10w, 2dThe Good HiE List
Inside Canterlot Castle
Canterlot's court chambers were in uproar once again, this time over the revelation that the 'beast' hanging above them was not anything of the sort, but rather it was some sort of titanic space-faring vessel, no doubt crewed by an alien race. Some councillors and nobles thought this news good, a crew of relatively small aliens could surely be handled far easier than a gigantic beast, far more of the assembled ponies were prepared to think the worst.
In the epicentre of this maelstrom of raised voices sat Princess Celestia, waiting with the patience of an immortal for the noise to die down, set alongside the first alicorn was the ambassadors for those races outside Equestria that held an interest in this affair; the Griffin ambassador lounged easily on a cushion preening his feathers and occasionally clicking his long talons in annoyance at the omnipresent noise, on the Princess's other side the vast bulk of the dragon clan's speaker blotted out much of the light with his canopy-like wings, finally the Zebra's representative sat with ears folded back and eyes closed with a calming mantra rolling in monotonous repetition off his tongue.
The noise of the room served the purpose of one group this night. With the din from that room echoing all throughout the castle, nopony heard the gentle clink of metal-shod feet touching the ground inside the North Courtyard.
Canterlot, North Courtyard
One held a hand up for silence the moment that the last marine touched ground, hearing no alarm raised the hand made another signal, with efficient silence the other members of the squad tapped buttons on their chest-plates, deactivating their grav-chutes (a simple anti-grav pack that slowed their descent to a non lethal speed) and letting their weaponry and gear pop out of the back panels and into the marine's waiting hands.
Once all the marines had got locked and loaded One again held a hand up for silence, when augmented hearing picked up no alarms the officer risked breaking radio silence to give out orders
“9, 10 stand guard. Set up those scramblers and keep the area clear for evac, if this op goes south we need a safe point” Waiting for their acknowledgement One continued “The rest of you with me, 3 and 5 are on point. Soft rounds only, we are not here to make a bloodbath.”
Again waiting for acknowledgement, the red-pipped officer made a signal and the squad moved out while two remained behind, setting up the scramblers but leaving them silent for now, if there were as many psychics her as orbital scans suggested, the noise would only serve to ruin the stealthy approach they were taking.
Following the gently pulsing holographic arrow arrow fo the scanner, the marine squad moved far more silently than their large frames and metallic armour might suggest is possible, only the occasional squelch of damp soil, or scrape of wood on alloy ever gave away their position, in a matter of metres the eight marines had faded into the shadows of the courtyard's trees, the lenses of their thermal goggles ever so lightly luminous in the gloom of the new moon.
They encountered their obstacle at the courtyard entrance, the point-men held up fists to halt the advance, explaining in silent symbols that the holographic visors automatically translated into text – Four watchers, courtyard exit, Non-human shape, armoured. One moved up slowly to check their sighting, He nodded in confirmation as he saw, two non-humans in armour sat watch at the gate, with his thermal goggles picking up the blobby shapes of two more over the wall.
With a few sharp hand-movements One gave the order, when 3, 6, 7 and 5 raised their rifles neither hesitated for even a moment at the strange sight that greeted them, with the prevalence of surgical augments and gene treatments on Sol, these furred quadrepeds were not even close to the strangest they had seen.
4 shots rang out, the distinctive buzz of gauss rails followed milliseconds later by the crack of their supersonic projectiles, the armour of the first two guards did little to nothing to stop the darts from slamming into the guard's necks, the potent cocktail of tranquillizers and paralytics immobilizing them before a cry of alarm could get any further than the first syllable.
Across the wall, two holes and the sounds of two bodies slumping to the ground showed that the thin hedge-wall that surrounded the courtyard was little defence against the marines rifles. One held the marines in silence for moments before letting them advance, as they came upon the dozing equines they reached down and collected the darts, stowing the now empty hypodermics inside panels on their chest.
The squad advanced out from the courtyard room by room, pausing at every door to listen for alarms, checking the for corners of each to make sure they were clear before moving on, most were either empty or filled with sleeping ponies, which were ignored so long as they did not wake.
Canterlot servant's quarters
In the kitchens below the main castle Feather duster was finally finishing for the day, just two more rooms to clean and then she could rest easy in her comfy bed, humming while she worked the grey-feathered pegasus moved slowly around the workspace, her duster held in one hoof and a wipe-cloth on each wing.
Still humming she stepped inside the ice-room of the pantry, after carefully checking the temperature -the old head chef was so liable to forget these days, it was a kindness to make sure that he hadn't let the dial climb too high- the maid spent a few seconds just enjoying the cool air, the brisk chill always reminded her of her youth, resting lazily on the wisps of high altitude clouds and just watching the world go by below.
Hearing a clink of metal outside the nostalgia faded and her face took on its usual demure air, but something stopped her from slamming the ice-room door open, some primeval shiver ran down her spine and made the maid slow down, stepping up ever so carefully and peering through the crack in the ajar door.
The sight that greeted her eyes almost made her knees buckle in fright, a royal guard in his resplendent golden armour, rearing backwards through the door as if in shock, but before the stallion could get out the call of alarm there was a sound like the crack of a whip, and a dart zipped through the door only to slam into the guard's meaty neck, the sound died in the pony's throat and he suddenly fell backwards, collapsing to the ground like a puppet with cut strings.
Feather Duster closed the ice-room door as silently as she could and huddled behind a frozen shelf in fright there was the tip-tap of metal shoes on the stone floor just outside, then silence. The oppressive silence of a predator being very quiet hung like a fragile cobweb in the freezing air, Feather Duster staying as still as she could.
Then the silence shattered, there was the clink of metal outside, an alien voice -too deep and too high up to belong to any pony- rang in the maid's ears, and the tip tap of metal shoes died away with the creak of a door opening and shutting.
Feather Duster stayed still as a statue for a minute after, not daring to move a hoof. Then she huffed in relief, standing up and shakily making her way out of the ice-room. She paused by the still unmoving guard to check on him, he was but sleeping, the maid slid a folded apron under the unconcious stallion's head as a makeshift pillow.
Standing up again, the pegasus huffed out, took in a deep breath. Calmed her nerves one last time. Then she screamed, screamed for the guards, screamed for the princess, screamed blue bloody murder until her lungs burned and her throat was raw. Her dainty hooves carrying her at record pace in the exact opposite direction to that of the invaders.
Canterlot – Royal Bedrooms
So close, One watched the little arrow as it tilted, pointing finally up towards the tip of a nearby tower, that is where their target was. Just across a little clearing. Raising his fist, One motioned the squad to the edge of the shadow they lurked in, each marine lining up shots on visible guards. One raised his fist, watching as each barrel steadied and settled into position, two tracking side to side to follow the walks of two patrolling guards.
One nearly swore into the radio as the scream pierced the night behind them, they must have missed someone. As the guards surrounding the tower snapped round to look he gave the 'fire' signal before the strange quadrupeds could see the marines, 7 whipcracks broke the still night air as the scream faded, 7 guards reared in surprise and then slumped to the ground or fell from the balconies on which they stood. But an eighth , hidden behind a wall, stood up and gave a cry of alarm, the armoured thing raised its horn and sparked up, sending a flare of light high into the sky.
Now One swore, breaking radio silence at the same moment that he raised his own rifle and took down the eighth guard with a dart “Stealth section's over squad, Move!” all seven marines broke into a sprint across the open ground, armoured boots tearing up patches of soil. More of the quadreped guards appeared from all around, the horned ones levitating spears alongside them while the winged ones carried crossbows.
The marines didn't glance up, they kept shoulders down and legs pounding in their run at the tower, the winged guards fired a volley of bolts at the intruders, shock registering on their too-human faces as the heavy crossbow bolts splintered and ricocheted off the plates of the marines armour, magically thrown spears made the heavily built soldiers stumble, but the spears bounced off and the marines never checked their pace.
One got to the tower door first, there was a doorknob, but no point in using it. The heavy oak door splintered, buckled and finally was smashed inwards as the marines threw themselves at it. Standing at the base of a long set of stairs One gave orders “3, 4 hold the door. The rest of you with me” he didn't wait for acknowledgement this time, taking the spindly stairs 3 at once in his haste.
One and the five following him arrived at the top of the tower, only to be faced with a long hallway. One checked the reader, it pointed straight ahead. Before the marine squad could take a step, more guards dropped from the ceiling and melted out of shadows all around them, blue-armoured and bat-winged with mouths full of long fangs. The marine squad and the obstructing guards stared each other down for a moment, then One made a simple hand signal and the hallway was filled with the sound of whips and the screeches of these strange new guards. Battle was joined.
Canterlot, Luna's room
Inside her room the Moon princess was busy, working with a brow furrowed in concentration as she strapped on plates of ancient battle armour. The sounds of her night guard valiantly fighting to slow this enemy down sped her hooves and gave strength to her limbs. “My horn is unusable and mine wings are bound, but I am a warrior with or without them” she reassured herself, strapping the last leg-plate in place over its coat of mail and lowering her helm into place atop her head.
Determination lighting fire in her eyes, Luna turned to the door, wincing slightly every time a thud or a thump signified one of her guards hitting the floor, she kept glancing towards the balcony, expecting -hoping- to see her sister, or a squadron of Pegasi arrive to lend aid; but all she saw was any pegasus that approached being swatted from the sky by the darts of the intruders.
Calming her breathing and steadying her hooves, the lunar princess lowered her horn and set her stance, ready to charge.
Canterlot Court chambers
The raucous noise began to die down, finally a few nobles calmed enough to take their seats and discuss matters at a reasonable volume. Celestia sipped her fresh tea and gently began working through the tangle of idiocy, babble, bias, conspiracy and genuine solutions that each of her advisers presented. This was her element.
Then the air broke open as the terrified scream rent the air, there was a clatter of noise to drown out the approaching scream as guards, gentlestallions and Celestia herself stood and looked towards the door. Then the doors flung themselves open and a pegasus charged in, screaming all the way until she ground to a halt in the centre of the room and finally paused to take her breath. Seeing Celestia approach with worry on her face, the maid sucked in a high-speed unintelligible babble, pointing back the way she came and gesturing wildly, her face showing little but fear.
The Diarch alicorn gave a nod to the guards, who immediately began forcing the crowds of nobles back to give the princess and the maid room, then she sat down next to the panicking pegasus, shushing her gently and wrapping a wing around her subject “It's okay Feather Duster. You're safe now, calm down and please explain what has panicked you so”
Feather Duster calmed down slowly, quieting down to a little whimper. She looked up to the princess and breathed slow, taking in a breath and starting again “Intruders. There's intruders in the castle”
At the alicorn's raised eyebrow the maid explained further. “I was in the kitchens, cleaning out the ice-room. I paused to enjoy the chilly air and was about to step out when a royal guard came in, he was stumbling backwards as if somepony surprised him, then there was a crack like a whip. A dart stuck in the guards neck and he fell to the ground” her voice trembled “i-I was so scared, I just pulled the door closed and hid behind a shelf. Then when whoever It was had gone, I came out and screamed and ran all the way here”
Celestia nodded “I am glad you did, were it not for your presence of mind I might have never found out” she stood, only to find another pegasus storming the room, this one in the uniform of the palace guards.
The mare in armour skidded to a halt before announcing “Intruders Princess! They've broken into Luna's tower. We tried to stop them, but they keep firing these, syringe... things?” she struggled to find words.
Celestia found them for her “Darts?”
The guard was surprised, but recovered quickly and nodded “yes Princess, punches through our armour like it was tinfoil. Loaded with some sort of sleep-toxin, knocks us out faster than I can wink”
The sun goddess nodded, then began a quickfire round of orders, sending her surrounding guards off to summon reinforcements and find shining armour, a bubble shield over the castle to stop the intruders escaping was needed. Finally she tunred to the guard and the maid, she nodded towards the saluting guard “Private.. Bolt?”
The pegasus guard beamed at the recognition “Yes Princess. Private Thunderclap Buzzer Bolt at your service”
Celestia nodded “I need you to organise the defence of this room, gather any noble who is willing and hold the door here, the ambassadors are more than capable of defending themselves, but if these intruders are targeting our government, they would likely come here”
Pvt Bolt nodded with determination, saluting solemnly before jetting off to rouse the huddled nobles, the dragon, zebra and griffin ambassadors were ready for the defence, the looming shadow of the draconic speaker throwing the whole room into shadow under his wings.
Nodding to herself, Celestia flared her horn and teleported away.
Canterlot – Luna's bedroom
12 darts, it had taken 12 darts to take their target down, the thing had speared 5 in the arm the moment he opened the door, the long horn on its head going through the armour plates like butter, two blows from the fore-legs had shattered the left lens on 6's helmet and buckle 7's chest-plate. One had ended the fight with a thrown psych-out grenade, the blue-furred thing had screamed in agony, clutching at it's head and writhing on the floor. The darts that sent it into a deep sleep seemed almost a mercy.
Now the marines carried the strange quadreped through the corridor and down the stairs. Picking a careful path through the still bodies of more than two dozen of those strange blue-armoured guards, all baring injuries from the battle (if it could be called that, the spears and short-swords barely scratched the paintwork on marine armour)
3 and 4 waited at the bottom, leaning out of the door frame occasionally to take pot shots at the guards that now surrounded the tower. They glanced at the limp form being borne between 6 and 7 and the battle scars on the bearers.
3 queried “Are we making a run for the evac zone sir?” She sounded unsure about the idea.
One held the marines gaze for a few seconds, then nodded “stick close to the captive, I'm willing to bet they won't try anything if we have a hostage”
The squad formed up around the limp captive, tensed and ran, One popping the cap off a radio flare as he went.
High above Canterlot, a scout lander pilot smiled as the red blip she had been waiting for suddenly flashed up. With a pulse of the engines the craft rolled into a screaming power-dive
Celestia stood on a rooftop overlooking her sister's tower, she had felt Luna fall, all the guard had heard her agonised scream. Much as the alicorn wished to rush in, her own personal guard had stopped her. Now they waited for these intruders to emerge.
Shining Armour joined her, ready to give an attack signal to the army of guards massed below.
Suddenly there was movement, 8 things with Luna held between two of them.
Celestia's expression went through many changes as she gazed at her sister, finally settling on neutrality. With a snap of her wing she interrupted Shining's signal “Wait”
The commander looked up at his ruler silently.
Celestia took a deep breath and closed her eyes “Let them through” she ordered
The ripple of shock going through the ranks was palpable, nobody moved a muscle, prompting the alicorn to repeat herself “Pull the guards back, let the intruders through. I will not risk injuring my sister.”
Shining spluttered incredulously, the intruders were getting closer “B-but Princess, Luna's immortal. We couldn't inj-” he got no further.
Celestia flared magic through her horn and ordered in power-laced tones “Do not question me Commander. Pull the guard back, take down the shield, let the intruders through. I will explain my reasons in due time”
Shining held the Diarch's gaze for moments, on the verge of rebellion. But he crumbled eventually and flared his horn, sending up the retreat symbol just as the intruders reached the first guards.
The marines charged the mass of quadrupeds with determination, all trace of doubt washed from them by the cocktail of drugs their implants pumped into their bloodstream. But just as they reached the first of the armoured creatures and raised their rifles to fire, the guards retreated. They pulled away, gazing at a symbol in the sky and bolting out of the marines path.
Spirits bolstered by this strange development, the marines poured on the speed and made their way back at a sprint. Holding their captive high to avoid banging its head on the floor, the guarding quadrupeds followed at a distance, lead by a giant white one, with horns and wings just as their dozing capture had.
The path to the courtyard was lined with the golden armoured things, the marines slowed down for the final stretch, even One was feeling a little nonplussed by the docility of their foe.
That hesitancy was washed away with a roar of jets, all of the quadrupeds save the giant white beast ducking as the lander screamed by overhead, circling the palace once to bleed off speed before coming down with a cloud of dust.
Shining armour followed Celestia, but every time he tried to ask why they were letting the intruders go was met with silence. The alicorn walked far ahead, letting nopony see her eyes, finally pausing just outside the courtyard.
The white alicorn didn't flinch or waver as the strange craft made a pass over the castle, not looking away from her sister for even an instant.
The reason she paused at the courtyard entrance was made apparent when Shining armour attempted to enter, there was horrific buzzing sound in the air just beyond the gate, it made his horn feel as if it was coming out of its socket, he winced and stumbled back with eyes watering.
As soon as Luna was loaded into the craft the buzzing stopped, the intruders climbed in, looking like insects in their black armour, and pulled the hatch-door shut.
The craft began to lift away and Shining heard Celestia speak again, her voice barely above a whisper “What have you wrought upon us sister?”