M41.996 12:10 pm (Equestria time) Everfree Forest
“…and now you’re here! This is so great I can’t wait to introduce you to all my friends we can have a giant ‘We Have New Alien Friends’ party! We’ll have cake and games and music-”
“You’re right Ditzy we’ll have muffins too this is going to be so great!”
Sergeant Vorolanus had given up trying to comprehend the endless stream of words coming from the pink alien’s mouth. Ever since the Ultramarines stopped attacking, she had been talking nonstop. She had barely given them the opportunity to identify themselves as Ultramarines before immediately babbling about how silly that name sounded, the fact that it was a colour, and how much another pony called “Rarity” would love the colours and designs on their armour. She bounced crazily among Vorolanus’s Thunderbolts, babbling about topics ranging from parties to parties.
“I’ve seen eldar Harlequins sit still for longer than this one,” Sergeant Atavian remarked dryly.
“It seems that they share the fascination with bright colours,” Vorolanus replied. He glanced over at Scout-Sergeant Darius, who was the current recipient of a lengthy dissertation on the topic of balloons. Once again, he praised the Emperor for his sealed helmet, allowing him to have a conversation in peace.
“Scipio.” It was rare for anyone outside Sergeant Vorolanus’s squad to call him by his first name. Usually if anyone did, it was because they had personal matters to discuss.
“I know what you’re going to say, Maxima,” Vorolanus replied, turning to face his battle-brother. “You might as well say it.”
“This is highly… irregular,” Atavian said hesitantly.
“Irregular? A grey horse-alien just flew up to me and asked, in perfect Gothic, if I like muffins. I would certainly define this day as ‘irregular.’”
Atavian caught up with the Tactical Sergeant. “True,” he replied. “But that wasn’t really my point.” He glanced over at the striped horse-alien, which appeared to be sheltering the three smaller ones. “What is Sicarius thinking?” he asked, not really speaking to anyone in particular. “Sparing xenos? Chaplain Trajan would have his head for this.”
“Then it is fortunate for the 2nd that he is not here.” Vorolanus scanned the woods ahead of them, eager to take his mind off of such a difficult matter. Everything he saw was absolutely teeming with life, contrasting sharply with the rugged, mountainous terrain of Maccrage. Dark, gnarled trees stretched their limbs, intertwining them in a thick canopy that cast a dull gloom over the forest. Switching his helmet’s vents open, he inhaled deeply, allowing the damp, rich scent of wood and other vegetation fill his three lungs.
Abruptly, the serene scene was invaded by a violently pink horse-shaped form. The alien bounced back and forth, somehow managing to reach Vorolanus’s eye level with each gravity-defying hop.
“Wow, you guys don’t talk that much are you shy or something?” it asked excitedly, apparently not intimidated by Vorolanus’s armoured, faceless visage.
The damned thing isn’t scared in the slightest, he thought, somewhat irritated. Switching his external speakers on, he addressed the strange pink alien. “What do you want, creature?” he growled, unconsciously raising his chainsword slightly.
“My name isn’t ‘creature’ it’s Pinkie Pie! But you can call me Pinkie! After all we’re going to be best friends! You’re going to have so much fun at my party! We’ll have pie and muffins and we’ll dance and sing and we’re all gonna party hard!”
“Muffins!” came the voice of the grey, winged horse-alien. “What kinds of muffins do you guys like? My favorite is oatmeal raisin!” She smiled brightly, as if extremely proud of herself.
Vorolanus felt his temper rising, and his thumb hovered over the activation stud of his chainsword.
“Stay your blade, Scipio.” Atavian stepped forward, trying to defuse Vorolanus’s explosive temper. “Remember our Captain’s orders.”
Vorolanus took a deep breath and let his anger flow out of him. “I’m afraid celebrations will have to wait,” he said evenly. “My brothers and I must rendezvous with our Captain and determine our next course of action.”
“Awww, that doesn’t mean we can’t party! And did anypony ever tell you that you talk funny? What kind of word is ‘rondy-voo’ anyway? It sounds like something my friend Rarity would say and did I mention that she’ll love your fancy armour? Also I never asked what your names are! I’m such a silly-nilly! Names are the first thing somepony should learn about new friends!” Pinkie’s wide grin became expectant. “My name’s Pinkie Pie and-“ she abruptly covered her mouth with a hoof. “I really am a silly-nilly! I already told you my name! This is my friend Ditzy Doo! She’s a pegasus and she’s the Ponyville mailmare! What are your names?”
Vorolanus sighed in resignation. “My brother is Sergeant Atavian. I am Sergeant Vorolanus, and you may address us as such.”
Atavian stepped forward, intent on learning more. “We know your names now, but… what exactly are you? What species?”
“We’re ponies! Duh!” Pinkie replied, sticking her tongue out and crossing her eyes in a reasonable impression of Ditzy Doo. “Applebloom and I are earth ponies, Ditzy and Scootaloo are pegasuses… or pegasi…or something, Zecora over there’s a zebra, and Sweetie Belle’s a unicorn!” She smiled again, her eyes losing none of their excitement. Ditzy Doo smiled her characteristic “I-have-no-idea-what’s-going-on” smile. “Enough about us, what about you? What are you guys?”
“We are Space Marines of the Ultramarines Chapter,” Vorolanus responded.
At the Tactical Sergeant’s words, Pinkie suddenly gave a huge gasp. Ditzy spun around in midair and smacked into a low-hanging tree limb. The Cutie Mark Crusaders squeaked in fright and huddled together even tighter. Several Ultramarines spun to face her. A few leveled bolters, but Vorolanus held up a hand.
“You’re from SPAAAAAAAAAACEEEEE! This is so awesome! Do you want me to take you to my leader? Do you want chocolate-covered peanut butter candy? Do you-“ Pinkie stopped abruptly, her eyes going as wide as dinner plates. She leaned forward dramatically, staring Vorolanus dead in the eyes. “Are you going to abduct us?”
“No,” Vorolanus deadpanned. “But we do want to meet your leader.”
Pinkie dropped the serious act like a lit firecracker. “Oh phew! I was kinda worried for a sec, because you always hear crazy stories about ponies being abducted by aliens who do weird experiments on them and stick probes up their-“
“Uh, Pinkie?” came the muffled voice of Ditzy, whose head was lodged in a hole in the tree. “Little help?”
While Pinkie and Ditzy seemed utterly unfazed by the towering armoured aliens, the Cutie Mark Crusaders still had yet to say a word since they came out of their hiding place in a tree. The three fillies huddled around Zecora’s legs, shooting nervous glances at the aliens. None of them had been able to pluck up the courage to speak.
Glancing down at the three small shapes clinging to her hooves, Zecora smiled reassuringly. “Relax, little ponies. All shall be all right. We shall all live to sleep another night.”
Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle giggled at the zebra’s peculiar manner of speaking. Applebloom glanced worriedly at the massive figures. There were far more of them than she originally thought. Currently she could see about ten of them, but she could hear rustling sounds among the trees and caught glimpses of more moving out of sight.
What really unnerved Applebloom and her friends about the aliens was not their huge size, nor their wide variety of weapons, but their faceless, nearly identical appearances. Each of these “Ultramarines” was covered from head to hoof with huge blue armour, highlighted with gold. She had always thought the Princesses’ Royal Guards impressive (and a bit scary) with their bleached white coats and golden armour, but they barely held a candle to these aliens.
Scootaloo, emboldened by Zecora’s words, spoke up. “These guys are kinda scary,” she said, sounding as if she had just come to a brilliant conclusion. Applebloom rolled her eyes.
Sweetie Belle was the next to speak. “I know! They’re so huge! I bet they’re even taller than Princess Celestia! And I think they want to be our friends!”
Applebloom was about to speak when she caught a sight that chilled her to the bone. She stopped abruptly, causing Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo to bump into her tail.
“Ow! Applebloom, why did-”
Trembling in fear, Applebloom raised a shaking hoof to point. “It’s staring at us.”
Sure enough, one of the Ultramarines was looking straight at the three fillies and Zecora. Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo cowered behind their pale yellow friend.
Sweetie Belle peeked over her friend’s tail. The Ultramarine in question wore a bright red helmet that looked curiously old-fashioned, like suits of armour she had seen in museums. Its eyes glowed a malevolent red as it regarded the quartet of ponies.
The tiny unicorn could feel those evil eyes boring straight through her. It’s going to eat us it’s going to eat us it’s going to eat us, she thought it terror, squeezing her eyes shut.
Sergeant Vorolanus looked over the remaining four ponies. The one identified as “Zecora” stared straight back at him warily. The other three cowered behind each other, shivering in fear.
The ponies’ fear was unsurprising, but what really surprised Vorolanus was his reaction to them. They were obviously xenos, albeit xenos that appeared to be closely related to Terran horses, but xenos nonetheless. His first reactions should have consisted of reflexive hate followed by several precise bolter rounds, but as he watched, he felt none of that righteous anger. The white unicorn, Sweetie Belle, met his gaze with her wide, green eyes. She seemed to be on the verge of tears.
Vorolanus’s thoughts immediately switched from doubt to pity. She cannot possibly understand what it happening here, he thought. They may be damned xenos, but no living thing deserves to be fodder for the Tyranids.
Now it was Vorolanus’s turn to be doubtful. “Maxima?”
“Question, brother?” Sergeant Atavian responded.
Vorolanus sighed. “I confess that I am feeling doubts as well. Why do we spare these xenos? Should we not simply exterminate them and deny biomass to the Tyranids?”
“I suppose that is for Sicarius to decide.” Atavian glanced back at the ponies, causing the three fillies to duck behind Zecora again. “I place my faith in his decisions.”
“As we all should,” Vorolanus said with a nod. “I shall ignore my doubts for now.” He turned back to the path just in time to see Pinkie Pie making a bizarre expression. “What in the name of-”
“Uh-oh!” Ditzy Doo landed next to Pinkie, her expression full of concern. “Itchy nose?”
Her face contorted as if she had drank lemon juice, Pinkie nodded.
“Watch out everypony!” Ditzy shouted. “Something’s coming!”
Several Ultramarines started at the grey pegasus’s outburst, but Sergeant Vorolanus held up a fist. “Anything on the auspex?” he asked over his squad’s vox.
Zecora shooed the Cutie Mark Crusaders closer to the Ultramarines. “Please stay here, my three little fillies. There’s something out there, and it gives me the willies.”
Vorolanus rounded on the quartet. “There is nothing out there. All of you, on your feet. We’ve lost enough time already.”
The zebra stared him defiantly in the face. “Pinkie has sensed something, something dangerous indeed. You would all be wise to listen and take heed.”
“If there is anything there, it will rue the day that it challenged my Thunderbolts. Now get up, and enough with your damned rhymes!”
“Sergeant Vorolanus! Movement coming from behind!”
The Tactical Sergeant’s eyes went wide. “What? Darius, confirm. What is hap-”
His confused words were cut short by a keening howl, followed by a snarling sound. Suddenly, a large weight landed on his back, scrabbling at his armour plates.
“Ultramarines, engage!” he barked over the vox, reaching over his shoulder. His gauntlet came in contact with a strange surface, and he flung it over his head. His assailant flew forward and skidded off the ground.
Vorolanus was expecting a Hormagaunt, but he was shocked to see a large wolf staring up at him with glowing yellow eyes. Strangely enough, the wolf’s body seemed to be made of wood, allowing it to blend in with the trees almost perfectly.
Still, the strange nature of these foes was reassuring Wood could not breach blessed power armour. “Ultramarines, switch to melee wargear. These…creatures cannot harm us.”
The forest was soon full of the sound of splintering wood as the Ultramarines smashed the wolves apart. The pack, around fifteen strong, rapidly dwindled to nothing.
Ditzy Doo darted overhead, searching for the Cutie Mark Crusaders. The Ultramarines were effectively invincible as far as everypony was concerned, but the ponies were in grave danger. A timber wolf could tear a pony apart, but the ponies now had to contend with the massive forms of the Ultramarines stomping about.
Ditzy ducked under a thunderous punch from Sergeant Atavian that turned a leaping timber wolf into wood chips. Unfortunately, the rain of splinters and dirt scattered into her eyes, and she was forced to make an emergency landing.
Noticing a vulnerable target, one of the wolves lunged, pinning the pegasus beneath its gnarled paws. She let out a birdlike squawk of alarm and wriggled violently, but to no avail. The wolf stared at her hungrily, and she closed her eyes tightly in terror.
Please let Dinky be safe, she thought as the wolf’s jaws plunged down.
The pain of her throat being ripped out never came. Instead, the weight and the earthy smell vanished. Her eyes snapped open in surprise.
The wolf was snapping at thin air, carried aloft by the towering form of Sergeant Vorolanus. As Ditzy watched, he regarded it curiously, like a foal unsure of what to do with a new toy.
Ditzy was about to thank her saviour when he flung the wolf down at his feet, cracking its head against the ground. Stunned, the wolf went slack for a moment.
That moment was all that Vorolanus needed. With a grunt of effort, he brought his huge boot up and stomped down on the wolf’s head. A violent crack split the air and the wolf’s body went limp.
Ditzy’s jaw hung slack in shock at the brutal, senseless act. All around her, the other Ultramarines were executing the timber wolves in similarly gruesome fashions. One Ultramarine grabbed a wolf’s limbs and pulled the struggling creature in half. Another plunged a huge, serrated knife into a wolf’s eye socket, twisting the blade around until the voracious yellow glow in its eyes faded. A third helpless wolf was being used to bludgeon several others back, losing its head in the process.
Nearby, Sergeant Atavian held a thrashing wolf in one hand, and rammed his roaring chainsword into its throat with the other. The weapon bucked in his grip, but eventually ripped straight through the wolf’s wooden form, turning it into an unrecognizable mass of chewed wood.
“What kind of creatures are these?” he asked incredulously, tossing the remains of his victim aside. “Wolves made of wood?”
Scout-Sergeant Darius appeared beside him, his face flecked with dirt and wood chips. “Whatever they are, they didn’t appear on any auspex.”
“They’re…” came a tiny voice. The three Sergeants looked down to see the pale yellow form of Applebloom, standing beside her two friends. “They’re called timber wolves. They mostly come at night. Mostly.”
Vorolanus crouched in front of the three fillies. “Thank you for that information. Are you three alright?” If we are to be protecting these… ‘ponies,’ then it would be best to show them a measure of good intentions.
The trio backed away in fear, but Applebloom managed a shaky nod, and all was silent.
“OH MY GOSH THAT WAS AWESOME! YOU GUYS ARE SO COOL! YOU FOUGHT AN ENTIRE PACK OF TIMBER WOLVES! THIS IS LIKE SOMEHTING RAINBOW DASH WOULD DO!” Scootaloo burst out, squealing in delight.
Atavian chuckled, causing all three fillies to stare. “We shall never let innocents come to harm.”
He appears to have the same idea, Vorolanus thought. “Very well. We should keep moving.” He stood and continued along the trail, the Cutie Mark Crusaders close behind
Ditzy Doo was still in shock. What kind of creatures are these? she thought, almost in a panic. They kill without even thinking! Are they really here to protect us?
M41.996 12:12 pm (Equestria time) Ponyville
Such a beautiful day, Princess Luna thought as she trotted through Ponyville. Fate is cruel to mock us with such gorgeous weather on a day like this. She put on a brief burst of speed to keep up with the massive strides of the Ultramarines. Each step they took covered more ground then most ponies could cover leaping. Consequently, everypony in the group found themselves quite out of breath.
Except for the massive footfalls of the visitors, the group was completely silent. Luna caught her sister’s eye for about the fifth time in two minutes, and an unspoken message passed between them. Despite this “Captain Sicarius’s” promise of protection, both Princesses knew that the situation was more fragile than an ice sculpture. For all they knew, the Ultramarines could turn violent at any moment and crush Ponyville with their vastly superior numbers and technology. Luna glanced worriedly at the one identified as “Marcellus.” I can feel the anger coming off of him, she thought. He would kill us all without a second thought.
“Excuse me, Captain?” Luna’s blood ran cold at the sound of her sister’s voice. This was the kind of situation that utterly terrified her; where an unintentional breach of protocol could precipitate disaster. Politics were no different, except in a stateroom, lives typically weren’t at stake.
“Would you please tell me your next course of action?” Celestia asked, sounding uncharacteristically hesitant. “Is there anything that I can do to… streamline things?”
Luna’s worried only increased at her sister’s tone of voice. She sounded nervous and completely out of her comfort zone. Celestia had not sounded that worried in centuries. Against Discord and Chrysalis, she had remained steadfastly defiant, fully confident in her own abilities or those of other ponies.
“I would assume that your society has provisions for emergencies,” Sicarius said. “Enact any procedures that you see necessary, and assemble the citizens of this settlement. I shall address them personally.”
“I shall call for a town meeting immediately,” Celestia responded with more confidence than she actually felt. She turned toward Captain Stormcaller. “Captain, organize a medical detail. I fear that we will need capable doctors soon.” The unicorn saluted and turned to leave. “Captain Sidewinder. Fly ahead to the town hall and tell the mayor to call for a town meeting.” The pegasus Captain shot off.
“Sergeant Daceus, report,” Sicarius ordered.
The Veteran-Sergeant’s voice crackled over the vox. “All squads have established a defence line on the approach to the settlement. We’ve mopped up some Tyranid stragglers, but some may have gotten in already.”
“Hold your positions. You have command of our lines until I return.” Sicarius paused for a moment. “Any word from Sergeant Vorolanus?”
“He contacted me three minutes ago. His force met up with some more of these ‘ponies,’ and they are making their way through the forest. They were attacked by some indigenous life-form, but they crushed them. I believe that Vorolanus wishes to speak with you upon his return.”
“Understood. Also, send Veteran Dannelos to me. Sicarius out.” He switched channels contact Maccabeus. “Ancient, I will require your council soon. Make your way to the center of the town. Try to…” Sicarius paused, unsure of how to get his point across. “…try not to frighten these ponies too much.” Centuries of service to the Ultramarines, and I cannot remember giving a stranger order, he thought.
“I am on my way, Captain.”
Something clicked in Luna’s mind. Medical detail…injured ponies…Applejack!
“APPLEJACK!” she burst out, spinning to face the carnage back by the fountain.
Marcellus was upon her instantly. Luna found herself staring down the double barrels of his storm bolter. “Freeze, xeno,” he growled threateningly. “Cease your damned sorceries.”
“Sergeant, you will restrain yourself.” At Sicarius’s words, Marcellus lowered his gun, but did not let up his hateful glare.
Sicarius turned to Luna. “By all means attend to your wounded. Apothecary.” Another Ultramarine, wearing bone-white armour and equipped with a strange array of tools, stepped forward. “Assist these… ponies with their injured.” Venatio nodded and followed Stormcaller toward the fountain.
Behind his helmet, Marcellus was fuming. Angrily, he opened a vox-link to Sicarius.
“Captain, what in Guilliman’s name are you thinking? Why do we not exterminate these xenos?”
“You will watch your tongue, Sergeant! I sent Venatio to help as a gesture of good faith. How else would you recommend that we earn their trust?”
At these words, Marcellus advanced on Sicarius. “Earn their trust?” he snapped. “They are worthless aliens! Nothing they can give us means anything! The only thing that they should get from us is the Emperor’s fire!”
A third voice crackled over the vox. “Sergeant Marcellus, stand down,” Epistolary Argus barked. “You are under the Captain’s command, and you will not question his orders.”
“The Epistolary is correct.” Maxilos’s voice made Marcellus wince. “Dissention in our ranks would have disastrous results in our current circumstances. I would advise you to hold your objections until we have fully formulated our subsequent course of action.”
Facing combined opposition from everyone present, Marcellus backed down. “This is not over. I still expect answers.”
Though none of them heard the fierce debate, the four present Element Bearers were terrified by the apparent aggression of the Ultramarines.
“This is not going to end well,” Rainbow Dash muttered. Her friends could only nod in assent.
Ponyville Hospital, Equestria, 12:15 pm
“Get me more disinfectant, stat!”
“Right away, nurse!”
“It’s still bleeding. Keep the pressure on.”
“It stings… make it stop…”
“Excuse me for a moment.”
Nurse Redheart stepped outside the emergency room and shut the door behind her. Now alone in the hallway, she slammed an alabaster-white hoof into a gurney in frustration.
How could this happen? she thought, her mind spinning. This morning, her biggest concern had been putting a bandage on a colt with a scraped fetlock. In the past five minutes, she had lost four injured Royal Guards to hideous injuries. One pegasus had died in her hooves, foaming at the mouth from alien venom. She fully expected at least six more deaths in the next ten minutes. The Ponyville doctors were some of the best, but where these alien infections and poisons were concerned, they might as well have had clowns take their place.
Redheart felt a tear trickle down her face. Shaking her head violently, she trotted down the hallway to check on the waiting patients in the triage center.
The large, brightly lit room was like a scene from a particularly graphic thriller novel. Royal Guards laid everywhere, some surrounded by family or well-wishers. Some had fallen unconscious, and several of those had stopped breathing. Redheart could only hope that they would die peacefully.
As she made her way across the room, she was mobbed by a pack of ponies, some hospital employees, some not, each believing that their inquiry was more important than that of the pony beside them.
“What in heaven’s name happened to these guards?”
“Nurse, the press are here! What should I tell them?”
“How many have died already? How many?”
Redheart had had quite enough. Stomping a hoof down, she yelled shrilly at the mob. “All of you, shut up!” She panted, still blinking away tears. “We’re doing the best we can, but we are honesty out of our depth.”
The crowd silently watched the white-coated nurse as she approached one of her colleagues.
“What are we going to do, Tenderheart?” she asked, trying to keep her voice from cracking.
The blue-coated nurse looked up from her patient, a young pegasus guard who looked like she was barely out of her teens. “We do what we always do, Redheart. We try to help ponies.”
Redheart wasn’t reassured in the slightest. “Help ponies? How can we help them now? I just lost four guards in the emergency room! Nothing any of us have done has worked!” Her eyes went red and tears began welling up in the corners.
Tenderheart placed a hoof on Redheart’s shoulder. “It’s okay, calm down.” She gestured toward her patient, who was sleeping soundly. “You see that young mare? Her name is Shimmer. When she arrived, her chest was split open. I could see her ribs poking out.” The nurse looked down at her surgical apron, which was plastered with blood. “I dug around in her insides and removed three embedded spines. She’s still alive right now, and she’s going to stay that way. How does this make you feel?”
Redheart wiped her eyes and looked at Shimmer. The slender guard was covered in bloodstains, but she breathed gently, her body rising and falling with each breath. As Redheart watched, she felt a glimmer of hope spark in her chest.
“It… makes me feel… hopeful,” she said quietly. She felt the tears returning, but this time they were tears of happiness.
“Exactly.” Tenderheart smiled warmly. “Don’t think about the ones that we can’t save, at least not now. We’ll remember them, but we need to concentrate on the ones that can be helped. Ponies like Shimmer.”
Redheart stifled a sob of happiness. “You’re right. I’m just being a stupid, emotional filly.” She managed a smile of her own, and trotted back towards the emergency room. “And Tenderheart? Thanks. Whatever happens next, I swear, I’m not going to lose it again.”
“AAAAAAAHHHHHH! THE ALIENS ARE BACK! THEY’LL KILL US ALL!”
Redheart spun to the source of the commotion. What she saw nearly stopped her heart.
Standing in the doorway was a massive, alien figure. It towered higher than twice the height of a pony, standing on two legs. Its entire body was covered in bone-white metal plates, splattered with viscous, blackish blood. On the back of one arm was a horrifying array of strange gadgets, each wickedly sharp and painful to look at. The massive needles alone sent chills down Redheart’s spine. Swinging from its belt was a huge sword with jagged teeth all along its blade. In its arms it carried a familiar orange pony.
“What did it do to her?”
“This is all just a dream. Come on, wake up.”
Rooted to the spot in fear, Redheart could not even form a coherent thought. After what seemed like months, her brain started up again weakly.
Her jaw worked dumbly for a few seconds before sound came out. “How… did you fit in the door?” she asked hysterically.
In the back of her head, part of her mind laughed. An alien was standing before her, possibly about to kill her and everypony in the hospital, and she could not focus on anything but how it had fit through the front door.
The massive alien stepped towards her. “I am here to offer medical assistance.” Its voice was unnaturally low and mechanical, as if spoken through a malfunctioning microphone. “Are you in charge here?”
Redheart stared in shock, but managed a nod. “I’m Nurse Redheart.”
“I am Apothecary Venatio. Take me to the injured,” the alien said. He strode forward, allowing a single armoured pony to follow him inside. Redheart recognized him as Captain Stormcaller of the Equestrian Royal Guard. He wore no helmet due to the wad of bandages on the side of his head.
“Please, everypony remain calm,” the guard captain pleaded. “He means us no harm.”
“He’s an alien! He attacked the others!” one pony screamed.
“Keep it away from us!” another yelled, cowering under his bedsheets.
Venatio turned to the two outspoken ponies. “If you wish for your companions to die from their injuries, then I shall not intervene,” he droned dispassionately.
Those words shut the protestors up. Satisfied, Venatio found an empty bed and placed the unconscious form of Applejack down gently.
“She is comparatively uninjured,” he said. “My presence would be most helpful with the most severe cases.”
“This way, um…sir,” an orderly stammered. Venatio nodded and followed, stooping through the door.
Redheart turned to follow. “Tenderheart?” She turned around, a sickening grin on her face. “What I said about not losing it? Forget it.”
Stormcaller followed the Ultramarine Apothecary down the hallway. Ponies immediately jumped aside, sometimes in quite comical fashions. One pony, seemingly bound to a wheel-bench, spontaneously leapt up and cowered in a corner. An orderly administering laughing gas to a patient looked up, met Venatio’s eyes, grabbed the gas mask, breathed deep, and passed out in a fit of giggles. The Ultramarine remained silent.
They’re living creatures, but they seem so mechanical, Stormcaller thought as the alien, guard captain, and nurse walked into the emergency room.
The scene before them was particularly gruesome. Three doctors held down a thrashing earth pony guard while a fourth scraped dead, blackening tissue off of his throat. Elsewhere, screams of pain could be heard, along with the beeping of countless heart rate monitors. Several droned flatline tones.
“Nurse Redheart, is that you? We need-” the doctor’s voice broke off as he looked up. “Oh my…”
“Everypony please remain calm,” Stormcaller said immediately. “This is Apothecary Venatio. He is here to help,” he said, putting deliberate emphasis on the final sentence. The doctors simply nodded speechlessly.
“I need space to work. You four may leave.” The four doctors scurried away at Venatio’s words. “Nurse Redheart, I will require some assistance.”
Redheart trotted forward. “What do you need?”
“Sterile bandages and water. I will supply the medicine.”
She nodded and rushed to the supply cabinets. Retrieving several rolls of bandages and a jug of distilled water, she returned, just in time for a massive needle to pop out of Venatio’s wrist apparatus with a loud click.
“What the…” she began, put she had no time to finish that thought as he calmly stuck the harpoon-like needle into the patient’s neck.
“A heavy sedative,” he said in response to Redheart’s shocked expression. “This experience will not be pleasant.”
She could only watch in horror as he continued his procedure. He moved with a quickness belied by his massive size, cutting out sections of diseased flesh with alarming speed. Another gadget popped out of his wrist and sprayed a burst of liquid on an open gash.
“Antivenom and antibiotic cocktail. It will counteract any further tissue necrosis or acid damage. Most Tyranid venom is acidic.”
Redheart could only stand, bewildered. I’m probably going to have nightmares about this. Then, a series of mechanical limbs popped out of Venatio’s backpack, changing the “probably” in Redheart’s thoughts to a “definitely.”
The additional, flashing limbs were all tipped with a horrifying array of surgical equipment that buzzed and cut, reminding her unpleasantly of a bad horror story she had read.
She was so busy watching the blurred motions of the Ultramarine that she had not noticed what was happening to the patient. She blinked rapidly in case her eyes had decided to mess with her.
The fur and skin of the pony’s neck and most of his side had been completely flensed off, revealing the bunched fibres of his musculature. Most of it was a healthy red, but there were several darkened patches where alien claws had cut.
Venatio’s scalpel-limbs descended again, slicing parts of the dead muscle out. Without looking, he reached over and grabbed the jug of water. He splashed some into the guard’s flesh, rinsing out copious amounts of blood. At the same time, his sprayer applied more anti-whatever, which hissed and steamed as it touched living tissue.
“The venom has been neutralized.” The alien had not spoken in so long, that his sudden statement startled Redheart. “I will now replace the dermal layer.”
Redheart furrowed her brow in confusion, but then the patient’s skin, still in one clean piece, passed by her eyes and slapped back on its owner.
Why did I eat that daffodil cake? she wondered as she felt bile rise in her throat. Thankfully, she was able to keep her dessert where it belonged.
The process was lightning fast. The flap of skin was held in place by several clawed robotic limbs, allowing another to descend, holding what appeared to be a blowtorch. A tiny blue glow appeared at its tip, and Venatio ran it along the seams, sealing it back to the patient. The sleeping guard now looked perfectly normal, aside from the blood on his coat.
“The procedure is complete,” Venatio intoned. His clawed limbs, now holding a roll of bandages, whizzed about, and in seconds the guard’s chest was wrapped in white cloth. “Confine him to his bed for the next twenty-eight hours and he will be back to normal.” He stood, dwarfing everypony, and placed one fist over his breastplate, muttering something unintelligible before heading to the next table.
Redheart simply stared, her brain stubbornly refusing to accept reality.
“Four years of medical school, three in research, four more as a professor of toxicology, and I still haven’t seen anything,” one doctor muttered. “I need to lie down.”
Those words broke the stillness that encrusted the room, and everypony returned to tables. Redheart glanced up at the clock on an impulse. It was 12:27 when I came in, she thought. Her head felt like it was full of lead when she saw the time.
M41.996 12:22 pm (Equestria time) Ponyville
The strange procession of ponies and Ultramarines drew plenty of stares as they walked down the street toward the Ponyville town hall. Most ponies’ eyes looked like they were about to fly out of their faces at the speed of a scared Fluttershy. Some galloped away immediately, crashing into each other in several cases. One brown stallion with an hourglass cutie mark shot by at a truly impressive speed, muttering something about always running.
Lyra stared giddily at the Ultramarines, her grin threatening to permanently distend her facial muscles.
“Hands hands hands they all have hands! I knew it! I have a lot of bits to collect.” She trotted off, presumably searching for the many ponies with whom she had bet that aliens did exist.
The group reached the town hall quickly. Outside, the majority of Ponyville’s populace was waiting outside. Normally, there would be plenty of casual conversation among everypony. This time, the atmosphere was so thick that it could be sliced and used in sandwiches. The only sounds were furtive whispers passing throughout the crowd.
It did not take long for somepony to notice the new arrivals. Rose let out a piercing scream, which was echoed by both Daisy and Lily. In one terrified mass, the entire crowd of ponies moved back away from the alien interlopers.
“EVERYPONY, PLEASE DO NOT PANIC. THESE ALIENS MEAN US NO HARM.” Celestia’s Royal Canterlot Voice echoed across the town, shushing the panicking crowd immediately. “THESE ARE THE ULTRAMARINES. THEY ARE HERE TO PROTECT US.”
Rarity heard one of the Ultramarines snort, amplified by his helmet. “How rude,” she muttered. She turned back to face the crowd just in time for Captain Sicarius to step forward, a breeze causing his cape to billow outward and smack her in the face.
“IF YOU WOULD ALL BE SO KIND AS TO PAY ATTENTION. ONE OF OUR GUESTS WOULD LIKE TO SPEAK TO YOU.” Celestia nodded to Sicarius, who nodded back.
“Citizens of Equestria!” His voice boomed across the town, harsh and metallic. “I am Captain Sicarius of the Ultramarines 2nd Company. My brothers and I have come to this world pursuing an enemy of our Chapter. The aliens that you may have seen earlier are known as Tyranids. They are a monstrous race whose sole purpose is to consume any living thing in their path.” Sicarius paused for a moment, watching the fearful, uncertain looks on the ponies’ faces. “They feel no fear and show no mercy,” he continued. “They will not stop until they have devoured everything that opposes them, or until they are all dead. Three space-faring ships carrying hordes of these creatures landed on your world today. If left unchecked, they will destroy all that you hold dear. All that you know will become food for the Tyranid abominations.”
These words struck straight into the hearts of many ponies. Stallions and mares alike looked around in horror, as if imagining their homes being devoured. Parents held their foals more tightly, families huddled together in fear, and tears welled up in the eyes of many.
“My battle-brothers and I will protect you. The Tyranids are our ancient foe, and we will stop at nothing to see them exterminated. But we will require your cooperation.”
The crowd remained silent. The thoughts of hideous aliens destroying all of Equestria had a way of gripping the mind.
Sicarius turned to the Princesses. Taking the cue, Celestia spoke, this time in her normal voice. “Everypony, I know that this is a lot to take in in a very short amount of time, but we need to trust the Ultramarines. These Tyranids are like nothing I have ever seen before. We need the Captain’s help.”
The crowd stared back with blank eyes.
“We don’t know much about them, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t trust them!” Everypony looked at Twilight Sparkle. “I touched the mind of one of them, and I believe everything that they have to say.” Her words garnered more looks of skepticism, and some of downright suspicion.
Rarity spoke up next. “Please, everypony. What choice do we have? These Tyranids are horrible creatures. We should be happy to accept the Ultramarines’ help.”
Slowly, murmurs spread throughout the crowd, and ponies began nodding in assent. Sensing a resolution, Princess Celestia spoke again. “Until this crisis is resolved, all of you will have to be vigilant. Report anything unusual to either the Ultramarines or our military leaders. And nopony, but nopony, ventures into the Everfree Forest. That is all.”
The crowd began gradually dispersing, but quite a few ponies stayed behind, simply staring in awe at the massive Ultramarines.
Sicarius turned to Maxilos. “Techmarine, survey the settlement and assess the defences.” Maxilos nodded and left. “Sergeant Marcellus, take your squad and search for any Tyranid stragglers within our perimeter.”
As the Terminators spread out across the town, Sicarius addressed the Princesses. “We need to make a plan of defence. Is there somewhere where we can access maps and geographical information of your domain?”
“I believe my student has plenty of resources at the library.” Celestia looked expectantly at Twilight.
“Y-yes, I have… maps and…stuff,” she stammered, shrinking under the gazes of both Princesses and several Ultramarines.
“Then lead us there,” Argus said. Wordlessly, the purple unicorn turned and led the group towards her home.
Heavy footsteps clunked across the street. Ponies scattered giving the cause of those footsteps a wide berth. They shrank back in terror at his furious gaze.
Sergeant Marcellus stomped down the road alone, unconsciously clenching his powerfist yet again. As he watched several ponies gallop out of his way, he imagined one of their skulls cracking in his grip like an egg. He felt an urge to raise his storm bolter and simply level the entire town. Everything about it was offensive. Its pastel colours. Its cheerful atmosphere. Its very name. But most of all, its inhabitants. Just the sight of them set Marcellus’s blood afire.
“Hey you! Where do you think you’re going?”
Marcellus slowly turned, muttering to himself. “Captain’s orders… Captain’s orders…”
His gaze met that of a sky blue pony, a pegasus who floated at his eye level. Her expression was one of obvious distaste. Marcellus’s own face bore a similar expression.
“What do you want, xeno?” he spat, raising his gun.
Surprisingly, she did not back down. “Okay, first of all, stop calling us ‘xeno,’ whatever that means. My name is Rainbow Dash! And I’ve got some questions for you.”
“Why would you think I would answer you, xeno?” he responded, noticing her nostrils flare in anger.
“You think you’re so great, coming in here and saving the day,” she said, floating closer. “If you’re such big heroes, how come you let so many ponies die?”
“Keep complaining, xeno. I do not have to answer to you.”
“Yeah, get this. In that fight, I kept hearing you guys yelling ‘courage and honour,’” she said, emphasizing the word “honour” as if it were something unpleasant. “That’s supposed to mean that you should, I don’t know, try to save everypony?” The irate pegasus was right in Marcellus’s face at that point. “Did you see all those Royal Guards who died? They died because of you! Because you didn’t show up soon enough!”
“I have the blood of thousands on my hands. I have killed with guns, swords, and my fists. I am a Terminator Sergeant of the Ultramarines 1st, and I could not care less if you were fed to a Hive Tyrant!” Marcellus leaned forward threateningly. “If it were my choice, I would slay all of you ponies!”
Rainbow Dash did not back down. “So? If you hate us so much, then why don’t you kill me?” She glanced at his massive gun. “Come one, why not use those fancy gadgets and kill us all?”
Marcellus was backed into a corner. Once again, he cursed Sicarius for his lenience towards the ponies.
Realization dawned on Rainbow Dash’s face. “Oh, I get it.” Her angry expression turned to a self-satisfied smirk. “I saw you and Mr. Big Shot Captain arguing. He doesn’t want you to hurt us, isn’t that right?”
“Watch your tongue, xeno, lest I rip it out.”
“Oh yeah? I dare you. Come on. Hit me!”
Marcellus remained silent. Inside his helmet, his jaw clenched in fury.
“What? Big tough ‘Terminator’ or whatever. Too scared to do anything without your Captain’s permission? You’re pathetic. Courage and honour? Some hon-”
With a roar of fury, Marcellus lunged forward. Rainbow Dash was surprised at how fast the huge armoured alien could move, but her lightning reflexes kicked in and she shot backwards.
She had underestimated Marcellus badly. His massive left hand shot forward and closed around her entire body, wings and all.
“What the-” was all she managed before his grip tightened, squeezing all the air out of her lungs. She felt several of her joints crack painfully and spike of pain went through her right wing.
Marcellus held the choking pegasus right up to his face, forcing her to stare right into his glowing red eye lenses.
“I answer to no one, xeno. Not you, not Captain Sicarius, not anyone!” he bellowed into her face. “The Captain may think that you are worth saving, but I am not as forgiving as he is.”
Rainbow Dash struggled weakly. Her vision was slowly turning red and her movements were becoming sluggish. If any of her bones were broken, she couldn’t feel them anymore.
“And don’t you dare insult my honour,” he said. His voice was low and quiet, but more menacing than a Baneblade. “You shall not make that mistake again.” With those words, he tightened his grip further.
The entire world around Rainbow Dash was fading rapidly. Everything around her was shadow. And in that shadow, she saw two red, glowing, slit-like eyes, floating in the endless blackness.
No it can’t end like this where are my friends it can’t end like this…
The thunderous voice rang out, cutting through the swirling, rushing sound that filled Rainbow Dash’s world. Suddenly, colour returned to her mind with nauseating speed. The glowing eyes that she saw belonged to the Terminator. Air, sweet, glorious air flowed back into her lungs, as wonderful and nourishing as any food. She twisted slightly to see where the voice had come from.
Standing across the small plaza was a particularly odd object. Its body was huge and blocky, easily the size of Applejack’s barn. A pair of arms rotated on its sides, one bearing a massive fist, the other some strange device with a blackened end. Two short legs covered in blue armour plates supported its frame, which was covered in gleaming golden scrollwork and symbols that marked it as part of the Ultramarines.
“What are you doing?” the blue box-thing barked again. “Release the pony.”
Rainbow Dash half expected Marcellus to simply squeeze her into a broken sack of shattered bones and guts. Instead, she felt the remaining pressure around her body vanish and she flopped to the cold pavement. A thousand tiny pains stabbed at her, but she welcomed them with open hooves.
“This pony insulted our honour! It shall die like all xenos should!”
“You forget your place, brother. Captain Sicarius has passed judgment already. We are not to harm the ponies.”
“Ancient, the Captain must have taken leave of his senses if he wishes to save these xenos.” Marcellus pointed down at the gasping form of Rainbow Dash. “They are abominations in the eyes of the Emperor and must be purged.”
“Brother, you are above this,” Maccabeus continued. “We are the Ultramarines, not the Marines Malevolent or the Iron Hands. We do not kill innocents. It is a stain on your honour that you have resorted to such anger.”
Marcellus felt ice water flow down his body. As usual, the Dreadnought’s logic was sound. Shamefully, he bowed his head.
“Ancient Maccabeus, you are right. I… I am undeserving of my rank and status. I submit myself to your judgment, and accept whatever punishment you deem necessary.”
The Dreadnought stomped forward, causing the horrified onlookers to scatter. “Considering our current circumstances, I will withhold punishment. You are to return to your duties.” Without another word, Maccabeus turned and left.
The cold, damp cloak of shame wore down on Marcellus. Maccabeus knew him better than most. Therefore, the old warrior knew that to let his brother escape unpunished was the greatest punishment of all. Numbly, Marcellus stood and turned back to the town hall.
Rainbow Dash lay on the cold flagstones of the street, letting her new aches pulse through her body. Ponies around her trotted up to her, concerned looks on the faces. She saw their mouths move, but no sound came out. Her head still felt like an overinflated ball about to burst. Coherent thought was a foreigner in the murky swamp of her brain.
Still, one idea repeated itself over and over in her mind.
He almost killed me.
For a long time, death had always been a foreign concept to her. Her own acrobatic stunts had always been lauded as “death-defying,” but there had never been huge risks involved. Even against Nightmare Moon, Discord, and Chrysalis, the worst that could have happened to her would be ending up tap dancing while wearing a tower of goofy hats. She had just seen death.
For the first time in her life, Rainbow Dash felt real fear.
“Inadequate building materials. Structural integrity variable. Cross-referencing with known Tyranid bio-weapons. Estimated eighty-seven point three-nine-nine probability of destruction in the event of enemy engagement.” Maxilos turned away from Sugarcube Corner. “Strategic assessment: recommend deploying Tarantula-pattern turrets in the streets. Defensive capability of natives: unknown. Further observation required.”
Maxilos’s inspection had taken him along a side road from the town hall. He had spent the past half hour scanning buildings, marking locations for sentry guns, and cringing at the inadequacy of Ponyville as a defensive position. There were far too few Ultramarines to sufficiently cover all of the dozens of back-alleys in the town, and the buildings were just waiting for a carnifex to come plowing through. No variation in elevation meant no advantageous firing positions, as the buildings with extra stories would never support an armoured Space Marine.
Like all Techmarines, Maxilos kept his emotions and opinions buried deeply, to the point where he was widely mistrusted by many among the Ultramarines. Such a situation was considered perfectly normal among Space Marine Chapters. The Adeptus Astartes and Adeptus Mechanicus preferred to keep each other at an arm’s length, with some obvious exceptions, such as the Salamanders and Iron Hands. Many Space Marines viewed the practice of sending certain battle-brothers to Mars to learn the ways of the Omnissiah almost as an act of betrayal. Henceforth, all Techmarines were subject to suspicion and distrust. Maxilos tended to ignore any allegations about him. Despite what his battle-brothers thought of him, his true loyalties would lay forever with the Ultramarines.
Maxilos typically responded to the unknown in one of two ways. His first response was to ascertain every piece of hard evidence possible. Numbers, observations, or whatever, knowledge was power. Using that information, he would formulate the most practical and logical decision available. He had done so during Captain Sicarius’s assault on the space hulk. A quick series of calculations and he had definitive data on the Captain’s odds of survival. Therefore, as he has pointed out to Argus, there had been no cause for worry about Sicarius’s safety.
His other response was rare. Wherever cold hard facts and data could not be applied, Maxilos would submit to the wisdom of his battle-brothers. Matters of honour and faith could not be quantified, only logged for further study. Such cases were typically rare in the extreme.
Unfortunately, Maxilos was stuck in the middle of one of those cases. Sicarius had dragged the entire 2nd Company through a warp storm, pursued the Tyranids to an alien planet, and had just declared an alliance between the Ultramarines and a race of brightly coloured, anatomically bizarre, and apparently slightly psychic equines who appeared to be the dominant intelligent race.
The physical and mental processes of these “ponies” were the least of Maxilos’s worries. What gave him pause was his inability to apply simple logic to the current situation. Here was a company of Space Marines, knowingly protecting xenos from a Tyranid swarm. There was no equation that he could solve to learn why they had chosen this path. At a certain level, Sicarius’s decision could be justified logically. Protecting them ponies meant utilizing their knowledge of their world, as well as denying biomass to the Tyranids. However, it would have been far more efficient to simply obliterate the planet from orbit. It was a logically sound decision, and Maxilos could not understand why the Captain had not chosen it from the start.
Recalling Sicarius’s words back in the town square, Maxilos formulated a new hypothesis: Sicarius was protecting the ponies out of honour and compassion. Maxilos could honestly not understand this decision. There were no mathematical values for honour.
Shaking his head, Maxilos pushed those thoughts aside. Should get back to work, he thought. So much data. Need to study.
“Move, Snails! I wanna see!”
“How can I see when your hoof’s in my face?”
Cheerilee stood behind the mass of colts and fillies jumping at the window. “Please, everypony. Step away from the window.”
“But there’s an alien out there!” Snips said excitedly. “And he looks so awesome!”
Diamond Tiara and her father Filthy Rich stood off to he side, both of their noses held high. “Hmmph. These miserable aliens are more trouble than they’re worth,” he said, waving a hoof dismissively. “I’m supposed to be in a budget meeting in twenty minutes, but because of this stuck-up ‘Captain Sicarius,’ I’m stuck here in Ponyville. Who does he think he is?” He glanced down at Diamond Tiara, who stuck up her nose and gave a little “hmmph” of her own.
“How can you say that?” Cheerilee asked. “Both the Princesses and the Element Bearers trust him. That should be enough for everypony.”
“Well I’m not everypony. I have a business to keep running, and these ‘Ultramarines’ are getting in the way.”
The two adults argued in earnest, and many of the other parents joined in the debate as well, each doing his or her best to shout down their opponents. They were so engaged in verbal debate that they failed to notice the colts and fillies who commenced an elaborate plan to get out of the Ponyville schoolhouse. Snips stood on Snail’s head, trying to reach the window latch. Unfortunately, his slow-witted orange friend thought that he could somehow climb onto his own back in order to help with the stuck latch. While the pair of colts blinked stars out of their eyes, Twist tried unsuccessfully to pick the lock on the front door with a bobby pin. Finally, Dinky Doo solved the problem by taking the key to front door off of Cheerilee’s desk and unlocking the door. Suppressing cries of glee, the large group of colts and fillies slipped out the door one by one.
The arguing adults were oblivious, but Diamond Tiara noticed immediately. A self-satisfied smirk broke out on her face, and she turned to her father. “Daddy, everypony’s trying to escape!”
“How do we even know if this alien invasion is even real?” he spat derisively. “We only have the word of the Ultramarines that we’re even in danger.”
Watching Snips fail miserably at trying to nonchalantly walk out the door, Diamond Tiara nudged her father. “Daddy!”
“Besides,” Filthy Rich continued obliviously. “The Elements of Harmony defeated Nightmare Moon, Discord, and the Changelings. I sincerely doubt that there is a problem that they cannot solve.”
The magenta earth pony bristled. “How can we be sure that they can solve this problem? Have you seen these alien invaders?”
Filthy Rich wore a satisfied smirk. “Oh yes I have. They’re tall, blue, and claim that they want to be our friends.”
Diamond Tiara grumbled, and began hopping up and down, saying “Pay attention to me,” repeatedly.
Finally, Filthy Rich took notice, mainly because the angry pink filly had accidently knocked over a stack of papers in her tantrum. “Diamond! What is it?”
“Everypony left! See?” she said, pointing at the open door.
“Oh, no…” Cheerilee groaned, and galloped out the door, Filthy Rich close behind.
Snips galloped as fast as his stubby legs could carry him. It was time to meet an alien.
“Whoa, he’s so tall!”
“Why does he have so many arms?”
“Is that a giant spear he has? Cool!”
Maxilos had registered the pack of small ponies the instant that they had left the schoolhouse. Now, he realized that they were coming straight for him.
Nine contacts. Small size suggests juvenile ponies. Threat assessment: negligible. Will proceed with my survey.
He turned to face the oncoming group, his massive power glaive held loosely at his side. This simple movement stopped the galloping colts and fillies instantly.
The two parties stared at each other for what felt like hours.
Finally, Twist spoke up. “Hi! My name’s Twist! What’s your name?”
“I am Techmarine Maxilos,” the Ultramarine responded. The small crowd of ponies winced at his words. His voice sounded like hooves scraping on a chalkboard.
As soon as he finished his introduction, Maxilos was bombarded with questions.
“Why are you so tall?”
“What does that thing on you back do?”
“Are you made out of metal?”
Maxilos found such simple queries remarkably reassuring. Finally, basic questions with clear-cut answers.
“What’s wrong with your voice?”
“My vocal faculties are unimpaired.”
“Are you some kind of spider? You have so many arms!”
“They are servo-arms. Mechanical augmentations. They are not actually part of my body.”
“Children! I told you to stay inside!”
The pack of colts and fillies turned to see Cheerilee and several of their parents galloping toward them.
Berry Punch grabbed her daughter, pulling the filly behind her. “What were you thinking? It’s too dangerous to be outside!”
“Your progenitor is correct.” Everypony jumped at Maxilos’s unexpected interjection. “The Tyranid swarm was not eliminated entirely. Their current rate of dispersal indicates that any remnants could have spread over a distance of two point-six-seven-seven kilometers. They will attack given the opportunity.”
Filthy Rich swallowed audibly, but still managed to hit Maxilos with what he though was an intimidating glare. “Who do you think you are, and what are you doing with our children?” Several other parents mimicked his angry expression.
Maxilos was unimpressed. “My name is Maxilos. I am a Techmarine of the Ultramarines. Judging by you increased heart and respiratory rates, body temperatures, and dilation of your pupils, you are not particularly happy to see me,” he deadpanned.
“How did you…” Cheerilee asked, dumbfounded.
“Your offspring are unharmed,” Maxilos continued. “I would highly recommend restricting them to a safe location until this settlement can be considered fully secure. The whole of the Ultramarines 2nd Company is stationed across this town. Your odds of survival are significantly higher if you seek their protection.”
Filthy Rich did not let up his glare. “Did we ever say that we wanted you here? I demand that you leave at once!”
“You are in no position to make demands,” Maxilos replied, unfazed by the pony’s anger. “Three Tyranid bio-ships made planetfall, each within one hundred kilometers of here. Your odds of survival without the protection of the Ultramarines is approximately five point-eight-zero-eight percent.”
Many of the ponies gasped in shock. Maxilos kept going strong. “This percentage is based on both orbital and suborbital scans, along with observations of your society’s military prowess and leaderships capability. Assuming that-”
“Wait… are you saying that… we’re doomed?” one parent interrupted.
“That would be putting it bluntly,” Maxilos said. When nopony spoke, he continued. “The Tyranid swarm that attacked initially was able to kill sixty-eight percent of your guard battalion with no significant losses of its own. If not for our intervention, they would have massacred you all.”
These words left the crowd of ponies dumbstruck. The children, who had not seen the destruction wrought by the Tyranids, or for that matter, had never even heard of a Tyranid, looked around in confusion. Still, the looks on their parents’ faces told them everything that they needed to know.
“Mr. Maxilos?” came a small voice. Everypony’s heads turned to the source of the voice: Pipsqueak. The tiny colt craned his neck upward to look the towering Ultramarine in the eyes. “I heard that some scary aliens came to Ponyville. They hurt the guards and the Princesses. Are you here to save us from the monsters?”
Maxilos remained silent for a long time. This was exactly the kind of question that he had been pondering. He honestly had no idea how to respond, as he had been hoping for Sicarius to answer the question for him.
As he thought, he met Pipsqueak’s eyes. Unnaturally wide in amazement, yet they showed no obvious fear. A quick scan revealed that the colt’s heart rate was well within the normal range for his age.
He’s not scared of me, Maxilos thought. The adult ponies regarded him with fear and suspicion, but this young, vulnerable pony simply did not see him as frightening. Instead, he regarded the huge, armoured alien with wide, pleading eyes, and something like…hope.
Maxilos immediately knew what to say. “These monsters are called Tyranids,” he said, dropping to one knee to appear less imposing. “They are the most frightening and dangerous things in the world. I refuse to let them harm innocents such as you. As long as we draw breath, my battle-brothers and I shall protect you from these monsters.”
Pipsqueak smiled. As Maxilos watched, similar smiles lit up the faces of the other children, and even some of the parents and Cheerilee.
Filthy Rich was unimpressed. “Hmmph. As if I haven’t heard something like this before. Travelling salesponies, that’s all you are. Looking for some poor innocent ponies to scare half to death and use their fear to con them out of everything they own. You’re just making this up so you can take over!”
Several of the parents waved their hooves frantically, trying to shush Filthy Rich before he offended the Techmarine.
Maxilos was about to respond when his visor display lit up with a warning.
Unknown contact, approximately one hundred fifty meters away, moving slowly. Estimated time of arrival: three minutes are current rate.
Maxilos turned up his speakers. “All of you get inside, now. Something is coming.”
“Oh really?” Filthy Rich scoffed. “Trying to justify your outrageous schemes? Well it won’t work! I see straight through you!”
He was speaking to empty air, because Maxilos was striding off and the other ponies were heading back to the schoolhouse.
“Hey! I’m talking! Somepony listen to me! Please? Is anypony there?”
The lone Tyranid hive guard shuffled mindlessly across the grassy meadow. Cut off from the Hive Mind, it resorted to its base instincts: find somewhere to hunker down and defend that place with its life.
A bright red structure came into view. It would have to do.
Maxilos observed the Tyranid from a distance. It was still oblivious to his presence, for which he praised the Emperor. Furthermore, its ambling gait and the fact that it was alone indcated that it was cut off from the swarm, so it could not serve as the eyes and ears of the Hive Mind.
Optimally, Maxilos would wait until it advanced further, allowing him to approach it from behind. By them time it noticed him, he would be able to smash it with his servo-arms.
Unfortunately, it was moving towards the schoolhouse. If it realized that the building was inhabited, it would bring its fearsome impaler cannon to bear, blowing holes in the flimsy walls and skewering those inside.
The Techmarine ran some quick calculations and ran through thirty-seven possible scenarios. After the two point-six-six-one seconds that this took, he strode confidently toward his foe, bolter in hand.
“What is it?” Snails asked, his voice breaking the silence in the schoolhouse.
“It’s one of those monsters! ‘Teary-nids’ or something!” Snips whispered fearfully.
“Quiet, children!” Cheerilee hushed them.
“It’s coming closer! Where’s Maxilos?” Dinky Doo worried
Suddenly, a series of thunderous bangs rang out. The Tyranid staggered painfully, chunks of its bluish shell flying off in a spray of blood and sparks.
“What in the world was that?” Berry Punch cried, forgetting the need to be silent.
“It’s Maxilos!” Pipsqueak could only have been happier if Princess Luna had come to visit.
The precision bolter volley hit the Hive Guard dead-on, and Maxilos was rewarded with a screech of pain and a splatter of Tyranid viscera.
However, the hive guard spun around with surprising alacrity, its long-barreled weapon held out. It roared as a massive spine shot out, trailing greenish internal fluids.
Time seemed to slow down for Maxilos. He had not expected his shots to kill the creature, only to get its attention. Information flowed in from all directions, courtesy of his extensive augmetic sensoria network. Wind speed, air pressure, humidity, and anything else that could possibly affect the trajectory of the incoming spine.
Time to impact: zero point-four-two-two seconds. Insufficient time to power up shield system. Redistributing weight. Preparing countermeasures.
Leaning back, Maxilos swung one of his mechadendrites out.
The tiny brain of the spine saw its target moving and adjusted the fins along its length to alter its path.
However, it did not notice the sinuous mechanical tentacle swiping down towards it.
The mechadendrite connected with the middle of the spine and deftly smacked it to the ground, where it convulsed once and died, its purpose unfulfilled.
Though he doubted that it could feel emotions, Maxilos could imagine how the hive guard was feeling at that moment.
Estimated time until next shot: four point-five-zero-one seconds. Powering up conversion beamer.
“What did he do?” Featherweight asked, not entirely sure of what he just saw.
“It spat something at him but he caught it! That was awesome!” Berry Pinch cheered.
“Wait, what’s he doing now?” Snails’s words brought everypony’s attention back to the Techmarine.
The massive apparatus on his right shoulder was buzzing and crackling. A bright white glow emanated from the strange conical device, and the ribbed center portion began spinning rapidly, filling the air with a piercing whining sound.
“What in the world is that thing?” Cheerilee asked, furrowing her brow.
Right as she finished speaking, a lightning-like crackling sound ripped through the air and a stream of blinding white light shot from the dish-shaped part of Maxilos’s device.
The stream of light was painful to look at. Even with her eyes closed, Cheerilee felt hot white streaks burning themselves into her retinas.
The beam of light enveloped the Tyranid, which howled. At first, Cheerilee could not tell why it was howling, but then it hit her: the creature was in pain. And for good reason.
As the ponies watched, the Tyranid began evaporating. No, not evaporating, Cheerilee though in horrified realization. Incinerating.
Layers of chitin simply peeled off and became dust, which dispersed into nothingness. The creature looked like in was shrinking as it burned away. Soon, its agonized thrashing subsided, and its withered body, framed by a light ten times brighter than the sun, disintegrated like a leaf in a fire. Finally the light vanished, leaving only a pair of blackened hoofprints where the Tyranid had stood.
Stunned, the ponies simply stumbled outside to find Maxilos striding towards them. The huge contraption on his shoulder had stopped spinning, and a plume of acrid fumes was coming from his backpack. The ponies stared at the Techmarine in shocked silence.
“WOW THAT WAS SO COOL!” several of the colts and fillies burst out.
“That looked awesome!” Featherweight said happily.
Maxilos remained silent. Suddenly, he felt an almost imperceptible impact against his right boot. Looking down, he saw Pipsqueak attempting to hug his greave.
“You’re a hero, Mr. Maxilos,” he said, his face blooming with admiration.
“Thank you, young one,” Maxilos replied after a moment of hesitation. The ponies clustered around him, all chattering and praising their new hero. Even the adults looked approving.
Filthy Rich stepped out from behind some bushes. “What did you… what did you…” his voice left him and he simply stared. He faced the crowd, which stared at him with looks of disapproval and pity.
Maxilos regarded the tan stallion impassively. “I assume that you no longer doubt my abilities.”
Filthy Rich could only nod at that before staggering away in a daze.
Lyra followed close behind the group of Ultramarines, Element Bearers, and Princesses, just out of sight. Though she was trying to be stealthy, she could hardly contain her excitement.
“Hands hands hands…” she muttered excitedly to herself.
“What are you going on about, unicorn?”
Lyra spun around, looking for the source of the voice. She saw nothing, except for some market stalls, and an odd pair of blue bucket-shaped things. The voice had been badly distorted, as if… wait… it’s one of them!
She stared at the blue objects, and followed them upward. They were not buckets after all; they were the thick armoured legs of an Ultramarine. The only differences between it and the others were the odd beak-shaped helmet that it wore, and the giant gadget with glowing blue coils along its length that it held in one of its hands.... hands!
“If you were trying to sneak up on the Captain, then you are certainly doing it wrong,” the alien said, a hint of amusement in its voice. At Lyra’s confused expression, he continued. “I am Veteran Dannelos. And you would be?”
“I… I’m Lyra,” the mint-green unicorn stammered, her eyes still locked on Dannelos’s hands. The pair of them was silent after that.
Noticing the pony’s enraptured gaze, Dannelos broke the silence. “You appear to be staring at my hands.”
Lyra blinked and looked back at his face. Then she looked back at his hands. Back at his face. Hands again.
“Is something wrong?” he asked. When Lyra did not respond, he waved an armoured gauntlet in front of her eyes. Strangely, her gaze tracked his hand with all the efficiency of a gun-servitor. Intrigued, Dannelos moved his hand back and forth, watching Lyra’s ever-widening eyes follow his every move. “You find my hands interesting?”
Lyra snapped out of her reverie and nodded. Dannelos lowered his arm back to his side. Once again, the pair stood silently, staring at each other.
This time it Lyra who broke the silence. “Well,” she said, sounding disappointed. She glanced at the Ultramarine’s hands again. “I guess I never planned this far in advance.”
“Well, here we are,” Twilight said, gesturing toward the library. The ponies looked up expectantly at the Sicarius and Argus.
The Epistolary looked the building up and down, then turned to Twilight. “Very well. How are we supposed to fit through the door?”
Twilight facehoofed. Stupid, why didn’t I think of this? Of course they’re too big to fit inside! She glanced up to see Sicarius removing the huge banner from his backpack. Afterwards, he crouched low and, to the surprise of everypony present, squeezed through the door. Argus followed suit.
The purple unicorn looked at her friends. Luna raised her hooves in an amusing “Oh well” gesture.
Celestia turned to Captain Sidewinder. “Captain, go find the other officers and Element Bearers. They will need to be present.” The Captain saluted and flew off.
Inside the library, Argus looked around in appreciation. Books lined the shelves, scrolls were piled up on tables, and a large telescope sat by a window. Archaic mediums of writing they were, but Argus had always enjoyed reading a physical, paper book.
“We should wait for the guard captains,” came the mellifluous voice of Princess Luna, who had just entered with the other ponies.
“Several of my battle-brothers are coming as well,” Sicarius added. “We can wait.”
With those words, the group fell into an awkward silence. Fluttershy stared at Sicarius in fear, doing her best to hide behind Rarity.
Still wearing their helmets, Sicarius and Argus were free to have a conversation without interruption.
“Captain?” Argus’s voice crackled in his ears.
“I know what you are going to ask, Epistolary.”
“Then what is your answer? I know that I will not be the only one with concerns.”
Sicarius thought quickly, searching for a plausible answer. In the past few hours, he had chased a numerically superior force through a warp storm, followed them onto a planet, and had promised to protect the planet’s inhabitants from the Tyranids. He needed a good reason. Unfortunately, he was having difficulty finding one.
“Choosing to protect these ponies was a pragmatic decision,” he said, realizing how ridiculous that statement sounded. “Protecting them means less biomass for the Tyranids.”
“Captain, if you truly consider that decision pragmatic, then I worry for the safety of the 2nd,” Argus said, seeing through the statement immediately. “However, I will follow your orders.”
“Thank you for you understanding, Argus. I suppose part of my reason could be that I simply find these ponies intriguing. They are alarmingly similar to humans.”
“I must make a confession, Captain.” Argus sounded slightly embarrassed. “I too, find these ponies absolutely fascinating. Particularly the horned ones. The unicorns.”
“What is so amazing about them? Are they psykers?”
“Not by our definition,” Argus replied. “I cannot perceive them the way I could another psyker, but by the Emperor they seem to be able to touch the warp. I will have to investigate when I have more time.”
At first, Rarity had considered reading a book to pass the time, but she thought better of it. She did not think that the Princesses would appreciate her romance novels as much as she did. Finally out of boredom, her eyes turned to the Ultramarines. Immediately, her fashion-sense switched on and she began examining their armour with an experienced eye. They may be killers, she thought. But at least they know how to dress well.
Upon closer examination, Rarity found a greater appreciation for the Ultramarines’ armour. The rich blue plates almost appeared to be works of art. Sicarius’s shoulder pads were covered in elaborate golden symbols, which still shone brightly despite the violence that he had taken part in. The left symbol was patterned with golden feathers, making the entire shoulder pad look like an eagle. The other shoulder pad bore a white emblem of a skull with slit-like eyes. His massive cape flowed around his ankles, the deep red fabric unblemished by Tyranid blood.
Argus’s armour was just as ornate, if not more so. His helmet incorporated a large, hood-like section, giving his head a sinister silhouette. Instead of a cape, he bore several portions of fabric over the chest and waist portions of his armour. Hanging from his belt was a bewildering array of objects. Several long tubes embossed with gold, and a huge tome dangling from a chain were the only recognizable ones.
“My, you Ultramarines have absolutely magnificent armour.” The words slipped out of Rarity’s mouth without warning, drawing the looks of everyone in the room.
Thankfully, Sicarius appeared to appreciate the compliment. Everypony breathed a sigh of relief.
“Have you ever considered making some…alterations?” Rarity continued, a hopeful smile on her face.
“I add honour badges to my armour after successful campaigns. Most of these symbols proclaim acts of bravery or heroism.”
“No no no,” Rarity said, shaking her head. “What I meant is would you ever change the overall design? New colours, patterns?”
“Alter my armour? I would never consider such a thing,” the Captain replied, sounded slightly surprised. “These components come from many of the Ultramarines’ greatest heroes.”
“Well, I certainly wouldn’t wish to do anything drastic,” Rarity said. “But I do think that you could do so much more with your wardrobe. So many new colours you could try!”
Listening to the Space Marine Captain and the fashionista unicorn debating style relaxed the atmosphere significantly. Twilight worked up the confidence to speak out loud, and she began talking in earnest with Celestia. Luna sat down next to Fluttershy and began talking. Eventually the pair was chatting amiably about nocturnal animals.
This left Spike and Argus sitting awkwardly, trying not to meet each other’s eyes.
“So…” Spike finally managed. “You’re an alien.”
“Yes,” Argus said flatly.
“Is the temperature significant?”
Suddenly, the door flew open, and Rainbow Dash staggered inside. One of her wings was bent at an unnatural angle, and she walked with a bad limp.
“Rainbow! What happened?” Rarity asked, steadying her friend with a hoof to the shoulder.
The pegasus coughed weakly, then looked up at Sicarius. Her eyes blazed accusingly. “One of your guys tried to kill me!”
“What?” everypony exclaimed simultaneously.
“Who?” Sicarius demanded, rising to his feet, almost whacking his head on the ceiling.
“In don’t know. He called himself a ‘Terminator,’” Rainbow Dash said. “All I did was ask why you guys couldn’t save all the guards, and he grabbed me and almost broke my wing!”
“That does sound like Sergeant Marcellus.” Everypony turned toward the door, where Veteran Dannelos stood.
“I shall deal with this problem later,” Sicarius said. “Marcellus shall be punished for his disobedience. For now, we have-”
He was cut off when a violently pink blur shot in through the doorway, landing squarely on his chestplate.
“Omigosh! There’s more of you! I need to make more muffins!”
Sicarius looked down in disbelief at the crazed pink pony clinging to his armour like an overgrown spider. Back in the doorway (which was becoming rather cramped), Zecora smiled at Pinkie’s antics. Behind her crouched Sergeant Vorolanus, who was struggling to comprehend the bizarre scene before him. Across the room, Ditzy Doo flew through a window, knocking a stack of encyclopedias onto Spike.
“Not again!” he yelped before disappearing beneath a dozen pounds of paper.
“Oh wait! This isn’t my house!” Ditzy exclaimed, a goofy smile on her face as she flew back out through the window.
Pinkie burst out laughing, tears of mirth flowing onto Sicarius’s chestplate. The other Element Bearers had to stifle giggles of their own. Eventually they gave up and joined in the massive, tension-relieving laugh-fest.
Zecora wiped a tear from her eye. “I too, should probably go. The forest is full of aliens, you know.” Her rhyme complete, she trotted off.
Dannelos removed his helmet, revealing an amused grin. “Is this a regular occurrence around here?”
“It’s happening too much for my tastes,” Spike muttered, rubbing his head.
“Aww, is my poor little Spikey-Wikey alright?” Rarity gushed, rushing over to the small dragon.
Spike immediately forgot about the sore lump on his head. “I…I…I’m alright, Rarity,” he said, stumbling over his words.
The white unicorn beamed at him and turned back to everypony else. Spike watched her dreamily, his head spinning once again. Unfortunately, the cause of his spinning head was as much the pony of his dreams as it was another falling encyclopedia. Thankfully, Twilight levitated his unconscious form and placed him in his basket.
Techmarine Maxilos showed up next. He had an amusingly difficult time fitting through the door, due to his bulky servo-harness and conversion beamer, but he forced his way through before Pinkie made good on her idea to find the salad oil.
“I have completed my survey of the settlement’s defences,” he droned. “Also, I encountered a lone hive guard near the schoolhouse. I dispatched it without any difficulty. Also, I believe that we have a significant portion of this town’s populace ready to trust us after they viewed my combat prowess.” Maxilos paused for a moment. “Observation: Captain, you appear to have a pony clinging to you chest. Is there a reason for this?”
Everypony burst out laughing again, while Sicarius and Argus shook their heads.
Next, Captain Stormcaller and Captain Stone Mason trotted in. Sicarius decided to take a hint from the ponies around him and ignore the form of Pinkie, who was seemingly glued to his cuirass. He turned to Sergeant Vorolanus.
“Sergeant, take your detachment and join the defenders. Sergeant Daceus is in command for now.” Vorolanus nodded and left, Atavian’s Devastators and Darius’s Scouts following.
Captain Stone Mason cleared his throat. “My apologies, Captain, but I believe some introductions are in order. None of us know who you are, and vice versa.”
“Very well,” Sicarius said. “I am Captain Sicarius, leader of the Ultramarines 2nd Company.”
Argus stood. “Epistolary Argus, currently attached to the 2nd.”
One by one, everybody present stated their name. Even Fluttershy eventually spoke up after about two minutes of cowering behind her mane.
“Twilight Sparkle, you said that you have maps and other geographical data?” Sicarius asked. The unicorn nodded and fetched several large scrolls with her magic.
Argus watched the parchment float down in fascination. Definitely like nothing I have ever seen before.
“Ponyville is here on the map.” Twilight indicated a location near the center. “As far as I could tell, the Tyranids came from this direction.” She was pointing towards the Everfree Forest when a bright blue light shone on the map. She jumped and pulled away.
“Please stand away while I make a manipulable projection.” The blue light came from a lens on Maxilos’s helmet. After scanning the map on the table, he snaked out a mechadendrite and grabbed the remaining maps, which he spread out and scanned as well. “Complete. This hologram includes data from your maps combined and corrected with my own orbital and suborbital scans.”
Captain Stormcaller stared at the projection in awe. It was clearly a map, but it was fully three-dimensional. He had barely even taken in this new perspective when the image rapidly zoomed out until he could see not just Ponyville and Canterlot, but Appleloosa, Cloudsdale, and all of Equestria. Two locations on the map flashed red.
“These red lights mark locations where the Tyranid craft made planetfall,” Sicarius said. “The Emperor was watching us. These two ships landed within a relatively short distance of one another.”
Celestia raised an eyebrow at Sicarius’s reference to “the Emperor,” but she decided that her questions could wait.
“This ship,” Sicarius continued, indicating the red dot closest to Ponyville. “Was the source of the initial attack force. It landed approximately twenty-three kilometers from here, near the western edge of the forest. With the biomass provided by the plants and animals there, the Tyranids will be able to restore their forces rapidly and attack. This will be our first target.”
Fluttershy’s ears perked up when the Captain mentioned animals. “Biomass from the animals? What do you mean?” she asked, her shyness overpowered by her concern for living things.
“The Tyranids consume organic matter to feed to their bio-ships, which in turn, spawn more Tyranid organisms.” Maxilos droned dispassionately.
“You mean… they’re going to eat all the animals?”
“’Eat’ would not be the proper term in this case,” Maxilos continued indifferently. “After the Tyranids have pacified an area, they will retrieve fallen opponents to feed to the digestion pools near their bio-ships. These pools function as external stomachs for the bio-ships, enabling them to efficiently digest organic matter and process it.”
Everypony stared at the Techmarine with a mixture of horror and disproval. Fluttershy was on the verge of tears, while Rainbow Dash tried to comfort her.
Dannelos gave Maxilos a sarcastic look. “Not the best thing to say right now.”
“Empirical fact is always preferable to false hope,” Maxilos responded, his tone never varying. “If any of you ponies are to survive this situation, then you must accept what you would prefer not to.”
“As long as we’re talking about leaving things to die,” Captain Stormcaller growled. “What about this one?” He pointed at the other red dot on the map. “That one’s awfully close to Appleloosa. Are you planning to save them as well?”
“Not at the moment.” Sicarius’s words drew shocked stares from everypony.
“Appleloosa is home to hundreds of ponies!” Celestia exclaimed. “Do you intend to leave them to die?”
“Not unless absolutely necessary. That bio-ship landed in a desert environment. The Tyranids will have difficulty accumulating sufficient biomass to replenish their forces.”
Luna stepped forward, wings outstretched. “Art thou willing to gamble with the lives of hundreds?”
“Are you willing to gamble with the lives of everybody?” Sicarius countered. The Princesses were silent. “I have one hundred thirty-four Space Marines to fight millions of Tyranids. If we spread ourselves too thin, we will not be able to save anyone. We will focus on the closest threat first, then deal with the others.”
“There must be something we can do,” Captain Sidewinder said, gesturing emphatically with his hooves. “Can we try to evacuate Appleloosa?”
“That would be a possibility,” Stone Mason added. “If you could transport over a hundred Space Marines here, then surely you can rescue countless ponies.”
“I will take that into consideration.”
Rainbow Dash stared at the map. “Wait a sec. When I was up in the clouds, I saw three big flaming things coming from the sky. Where’s the third one?”
“Unaccounted for,” Maxilos said. “However, based on its trajectory, it will have landed within approximately a five hundred twenty-nine kilometer radius of here.”
“So great,” Rainbow Dash grumbled. “We have one group of bug-aliens right on our doorstep, another about to attack Appleloosa, and one more that we have no idea where it is. This day just got a whole lot better.”
The map zoomed in, focusing on just Ponyville and the surrounding area. “We must establish proper defences as soon as possible. The Tyranids will not take long to recuperate. I will call for our armoured vehicles to support us. Once they have arrived, I will dispatch Land Speeders to any outlying territories, such as Appleloosa, carrying warnings.”
“We suppose that will have to-” Princess Luna cut off abruptly. “Where is Pinkie Pie?”
Sure enough, Pinkie was missing. Sicarius had forgotten about her completely, having simply accepted the fact that she was clinging to his armour.
“Outside maybe?” Rainbow Dash suggested.
The group hurried outside, Sicarius in the lead. Once again, he crouched low and forced his way through the door.
Outside, it looked like a troupe of Eldar Harlequins had decided to have a fight with a Slaaneshi cult.
Garishly coloured streamers hung everywhere. Clusters of balloons obscured large tracts of the town. Tables bearing truly elaborate platters of food choked the road. Most worrying were several rows of boxes lining the street.
And dead center of the display was Pinkie Pie and a large wagon, which was blasting out a jaunty tune and waving flags.
“…Welcome welcome welcome to Ponyville today!” she finished singing. “Wait for it… oh no did I-”
She was cut off by a loud ding of an oven and several loud whistles. Confetti shot into the air, and a compartment on the wagon popped open revealing a fresh cake.
“Yay I did it right!” she said, bouncing with glee.
Sergeant Manorian and his Shieldbearers were unimpressed. “What is the meaning of this?” he snapped, his plasma pistol leveled at the wagon.
“It’s my Welcome Wagon! I wanted to throw you guys a party to welcome you to Ponyville!” Pinkie looked around. “I hope I made enough cupcakes!”
Twilight stared in disbelief. “I thought she only left about five seconds ago! How did she do all this?”
“What is this?” a booming voice rang out across the street. Standing between the rows of mysterious crates was Sergeant Marcellus, his storm bolter raised.
“Oooooh this is perfect!” Pinkie shot forward and yanked a cord.
At once, all the crates popped open, revealing a dozen bright pink cannons, all aiming at Marcellus.
The Terminator Sergeant’s battle reflexes kicked in. The cannons had huge barrels, reminding him disconcertingly of Orks. They would be highly inaccurate, but at such short range, that would hardly matter.
“For the Emperor!” he roared, and fired several short bolter bursts. Six of the cannons exploded in quick succession, scattering brightly coloured shrapnel everywhere.
The other six fired, spraying a blizzard of confetti at Marcellus, who yelled in surprise and anger.
“Yay they worked!” Pinkie bounced even higher.
“Why so many party cannons, Pinkie?” Rainbow Dash asked.
“I always stash party cannons everywhere, in case of a party emergency,” the pink pony replied with absolute confidence. “Do you ever want to be caught unprepared for a party emergency? I think NOT!”
Suddenly, with a loud roar of exhaust, the Welcome Wagon launched itself down the street, neon sparkles flying in its wake.
“Oh that’s what I forgot! I added fireworks to the Welcome Wagon!”
The wagon shot forward, smashing headlong into Sergeant Manorian with such force that it knocked him on his back.
“Oh I’m so sorry!” Pinkie said, rushing toward the stricken Sergeant. “I’m really sorry I’ll bake you an extra cake to make up for this can you still be our Space Marine Best Friends Forever?”
Sicarius and Argus glanced at each other.
Sicarius sighed. “Fascinating indeed.”