by PseudoFiction

"They must love the smell of hero!"

They shot from the train the moment the carriages squealed to a halt. The doors were still opening when Ishmir shouldered through, twisting them out of shape as he made his exit across the station like a bat out of hell. He was human and fully armored again, locked to his thigh was his customary sidearm and cradled across his chest was a BR55HB service rifle; a long barreled cross between a weapon system suited to the roles of an infantryman and a designated marksman.

As he took up position and peered through the battle scope, Marko and Twilight Sparkle followed. Marko had a shotgun hung diagonally across his back and the short barreled near imitation of Ishmir’s rifle, an MA5C assault rifle, held in both hands.

Following in the rear Twilight wore her helmet again, as well as the saddle bags she wore back on Reach. Clipped to her sides were several magazines and spare shells for the Headhunter weapons as well as an emergency pistol just in case.

As Flintlock team were weaving through the abandoned streets, Twilight Sparkle looked up at the situation in the air. The Covenant ship still hung over Canterlot, hanging in the sky among the sporadic clouds like a shark among a school of fish.

The flames consuming Canterlot glowed across its belly.

Lances of plasma rained down on the city, flashing from the ship’s gunports and the turrets of drop ships and support fighters dominating the sky. Pegasi in gold armor zipped one way and another. One or two banshees were caught in crossing magical beams arching through the sky before exploding. But for every Covenant craft that disappeared in balls of fire, three pegasi would drop from the sky like rocks.

“Incoming!” Marko yelled, dropping to his knees and sliding through the slush glazing the street.

Ishmir dropped beside him and Twilight behind an upturned cart as an energy burst clipped a banshee. The rapid attack craft rolled, spinning out of control before clipping the buildings down the street. It bounced like a pinball, back and forth for a moment, before slamming into a storefront just a few meters away and bursting into flames.

The Spartans huddled over Twilight flashed golden light, their shields flickering with the impact of flaming debris.

“This is insane,” Marko commented as he rolled over and shouldered his assault rifle. “What kind of defenses do you ponies have for shit like this?”

“We used to have the Elements of Harmony, but since we had to give those up to save Equestria last time…” Twilight shrugged. “None that I’m aware of.”


“Well… Princess Celestia is extremely powerful,” Twilight admitted after some contemplation. “She’s probably our last hope now.”

“Then why isn’t she out here fucking up the Covenant’s day?”

Twilight’s lips parted before a brief swell of panic flared in her eyes. “Something must have happened. We need to get to Canterlot palace. We have to make sure the princesses are okay!”

Marko scoffed, letting loose a sustained burst from his weapon. His rounds found the torso of a jackal sniper hopping about on a rooftop, sending it toppling out of view. Ishmir followed up with a single shot and the jackal’s spotter followed suit.

“We don’t have time to rescue a princess,” Marko snarled. “We have to focus on breaking this assault…”

“No Marko, she’s right.” Ishmir pointed up at the palace looming over them. “If we can secure the princess and she’s as powerful as Warlock says she might be able to help. Worst case scenario we use the palace as elevation to commandeer transport into that Covenant ship.”

“And then what?” Marko argued. When he was met with silence the Spartan turned his head to notice Ishmir was juggling a grenade. Marko’s tone changed in an instant. “I love this plan. Let’s do it.”

The three blocks that followed were cleared swiftly. Most of the Covenant ground forces seemed to be gathered at the palace. Aside from a few snipers taking pot shots at them, the headhunters had very little opposition. There weren’t even too many civilians to watch for. Everypony had turtled up, leaving the streets in an instant to retreat inside and bar the windows and doors.

Marko’s trigger finger wavered for a brief moment as he snapped to one side and aimed into a window. Inside he sighted the trembling forms of a pony family, three of them, two adults huddling over a small foal that was crying.

They stared at his visor in terror the Spartan wondered what they were thinking. What was going through their heads? Probably the same things that went through his head when the Covenant descended on his world and took everything he knew and loved from him.

Gritting his teeth, Marko quickly shut the window’s wooden shutters to hide the family before turning to secure the team’s back and jogged to catch up with Ishmir and Twilight.

The palace at the heart of the chaos loomed in menacingly. The thud of energy weapons and whine of magic grew louder with every clunking step the headhunters closed in. Until finally the screams of battle were cranked up to full volume.

Kneeling by the corner of an alley, Marko peeked around. Up ahead were the main gates leading into the palace gardens, and around the pillars of the tall decorative gates a desperate battle for the front porch was being fought. He caught the tail end of some ponies, a mix of unicorns and earth-ponies belting everything they had, from magic and spears to battle-cries and harsh words at the Covenant soldiers dominating the grand palace doors.

“Let’s move fast,” Ishmir said as he peeked around the corner above Marko.

Nodding the headhunter reached back, patted Twilight Sparkle on the helmet as if checking she was still there, then the Spartan-3 led the sprint. All three of them sprinted it full tilt, the humans’ long strides drawing them far ahead of the princess before they dropped into the muddy slush.

Ishmir dove for the deck behind the gate pillar as Marko dropped to his knees and slid to a halt beside him. Twilight rolled into a ball and tumbled into cover between them hoping the Covenant aggressors ahead hadn’t spotted them.

Marko just had to ask though; “You think they spotted us?”

The answer was an unrelenting volley of rapid fire energy lances and plasma bolts smashing into the pillar. The intricate stonework shattered and chipped, the hinges of the gate melted and twisted to the point the decorative fence popped loose and curled into a partially scrunched up ball of foil with the heat.

The trio immediately curled into a tight ball, the Spartans’ shields flaring as they were winged and skimmed by stray lances of Covenant fire.

When the volley of harassment ended, Twilight groaned as her head slowly lifted from between her front hooves. “You and your big mouth!”

Another volley, more focused this time, slammed into their cover as Ishmir slid a small wire from one of his pouches. He attached the fiber optic camera to his helmet, then snaked it around the corner to get a look at the battlefield.

Marko shared the imagery and was treated to the sight of the ponies in Royal Guard armor pinned at the bottom of the sweeping steps leading up to the palace entrance. They had erected barricades and the earth-ponies donned massive shields that blocked the volleys of fire coming from a trio of fixed plasma gun emplacements on the balcony at the top of the stairs.

Withdrawing the cable, Ishmir righted his rifle and batted Marko on the shoulder. They shared a nod like they knew exactly what they were about to do. But as if just for Twilight Sparkle’s benefit, Ishmir suggested, “You up for a run?”

“Always.” Marko found his feet as Ishmir shimmied to the edge of the pillar.


Ishmir stepped around cover and laid into the Covenant position with three-round bursts from his battle rifle. Every trigger pull was another belt of projectiles that threw the alien harassers off-balance. One grunt behind one of the plasma guns toppled backwards under a mist of fluorescent blood. A jackal tried to take his place but took a burst to the neck and fell gurgling out of view.

While the Covenant scrambled, Marko threw himself sideways. “BOUNDING!”

He sprinted swiftly with the stock of his rifle tucked under one arm, his other arm swinging back and forth for balance. The human cannonball sprayed up a curtain of gravel in his wake, the force of each bound pulverizing the patio tiles under him.

By the time Ishmir started taking return fire, Marko rolled in behind a large planter further up.

“Marko! You good!?” Ishmir bellowed.

“Fuck yeah! Good times!” Marko righted himself and popped around the planter to lace the Covenant position with rounds. “COVERING!”

Accepting his buddy’s covering fire, Ishmir patted Twilight on the side. “C’mon, Warlock! We’re moving!”

As they slipped around cover, Ishmir yelled “BOUNDING!” and led the charge past Marko’s captured position and right up the tails of the Royal Guard. Though as Twilight Sparkle threw herself into the shadow of a barricade where the other ponies were cowering, Ishmir kept his head up and took his turn at the aliens, giving Marko a chance to catch up.

As he reached the front line and did his part, switching magazines and keeping shorter, accurate bursts of fire on the Covenant, the cycloptic Royal Guard earth-pony in charge gaped disbelievingly at the two aliens fighting on his side. Sergeant Buck Shot even had to lift up his eye-patch and blink hard with both eyes just to make sure what he was seeing really was real.

“What from the depths of Tartarus!?” the sergeant cried with surprise before looking at Princess Twilight Sparkle.

“Take a breath, sergeant. This is Ishmir and Marko. They’re allies of Equestria. They’re here to help!” Twilight quickly explained.

The guardspony shook his head then rubbed his eyes before lowering his eye-patch again. “Aw, heck! This day’s been so crazy; what’s two more aliens? Ya’ heard that, Sure Shot? What you think of getting a little help with our alien problem!?”

An amber unicorn up the line missing some of his armor kept his head up and belted magic missiles up at the Covenant. “I can dig it, sarge!”

The headhunters shared a knowing glance, recognizing some of the Royal Guard bravado. They weren’t unlike the marines back home. Maybe a little less potty-mouthed, but that was to be expected of ponies. They just hoped they had some skills to back up that swagger.

“Keep up the good work, sergeant,” Ishmir told the pony in charge. “We’ll flank and clear the enemy foxhole.”

“Be my guest,” the sergeant invited before looking to the stallions and mares under him. “Guardsponies! Watch your fire! The scary walking tanks wanna have a crack at these alien degenerates! WHAT DO Y’ALL THINK!?”


They were definitely like marines.

Gesturing for Twilight to stay put, Ishmir dropped onto his stomach and leopard-crawled towards the right flank of the staircase. Marko quickly followed, and within a second they were outside the Covenant emplacements’ arcs of fire. They were like fixed machine guns, their swivels only had a certain angle to work with. But the constant streams of suppressing fire ensured everything in those narrow arcs either died or wouldn’t dare poke its head up.

Looking back Ishmir saw a few of the earth-ponies fall as the plasma streams burned through their shields and a unicorn caught a bolt to the face. They had to hurry, those ponies wouldn’t last much longer.

“Let’s kick it into high gear,” Ishmir said rising to a knee on the staircase flank.

“Let’s do it.”

Marko put his foot into the cradle Ishmir formed with his hands and was boosted up the steep side to the staircase’s flanking balustrade above. He caught it with ease, then reached down allowing Ishmir to follow upwards along his body.

Hanging just under the Covenant’s flank, the duo nodded three times in silent count, then pulled themselves up into a clean vault onto the staircase.

They were almost three quarters way up, closer than any of the ponies had gotten to the top of the stairs, and they were just outside the angle of suppressing fire rained down by the Covenant. The grunt on the plasma cannon directly in front of them could have had more discipline and when it spotted the headhunters, could have simply pointed it out to a superior. But instead he tried to swivel his gun, sending a stream of fire away from the ponies below.

The cannon’s swivel locked and the bolts of plasma skimmed by at the Spartans’ heels. They were already leaping up treads four at a time, drawing their weapons and taking aim. The grunt who spotted them screamed and abandoned post to scramble for his sidearm, but it was too little too late.

Ishmir fired while running, landing a perfect shot right on the grunt’s head and sending it tumbling away. Marko followed up at the same time, nailing a jackal in the temple.

That was when a brute commanding the alien fireteam spotted them, but his barking orders didn’t do anything to slow the headhunters down. They had their sights set on an objective. And no force in the galaxy could stop them from taking it.

Marko lowered the muzzle of his assault rifle to the deck, stepped around Ishmir’s back and snapped the MA5C level again to put a long burst into a brute. The apish alien howled, swatting at a swarm of invisible bees before his sleek blue armor overloaded and popped, belching steam and smoke. A few rounds later the brute was on the ground and the Spartans laid into the rest of them.

All aliens turned to face the rushing demons, opening a salvo of blistering plasma that washed over the headhunters. But their shields glowed blocking them from the entire stream of energy. There was no cover to be had on the plateau outside the palace doors, so no chance to duck and weave. But that worked both ways.

The Spartans ran while shooting, overwhelming the covenant with speed and aggression. Marko interrupted a reload to bash one jackal in the face. As the alien did a bloody pirouette he stomped his boot down on a grunt head then racked a round in the chamber and unleashed his MA5C on a brute.

Ishmir popped off heads, even nailing a brute so hard it flew head over heels and tumbled like a ridiculous rag-doll. And when his magazine ran dry he didn’t bother reloading, slinging the BR55 and yanking loose his pistol. He maintained his bladed stance to the enemy, keeping his elbows at right angles with his off-hand folded comfortably around the front of his pistol’s hand-guard and the sights angled in front of his good eye. The slide worked furiously back and forth with each shot, ventilating two jackals in quick succession as they tried to turn and run.

Marko slipped around behind Ishmir again, this time dropping his assault rifle and gripping the handle of his combat knife. He put himself between his brother and a brute staggering armor-less on Ishmir’s flank. The alien had Flintlock-one dead to rights with a spike rifle for a moment, but Marko intervened faster than the brute could even realize he was going to be dead in the next few moments.

Pushing the alien weapon out of his face, Marko freed his knife from the sheath then slammed the blade home several times in the brute’s torso in quick succession with all the tenderness of a jailhouse shivving. The ceramic plates of the alien armor yielded to over a dozen blade-strikes.

Catching the scene in the corner of his eye, Ishmir moved on from where the Spartan-3 pinned the brutalized enemy and popped two more grunts in the head while moving.

A battle to capture the palace entrance that had lasted about an hour had been ended abruptly in a thirty second scrap.

“Clear,” Ishmir snarled as he kicked a brute still squirming and stomped it out of its misery.

“Clear,” Marko agreed until a shot of energy winged his charging shields, halting the process and making the bar at the top of his HUD flash again.

“Dipshit!” he yelled down the stairs.

“Sorry!” came Sure Shot’s sheepish reply.

The ponies at the bottom of the steps uprooted their position and climbed frantically to where the headhunters stood. When they reached the top plateau they were taken a little back by the alien graveyard at their hooves.

“Whoa,” one guardspony muttered looking across the field of death, then regarding the Spartans. “And these guys are on our side?”

“That’s a relief,” another pony admitted.

The brief moment of celebratory rest was interrupted by the whine of anti-gravity engines. Looking up, the headhunters spotted an incoming phantom dropship. Though thankfully instead of strafing their position it minimized the risk of taking possible anti-air fire and skirted the Canterlot Palace gardens before setting down in the square beyond the gates. The flanking hatches opened and a fresh fireteam of Covenant warriors

“The brutes ‘ll come running. They’ve probably got our scent,” Ishmir said pointing the aliens out.

Sergeant Buck Shot laughed at the possibility. “Then they must love the smell of hero!” Looking at Twilight Sparkle, Buck Shot nodded towards the palace suggestively. “Get in there and do your thing, princess. We’ll keep them off your back.”

Marko chuckled as he turned to the doors with Twilight and Ishmir. “Oh, I like these guys!”

With his rifle reloaded and held ready, Ishmir put his shoulder to the palace doors and pushed them open just enough to allow the trio to slip through. But as they did hell unleashed.

Plasma slammed into the walls beside them and they scattered. Ishmir grabbed Twilight and threw her behind a pillar to the right before joining her in cover. Marko dove in the opposite direction and landed on the first few treads of a flanking stairway that led upwards.

The corridor before them was perfectly straight with a high vaulted ceiling and wide enough to roll a Scorpion tank through. There were no windows, with the corridor being at the heart of the palace and the natural looking light beamed in from the glowing chandeliers of gold and glass high above. There were large marble pillars every couple of meters plastered along the sides of the corridors to form the only cover in the cavernous space.

And down range sat a large Covenant contingent of mostly grunts, jackals with a few brutes commanding the clustered fireteams. To remedy the sparse cover they had erected portable shields, oval shaped films of light behind which a single Covenant trooper could take cover. But the things were just like their personal shields, they could only take so much abuse.

“This main corridor leads to the main stairwell at the end, as well as the throne room,” Twilight explained over the thud of plasma weapons harassing them. “If Princess Celestia is anywhere, that’s where she’ll be.”

“Any way around these Charlie Foxtrots?” Marko asked pointing a thumb in the direction of the Covenant.

“There’s another corridor like this one right above us that attaches to the balcony usually used to address the citizens of Equestria at formal functions,” Twilight said prodding the air with her hoof.

“That could be swarming with hostiles too,” Ishmir said. “Marko, head upstairs and sweep it. I’ll deal with the trash down here.”

Marko nodded then followed his gun muzzle up the stairs before disappearing from sight. Ishmir in the meantime turned to Twilight and gestured her to stay put.

“Stay hidden, Warlock. I’ll deal with this.”

“But,” Twilight Sparkle began to say, but Ishmir was already gone.

One moment he seemed to be turning transparent, then Twilight blinked, and then Ishmir had vanished into a shimmer in the air.

The Covenant assault on the headhunters – or so they thought – continued. The brute in charge ensured his troops were alternating fire, keeping the maximum amount of guns unloading while some of the small arms paused to cool. The brute seemed satisfied.

Then something strange happened.

A shimmer of light appeared closer to their position, on the opposite end of where the red demon had dived for cover with the little pony. The shimmer of light was accompanied with a flash of red armor and a flicker of a ballistic weapon’s muzzle.

Rounds chewed into the brute’s helmet without pause until the armor burst with a cloud of steam. The following rounds punctured the alien’s skull and it did a backflip, thudding into the ground with a wet smack.

The rest of the aliens shifted their fire towards the shimmer of light the shots had come from, but it was already gone. Another flicker of a muzzle and a pair of grunts dropped with neat headshots delivered to each. The line of plasma fire shifted again, but sizzled only air again.

Ishmir kept leaping and bounding around. He had to make sure not to move too fast, as it was he was draining his suit’s power significantly by taking shots at the Covenant. Every shot he’d overload the cloaking capacitors and he’d have to lie still or quickly roll into cover before the enemy spotted him. Then after a cooldown he could cloak up and move out again to get a new position and drop a few more Covenant.

Hell and fury erupted somewhere above his head. As Ishmir continued his own systematic sweep of the lower corridor he allowed himself to briefly imagine Marko prancing about upstairs on a slippery deck of Covenant corpses, happily bounding about in his own private nirvana. But just as quickly as Ishmir’s focus waned, he snapped back into the fight when he sighted exposed targets. They fell, and once again the Covenant failed to get a bead on him.

But Ishmir’s suit wasn’t getting any time to charge. Every engagement ended a handful of Covenant, but killed a segment of his power readout until finally…

The capacitors in the SPI armor vented, shooting hot air from the shielded heat-synchs near the shoulder blades. Ishmir was exposed in a second as the reactive surface turned back to a dull red color. The aliens were still surprised and it took them a millisecond to react. More than enough time for the Spartan.

Ishmir rolled sideways behind a portable shield and put his fist through an exposed grunt. The alien’s skull crushed in one sweeping movement before he sprinted around the side of his sparse cover. It popped under a volley of plasma, but Ishmir had displaced already.

He swept up a plasma pistol the grunt had dropped and kept his thumb on the trigger. The device started to shake violently as a ball of plasma gathered on the muzzle. He was aiming unsteadily with his off-hand, but he was close enough that he couldn’t miss.

The bolt was let off the leash and Ishmir dropped the overcharged pistol to return a steady grip to his battle rifle. Nearly instantly the plasma bolt streaked over the shorter aliens in the front then hit a power armored brute in the chest. The armor immediately failed and Ishmir snapped the alien in the head, dropping it in one go.

The enemy fire faltered giving Ishmir enough space to side step from an incoming volley, but still one lance of energy winged his shoulder. The Spartan-3 quickly rolled with the blow as a segment of his shield readout dropped. Swinging his aim around he fired one handed at the alien that winged him before diving for cover.

The burst caught a jackal in the ribs and flung it sideways into one of the portable shields. The impact made the shield flicker, but it held and the jackal cartwheeled to the deck.

Sliding on his front behind a pillar, Ishmir switched magazines before rolling on his back and aiming his rifle across his chest. His sights caught a grunt waddling from a flanking position and he put a burst through its stubby little legs. The alien fell and Ishmir sat up to aim more carefully now, ending it with a round to the head.

Getting to his feet, the headhunter broke cover the moment his shields were at full capacity again. Now he was at a hack-and-slash range, turning his battle rifle into a club. The stock connected with a grunt, smashing it into the deck before he took the rifle by the barrel and swung wide to catch a brute in the chin. The weapon was pretty much ruined at that point, but he had no doubt Twilight Sparkle was still holding a few spares.

Dropping the rifle he grabbed the brute by the chest plate and drew his pistol, putting the full magazine into the brute’s gut at point-blank range.

The alien fell groaning as Ishmir quickly dumped the empty magazine from his weapon. As he did so he flicked the weapon to one side, throwing the empty magazine sideways into the face of a nearby jackal. The force wasn’t enough to break its beak, but enough to keep it off balance while he pulled another magazine from his belt.

With the mag closed in his fist, Ishmir swung around and georged the jackal in the face, managing to buckle its beak with this final blow. Before the jackal had even hit the ground, Ishmir slid the magazine into his pistol, released the slide and fired twice, dropping the last two jackals still standing.

Giving the area one more sweep, Ishmir made sure none of the aliens were moving before he tuned into the battle raging upstairs. Like Twilight had explained the corridor ended in a stairwell with sweeping staircases of marble circling the grand doors up ahead. It was like a cylindrical shaft skirted with stairs going straight up.

Marko came straight down from above, surfing on the chest of a gold-armored brute before they both smashed into the ground in front of the throne room doors. The brute wasn’t moving under the Spartan-3, but that didn’t stop Marko from shoving the barrel of his shotgun in its mouth and pulling the trigger.

When the mist of gore settled he stepped off the alien and looked over his shoulder at Ishmir. “Sweep, clear.”

Ishmir flashed him a thumbs up and repeated “clear!” for Twilight.

She wasted no time stepping from cover and trotting casually through the alien graveyard towards the headhunters. Something in her had clearly changed. She wasn’t so jittery and unsure among the aliens and alien corpses anymore. The sight of blood was something she suddenly had gotten used to. And frankly Ishmir couldn’t figure out if that was a good thing or not.

As she approached, Marko took the time to kick a lifeless grunt out of her path.

“You’re such a gentlecolt,” Twilight Sparkle said with a smile.

Marko shrugged. “I have my moments.”

The trio approached the throne room doors, nearly as tall and grand as the main entrance to the palace. Marko slid a few shells into his M90 shotgun while Ishmir took the neglected MA5C from his buddy’s back.

Pressing the side of his helmet to the door, Marko boosted his audio and listened. There was a distinct whine of plasma rifles and splash of energy on shields. Someone or somepony in there was being harassed.

“Sounds like a fight.” Despite just getting out of a fight, Marko’s voice betrayed his eagerness to get stuck into some aliens again.

“What’s cover going to be like inside?” Ishmir asked looking at the princess by his side.

Twilight shrugged. “Like the main hall really. It’s pretty open. But I can erect a couple of shields for us.”

Ishmir was of two minds. First he didn’t want to put Twilight Sparkle in any unnecessary danger, but a couple of additional shields to dip and weave between would make things much easier. So he nodded.

Marko agreed. “Do it.”

With Warlock’s horn aglow with purple light, the headhunters stacked up and Flintlock team breached into the throne room.