“Science never solves a problem without creating ten more.”
- George Bernard Shaw
XCOM: Enemy Advanced
Dawn in Fire
Date: 12th April, 1006 PDE
Time: 12:04:22 (Canterlot Standard Time)
The Ethereals had come. The Ethereals had really come. This, Princess Celestia knew as burning stars rained down on the city of Canterlot by the dozen.
"Princess Celestia!" A royal guard - Sunshine of the Sky Guard - came skidding down the halls, coming to a practiced stop before her and saluting quickly with his rifle. "We have unknown contacts appearing all over Canterlot! The Royal Guard has mobilized and Eclipse Squadron is launching, but we are barely holding them off!"
"Have you identified the contacts?"
"Yes: pods dispensing some kind of paralytic gas, and strange little men with cannons on their arms!" Sunshine blanched, shaking visibly. "Royal Guard detachments have already been deployed, but the casualties--"
"Nevermind that, my little pony! The Star Guard shall focus on the fires! Protect Canterlot's citizens! Avoid contact with these creatures if at all possible! Leave them to the Sky Guard!" That, above all else, was imperative. The Royal Guard was no match for them in an actual fight. The Sectoids, low on the hierarchy as they are, were still too great, too cruel a threat for them to take on. Only the Sky Guard stood a chance on account of their wings, but even then she was sending them to their deaths. To distract them. She could only hope their sacrifice was worth it.
Even so, she knew this would lead to the capture of so many ponies, and the deaths of so many more. The damage to her fair city could be fixed. The damage to her dear castle can be fixed. The damage to her little ponies was not so easily fixed. But she had to try!
And so she spread her wings and cantered towards the open balcony, horn alight with gold. "Princess!" Sunshine cried out. "Where are you going?! We need you here in the castle!"
"And they need me more in the streets!" Her horn now lit up like the afternoon sun, too bright to behold. "I will remain in touch, and no doubt Luna will have awakened as well!"
The light vanished, and the Princess was clad in her regalia of war. Gold earthpony warplate of an era long past, covering all but the feathers of her wings with enchanted orichalcum tempered by forgotten techniques. On her left a blade of gold and fire burned, and on her right an ornate rifle - a recent acquisition - glimmered and radiated with power and heat. "P-Princess..." Sunshine stammered. "Y-Y-You're... fighting?"
"I will defend Canterlot on the ground," Celestia said, raising her sword up high. "You will defend Canterlot from the skies! Good luck, my little pony! I have faith in you! All of you!"
She leaped over the railings and dived, right into the thick of it. She would not let her Royal Guard fight in the defense alone. She would not let her ponies die without trying to save them!
The Battle of Canterlot lasted six hours, and putting out the fires took seven more. Recovery crews were still attempting to identify the final death toll, but right now the numbers were at several dozen, and hundreds more missing or injured. The attack was slowed and due to the efforts of the Royal Guard the civilian loss was muted, but nonetheless damage was done.
Predictably, the death toll was high. Over half the Sky Guard was wounded and in critical condition, and only her timely intervention prevented deaths. Even so, not all were expected to last the night, let alone make a full recovery. Sky Captain Slider in particular was under intensive, round the clock care, both by staff and by his own family. He was the worst hurt of all, and his full-body burns were infected despite the care.
Celestia had not the heart to give his young daughter the prognosis. The young orange filly was heartbroken as is; best to leave her some illusion of hope, and hope that the Captain wakes up long enough to say his goodbyes.
She was hurt as well, with burns on her wings where plasma grazed them and plates of armor that fused to her skin. The heightened vitality of an Alicorn and her healing magic let her stay active, not that she wished to rest. Not that she could rest. Reports were coming in from all over Equestria, from all over the world, of similar happenings.
It was happening. After ninety years of peace, they had arrived. And in her teleconference with the other heads of state, incredulity was the word of the day.
She passed worried Royal Guardponies, sullenly looking at the ground with a haggard gait. Hoofmaidens still stunned silent from the attack just hours ago parted before her, and Celestia closed the door behind her as she entered her quarters. Her horn flashed as she took a seat, her reflection on her vanity flickered to reveal the waiting faces of a griffon, a zebra and a minotaur.
“I apologise for attending in such a state,” Celestia began apologetically, gesturing to the bandages tied all over her. “I was involved, and there is no time for glamour magic. It appears that the warning this Council received almost a century ago was true.”
“Indeed it has," Yurgen the Exalted growled in disbelief, the Golden Bull of the Minotaur Nation still incredulous about the attack on the Bovis Province. "We had prepared for it, but we should have done more!"
"We are vastly unprepared," Shaman King Hao of the Zebrican Republic agreed. “Considering what we got from the cache, we really should have listened to it more.”
"We must take the fight to them!" Roared Sky Lord Griswold Stormtalon, slamming a claw on his table. "We must make them pay for this! We must activate the XCOM Project!”
“For once we are in agreement, Sky Lord,” Celestia nodded, smiling in satisfaction. “Equestria agrees. We must unite under XCOM.”
“Ha ha! Yes, an opportunity to retaliate! The Minotaurs of Herakles agree; XCOM is our best bet!”
“You shall find no argument from me. The Zebras of Zebrica lend their stripes.”
“For once we are in complete agreement,” Celestia said, somewhat amazed. In her thousand years of rule, the last time they agreed was deciphering the probe’s data banks, what was now the Codex. “I expected a little grumbling, to be honest.”
“We disagree on many things, Sun Princess, but this is not a crisis to dispute. If you prefer,” the Sky Lord suggested cheekily, “You could imagine that each of us had ulterior motives.”
“Sky Lord! I am appalled! We minotaurs are not creatures of deceit and trickery! We are strong! We are brave! We--”
“--Are far too loud to be a respectable head of state, Golden Bull,” The Shaman King sighed.
She shook her head, smiling softly. “I won’t, Sky Lord. I have more respect for your intellect than that. This isn’t a time for trickery. This isn’t a time for tests. This is the time to drop our walls and fight as one.”
“Then it is settled. We activate the XCOM Project.”