Twilight starred at the orb for what seemed like an eternity to her but in truth had been but moments. Comprehension had taken a back seat in her mind as she spluttered about like a fire starved of oxygen.
"I... uh, but... wuh?" Was the best she could manage in these circumstances. The fact that her usually bright and cheery friend was now very calm as she lay bleeding on the floor seemed to have slipped from her mind. It however had not slipped the small metal orb's notice.
"Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear oh dear. It appears one of your cohorts has befallen most grievous injuries. Allow me." The metal orb pushed past her and floated towards Pinkie. Twilight was about to object but was halted by a large blue hand being placed on her shoulder. Turning her head upwards she met face to face, or rather face to helmet, with 42 who's only response was to place a solitary finger against his faceplate. Twilight picked up on the gesture as a symbol of silence due to its similarity with Griffon gestures and pushed her jaw closed. 42 nodded and proceeded to point towards Pinkie and the metal orb. gesturing for Twilight to look in the same direction.
The small metal orb was busy emitting a green aura about itself and took up where Rarity and Twilight had left off. Firing short red bursts from its central eye... thing, the orb slowly began to cauterise Pinkies wounds, each time eliciting a pained gasp from the pink mare. All the areas sealed by the burning effect miraculously began to heal at lightning rates. Something Twilight could only guess was the work of the green aura emitting from this small metal device. The rest of her friends had gathered in a small semi-circle now to witness this rather odd miracle. The object looked as though it was using magic though it was no magic Twilight was familiar with. All its powers were different colours and since when could objects harness their own magic. They only acted as magic storage or boosters... usually. The object cut off the green aura and ceased firing red beams as Pinkie. Turning around it completely ignored her and the others and focused its attention of 42 instead.
"The procedure is complete. I calculate a 99.26429% chance of survival. Though an inefficient 62.36426% of long term tissue and muscle damage. Further treatment may be required at regular intervals to avoid permanent damage." The orb seemed to shine brighter as though mimicking a smile. Twilight thought this a very inappropriate time to be smiling but she was relieved by Pinkie's greatly improved condition. Something irked her though. Why was this thing acting so familiar with 42. Speaking of the blue giant, he had stepped forward from the rest of the group and was now face to face with the strange metal object. The object seemed to have no obligation to this and even shined the tinniest bit brighter at 42's presence.
"I wasn't expecting an Ecumene class monitor." 42 was brief and terse about his words to this device now apparently named a monitor. Twilight's nagging fears that these two somehow knew one another began to grow and what on Equis was an Ecumene?
"Ah Reclaimer. I am delightfully surprised by your understanding of my existence. Has contact been made with other instillations? Or perhaps you have discovered remnants of my creator's empire? Oh how simply exciting!"
"We're aware of several forerunner installations and have made contact with multiple monitors, most notably 049 Abject Testament. I assume you are aware of him?" The orb seemed to dull a bit to this response but quickly perked up once more.
"Alas Reclaimer. While I am indeed a monitor of Ecumene status, I am unfortunately not gifted with the knowledge of my fellow monitors for security reasons as I am sure 049 has told other Reclaimers." Twilight's curiosity was peaked now. She had to figure out what was going on.
"42. What is this... thing?" 42 snapped his head to her and Twilight imagined he was glaring at her as though she interrupted an important occasion but quickly shifted his attention to the monitor who had been looking at her also.
"Monitor. Introduce yourself." 42's tone was gruff and seemed more of an order than a request. This did not deter the monitor in the slightest as he only glowed brighter at his chance communicate more with 42 whom he had labelled a Reclaimer.
"Gladly. Greetings. I am 412 Halting Transgression, monitor of sub-instillation designate 62-alpha. Though you may call me anything more convenient upon yours or the Reclaimer's request." There was that term again.
"Uh... Reclaimer? Ah beg your pardon." It seemed Applejack had beaten her to the punch. The monitor turned towards 42 and produced sounds akin to surprise.
"Reclaimer. I find it surprising that you have yet to tell them of a heritage as rich as yours. Such information is critical for endeavors such as this."
"We haven't exactly known each other very long. This is a first contact scenario which I'm sure you can figure out what that means." 42 holstered his small weapon and took a slightly more casual stance.
"First contact. Oh how wonderful! I shall begin diplomatic subroutines immediately..."
"That wont be necessary." 42 cut in. "All initial procedures have been followed as closely as possible to UNSC standards as possible. You got a problem with that, talk to ONI." The more 42 seemed to be around this Halting Transgression, the more venomous he seemed to become in his tone of voice. If the monitor noticed any of this it certainly didn't show it. "What I want to know now is why there's a Forerunner instillation on this planet and more specifically, why it requires an Ecumene class monitor to operate?"
"That question is simple Reclaimer. Research and development. My masters thought it worth while to study the interesting effects your predecessors had upon this world though the installation was never fully finished before the firing of the array and... Oh. Reclaimer it has just come to my attention that an interstellar ship has entered this installations atmosphere. It seems to be on a steep angle of descent. Possibly from the strong attraction of the installations Dyson core. Signal patterns match your combat skin. I judge assistance may be required." 42 didn't need to hear anymore.
"UNSC!? Here? We're getting to the surface. Monitor your coming with us." 42 seemed in a rush but Twilight's curiosity still had not been fully sedated. 42 knew things he wasn't telling and she needed to know. To tell the Princesses.
"Wait! What about this research an development Transgression was talking about? And why does he seem so interested in you, whats really going on?" 42 spun on his heels and motioned for them to follow.
"There's no time for that! We need to get to the surface ASAP. Form up and follow, I'll carry Pinkie." At this point the monitor had floated in front of 42 again as he went to pick up Pinkie.
"Reclaimer if I may propose. While the installation was not fully constructed, portions of the teleportation grid were finished. May I suggest a rapid transfer to the closest area of the predicted landing site?"
"Fine make it quick!" 42 snapped back. The monitor only seemed to glow brighter at this mild abuse. Twilight would have to have strong words with 42 and the Princesses about 42 and his collection of secrets along with this new developing situation and especially his attitude.
"Splendid. Please remain as still as possible. It increases the efficiency of the teleportation process." Twilight was about to question how such a small orb could teleport all nine of them but was quickly silenced in awe as gold rings began pulsing up her being. Each pulse brought an increased feeling of dizziness until eventually she felt as though she was falling in every direction possible and couldn't see a thing. She was about to assume that Transgression's attempt at teleporting had seriously wounded her until a massive wave of light washed over her eyes, causing them to clamp shut in order to stop the tears. She felt solid ground beneath her and instantly fell to the floor coughing and hacking, taking deep breaths of air between each splutter. He ears picked up that more than one of her friends were doing likewise.
Slowly coming to her senses she peeled open her eyelids and lifted her head so she could look around. Her friends all seemed to be laid on their sides hacking and coughing while 42 was standing tall and watching a large trail of smoke streak across the sky. Whether he had been standing the entire time or had just gotten up she couldn't tell. Shifting back to her friends her mind began to prioritize.
"Is everyone okay?"
"I'll get back to you on that darling." Rarity was the first to reply though she sounded as though she was about to be sick.
"Ah'll live." Applejack seemed to fair the best after her and was already climbing to her hooves. The others all let out small groans except Pinkie whom had her back to the rest of the group. When she made no response Twilight feared the worst and rushed to her side. Shaking her slightly, Pinkie rolled over and greeted Twilight with a loud snore as her tongue rolled out of her mouth and onto the floor.
"Five more minutes." Pinkie said sleepily while squinting her already closed eyes. Twilight felt as though a dozen Manticores had been taken off her shoulders and one of them had stopped pawing around with her heart. Elated she turned back to the other girls and Spike.
"She's going to be okay everypony." She could feel a genuine smile spread over her face and move to all her friends like a virus. 42 still didn't seem to be paying attention though as he quietly conversed with Transgression, the latter doing a rather poor job of keeping quiet.
"I understand the situation now Reclaimer. These files have filled in a lot of lost time! So exciting! Human history is it? Though I am truly sorry for the circumstances your species has found itself within against your fellow galactic neighbors." 42 merely grunted which caused Transgression to edge a little closer. "Reclaimer I assure you that I will do my best to succeed where my fellow monitors have failed. Where protocol was formed in the absence of authority. You're presence overrides such regulations. A procedure the others should have followed. *Tsk* Such a waste of Forerunner technology." Twilight really wanted to understand what was going on now more than ever but was yet again interrupted by Spike belching a waft of green flame, meaning only one thing. Snatching the letter from the air with her magic and promptly bringing it before her face she read as fast as she possibly could.
"Girls! There's an emergency in Canterlot. The Princesses require our attendance right away." 42 shifted around at the mention of this.
"What? I'm not going. I've got to track that ship."
"Good. Because Celestia said specifically not to bring you along. Good luck with your space buddies." Twilight was getting tired with 42's rapidly devolving attitude and decided to get a little snappy with him herself. "Oh and also. When we get back things need to get established because you must think I'm an idiot if I haven't noticed that you seem to know quite a lot but don't seem to be saying much. C'mon girls... and Spike." The others arose and began to walk down the hill with her. Applejack stopping only a moment to help Pinkie up and sling one of her pink legs over her shoulder. After a few moments only 42 and 412 standing/floating atop the hill, watching them walk off.
"Well Reclaimer... that was... unexpected. Shall we continue to track trajectory?" 412 turned around to see 42 already running at breakneck speeds after the trail of smoke which arched closer and closer to the horizon with every passing second. "Oh dear." And with that Halting Transgression floated off after him, whistling a small tune as he went.
Things were not going well, Celestia could tell the instant she had arrived at the castle. Politicians, General and even the castle maids were running about frantically relaying messages back and forth throughout the castle. Luna had questioned the guards as to what the predicament was when they were riding the air chariot, however the guards had told them both that they had been simply sent to pick them up. They were as unaware of the issue as they were though they did know that there had been a rapid influx of ponies, apparently traumatized, from across all of Equestria arriving at the castle and the captain of the Royal Guard, one Shinning Armour had asked specifically for the Princesses to be fetched immediately.
Now she was at the castle, she could tell how bad things really were. Panic seemed to be strewn across everypony's face and everypony whom she had asked on the way to the throne room had replied in hurried and rather incomprehensible babble before dashing off to complete their task. This process repeated until she bumped into one of her top generals Iron Hoof. Unlike the others he seemed to be a bit more calm and collected though this was still strange as Iron Hoof was the closest analogy an earth pony could be to an ice cube. The stallion was a tactical genius. She had heard from the maids that his shiny grey coat and brown main complimented his rugged personality perfectly though she would be inclined to disagree. Back to the task at hand though. Iron was busy picking up some scrolls he had dropped after bumping into her and was busy scooping them up.
"A thousand pardons your Majesties. I did not see you there." Celestia and Luna smiled at this. He was ever the gentlecolt and seemed to be stuck in his old ways of formality, even in times of distress.
"Do not worry Iron. I trust you are in a rush for a reason?" Celestia replied. Iron Hoof's expression momentarily brightened but quickly sunk to his previous dull expression.
"Things are not looking good your Majesties. You best follow me. I shall explain what little we know on the way." He turned around and motioned for the two Princesses to follow. Luna picked the various scrolls up in her telekinetic grip and followed closely behind Iron Hoof along with Celestia. "Things are not looking good your Majesties. Everyone you see here has been redirected into the castle after their massive influx to the city. Messengers have reported similar events happening with Manehatten and Stalliongrad though we lost contact with Stalliongrad no more than two hours ago. All of these refugees are from smaller settlements across the south and east of Equestria's borders. None asked so far seem to have witnessed the cause as they were asked to leave their homes an head here ahead of the whatever is pushing us like this. If you ask me, I think it's a classic textbook invasion. There are however two problems with this theory." At this point Luna, whom is the Royal member in charge of the military, thought it a good time to intervene.
"An invasion! Surely not. Thy, I mean my, scouts and Celestia's diplomats have reported no preparation or mobilization for war from any of our neighboring empires. The Griffons and Minotaurs would dare not attack us and the Zebras have long since been friends."
"That's problem number one Princess, or rather part of it. Not only have we kept close eye on our neighbors, the Griffon and Minotaur kingdoms are reporting similar problems via long range communication. King Black Feather and all the Minotaur Jarls are facing the same problem. They're all loosing territory rapidly to some unknown force. This also links me back to my second point." By this time Celestia, Luna and Iron Hoof had reached the castle war room. Iron Hoof knocked an elaborate tune upon the door and someone from the inside opened it up for them. Stepping inside Iron Hoof walked over to a table in the corner and gestured for Celestia and Luna to look. Peering closer Celestia identified it as a music stone. Channeling magic into it would cause it to record any sound played as the magic was channeled. Channeling magic in the reverse polarity would cause the sound to play back.
"As I was saying before, problem number two. The problem being that no military power in the entire history of Equis has ever advanced this swiftly in such a short space of time on multiple fronts. A majority of coastal regions across our borders have already fallen to this unknown force in a matter of under four hours. No doubt the Minotaurs and Griffons are experiencing similar issues. All scouts scent to investigate have no returned so I have issued the order not to approach too closely. What we have gleaned from a more careful approach is two things. The first report is that wherever this force goes, a large trail of smoke is left behind as they torch everything they find. It seems to be a bizarre twist of the scorched Equis policy initially invented by the Griffons. The second report is these stones. Princess if you may."
Celestia nodded and levitated the stone into the air before drawing the magic from the stone. Shortly afterwards the sound began to play and she put it down upon the table again. Each stone would only play once so she had to be careful to pick out every detail. At first it was difficult to hear anything above the breathing of the Unicorn who had recorded this but slowly and surely minute details began to focus. The sound of cracking could be heard softly which Celestia identified as small explosions going off very far in the distance. The second important sound was much harder to distinguish. At first it sounded like magical lances being fired off but upon closer listening in was missing some key features and had changes in areas. Magical lances always had a charge up time which was louder than the beam itself. There was however no sound of charging to be heard. Another thing was that these beams sounded a lot more... precise as though they were a precision implement rather than an attack of brute magic. The final giveaway was the small metallic chime that went off every time the strange sound was heard. The recording stopped and Iron hoof turned towards Celestia and Luna with a raised eyebrow.
Celestia scrounged her brain and picked it apart in order to try and identify a source. She couldn't think of anything. Anything except one possibility. No. It was absurd. It couldn't be true. Yet it seemed Luna was on the same line of thinking as they made eye contact.
"Sister. You don't possibly think that.." Luna trailed off as Celestia closed her eyes which was indication enough. Luna's horn flashed as she teleported away and Celestia instantly knew where she had teleported to. Following in her sisters footsteps Celestia lighted up her own horn and teleported out of the room, leaving a confused looking Iron Hoof.
"So I take it that you know...?" He said to himself before setting off at a trot to find them once more.
Celestia appeared in her own room to find Luna already pacing around as she usually did when she was angry. Celestia raised her hoof slightly as if to speak but was quickly cut off by an enraged shout from Luna. "I knew it. I knew that... creature wasn't to be trusted!" It was probably just a scouting force for the main invasion."
"Calm down Luna. We cannot know for certain and I would rather avoid starting an actual interstellar war by pointing hooves randomly. A war we would surely loose might I add. We need answers not action right now Luna." Celestia tried her best to remain calm but the nerves were starting to seep in. If what Luna and her were thinking was true, then Equis was most likely already doomed. Luna ceased the lapse in conversation to begin another topic.
"Celestia! What of Twilight Sparkle and her friends!? She is with one of them as we speak. She may be in danger and Ponyville is sure to be next on the list of this human army." Luna practically spat the word human from her mouth as if it were nothing more than grime between her teeth. Celestia was a little worried for her sister. She had not seen her this angry since the... incident and that scared her in a way.
"Relax Lulu. I shall send a message to Twilight and her friends to come to the castle immediately. I shall also specify to leave 42 behind in the case that this is his doing. If it is then Twilight should have garnered enough information from him in order to help us." By this point both sisters had walked out onto the balcony as they spoke allowing the cool air to calm them somewhat. "Besides, as I said before I highly doubt it is the humans doing *BOOM*." Celestia and Luna looked skyward to see a craft descend towards the horizon and in the direction of the of the potential war zone. Details were impossible to make out yet it was obvious the thing had come from space. Luna turned to Celestia as she did likewise. Luna nodded with fury in her eyes and Celestia's face grew into a much more menacing snarl as she began to write the letter. Making the letter brief she zapped it with her horn and it dissipated in a puff of green fire. Celestia looked in the direction of Ponyville with anger in her eyes and venom on her lips as she whispered one last thing before returning indoors.
"Questions need to be answered."