60w, 2mWarhammer 40k
“We all know the foolishness associated with brash decisions but genius has never been associated with long delays.”
-Sun Shoe, Art of Negotiation
Under the protective escort of the trojan, Lyra, the remainder of our journey back to Fort Sweet Apple was relatively free of any major hindrances. Occasionally a wandering pack of Chaos ponies would be attracted to the resounding stomps of our escort and proceed to assail us with all the strategic foresight of a blind cat. Not since the poetic Charge of the Pegasus Brigade(1) had there been such a disregard to the most basic tenants of stratagem. As it would have been an exceedingly long walk back to the fortress, Rarity made the helpful suggestion to borrow one of the many vehicles that had been generously left behind by the populace. Pinkie Pie, unfortunately, made us swear that we’d return the vehicle as soon as possible to the owner since apparently one cannot ‘steal’ a car even if the world was going to end. The ensuing argument in order to satisfy Pinkie’s sense of morality reminded me of why Star Swirl never kept a priest on his payroll. It was just too much of a distraction. Morality was an important part of maintaining peace and harmony in the Equestrium but if the line between right and wrong were nice, clear, and defined then my conscience and I would probably still be on speaking terms. As it stood, that line was, at best, a giant cloud of smoke; at worse, on legs and constantly moving when you’re not paying attention.
Finding a proper vehicle to use proved to be just as time-consuming a pointless task as arguing with the priestess. My inclination to find something that would keep everybody happy was an exercise in futility - if it was large enough, then it wasn’t powerful enough. Or it wasn’t flashy enough. Or it was too rusted. Or it smelled funny. Or it had a hole the size of a pony’s head through the engine block. As my mentor once said, ‘some days, the only way to get three ponies to agree on anything was to put two of them to sleep.’ Thankfully, the situation didn’t deteriorate to the point where I had to pull out the lazepistol but it came pretty close when Rainbow Dash objected to Rarity’s suggestion of a sizable luxury sedan on the grounds that it was ‘a car for old ponies.’ Before that argument could continue, though, I stepped in an played the Inquisitional trump card. “Enough already! We’re taking the darn sedan and if anypony has an objection, they’re free to hitch-hike their way back to the fort! Are we clear?”
“Yes’m,” all the ponies chimed in unison as they piled into the car. I should have done that a lot sooner but as my mentor kept scolding me, I tried too hard to keep everypony happy. Since I was Inquisitor and thus had first claim on the front passenger seat, I climbed in and buckled in next to our driver, Fluttershy.
“Take us back to the fort please,” I said with a tired sigh.
“Uhh...Miss Inquisitor ma’am...there’s uh...no key in the ignition,” our driver meekly reported.
“Rarity, keys please,” I called out. On cue, a mechadendrite reached forth and punched into the steering wheel column and a second later the car sputtered to life.
The drive back to Fort Sweet Apple was as pleasant as one could imagine driving through a city under siege in a car built for four but seating six. And to top it all off, the air conditioning was also busted so I got to bask in the sweltering heat of four feuding ponies and a dragon. After listening to exactly thirty-eight minutes of ponies bickering about personal space, which way it was back to the fort, and who sat on whose tail, I was beginning to think riding the back on a manticore would have been a more pleasant way to travel. Actually, anything would have made for a more pleasant ride; launching into the sun packed inside a vending machine for example; or sustained heavy apple-gun fire. Either way, for once I was actually glad that the arrival of Chaos ponies eventually forced us to abandon the car and continue on foot. As I had anticipated, Fort Sweet Apple was under siege from the Chaos ponies, which meant there was a wall of madponies standing between me and my ship.
Fort Sweet Apple was probably the epicenter of the conflict in the whole region as it had been completely surrounded by vast hordes of heretical ponies. And to no surprise, their tactical insight into siege-craft was about as enlightened as their anti-trojan tactics, both of which seemed to center around the principle that eventually the opponent will run out of ammunition. The fort’s elevated position and high walls made it difficult to assail directly but that didn’t stop the Chaos ponies from trying. Between the ponies trying to break down the main gates, the ones attempting to scale the walls, and the pegasus swooping from above, the Equestrian Guards at the fort had their hooves full and I was worried how we would be able to get past so many heretics. It wouldn’t be as simple as letting Lyra run amok for a few minutes as even one trojan could only hold so much attention, not to mention there was bound to be one or two of them equipped with anti-vehicle freezas or lazecannons. Flying was out of the question too since there were so many Chaos pegasus already in the air, we would likely get targeted by our own anti-air defenses.
“Any suggestions?” I finally asked the others when my mental faculties failed me.
Rainbow Dash, who had been hovering above me for a better view, swooped back down with a brilliant grin across her face. “I’ve got an idea!” she exclaimed proudly. “I need one of your lazepistols.” I was hesitant at first to surrender my sidearm since Rainbow Dash struck me as the type of pony to be crazy enough to try and shoot a path through a horde of heretics. Had I known what her plan entailed, I would have gladly charged headlong into the heretical horde armed with only a stale baguette but since we were running a deficit on good ideas, I acquiesced into relinquishing my sidearm. “I’ll be back in ten seconds,” she reassured us before flying off.
For some odd reason, she flew back in the direction of our parked car. We weren’t left wondering for very long since the car went racing past us a moment later, heading in the direction of one of the heretics’ siege weapons, a large-caliber gluewitzer. Half-way through the charge, Dash bailed out of the car and allowed the careening vehicle to crash into the fortified position, causing the ponies manning the weapon to scatter in all direction. So much for returning the car to its owner.(2) With the enemy in disarray, she proceeded to launch a one-pegasus assault on the position. As I watched, my mind pondered on what exactly Dash had in mind that could possibly involve the use of a large cannon. Nothing reasonable came to mind but then I had a new thought - what if it was something unreasonable? The moment I took the unlikely into consideration, my mind froze in abject horror, as though my brain refused to accept the answer that it had settled upon. It was just too crazy to be considered. Alas, I had little time to think of alternatives as Dash had cleared the enemy position and returned in the aforementioned ten-second time-span and signaled for all of us to follow.
And for some silly reason, I decided to follow.
“What in the name of Celestia’s cogs are you thinking Dash?” Rarity asked as we gathered around the artillery piece. “I know we should be helping the fort but taking out a few artillery emplacements isn’t going to help Colonel Macintosh.”
“This is going to be our way in,” Dash explained as she tapped the side of the cannon. Sweet Celestia, she was thinking exactly what I had feared she was.
Thankfully, Rarity had enough wits about her to point the incredulity of the pegasus’ suggestion. “While this would certainly provide the velocity and trajectory necessary to get over the walls, you might have forgotten the small issue of what happens when he hit the ground.”
“Oh that’s easy,” the mareine answered with a dismissive wave of her hoof. “Just send me through first. I’ll be able to land safely and then I just catch you guys as you come over. It’s quick, easy, and, come on, it’s a cannon! How cool is that? Those Chaos ponies would never think of this!”(3) And with good reason. Since she was a space mareine, I could implicitly trust Rainbow Dash with my safety but as a rational pony I could only think of the million and one things that could go wrong with the plan. And each of those misfortunes ended with me as a crater either in the courtyard or against the fortress walls. Yet, for some twisted reason, I seemed to be the only pony in the group who didn’t like the idea. I would have said something sooner but the sheer audacity of the plan had knocked my brain into a kind of thought-process lag, incapable of processing anything else until it had finished grappling with its current burdens.
“Well, I suppose if I adjust the charge, one could launch a pony out of it without harming them,” Rarity muttered to herself.
“That sounds like superrific fun!” added the priestess.
“You girls can’t be serious,” I interjected when my brain at long last rejoined me in the present. “This is absolutely crazy! There’s no way this can work!”
“I don’t see you coming up with any bright ideas Inquisitor,” Dash replied smugly. “And nopony else seems to be complaining.”
“What about Fluttershy?” There was only one other pony I knew I could on for some kind of back-up in this debate. There was no way that Fluttershy would think this was a plausible solution. Then again, it was unlikely she’d consider any plan being worthwhile but that was beside the point.
“Oh, Fluttershy?” the mareine remarked rhetorically. Suddenly, she leveled her lazepistol and put a bolt right into the guardpony, who promptly fell face-first into a deep, blissful slumber. “Hm, looks like she doesn’t seem to have any objections whatsoever.”
“I hope you’re not planning on trying the same with me,” I warned with a harsh glare.
Dash seemed slightly amused by my response, simply laughing quietly as she tossed the lazepistol back to me. “Like that would work with your magic. I’m not stupid,” she said as she headed over to the cannon. “Rarity, prep the cannon and be ready to fire on my signal.” The tech-pony acknowledged with a nod and got to work, adjusting the barrel for the lowest attainable launch angle - too high and we risked catching anti-air fire in the prolonged hang-time, too low and we’d be decorating the wall. “You asked for a means to get back into the fort and I’ve given you one,” Dash continued as she began to lower herself down the muzzle of the gluewitzer. “Unless you can think of a better solution, your choices are to either follow me or try knocking on the door, assuming you can get there. It’s your choice Inquisitor.”
The sound of lazefire in the distance drowned out the grinding of my teeth as I willed my ire back into check. Nothing left a bad taste in your mouth quite like eating your own words. In the end, however, even though this was an idea as unsound as line-dancing through a minefield, I decided to go along with it. At the very least, I knew I could watch the others go before me and I could assess how spectacularly this plan was failing. “Vox us when you’re ready on the other side,” I reminded her as the pegasus disappeared down the muzzle.
“Now Dash, according to my calculations the current trajectory will give you about seven feet of clearance over the wall. It’s very important that you don’t do any flailing or otherwise disrupt your aerodynamics,” Rarity explained as she started dismantling a glue-shell in order to safely propel a pegasus skyward.
“Meaning what exactly?” Dash’s voice echoed from the muzzle.
“Just keep your legs and wings tucked in until you’ve cleared the wall.”
“You know...now that I’m in here, I’m starting to second-guess the soundness of my plan.”
“We best hurry then before you change your mind,” the tech-pony insisted with a quiet chuckle.
“I can’t believe you’re actually going along with this,” I remarked as I continued watching with immense curiosity and confusion. This plan flew in the face of the usual logic and reason that guided most tech-ponies but I was soon to learn that even tech-ponies succumbed to the baser desires that plagued the rest of pony-kind.
“Why Twilight, my dear, the opportunity to fire Dash out of a cannon is something that I have been dreaming of for the better part of a decade. I would be a fool not to pass up on this,” she explained rather coyly. Since Rarity didn’t strike me as the type to dream elaborate revenge fantasies, I could only attribute this to what I had already suspected from earlier; that the pair shared a long, colourful history together that had forged an unshakable bond of trust. Why else would a pegasus so willingly and casually climb into a cannon to be used as live ammunition?(4)
“Did you say something Rarity?” the pony-munition quipped.
“Nothing! Remember - aerodynamics!” With that, the tech-pony quickly pulled on the firing-rope and the cannon erupted with a thunderous crack and a rainbow contrail streaking across the sky. We all held our breath as we watched the pony projectile soar towards the fort walls, anxious to see whether she would soar over it or a become a pastel-coloured stain upon it.
After what felt like the longest, agonizing minute of the day, my vox receiver crackled to life with an affirmative, “That was awesome! You’ve got to try it out!”
As Dash’s ecstatic shouts were quite audible for my compatriots to hear, Pinkie Pie was the first to volunteer for the ride, quite enthusiastically might I add. “Me next! Me next!” she exclaimed, tossing off her party cannon before hopping over to the gluewitzer. After she proceeded to clamber down the muzzle, I carefully lowered her cannon in with her. The priestess’ enthusiasm was always reassuring even when all reason made running away seem like the logical response. Since all the calculations on trajectory were already taken care of and I had opted to lend my assistance, we were able to fire off Pinkie Pie within a few minutes. A distinctive ‘weeee’ accompanied the pink parabola that disappeared beyond the fort’s ramparts and a few seconds after that I received a confirmation vox in the form of, “Let’s do that again!”
Next was Fluttershy’s turn, who thankfully was still too asleep to object to use loading her into a cannon. A solid hit with a lazepistol kept a pony asleep for at least a few hours but chances were our guardpony would receive the most shocking wake-up call in her life. Rarity took an extra minute to recalculate the angle and charge to compensate for Fluttershy’s flailing once she was airborne and I made sure to warn Rainbow Dash to be extra vigilant on this volley. “Remind me to make the private something nice as an apology gift,” Rarity said before firing. By Celestia’s grace, Fluttershy’s trajectory went smoothly, save for Rainbow Dash reporting that the private was in absolute hysterics upon touching down. Personally, I considered that about as much of a success as one could get from the guardpony. Spike’s turn came up next and his lighter frame meant more calculations were needed in order to keep my assistant in one piece. It would have been a most cruel twist of fate to have spent so much effort rescuing my assistant only to propel him face-first into a concrete wall. Once again, though, Rarity proved to be the very model of a modern mathematician by launching Spike on a nigh-identical trajectory as our previous projectiles.
As relieved as I could be to watch my assistant step into the annals of history as the first dragon launched from an artillery piece, Spike’s departure meant that it was finally my turn to take a ride on the bullet train. Since Lyra obviously couldn’t follow suit, I told her that she was free to return to her space mareine sisters and continue the pacification of Ponyville. For a moment, I sort of envied the trojan - every sensible bone in my body was ready to jump free and make a run for it. Nonetheless, I willed myself to climb down the muzzle and mentally brace myself for the impending blast. I could not very well run away after having sent my comrades and my assistant through the same ordeal. Yet even with that taken into consideration, as I sat within the dark, narrow confine of the gluewitzer’s barrel, comforted only by the soft echoes of my breath and my jackhammering heart, I could not help but feel absolute dread towards what awaited me. So many things could still go wrong and my active imagination had no shortage of implausible scenarios to taunt me with, the craziest one involving a temporal rift that hurled me through the folds of space and time itself.
“So Rarity...how are you going to launch yourself out of this thing?” I asked, if only to create some conversation in an attempt to keep my thoughts from dwelling on doomsday scenarios.
“Don’t fret about little ol’ me, I could make this cannon dance a jig if I were so inclined,” she reassured me. “And now if you’ll please keep your legs inside the ride at all times and enjoy your flight.”
I was never the praying type despite having attended the same sanctimonious colleges as every other Celestia-fearing Inquisitor but in those briefs seconds I managed to recite every prayer and litany I could recollect. Being launched out of a gluewitzer is thankfully an ordeal that I have had only limited experience with but it is one that I can never forget despite my best efforts. The near-deafening blast probably left permanent damage to my ears and the spine-crushing force not only knocked my eyeballs into the back of my skull but likely took a few inches off my total span. Having my eyes flattened in my skull made it impossible for me to see anything, other than colourful blurs as I streaked through the sky. The only thing that I could definitively make out was a blue-shaped mass ahead of me. As I passed the blue, indecipherable blob, I felt two legs hook around my body and I began to tumble wildly through the air. After several rolls and nearly losing my lunch, the world began to settle and I was finally able to make out what was going on around me.
“Nice catch, huh?” Dash asked rhetorically as she chuckled to herself. The space mareine, hooves hooked tightly around my frame, slowly lowered me back to earth where my compatriots, including Commissar Applejack, were waiting for me.
“Y’know, for a second Ah thought buffalorks were the only ones crazy enough try invading by artillery,” the commissar remarked. I wasn’t sure if she was trying to compliment or chastise us, perhaps both. “Should Ah even bother asking what happened to mah tank?”
“Your tank served the Empress valiantly, may it rust in peace,” I answered respectfully. “But we have more important things to discuss.”
“No kidding Inquisitor,” Applejack snapped, sounding quite indignant all of a sudden. Her brow furrowed, the once warm and welcoming commissar I had met earlier now replaced with a firm, scrutinizing glare. “Ah knew your arrival had to mean something important was going but did it ever occur to y’all that maybe we ought t’know that there was going to be a forecast of cloudy with a chance of Chaos! Ah know your job can be all about the tight-lips and mum’s words but it just ain’t neighborly to drop in, borrow mah tanks, and just neglect to mention that Ah’m going to be up to mah haunches in heretics. Inquisitor or not, that’s just plain rude, y’know? And Ah don’t need to tell y’all how much I hate getting caught my mah trousers around mah fetlocks. What in the hay was going through your that magic-filled little noggin of yours?”
“I only...sort of knew,” I answered hastily. The commissar was clearly upset and justly so. Military ponies enjoyed surprises like they enjoyed a hoof to the face. And speaking of hooves meeting faces, if I didn’t choose my words carefully I ran the risk of receiving exactly that. Judging by the commissar’s ever-growing scowl, I was about half-way to that fate already. “I knew Luna’s return was going to be soon but I didn’t know when exactly this was going to happen and I certainly didn’t think it was going to happen here of all planets. That’s why I came to Ponyville in the first place - so I could figure out the when and the where. And be honest, if I told you there was a chance that Luna might return after nearly five thousand years, would you have believed me?”
“Well Ah...uh, might have...sorta,” her inability to formulate a coherent sentence was all the acknowledgement I needed.
“Now we can stand and bicker about who could have warned who but we have a planet to save and I’m going to need your help Commissar. Gather all the maps and senior officers you can and have them meet me at my ship in ten minutes.”
The hastily assembled strategy meeting was not quite what I had envisioned. Though Applejack had managed to scrounge up what maps she could of the city and planet, the senior officers that I had requested turned out to be singular. The meeting consisted of myself, Commissar Applejack, Spike, and Captain Red Gala. Apparently Colonel Macintosh had taken two companies out to reinforce the governor’s palace (5) while Major Braeburn and the remaining companies were spread out across the city trying to defend vital points and reinforce the struggling Planetary Welcoming Forces.
“The voice I heard earlier was true...wasn’t it?” Gala remarked as I unfurled a large map, using one of my storage crates for a table. “It’s Chaosmistress Luna...she’s returned to lead a new Black Crusade against the Equestrium. How are we expected to hold the line against those kinds of numbers without support?” The captain looked to the map with fear and worry clearly evident in her eyes, yet her Appleloosian stubbornness refusing to allow it to surface any further.
“The first step is to keep calm,” I reminded the captain. “The second is to cut the invasion off at the head. Creating a rift through the veil will have left Chaosmistress Luna in a weakened state. We have only a small window of opportunity to strike before Luna regains her strength and since time is of the essence, you ponies are all I’ve got to call upon.” I didn’t intend that as an insult to the competency or courage of the Fourth Apple Guard but dealing with the most powerful Chaos mareine in existence normally necessitated equally powerful space mareines. But the Ultraponies on the planet were unavailable (6) and the Cloudsdale would not be able to arrive for several days, assuming they ever receive word on our situation.
“But Luna could be anywhere,” the commissar pointed out. “It could take days just to find her and Ah reckon she won’t be hanging around all by her lonesome.”
“Probably not but she’s not going to waste any time either,” I continued explaining. “The rift she’s already created will only be useful in invading Ponyville. If she wants to carry her dark crusade onto the rest of the sector, she’s going to need to create a rift high enough and with sufficient size to bring forth their cruisers and barges. Once word spreads about this new Black Crusade, the Equestrial Navy will be deployed in force and if she can’t get a fleet assembled, the whole campaign will fall apart.”
“That’s assuming the astrocorns (7) at Segmentum Command ever receive news of this invasion,” Applejack remarked with the bitterness of past experiences. “Ah assuming that this all means y’all know of a way to track her down. You’re a unicorn after all...can your magic help us out?”
I shook my head but magic had never entered into my train of thought to begin with so I was unconcerned with this caveat. “Shrouding her mind’s presence is foal’s play for Luna. Not even the greatest unicorns in the Equestrium would be able to track her down by magic alone,” I explained to the earth ponies. “But she is not as clever as she thinks she is. If she wants to open a rift large enough for a space ship can use, she’ll need to get to as high an elevation as possible.” As cruisers and other large space-faring ships had all the aerodynamic properties of a steel ingot, they needed to be far enough from the planet’s surface to avoid plummeting back to it. A ritual is the only way to create a rift of such a size and thanks to the bizarre rules of rituals and incantations, direct physical contact with the planet was required. It had something to do with using the planet’s energy as an anchor but all that mattered was that it left only a limited number of locations that would work. “So what’s the highest place one can get to on this planet without having to get airborne?”
The captain and commissar glanced at each other for only a brief instant as the answer came to them both swiftly. “The orbital spire,” Applejack answered. “That thing’s so tall you’ll get crick in yer neck just from looking up so far. The ponies at the shipyards use it to load and unload cargo onto transports hanging in low orbit.” She then pointed out the spire’s location on the map, which was several hundred kilometers to the southeast. It was a long distance but now that I had my ship again, that distance could be quickly traversed.
“Then that is where Chaosmistress Luna will be,” I said steadfastly. “I don’t know how many mareines or Chaos ponies will be there but we’ll have the element of surprise on our side. I doubt Luna would ever expect us to take the fight to her.”
“So what’s the plan exactly? Ah reckon we’ll need to do more than just ask politely for her to stop.”
I knew the only way to reassure the commissar was to show my ace-in-the-hole, even though said card was still a bit of a mystery to me. I grabbed the crate housing the ancient relic and set it down atop the map. “We stop her with this,” I said proudly before carefully disengaging the locks. The metal crate creaked loudly as hinges not used in almost ten thousand years slowly swung open. “The Relic of Harmony - the very instrument of Celestia’s divine will that has pacified a thousand worlds and stopped the Luna Heresy.” The relic itself was an ancient unicorn hood, a shroud composed of steel and circuitry that amplified the power and control of any unicorn who wore it. At first glance it may have looked uninspiring, its once proud metallic surface marred by the grime of centuries of neglect; its shimmering jewels of power that lined its crest dulled by a fine layer of dust. “Now I’ll also need a squad of your best guardponies, preferably joytroopers if you’ve got any to spare.”
Captain Gala nodded in acknowledgment and excused herself to collect what guardponies she could. I didn’t want to compromise the fort’s defenses and I knew that a fast-moving strike team would far better than a large army. Plus I could only fit so many ponies into my ship comfortably. “This plan of yours is a might bit crazy...but, what the hay, y’all can count me in.”
“You...probably should stay with your troops and help hold the fort,” I replied hesitantly. While I appreciated the commissar’s enthusiasm, I wasn’t entirely positive that her help would be of any value. I needed peace-keepers, not a political officer.
“Like hay I’m gonna sit this one out!” Applejack objected passionately. In hindsight I shouldn’t have been surprised by this. “And mah ponies here can hold the fort just fine without me barking orders at them. Y’all need all the help you can get and Ah’m the pony to deliver. Put one of them Chaos mareines in front of me and Ah’ll introduce them to mah friends Bucky and Kicks McGee!”(8) Apparently anticipating my confused gaze, the commissar lifted up her hind legs to show me the master-crafted power hooves she was wearing, each one etched with their respective name.
“Welcome aboard then,” I acquiesced in the face of such a compelling argument. The more I thought about it, the more reasonable it seemed to bring the commissar along. She would be useful in keeping our accompanying guardponies in line, especially considering how frightening facing Chaos mareines can be. And at the very least, it would give my enemies somepony to focus on instead of me. I was just about to instruct the commissar to gather whatever gear she might need when I heard an ‘ahem’ from the boarding ramp, prompting my attention towards the ponies now standing in my cargo bay. It was Rarity, Dash, and Pinkie each of whom were grinning hopefully as though they were about to ask me to part with a hoof. “What are you girls doing here?”
“What does it look like? We’re coming with you!” Dash explained zealously as she stepped forward. “As an Ultrapony, I must stand against Chaos no matter the risk! My duty compels me to seek out Chaos at its very heart, to snuff out the fires of disharmony so that they cannot consume the innocent. I insist that you grant me the honour of standing at your side on this most noble of endeavours. Also, kicking Luna’s hindquarter is going to be so incredibly cool! No way the Wonderbolts can ignore those kind of credentials on my resume!” Up until that last sentence, I was actually impressed with Rainbow Dash, surprised even, by her uncharacteristic display of duty and righteousness. It was a nice feeling while it lasted. Even though she was lacking her power barding, I still felt a lot more comfortable having a space mareine on board.
“And you two as well?” I asked as I switched my focus over to the priestess and tech-pony. “Pacification isn’t exactly in either of your job descriptions. There’s no telling what kind of dangers we’ll encounter at the spire.”
“I assure you Inquisitor, danger is nothing that I am not unfamiliar with,” Rarity replied with a dismissive wave of her hoof. It was only just that I noticed that the tech-pony was now sporting a new set of limbs. They were far more simplistic in their form, looking more like a metallic skeleton than anything else. Only a few visible hydraulics near the joints disrupted the otherwise streamline design. I could only assume that she had visited the fort’s motor pool and ‘borrowed’ the replacement limbs.(9) “Besides, it looks as though your relic hasn’t been given the level of care that it deserves. I’ll have it as brilliant as the day it was forged by the time we reach the orbital spire. Also, I have extensive knowledge of the spire’s layout. You know, just in case you’d like to avoid walking in blindly.” Once again it was an argument I could not refute. I had no way of knowing if the past ten thousand years had any sort of detrimental effect on the relic. Bring the tech-pony relieved me of yet another worry.
“And you?” I quipped as I looked to the priestess, assuming she would have some sort of argument espousing the importance of her participation. “It’s going to be very dangerous, you know?”
“Ha! I laugh in the face of danger,” Pinkie replied in a jovial fashion that failed to put my concerns at ease. “That and kittens. They’re just so cute!” I stared at the priestess with a dead-pan expression, trying to ascertain whether that truly was the total extent of her answer. She must’ve picked up on the none-too-subtle visual cue and added, “Plus all that stopping Luna and saving the world stuff...I guess. If we win, will we get to throw a victory party?” That wasn’t any more satisfying answer than the previous. I simply let out an exasperated sigh and moved on.
“I guess I can make room on the ship for the four of you.”
“Then it’s all settled,” Applejack said, her spirits elated by the news. “How about y’all follow me then and we’ll get’cha some real firepower?” The commissar motioned for the other ponies to follow as she led them out. Since I had all the firepower I needed with my magic and lazepistol, I declined the offer. It was unlikely that Applejack would have anything available in her armoury that would be a significant improvement. The Equestrian Guard weren’t exactly afforded the best of equipment, relying more on quantity than quality.
I decided to step outside for a brief moment, if only to assess the fort’s situation. Guardponies lined the ramparts, the snaps of their blazing lazeguns merging into one homogeneous crackling noise not too unlike a roaring fire. The crackling noise was accentuated by the louder, rhythmic thumping of the fort’s anti-air walnutter batteries as they fired their nut-based flak shells at strafing Chaos pegasi. The Chaos pegasi were one of the more immediate threats, strafing high above the guardpony lines with volleys of muffins and cupcakes. Fortunately, casting my eyes skyward allowed me to notice a lone Chaos pegasus lining up for an attack run against me. I allowed only the smallest sigh to escape my lips, more of weariness than any sort of concern. I promptly raised a magical barrier that kept the oncoming muffin fire from hitting me, allowing me to take careful aim with my lazepistol and put a single bolt into the pegasus. The unconscious pony continued plummeting towards me, crashing into the ground several meters ahead of me before rolling to a halt at my hooves.
“What a waste of potential,” I muttered to myself as I stared at the unconscious form before me. He looked like every other Chaos pony I had come across - his mane dyed into bizarre, contrasting hues and thrown up into a spiky mess that followed no pattern or reason; his body adorned with strange tattoos and markings belonging to the dark god he now worshipped; and whatever cutie mark he had was gone, replaced with the grinning, dragon-like visage of Discord. Once long ago this was some old mare’s little colt, full of life and dreams and hope and love. But somewhere along the line, whether led by a feeling of loneliness, depravity, or even just idle curiosity, he fell into the wrong crowds and slowly corrupted into the husk of a pony I saw before me now. With time and treatment, perhaps one day he could be returned as a functioning pony of society but it’s unlikely the mental scars could ever be fully removed. It was a sobering thought to hold - the idea that such darkness was hidden within the hearts of all ponies.
Lost in thought, I failed to notice the approaching Captain Gala, who had following in her step a half-dozen stallions. I was actually taken back slightly when I saw them, surprised by their staggering size. What in Celestia’s horn did they feed their ponies on Appleloosa to grow them so big?(10) I barely passed their shoulders and each one of them was clad head to hoof in joytrooper-issued carapace armour. Only one wasn’t wearing the full-face mask and that probably had something to do with the large cigar between his teeth, which he rolled idly across his jaw every few minutes. “I believe I have found the right ponies you’re looking for,” Captain Gala said with no attempt to hide her pride in putting forth her best troopers for the Inquisition. “This is Sergeant Chance-a-lot and his squad.”
Before I could say anything in response, one of the troopers shouted, “Heads up!” A trio of pegasi came in for a strafing run, peppering the area with cupcakes. In an impressive move, the six joy-troopers, rather than running for cover, raised their lazeguns (11) swiftly and in tandem, firing a concentrated volley at the attackers. The furious counter-attack knocked all three pegasi from the sky...but not before the damage had already been done. Captain Gala lay on the ground, her body splattered with a dozen muffins.
“Captain Gala!” the cigar-chomping pony exclaimed upon noticing the captain’s condition. He immediately dropped to the pony’s side, lifting her head gently in one hoof. “Quick, get a medic!” he shouted to one his squadmates, who quickly heeded the instruction and raced off.
Slowly, the captain’s eyes drifted open. Though a pained expression contorted her face, she managed a weak smile to the trooper. “Carry on...without me,” she whispered softly before slipping unconscious once more.
The stallion, whom I presumed to be Sergeant Chance-a-lot given that his armour bore a sergeant’s stripes, clenched his jaw so tightly that it almost sheered his cigar in half. He carefully scooped up one of the flattened muffins and curiously sniffed at it. “Bran,” he sneered venemously. “Those monsters.” As medics arrived to ferry the captain away to someplace safe for treatment, the sergeant set his cold gaze upon me. I couldn’t help but feel as though I suddenly lost several inches in height but despite the suddenly feeling of insignificance, I held my ground and shot back with the most steadfast gaze I could muster. “Ah suggest we move out soon, Ah’ve got a hankering to put some Chaos ponies to bed if you catch mah drift,” he spoke, his voice surprisingly calm given the nature of his remarks. I simply nodded in response and motioned for the sergeant and his ponies to wait inside the cargo hold.
After several more minutes of waiting, Applejack and the others returned, now carrying a variety of new firearms and weaponry. I was just about to inform Applejack of the situation regarding Captain Gala when something caught my eye. Instead of four ponies returning from the armoury, there was now a fifth in tow and it was none other than the timid Private Fluttershy. Describing my mindset as perplexed would have been an understatement but thankfully Applejack had already prepared for this inevitability.
“Inquisitor, Private Fluttershy was wondering if she could have a quick word with you,” the commissar explained with an odd hint of pride in her voice. She slowly stepped back and gently nudged the visibly nervous young guardpony forward with an encouraging, “Go on...just tell her what you told me.”
Slowly, the guardpony crept forward, her eyes just barely lifting off the ground long enough to meet with my own. The mission’s urgency demanded a quick response and I was tempted to try and coax a response from the private for the sake of expediency. But I knew that would have had the opposite effect so I held my tongue, which was a harder prospect than I had imagined. “Um...well, uh...Inquisitor Sparkle, ma’am...I was just...I was just...” Fear enveloped the pony and her voice tapered off to an inaudible whisper, prompting the commissar beside her to give another encouraging nudge. “I want to join the mission!” she blurted out before her inhibitions could kick back in.
Though I foresaw her request, it was still surprising nonetheless to hear it coming from her mouth. “Private...this isn’t really your kind mission,” I answered, trying to find the gentlest way to explain something very ugly. “Back in the city...you ran away from the enemy. You froze when the fighting started. I need ponies that I can rely upon and...you haven’t shown me you can be that kind of pony.”
In the face of resistance, I expected the private to fold immediately. What I got instead was a pleasant surprise. “I know!” she insisted, cringing in shame at the thought of her previous actions. “I just...I get so jumpy and...I know I let you down Inquisitor. You and Spike and Dash were counting on me and I couldn’t even raise a hoof. That’s why...that’s why I need to make it up to you. Please Inquisitor...let me help you. I won’t be a burden this time. I promise!”
While her impassioned plea was a refreshing change of pace, I wasn’t entirely convinced by it. As I mulled over her words, I cast a quick glance over to Applejack. The commissar had a pleading look in her eyes, silently begging me to comply. The private appeared genuine in her determination and she did have a very large gun slung upon her back. Perhaps things would be different. “Oh...very well,” I finally sighed in agreement. “But be aware Private, you’ll need to be able to fend for yourself once we reach the spire. We might not always be there to protect you if things get hectic.”
“It won’t be a problem Inquisitor, I swear,” Fluttershy reassured me, her confidence seemingly bolstered by my acceptance.
I motioned for my comrades to board the ship, though I stopped Applejack before she got past me. “Captain Gala got hit by some Chaos pegasi, will the fort be okay with both of you absent?” I asked, not wasting time mincing words. This sort of bad news was something that an experienced military pony like Applejack should have been more than used to.
And as I has suspected, she didn’t even so much as flinch at the news of Gala. “This wouldn’t be the first time mah ponies have been without supervision. They know their training well and one of the lieutenants (12) will step in to take control when needed.”
“Okay then.” I paused briefly in order to find the right words. I needed a straight answer from the commissar and the wrong wording could put her on the defensive. “I can tell your troops mean a lot to you and that you care for each of them. But I need to know the truth, Commissar, is Fluttershy going to be a liability?”
“Ah wouldn’t have brought her if Ah thought that for an instant,” the commissar replied with an all-serious, dead-panned tone. “She’s stronger than y’all think. Trust me, she’ll surprise ya.”
1) The M31.854 Battle of Balaclopa still serves as a reminder of the dangers of allowing disharmony to persist within the Equestrian Guard. A feud between two commanders and communication difficulties led to the 82nd Pegasopolis Light Brigade flying a direct assault on an enemy anti-air battery.
2) We seem to have a habit of destroying most of the vehicles we borrow. Pinkie Pie eventually berated Dash into paying for the repairs. That pony wields guilt like a thunder mace.
3) True but it is a common buffalork tactic, which certainly says a lot about their level of strategy.
4) In retrospect, I am fairly certain that Dash would have gone along with the plan even if Rarity hadn’t been present. ‘To pull a Dash’ is common adage amongst Ultraponies and means ‘to succeed despite all logic in the plan dictating otherwise.’
5) Colonel Macintosh was actually already at the palace when the invasion began. He correctly predicted that the palace would be one of the main targets and the two regiments sent to support him were able to keep the palace safe.
6) Sergeant Rose and the rest of her Ultraponies were, at the time, occupied with regaining control of the planet’s main starport. The six-mare team was able to fend off thousands of heretics and ensure that the starport remained in Equestrial control so that reinforcements could safely land.
7) While astrocorns, unicorns specially trained to send and receive messages through the warp, were the only practical means for interplanetary communication, it wasn’t uncommon for messages to get held up for months or even years in transit. That’s what happens when you send messages through a medium that also happens to be the home of the very forces invading you.
8) These power hooves were originally known as ‘The Ambassadors’ and were worn by Applejack’s forefathers on frontlines across the galaxy.
9) As it turns out, Rarity really can charm the legs off a pony, or three in this case.
10) Applejack once joked that they got their stallions by heading into the woods and bucking them from the giant Appleloosian redwoods.
11) Since Twilight wouldn’t have noticed the difference, joytroopers are actually issued a more potent version of the lazegun, the coldshot lazegun. These supercharged rifles can even put an armoured Chaos mareine down with a few rounds.
12) That lieutenant happened to be Lt. Ditzy Doo. The defense of Fort Sweet Apple was one of her first major accomplishments in her illustrious career.