• Published 9th Aug 2012
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Horn and Hammer - Lancer



Warhammer meets MLP. Two forces for good, two opposite ways of life, forced to stand together.

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Chapter Nine- Aftermath

Chapter Nine

Aftermath

Equestria, Canterbury

“Trixie?” gasped Twilight.

The already timid showmare’s eye’s widened in surprise at the ponies before her. Still under the effects of Luna’s becalming spell she quickly recovered, successfully fighting the urge to dart behind the larger form of the princess. Drawing on the courage gifted to her by the spell Trixie met Twilight’s eye. Nodding simply she began to feel her emotions getting the better of her, eye’s now watering Trixie replied simply.

“Yes, it’s me.” Trixie’s head lowered until it was looking at the floor, the mare evidently trying to resist the urge to cry.

Twilight got to her hooves and dashed across the short space between the fireplace and the doorway. Without warning she gave the other unicorn a hug, once again surprising the pale blue mare that stood still briefly before desperately returning the gesture, finally giving in to tears. The room went quiet as Twilight comforted the sobbing Trixie, everyone else in the house looked on in sympathy.

Pulling away, Twilight gave the pale blue unicorn a soft smile before leading Trixie across to sit with her friends in front of the fire. Without a second thought they each made room to welcome the new arrival.

Luna smiled at the touching moment. She had on occasion read Celestia’s student’s friendship reports. For obvious reasons she had been most keen to read the one which followed Twilight’s victory over the Ursa Minor, although was consequently somewhat disappointed to find the letter failed to mention both the showmare’s upstaging and the rampaging translucent bear. Still, it was always nice to see ponies putting aside their differences in their hour of need and Luna watched the six ponies welcome Trixie into the group with great pride.

With a softened clanking of metal, Pieter approached the alicorn princess from the side. His presence reminded her that Trixie would have to be introduced to the human carefully. For now though the captain evidently had something on his mind.

“Something troubling you captain?” she asked, careful to keep her voice low so as not to attract Trixie’s attention.

“We need to discuss our plan princess, the horrors the bearers have witnessed will weaken their resolve if left to wallow in the memory of them without direction.”

Looking over briefly at the seven mares talking softly he continued, “I found the tracks of the Tzeentch worshippers heading back into the forest, their behaviour has been most erratic thus far, the Chosen Warrior I encountered was clearly insane and if his leader is as bad then they will become a very unpredictable foe. I recommend we pursue them immediately from tomorrow morning, what we do with the blue unicorn is up to you, however it may be best if we leave her behind, her presence may well demoralise the others.”

Luna turned sharply at that comment, focusing her gaze on Pieter sternly. “Do you expect me to abandon my subjects’ captain? Because I will not for one minute allow that poor mare to feel alone like she did for a full day as a town was slaughtered around her.” Luna’s voice began to raise itself harshly while Pieter gestured for her to remain calm.

“No, not at all. I was simply suggesting you teleport her somewhere safe. Your sister teleported from your capital to the forest which I am given to understand is a great distance, could you not simply send her there?”

Luna stalled for the moment, her anger mollified briefly. She pondered the proposition for a few seconds before replying. “Yes, that would be acceptable I suppose. She will stay with us for the night though, I promised I would look after her, not send her away.”

“Very well, we may need to ask her what happened here anyway, there is much to discuss.”

Having reached an agreement Luna nodded towards the group of young mares as an indication that proper introductions were in order. Pieter followed quietly with Forlorn taking up position beside him. Forlorn had been listening in on the conversation, his council going unheeded since it was essentially in line with his fellow captain’s opinion.

The princess approached the group quiet enough so as to not startle them and standing off to the left of the sitting group. Her presence caught the attention of the seven mares who each turned to face her, weary expressions written across their faces. Sitting down beside them she addressed the group together.

“Dinner is just about ready my friends and we have many important things to discuss tonight before you can all get your well-deserved sleep” she said, indicating towards the table with a hoof before continuing. “Now Trixie, I have a friend I would like you to meet. He is a human like the ones who attacked the town but he is here to help us. His name is Captain Pieter Von Grunberg and the army that he came with is working with Equestria to defeat our common enemy.” With that brief introduction she smiled and nodded to Pieter who came from behind the group to stand beside the princess.

Pieter had since removed his helmet; the plume of feathers atop it curiously chopped down to half its height much to his annoyance. It was likely the Chosen had severed it when Pieter ducked its final blow. Pulling the remainder of the feathers from the helmet’s clasp he joined the dark blue alicorn and fixed Trixie with a smile.

The nervous mare drew comfort from the ponies beside her who evidently knew they were safe around this human. Smiling weakly she waved a hoof in greeting.

“And this” continued Luna, pointing a hoof at the blue coloured, bronze armoured pegasus nearby, “Is Captain Forlorn Wind of the Trottingham Royal Guard.”

“Ma’am” said Forlorn, bowing his head slightly. Trixie looked upon the guard with curiosity, taking in his unusual coat colour and the war barding.

The pegasus captain turned away, using his wings to precisely undo the strap holding his helm in place, he may have loved his armour but wearing it for hours on end was unpleasant. Working methodically he unbuckled the rest of his plate armour, beginning with his hoof guards and weaponry then working up to the bodyplate. He worked quietly, aware that the others were busy preparing dinner. ‘I can’t believe I allowed myself to become so petty, holding a jealous grudge against Pieter like that. Dad always said I was a slave to my emotions, one more flaw he was right about.’ With a sigh he began piling the equipment into the bodyplate shell, stopping briefly on the leg plates which were coated in manticore blood from yesterday. ‘Dad would kill me for not checking my armour after a fight’ he mused, reaching for his pack to swap out the fabric padding.

“Captain Wind, dinner is prepared; would you please not keep a princess waiting?” Luna called from across the room.

Forlorn turned to see the group sat around the table, dinner before them and looking at him as he held the blood stained padding in a hoof. Pieter was nestled, somewhat uncomfortably, on two chairs, his armour gone and instead wearing a simple grey tunic with dark brown trousers, separated by a leather belt. The Empire captain had a smug look on his face, wiggling his fingers to show off the ease with which he could remove his armour. Snorting in derision Forlorn dropped the last armour plate with the rest and trotted over to the table.

Dinner itself was a largely subdued affair. Pinkie Pie remained largely upbeat and alongside the two captains a constant stream of conversation prevented the atmosphere from going stale. Her friends, along with the introverted Trixie however clearly had a lot on their minds and ate in silence.

Twilight dipped her spoon into the soup, it really was very nice, she had no idea Princess Luna of all ponies would be such an accomplished cook. It was a shame she had no appetite for it really. Watching the red liquid spill over the edge of the silver spoon as she tipped it with her telekinesis there was only one thing she had a mind for, the colour and viscosity of the food linked in closely to that. Returning the spoon to the bowl she settled for the bread instead.

In her mind’s eye she saw the shaggy figure shambling towards her, she could smell his putrid breath wafting over her muzzle. The part of the image that worried her though was not the fear she felt. It was when she flung the man through the wall with her magic, when she saw dislodged masonry falling over the corpse of the once living being she had killed. The part that worried her was that she did not feel remorse for the man’s death. It did not make any sense, she had purposefully killed another living creature, why was she numb to the experience? Where was the remorse? Where was the sadness?

Thumping the table with her hoof, Twilight looked up to see the rest of the group looking at her with a mixture of perplexed expressions.

“Sorry” murmured Twilight, sheepishly removing her hoof from the table and looking down at her clean hooves.

“Is the food not to your liking Twilight Sparkle?” asked Luna with concern.

“No, no, it’s good princess” she replied looking up at the princess’s face. “Really, I just don’t seem to have much of an appetite right now” added Twilight with a forced smile. Looking around at her friends she saw that the others had by and large finished their meals. Pinkie was watching Pieter gripping his spoon in his hand with avid interest, for some reason the forced smile seemed a little more genuine to Twilight.

“I want hands” said Pinkie Pie, awe dripping from each word. Pieter chuckled in return and began flexing each digit independently to taunt the pink earth pony who growled in response.

“It’s not fair” she continued, “pegasi get wings, unicorns get magic, humans get hands.” Pinkie huffed and crossed her forelegs; in return Pieter drew a dagger from a scabbard and began twirling it nimbly in his hand.

Luna rolled her eyes at the two’s antics, “Captain Von Grunberg, would you please put you're weaponry away at the table.” Pieter did as asked while the princess turned to address Pinkie who had stuck her tongue out at the human. “Pinkie Pie, earth ponies have the greatest gifts of all ponies, why are you jealous?”

“Jealous! I’m not jealous, it’s just not fair they get their awesome powers and all we can do is grow food” Pinkie Pie replied with a grossly exaggerated manner.

“Earth ponies can do much more than just grow food, you have the earth itself as an ally, its strength is yours to command.”

“Well duh, to grow food.”

“No, more than that, here let me show you. Pieter would you be so kind as to volunteer your services?”

Pieter nodded simply and rose from his chair, awaiting instruction.

“Thank you captain, now Appplejack would you please engage the good captain here in a friendly hoof wrestle?”

“Beg your pardon princess?”

“Just trust us, me, on this.” Luna waved a hoof in a circle to illustrate her impatience.

The table was telekinetically cleared by Luna as the two contestants moved to sit so they were facing each other, Pieter still not sure just what was required of him but willing to play along. Rainbow Dash patted her friend on the back, giving her quiet words of encouragement as Applejack and the human took their seats. Once the premise was explained to the Empire captain they locked limbs and waited for the princess’s start command.

“Begin!”

Within moments the larger human gained the upper hand, Applejack threw all of her considerable strength into cancelling the advantage in a grunt of effort. Gathered around her, her friends egged Applejack on, the purpose of the contest momentarily forgotten as they supported their fellow pony. The pony’s efforts though were for naught, Pieter’s chest tensed up as he made his move.

A thump signalled the end of the bout, Pieter’s arm was pressing Applejack’s foreleg onto the table causing a moan of defeat to rise from the pony side.

“See that Applejack here was bested by a physically stronger being my ponies?” gestured Luna with a hoof, lifting from the ground to stand beside the beaten mare. “A good effort dear Applejack, but you had a lot more to give than that if I may say so.”

“Ah’m sorry princess but he’s mighty strong, ah really did give it my all.”

“I’m sure you think you did, but let me ask you, do you think I could win?”

Applejack looked uncertain at the question. Princess Luna was obviously larger than she herself was, but Applejack was a workhorse, she knew she was strong. The princess on the other hoof was, well, a princess, Luna did not have to work, she did not need physical strength and on top of that the princess was more lithe than physically powerful. More than that the human had twice the chest she did and powerful muscles judging by the ease with which he handled his giant sword.

“Er, well, I couldn’t rightly say to be honest.”

“The answer you are thinking of, but are trying to avoid saying is no Applejack” replied Luna with a knowing smile. The decidedly uncomfortable orange mare rubbed the back of her head with a hoof in embarrassment.

“Observe” stated the princess. Offering her hoof to the bemused captain, she closed her eyes for a moment in serene thought. Upon opening them she locked eyes with Pieter, nodding as a signal to begin.

Immediately the human tensed, pushing against the midnight blue hoof of the alicorn before him. The limbs barely moved in response. Luna, smiling almost smugly, began to apply pressure on the soldier who yielded ground despite his determination. With a roar of effort Pieter tried to regain lost ground but once again Luna’s hoof barely shifted. The rest of the ponies held their breath, foremost among them was Forlorn, happy to see the Empire captain struggling in a task for once.

Another thud rang across the house, this time the human’s hand was pinned against the wood. Pieter nursed his hand, looking up at the princess in confusion while the ponies applauded their victorious alicorn leader.

“Now then Pinkie, Captain Von Grunberg here appeared to hold every advantage, and yet I won thanks to some very old and intrinsic magic which both you and Applejack can access.”

The human captain eyed Luna warily, “It was like trying to shift stone” he said, words lined with wonder.

Luna nodded in return, “The power of the earth captain, technically magic is cheating in such an event but the contest was for that purpose so we can agree that it was supposed to be inherently unfair yes?”

Twilight’s countenance screwed up in confusion, as did Trixie’s who also failed to grasp how a pony could utilise magic without using their horn. “Wait so how can you do that Princess Luna? You’re not an earth pony.”

“No, I am an alicorn. We are privileged enough to be the culmination of Earth pony, pegasus and unicorn. I am as much an earth pony as I am a unicorn Twilight Sparkle” explained Luna.

A series of shocked sounds reverberated across the table at this revelation, with the exception of Pieter who absorbed the information with interest.

“oooo, oooo, teach me teach me teach me!” cried Pinkie Pie, positively vibrating with excitement, nearly as much as she had done back in Ponyville where all of this had started.

“It takes much practice and meditation to attune oneself with the earth in such a way; in all honesty it is not unattainable by one’s own merit. Just reach for the earth and call for its aid.” Upon hearing Luna’s explanation Pinkie Pie immediately sunk to the floor, crossed her legs, and began humming ferociously much to everyone’s amusement.

Pieter recovered first, deciding the time had come to address more serious issues. “Very good Pinkie, you will be wrestling dragons to the ground before you know it. Unfortunately though, this meditation will have to wait. We have pressing matters to attend to” said Pieter, catching Luna’s eye and her almost imperceptible nod for him to continue. He waved them towards their seats as a gesture for them to sit.

The mares, seeing the serious look Pieter bore, warily returned to their seats around the table. The princess and the two captains stood at the table’s end. Luna levitated out a bunch of scrolls and began to lay them out.

Luna cleared her throat softly, surveying the room once to reinforce the severity of the topic at hand/hoof. “What I am about to tell all of you is confidential to the extremist extent. Please do not betray that trust my friends, in any case if I am right then it will not matter once we have dealt with these Chaos worshippers.”

“While I was commanding the Canterlot Guard we captured several changelings, both alone and working in groups, as they went to ground within Equestria. Under interrogation each and every one of them could not tell us the location of Queen Chrysalis; they genuinely had no idea where she was. Captain Shining Armour suggested, and in this I agreed with him, that the queen and several of her followers fell within the Everfree Forest. At the time though the bulk of the fleeing changelings had been scattered further south and we did not have the resources to scour the forest. The initial plan was to expel the dispersed bands from the country and consolidate our force; using Hoofington, Canterbury and Ponyville as bases to search for the changelings.” All the while Luna lit up areas concerned on the map with neon blue poles of light. “After that we would pin them down and destroy them in one quick action. There was to be no mercy for Chrysalis, we could not afford to let a being as powerful as her harbour a grudge against ponykind.”


The grim tone set by Luna was calmly accepted by the Equestrians, each knew the matters at stake and despite any personal reservations they may have had none would dare to defy their princess will, not with the fire she had in her eyes at least.

“Now, from Captain Von Grunberg’s experienced opinion and looking at the movements of the Tzeentch worshippers, the direction they will travel is marked here.” Luna drew a blue line on a second map of the Everfree; it began at Canterbury on the edge of the map and followed a largely straight line to the ruins of a castle a number of miles inside the forest. “The major problem we face is that this castle, of which you six bearers are familiar with, is according to limited intelligence reports the likeliest place that Chrysalis would be hiding out. She certainly has enough of a sense of self-importance that a castle would be her choice of hideout.”

“But princess, you’re saying that these two groups will meet?” asked Twilight, not entirely sure of that situation’s consequences.

“It would appear likely yes Twilight Sparkle; their reaction however is an unknown. This is why we must continue our pursuit tomorrow, to wait is to possibly allow our enemy to gain strength and purpose which is something we cannot allow. I know you are weary and you have had to see things that no pony should have to, to do things no pony should have to . . .” the princess’ eyes lingered on Twilight for a moment before continuing. “But for the good of Equestria we must fight on so that what happened in this peaceful little town can never happen again. No pony should have to suffer the fate these did and we have a duty to fight for their protection. Trixie, I know that you have suffered much and as I promised you will be protected, so tomorrow I shall teleport you into the palace where you can stay for as long as you please.”

Trixie smiled slightly at Luna’s offer, gladly accepting with a bow and a mumbled “thank you.”

“Now we have a long day ahead so I suggest you all get some rest, the captains and I will remain here for a while longer before retiring.”

The seven mares filed out of the main room as the captains along with the princess began a more in depth planning session.

The group opened the door to their assigned room to find seven single beds within. It was cramped to be sure but Luna had removed a wall so that what had previously been two rooms was now just one large one with beds spread across it. Twilight marvelled at the precision of it, rubbing a hoof over the area where the wall cross section had been felt as smooth as silk to the touch. The rest of the room had very obviously been two smaller rooms; one half was a light orange with two windows which looked out over moonlit green fields. The other was a pale blue similar to Trixie’s coat and had two windows itself but these windows faced towards the town and their blinds were closed for obvious reasons.

Twilight felt better about herself for the moment, seeing her friends happy and smiling, hearing Princess Luna talk about the necessary actions they may have to face in order to protect Equestria. ‘It all makes perfect sense in a logical sort of way, to commit an act of evil for a greater good. They have to be stopped so innocent ponies can live. I guess though I need to talk to my friends, this isn’t a burden I want to carry alone.’

“Hey girls, I have something I need to say” declared Twilight, grabbing the attention of everypony as they went about getting ready for bed. “Today when I teleported into the town looking for Luna I was alone outside that restaurant that we all stayed at last time, I saw some . . . really awful things. Then one of the humans appeared from the café and started walking towards me over, over the bodies. I was so scared I just froze up, he was coming for me and I . . . I threw him through the restaurant wall, I killed him. I just needed to tell you, I couldn’t keep it to myself and I don’t really know how I feel about it, numb I guess. Please don’t hate me, I was terrified and angry and so many other things.” Twilight lowered her head so that she was looking at the floor, unable to meet the eyes of her friends, unwilling to see how they reacted.

A gentle breeze wafted past Twilight, causing her ears to twitch from their position, plastered against the back of her head. They perked up more as a gentle clop of hooves sounded beside her. Twilight felt a hoof pressing lightly against the bottom of her jaw, pulling her head up; she shut her eyes tightly not knowing if she wanted to see what came next. Only for her to open them in surprise when a foreleg wrapped itself around her neck, the leg gripped Twilight in a warm and friendly hug. Rainbow Dash held her closely, giving her an affectionate nuzzle.

All around her came the thudding of hooves as more of her friends joined the hug. Twilight sighed in relief, her friends didn’t hate her, they were still her friends and Twilight’s worries began to melt away.

Rainbow Dash pulled back, releasing her foreleg and standing face to face with Twilight. “Twilight, you did what you had to, these jerks are evil, they deserve everything they get. It was you or him and we know you didn’t want to do it, you had to,”

“Yes Twilight” came a timid and soft voice from behind her, Fluttershy’s voice. “I don’t know how I feel about it yet but if it was you or him, I definitely would prefer you to a big, mean murderer who only wants to hurt ponies. I’m just glad you’re ok.” Fluttershy patted her on the back with a free hoof and the group echoed her statement.

Twilight had to stop herself from smiling as her friends withdrew from the group hug. “Thanks girls I needed that, I love you all and really don’t know where I would be without you in my life.”

With her mind now clear of worry and doubt, Twilight and the others climbed into bed, bidding each other good night. Twilight went to switch the lights off with her magic when a whimper from the bed beside her stopped Twilight in her tracks. Leaning across so that she was but a hoofs distance from the next bed she whispered, “Trixie?”

“Trixie . . . . Trixie does not want the lights turned off” replied Trixie, slipping back into her trademark third pony speech style.

“Why?”

“Because when Trixie was trapped in her cart, Trixie was . . . I was trapped in the dark, alone for hours.”

“I’m so sorry Trixie, I think I can adjust the light output so we can still get some sleep” replied Twilight, concentrating on the bulb she successfully dimmed it. The other switch for the other half of the combined two rooms was switched off by Rarity’s magic leaving the bedroom cast in a low warm glow.

“I don’t want to be alone anymore, Trixie is always alone.” The pale blue unicorn began sobbing quietly into her pillow.

“Shhh, it’s ok you don’t have to be.”

“But I am, I have no friends, my family moved away and I don’t know where they live. All Trixie had was Trixie’s travelling show and now it’s gone again. I have nothing left.” Trixie continually switched back and forth between first and third pony as she spoke.

“Well, for now you have Canterlot Castle, and who knows after we’ve dealt with this you could come to Ponyville. You would be welcomed with open hooves, I guarantee it” offered Twilight with a friendly smile.

“Trixie, is unsure, she still feels bad about the Ursa incident and for how Trixie acted towards you all. Thank you though; maybe it is time to give up being a showmare, look where it got Trixie.”

“I’m always happy to help, goodnight Trixie.”

“Goodnight Twilight Sparkle.”


Everfree Forest, Equestria

The clearing around the gateway had increased in size dramatically over the course of the last few days. Now the entire Empire army could comfortably position all three infantry regiments side by side without trees breaking up the formation. As always the camp was creating a cacophony of noise and movement; soldiers were pre-occupied cutting down yet more trees, fashioning them into logs so that the stone cube could be rolled into position before being lodged in place.

Ponies milled around nervously, unsure of what to do now that the cube was completed. Some volunteered to help; others began walking back across the path they had carved into the forest floor during the course of the block’s construction, many more just stood by the side-lines anxiously looking on towards the portal and the barbarian horde beyond.

Markus strode out of his tent to take in the scene around him. As scheduled the Greatswords had just stood down after their long watch, the Soldiers of Sigmar were back at work chopping down trees, Markus smiled to himself at that. He had put his retinue on that detail a lot over the last few days, by the time they were done they could probably arm wrestle an ogre into submission judging by their bulging muscles. That meant for the moment though the Halberdier regiment, alongside an Equestrian pegasus unit and the Volley Gun crew were on guard. The other Equestrians were either on break or mingling with the civilians present.

Striding towards the stone he noticed his men glancing across and watching him with interest from all sides. They knew they were due to move the block into place soon and Markus’ appearance was likely a sign to them, and they were right. Walking purposefully through lines of tents his path took him nearby the Equestrian civilian onlookers on the fringes of the clearing. Apparently this forest was cursed and they had been nervous for some time about having to drag carts through it, however the presence of a bustling camp seemed to be doing wonders to ward away any of the forest’s more intimidating denizens.

Markus caught the movement of one of the aforementioned ponies to his right walking calmly up to him, a look of purpose on his face. The pony in question was a stallion, larger than most, with a red coat and hay coloured mane. Turning to face the muscular pony Markus stood his ground patiently, he recognised this pony from yesterday, this was the pony that had brought those carts of apples to the camp as a gift. They were exceptional apples as Markus recalled; he must have eaten at least four of them over the course of the day.

“Um sir, mahself and a few friends were wondering if yawl might need a hoof with that there blockade? Ah can’t stand around and watch others toil when ah could lend a hoof.” Big Macintosh stood a little taller having made his offer. Behind the big red pony a number of pastel coloured ponies looked on nervously.

“Thank you for the offer pony, but as I will explain to your compatriots I cannot accept your aid.” Markus had by now the attention of the majority of the camp, as well as virtually all of the Equestrians. Soldiers on logging duty held their axes at rest while the Royal Guard were formed up under the gaze of Sergeant Gale. Sensing that he had the metaphorical stage Markus decided the time had come.

“Soldiers of the Empire, soldiers of Equestria, today will see the end of our oppressive vigil over the gateway that taunts us daily. The good citizens of Ponyville have aided us in our time of need, now we repay the debt, we shall block this doorway and keep this land safe.”

Turning to address the civilian ponies Markus continued. “The time has come ponies; you will need to head back to your village where it will be safe. When we begin to move the block into position the army on the other side will seize the opportunity to attack while our defences are compromised, you cannot be here when that happens.” With that the ponies of Ponyville, Big Macintosh included, made their way back towards town, some of them looking back fearfully as they did so.

Markus then went about preparations for the action. Calling out orders and corralling troops, the allied force began to take up positions. The Greatswords were awoken but kept in reserve since they had only just finished their six hour guard of the gateway before. The twenty strong unicorn unit was stood around the stone blockade, their magic ready to lighten the load in order to easily overcome the inertia. Soldiers of Sigmar stood at attention in their armour, logs held in their arms to be used as rollers for the stone when it began to move. The Halberdiers were ready by the stone’s flanks; they were to act as the defence force should the enemy launch an assault, their Crossbowmen detachment stood behind the rock, braced to push it forward. Finally, a unit of twenty pegasi guard fluttered overhead as a reaction force if the tribesmen began to push the blockade back, the second unit of pegasi were held in reserve by the war machines which were too impractical to use for the situation.

A golden hammer was raised aloft, the signal to begin. With a heave of exertion the state troops got the blockade moving over its wooden rollers beneath. Soldiers of Sigmar rushed forward on cue, placing logs before the stone’s path and running to the rear to gather up the logs left behind. The rest of the units and regiments kept time with the mobile blockade. From across the gateway furious yelling could be heard along with the clamour of metal and drums.

“Father” called out Sergeant Kemper from across the clearing, on the stone’s right flank. He pointed with a finger at the quickly growing mass of angry Norscans. With both captains now gone in some form Markus had taken up position with the Halberdiers since they would benefit most from his presence, he had the left flank along with some thirty or so state troops. The right flank was occupied by a similar amount of Halberdiers led by Sergeant Kemper and an insistent Counts Champion Gerhart Manhelm. The latter was walking in the front and centre of the unit, eyes narrowed at the growing tide of flesh, hair and metal before him.

‘Always on the frontline Gerhart, if only the men around you knew the reason behind your eagerness’ thought Markus, observing the expressions of the Halberdiers nearby the Greatsworder. They looked visibly invigorated by his presence, a few even smiled with belligerence and a thirst for a fight. The priest knew full well why they suddenly wanted to get to grips with the enemy. A Greatsworder was the pinnacle of what a state trooper could be, each of them only being admitted after surviving odds and performing deeds which should have killed them, indeed many earned the title posthumously. Their ferocity and skill in battle was legendary to the lower ranks, to have the emperor’s champion Greatsworder alongside the Halberdiers obviously made them eager to prove themselves before his gaze.

The sound of laughing reached Markus’ ears, looking up he saw two pegasi from the reserve unit dropping Engineer Erholt on to the top of the block, the man was laden down with pistols and held his tri-barrelled repeater pistol in his right hand while he quickly checked the mechanism. The engineer smiled down on Markus through his elaborate moustache and beard before turning around to begin laying out his menagerie of black powder weaponry.

The stone cube was now entering the magic well created by the gateway and so the unicorn guards’ powers quickly waned as they found themselves becoming drained. Progress began to slow as expected but the Saarls on the other side of the portal were coming into range.

“Forward!” Markus ordered. The two sections of the regiment hurried to take up positions either side of the gateway to prevent a breach. Behind the regiment a gap had opened up consequently. Soldiers of Sigmar rushed to the gap in order to lay down the logs they carried so that the blockade could be rolled over them. Their brief task complete, the unit formed up behind Markus’ Halberdier section, ready to assist the Crossbowmen or their parent unit if need be.

Hundreds of tribesmen rushed towards the waiting Empire lines. The creaking and groaning of the wooden rollers was increasingly drowned out as the sound of feet pounding and drums being enthusiastically beaten became deafening.

Markus briefly turned to address his men; both units had their halberds braced. Each section was arranged so that they were six files wide by five ranks deep. Smiling slightly at the rows of sharpened steel glinting in the Equestrian sun; Markus felt a rush of power, the thirst for battle.

“Men of the Empire stand your ground, fight in Sigmar’s glorious name!” Markus roared, his hammer beginning to glow a soft gold.

“For Sigmar!”

The tension was unbearable, the tribesmen were moments away, thrown axes and javelins soared towards the men of the Empire. Luckily many fell short or disappeared over the portals event horizon; however some of them struck home. Three files down a Halberdier toppled over backwards, a heavy axe head embedded in his split helmet, the next soldier stepped up in his fallen comrade’s place. Another axe came in towards Markus, judging its aim to be true the Arch Lector calmly swatted the missile out of the air with a well-timed parry.

The flurry of projectiles ceased quickly as the front rank of the tribesmen crossed the gateway’s threshold, howling and cursing as they did so. A series of sharp cracks rang out and tribesmen fell to the ground with holes through their low quality armour, Otto Erholt reached for his next pistol, the enemy were so bunched up it was impossible to miss. The Saarl’s momentum carried them over their fallen and into the waiting ranks of the Halberdiers.

With a sickening crash battle was joined. Some of the tribesmen charged into the blockade, hoping to push it back. The braced Crossbowmen were more than up to the task and kept making steady progress, the final logs laid across the forest floor covered by the stone as it neared its position.

In the crush of the melee, Markus Holstein was in his element. The blockade was by now anchoring the centre and he could begin to focus on the final stages of the army’s action. Markus stood on the more vulnerable left corner of the unit, his arms working like pistons, in the chaos of the fight and the density of the tribesmen’s formation no finesse was required. His giant frame and experienced hands shattered bones and shields with every strike, the dark gold metal of the hammer was virtually on fire and gaining potency with each blow.

Beside the Warrior Priest the Halberdier regiment acquitted itself admirably. The braced formation broke the enemy charge well, two ranks of spear heads impaling any foolish enough to barge into the formation without a shield or sufficient armour. From there they worked in tandem, each soldier relying on those around him to protect him should the need arise. Between the Empire soldier’s better equipment, tactics and experience they reaped a heavy toll on the marauding tribesmen, but one by one the Halberdiers began to take casualties.

Overhead Trottingham Guard pegasi lead by Sergeant Gale launched hit and run assaults on the unsuspecting Chaos followers. The speed and nature of the attacks sowed fear and confusion as many of the tribesmen pushing against the blockade were struck low by golden plated pegasi from above.

Between the pressure applied by the state troops and the inexorable progress of the stone blockade the final distance began to close. The advance slowed somewhat when the stone began to edge out over the rollers and onto the corpses of fallen marauders but ultimately it mattered little, the gap was closing.

Markus punched out with his left fist taking a young marauder by surprise and stunning him. Pressing the attack he stepped forward and kneed the beardless warrior in the crotch, eliciting a mewling sound from the youngling who slumped to the ground on his knees, his manhood ruptured. Grabbing the young man by the hair Markus threw him fully to the ground, placing a boot firmly on his unarmoured back and trusting to the man behind to finish the deed. He saw with satisfaction that the gap was only large enough for three men abreast to fight. Crushing the helmeted head of another marauder with his fiery war hammer, Markus shouted out in victory.

“He abides in those who shed blood in his revered name!” cried the Warrior Priest, quoting from Holy Scripture. A penultimate push brought the rock close enough so that just two men could fight in the gap.

The Halberdier beside Markus was pulled forward sharply as calloused hands grabbed the halberd shaft following the soldiers killing strike on another marauder. Unwilling to relinquish his weapon the soldier was dragged forward suddenly. A loud yelp of pain came from the man’s lips as a spear embedded itself just below the plate tasset on his left leg. Markus acted quickly before the final push from the Crossbowmen sealed the gateway. Shoulder barging the surprised tribesmen before him into the ranks behind he took his hammer in his left hand while the right grabbed one of the offending arms which held the halberd stave. Pulling with all of his considerable strength Markus tugged the Saarl towards him, allowing the wounded Halberdier to be brought back into Empire lines.

Maintaining a tight hold on the gnarled Norscan was easy enough for Markus. His opponent while bulky was no match for himself in a test of strength, a jab of his hammer’s head into the bare chested man’s gut put paid to that. Grabbing the man by the throat with his right hand Markus pulled him close so that they were face to face. Terror evidently gripped the barbarian as the Warrior Priest's eyes poured holy fire from them.

“Sigmar absolves you” said Markus through gritted teeth.

What happened next was the final moment of the two sides’ brief struggle. Fire poured from every orifice of the stricken tribesmen, streaming to the forest floor like lava from a volcano. The Saarl did not die immediately though, petrified wailing rang out over the raucous din of battle, causing the men around the flaming warrior to jump back in fright. Holy Soulfire ripped the rapidly charring corpse apart, releasing nought but dust and ash. At that moment the Crossbowmen gave a final mighty heave and the stone moved into position, cutting off any physical access between the two worlds.

The fire gone from his eyes Markus turned around to see his men smiling broadly back at him, walking through the unit he made sure to rest a hand on the shoulder of a soldier every so often in congratulations. The faint sound of hacking, of blades scraping stone went unnoticed as the Arch Lector strode confidently around to the rear of the now in place blockade which was being secured by his personal retinue as ordered. The eyes of men and pony alike followed him as he took up position in the now empty clearing, even the casualties watched from beside carts while the army doctor went about treating their wounds.

“Soldiers, that was some damn fine work today. Our enemy lie crumpled and beaten beneath several tonnes of stone. Our endless watch over the cursed wastes of the north over. We have saved ourselves, but more importantly innocent civilians as well.”

Around Markus the state troopers not at work crowded forward, both sections of Halberdiers mingled with their detachment of Crossbowmen in a loose formation around the blockade. Behind the priest the Greatswords stood at attention, their leader back among them, blood dripping off his gleaming armour. Perched atop the stone block, alongside three pegasus guards was Otto Erholt, his legs dangling off the edge as him and the ponies nearby watched the speaking cleric.

Pride bloomed inside Markus’ chest to see his men so proud of their achievement, they had certainly outperformed what was expected of them over the course of the last few days and he felt they had earned a reprieve. “So, as a reward for your service, Princess Celestia, the co-ruler of the Equestrian nation, alongside myself, have arranged . . . a gift.”

With a wave of his hand the twenty unicorns of the Trottingham Royal Guard floated out several barrels. Some contained ale from the armies supplies, most however contained a strengthened Sweet Apple Acres cider.

This was immediately met by a cheer from the state troops, the usually disciplined and stoic Greatswords breaking formation to grab themselves a mug. Even the pegasus guards were caught up in the human’s frivolity, smiling happily and cheering in response from beneath faceless helms. Markus gave their leader, Sergeant Gale, a tilt of his head, confirmation that the Equestrians were also welcome to partake in the festivities.

Sighing with content Markus’ wondered how his only captain was faring. He also wondered where he could find another wizard to recast that damned translation spell now that twenty one of the pegasi had moved within the gateway’s radius of magical interference. But that was a problem for Willhelm to deal with at least.