• Published 4th Aug 2019
  • 3,075 Views, 191 Comments

Rep'talal - SFaccountant



An Age of Iron short story about a little derelict and unrelenting horrors

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Omen

Rep’talal
An Age of Iron story
by SFaccountant

Chapter 2
Omen

****

The Tau pilot, its eyes gouged out and its body held up like a limp doll, screamed. It was not a scream of terror or pain. It didn’t even seem like a willful reaction to being seized and threatened by armed intruders. It was a scream of heart-stopping madness, and it echoed in the pirates’ ears and wormed its way into their muscles.

The pilot howled toward the ceiling, his voice continuing to rise in pitch and volume. His jaw and lips stretched like rubber, far beyond what should have been physically possible. The bulkheads seemed to tremble underfoot, and as it reached its apex the unearthly shriek pierced the hearts of the boarding team.

One by one, the pirates collapsed. Fluttershy gasped and fainted almost instantly, followed by Rarity a moment later. Rainbow Dash fell like a stone, her legs buckling the moment she landed. Applejack shouted defiantly while her vision spun, only to hang her head when she fell unconscious seconds later. Big Mac too passed out while standing up, his helmet lumens flickering softly. Daniels staggered to the side, holding his head, and then slumped against the wall. Fennin and Jerriha seemed to go still for a moment, and then simply fell over. Gaela fell to one knee, a blast of static escaping her vox grille. Then her arms fell limp, and her power axe clattered to the floor.

Twilight and Luna froze, feeling a sense of overwhelming dread seize them, as if claws of ice were trying to physically crush their hearts inside their chests. Their horns lit ablaze with magic, instinctively pushing back against the malevolent energies, but otherwise the mares could only gasp as darkness threatened to swallow their senses.

Still, they remained conscious, so they were the only ponies to witness Dest snarling and tearing the Tau pilot in half.

“Damnable witchcraft!” the Iron Warrior shouted, still holding the upper half of the alien. The Tau pilot didn’t stop screaming, so he threw the soldier’s torso onto the floor in front of him. His boot dashed the howling alien across the deck a moment later, finally silencing the debilitating shriek.


Luna sucked in a deep breath, suddenly feeling the paralyzing sensation vanish. Twilight stumbled backward and started coughing and wheezing.

“What… What…” Luna couldn’t quite get the words out, and her heart leapt into her throat when she realized most of their party was lying on the floor.

“Psychic attack,” Dest hissed. “Such powers can extinguish a weak mind in an instant. This was a trap after all!” His hearts thundered in his own chest, reacting furiously to the attempt to silence them. To stun an Astartes with an act of psychic will was difficult, particularly when that Astartes was empowered by a daemonic spirit, but even the Iron Warrior felt badly weakened by the experience.

“Extinguish… OH NO!” Twilight’s eye bugged out, and she whirled around to check on the others.

A wet growl came from down the hall. Beyond the fallen ponies and aliens was a hook-limbed daemon creeping low to the floor, its maw drooling a slime trail underneath it. Twilight let out a wordless shout and fired a magic bolt from her horn, blasting the monster to the side and hammering it against the wall.

“Daemons! There are daemons too!” the young alicorn screamed, rushing over to Gaela.

“Confirmed.” Dest spotted another creature on the other end of the party, coming down the opposite end of the hall, and he snatched his boltgun from his hip. “Either attracted by the scream or here to take the bodies of those incapacitated.” His gun bucked in his hand, and the daemon lurched backward while mass-reactive rounds punched into its torso. “Are our companions dead?”

A graph showing Gaela’s pulse popped up on Twilight’s visor, and she felt her knees weaken in relief when she saw that it was still tracking a heartbeat, albeit a very weak and unsteady one. “I think they’re still alive! Gaela! Gaela, wake up!”

A separate window appeared over her augmetic display.

Circulatory organ in critical state. Adrenaline surge administered. Neuro-electric pulse imminent.

The Dark Techpriest suddenly recoiled as if she had been punched. Staggering backwards, a stream of Binaric Cant sputtered from her helmet while she glanced left and right.

+Situational awareness restored. Warning: Combat systems engaged. Threat level omega. Target identification request.+

A hungry growl came from down the hall. Three more daemons raced toward the pirates, their bladed limbs and claws glinting in the dim light.

+Target priority designated. Cleansing.+

Gaela snapped up her gun arm and a trio of fragmentation munitions burst from her arm. They struck the lead daemon and blasted it apart in an instant, and then swallowed the remaining creatures in a cloud of hot razors. All three of the monsters vanished into brightly-colored flames, their enraged screams silenced under the sounds of explosions.

“Macintosh! Macintosh, We beseech thee, speak to us!” Luna shook the stallion furiously with the Iron Gage, nearly throwing him off his hooves.

After a few seconds a crackling noise came from his chest and the cyborg pony flinched. Big Mac looked up in bewilderment, blinking repeatedly as he stared into the crimson slits of Luna’s helmet.

“Eee… whuh?”

“Ironside! Thou art lucid?” Luna pressed, holding his head up to look her in the eyes.

The sudden bark of a boltgun and another grenade explosion caused Big Mac to jump in shock. Dest and Gaela were holding each side of the hall, but a steady stream of daemons were racing toward the mostly comatose intruders.

“Wake the others! We take to battle!” Luna’s Iron Gage sparked with energy, and the Iron Skull on her chest gleamed even brighter.

“They’re trying to overrun us!” Dest snarled, spearing a daemon on his free hand when it tried to sprint past. “Keep them back!”

Another monster dashed up to the Astartes, leapt up onto the wall next to Dest, and then ran across the bulkhead past the stabbing scythe-limbs of the pilot. With a feral screech it leapt toward the insensate ponies, talons reaching out to plunge into Rainbow Dash.

A great black gauntlet seized it around the neck mid-jump. The daemon flailed its razor-tipped limbs, scraping them against the weapon, but its efforts proved useless. It was flung onto the ground onto its back, and then a second fist slammed down onto its head.

“PERISH, FOUL BEASTS!! THE NIGHT SHALL SCOUR THIS CHARIOT OF THY FILTH AND CLAIM IT FOR OUR OWN!!” Luna bellowed, firing a beam from her horn and slicing another daemon in half.

Daniels jerked awake at the shout, blinking rapidly and instinctively clutching his shotgun. “What? What the hell was that?! Where am I?!”

“Get up and fight,” Gaela said simply, not deigning to answer his questions. An autoloader swiveled another fragmentation shell into her launcher, and a laser beam fired from her servo harness with a shrill whine.

As one daemon fell before the crimson lance, another one bounded along behind it, leaping up onto the wall and then jumping off with talons outstretched. Daniels fired his shotgun, blasting it in the chest, and the Warpspawn missed its landing.

Gaela’s axe came down, cleaving the monster’s head from its shoulders. Her boot kicked what remained back down the hall before it could began to dematerialize, knocking over another daemon that was struggling to get up.

“We are Chaos,” the Dark Techpriest snarled, raising her grenade launcher again. “Denizens of the Warp will serve, or they will meet oblivion like any other enemy.”

The fragmentation shell launched into the staggered creatures, and they vanished in a cloud of fire and steel.

Applejack finally came to her senses, the blurry mix of targeting and alert runes slowly crystallizing from an indistinct, reddish fuzz. Big Mac stood over her, the stallion’s expression hidden behind the mask of metal plates and crimson glassine. He didn’t need to say a word, and neither did Applejack. The farmer stood up fully, feeling the heft of her armor beyond the servo-motors that empowered her.

Taking in the sound of fighting, she started to turn to face the largest concentration of oncoming daemons. Her gaze happened to cross over the insensate bodies of their Tau assistants as she did so, and she stopped short at the sight above them. A pale tentacle riddled with veins and barbs was snaking down from one of the ruptured air vents, stretching toward the closest immobile bodies.

“Hey! Above the grays! Watch out!” Applejack shouted and bolted toward the aliens, tilting her flamer up above them.

The blast of fire missed the Tau, swallowing the tentacle and the air vent above it. A furious screech issued from within the vent, and the tendril – still burning – dropped onto the Tau boarders below.

“Erm… Twi! Little help?” Applejack asked.

“With what?” Twilight stood over Rarity, who didn’t seem to be getting up. She quickly turned her head to fire a magic bolt down the hallways that Gaela was covering. “We’re really busy right now, Applejack!”

With another howl a small, lithe body suddenly burst from the ventilation shaft, its body wreathed in fire. The daemon landed on Fennin’s chest, promptly sinking its claws into the engineer’s leg.

Fennin screamed, lurching upright. The monster bounced onto the floor at Applejack’s feet, and a blazing talon whipped around and slashed at the nose of her helmet. A boot slammed into it in retaliation, knocking it on its back.

“WHAT’S GOING ON WHAT IS THAT THING WHY AM I ON FIRE?!”

“Stop yellin’ and get fightin’!” Applejack shouted back, jumping at the burning daemon. The creature bounced away with uncanny agility, and her hooves crashed onto the deck mere inches behind it. Her tail shot forward over her head, scorpion-like, and struck the daemon again.

“I WARNED YOU NOT TO START ANY FIRES IN HERE!!” Fennin shrieked, scrambling away from the burning tentacle. His boarding armor was fire-resistant, like any hazard suit, but the heat still worked its way through the insulation layer to sear his skin dangerously.

“Ah think we have bigger problems than that!” Applejack shouted back, chasing after her current target.

The daemon flipped back upright, and for the first time she realized that the little burning monster had no distinguishable legs. Rather, it possessed seven arms, joined at seemingly random points on the fleshy blob that was its body. Some propped the thing up, some pushed sharply against the floor for locomotion, some whipped and stabbed defensively, and all were tipped by razor-edged talons that burned without being consumed by the flame.

Applejack pounced and the daemon rolled, slipping away from the ceramite-clad hooves.

“Somepony help me pin down this varmint!” she growled, kicking at it again. It scrambled away, bouncing and sliding, keeping just inches ahead of the mare.

Then it suddenly bolted toward Fluttershy, who was still lying unconscious on her side.

“FLUTTERS! FLUTTERSHY, MOVE! IT’S GONNA-“

A pulse blast struck the Warpspawn in the side, throwing off its attack and causing it to trip just inches from its prey. The daemon rolled to bring a new pair of claws onto the deck, but then a second pulse bolt struck it in the core, stunning it.

Applejack reached the flaming terror, landing on it with both front hooves. Spine-riddled bone and twitching muscle was crushed under her greaves, and then the false matter evaporated. The flames that clung to the monster fell away into showers of sparks, bouncing across the deck before winking out harmlessly.

The farmer sighed in relief. “Thanks, Fennin.”

“My name is Jerriha,” Jerriha grumbled, slowly pulling herself up. Her pulse carbine was in her hands, while Fennin’s still lay on the floor. “How many contacts?”

“TOO MANY!” Daniels shouted back. His shotgun bucked wildly in his hand, knocking back another scythe-limbed terror.

“What’s our path of retreat?” Jerriha demanded.

“None.” Gaela fired her last fragmentation shell down the hall, obliterating the monster that Daniels had stunned. “We fight or we die.” Her servo arm swiveled downward and clamped onto a lever on her arm, and after a sharp twist the grenade launcher fell away. Then the augmetic split open at the end, revealing the mouth of her ion cannon. “Most likely both.” A slowly building whine came from her arm, and flickering blue flames sprouted from the exhaust vents on her servo harness.

“Tau’va take me, I hate you psychotic apes,” the Fireblade snarled. “Fennin! Pick up your gun and help me form a firing line! Princess Purple, stop nudging the other ponies and help kill things!”

“But… if I can wake them up…” Twilight hesitated, looking down at Rainbow Dash. The pegasus was curled up on her side and kicking, like she was having a bad dream.

“They’ll get up on their own or not at all!” Jerriha fired a burst past Gaela, cutting down a daemonic hound sprinting toward the pirates. “You’re probably worth more in a fight than the pegasi anyway! Move!”

“Hey! HEY!” Fennin shrieked, jumping back against the wall. “ABOVE!! LOOK OUT!!”

A ceiling plate shook and cracked, and the track lighting built into it started flickering for no obvious reason. Then it went out and the entire plate fell loose. It landed on Big Mac, which barely startled the placid stallion. The shrieking daemon that fell a moment later was a very different matter.

It was gaunt and bipedal, with pale skin stretched over a human-like skeleton, giving it the appearance of a naked, emaciated man. Except, perhaps, for the eyeless, earless head full of needle-like teeth, the long, curved talons on its hands and feet, and the many ink-black eyes dotting its torso like blisters.

Claws raked at the daemon’s perch before anyone could react, tearing long, burning gouges in Big Mac’s armor around his barrel and the back of his neck. The stallion bucked hard, throwing the monster off, and it rolled across the deck while being chased by a panicked string of pulse blasts.

“Lead it! Lead it! You’re going to shoot one of us, Fennin!” Jerriha shouted, taking a moment to aim her own carbine. A burst of energy flares caught the monster in the side, tearing half of its body apart in an instant.

The daemon collapsed onto the floor, flailing, and then twisted its eyeless face toward the Tau that had hit it. Its mouth opened and its tongue shot out like a bullet, stabbing a dagger-like bone shard into Jerriha’s leg. She fell over, snarling curses in her native language while trying to line up another shot.

Instead, Big Mac’s hooves came down on the daemon’s head, crushing it to a pulp that rapidly burned away to nothing. The monster’s tongue and its projectile tip vanished as well, leaving the Fireblade clutching her wound tightly.

“Medic! Where’s our medic?!” Jerriha shouted.

“S-Still asleep!” Fennin stuttered.

“Then wake her up! Go! I’ll cover the ceiling breach, but I’m bleeding!”

A monstrous howl rolled through the bulkheads, and the lights flickered overhead.


Another daemon rounded the corner at the end of each corridor of the ambush zone.

Huge beasts of seething muscle and rock-like skin, they barely fit in the cramped, utilitarian corridors of the ship. Enormous arms, extending from points that could barely be described as shoulders, clambered across the deck awkwardly, digging gouges into the deck plating with long scythe-like claws. Their heads consisted of a gaping mouth full of teeth atop a mound of hard muscle and little else; if the Warpspawn had any eyes, they were hidden among the wide variety of small, hideous malformations dotting its hardened flesh.

“War daemons. Try to destroy the limbs first,” Gaela ordered, raising her ion blaster.


“Hark! Mayhaps a worthy foe hast emerged!” Luna’s Iron Gage tossed aside the evaporating body of a hook-limbed monstrosity, which hit the wall with a wet slap. The gauntlets turned to face the larger daemon, and small orbs of energy coalesced within their palms. “Back to the void with thee, daemon!”

To her surprise, Dest jumped over and slapped the Iron Gage down. “Do NOT fire heavy beam weapons within a void ship!” the pilot admonished. He quickly turned his bolter on the new attacker, firing burst after burst of blistering explosives into its armored hide. “There are many sensitive systems and deceptively weak bulkheads! Do you wish to take this vessel intact or not?”

Luna brightened in an instant. “Aye! Well met, Lord Dest! We shalt smite this wastrel with greater care!”

One of her gauntlets pointed an index finger at the daemon, and a whip of dark blue lightning shot out of the end. The monster flinched and howled, its body covered by a web of crackling power.

Dest heard his boltgun click empty and tossed the weapon aside, sprinting for the stunned Warpspawn. The claws on his gauntlets lengthened, spikes started poking through his armor, and his shoulder-mounted scythe blades twitched eagerly in anticipation. He tackled the daemon – twice the size of even a possessed Astartes – and slammed it against the bulkhead wall while his blades searched for a soft spot.

Hey! I think I figured it out! Vel said suddenly. Okay, so you know that fear stench from before? It was ALL over that gray zombie bro. But-

“Not now, Vel!” Dest shouted, digging his claws into what he estimated to be the daemon’s throat.

The monster hurled him away with a shove, and the Iron Warrior’s greaves scraped loudly across the deck as he skidded to a stop. Slashing talons followed him, rending long tears in his armor but failing to reach the twisted flesh underneath.

A black fist shot into the gap between the combatants, hammering the daemon in its jaw. The monster reeled, and then smacked the weapon aside, knocking it across the floor. Flames suddenly puffed from its mouth, flickering from green to blue to white, and then a beam of blazing energy fired down the hall.

Luna was surprised enough that she didn’t raise a barrier in time, and the beam scorched a line of eldritch fire across her helmet cheek, partially burning through the plating. She whinnied in pain and reared up, her horn sparking angrily.

Dest charged again, but this time the daemon met him head-on, and little worse for wear due to the previous attacks it had suffered. Talons slashed through the air, and the Iron Warrior struggled to avoid the long, flailing limbs in such a narrow space. Then the beast surged forward, ramming straight into the Astartes and pinning him against a wall.

Okay, is now a better time? This is kinda important, bro.

The daemon lunged to bite, but Dest grabbed onto its head, straining to keep the enormous snapping jaws at bay. “Would it aid in the defeat of this creature?!” he shouted.

Uh… no, not really…

“Then it can wait!” Dest snarled, right before driving a knee-spike into the daemon’s jaw.


Across the hall, a steady stream of munitions and energy bursts sprayed against the other war daemon, covering its hide with heat flares and small explosions. The daemon held its arms together, stacked in front of it like a shield, and slowly trudged into the torrent of heavy bolts, ion blasts, pulse surges, and heavy shot.

A burst of magic missiles briefly added to the barrage, hammering the monster with glittering orbs of purple light. They exploded into dazzling swirls of color, but didn’t seem to inflict any more damage than the rest of the weapons.

Gaela’s ion blaster screeched, launching shot after shot of crackling energy bolts into the war beast. Steam puffed from the heat sinks, and electric arcs whipped between the claws of her arm.

“This is useless. Our ranged weapons do not seem to be effective.” A laser fired from Gaela’s servo harness, drawing a scorched line across the daemon’s face but doing little else. “Tactical shift proposed. Sparkle, immobilize target. Daniels, grayskins, prepare grenades!”

“Can a photon grenade even affect that thing?” Jerriha demanded, leaning against the wall while she switched firing modes.

“Uncertain. Attempt it anyway!”

Twilight’s horn pulsed, and then whips of purple energy spun out from the tip and disappeared into the ether. Seconds later, chains of glowing lavender burst from the walls and deck around the daemon, latching onto random points on its twisted body and going taut. The Warpspawn lurched backward, confused, and then started struggling against the bonds.

“Shield your eyes!” Jerriha fired her photon grenade while Daniels hurled a fragmentation grenade at the daemon’s feet.

The strobing flash exploded against the monster, and Gaela’s visor briefly blanked to avoid seeing the stun pulse. Then the fragmentation grenade exploded, tearing at the monster’s legs and underbelly.

The Dark Techpriest bolted forward, activating the power field on her axe. The daemon, not obviously hindered by either grenade, pushed forward, straining at the mystical chains.

“Dark Gods, guide my blade!” the engineer-cultist chanted, beginning a long overhead swing that pushed her arms’ servomotors to their limits. “Omnissiah, grant me strength!”

The axe came down in an arc of scarlet, slicing through the daemon’s hide with contemptible ease. The beast’s right arm came off with a sharpened crack, and ribbons of crimson energy stung at the wound. Chains that hung in the path of the blade exploded into purple sparks, loosening the daemon’s other arm.

With a hollow roar, the Warpspawn shattered the rest of Twilight’s spell and lunged for the Dark Techpriest. Its shoulder rammed into Gaela’s chest, shoving her against the wall, while steel-rending talons swiped after her. A servo arm snapped forward and struck the incoming hand, grabbing and twisting, and the daemon tore it from its socket for her trouble.

“Gaela! Hang on!” Twilight activated her force harmonizer, generating a humming energy blade. The Apple siblings galloped past on either side of her, smashing headlong into the daemon’s legs.


“Damn it, Techpriest, get away from it!” Daniels yelled while his shotgun blasted another shot into its hardened skin. “AJ, don’t just run at the thing!”

Grumbling that no one was listening to him, he removed the empty magazine and was reaching for another one when a pulse shot zipped over his head.

“HEY! What’re you-“

“Above! Above! Another one from the ceiling!” Jerriha shrieked.

Daniel didn’t get the chance to react to her words before something landed on his back, striking him in the back and side with blades that punched through the boarding suit and into flesh underneath. He hit the ground belly-first and tried to roll, but the daemon on top pulled the other way, rearing back talons to land the killing blow.

A wave of force suddenly pushed by him, like an intense wind, and suddenly the weight on Daniels’ back was gone. Rainbow Dash yelled a battle cry and zoomed over his head, but the mercenary didn’t stop to thank her. He rolled onto his side, seeing the gaunt, multi-armed daemon that was sliding away from him, and then brought up his shotgun while still lying on the ground.

One blast to the chest pulverized the daemon’s torso, and then Rainbow Dash crashed into the remains, smearing it across the bulkheads. Daniels pushed himself up again, struggling against intense pain from his lacerations, and quickly turned his weapon on the hole in the ceiling plating.

Another daemon, this one covered in chitinous scabs and bony thorns, started clawing its way from the ceiling only to take a shotgun blast to its cyclopean head, stunning it. A pair of pulse shots drove it back, hissing angrily all the while.

“Somebody do something about that ceiling panel!” Jerriha shouted, her aim sweeping back and forth. She could hear the sound of claws scraping within the ductwork, and the track lighting frequently flickered irregularly along the ceiling.

“We’re a little busy over here!” Applejack shouted back, slamming a boot into the war daemon. Claws slammed down over her, carving deep gouges into the top of her armor that nonetheless failed to pierce the layering.

“Rarity! Are you awake?!” Daniels shouted, suddenly groping around his shoulder to unfasten his grenade bandoleer.

“Ugh… B-Barely,” the unicorn mumbled, swaying back and forth on her hooves.

“Grenades! Pull the pins! Hurry!” Daniels ripped the belt free and held it out.

Rarity’s horn flickered, and with a weak grunt she did as instructed. A snaking blue glow danced over the explosives, and the grenade pins all slipped free and dropped onto the floor.

“Wait, wh-what do you think you’re doing?” Jerriha demanded, pressing her back against the bulkhead wall.

Daniels didn’t bother to answer, hurling the entire belt into the open duct above him.

“Take cover!” Fennin shouted, dropping to the floor and covering his head.

A rapid string of a half-dozen detonations tore through the ducts above the intruders, and several more ceiling bulkheads came loose and fell to the deck. How many daemons came with them was hard to say; the Warp-birthed flesh within the ducts had been thoroughly pulverized and shredded before tumbling onto the floor with the rest of the debris. Prismatic flame and psycho-reactive vapor mixed with the mundane fire and dust of the collapsed ducts, and the final angry howls of the victims inside them slowly faded to give way to the clashes at each end of the hall.


Gaela’s axe buzzed furiously as it bit into the hardened shell of the war daemon’s hide, sprouting bursts of bright crimson arcs around the cleft in the monster’s shoulder. Her servo drill stabbed forward, punching into the daemon’s skull, and critically pushing back the snapping maw that reached out eagerly for the Dark Techpriest.

Gaela kicked away, tearing her axe free, and then barely avoided being knocked over as Big Macintosh was sent flying in her general direction. The stallion slammed into a wall upside-down and then dropped down onto his head. Deep wounds had been carved into one of his augmetic legs, and one of his helmet horns had snapped off after he had stabbed it into the beast’s leg.

The daemon slammed its remaining fist down onto Applejack’s back, which seemed to do more obvious damage to the deck plating underneath the mare than it did to her. A purple force blade darted in over the farmer before it could strike again, plunging into what could barely be considered its neck.

“It’s so tough!” Twilight complained as her blade quivered and sunk deeper into the false muscles and bones of the daemon. “Aren’t there any vulnerable points? You already put a hole in its head!”

A spray of shuriken scattered across the war daemon’s chest, each ultra-sharp blade digging nearly an inch into its hide without apparent effect.

Gaela’s optics pulsed, and a building whir came from within her arm. “Focus a psionic pulse on the harmonizer cross. On my mark, release and then remove the weapon.”

Applejack bucked at the war daemon, staggering it, and then jerked back when it grabbed her tail. “Hey! HEY! Don’t touch that! Don’t-“

The monster flung Applejack like a flail, slamming her into one wall and then swinging her around into the other. Then it dropped the stunned equine, and its talons reached down toward her helmet.

The force harmonizer, still stuck deep in its neck, sparked dangerously.

“Discharge!” Gaela yelled before she bolted forward.

The harmonizer cross seemed to explode in a blast of purple energy, blowing open the wound and knocking the device away. The war daemon reeled, staggering backward, and a feral howl erupted from its twisted jaws.

Gaela’s power axe ripped into the daemon’s neck at the same point the harmonizer had, hewing deep. Even so, the hardened flesh in its path was far too much to cut through, and reinforced by thick trunks of bone. The axe stopped, still buzzing with power, and the war daemon reared its claws back.

Gaela let go of her weapon and stuck her ion blaster into the wound. The capacitors popped up along the length of the barrel, buzzing with energy and glowing a bright blue.

“RETURN TO YOUR MAKER, WARP-BORNE WRETCH!!” the Dark Techpriest roared, overloading the weapon. A blue-white flash came from the ion blaster, flooding the injury and overcharging the disruption field around her power axe. The field expanded suddenly, sending spikes of atomizing crimson in all directions deep in the monster’s torso.

The war daemon came apart all at once, its limbs falling away from a rapidly disintegrating body. They seemed to crumble into sand, and that sand in turn deflated to a cloud of colored dust, spreading through the air into nothingness.

Gaela’s power axe clattered to the deck, trailing smoke and wychfire.


“It’s down! It’s finally down!” Twilight cheered. She pulled her force harmonizer to her, and then turned around. “Now to take care of the othe-“

A loud crunching noise came from the remaining war daemon as the gauntlets of the Iron Gage crushed its head between them. A sizzling hiss came from the weapon’s disruption fields, and the defeated Warpspawn started to disintegrate.

Dest was behind the daemon, and he kicked over its body as it fell apart. The Iron Warrior had clearly taken the brunt of the abuse from the monster, with deep tears and bloody gashes over his armor, but the wounds were already regenerating and his armor layer regrowing. The driver took a look around to ensure the area was secure, and then held a finger against his head.

“Now you may speak,” he said to Vel.


“Uhm… well, I’m awake now, so… is anyone hurt?” Fluttershy asked.

Fennin and Jerriha both raised an arm. Daniels, who was partially buried under fallen ceiling panels, pushed one off of himself, rolled over, and then held up an arm. Fluttershy quickly scurried over to him first, her manipulator arms unfolding from her chest.

“What even happened back there?” Rainbow Dash asked with a shudder. “I remember… that Tau battlesuit, I guess, and then things are hazy…”

“It was some sort of psychic trap that used the Tau as bait,” Twilight hissed. “It nearly paralyzed all of us. Only me, Princess Luna, and Dest were able to resist it. After that the daemons moved in.”

“We got them, though, so… is that it? Are we finished?” Rarity said hopefully.

“Not a chance,” Gaela snorted. She was repairing her own armor, using a laser torch to re-attach the servo arm that the daemon had torn off. “This was merely a fraction of the horde that would have been necessary to silence a vessel of this size. It’s possible we’ve dispatched their mightiest combatants by slaying the war daemons, but even that is doubtful.”

“So then what’re the other critters waitin’ fer?” Applejack asked.

“Most likely they’re waiting in ambush around more traps.”

The ponies groaned.

Then Dest turned around to face the group. “I have news. The deranged creature in my head has identified our foe.”

“Hark! We were under the impression we merely faced numerous nameless scoundrels!” Luna declared. “Thou suggests We face an opponent of great infamy?”

“That is the case, unfortunately,” Dest grumbled. “Earlier, Vel noted that this place reeked of psychic fear-stench. The victims patrolling these halls with their eyes stolen seem to be the source, not the boarding daemons. The attacking daemons were entirely unremarkable to him, but Vel believes these puppets to be the work of…”

He halted, and then put a finger to his helmet again. “… We can’t pronounce that. Yes, fine, but THEY cannot... It doesn’t matter!” He grunted in frustration, and then looked up again. “Let’s call it Gharrl. It’s a crude translation of its true name, and will exert no power over the beast, but it will do.”

“And what is ‘Gharrl,’ exactly?” Twilight asked, intrigued.

“A lesser daemon lord. One that does not obey the four Great Powers of Chaos, or any other lesser power for that matter. It is known for not killing its enemies, but devouring the eyes from them in a perverse psychic ritual, leaving the victim a terrified, tormented shell of its former self reliving its final hours over and over. In such a state, they are little more than puppets, and can be used for all manner of profane purposes, evidently.” Dest growled lightly. “We can expect more such victims. I advise we eliminate them on sight.”

“Wait, hold on…” Fennin asked nervously while Fluttershy carefully stitched together his cuts through the hole in his boarding suit. “Why are you speaking like we’re going to keep going? We’re turning back, right?”

“Why would we do that?” Gaela asked, sounding genuinely perplexed. “Our efficiency thus far has been exemplary, even in the face of a prepared opponent. The vessel is showing minimal signs of Warp corruption and internal damage. This operation is proceeding far better than anticipated.”

“And this talk of daemon lords eating people’s eyes doesn’t make any difference to you?!” the engineer asked, his voice increasingly shrill.

Gaela cocked her head to the side. “Your concerns are irrational. This daemon lord’s unique behavior is no more lethal than that of the other Warpspawn that have attacked us. Besides, we can replace eyes.” She tapped the visor of her helmet.

“I believe Fennin’s POINT is that the enemy is more capable and well-prepared than we’d hoped,” Jerriha said tightly. Then she looked over to Twilight. “What say you, Sparkle? Are you really going to stride headlong into whatever else this monster has waiting for us? Is this empty hulk really so important a prize?”

“No way are we retreating!” Rainbow Dash said, answering before Twilight could. “These daemon weirdoes caught us with our guard down and they barely scratched us! We’re gonna thrash ‘em!”

“Barely scratched YOU,” Fennin retorted hotly.

“Okay, fair. I AM a better fighter than you, after all,” Rainbow admitted, grinning.

“We were both unconscious, you mutant avian! It was sheer chance the freaks got to me first!”


Luna frowned beneath her helmet, and then calmly thumped the knuckles of the Iron Gage against the deck. “Praythee friends and allies, grant us thy attention,” she said, breaking the argument between the Tau and the others. “We believe we hast come too far to withdraw now upon the first signs of serious resistance. However, if we face a dreaded foe capable of dispatching much of our party at whim, mayhaps a change of strategy is warranted.”

“What did you have in mind?” Twilight asked, sounding somewhat skeptical.

“We shalt hunt the daemon lord ourself,” Luna announced, gripping one gauntlet into a fist in the air. “Our magic shalt protect us from the beast’s fell sorcery, whilst the rest of thee may remain out of harm’s way!”

“So your strategy is… to split up,” Jerriha deadpanned.

“It is not entirely absurd. Concentrating so much power in one area makes us difficult to overrun, but it slows our progress and leaves us more vulnerable to Warp trickery, not less.” Gaela’s ion blaster ejected a burnt-out capacitor onto the floor, and acrid smoke puffed from the component slot. “However… we need more data. The name of this daemon and its feeding habits are insufficient to form a battle plan.”

“I concur. But it seems Vel cannot track anything with the fear-stench of Gharrl’s puppets around,” Dest rumbled. “As always, the daemon proves himself so CLOSE to being useful, and yet…”

Fennin groaned. “All right, fine. If we’re going to do this, there should be a primary access terminal a few rooms down, next to the armory. I can rip some system data collected from before the power failure and maybe look into the core status while we’re there.”

“Objective logged. Have all recent injuries been treated?” Gaela asked.

“Yeah. I’ve got a gaping hole in my boarding suit which I’m going to regret if we depressurize, but Flutters did a decent hash of it,” Daniel said, rolling his shoulder.

“Luna, we have point. Apple, you have the rear,” Dest commanded. “Destroy any contact on sight. Protect the engineer. Advance!”

****

Rep’talal (reclassified: Omen)
Armory deck


The dim lighting flickered on and off within the armory lockers, briefly illuminating the rows of reinforced storage cells and the heavily armored blast doors on either side. Cracked holes in the track lighting sputtered sparks each time, spilling showers of golden particles over the gore-streaked, muscle-bound body standing in the middle of the room. Light from the sparks briefly danced across the dirty metal bolted to the body’s ramshackle armor and the remains of a twisted, broken choppa. The ceiling lights weakly filled the room, briefly illuminating a green, snaggle-toothed head gaping in the darkness. The jaw hung slack, drool sliding freely from one side, while the top half of the face was hideous valley of lacerations digging deep into the eye sockets.

The light winked out again, mercifully engulfing the maimed Ork in darkness.

A thumping noise came from one of the doors, and it started to open. The Ork stirred, his cloying breath heaving through injured lungs. Fingers encrusted with dried blood tightened around the choppa’s handle. Within the chaotic sea of absolute terror that had consumed the alien’s soul, a distant but familiar impulse emerged.

Enemy.
FIGHT.

The Ork’s jaw twitched up into a half-grin, and it drunkenly turned around. A battle cry bubbled up its throat; a howl of glee and bloodlust twisted into a poisonous shriek to still the heart.

Before it could scream, bladed talons of adamantium scythed into the Ork’s neck, slicing through flesh and bone in an instant. The wail seemed to hesitate as the disembodied head tumbled to the deck, like a wheeze slowly building up into something more. The separation of lungs from larynx didn’t silence the Warp-blasted creature, but it was enough to delay the alien’s screech for a few precious seconds.

Then a small blue orb struck the Ork’s head, reducing it to a small black scorch mark across the floor.


Luna strode into the armory behind Dest, her Iron Gage pointing a single smoking finger forward like the barrel of a gun. “Be this the extent of our opposition? A single greenskin?”

“A single psionic trap,” Dest corrected, holding up the decapitated body. Flames burst from his hand, and then he tossed the burning corpse away. “It seems the Orks met much the same fate as the Tau.”

“Hey! HEY! What did I tell you about starting fires in here?” Fennin complained while he and the others start filing into the room. “Especially when we’re on emergency life support! If just one of the oxygen cyclers are taken off-line, then-“

“Then you should check to ensure that is not the case,” Dest interrupted firmly, pointing a claw to a terminal at the side of the room. “There is your cogitator. Get to work. We will protect you.”

Biting back a retort, Fennin trudged over to the system terminal, briefly flinching away from a burst of sparks overhead. The screen had dried blood splashed over it, but seemed to be otherwise untouched by whatever carnage had enveloped the room. It was, however, also completely dark.

“Blast! It’s unpowered! We have to find a power source,” Fennin groaned.

“Seriously? Shouldn’t this system be able to tap into the emergency grid?” Jerriha asked as she and Daniels took up defensive firing positions just outside the room.

“I don’t know. This IS a prototype hull design, so I don’t know what standards its system redundancies operate under. Naval engineers, bah.” Then Fennin narrowed his eyes toward the entrance. “Then again, it might be because SOMEONE hurled a belt of explosives into the upper bulkheads. You could easily destroy a primary conduit that way.”

“Oh, sure, it was definitely my grenades and not the hundred or so daemons that have been tunneling through your ship for weeks,” Daniels scoffed. “Don’t blame us humans for your shoddy workmanship. That ventilation shaft came apart like it was made of hardboard. I’m sure your electrical work is rubbish too.”

“Our ships are made to take explosives from the OUTSIDE, not the INSIDE!” Fennin snapped back.

“An oversight you might want to look into. Maybe someday you’ll even be able to survive simple boarding tactics.”

Fennin started to snap at him again, only to have Gaela interject first. “Cease your bickering. Fennin, can you repair the conduit?”

“Well, no, not from-“

Gaela interrupted again. “Very well. We’ll use a secondary power source.”

“Do you have a spare battery? A weapon pack won’t do the job,” Fennin warned.

“Something like that,” Gaela murmured, beckoning with her gun arm.

Big Macintosh lumbered forward and looked up at the tech-cultist. Then Gaela kicked him squarely in the chest.

The stallion barely budged, but his chest plating fell open a moment later. Then Mac’s chest hatch popped open as well, and Gaela leaned down to reach into it.

“Yer usin’ Big Mac’s cyber-guts as some kinda power supply?” Applejack asked.

“Affirmative.” Gaela pulled out a power cable with a sparking node on the end. “Do you object?”

“Not really. Just don’t overdo it, okay? Ah’m pretty sure he needs that juice to live,” the farmer warned.

“Eeyup.” Mac stared down at the cable in mild concern.


Gaela pulled the cable behind the terminal, and after a few seconds of cracking and buzzing noises a rising hum came from the system. The screens began to glow, and one by one they started to fill up with Tau symbols.

“Commune with your device,” the hooded cyborg commanded as she stood up. “Inform me if you require further technical solutions. I’m going to go scavenge fresh capacitors from your weapons.”

Fennin bit back a retort and went to work, setting his engineering tablet on the base of the terminal screens.


“… So, uh… putting aside the Ork that was waiting for us here, this area seems very… bloodied?” Twilight observed, her voice slowly rising to a squeak.

Streaks of gore and weapon impacts were everywhere over the walls and floor. Many of the munitions lockers had been opened, some of them by force, and discarded energy cells and bullet casings were scattered liberally across the room.

“This was surely the site of more than one pitched battle on this vessel,” Dest explained. “First, the Tau would have retreated here to try to repel boarders. The Orks would have likewise sought out this room for looting purposes.”

“It looks like they didn’t get very far,” Jerriha said grimly. “The storage seals to the main weapons supply are still intact. We have a complete weapons cache. The battlesuit racks aren’t empty either. Not all the pilots made it here in time.”

“Such is the fury of the Warp rift,” Dest intoned.

The Fireblade shot him a glare. “You might consider more conventional means of assault in the future, if this weapon of yours turns ship interiors into crazy extra-dimensional charnel houses. You are pirates, after all.”

“We need excuse nothing,” Dest retorted. “We won.”

While Jerriha fumed quietly, Twilight cautiously interjected again. “Okay, but as I was saying, there was obviously a lot of fighting here, but… no bodies.”

Dest glanced around again, as if to confirm her observation. Most of the others looked at Twilight strangely.

“Well, yeah. They’ve all had their eyeballs eaten or been infested by bugs and been turned into space zombies, right?” Rainbow asked.

“No, Sparkle is correct,” Dest said, his talons lengthening in irritation. “Those victims would have been captured alive, or ambushed by the daemon lord itself. What of the other victims? Many crew and intruders would have been slain in combat against less discriminating enemies, yet the only bodies we’ve seen are those in thrall to Gharrl or Nurgle. Where are the corpses?”

“Eaten?” Daniels guessed.

“Daemons can eat – Gharrl does, clearly – but I believe most do not experience hunger as we understand it or require physical sustenance for energy. Besides, I’d still expect remains of some sort. The corpses have most likely been moved,” Dest concluded.

“I can think of no reason for daemons to amass corpses in one place that isn’t extraordinarily profane,” Gaela remarked while her servo arm tore a component from a fusion blaster.

“So whaddya think they’re doin’?” Applejack asked.

“Daemons sometimes build constructs out of the fresh bodies of their victims. Idols of gore, fused with Warpfire into various hideous things.”

Fluttershy instantly engaged her cloaking device, winking out of sight.

“Other times they take bodies to a central location and flay them of skin, or remove the bones. I am uncertain as to what purpose this serves, if any. Daemonology is not my area of specialization.” Gaela plugged the component into her gun arm, and a buzzing noise came from the capacitor. Arcs of bright blue danced between the claws of the augmetic briefly, and then she tossed the rest of the weapon away.

“So you DON’T think they’re taking the bodies to use as more of those… screaming trap things?” Rarity asked.

“Negative. The creation of a subservient psychic thrall requires specific conditions that a dead body cannot fulfill.” Gaela turned back to the rest of the party. “The parasites we encountered on the loading deck could make use of such carrion, but those were the creation of a living cultist, and not aligned with our targets. Nor were there enough infected to account for all the Ork boarders, much less the original Tau crew.”

“So we’ll definitely be stumbling upon a horrifying pile of corpses at some point during this mission,” Daniels affirmed.

“Affirmative. At least disposal will be quicker with most of them in one place.” The Dark Techpriest swiveled a servo arm forward with several shifting needles on the end. “I am ready to begin repairs to damaged boarding suits. Sparkle, Dash, maintain perimeter watch.”

“While you’re doing that, I think I’ve found our target,” Fennin said. He was tapping away rapidly on his engineering tablet while occasionally reaching over to touch something on the console screen. “It’s very hard to make sense of the data; we mostly use drones for internal sensor readings and they’ve all gone into standby due to the power loss. But there’s one location experiencing such massive energy fluctuations that its been causing intense surges and outages through the power network, even on the backup generators. By logging the frequency and intensity of various points-“

“You can pinpoint the anomaly source,” Gaela finished while her servoweave stitched up Daniels’ suit. “We have our daemon lord.”

“Correct! It’s coming from the bridge, which is nice and dramatic.”

Luna’s horn sparked immediately, and her visor lenses pulsed with energy. “Huzzah! Then We shalt take to battle at once! Mark thy quarry, smith!”

“I’m… I’m not a…” Fennin shook his head. “Whatever. Fine. Inloading the coordinates and routing.”

“It will be quite dangerous, and the presence of traps is likely,” Dest rumbled, “I will join you in the assault.”

“Well met, Lord Dest! Together the beast stands nary a chance against us!” the Princess of the Night cheered.

“Are you sure you two will be able to handle it on your own?” Rarity asked. Big Mac also took an anxious step forward, pawing at the deck.

“Aye. Our minds art protected from the perfidious magics of the foe. We fear that it should snuff the life force from thee with its mere gaze, and We could not protect thee,” Luna explained somberly.

A hand of the Iron Gage floated over to Big Mac, lifting the chin of the stallion’s helmet.

“’Twould avail us nothing to free this vessel from the claws of the daemon only to lose our dearest allies in the attempt. We implore thee, await news of our glorious triumph!”

The augmented stallion snorted, and then nodded his head silently. The Iron Gage gently patted him on the cheek of his helmet, and then withdrew. The other ponies watched in mild confusion, uncertain what to make of the brief gesture.

“So are we holding position here while you two head off to either heroic triumph or painful, agonizing doom?” Daniels asked.

“Of course not. Engineer, map a route to the Omen’s main reactor and determine the cause of the power failure, if possible,” commanded Gaela while she repaired Jerriha’s armor. “We must restore communications and basic navigation if we are to dock the Omen with our maintenance satellite.”

“Way ahead of you,” Fennin replied. “The shutdown was caused by damage to a major regulator array. With no crew response, eventually the reactor created enough dangerous particles to force a safety protocol shutdown.”

“A relatively simple repair, then.” Gaela looked up to Dest. “I estimate the reactor shall be functional again by the time you return, Lord.”

“Erm… does it seem a little odd to anyone else that this damage knocked out the power JUST after we boarded?” Rarity asked.

“Our arrival definitely agitated the Warp-borne,” Gaela admitted. “It may be no coincidence. But that does not change our objective.”

“Also!” Fennin continued. “You remember that containment tag I mentioned earlier? I cracked the personnel file attached to it! This ship was carrying a human psyker named Kyleth Jackson!”

“So you did have one of the Black Ship's prizes here after all. Intriguing," Dest mused.

“This feller is like a human wizard or somethin’, right?” Applejack asked. “Like Serith?”

“Lord Serith isn’t very human anymore, but yeah, that’s the gist of it,” Daniels explained. “Kind of surprised it’s a human, but not very. The Tau don’t have any psykers from their own race.”

“That’s a shortcoming Lamman Sept has sought to compensate for. And certainly the Imperium’s liberated planets have been all too eager to give their gifted children to our diplomats rather than the fabled Black Ships.” Fennin slid a finger across a display monitor, and an image of a fairly young man in a blue and black jumpsuit appeared. “We study the psykers to further our understanding of the galaxy and the myriad ways other species exploit it. Jackson was somewhat popular among his fellow subjects for adapting better than most to life in the labs and socializing well. If I recall correctly, psykers rarely endure more than a few years of our experiments without going insane or fatally burning themselves out.”

The horned ponies in the room stared at him with expressions ranging from horror to contempt.

“And this is supposed to be… BETTER than what this ‘Imperium’ does to them?” Twilight asked.

“Yes,” replied Gaela, Dest, Daniels, and Fennin simultaneously.

“Okay, cool, but what does any of this have to do with our job here?” Rainbow Dash asked.

“Psykers are prized prey for daemons, and also marginally better at combating them. If we can locate the body, we may find something interesting,” Dest suggested.

“In addition, I’m interested in the research data,” Gaela added. “After restoring power, we should locate the psyker labs and secure its research and artifacts.”

Jerriha tugged on the fabric of her boarding armor, testing the strength of the repair. “Wonderful. Some fifty years of backbreaking, dangerous research, all for nothing,” she sighed.

“Better it work to our benefit than be lost entirely within a daemon-infested hulk.” Gaela completed the repairs on Fennin’s boarding suit, and then yanked Big Mac’s power cable free of the armory console. The cord wound its way back into the stallion’s chest cavity, and then he quietly pushed the access plate closed.

“Then We tarry no longer!” Luna shouted, rearing up briefly. “Soon the last of the daemons shalt lay broken at our hooves, and the Omen be free of their vile presence.” She glanced over at Dest. “Aside from thee, of course.”

The Iron Warrior ignored her, tapping the side of his helmet. “Objective waypoint is logged. Farewell Sparkle. Keep the rest of the boarding group alive in our absence.”

“Of course! Good luck!” Twilight said cheerfully, raising a leg and waving goodbye.

****

Rep’talal (reclassified: Omen)
Navigation Center


The steady, sluggish thump of plodding battlesuits filled the navigation center as the mutilated victims of the Rep’Talal shuffled across the deck.

Before the massacre that had emptied it, the navigation officers of the Air Caste used the room to plot courses on the hololithic star map projected from the large round table in the center of the room. Given that Tau vessels couldn’t translate fully into Warp space, inter-system travel was a major endeavor and involved extensive planning of their intended route. The latest star maps and records of solar anomalies, as well as countless overlapping arrays of gravitational fields, all had to be accounted for as well as the more mundane matters such as available supplies and fuel. Contingency routes needed to be planned as well, given the abundance and general hostility of alien life. The Tau considered themselves the inheritors of a galaxy teeming with opportunities and lost souls waiting to be united under their banner, but the vastness of space also contained untold horrors and unfathomable dangers.

The eyeless psychic thralls shuffling around the deck seemed proof enough of that. Orks trudged from corner to corner, their bodies twitching while broken shootas and gore-streaked choppas scraped along the floor at their feet. Tau of various castes sat at the navigation table, babbling nonsense to themselves in the dim light. A trio of Crisis battlesuits patrolled the room in awkward, lurching steps, occasionally brushing by the Orks without apparently noticing them. All of the battlesuits were heavily damaged, with torn extremities and shattered sensor arrays, and each one had a hole carved or punched through the main body into the cockpit.


A wisp of black smoke slithered across the floor like a serpent, seeping into the room and slowly expanding.

None of the lurching thralls noticed the incursion, even after bits of crimson light pierced the shroud. A pair of hefty metal gauntlets emerged from the darkness, blue energy arcs dancing between their fingers, and they reached out toward the listless aliens seated around the table.

“Hark, feeble victims of blackest sorcery! Deliverance hath arrived! Be cleansed!”

Lightning flashed from the Iron Gage, striking the Tau seated around the table and bouncing from one thrall to another. The bodies quivered and disintegrated, burning down to ashes and scorched bone before the puppets could scream. A few stray lightning arcs struck the sightless victims patrolling the room, causing them to collapse onto the floor in quivering heaps.

The others patrolling the circuit stopped, and then slowly turned around.

Dest sprinted past Luna, slamming into the nearest battlesuit. His talons punched through the splintered cockpit armor and skewered the pilot inside, and then he incinerated the body with a burst of daemonflame. Gouts of crimson fire billowed from the cockpit breaches, and the battlesuit toppled onto the deck.

Luna shot a few more magic bolts, felling three more Orks, but there were too many of the horrifying thralls. Their jaws stretched open in symphony, and Luna shifted focus to defense as a soul-chilling wail filled the room.

A quiver ran down her spine, followed by a feeling of growing paralysis. Her vision spun, her stomach churned, and the minor concentration necessary to hold the Iron Gage aloft wavered. Still, she remained conscious, and her heart didn’t stop. The supernatural bodies of the alicorn and possessed Astartes resisted the psychic shrieks, but not without difficulty.

“HRAAAAAUGH!!” Dest hurled aside the battlesuit that hung on his talons, smashing an Ork against the wall. He raced to another greenskin thrall and slammed his gauntlets together over its head, obliterating the Ork’s skull and silencing it at last.

“Cease thy howling!” Luna demanded, throwing the Iron Gage forward desperately. They bumped into a battlesuit, and then they felt around the edges of the torso for the cockpit breach. After a few seconds they found it, gripped the open edge, and then tore the entire frontal plate of the battlesuit open.

“We demand SILENCE!” the Princess shouted, punching one fist into the cockpit and reducing the pilot to a pulp.


At last the scream petered out, and Luna felt the ringing in her ears stop. Dest also seemed to relax instantly, and some of the spikes that had sprouted up on his shoulders and back started receding as he tossed away the bodies he had decapitated.

The respite didn’t last long. A daemon rushed into the room, brandishing bladed limbs and spiked tendrils. A magic bolt cut it down, but three more scuttled in behind the first.


“The hordes advance! Just as before, they await the howl of the daemon’s puppets!” Luna’s Iron Gage fired another beam into the group, and another monster fell to the deck.

“Good. I prefer the conventional weapons of fire and claw to that infernal screeching.” Dest hurled himself into the first enemy, his talons seizing its arms. His shoulder blades descended on the daemon’s head a moment later, tearing through its face and neck all the way down to what passed for its sternum. He flung the disintegrating body into the remaining enemy, and then descended on it before it could recover.

A tendril snaked down from a ventilation shaft, a pincer claw at the tip opening up while it approached the Iron Warrior from behind. A great black gauntlet seized it first, and then pulled back sharply.

The vent broke apart, and a slimy, spindly daemon flopped onto the deck in a gurgling heap. Dest turned on his heel and slammed one boot down on the Warpspawn, smearing it across the floor.

A furious roar heralded the next wave of daemons, which started flooding into the room from the bridge access hall. Crawling, lumbering, slithering, scuttling; the nightmares manifest seemed to represent every twisted physique imaginable in a tide of misshapen monsters. Bony spines and blobs of corrosive venom leapt out ahead of the horde, splashing across Dest’s chestplate.

The Possessed Astartes spread his hands before him, and daemon flame blasted into the oncoming Warpspawn. Most faltered in an instant, stumbling as their bodies started to crumble away, but a few of the bulkier monsters shouldered their way forward through the fire. Reaching the front of the pack, the daemons were quickly cut down by sword-like talons, and each fell before it could raise a claw against the intruders. Dest was a blur of flashing blades and swirling fire, every inch of his body a lethal weapon.

An even larger form shoved its way into the hall, its thick hide protecting it from the remaining flames. A lumbering battle daemon thundered forward, a guttural snarl escaping its drooling maw.

Dest kicked away another victim and punched his blades down into a struggling daemon, tearing it in two. He flung the remains at the new, larger daemon, but the creature didn’t flinch away. The disintegrating body bounced off and was promptly trampled under the monster’s tread.

“Pilot! Withdraw!” Luna ordered. Her Iron Gage hovered in the air, clenched into fists and aimed toward the oncoming enemies. Magic swirled around the gauntlets, and a flickering blue blaze gathered around the wrist braces.

Dest dove away, and one fist blasted forward like a cannon shot. It impacted the daemon with similar force as well, punching through its carapace and bringing its advance to a halt. The other gauntlet launched, crashing into the daemon’s head. The Warpspawn keeled over backwards, and its body swiftly joined the scattered flames underfoot.


“Clear. For now,” Dest announced, looking around the room. His talons started shrinking, along with many of the other spikes and blades that had emerged from his armor. “The bridge lies ahead.”

“Aye! Let us finish this!” A black gauntlet slammed down onto the deck while Luna trotted forward. “We tire of slaying screaming thralls and hapless beasts! Face us, Gharrl!”

The other hand reached forward, and it touched its index finger to the door leading to their destination. A hissing spark appeared, burning deep through the point of contact. Then the gauntlet dragged the finger down, slowly cutting through the door.

“… The entrance isn’t locked,” Dest pointed out. “It simply closed automatically once the daemons stopped pouring through it. We do not need to cut through it.”

“We cannot simply prance into the enemy’s lair like lost vagrants,” Luna insisted, halfway through burning open the barrier. “The purging of a villain’s bastion requires verve! Panache! This is to be a deed of heroic destruction, not mere disposal!”

“If you say so,” Dest mumbled, waiting patiently for her to finish. “Regardless of what happens, it has been… enjoyable to conduct this purge among your warriors.”

“Aye! And thine assistance hath been a great boon to us, Lord Dest!” Luna cheered. “With such prowess, ‘tis a wonder thine army hath found any foe that couldst defy thee!”

The Iron Gage finished cutting through the exit, and then the black gauntlets threw the doors open. Luna dashed into the bridge, her horn flashing with power.


“Gharrl! Thy end hath come! Thou shalt be cast back into the purgatory that spawned thee!” Luna shouted, keeping her voice uncharacteristically restrained. Having her ears recently battered by supernatural shrieks had made her slightly more understanding of how obnoxious it could be.

The bridge was a wide-open space, much larger than most of the rooms they had encountered and explored since leaving the docking bays. It consisted of two levels, with a number of command consoles, seats, and projection devices scattered around an upper platform centered around three large command seats. The caste markings for Air, Fire, and Earth were inscribed in each seat, with the Air seat, presumably belonging to the ship’s captain, in the middle. Luna briefly recalled that there was supposed to be another caste in the Tau’s Sept hierarchy, but couldn’t remember anything about it and so brushed the thought aside. Around the raised level of the bridge was a trench of sorts, boasting an unbroken line of terminals and consoles all along the outer perimeter.

The entire bridge was messy with dried blood and damaged from blades and bludgeons. It was here, after all, that the daemon incursion had begun, its command crew butchered at their stations. Like the other areas of the ship there were no corpses, either.

Princess Luna entered hesitantly, looking back and forth. The daemons had been nesting in this place, judging by the horde that had emerged to attack them, but she didn’t see any enemies. Surely the daemon lord hadn’t raced out with the others and been dispatched in a blast of fire, had it?

Dest entered the bridge more cautiously, and then pointed a talon off to the side. “There. The freak thinks he’s hiding from us.” His hand shuddered and swelled, twisting into a serrated crab claw. “We’re not hapless prey bumbling into your web, monster! Submit to the scions of Chaos or be slain like the rest of your horde!”


Nothing happened for a few seconds, and then, suddenly, a figure leapt up from behind a row of consoles and perched atop them. It was humanoid, with pale, rubbery skin stretched tight over a tall, hunched skeleton nearly eight feet from head to toe. Four arms spread from its torso, each one ending in a long, curved, sword-like claw. A large central eye dominated its face, black as pitch, leering at the intruders from over a mouth of needle-like teeth. The daemon possessed several other, smaller eyes, set all around its head like a spider. It was a large abomination, if not significantly smaller and frailer-looking than the war daemons they had already overcome.

To Dest, its form reminded him somewhat of the Slaaneshi monstrosities; the lithe, sensuous daemons possessing caressing hands on one side of their bodies and cruel hooked talons on the other. But there was nothing alluring or exotic about this Warpspawn, and it bore the sigils of no Gods. It was a crass, wretched thing, stinking of death and misery.

Luna did not spend nearly as much time observing the enemy. With a wordless shout, she fired a bolt of black lightning from the Iron Gage.

The daemon moved, and the lightning bolt missed, crashing into a bank of control consoles and causing several of them to light up. After-images split away from the body in multiple directions, and the daemon became a blur of faded, flickering copies contorting themselves out of the projectile’s path. Luna blinked, perplexed. She had never seen a creature dodge an attack in such a bizarre fashion before.

“Don’t falter!” Dest growled, rushing to flank the daemon. His crab-claw spat small, shimmering fireballs across the bridge as he ran, exploding across the consoles where their prey awaited.

The daemon blurred again, its body contorting in impossible ways as it leapt onto another control console. Whether a trick of bending light or bending reality, it bounced from alcove to alcove while avoiding every projectile.

“Thou canst evade us forever!” Luna proclaimed, her horn charging with more magical power. “Begone, wretch!”

The Iron Gage released a spread of lightning arcs in the daemon’s direction, striking numerous consoles and causing them to turn on and then immediately blow out from the power surge. The daemon itself tried to bend away, but as the Princess designed there was no escape from the crackling whips of power. It fell to the ground with a shriek, bright blue flames scorching its flesh.

“I have him!” Dest announced, leaping atop a weapons control station and crushing much of it under his greaves. With another jump he was above their prey, his blade-edged claw snapping for its head.

The daemon’s body blurred again, hazy mirror images spreading out in all directions. Dest’s claw struck the deck, carving a deep tear through the bulkhead plating.

The Iron Warrior looked up, searching in either direction. He whirled around to look behind him. His target was nowhere to be seen.


“Lord Dest? Didst thou dispatch the foe?” Luna asked. She didn’t have a good view of where the daemon had landed, but it was hard to imagine the possessed Astartes missing such an easy strike.

“No! It… moved. Blinked, perhaps. I know I didn’t hit it,” Dest snarled. “Vel! What is this? Where is it?”

Dunno. I think he gated out.

“Gated? What does that mean?”

Er… you know, like your ships do? He bounced to the Warp, bro! He out! You won!

“It… retreated? After suffering a single attack?” Dest scoffed. “I was under the impression daemons were not subject to such cowardice.”

“Indeed,” Luna agreed, frowning. One of her gauntlets floated up under her neck to stroke her chin. “This doth not feel like a victory. Mayhaps… hm?”

A small crimson spark appeared in the air in front of the alicorn, sizzling softly. Luna cocked her head to one side, curious.

Her visor interface went red with alarm sigils. Warning screed flashed in front of her, but it all came too quickly for her to read.

A blade emerged from the ember hanging in the air, stabbing for the startled pony. Were it not for the completely incidental position of the Iron Gage, it would have surely sunk into her neck, but instead it scraped across the gauntlet and plunged into Luna’s chest. It punched through the hardened plate with only minor difficulty, slicing through the frame and into the flesh underneath.

Luna gasped in pain, recoiling. Her horn started blazing with power, preparing to unleash waves of destruction in desperate retaliation.

Then the blade pulled back into the glimmering breach, vanishing from sight. A wash of Luna’s blood splashed across the deck; a fan of bright crimson painting the dull, flaky gray that remained of massacres long past.


“Princess! What happened! What was that?!” Dest demanded, sprinting over to the equine.

“The… The daemon!” Luna gasped. “The caitiff strikes from hiding!” She staggered backward, her head whipping left and right. A patch of shadowy fog curled up from nowhere and seeped into her armor breach to stem the bleeding.

“Vel! I thought you said the beast fled!” Dest snarled, circling around Luna while searching for any sign of their foe.

… What’s a “caitiff?”

“Vel! Concentrate! I am no expert in fighting you Warpspawn!” the Astartes shouted.

Well, yeah, but if you were then I probably wouldn’t be here now, so-

“VEL!!” Dest shouted.

A red flare appeared in the air next to Dest’s head.

“Pilot! Flee at once!” Luna directed.

Dest was moving before she even started speaking, diving away from a blade that was aimed to punch through his visor. The curved talon pulled back into the breach and vanished, the red light winking away in an instant.

The Iron Gage punched through the air, swinging through the space directly under the point at which the attack had emerged. The second gauntlet soared by a second later, at another angle. Neither of them struck anything.

“What is this? Yonder beast doth not appear before us, yet it attacks at will?!” Luna said angrily. Before she had thought the daemon had somehow moved invisibly, or with uncanny speed. With a clear look at its attack while trying to skewer Dest, she could only conclude that its body wasn’t actually here.

“It strikes from the Warp!” Dest concluded. “We cannot harm it there! But how? I’ve never heard of such an ability!”

Probably a result of that rift thing. The barrier between the realms might be weaker than normal because you guys messed with it. I feel kinda tingly, myself. Incoming, by the way.

Another four sparks appeared in the air, and Dest dove under them and hit the deck rolling. One by one the scythe-blades swung down after him, slicing through air just inches behind its target.

“The embers mark the point of assault!” Luna declared, bringing her Iron Gage close.

“I NOTICED!!” Dest retorted, jumping to his feet. One of the blades struck his backpack, its edge shrieking against ceramite before it ripped open a coolant valve. “Do something! You’re the psyker! The Warp is your specialty!”

“Aye! Come hither, Lord Dest! We shalt protect thee!” Luna ordered.

The Iron Warrior sprinted back to her, his greaves pounding against the deck and a rapid sequence of daemon blades swiping after him. When he reached Luna he turned on his heel, sliding to a stop by her side.

Luna’s horn lit aglow, and a dome barrier enveloped them. Immediately Dest noticed crimson flame brushing against the edge of the shield in the direction he had come from. They burned across the face, causing ripples over the barrier surface, and then started crawling back and forth, as if seeking a weak point.

“Huzzah! The foe is foiled!” Luna cheered. “This barrier’s circumference traverses the dimensional veil! It cannot reach us here!”

“Yes. Good,” Dest mumbled, his eyes fixed on the flickering red energies dancing across the shield’s exterior. “Can you use it offensively? Turn the same cross-dimensional energy into a weapon?”

Luna grimaced. “’Twould be… unwise to attempt such an experiment now, out of desperation. Such magics are not used lightly. The repercussions may be calamitous.”

“More calamitous than an endless assault from an enemy we cannot harm?” the Astartes asked.

“Aye. The most likely consequence We anticipate wouldst be a lasting breach in the dimensional veil, not unlike the weapon that deposited these fiends to begin with.” Luna shook her head. “With time and an adequate laboratory We could devise such a spell without harm, but We dare not lash out so carelessly now.”

“Hmph. I’d not considered you to be the cautious type,” Dest grunted.

“We shalt consider that a compliment,” the Princess said curtly. “But even the most destructive sorceries of Equestria art practiced ritual requiring extensive study. We shalt face this creature with what artifice We hast at hoof!”

“Fine. Do you have any other ideas, then?” Dest noticed that the traces of red were no longer present around the barrier. Evidently the daemon had given up and was considering its next move, as they were.

“Mayhaps. If this wastrel treads the realm between realms, then We can reach it.” Luna looked back at the entrance. “However, We must withdraw from yonder beast’s nesting grounds and the reach of its claws. We cannot maintain a barrier whilst We enter the world of dreams.”

“World of dreams. Sure. Why not,” Dest grumbled. “So what should we do? Can you move this shield or are we running?”

“We can, albeit with difficulty,” Luna said, turning around. “We shalt retreat past the charting chamber, and then… dost thou hear that?”

Dest did, in fact, hear it: A sizzling noise, just like the ones that had before preceded this daemon’s trans-dimensional attacks. It was coming from somewhere nearby, but he couldn’t pinpoint where.

“It’s attacking! Be ready!” Dest shouted.

Luna shook her head. “Fear thee not, Lord Dest. The foe cannot pierce our barrier, no matter what manner of trickery it-“

A sword-like talon shot up from the floor, and Luna’s eyes bulged as it punched through her armor and stabbed into her abdomen. An angry shriek of pain erupted in her head, stunning her, and the magic energy of both her horn and the barrier winked out.

“Damnable equine, I TOLD you!” Dest shouted, spotting several more red spots opening up beneath the mare. He grabbed Luna’s wing and wrenched her away from the blade that had punctured her, spilling another fan of blood across the deck.

The other blades emerged from the Warp breaches, scything up through the air and then falling back quickly. Another flickering red light appeared in the air next to Dest’s knee, but the Iron Warrior was already bolting away with Luna under one arm.

“Stay with me, psyker! I don’t like my chances of fending off this creature alone!” The driver raced across the bridge, his greaves leaving divots in the deck and smashing chairs aside. Glimmering crimson lights seemed to trail him through the air, appearing and winking out of sight in an instant.

Luna coughed, and a bit of blood spat out of her vox grille. “W-We art well! ‘Tis but a t-trifle!” she insisted, her voice shaking.

With a few blinks, Dest brought up Luna’s biometric scan. “… He got you in the lung,” he said grimly, vaulting over a terminal and smashing through the monitor screen on top of it. “My kind have organs to spare, but I imagine you need all of those.”

Luna snarled and spread her wings, pushing herself free of the Astartes. “Enough! This fiend Gharrl shalt not-HACK!” She promptly stumbled and started coughing, shielding herself with the Iron Gage.

Gharrl? Why is she talking about Gharrl? Vel wondered within Dest’s thoughts.

“Yes, we KNOW that’s not the daemon’s true name, just…” Dest trailed off, and then brightened in epiphany. “His name! We have his name!”

“A-Aye. Of what import is this?” Luna asked.

“A daemon’s name holds power over it. Many of them guard that knowledge jealously, as I understand it,” Dest explained.

A red flicker came from the air in front of him, and he lunged instead of dodging, parrying the daemon’s blade against his own talons.

Uh, but, dude-

“Hear me, daemon lord, for I invoke your true essence!” Dest said, batting aside another strike from the Warp. “Emerge from your hiding place, and face me in open combat…”

The next sound that emerged from the pilot’s throat was completely incomprehensible to Luna, sounding like a twisted groan interspersed with clicking noises. It made her stomach churn slightly just to hear it, though as her magic was still trying to plug the holes in her torso it was hardly the greatest bodily discomfort the mare had to endure.

The blood-colored embers flared brighter at the utterance, drawing across the air in front of Dest in strange, wavering patterns.

Dude? Dest, bro, listen, that-

“Not now, daemon!” Dest snarled. His arms bulged, and new spikes burrowed up from the gleaming ceramite while the talons on his arms lengthened. “Face me, Gharrl! Iron within! Iron without!”

All four arm blades suddenly stabbed out of the Warp at once, skewering Dest through the torso. Blood gushed down the Iron Warrior’s back, and a pitiful gurgling noise escaped his vox grille.

Luna gaped in shock, and then sent the Iron Gage flying toward her ally. The gauntlets clamped on to one of the blades, trying to pull it free of Dest’s body.

“Th-This… was not… how that was… supposed to go…” Dest said, grabbing onto one of the blades himself and trying to draw away from it.

One of the daemonic limbs stuck in his chest suddenly twisted to the side, causing a fresh spray of blood to paint the deck at his feet. Then the blade slipped out of Dest’s chest and reared back to slash at the Chaos Marine’s head.

“Halt, daemon!” Luna shouted, grabbing the loose limb with the Iron Gage and holding it in place. “Thou thinks to ignore us?! Come hither, and test thy sword against the power of the night!”

The arm-blades still stuck in Dest suddenly withdrew from his body, eliciting another pained grunt from the Chaos Space Marine. Two slipped back through the Warp breaches, while the other twisted about and stabbed between the fingers of the Iron Gage. With another twist it pried the gauntlet loose enough that the last limb could escape, and they vanished into the sparkling crimson flames.

“I hope you actually have a plan,” Dest gasped, stumbling toward an alcove. Blood and oddly-colored sparks leaked freely from the holes in his armor, although the plating was slowly working to seal itself over his wounds.

“Steel and flame art our plan!” Luna shouted, rearing up and kicking her legs. “If thou cannot outwit the fell beast, then We shalt overwhelm the mongrel with sheer power!”

“That’s not a plan,” Dest advised.

A sword-arm pierced the veil between dimensions, only to be seized by a great black gauntlet before its point could graze Luna’s armor.

“We have thee!” she gloated, giving the blade a sharp tug.

The blade failed to move much, but as it did another limb emerged and plunged toward Luna’s head from the other side. The other gauntlet blocked it, taking a firm hold before it could withdraw.

Yet another blade emerged, and Luna had no more weapons to block it with. Her horn pulsed just before the edge met her neck, freezing it within an aura of dark blue.

When the fourth limb came, Luna could do little but dodge. Luckily, none of her means of immobilizing enemy weapons affected her own movement, but even so, the daemon’s Warp-born weapons struck like vipers. The blade’s point scraped across the cheek of her helmet, slicing the ebony metal apart and dragging showers of sparks across the mare’s chest plate.

The hit was nothing serious, especially compared to the wounds she had already suffered, but it was enough to shake her concentration. The telekinetic field weakened around the other blade, and it swung awkwardly across Luna’s wing, tearing through the armor plate far enough to sink into flesh.

Luna released an angry whinny, jumping back from the scythes cleaving through the dimensions. Rather than follow her, the limbs turned on the Iron Gage, quickly stabbing into the fists and levering open their grip. Within seconds all four sword-arms slipped back into the Warp, their departure marked by sizzling red spots in the air.

Luna’s horn flared brighter, and her jaw clenched. The eyes within the golden helm carved on her chest pulsed brighter in angry sympathy. Blood, adrenaline, magic, and cataclysmic fury flowed through her body in a heady mix, and reality started warping around her. Ripples flowed outward through the deck, like a pond that had been disturbed by a pebble, and several of the Omen’s control consoles turned on by themselves.

“Princess? What are you doing?” Dest asked in concern. He was still leaning on a console, although he had one arm propped up in case he needed to defend himself.

“THOU HAST TASTED THE BLOOD OF A PRINCESS, MONGREL!! NOW THOU SHALT KNOW THE FLAVOR OF OUR WRATH!!” The Canterlot Voice shook the bridge with its volume, and all of the screens that had previously turned on immediately shattered.

Her shouting was answered by a flicker of crimson floating in front of her: four sparks twinkling in the dim lighting, each hovering equidistant from the mare’s snout. At once, the blades emerged from the Warp like bolts loosed from the gun barrel, each poised to skewer an equine skull at a different angle. A blinding flash filled the bridge, the light so intense that Dest’s visor automatically cycled its vision modes.

When it stopped showing various useless colored blobs and returned to default filters, Dest could see the daemon’s blades frozen and quivering in the air, the tips just millimeters from Luna’s face. The mare’s head was exposed, her helmet having either withdrawn while he was blinded or been broken apart by the might of her sorcery.

Luna’s eyes flashed solid white, illuminating the bridge better than the track lighting overhead. Her horn was ablaze with power, its core a spike of pitch within a boiling aura of bright blue, which itself was circled by a spiraling thread of bloody crimson. Matter deformed freely nearby, with shattered consoles warping, shards of glass floating off the floor, and the deck plating cracking under the mare’s hoof. Crimson fluid wept from the eyes of the Legion symbol on her chest, while cruel laughter echoed faintly from nowhere.

“WE TIRE OF THY GAMES, SCUM,” the Princess growled. The daemon’s limbs shook from the reverberation of her voice, wrenching back and forth but unable to budge their sword-tips. “THOU WILST NOT COME TO US FROM THE SEA OF CHAOS? THEN WE DUEL IN MY REALM.”

She pounded a single boot on the floor, and the ground exploded.


Dest was quite surprised to see it, if too badly injured and mystified to do anything about it. The deck surface seemed to peel away, rising off the ground in ruddy, colorful shards before withering away into mist. The ground underneath was dark and earthen, and riddled with tiny points of light. The air changed as well; a strange, greenish fog billowed out from Luna and quickly swallowing up the stale oxygen mix of the ship’s bridge. Consoles and displays turned into mirrors or colorful sections of lighting, winking on and off according to some silent rhythm. Within seconds the bridge was no longer perceptibly the inside of a starship, but more resembled some sort of alien cave. The stench of death still hung in the air despite the notable absence of the gore that decorated the real bridge. It was cloying and sticky, and elicited an excited thrill from the daemon in Dest’s head.

Most importantly, the strange mist exposed the hidden body of the daemon. Lidless black eyes devoid of all emotion stared at the Princess. The daemon’s mouth was equally expressive, its needle-lined jaw opening and closing without a sound.

“THE NIGHT COMES FOR THEE.”

A black metal fist slammed into the daemon, finally breaking the magical hold on its limbs and hurling it across the netherscape. It recovered admirably, stabbing one blade in the ground and dragging to a stop, but the moment it halted the other half of the Iron Gage struck it with a wide backhand.

“WHAT AILS THEE, DAEMON?”

It flipped around and darted forward, only to run into a thread of lightning coursing between the two gauntlets.

“’TIS THE BEST THOU CAN DO?”

The daemon turned on the Iron Gage itself, punching a blade through the palm of the nearest one. The gauntlet simply grabbed onto the limb and spun in the air, throwing the entire monster onto its side.

“LITTLE WONDER THOU HIDES BEHIND THE CURTAIN OF THE IMMATERIUM.”

The other gauntlet slammed down on Luna’s victim, while the impaled weapon pulled away. Rather than the blade releasing the Iron Gage, the limb came off at the shoulder.

“THOU ART A MERE RIPPLE IN THE SEA OF MAGIC. AN ABERRATION BORNE OF HATRED AND BEDLAM. A GALACTIC ERROR.”

The Iron Gage descended on the wounded daemon before it could get up, punching and grabbing at its arms. Whatever uncanny agility it had possessed before was either exhausted or impossible under the conditions, and the creature was rapidly dismembered, its other blade-limbs torn off or crushed.

“WITNESS US, MONGREL. IN THIS REALM OF DREAMS, WE ART ASCENDANT.”

The Iron Gage seized the daemon by the head, dragging its brutalized form closer to Luna. Once it was just a foot away from the alicorn’s hooves, the gauntlets tilted its head back so it could stare at the Princess.

“GAZE UPON THY RECKONING.” Luna’s mane had turned from a starlit pool to a veil of shadows, covering most of the mare in darkness. Her eyes still shone furiously while they stared down at the Warpspawn, and her horn was a roaring torch of eldritch power.

“DOST THOU KNOW FEAR, DAEMON? LET US INSTRUCT THEE.“

Black lightning surged around the Iron Gage, and then both gauntlets fell on the daemon like hammers. The daemon was smashed flat, its body almost instantly corroding to ash and twinkling sparks. Rather than simply disintegrating, however, the remains were instead sucked into the mouth of the golden relief on her chest, its eyes flaring ever brighter. An airy whistling sound swallowed the senses, as if a powerful wind were blanketing the area, but Dest could feel no such breeze.


The dream realm rapidly unwound itself, with the previous visions of surfaces warping and peeling away happening in reverse. Material reality asserted itself, and within seconds Luna was standing over a section of badly dented deck plating, her breath heaving.

Luna’s eyes and mane had returned to normal, although the Princess still possessed a decidedly manic, imperious expression while she stared down at nothing. Her eye twitched, and then her head snapped upright.

“Pilot!” Luna called, “let us rendezvous with the others at once! We demand coupling!” she shouted, her lip curling up into a snarl.

Dest finally pushed away from the console still slick with his blood and walked up behind the Princess. “…… What?”

“We… We must ensure the others art unharmed! ‘Tis what We meant,” she said, pausing to catch her breath and calm down. “Though We hast bested Gharrl, and doubtless freed his many puppets from malicious control, numerous hazards may yet remain. Once thou art sufficiently recovered, we depart.”

Dest paused slightly, turning his head to the side. Then he looked back to the mare. “That wasn’t Gharrl.”

Luna blinked. Then she cocked her head to the side. “Pardon?”

“That was not the daemon lord Vel expected. Hence why my gambit didn’t even phase it,” Dest grunted. “Vel claims he doesn’t even know this daemon.”

Luna blinked again. “But… the xeno smithy confided that THIS was the lair of our target.”

“Yes, well, these things happen, and it isn’t as if the Tau have much experiencing fighting daemonic incursion. Whatever it was that you killed certainly seemed powerful enough to warrant the confusion, anyway.”

Luna grimaced, looking unreasonably disappointed. “So then there art no daemon lord aboard the Omen? This unusually wily dastrel is all?”

“I said the daemon you destroyed was not Gharrl. I didn’t say Gharrl wasn’t aboard,” the Iron Warrior explained. “I can’t say I trust Vel more than Fennin, but he claims the stench he encountered earlier is very thin here.”

An uneasy silence settled in the bridge. A droplet of sweat rolled down Luna’s head, settling into the cut across her cheek.

Her helmet suddenly engaged, enclosing her dirtied face within a glowering mask of ebony. “Sparkle! Sparkle, We must speak with thee!” she shouted into her vox.

Crackling static was her only reply.

“Techpriest Gaela? Fireblade? Farmer?” Dest pressed a hand to the side of his head while he cycled through the vox channels. Each one failed to link without explanation.

“Macintosh! Please, Macintosh, We implore thee!” Luna said, her voice sounding increasingly frantic.

Dest turned to the Princess. “You can contact Sparkle with your sorcery, correct?”

“Incorrect,” Luna replied ruefully. “We hast no spells for such a thing that do not require some degree of preparation. We had not anticipated this!”

“What of your teleport, then? Can you bring us to the reactor?”

“Were it so simple! We do not even know where this reactor is!”

Exasperated, Dest returned to his vox link. “Engineer? Fennin, come in! Rainbow Dash! Obnoxious white pony!” He banged a fist against his helmet, as if hoping to knock the vox system into working order. “Rifleman, respond! Pink-“

A moment after selecting Pinkie Pie’s vox link, the static bursts were suddenly replaced by a loud, thrumming beat that caused Dest to recoil in surprise.


“Desty! Yay! You’re back! It’s been really lonely around here!” Pinkie Pie shouted, her gleeful voice barely rising over the techno music playing in the background. After she spoke, there was a series of new drum-like noises that seemed to clash with the rhythm; Dest quickly recognized it as rapid cannon fire.

“Pie! We’ve lost contact with the others! Are you engaged?” Dest asked.

“Just a little!” Pinkie chirped, a heavy thumping noise interrupting the lighter, faster thumping noise thrumming around her. “Are you guys almost done? The gunship is still a-okay!”

Luna connected to the vox link as well, and immediately winced from the noise. “Pinkie Pie! What bedlam encroaches upon thee? A daemon of great power still stalks this vessel! ‘Tis he among thy foes?”

“Dunno! I don’t think so!” Pinkie replied cheerfully. “There’s no big daemons or anything! A few little ones, but it’s mostly Tau zombies! They’re kinda different from the zombies in the hangar, but-”

“Destroy the grayskins first!” Dest insisted, shouting to be heard over the background noise. “They have a psychic scream ability that can debilitate mere mortals!”

“What? OH! So that’s what they’ve been doing!” Pinkie laughed while a rapid series of booming noises again broke the techno rhythm within the walker. “I thought it was weird how their mouths were getting all stretchy and stuff! I couldn’t hear them over the music, though!”

Dest sighed, though Luna couldn’t tell if it was in exasperation or relief. “Hold the area as best you can. We’re moving to assist!”

“Okie-dokie-loki! Byyyyye!” The vox link terminated, finally silencing the music rumbling inside their helmets.

Luna looked over to him anxiously. “What of the others?”

“The others are out of contact. We don’t know exactly where they are or if they’re even threatened. We assist Pie and kill anything that gets in our way.” Dest’s talons grew longer while he spoke, and then he dashed for the exit. “Move out!”

****

Rep’talal (reclassified: Omen)
Engineering deck


The hefty green body slumped to the floor, its neck stump splashing blood across the gore-streaked deck.

“Area secure. AJ, Jerri, take point. Watch the vents, ladies.” Daniels kept his shotgun aimed squarely at the twitching Ork corpse while he spoke. “Fennin, what are we looking at, here?”

Applejack stomped through the entrance, passing by Daniels with Jerriha following closely. Gaela and the other ponies stood by the entrance with weapons bared, and after a few more seconds Fennin entered the room.

He recoiled almost instantly, gagging at the sight of the floor. “What in the name of Aun’va happened here? This place looks like more of a charnel house than the armory!”

Dried blood of both Orkish and Tau hues ran across the floor in long streaks, almost covering it from corner to corner. Rotting gore caked most of the room so thickly that the deck felt spongy underfoot, even while wearing heavy armor. Like the rest of the ship interior there were no actual corpses (other than the one Daniels had just made), but this area was easily the bloodiest room they had encountered yet.

“Okay, I know it’s a mess, but what IS it?” Daniels asked again.

“This… This WAS the main reactor’s monitor station. If the reactor is compromised, critically damaged, or needs to be detonated to scuttle the ship, this is where you would do it.” He turned his head at the sight of the large monitor above the main control station. It had a hole punched through it, while more viscera decorated the input tablets below. “They might have attempted that last option, but it looks like they didn’t make it.”

“The damage means we’ll have to diagnose and repair the reactor from inside,” Gaela said. Then she opened a vox link. “Lord Dest? We’ve reached the main reactor.”

Static greeted her.

“Lord Dest? Are you reading me? Princess Luna, respond,” Gaela tried again, to no avail.

“Oh no. You… You don’t think…?” Fluttershy quailed.

“Hold on a minute,” Twilight said, cycling through her own vox links. “Linking to Applejack.”

The farmer turned around to stare through the ruby slits of her visor. “But Ah’m right here.”

“Yes, and despite that, I can’t establish a link. Our vox is dead.” Twilight shook her head. “So it doesn’t mean that Dest and Luna failed.”

“Dreadfully bad timing. Can we use the ship systems to contact them? Or… track them, or something?” Rarity asked.

“Not on emergency power,” Fennin grumbled.

“Then we repair the reactor,” Gaela said decisively. “Rifleman, Fireblade. Take point. The ponies are to sweep the room with you. Fennin, begin analyzing the damage as soon as you enter.”

“Ah… Yeah… About that…” Daniels was at the reactor blast doors looking over the room.

“What?”

“I think I know what we’re going to find in the generator room,” the mercenary said, pointing to the walls. “Look at how little collateral damage there is in here. The console is broken but there are no ammo casings or energy burns on the walls. There was no firefight in here.”

Fennin looked around at the walls briefly, and then turned back to Daniels. “Okay, so… what?”

“If there wasn’t a lot of fighting in here, then where did all this blood come from? The trails stretch out into the halls in all directions.” the mercenary asked. “Either they were moving victims from the reactor room to the rest of the ship, which would be a strange place for most of the crew to die, or…”

Gaela’s gun arm shifted into combat mode. “Acknowledged. Same formation plan as before. But this time I go first.”

“Gaela?!” Twilight gasped.

The Dark Techpriest stomped up to the reactor room door and pointed her axe at the access console. “Engineer. Open it.”

“This is probably a bad idea, but it’s a bad idea in ways that aren’t appreciably worse than the rest of this endeavor, so whatever,” Fennin mumbled while he used his override codes on the door access.


With a swipe of his hand over the touchpad, the locks disengaged. The blast doors protecting the reactor room cracked, and then slowly yawned open. The pirates all had their helmets engaged and sealed, for which they were thankful, as the air that rushed out of the reactor room was visibly discolored.

The interior of the reactor room was a long chamber bigger than a hoofball field, with several deep pits in the middle situated beneath enormous generator pylons that still hummed and glowed faintly with their charge. The facility was three stories tall, with ladders and lifts leading to platforms hanging over the bottom floor where the vanguard entered. Small machines were everywhere and servo arms with all manner of emitters and devices hung from the ceiling and platforms. It was a familiar sight to Gaela, and she could instantly identify the key components.

She was also not unfamiliar with the sight of many, many dead bodies piled on the side of the reactor room, although at least the Chaos vessels had the good sense to move them before they posed too great an obstruction. Many had been moved into ritual circles, their bodies and dismembered limbs forming the lines of runic marks. Others had been arranged in inexplicable and gruesome ways, like being propped up along a wall or piled onto a particular device. There was no obvious pattern or sense to how they had been stored, but it was clear that the corpses had been toyed with extensively since expiration.

“Good gravy, that’s a lotta Tau,” Applejack gulped, stopping dead as soon as she entered the room.

“A fair number of Orks, too. Even a few humans,” Daniels mumbled, moving to take cover behind a coolant tower. “And all of them…”

“Had their eyes ripped out, yes.” Gaela zoomed in on a random corpse, casting the bloody gouge over its face in high detail.

Jerriha walked up to some railing and leaned against it, taking deep gulps of air within her environmental suit. “For some reason… when the daemon’s feeding habits were described earlier, I got the impression it only ate the eyeballs of living creatures that it made into thralls.” She fought back the bile rising in her throat and turned to face Gaela again. “I suppose that doesn’t really make sense, in retrospect?”

“No, it does,” Gaela reassured her. “Daemons feed on the pain and terror of their victims more than any physical matter they ingest. It’s unlikely Gharrl receives much satisfaction from devouring the eyes of the dead, if any.” She shrugged, the bulbous metal shoulders of her armor rising and falling. “He probably doesn’t realize how it works himself. Many daemons don’t understand the Materium any better than you understand the Warp, and random dimensional rifts rarely dredge up the intelligent sort.”

“Oh… Aun’va help me,” Fennin moaned, his body wobbling as he held his stomach. “I… I need to vomit again…”

“I advise you do it with your helmet on, if you must. This area may not be safe to breathe,” Gaela warned.

“So, uh, wh-what do we do?” Twilight asked anxiously.

Her and the other ponies stood near the entrance, looking over the carnage with awe and fear. They’d seen death of this scale before – participated in it, in fact – but there was something uniquely grotesque about this mass grave. Aside from the desecration of the bodies, there was… something else. A feeling in the air that set the equine’s fur on end.

Gaela, for her part, paused to consider the matter. “Rarity, hold the entrance. Watch for any incursion from our rear. Rainbow Dash, check the upper levels for anything unusual. Fluttershy!”

A squeak of surprise came from the empty space between Rarity and Twilight. “M-M-Me?”

“Your visor possesses superior bio-augurs. Sweep the bodies to ensure they’re all dead.” Gaela gestured to the corpse piles and arrangements around the reactor room. “Any one of these could be a living thrall waiting to attack when our guard is down. We may have to burn them here.”

“No! No burning!” Fennin interrupted, suddenly recovering from his queasy spell. “What did I tell you about lighting fires in the ship?!”

“The risk differential is considerably less than that of a chorus of daemonically infested slaves,” Gaela countered. “Besides, surely you have excellent fire suppression systems in your reactor chambers.”

“Of course we do! Because it has the most sensitive and important equipment! NO FIRES!!” Fennin insisted.

“You’re not giving the orders, alien.”

“Why did you even bring me along if you’re just going to ignore my advice?!”

“Because it saves me the tedium of having to dig through your ridiculous coding strata in order to get anything to work in here.”

“Oh, DO NOT get me started on bad code!”


While the engineers argued, Fluttershy nervously went about her assigned task, walking toward the middle of the reactor room while scanning the corpses. One by one, her targeting reticule centered over each body, quickly cycling through a series of vision modes to determine body heat, movement, and neuro-electrical activity within a second before bouncing over to the next one. The effect was a rapidly shifting cascade of colored filters, which was disorienting but at least masked all the gore.

After several minutes of this Fluttershy got the sense that Gaela’s caution was wasted. The piles of dead were, in fact, entirely dead, and didn’t register any parasitic infestations substantial enough to register on her visor like the infected in the hangar did. Still, there were a LOT of corpses, and she wanted to be thorough. She turned away from one corpse pile to check the nearest collection on the other side of the chamber.

Her view panned over the nearest reactor pit, and her visor beeped and added a marker.

“Wh-What? What was that?” Runes flashed in the corner of her visor and numbers scrolled across her view screen in an incomprehensible data string.

Hesitantly, she crept up to the edge of the reactor pit. Her visor kept filling with more data and warnings, but most of it didn’t make sense to the mare. She’d seen more than a few battlefields by now in her power armor, and the readings she was picking up were completely new.

Reaching the pit’s edge, she leaned out to peek at the bottom.


“I hardly think you have scope to lecture me on the safety of voidship design while we wade through the heaps of your dead,” Gaela said blithely, glaring down at Fennin.

“This isn’t a safety matter! You summoned a daemon horde into our bridge!” he shouted back.

“Daemon containment is definitely a safety matter. You won’t survive long aboard the Harvest of Steel with that attitude,” she retorted.

A shriek of terror snapped them out of their argument, and they whirled about with weapons primed. Fluttershy was cloaked, of course, so they couldn’t see more than a distorted shimmer above the ground, but the panicked clambering of ceramite greaves over the deck plating indicated where she was easily enough.

“Fluttershy! What happened? What’s wrong?” Twilight asked, her force harmonizer already charging for battle. “Did you find a hidden thrall?”

“Th-Th-Th-I-I-I-Ca-Ca-“ Fluttershy was reduced to a stuttering wreck, and she collapsed face first onto the floor. Her armor briefly flickered into the visible spectrum from the impact, and then shifted back.

Readings started popping up on the other armor visors, each of them locking onto a body floating out of the reactor pit and bracketing it with their targeting systems. It was a human body. Mostly. A thin, ragged man with a tall build and half-shaven head, with the unshaven portion of his hair hanging long over one side of his face. He wore medical scrubs that were torn and blood-spattered, much like his body.

On the man’s back was a daemon. It possessed a twisted, slug-like body that clung to the human’s waist and stooped over his shoulder. Sharp hooks riddled its skin, many of which were firmly sunk into the body it had mounted. Tentacles wrapped around the man’s waist and over his eye sockets, obscuring them from view, and tracks of dried blood streaked down his face like tracks of tears. The daemon’s head possessed a single eye - bright yellow with a vertically slit iris - that studied the intruders with carnal intelligence. It’s mouth was small and tube-shaped; hardly as intimidating as the massive, fanged jaws of many other daemons, but quite sufficient for what Gaela guessed was its own unique, grotesque feeding habit.

Every weapon centered on the daemon-infested man, but none fired. Gaela’s targeting brackets encircled the man but it simply didn’t occur to her to shoot. She just stared blankly at him through her visor optics, trying to decide on a course of action but unable to reach any worthwhile conclusion. As if the possibility of violence was being suppressed in her mind.


“What… What’s happening?” Twilight grunted, her horn flickering dimly.

The sound of a weapon hitting the deck came from behind. Twilight turned around just in time to watch Daniels crumple to the floor. It was not unlike the effect of the psychic shrieks from before, but… it felt different. More subtle. Less violent. The shrieks were sudden shocks, like being gut-punched. Whatever was happening now was the equivalent of psychic noise, choking and smothering the will of those nearby.

“Kyleth… Ja… Jackson,” Fennin managed to gasp out before he slumped to the deck next to Daniels.

One by one the pirates collapsed, and even Twilight felt her knees weaken. She tried to feed energy to the harmonizer, to turn it toward the daemon and its host, but her thoughts kept going fuzzy and her concentration slipped. After a few seconds the force harmonizer fizzled and dropped to the floor.

“Come… on! Wake up… everybody!” The words came uncertainly to her lips; she had to sound out every syllable and force it through.

It also didn’t seem to help. The ring of metal hitting metal came from the platform above, which was no doubt from Rainbow Dash losing consciousness. The daemon glanced up, narrowed its eye, and then stared back at Twilight.

Kyleth Jackson floated to the deck, his bare feet finally touching the floor and relieving him of the effort required to maintain his own levitation. The tendrils around his body writhed, and the man wobbled unsteadily for a moment. The daemon’s eye shifted colors, turning a rich gold while it stared at Twilight.

“This one… stronger. Fear… taste it.” Kyleth spoke in a soft, terrified whisper, his sentences broken by uncertainty and the physical limitations of his possession. “Only… one eye? Unfortunate.”

Twilight felt her heart rate jump, and a bit of her mental fog cleared. She could feel the psychic claws of the daemon closing around her thoughts, trying to choke off her magical senses. She was still conscious, though, and mobile. She was pretty sure the daemon would have put an end to that if it could.

“Stay b-back! Leave us… alone!” the armored mare stuttered, trying to reach her weapon with her thoughts. Her horn casing flickered weakly, like a light bulb in its last moments.

Kyleth started approaching, his gait unsteady. The daemon’s eye stayed focused on Twilight, and it shifted colors again, from gold to a pale green.

Twilight’s vision in her left eye suddenly turned to static, while her right started to blur into a reddish wash of color. She felt the psychic presence push harder, forcing something past her defenses. It plunged into her thoughts like an insect’s sting, delivering its poison and withdrawing in an instant.


Her vision in her right eye returned, but she was no longer in the reactor chamber. She was on her back, holding her hand – her hand? – up in terror as a daemon lunged at her and chewed it off. Pain and terror surged through her, and she squeezed her eye shut.

Twilight opened her eye again, but this time she was watching as a shoota loosed a furious and futile burst into the face of a war daemon. Her green arms – what? – felt hot against the machine gun, and when the monster reached arm’s length she moved to club the daemon with her gun. The war daemon’s claws reached her first, punching into her chest and scissoring off a shoulder. Pain surged through her body, and she flinched.

One blink later, she was watching a screen while blood-soaked monstrosities pounced on Tau crewmen, tearing them down and eviscerating them one by one. She tried to move. Warning icons flashed around her constantly and weapons trackers auto-locked on the pack of Warpspawn. But she didn’t fire. She wouldn’t fire. The thought slipped through the cracks of her mind. A tentacle burrowed through the cockpit seal, worming its way toward her face…

Memory after horrific memory played in her mind, each one a crystal clear image of a victim’s last moments. The sights, sounds, and smells bombarded her as if she was there, to say nothing of the feel of each brutal maiming. With every vision the pain of the last one lingered, a shadow ache followed by more shadow aches, rapidly wearing down the last of her resistance. Twilight knew it wasn’t real – to her, at least – but that insight didn’t help her. The death kept coming, tormenting the young Princess and obscuring her real-world senses.


Kyleth Jackson lurched forward, his daemonic master pushing him onward and guiding the blinded psyker’s steps. Twilight squirmed and moaned, still standing but entirely helpless under the daemon’s gaze. Tendrils slowly unwrapped from the man’s waist, preparing for the Warpspawn’s next meal.

“No… No more… please.” The man’s whimpers were answered with a mild growl from the monster on his back, and he continued walking forward. The psyker raised a hand toward Twilight Sparkle, and the armored pony lifted off of the floor, her legs hanging limply in the air.

“It hurts so much… not another one…” Kyleth begged. With a wave of his hand, Twilight floated closer, and he took another step toward the intruders.

And then stubbed his toe on an invisible hunk of metal sitting on the floor in his path. Kyleth gasped, windmilling his arms before falling flat on his face. The levitation holding Twilight in the air instantly failed, dropping her in a heap just a few feet away. The daemon on Kyleth’s back was just as shocked, even as it delighted in the brief jolt of pain the ran through its host. It quickly shifted about, its eye narrowing at the pony-shaped shell of metal flickering in and out of sight behind it.


All at once, Twilight’s senses returned. The violent memories blurred away to nothing, and the phantom pains vanished. Her augmetic eye cleared the static from her vision and then rebooted, once again showing the desecrated interior of the reactor room in perfect detail.

Despite the sudden return of her faculties, Twilight spent a moment gasping breathlessly, her heart still thundering in her chest. She’d never been so terrified, even on the dozens of occasions she’d been injured by deadly enemies or the time she’d actually watched the vital signs of her friends go flat. It was a whole new level of fear that she’d never imagined: actual death, multiplied and injected straight into her stream of consciousness.

Then she saw the daemon snake a tentacle around Fluttershy’s neck.

“FLUTTERSHY!! WAKE UP!!” the Princess screeched, her fear washing away in an instant.

The force harmonizer jumped up off the ground and spun toward the daemon, its blade appearing with a sizzling crack. The daemon, in turn, glanced at the incoming weapon, and its eye turned blue.

The harmonizer was suddenly deflected away, as if it had struck an impenetrable wall. Its blade carved a deep gouge into the deck, and then fizzled away to nothing as the weapon bounced across the floor.

“GET AWAY FROM HER!” Twilight roared, galloping forward. A magic beam shot from her horn, striking the daemon in the side. It didn’t seem to wound the monster, but its massive eye turned full attention back to Twilight while Kyleth finally pushed himself upright again.

“Peace now… then pain,” the psyker babbled, raising a hand toward Twilight.

The alicorn Princess was suddenly hurled to the side, as if she had been hit by a truck mid-gallop. She bounced and rolled, and then slammed into a coolant tower.

Jarred but still conscious, Twilight immediately pushed herself up. The psychic attack had come so fast and strong that she barely had time to defend herself, but she was no longer hindered by the constant psionic noise. She wasn’t sure if her senses had adapted or concern for friend had sharpened her focus, but now wasn’t the time to dwell on it.

The daemonic parasite lifted Fluttershy off the ground, holding her up by a tentacle. Kyleth released an unintelligible whimper and then twitched a hand toward the unconscious pony, his blinded face turned away.

A series of cracking and shrieking noises came from Fluttershy’s armor, and Twilight watched in growing horror as her helmet came apart. Piece by piece, the plates and components were pushed, pulled, and then ripped away by an invisible force before dropping to the gore-stained deck.

“No! Put her down, you monster!” Twilight shouted, moving toward the psyker again.

Kyleth gestured toward her, the movement so swift and casual that she almost missed it. Twilight’s horn casing blazed, and a bullet-like bolt of invisible, telekinetic force crashed against a magic barrier. The attack was undone, and she fired her own bolt of force at the psyker; wreathed in a spinning cloud of shimmering violet.

Kyleth raised a palm in front of the projectile, and it struck his hand and vanished without a sound. The man’s arm promptly went limp again, hanging loosely while he shivered in pain.

Fluttershy’s nose wrinkled as it was exposed to the fouled air of the reactor bays. Still, she didn’t wake as the last pieces of her visor popped loose and bounced away on the floor. Another tentacle slipped free of Kyleth’s shoulder and then snaked toward the mare’s face.

“FLUTTERSHY!!” Twilight’s eye flashed solid white, and she switched spells. “WAKE!! UP!!”

Kyleth raised a hand again, forming a barrier of sheer will to block the attempt. It was not enough. An aura of bright purple consumed the pegasus, sending shoots of warmth into her nerves.

Fluttershy’s eyes shot open, and she sucked in a deep, greedy breath of air. She promptly began coughing as she was bombarded with the vile stench of the room, oblivious to the monster holding her in the air.


“Fluttershy! MOVE!!”

The pegasus jerked to attention, startled, and then she finally got a good look at the creature that held her. The daemon’s eye shifted color again, turning its original yellow, and a hiss escaped from its misshapen mouth.

Fluttershy screamed and started flailing, kicking blindly at the tentacles and thrashing her head left and right. A photon grenade fired out of her launcher, shooting straight up with a soft pop and then immediately detonating on a particle damper hanging overhead. The daemon flinched from the flash, its eye recoiling and turning blue. Fluttershy – who had never fired the weapon without her helmet and its autosenses – was also blinded by the burst, which only leant more terror and confusion to her panicked flailing.

“Fluttershy, get loose! Don’t let it touch your face!” Twilight shouted, firing another blast from her horn. Kyleth intercepted the attack with infuriating ease, waving his hand in front of the purple missile and dispelling it.

“No no no no no nononononoNONONONO-“ Fluttershy thrashed harder, her flight pack igniting and pulling her away from the daemon. It lashed out with another tentacle, seizing her foreleg and dragging her closer in response.

“Get AWAY!” she screamed, swinging her forelegs and accidentally stabbing her narthecium gauntlet into Kyleth’s shoulder.

The psyker barely flinched at the sudden punctures, but the gauntlet promptly began an injection cycle, flooding the man’s body with a mix of serums before Fluttershy pulled it out again. Fluids spurted from the needle array on her greaves, splashing across the daemon even as it tried to reel her in closer.

“Keep fighting it, Fluttershy!” Twilight shouted, firing another magic bolt. Kyleth intercepted that projectile as well, and the Princess fired again. Were the situation any less dire, and were she not afraid of falling under the suffocating influence of the psionic noise all around her, Twilight surely could have concocted a more clever tactic, but in her desperation she simply hurled magic bolts at her target again and again, hoping that somehow one of them would get through.

And then, on the fourth try, one of them did.


Kyleth Jackson groaned, and his head lolled to one side. The missile of crackling psychic power blasted by the man’s head, passing closely enough to singe his ear before slamming into the daemon on his back. The Warpspawn reeled, shrieking, and its tentacles holding up Fluttershy immediately withdrew to wrap more tightly around its host. The pegasus broke away and flew to the far side of the reactor room, far out of the creature’s grasp.

Fluttershy then clipped a coolant tower and crashed, probably because she was still blinded by her own stun grenade. Still, she was out of the immediate reach of the daemon, and Twilight allowed herself a moment to calm her own panic.

The daemon turned its eye on her, blood-red and trembling.

Before the Princess could attack again, the psionic noise around her increased five-fold, and she clenched her teeth against the pain throbbing in her skull and horn. Multiple tendrils of malevolent energy approached invisibly, their evil resonating in her mind’s eye. More memories of misery and death positioned themselves around her psychic defenses, like daggers seeking a gap in a suit of armor.

Then the noise weakened. Several of the tendrils melted away, as if the psyker was losing focus. The psionic attack began to falter entirely. Twilight blinked in surprise at the sudden relief, and noticed that the daemon seemed even more agitated, snarling at its host.

Twilight’s optics zoomed in on the psyker. His gait was sluggish, and his head kept tilting drunkenly to one side and then the other, as if he was nodding off to sleep. Granted, he had been badly mutilated and possessed to some degree by the monster on his back so it was hard to say what his “normal” behavior should have been, but after a few seconds her optics added a scan marker that surprised her.

“Chemical sedatives? Oh! The narthecium! Fluttershy must had dosed him with some painkillers by accident!” Twilight gasped.

Her horn started to build up its charge, the purple circuit tracks blazing with power. Twilight reared up, and a brilliant corona blasted outward from her body, enveloping the unconscious intruders. Violet arcs of energy lashed between them and Twilight’s horn, one by one, filling her friends’ minds and bodies with invigorating magic.

“Wake up, everyone! This is our chance! Please! I need you to WAKE UP!”


System reboot confirmed.

ERROR – psionic corruption detected; initiate protocol 7-2-c.

Neural reroute confirmed. Memory core 1 and 4 quarantined for repair.

Initializing combat engrams…

For the second time that day, Gaela returned to consciousness with a jolt, snapping up her power axe and surging upright. Her targeting relays found Kyleth Jackson and his parasite immediately, but the Techpriest wasted no time studying his form or speculating on tactics.

“Die, scum.”

A sharp whine came from her servo harness, and the heavy laser swiveled around to face the target. Gaela aimed at the psyker, just off the center of his chest, with a trajectory that would spear both man and daemon. Her cannon arm also engaged, splitting at the mouth while electric arcs flashed between her salvaged capacitors.

The daemon’s eye flashed blue, it’s gaze turning toward Gaela. With a high-pitched shriek the laser fired, striking a translucent barrier that refracted the beam away from its target.


“Daniels! Applejack! Big Mac! Rarity! Get up! You have to wake up!” Twilight could see the others stirring, but none of them jumped into full awareness the way Gaela had. “Fennin! Jerriha! You too! Come on!” She felt like she was forgetting someone, but the situation was too dangerous to second-guess herself. Her magic reached out to Applejack, surrounding the farmer with a soft violet aura.


Gaela’s ion blaster screamed as it released a trio of crackling bolts at the psyker, only for each of them to curve off-course and striking random machines in the room. The daemon snarled and whipped a tentacle against its host, angrily spurring Kyleth to action like a lazy mount.

It worked, and Kyleth flicked a hand in Gaela’s direction. The Techpriest suddenly staggered backward as an invisible force slammed into her shoulder, almost knocking her over entirely. The impact force was similar to that of a heavy bolter, albeit lacking in the armor-piercing qualities that made that ammunition so deadly.

“Pain… calm… nice… so tired…” Kyleth mumbled, pointing at a lifter nearby. The piece of moving equipment, easily at least half a ton in weight, swiftly lifted off into the air and then sped straight toward Gaela while she was lining up another shot.

“Oh, no ya don’t!” Applejack’s gravity lash locked onto the lifter, freezing it in place just a few feet from its target. Gaela spared the machine barely a glance before unleashing another salvo of energy blasts at the psyker, but the result was as useless as before.

“Energy-based weaponry is ineffective! Attempt kinetics!” the Techpriest shouted, continuing to fire regardless.

A shotgun blast followed her request, announcing that Daniels was conscious and had found his shotgun. The flechette burst struck the deck near Kyleth’s feet, carving a black streak into the floor but failing to disturb the psyker.

“Aw, c’mon! That nutty magic field works against all our guns?” Applejack complained.

“No… No, wait… that was me. I missed,” Daniel groaned, his hands shaking while he crouched in front of Jerriha. “Gimme a minute… head hurts…”

“Not to make light of the very serious combat stress and surely detrimental side-effects of being repeatedly rendered unconscious by psychic assault but WE MAY NOT HAVE A MINUTE PLEASE HURRY!” Twilight finally located her force harmonizer partially buried in a pile of corpses, and she pulled it free with a sharp tug of telekinesis.

The thunder of a heavy bolter finally joined the storm of violence streaming toward the infested psyker, indicating that Big Mac had recovered sufficiently. The heavy bolt rounds passed through the psychic refraction field with a hollow thud, visibly slowing on their approach before stopping dead in the air just inches away from Kyleth’s chest. Several pulse shots also joined in the barrage, only to suddenly bend off-target and then spin into an orbit around him.

“It seems kinetics are indeed ineffective,” Gaela said curtly, “we’ll have to engage at melee range!”

“You want us to try to stab that thing to death?!” Fennin asked incredulously before loosing another burst from his carbine.

“Not YOU, no. You are to get the reactors running again!” Gaela ordered.

“Why would-“

“No arguing! We don’t have time!” Twilight cut off the alien as her force harmonizer flew by her head and then activated its melee blade. “CHARGE!”

Twilight, Gaela, and Applejack surged ahead, with Daniels, Jerriha, Rarity, and Big Mac stumbling to shake off their exhaustion and catch up. The thunder of metal-clad feet and hooves pounding across the poly-ceramic deck filled the reactor room, along with the hiss of energy fields from multiple power weapons.

The daemonic parasite reviewed its assailants, the bullets and energy bolts still frozen in the air or orbiting around it. Then its eyeball turned red.

The heavy bolter shells and flechette bursts, previously frozen in the air, suddenly accelerated toward the oncoming warriors with shocking speed. Several of the heavy bolter shells hit Gaela – the largest target by a fair margin – and the Techpriest stumbled and lost her momentum against the barrage. The energy bolts came next, accelerating rapidly and shooting free of their orbit to fling themselves into the oncoming soldiers. Daniels and Jerriha promptly dove for cover, while the ponies faltered under the pounding of crackling pulse blasts.

“Keep going! We can’t let up!” Twilight shouted, yelping briefly after a glowing blue bolt struck her flight pack hard enough for her to feel the searing heat against her wing. “I’ve got you!”

With the psyker only a dozen feet away, Twilight sent the force harmonizer spinning toward the daemon on Kyleth’s back. Kyleth, still moving somewhat drunkenly, lifted a hand, and a metal crate flew off the floor to intercept the harmonizer before it could reach his Warp-borne controller. With a sizzling hiss, the harmonizer sliced the crate in half, but spent its momentum. A piece of bent piping flew after the first object, striking the harmonizer cross and knocking it off its attack trajectory. Another finger flick sent the pieces of metal trash sailing back toward Twilight like they had been fired from a cannon.

A power sword stabbed toward the psyker from the other side, but with an errant thought a cable snaked around the weapon’s grip and pulled it down to the floor. More trash floated off the deck and flung itself at the boarding party, following the hail of energy and mass-reactive bolts with a barrage of much less lethal but more pervasive detritus. Kyleth slowly retreated as he kept up the barrage, every twitch of his hand flinging more junk across the room.

“It’s just wasting our time!” Twilight complained before a spanner slammed into her visor. “Oof! It’s trying to hold out so that the psyker can recover fully!”

Applejack kept plowing forward despite the barrage, her armor shaking and sparking against the tools and garbage hammering against her body. “Ah have had about ENOUGH of yer mind games!” she snarled. Her approach became sluggish, as if she was trying to push through a powerful wind, but she still advanced.

“Don’t you dare use your flamer!” Fennin warned. “No fire! I warned you!”

“Ah don’t take order from you!” Applejack snapped, releasing said weapon upon the enemy.

The tongue of fire that emerged was much shorter and more subdued than normal, no doubt due to whatever obscene and inexplicable defenses were protecting their foe. It didn’t even really touch Kyleth, sputtering out before it could graze the psyker’s skin. The residual heat seemed to have a significant effect all its own, however, and Kyleth screeched and recoiled in a manner that seemed very distressing to the daemon on his back.


“HA! How do ya like them apples, ya dirty, daggum-“ A coolant hose popping loose interrupted her gloating, and the farmer shouted in surprise as a jet of billowing, freezing mist blasted over her. The flamer was extinguished instantly, and most of her joints froze as stray moisture turned to ice.

Daniels fired another shotgun round, only to growl in irritation as it slowed to a stop and then reversed course to slam into Big Mac’s chest plate. “This is ridiculous! We can’t touch that thing! We have to fall back!”

“If we fall back, then it recovers! If it recovers, we perish!” Gaela said defiantly. Another laser blast came from her harness, only to be refracted uselessly into the wall.

Twilight tried to clear her mind despite the storm of detritus and the panicked shouting of her friends. There had to be a way out of this. A tactic or spell that would swing victory in their favor. If she could only find a way to stun the daemon, or maybe just surprise it…

“DEATH FROM ABOVE, EYEBALL FREAK!!”


Rainbow Dash’s flight pack ignited at the last second, and the daemon didn’t even have time to blink before the pegasus slammed into it with a rocket-assisted kick. Kyleth promptly tumbled to the floor, eliciting another gasp and a whimper from the psyker.

“Rainbow Dash! Yes! Thank you!” Twilight said, almost shedding a tear. “It’s distracted now!”

“So I should shoot it, right?!” Jerriha asked, her pulse rifle aimed at the writhing mass of daemon and pony.

“What? No! You’ll hit Rainbow Dash!” Rarity complained.

“If we can’t fire on it now when its vulnerable then what was the point of this?!”

Gaela snarled and dashed ahead. Twilight saw, and then her horn began to glow again. Every attack – magic or mundane – that they had tried had faltered before the daemon’s defenses. Perhaps another way…


Rainbow kicked and thrashed against the daemon, but swiftly started losing ground after the initial shock of her assault. The Warp-borne creature was much tougher than it appeared, and its tentacles moved with uncanny dexterity to lash and tug at her legs. The hooks that adorned the daemon’s flesh scored and stuck to her armor in a dozen places at once, like little grasping claws.

But all of that seemed like a petty annoyance once the monster turned its eye on the mare.

A blinking orange eyeball stared into Rainbow Dash, and her senses practically melted away. Her vision split into a dozen spinning mirror images, her head throbbed, and her heart rate became erratic. Her ears started filling with incomprehensible shouting from a hundred different voices, the smell of choking smoke seemed to fill her helmet, and she tasted battery acid on her tongue.

Rainbow stopped trying to hit the creature and fired up her flight pack and impulse blasters in a panic. The pegasus burst away from her opponent with such force and speed that she almost brought the parasite with her, pulling it into the air for a dozen feet before she ripped free entirely and left it behind. The last tentacle connecting the daemon to its host was torn free as well, and Kyleth Jackson gasped painfully as the suffocating, sadistic will was finally lifted from his own.

The moment the mare was clear, a pulse blast slammed into the side of the daemon, pitching it to the ground. Shotgun and heavy bolter fire followed after it, tearing away bits of flesh in flaming bursts. The daemon shrieked, and its eye flashed blue.

A telekinetic barrier blocked the next volley of projectiles, appearing as a blurry streak in the air that sent the incoming fire wildly off-course. It was a much tighter and more active defense than it had used when it was attached to the psyker, and its assailants noticed. The daemon propped its slug-like body up on its tentacles, and then started scurrying back toward Kyleth Jackson even while the constant fusillade poured into its shield.

Gaela stepped in its path, power axe crackling and a shining halo of purple energy around her hood.

“To the black circuit, the ley conduit that links flesh, soul, and iron, I submit!” the Techpriest shouted, capacitors crackling on her back. “As I am one with the machine, so I am one with Chaos! Protocols of slaughter, sing a hymn to destruction!”


The daemon surged forward, its eye turning red. The kinetic barrier blasted forward ahead of it, compressing to a fist-sized point of force before crashing into Gaela’s chest.

The psychic energy collapsed in a purple flash, taking the halo of magic along with it. Gaela didn’t budge. The daemon tried to adjust its approach, but it was too late.

Gaela’s power axe chopped into the daemon’s side, ripping through a tentacle and lodging in its body with a sizzling crack. Her servo drill followed after it, stabbing for the monster’s eye, but it contorted out of the way while whipping its tendrils around.

The daemon seemed to shift and reform its anatomy in an eye blink, with new tentacles emerging and swatting away the servo limbs threatening to tear it apart. Gaela’s fist wasn’t so easily deflected, and her free arm punched the Warpspawn to the deck before she ripped her axe free.

Suddenly, several of the bony hooks along the daemon’s body shot out at Gaela, bombarding her with a spread of sharpened spines not unlike a shotgun blast. One such hook punched into the augmetic array on her helmet, piercing the outer lens and cutting through the actual optical beneath it.

Gaela swung her axe again, grazing her opponent, but the daemon rolled with uncanny agility, snaking a tentacle between her legs. It raced along the floor, extending far longer than any physical extremity could, and reached the emaciated psyker rolling on the floor while covering his eyes with his hands.

A power sword suddenly whipped across the deck, neatly severing the tendril. The daemon’s eye trembled in rage, and then blinked to the side. A silver blur briefly materialized into Rarity, and the unicorn offered the monster a brief nod. Then her sword speared forward, piercing the daemon’s eye.

“Finish it! Now!” Rarity shouted.

Gaela’s power axe bit into the daemon again, carving through Warp-borne flesh and psychic deflection fields. The monster hit the floor, and then its eye shifted colors again.

A purple flash exploded around the Techpriest as Twilight’s magic dueled with whatever ill effect the daemon intended. Armor plating bent and her robes tore apart under the currents of force and the chaotic mix of energies, but Gaela was singular in her purpose. She drove a metal fist into the daemon, then grabbed hold of the power sword lodged in its iris.

Gaela wrenched both power weapons free, splashing bizarre and miscolored gore across the floor of the reactor room. Then she punted the psychic horror into the reactor pit from whence it had emerged. The daemon dropped below the edge of the pit, vanishing within the silo-sized hole.


Gaela promptly dropped to one knee, power weapons laid gently to either side. “Machine God, empower the holy vessel. Let the power of the stars swell within the bellows and give life to this galleon of iron and its titanic blades of fire! Flame, light, current, glorious kinesis!” She idly wrenched the bone spike from her damaged optic and flicked it away, heedless of the fluids that seeped from the breach.


A thrumming noise came from within the pit. Cabling started to hum all around the room, while the generator core hanging above hissed from the sudden injection of fluids.

Suddenly, the sounds of awakening machinery were obscured by a feral shriek. The daemon rose out of the pit, slowly levitating under its own power. Its eye was a rich, swirling mix of green and aqua, surrounded by a circle of whipping tentacles like grasping flagella. Its earlier wounds were no more, and even the many bone hooks in its flesh had regenerated.

The monstrous eye twitched from one invader to the next. Most of the humanoids and ponies met its gaze silently. No one moved to dodge or even fire a weapon. Out of those that weren’t even paying attention to the Warpspawn, Fennin was twisting a dial on the control panel near the back of the room, and Gaela was still kneeling.

“One more body to the flames. One more altar to the Black Engine is born,” the Techpriest intoned. “Ignition.”


The bottom of the reactor pit opened up.

A bright blue-white beam no thicker than a lamp post shot upward into the generator crucible. It sliced through the daemon’s back directly, and its dark veins turned a bright red as the Warpflesh crumbled.

The daemon’s eye lingered, trembling, even as the mass around it burned to ash and vanished. There was a final distortion in the air, a last, hopeless attempt to wield its formidable psychic might against the interlopers and drag them back with it into the realm of Chaos.

The attempt failed. The daemon’s eye melted into bright orange sludge. This too evaporated before it even touched the floor, banished back to the Empyrean.


More that one person heaved a weary sigh after the last traces of the Warpspawn vanished.

Rainbow Dash was not one of those people. “I TOLD you guys we should have brought Tellis. He would have taken that guy down EASY.”

“Yes. Probably by hurling us at it,” Twilight grunted. “I just went through something like thirty cruel, painful deaths being shoved through my brain and I’m not sure having him around would have been better.”

“Is it… Is it over? Truly?” asked a dry, rasping voice.

Kyleth Jackson sat on the deck, quivering. His hands still covered his mutilated face, and he could barely move due to the extent of his other wounds. Despite being unable to see, he twisted his head about, jaw agape with wonder.

“Gone… finally… Didn’t think… Didn’t hope… The voice…”

Then a mechanical claw clamped onto his shoulder.

“Two bodies to the flames,” Gaela snarled. Then she hurled the terrified psyker into the reactor pit.


“Okay, THAT was unnecessary,” Jerriha snapped as the man was vaporized within the thermal column. “Don’t you make use of psykers? You didn’t have to kill him!”

“He had already been utterly broken by the daemon, in body and soul. It was a act of mercy,” the Dark Techpriest retorted.

“YOU committed an act of mercy?” Fennin asked with a snort.

“If you want some mercy too I can yet provide, grayskin.”

Twilight gasped, thankfully cutting into the conversation. “You guys! I’m picking up Dest’s vox link! We’re connected again!” She blink-clicked the rune, practically prancing as the comms system connected properly. “Lord Dest, we’ve secured the power core! Fennin is bringing main power back on-line, but we had to dispose of a daemon first. A really strong one!”

Twilight paused while the Iron Warrior responded. Behind her, Big Mac pushed the still-frozen Applejack closer to the reactor where she could warm up.

“… Yes, it was… Kind of small, with a large central eye and VERY strong psychic capabilities… Okay… Yes, they are.”

After another pause, the young Princess gasped and turned to her team. “You guys! That daemon was the daemon lord Gharrl!”

“We KNOW,” everyone else replied.

Twilight blinked. “Oh… was it-“

“It was the bodies. The bodies with their eyes plucked out,” Daniels said, gesturing to the piles of corpses behind her. “And then we found only one daemon. What did you think we were fighting?”

“Well… okay, yes. I suppose that it was unlikely to be a COMPLETE coincidence. It’s just that Fennin seemed so sure it was in the bridge, and this daemon was… well, never mind.” Twilight coughed and shook her head. “Anyway, let’s set a rendezvous point so we can begin another sweep.”

“No need,” Gaela interjected.

The hum of the reactors grew louder as more of the systems came on-line. Servo-limbs craned over the pits and plugged into generators and deflectors. Cables that had been damaged sparked from the fresh current surging through them.

“We’re receiving drone sensor telemetry now. The network is reading null movement aside from us, and the energy surges have ceased,” Fennin explained. “We’ll need to have boarding teams give the vessel a full sweep just to make sure, of course, and probably do a purge of the air ducts entirely, but I see no indication of further enemy presence.”

Gaela tapped the side of her helmet. “Princess Luna, make your way back to the bridge. We’ll need to contact the Iron Warriors for additional support and a temporary crew to get this ship to the orbital docking port. The Omen is yours.”

Author's Note:

And here's the concluding chapter. See y'all next time! :ajsmug: