The Twilight War

Part II

The Shadow of War

By: Kenai

"Yes, today marks the third day in a row without a public appearance by her majesty." The camera paused, pulling back from a zoomed in shot of the front gate to the palace at Canterlot, showing a face recognized by most of Equestria; News Flash, the most respected news pony in the world. His expression was serious, as befit the situation. His very presence lent an air of credibility to the story.

"Have there still been no official press releases yet?" an anchorpony asked from the studio of Equestria Daily News.

"Not relating to the condition of the Princess. It has been put forth that Countess Rarity of Ponyville take on the temporary position of Regent until such a time as the Princess can take over running the government again, though there remains much debate among the nobility. That said, seeing all of this activity and no official response does reinforce the notion that the Princess is perhaps either injured or sick. I have also heard unconfirmed rumors of gunfire coming from inside the palace walls, but I must reinforce that they are unconfirmed rumors. Either way, the people of Equestria are worried, particularly as this marks the third day without a sunset."

The feed cut back to the anchorpony sitting behind the desk. He shuffled the papers on the desk before looking straight into the camera. "Troubling times indeed Flash, thank you for the update. With war on our doorstep, where is our leader? All of Equestria waits in fear.  We are joined now in studio by our chief war correspo-"

Four-hundred kilometers away Rainbow Dash turned the TV off with an annoyed huff. She knew exactly where the princess was; dragged off by the dirty talons of a flock of Griffons. To be fair, Palace security was still trying to piece everything together; the invaders were particularly thorough about making sure they weren't seen, but Dash knew, and the thought continued to make her blood boil. It was odd that they would want to be unseen in kidnapping the Princess only to follow it up with an immediate full scale invasion, but Dash didn't care about any of the Griffon's official objections to the contrary, they had to be responsible for it.

Dash's anger brought her back to the comatose figure across from her. Pinkie Pie lay sprawled out on a hospital bed in a very undignified manner, the typical variety of hospital probes, monitors, and IVs plugged into her. She was breathing on her own at least, which the docs said was a good sign. Rainbow Dash stooped down, nuzzling the pony's forehead. "I'm sorry I wasn't faster, Pinkie."

The Sky Marshal turned to leave, and was half-way to the door as a earth-shattering boom sounded outside the hospital. Dash bolted to the window, hooves clacking loudly on the tile floor. Surely the Griffons hadn't pushed to Fort Equinox already!

As she reached the window, a single, giant green reptilian eye took up the frame, glimmering slightly in the sunlight. Rainbow Dash turned to run the other way, falling on her back "Ah! Dragon!" she exclaimed "Wait... Dragon?"

As if the dragon knew she was talking to him, he pulled back, revealing an adolescent dragon with brilliant purple and green scales. He waved a claw in salute, smiling at her. Shakily, Dash stood, waving a hoof back.

A few moments later, the sounds of a heated argument in the hall beyond spilled under the doorway to Pinkie Pie's hospital room. "Look, Doctor, I appreciate your concern, but I've read many books on the subject and I-"

"But nothing!" The door slammed open and in strode an aggravated looking Twilight Sparkle with an even more aggrieved doctor trailing. "I refuse to let you touch my patients without either of us knowing exactly what will happen."

Dash's face lit up as she recognized Twilight, who now wore the official robes of the Archmage of Equestria, one of the highest positions in the government, though mainly an advisory position. Dash giggled in spite of herself "The Egghead's Guide to Medicine doesn't count."

Twilight looked up, flashing a friendly smile at Rainbow Dash. "Hello Rainbow Dash, or should I say Sky Marshal Dash? It's been awhile." Twilight pointed a hoof out the window "I see you've already seen Spike."

Twilight's horn sparkled with a shimmer of magic as she looked at Pinkie Pie. The Doctor cleared his throat loudly and the sparking subsided. "Oh fine... you win."

The doctor nodded, winking at Rainbow Dash "I'll trust you to keep her to it ma'am, I've gotta be on my rounds." He turned around and padded back out into the hallway. A pregnant silence filled the room as they looked down upon Pinkie Pie. A loud bleep blared from one of the biomonitors, a cacophony of sound from its fellows following soon after. Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash looked on shocked as their friend stirred.

Pinkie Pie wearily blinked her eyes, stretching as much as the bed would let her. "Did I" she coughed "miss the party?"

Rainbow Dash rushed to her side, dipping under the tubes and wires to give her a hug. "Thought I'd lost you there. Are you ok?"

"You came at just the right time." Pinkie coughed again. "Too much longer and Ida' been griffon food for sure though. Big meanies.  Hi Twi!" Pinkie waved a weak hoof at Twilight, standing at the foot of the bed.

"Well Pinkie, we best get going. You're being transferred back to Canterlot as soon as possible, so if I don't see you again for awhile, get well soon." Dash stated, careful to not qualify it with if.

The two started to leave the room, but Pinkie interjected. "Guys. Twitch!"

Dash and Twilight looked at each other, then back to Pinkie. Her tail was shaking so hard, thrashing against the bed so rapidly as if to be vibrating. "I forget, does that mean something's about to fall or a door is opening?" Twilight asked.

"No no no, or was it? I thought it meant cold weather. Which was it Pink-" Dash's response was cut short by another massive explosion, shaking the very foundation of Fort Equinox. Her ears perked up "Cruise missile, I'd guess about 300 meters off target. Not very likely to be one of ours."

Twilight picked herself up off the floor, dusting her robe off telekinetically. "I think that brings me to the second reason I'm here. The Mages of Equestria have pledged their service. For the first time in a thousand years, we go to war."

*****

A hundred klicks to the North-North-West and 13,000 meters off the ground, Colonel Spitfire was getting pissed. Her wing, the 3rd Fighter wing was assigned to hold this particular portion of the line. It just so happened that the Griffons were also targeting this particular portion of the line more than any other part. Her troops were good (The Wonderbolts aerial demonstration team drew its members mainly from the 3rd FW after all), but even they could only deal with the superior numbers they were facing so well. Many of them were flying well over what the regs said to do, and few had gotten much in the way of quality sleep with the sun still where it was when this all started. What made matters worse though was that while her troops were starting to get fatigued, the enemies didn't seem to be phased; they had to be rotating out across a huge pool of reserves, which was not a good sign.  At least the skies were clear for now. The one advantage they had was their pressurized armor; the griffons seemed to have a hard time climbing to altitude.

It was all of this that was the reason Spitfire was in the field in the first place and not directing this mess back in base. Damn near everyone that ever qualified for flight armor was being shoved into it and sent out.

Her executive officer, Lieutenant Colonel Soarin' interrupted her thoughts, voice slightly distorted over the radio "When we return to base, can we stop by Sweet Apple Acres? I could really go for some pie."

Spitfire laughed for the first time in a week "Boys... always thinking with their stomachs or their coc-"

"LIGHTNING One-One, CLYDESDALE, new enemy formation detected closing on heading one-eight-zero, Angels-Five. Estimated time to intercept: one-zero minutes to " there was a brief pause as the controller consulted his screens "maximum missile range. Tally about uh one-one-eight bandits. It's hard to tell, lots of jamming out there."

"Solid copy CLYDESDALE, moving to intercept." Spitfire hovered in place, thinking about her forces disposition. A hundred-plus would be a challenge but they could hold, most likely. "THUNDER-one-one, take the 31st, 7th, and 9th squadrons with you. Let's give em the old hack-and-slash."  Inwardly, Spitfire sighed. There was going to be a lot of empty bunks in the barracks tonight.

*****

The room was dark and quiet as Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash strode into the operations center of Fort Equinox. Operators and technicians set hunched over their consoles, processing information and routing it out to the various combat commanders. Those that weren't actively busy at the moment stood to attention as Dash entered. Dash acknowledged them with a polite nod, ushering Twilight into a glass walled briefing room with a view of the main tactical display. Twilight pulled the door to with a telekinetic tug before taking a seat across from Dash.

The two sat for a moment simply taking in the display. A satellite map of Equestria with notable locations pointed out was covered with tinges of color indicating who controlled what (red for enemy, blue for friendly). Individual commands were notated by squares for ground units and triangles for aerial units, and those actively engaged were marked by a slow pulse. The splotches of red indicating enemy contact were depressingly prevalent, with multiple salients into Equestrian territory near Canterlot, Ponyville, and Stalliongrad. Cloudsdale was slowly drifting deeper into Equestrian territory, suggesting the cities' mayor decided it was better to be far away from the invading Griffons.

"How bad is it really?" Twilight asked.

"Bad" Dash answered sourly "We're outnumbered damn near three to one,  lacking in coordination and morale is plummeting like an earth pony in Cloudsdale. Shortly after we rescued what remained of the Griffon ambassadorial staff, they came pouring across the border. If it hadn't been for General Archer they would have rolled over us on the first day. He showed up just in time to chop off the vanguard of their forces. That's been about the only good news we've had in the past couple of days. Our field commanders are fighting as individuals for the most part; a good number of high level officers were in Canterlot when the attacks happened and you can guess what fate they met. The Air Force is mostly coordinated as I made sure to put my hoof down, but the Army is all over the place, and Celestia only knows what the Navy is doing. Aside from that, Celestia was our commander in chief, and with her gone there is no supreme commander of all forces. We just never for a second imagined that anything could happen to her. Any word yet about what happened to Princess Luna?"

Twilight's voice was heavy with emotion; even now she was very close to the Princess. "N-no. I've tried to find out where she is myself, but every person I ask that could possibly know clams up the moment I mention her name. Given that she hasn't bothered to take over her sisters duties, who knows. Blueblood was next in line but, well, what palace security found of him could be scraped up and put in a jar. Last I heard the Dukes and Duchesses were bickering amongst each other over who should be next in line. Last I heard Rarity was attempting to claim the Regency till such a time that Princess Celestia could be reinstated."

Dash looked from the map to Twilight. "I heard a mention of it on the news, figured it was just a rumor."

"Yeah, apparently she has a great-great grandmother who was of direct relation to Celestia or something. Actually, let's find out." Twilight sifted through her bags, pulling out a pen and paper. She dashed off a quick note to Rarity before "poofing" it outside to Spike, who sent it on its way in the usual method. A few minutes elapsed before a rolled up parchment materialized on the table, elegantly secured by Rarity's personal seal. Twilight unfolded it gingerly.

"Her majesty, blah blah, Regent of Equestria, hereby appoints-" Twilight looked up at Dash and back to the letter several times, blinking. "Well, she is the new Regent, and she has just appointed you to overall command of Her Majesty's forces. Congratulations, Supreme Commander." Twilight passed the scroll to Rainbow Dash.

"Well, that is useful. Hardly suprising she would want the best pegasus in Equestria on it though." Dash leaned forward to push an intercom button "Captain, get in here."

In less than 10 seconds Scootaloo came eagerly bouncing through the door. "Twi, I believe you know my Chief of Staff." Twilight nodded and Scootaloo waved hello. She was certainly older now, looked to be about the same age Rainbow Dash was when she went off to OCS, maybe a few years younger.

"What can I do for you ma'am?"

"Take this" Dash handed the scroll to Scootaloo "and have it distributed to all commands. I want full status reports within the hour." Scootaloo nodded, bounding off happily on her mission.

"Now that I can actually do something about it" Dash said, reclining in her chair "let's talk about our morale problems. Our ground units are suffering the most. We'll need them later if we can ever go on the offensive, but as it is right now this is an air war. Aside from the anti-air units, all they can do is get shot at in the meantime. Do you still remember that cloud walking spell..."

*****

Spitfire orbited impatiently as the host of Griffons continued towards them. They had slowed down as if they were trying to check something. Now was their chance. "THUNDER-one-one, go for slash, repeat, go for slash."

Several thousand meters down, only a klick above the stalled Griffons, Three of her majesty's most dedicated  fighter pegasi squadrons broke radio silence, tearing apart the cloud they were hiding in as they arrowed in on top of the Griffons. A Close-Range Attack missile (CRAM) had a range of 20 klicks, and this was a target they could not miss. Scything through the clouds and leaving a vortex in their wake, the pegasi slipped into three V formations, before salvoing their missiles.

The once orderly Griffon formation fell into immediate disarray as the missiles materialized out of thin air before streaking onto their targets. Waiting just long enough that the seekers of the second salvo wouldn't be blinded by the rocket engines of the first, Soarin' ordered the second salvo. Even from her distant location 10 klicks upward it was a sight to behold; flight armored pegasi tearing through the clouds and salvoing off missile fire in formation, it was the stuff of war story legend.

However, the Griffon's commanding officer was no fool. Ordering (or threatening) his troops back into formation, the lead elements peeled off into a starburst pattern, dropping flares and decoys into the center of the burst. The ERAF called it a Nova, a basic defensive tactic to overwhelm infrared seeking missiles. Of the initial salvo of thirty-six missiles, three fourths lost their target and wandered off course. Not all of them did however, and the one-track minds of the missiles seeker heads continued on with their cold purpose in life; to seek mutual annihilation among warm things, and an overworked Griffon in flight armor was a very warm thing indeed at 5,000 meters. Screaming in at mach 4, the seekers made their final course corrections before turning into their targets. Griffons jinked, dived, and rolled, but even still, 10 solid hits landed, shredding their victims to pieces as the annular blast fragmentation warheads detonated amongst them. Multiple Griffons fell back, blood leaking from their armor or knocked unconscious by the trauma, but still the formation held.

The second salvo streaked in on them, missiles tearing through the air at mach four, and this time there was no starburst, no group evasion patterns, they simply lacked the time to react. Soarin' was a clever pony; the first salvo was just saturation fire, it didn't matter if it worked or not. The second salvo was precisely target on two forward squadrons, protected by only the weakest of electronic warfare. Thirty-six missiles tracked twenty Griffons, unit cohesion momentarily forgotten in the face of the avalanche. They panicked, desperate evasive maneuvers only making them only bigger targets. Missiles detonated, and shrieks filled the air for a brief second before they were snatched away by the wind.

When the smoke cleared, the formation of one hundred and eighteen Griffons was down to "only" one hundred. Spitfire tried not to fidget in anticipation. "Come on..." she thought "take the bait."

It was the Griffons turn first however; they had just enough time for one missile salvo before the formation of pegasi was too close for missiles. There was a momentary pause as formation leaders allocated targets, and then they fired. Rocket motors ignited, stabbing the metallic messengers of death through the air on columns of fire and smoke.

Soarin gulped inside his armor as their double salvo was returned tenfold. That was an uncomfortably large number of missiles. This did however betray something; this formation was not simply another probe of fighter-griffons. A quick LIDAR scan confirmed his suspicions. Nestled in the center of the formation was four elongated, sealed tubes, each supported by four griffons via tethers; infantry transports. "CLYDESDALE, THUNDER 1-1, this formation isn't just coming for us, it's an invasion force!"

There was a pause as the controller processed that information, datalink in Soarin's suit feeding them a clear picture of what was coming their way. The griffons in those tubes wouldn't be burdened by extras like air to air mssiles, they'd be armored for ground warfare, and there would be a great number packed in there. A droning buzz in his ear tugged back Soarin's attention, a missile was locked on to him. All he could do was stick to the plan  and hope he came out on the other side. "All units, hard down, let's take it low!"

As one the formation banked in a high-G turn, diving for the ground. The pegasi did have one advantage; their suits were a generation ahead of what the griffons fielded, and here it told. Datalinked sensors studied the missile fire at a speed far beyond what their wearers could do, allocating defensive responsibilities in a millisecond. Jammers went active in the center of the formation, whilst the flare launchers on those at the outer edges of the formation went into overdrive, pumping out a faint, wing-like pattern across the sky that glowed bright red.

Soarin's eyes became glued to his rear threat display. The missiles crawled inexorably across the screen, little red blips belying their destructive power. The blaring of his suit's warning indicators was now almost a continuous whine. Soarin' forced his eyes closed, he didn't want to see it coming if it was his time.

The countermeasures worked, somewhat. Of the sixty heat seeking missiles fired,  forty five drifted off target, detonating harmlessly as they reached the decoy flares. The remaining missiles reached their targets, detonating as designed. Annular blast fragmentation warheads were nasty stuff, and as one went off near him, Soarin' remembered why. Pain shot through his body as fragments shredded his delicate wing, legs, and some small pieces stabbed through his armor and into his torso. He opened his eyes, wincing at the blinding, white-hot pain. His suit was dead, no coms, no navigational aids, nothing. As he spiraled into the ground, he wondered if he'd ever see Canterlot again. Flapping his one good wing, he managed a rough landing of sorts, throwing up a fantail of dirt and leaves as he crashed into the ground. He was losing a lot of blood, a distant corner of his brain noticed.  Looking up at the sky one last time, he admired the permanent twilight cast over the distant Griffon Confederacy, slipping into unconsciousness.

Spitfire watched as Soarin' crashed, briefly unsure rather or not to dash to his side or cry out in anguish. She settled on doing her job, laying out targeting priorities in her HUD with cold, methodical precision. Soarin's suicidal ride had performed its goal, and now much of the covering force was breaking off to chase the survivors. That made a nice, juicy target of the invasion force for her LRSMs. All told they had about eighty of the long range, radar guided weapons left. She pressed the transmit button on the left side of her chest armor, and the computers took over, locking in firing solutions and assigning targets. "Fire." she ordered, grunting as the missiles on her suit were kicked off their rails.

Time seemed to slow to a crawl as Spitfire watched the missiles, every bone in her battle-weary body aching for vengeance. If the griffons saw the missiles coming, it didn't seem to perturb them much; they continued on with their mission. Chaff dispensers fired, showering the sky in metallic ribbons, and weak EW tried to interfere, but it was a lackluster effort; the Griffons after all had numbers to spare, why would they waste valuable carrying capacity on something like defenses? Slamming into their targets at four times the speed of sound, the griffon invasion force took the hit hard. The vast majority were targeted at those carrying the invasion pods. As their supporting bodies lost consciousness and fell to the ground, the pods went with them, digging a huge channel into the ground below as they skidded to a stop.

Colonel Spitfire tried to be happy about it, but the cost in blood was too great. "All units, all units, LIGHTNING 1-1, disengage and RTB." Spitfire herself angled down to the ground; if she had to walk back she would bring back Soarin'.

*****

With the sun's progress across the sky effectively halted, only half of the world was cast into permanent day, the other half was under permanent night. Areas such as Froggy Bottom Bog, and west. Areas such as what Fluttershy was prowling through now, not that anyone would have recognized her; wrapped in recon armor she was a well camouflaged shadow, moving stealthily through the night.

The irony of her situation did not escape her, and she smiled to herself; not too long ago she would have been terrified of going into this swamp at night, now she was one of the best special reconnaissance agents in the Equestrian Intelligence Service, particularly in wilderness like this. Her connection to the animals enabled her to move as one of them, and even use them to gather information, something the enemy could not detect even if he was looking for it.

Fluttershy prowled on through the night, acutely attuned to the swamp around her. Her mission was critical and she had many miles to cross before she reached her destination. She could not fail.