• Published 22nd Mar 2014
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Iron Hearts: Book 3 - The Sept Lamman - SFaccountant

MLP/Warhammer 40K crossover, part 3. As relations between Equestria and 38th Company wax and wane, the Tau warriors of the Sept Lamman put the final phase of their plan into action.

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How to Make Friends and Influence Ponies

Iron Hearts: Book 3

Chapter 2

How To Make Friends and Influence Ponies



All things considered, Tellis thought he was taking his exile from his fleet and army pretty well.

Most Space Marines, both of loyalist and Chaotic persuasion, tended to react very badly to the threat of separation from their Legions. Were he the type to study or think about psychology, he probably would have considered that the Legion or Chapter was the closest thing an Astartes had to a family, and the only place where a Space Marine had anything resembling peers. Becoming superhuman had changed many things within their biology and minds, but their nature as social creatures remained, altered as it was by the extremely disciplined and martial culture of the cult Astartes.

Tellis did not know a thing about psychology, though. He just assumed that all of his brothers were cowards and simpering Daddy's boys.

An entire world full of bizarre sights to see and interesting creatures to kill, and the entire Company seemed content to huddle behind the walls of their fortress, fearful of being ambushed by little gray men. Pathetic.

What was the point of turning to the darker powers if they returned to the same dull, grinding existence of orders and doctrine, only without the endless resources and so-called "honor" that came with serving the Imperium? Even the mortals of the Company knew to enjoy their life while they could, because service to Chaos usually didn't extend it.

Let the other Iron Warriors rot behind their guns, endlessly walking guard patrols and manning emplacements for a foe that would never dare challenge them openly. If they wanted to spend their miserable lives traveling to alien planets only to hide behind a barricade, it was their loss, and he wasn't suffering for their absence.

Tellis was flying through a city made of goddamn CLOUDS.

"YEEEEEEEEEEEHAAAAAAAAAAW!!!" the Raptor Lord bellowed as he curved through the air on a trail of flame and smoke.

Pegasi yelped in surprise at seeing a giant man covered in metal flying through the air and screaming for no perceptible reason, and many bolted away in fright, assuming that it was some kind of random monster attack.

Those ponies that were more curious or actually knew enough about the alien fleet to identify an Iron Warrior watched with fascination as the superhuman warrior blasted through the city, weaving between the cloud buildings in long, blazing arcs.

Tellis came up on what he could only guess was some sort of factory complex, and he pulled up just before he ran into the wall, giggling like a maniac as winged ponies wearing little hard hats shouted and flew away.

His visor was going berserk in front of his eyes, flashing warnings, analysis results, and hasty corrections constantly as it tried to make sense of the cloud buildings and completely failed. It wasn't even sure whether to treat them as solid objects that could cause a crash, and thus blared at him whenever it seemed like he might run into one.

Tellis would have powered down his helmet to clear the useless data, but frankly he found it hilarious.

"Hello, Mister Alien!" came a voice from above as Tellis slowed his ascent.

The Raptor Lord spun around in the air, his gaze half-way meeting that of a certain gray pegasus with a mail sack. "Greetings, pony courier! I am Tellis! How goes your daily tasks?"

"Great!" Derpy said with meaningless enthusiasm. "My name is Derpy Hooves! I've never seen any aliens in Cloudsdale before!"

"Most of us can't get up here, I'm afraid," Tellis admitted grimly, crossing his arms over his chest as he hovered before the blond mare, "few of us humans or post-humans are cool enough to have a flight capability, just as few humans are lame enough to possess sorcerous powers."

Derpy blinked owlishly at the explanation. "So... most humans are earth humans?"

A laugh that sounded curiously like an eagle being tortured to death boomed through the area, and most of the pegasi watching felt an icy chill crawl down their spines.

Derpy seemed utterly unaffected, still staring (partially) at the Khornate warrior.

"Earth humans! That's great!" the Iron Warrior barked between chuckles. "The more of you nutty horses I meet, the less I want to destroy you all for fun!"

"That's good!" Derpy cheered. "Anyway, I have to go back to work now, but I think those two police ponies want to welcome you to the city too! Bye-bye Mister Tellis!"

Tellis spun around again as the mare flew off, and he was not surprised to see a pair of stallion pegasi in blue police outfits fluttering toward him.

"Fluttering" was really the only word to describe their pace; the ponies were clearly in no hurry to reach him, and they both flinched when he turned to look at them before reluctantly continuing their approach.

"Uhm, h-hello? Sir? Can I have a moment of your time?" one of the officers asked meekly.

As public enforcers and stallions they were bigger than the average pegasus, but even so they were hardly much larger than each of the Raptor's arms. And considerably less dangerous.

Tellis hummed noisily as he considered his response. "All right, but if you don't have a gimmick like the last one I can't promise I'll still be listening by the end of a whole moment."

The police ponies shared a confused glance but pressed on, encouraged by the Chaos Marine's lack of obvious hostility.

"Well, uh, Sir, although it is of course legal and entirely fine for anypony or anything to fly around Cloudsdale-"

"Even if they belong to a flightless species that can only get here with the aid of rocket wings," the other officer interjected.

"-we wish you wouldn't disturb the peace in doing so," the first pegasus finished, smiling nervously at the armored giant sputtering flame.

"Disturb the what now?" Tellis asked.

"Peace. You know, calm, order, serenity, routine?" the other police pony interjected again, listing synonyms for their complaint.

"It sounds boring," Tellis confessed, "why would you want it to be boring?"

The first pegasus pursed his lips. "Specifically Sir, we wish you'd stop screaming. The noise, besides being extremely unsettling in general, is needlessly loud. You're causing a disturbance."

"Pft!" the Raptor Lord made a snorting noise from his vox grille. "You call that a disturbance? I'll show you a disturbance!"

Before the enforcers could impress that they explicitly did NOT want to be shown a disturbance, Tellis had already blasted backward through the air, roaring toward a tall tower that served as a hotel.

"Wait! Sir! What are you..." the police pegasus trailed off as the flames from Tellis' flight pack suddenly cut out, the armor module spitting a puff of dusty smoke as its owner reached a point just above the tower.

"WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!" Ponies gaped in shock as the Iron Warrior quickly fell to relentless grip of gravity, plunging feet-first through the roof of the cloud building like there was nothing beneath him at all.

Shouts, yelps, and screams loud enough to be heard from outside came from the building interior in a rapid, descending sequence, and a few seconds later Tellis fell out of the bottom of the cloud platform that "held" the building.

"Ha! Those two on the third floor were totally boning!" Tellis giggled like a child as he continued plummeting downward, the fins of his flight pack quivering from the turbulence.

Then a new light on his helmet display appeared. "What the... a distress call?"

With a crackling boom his flight pack ignited once more, sending the Chaos Marine hurtling through the air and curving away from his imminent meeting with the ground.

"Hm... it's translating the machine code... wait, it's in Binary?" Distress calls in general were an item of interest for Tellis, as they were rarely deployed for mundane reasons. To see a distress call in machine language meant...

Well, Tellis didn't really have any idea what it meant. But that alone made it interesting and worth checking out.

He twisted through the air toward the pulse origin, his flight pack burning hot.

Then the message finished translating.

"Tau Empire units detected and engaged. Enemy infiltration group has taken the field. All available units, please assist retreat," Tellis read aloud.

His armor almost quivered around him as it sensed the impending carnage, and the flight pack roared louder as it summoned reserves of power that weren't part of its strictly physical design and pushed his speed beyond its normal limits.

"Man, this has all the makings of a GREAT day."


Sweet Apple Acres - main orchard

"Well, this has turned into a pretty crummy day," Scootaloo admitted.

Sweetie Belle really wanted to smack the pegasus filly upside the head for such a moronic understatement, but she didn't dare make any sudden moves.

Besides, her forelegs were currently wrapped around Apple Bloom, who was sobbing into the ground. Not only did this impart much-needed comfort during this extremely stressful time, but it also kept the farmer from doing anything stupid to the trio of Tau Stealth Suits currently looming over them.

Grim and silent, the suits were a constantly shifting pattern of ghostly reflections and shimmering air, as if the suits were actively fighting their eyes. They hurt just to look at, and yet it was impossible to turn away.

The battlesuits were currently guarding the smoking hulks of the two automata they had destroyed, but the fillies were under no illusions that the alien infiltrators had missed them. Glaring red lights from their optics sensors flickered in and out of sight, and the curious stealth fields couldn't completely hide the one burst cannon that was trained on the young ponies.

"We're going to die. We're all going to die. Oh Celestia, we're all going to die here," Diamond Tiara quivered like a leaf as she and Silver Spoon hugged each other in terror, "I'm going to be killed by an alien in the middle of an impoverished farm in front of a bunch of fillies I picked on in school. This is like three of my worst nightmares come to life."

"M-Maybe they'll let us go?" Silver Spoon asked hopefully.

The Stealth Suits held their ground silently as they were finally approached by the rest of the escort team. The devilfish and the stealthed lifter followed behind the remaining troops by several meters, making it look like the handful of Tau soldiers were surrounded by a deep, shimmering fog.

*This is all there was?* asked the Fire Warrior Shas'ui.

*Yes. One combat robot, and another one that looks like it's geared for recon,* said the lead Stealth Suit, gesturing to the hunk of metal that used to be Glass Cannon, *there were no other combatants.*

*Quite odd of the gue'la to use robots,* opined another battlesuit, *I thought that was against their silly little religion?*

*There is much about these gue'la that have been odd,* replied the Fire Warrior as his gaze finally reached the fillies huddled off to the side, *but what we have here are not gue'la.*

*They were with the drones,* explained the battlesuit standing sentinel over the ponies, *the yellow one has been wailing ever since they were dispatched.*

The Shas'ui shook his head. *It doesn't matter. We lost some good men just now, and we can't discount the possibility that there may be more units operating away from the rest of the gue'la army. We need to make a quick break for the base at once.*

He turned around to re-join the remaining light infantry, but was stopped when the Stealth Suit spoke again.

*Wait. What are we to do about the horses?*

The unit veteran barely spared the trembling fillies another glance. *They're just children. And natives, at that. Let them go.*

*They can speak Gothic,* noted the lead Stealth Suit, *and they were traveling with gue'la machines. They will almost certainly tell the enemy of our presence here if they can.*

That stopped the Fire Warrior short, and he turned to look at the young ponies once again.

"Uh, girls? I think they're talking about us," Sweetie Belle said nervously as several of the surviving Pathfinders and Fire Warriors started to step closer, all of them paying intent attention to the fillies.

"Ya rotten, nasty sons'a mules," Apple Bloom stuttered between sniffles, "when mah family gets ahold of ya, they're gonna break y'all like twigs!"

"Apple Bloom, don't get me wrong, I'm totally feeling you right now, but we should probably save the insults for when they don't have guns pointed right at us," Scootaloo advised as she cringed.

The unit leader remained silent for several long seconds, weighing the decision in front of him.

*You can't seriously be considering killing them,* interrupted another Fire Warrior, *they're clearly civilian!*

*Civilians with gue'la weapons,* growled a Pathfinder, *I lost a lot of good friends and comrades thanks to those little pests!*

*You lost them to the machine, Shas'la, not the children,* noted the Fire Warrior, *unless you seriously think that baby horses are now commanding gue'la war drones.*

*Considering our strategic objectives, I must recommend that all witnesses be terminated,* spoke the lead Stealth Suit in a voice heavy with electronic feedback, *additionally, the drone wrecks should be detonated to ensure that any data recorders are destroyed.*

*It's simply collateral damage,* the Pathfinder agreed.

*Collateral damage is unintentional by nature. We cannot do this and claim that it was some unavoidable accident in the heat of battle,* remarked another Stealth Suit.

The lead Fire Warrior grimaced under his helmet as his soldiers argued over the matter. Meanwhile the ponies continued their own conversation that was no less heated.

"I have a confession to make before anything else happens!" Diamond Tiara shouted as she squeezed her eyes shut. "I see myself as a leader and when other ponies that I judge as my social inferiors reject my assumed authority I react with hostility to protect my self-esteem and try to assert myself! I never cared about your dumb cutie marks, I just resent that you don't do whatever I want!"

The Cutie Mark Crusaders sat stunned by the sudden outpour, and Apple Bloom even stopped sniffling as she was distracted from her immediate tragedy.

"Wait, so even if we got our cutie marks..." Sweetie Belle began.

"I'd tease all of you anyway!" Diamond confirmed, her eyes still shut in preparation for their execution.

"Besides, it's not like it would be any harder," Silver Spoon pointed out, "Scootaloo is a pegasus who can't fly, for Luna's sake. That's pathetic."

"I hope they shoot you first," groused the orange filly.

Apple Bloom surely would have had her own commentary on the matter, but after being distracted from the death of her beloved daemonic companion by Diamond Tiara she was then distracted from Diamond's confession by something in the sky.

It was only visible through the branches of the trees above thanks to the reflection of the sunlight and the dark trail of smoke behind it, and it seemed to be coming closer.

"Hey, what's that?" Apple Bloom asked, pointing a hoof toward the object.

The other fillies paused in lamenting their imminent deaths to look up.

"I think it's coming closer."

"That's not a pegasus, that's for sure."

"Wait, didn't we see something like this back in Ponyville when... uh oh."

The Fire Warrior squad leader watched the current target of their deliberations point its leg upward, and then noted that whatever the yellow filly had sighted distracted the others out of their terrified gibbering as well.

He turned his head to see what they were looking at.


The Tau needed no further explanation or orders, and the light infantry bolted in all directions as the battlesuits launched into the air on their jet packs and did the same.

They weren't quite fast enough.

The crack of an armored body slamming into the Tau's APC was drowned out by the sonic boom of Tellis' descent, and the fillies watching the brutal spectacle gaped in shock as the vehicle was flung across the clearing.

The devilfish's cloaking field failed as it spun over the ground, knocking over several Fire Warriors who were then buffeted by its anti-gravity field. The APC slammed its engine into a tree as it coasted out of control, which then sent the entire tank spinning in the opposite direction as before. It swatted a Stealth Suit out of the air before it managed to slow to a stop, and as the battlesuit's cloaking systems flickered and strained to deal with the impact a new and very agitated voice came from the vehicle.

"OW!! SHIT!! What the hell?! Who put this thing in my way?! That wasn't here a second ago!"

Tellis was clinging to the side of the vehicle, having latched on by reflex after unexpectedly hitting tank armor rather than the Fire Warrior he had been aiming for in his descent.

"Eh, whatever." The Raptor Lord slammed a melta bomb onto the devilfish and then armed it with a twist of its handle.

Then he pushed off toward the Stealth Suit that was struggling to its feet.

"It's about time I found some of you little bastards! I haven't heard a peep from you guys for over a week!" Tellis asked as he kicked away the burst cannon that the soldier tried to aim at him. "I don't think there have been any battles since Ferrous Dominus. Did everybody forget that we're in a war here?"

The Raptor Lord plunged his claws into the soldier as he spoke, eliciting a garbled scream from the doomed alien.

Then the devilfish detonated behind him, consuming the pair of armored warriors in shrapnel and smoke.

*On your feet! Everyone!* barked the Shas'ui, picking up his pulse rifle as he forced himself upright despite his injuries. *Spread out and get to cover! Put him down as he moves from target to target!*

*Put him down? Are you serious?! How can we-*

The Pathfinder that had stopped to argue was the next man to die as Tellis burst from the smoke on a trail of flames and landed squarely on top of him. Another blast of his flight pack sent him in a leaping pounce toward another fleeing Tau as desperate and inaccurate surges of blue energy slashed around him.

"Hey, any of you guys speak Gothic?" the Raptor Lord asked as he carved apart the Fire Warrior and bolted across the ground to the next one.

A pulse rifle shot slammed into his shoulder pad as he dashed along the ground, and he hopped over a photon grenade that had been hurled in his path.

"I know some of your leaders speak Gothic," Tellis noted as he cut down another Tau and then jerked back to avoid another spray of pulse fire that aimed to take his head off, "anyone? No?"

His flight pack screamed as it sent him hurtling over the ground to plant an armored knee into another soldier, and then again into another long leap to chase after another that was fleeing deeper into the grove.

The ponies watched with wide eyes at the relentless and comically one-sided slaughter. Tellis moved with an utterly unnatural grace from one soldier to the next, incorporating twists and spins to his rocket-assisted jumps to foil the increasingly desperate fire from the soldiers.

Every time he reached a Tau it died with a single display of casual strength, a quick sweep of his crackling claws, or the crushing application of metal against the much flimsier combat armor of the Tau soldiery. The Fire Warriors became more unnerved and ineffective as their numbers dwindled, and as the Iron Warrior effortlessly pounced upon another alien a pair of them turned to flee the engagement entirely.

*Forget this! Scatter!*

*We can't hit it! Run!*

"Seriously? None of you guys speak Gothic? What, did I already kill all the smart ones?" Tellis asked as he killed his latest catch.

He leapt ahead of another pulse rifle shot and a photon grenade to land next to one of the fleeing Tau, grabbing the Fire Warrior's arm with a single hand and them hauling him up.

Then he flung his current target at the next one, bowling the running soldier over and leaving them both in a twisted heap.

Tellis almost negligently tossed a fragmentation grenade toward the two stunned aliens, his gaze already turned away to search for more targets. There were another pair of Fire Warriors fleeing in the opposite direction, a big cloudy THING sort of just floating off to the side and confusing the hell out of his visor sensors, and a bunch of little ponies.

"Oh, hey! I didn't know I had an audience!" Tellis said brightly, waving an arm to the equines as his grenade exploded behind him. "Just let me finish up these last few guys and I'll be right with you."

His flight pack flared, sputtering fire and smoke behind it as its owner bent his legs.

"And remember, kids: don't try this at home. I'm a PROFESSIONAL crazy person."

Another blast of flame from his pack sent him over the treetops, and then he angled a dive downward onto his last targets.

The Fire Warrior he landed on died instantly beneath his metal boots, and he leapt off that soldier toward the final opponent.

The Fire Warrior turned and fired his rifle at point-blank range only to find it batted aside, the bright blue discharge striking one of the numerous apple trees that surrounded them.

Tellis sliced the pulse rifle in half with a quick sweep of the claws, and then seized the alien by the shoulder before hauling him up to face level.

"Hey ponies!" he shouted as the Shas'ui beat and kicked uselessly at him. "What's your favorite organ?"

"I don't like where this is going," Silver Spoon mumbled.

Sweetie Belle glanced over at Scootaloo. "Isn't this guy Rainbow Dash's friend? Tellis, right? Rarity told me about him... well, more like 'warned'."

Apple Bloom wasn't paying attention to the other fillies or the twisted games of the Chaos Marine. She was taking a count of the enemies lying dead over the orchard, noting that there were a few enemies still missing.

"Hey, Mister!" the farm filly barked. "There're still a few of them invisible ones left!"

Tellis tilted his head to the side. "Ah, Stealth Suits, eh? Okay, let's do this, then."

Tellis suddenly blasted off into the sky, still holding on to the Fire Warrior as he vaulted up over the treetops.

He ascended for several seconds straight up, and then reared back the arm with his opponent in its grip.

"I'll be with you in a sec, chump."

Tellis hurled the Tau straight upwards, and then immediately twisted about to jet back down into the orchard.

He couldn't see the Stealth Suits to engage them, so instead he aimed his descent at the only enemy object still active on the field: the cloaked cargo hauler.

The crash of armor against armor came from the vehicle as Tellis slammed into it and latched onto the side, albeit with much less force than he had accidentally used on the devilfish. The stealth fields flickered from the disruption, revealing the vehicle completely for the first time. It was long with an extended cargo bed behind an armored cab, and had its engines and stealth field projectors mounted in their own section of the vehicle between the cab and the bed. The bed itself was covered by a sharp-angled shell that encompassed the entirety of the cargo space.

Tellis clambered over the side of the vehicle toward the cab, noting that it was a small sensor bay rather than an enclosed cockpit.

"Must be automated," the Iron Warrior mumbled as he plucked a krak grenade from his belt.

Then came the response he was looking for. A surge of energy alerted his visor to an enemy behind him starting to fire, and a heat signature on the other side of the hauler indicated a second suit using its jet pack to try to get a clear shot.

Tellis had barely glanced at the warning markers when his flight pack roared to life, and he kicked off of the lifter backwards and upwards just as one of the Stealth suits fired its burst cannon at his back. The shots splashed against the side of the hauler, missing their mark completely.

"IRON WITHIN!" the Khornate shouted as he landed right in front of the battlesuit and punched one set of claws into its chest.

His jump pack screamed as it sent him skimming across the ground in a tight arc, one boot digging a furrow in the dirt as he curved around a salvo of burst cannon fire toward the last Stealth Suit.

"IRON WITHOUT!" Tellis shouted as he plunged his other fist into the Tau battlesuit's chest armor.

Then the Iron Warrior jumped up into the air, raising one knee.

A sickening crack echoed through the clearing as the Fire Warrior Shas'ui plummeted down onto the Chaos Marine's leg, instantly shattering the soldier's armor, bones, and much of the rest of him.

"Blood for the Blood God," Tellis said calmly as he landed again, letting all three of his victims slide off onto the ground.

The Raptor Lord waited for applause, but didn't get much in the following seconds besides awkward coughing.

"I think I'm going to be sick..." Diamond Tiara mumbled weakly as Silver Spoon patted her on the back.

"Oi. Tough crowd," Tellis mumbled before he noticed his krak grenade on the ground a ways away from him.

"Oh, right, there's one more vehicle. Hold on a tick, kids."

As their "savior" went to work in disabling the last alien unit, Apple Bloom sadly walked up to Crabapple's remains, gazing forlornly at the blackened hole in its body shell.

"Do you think Miss Gaela can fix her?" Sweetie Belle asked as she walked up behind the red-headed pony. "You said she did that before, right?"

"Wait. Miss Gaela?" Diamond Tiara asked, jerking her head up.

"You mean that human engineer that lives with Twilight Sparkle?" Silver Spoon confirmed. "You know her?"

Apple Bloom nodded mutely.

"Then what the hay were you blubbering about if you can just get your dumb space pet fixed?!" Diamond snapped. "In fact, let's get her here right away! She can fix Glass Cannon too!"

"What if she can't?" Apple Bloom moped. "Or what if she won't? She ain't exactly the nicest person in the world. And she don't like Crabapple much."

An explosion interrupted the conversation, causing all the fillies to flinch reflexively.

The Tau lifter dropped to the ground, its engines and cloaking generator spewing smoke and fire.

"Damned thing was trying to sneak off," Tellis mumbled as he walked up to the ponies, "I guess it was programmed to make a break for it if its escort died."

The other fillies cringed at the renewed attention of the Iron Warrior, but Apple Bloom turned to meet the Astarte's blood-red gaze.

"Thanks fer savin' us, Mister Tellis."

"I did what now?" asked the Chaos Marine, stopping in front of the fillies. "I was just answering a distress call from this thing."

He pointed to the smoking wreck of Crabapple, and Apple Bloom sniffled pitifully.

"I'm just glad I made it here before the grayskins got away," the Raptor Lord said, saluting the probe sarcastically, "so kudos, scrap heap. Rust in peace."

Apple Bloom sniffled again, and then placed a hoof against the probe's unmoving leg.

Tellis stared for several seconds, and then turned toward Sweetie Belle. "Hey, what's with her?"

"Crabapple was more or less her pet," Sweetie Belle explained.

"You had an automata for a pet?" Tellis asked.

"Yeah, she was a little too attached to that thing," Diamond Tiara confessed. After seeing the other fillies speak to the psychotic warrior without quivering in terror, she decided that she could make an effort to do the same.

"That's weird. And therefore kind of cool," Tellis admitted.

The Iron Warrior walked over to the wreck and planted his hands on his hips.

"Do ya think she can be fixed?" Apple Bloom asked, looking up at the Raptor Lord.

Tellis took a long moment to stare at the scorched holes in Crabapple's plating.

Then he gave the automata wreck a swift kick, knocking it onto its other side and badly startling Apple Bloom.

"Did that help?" Tellis asked.

"Of course it didn't help!" Apple Bloom shouted angrily.

"Well, I'm out of ideas," the Iron Warrior admitted as his visor fed him streams of useful information that meant absolutely nothing to him, "but hey! You don't need that thing anyway! I'll hang out with you! We can play scavenger with all the dead bodies!"

Apple Bloom turned away. "Ah can't. Mah sis said Ah'm not allowed to hang out with you."

Tellis paused, considering that. "Wait, your sister actually said you're not allowed to be around Iron Warriors?"

"No, she said Ah'm not allowed to be around YOU, Mister Tellis," the yellow filly grumbled, "she said you're crazy and dangerous and Ah could get hurt."

"Wow, judgmental much?" the Raptor Lord said, turning on his heel. "Fine, whatever. I'll just play with the REST of the pony larvae that don't have obsessively responsible relatives with way too much foresight."

"Uhm, actually," Sweetie Belle said hesitantly, "my sister also said I'm not allowed to be around you."

A rumbling groan came from Tellis' vox grille. "Yeah, okay, great. You get to mope over the heaps of metal with the yellow one. Have fun with that."

"I didn't actually expect this to ever come up," Silver Spoon said suddenly, "but my parents warned me not to be around you as well, Mister Tellis."

"So did my father," Diamond Tiara admitted, glancing at Silver, "and I don't think our parents have even MET you."

Tellis stared long and hard at the fillies before finally glancing over to the one pony who hadn't spoken to him yet.

"What about you? The orange one," the Raptor asked Scootaloo. "What did your family say about me?"

Scootaloo's head sank toward the ground. "I don't have a family," she said sadly.

"Perfect!" barked the Chaos Marine.

Before Scootaloo could even think to respond to that, Tellis scooped her up in his hand and then dropped the young pegasus on his shoulder pad.

"I like pegasi better anyway. We out!"

The other fillies winced as Tellis blasted off into the air again, the roar of his flight pack almost completely drowning out a surprised yelp from Scootaloo.

As the noise became more distant, Diamond Tiara released a sigh.

"Well, I have to be honest: that could have gone worse."

"What do we do now?" Silver Spoon asked.

"BLOOOOOOOM?! Where are ya?!" came a distant shout, causing the remaining fillies to jump. The cry was followed by a dog's bark.

"That was Applejack and Winona!" Apple Bloom said, perking up slightly. "Sis musta noticed Ah was missin'. She'll find us in a jiffy with Winona's help!"

"Or she could just follow the smoke," Silver Spoon mumbled, glancing at the smoldering devilfish APC.

It was about at this point that Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle took a moment to really appreciate the full extent of the carnage that surrounded them. Two smoking hulks of alien vehicles, two automata wrecks, autocannon casings, dropped Tau weapons, broken battlesuits, corpses, shattered apple trees, and plenty of spilled blood now decorated this corner of the orchard.

"So... how exactly do we explain all this?" Sweetie Belle asked.

"Ah say we leave it up to the so-called 'leader'," Apple Bloom mumbled, pointing a hoof at Diamond Tiara.

"Bite me, blank flank."


About 300 meters above Ponyville

"Uhm, excuse me?" Scootaloo shouted against the roar of Tellis' flight pack. "Mister Tellis? Can you hear me?"

"Sure can, pony larvae! What's up?" the Iron Warrior answered.

"Can you slow down a little bit?"

"Yes, I can!"

"...... You're not slowing down!"

"What, you meant now? Fine, geez!"

Tellis cut his engine power considerably as he shifted his flight stance to a more upright position.

Scootaloo, who was clinging tightly to one of the chains wrapped over his shoulder pad, let out a sigh of relief. She wasn't particularly scared of heights or flight (insofar as she wanted to achieve both herself), but Tellis made a fairly shaky perch.

"Th-Thank you, Mister Tellis. Also, my name is Scootaloo," the orange filly mentioned.

"Cool! I'm Tellis, a Raptor of the Iron Warrior Legion! I'm also called the Mad Angel, but that's just one of those edgy nicknames that military groups give certain fighters to make seem scarier."

Scootaloo seemed skeptical. "It would be pretty hard to make you any scarier than you already are."

"I know, right? You really get me!"

Then Tellis cut his speed further into hover mode, his flight pack's scream reduced to a subdued hiss. "Feel free to hop off whenever. Give those dinky wings of yours a stretch!"

The orange filly winced. "I, uh... I can't. I... can't actually fly."

"Say what now?" Tellis asked, finally turning his helmet to look at the young pegasus.

"I can't fly," Scootaloo repeated, hanging her head, "my wings aren't strong enough. I can't even hover."

"Wow. Lame," Tellis admitted, "well, I suppose it's not THAT big a deal. Technically, I can't fly either."

Scootaloo cast a worried look down. "Um..."

"Well, obviously we're flying now, but that's because I'm wearing a pair of daemon-powered rocket engines," Tellis explained, "for all my awesome gene-enhancements and devotion to the God of Slaughter, I still can't strip naked and ply the skies like this."

He paused.

"For that matter, I can't even strip naked anymore. Daemon armor will do that to you."

Scootaloo turned her head to look at the ornate turbines rumbling next to her, deeply interested. "So, wait, you mean... I might be able to fly if I get one of those?"

Tellis snorted noisily. "Well, I can't really see you filling out a suit of power armor, but sure, you get the idea. If you have a weakness, don't waste your time moping about it, overcome it! Whether with tools, training, or bargaining your soul and future to a hateful Warp consciousness!"

"And maybe I can get my cutie mark along the way!" Scootaloo said brightly.

"Sure, why not? Marks are easy. I got mine in like half an hour and my kill count was barely in the triple digits at the time," Tellis said, tapping the vaguely skull-shaped glyph that was displayed on his shoulder pad, "but anyway, don't stress about it. Because whining agitates my blood lust, and I just cleared that up with the grayskin convoy."

Tellis started heading forward again, albeit at a somewhat sedate pace. Silence reigned for almost a full minute, broken only by the rumbling hiss of the Raptor's flight pack.

"So..." Scootaloo suddenly said to break the silence, "wanna hear all my stories about how great Rainbow Dash is?"

"Yes. Yes I do," Tellis replied solemnly, "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."


Sweet Apple Acres - main orchard

Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle smiled nervously as they stood in the middle of the blood-streaked clearing, staring up at Applejack. Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon maintained expressions of irritated disinterest, trying to pretend best they could that they had nothing to do with this. Big Macintosh and Winona were walking amongst the battlefield and taking stock of the destruction behind them (the former with a grim, stoic expression, the latter with oblivious canine joy).

"All right, go ahead. Ah'm listenin'." Applejack did not look happy.

"Well, it's kind of a long story..." Apple Bloom began.

"We got all day, Apple Bloom," Applejack said calmly, her icy stare fixed on her little sister.

"Uh... well... it's hard to explain," Apple Bloom said nervously as she scratched at her neck with her hoof, "but in a nutshell, it's all Diamond Tiara's fault."

"Oh, it is not!" the accused filly snapped.

"If you're going to make up lies, you could at least try to pin it on Scootaloo, since she's not here to defend herself," Silver Spoon scoffed.

"Ah ain't lyin'!" Apple Bloom protested. "Yer dang automata started all of this!"

"Glass Cannon wouldn't listen to me!" Diamond protested. "I told him specifically NOT to go looking for trouble in your dumb, alien-infested orchard!"

"You're still the one that brought him here!" Sweetie Belle protested.

"Glass Cannon was fine until Crabapple started making those noises that apparently meant she 'found something'," Silver Spoon pointed out with a sniff, "it seems obvious to me that it was YOUR automata that was dragging us into trouble, not Diamond's."

"Was not!" yelled Sweetie Belle.

"Was too!" Diamond Tiara yelled back.

A sharp crack echoed through the orchard as Applejack suddenly stomped on a pulse rifle, snapping the polyceramic casing apart under her hoof and causing all the fillies to flinch.

"All right, Ah think Ah get the gist of it," Applejack said coolly, "basically, the bots came out here, y'all had no clue what they were doin', and so ya followed 'em like a buncha lemmings. That about cover it?"

"Uh... yeah," Apple Bloom mumbled, looking forlornly at Crabapple.

"Well, that's not all," Diamond Tiara continued, "Glass Cannon only got a few of them before the grayskins got him. But then the Tau surrounded us and started talking until an Iron Warrior showed up."

Applejack's ear twitched. Tau skulking through her orchard was unfortunately something that couldn't be prevented, but the Chaos Space Marines shouldn't have been showing up on her property without her knowing about it.

She turned to look at one of the corpses, noting the four deep slashes that had gouged out the alien's chest while also cauterizing the wounds. They were fairly distinctive killing blows, and after several seconds she remembered where she had first seen a Tau die from similar injuries.

"Tellis," she hissed, gritting her teeth.

Really, Applejack couldn't be too upset at the Raptor for killing the aliens that had been threatening her sister, but the knowledge that the psychotic Iron Warrior was flying around Equestria looking for fights did nothing for her peace of mind.

"Yeah, it was him," Silver Spoon continued, "then he started talking to us, but we said we really weren't supposed to associate with him. So he nabbed Scootaloo and flew off."

Applejack raised an eyebrow. "Is she gonna be okay?"

"I think so. It didn't look like he wanted to hurt us. He actually seemed kind of friendly," admitted Sweetie Belle before glancing at the dead bodies, "putting aside all the murder, anyway."

"I agree, actually," Diamond Tiara said with a nod, "I only wish he had arrived earlier so that he might have saved Glass Cannon."

"And Crabapple," Sweetie Belle quickly added as Apple Bloom lowered her head sadly again.

"Well, it's awful hard to save somethin' that eager to run off and get itself shot," Applejack spat, "but that sure takes a load offa me, since now Ah don't hafta buck 'em to pieces mahself for almost gettin' y'all killed!"

Apple Bloom sniffled pitifully, and Applejack felt an icy dagger stab into her heart. She had a hard time accepting the fact, but to her younger sibling Crabapple was as much a beloved part of the family as Winona.

"Ah'm sorry, Sis," Apple Bloom started blubbering as the tears from when Crabapple was dispatched returned full force, and Applejack cringed.

"Aw shucks, it's okay," the orange mare said softly as she placed a calming hoof over her sister, "Ah'm sorry Ah'm so worked up. Ah didn't mean it. Much. When ya get right down to it, it's all the dang grayskins' fault fer sneakin' through our land like they own the joint."

"Well, they certainly paid the price this time, at least," Silver Spoon mumbled as she glanced at a gutted Stealth Suit.

Applejack sighed and glanced at the wrecked automata as Apple Bloom sobbed into her chest. "All right, here's what we're gonna do. Ya'll take Winona and go straight to the house. Me and Mac will get the tin heaps carried into the barn, and then Ah'll go find Gaela and ask if she can fix 'em up. But y'all stay in the house until Ah say so, hear?"

"Yes, Miss Applejack," muttered Silver, Diamond, and Sweetie.

"Thank yah, Sis," Apple Bloom sniffled, "Ah love ya so much!"

"Ah love ya too, ya little pest," Applejack said with a sad smile, "now git on home. Ah think you've done enough fer today."

After seeing the young ponies off, Applejack heaved a heavy sigh and turned toward Big Macintosh.

"Every time Ah think we're done with these dang space wars, we get dragged back in. And the blasted grayskins are STILL roamin' around our land!"

"Eeyup," Big Macintosh agreed. He was currently looking over the Tau cargo lifter, and specifically the shell over the cargo bed.

"Ah mean, what're the humans doin' if the Tau still have soldiers to spare to crawl around here? Why don't they just CRUSH the varmints?"

Big Macintosh didn't answer this time, as he didn't really have much of an opinion as to the Iron Warriors' combat strategies.

He was looking over the cargo shell and had found a small part of it that he was guessing was the locking mechanism.

Applejack noticed her brother's inattention. "What's up Mac? Ya find somethin' interestin'?"

"Eeyup." The devilfish had been utterly destroyed and reduced to blackened scraps, but the lifter had merely been immobilized. It was also fairly obvious that it was hauling something large that hadn't yet been revealed. Even if he didn't have any particular interest in alien artifacts (he had plenty already, including his home), his curiosity was piqued.

Big Macintosh turned around and took aim for a kick.

Applejack quirked an eyebrow as her brother slammed his back legs into the cargo bed, causing the entire vehicle to shake from the impact and cracking the outer layers of polyceramic armoring.

It took two more strong kicks before the locking mechanism shattered completely, letting the cargo shell crack open once there was nothing holding it closed.

The Apple siblings pushed the shell off of the cargo bed, shoving the cracked plating off the vehicle and onto the ground with the rest of the wreckage.

Applejack tilted her head to one side.

In the bed of the vehicle was some sort of... alien thing. It was the size of an outhouse and roughly cylindrical, with a few parts sticking out on both ends and several wire sockets. The entire device was made of dark metal run through with luminous green strips, and was secured tightly to the lifter bed with clamps.

Applejack couldn't count herself an expert on machines of any sort, much less the alien kind, but she didn't remember seeing anything like it in Ferrous Dominus.

She saw Big Mac looking over the artifact. "So what do ya think, Mac?"

The red stallion spent a few minutes looking over the thing in silence, staring closely at the plugs and protrusions and occasionally tapping it gingerly with his hoof.

"It don't look like a weapon," Big Mac decided, squinting into one of the plug sockets, "there's no movin' parts that Ah can see, and these things look like slots fer somethin'. There's no buttons or switches neither. Ah reckon it's a part."

Applejack raised an eyebrow. "A part of what?"

"Dunno," Big Macintosh said, "Ah'd need to see the rest to wager a guess."

"But yer pretty sure it won't explode on us?" Applejack asked as she tapped the end of the artifact.

Big Macintosh shrugged.

"Well, nothing fer it. Let's get the wagon and get it back to the barn along with the bots."

Big Mac raised an eyebrow as he and Applejack headed back.

Applejack noticed the gesture and felt an explanation was in order. "Ah don't know what that thing is, but if it's important at all to the Tau, then Ah want to hand it over to the humans. Ah'll have Gaela take a look at it along with Crabapple, and then she can take it off our hooves. Got it?"



Sweet Apple Acres - one hour later

"Have you ever thought of setting up a junk yard, Apple Bloom?" asked Diamond Tiara.

"Oh, hah hah," the redhead replied sarcastically.

"No, actually I'm being serious," Diamond insisted, her face unusually thoughtful, "you have a good start here, and there's definitely a market for random pieces of alien technology. And your family may need an extra income stream if your harvests keep getting interrupted by alien attacks."

The fillies were currently sitting in the Apples' barn, which now contained the entire wreckage of one Mechanicus gunship, a rhino APC, the two destroyed automatas, and now the unidentified Tau artifact. Tau small arms were piled in a heap in the corner, and large pieces of other wrecks, both human and Tau, leaned against the wall.

The barn now contained more in the way of space-age machinery (or at least its mangled remnants) than farming supplies and equipment, which rather served to underline Diamond's point.

Big Macintosh was currently moving around pieces of machinery to see if he could make room for the Tau lifter. Bringing it in from the orchard would be quite a chore, but the vehicle was still in fairly good shape, and just like Diamond Tiara he was convinced that they'd be able to pawn this junk off sooner or later.

"You think we could get our cutie marks that way?" Sweetie Belle perked up.

"I think that constantly being around alien war machines while they're blowing up is less a special talent and more a string of awful luck," Silver Spoon pointed out with a sniff, "besides, at most only Apple Bloom would get the mark. The rest of you shouldn't get credit for following her around."

Winona started barking from outside, and Big Macintosh turned away from the salvage that littered the barn to look outside.

"Is Gaela here?" Apple Bloom asked eagerly, rushing to the door.

"Eeyup," the stallion replied, turning back around and returning to his earlier task.

"Ah really appreciate ya taking time out to see us again," Applejack said as she headed toward the barn, Winona yapping happily next to her.

Gaela and Twilight followed behind her, the former with her mask disengaged.

"On the contrary," Gaela replied, "the acquisition and study of a xeno artifact is a matter of great interest to me. I would have been out to see it regardless of whether you specifically requested my help."

"Well, that's true Ah guess," Applejack continued with a wide smile, "but y'all have done a lot fer us Apples, and Ah wanted ya to know I'm really grateful. It means a lot to all of us that we have a friend like you we can count on to help with all this messy alien stuff."

"If this is some kind of circuitous way of appealing for me to repair that blasted probe automata, it isn't working," Gaela deadpanned.

"Gaela!" Twilight admonished, banging a hoof against the Dark Acolyte's leg armor. "That was incredibly rude! Applejack was just trying to be sincere in thanking you, and you..."

Twilight trailed off as she noticed that Applejack was looking off to the side with her muzzle scrunched up, saying nothing.

"Right, never mind," Twilight said with a sigh, "but still, she was at least being subtle about it, so you could show the same effort."

The Dark Acolyte made a non-committal grunt as she approached the entrance of the barn.

"Miss Gaela! You're here!" shouted Apple Bloom as she rushed to meet the human woman. "Crabapple, she's-"

"Not now," Gaela said calmly, stepping past Apple Bloom without even glancing at the filly.

Once she entered the barn proper, Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon sat up straighter. They had both seen humans at Ferrous Dominus, and even the less common Chaos Space Marines, but they never really met any of them. And inexperience aside, Gaela cut quite an intimidating figure in her power armor and cloak, especially as she had brought along her axe as always.

"So you're Miss Gaela," Diamond Tiara said, her head tilting upward further and further as the Dark Acolyte approached, "I'm-"

"Not now," Gaela said again, stepping past the other fillies and heading straight toward the Tau artifact.

She stopped just a meter away from it. Her servo limbs twitched and shifted, as if they were getting anxious, and her mechadendrites seeped from the fingers of her bionic arm in anticipation.

"What do you think it is?" Twilight asked, walking up behind her.

"If ya want it, ya can have it," Applejack said, "them grayskins were trying to sneak it through mah orchard!"

"Uhm, Miss Gaela? Do ya think ya could take a look at Crabapple first?" Apple Bloom asked meekly.

"Hey, why do you get to go first? Let her fix Glass Cannon! I have to go home!" Diamond Tiara complained.

Gaela's bionic eye pulsed, and then she turned toward Big Mac, much to the stallion's surprise.

"Macintosh. Clear the barn immediately. No one but you is to stay in here until I'm finished with the artifact."

Every pony there looked alarmed at the command, but Big Mac nodded firmly, his eyes narrowed. "Eeyup."

Twilight and Applejack were already backing away, but Apple Bloom looked like she was starting to panic.

"Wait, is that thing dangerous? Shouldn't we move Crabapple then?"

"Nope," Macintosh walked over and nudged his youngest sister toward the entrance with his head.

"But Mac, what if-"

"Apple Bloom, stop arguin' and get over here!" Applejack barked. "Let her do her thing already!"

Apple Bloom reluctantly trudged outside, and as soon as she was clear Big Macintosh hit the button on the side of the entrance.

The blast door to the barn slid down into place, and soon the mares and fillies were separated from Big Mac and Gaela by three inches of durasteel.

Almost a full minute passed before Twilight spoke up.

"Wait, why is Big Macintosh in there with her? Why wouldn't he stay out here with us?"

"Ah dunno Twi, maybe she needs his help with somethin'?" Applejack guessed.

"Well, what could he help her with that I couldn't? I should be in there!" Twilight protested.

Applejack rolled her eyes. "Well, don't tell that to me! But Gaela said only Mac could stay, so if ya ask me - and ya are - we should let her work with Mac. She's the professional."

Twilight started to grind her teeth, and Applejack turned her attention to the fillies. "All right everypony, we've had a pretty stressful day so far, and there might be a chance that the barn could explode. So why don't we head in for some nice apple cobbler while we wait for all that crazy science to finish up?"

"Yes, Miss Applejack," said the fillies with varying levels of disappointment and formality. They started heading for the farmstead.

"Is that a vision slit? I can watch from out here, then!" Twilight was standing against the blast doors, her wings flapping to bring her up to the human-height firing slit that was built into the barn door (naturally).

"You too Twi, come on." Applejack bit onto the end of her tail and tugged her away from the barn, eliciting a pleading whimper from the alicorn as she was dragged away.


Ponyville - Fluttershy's cottage

Fluttershy was prepared for some things to change since she was now hosting a crazed, bloodthirsty Iron Warrior in her home. She had already braced herself for the very worst, imagining animals disappearing, holes being smashed in her walls, and bloodstains covering every surface.

However, what she found when she returned home from treating a sick pet NOTHING could have prepared her for.

"Ha! Attacker down! That's a turnover!" laughed Scootaloo as she pointed to the hololithic die roll.

"Augh! Re-roll! I'm going to re-roll that one!" Tellis shouted, his hands gripping the edges of Fluttershy's dining table hard enough to crack the surface.

"No, you can't! You already re-rolled your extra move distance with your minotaur!" Scootaloo claimed, pointing her tiny orange hoof up at the Iron Warrior.

Tellis growled a profanity that his helmet vox automatically covered with a loud bleeping noise. "You sure picked up the rules to this quick... fine, my beastman's down. Your turn."

Fluttershy blinked. For about the ninth time in a row.

Tellis and Scootaloo were on opposite sides of her dinner table, the former on his knees so that he didn't tower too high over the table while the latter just sat on the edge of the table itself. Between the two was a hololithic projector in the shape of a game board, generating the image of numerous little characters arranged in a grid.

Scootaloo wet her lips as she tapped a hololithic elf with her hoof, and then tapped an empty spot on the grid. The game piece entered a running animation and then jogged over to the empty square.

"Oh, hey Shy," Tellis said as he leaned one elbow on the table and then rested his head on top of his fist, "welcome home."

"Wh-What... What's going on here?" Fluttershy asked cautiously. She was almost certain that this was better than her various expected scenarios, but she still found it extremely puzzling.

"It's called Blood Bowl. You can play winner, if you want," Tellis mumbled.

"Which will be me," Scootaloo said with a grin as she went about her turn.

"Hey! The game isn't over yet, you little orange BLEEP!" the Iron Warrior snapped.

"The score is three to zero and there are only four turns left," Scootaloo pointed out.

"BLEEP! you, blank flank," Tellis grumbled.

None of this was very helpful to Fluttershy, who still didn't understand what they were doing or why Scootaloo was alone in her house with Tellis.

"Uhm, is that yours, Mister Terrifying Murderer?" Fluttershy asked, cautiously walking up to the table and beckoning to the hololithic projector.

"Yeah. No offense Shy, but your place doesn't have a lot of options for entertainment. So I went to that market set up by that Delgan guy to try and find something for us to do, and he offered to give me this thing if I promised never to come back without actual money."

"I still think it's weird that you guys don't get paid like all the weaker soldiers," Scootaloo noted as she squinted at the angle for her pass.

"It doesn't come up that often, but yeah, it is kind of BLEEP! up, isn't it?" Tellis asked.

"Throwing a pass!" Scootaloo sang happily as she tapped her player with the ball and then another player to receive. A pair of hololithic dice flashed on her side of the board, eventually settling on a four and a two. "Pass successful, and I'm using the catch skill." With another tap, the second die flashed again and became a five. "It's a catch! Yes!"

"BLEEP!" went Tellis.

"Touchdown!" Scootaloo cheered as her hololithic elf made its run into the end zone.


"Mister Murderer, what's wrong with your voice?" Fluttershy asked, wincing at the barrage of obnoxious noises.

"I set my BLEEP! vox to language filter mode. I can get worked up when I play games without the catharsis of actual violence," the Iron Warrior grumbled, "and there are younglings present."

"I'm surprised you would do that," Fluttershy admitted frankly before she paused, "actually, I'm very surprised by everything here. And here I thought that going a full day without hurting another living creature would prove impossible for you."

"Luckily, that wasn't an issue. Found a Tau convoy earlier in the apple grove," Tellis explained as Scootaloo kicked off to him.

"He cut them apart like so much hay," Scootaloo said as she stared intently at the board, "it was kind of gross."

"Blood for the Blood God, shrimp."

Fluttershy spent a few seconds digesting this information, and then walked past the two toward the kitchen. "Well, even so, this is still much better than what I expected. Scootaloo, do you want to stay for dinner?"

"Okay, Miss Fluttershy! Thanks!" Scootaloo said.

"Hey Shy, you know any good orphan jokes? This brat claims she doesn't, if you can believe that."

"There's no such thing as a 'good' orphan joke!" Scootaloo protested.

"You must have heard at least one or two mediocre ones, though, right?"

"Hurry up and take your turn, Tellis."

Fluttershy sighed wearily as she entered her kitchen, mumbling under her breath. "Just two months. Just two months. Just two months..."


Sweet Apple Acres

Although Twilight expressed the most palpable relief when Big Macintosh arrived to invite them back into the barn, Applejack felt as if the two-hour wait had definitely been hardest on her. Putting aside her nervousness about her barn possibly blowing up and taking her brother with it, Twilight had grilled her and the fillies exhaustively on the details of the encounter and what had been left behind. And then she went on to complain about the girls not having complete control of their machines, and about Tellis having no restraint in butchering enemy soldiers right in front of young and (presumably) easily traumatized young ponies.

Applejack even had to listen to a rambling lecture about how Big Macintosh shouldn't have forced open the Tau hauler and damaged it, as if it had been HER decision.

"Well, Ah didn't hear no explosions, so Ah guess Gaela took care of it," the orange mare sighed as they approached the barn again.


"Of course she did. I'm sure we were never in any REAL danger with her around," Twilight said confidently.

Applejack rolled her eyes as they walked into the barn again.

The interior was filled with the scent of strange incense, and they could see Gaela kneeling over the alien artifact with a pattern of strange geometric patterns cut into the wooden palette that the device was resting on.

The artifact itself had been opened up out of its case, but its interior was even more mysterious and unfathomable to the ponies than the casing.

"Gaela, you finished disarming it?" Twilight said, eagerly, rushing ahead of the others.

Gaela favored the alicorn with a sidelong glance, her helmet engaged and her optics extended. "No."

That response stopped her and every other pony short, their eyes widening.

"Wait, ya mean that thing's still dangerous?" Applejack said, quickly rushing to stand in front of her little sister.

"Negative," Gaela replied again, "I mean that it was never dangerous, and there was never anything to 'disarm'. I did not suggest otherwise."

This left the ponies fairly stunned.

"Wait, then why did you clear out everypony except Big Macintosh?" Twilight asked.

"Because he's the only one of you that can remain silent for an extended period of time while I work," Gaela answered bluntly as she stood up, "disassembling and analyzing an alien device is hard enough without being badgered by inane questions and requests."

While the female ponies looked quite irritated by the explanation, Big Macintosh nodded with a self-satisfied - and quiet - smile.

"Oh, whatever. Did you figure anything out?" Twilight asked irritably.

"A great deal. Unfortunately, that's raised many more questions," Gaela admitted, "the analysis went quite smoothly because this device is based on human technology that the Tau adapted, not something they developed on their own."

"What, did they steal it during the attack on yer fort?" Applejack asked.

"Impossible. This has clearly been through years, possibly decades of development before it reached the Centaur system. But just as you guessed, it's a part of a greater device."

"What kind of device?" Twilight asked, already levitating her pen and parchment in front of her.

"I don't know what it's a part of, but I have a good idea of what this particular piece is supposed to do. It's based on Warp engine technology."

That meant nothing to most of ponies, but as Twilight scribbled down notes she recalled where she had heard that term before. "That has something to do with your ships, right? Or was it that thing that empowered psykers? I remember hearing it mentioned often when discussing the nature of Chaos."

"It's both. And much more," Gaela half-explained, "but a comprehensive explanation of the Warp could take days in order for you to achieve basic understanding. It's enough that you know it's the primary method of superluminal travel for human ships."

Twilight was actually the only one who understood what "superluminal" was or why it mattered, but they kept quiet as Twilight rubbed a hoof against her chin.

"So that means that this is used to send vehicles into the Warp?"

Gaela shook her head. "Negative. That's the confusing and questionable part. A Warp device of this size and rudimentary function is completely infeasible; at best, it could tear open a space the size of a pinhole for a fraction of a second, and anything you sent through it would probably be liquefied by the residual energy levels around the tear before it even entered the Warp. Its lack of power and stability renders it absolutely useless for every actual function that Warp engines are normally used for."

Gaela's helmet let out a loud hiss as it disengaged, and she continued speaking as the plates of metal and electronics shifted away from her face.

"This makes some degree of sense; the Tau have always envied human Warp technology, but lack the fundamental understanding of the principles involved as well as the more specialized tools that make Warp travel feasible. Honestly, it's rather impressive that they've managed to make a device of this complexity. That does beg the question of what they thought they were going to use it for, however."

Twilight continued taking notes as Applejack squinted suspiciously at the artifact.

"So maybe it isn't complete yet? They might have been taking it to their main base to study it, or modify it," Twilight guessed.

"That seems unlikely, given that their main base is standing in the shadow of Ferrous Dominus and thus perpetually in danger of elimination," Gaela mumbled, "it can't possibly be safer to handle the artifact there than wherever this came from. The fact that it was constructed as part of a greater whole makes me think that it simply has some function that I haven't considered."

"Well, as long as it ain't gonna blow up mah farm," Applejack mumbled, "so do you wanna cart it outta here to yer fort?"

"I do," Gaela replied, "but I cannot."

"How's that, sugarcube?"

"At present I am unable to call for transport out of Ferrous Dominus. In addition, Master Delgan is unwilling to send any of his transports back to the fortress."

The ponies all stared up at the Dark Acolyte.

"Why?" Applejack finally asked.

"As with the Warp, it would take more time than it's worth to explain in full," Gaela mumbled, "but in summary, it's all Pinkie Pie's fault."

"Ah," responded Twilight and Applejack as Big Macintosh nodded.

"In any case, I believe it would be best to keep it with Delgan, at the very least," Gaela continued, "he commands a fair amount of firepower and the Tau may make a move to take it back."

Applejack grimaced. "Good point. Best we move it on outta here as soon as we can."

"I will meet with him immediately to make arrangements," Gaela said, stepping toward the barn entrance, "while we're at it, he can also take some of the parts from..."

She trailed off as her escape route out of the barn was suddenly cut off by a white and a yellow filly. They said nothing, but stared up at her with wide, glistening eyes.

Gaela's expression hardened. "I am NOT repairing the probe again. Get out of my way."

"But... But WHY?" Apple Bloom asked, sniffling. Sweetie Belle silently kept her sad face on to back up Apple Bloom, trying to overwhelm the Acolyte with pity.

"Because I despise it personally," Gaela said bluntly, "mostly for the same reasons that you seem to have developed actual empathy for it. I see no possible reconciliation of our points of view."

Twilight winced. "Gaela, I think-"

"On this matter, Sparkle, I do not wish to hear your opinion," the Dark Acolyte interrupted, "I find my practice satisfying, and for that reason alone I perform labor for the citizens of Ponyville. As soon as I am asked to perform a service which I would find unsatisfying and in fact aggravating, I am well within right and reason to refuse."

"Well, will you fix Glass Cannon, then?" Diamond Tiara asked, raising her foreleg as if she were in class.

"I presume that is the designation of the Tykan pattern combat automata wreck on the side?" Gaela asked. "Fine. I will have it picked up with the artifact and parts so that I can fix it elsewhere. I'll probably need to salvage..."

Gaela trailed off again as she looked downward. Apple Bloom was now standing up on her hind legs with her forelegs braced against Gaela's greaves, staring straight up with huge, moist, shimmering eyes while sniffling pitifully.

"What is she doing now?" Gaela demanded. "Is she trying to restrain me physically?"

"She's... uh..." Twilight took a moment to think of a definition of puppy-dog eyes that Gaela would understand. "She's trying to provoke an emotional response of guilt and pity in order to get a more sympathetic decision out of you."

"I see. It's not working. Now make her stop," the Dark Acolyte demanded, tearing her gaze away from the yellow filly.

Then she felt a heavier pressure against her hip.

Applejack had a hoof placed upon the cyborg woman, a hopeful smile on her face.

"Now Miss Gaela, Ah know Crabapple ain't yer favorite, and Ah know she gets on mah nerves sometimes too. But it would really mean a lot to mah little sis if ya could patch 'er up."

The Dark Acolyte's eyebrow twitched. "If you have any understanding of my situation, you would be appealing to your relative to cease her pointless..."

Once again she was interrupted, this time by an even heavier pressure on her other side. Big Macintosh had slid under her left arm and was leaning his considerable bulk against her as his half-lidded gaze tilted up to meet her increasingly unsettled one.

He said nothing, content that the Apples' intent was already perfectly clear. It was easily the most persuasive appeal she had received so far.

"I don't want to do it!" Gaela shouted, although she sounded curiously distressed. "You can't make me! I will not succumb to your crude psychological tricks!"

"Gaela, it wouldn't hurt anything to at least look at Crabapple, would it?" Twilight asked, smiling nervously as the Dark Acolyte was practically smothered in earth ponies. "And really, would it be THAT bad for it to be around again? How many problems could it cause for you if it were working?"

Gaela sputtered several unintelligible noises for a few seconds.

And then Winona stood up onto her leg like Apple Bloom, whimpering sadly.

"All right! All right! Fine! Get off of me!" she yelled, flailing her arms angrily.

The Apple family quickly backed away, suddenly all happy smiles.

"Ya mean it, Miss Gaela? You'll fix her?" Apple Bloom asked, her eyes tearing up with joy.

"Every single word you say to me can only increase my sense of regret for this decision," Gaela snapped as she clutched her axe, "I will repair the combat automata first. This will take substantially longer than studying the artifact, though, and I'm sure I'll have to get parts from the wrecks."

"Hey, thanks!" Diamond Tiara said simply, refraining from the tearful, heartfelt outpour that Apple Bloom favored. Besides the fact that she wasn't nearly as attached to her own automata, it seemed like the Dark Acolyte didn't really appreciate such displays.

"You may as well leave or arrange lodging here for the night," Gaela continued, "the damage is significant, and it's getting late. I will not be able to complete the repairs today."

"I suppose we should head home, then," Silver Spoon said to Diamond Tiara, heading out of the barn.

"Sure. We'll be back tomorrow!"

"And good riddance," Apple Bloom mumbled as the two wealthy fillies left.

"I guess I should go too," Sweetie Belle said, "I have a lot to tell Rarity when I get back!"

"Oh, please do," Applejack grumbled, "Ah shouldn't have to be the only one bein' worried sick over this."

"Is there anything I can do to help?" Twilight asked.

"Yes. The Tau lifter was not completely destroyed in the battle, correct?" Gaela asked.

Big Mac took a moment to recall the state of the cargo hauler. "Eeyup."

"Good. Sparkle, Macintosh, go drag it back here. There may be system components I can use."



"Apple Bloom?" Gaela asked as Twilight and Big Macintosh galloped off.

The redheaded filly perked up. "Yeah? Can Ah help?"

"Get out and don't come back until I call for you," Gaela finished.

Apple Bloom wilted and trudged out of the barn, grumbling to herself.

"Ya have quite a way with kids, don'cha?" Applejack asked as she was eventually left alone with the Dark Acolyte. In most circumstances she might have resented such treatment of her little sister, but she could hardly fault the Mechanicus woman for being unhappy with the way she'd been pressed into service like this.

"I dislike emotional appeals on principle," Gaela said coldly as her mask started moving back into place, "sympathy is a by-product of pity. Pity is the root of mercy. Mercy is an unforgivable weakness of the mind."

Applejack quirked an eyebrow. "'Round here it's usually thought of as a good thing."

"Perhaps that's why you need to call upon the raving lunatics of Chaos to eject alien invaders from your property," Gaela mumbled as she started picking at the wreckage of Glass Cannon.

"Huh. Yeah, Ah guess you've got me there," Applejack admitted, "but anyway, just lemme know when yer ready to hit the hay, sugarcube. Ah'll have a room and some hot cider ready fer ya."

"I'll take water. I dislike what sugar does to my brain chemistry," Gaela insisted as she started taking apart the automata casing.

"Sure thing, sugarcube," Applejack said, walking up to the Dark Acolyte and tapping a hoof against her armored leg, "and thank you. Ah really mean it."

"It is nothing," Gaela mumbled.

"It AIN'T nothin'," Applejack protested, causing Gaela to pause, "Ah know the Company don't get along with Equestria in general, what with that Chaos and evil hullabaloo, but you humans have always done right by us Apples. From drivin' them Tau varmints from our land again and again to rebuildin' our farm, we owe ya'll a lot."

Gaela halted her work briefly and glanced toward the orange pony.

"... You DO realize that every incursion and offense by the Tau was a direct response to the Company's actions, right? If it weren't for us, your property would have likely remained untouched."

Applejack snorted. "Yeah, Twi said the same thing, and maybe it's true. But even so, the grayskins ain't offered us nothin' fer what they done but more trouble. You've done more fer us than we can repay. Ah just..."

Applejack trailed off uncertainly, working out what she wanted to say in her head. "Sometimes Ah feel like we ponies kind of treat y'all like tools or somethin', ya know? We're plenty quick to accept yer help or yer stuff, but then as soon as yer done we'd rather be rid of ya."

"It's an understandable point of view, especially considering our philosophical differences," Gaela mumbled.

"Well, the Apple 'philosophy' is better'n that," Applejack insisted, "yer not perfect, but Ah owe ya, and so does mah whole family. You and Daniels are real important friends of ours."

Gaela mulled over the sentiment in silence for several more seconds, and then eventually turned her head back toward Glass Cannon. "You're... You're welcome."

She almost stumbled over the words as they left her mouth, so unfamiliar was she with the turn of phrase. "I need to start working now."

Applejack smirked slightly as she walked out of the barn. "Sure thing, sugarcube. Just holler if ya need somethin'."



"Well, personally I don't see what the royal family's problem is with the humans anyway. If they aren't shooting at us and they're willing to trade with us, what's the problem?" Silver Spoon asked as she and Diamond Tiara walked through Ponyville's town perimeter.

Diamond Tiara frowned. "Father says it has to do with those circle and arrow symbols everywhere. I think it's their religion that's bad."

"Well that's awfully judgmental, don't you think?" Silver countered. "Are we really going to blame them for having the wrong religion?"

"No, no, it's not just wrong, it's BAD," Diamond Tiara clarified.

"We don't know that they're ALL like Mister Tellis," the gray filly insisted, "some of them might be really nice!"

Diamond rolled her eyes. "Remember the party at the fortress?"

Silver Spoon fell silent as she recalled her memories from that night.

"Okay, I guess I never realized until then that you could actually maim something with a pillow," she admitted, "but still, if they're willing to fight on our side I think we could at least give them a chance."

"I don't know, Silver. When Princess Celestia doesn't want something around, I kind of want to give her the benefit of the doubt."

The pink filly looked up toward her front door. "Well, here's my place. Meet up with me tomorrow so we can go pick up Glass Cannon, okay?"

"Okay! See you then!"

Silver Spoon galloped off, and then Diamond Tiara entered her front door and walked past the foyer.

"Daddy, I'm home!" she shouted as she turned toward the stairs that led up to her room.

"How was your day, sweetie?" Filthy Rich shouted back.

"Bad! I need another automata!" she started walking up the stairs.

"... What? Why? What happened to the first one I got you?" asked her father as he poked his head out of the office.

"Aliens attacked. Glass Cannon won't be fixed until tomorrow," Diamond said in explanation as she continued up the stairs, "I think I'll need two bodyguards to visit Sweet Apples Acres from now on. The place is lousy with grayskins."

"But... How did... Are you... Why..."

Filthy Rich sputtered half-completed thoughts as his daughter reached the second story, unable to come to terms with what he was hearing.

"The whole experience was very terrifying and traumatic, so I'll take supper in my room," Diamond said as she opened her bedroom door, "thanks Daddy."

The door slammed shut, leaving Filthy Rich gaping wordlessly at the stairwell.


Ponyville - Delgan's Trailer, the following day

"Really? Warp tech in a Tau artifact?"

Norris Delgan steepled his fingers as Twilight and Rarity stood in front of him, the former nodding.

"That's what Gaela decided when she studied it. She thought it would be best if you stored the artifact until you were able to get it back to the fortress."

The Trademaster leaned back and stroked his mustache. "I see. Well, far be it from me to defy the Dark Acolyte. More importantly, I've reached the point where I'll gladly dig through the guts of wrecked vehicles just to find something to sell. My market's become nearly barren of inventory."

"Oh, but the pict-captures you used to fill the shelves were quite lovely, I thought," Rarity said with a smile, "I took one for my sewing room of a binary star system collapsing from gravitational decay! It's simply stunning!"

Delgan nodded absently, and then paused. "You 'took' it, or you 'bought' it?"

"Your inventory is my inventory, darling," Rarity answered, smirking, "and did you really think I'd pay that ridiculous mark-up? They cost almost nothing to produce. Just because I'm generous doesn't mean I don't know a scam when I see one."

"Anyway," Delgan cleared his throat, "I'll be happy to take possession of the artifact, since that way I'll also get credit for turning it over to the Warsmith. I'll gather a team and head out with you to the agri-facility at once."

"Great!" Twilight said as she levitated the door open, "you get everything you need. We'll be waiting at the edge of the market to leave."

As Twilight and Rarity left the trailer, the former turned toward the latter.

"So how have you been doing, Rarity? I know you've been working with Mister Delgan a lot, and I haven't seen you around as often this past week. Is working for him hard?"

"Not hard, really. Just tedious. And slightly unnerving," the unicorn admitted, lowering her voice, "I do hope you're keeping mum about our relationship. I could be in a lot of trouble if it's exposed."

Twilight frowned. "Why? He's not asking you to do anything illegal, is he?"

"Something you learn very quickly under Norris Delgan is that 'legal' is a surprisingly flexible concept," Rarity mumbled, "I pity the law-pony that tries to cross that man."

Then she shook her head. "But to get back to your question, I've actually been doing quite well. In addition to my 'partnership', I've also managed to completely catch up on my order backlog thanks to that servitor." She made a face. "It was difficult to work with at first, though."

"Oh? It was hard to figure out the commands?" Twilight asked, deeply interested in the matter.

"Not at all, the blasted thing is simply ugly as sin," Rarity said as she adopted a gagging expression, "I couldn't concentrate when it was around until I covered its face with a hood."

Twilight rolled her eyes and returned her attention to their surroundings as the two ponies reached the makeshift market space.

The first thing that Twilight noticed was that everyone around - mostly humans, as expected - was eating doughnuts.

The second thing she noticed was Pinkie Pie.

"Hi Twilight! Have a doughnut!" chirped the energetic pink pony.

The third thing she noticed, which really should have been the first thing, was the Chaos Space Marine holding large boxes presumably filled with more doughnuts.

The purple alicorn blinked repeatedly. "Uh... Dest? Is that you?" She didn't speak nervously or happily or with any particular tone to her question; she really had no idea how to feel that there was an Iron Warrior dispensing baked goods in Ponyville.

"It is," Dest said with the usual vox-growl that his helmet emitted, "we come bearing chocolate and vanilla pastries," he lifted up the boxes balanced on his left hand, "and various filled doughnuts as well," he lifted his right hand, "although it was indicated that these consumables were specifically for Master Delgan's staff, so I don't believe Sparkle is entitled to one."

"Yoink!" Rarity said as a flare of blue magic snatched a chocolate doughnut from the box.

"That's okay," Twilight said quickly, "I'm just a little surprised to see you. I thought all the Company troops were stuck in Ferrous Dominus."

"They ARE," Dest confirmed, "which is partially why I'm here. With no vehicle patrols outside the base and such heavy troop numbers within it, there's nothing for me to do."

He lowered the box of jelly doughnuts briefly so that a money trader could get one.

"I got tired of being held in reserve indefinitely. I also decided, given my central role in the affair, that it would be wise to leave while our vice-commander is still upset about the party last week."

Twilight tilted her head to the side. "But if no transports are leaving the fortress, how did you get here?"

"I walked," Dest replied flatly, lowering the other box of pastries for a guard, "it was quite a trip, too. Did you know your planet has alligators made of rocks?"

"Isn't Desty great? We can make all our deliveries without a wagon now!" Pinkie said brightly, popping up over the Iron Warrior's backpack.

Twilight considered going to the next of the obvious questions and asking why the super-soldier was apparently helping out at Sugar Cube Corner, but decided to curb her curiosity. Dest was one of the more sensible and sane Iron Warriors she knew, and she didn't really think it mattered why he decided that he'd rather labor in Ponyville than lounge around Ferrous Dominus.

"Hey! Hey! Can we come with you to look at the fancy Tau thingy at Applejack's farm?" Pinkie said excitedly from where she was sitting behind Dest's helmet.

Twilight frowned. "I'm not going to ask how you know about that, but aren't you on the job right now?"

Pinkie cocked her head to the side. "So?"

"The Cakes give her several hours to complete every delivery assigned to her," Dest explained as he tossed away an empty box, "to take into account her tendency to get distracted and forget that she's making a delivery. According to the proprietor, so far I've cut her usual trip time by nine-tenths on average just by accompanying her, since I'm more difficult to divert."

"He's my transport!" Pinkie Pie giggled.

There was an awkward silence following the exclamation.

"You know, like the rhinos? That he drives? So he's like-"

"We get it, Pinkie," Twilight deadpanned, "if you want to come along, that's fine."


Rarity gulped down a small cup of milk from a nearby table, and then noticed Delgan beckoning from the side of a chimera APC. "I believe our ride is prepared, girls. Let's go."


Sweet Apple Acres - barn

+By the power of the Machine Spirit and before the omniscient auguries of the Omnissiah do I restore and bless this power core. Let the darkness fuel your logic engine and bring life to the inert flesh of your iron carapace. Capacitors, circuits, actuators: awaken.+

Gaela chanted in heavily distorted binary as her mechadendrites dueled with the grasping wires of Crabapple's interior. Her laser welder hissed softly as it sealed the repaired power core, and she could feel the entire body of the probe twitching underneath her weight.

It was... strange trying to fix something alive. The probe actually wanted to live. She'd never repaired any of the Iron Warriors' daemon engines before, but she could only assume they were much the same way. Her usual methods for repairing automata still worked as normal, but they were constantly helped along or complicated by Crabapple's still-living processor.

Even though the machine was, in all practical respects, broken, the sentient cogitator survived within the ruined shell despite being cut off from its source of power and sensory inputs. It was rather like repairing a damaged vehicle with the pilot still inside and trying to help. Gaela wasn't entirely sure anymore if Crabapple was a sentient probe, or merely a daemonic mind that had taken residence within the workings of a probe. It brought to mind a considerable number of interesting theories and possible experiments.

None of which she could practice without having to listen to the melodramatic blubbering of a whiny yellow pony.

+There was a time when I would have just vaporized the little brat rather than allow myself to be badgered into acquiescence,+ the Dark Acolyte said to herself in binary, +what have these damned horses done to me?+

+Unit Gaela's system status is optimal,+ hummed a voice from behind her, +armor readouts indicate-+


Glass Cannon immediately fell silent at Gaela's command, and she spent a long, wistful moment wondering what it was about sentience that spoiled such admirable compliance.

Glass Cannon was entirely repaired, its systems once again functional and its reaper autocannon cut down to a single-barrel version. She considered the modification an upgrade; Gaela had always thought of twin-linking guns as an awful alternative to better combat tracking systems and targeting, given the doubled ammo expenditure. On a combat automata of Glass Cannon's size and wielding a weapon as high-caliber as an autocannon it was even more of an issue to try to pack as much ammunition on the machine as possible.

"Hey, Gaela? How's she comin'?"

The Dark Acolyte didn't turn around at Applejack's voice.

"Better than I'd estimated," Gaela said, "the power core is already complete, and the probe is doing a surprisingly good job of re-establishing the primary conduits all on its own. I simply need to ensure the power disbursement systems are optimal, clear the D axis actuator, and then replace the shielding on that leg."

Applejack raised an eyebrow. "Oh, well... that's... good? Ah see the other rustbucket is up and walkin'."

"Affirmative. It needs to have its command parameters re-established when the little pink one gets back, and its ammunition supplies are at forty-one percent of total, but it is ready to deploy otherwise."

"Okay, well, Ah just wanted to let ya know that a chimera is comin' down the road. Probably Twi and Delgan."

"Excellent. Lead them here once they disembark," Gaela commanded, her servo limbs reaching further into Crabapple's casing.

Applejack nodded and started to walk away.

"Odd that he hasn't contacted me already," the Dark Acolyte said suddenly, causing the farmpony to halt, "ordinarily Master Delgan is more careful about arranging his time. I'd assumed that he'd want the wrecks and the artifact sitting by the road and ready to be secured."

Applejack frowned as she glanced at the wreckage of the gunship. "Ya want me to tell Mac to start draggin' this stuff outside?"

"I was merely thinking out loud," Gaela mumbled, swatting at Crabapple's leg to stop it from convulsing, "you need not exert yourself to try and please Delgan."

"If ya say so. All right then, Ah'll be right back with the others."



"Good morning, Diamond!"

Diamond Tiara glanced back over her shoulder to see Silver Spoon galloping over to her.

"Morning," the pink filly said casually as she continued heading forward, "glad you made it out in time."

Silver Spoon matched Diamond Tiara's pace as she reached her long-time friend, and the two of them were soon on the path to Sweet Apple Acres.

"Well, I was a little scared to come along again, actually," Silver Spoon admitted after a long silence, "I had a nightmare about that Tellis person last night." She shuddered.

Diamond Tiara quirked an eyebrow. "About the Iron Warrior that saved us? Not the Tau that were about to kill us?"

"Well, not to sound ungrateful, but even on our side he was a lot scarier than they were," Silver mumbled, "it's just a good thing our parents don't know about what happened out there."

Diamond Tiara recoiled. "You didn't tell your parents? Are you nuts?"

Silver Spoon looked equally surprised. "You mean you did?"

"Of course! We could have died out there! We can't keep something that important from them!" the pink filly chided her companion. "Besides, it's not like the whole thing was covered up or anything. What if your mom or dad learns about it from somepony else? You'll be in so much trouble!"

Silver Spoon fell silent, considering that Diamond Tiara had a very good point. But then...

"Wait. So if you told your dad, how did you get permission to go to Sweet Apple Acres today?" the bespectacled filly asked, scratching at her cheek with a hoof.

"'Permission'? I don't need father's permission to do anything," Diamond Tiara said with a sniff, "if he didn't say I couldn't go, then obviously I can still go there if I want. He always lets me know exactly what I'm not allowed to do. Like make friends with Mister Tellis."

The pair of young ponies walked along in silence for several seconds after that.

"Sometimes I wonder about your family," Silver Spoon mumbled.

"What? I think it's healthy," Diamond insisted, "I don't keep anything from him, and he doesn't bog me down with too many pointless rules."

"I don't think it would be 'pointless' to keep us away from the Apples' place while there are still alien soldiers roaming around Equestria," Silver Spoon pointed out.

"Oh, please. For all we make fun of her for her family's bad luck with aliens, it would be completely ridiculous for them to get attacked again today," Diamond Tiara countered.

"Well, I don't... what's that noise?"

The two fillies turned their heads to the side and upward as a pair of Sunshark bombers screamed almost directly overhead, their blue and black coloring immediately identifying their allegiance for those witnesses who couldn't recognize the distinct qualities of Tau engineering at a glance.

Diamond and Silver froze in place, and thus their scope of vision lingered long enough to see several of the hammerhead-shaped armored vehicles following the aircraft at pursuit speed high over the ground.

In a few seconds the convoy was past, leaving only a kicked-up cloud of dust to slowly blow over the two young ponies left gaping behind them.

"You have GOT to be kidding me!" Diamond Tiara shouted, slapping a hoof against her face. "Are those ponies cursed or something?!"

"I think I'm ready to tell my parents now," Silver Spoon whimpered.

Diamond let her hoof fall to the ground again. "No, it's a little late for that."

"Then what do we do? We can't possibly get to Sweet Apple Acres before the Tau to warn them!" Silver Spoon despaired.

Diamond Tiara stared down at the ground intently. "Father says that at times like these, you're supposed to ask yourself WWCD: What Would Celestia Do?"

This seemed to calm Silver Spoon down a bit as the gray filly stopped to think.

"...... Throw the Elements of Harmony at it and then find someplace safe to wait it out?" Silver guessed.

Diamond turned around and built up a gallop back toward Ponyville. "Let's go!"

Author's Note:

The Iron Warriors: the only Legion that canonically plays tabletop games in their free time.
How meta is that?