• Published 28th Oct 2015
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Guardians - PseudoFiction



The headhunters have made it back to Equestria. But will team Flintlock be able to warn Princess Celestia of the looming danger in time?

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“So I guess that sorts who you’re bringing to prom.”

The Everfree Forest was oddly familiar to him. Of course it had been a while since Ishmir’s last visit, but it wasn’t the fact he’d been here before that made it feel familiar. The woods were thick with ropey branches and vines, with twisted tree trunks and bushels of clawed undergrowth. There were sheets of canopy hiding the sky from view and curtains of moss draped over lower branches.

It reminded him of the forests he’d trained in on Onyx. And Twilight Sparkle’s pace reminded him of his first time blundering into an ambush set up by his drill instructors.

“Warlock, slow down,” Ishmir called, catching up to the princess.

Twilight Sparkle stopped in her tracks, half-way clambering over a knot of roots bursting out of the earth at the base of a tree. Half stepped over the top she looked from where Marko was just ahead batting aside branches and ferns to clear a path and watched Ishmir canter over.

“The whole point of a point-man is to give him a head start.” Ishmir looked past Twilight and waited until Marko was just beyond line of sight again before beckoning the princess to walk with him. “Is there a reason you’re in such a hurry?”

“You know why I’m in a hurry, Ishmir,” Twilight said with an evident hint of frustration. “We’ve gone past my estimated time of arrival. I re-checked the numbers in my head earlier. I’m not wrong.”

She looked up to the thick canopy, imagining the sky above filled with bulbous Covenant ships spilling waterfalls of plasma onto the land like she’d seen on the alien planet that morning. “They’re up there. Right now the Covenant are in orbit.”

“And they have chosen not to do anything,” Ishmir said reminding her of the lack of explosions and plasma raining from the sky.

“Yet.”

“I know. And normally I’d be in a rush to arm all weapons too. But this is different. The Covenant have paused. And that makes me pause to consider what is going on.” Ishmir continued in a calm tone, “It is very possible they’re scanning the planet. They’ll realize there’s no humans down here and they might just move on.”

Twilight Sparkle furrowed her brow. “You think?”

“Not for a second. But it’s a comforting thought, right?”

She chuckled.

“Made you smile.”

Twilight was indeed smiling as she looked away shyly, hiding the two rosy pink ovals appearing on her cheeks more than anything else. Having gotten the hang of his new pony legs and hooves, Ishmir managed to walk relatively smoothly on just three while he reached out with one forehoof to pat the lavender alicorn reassuringly on the shoulder.

“Twilight, it’s going to be okay,” he assured a sympathetic smile. “This is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t wear yourself out on this leg of the run. We’ve still got a long day ahead of us.”

The princess let out a breath and smiled back. “I know. Thanks.”

To keep her mind off the Covenant for now, Ishmir struck up, “Tell me about Equestria.” He didn’t want Twilight to burn out, and he might as well gather some intel on his new surrounds. “I’m here to save it, but I know very little about your home. How did you become princess? Is it a title appointed by election around here, or did you come from a royal family?”

“Neither, actually. I used to be a simple unicorn. Then I invented new magic and was given my wings. I was made a princess shortly after.”

“Invented new magic, eh? That sounds cool.”

Twilight Sparkle smiled, glad he thought so. “It was the magic of friendship that made me an alicorn”

“Aaaaand you ruined it.”

“Really? Why?”

“Friendship is not magical,” Ishmir said taking up a light hearted argumentative tone. “Well, maybe metaphorically speaking. But not actual magic.”

“It is magic! The power that kept me and my friends together was what has saved Equestria time and time again.” She looked sorrowfully at the ground. “So far, at least. We had to give up the Elements of Harmony, and now… now we’re defenseless…”

Ishmir kept her on track. “Alright, I believe you. So you obviously didn’t figure out the magic of friendship on your own – you must have friends.”

Twilight perked up, suddenly in her element again. “Oh, yes. You should meet them. They’re amazing. There’s Pinkie Pie, she’s always such a riot. And she throws the best parties in all of Equestria. Putting a smile on everypony’s face is all she lives for. Then there’s Rarity. Oh, she’s so beautiful and fashionable, and so generous too.

“My friend Fluttershy is very soft spoken and shy around strangers, but she’s the kindest pony you could ever meet. Then there’s Rainbow Dash. She can be a little brash and quick off the mark, but she has a good heart and is forever loyal to those she loves. And finally there’s Applejack. Never before have I met a pony so honest and reliable without fault.”

Twilight smiled fondly at the memory of her friends and wondered if they knew she’d been missing for nearly a day. Had anypony noticed her absence?

“Without them all… well… I don’t know where I would be without them.”

“They sound great,” Ishmir admitted wondering what it would be like to have so many friends. He wasn’t really close to the other Spartans of Gamma Company. Not since being pulled from the other Spartan-3s for headhunter tasking. Marko was his best – his only friend. After Twilight Sparkle of course. “You live in Ponyville together?”

“Yes. The library is nearby everypony.”

Ishmir chuckled, then realized she wasn’t joking. “You live in a library?”

“Oh. Yeah. It was meant to be temporary, but I ended up kind of liking it.” Twilight Sparkle grinned widely, adding enthusiastically, “I fucking love books.”

“Almost as much as you love swearing it would seem.”

Right. Sorry, I barely even notice it anymore.” She rubbed her neck sheepishly.

“Hey, don’t worry about it. Marko has me fucking doing it from time to time too.”

They shared a bit of a laugh as the forestry started to thin out. The path became more distinct and Marko trotting up ahead became less obscured by trees, undergrowth and low hanging branches. The grim sunlight peeking through the wintery clouds brightened with the lack of canopy over their heads and the untouched snow under their hooves thickened.

Eventually Ishmir spoke again. “So, princess. You don’t have your own castle?”

Twilight Sparkle shook her head. “No.”

“Well we should fix that when this is all over. Believe it or not, Marko is fair handy with a hammer.”

She did find that hard to believe. But she was more surprised by the offer than Marko’s skills other than doing the Grim Reaper’s work. “You’re going to build me a castle?”

“Only if you promise not to call it something silly like the Friendship Rainbow Kingdom Castle, or anything like that.”

She giggled into her hoof before crossing her heart and poking herself in the eye. “I promise.”

Marko had dropped out of view, and the duo cantered to catch up, cresting the next hill to overlook a village at their fetlocks.

Twilight welcomed Ishmir to Ponyville. It was postcard pleasant with the path down into town crossing a frozen with a small bowed pink bridge beside a windmill. It was hard to make out much of the detail, but on first glance much of the design was very simple and pleasant. The snow dusted rooves were all yellow straw thatch. But the shapes of the houses didn’t make much sense, with doors and windows oddly spaced and some walls oddly angled, like the architect had been a mad-man with a fist-full of vibrant crayons.

They trotted into town after Marko, the steep valley walls closing in around them as they approached. High on the mountainside to one side Twilight pointed out the glistening city of marble pirouettes, gold rooftops and pink waving flags. Canterlot was less like a city and more like a palace of towers and walkways.

Once in ponyville, Ishmir realized the town was very girlishly quaint, so much so he swore he heard Marko making retching sounds. There was a great amount of detail to the support beams, gardens and window panes in all the dwellings. Stars, swirling engravings, flowers, but mostly hearts decorated most every surface and support. It was a little sugary of course, but Ishmir quite liked it. He had never been to Earth himself, but he’d seen photographs some of the other Spartan-3 cadets had managed to hold on to. And most of those were images of extremes going from grungy streets lined with eye-catching neon signs or sparkling isometric avenues.

Ponyville had the best of all worlds, hovering somewhere between interesting design and first-class pleasantness.

Marko arced them around a building Twilight Sparkle introduced as town hall as their Spartan on point spotted what could only be the train station up ahead. It was hard to tell from their angle, but Ishmir was pretty sure he spotted the winding tracks leading up the mountainsides over ridges and through tunnels leading to Canterlot high on the horizon.

As they trotted, greeting the colorful, smiling ponies as they passed, Twilight told Ishmir more about the lay of the land and an entirely new school of physics that ruled Equestria. He learned about pegasi able to manipulate clouds and earth-ponies who cared for the land. Twilight even pointed out the faint outline of a city in the sky, Cloudsdale, just beyond the valley walls.

More of Ishmir’s knowledge of physics was shattered when she told him more about Princess Celestia and her younger sister, Luna. One raised the sun and the other the moon, making for an environment that would have an astronomer’s head explode with non-comprehension. Ishmir just nodded and accepted it, figuring he’d best cling to his sanity by trying not to think about it too hard.

“I know what you’re doing, you know,” Twilight Sparkle suddenly said as if she’d caught the colt with his hoof in a cookie jar.

“As the Good Lord is my witness, I have no idea what you’re talking about. And He’s a pretty kickass witness.”

Twilight didn’t expect Ishmir to know what she was talking about. After all, he’d been acting on Spartan instinct the whole time. But to Twilight Sparkle it was a kindness she had to thank him for.

Marko had been there like a big brother to fight the monsters. But Ishmir had been there to check on her sanity. Three times that morning alone Ishmir had stepped in to put himself between Twilight and danger, even if there wasn’t any danger. He’d been there to say a kind word and to pat her reassuringly on the back; just little things but they made her feel safe and comfortable none the less.

And now he was doing it again.

“You’re keeping my mind off the future,” Twilight said with a smile. “You’re looking out for my mental state again. Just like in the SCALPEL launch facility. You’re making me feel safe. I appreciate it.”

“Don’t worry about it, princess. After all; I need you.”

Her heart fluttered at the sound of that. She hadn’t expected to ever hear that from a handsome colt. She hadn’t expected anypony to say that to her ever. But admittedly she liked the sound of it.

He needed her. Now there were several ways she could interpret that. But Twilight only cared to interpret it the one way that satisfied the butterflies in her stomach the most.

Twilight smiled sheepishly. “You do?”

“Uh-huh,” Ishmir said with an innocent nod.

Trying to make sense of all sorts of feelings raging through her heated brain, all she could scrape together was a single metaphorical, un-princess-like thought.

Fuck it.

Moving closer, Twilight Sparkle held her breath and peered at her target under her eyelids. Ishmir was normally quite good at reading a tactical situation. He knew how to observe and react to the ever changing tides of a battle and he should have known whether to assault or to retreat.

He didn’t withdraw, hesitating as he saw Twilight Sparkle cock her head ever so slightly and her lips gently part. By the time he actually did anything it was too late; their lips were touching, and even then all he did was gasp through his nose.

Twilight let her eyes fall shut at the same time, giving a pleased sigh as she did. In the cold winter air his lips were warm to hers and his powerful aroma of burnt cordite was oddly pleasing to the senses. The princess was pretty sure her heart stopped beating, but she didn’t seem to care. Even her wings seemed out of control, no longer folded neatly to her sides and sagged to the ground as if it required effort to keep them up.

Her knees were weak and it took every ounce of remaining willpower not to drag him to the ground and just lay there forever. The fleeting selfish thought of not caring about the fate of Equestria or saving the day, just wanting to stay there like that with Ishmir – trapped in a perfect moment in time – took her by surprise.

Little did she know Ishmir’s mind was racing through all the same sensations, that perfect moment bogging his fancy Spartan sense of time. The world didn’t crawl any more. It blurred by. It felt like hours were passing in those few fleeting seconds. And it didn’t matter.

Nothing mattered. Not the war, not the looming danger of Covenant in orbit, not even the ponies trotting by to sneak a guess at who this unknown colt kissing their princess was.

His own eyes fell shut, but that single moment of perfect bliss came to a coarse halt in the same instance.

A single sound caught their ears. The sound of a throat being cleared very obviously, and quite obnoxiously. Opening their eyes, both ponies suddenly broke the kiss and snapped their gazes to the source of the sound, seeing Marko standing nearby with his head cocked slightly.

Ishmir and Twilight were stunned and they just stared at each other for a moment. Marko almost didn’t have anything to say. Almost.

“So I guess that sorts who you’re bringing to prom,” the headhunter chortled with a wide grin that would have matched the smile carved into his helmet’s visor.

“Shut up,” Ishmir retorted, his cheeks going red.

“If you two lovebirds don’t mind focusing for a second, we kind of have an invasion to stop,” Marko added a little more seriously, focusing his icy stare on Ishmir. “Really you oughta know better.”

“She was stressing out. I was taking her mind off the Covenant.”

“Hah! Yeah, I can tell.”

Ishmir did his best to avoid Twilight’s gaze. He looked a little distraught, and with good reason. There was no way Marko was going to let this one slide very easily. Ishmir was doomed to be ripped on for the next twelve hours, at the very least.

At least Marko was interrupted at his first attempt to say something clever. When he opened his mouth the headhunter was interrupted by a long, loud, dramatic gasp. The kind of sound a little girl made just before throwing a tantrum or an officer made just before pointing out an infraction against grooming standards.

“Good heavens, darling!”

It was the gasp of the latter it would seem.

Turning, Marko, Ishmir and Twilight Sparkle saw two figures make a bee-line for them. One of the newcomers was a pretty mint example of a unicorn, covered in clean white fur and she had a pretty dark blue mane and tail both coifed into a fashionable looking mane. The second was a pegasus, hovering along her side, with a full rainbow of colours streaked through the hair in her mane and tail.

The unicorn in particular had been the one gasping, running right up to Princess Twilight Sparkle and taking a good look at her. “Now, darkly; you know I say this with love, but… you’re looking quite… ehrmmm…” she hummed, sticking out her lip as she thought hard for the right words.

“Frazzled?” the hovering pegasus offered.

Twilight ran a hoof over her mane, failing to flatten it down. “Oh, it’s been a rough day.”

Ishmir looked confused for a moment, glancing to Twilight and mouthing, “friends of yours?” to which the princess nodded and greeted her Ponyville friends.

“But Twilight, who is your handsome new friend?” Rarity suddenly asked as if she’d simply been waiting for an excuse to bat her eyelids at Ishmir.

Clearing her throat, Twilight Sparkle quickly introduced the ponified headhunters. “Girls, these are some friends I met in Canterlot. They’re in the Royal Guard. This is, uh…”

Sensing Twilight Sparkle’s hesitation, Ishmir thought fast and blurted out; “I’m Double Tap.” As far as pony names went it wasn’t too bad. “And this is…” Ishmir tried to come up with something for Marko but suddenly drew blank.

“Hack ‘n Slash,” Marko deadpanned. “Petty Officer Second Class.”

“Uh… yeah. That’ll work,” Ishmir mumbled.

Rarity immediately showed interest, though she skootched closer to Ishmir than she did his wingman. “The Royal Guard! My-my, that sounds exciting!”

“It has its moments,” Ishmir replied cautiously, wondering if he was going to have to make up stories.

“And would he be the reason you’ve been having a rough day?” Rainbow Dash chortled suggestively through her hooves.

Twilight Sparkle suddenly broke out in a polite but very fake laugh as she quickly turned Ishmir around and pushed the ponified Spartans along. “Well, I really think we should be getting back to Canterlot, eh-hehe. Lots to do.”

“Oh, I bet,” Rainbow Dash teased earning a light cuff from Rarity.

“Don’t ever be a stranger, Mister Double Tap,” the unicorn quickly called after them, before she suddenly let out a surprised gasp identical to the first that originally drew their attention to her.

At first Ishmir didn’t think anything of it; she’d probably just spotted another mare she knew having a bad mane day.

Turning, Ishmir froze on the spot. The others were about to ask what had prompted him to look, but soon they were looking too, following Rarity’s gaze up the valley wall.

There, boiling and bubbling above where Canterlot sat was a mass of cloud. White and fluffy around the edges, but black as night within. The mass of cloud dwarfed the sun it began sliding in front of, though it seem the sun was moving as if actively trying to get around it somehow.

Ishmir heard Rainbow Dash saying something about rain not being in today’s weather schedule, but soon he realized that shadow in the clouds was actually hull. It was all hull. Covenant hull.

The ship broke out of the cloudcover and descended over Canterlot, casting a long, cold shadow over the valley. The shadow crept out, soon engulfing all of Ponyville and garnering the attention of other ponies.

It was impossible to miss and at the same time impossible not to fear. It was a sleek flying city with all the same horrible insectoid features that made your skin crawl. A sleek exoskeleton wrapped over the top, revealing the wriggly – or in this case glowing and blinking – inner workings exposed across the undercarriage. Working lights beamed and propulsion systems glowed a luminous blue light.

The mid-section was bloated as compared to the long thin nose, stretched out to either side and blowing up the ship’s proportions enough to dwarf the whole of Canterlot and most of the valley in which Ponyville cowered.

Pegasi swirled and dashed. A few ground based ponies screamed and ran inside to pull shutters and lock doors. Most just stared up in awe as the vessel so enormous, yet so soundless, hovered over their capital.

But among the innocent citezens of Equestria only three ponies knew of the true danger. Team Flintlock looked at each other, sharing a single, terrible, horrible thought.

The Covenant had arrived.

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