• Published 7th Nov 2015
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Iron Hearts: Stray Shots and What Ifs? - Hey its that Pony

A collection of tales that may or may not take place within the universe of the 38th Company and their colorful mutant equine acquisitions.

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The Caged Maiden and Grandfather's Children

The Warp. It is a plane of the Immaterium forged from the countless thoughts of the Galaxy's sentient races. This place is formed from ideas and dreams; it is real and yet unreal at the same time. A mortal soul that bares witness to the maddening eddies and flows of the warp sees only what its own mind brings forth from the Aether. Though there can exist no consistency in the realm of Chaos itself, perceiving this realm of madness can be described as a consistently unpleasant and disturbing experience to say the least.

Within the twisting boundaries of the Warp lies the ever foul realm of Nurgle, eldest of the Chaos Gods and Lord of Plague and Rot. Nurgle's Garden was as still as a corpse, yet putrescent, and ceaselessly crawling with life. Within the tangled mass of gnarled trees, twisted vines, and bubbling marshes thrived bacteria, viruses, and fungi the likes of which could make any sane being's skin crawl, most of it able to do so quite literally. Swarms of insects buzzed about in dense clouds of hairy bodies with too many eyes.

In the heart of this garden of rot was the Plague God's mansion, within which he toiled away at his cauldron creating virile new strains of disease to spread his taint throughout the Galaxy. In fact, he was looking through the film of filth that sat on the surface of the cauldron's contents to observe the results of the latest such concoction he had poured through the drain in the floor into the Materium. There, it had found a vibrant world playing host to a healthy population of humans. Although, "healthy" was probably a very poor choice of words at the moment.

The great Nurgle observed through the viewing portal as the world was besieged on a microscopic level. The human populace found their bodies turning against them. Their skin puckered up with boils and sores before it cracked open. Their organs collapsed and died while playing host to small worm-like parasites.

Something was wrong.

The plants swelled and withered with infection. The soil turned sour and sprouted thick fungal sprouts. The seas became green with an unnatural algae that choked the light from the seabed. The skies were thick with a viral fog that rose from the diseased surface.

Something was wrong.

The animal's flesh became dark and inconsistent. Their skin took on a variety of new textures, becoming bumpy, thin, thick, wrinkled, or chitinous in different uneven patches on their bodies. Eyes dull and near sightless. Their limbs crooked and uncertain. Their calls were meek and desperate, each one seeking out others of its kind for comfort. The beasts ought to be dead and dying but would not do so. The infection upon their forms was less prevalent than it was on the rest of the world and the homo sapiens.

Something was very wrong.

Nurgle looked on with worry. This should have all been pleasing to him but it wasn't. Infection was spreading but not in the right way. But the true focus of his ire was the animals. Their appearances possessed little evidence of his diseases. Their shapes were not the result of his gifts.

Something had changed... and Nurgle disliked change.

The humans of this planet had reared horses. There were many different breeds spread far and wide. The humans had been quite proud of them. But now they lay dead and dying with buggy horrors crawling from their mouths as their loyal steeds lived on against all natural logic. With horrid twisted forms they tried to cope with the loss of their human owners and the new state of their world with as much success as simple animals could muster.

This was not at all how the plague he had unleashed upon this world was supposed to react. Nurgle had tested it. He was certain.

But then he thought about that for a moment. Yes, he had tested it hadn't he? Just after he had mixed this latest viral cocktail in his cauldron which he was now gazing into.

He dismissed the image of the world with a whim and looked into the actual murk of the pot. He usually didn't pay much attention to his realm, quite content with letting it fester and stagnate on it's own, but now that he gazed at the surface there was definitely something off. An unusual brightness. He dipped one bloated appendage in and reached for the spot. When it came back he was clutching a flower.

He held the flower to a sickly yellow eye for inspection. It had come out completely untouched by his rot, the filth of the cauldron sliding from it with ease. It appeared healthy and its petals were composed of several bright and cheerful colors. There was a distinct touch of the warp about it. A touch that he knew came from only one place. Ironically, this offending plant and its properties had come from his own grounds.

With a deep bubbling sigh, Nurgle shifted his huge body towards the Garden. Nurgle didn't need to stand to leave. He did not really stand at all. He didn't even sit down. His behemoth, rounded form did a little of both a the same time. Because of this he also did not walk so much as shuffled along the path, dragging his body and stepping forward at the same time. It was a most peculiar locomotion one would or would not expect from any creature or the warp.

Nevertheless, he did reach the Garden and travelled a short ways before he came upon a small mess of a clearing. The clearing was shadowed by a massive domed cage. Within it was Grandfather Nurgle's most prized possession, his greatest captive, and his only true companion.

Isha, the Eldar Goddess of Fertility, Life, Healing and Growth sat in her cage of iron, the bars thick with rust and calcium deposits. Earlier she had suffered her usual trial of being the testing ground for yet another of Nurgle's foul pestilences. He liked to introduce them to her first to see how quickly she could cure them and to witness the effects upon her form. She was quietly sitting while looking off into the distance, her mind off elsewhere as she tried to not focus upon a particular group of trees barely visible through the foliage that bore the twisted and pained faces of would-be rescuers from another time.

The Plague Father's presence easily drew her attention to him. She noticed that is face was somewhat distraught, an odd and rare emotion for him. He hooked a claw around a bar and opened the cage door with a maddening shriek of metal. The lock had never worked and it had never needed to. Even if Isha could find her way out of the Garden of Nurgle the only thing that would be waiting for her outside his realm would be the clutches of the Prince of Excess Slaanesh, the only other Chaos God who coveted her, and Slaanesh's embrace promised far worse horrors than Nurgle would ever grant her.

He entered the cage and held up the pastel flower. *Shhhlllurp!* "Istttthis yourthhhs Isha Dear?" He asked through the vicious gash across his face that served as his mouth.

Isha brushed her vibrant colorful hair from her face, looked upon the flower, and gave an honest nod. There was no need to lie to him.

Nurgle let out a noxious breath and passed his will into the plant. The flower lost its vigor and shriveled up. Its petals drained of their colors and turned a deathly black. He placed the rotten thing into a nearby patch of thorny weeds.

Isha stood and attempted to speak to Nurgle before he raised his hand to silence her. He turned his hand about in an open palm in an expectant gesture. Isha visibly shrank back before she let out a defeated sigh and relented. She reached a hand down her robe and retrieved a second flower from its depths before handing it over to him. He held this one up for examination. It was nearly identical to the first one apart from a different petal pattern.

Isha held a quiet shame at her plots being so easily discovered. She had believed that she might be able to plant the second flower into the drain itself. She was sure it might have weakened Nurgle's pestilences as they passed into the material universe.

Nurgle's face wrinkled with anger and he looked upon her. "Dooo you hakkkkkve any moure Dear Ithhhsha?"

She focused upon his face. "No, I have no more. I just-"

She was silenced as the Plague God crushed this second flower, its form falling into brown dust and his anger clearly intensifying. The boils of his skin swelled and threatened to burst and his flabby flesh became taut to outline the sheer mass of musculature that lay beneath. His arm that had been holding the flower stretched out and his stubby claws extended to great mauling talons which he held over the Goddesses head.

Isha stood there frozen out of fear for a moment that a dozen human lifetimes could be lost in. She stared up into the furious face of her captor, wondering if she had finally pushed him too far. He had never struck her but even Nurgle could be surprising given time. Was this truly the moment where he had finally grown tired of her and shatter her existence?

But of course Nurgle did eventually relax and allow his rage to pass by. His claws drew back and his arm lowered. He returned to his usual passively content air as he gave a shrug as though nothing were wrong. He then extended that same arm to Isha in a gesture for her to come along with him.

Realizing that the danger had passed, Isha also relaxed and took Nurgle's offered hand and allowed him to lead her back to the Mansion. Once there, she was led into the cauldron room where they circled around the pot.

Nurgle passed a hand over the murk to incite the image of the infected world once more. "Let usshhhhhsee what your me-eh-eh-ehddling hath caused Isha."

They gazed through the portal. Time passed at an accelerated rate from the perspective of the Warp Gods. The humans died out while the plants and animals continued to exist. Yes, amazingly the remaining lifeforms were still able to reproduce. It seemed to be the first sign of Isha's personal touch of the Warp.

The plant life began to change and settle from it's infested form to something more akin to what it once was. Though there were notable changes in perhaps half of the plant life now. Some of it had a life and sentience of it's own while others retained a strong element of the warp within them, granting abnormal properties. Some of the plants would spontaneously change through the seasons while others had an element that affected its environment.

The animal life went through a similar regression back to what it once was, though not to such a popular degree of normalcy. For many generations the animals retained the horrid forms that Nurgle's plague had forced upon them but as the next ones came along there was a notable difference in the shape that many of them took on. Some started to walk upright, while others developed strange appendages or even new heads that seemed to become stable mutations. Though they still retained the wrinkled and lumpy skin that had become part of them.

The horses however, or at least the beasts that used to be horses, would undergo perhaps the most curious of changes. The God and Goddess watched them in fascination as a variety of traits affected and stabilized within the equines. A particular herd grew new appendages from their back with gangling feathers. Against all odds they managed to achieve a hampered flight with these poor wings. A second main group started to become more muscular and solidly built. The third and final of the main masses developed bulky protrusions from their skulls that were able to gather warp energy, though not for anything useful at the time.

Then one generation, a remarkable change occurred. Nurgle and Isha watched as a female gave birth to a creature startlingly different from her. This newborn was closer to appearing like a horse again than anything before it. It had a soft downy coat of bright pink fur with a blue mane so much unlike the body of its mother. It was also a bit smaller than previous generations but it stood and tried to walk much like its breed should. In fact, it had a much easier time with this since it was shaped all the right ways in comparison to it's elders.

Nurgle watched as the mare looked upon its offspring but did not reject it. Nor did the foal reject its mother in kind. Mare and foal were joined as the new creature began to nurse from one of its mothers teats. This stirred a strangely warm feeling in his heart, or it may have been something else, he was never really sure about that.

In any case, this scene seemed to spark a chain reaction across the planet. Entire generations of newborns rose up with completely stabilized mutations. The offspring of the feathered equine beasts emerged with fully formed wings capable of granting them true flight. The Horned equines produced foals with properly developed and straight horns that seemed fully capable of stabilizing warp energy, though the creatures had yet to truly understand the value of this beyond creating a little spark of light from the tip.

The rest of the creatures of the world also emerged either fully returned to normal or changed but without any or very little trace of the twisted mutations that had plagued their predecessors. In time, the old generations died off and the new ones took their place, revealing a new world that was vibrant and full of life with seemingly endless potential.

The hands of Isha gripped at the cauldrons edges in anxiety over this. While she was deeply pleased to see that her efforts had produced some sort of positive effect upon this world, she was deeply afraid for the life of it with Nurgle having observed every change that had cut through his usual taint.

She gazed up at him with pleading eyes. "Please, do not destroy these creatures."

Nurgle jerked back from his side of the cauldron and stared at her as if he had been struck. "What? *Sttthluck* Dear Isha, why wouk-k-kld you think tha-d?" He spread his arms as though making a grand gesture. "While they may not-*thmp* carry my ushual markingzth of my disease, they are yeat my child-dren. In-th fact, they are our children. The only we hath ever had. How could I not love them?" He burbled.

He placed his claws back around the rim of the pot again in a caressing nature. "Bethides. They will truly come ba-ck to my sthide. In time. All my chilthren eventually do."

And so, Nurgle had accepted these new creatures into the galaxy. Isha was left with a quiet relief and fearful dread for the future of these new Ponies and their world. But there was nothing to be done at the moment of eternity, though she did silently enjoy the bit of joy Nurgle showed. If he did see the ponies and the other creatures as their children then perhaps she would be able to influence him if the time ever came that they would be tempted back to his complete embrace. But for now, they basked in her personal touch.

Author's Note:

Perhaps the most curious thought I've developed for this series. But one I just liked too much not to do.

Thanks to MarxyHooves for extended assistance in editing.
Thanks to Nightweaver for final proofreading.

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