• Published 25th Jun 2012
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Fallout Equestria x Wild Arms: Trigger to Tomorrow - thatguyvex



A young tribal pony tries to keep his moral center and ensure the survival of his friends while facing the many dangers of the Detrot Wasteland and beyond.

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Chapter 35: Persephone

I watched Arcaidia closely, unsure of how she’d react to what she’d just witnessed in that recording. I was still absorbing it myself, an unpleasantly cold and numb feeling in my limbs that had nothing to do with the toxin’s still affecting me from the fight with the ooze monster.

I didn’t know Persephone. She was an alien creature that, quite frankly, looked pretty weird to me with her tall bipedal body, pale smooth skin, strangely flat face, and oversized, fleshy protrusions on her chest. I’d never actually met her, and knew nothing about her beyond that she was the one who’d adopted and raised Arcaidia as a sister. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that this was one of closest friend’s family, and the recording may very well have just showed us the last moments of her life.

I remembered that night in the tent my mother and I shared back in Shady Stream with my tribe. I recalled that moment Arcaidia had gotten that signal on her Pip-Buck and excitedly communicated to me, before she even knew a single word of Equestrian, that it was a signal from Persephone, her family, and that she wanted to find her. And as crazy as it seemed to me, even now, I’d been willing to leave my tribe that night, leaving beyond home and family to help this strange young unicorn filly. But Arcaidia had saved my life and that of my best friend, Trailblaze. I owed her. And I’d wanted to help her.

So we galloped out into the Wasteland, out into a wider world that I knew nothing about and was utterly unprepared for, but with the idea that somewhere, somehow, someway... we’d find that signal, and with it hopefully some sign of Arcaidia’s sister.

Well, here we were. Had it been... one month? Two? I couldn’t remember how much time our journey had taken, but it felt a lifetime. We stood here, on a mostly destroyed, dark bridge on an alien starship, surrounded by enemies who were only holding back from attacking us due to a temporary truce, and we’d just watched what may well have been Persephone's last stand against the alien menace of the Hyadeans, which even now continued to be a threat to the world at large.

I didn’t know what to do other than carefully watch my friend, and slowly scoot towards her and offer a hoof on her shoulder. Arcaidia felt cold under the fabric of her blue dress, which reflected the small lights stemming from the computer console in pale glimmers. She was still for a long moment, then leaned into my touch for a second. Just a second, however, before she pulled away and took a deep breath, turing silver eyes towards me that shone with barely controlled emotions.

“It not certain that Persephone is dead,” she said, “She very strong warrior. Not fall easily to Hyadean. May have escaped.”

I gulped and nodded. It was clear she was trying to convince herself, but at the same time it possible she was right. I didn’t know how tough a Veruni warrior was, but Arcaidia was certainly a pretty badass pony herself, and if Persephone was the one who’d raised and trained Arcaidia then it stood to reason Persephone was no lightweight herself. If she’d fought and won, or managed to survive and escape, then there was a big, big world out there and she could be anywhere in it. It may have been a long time since this recording was made, but from what I understood Veruni lived for centuries, so assuming something hadn’t killed her, Persephone might still be around out there.

Somewhere.

Thinking, I asked, “If she is still alive, would this ship have any means of tracking her location?”

I might not be anything resembling a tech-oriented pony, but I did know technology could do lots of nifty things, and it stood to reason that the Ark of Destiny might have some sort of communications or scanning system that could connect to devices like Pip-Bucks, or even ARMs, assuming Persephone was carrying either.

I saw Arcaidia’s eyes light up as she gave an enthusiastic nod, “Yes! If systems still work, can locate beacons on sister’s PDA or ARM. Even her warsuit have tracking beacon!”

As Arcaidia excitedly went to the console and started fiddling with it, Odessa walked up to us in a clack of talons on the metal deck and gave me a raised eyebrow, her eyes flicking suspiciously towards Arcaidia.

“What is your Veruni friend doing?”

“You saw and heard the same recording we did,” I told her flatly, “Arcaidia’s sister might still be out there. Could be the ship itself has the means to locate her, so Arcaidia’s checking. Have a problem with that?”

Odessa ruffled her wings, her lion-like tail giving a slight flick behind her, “It’s taking a long stretch of trust on my part to even let her use the ship’s systems, Longwalk. She’s the enemy of my people. A dangerous xeno agent, no matter her friendship to you. Only because I want to avoid an unneeded conflict am I going this far to give you some leeway. I just... prefer that trust not bite me or the soldiers relying on me in the ass.”

“Arcaidia is just looking for her sister. That’s it. Trust me,” I said, glancing sidelong at Arcaidia.

Longwalk, Gramzamber’s voice spoke in my head, I’ve nearly completed downloading the calibration data for stabilizing our link. I had a question for you, pertaining to what to do after that.

I blinked, then thought, Sure, what’s up?

Since I’m connected to the ship’s database, I have access to quite a large body of information pertaining to Veruni technology, history, culture, star charts, and military. Given the damage to the ship’s systems, this data has vast quantities of it that are corrupted and beyond recovery, but if I download the whole database I can later examine it in better detail to obtain whatever intact information I can on particular technology schematics, medicines, records, ect. I don’t know how much will be intact or if any of it will prove valuable to you, but I wanted to ask if you wished me to download the database or not.

I felt my tail wagging about in a small fit of excitement, and tried not to gulp as one of my ears twitched. Odessa gave me an odd look and I returned an awkward and hopefully innocent looking smile.

Uh, Gram, if you can do that, then go for it! Um, unless there’s a downside?

Gramzamber’s reply carried with it a note of hesitance, If I enact a download it will tie up more of my consciousness with the ship’s computer. Were the ship to take damage from some manner of power surge, shorting out the computer system, that may cause damage to me.

I winced at that, and thought on the matter for a few seconds, then replied, We’re not planning to fight anyway, so go for it. If a fight does break out, and there’s some risk of a power surge, then you can halt the download, right?

That is correct, Longwalk. In the event of need, I can stop the download, though doing so may lose us more data.

Fine by me. The data is a bonus, not the objective. We’re technically done what we’ve come here to do already. If we can just get our tails out of here without anypony else getting hurt, I’ll mark this day as a ‘win’.

Unfortunately my thought was punctuated by Arcaidia snarling out a sudden, harsh curse in her own language as she slammed a hoof on top of the console. The Odessa soldiers around us all raised their energy weapons in a rattle of plastic and metal, but Colonel Odessa herself raised a talon to forestall any further action, giving me a pointed look.

Clearing my throat, I approached Arcaidia, whispering, “What’s wrong?”

I could see the frustration painted on her face like a dark shadow, the feeling filling her voice with a thorny, pained quality. “Esru di gilvara ti mas! The ship scanners smashed. Only short range array still working. Find sister if she be standing two meters in front of hull, but no further! Maaaaas!”

She hunched in on herself, and I heard a sound somewhere between a grunt and a sob as my friend clearly tried to keep herself from crying, taking several deep, shuddering breaths. I couldn’t help myself and gave her a comforting nuzzle, to which she let out a bitter, small laugh.

“I’ll be rain as right, toaster head ren solva. Need to think. Sister Persephone must think to leave clue of where she go. Just need to find it.”

She gave my nose a little shove, but managed a quick if tired smile for me to show she was getting herself under control. I nodded to her, and stroked my chin in thought. Assuming Persephone had survived the fight her on the bridge, or at least escaped, where would be the logical place to leave a clue to where she’d gone?

“Would... she have left something in your quarters on the ship?” I asked.

Arcaidia tilted her head, then gave a firm nod, “Possible. Or her quarters. Must search both.”

Odessa let out a sigh, eyeing both of us with one talon tapping on the deck, “Now hold on a second, I haven’t agreed to let you all just have the run of the ship. How do I know you’ll just be searching specific rooms, instead of trying to undermine Odessa in some way?”

I rubbed a hoof on my forehead, and held up my other hoof to keep Arcaidia from shouting anything unfortunate, as I saw her turn a withering and frozen glare towards the griffiness.

“Look, Colonel Odessa, I don’t know how I can make this any clearer, any plainer to you. I DON’T want to fight you, or any of your soldiers. I never have. Not once. If you just leave me and my friends alone then your troubles with us would pretty much be at an end.”

Minus the whole situation with my tribe, but that was an issue for another day. Right now I just needed to keep violence from breaking out in the here and now.

I looked at Odessa in the eyes. Most people, pony or otherwise, tend to underestimate the importance, the impact, of eye contact. Its a lot harder to lie when looking someone in the eye. You see more of the person when gazing right into those open peepers, and whether you like them or not, there’s a connection made there, in that moment of eye contact.

Looking at Odessa’s eyes I saw the pressure around their edges, the mounting exhaustion, the pride, and the fear. She young. So damned young. As young as I was, but she was the commander of an army of hundreds if not thousands, with so much responsibility fit squarely on those shoulders I was amazed she wasn’t being crushed down by it. But I could see it was wearing on her. I could also see she wasn’t some mad or evil overlord, nor some cold hearted soldier concerned only with results. There was respect and care in those eyes, and while I imagined it was focused solely on her duty to her fellow soldiers, Odessa wasn’t as arrogant as Shattered Sky had been, or as rough edged as someone like Crossfire.

She was just a good soldier trying to do her job, and whether I liked it or not I was still technically her enemy. I was somepony who had been part of killing her soldiers in the past, and she recognized I might end up doing so again in the future, especially if she couldn’t deliver my tribe to me and I was forced to try and rescue them myself.

I could also see she had, at least a little, come to respect me. Or at least fear what I could do. Which surprised me because I was a hell of a lot more scared of her and what she and her army could do.

We kept up that stare at one another’s eyes for a moment before Odessa sighed, “So be it. You’ll have an escort at all times. Lieutenant Glint.”

“Ma’am,” Glint said, having been respectfully and quietly standing to the side the entire time.

“Your squad is being reassigned to escorting our guests as they take care of what they need to around the ship. As long as they don’t take any action that might threaten our operation here they are to be treated as friendlies. Understood?”

Glint saluted, but he was frowning, “What about Gale’s work on the security system?”

“With the terminal here on the bridge operational I can spare one of the techs here to take over at the security station,” Odessa said, “You and your squad have the most experience with Longwalk and his team. I trust you to keep matters... peaceful while they finish their own search, and to know when or if Longwalk or his Veruni companion might do something that would endanger our own work here.”

“Understood, ma’am,” he said, then he turned to look to me and Arcaidia, “Is there anything else you two need to do on the bridge?”

Gram? I asked internally.

Now that I’ve connected with the system, I can continue my download wirelessly. I have the calibration data now, and am installing it to my system. You might feel a few, minor tingling sensations, but don’t fear, that’s just my own astral resonance link re-adapting to your own in the proper fashion.

I smiled at that, which occurred to me might appear creepy to anypony watching who didn’t know why I was smiling and I ended up politely hiding my face with a hoof and a cough as I turned to Arcaidia, “I’ve got what I need. What about you? Anything else you can do on the bridge?”

Arcaidia gave the console a thoughtful look, “Wanted to get translation module for better speaking of Equestrian, but it take time to search for it in system, and might not be there after so much time and damage.”

“Translation module?” I asked. Hadn’t I seen something like that mentioned on her Pip-Buck a long time ago, back in Saddlespring?

“Data module that act as translator. Similar to Crest spell, but utility magic that take my words in Veruni and translate flawlessly into native speak,” Arcaidia said, a faint, embarrassed smile on her face, “I like learning Equestrian with B.B, but always wish I could talk better. Translation module let me talk perfect and not sound strange.”

To this I just shrugged and gave her a lopsided grin, “I dunno, I kind of like the way you sound. I mean, if you want to grab that translator, feel free, but I bet with another month of work with B.B you’ll be talking just as good as it’d let you, and you’d be doing it with your own voice.”

My words had the effect I hoped for, clearly brightening her mood, Arcaidia’s face losing some of its frustration and tension from before as she chuckled at me, “Hmm, you probably right, ren solva. Very surprising, you with good ideas.”

“I’ll try not to let it happen too often,” I replied with a smirk, “Wouldn’t want it to go to my head.”

Glint cleared his throat, wings twitching slightly, “Soooo, you two going to kiss or something, or are we getting on our way?”

Both Arcaidia and I managed to roll our eyes at the same time at him. We’re quite coordinated that way. I held up my head and said, “Arcaidia’s a friend, Glint. Besides, I’m taken already.”

“Uh-huh,” Glint said.

Arcaidia cleared her throat, suddenly finding a ceiling panel very interesting, “That all aside, if we are to be followed by soldier ponies, have them all and our peoples meet us at Medical Bay.”

“Why do you need to go to the Medical Bay?” asked Glint, but I already figured I knew the answer before Arcaidia even raised her artificial leg in a clatter of metal.

Glint blinked in surprise, “Huh, you know I saw that, but didn’t quite register that you’d lost a leg somewhere. Wait, are you saying your medical technology can fix a missing leg!?”

“Why not?” I said, “They travel to other worlds. Growing new limbs seems pretty simple in comparison. Besides, Odessa’s medical tech is pretty impressive to, right? Your mother’s cybernetics are incredible.”

“Yeah, but it took her months of rehab and adjustment in one of our hospitals before she could even move her cybernetic limbs, and that was after months more of reconstruction after Hellhounds basically tore her apart,” Glint said, shuddering, “I’m lucky she was even able to have me.”

Arcaidia tapped her artificial leg on the ground, “Veruni tech make new leg in an hour, maybe two. If surgery equipment still in piece, it attach leg in minutes. This world benefit much from Veruni if you not so stubborn about fighting us.”

Glint glanced away at that, but Odessa just circled around to Arcaidia’s front, and prodded my friend’s chest with a talon.

“Just do what you need to and let’s leave discussion about who’d benefit for what for some other day, Veruni. The price of your kind’s benevolence would be our freedom as a species, but I’m willing to bet you’ve never really talked with Longwalk about that fact, have you?”

Arcaidia was silent for a moment, sharing a cold stare with Odessa. Much as I’d been able to assess Odessa with that kind of eye contact, I got the feeling the two females were sussing each other out, seeing what the other was made off. Apparently something impressive for both of them, since both looked away at the same time.

“Another day,” Arcaidia said.

“Another day,” Odessa agreed.

Well, who says we all can’t get along?

----------

Reaching the Medical Bay wasn’t particularly difficult, but I remained tense the entire trot there. I’d been in too many confined, dark areas with things trying to kill me to feel remotely relaxed while Glint led us through the pale metal corridors. After leaving the bridge we backtracked slightly before taking a side passage that led to a winding, circular ramp that down one deck. We had to traverse several shattered, broken rooms with bent walls or ceiling, rock and dirt from the crash sneaking its way in past torn cables and wires from the wall. A number of pools of toxic blue goo had to be avoided as well, but thankfully none of it was a mutated, living mass trying to eat us.

Every now and then we’d pass either the remains of a shot up and exploded security robot. The small, spidery constructs were made from the same silvery white metal the rest of the ship was, and looked as fast as they were spindly and fragile.

“Damned things were a bitch to hit,” Glint muttered as we passed the destroyed robots, “Never seen bots move that quick.”

Arcaidia nodded with an element of pride on her face, “Ship still protect itself even after so long abandoned.”

Glint turned a cold glance her way, but said nothing as he continued to lead us. I decided to try to ease the tension a bit with some small talk.

“So Glint, what was it like growing up in the Odessa tribe anyway? I’m kinda curious.”

Our hoofsteps hollowly clanking upon the metal floor was all that echoed in the corridor for a moment before Glint slowly, reluctantly answered, “Normal, I guess? I don’t know how it compares to the way anypony else grows up. Most of us are born on either Vanguard Island, or Heimdal Gazzo itself.”

“And island?” I asked, prompting him politely, but also genuinely curious. Odessa had been such a mysterious and dangerous overhanging threat in my life, it felt sort of good to get a chance to learn a bit more about the ponies who comprised the shadowy organization.

Glint grunted, “I probably shouldn’t say too much. A lot of this isn’t really meant for outsiders. But... ah, fuck it, if mom trusts you, I can too. Vanguard Island is where most of us live, and our headquarters, Heimdall Gazzo, floats over it. Higher ranked officers usually live in Heimdall with their families, and the majority of non-coms life on the Island, along with their families. Rank pretty much determines everything.”

He ruffled his wings a bit, “We spend our foalhoods learning to fly and getting basic schooling, but by age ten we’re expected to choose between what branch of Odessa we’re joining. Special Ops, Logistics, Research and Development, or the Combat Corps. Most try for Special Ops, since that’s where the fastest track to officer training comes, but most test out of it and end up in Logistics or the Combat Corps. Smart foals get hoof picked for Research and Development, sometimes way younger than ten, depending on just how smart they are.”

“Huh, that’s around the same age foals in my tribe start training to be a hunter,” I said, for a second feeling a twinge of homesickness as I thought back to my young foalhood days, getting shown how to track, skin, and cook geckos. My mother taught me, mostly by herself. It was common for foals to get taught by groups of the older hunters, but not a lot wanted to have anything to do with me because of my outsider blood. Even so, I didn’t mind. Those were good memories, and I found myself chuckling under my breath.

“Not that there were really many other jobs back in my tribe. If you weren’t hunting, you were fixing something, or crafting something for the tribe. Everypony had to stay busy.”

I saw Glint give me a curious look, his own mouth twitching slightly in what might have been a smile, “Not so different from Odessa then. Leisure time is usually limited. Once you’re in your branch, life gets pretty regimented. Daily training and classes, broken up by platoon. You’re platoon is basically your new family, your immediate squadmates your siblings. I mean, I still had time to visit my parents sometimes, but once I was in the Combat Corps, my life revolved around training with my squad. Heh... they weren’t bad times. Summerbreeze and Springbreeze always kept things lively, and Nosedive liked to get into enough trouble for all of us combined.”

His look of fond memory slowly turned to one of pained bitterness, and I glanced away from him. I had known he and his squad were tightly knit, but hadn’t quite realized it went to the point of family. Thinking back to every Odessa soldier I’d ever fought, it put things in a freshly real perspective that wasn’t all that comfortable for me.

“I’m glad you took the truce, Longwalk,” Glint said, breaking the awkward silence, “Even if it just lasts a little while, I’d rather not fight you.”

“Same here, Glint. For what it’s worth, I never wanted to fight to begin with, and still don’t.”

“Yeah...” he said, looking at the floor as he walked, “Still might happen, though, won’t it? We’ve still got your tribe.”

I gulped and gave a shallow nod, “You do. If Odessa can’t deliver them, I’m going to have to come for them myself.”

A tired sigh escaped Glint, “Good thing I’m not stationed on Heimdall Gazzo.”

The conversation petered out there, but it was just as well, because a minute later we reached the Medical Bay. It was located further back along the ship’s hull than I would have thought, though admittedly I was mostly guessing at where we were within the ship overall. Just by travel time I gauged we were maybe two thirds, or maybe three quarters of the way towards the stern, not far from one of the big engine protrusions. We were only one deck down from the bridge, so this had to still be pretty close to the top hull, but there were no windows for me to look out and check.

The Medical Bay itself was set at the end of a small promenade, connected to by three different hallways that I could see, with myself, Arcaidia, and Glint coming in through one of the passages along the north wall. Or what my Pip-Buck was telling me was north at any rate. Several padded benches lined the walls, separated by metal bowls with dirt in them, and the desiccated remains of what might once have been plants.

The doors to the Medical Bay were large, circular, and already standing open. Light from a number of chemical glow sticks cast sickly green shadows across the walls, remnants from when Odessa had secured the area earlier. Glint had radioed his squad and I’d contacted my friends via Pip-Buck to let them know the situation, so we were waiting for them to arrive. Glint had said it might take a minute as his squad was relieved by the techs Odessa would send from the bridge, and the route they had to take to get here was a bit longer anyway.

So we were left sitting in the dark, only a few glowsticks and the light of Arcaidia’s horn and my Pip-Buck casting an ever shifting glow of soft lights across the promenade that only barely kept the darkness at bay. The deathly quiet of the long empty ship didn’t help at all with relieving the tense, haunting atmosphere. I started to shift and cast sharp looks at every shadow I saw.

“Longwalk, relax, we cleared this area out pretty thoroughly,” Glint said.

“Yeah, and my friends and I still ran into a crazy ooze monster on our way in, so I’m going to stick with being paranoid if it's all the same to you,” I replied, one hoof resting comfortably on Gramzanber as I kept looking around. The entrance to the Medical Bay was looking more and more dark and ominous by the second, “You said you ran into ghouls in there?”

Glint cast a look at Arcaidia for a moment before answering, “Veruni ghouls, yes. We took care of them.”

Arcaidia twitched at that, but said nothing, having taking a seat on one of the comfortable looking, plush benches. Her starblaster hovered casually next to her in a pale ice-sheet glow of magic, and while the small unicorn looked alert, she wasn’t nearly as tense as I was. Maybe I should take a cue from her and calm down a bit, but for some reason my nerves were only getting wound up more, like some inner instinct in me was poking my brain about a clue I was missing.

Ghouls... ghouls... rotting corpses. They usually smell.

My nose twitched. I didn’t smell anything.

Curious, I turned to the open Medical Bay doors and slowly, carefully, shone my Pip-Buck light into it. The room beyond was large, and mostly cloaked in shadows still, making it hard to make out details. Tables, beds, various strange looking equipment, but I couldn’t see much. More importantly, I didn’t see any ghouls. Or rather, I didn’t see any bodies.

“Uhhhh... Glint? What did you do with the corpses of the ghouls after you killed them?”

“Huh? Just left them where we shot them. No point in moving them. Leave that shit to the clean-up teams once we got the ship out of here,” Glint replied, then paused and asked, “Whyyyy?”

I felt a bit of sweat bead my forehead as I said, “Because I don’t see any bodies in here.”

That’s when the stench hit me. It was like a physical wall of rotted flesh stink that billowed from the entrance to the hallway across from us, and we had all of a second to react before shambling shapes came barreling out at us. I tore Gramzanber from his sheath and barely got him crossed in front of me as I reared up on my hind legs, right before one of those shapes flung itself into a flying tackle that hit me in the barrel and sent me crashing to the cold floor with a horrific, moaning, dead thing on top of me!

I saw a flash of pale yellow teeth gnashing at my face, only Gramzanber’s shaft keeping the thing at bay as I pushed back at the ghoul. I could barely make out its features, but I could tell this was a Veruni. It had the long bipedal legs, scrambling to try to shove itself further atop me. It had those strange, long arms, with the many digits at the end of its rotted hand, the flesh peeled back to bare bones that acted as claws that scrapped at my chest and arms, only my armor keeping me from harm.

Its face was missing enough flesh that I could see more teeth than lip, and its eyes were like egg whites, leaking viscous green pus. It was wearing some kind of tight skinned, tattered uniform, and I couldn’t really tell if the ghoul was male or female, only that it was hungry. It turned its head to the side and lunged over Gramzanber’s shaft to bite at my shoulder, eliciting a cry of pain from me as the pressure of the bite bruised me, even if the teeth couldn’t get through.

With a grunt I managed to get one of my hind legs pulled back and braced against the ghoul’s chest and shoved. It went flying into the wall with a wet smack, and before it fell I rolled to my hooves.

The dark promenade flashed with red light, and I saw Glint flying backwards, his laser rifles blazing a crimson trail against a trio of ghouls that scrambled and jumped after him. The red beams truck the lead ghoul and punched burning holes through it, but it kept coming, its flailing arms grasping the air and its long, humanoid legs giving it ridiculous speed as it jumped to try to pull Glint down.

He rolled aside, but the promenade only had about a twelve foot ceiling, and he had little room to maneuver. He couldn’t stay out of the ghoul’s reach for long.

Meanwhile Arcaidia, eye’s like silver headlights, had leapt from the bench she’d been sitting on and quickly thrown herself to the side as a pair of ghouls had charged at her. One ended up smashing itself onto the now empty bench, screaming in a deathly wail as it scrambled to right itself, but the other had snagged Arcaidia’s dress and was wrestling to try and pull the short statured unicorn towards its snapping teeth.

Arcaidia, face twisted to a hard mask, growled something in Veruni and shoved her horn towards both ghouls, the glowing script of a Crest spell flowing around her horn a moment before she snapped out a burst of thick ice that speared through one ghoul, and pinned it to the other. But both ghouls still moved, as if the ice spears were only an irritation, and flailed towards Arcaidia once more as she backed away.

I had troubles of my own, as the ghoul I’d thrown into the wall had landed on its feet and was coming towards me again, joined by another, the last of the bunch that I could see. Fortunately these things didn’t seem all that smart, just hungry and fast.

Luckily I was faster, now that I was no longer taken by surprise.

Accelerator.

Cool blue flowed over my vision, bathing everything in smooth cobalt hues. My blood still pounded in fear from the sudden attack, but I’d be damned if I was about to let myself or any of my companions get taken down by some decomposed corpses that didn’t know how to stay dead! I moved between the two ghouls coming at me, their motions slow as drunks trying to swim through syrup. Gramzanber’s edge spun in my hooves as I made one, then two neat and clean slices that severed each ghoul in half at the waist.

I turned from them before their bodies were even done falling into two pieces and rushed the trio going after Glint, as from what I could see Arcaidia had her starblaster well aimed at the pair going for her and was already firing. I could see the sparks of silvery white energy flowing through then out of her starblaster barrel in a brilliant slow motion display as I passed her, seeing the streaking bolt of alien light like a fast flowing stream as it smashed into the head of the lead ghoul going after my unicorn friend.

Yeah, she had that. I was more worried about Arcaidia’s mental health than her physical health. The look on her face wasn’t its usual, calm and cool mask when she fought. There was pain in her silver eyes, a tightness around her lips as she grimaced. I didn’t have to think hard to understand why. These weren’t just random enemies she was fighting, not just some monsters to put down.

These Veruni were Arcaidia’s crew. Her family. She’d worked with these people long before I’d ever met her. Now she was having to destroy their corpses as they tried to eat her.

My jaw clenched as I focused on the ghouls ahead of me, just as two of them managed to leap up and grab onto Glint, bearing him downward to the floor. I didn’t give them a chance to start tearing into him. Gramzanber’s flashing edge took the head off the one furthest back from Glint, then that strike flowed quickly into a thrust that pierced one of the ghouls bending over the pegasus. I shoved and turned the spear, throwing the ghoul against the wall with most of its chest missing, then turned the back end of the spears shaft around and thrust its spike through the head of the third ghoul just as its teeth were about to reach Glint’s throat.

I yanked back, tearing Gramzanber’s spike end free of the ghoul’s head, taking with it a good chunk of brain matter and matted, faded red hair. For good measure I turned around and proceeded to plant Gramzaner in the ground to act as leverage as I kicked out and smashed a hind hoof into the side of the ghoul and knocked it off of Glint.

Only then did I deactivate Accelerator and let my senses and reflexes return to normal speed. I grunted slightly from the pain of backlash, but it was notably less severe than usual. Was this because of the calibration data Gramzanber had downloaded? Regardless, I was grateful for it as I turned to see how Arcaidia was doing...

...Only to get a flying ghoul to the face.

“Oh shit!” my eloquent self managed to say before the ghoul, which was only half a ghoul I noticed, as it was the upper torso of one of the ghouls I’d cut in half, sprang at me while using its arms like legs and started biting at my face.

“Aaaaah!” I continue to opine in a most dignified manner as the ghoul went about the process of biting the ever loving crap out of me. It seemed to have wisened up to the idea that it couldn’t get through my armor, bit it was unfortunately aware of how unarmored my face was, so that’s what it went for. My nose took a painful nibble first, followed by my cheek, blood spurting from jagged old teeth ripping flesh.

Not in any good position to easily use Gramzanber, I started whacking the ghoul’s head with one hoof while pushing back with the other, trying to keep it from taking any more chunks out of my admittedly already fairly scarred up face. My strikes didn’t seem to be fazing this thing, but I was managing to prevent any more of my bits from being gnoshed upon for the moment. The problem was that this wasn’t the only ghoul having trouble staying death.

I saw the other ghoul I’d cut in half also pulling itself only with its arms, quickly approaching to join its friend in feasting upon fresh Longwalk. On top of that the ones I’d just knocked off of Glint weren’t dead either. The one with the caved in chest was rising, its body flopping this way and that but still standing with a pitiful moan. The one I’d spiked through the head was twitching as it also stood, and I saw the wound itself slowly closing like it was being affected by a healing spell.

They’re regenerating!?

Even the ghoul I’d decapitated was still moving, its body flopping around and it’s head randomly biting as it glared at me.

I didn’t have time to question why these things weren't dying like normal, because the bisected buddies were now both upon me, one of them clawing and biting at my hind legs while the other continued to try to make a meal of my face. In a desperate move I reached over with my head and grabbed up the shock baton in my right saddleback, yanking it out with my mouth. The ghoul on my chest took a bite for my vulnerable neck, but I knocked it aside, then rolled over and shoved the shock baton into its mouth and triggered it.

Sparks flew and the ghoul spasmed and flailed. I yelled in pain as the other ghoul got a good bite through the armor on my hind leg, but then I heard Glint yelling, “Longwalk, roll aside!”

I did so, kicking as I went, shoving the two ghouls off. I ended up tripping the third ghoul I’d stabbed through the chest, sending it tumbling to the ground. I glanced over to see Glint had flown over to the side of the promenade to get a clear line of fire, and now his laser rifles blazed to the point of their barrel’s turning bright, cherry red.

Crimson lances stabbed at the ghouls, but while Glint swept his rifle fire over them, he ended up focusing on just one at the end, pouring shot after shot into the ghoul whose head was regenerating.

After a second the ghoul’s body flailed and turned into a reddish orange outline before it turned to ash. I somehow didn’t think it’d regenerate from that. However Glint’s rifles were almost smoking and he was scrambling to eject their dead batteries and reload fresh ones, while we still had multiple ghouls stalking towards us.

I then heard a loud, piercing shout, a cry of wrath and pain as Arcaidia charged to the center of the room. The two ghouls she’d been dealing with were still alive, but one of them was missing an arm, and both were pierced by ice crystals. Arcaidia jumped to the center of the promenade, at around the middle point between us and all of our enemies, and her horn lit up with a fountain of pure blue magic. Multiple layers of Crest circles appeared and Arcaidia almost snarled as she turned her horn around in a circle and proceeding to bath the room in bursts of flowing ice.

The ice only narrowly missed me and Glint, while the rest of the area was turned into a wintry ice box of sparkling blue. Every single ghoul was frozen over, slammed into the wall or all but glued to the floor by a thick sheet of ice, only leaving the heads exposed.

Arcaidia’s legs shook, her face flushed red as she huffed out tired breaths, sinking to her haunches after that display of potent magic.

Gulping, I stood and said, “Arcaidia-”

She held up a hoof, “Quiet. Not done yet, ren solva.”

I looked around, seeing that the ghoul were indeed still alive. Each one was encased in ice save for their heads, which twisted and twitched around, each one letting out mournful, hungry moans that filled the air with a shuddering chorus. It made me feel sick to my stomach, listening to these tortured creatures.

Glint finished reloading his rifles and with a hard look on his own face aimed them at the closest ghoul, but Arcaidia spoke before he fired.

“No. Not your crew, not your task. Stand aside. Veruni take care of their own.”

He glanced at her briefly, then with a sighing shrug nodded his head and backed off. I just stared at Arcaidia as she calmly approached the first ice entrapped ghoul and aimed her starblaster at it’s head. I didn’t know what to say to her, so I just stayed respectfully silent as she set about the grim task of putting her old shipmates to rest, one silvery blast after another.

The starblaster did its work well. A concentrated beam, to the head of each ghoul, gradually turned them to white dust, a point to which none of them could conceivably regenerate from. The question as to why they could regenerate in the first place went unasked for now. It wasn’t as if any of us could do more than guess, anyway. Was it just a property of the Veruni turning to ghouls? Was it something in the Medical Bay that got into their bodies? I had no clue, and honestly it didn’t matter much. I was more worried about Arcaidia.

Once the task was done she just slumped against one wall of the promenade and sat there. I approached her, looking at her worriedly as I lowered my head to gaze up at her. It was a little hard to talk because my cheek was puffing up from the bite wound on it, but I ignored the pain.

“Arcaidia?”

She took a moment to respond, slowly looking at me. She then took a deep breath and slowly holstered her starblaster.

“I...I will be alright, ren solva. Just... need minute or two.”

I wasn’t sure if I should press harder or not, but I doubted she’d appreciate it, so I just nodded and turned to sit next to her. I noticed that Glint was looking at Arcaidia, his face pensive and contemplating. When he saw me looking he glanced away, with something akin to a shadow of guilt on his rusty red features.

A moment later a set of dots appeared on my E.F.S, coming from the end of the promenade’s hall entrance. I stood, but not with any haste or readiness for combat. The dots weren’t red, after all.

“Okay, who’s screwing with my bucky and in need of a swift belly stabbing!?” Binge said as she did a surprisingly smooth somersault into the hall, the large gleaming form of a steak knife of the ‘Cosmic’ brand in her mouth, her poofy tail bristling.

Crossfire dove in behind her, rolling to the side and coming up with her rifle aimed in her crimson magic aura. B.B and LIL-E rushed in above them, the robot with its weapons deployed and my pegasus friend bearing all her revolvers, both wrist mounted and mouth borne.

They paused, looking at us, and the piles of ghouls dust. A second of silence passed, followed by the entirety of Glint’s squad piling into the room behind my friends with their own weapons out, all of them panting as if they galloped here.

“Glint! Are you okay!?” Springbreeze asked, pale white face seeking this way and that, “We heard gunfire and came as fast as we could...uh... what happened?”

“Good question,” said LIL-E, floating towards the center of the room, “My sensors had picked up a bunch of hostile signals. You guys look like you just had a fight.”

“Oooooh, is Longykins letting other ponies bite him now?” Binge asked as she sauntered up to me, “Makes me jealous I missed the fun.”

She licked the wound on my cheek, making me freeze in place for a second. I was getting exceedingly odd looks from Glint and the rest of his squad. It probably spoke volumes that my own companions barely gave Binge’s behavior a second glance, though Crossfire rolled her eyes as she approached and gave me a level look.

“Alright, let’s hear it, what’d you run into this time?”

Glint and I both took turns more or less giving the rundown on the encounter with the regenerating ghouls, while Arcaidia kept silent and remained sitting where she was. By the end of it B.B was giving the unicorn a look even more worried and sympathetic than I had, and glided over to Arcaidia to sit beside her.

“I’m sorry ya had ta deal wit that, Arc,” B.B said, gently brushing Arcaidia’s shoulder with a wing. Arcaidia closed her eyes and nodded.

“Its for best I did. Crew should not suffer unnatural life. Ended suffering...” Arcaidia sighed, rubbing one hoof over the other, “All I could do for them, now.”

“What’s with her?” asked the griffin on Glint’s squad, Gale, pointing with a talon in Arcaidia’s vague direction, “Sounds like she kicked some serious ghoul ass and saved us the trouble of cleaning up our own mess.”

Arcaidia flinched, but it was Glint that spoke up before anypony else could, “Private Gale, that’s enough. Those were her crewmates.”

Gale blinked, then coughed and said, “Sorry sir. Just saying...”

“That’s enough talk in general. We’ve got work to do here,” Glint said, turning to me, “Longwalk, my squad will guard the area out here, while your team takes care of what it needs to in the Medical Lab. Sound good?”

“Yeah, that’ll work,” I said, “Just give a shout if anything happens and we’ll come running.”

“Sir, one of us should still keep an eye on them in the lab,” said Springbreeze, eyeing me, then Arcaidia, “Just in case.”

“Just n’ case o’ what?” growled B.B, “Ya think we’re gonna try n’ attack ya with medical instruments? Lay off the dang suspicious already!”

“Hey, for all we know the Veruni have some kind of crazy plague or bio-weapon in there that she,” Springbreeze pointed at Arcaidia, “Could know how to activate. She could end up killing all of us.”

“That’s enough Spring,” said Glint, “If there was anything that dangerous in there we would have caught it in our first sweep. Let’s try to show a little trust here.”

Springbreeze looked like she wanted to argue, but she sighed and offered Glint a quick salute, “Yes, sir.”

I gave Glint a grateful look and after a minute Arcaidia was able to shuffle to her hooves. I could see her building her mental state back up, filling her eyes with sharp eyed focus once more as she pocketed the feelings of sadness and guilt that had been weighing on her. Together we all walked into the Medical Lab while Glint’s squad took up guard positions outside. I noticed Springbreeze took up a position very close to the Medical Lab doors, the squad medic Suture standing on the opposite side of the door. I supposed that made sense. Suture was medically trained, so he might recognize anything dangerous we did in here.

I suppose trust only went so far, but honestly I didn’t take it personally. I understood the hostility from Springbreeze, and Glint was likely just tossing her proverbial bone by letting her stand guard at the door, even if it was outside the door.

I put that from my mind as we got a proper look around the Arc of Destiny’s Medical Lab. It was a fairly large room, easily twice as wide as the bridge and nearly three times longer, and gently curved into an arc that bend towards the far hull. Comfortable looking beds covered in dusty white sheets lined up along the walls to our right, separated by panes of glass, most of which were partially broken or shattered in small crystalline pieces on the floor. Tables and cabinets filled up space in between the beds, and a semi-circular, wide desk sprang from the wall directly opposite the doors. On that desk was a set of those small plastic screen projectors, one bent over and partially melted.

Multiple parts of the wall or floor bore burn marks and splashes of blood, likely the remnants of the fight Odessa had here with the ghouls the first time. To our left the Medical Lab was less filled with beds and more filled up with tables of random, oddly shaped equipment that I could only assume was what the Veruni used for their medical research. It reminded me a lot of the labs I saw back in Stable 104, only everything here had that distinct tendency the Veruni tech had towards white and silver coloring, smooth metallic coating, and elegant and odd curves to the equipment.

The majority of it was damaged or in disarray, with several of the beds or tables tossed over or smashed up against the wall. Still, this room was more intact than many places I’d seen in the crashed ship, which I supposed was a good sign.

“Blech,” said Binge, “I don’t like this place. Tastes like old chemicals and broken hopes in here.”

“Don’t you mean smell?” asked LIL-E.

“No. Why would I smell that?”

“Why would you-!?...You know what? Never mind,” said LIL-E, making a whirring noise that might have been a sigh, “Hey Longwalk, I figure you guys got this in here. I think I’ll go patrol the nearby corridors.”

“Um...okay?” I said, glancing sidelong at the eyebot, “Are you sure that’s a good idea? I mean, I know you’re sensors are pretty awesome, but you’ve admitted that they’re a bit wonky in this ship, and we already know there’s a chance for wandering monsters in here. If you go patrolling, you’ll be alone, without backup if something attacks.”

“Won’t be a problem,” LIL-E said, floating closer to me and lowering her volume, perhaps so Glint’s squad couldn’t hear her, “I’m still picking up a sensor ghost out there. It might be nothing, but in case its not, I want to double back a bit and see if I can get a clearer scan on it. I promise I won’t do anything stupid, Longwalk, so don’t worry about me.”

She paused before adding, “It’s not like I’m really alive anyway.”

That made me look at her more fully in the dark face-plate. LIL-E might not have had a pony face, but it was just natural for me to want to look at her head on, even if I couldn’t really look her in the ‘eye’, so to speak. I put a hoof up and touched her metal surface, my voice going serious.

“You’re alive enough that I don’t want you taking any risks, LIL-E. I won’t say you can’t go, but be careful, okay? I’m not losing any friends today.”

The eyebot hovered there for a second or two, then said, “Celestia’s tits on toast, you’re a real sentimental sap, you know that? Relax, I won’t even go that far. Just want to check if that damned sensor ghost is real or not.”

I still didn’t like it, but I understood that LIL-E was probably going to go whether I agreed or not, and the eyebot was more than able of taking care of herself. Besides, it was just possible there was something to this sensor ghost, and LIL-E was the one best suited to scout it out. I hadn’t forgotten that mysterious shot that had nearly hit B.B during the fight against the Golem. I had a bad feeling about it, like there was something I’d overlooked.

“Alright,” I said, “Just give a shout on my or Arcaidia’s Pip-Buck if anything happens.”

I swear she gave a little waggle of her floating metallic chassis that looked like an exasperated hoof wave as she floated back out to the hallway and floated on by Glint’s squad as she headed into the deeper, darker corridors beyond. Glint poked his head into the Medical Bay to give me a questioning look and I shrugged at him.

“She’s just checking things out.”

He shrugged back at me, only he used his wings to do it, “She’s not my bot.”

“She’s not mine either. She’s her own,” I pointed out, and turned to see what my other companions were doing.

B.B was corralling Binge away from one of the overhanging cabinets along one wall, promptly putting away a silver container that was half open and had rows of some kind of blue tablets packaged in what looked like small plastic bubble-shaped containers. Binge already had one in her mouth as B.B yanked it out with a wing.

“Will ya stop tryin’ ta find new n’ creative ways ta make trouble?” B.B said, “Ya don’t even know what them pills do!”

Binge sniffed at the package, licking her lips as her tail did a twitching dance behind her, “I’ve got a nose for sweet, brain buzzing chems, birdie. I can tell this blue ones will sing sweet, dreamy songs that take pain away and make you feel like the sky is giving you some ‘down there’ time.”

“Now how’re ya even gonna tell me you can smell that when these thing’re still in the package? ‘Sides, they’re alien drugs. Even if they’re painkillers or whatever, they’re fer workin’ with Veruni bodies, not ponies. You’d as like ta foam at the mouth an’ have a seizure if ya took these.”

I cleared my throat loudly as I trotted up beside them, patting Binge’s withers, “B.B’s got a point, Binge. I don’t know how safe it is to take anything in here. Uh, Arcaidia?”

I figured I’d ask her, since she was the one who’d likely know. Arcaidia herself was across on the left side of the Medical Bay, shuffling through some of the machines over there and checking them over, probably to make sure they still worked. Her silver mane bobbed as she looked up from her work and tilted her head at us.

“What shivol bir doing now?” Arcaidia’s horn light focused on us, and Arcaidia saw the drugs on the cabinet table, and her eyes narrowed, “Huh, those strong sense taking medicines. Good for wounded who hurt greatly.”

I exchanged a look with B.B and Binge, the later looking particularly pleased with herself for sniffing out the drugs for what they were.

“Huh, okay but would they be safe for ponies to use?”

Arcaidia’s eyes glanced upward thoughtfully as she prodded her chin with a hoof, “Hmm, no, I think not likely much? I always need adjusted dosage when I here for treatment before. Doubt taking medicine would works same on pony without adjusting, but hey, if Binge want risk it, that her business.”

I looked back at Binge, and she saw the look in my eyes and she rolled her eyes, but smiled in a somewhat crooked manner, “Fiiiiiine, I won’t eat up the yummy alien candies...” she quickly snached up a few packages of the small blue tablets and stuffed them into her tail, winking at me, “At least not until I test them to make sure they won’t scramble me up too much. The spiders back in the Stable will like testing sciency stuff on these, right?”

“That’s... not a bad point,” I said, figuring Binge was right about that much. The spider ponies in Stable 104 would probably enjoy studying a lot of the things here in the Ark of Destiny, and it was just a few pills so I saw no harm in letting Binge take a package or two, just as long as she didn’t use any until they were properly tested.

As Binge continued to shuffle around the cabinets, with B.B keeping an eye on her, I did a quick canter over to see what Arcaidia was doing. She’d was moving between two machines in the far corner of the room, one of them looking like another Veruni terminal, and the other a rather odd looking device almost the size of two or three ponies together. It was a cylindrical edifice mounted on a sturdy swivel, with multiple seams across its silvery metallic surface. Glass lights, glowing faintly blue, formed two rings on either end of the cylinder, and a number of small cables plugged into one bottom end and snaked into the wall.

“So, is this what will help you get a new leg?” I asked, a little gingerly. I didn’t really like reminding Arcaidia about her leg, both because I think she was still a bit sensitive about it, and honestly I hadn’t fully forgiven myself for letting her get hurt like that in the first place. The strain of being here in the ship, with the recent event of having to put down the living corpses of some of her own crew, was showing on Arcaidia’s face as wane shadows under her eyes as she glanced at me.

“Secondary power barely functional, but enough to operate one re...reger...augh, B.B! What word for making new thing grow?”

“Regenerate?” B.B provided, then muttered something as she smacked Binge’s hoof, which was reaching for a table with what looked like some kind of ridiculous circular saw on it. I had no idea what it was for, but chances were Binge didn’t need to turn it on.

There was a small crash of noise which got all of our attention, and on the other side of the room Crossfire coughed and trotted around the edge of one of the bed partitions, her own saddlebags bulging with random bits of Veruni medical equipment and supplies. She blinked at all of us, then with an affected air of indignation said, “What? The NCR doesn’t need all of this stuff, and some of it might be useful for... things.”

“Selling?” I said, “I imagine there are ponies in Skull City that’d pay a lot for genuine alien tech, even if it was just the Veruni equivalent of a bandage.”

Crossfire snorted, “Or, like what your frosty friend is looking for, something that’ll regenerate whole limbs.”

There was a pointed, hard look in her eyes, mixed with a momentary flash of guilt, and I recalled that Crossfire’s real goal had less to do with caps and more to do with helping a certain cheerful, female ghoul. Little wonder she wanted to raid the Veruni’s medical tech. And given what Arcaidia was here to do, it also made sense when Crossfire trotted over to our side of the Medical Bay to watch Arcaidia with curiosity, golden eyes roving over the large, cylindrical machine.

“This thing here capable of growing you a new kicker?” Crossfire asked, waving a forehoof at it.

“Yes,” Arcaidia said, “As I trying to say to ren solva, low power mean regeneration vat not work as fast as normal, but terminal still work.”

She nodded at the terminal in question, which was covered in screens filled with odd, angular alien script I couldn’t read. Arcaidia pointed at some of it, a screen showing an odd looking helix shape. “Ship computer already have my D.N.A on file, so all I need do is put in information on what need regeneration. After vat grows leg, I use auto-surgeon to reattach. Takes time. Painful, if no drugs used.”

“How long?” I asked, anxious. I didn’t know how long we had to roam around in here before either the NCR folks or Whiteheart would start to wonder about us.

Arcaidia frowned at my question, and I could see the calculations going on in her mind, “Hours, maybe. Two? Three? I not know for sure.”

“But it’ll work,” Crossfire said with an intensity entering her town as she walked over to the machine, staring at it, “This here can just... grow new legs, as long as it has the right... what did you call it?”

“D.N.A.”

“Yeah, that. It gets that, it can grow anypony new legs. Then another machine here can hook them up, and they’ll work just like new?”

Arcaidia nodded, “That power of Veruni technology.”

I didn’t even have to look at Crossfire very closely to see her inner wheels turning. She was looking at the regeneration vat like it was some sort of sacred object now, and I could see the rise and fall of her dark furred chest as she started to breath a little faster. Crossfire raised a hoof to run over the machine, lightly, as if she was afraid of breaking it.

Arcaidia gave me a look, and I coughed, trotting over to Crossfire, “I get why you want this, Crossfire, but remember we can’t just haul it out of here.”

“I know that,” Crossfire said, “The NCR would never let us take it. And those damn Odessa skyrats would probably want to take this, along with the rest of the ship.”

She gave me a sharp look, those yellow eyes filling with a steel-clad resolve that was hard to argue with. Her voice reflected this, stone cold and filled with a lot more emotion than I’d heard from Crossfire in most the days I’d known her, “But I can’t just ignore this. I’ve been looking for something like this for a long time, buck. No way I’m letting it slip out of my hooves. Not when I’m this close.”

“I understand that, and believe it or not, I’m not disagreeing with you, for once,” I said, my face creasing in heavy thought, “Arcaidia, are the machines for this detachable?”

“Yes, but they are very heavy,” she said, “We could not move them with ease.”

“And it's not like we can do much with Glint’s squad right outside to watch us,” I whispered, but then I had a sudden burst of inspiration. I looked at Crossfire and Arcaidia with wide eyes, “Wait, I’ve got an idea.”

“Huh?” Crossfire looked at me strangely, but I was already turning to pat a hoof on Gramzanber.

Hey Gram, you’re downloading the ship database, right?

Gramzanber’s response took a second, Presently, yes. It will take some time, yet.

I nodded, Does that database included schematics for these machines Arcaidia is using to regrow her leg?

Another pause, then, ...Yes, details on construction and materials are present. Shall I prioritize that information in the download process?

“Go for it,” I said aloud, and at the quizzical looks I was getting I let out an embarrassed cough and said, “Uh, I’m having Gramzanber download a few things from the ship computer. Among them is going to be schematics to build the machines needed to regenerate limbs and such. I, um, figure the folk at Stable 104 might be skilled enough to build them.”

Arcaidia stiffened somewhat, her ears twitching, “I not know you stealing Veruni data, ren solva...but, if it help then I suppose it not worth arguing over.”

“Damn straight it's not,” Crossfire said, her own tail lashing as she looked at me sidelong, almost as if she was embarrassed herself to show me the gratitude on her face, “If you can get a copy of this machine working, kid, I’ll owe you.”

Her eyes narrowed to golden dagger edges, “But so help me if you’re blowing smoke up my ass, or you somehow screw this up and cost me the one shot I’ve got to...” she shook her head, “We’ll have one hell of a score to settle. Count on it.”

I could only nod my agreement, “Believe me, I want this to work, and I sure as hell am hoping it does.”

On the heels of my words, Arcaidia pressed a few buttons on the terminal, and with a smooth hum of energy the metallic cylinder machine glowed blue on either end as the rings there lit up. It turned on its swivel mount until it was standing upright, and some of the seams along its length hissed open. Inside the cylinder was a glass tube, filled with an liquid tinted an electric blue color. As streams of energy poured into the liquid from the glowing blue rings, the liquid bubbled and fizzed. Then from the bottom of the cylinder a tiny red orb was released, which I realized was pulsing like a miniature heart. Crossfire and I both exchanged looks with each other and peered more closely.

Inside the tube the small red glob, no larger than an eyeball, began to slowly grow, stretching outward, tiny fibers extending from it like waving feelers.

“What is that?” I asked.

“Bio-matter sphere,” Arcaidia said, pointing at the cylinder with her horn, “Blank flesh introduced to nutrient rich liquid. Combination of Crest Sorcery and nano-tech rewrite and guide genetic growth. Small bit of flesh grows into shape programmed into it. Organ. Limb. Whatever is needed.”

“That’s... neat,” I said, backing up a bit. Not that I wasn’t happy Arcaidia was growing a new leg for herself, or that we might be able to use this same technology to help Knobs. However I couldn’t help but note how eerily similar this technology was to what the Hyadeans used to create their bio-monsters.

I wondered if Arcaidia herself, or the Veruni in general, realized the similarity? Maybe it was just coincidence. Still, there was something faintly unsettling about watching that small bit of red flesh start to grow.

Arcaidia said the Veruni could grow it into anything. So what stopped them from growing flesh into monsters of their own?

I shook my head. I was starting to think like Odessa. I trusted Arcaidia. I didn’t know if I trusted the Veruni as a whole, but if Arcaidia came from them, then they couldn’t be all bad. Besides, any technology could be used for positive or negative ends. Just look at Gramzanber. I could technically use the power of my ARM to do horrible things. Instead I chose to use him and the power he granted me to try and help as many people, pony or otherwise, that I could.

My ruminations were abruptly interrupted as I felt the metal deck shift beneath my hooves, followed by a distant rumble of sound.

Everypony stopped, and we all looked at each other.

“That didn’t strike me as a good sound,” I said.

“No shit,” Crossfire replied tersely, unslinging her rifle in a harsh red glow of magic, “That sounded like an interior explosion.”

“How can you tell?” I asked, and she gave me a withering look.

“I got some background with explosives. Now stop asking stupid questions. You got anything on that fancy Pip-Buck of yours?”

Glancing over my E.F.S didn’t show any red dots, only the dense collection of greens from my companions and Glint’s squad. I reported as much.

“I have no hostiles on mine either,” said Arcaidia, her eyes hardening to a steel gleam as she flicked her tail, “But that not mean anything. Ship very big. If hostiles on board, they must be outside range.”

The deck beneath us shuddered again, and I heard once more a faint rumbling noise. I cocked my ears, trying to pinpoint the sound’s origin, but given the winding nature of the ship’s corridors, it could be coming from anywhere.

“If someponies are partying hard enough to make the floor shake and dance, then isn’t this fragile jigsaw of a steel coffin going to fall apart even more?” pointed out Binge, licking her lips.

That was an unpleasant point to consider. However since we couldn’t tell where the sound was coming from, there wasn’t a lot we could do. But that didn’t mean we didn’t have options. I looked at my Pip-Buck and fiddled with the dials until I got to the radio, and located LIL-E’s signal. Pushing the button to broadcast, I said, “LIL-E? You there?”

A second later her voice came back over the Pip-Buck speaker, “I hear you, Longwalk. You feeling those tremors too?”

“Yeah, can you tell what they are and where they’re at from your location?” I asked, just as the deck gave another shudder and an echo of loud, metallic rumbling reached us. It sounded almost like metal being shredded; a high pitched, metal roar.

“Bet the Goddesses’ sparkling asses I can!” replied the eyebot, “My sensors are going wild. There’s a huge energy signature outside the ship, big enough that even with interference I can still read it. Its near the rear section of the ship, and if what I’m reading is accurate, this might be another Golem.”

I felt a distinct sensation of my stallionhood trying to vacate upwards into my stomach, and gulped. Another Golem!? I mean, I knew there were more out there, and at least one of them was under the control of the Hyadeans, but I didn’t think we’d be dealing with another of those metal monstrosities so soon. Had the destruction of Roaring Metal somehow triggered another one, like a distress signal? Or were the Hyadeans just pulling out the big guns here for another reason?

Well, Odessa is here. If they realized that, they could be sending out something as powerful as a Golem to try to deal a serious blow to their largest enemy at the moment, I mused, but the thought was a distant one as the rest of my brain was in the process of wanting to panic. I took a deep breath, trying to calm myself as I glanced around at my friends.

Arcaidia was already on the terminal she had active, her face a mask of concentration as her hooves flew over buttons. Within seconds she had a screen pop up that showed an exterior view of the ship from the angle of one of the engine pylons. She turned the screen towards us with a soft curse under her breath.

Yup, that was a Golem alright. I recognized it from the escape on the Varukisias. This Golem had attacked the Odessa airship back then, while me and my tribemates had been trying to escape. It’d punched a hole right in the side of the ship and I’d damn near fallen out!

This Golem was smaller than Roaring Metal, now that I could get a good view at its whole body. Maybe two thirds Roaring Metal’s size, this Golem had a light gray armored exterior with a slim, humanoid body. Its legs dangled out from beneath a wide, armored skirt, and ended in sharp metal spikes. Its arms, equally spindly, also ended in spikes, which the Golem was presently spinning around like drills as it worked at stabbing an ever widening hole in the back of the Veruni ship. The Golem hovered on a pair of curved, blocky metal wings that issued forth a haze of faint blue-green light. Teal, gem-like eyes blazed brightly from behind a metal faceplate and beneath a crested helmet.

The Golem’s strikes on the ship’s hull were measured, and the armor of the Veruni ship was withstanding a lot of punishment, only yielding a small amount with each extra blow on its silver surface.

“The hell is that thing doin’?” asked B.B, “Tryin’ ta git inside?”

Arcaidia shook her head, pulling up a quick schematic of the ship on the computer and showing us a large compartment towards the back of the vessel, one that looked like it housed some kind of huge machinery. “No, it going for engine room. Trying to open up hole to ship power core.”

“Why would it be doing that?” I wondered aloud.

“Who the hell cares?” said Crossfire, “We need to be gone before it finishes getting to that core, because I’m willing to bet solid caps that whatever it’s plans are won’t be good for anypony still on board!”

True. If the Golem’s aim was to destroy the ship, blowing up the power core would probably get the job done and then some. Even if that wasn’t the Golem’s aim, messing with the ship’s engines probably wouldn’t mean anything good for the structure of the rest of the ship, which was already trashed from the crash. Staying on board was probably a bad idea. But at the same time I didn’t thing Odessa would give up this prize so easily, and I wasn’t exactly eager to abandon them to fight the Golem alone. On top of that, Arcaidia had just started the process to grow a new leg for herself! She’d said it’d take a few hours for that to complete, at least. I doubted the Golem was going to give us those hours, so naturally we had to stop it before it did something to the ship’s power core.

“We can’t leave,” I said, “Not without trying to stop that Golem.”

For a second I thought Crossfire might argue with me, but then I saw her think about it, and go through at least some of the same realizations I did. I knew she didn’t give two rusted caps about Odessa, but the regeneration vat was her ticket to helping Knobs get her legs back. Much as Crossfire might have been a practical minded sort, driven by self-interest and self-preservation in equal measure, Knobs was her one exception that I’d seen. Crossfire was willing to risk a lot for Knobs, and I could see it in her eyes when her mind switched modes from fight or flight survival, to wanting to preserve this ship and its technology at any cost.

“Shit,” Crossfire muttered, “I hate to say it, but you’re right, buck. I can’t let that thing tear this ship up. Dammit, we barely beat the last one.”

“And that’s when we had a big, nasty, scaly, burn a helpless screaming pony up in one breath of fire, dragon on our side,” pointed out Binge, but she didn’t seem disturbed by the thought and instead bounced on her hooves with a grin, “So this should be extra fun, right?”

“I’m a bit too far away, and I don’t have hooves, so could somepony please smack her upside the head for me?” LIL-E said over my Pip-Buck, to which B.B lightly swatted Binge’s head with a wing, rather immediately wincing as one of the many sharp objects hidden in Binge’s mane poked her.

“Heheh, my head is extra protected against retaliatory smacking!” Binge declared, and B.B sighed heavily.

“Gave it my best shot, LIL.”

“I appreciate the effort,” said LIL-E, “So what’s the plan?”

Before I could answer, Glint flew into the Medical Bay, most of his squad forming up behind him. He was just finishing up talking to somepony on his helmet’s radio, nodding his head.

“Yes, yes ma’am, we’re on it, Glint out,” he said and then looked up at us, jaw set in a tight grimace as he took in the sight of the terminal screen Arcaidia had showed us, which still had the image of the Golem outside attacking the ship.

“Guess that means you already know,” he said to me, “Colonel Odessa has ordered all available forces to engage the Golem. My father is already en route from the engine room to the top deck. Now I know you’re not under any obligation to help us but-”

“We’re in,” I said, and at his blinking look of mild astonishment I just chuckled, hefting Gramzanber, “I mean, what did you think I was going to do, Glint? Abandon you guys to face something like that alone? I’ve felt first-hoof how dangerous these Golems are. You’re going to need all the help you can get.”

Nosedive let out a small laugh, elbowing Springbreeze, “Told you so. Pay up.”

Spring responded with a sniff and a quick exchange of what looked like some kind of paper-based currency which I assumed was what Odessa used among their own kind, in lieu of caps.

Glint glanced back at his squad sharply, and they all stood at rigid attention, and the then turned back to me, “We don’t have a lot of time to work out a plan of attack. Follow us. If we’re lucky there won’t be any resistance on the way to the deck. My father will probably engage first. If you have weapons that can hurt the Golem, let us get it nice and distracted for you, then hit it from behind.”

“I’ve heard worse plans,” Crossfire said, checking her rifle, “Don’t suppose you Odessa flyboys and gals have any heavy ordnance to hit it with?”

Glint shook his head, “We could call in the Vesuvius, but it's railguns would risk damage this ship if it fired on the Golem with it this close to the hull.”

“What if we could drive it away from the hull?” I asked.

“Then whoever was still close to the Golem would still risk getting caught in the barrage. We might risk it if it comes to that, but that’ll be the Colonel’s call to make,” Glint replied swiftly, and the deck shook again under another blow from outside.

“Think that’s our cue to get our butts moving,” I said, “Which way to the top deck?”

“Follow us-” Glint began to say, but Arcaidia swept by him and with a hard glance, moved for the door.

“I know my ship better than intruders here to take her. You follow me,” she said, snapping her tail in a decisive motion and quickly heading out of the room. I cleared my throat and gave Glint a half-apologetic look and quickly galloped after her, my companions all moving as one behind me. I heard somepony in Glint’s squad mutter something, probably Springbreeze, but not what they said, and soon Glint’s team was following along behind us as we all moved out in one large group.

“LIL-E,” I said into my Pip-Buck as I rushed along in Arcaidia’s wake, “Lock onto Arcaidia’s Pip-Buck signal. She’s leading the way to the ship’s upper deck, where we’re going to give a go at taking out two Golems in one day.”

“Fun times,” LIL-E said, “I’ll meet you guys there. Don’t die without me.”

“Your vote of confidence fills me with hope,” I replied with a wry grin, and then all of my focus was on running. The steady clang and rumble of the Golem outside matched our steps, and the shaking deck only got louder as we ran down the darkened corridors towards our second clash with an ancient, deadly warmachine in the same twenty four hour period.

----------

From the bodies we’d found earlier I’d known the ship might have had some Hyadean bio-monsters left on board. It was one of several reasons I’d double-timed it to catch up to Arcaidia as she led us at a breakneck pace through the ship’s winding halls, half of which were so wreaked or bent out of shape from the crash that we had to take quick detours through other compartments.

The creatures attacked in a trio from the shadows of one corridor on our left as Arcaidia had started to make a sharp right turn towards an open, small cargo bay that had a set of stairs leading up one level. The Hyadean beasts must have been waiting, hearing our approach. One came loping along the ceiling, its spiked claws jamming into the bulkheads as it moved. Another was on the wall to our left, ripping up glass panels as it came. The last one scampered along the floor, faster than the most hyperactive gecko I’d ever seen.

By all accounts an ambush like that should have caused us some serious trouble. Thank the Ancestor Spirits for E.F.S.

Both my and Arcaidia’s Pip-Bucks has picked up the dangers before we’d even turned the corridor, and what the Hyadean bio-monsters thought was their own ambush, swiftly became them stepping into our own trap. Only I and Arcaidia had run into the hall, and as we’d planned out beforehoof, we threw ourselves to the deck, Arcaidia casting a swift spell of ice that formed a thick sheet of frost in front of us.

Meanwhile Glint’s squad, along with Crossfire and B.B, all unleashed their firepower at once, having set up at the end of the hall just seconds after Arcaidia and I had run into spring the ambush.

The hall was filled with sound and fury as over half a dozen barrels from magical energy weapons, hefty rifles, and a pair of ARM pistols filled the space over my and Arcaidia’s heads with a storm of pure death.

Two of the Hyadean bio-monsters were torn limb, from clawed limb, their warbling howls filling the air as purple blood sprayed the corridor. The third beast, the one on the ceiling, avoided just enough of the hail of magical beams and bullets to leap down towards me and Arcaidia, but my friendly local bringer of arctic destruction let her horn flash briefly with a Crest symbol and the ice sheet she’d created a moment earlier now erupted with deadly spikes of ice that impaled the beast before it reached us.

It let out a pitiful little gurgle as it thrashed on the spikes, then a heavy rifle round form Crossfire’s Sniper Shark XR took its head off with one well placed shot between the eyes.

I coughed as I wiped purple blood and brain matter from my face, giving Crossfire a quick glare. She just shrugged at me, smirking slightly as she shouldered her smoking rifle.

“Hope that’s the last of those things on the ship,” Glint grunted as he and the rest of my companions caught up with us. “Last thing we need is a bunch of those coming up behind us while we deal with the Golem.”

I remembered the strange portals the Hyadeans had used back on the Varukisias and gave Glint a questioning look as we got moving again, the group shuffling into the cargo hold and heading up the stairs situated along the right side of the room.

“Can’t the Hyadeans just teleport more enemies onto us?”

“I'm not sure,” he said, smoke still trailing up from his near overheated laser rifles, “Odessa has never quite pinned down how the Hyadeans teleport in the first place. It's not like the teleportation spell unicorns use. We've seen them do everything from pin-point portals that could open up in enclosed spaces, to opening up large portals to bring in small armies of monsters. The only thing we know for sure is that they usually can only create a limited number of portals at any given time, probably due to some limit on the energy it takes to generate them. The only exception are their leaders, who seem to have the power to teleport themselves around at will.”

“But the Golem can't teleport on its own, right?” I said, and Glint gave a confirming nod, which led me to further ask, “So did the Golem just fly here or what?”

“Probably. It’s got wings, doesn’t it?”

Ah, right. Stupid question, meet stupid answer. I nodded and left it at that as we kept running.

“Couldn’t help but notice,” spoke up the griffin on Glint’s squad, Gale, “That those NCR lazyasses outside aren’t doing anything about the Golem.”

Glint waved a wing at her, as if to wave aside the question itself, “Their dragon is too injured to fight, and they only have a couple of Raptors on site. What are they going to do, Gale? They won’t send their soldiers to die uselessly, and bombarding the thing with the Raptors runs the same risk of damaging the ship the want to salvage, same as we run if we tried to call air support from the Vesuvius. Their wings are tied. All the NCR can do is watch.”

“That won’t last,” said Crossfire, “Stupid or not, they won’t wait forever while the Golem tears this ship up. Risky or not they’ll bring in reinforcements and make a move if we don’t do something first.”

“That’ll probably take ‘em some time, though,” said B.B, “Could be an’ hour or more ‘fore any backup arrives from the nearest base.”

“What about... you know... Her,” said Springbreeze, the emphases she put on the ‘Her’ making it clear she meant that with a capital H. “The Lightbringer.”

I perked my ears at that, and heard Binge make a small, gasping whine at the name. Glint, for his part, just shrugged.

“If our intel is anything close to accurate concerning the Lightbringer, she’s watching this whole scenario unfold from on high. But she’s in the same boat anypony else with big guns is. Anything she might do could damage the ship. Doubt we’ll see any fireworks from the sky unless we move the Golem away from the ship.”

“Uh, I don’t really know much about this Lightbringer lady. What exactly could she do?” I asked.

“Don’t worry ‘bout it,” said B.B, “Glint’s right that we ain’t likely ta see her doin’ anything wit the situation what it is. Were things different we might be seein’ some lightin’ an’ thunder comin’ down from the sky, but I wouldn’t count on it.”

Okay then. That didn’t entirely make sense to me, but then I didn’t really get the full context of what they were talking about either. Chances were B.B and Glint knew more about this ‘Lightbringer’ than I did, so I’d trust what they said. It did leave me feeling a bit like an uneducated lout, however. Then again, what else was new? I kind of was uneducated, but most standards.

After a few more twists and turns in our route, we finally made it to a doorway that opened up to a very short hall and a steep ramp that led to a set of horizontal hatches across the ceiling. Arcaidia swiftly cantered up to the hatches and with her magic opened up a panel on the side of the wall, quickly pushing in buttons on a miniature pad that appeared there.

“Emergency deck access,” she explained, “Used for space walks, maintenance and repair, or escape in case of crash. Leads to ‘roof’ of ship.”

Right, I’d figured we’d be running across the top of the ship to confront the Golem. The ship was at a bit of an angle, but from what I’d seen outside the back portion of it was all exposed to air, and even enough that we could move across it without slipping as long as we didn’t completely trip over ourselves.

A tense moment passed as Arcaidia worked in the last few button presses to tell the hatches to open. Deep red lights flashed in a moving pattern across either side of the hallway and a monotone female voice said something in Veruni, probably some kind of ‘stand back’ warning before the hatches on the ceiling opened up with a sharp hiss of noise.

Daylight poured in, making me wince after spending what had probably at least been an hour inside the ship’s gloomy interior. Sweet smelling air blew over us, and suddenly we could hear the loud, metal CLANG, CLANG, CLANG of the Golem’s spiked limb pounding into the ship’s hull.

“Alright, let’s do this!” I said, and we all piled out.

The ramp led up to the smooth roof of the ship. The rocky face of the ground the Ark of Destiny had ploughed a ravine into hung to our left, less than twenty feet away, and then the rest of the ship’s aft section spread out to our right for a good distance, several hundred paces give or take. I could see the aft engine pylons looming overhead like huge, overhanging bridges.

And at the end of the ship was the Golem, its slim form hovering in the air as it jabbed an arm into the deck, sparks flying as the heavy, pointed end make the dent it was creating even larger.

It hadn’t looked up at us yet, so I didn’t think it’d seen us.

Glint, his red eyes casting about, said, “Where the hell is my dad?”

Almost right then there was a titanic crash of noise about halfway between us and the Golem, and I starred with utter astonishment as an entire ten foot section of the roof deck just exploded upwards, spinning like a kicked can. From the neatly torn hole in the roof a single pegasus flew up, hefting a huge silver chainsaw in front of him. The artificial ARM’s engine was creating a revving noise that was almost as loud as Spike’s roar.

Hammerfall, member of Odessa Special Forces Unit Cocytus, surveyed the Golem with a hoof shading his bushy brow, grinning merrily as he let out a whistle. He then glanced back at us and his grin widened.

“Oh hey, Glint my boy~! What’re you doing all the way back there!? The fight’s this way! Come on, don’t be slacking off when there’s a fight to be had!”

With that he flew towards the Golem in an aerial charge, bellowing a laugh that matched the revving howl of his silver chainsaw.

I glanced at Glint, who just hung his head and said in a deadpan voice, “I have no idea how he and my mom got together.”

Hammerfall, despite his muscled bulk, was in no way a slow flier. He crossed the distance to the Golem in the span of a few breaths, and as he did so I saw that around the teeth of his spinning chainsaw ARM, there was an ever growing aura of sharp white light. The Golem reacted just as Hammerfall reached it, raising its metallic, smooth head as he swooped up and then down like a meteor, leading with his chainsaw.

The Golem moved with speed that left my jaw hanging open. It flew to the side, as smooth and agile as a dancer. Hammerfall’s strike hit nothing but air, although even as he swung, the aura of white around his chainsaw exploded outward in a thin, viciously curved wave of energy that I saw cut through the ravine floor like an axe through wood.

Well, that was a far more direct ARM ability than Shatter Sky’s watch had. And I’m somehow rather glad I hadn’t had to fight Hammerfall at any time previous to this.

Unfortunately this Golem was so much faster than Roaring Metal had been I was wondering if I’d only be able to hit it by using Accelerator. Hopefully it’s armor was much thinner, to compensate for such a speed boost.

“Come one, we’d better help him, before he gets in over his head,” Glint said, and as a group we started either beating hooves, or beating wings to cross the distance.

“Arcaidia,” I said breathlessly as we ran, “Know anything about this Golem? Like did you read anything in Veruni records about it?”

Arcaidia’s face frowned in concentration, casting a protective spell around herself and our immediate group, then she said, “I know most Golem by old legends. This one look like Berial, the Light Lance. Fastest of Elw made Golems.”

“Figured that much by looking at it. Any weaknesses?”

“Not very strong physically. Armor is light. If we can pin down or surround, we maybe can break through defenses,” she replied, gulping down breath as she struggled to keep up. Arcaidia’s legs were already kind of short, and while her stamina had been improving over time, today had been almost nothing but one harrowing battle after another. Even I was feeling drained, and that was before one accounted for the fact that my limbs still felt weak from the slime monster’s toxin, which we hadn’t had time to find an antidote for in the Medical Lab.

Well, we’d just have to make do. I gave Arcadia a firm nod of thanks for the info. We’d nearly crossed half the distance to the Golem, and something Arcaidia had said piqued my curiosity, so I gulped a breath myself and asked, “So why is it nicknamed ‘Light Lance’?”

The answer came a second later as the Golem deftly evaded another hefty strike from Hammerfall, flying so low its spike shaped feet skidded across the ship deck in a shower of sparks. It raised its right arm, and the long, pointed limb split open. Within that spike was a smaller spike, which now was at the center of the four parts that split open around it. That interior spike glowed with a sudden, shockingly radiant gleam of light. Then that light shot out in an intense, thin beam no larger around than my own foreleg, yet it hissed through the air with a buzz of power.

Hammerfall turned his chainsaw sideways and caught the beam on the edge, deflecting it sideways. I don’t know whether to consider it a testament to the strength of his artificial ARM or the strength of the pegasus himself that he stayed stable in the air as the beam of light veered off and cut a heated pass across the far side of the ravine, boiling dirt and rock as it cut in a perfect line.

“Oh, that’s why,” I said, feeling somewhat more daunted.

“Just don’t get hit with light beam,” Arcaidia said.

“Think that’s goin’ without sayin’, Arc,” said B.B.

We were almost there. Another few seconds and we could join the fray. I was worried, fearful, as always when rushing headlong into a fight, but I was also feeling confident of our chances. We had this Golem ludicrously outnumbered, and even if we didn’t have Spike to handle the heavy lifting for us, I figured we could manage just as long as we-

The air distorted in front of us, bending and twisting unnaturally, as if somepony had taken a painting and thrown water over it to smear the colors.

All of us either skidded or flew to a sharp halt as from that distorted air a figure appeared, one I recognized.

“Hello. I apologize for the interruption, but I couldn’t help but feel the odds were askew here, so I thought it would be polite to liven things up somewhat,” said Alhazad as he floated in front of us in all of his creepy, alien glory.

He was just as he’d appeared back in the salt mines beneath Skull City, right after the battle with Redwire. There was no mistaking him for anything that naturally existed in Equestria, or any other part of this world. The bulk of his body was still hidden under what amounted to an elaborate sheet of white, edged in interweaving red and green embroidery. All I could tell about the body underneath was that it was misshapen and lumpy, with sharp, protruding shoulders and a broadness that made him seem like he was hunched. His ‘face’ for lack of a better term consisted of a wide, ludicrously ornate mask of gold that covered most of his front half. The mask had multiple, pointed spokes and edges to it, carved with odd geometric patterns. A torc of gold, containing red and sapphire orbs, hung below the mask. The only visible part of his face behind the mask were two solid, thin red eyes, lacking any iris’ whatsoever.

The only other parts of his body that could be seen were the twin pairs of ‘hands’, consisting of three golden claws as large as Gramzanber, and a long, sinuous golden tail capped in what looked like a cross between a blade and a scorpion’s stinger.

He just floated there, with no obvious means of how he was hovering, and looked at us with what I distinctly felt was genuine, if coldly malicious, cordial interest and amusement.

At our stares he spoke again, “Why, I feel embarrassed now. Being stared at like this, you’d think none of you had any manners at all. Is this how you treat guests to your world?”

Somepony, I wasn’t sure who, among Glint’s squad apparently gathered some courage and shouted, “No, this is how, xeno scumbag!”

They, I think it was maybe Nosedive, fired their plasma rifle. The green bolt of energy never reached Alhazad. In a flash, a thing that looked like some manner of bizzare, mechanical bug of comparable size to LIL-E, appeared out of nowhere and intercepted the plasma bolt with a small, blue barrier of light. Then near a dozen more of the mechanical bug creatures appeared around Alhazad. Each one had a bulbous body with sharp, bent mandibles. Four wings of shiny gossamer buzzed around their bodies, keeping them aloft. Each bore a huge gem embedded in their body, half of them bright sapphire, the other half deep ruby.

“I see Odessa remains as blunt and unchanging as ever in its response to simple discourse,” Alhazad said with a warbling, alien laugh, ‘Khhk, khhk, khhk. I do hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t respond to your petty attempts at challenging me. I’d rather talk, if it's all the same.”

“Like hell,” growled Glint, “We’re not here to talk, Hyadean.”

Arcaidia nodded and stepped up, horn blazing with a aurora of cold blue and frosty white light, “Rare I agree with dumb Odessa ponies, but they right. Hyadean shall not be given chance to talk!”

“Oh? And is that how all of you feel?” I felt a child as Alhazad turned his gaze towards me, “And here I thought you were the reasonable sort, Longwalk. My observations of you indicated you were usually more amenable to talking things over rather than resorting to violence.”

There was a pause as a few of my companions glanced at me, and I felt a bit embarrassed. I mean, yeah, sure, it was true, I did tend to prefer avoiding violence when I could, but that didn’t mean I particularly wanted to chat it out all the time. I gulped and made sure I had Gramzanber drawn in ready before I said, “Usually I am, but you’ve already made it pretty damn clear your no friend to ponykind, or any other kind for that matter. Oh, and there’s kinda a giant Golem back there already trying to fight us, so that tends to make me think you didn’t come here to be all friendly with us.”

Alhazad turned slightly, as if he hadn’t noticed the Golem yet. It was currently chasing Hammerfall around, trying to spear him with its spiked arms, while he responded with swift, punishing strikes with his chainsaw. So far neither had landed a telling blow on the other, but I could tell Hammerfall was getting pushed back, tackling the Golem alone. He needed help, fast.

“Ah, of course. Berial’s orders are to take this ship’s reactor core. I imagine if that overly muscled fellow with the half-baked Veruni knock-off weapon would cease attacking, the Golem would return to its task.”

“Why should we even think o’ lettin’ ya git away with this ship’s reactor, eh?” asked B.B, aiming the Twin Fenrir directly at the eye slot in Alhazad’s mask, “Seems ta me that might be somethin’ we don’t want no crazy conquering aliens havin’ their greasy claws on.”

“Ahem, firstly, you flying marshmallow, my claws are exceedingly well maintained. Secondly, I’m only offering you an opportunity to leave me to my business out of professional courtesy to my superior, who has expressed an interest in one day crossing blades with Longwalk here. I imagine I’d get an earful if I killed him here and now. Although I suppose I could kill the rest of you and leave him alive. Oh, and much as it pains me, the Veruni as well.”

Arcaidia looked a bit taken aback by that, “W-why me? I don’t have any connection with you.”

“No, indeed you don’t,” and Alhazad’s voice turned to a sadistically toned bell of enjoyment, “But I know someone who does, and I think I’d rather like to see what happens when you two meet. In fact, why don’t I invite her here? This should be most entertaining, khhk, khhk, khhk.”

His laughter was cut short by the clanking sound of Crossfire switching out the clip on her rifle from standard rounds to a set of armor piercing rounds, the Drifter’s eyes flat and unamused, “I think chat time is over.”

Her rifle swung towards Alhazad, but then just as quickly she adjusted her aim and a shot rang out as she fired on one of the metallic insects buzzing around the Hyadean. The heavy duty armor piercing round smashed right into the bug-like creatures’ hide, sparks showering off of it as one of its wings crumpled and it dropped to the deck. I noticed it was one of the insects with a red gem in their back, and Crossfire snorted in satisfaction as she glanced meaningfully at me.

“Get the red ones first. They don’t have shields.”

“Tch, how rude. I suppose I’ll have to start killing some of you now, as an object lesson in diplomatic etiquette,” Alhazad said, and in an instant the insects buzzed with a trilling noise that hurt the ears of everypony present, and they launched into the attack.

Three of the blue gem insects flew low and charged at us, myself included. Their mandibles gleamed like swords, and snapped with metallic snickering sound. I reacted fast, bringing Gramzanber to bear to block the insect coming for me. Its momentum and strength was impressive, hitting Gramzanber’s flat end and shoving me back despite the fact that I had my hind legs firmly planted.

As I was getting shoved back, I saw another of the sapphire insects barreling towards Binge, but my marefriend sprang out of the way, slapping her tail at the thing as it passed by her. A curved knife held in her tail bounced off a gleaming blue shield around the insect, and it zipped around to make another pass at Binge, but she danced away, giggling as she led it on a merry chase.

The third of the blue bugs went for B.B. Her eyes gleamed red as she barreled away from its mandibles, using the extended square blades protruding from the Twin Fenrir pistols to parry the insect’s sharp weapons. She then used the momentum gained form that to flip up higher into the air, forehooves extending behind her and downward as she completed the flip with a burst of silver gunfire. However those shields being generated by the insects with the sapphire gems absorbed the shots, and it flew away, angling for a new attack.

The other insects weren’t idle either. The five remaining red gem insects spread out in a fan shaped pattern in the air above. They may have lacked the shields of the blue ones, but they fast showed their own unique trait as crimson energy glowed between the tips of their own mandibles. In short order they were firing a barrage of beams that looked like the bigger, nastier cousins to the Odessa energy weapons, most of it directed at Glint’s squad, who scattered in various evasive patterns into the sky.

Most of them got out of the way in time, but Stitch wasn’t so fortunate. A bit slower to get off the ground than his squadmates, the medic was caught in the side of his flank by one of the red beams. It treated his armor as if it were mere paper, piercing through one side of Stitch's flank and out the other at a downward angle, cleanly severing his other leg in a burning, cauterized wound.

His scream was blood chilling and he flopped to the ground, still alive, but howling in agony. A horrific wound like that would be fatal, given time, but in the meantime Stitch would be in torturous pain as the cauterized hole through his lower parts left him crippled and slowly dying.

The reacting of Glint’s squad was instantaneous as the majority of them went from a scattered, evasive flock, to a gathered, tight formation. Swooping at the ruby insects, Glint and his fellow Odessa soldiers blasted out with a brilliant barrage of thin red lasers and thick, flying plasma bolts. Unfortunately the three insects with sapphire gems that hadn’t engaged yet all flew up, and with a flash of their gems worked together to form a triangular shield that absorbed the withering barrage of energy weapons. This barrier also forced Glint’s squad to bank sharply to avoid hitting it, which left them exposed to a follow up barrage from the ruby gem insects.

Or would have if Crossfire wasn’t darting beneath them, sliding on her back, and with her rifle poised in her forehooves and her magic working the bolt action she fired a shockingly rapid series of shots. Each of the five was hit, although only one dropped from the air to crash to the deck. Crossfire’s assault managed to divert and distract the insect’s own murderous beams, giving Glint’s squad the chance to evade without losing another.

I’d managed to finally grit my teeth and shove back hard enough on Gramzanber that its edge was able to cut through the mandibles on the insect. As it reared back I turned Gramzanber around and thrust forward with a rough shout. The ARM’s point smashed into a shield of blue energy the bug formed in front of it, but Gramzanber’s potent edge combined with my own strength, even weakened as I was from the toxin in my veins, was enough to penetrate the barrier. Then my ARM pierced between the bug’s mandibles, sinking into its body until the spear burst out behind the insect in a shower of metal shards, blue sparks, and what looked like purple blood. Were this things living, or metal? Like most things related to the Hyadeans, they seemed to be a twisted fusion of both.

Just my bad luck that the insect monstrosity didn’t die from that, but instead thrashed about, its wings buzzing as it lifted itself into the air... and me along with it! I let out a yelp as I clutched my hooves around Gramzanber’s shaft, wiggling like a worm on a hook.

Much as I wasn’t fond of getting dragged up, the situation did give me a good vantage point to see Arcaidia facing off with Alhazad himself, while the rest of us were dealing with his insectile servitors. I could see the anger flashing across Arcaidia’s eyes, even at a distance, and the corona of intermixing blue and white light from her magic grew to a nimbus around her as she sent a cascade of ice smashing towards the Hyadean.

In response Alhazad raised his golden claws, and between them a the air twisted. Script and sigils formed in a nauseating flow of green and purple lights. Unlike Arcaidia’s Crest Sorcery, which took the shape of flat, circular planes, the symbols of this Hyadean magic formed into a three-dimensional sphere of similar sigils. I had a second to wonder if the Hyadean actually was using Crest Sorcery, or something that only vaguely resemble it, before Alhazad’s magic was unleashed.

A cacophonous blast of wailing noise blew forth, unnatural in its dissonant ring, making me feel sick to my stomach even at a distance from the spell’s epicenter. The sound looked as if it was channeled in a direct line, smashing through Arcaidia’s ice and hitting her like a sonic wave. Arcaidia shuddered under the blow, although I could see a flash of white light ripple along her body from the shield spell she’d cast earlier, mitigating the blow.

Even so, her artificial leg gave way, the metal and plastic snapping like dry twigs and forcing Arcaidia to sink to one knee to keep the rest of herself upright. Her face grimaced in pain but she snarled past it and kept her horn leveled at Alhazad, already charging up another spell. Alhazad let out another warbling laugh.

“Khhk. Don’t push yourself too hard, my dear little unicorn. Or should I still call you a Veruni? Your mastery of the ice element of Crest Sorcery is impressive. Almost as good as your sister’s mastery of fire.”

I saw Arcaidia hesitate, her shock quickly masked by more anger as she shouted, “Don’t speak of my sister, Hyadean monster!”

It was around that point the insect I was stuck to decided to register that having about three feet of Gramzanber stuck through it was supposed to mean it was dead, and it twitched in mid-air, then proceeded to fall. Given we were about thirty feet up at that point I wasn’t particularly eager to feel the impact of that fall, so I rapidly activated S.A.T.S and let the spell slow down my perception of time for me while I looked for a way out of this mess.

Lucky me I still had my Grapple, and the ruby gemmed insects were still buzzing about, engaged in a tangled dogfight with Glint’s squad. So I targeted the nearest one with my Grapple gun, ignoring the listed hit-chance S.A.T.S was giving me, and fired. Time slipped back into sharp speed and focus, the Grapple line streaking out and wrapping around the insect creature’s body. I swung down along the taut line, and as I’d hoped the path of the swing took me right towards Alhazad.

I braced Gramzanber in my mouth, cocking back my head to slash along with the momentum of the swinging Grapple line. Alhazad saw me coming and the three sapphire insects buzzed away from Glint’s squad and swiftly formed a barrier between me and the Hyadean. When Gramzanber hit the translucent shield of shimmering blue energy, the ARM let out a burst of white sparks. My head and neck jared from the impact, sending me spinning around at the end of the Grapple. I saw the silvery deck of the ship rising to meet me, and turned my foreleg to pull myself up along the Grapple line to give me enough height to actually hit the deck comfortably with my forelegs, rather than painfully slam into it.

I tried to then yank the red gem insect my Grapple line was attached to the ground, but my legs trembled from the weakness of the toxin still in me. I found myself being dragged along for half a dozen yards, so instead I retracted the Grapple and let the insect go.

Glint’s squad was fighting evasively now, wheeling about in the air to avoid the scarlet beams that criss-crossed the sky in pursuit of them. They fired back whenever they got an opening, but it was clear the stray laser or plasma bolt that hit was only slowing the insects down. Crossfire was keeping up a steady amount of support fire from the deck, but had one of the insects she’d dropped earlier now scrambling across the deck after her on small, spindly legs. The unicorn had to teleport out of the way of one cutting, crimson beam that left a melted line across the deck, and she had to turn to focus on this new threat.

Meanwhile I saw Hammerfall get knocked out of the air by a particularly hard swing from one of the Golem, Light Lance’s, spear-like arms. While it may not have been the strongest of the Golems, it still towered over a pony’s height, and its mass had to be considerable. Even a burly pegasus like Hammerfall got knocked flat like a gnat being hit with a flyswatter and he bounced across the deck, letting out pained grunts with each bounce.

Explosions from nearby got my attention and I turned to see Binge was now throwing grenades at the insect that’d been pursuing her, lobbing them with swift kicks of her hind legs as she kept twirling and dancing away from the snapping mandibles of her foe. The insect’s energy shield kept absorbing the explosions of shrapnel from the grenades, but each impact sent it rocking back, giving Binge ever more space to toss another grenade. Just how many of those things had she hidden in that mane of hers?

B.B whirled around her own opponent, and in doing so revealed an weakness in the barriers the bugs could erect. She moved with the swift speed of a snowstorm, circling the bug that kept buzzing after her. She employed both the guns and blades equipped to the Twin Fenrir with equal ferocity, shooting and slashing in an ever faster blaze. The insect’s energy shield could protect its front, but not its sides or rear. In short order I saw B.B’s shots piercing the insect multiple times, while the slashes of the Twin Fenrir’s gleaming blades opened up metal rents in the thing’s hide which sparked and bled purple, brackish blood.

Soon it sputtered and fell, leaving B.B free to join me and Arcaidia as we faced Alhazad.

“Ya alright, Arc?” asked B.B as Arcaidia had withdrawn a blue glowing potion of magic restoring liquid, drinking it down in gulps.

Arcaidia tossed the empty bottle aside and her horn grew brighter, “Better once we kill this monster.”

Standing on Arcaidia’s other side, I kept Gramzanber in my mouth and said, “If everypony else can keep those other insects busy, I think we can take him down. The insects can only protect from one direction. Good work showing us that, B.B.”

A faint smile lit B.B’s face as she blew a bit of smoke haze from one of the barrels of the Twin Fenrir, “Just keepin’ pace with the rest o’ you.”

“My, aren’t you three such good friends, with battlefield banter and everything?” said Alhazad, his voice no more concerned than if we were sitting around a table for a cup of tea, rather than engaged in trying to kill each other. “It warms my heart. Well, technically I don’t have one of those, but rather a decentralized vascular system supported by nanomachine circulation, but I suspect none of you are experts on advanced bio-mechanics, so I’ll spare you the lecture.”

“Stop with the talking and make with the dying already,” Arcaidia spat, and she glanced at me as her horn started to form a multi-layered Crest, “Longwalk, time for big icy death attack with your ARM!”

Ah, right, the same move we pulled against Roaring Metal. She’d infused Gramzanber with a whole huge heap of ice magic, then I could trigger Impulse and cast the spear directly at Alhazad. It might not kill him, but a massive, frozen blast like that might take out all his shield generating insects at once. Even if he survived, B.B would be in a good position to hit him hard from the side.

I raised Gramzanber, getting ready to accept Arcaidia’s power into the ARM, but Alhazad just started to chuckle at us.

“Khhk, khhk, khhk, as fascinated as I am to see what it is you’re trying to do with that ARM and spell, I think it’s time I do the young unicorn there a kindness. I’m far more interested in seeing how you all handle it, and really, little Arcaidia came all this way, it’d be a shame to let it all end without her getting... closure.”

What in the name of the Ancestor Spirits was he going on about? I had no idea, but as Arcaidia turned her horn towards Gramzanber to imbue it with her ice magic, the air twisted and rippled once more around Alhazad. As the distortion took shape, Alhazad spoke again.

“I do hope you appreciate this. It's not often one gets to facility family reunions.”

The person who appeared from the distortion in the air, stepping from the portal like someone emerging from a fog, was neither pony nor Hyadean.

Arcaidia’s magic died on her horn, her silver eyes turning into wide, full moon’s of utter shock. I wasn’t far behind her, barely keeping my grip on Gramzanber in my surprise. B.B, who hadn’t witnessed the recording Arcaidia and I had seen on the ship’s bridge, only looked vaguely concerned and baffled out our own shock as she asked, “Who the hay is this supposed ta be?”

Not much had changed about this individual’s appearance that I could tell, rather than the tired, dark shadows under her eyes. Otherwise Persephone looked exactly as she had in the recording that had likely taken place decades ago. Veruni didn’t really age fast, far as I could tell. She was still a tall, statuesque, slim yet curvy bipedal female alien. Her body was covered in a suit of skin tight, gleaming pale metallic violets and deeper, dark purple and teal bands of color. Boots and gloves of a faintly metallic quality covered her arms and legs, and the suit extended up a slim neckline to her oddly flat and pale face, lacking any fur save for a long and lustrous mane of vibrant lavender hair. Her brow was adorned by some manner of headgear, a visor extending to circular nodes on either side.

Her eyes were sparkling pools of blood red color, and she took in the scene at one glance, giving Alhazad what I could only describe as a particular annoyed look before they lit upon Arcaidia and instantly mirrored the unicorn’s wide-eyed shock.

“A...Arcaidia?”

“Sister,” Arcaidia just said in a mind-numb whisper.

For a startled moment, nobody said or did anything. Then Alhazad laughed again.

“I do believe that if I had a recording device, this would be a remarkably good moment ot make use of it.”

Persephone’s body language was hard for me to read. Her bipedal nature and squashed, flat face, not to mention such small ears or lack of tail, meant I had little way of telling just what emotions she was feeling based on body alone. Still, the way she closed her hands into fists, trembling, and turned flashing red eyes towards Alhazad was indicator enough of her anger before she spoke ina fuming tone.

“You bastard! Do you have any idea what you’ve just done!?”

“Only what Lord Zeikfried has authorized me to do,” Alhazad said, raising a metal claw up over the lower part of his mask, as if holding it up over his “heart” in mock shock, “After all he did say I could call upon your support if I needed any assistance with complications during this delicate operation.”

“Complications with the ship you moron!” Persephone snarled, “This wasn’t how we were supposed to do this and you know it! She wasn’t supposed to know until...”

Persephone’s voice trailed off as she blinked and looked back at Arcaidia, as if only now realizing the full impact of Arcaidia being there right in front of her. I saw Persephone's jaw work in a silent, twitching motion, as if she kept trying to find words to say and was failing at it.

Arcaidia, for her part, took a step forward like a mare stuck in a dream that she wasn’t sure was a good or bad one yet, and said, “Persephone, I... why are... what’s happening here?”

The silence was punctuated by the sound of energy weapons fire and explosions. It wasn’t as if the rest of the fight had stopped without us, and I tensed up. I didn’t know how this was going to play out, but we couldn’t stand idle. Our comrades needed help, the Golem still needed to be taken out, and Alhazad dealt with. We couldn’t afford the extra complication of Arcaidia’s sister suddenly appearing, apparently on the enemy’s side.

Which I suspect was exactly why Alhazad had brought her in. It was clear from Persephone’s words that she hadn’t planned for Arcaidia to be here. That she hadn’t intended to meet with Arcaidia yet, but had somehow been aware Arcaidia had been out there, searching for her. I suppose if I’d joined the enemy faction for whatever reason, I’d be a bit hesitant to meet my sibling and try to explain things to them. In an instant I could see a dozen ideas whirl through both Arcaidia and Persephone’s minds, as if both were locked in a staring contest of mutual denial. Even not being remotely familiar with Veruni facial expressions I could still see the moment when Persephone decided to accept the situation for what it was and close down her feelings.

“Arcaidia, I know what you must be thinking, but trust me when I say that there are good reasons for my being with the Hyadeans.”

Arcaidia just blinked, eyes trembling, her voice oddly detached, “Oh, good... what are they?”

Persephone's eyes shifted towards me and B.B, narrowing in suspicion, then glanced towards the fighting between our other comrades and Alhazad’s insectile monsters.

“Not here, Arcaidia. If you want to know, then I need you to come with me. I’ll explain everything back on the Photosphere. Get your companions to lay down their weapons, let me and Alahzad finish our mission here, and I swear to you I’ll explain everything.”

“Okay, hold up,” I said, stepping forward, “Hey, hi there, my name’s Longwalk, and I’m thinking if there’s going to be any explanations they can happen while all sides have backed off, which would include Alhazad calling off his creepy bug minions and that Golem. Do that, and we’ll talk.”

“I know who you are,” Persephone said, looking at me with a very unusual expression that at once seemed grateful yet incredibly annoyed with me at the same time, “And while I appreciate what you’ve done to help my sister, that doesn’t change your an obstacle to our plans. We need that reactor core, and the Golem is taking it. Surrender, and I’ll convince Alhazad to call off his servitors.”

My own eyes danced around left and right, taking in the fight. Binge was out of grenades and the blue gemmed bug was still pressing her, its mandibles snapping at her tail as she ducked and juked away from it. Stitch had stopped screaming and I couldn’t tell if the wounded medic was still alive, or had perished from his horrific injury. Another of Glint’s squad, the griffin Gale, was also down, with a hole burned through her stomach. The insects with ruby gems were focusing their attacks on Crossfire, who was generating a blood red shield of magic to absorb the burning beams. This was giving Glint’s squad time to regroup and recover their wounded members. In the meantime it looked like Hammerfall was stuck on the defensive against the Golem, using his chainsaw to parry lightning fast blows from the incredibly speedy Golem, but wasn’t able to mount a counterattack of any kind. He clearly needed backup, and soon.

And if that wasn’t worry enough, a part of me realized that LIL-E should have caught up with us by now and joined the fray as well. The fight had only been going on a minute or so, but LIL-E wasn’t slow and she hadn’t been that far separated from us. Where was she?

Putting that worry aside, I seriously considered the situation in front of me. Should I have taken the offer Persephone was extending? It would end the fight before anypony else got hurt, and it might mean Arcaidia would learn some valuable information, depending on Persephone’s explanation. Was it even possible that there was more to the Hyadeans than we knew? Some reasoning behind their actions that warranted listening to what Persephone had to say?

I had a hard time believing that. I’d seen the results of the Hyadeans plans thus far, and it had led to things like Redwire’s maiming and killing of countless innocents beneath Skull City. Alhazad himself had twisted the ponies of Stable 104 into the creatures they were today, and he clearly had no regard for the sanctity of life. Whatever they were planning, it couldn’t be good for ponykind or any of the other races of the world.

I didn’t want to see Arcaidia like this though. I couldn’t ask her to fight her sister. Not after she’d spent so long looking for her. Yet I couldn’t accept the offer either, could I? I’d already formed a truce with Odessa, however temporary, and I knew neither Glint or his father were going to back down. Which meant there was no way I could back off either, because all that would mean was watching Glint, Hammerfall, and the other Odessa soldiers get slaughtered.

“No,” I said, shaking my head sadly, “I don’t think I can do that.”

Persephone’s eyes narrowed further, the red of them seeming to flash with inner fire, “Unfortunate. Yet you don’t speak for my sister. Arcaidia, come with me. Help me subdue your companions and I promise you they’ll come to no further harm. Once the Odessa soldiers are dealt with, of course. Then we’ll leave here and I’ll tell you anything you want to know. You have my word.”

Silence was the only answer that came from Arcaidia as she stood there, legs trembling. Persephone looked at her sister’s missing leg, and at the metal prosthetic in its place, her eyes softening. “We’ll regenerate your leg, too. I’m sorry you’ve suffered so much, sister. You don’t have to bear the burden of the mission alone anymore. I’ll take care of everything.”

Arcaidia twitched, and something came over her face, like water gradually freezing to ice. A look of pain and sorrow unlike any I’d seen on Arcaidia now frosted her features and she spoke in a tone like shattering ice, “I don’t know what is right, but I know you not like sister I remember. If you are Persephone, then you will know I can’t abandon mission, or friends.”

Pure blue magic swirled around her horn and her starblaster hovered at her side as Arcaidia aimed both at Alhazad and Persephone, “I am not going with you, sister, and this ship will not be violated by Hyadean monster any longer! I’ll destroy ship before I let them have it!”

As Persephone’s face became crestfallen, Alhazad laughed in mad delight.

“Khhk, khhk, khhk! I’d say that concludes negotiations! Well Persephone, what shall it be? Betray Lord Zeikfried, or betray your cute little adopted sister?”

Persephone spat at him, snarling, “You know I won’t betray Zeikfried’s trust, and damn you for bringing me here when you could have dealt with this yourself. But it’s no matter...”

I saw the Veruni raise her hand, and a blaze of flaming magic formed there, a deep orange crest of symbols as flame swirled into form upon her outstretched palm; aimed at Arcaidia. In response Arcaidia, tears in her eyes, brought forth her own Crest Sorcery, snowy white and blue symbols forming a crest that summoned forth ice shards aimed at Persephone.

“I don’t want to hurt you, Arcaidia,” Persephone said, sadness cloaking her words, “But if you insist on making this hard, then we’ll see how much you’ve grown since our last sparring match. Then, even if I have to beat you unconscious myself, I’m dragging you back to the Photosphere by the tail, and then I’ll explain everything to you.”

“I’m stronger than I was before, sister,” Arcaidia said, and Persephone gave her a waning smile.

“Show me.”

With a sharp cry, Arcaidia let loose her ice in a hail of thick shards, while Persephone unleashed her flames in a thick, continuous bolt of raw fire. As the ice and flame collided in a burst of conflicting magic and searing steam, B.B and I leaped away to avoid being boiled by the hot cloud of steam. Arcaidia was shielded by the force of her magic, as was Persephone, and I saw both of them immediately rush to the side as the steam started to clear. Persephone drew a sleek, gold plated weapon that looked like a bulkier version of Arcaidia’s silver starblaster, and as the both ran across the deck, both Veruni fired with their starblasters and spells.

Flame, ice, and blazing bolts of alien energy criss-crossed between the two. Arcaidia relied on summoning small barriers of ice to block the starblaster bolts and flames, though some fire got through to wash against the energy shield she’d cast on herself earlier. Persephone needed no such barriers or shields, as she flipped and spun through Arcaidia’s attacks with the agility of a sparrow, contorting her bipedal body in ways I didn’t think a pony would be able to duplicate.

Then I saw a flash of gold coming towards my face and had to tear my attention away from Arcaidia and Persephone’s fight to pay attention to my own, blocking with Gramzanber as Alhazad’s tail snapped towards me. The blow knocked me back a pace, even having blocked it, and Alhazad chuckled.

“Isn’t sibling rivalry just adorable? Now then, let’s have fun my little test subjects. Two ponies, both deviants from normal pony stock, and both wielding ARMs. This should prove enlightening for future experimentation.”

B.B snorted, “Ain’t nothin’ yer ‘bout to be enlightened on other n’ a whole load o’ pain, ya alien jackass!”

“Yeah, what she said!” I shouted. Truly a poet of the battlefield, was I.

Behind us Binge rode by atop the insect servitor that had been chasing her, having somehow managed to straddle the thing while she proceeded to stab at it with her ripper chain-blade. Amid that, she shouted, “Double what she said!”

B.B, myself, and Alhazad all just sort of stared at Binge riding by, then looked back at each other. After an awkward pause, we all collectively decided to attack at once.

Alhazad seemed well aware I had limited ranged options, so he was already floating backwards and away from me to try to keep distance between us, but B.B had my back on that front and soared higher than him, and much faster. She threw her hooves forward and rained down a hail of silvery bullets from the Twin Fenrir, forcing Alhazad’s personal trio of blue gem insects to rapidly form a shield against the torrent. This slowed his ascent long enough for me to get under him, ready to skewer him from below.

There was just two issues with that. One was his claws and tail were already poised to strike at me, the scorpion-like tail stabbing at me in a series of blurred thrusts while his claws raked at me from the sides. The other problem was that I caught sight of what lay beneath that massive white sheet Alhazad wore, and my brain had a bit of a fit trying to process it. It was like looking at a intertwining mass of contradicting organs and body parts, all of them slithering and alien, none of it recognizable as being from a familiar form of life. I couldn’t get a concept of shape or size, just an unidentifiable, writhing, mind warping mass of something.

The sight alone flabbergasted me enough that my ability to block was way off, and while I was able to fend off Alhazad’s claws, one of his tail stabs caught me square in the chest. The blow knocked the wind from me as I was propelled backwards and slammed to the ground, sharp pain exploding through my chest. I coughed, rolling to my hooves, swinging Gramzanber just in time to parry a follow up strike from the tail, then glanced at my chest.

Arcaidia’s shield spell saved me. There was a hole punched into my armor, but only a flesh wound on my chest, barely bleeding. But the white energy of the shield spell hugging my body fizzled out, the spell having expended the last of its protecting energy saving me from what would have otherwise been a much worse wound.

Using her own mobility to full advantage B.B was now circling Alhazad, trying to get around his protective bugs, but those insectile servant creatures were about as fast as she was, so she wasn’t having much luck. Luckily I had a way to deal with that issue, and tapped into Gramzanber’s power, letting it pump up my adrenaline and help dull the fatigue and pain that was trying to pull me down.

Accelerator

As the world burst into blue clarity, I hefted Gramzanber in my mouth, taking on a hunter’s throwing stance. The bugs were too high in the air for me to reach normally, but my connection with Gramzanber was strong enough these days that I felt I could try this. With a well aimed whip of my head, I threw my ARM at the highest of the three insect creatures. The spear sailed true and impaled the bug from behind. I could see its destruction disrupt the barrier it was forming with its two companions, allowing some of B.B’s shots to get through and strike at Alhazad properly. Even in slow motion the bullets from her ARMs were moving swift, and blasted into Alhazad’s sheet covered body.

I couldn’t tell if he was wounded. The shots just left small, dark holes in the cloth, and the few that hit his mask just seemed to bounce off, but it looked like he reeled back.

In the meantime Accelerator ended and I called Gramzanber back to me, the ARM appearing in a flash of light back to my waiting mouth. I felt a painful rush from the Accelerator backlash, and while I might have been getting more resistant to the negative effects of my ARM’s powers, I was running out of endurance.

“Well, that stung,” Alhazad commented dryly, “I can see you’re both rather exceptional. I suppose that’s to be expected, one of you bearing Lord Zeikfried’s nanomachine imprint, and the other a descendant of the Crimson Noble mutants strain.”

B.B bristled, “What do ya know ‘bout Crimson Nobles?”

Her question was punctuated by diving in with the Twin Fenrir’s blades, zipping around Alhazad and slicing at his side, which he blocked with a flick of his tail as he continued to speak.

“I know your ‘Mistress’ probably hasn’t told you much about where your kind actually stems from. Did you know that you have more in common with that Golem than you do your fellow ponies?”

“I ain’t listin’ to none o’ yer drivel! Longwalk, keep his tail busy!”

“On it!” I shouted, galloping forward and leaping up, slashing at Alhazad’s back. This forced him to lash his tail around to block Gramzanber, which freed up B.B to fly higher up above him, then dive bomb down like a white javelin, guns blazing all the while. The remaining two blue gem insects formed individual barriers to take on some of the damage, apparently unable to form a larger barrier without having three bugs together. More of B.B’s shots go through, striking Alhazad with oddly metallic sounding impacts, as if his body was more metal than flesh. His tail twitched as he took the shots, possibly because he was distracted by pain, and I took advantage by ducking in low and slashing at the long joints connecting the tail, trying to sever it in half.

However his tail coiled around Gramzanber’s shaft, halting it, and Alhazad spoke with a darker tone, “Funny enough, I killed a lot of Crimson Nobles back in the day. Back when they were first made by the Elw out of cave pony stock as slave warriors. Oh yes, for all their high and mighty talk of harmony, the Elw saw early ponykind as little more than fodder for their war effort.”

Purple and green lights flared and formed between his claws as Alhazad cast another of his strange, alien Crest spells. Instead of a focused beam, this time the sphere expanded into a massive dome of undulating sound and light that struck everything around Alhazad. It engulfed me and B.B, and as the wave hit me I felt like my head was about to explode from the piercing wails of noise that blasted my senses with a nauseating sound. It was like the sickening, extraterrestrial music grated on every nerve and twisted every synapse, making me want to vomit and collapse.

Only a pure effort of willpower kept me on my hooves. I saw B.B twist in the air, letting out a pained cry, and she almost crashed, only at the last second managing to turn away from the deck and maintain a low hover.

Alhazad turned towards us, commenting dryly, “I only bring it up because I am curious how your species has evolved over time, since the Elw made you all those eons ago. Won’t you consider coming with me to our little headquarters up north? I promise my experimentation on your body won’t be fatal. Painful, but not fatal.”

“Piss... off... “ B.B breathed.

“A shame. Oh well, guess I can always dissect your remains after we’re done here.”

“Dissect this!”

This came from Binge, who now standing atop a freshly mutilated and very dead insect servitor, threw a block of something that bounce once off the deck and landed in front of Alhazad. The block was beeping, and I seemed to recall that Binge had taken an undisclosed amount of high explosive material from the NCR munitions tent. I immediately turned and dove for B.B, knocking both her and myself as far as I could away from the beeping explosive block.

Alhazad clearly knew what it was as well, because he just as swiftly flew backwards while his two shielding insects rushed down to cover the block with their glowing blue barriers. Not that this helped much as the bomb exploded with a blast that sent me and B.B tumbling away. The insects were destroyed and Alhazad thrown backwards to smack into one of the ship’s engine pylons.

B.B and I rolled to Binge’s hooves, and I looked up at my marefriend, who was grinning in a very pleased-with-herself fashion.

“Wow, that exploded almost exactly how I timed it to! I should make the timer even shorter next time.”

“N-no! No next time! I mean, yes, thank you, that helped Binge, but warn me before you throw high explosives anywhere near me, please!”

“Oh bucky, how is our relationship going to remain interesting if I warn you about things?” Binge asked, fluttering her eyelashes at me.

I just looked at her with a flat stare, then shook my head with a sighing smile. I probably should’ve expected an answer like that. Putting that aside, with Alhazad momentarily stunned by the blast, I took a second to see how everypony else was faring.

Glint’s squad had knocked out all but two of the red gem insect servitors, Glint’s comrades were scattered between getting their wounded to safety, or already out of the fight. Only Glint and Springbreeze were still in the air, providing cover for Crossfire, who seemed responsible for taking out most of the bugs that were in twitching pieces on the deck. Nosedive was the one dragging the wounded away from the fight, using his teeth to yank each downed Odessa soldier to the cover of the engine pylon on the other side of the deck. From the way he was desperately rooting through Stitch’s uniform pockets, pulling out healing potions, things weren’t looking good over there.

Worse, Hammerfall was pinned up against the ravine wall by one of Light Lance’s spiked arms. He had his chainsaw up, grinding against the massive spike and keeping it from piercing his chest, but I could see the muscles on the powerful pegasus straining against the Golem’s mechanical might, his back getting further pressed into the ravine wall. I wasn’t sure how long he could hold out.

I could barely see Arcaidia and Persephone. A large portion of the ship deck where they fought was covered in chunks of ice, burning patches of flame, and billowing clouds of steam, creating a miasma that was hard to see through. I could barely make out streaks of starblaster fire and flaring aura of magic marking where their shadowy forms clashed, but I couldn’t tell who was winning, only that Arcaidia was still up and fighting, although what fighting her sister was doing to Arcaidia’s mental state worried me more than harm to her physical body. Persephone seemed to want to capture Arcaidia alive, which made sense of course, but I wondered what could possibly have gotten Persephone to switch sides like she had?

Things weren’t looking good. Alhazad was slumped against the engine pylon the explosion had thrown him into, but he was already stirring, and it would probably only be a matter of seconds before the Hyadean recovered and resumed the fight. Even a block of high explosives going off at nearly point blank range had only dazed Alhazad. I had a feeling it’d take all of us together to overwhelm his defenses, but to do that we had to deal with the other enemies first.

“Binge, B.B, help Glint and Crossfire with the last bugs!” I said, already galloping into motion, “I’ll help Arcaidia!”

“On it!” B.B said.

“Ripping out more bug guts for fun and profit,” Binge replied happily, bouncing off behind B.B’s swift flight as they went to support Glint’s remaining squad and Crossfire. That left me rushing towards the clash of fire and ice that had drifted towards the port side of the deck.

As I got closer a break in the cloud of steam showed me that Persephone had Arcaidia on the ropes. The Veruni woman was moving with surprising speed, evading Arcaidia’s blasts of ice with a sinuous grace. Meanwhile ever motion of her left hand created a new Crest of magic that spewed accurate bolts of fire that blazed through Arcaidia’s gradually weakening defenses. On top of that, Persephone’s starblaster was punching through the ice barriers Arcaidia was creating for cover, forcing Arcaidia to keep moving, which was difficult for her because of her artificial leg.

Just one look at Arcaidia showed me how tired she was, her silver mane plastered to her head, her eyes barely hiding the desperation and emotional torment wracking her as she tried to keep pace with her sister. Every motion she made, every spell she through, or shot fired from her starblaster, showed a hesitance and doubt that I’d never seen in Arcaidia before.

I redoubled my pace, charging headlong into that fray, shouting “Arcaidia! I’m here!”

That got both Veruni’s attention, Persephone giving me a harsh glare as she turned her starblaster towards me, “Don’t interfere, pony. This is family business.”

I activated Accelerator again just as she pulled the trigger. The silvery bolt of alien energy lanced out of the starblaster, and I saw it zip through the air towards me like a swiftly drawn line. I managed to duck it, the bolt singing my mane, and continued to rush forward. Persephone’s reflexes were beyond what I expected, and I could see her reacting to my high-speed motions, twisting aside as I tried to slash a hamstring blow at her legs. She flipped over the blow, swinging her arm around to aim her starblaster at my head. I turned Gramzanber, deflecting the bolt of energy by a fraction of an inch. Yet even with Accelator’s speed boost, I hadn’t seen that the starblaster shot was a feint, and Persephone’s flip turned into a flying kick that smacked me across the face.

I was shocked, but recovered fast, keeping Accelerator on just long enough to turn around and aim my own bucking double kick at Persephone’s gut. She pulled up a knee to block it, still managing to match my speed, but I could tell my blow sent her reeling back a bit, forcing her to tuck and roll to control her fall.

I ended Accelerator and reached Arcaidia’s side as my perceptions returned to normal speed and I absorbed another painful, draining stab of backlash that nearly made me stagger. I didn’t have much left in me.

“You...you okay Arcaidia?” I asked between panting.

She was panting herself, breathing hard as sweat dripped off her. Her dress and hide were signed with a few burns from the fires she’d been trying to avoid or counter. “Not very much, ren solva. Not very much at all.”

I could only gulp and nod, “We’ll get answers out of her after we win.”

“If we win,” she said.

“Hey, all we have to do is take on an elite Veruni warrior, another ancient and powerful war machine, then a insane alien monster. What’s to worry about?”


Well, at least that got a phantom of a smile out of her, “Your toaster head never think of giving up, does it?”

“Nah, I’d lose my reputation as a stone-headed idiot if I did that.”

A starblaster bolt snapped through the air between us and Persephone narrowed her eyes at us, “The option remains to surrender. I’ve heard enough about you, Longwalk, to know you have a habit of stubbornly refusing to recognize when you’re outmatched, but even you must see you can’t win this. The Golem alone would’ve been a challenging foe for all of you together. With me and Alhazad here as well, you don’t have a chance. Do the smart thing and yield.”

I grit my teeth, prepared to tell her exactly what I thought of her offer, when a noise pierced through the general noise of battle. It was a pulsing, loud hum, filling the air with an energetic sound. Suddenly my Pip-Buck’s radio crackled with a familiar voice.

“Sorry for the delay gang, but thought I’d go acquire us some air support!” said LIL-E as an object flew up from the port side of the ship, hovering upward swiftly.

It was one of the Veruni shuttlecraft from the hangar bay we’d entered the ship through! The sleek silver craft was flying on washes of blue energy from circular engines mounted on its underside, and through the clear front port I saw LIL-E hovering at the pilot seat, using the small robotic arm she used for self-repairs to manipulate the controls.

Quickly the shuttle turned to face the Golem that was crushing Hammerfall into the ravine wall, and a small section on the front of the shuttle opened to extend a weapon barrel. With a flash of light, a continuous silver beam, like the big daddy to the starblasters, opened fire from the shuttle and smashed into the Golem’s side. The beam burned a charred line across the Golem’s armor and knocked it away from Hammerfall. The Odessa elite soldier didn’t waste a second, revving up the chainsaw blade on his artificial ARM and unleashed a cutting wave of energy at the Golem while it was distracted. The strike hit with a burst of sparks, damaging the Golem’s armor further.

The Golem was still up, but it was staggered, and Hammerfall rushed forward, slashing away with his chainsaw while the Golem was still reeling. LIL-E brought the shuttle higher and hovering over the ship deck, and with well targeted bursts of the shuttle’s weapon she knocked the remaining bug servitors of Alhazad out of the air, leaving Glint’s squad, along with my other companions, all staring up at it.

“Holy shitballs,” I said, shouting into my Pip-Buck, “LIL-E, you beautiful flying pinball! I could kiss you!”

“I don’t have lips, and I think your marefriend might object to it anyway, but yes, I am awesome, feel free to praise me after we survive this.”

“But how are you even flying that thing?”

“Funny story, but I took a guess that since this whole ship was meant to explore and infiltrate Equestrian society, that they’d have made their tech compatible with our languages. Sometimes being a robot with a built in, wireless hacking tool and adaptive language processor really pays off. Helps that the controls on this shuttle are exceedingly user friendly.”

Persephone was, in a word, livid, her face contorted in a mask of barely contained anger, “I do hope you’re having fun joyriding in our technology, you damned backwater barbarians. But this doesn’t mean you’ve won yet. Arcaidia, this is your last chance to give up this nonsense and come with me.”

Arcaidia shuddered, took a deep breath, then said, “No. You... you gave me a mission. I will not abandon it, just because you have.”

“You don’t understand. That mission was before I learned the truth. But I can tell there’s no more point trying to convince you. I’ll make you understand afterwards...”

With that, Persephone’s hand raised, and she started to form a significantly larger Crest than before, an aura of fiery red energy gathering around her. Arcaidia planted her legs in a bracing stance, and began to draw forth power into her horn. I stood by her side, ready to support her in any way I could.

Alhazad had recovered from his stunned state and was flying towards us, but I could see Crossfire, B.B, Binge, and Glint all moving to intercept him. Meanwhile LIL-E was angling the Veruni shuttle towards the Golem, continuing to support Hammerfall.

Things were looking a shade or two less hopeless, or so I was thinking. Before Persephone and Arcaidia fired their magic at each other there was a burst of light from the Golem. Light Lance’s wings now exuded an even brighter field of radiant white light, and the Golem crossed its arms in front of itself as geometric patterns of energy flowed in sharp angled lines over its body to gather in its metal wings.

Then from those wings the Golem erupted with a dizzying array of light beams that cured and twisted around through the air at numerous targets. I saw LIL-E’s shuttle get struck several times, knocking it into a spin that then sent it bouncing off the deck. Hammerfall dodged several bolts, but one clipped his side and another beam exploded on him as he used his ARM to block it. The burst of energy left the burly pegasus flying backwards to smack into the ravine wall again, then slide off it and out of side beyond the edge of the deck.

“Dad!” I heard Glint yell, but as the other light beams rained down among my companions he was knocked out of harm's way by Springbreeze, one of her wings getting torn off by the bolt that would’ve pierced Glint.

Crossfire shielded herself while B.B picked up Binge and flew in a dizzying pattern to avoid the bolts that came their way.

As for myself and Arcaidia, I had to use Gramzanber to deflect one of the bolts that was coming towards us, and was knocked flat on my ass by the bolt exploding in my face, stripping away the last of Arcaidia's shield and hammering me with pain. Arcaidia used the magic she’d been pooling to attack Persephone and instead used it to erect a half-dome of ice around us, reinforcing it with a small wall of earth. The barrier protected us, if barely, portions of it blasted to pieces.

I groaned and stood, fishing into my saddlebag for healing potions for both myself and Arcadia. We both managed to choke the potions down while I peeked over the rubble of the ice barrier, only to get kicked in the face by Persephone, who leaped over the barrier.

“This ends now. I’m taking you both with me!” Persephone said, but Arcaidia whipped her empty potion bottle at her sister. As Persephone knocked the item aside with a flick of her hand, Arcaidia finally managed to tag Persephone with a bolt of ice, hitting Persephone’s shoulder and knocking her back. The Veruni woman’s right arm and shoulder were frosted over and she ended up dropping her starblaster, which Arcaidia then used her telekinesis to snag.

“No, you’re coming with me, Persephone!” Arcaidia shouted, then said something in Veruni, “Esru ti vira mas, yevkosa mishar!”

Persephone grimaced, then shook her head, replying in Veruni as well, “Estu ti virae, Arcaidia. Estu yevkosa mir sharven.”

The deck heaved beneath us, and I glanced over to see that Light Lance was aiming its arms at the ship’s rear deck. The spiked arms had split open, both of them charging powerful light beams. As the beams fired the Golem crossed the beams like a giant ‘X’, cutting a hole in the back end of the ship. It then quickly tore into that hole, ripping out gaping chunks as the deck shuddered and tilted under the strain.

Alhazad was ignoring my friends, who were still regrouping from the barrage of beams just a moment before, and was flying over to the Golem. His warbling, extraterrestrial voice called out.

“Persephone, we’re out of time to play. Come along, we’ve got our prize. You can collect your wayward sibling another day.”

Persephone shot a glare at him, then back at us, clearly wishing to finish things. However I saw her eyes flick between me and Arcaidia, and with a smirk she used her unfrozen arm to reach into a pouch on her belt, and flick something towards us, unseen by Alhazad. A small object hit the deck at Arcaidia’s hooves.

A small, silver metal sphere that looked rather nostalgically familiar. It was the same kind of sphere Gramzanber had appeared as before I’d manifested him. An unformed ARM sphere.

“Esru ren solva ti rivae, Arcaidia.”

With that Persephone nodded at her sister, then turned and ran with incredible speed towards the rear deck of the ship. Arcaidia seemed surprised enough at the object laying at her hooves that she didn’t even think to chase after her sister until a second or two later, shouting, “Persephone! Esru dol shea!? Wait!”

But things were simply happening too fast. I galloped after Arcaidia, spotting LIL-E exiting the crashed shuttle, and the rest of my friends watching in confusion as Arcaidia ran after her sister, who was entirely too damned fast for a creature with only two legs!

By now Light Lance had yanked an object from the back of the ship. It was a massive, cylindrical casing within which was housed a huge, pulsating blue crystal whose surface was smooth as a pearl yet had the color of a hundred different cerulean shades. Persephone reached the Golem just as Alhazad did, the Hyadean turning to look at us with a wink of his crimson eye.

“This was a pleasant diversion. I’ll inform Lord Zeikfried you’re progressing, but aren’t quite at the level he’d like you to be at. In the meantime, stick around the NCR a bit. I’d hate for you to miss the show.”

“Damn it, you’re not going-” I planted my hooves, hefted Gramzanber into my hoof, and let the ARM absorb more of my own life-force to ignite it into a beacon of cobalt energy. I activated Impulse and threw the spear, the weapon cutting like a shooting star towards the Golem and the reactor core it held.

Unfortunately I saw the air shimmer and twist as Alhazad used his alien magic to warp space and teleport himself, the Golem, Persephone, and the Ark of Destiny’s reactor core away into thin air just a split second before Gramzanber would’ve hit.

“...anywhere...” I finished lamely. Gramzanber teleported back to me, but I couldn’t even grab him as I sunk to the deck, utterly expended by the drain form using Impulse.

My last sigh before losing consciousness was Arcaidia, looking on with confusion, doubt, and regrets painted all over her face as she stared at the space her sister had occupied just a moment before.

All in all, not my best day.

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Footnote: Level Up!

Perk Added - Life Giver: With the kind of beatings you keep taking over and over again, your body is either adapting to getting constantly injured, or you're just getting better at ignoring pain. Regardless of the reason, you find yourself capable of taking even more punishment than before, and gain +30 HP. Yay?

Author's Note:

Hey folks, I know its been awhile but hope you're all still enjoying the ride, however haphazard its updates may be. :twilightsheepish:

With this chapter we're quickly approaching the last stage of the NCR arc, which if my estimate is close should be wrapping up in a couple more chapters. With luck I'll be able to speed things up a bit and get the next chapter out sooner.

Thanks for reading folks, and by all means let me know your thoughts. 'Till next time.

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