants to talk to you!"
The young Lieutenant sighed in relief; no more of her ponies would be dying today. "This is Lieutenant Cider, Second Battalion, Bravo Company, 1st Platoon, How can I help you ma'am."
"Lieutenant, are you the ranking officer on Hill 252?" Dash asked.
"Uh, yes, yes ma'am." she ducked as another bullet whizzed by. The arrival of the Air Force hadn't deterred the griffons: yet.
"Congratulations Lieutenant, you're now my forward air controller. I've got assets stacking up from 100 meters right on up to a thousand; you tell me where you need em."
"With pleasure, ma'am. I need immediate CAS on my position, bring it in danger close!"
"Copy that Lieutenant, we're gonna bring the hill down, I'd suggest you duck. 20 seconds."
Cider switched to the platoon net "Get your heads down, we've got support coming in 20 seconds!" She pushed herself down deeper into her hole, counting away the time. If even a single pony up there was off target even a little they were good as dead.
Cider looked up as the first ponies streaked in, heavy flight armor adorning them. It was the dedicated ground attack armor, thick heavy plates supporting multiple pylon mounted rocket launchers and 30mm autocannon. Casings showered to the ground as they streaked by guns blazing, tearing through the onrushing griffons like so much tissue paper. Ponies in even heavier bomber gear flew higher, distant specks raining high explosive down on the rear lines of the griffons. Massive explosions shattered their ranks as dirty orange fireballs incinerated them alive, concussive force reverberating through the ground under Ciders hooves. All told it was roughly 10 kilotons of high explosive, but the Air Force wasn't done yet. They arched off into the distance to relieve the beleaguered BCT to the north, and Cider watched, mouth agape as a familiar purple and green dragon pierced the clouds, improvised armor and weaponry strapped to his hide. Cargo pods on his flank opened, and free fall bombs tumbled to the ground.
The griffons were shattered; the day had started with them on the verge of victory, now half their number remained, and they withdrew at best speed back towards their homeland, ponies of the ERAF harrying them the entire way.
Cider slumped down into her hole, spent. It was time for a nap.