The Captain's jaw tightened as the edge grew closer. The wind whipped around her, nearly knocking her off of the stone parapet as she galloped forward. Her eyes narrowed as her wings flared, lifting her into the air just as the ground beneath her hooves ended. In a flash she was gone from the castle, the wind pulling her away as fast as her own will.
She had to remind herself how fortunate she was. She had been let out of that stone cell by chance, and part of her had expected to die down there. She hadn't had trouble with any castle guards, since Luna- no, Nightmare Moon hadn't told anyone of her capture. To the forces of Canterlot Castle, she had simply been the returning captain.
She was out of a jail cell for the first time in... Celestia, she didn't even know anymore. Of course, the last time she had thought that was just before arriving at Canterlot. At this point, she must have exhausted every potential hostile party in Equestria. And now she was flying towards the one pony left that would love to see her dead.
And that brought her back to her foul mood. Despite her fortune, the Captain felt like she was already too late. She hadn't expected to escape, but she had expected to leave with Luna's help. Even once she was out, a dozen little preparations and distractions had delayed her leaving. If she was going to help New Ponyville, she needed to be 100% prepared.
She frowned to herself as her altitude sank, taking her into more stable winds. She hadn't always been like that. There was a time when she would have flown from that cell and not stopped until she landed on Trixie. But there was too much at stake now. An entire town would be slaughtered if she didn't hurry, and Trixie would get what she wanted.
The Captain bit her lip through her mask. That was the most troubling loose end of all. Trixie already had Nightmare Moon's power, or at least all she could gain from this power play. The captain knew how little that boisterous foal cared about some cave full of rabble, so why was she still attacking? What is Trixie still after?
The Captain's mind raced faster than her body. If she had nothing to gain by assaulting them, she wouldn't waste her time. Maybe she's just too invested to quit now? No, there are a hundred different excuses she could come up with, especially now that Luna trusts her more than me. She already has Nightmare Moon's power, she doesn't care about the ponies themselves, so what else is in that damned town?
The realization hit her like a train, making her stop short in mid air. Oh no. Oh Celestia, not again.
The Captain took off again in a flash, the rainbow trail behind her lingering for a moment. As she built up speed, the trail seemed to become even longer. Trixie has made it this far half by blind luck and half by anticipation. She knew from the first time my scout saw Twilight and Rainbow that I would lead her right to them. She's played everypony at least once, but there was something she couldn't possibly have forseen. The wind ripped past her face, pulling her mane painfully as her wings pushed harder. Even as the Element of Generosity, I can barely believe that Rarity released me. There's no way Trixie could have anticipated that. She didn't plan for Luna not believing me, she planned for me to still be in a cell in New Ponyville!
The wind on her snout seemed to harden into a solid force, forming a cone of pain around her face. Time seemed to slow even as she flew faster, the urgency of her thoughts and actions feeding off eachother as her realization reached a crescendo. Trixie is looking for me, the last loose end. She'll tear the whole town apart soul by soul if it means keeping me from revealing her to the queen. She doesn't know I already have and that it made no difference.
Something was changing in the air around her, as if the very laws of physics were trying to hold her back. The air screamed as loud as her defiance. NO! Ponyville was already destroyed once because of me, and I'm not going to let it happen again! I've already said I'm going to put it right, and I'm not going to miss that chance by letting some power-tripping idiot kill my friends!
She hardly heard the eruption behind her, but even her driven mind couldn't ignore the spectrum of light that rushed ahead of her. All around, the darkness of day seemed to scream and retreat in cloying blobs from the rainbow surge. The limits of her speed unchecked, the Captain blew forward at the speed of will.
Twilight squinted her eyes as much as she could, but she could still only see the dim outlines of objects around her. She was definitely trotting along a path, she knew she had left the main section of Ponyville just a few minutes ago, and trees didn't surround her on all sides yet. Logically, she had to be somewhere between Ponyville and the Everfree Forest. Which put her right on track.
She mumbled a curse as she blinked again, stopping momentarily to massage her aching head. There's no doubt about it, my eyes are getting worse. Well, technically, I guess they're getting better. Ugh, whatever, I can't see as well either way! Once her magic was back, she would be able to make her own light to see by. New Ponyville couldn't afford her to just sit around waiting though, so she had to content herself with the knowledge that it would only get worse until it got better.
She picked up her pace as she spotted a familiar bend in the path beneath her, readjusting her mental map to her new location. Fluttershy's hut couldn't be too far now, and then she'd be out of this blasted darkness.
Just as importantly, she'd have somepony else nearby. On every occasion, the darkness of day had proven harmless on its own. But despite past evidence, Twilight still shivered alone in the darkness. It had made sense to split up of course, and she had been the one to suggest that Pinkie and Rainbow go look for Applejack's element while she dealt with Fluttershy, but as soon as the two were out of sight she had regretted it. Something about being alone with the darkness made her feel distinctly unalone, like something else was hanging in the air. It brushed against her fur with every movement and she couldn't help but look into it with every blink. With every breath she drew it in and let it paint her lungs black as a nightmare-
"Gaaah!" she yelled, trying to clear her head of the fog inside of it. The sound of her voice vanished instantly, and the feeling began to build anew. Twilight began to feel nauseated, is this how Pinkie lived every day, alone in Ponyville?
Just when she feared she'd have to try something more drastic, the path beneath her ended. Dimly, as if from hundreds of yards away, she could hear flowing water. Putting together what she knew of her location and how the darkness distorted sound, she figured she must be right outside Fluttershy's hut. Within a few moments, she had figured out her bearings and found herself in front of a door.
Originally, Twilight had wanted to be the one to search for Applejack's necklace. She had better night vision and would be more suited to searching through rubble. Rainbow had been the one to remind her of how they had last left Fluttershy, with only her knowing the truth of what she did to help New Ponyville. "She'll need to hear it from you," she had told Twilight. "She'll want to help, but she needs to know that you can forgive her too for what she's done." In the end, Twilight had agreed when Pinkie had assured her that she could find most anything in Ponyville by this point. Not wanting to waste any time while her eyesight was still so good, she had set out immediately.
And now she was here, in front of Fluttershy's house. She dearly hoped that she was home, because if she was at Zecora's hut then there was would be no finding her until the stars were out again. With a silent prayer, she raised her hoof and knocked loudly. "Fluttershy, are you there? It's Twilight. Just Twilight. I know I'm probably waking you up, but I really need to talk to you."
She didn't try to listen for the sound of movement, knowing that Fluttershy could fly silently if she wanted. She stood patiently in front of the door, trying not to think of how thick the air she breathed seem to be. Finally, just as she was about to knock again, the door creaked open just a smidge. "Twilight?" a soft voice floated out.
"Fluttershy! Thank goodness you're here! Ugh, I don't know if you can see me out here at all, but it's the real me. Could I maybe come in?" She tried to keep her voice steady, but even she could hear herself get a little frantic towards the end.
Without another word the door was firmly shut, and Twilight could hear locks click-clacking away behind the door. Even with the noise to break the silence, Twilight was all too happy to rush inside when the door finally opened again.
She took a deep breath, as she came to a stop, filling her lungs with warm, clean air. The door closed behind her and Twilight turned to see Fluttershy's outline in the darkness. Even without seeing her face, Twilight could imagine her blush. "Uhm, let me light a candle for us?" Fluttershy half said, half asked. In a moment, the room was bathed in flickering a light that made Twilight sigh, only then realizing how tense she had really been. Fluttershy simply stood there, her face somewhat more gaunt than Twilight remembered her but otherwise unchanged.
"Fluttershy, first of all, it's good to see you. I know it must seem terribly awkward for me to barge in like this, but things are... well, it's a long story. A really, really long story. But I need your help, New Ponyville needs your help."
To her credit, Twilight thought, Fluttershy adjusted to the situation remarkably quickly. "What kind of help? Has something happened? Spike hasn't been by to pick up shipments in a long time, I was going to go and check but Zecora needed me here. Is everything all right?"
Twilight paused, pushing down the memory of Spike. It hurt her, but there would be time for grieving him, along with her other friends who were dead here, after they made sure everypony else was safe. "Everything was all right when we left, but it could be really bad by now. New Ponyville is under attack and the only way to save it is to use the Elements of Harmony to defeat Nightmare Moon once and for all."
Fluttershy gasped. "Nightmare Moon is attacking again!?"
Twilight caught herself. "Well, er, not exactly. Actually, her henchmare Trixie is leading the forces. You haven't met her, but I promise she's a real headache."
Fluttershy didn't say anything for a moment, but when she spoke it was slow and cautious. "And defeating Nightmare Moon will... stop Trixie?"
For the third time in the conversation, Twilight was caught off guard. "Yes. I mean no. Well, not directly. Look, the elements are the best weapon we've got. All five of us have gathered together already, even Pinkie! We'll... figure out the rest of the plan on the way back, but it will work. They will work."
Fluttershy didn't meet Twilight's eyes, her face seeming all too sad as she looked at the ground. "They didn't work for us, Twilight. Something in us wasn't good enough. I've had a lot of time to think about it since you were here, and there's something you need to know."
Twilight shook her head. "Stop. Fluttershy, I know. I know what you've had to do to those animals. If I had known then, I don't know what I would have done, but I understand now. After seeing New Ponyville, after hearing Rarity's and Applejack's stories, I think you might have acted the best out of us all."
In a flash, Fluttershy looked up from the ground and locked eyes with the unicorn. "Don't say that, Twilight."
Twilight had expected some resistance, but Fluttershy's voice suddenly sounded harsh, angry even. It was low and held a menace that she had never imagined coming from her friend. "Don't say that any of us acted well, least of all me. Rainbow was right, I'm a monster, and that's why the Elements of Harmony didn't work when they should have."
Twilight could only blink at the absurdity of the statement. "Wait, what? Fluttershy, we know why they didn't work."
"So do I, Twilight. I was supposed to embody the element of Kindness, but I don't think I could even then. Since you two left, I've had nothing to do but hurt my friends and think. I've done a lot of thinking, and I've figured it all out. Somewhere deep inside of me, even then, was the ability to hurt my friends. Even if I hadn't used it yet, it was there and all it took was the something to bring it out. The element must have somehow known that and not worked, and because of me even more friends were hurt."
To the last word, Flutershy's voice was hard and cold. Twilight wasn't sure whether to hug her or if that would provoke some kind of rebuttal, but it all seemed so horribly off-center for the pegasus. "Fluttershy, no, that isn't it at all. You're the kindest pony I've ever known! The elements didn't work because the ca- Rainbow Dash sold out to Nightmare Moon and became the Captain of the Shadowbolts. Fluttershy, it had nothing to do with you."
Fluttershy only shook her head as she leaned against the door, her legs shaking slightly. "It doesn't matter anymore. The Element of Kindness will never work for me now. I'm sorry Twilight but... I can't do that again."
Twilight stepped towards her friend, extending a hoof to help, but the yellow pegasus collapsed with a sob onto the floor. "Twilight, I want to help, but you have to realize that I'm a murderer. I couldn't use the Element of Kindness now, and relying on me is just going to get ponies killed again."
Twilight knelt down in front of her friend, brushing away the mane that Fluttershy was trying to hide behind. "No, Fluttershy, you're just blaming yourself. Don't you see? You never did anything wrong, and under the circumstances-"
"Under the circumstances what? Under the circumstances, it's okay to hold your friends prisoner? Under the circumstances, it's okay to slaughter the innocent creatures that trusted you? What circumstances could possibly justify that?" Fluttershy raised a hoof to swat Twilight away, making the unicorn recoil in surprise.
"You told Rainbow yourself! New Ponyville had to eat, and you saved their lives! It was a horrible thing to do but it was better than letting everypony die!"
"I used to think that," Fluttershy mumbled, "but now I figured it out. I thought about it and I figured it out. Twilight, we never had to eat those animals. How many ponies do you think the creatures in the Everfree could feed?"
Twilight thought for a moment. "I... have no idea. nobody knows how many there are-"
"And how many places like the Everfree are there, where animals are wild and take care of themselves?"
"I really don't know. Not a lot, but there's Yellowhoof Reserve and-"
"Then there are very few places where animals... where ponies could do what I've done, and yet we're the only ones who have resorted to this. Everypony else across Equestria has been eating some other way, it's the only explanation. Otherwise, everypony would have starved by now. There just aren't enough small creatures in the wild."
Twilight felt like she had been bucked in the gut. As much as the realization hurt her, she knew it must have felt a thousand times worse for Fluttershy. "Celestia... Fluttershy, I'm so sorry. You did the best you could, and you found an answer, and we can send out ponies to figure out what they are eating. But we need to stay alive long enough to make sure that that word gets around, that Nightmare-"
"Twilight, please, just listen. You're making the same mistake we did." She paused, but Twilight forced herself to keep quiet just a moment longer. "When we first fled Nightmare Moon, we refused to obey her and it cost us our town. We hid away from her rule and called her evil while we killed animals for food. You know better than me what's been happening in New Ponyville, so tell me that the ponies there are the same good ponies from your world."
"They are... different. I-It's complicated!" Twilight shifted away from the sitting pegasus, growing uncomfortable with the turn of the conversation.
"But it's not. It's so simple. Have you asked yourself why Equestria hasn't frozen with no sun? Why the night doesn't last forever like Nightmare Moon threatened?"
Twilight's mouth opened and closed soundlessly as she sat down, utterly bewildered. "Fluttershy, are you implying that Nightmare Moon is the good pony here?"
"She's not as bad as me, no. She killed my friends, but so did I. Except I did it again and again and then I ate them."
"But better than your friends in New Ponyville?"
For the first time, Twilight caught a waver of uncertainty in Fluttershy's voice. "I- Yes, she is. We've become something horrible Twilight, not the ponies we used to be. I'm the farthest thing from the Element of Kindness that you can find. Nightmare Moon is horrible, but she didn't trick us. She didn't lead us by the hoof with a smile and then kill us for food. I did that. I'm the monster."
Twilight didn't know what to say anymore. She knew she had lost track of how this conversation had even started, and it took her a moment to bring herself back to her reason for coming at all. "Fluttershy, you can't judge somepony's actions without taking circumstance into consideration. You can't call yourself or New Ponyville completely evil anymore than you can say Nightmare Moon is. There's some good in everypony, and if you help us with the elements we can save something of that good."
Fluttershy sighed, nearly blowing out the candle next to her. "Even if I could help, could the rest of us? Is Rarity still generous enough? Is Applejack honest?"
"Rarity is more generous than ever, and Applejack... I trust her. They've had to face their own demons, but I think they understand their elements better than ever before."
"And with all six of us, you want to use that power to kill the only thing keeping this world alive?"
"No, not kill. Not unless we have to." Twilight had to keep from stomping her hoof. "Princess Luna might still be inside there, and we might be able to help her too.
"And Trixie? Her army?"
Twilight paused. "That's... different. We have to protect New Ponyville, so if it comes to self defense then we must-"
"No, you don't!" Fluttershy's voice was soft but certain. "Your own words were 'the elements are the best weapon we've got'. Weapon. You've started to think like us, Twilight. You and Dash don't have to kill anypony. This isn't even your world. I know you just want to help us, but you've got to realize that you can't. You can't help me and you can't help them. We've come too far to go back to our old lives, even if we lived through the night."
Twilight stood, her head swimming. Of all her friends, Fluttershy was the last pony who should be thinking like this. Oh Celestia, what if she's right? After seeing what Applejack did, I nearly turned on them. When I wanted to leave, maybe I should have made Rainbow-
"No!" Twilight yelled, stamping her hoof over Fluttershy. "Rainbow was right! We can't just abandon everypony, no matter who's world this is. And neither can you, Fluttershy!"
Fluttershy was silent again, and Twilight let her sudden anger build momentum. "You can't just sit here in self pity! You've got to take control of yourself and help save your friends! You've already made harder choices, and leaving your friends to die is even worse than killing animals. I know you know that!"
Fluttershy remained silent for a long time, long enough for Twilight to feel a pang of regret. She shouldn't have gotten angry at her friend, but it was just so infuriating to listen to her ignore all logic and reason. They were so close, why couldn't everypony just cooperate?
"I'm sorry, Twilight."
The sound of Twilight's heavy breaths filled the silence, and the mare could feel her legs trembling. Beneath her, Fluttershy trembled softly in the flickering candlelight. The pegasus was doing her best to hide behind her mane, and like a bolt of lightning Twilight realized what she had done. She had yelled, full on yelled, at her softest and shyest friends.
"Oh Celestia. Fluttershy, I'm so sorry. I- I didn't meant to yell." She knelt down in front of Fluttershy, nuzzling her friend tentatively. "Everything is just so... I'm sorry."
Gradually, Fluttershy's shaking subsided, but she still tensed up wherever Twilight's head rested on her neck. She said nothing, but Twilight continued to mumble anyway. "I came here to ask for your help, not demand it. I'm so sick of all my plans failing and I just know this one can work, but I can't make you do it. If you really don't think there's anything worth saving in this world, then will you please let us try at least?" Twilight pulled away from her friend, who turned to look at her with wide eyes. "Will give me your Element of Harmony, so that I can try to find somepony else?"
Fluttershy simply stared at Twilight for almost a minute before she stood, walking slowly past the unicorn and towards her bed. Twilight just stared at where her friend had been sitting, listening to the sound of hoofsteps on wood as she remembered the terrified expression in the candlelight.
It wasn't until somepony cleared their throat behind her that Twilight realized she had been lost in thought, and she turned her head around with a slight blush. Fluttershy was standing with something gold and pink in her mouth, but after a moment she placed it down on the floor between the two ponies.
Twilight stood, but before she could move Fluttershy coughed again. "Uhm, Twilight, is there anypony else that might be able to use this?"
Twilight hesitated, but didn't see any reason to lie or soften the truth. "I might be able to find somepony in New Ponyville, but... I don't know. Not like you, that's for sure."
"Even with everything I've done?"
Twilight shook her head, but didn't move to pick up the necklace. "Fluttershy, you did the best you could. You had the strength to do whatever it took to save lives. No matter how bad the choice you had to make, that's something to be proud of"
"But I've still... I've still killed animals. I've done horrible things. You know it wouldn't work for me."
"I don't know that. I barely know anything about the Elements. They might not work for any of us in the end." Twilight twitched, her voice nearly choking on a possibility she didn't want to admit. "But Rarity learned that there's more to generosity than blindly giving, and Rainbow learned more about loyalty than I'll ever know. I don't know if the Elements will somehow recognize that, but I can hope."
Fluttershy didn't meet Twilight gaze for several moments, so Twilight sighed and bent down to pick up the element in her mouth. When she stood back up, Fluttershy was at the other end of the room, placing the contents of a shelf and desk into a pair of saddlebags as quickly and delicately as she could. Twilight felt a spark of recognition at the sight of one bottle, but it disappeared into the saddlebags before she could wrap her mind around it.
"Fmrmfry, whm rm mm doimph?" She mumbled around the bulky jewelry.
Fluttershy bit the latch on the saddlebags shut, hoisting them over her back. She flew back to Twilight and landed in front of her, a determination in her eyes that Twilight hadn't seen since she had stared down a dragon. Fluttershy bent forward and snapped the Element out of Twilight's mouth, flicking it around her neck with a practiced swing. "I'm ready." She said almost like a challenge.
Twilight was taken aback, but smiled nonetheless. She could do this. They could do this. "So, does this mean you finally think I'm right?"
"No." Fluttershy smiled for the first time, "But I can hope."
The General stood in the tunnel, staring out across the battlefield. He spat on the ground and tasted blood, coughing as he turned back to his men.
Rocks. He had been routed by rocks. He was stupid, he should have taken precautions, but he hadn't. And when those stone spears had fallen from the sky, his colts had been massacred.
He looked up the tunnel, horns and torches providing light as ponies licked their wounds. They were too well trained to groan and moan in pain, but the General could feel it in the air. If he could still feel fear, he knew he would have pissed himself by now.
When the first stalactite had touched grown, he had been caught completely flat hoofed. The second had buried two ponies next to him, and the third had hit the back lines seconds later. With not enough light to even see them coming, the soldiers were being killed before they knew what was happening.
The General rested his head against the wall, willing the pounding in his head to go away. He had ordered a shield put up, but the combined might of his entire force could barely stop one stone spire falling at that speed. They never had a chance.
He had never ordered the retreat, but his colts weren't stupid. They would tell themselves it was a tactical retreat, but the General knew the rout for what it was. He was humiliated and ashamed, but most of all he was angry.
Angry. Just thinking the word made his head pound again. He had lost nearly half the ponies that had gone into that room with him. A quarter of his entire force would never fight again. He had known many of them personally from his days as warrant officer, and what was once merely an order had changed. He focused his gaze across the rock-strewn killing ground, the wall of garbage silhouetted by the rebels torches. He had cared nothing for them before, but now it was personal. Now his anger burned inside him until his breath came faster, the air around him tingling and making his fur stand on end. His skin rippled as the familiar heat snaked across it, and he finally found the word for it. He hated those rebels, he hated their tricks and he hated this place and his hatred was going to make them pay.
Something tapped his shoulder, and the General whipped around with his horn flaring. His Sergeant recoiled, his eyes widening at the hostile display, and the General realized what he had done. Taking a deep breath and letting his magic die down, he glared at his officer. "Well?"
"S-sir! We have 73 able-bodied units left. They are awaiting your orders."
The general frowned, turning his gaze back towards the rebel base. "Sergeant, ready another forty. Give those who survived our last push a chance to recover, I want new blood out there this time."
The subordinate saluted and vanished. The General lifted his head and stood, feeling the heat burn through his limbs. I'm going dig our dead out from that rubble, and then I'm going to bury a rock in the head of whoever gave that order. I'm going to kill every single pony responsible for this, starting with the ones behind that wall.
Big Macintosh wasn't stupid. When the pegasi had forced the soldiers to retreat, his ponies had wanted to celebrate. He would have none of it though, and had ordered them to do a damage assessment of the wall and resupply their ammunition. Big Mac knew neither their defenses nor their supplies had taken a serious hit, but it kept them busy. When the soldiers pushed again, he didn't want a single one of his volunteers to be caught flat hooved.
He sighed, turning his gaze back towards the town. Somewhere back there, the ponies who were too young or old to fight were hiding, waiting for a signal that they should evacuate. Big Mac had told Rarity that an evacuation should be immediate, but he had to concede the point that they'd have nowhere to go. Their best bet was to try and wait it out.
And that left the lives of the town to a handful of ponies and one heap of stone and wood. Big Mac surveyed the scrambling figures around him, taking a headcount with disquieting ease as he walked along the base of the wall. New Ponyville had been founded by the survivors on Ponyville, with meager supplies and even less morale. In the times since, their population had sank even further. Even now, nearly half of those alive were sick in the hospital, barely able to move. Even with volunteering requirements being stretched, he had been left with a fighting force of barely fifty for a fight on which everyponies' lives depended.
had started the day with nineteen earth ponies, but two had died. Somewhere in the dark of the cave ceiling, less than a score of pegasi awaited another signal. Without their magic, the unicorns were little more than body shields, and so Big Mac had ordered all but one to remain away from the fighting.
Speaking of, he thought as he turned away from the wall. A white unicorn sat at the end of the bridge, her face red even through her coat. Big Mac let his hoofsteps herald his approach, not wanting to startle the mare.
Even before he asked the question, Big Mac knew the answer. Still, he had to be sure. "Any luck, Pop?"
With a sigh, Pop massaged her temples with her hooves, coughing lightly between breathes. "Sorry, Big Mac. I just... I can't explain it. I know how the pieces should go together, but it's like I'm missing one." She coughed again and stood up, shaking the dirt off herself before casting a glance towards the wall. "I don't know how long it's gonna be like this. There's no sense of the end getting closer, and I'm no use back here. Let me get on that wall, I know I can't buck as well as an Earth Pony-"
Big Mac shook his head and cut Pop off, already knowing where the conversation would go. "We've talked about this Pop. I can't risk you getting hurt, no matter what. Once your magic is back, I promise you can get as high on that wall as you can climb, but not a moment sooner."
Big Mac never knew if Pop was going to argue the point further. As the final word left his mouth, another yell came from across the bridge. As soon as Big Mac turned his head, he saw the light shining over the wall. The soldiers had returned.
"Sergeant, spread the word. I want every soldier on the perimeter to focus on our skyshield. Let the rest of the second row handle the hailstorm; it's just gonna be three of them, so I need the best on that." The General thought for a moment as troops rushed out of the tunnel and around him, their horns casting beams of light skyward. "That will leave fifteen of us for offensive strikes. More than enough to whittle them down."
The Sergeant nodded and rushed towards the forming ranks, but the General wasn't in such a hurry. They had a minute or so before they were in lethal range of those rocks, and the lights would give them warning of any surprise stalactites. He intended to take advantage of the opportunity.
He looked to his right and saw the dark and boarded building from earlier. It had likely been a guardhouse of some sort, but had clearly been abandoned. Not surprising, since it would have hardly made a good position to block them from the town proper. The General considered garrisoning it, but quickly dismissed the notion. It provided excellent coverage of the battlefield, but was clearly out of range of the wall. Useless.
He turned his gaze to the left. Nothing but darkness on that side, but the last scout he had sent had walked along the cavern wall all the way until the water stopped him. He had been very clear that scouts were posted along the other bank every few hundred feet, and the General did not like the idea of his colts being caught under fire while trying to cross water. They couldn't shoot what they couldn't see, and all the rebels would have to do was stand back and throw their rocks towards the screams. The Royal Guards who did take cover would be trampled or drowned. No, their best bet was to simply take the bridge, all they had to do was get rid of that stupid wall.
"General, forces are in position sir. We advance on your order."
The General nodded. His gut squirmed and his skin crawled. His lips stretched apart as he thought of the bloodshed to come, and the rush of his last kill. Let Trixie plan and scheme her way through things, he thought as he walked forward to join his colts. I'll do things my way. Let's put this hatred to use.
Red flinched as the first spell hit the wall with a crack, dust falling around him. He braced himself against the stone, leaning his bulk into it. He heard a scream from above him and grimaced, resisting the urge to rush up and take the post. His bulk was best used here, but he knew his bucking leg would put most of these amateurs to shame.
There was another scream, and then a thunk from behind him as somepony hit the ground. Red's jaw tightened. Something hit the wall like a stick of dynamite, and the vibrations sent pain through his teeth. He heard a wet gurgle over the chaos of noise, and something warm and wet splashed across his back. He shut his eyes and tried not to think of his neighbors dropping like flies.
There was a crack of metal on stone, this time from his side of the bridge. Red looked up in time to see one of Big Mac's boulders go flying overhead. With a moment of hesitation, he figured that that would take enough pressure off of them for him to start replacing his fallen fellows on the wall. And he hated not knowing what was going on.
There wasn't much scaffolding to speak of, but a clever pony could find hoofholds on the wall easily enough. He reached the top just as a loud whistle came from behind him, and he grabbed a melon-sized rock in both hooves as he peeked over the top.
Not so far away, horns were lit up in an array of colors in a careful five-by-eight formation. The air in front of the first rock sparked and crackled in as many colors and the defenders' stones were deflected, but Red's attention was grabbed by something else entirely. Out of the darkness of the cave, like an assault from the skies, a dozen stalactites the size of ponies came down.
Fifty yards above the host, something crackled in the air. Red remembered how the unicorns had tried to hold the stalactites last time, but trying to stop them from falling only let them pile up above their heads. This time, however, the stalactite didn't stop. In fact, it barely even slowed. Only... it wasn't headed towards the soldiers?
Red's heart sank, realizing what was happening as the other stalactites hit. The soldiers had erected a cone-shaped barrier above their heads, and as the stalactites hit they simply slid down the side.
Red swore under his breath. Big Mac had told him that the stalactites wouldn't hold the invaders for long, but Red thought they'd have more time than this. More stalactites connected with the shield and slid down harmlessly to the side, illuminating streaks throughout the dark air like shooting stars as the shield flared. Though it was taking a lot of effort on the attackers' part, the defenders' pegasi were now all but useless.
Red reared back on two legs and hoisted his missile onto the wall, turning around and bucking out in one motion. He lost sight of it in the darkness immediately, and knew it was as ineffectual as his comrades' attempts. At the end of the day, rocks just weren't going to beat magic.
In tandem, over a dozen horns flared in the distance. Big Red stared for a moment as he realized the flares weren't getting bigger, only closer. He scrambled down the wall and threw himself against it just as the deluge hit.
He clenched his jaw and immediately regretted it, nearly screaming from the pain as the vibration shook him. The dirt and stone beneath his hooves felt like sand as his legs grew numb, a few seconds seeming to last several minutes. It was only when he sank to the ground that he realized the assault had paused, and he struggled to get back on his feet.
He tried to listen to the yells around him, but all he could make out was a loud ringing punctuated by muted screams. The world turned sideways, and he belatedly realized that his head had fallen into the dust. He coughed and his head flared, and before his eyes a purple mare tumbled from above and landed on her side, her back to him. She did not move.
For the first time, Big Red wondered how much longer they could hold.