All good things must come to an end. The principals – ponies for only a few more minutes – stood by the mirror in Twilight’s castle. The princesses stood behind them, with their goodbyes already said.
Principal Celestia gave each a final look and nod. She waved gently, turned, and–
It was Princess Luna, striding to cover the short distance between them. Celestia turned back to find a sizable, clinking leather pouch held in a blue aura. “In our talks, mine twin told me of thy monetary troubles.”
“Did she, now?” Celestia shot her sister a glare.
Luna looked away, whistling, while the princess went on. “Indeed. Financing a band of monster hunters who labor without profit in the defense of thine fellows, as well as paying for young Sunset Shimmer’s education. Please accept this gold, that thou might maintain thy livelihood throughout these challenges.”
“Thank you, but no,” Celestia said firmly. “You have already been wonderfully generous in allowing this vacation of ours. We did not come for handouts.”
“Tis not a handout,” Princess Luna replied. “If anything, tis just recompense for sponsoring mine sister’s wayward student.”
“I did not do it for anyone other than Sunset, and certainly not for a reward.” Celestia shook her head. “The answer is no.”
She did not like the quiet smirk that came to Princess Luna’s face, or the amused tinge of her words. “So be it.”
Without missing a beat, the princess stepped twice to the left and stood before Vice-Principal Luna. “College bills, silver bullets, etcetera. Mirror-twin, accept this gift.”
“Gee, thanks!” Luna grinned broadly, taking the magic-held bag as Human-Celestia protested.
“Luna, no! We talked about this.”
“We did not,” Princess Luna replied. “Hmph, thou art like mine sister. So used to dispensing kindness that thou positively howls when told to receive.”
The smirk widened. “Besides, thou art outvoted.”
“Three to one,” Princess Celestia confirmed. She stepped close, silencing further protest with a hug and kindly smile. “If you like, please think of it as our contribution to Sunset’s education. I would not have it said that a scion of the royal house of Equestria was made to live utterly without its support.”
The principal frowned. “You’re intentionally making it sound like I’m the one doing you a favor in order to make me more likely to accept.”
“Whatever makes you say that?” Princess Celestia asked, the very model of baffled innocence.
I do it, too.
“She does it, too,” Human-Luna said around a mouthful of her last scone.
Outnumbered and outplayed, Celestia made a show of grumbling as she leaned into the white princess’ embrace. The Lunas did the same, and then they traded.
“It is a hard thing to be in another’s shadow,” Princess Luna whispered as they entwined their necks. “And hard as well to cast thine own shadow with guilt. Shine brightly all the same.”
That got a tear or two. Blue feathers flicked gently as they retreated, wiping her eyes.
A chaste kiss on the cheeks. A last wave. A fifth assurance to Twilight Sparkle that no, they didn’t forget anything.
“Back to reality,” Luna murmured. Each wore a purse and small bag of souvenirs that would hopefully survive through the portal. They bumped butts affectionately – a habit they assuredly would have to break – and walked slowly into the mirror’s empty glass.
The moon shined over Canterlot High. Sunset was there, just as promised. Celestia beamed, wobbling only a little on two legs as she approached with open arms. Sunset ran towards them, extending her hands…
And seized them both by the wrists. She yanked, speeding the unbalanced principals towards the car while shouting over an earpiece phone.
“I’ve got them! We’ll meet you there, just go!”
“Suns-” Celestia only got the first syllable out before the sudden release of Sunset’s pull sent her stumbling. Sunset heaved open the car door and immediately resumed her grip to throw them in. The dizzy sisters did their best to crawl onto the back seats while Sunset ran to the front, gunned the engine, and screeched from the parking lot.
“What’s going on?” Luna growled, trying to don her seat-belt. A two-wheeled turn sent her careening into Celestia instead. “And holy balls, turn up the heat. It’s November and we’re both–”
“There’s no time to explain!” Sunset shouted.
Celestia managed to push Luna back to her seat. “Dearie, we’re–”
“No, no, I was talking to them!” Sunset called over her phone. “Just get… no, of course I haven’t seen Wallflower!”
Luna leaned forwards, managing to claim attention by shouting directly in the ear. “Sunset!”
“We. Are...” Luna gestured broadly, finally attracting a second glance from Sunset. “Naked!”
Sunset looked again, blushed, and turned back to the road. “Uh… check the bag in the middle seat.”
Celestia unzipped it hopefully, then her expression fell. “It’s only our guns.”
“Yeah,” Sunset said distractedly. “Get them out.”
“Wait, wait, I have an idea.” Luna leaned down and began rummaging beneath her seat. “Remember that board meeting, maybe seven-ish years ago when we had to go out of town? You found out the hotel had a pool so you bought us swimsuits thinking we might be normal for once.”
“Vaguely, but what of it?” Celestia asked.
Luna tossed aside an oil rag and ice scraper before producing a ratty, ripped nylon bag. “You told me to unpack afterwards, but we had no place for these so I just kind of jammed them in here. Let’s see, I think this one was yours.”
A golden, skimpy swimsuit was thrown onto Celestia’s lap without ceremony. The immature remnant of an unstellar part of her life, where knowledge of her growing age and endless virginity occasionally sparked fits of silliness. She remembered posing in front of the store mirror with Luna, each bragging of the male suitors they’d find on that stupid work trip. Then, when they found the pool crowded, the shy sisters instead retreated to their room.
It took Celestia an extra few seconds to pick up the swimsuit, and then only with her forefinger and thumb. Not great memories. Besides…
“Luna, our bodies have changed since then.”
“Not by that much,” Luna assured, already pulling on her own black top. “A little snug, that’s all. You can go naked if you want.”
“Go where?” Celestia said insistently. Still, trapped by the logic, she donned the outfit.
Sunset gave another glance back. “Everfree Forest.”
“Nothing good happens in Everfree!” Luna cried out.
“Zecora lives there,” Celestia noted.
“Right, what did I say?”
“Yeah, well this time it’s not the forest’s fault.” Sunset stopped at a red light long enough to glance for cops, then plowed on through. “A meteor crashed there this evening, only it wasn’t a meteor.”
“Aliens are a little outside of our pay grade,” Luna said.
Sunset shook her head. “They’re not aliens. According to Twilight, they came from a secret moon colony that was established by a human nation in the Forties.”
“Still not sure why we care.”
“I’m getting to that part,” Sunset grumbled as they neared the Everfree border. “Professor Whooves tracks… you know, science hoo-ha for concentrations of magical power, and this colony was founded on a part of the moon that’s like Canterlot’s Ley Line times a thousand. It’s also super-evil. Him and Twilight think there’s a portal to Hell or Tartarus or whatever you want to call it there.”
Celestia opened her mouth, but the screeching whine of a jet engine stole the words. She looked up in time to glimpse the outline of a black winged rocket, and parachutes dropping in its wake.
“They’ve set up some techno-magic ritual to use the wild magic of Everfree to open a link between there and here, meaning we’re literally going to have neighbors from Hell if we don’t stop them now.”
“Which nation?” Celestia got out.
Luna grunted and slapped a magazine into one of her machine pistols. “You know exactly which nation.”
Celestia hefted her carbine, casting an irate glance to the front seat. “Perhaps. Sunset, next time remember our pants. I have sixteen shots and nowhere to put the rest.”
Luna gave a leering chuckle. “Maybe make like that one movie and put a clip between your–”
A bolt of blue energy flew from the treeline, right past their car with a fearsome hiss. Another bolt followed further away, and further still came a crumpled explosion and retaliatory gunfire.
“Sunset,” Celestia said low and quickly. “I plan to get another three years out of this car. Pull over and we’ll go in on foot.”
“Barefoot,” Luna grumbled. She wiggled her toes, then caught herself and stared as she wiggled them twice more. “Weird, having toes again. I wonder why we have them. It’s not like you can–”
A blue bolt shot between Applejack and Adagio, each hunkered behind a tree. Applejack chanced a peek around to find their assailants implacably advancing: tall, humanoid creatures in black space suits with red armbands. Fishbowl helmets revealed their faces to be snarling and demonic, and each wore a backpack that seemed to power the energy guns in their hands. One held a pistol instead, and inside his fishbowl wore a peaked hat with a little picture of a human skull.
It seemed like their weapons needed to wait a few seconds between shots. Applejack smiled grimly as they foolishly all fired at once, then leaned out and answered with her shotgun. The slug flew true, slamming into one of their chests and sparking as it bounced off.
Applejack pulled back behind cover, glanced to her companion, and groaned. Adagio was checking her phone.
“You know, I’ve been around for a thousand years,” Adagio said, pausing as another bolt sliced between them. “There’s a lot of modern stuff that I can’t help but see as stupid. Like healthcare: ‘Waah, waah, I want to live an extra ten years in decrepit agony and I want the government to pay for it.’ Or racism, because I guess it’s hard to grasp that you’re all just stupid humans. But probably the weirdest thing is you people’s fascination with the Nazis being some kind of be-all-end-all evil. They killed people… so what? The Communists attacked way more nations and killed way more people, even in the same time frame. Britain once owned a quarter of the globe and they didn’t do it by asking nicely, and the colonial Americans committed plenty of atrocities.”
“And if we were fighting demon-possessed colonial Americans bent on destroying the world, y’all might have a point!” Applejack shouted. “Now we are gonna get disintegrated or whatever real fast unless–”
Bursts of gunfire emerged from their left: rapid taps from a machine pistol and the slower, sharper crack of a carbine. More sparks flew from the armored suits, but some bullets found the helmets. The fishbowls cracked easily, and the heads of their assailants burst open with desiccated green gore.
Still aiming down the sights of her gun, Celestia ran into sight, though it was not a Celestia either girl had ever seen. Sunset once mentioned the light worked weirdly on her skin, but seeing it in action… moonbeams played across the pale pink, casting an ethereal glow from her exposed chest and long, smooth legs. Her golden bikini seemed dull by comparison, and perhaps some remnant of Equestrian magic sent shimmering multi-hued hair billowing in her wake.
They stared, open-mouthed as Celestia turned to them. “Are you girls okay?”
“Yes’m.” Applejack scratched furiously in an effort to hide her flaming cheeks.
Celestia nodded. “Good. Do you know where anyone else is?”
Adagio tapped a bluetooth in her ear. “Dial in.”
An annoyed smile crept to Celestia’s face. She turned to her companions, who Applejack and Adagio somehow hadn’t noticed before now. “No phone, either.”
“Where would you put it?” Luna asked with a shrug.
“Um...” Sunset listened pensively to her earpiece, then pointed. “Whooves and Twilight set up a portable space cannon–”
“A what?” Luna said flatly.
Sunset didn’t hear. “–To deal with these paratroopers, but they’re under attack. Maybe two-hundred meters that way.”
“Then let’s go,” Celestia said.
Adagio raised a finger. “Wait, we need Sunset for a minute.”
Celestia hoisted her rifle and turned. “Alright. Sweetie, catch up when you can. Luna, let’s go.”
“Space Nazis from Hell.” Luna followed, shaking her head. “And here I wondered if I’d be bored coming back to Earth.”
Adagio waited for them to speed away before looking to Sunset with a grin. “Dude, your mom’s hot.”
“What?” Sunset recoiled. “No. quit it.”
Applejack pulled down her hat over her face. “Sorry, girl. Ten outta ten, easy.”
“I would do her right now.” Adagio looked to where the principals departed and licked her lips. “Is she single?”
“Yes.” Sunset blinked, then her eyes shot wide. “I mean no! Taken, yes, definitely taken. Come on, we need to push towards the ritual site.”
“I’d do her in cold mud.”
“E tu, Applejack?”
Adagio bit down hard on a lip. “I’d tie her up and–”
A short, grassy plain divided Everfree and Canterlot, giving maybe a hundred meters between cover and chaos. Squads of invaders advanced towards the city one slow, menacing stomp at a time.
A rifle cracked from across the field, and a fishbowl helmet exploded along with the head inside.
Gray-skinned, yellow-eyed Limestone Pie worked the action on her smoking Winchester, grinning savagely to her foes. “Fortress America, dick-breaths! Plenty more where that’s from.”
Another gunshot from the left marked the start of her dad’s contribution. Igneous stared down after the bullet, frowning despite its positive effect. At his side, Cloudy Quartz wore an equally-dour expression as she leaned into her grassy cover. Bony hands depressed her rifle’s trigger, bursting open another helmet.
“Keep thy head down, Limestone,” Igneous called sternly. “Thy mother will be very cross if you are killed.”
“They’re lousy shots,” Limestone called back. A blue bolt passed well overhead, underscoring the point. “The day I let some fuck-face Nazi kill me is the day I die.”
“I am told that is how it works,” Cloudy replied.
The ghost of a kindly old woman emerged from the knoll next to Limestone, wringing its hands. “Listen to your father, dear. I checked ahead, there are a lot more coming.”
“Hell, yeah.” Limestone’s grin didn’t shrink. But she definitely knew better than to argue with Granny Pie, and so crouched into the wet grass. Her second shot brought another kill. The third struck armor, but the fourth and fifth maintained the good account she expected of herself. Compared to the precise aim needed for hunting werewolves, slow-moving fishbowls were ducks in a barrel.
Her parents fared no worse. The first squad had crossed less than half the distance before being cut apart, and the next fared no better.
Ominous mechanical crunching from within the forest announced the easy times were over. The sound continued at a regular beat, louder and louder until its source lumbered into view: a gray-painted tank, stomping forwards on four mechanical legs in the place of treads.
The legs crouched and tilted, swinging the barrel of its cannon directly towards Limestone.
Confronted with death at last, she faced it with dignity. “Oh, fuck you from now to Thursday.”
Jean-clad legs entered her crouched vision, drawing an irate follow-up to her famous last words. “Maud, run!”
Too late. Smoke burst from the cannon barrel, sending a pointed shell right at them. Maud’s expression remained neutral as she raised her war pick over her shoulder.
She swung, impacting the approaching shell with the flat of the weapon. The deafening clang of metal on metal followed behind as the shell streaked to their left, then completed its curve into the side of the tank.
The explosion provided back-light as Maud turned, bringing disapproving green eyes to bear. “You know Granny doesn’t like it when you swear.”
Limestone grinned with one side of her mouth. “She doesn’t like it when you take needless risks.”
“That wasn’t needless.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Limestone wiped a hand down her face and returned the rifle to her shoulder. Squad number three was coming, this time on motorbikes. “I owe you.”
“I’ll put it on your tab.” Something like a smile graced Maud’s face. She crouched behind their cover as Limestone got back to work.
Things were a bit more frantic inside the forest. Sunset shouted more and more into her phone, but all coordination had been lost. Men and women fought in the darkened woods, blind to the fate of all outside their vision.
Applejack plucked Sunset’s sleeve and pointed. “Hey, there’s Iron Will!”
The top half of his suit was gone, revealing excessive hair and abundant muscles. He stood in a clearing, trading punches with a mutant ape monstrosity wearing a peaked cap with a little picture of a human skull.
“When the Nazis are invading,
Iron Will starts crusading!”
“He’s fine,” Sunset said distractedly. “Where’s Adagio? We need toSHIT!”
The pair dove to the side as another ape lurched through the trees, but this one staggered and fell with a smoking hole in the back of its head.
Two figures followed slowly behind it: one in a habitual purple blazer, the other in a decidedly unhabitual gold swimsuit. “At least head-shots still work.”
“Do not change the subject, Miss Celestia.” Nagatha Harshwhinny calmly loaded her revolver. “I understand you are having something of a midlife crisis, but to battle clothed as you are now sets an extremely poor example. Even Cheerilee has the common sense to wear pockets.”
On cue, the purple woman ran past them in a bikini top and jean shorts smaller than most underwear, totting a massive shotgun and larger grin. A stream of unbroken curses in Yiddish could still be heard as she vanished from sight, periodically interrupted by her weapon’s cataclysmic retort.
“I just got back from the mirror,” Celestia said, patting her sides in a vain search for more ammunition. “I’m lucky I have this. Most Equestrians don’t wear clothes in the first place.”
Miss Harshwhinny raised her nose. “Absolutely disgusting. I trust the pony version of myself has higher standards than to parade about in the nude.”
She lifted a magazine of carbine ammo from her blazer and handed it off to Celestia. “Here.”
Celestia beamed. “How did you think to pack it?”
“Preparation,” Harshwhinny announced primly. “An admirable quality in anyone, but most of all for one who purports to lead a group of hunters.”
“Literally: just from Equestria,” Celestia grumbled.
Harshwhinny gave a dismissive wave. “Rest easy, I was referring to your daughter.”
“Wait, Sunset’s not allowed to...” Celestia trailed off, blinking dumbly as Nagatha turned to deliver another well-aimed shot into an ape monster’s skull. Her eyes moved, catching Sunset and Applejack discreetly trying to disappear into the underbrush.
“THERE WAS ONE RULE, YOUNG LADY!”
A few meters away, Redheart rolled her eyes and idly bounced a grenade off her palm. “Here it comes.”
“WELL I COULDN’T JUST NOT HUNT!”
“YOU COULD. IT IS EASY. YOU SIMPLY NOT HUNT!”
Redheart caught the grenade and got to work wrenching her knife from the spine of yet another dead bullshit cyborg monstrosity. “What do you think?”
Cranky Doodle fired his sniper rifle, popping a fishbowl. “I think I am absolutely unqualified to judge Celestia’s parenting.”
“Yeah, no shit, but what do you think?”
“I think I’m living the dream right now and really wish you’d lay off and enjoy it with me.”
“WE CAN FINISH THIS TOGETHER, BUT AFTER THAT YOU ARE GROUNDED!”
“I’M NINETEEN, YOU CAN’T GROUND ME!”
“IS THAT IN THE RULES, YOUNG LADY?”
The car-sized space cannon fired, giving a deceptively soft “thweem” as it hurled a blast of super-heated plasma to the air. The scientist duo watched, then cheered as it connected with a black rocket flying above.
“Initiate the recharge!” Professor Whooves called. “We’ll give it two more shots to make sure the algorithm holds true, then switch to auto-fire.”
“Got it!” Twilight said, already twisting dials on the machine. “And geez, I’m glad my parents don’t know I do this.”
“Bit awkward to listen to,” Whooves conceded. “Especially since… well, who is right?”
Twilight gave a high-pitched snort. “Sunset, of course.”
“Sort of,” Whooves said. “It seems wrong of Celestia to ask her to turn her back when innocents are in danger. But is Celestia wrong at all for wanting to keep her daughter safe, and regulate her participation in this exciting-but-lethal profession?”
Twilight shrugged unhappily. “I guess not. So what do I say to them?”
Whooves gave her an encouraging clap on the shoulder. “Good news: we’re nerds. No one will ask our opinion. Now, I have a bead on the next rocket...”
He trailed off as an ape monster crawled into their clearing. It raised one hand, moaning despairingly as Iron Will descended in a pile-drive from above.
“Why am I here!?” Fluttershy squeaked. She and Adagio stood on a high point within the forest: a small cliff from which they could see the space cannon at work, and a legged tank stomping inevitably towards it.
“MOM, OF COURSE I COULD HANDLE IT! I JUST HANDLED THAT GUY ABOUT TO SHOOT YOU, I THINK I CAN HANDLE A WEREWOLF!”
“MAYBE I COULD HAVE SHOT HIM MYSELF IF I HAD POCKETS TO… WHAT WEREWOLF!?”
“Will they be okay?” Fluttershy asked nervously, casting her eyes in vain to the darkened forest.
Adagio tapped on her phone. “They’ll be hugging and apologizing before the night’s over.”
Fluttershy tried to lean in to look at who she was texting, then cringed from the defensive glare. “Okay, but why am I here?”
“You’re a were-manatee, aren’t you?”
“I really don’t see how that–”
Adagio pushed, sending Fluttershy toppling from the cliff end-over-end while screaming an adorable, tiny scream. Instincts took over halfway down: skin faded to gray and flesh expanded, turning her to a portly, twelve-foot manatee.
Fluttershy hit the tank back-first. It exploded beneath her bulk, leaving her belly-up amidst the rubble, still screaming in the brief moment before she gracelessly passed out.
Luna stumbled on a thorny root, falling low enough to raise butt to the heavens before she caught herself. A low, female voice chuckled from behind.
“The full moon rises, round and blue!
My lovely friend, how are you?”
Muffled hoofsteps accompanied the words. Luna looked back to see the bald, brown-skinned witch of the Everfree approaching from atop a shaggy gray unicorn.
Luna made to right herself, putting her foot down then jerking it back up with a hiss. She peered at it in the moonlight, finding a thorn punctured through her sole.
“Bleeding,” she said. “Zecora, can you help?”
“I cannot. But my friend, he can.” The unicorn touched its horn to Luna’s shoulder, flooding her body with way more magic than strictly necessary. “There, now you are whole ag...”
“I HAD THE SITUATION PERFECTLY UNDER CONTROL!”
“YOU WERE BITTEN BY A WEREWOLF, THIS DOES NOT SOUND LIKE PERFECT CONTROL!”
Luna set her now-healed foot to the ground. Zecora rolled her eyes. “Man coddles its children beyond all use...”
She hesitated and shrugged, arms akimbo. “But your sister has a good excuse.”
Luna grunted. “Call me crazy, but–”
She interrupted herself with a burst from her machine pistol, sending its last two bullets into a fishbowl helmet. Mercifully, the rest of the squad had its own problems. A blur of curly orange hair and mocking laughter moved among them, punctuated every moment with a flashing knife and bursting blood. A thrown Stetson blinded, then a shotgun downed, an ape monster to their left, while further behind a “thweem” sent another ball of plasma to the sky.
With no more imminent threats, Luna went on. “Call me crazy, but World War Three seems like a shitty time to discuss this! We can kill Nazis all day and it won’t matter. They’re doing the ritual inside their Terra Lander. We’ll need the space cannon to penetrate it, which means dragging the thing through two miles of forest and I don’t think we can make it in...”
“...time,” she finished guardedly. Zecora wore an infuriatingly knowing smirk, staring back from atop her mount.
“For your triumph, have no fear.
Though if I were you, I’d hide my ears.”
Though it descended from space, the Terra Lander was an immovable fortress of black metal and automated defenses. Techno-magic conducted the ritual within its very circuitry, freeing the command staff to manage its defense.
One fishbowl-helmed demon glared at the red alarms on its console. “Ve haf lost ze seventh platoon!”
“Dot puts us at below qvarter strength!” Another snapped.
A third voice emerged, coming from every speaker in the Lander. “No matter.”
Its source was a small glass case in the center of the room, containing viscous liquid in which floated a throbbing brain with a small mustache. “They cannot breach the Terra Lander. Not with their precious space cannon, nor with all the might of their decadent modern age. We shall paint this world in the image of Hell.”
No help for the soldiers outside, but they were certainly proud to die for such a cause. The first demon to speak resumed typing at his station. A gentle cough sounded to his right, and when that failed to gain his attention, a hand plucked at his sleeve.
The small, green girl cringed under his disinterested glance. “Sorry, but I’m looking for the self-destruct button?”
“Yellow lever, right wall.” He jerked a thumb in its general direction and got back to work.
Out of breath and out of anger, Celestia and Sunset stood facing each other with tears rimming their eyes.
“I’m sorry I shouted. I just… want you to be safe.”
Sunset smiled back weakly. “And I’m sorry I broke your rules. I just wanted you to be proud of me.”
Celestia returned the smile. “I already am.”
They fell into each other’s arms, hugging tightly. In the distance, an orange mushroom cloud exploded into the sky, claiming the Terra Lander and all that was left of the invasion.