by PseudoFiction


By PseudoFiction

Nerbyus was no traditionalist. Mostly a chieftain of his jiralhanae pack would be found in the feasting hall where no electronic communication was permitted. Most chieftains would not have precious feasting time interrupted for anything.

It was uncommon for a pack to skip a meal, but Nerbyus had commanded it so they be ready for arrival at the Unyielding Hierophant. He wanted his jiralhanae alert and ready. And his prudence had paid off.

Chieftain Nerbyus was by no means a traditionalist, but his appearance was traditional for the jiralhanae. The pack had elected him as their leader for his physical prowess. Standing on two trunk-like legs, the chieftain was at least a head taller than any sangheili, and much more massive. Thick muscles rippled under his elephantine skin. Tufts of silver hair sprang from the arm and head-holes of his shimmering gold armor. He was bald, but his wide jaw bristled with a terrific set of mutton chops.

And for all his fierce brawn the chieftain showed uncanny poise. He stood stoically with feet parted and claws clasped behind his back, a pose reserved for master of the cruiser. A title he held proudly.

In a fleet dominated by sangheili it was rare for a jiralhanae to have his own ship in the Covenant. For that reason Nerbyus had his pack’s unwavering respect. But they honored him for a different reason – his unshakeable faith in the Forerunners and their Great Journey. The chieftain was a man of strong, unwavering faith. He believed absolutely in the cause and did everything in his power to keep the Covenant on the true path. The path to salvation.

And often this required a flex of muscle. But more often it required intellect. A dangerous mixture of power that Nerbyus was in complete command of. But as usual, Nerbyus was not in complete command of the situation. And that was not his fault.

“Report,” Nerbyus demanded in an oddly light and high tone for a creature of his brawn. One would expect the gruff voice of a beast, not the tone of a calm intellectual.

“Dust and echoes, chieftain,” growled the jiralhanae officer at the sensor suite with the voice that had been expected of Nerbyus. “The Unyielding Hierophant. It is… it is gone, chieftain.”

Any other chieftain would have unloaded uncontrolled rage. But Nerbyus barely twitched as the glistening alloys span past the view screen. Like a calm and contented predator passing through a school of unbothered fish, the CVN Purveyor of Truth did not alter course as the battle cruiser passed through the debris field that was once a mighty Covenant shipping yard.

They swept the debris for nearly a cycle looking for signs of life and ideally a cause for the Unyielding Hierophant’s demise. But thus far nothing. All of Chieftain Nerbyus’ stations were on high alert and as such he subdued all non-essential personnel.

The bridge doors swished open when they really shouldn’t have considering the state of alert. But Nerbyus barely questioned why and merely calmly thought what had taken so long.

“Chieftain, explain the meaning of this!” a voice cried in a rage more befitting of jiralhanae than sangheili.

Nerbyus’ eyes fell shut as he sighed. There it was. The element in his life, the element on his ship which he had no control over. But he vowed that would soon change.

“High Councilor Yasz,” Nerbyus greeted as cheerfully as he could manage. “What brings you to the command center when you should be confined to quarters?”

The sangheili shrugged off his jiralhanae escorts and stepped forward. The aging alien was no less fierce than he had been in the prime of his life. His stature was befitting of a leader, and his attire was regal, a long purple cloak of silk draped over the pauldrons of his mirror-like silver armor.

“That is why I am here!” Yasz spat fiercely, his quad hinged mandibles clicking sharply with every syllable. “What are you playing at, confining sangheili crew to quarters and brig!? Your terms of command ended when we entered red alert. The High Council commanded you would only be in command of this vessel as long as the parameters of the mission remained transport of the high priests.” He jabbed an accusing finger at the view screen at the front of the bridge revealing the decimated space station. “The mission parameters have clearly turned dire! You will relinquish command to me, immediately!”

Nerbyus refrained from referring to Yasz as a child having a tantrum and merely lifted his eyes from the high councilor. Framed in the doorway behind him were the silhouettes of several other sangheili. But with the warriors in the brig the silhouetted figures could only be the priests he had been transporting from High Charity. And while Nerbyus had a great amount of respect for the religions leaders, he currently didn’t have enough patience to deal with them calmly.

“Leave us,” he commanded the silhouettes.

But before the sangheili could retreat, High Councilor Yasz half turned and screamed, “Stay where you are! I am in control here!”

Words that died in Yasz throat the instant his expression turned to one of fear. Nerbyus, his patience stretched to its absolute limit, gently reached out and ever so softly touched the back of his hand to Yasz’s shoulder. The sudden change in the high councilor was startling, going from hyper annoyed to terrified in a split second.

“Do you feel in control, high councilor?” Nerbyus asked delicately, drawing half of Yasz gaze.

“The prophets gave you orders,” the high councilor whispered harshly.

“These orders give you no power over me.” Nerbyus sighed deeply. “I’m so very sorry, high councilor. But thousands of our brothers and sisters, followers of the Covenant, lay frozen and dead in space around us. And I’ll stomach your insolence no longer.”

There was no warning. It just happened. Nerbyus wrapped his powerful arms around Yasz’s head, and the sangheili screamed like an animal that had been shot in the head – the injuries not killing it outright and leaving it with the realization it had been mortally wounded. Screams unbefitting of a once proud, fearless warrior. Screams so unbefitting they unnerved the watching priests.

The screams muffled in Nerbyus’ fur, and then faded entirely. Before long the sangheili lay in a heap at his feet, and the chieftain delicately plucked the cloak from the dead councilor. Nerbyus gave it a satisfied nod and draped it over his own shoulders. It was a little tight and hung from him more like a cape than a cloak, but he liked the feel and the look none the less.

“I’ll hazard a guess no others have issue with my command?” the chieftain asked as he looked down at himself to check how the cape flowed.

There was no answer from the sangheili silhouettes in the doorway, and they merely shrank away to confine themselves to quarters.

“Good.” The chieftain returned his attention to the issue at hand and clasped his hands behind his back once more. “Helm, take us out of the debris field and into orbit.”

The jiralhanae standing at the helm nodded and pushed the Purveyor of Truth into motion. Just then a swarm of scout drones flew in from low orbit around the nearest habitable planet and docked. Their telemetry beamed directly to the bridge and various recordings dominated the view screen.

“Chieftain, the scout drones have returned,” the ops officer reported. “The planet is home to an intelligent species that could have destroyed the Unyielding Hierophant. Should I prepare weapons to bombard the infidels from orbit?”

A traditionalist jiralhanae would have answered affirmative. But Nerbyus was no traditionalist. “Negative. That wouldn’t be a fair fight! Besides, we know nothing of their retaliatory measures.” Nerbyus said with some curiosity as he watched the recordings play out across the view screen. “Enable the luminary. We will scan them. Learn about them. And then we shall test them.”

Stepping closer to the screen, he waved a claw and blew up one of the images. Walking before his eyes were countless animal-like creatures. But they moved, conversed and behaved with intelligence uncommon for creatures of their bestial form. Their colors hurt his eyes; a defense mechanism perhaps. But on the whole they seemed pleasant. Docile.

Perhaps camouflage considering they must have been the ones to destroy he space station. Nerbyus did not know for sure. But if he was to engage with them in fair combat to avenge the Covenant followers lost upon the Unyielding Hierophant than he was willing to find out. To learn.

The chieftain smiled broadly, relishing this opportunity the gods had granted him to flex his physical and intellectual muscles.

“I want to know what these creatures are made of.”

Flintlock-one woke with a headache and Ishmir-G314 had to wonder if that was because of the magic buzzing about the Equestria air or because of Zecora’s potion that had knocked him out cold.

It reminded Ishmir of the day after he’d gone through his Spartan augmentations. He’d come out the other side with increased muscle mass, higher bone density and sharpened senses. But it had come with a bit of suffering.

His blood was like napalm in his muscles. Broken glass had been crammed into his bone-marrow. Everything was too loud, too bright. The scant sunlight leaking through the winter canopy of clouds was blinding and the slightest little howl of wind was agony on his ear drums.

Ishmir gritted his teeth and focused on something else. He pushed the pain into the back of his brain and opened his eyes. When the complete washout of light faded he was staring at a hoof laying in the snow beside his face.

He felt wet and cold. Unusual considering he was supposed to be in full armor. Had Twilight Sparkle pulled off his helmet to make sure he was okay? No, that couldn’t be. There were security locks on his SPI MJOLNIR to prevent the enemy doing exactly that. But Twilight was a unicorn… alicorn. She could have used magic?

It seemed stupid to keep guessing, since her hoof sat right next to his face she was probably standing over him. He might as well ask.

Wait… no that couldn’t be Twilight Sparkle’s hoof. The princess had a lavender coat. The hoof was a tan color. With a groan Ishmir tried to move his arms and sit himself up.

But his heart stopped when the hoof moved to his command.

“Oh, holy shit!”

While Ishmir scrambled up onto all four hooves in the blink of an eye, Zecora and Twilight Sparkle stood staring. They weren’t moving, their customarily humungous pony eyes glistening in the light as they watched Ishmir closely. And for Princess Twilight Sparkle in particular, the very fabric of time seemed to slow to a crawl. Ishmir’s pony form was the very center of her attention. Nothing else seemed to matter.

Her eyes were almost literally glued to the earth-pony colt with a lean figure and tan fur. His navy colored mane was clipped to low-reg length and back-swept wildly. He had large hazel eyes and a bewildered look on his face as he looked down at his new pony body, noting the pictogram of a silver cross on his butt.

“I’m… I’m… I’m…” it seemed that was all Ishmir could actually say.

Clearly Twilight and Zecora were the same way, staring at the ponified Spartan for the longest time before the zebra broke her usual rhyme-heavy character and uttered very plainly, “You’re handsome!”

“I… wait, what?”

“Very…” Twilight agreed with her striped friend, a blush burning on her cheeks.

Princess Twilight Sparkle had removed the marine helmet Marko had given her and dropped the heavy saddle-bags filled with ammo and gear. She still looked a little bedraggled though with her fur matted in places, sprouts of her mane sticking up and out of place and her tail had gone frizzy. The heat of a plasma bolt had singed her fringe and a few of her otherwise sleek feathers were arranged into un-aerodynamic lines, but she was still the Twilight Sparkle everybody knew and recognized.

Their environment had changed a little since Ishmir lost consciousness too. It was slightly darker, and looking up he saw Zecora and Twilight had erected some camouflage while the headhunters were out cold. They’d strung nets decorated with branches and leaves from the standing stones circling the clearing and pulled the whole blanket over the top of the SCALPEL spaceplane settled in the snow.

He could have commented on Zecora and Twilight Sparkle’s good work camouflaging the vehicle, but at that moment all Ishmir wanted to know was what that “handsome” comment was supposed to mean.

They were however thankfully interrupted by a groan. Turning on the spot, just about managing to balance on four legs instead of two, Ishmir spotted Marko.

The other headhunter seemed to be taking to his new hooves a little better than Ishmir. Marko was on all fours, looking himself up and down curiously. He was a regular enough looking unicorn pony with an olive coat and fair hair in his mane and tail. His mane in particular was shorn down into buzz-cut stubble and his tail was a short bristle of stiff hairs. Painted on his flanks was a pictogram of a knife, although on closer inspection Ishmir was pretty sure it was the pointed blade of his custom bayonet he’d drawn across the throats of countless Covenant warriors.

Shrugging it off, Marko managed to take his first few steps and was soon trotting through the snow to join the group.

“So this is fucking weird,” he commented altogether too casually. “And reversible, right book-fucker?”

Twilight quickly nodded. “Oh, of course, cock-muncher. I can cast a spell that will have you back in armor-clad human form before you can say; fuck-me-sideways.”

“I fucking love the way she was giving you sexy-eyes while she said that,” Marko chortled, playfully bucking a forehoof into Ishmir’s ribs.

The princess blushed even harder while Ishmir muttered, “Shut up.”

When Marko had enough enjoyment for the time being, Ishmir got things back on track again. “Okay, Warlock. Run us through what we’ve missed. Where’s our armor and gear?”

“Your armor is actually still on you,” Twilight explained. “Stored away in a pocket dimension attached to you. When I revert you with a spell your armor will fit into place automatically.”

“Sounds complicated. And our gear?”

“I stored your weapons and bags as well as my own pack in a similar pocket dimension.”

Twilight Sparkle’s horn lit up and a tear in the fabric of space and time opened up between them. It wasn’t unlike a slip-space tear that fired UNSC and Covenant ships across the galaxy, only instead of staring into the white light of the slipstream Ishmir found himself looking into a pit, in the bottom of which sat a pile of saddle bags, a helmet and two duffels packed with weaponry, explosives and ammunition.

“If you say so,” Marko scoffed.

“That’s kind of neat actually,” Ishmir complemented, earning another little blush from Twilight. “So what’s next? We go see Princess Celestia?”

Twilight nodded, recapping the plan. “We’ll head to Ponyville first and take the train up to Canterlot. It’s the fastest way.”

“I got one faster. Why don’t we just teleport up there with your fancy-shmancy magic?” Marko asked.

“Teleporting myself is one thing, but all three of us?” Twilight Sparkle shook her head adding, “Besides, I might need my magic later. I don’t want to accidentally burn it out again on a long range teleport in case I need to transform you two back in a hurry.”

“Sounds reasonable.” Ishmir paused, reading Marko’s expression for a moment. “Problem?”

Marko sighed. “I don’t like it. The Covenant are out there. They could strike at any moment. We have no eyes on, no recon, no intel on enemy strength and we’re pretty fucking helpless in this form to boot. On top of that, we’re moving slow toward a princess who probably might not even listen to us until it’s too late. This plan is paper thin.”

Ishmir had to agree with him on that one. Unfortunately; “It’s the only on we got, Marko. We’ve worked with less before. Let’s make it work.”

“Yeah, alright,” Marko breathed with a huff and collected himself. “I’ll take point.”

“You know the way to Ponyville?”

“That way, right?” Marko pointed into the woods, and with an impressed nod Twilight confirmed his heading. “I imagine I didn’t land too far off the town outskirts last time we visited. I remember the path we took last time.”

Marko bid Zecora a small wave and set out towards the tree line. As he was trotting, Ishmir called after him.

“Look cool and don’t get lost.”

“Don’t worry! If I get lost I’ll make sure I still look cool.”

While Marko got stuck into the tree line, clearing a path through the undergrowth and vines, Ishmir and Twilight Sparkle took the time to say goodbye to Zecora and watched the zebra trot away in the opposite direction. Alone in the clearing, Ishmir gave Marko the standard thirty second head-start and then beckoned Twilight to join him with a small bow.

“After you, your majesty.”

But for all his heightened Spartan senses, he didn’t even notice Princess Twilight Sparkle looking away to hide the fact her face was turning almost completely red.