• Published 4th Dec 2019
  • 6,291 Views, 853 Comments

Black Horizons - SFaccountant

Equinought Squadron finally takes to the stars to aid the Iron Warriors in the Long War against the hated Imperium. But there are many more dangers to be found in the void than the weapons of mere mortals...

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+Deployment alert: The following combat groups are ordered to report to sector 19 for fleet transfer at 1400 hours local rotation.+

+All Iron Warriors are to report for fleet assignment.+

+38th Company regiments Alpha, Lambda, Delta, Omega, and Gamma are to report for fleet assignment.+

+All Dark Mechanicus units have been granted assignment. Exload data hymns and stand by for deployment transfer.+

+Xenis regiment Tai’chel is to report for fleet assignment.+

+Equis regiments… double-checking hierarch ident-codes… Sunshine, Sweetheart, and Candy Cane are to report for fleet assignment. Equinought Squadron, Princess Luna, report to Warsmith Solon’s forge immediately.+

+The next harvest has begun. The war factories of the Iron Warriors will again feast upon the rotting carcass of the Imperium of Man. Iron within. Iron without.+

SFaccountant presents
an MLP/Warhammer 40k crossover
Black Horizons

Chapter 1

Ferrous Dominus – sector 14 sub-level C
Laboratorium C-22: quarantine level Gamma

“Okay, but consider for a moment that getting called to meet with the head commander right before a major deployment might be a BAD thing. Just consider it!”

Twilight Sparkle led the small group of mares while they tromped through the gloomy halls of the manufactorum’s quarantine zone. All the ponies wore their power armor, except for Pinkie Pie. She had neglected to bring her Dreadnought into the underbelly of the manufactorum, and was happily bouncing along behind the others.

“What do you think he’s going to do, Twilight?” Rainbow Dash scoffed. “The last time we even talked with him was after taking the Omen. You ask me, I say he owes us more medals for that.”

“Alas, the prospect is doubtful,” Luna sighed. She flanked the Equinoughts on one side, standing apart from the smaller ponies. “Warsmith Solon seemed most aggrieved to learn of our glorious conquest. T’was a grave disappointment, although We ultimately earned his concession.” She grimaced at the memory, hoping that she wouldn’t have to talk the Iron Warrior into modifying her new ship all over again.

“Y’all are just bein’ melodramatic,” Applejack chimed in. “If we’re leavin’ the planet, then Ah’ll bet he just wants us to take care o’ somethin’. Ya know: a special mission, like when we were fightin’ the Tau.”

“Ugh. I hope that’s not it,” Rarity groaned. “Would it trouble the Iron Warriors terribly to allow us into those ‘reserve’ units I’ve heard so much about? Let us wait out the thickest fighting, just for a change!” Fluttershy nodded rapidly in agreement.

“BORING. I hope we get to attack another space ship!” Rainbow chirped, jumping up into the air and doing a brief backflip before landing again. “That last one was good, but fighting daemons creeps me the hay out! Gimme Orks or Tau or griffons or something!”

A superheavy security door loomed ahead of them, cutting off the next section of the labs. Twilight glanced at the control console, and a decryption rune spun into being over the display in her augmetic eye.

“I wouldn’t mind a special mission either, but… I don’t know. I just have a bad feeling about this,” the young Princess mumbled.

“Well, for what it’s worth I hardly think Solon would invite us to speak to him personally for a reprimand or punishment. Or rather, I don’t think he’d invite YOU, Twilight.” Rarity smirked. “The Warsmith is developing quite a soft spot for you. He’d never have the nerve.”

Twilight flushed slightly while she finished unlocking the door. Luna’s eyes narrowed at the other alicorn, and then she pouted.

The massive door creaked open, and the ponies trotted forward into the laboratorium beyond the main hall.

This section was also very poorly lit, masking all but a central path through the hall in shadows. That barely-illuminated route stretched forward nearly a hundred feet to a large metal… thing surrounded by tubes and holoscreens. It was shaped vaguely like a cauldron split into several sections, and placed upside-down. Dark Techpriest Gaela was working silently at one of the screens off to the side while Dark Magos Kaelith, the highest ranking cultist of the tech-clergy in the fleet, watched the device in unblinking silence.

Warsmith Solon was waiting in front of the thing, and he beckoned to the mares as they entered. “Good, good! You’re here! Come in! We’re almosht ready to begin!”

“Good morning, Warsmith. Good morning, Gaela!” Twilight raised a hoof to greet the Dark Techpriest happily, and then she offered an emotionless glance at Kaelith. “Magos.”

“So what’s the deal? Why did you ask for us to meet you here? Are we getting a special mission or something?” Rainbow Dash asked, rubbing her front greaves together in anticipation.

“No. Not yet, at any rate. Shliver is working on our raiding navigation, but we’ll determine shpecific deployment ordersh in transhit,” Solon explained. “Equinoughtsh, you’ll be poshted on the Harvesht of Shteel. Princessh Luna, you’ll remain on Centaur III for now. After the lasht asshault on Ferroush Dominush, I don’t trusht that our bashe garrishon ish shufficient to shecure thish world.”

“Understood. We shalt protect thy bastion in thine absence, Warsmith,” Luna said with a bow. “But was there… some other spectacle thou wished us to witness? Wherefore hath we been asked here?”

“I can only assume there’s something remarkable in the giant metal thing,” Rarity mumbled. “It reminds me of that shell that Big Macintosh was in before you showed him off to us.”

Solon laughed. “Indeed, there ish shomething remarkable! I wanted you here to shee thish, given that it ish, at leasht in part, the fruit of your own laborsh.” He turned and pointed to Gaela. “Techpriesht, proceed.”

With a swipe of her hand, the bizarre containment shielding began to give way. Hoses unplugged themselves from various receptacles, and heavy ceiling-mounted servo arms reached down to clamp onto pieces of the shielding and pull them away. Interlocking pieces of metal slipped free from within the barrier segments, and a hot arc of plasma jumped across the shield exterior.

The process took several minutes, and great sheets of vapor flooded from the openings, further obscuring whatever was inside. After a few of the shielding pieces were pulled away, Twilight got tired of the dramatic tension and switched the vision mode of her augmetic eye.

“Whaugh!” Twilight recoiled in shock, nearly backing into Fluttershy when she saw a distinctive and familiar outline appear through the vapor shroud. “Wait! Stop! Put those back! Do you know who that is?!”

Solon chuckled. “Of courshe, Princessh. Don’t worry.”

“Don’t WORRY?!” Twilight shouted incredulously, her horn lighting up with magic.

“Wait wait wait waaaaait…” Rainbow Dash mumbled as she spotted gossamer wings riddled with holes. “Is that…?”

“Chrysalis,” Luna hissed. The Iron Gage lifted off her shoulders, and the fists of ebony metal settled close to the Princess of the Night, ready to defend.

Once the mist parted sufficiently, the ponies saw clearly that it was none other than the Queen of the Changelings standing on the cauldron platform. Her legs were locked into the base with articulated claws that looped through the gaps in her carapace, and there were a series of strange mechanical rings likewise clamped onto her horn and glowing with faint red indicator lumens. Her crown was gone and in her chest, where Applejack remembered leaving a massive hole in place of her most vital organs, there was a large, irregularly-shaped object with a translucent ruby shell. Inside the shell, the mares could just make out the shape of moving gearwork and patterns of glittering circuitry. A pair of tubes ran from the mysterious object and looped over one of her shoulders, disappearing into her back right above her wings. The Changeling Queen bore no other external augments, but a long crack-like scar ran through her carapace from the ruby device and up her neck on one side, eventually slicing over one cheek and ending right below her left eye. That eye also seemed different, its iris matching the color of the scar rather than the rich green of the other eye. The entire seam was dull red, but every few seconds a pulse of crimson light would run up the length of it, like it was some sort of powered extension of the device in her chest.

“I take it you need no introductionsh,” Solon chuckled.

Chrysalis stared at the ponies expressionlessly, obviously aware of them but apparently indifferent. Only on Applejack did her gaze linger, but after a few seconds she turned to Gaela. “Can you unlock these things now? They chafe like you wouldn’t believe.”

“No! Don’t do that!” Twilight warned.

“Yesh, go ahead and do that,” Solon retorted.

Gaela’s servo arms jabbed forward repeatedly at the holoscreen in front of her, and then she swiped a hand across it. “Confirmed. All alpha level security measures disengaged. Facility quarantine Omega is in effect.”

The sound of the superheavy blast door slamming shut came from behind the mares, and Pinkie’s ears flipped down. “That… That kinda sounds like the opposite of the security measures we want? Right? Don’t you agree, Shmithy? Hello?”

The mechanical claws holding Chrysalis by the legs opened up, disentangling the hooks from her carapace and folding away. The rings on her horn fell apart at the same time, the indicator lumens turning green before the metal loops split in half and clattered across the floor. Chrysalis took her first step forward, and every one of the ponies jolted back.

The Queen of the Changelings sighed when the ponies’ weapons centered on her and Fluttershy winked out of sight. “Oh, would you calm down? Between you and the alien freaks you have enough guns to reduce an entire hive to rubble. I’m not going to try anything.”

“That’s what you’d WANT us to think just before you try something!” Rainbow growled. “We’re onto you!”

A blast of static preceded Kaelith’s interjection into the confrontation. “Affirmation: Experimental subject N-771 is adequately contained. Executive: Unit E-001.12 is ordered to stand down to reduce probability of catastrophic discharge.”

The ponies stared blankly at the Magos, their weapons not budging.

“Unit E-001.12 is you,” Gaela explained.

“Right. Yes. I knew that,” Twilight said, finally stopping the beam charge to her force harmonizer. “I just… wanted to make sure. It feels a little like WE’RE the ones being contained, honestly.” The other ponies slowly lowered their weapons so they weren’t pointing directly at Chrysalis, but none of them put them into standby. Nor did Fluttershy return to the visible spectrum.

“Warsmith, wherefore hath the Queen’s injury been undone?” Luna asked, arcs of plasma jumping between the pieces of the Iron Gage. “This scoundrel ‘tis a devious foe, best left to fester beneath the ashes with her greenskin pawns.”

Chrysalis seemed mildly annoyed by the question, but Solon was clearly delighted to have someone move the demonstration along. “Ah! But I didn’t shimply repair her! When Sherith brought her corpshe to me, barely clinging to life, inshpiration overcame me! You’ll find she’sh not the shame creature you faced within the Nethalican!”

Solon gestured with his augment arm, and Gaela walked toward the test platform. “She’sh much more than that, now. Queen Chryshalish, we are beginning the firsht tesht cycle. Mimic the Dark Techpriesht.”

Chrysalis looked over Gaela with an expression of barely concealed contempt. Another crimson pulse of light ran up the scar over her neck, and her left eye’s iris glowed the same color. Her other eye flashed green, as did her twisted, jagged horn.

Emerald fire washed over the Changeling Queen, and she reared up as her forelegs were replaced by armor-plated hands. Her wings shriveled inward and then straightened into lengths of metal, and entire new limbs sprouted from her back while her body swelled to match the proportions of the armored woman standing before her.

In but a few seconds Chrysalis and Gaela stood before each other, almost entirely indistinguishable. Chrysalis held up her new mechanical hands, looking from one to the other as she flexed the metal claws and fingers.

“Okay… so she can copy other bodies. We knew that. Didn’t you know that?” Rainbow Dash asked.

“Corrective,” blurted Kaelith, “changeling mimicry analysis demonstrated limits in mass displacement and cell complexity. Subject N-771 has been modified to ameliorate these flaws in exogenetic cellular morphology.”

The other mares glanced at Twilight, who flushed slightly. “Uh… I think he meant that Chrysalis could only transform into things that were only so big or so complex before. And you… fixed that?”

“To an extent. Power armor typically comprishesh around three thoushand dishtinct replaceable componentsh. The changeling isn’t able to comprehend the material shtructure behind mosht of them, much lessh mimic them effectively to reproduce a completely functional armor shuit. The besht they could do before ish produce a bio layer that looksh like power armor, but exhibitsh none of itsh propertiesh.” Solon stomped up behind Chrysalis, his optics sweeping over her and studying the changeling in human form. “Chryshalish hash rishen above that now.”

“The illusion is still incomplete, however. You don’t have my axe,” Gaela chided. Then she reached out and tapped her twin on the chest. “This is also out of place.”

Chrysalis looked down, and her now-human face scowled. The ruby-red core in her body was poking through the breastplate of her power armor, like a giant red target on her torso.

“I see. One moment,” Chrysalis said blandly, copying Gaela’s voice perfectly. A green band of color swept over the discolored spot, sheathing it in a shell of metal that matched the rest of the armor. A second burst of magic reproduced Gaela’s power axe, which appeared in the changeling’s left hand while green sparks bounced across the floor. The two Gaelas were still not completely identical due to the lump in the middle of her torso, but it would have been near impossible to detect without the two being side-by-side.

“Weaponry reproduction ish a much greater power draw on the core of courshe, shince her variant cellsh shtruggle to transhmit the necesshary energiesh without burning themshelvesh out.” Solon reached over and tapped the power axe. “Theshe pshykant reflectionsh are lessh effective than the true machinesh, but should shtill be combat-viable.”

“Conclusive: Even the highest form of flesh pales in comparison to the deep purity of the machine,” sneered Kaelith.

Solon chuckled again, clapping his hand on Chrysalis’s shoulder. “You should conshider that a compliment. Now we begin the weaponsh tesht.”

He pointed off toward a wall, and suddenly a lumen clicked on, illuminating a metal panel with colored rings on the face. “You are cleared to fire, Queen.”

With a click and a whir, the heavy augmetic that made up the changeling’s left arm shifted into combat mode. The tri-claws spread apart, the forearm lengthened, and the primary projector opened its safety iris. Chrysalis bent her arm up to stare at it, and then aimed it at the panel.

“What an… odd creature you are, Techpriest,” Chrysalis mused while whips of crackling energy sparked around her ion blaster. “Are these limbs as uncomfortable for you as they are for me, I wonder? It feels like I don’t know my own skin right now.”

“The machines are perfect. It is your skin that is flawed,” Gaela quipped. “Now shoot.”

Chrysalis did, spitting a single blast of bright blue at the metal panel. The attack struck the face off on one side, leaving a dark scorch mark and cracking energy flares behind. A moment later the heavy servo laser fired as well, but this seemed to startle Chrysalis. She took a step back in surprise, which caused the beam to slice across the target and burn a scar across the floor.

“Ah, excellent! The weaponsh are working! And the loss in shtopping power sheemsh to lay within acceptable thresholdsh,” Solon remarked, bringing up all-new hololiths to study.

Chrysalis glanced over her shoulder while a servo arm spun its pincer jaws, opening and shutting them. “These… things on your back almost seem to have a mind of their own, Techpriest.”

“Only if your own mind is inadequate to keep them at heel,” Gaela retorted again. “Before your mimicry was little more than a crude illusion. Now you wear true imitations of the faces and wargear of the enemy. Your armor will appear as genuine to any augurs, auspex, or signum scrivener, and function nearly as well as the real thing. The difference is substantial, isn’t it?”

“Okay, uh, that’s really cool and all, but WHY did you want her to do that?” Rainbow Dash interrupted.

“Explanatory: The degree of mimicry previously displayed by species designated – changeling – was insufficient to bypass many common security installations, which assume powered armor and standard augments to generate numerous radiotronic indicators.” Kaelith scuttled around the side, peering down at Chrysalis. “This limitation has been remedied. Subject N-771 is deployment-ready.”

Chrysalis looked up at the Magos silently. Then a wave of green magic swept over her, and her body swelled even further. Within seconds Kaelith was staring at himself; a perfect copy of his long, centipede-like body aside from a sliver of ruby red peeking out from the underside machinery.

“This is… strange. Very strange,” Chrysalis mumbled in Kaelith’s harsh, static-laced voice.

“Error: Speech patterns inconsistent with target,” Kaelith spat.

“Notation logged. Dismissal imminent,” Chrysalis retorted.

“Y’all ain’t serious?” Applejack asked, sounding exasperated. “Ya spent all this time upgradin’ her powers so she could fool y’all more easily?”

“Oh, that’sh not all we did with her powersh,” Solon said proudly. “Give her shpace, everyone. It’sh time for phashe two.”

The Tech-clergy duly backed away and Chrysalis twisted left and right, swiveling her hood full of optics to look at the others. “Phase two? What’s phase two?”

“Admonition: Your speech patterns remain impaired. Directive: Utilize formal comms designations to aid infiltration protocols,” complained Kaelith.

“Does phase two involve turning into someone else? Because I’m over this body,” Chrysalis said, ignoring Kaelith and returning to her true form in a flash of green light. The Dark Magos blurted something hostile in Binaric code, but turned away toward another cogitator bank.

“It’sh lessh a ‘shomeone’ and more a ‘shomething,’” Solon admitted. “Dishengage Nemeshish lock. Authorization zero.”

“Disengage what now?” Chrysalis asked, sounding worried. The core in her chest pulsed, splashing blood-red light across the floor. The gears inside began to turn, and a slowly accelerating ticking sound could be heard from the organ.

The Changeling Queen seemed overwhelmed, if not confused. “This… This feels… good. I think. But what is it? You didn’t say anything about a second test.”

“Explanatory: [System file classified],” blurted Kaelith.

“Oh, come now Magosh, let’sh be more forthcoming! We’re all friendsh here!” Solon’s claim was met with incredulous and aggravated expressions from the others, but he gestured to a holoscreen displaying a microscopic view of a cell structure. “Your biology hash two fashinating and coincidentally very convenient traitsh: Firsht, and mosht obvioushly, your shape-shifting ability. Shecond, your ability to metabolize Warp energy.”

“Warp energy? You mean that stuff in your temple?” Chrysalis asked. “Normally we eat love.”

“The very shame. The Warp is a bottomless ocean of power, but harveshting it for shimple material purposhesh ish… problematic. For ush, at leasht. Not for your kind, Queen. Being that the Empyrean ish raw pshychic power, it sheemsh you can draw from it ash a conshumable energy shource.” Vid-captures started playing across the holoscreens, showing Chrysalis shifting into ever-larger bodies while flooded with magic energy. “With a controlled link to the Warp and a few tweaksh to your mimicry, much greater thingsh become posshible!”

“Like… what?” Twilight mumbled nervously, her horn still glowing faintly just to stay ready.

Solon laughed and punched a finger at another hololith. “Chryshalish, you may now accessh your warformsh.”

“My… warforms? What… What are these?” The Changeling Queen stared up at nothing, her left eye pulsing with new data. The core stared ticking louder and faster, flooding her body with more and more energy.

“Theshe are our weaponsh, Queen. Now activate one.”

Chrysalis started to swell, her body coalescing into green light from her horn down to her hooves. The light expanded to human size, and then grew to match Solon’s approximate dimensions, and then kept going.

“Uh, guys? Maybe we should keep that Nemesis locked after all? What do you think?” Pinkie asked, sheltering behind Applejack.

“I really, REALLY don’t like where this is going!” Twilight admitted while she scrambled backward.

The light finished building to its peak, and then started peeling away to reveal skin of dull silver and burnished gold. Massive arms, a dragon-like head, and a huge body with two rows of smokestacks on its back appeared as the magical energy abated. Standing between the cyborgs and in front of the horrified ponies was a Maulerfiend-class daemon engine.

There were some differences between this body and the typical siege walker, if one were familiar enough with them. For starters, the bladed horn rising from the snout had been replaced by a jagged horn on the war machine’s crown. For another, a row of out-of-place, loose cables were attached atop the head and hung down one side, almost like hair. There was also the matter of the core, which was once again visible in the center of the Queen’s chest among several other slits of light pulsing in-between the armor segments on the walker’s underside. But to anyone less knowledgeable about daemon engines than a Dark Techpriest (or Fluttershy), the transformed changeling was indistinguishable from the monstrous Maulerfiends.

Chrysalis turned the huge, armor-plated head of her new body left and right, and then held up a hand to stare at it. She flexed her fingers, and a plasma arc lashed across the palm briefly as the disruption field flickered.

“I… was not expecting this,” Chrysalis said. The sound that emerged from the Maulerfiend’s mouth resembled her real voice, but it sounded curiously hollow, like it was coming from deep within the walker’s body and echoing out its throat.

“Yes! Well, this has certainly been a learning experience for all of us! I think we’re done though! You can change her back now! Or open the way out, at least!” Rarity babbled.

“Not quite done, no. We shtill have a few more weaponsh teshtsh,” Solon assured them. He pointed to the floor next to Chrysalis, and another target slab popped up out of the floor. “Now, you-“

Chrysalis smashed the slab with a fist, and then grabbed onto the top and ripped it out of the floor. A blast of hot steam came from her nostrils and then she tossed the metal plate away, sending it spinning straight toward Rainbow Dash.

The pegasus jumped, leaping over the projectile. “Hey! Watch it, bug-brain! Don’t think we can’t kick your tail in that body, too!”

“I’m really hoping we don’t have to do that, though,” Twilight added. “You CAN restore the Warp power limiters you released earlier, right Warsmith?”

“Of courshe. But we’re not quite done yet,” the hulking Chaos Lord assured them. “Next ish the heavy ballishticsh tesht.”

New target slabs appeared, this time sliding out of the ceiling just over the group of ponies. A lumen turned on to better illuminate the targets, and also informed the increasingly-anxious mares that they were directly under them.

Chrysalis glanced up at the targets, and then down at her hands. Then her horn started glowing and puffs of smoke blasted from her back. A pair of extra legs sprouted from her sides, holding her body up higher, and magical energy surrounded her arms.

Twilight’s fur paled when the arms started to stretch into long cylinders. “Shields! Put up shields now!” she screamed. Luna placed a force screen ahead of the group, while Twilight squeezed her eye shut and formed a dome barrier.

The green light abated, and Chrysalis twisted her maw into a feral grin at the sight of the two Hades autocannons at her sides. She tilted them upward, seeing unfamiliar icons flash over her eyes while the rotary cannons started to spin.

A brief salvo of bright red shot cut across the ceiling, battering the metal slabs and tearing one of them clean off. That piece of metal landed atop Twilight’s shield and bounced off, but otherwise no other threat touched the ponies’ defenses. Chrysalis smirked and let her weapons fall back to a resting position, gunsmoke wafting gently from the barrels and shell casings rolling across the floor. The casings vanished after a few seconds, collapsing into green motes of light that faded away to nothing.

“Good! Very good! The core ish able to keep up with the energy demandsh of bashic combat functionsh!” Solon walked up to Chrysalis and rested his hand on one of the main guns. “How doesh it feel, Queen?”

Chrysalis eyed the Iron Warrior for a few tense seconds before she replied. “Very strange. This body… I’ve never seen it. Never felt anything like it. Never… taken it from its origin. But now, somehow, it’s mine.” She shifted the cannons back into arms, once again inspecting the huge metal fingers of the Maulerfiend’s siege fists. “That said… I could get used to it.”

Solon nodded and moved around to the front of the siege walker, inspecting her head closely. “Excellent. The warformsh are more robusht than the bodiesh you’re ushed to, I’m shure, and practice will be necesshary for proficiency. I alsho imagine you have shome queshtionsh ash to the full shcope of your combat optionsh.”

“Hey, I’ve got a question!” Rainbow Dash interrupted again. “Are you COMPLETELY INSANE?!”

The cyborgs all turned to face Rainbow, as did Chrysalis herself.

“There’sh conshiderable debate on the topic, actually,” Solon admitted. “Why do you ashk?”

“Because you scooped up an enemy that tried to sneak into your home and wipe you all out, and then made her STRONGER!” Rainbow shouted. “Why would you DO that?!”

“Why wouldn’t I?” Solon asked. “It worked with you.”

Some of the ponies winced at the retort, and an amused snort came from Chrysalis. Rainbow Dash was undeterred. “Oh, come on! That was different!”

“We didn’t quite start out as friends ‘r nothin’, but we didn’t go sneakin’ around yer home and killin’ yer boys neither,” Applejack agreed.

“The changelings have surely caused great injury, but the matter is academic,” Gaela said. “They made their attempt at insurrection and were devastated for their efforts. Their failure, and subsequently their conscription, is sufficient atonement for their crimes against us.”

“With all respect, Techpriest, We believe the changelings hath more to atone for than the harm inflicted upon thine army,” Luna said flatly.

“That may very well be true,” Solon conceded, “but I don’t care about that.”

“And it’s all well’n good if ya wanna let ‘em off the hook, but this’s a bit much, Warsmith,” Applejack groused, nudging her head toward Chrysalis.

Chrysalis laughed, and then the shape-shifter started walking toward the farmer. The other ponies scattered, spreading out to stay out of her reach, but Applejack stood firm and craned her neck up to keep eye contact with the false Maulerfiend. Chrysalis stopped once she was almost nose-to-nose with her, staring down at the mare with a metallic, fang-toothed grin.

“You think this is too much? But of course, I’m sure you’d rather I was still lying cold on the floor of the temple with that hole in my chest, wouldn’t you?” Chrysalis asked, her voice light and cheery.

“That’s where Ah left ya, ain’t it?” Applejack replied sourly, still glaring up at the siege walker’s eyes. “Ah didn’t think that Serith would wanna scoop up what was left of ya after Ah was done. Mah bad, Ah guess.”

If Chrysalis was incensed by the comment, it wasn’t apparent. “I’ll admit, I’m surprised too! I didn’t expect the space apes to keep me alive for long, much less… this.” She held up a gigantic, armored hand and plasma arcs again crawled over the palm and lashed between the fingers. “Is this what it’s like inside that shell, little pony? To know that the claws of your enemy cannot touch you? To have your feeble will manifest in fire and death? It really is an amazing feeling!” Chrysalis gripped her hand into a fist, rearing it back as if to crush the farmer. “Look at you, sneering up at me so confidently! Do you wonder whose gifts are the stronger?”

“Gimme a reason to put a new hole in yer chest,” Applejack growled, “Ah dare ya.”

“Belay that order, Chryshalish,” Solon commanded. “Do NOT give her a reashon to deshtroy your core. I worked hard on that thing!”

“Are you suuuuure, Warsmith?” Chrysalis asked, flicking her long, metal tongue out over her teeth. “It would make for a fine ‘test,’ don’t you think?”

A loud buzzing sound came from her left and right, and Chrysalis recoiled. Luna’s Iron Gage and Twilight’s force harmonizer were on either side of her, all the weapons crackling with psychic charge. The rest of the ponies were also positioned to attack as well; Fluttershy had decloaked and was aiming her grenade launcher while trembling like a leaf, and Pinkie Pie seemed to be carrying a demolition charge on her back now.

“’Tis not just her plate thou shalt contend with shouldst thou continue, knave,” Luna said darkly.

“If you hurt ANYONE your new powers aren’t going to save you from us,” Twilight snarled.

“All right, all right, I think that’sh enough. Engage Nemeshish lock,” Solon interrupted. “I don’t want any of you making a messh in here.”

Chrysalis lurched backward again, clutching at her chest with a massive metal claw. The energy flooding from her core had dropped to a mere trickle, and she immediately felt the full strain of maintaining such a large body without a prodigious power supply. She felt she probably could have held it long enough to flatten a few of the equines if she really wanted to risk it, but the Queen relented. The form of the Maulerfiend was consumed by green light and then it popped like a balloon, leaving Chrysalis behind in her true body.

“Bah. You’re no fun,” Chrysalis pouted, turning away from the ponies and trotting back to the Iron Warrior. Then she flinched, blinking her left eye repeatedly. “Agh! What… What’s wrong with my eye? It itches and it’s all blurry now!”

Solon and Kaelith were next to the Changeling Queen in an instant. One of Solon’s mechatendrils held Chrysalis by the chin and tilted her muzzle up, while Kaelith ran a ray of light over the offending eyeball.

“Analysis: Micro-lacerations detected from rapid mass rearrangement around projector nodes and circuit link. Damage is well within subject N-771 regenerative capacity,” Kaelith declared, backing away again. “Conclusive: Walk it off, coward.”

Chrysalis glared at the Dark Magos, baring her teeth before looking back at Solon. “Is he going to call me ‘subject N-whatever’ all the time?”

“Until shuch time that he deemsh you worthy of individual title,” Solon explained. “Sho yesh, probably.” Then he backed away. “He’sh correct about your eye, however. The non-biological componentsh of your new conshtruction are shure to caushe shome dishcomfort during eshpecially shtrenuoush transhformationsh. Thish ish unfortunate, but inevitable, ash they cannot shift with the resht of your adaptive morphology. I went to shome conshiderable effort to maintain much of your natural eye during modification sho that it may shtill transhform with other bio-organsh.”

Chrysalis groaned and turned toward the mares. “Can anyone translate from Drunken Idiot?”

“He said the metal bits are going to be uncomfortable, but they’re important so you’ll have to deal with it,” Twilight spat. “If you don’t like it, feel free to ask the ‘drunken idiot’ to take them out.”

“You might want to be more considerate, though,” Rarity added coldly. “He’s the only one of us who might be disappointed if you never left this room.”

“Ash if YOU have room to talk,” Solon grumbled. “You yelled and wailed at me for half an hour after I inshtalled your nerve shocketsh.”

“You didn’t tell me there would be SIX of them! And in gunmetal, too! UGH!” Rarity protested, grimacing.

“Warsmith, We must again object,” Luna said, walking up to the Changeling Queen with a scowl. “Thou cannot possibly mean to turn this wastrel free upon thy bastion! She will betray thee upon the first fortuity!”

“Bah! Don’t listen to her,” Chrysalis snorted, sticking her nose up in the air. After a pause, she glanced up at the Warsmith again. “Although, since we’re on the topic: what, if anything, is keeping me from hypothetically using all these new powers against you immediately? Hypothetically.”

“Well, for shtartersh, there’sh the Nemeshish lock itshelf. It limitsh your power intake unlessh shomeone with proper command accessh dishengagesh it,” Solon explains. “Thish reshtrictsh your mosht powerful weaponsh and sharply limitsh your damage potential. Ashide from that, I shupposhe there’sh jusht the killcode.”

Chrysalis perked up her ears. “Killcode? What’s a killcode? I don’t like the sound of that.”

“It’s a unique, encrypted transmission key that certain devices are programmed to react to by instantly shutting down,” Gaela explained. “It’s similar to the system killswitch set in the advanced Centaur-pattern prototypes. Except, as the difference in terminology suggests, a killcode transmission cannot be reversed. It will extinguish the device’s machine spirit entirely and immediately. In this particular case your own death would swiftly follow, of course.”

Chrysalis touched a hoof to the ruby-colored shell on her chest, scowling. “So that’s the leash you’ve wrapped around my throat, is it? And I presume you, Warsmith, have this killcode.”

“Yesh, obvioushly. I’m not the only one, though.”

Chrysalis glanced at Gaela, and then her eyes narrowed at Kaelith suspiciously. “So who else can end my life at a glance, then?”

“I won’t be revealing them to you, Queen,” Solon chuckled. “Shuffice to shay, there are enough individualsh with the code that you should fail any attempt to eliminate them all before they shtop you.”

“But if thou wouldst refuse service and expedite this fate, it wouldst save us all considerable trouble,” Luna said acidly, approaching the Changeling Queen. “’Tis to Father’s credit that he hath prepared for thy inevitable treachery, but there still be time to leave this bloody path entirely.”

“Warsmith, your pet seems awfully agitated,” Chrysalis remarked, her voice exasperated. “Can you give her a treat or a belly rub or a magic mechanical super organ or something?”

“PET?!?!” Luna boomed angrily, her voice instantly rising several decibels.

“Of course. What else do you imagine yourself to be?” Chrysalis said, smirking. “Look at you, yapping angrily at the intruder that caught your master’s eye like a jealous dog. I don’t know how you Princesses can stand here and listen to this metal fool slur his orders at you without keeling over from sheer embarrassment.” She paused. “Also, did you seriously just call him ‘Father?’ Is there some… context for that I’m missing? Did anyone else even notice?”

Luna’s horn blazed and her eyes turned bright white. The Iron Gage buzzed with power, and for a moment the other mares genuinely feared that the Princess of the Night was going to murder Chrysalis on the spot, right there in the lab.

Gaela interrupted, however, and Luna stopped short. “Princess, don’t harm the Warsmith’s property without cause beyond your wounded ego,” she said blithely. When the Iron Gage froze, the Dark Techpriest turned to Chrysalis. “As for you: the Warsmith still refers to you as Queen, but make no mistake: You too are his ‘pet’ now.”

“Which bringsh ush to the final phashe of thish initiation,” Solon said, stomping up to the changeling.

The Warsmith stood over Chrysalis, surrounding her with a series of hololith screens. Some were reams of scan data, some were catalogues of daemons engines, and others were vid-captures of Chrysalis fighting in the Nethalican. Chrysalis quietly glanced from one to the other, and then looked up Solon himself hesitantly.

“Queen Chryshalish,” Solon began. “It ish by my will that you shtill live, your dying hushk plucked from the floor of our temple. The remainsh of your hive likewishe belong to me. The lasht shcrapsh of your people live or die at my command.”

Solon gestured to Chrysalis with his hand. “But you are shtill Queen. The shovereign of the changeling race. And sho I have decided that itsh fate shall fall to you. Now that you have sheen what Chaosh hash to offer you – what I offer you – you have a choice to make. Either your shpeciesh livesh on in shervice to the Legion, in shervice to ME… or itsh memory ish reduced to a footnote. One of many to be marked in the datashtacksh cataloguing the hishtory and characterishticsh of the Centaur shyshtem and the numeroush fashinationsh it held before Chaosh claimed it and extinguished thoshe inconvenient to ush. Your future lay before you, Queen: what do you chooshe?”

Pinkie leaned over to Fluttershy. “I feel like this decision probably should have been worked out before they spent a month turning her into a super monster spy.”

“Ssh! Don’t ruin the dramatic tension, Pinkie!” Rarity hissed.

Chrysalis didn’t reply right away, narrowing her eyes at the Iron Warrior. “My… species? Not just me?”

“Not jusht you.” Solon glanced at Kaelith, who swiped a mechatendril across a control console.

Clicking noises came from above as a whole new sequence of lumens turned on, clearly illuminating the rest of the lab. The ponies looked to the sides, and some of them recoiled in shock while others groaned.

Rows of containment tanks, stasis tubes, and reinforced enclosures with armorglass facings were stacked within the alcoves along the walls. Some of them were crawling with changeling larvae, others with pupating cocoons, and yet others with adult changelings in widely varying states of health. Some floated unconsciously in stasis fluid, others banged soundlessly on the glass of their enclosures to try to get their queen’s attention. Yet others were spread across dissection tables or chained to large machines while servo arms churned over them toward ends unknown. Most of those individuals were dead or unconscious. Most of them.

The mares were fairly distressed at the sight for a variety of reasons, but Chrysalis looked about at the survivors of her hive with unhurried fascination. “Hmmm… what will you do with them if I agree?”

“Jusht ash you have been remade to better sherve the Legionsh of Chaos, sho will they. No more will you be shlavesh to your peculiar diet; the Warp will provide all the energy your hive can conshume.” His optics cluster rotated with a soft whir. “But make no mishtake: you will be shlavesh nonethelessh.”

“Service or annihilation. What a choice!” Chrysalis started laughing, her shoulders shaking with mirth. “Ah ha ha ha ha haah! I can hardly believe it! This is incredible!”

“You find this FUNNY?” Twilight asked, grimacing at a heated tank full of changeling eggs.

“You don’t?” Chrysalis retorted between guffaws. “I spent months cooking up a war to cripple this blighted scrap heap of yours while the Iron goons were out! Weeks of planning, whipping up locals, positioning spies, moving weapons! I had to start a miniature rebellion and unseat an Ork Warboss just to get everyone in place for a single all-or-nothing push on this wretched city! All that work, all my plans, all those lives, just for the sake of taking some fraction of your power and knowledge for myself! And it completely failed, and then you gave me that power ANYWAY!” Chrysalis laughed harder, touching the device ticking away in her chest.

Pinkie chortled, putting a hoof to her muzzle. “Okay that is a little funny.”

Chrysalis looked up at Solon again, a grin exposing her long fangs. “I agree to your terms, oh Warsmith. Make a proper weapon of my children and feed them well and we shall serve you as you wish. Spies, pets, soldiers… even guard dogs, should you need them. All are yours, as am I.”

Chrysalis didn’t bow or display any gesture of submission with her oath, and the ponies noticed. Rainbow Dash shook her head sadly, while Luna’s Iron Gage was gripping its fingers into fists repeatedly, as if the gauntlets were practicing at throttling something. Applejack spat off to the side, her jaw grinding from side to side.

“Then welcome to the 38th Company, Queen,” Solon said, flicking a finger to open up another holoscreen. “You will be joining me during the fleet transhfer thish evening. Your hive will remain here for now; the Dark Mechanicush hash much to shtudy before your shpawn are ready to take to war.”

“Question,” Chrysalis interrupted. “Does anyone know what happened to my crown?”

“Virgil found it lyin’ on the floor and gave it to Apple Bloom. It’s hers now,” Applejack replied.

Chrysalis frowned at her. “I’ll be wanting that back.”

“No. And while we’re on the topic: if ya ever touch mah little sister or her property then there won’t be enough left of ya fer Solon to put back together after Ah’m through wit’chya,” the farmer replied.

“Are you going to be like this every time we meet now?” Chrysalis drawled.

“It doesh sheem to be a pershishting theme,” Solon admitted.

“Well you keep making alliances with our enemies, dear. Usually without telling us first,” Rarity pointed out.

“I thought you’d like that. Harmony and friendship and whatnot,” Solon mumbled.

“We’re not friends, though. You make these alliances through threats and leverage, not because we’ve touched their hearts or convinced them of our benevolence. This isn’t harmony; it’s coercion,” Twilight explained.

“Can’t you make friendsh with Queen Chryshalish?” Solon asked.

“She tried to murder mah family,” Applejack said coldly.

“Then I guessh we’re doing it my way. Techpriesht Gaela!” Solon turned toward her. “Shee to the Queen’sh accommodationsh and give her the tour. She ish one of ush, now. Equinought Shquadron hash their asshingment to the Harvesht of Shteel ash well.”

“This is a really bad idea, Sol,” Rainbow Dash warned.

“Probably, but it’sh besht to keep Pinkie Pie where we can eashily track her,” Solon replied, causing the pegasus to groan.

“That’s not what I meant! I mean, you have a point, but I was talking about the changelings!”

Solon ignored her and turned away. “Princessh Shparkle!”

Twilight almost jumped in surprise. “Y-Yes?”

“Come with me,” Solon commanded, stomping off through the lab.

Twilight hesitated briefly, glancing back at the other mares. Most of them were glaring at Chrysalis while the changeling trotted past them. Rarity was paying attention, though, so she beckoned to the unicorn.

“Try to keep the girls from doing anything… dangerous, could you? I’ll meet up with you before we board,” Twilight whispered.

“Please hurry,” Rarity sighed, “Princess Luna looks like her horn might launch right off of her forehead.”

Twilight galloped past Kaelith (who had been working constantly and in near-silence while the others bickered) and quickly caught up with Solon. The Chaos Lord opened a blast door on the entrance opposite where the ponies were leaving, and Twilight followed him into the adjacent room.

“If I may, Solon,” Twilight began, “Rainbow Dash’s concern is… well, very fair. The changelings are a dangerous race and Chrysalis is a canny and malicious tyrant. None of us expect she’s as willing to obey as she pretends.”

“Good. I hope you maintain your shushpicion much longer than thoshe of ush who bear no grudge againsht her.” A servo claw swung downward and grabbed onto Solon’s right arm. Several internal locks disengaged, and the pincer pulled away the array of mechadendrites, nano-scalpels, and surgical lasers. Solon continued as soon as his arm was disconnected, and Twilight gave a small sigh and followed.

“I really do appreciate your efforts to turn enemies into allies, believe me! But I hope you’re taking more precautions against her than you explained to us just now.”

Solon stopped ahead of the alicorn and then turned around, his legs stomping rapidly against the metal flooring to wheel his massive torso in Twilight’s direction. “The meashuresh I’ve eshtablished should be shufficient to keep her on a short leash, but I have one more card to hold againsht the Queen. Come here.”

Twilight trotted up to the Warsmith without hesitation, sitting down once she was in arm’s reach. The enormous Astartes lowered his chassis, and then reached his remaining arm down toward the mare. He tilted her muzzle to the side with a finger, and then tapped the side of her skull.

Almost immediately, a flood of data poured into Twilight’s neural augments. An aggravating but not quite painful sensation buzzed within her head, and the left side of her vision suddenly became a wall of unintelligible screed. She waited patiently, and after a few seconds her optical switched back to its conventional visual mode.

Wetware inload complete.
Pandemonium codex registered.
Encryption spindle 83.91 logged.

“Okay… and what is this, exactly?” Twilight asked, narrowing her eye.

“Jusht a little shomething to help you keep tabsh on our new friend,” Solon chuckled. “That codex will allow you to detect Queen Chryshalish by a unique energy wavelength generated by her core. No matter the extent of her shapeshifting ability, your optical will not be fooled.”

Twilight raised an eyebrow. “Really? Couldn’t you just give this to anyone with a visor interface? Why let her fool anyone in your fleet?”

Solon shook his head. “I’ve no intention of clipping the changelingsh’ wingsh sho quickly. But you…” He paused, unsure how to phrase his next thoughts. “Well, it doeshn’t matter. The codex alsho includesh authorization for the Nemeshish lock and the killcode to destroy her core. I’ve no doubt the former will be necesshary in the future, and I hope the latter ishn’t.”

Twilight blinked, fairly stunned. “You’re… giving ME… really?”

“Affirmative.” Solon backed away again, rising to his full height. “Theshe are weaponsh of shingular purposhe, Princessh. Chryshalish will be my poishoned dagger, and you shall be the shword hanging over her head. One of them, at any rate.”

Twilight thought over that for several seconds, putting a hoof to her chin. “So, if I were to step out of here, track down Chrysalis immediately, and use the killcode on her, we’d all be rid of her right away and you’d just take my word for it that it was necessary?”

“Correct. But you won’t do that,” Solon replied, turning away.

“I could! You don’t know!” Twilight retorted, her ears pinning back against her head while she followed the cyborg. “How am I supposed to use this, anyway? Should I follow her around everywhere? Should I let her know that I can control her core and kill her in an instant?”

“If you think it’sh besht,” Solon replied. “I hardly think I am better qualified than you to take the meashure of our new friend and hold her leash. I have given you the toolsh you require ash we deshcend upon the Imperium once more. Ushe them ash you shee fit. You will be judged accordingly.”

Twilight groaned. “Great. No pressure.” She spent a few seconds going through the data in her optical, and then her ears perked up. “Wait, what’s this last code entry? It says ‘Apex.’ What does that mean?”

Solon slowed his movement and swiveled around to look at her again. “Oh, right. That’sh part of the Codex too. I honeshtly forgot about it. Don’t ushe that one.”

“Okay. But what does it do? Is it another killcode?”

“Negative. It’sh another power limiter, like the Nemeshish lock,” the Chaos Lord explained. “Unfortunately, our preliminary teshtsh shuggesht that the Queen’sh biology shimply can’t endure the energy demandsh. I didn’t want to build a new core, though, sho it’sh shtill there.”

“A… power limiter? So it’s like the Nemesis lock, but even stronger?” Twilight boggled at the thought. “She was already able to take on the forms of daemon engines… what would she be able to do if the Apex lock worked?”

“Oh, it’sh not that. It almosht certainly worksh, but ushing it would kill her.” Solon continued onward again. “It’sh a pity, but her cellsh shimply can’t handle the short of shtressh endured by weaponsh of that magnitude. I imagine she’d get maybe two hundred shecondsh of combat ushage before she died. Sho don’t ushe it. Unlessh you think it’sh absholutely necesshary.”

“You’ve given me an awful lot of personal discretion, here,” Twilight noted.

“I have. You granted me a great shervice on Medrengard, Princessh Shparkle, and for that you have earned thish boon. Ushe it well.” Solon walked over a large metal plate connected to a vertical rail, and then beckoned Twilight forward.

“A boon? I did you a big favor above and beyond the call of duty and as a reward I get more dangerous responsibilities?” the alicorn asked.

“That’sh how theshe thingsh tend to work, yesh,” Solon waited until the mare was standing on the elevator platform. “Do you have any other queshtionsh?”

Twilight thought about it for several seconds. “Can I have Lord Tellis’s killcode?”

“Tellish doeshn’t have one,” Solon replied curtly.

“Really?” She seemed skeptical of the simple denial. “You built a multi-tiered system of control points and contingencies to deal with Chrysalis and distributed it in secret to ensure she couldn’t easily neutralize them! Hay, you even put killswitches on OUR power armor! But you didn’t set up anything at all to prevent Tellis from going rogue?”

“Embarrasshing, ishn’t it? That’sh why I’m more careful theshe daysh,” the Warsmith muttered wryly. Then a mechatendril reached out and wrenched a lever downward. “You have nine hoursh until the fleet breaksh orbit. You can shpend them shtalking the Queen if you wish, but don’t be late to your deshignated transhport.”

The floor shook under Twilight’s boots, and the elevator platform started rising. “Understood, Warsmith. Just… please, be careful with Chrysalis. I only have a vague idea of how powerful you’ve made her, but violent force was never her most dangerous talent.”

“I undershtand, Princessh,” Solon replied as Twilight’s lift rose into the ceiling. “In fact, I’m counting on it.”

Canterlot Palace – Celestia’s study

My dearest Princess Celestia,
By the time you read this, I’ll probably already be in orbit preparing to leave. I’ve sent similar letters to my parents and to Shining Armor in the Crystal Empire. But this one is arguably even more important. I went to some lengths to make sure Spike could send it to you someplace where Serith couldn’t possibly intercept it.
Soon me and the other Elements of Harmony will be sailing to another world, no doubt to commit terrible deeds of violence and theft against the people living there. To save Equestria, we gave our service to the corrupted soldiers of Chaos, and now that toll is due. I can’t say I’m dreading the prospect of seeing more planets out there and studying more of the corners of the galaxy packed into the fleet’s datastacks – especially on a LEGITIMATE mission this time – but the path ahead of us is paved with violence and hatred, not friendship and harmony.
I know you tried to prevent this, Princess. At times, you may have tried a bit too hard. Some ponies might not understand, but I’ve seen enough of the rot that Chaos seeds in people. In entire worlds. In reality itself. It’s cruel circumstance that we’ve had to make our peace with this vile, horrific power, but I don’t regret it, and I’ll use this opportunity to carry your lessons of love and tolerance to the stars. Chaos is strong, and we’ve used that strength for our protection. But we’re powerful in our own way, and we will overcome.
On a final note: there’s some kind of daemonic will out there in the vastness of the Warp that seems to have a vendetta. Something peculiar within the madness of Chaos that specifically desires my destruction, and perhaps all of Equestria’s, in particular. The Iron Warriors know nothing of it, despite being servants of Chaos themselves. The Dark Mechanicus speaks of it in terms of crude probabilities and hazard. The black priesthood has no clear answers, as expected. But I know by now that these aren’t random daemon attacks I’ve been subjected to. It’s personal. I’m being hunted. And I don’t know why.
They won’t stop me. I will return to you.
Sincerely, your most thankful student,
Twilight Sparkle

Celestia blinked away a tear welling up in her eye, and then bent a wing toward her face to flick it away with a feather. She looked up from the parchment, hesitantly meeting the eyes of her assistants, Raven and Kibitz. The latter pony gulped, wondering what the missive had said; Celestia hadn’t read it aloud.

“So she’s leaving, then. This is it,” the white Princess sighed. “The end of the beginning.”

Raven quirked an eyebrow, and Celestia grimaced. “Twilight Sparkle graduated from being a mere student of mine – nay, graduated from being a mere Princess – long ago, but I suppose it’s just taken me this long to accept it. She belongs to Chaos now, not Equestria. No longer does she fight in our name to protect our people, but instead where the Warsmith commands. The thought is…” her voice weakened and trailed off, and she squirmed. “… terrifying.”

“It’s utterly tragic, if you ask me. If anypony deserved a nice long vacation, it would be her. Princess Sparkle got back from the Eye of Terror, nearly got herself killed assaulting some ship in orbit, and now the humans are shipping her off to plunder alien worlds,” Kibitz said woefully. “The missions to slay Ork encampments haven’t slowed down at all, either. War, war, war, day in and day out.”

“Speaking of which: Your Highness, I’ve received word from the Company Commanders. Their recent reinforcements are lacking proper combat experience and officer training since the Tau wiped out many of their leaders, so they’ll be leaving several regiments here to fight the Orks while the fleet is away.” Raven adjusted her glasses and lifted another scrap of parchment to read. “They’re requesting we assist with scouting duty, resupply, and fire support. Actual fire support, specifically. With fireballs.”

Celestia nodded. “Of course. Get a list of the operational zones and times they expect to attack. Oh, and contact the Wonderbolts again. Assuming they’re not ALSO being carried off into space.”

“They’re not, your Highness. I’ll get on the vox immediately and have a report for you before you lower the sun.” Raven rolled up her parchment with a sharp nod.

“I suppose I should thank the Warsmith he’s leaving Luna behind,” Celestia grumbled, holding up Twilight’s letter again. “Along with the relief that there’s one fewer of my loved ones being dropped onto some distant alien world to die, I won’t have to go back to handling the moon again.”

Kibitz started to nod, but then he glanced at the parchment hovering in the air. “Ah, Princess, it seems there’s more writing on the other side.”

Celestia flipped the scroll around, and then noticed that there was, indeed, a small patch of script written near the bottom of the page. It was a little sloppier than the rest, suggesting it was written in haste, but it was still obviously Spike’s handwriting.

PS: Sorry, I almost forgot. Remember when Applejack said she killed Queen Chrysalis in Ponyville? Solon revived her. And made her stronger than ever. And is making her work for the 38th Company. She’s apparently going to be heading out with the fleet, so you won’t have to worry about her until we get back, at least. But yeah, that happened.

The corner of Celestia’s lips twitched, and the parchment started to curl as her magic aura started to heat up dangerously.

“Your… Your Highness? Is everything all right?” Kibitz asked, wondering if he shouldn’t have said anything.

“No. Things are not all right,” Celestia said flatly, a vein pulsing on the side of her head. A moment later Twilight’s letter ignited, burning away to cinders in a matter of seconds. “But on the other hoof, it seems like we’ll still get the chance to use those anti-changeling security protocols from two months ago, so that’s nice.”

“Er… Princess? Does that mean-“

“Please, Raven, go get me those reports,” Celestia sighed. “And Kibitz? Get me a dustpan and some cake. In that order, please.”

“I… Yes, your Highness.”

Ferrous Dominus – sector 20
New designation: Queen’s Hive

“And these are your quarters, Queen. Or, at least, they will be eventually. You’ll be shipping out with the rest of us today upon the Harvest of Steel, so you won’t have much time to get accommodated.”

Gaela gestured blandly to the cavernous metal room beyond the double-doors that led outside. Chrysalis stepped in past her, quickly looking over the interior.

“What is all this?” Chrysalis asked, her lips curling into a sneer. “This is where I’m supposed to live? Why is there so much trash? What’s this other room walled off with glass?”

Gaela disengaged her helmet, and Chrysalis watched in fascination as the pieces of the helmet split open and folded away. The Techpriest’s face wasn’t anything special, she decided, but she hated staring at the glowering metal masks of the power armor suits as much as anybody else.

“These are mostly incubators,” Gaela explained patiently, gesturing to a number of metal pylons arranged on one side of the room. “This area in the back are sanitation facilities, should you have need of them. I am unfamiliar with your people’s approach to hygiene, but after spending so much time in the presence of a Nurgle cultist a good wash cycle would be advisable. This armorglass enclosure is a nursery. I presume it’s where we’ll be dumping all the pupae that survive the Techpriests’ prodding. Finally, in the rear corner is your bed and room cogitator. Any questions?”

Chrysalis looked back and forth. “Why can’t they house me in the Nethalican? I like that place better. The aesthetic of the Chaos temple, for starters, is VERY preferable to this sterile industrial look.”

“The Nethalican is in use,” Gaela said flatly. “The maintenance of the Dark Portal is vital for this system’s defenses. You are not to approach it ever again.”

“Can’t you set up another one in here, then?” Chrysalis huffed, waving a twisted hoof at the room’s interior. “Such nourishment would be far better for a thriving new hive than whatever these metal lanterns are supposed to do.”

“Dark Portals are not simple devices to be installed anywhere they may be useful. Every one of them is a bleeding wound in reality held open by the madness and despair of thousands of damned souls. Their creation requires fantastic bloodshed and the most dangerous sorceries, and the second-order effects of their establishment can quickly become prohibitive.”

“That was a lot of words, but none of them were ‘no my Queen, we can’t do that.’ So what do you say?” Chrysalis asked, smirking.

“I say that you should collect the respirator from the wall and follow me to the lander,” Gaela said, turning around while her helmet re-engaged and slid back into place. “I will stay with you until I’ve shown you to your quarters on the flagship, and then you’ll be rid of me. Come.”

Chrysalis gave a lingering glance at the mask and rebreather hanging on the wall – shaped for equine use, clearly – and then scoffed, following the Dark Techpriest back out into the smog.

“So, Miss Gaela, was it? I’ve heard a thing or two about you, you know.” Chrysalis trotted next to the armored cultist, her smile revealing rows of needle-sharp teeth.

“Oh?” was Gaela’s only reply.

“Yes. You’re quite the curiosity among the ponies. Enough that their curiosity made it to me through my spies,” the Changeling Queen said proudly. “One of the hateful, angry cyborgs, a master of technological wonders, and yet… possessed of a heart of gold!”

“I assure you, my circulatory organs are all reinforced with less delicate materials,” Gaela deadpanned.

“But the ponies look up to you, Dark Techpriest! They admire you! Believe in you! Trust you.” The last word was delivered with a cold seriousness that felt sudden and out of place in the conversation thus far. “Not that Equestrians are the most prudent and suspicious folk around on our particular ball of dirt, but still. You must have quite a surprising rapport with the silly little creatures if it managed to reach MY ears.”

Gaela didn’t respond for a little while, marching alongside the streets of Ferrous Dominus in silence. Those streets were fairly busy right now, with rows of combat vehicles rumbling toward the lander lots and many more personnel rushing back and forth through the fortress-city. Few paid the changeling any mind, although those ponies that did recognize the Changeling Queen usually reacted with a horrified gasp and a quick retreat.

“As I said before, you should wear a respirator while you’re outside,” Gaela said suddenly. Chrysalis turned to face her, one eyebrow quirked. “I realize that you’re unfamiliar with the hazards of human technology aside from the weapons we’ve tried to kill you with, but the atmosphere within the city is toxic. Respiratory damage is guaranteed with extended exposure.”

“Oh? Maybe your Warsmith will make me a new pair of lungs, then,” the Changeling Queen said with a grin. “I wonder what absurd, destructive qualities they would have! Acid breath? I hope it’s acid breath!” Her wings buzzed happily at the thought, and her gait seemed more energetic than before.

“There’s only so much of you we can replace before you stop being useful to us,” Gaela warned, jabbing a servo arm at the changeling. “Do not treat the Warsmith’s gifts so lightly. He crafted life from mere ore and gave it to you, his enemy. It is doubtful you can ever truly repay the debt you owe him.”

Chrysalis frowned, her cheerful mood falling away in an instant. “Debt? Him and his Company have utterly razed my hive, stolen my kingdom, and seized my children. The changeling race is now shackled to you invaders, to be turned into weapons and expended as you see fit! I’m being shipped off into space so that I can act as his new attack dog, and you say I owe him?”

“Those are the terms of your survival, yes,” Gaela’s voice was as detached as ever. “Do you object?”

Chrysalis looked away, falling into an irritable silence. Then her horn flashed, and her body was swallowed by a blazing green wave of magic.

“It could have been worse, I suppose,” Chrysalis mumbled, her voice emerging as a static-laced growl. She had taken on the body of an Iron Warrior, and the Changeling Queen marveled at how she towered over the Dark Techpriest who had dwarfed her real body. Several of the men walking by yelped in surprise and rushed to get out of her way, or otherwise gaped at the sight. Only the fact that a member of the Dark Mechanicus guided the shape-shifter prevented greater panic from breaking out.

“I hope whoever you are right now isn’t within visual range. Astartes greatly resent doppelgangers,” Gaela said. She seemed otherwise unbothered by the massive suit of power armor walking next to her.

“No, I saw him on the way here.” Chrysalis paused, squinting at all the symbols that were flitting about on her visor screen. Then she held up a hand, marveling at the sheer size of her arm. “These creatures are remarkable. Very similar to you smaller ones, but… simply so much MORE. I feel like I could wrestle a hydra!”

Gaela said nothing, turning a corner. The landing lots stretched out into the distance, bustling with activity. Transport craft slowly descended and ascended in turn, while rows of troops and vehicles waited in long lines for transit to orbit. Masked pegasi swooped down over the groups, some of them shouting instructions and others giving happy farewells to departing friends.

“Hmm… this one is different from Serith, isn’t he?” Chrysalis asked, still observing the Chaos Marine’s power armor. It was lightly adorned, with the trim of the kneepads fashioned into half Chaos Stars and a chain serving as a bandoleer for boltgun ammunition. No actual munitions or weapons had appeared with the rest of her wargear, however; forming those objects didn’t come easily to her.

“Yes. Lord Serith is… unique. I’m sure you gathered as much in your altercation.”

“Hmph. And that Warsmith of yours is even stranger,” Chrysalis growled. “What is he, anyway? He’s not one of these Astartes.”

“He is. Or at least, was,” Gaela replied. “That aside, do not refer to him as if he is not your master too, insect.”

“Whatever you say, mi’lady Techpriest,” Chrysalis retorted, snorting through the vox grille of her helmet.

Much of the crowd awaiting their transport drop was arranged into large block formations on a given landing pad. Gaela stopped at the edge of one such group, only to realize that Chrysalis was walking past her and deeper into the lots.

“Our lander is in section 3-R, Queen,” Gaela said, gesturing a servo arm at the block of Iron Warriors and Techpriests gathering nearby.

“Bah, forget that,” the changeling retorted, stomping off to a different formation. “I see a more interesting bunch this way…”

Gaela was loathe to leave her designated boarding group, but she recognized that it was a serious liability to leave Chrysalis unattended so soon after she had been let loose. With an aggravated grunt, the Dark Techpriest moved after the disguised changeling.

“You realize that we were to travel with the Warsmith himself? Why would you want to join another boarding group?” Gaela groused.

“He smells bad,” Chrysalis huffed while she strode across the lots.

“If you maintain a form with a working environmental respirator – or had simply brought your mask as I recommended – it won’t matter!” Gaela snapped. “You cannot defy the Warsmith of the fleet, even in matters of negligible import!”

Chrysalis stopped, turning her head to meet the Techpriest’s gaze. “Is that true?”

Thankfully Gaela’s helmet was fully engaged, so Chrysalis couldn’t see her face darken in embarrassment. “It’s… true in theory…”

Chrysalis turned away again and continued walking along, halting when she spotted something past a heavy freight lander. “Ah ha! You may inform your master that I won’t be joining him to wherever we’re going. I found some friends to accompany me.”

“You’re the lone sovereign of a hive of semi-sentient drones and the only surviving leader of a lightning insurgency. You don’t have any friends,” Gaela concluded.

Chrysalis laughed, her imitated voice booming through the imitated vox receiver. Gaela growled in frustration, and then doubled her pace to catch up. The armored figures approached another lander, this one being a relatively smaller personnel carrier. It wasn’t hard to imagine why this particular transport caught the Changeling Queen’s eye; Equinought Squadron was gathered on one flank of the passenger block, talking to a crowd of other ponies.

Chrysalis paused before she entered earshot, spreading her arms to her side. In a flash of green, a boltgun appeared in one hand and a chainsword in the other.

“Why are you arming yourself here?” Gaela asked, glowering behind the mask of her helmet.

“I got the impression your Chaos Space Marines don’t go anywhere unarmed,” Chrysalis replied, holding up the bolter and marveling at the relief of a daemon carved into the side. “Am I wrong?”

Without waiting for an answer, Chrysalis strode up to the equines.

“-so it seems we’ll be broken into task forces whenever we reach an operational area rather than answering to a pony Captain. The Iron Warriors don’t really trust ponies’ grasp of combat tactics yet. Which, I mean, fair enough, we just learned to use laser guns this year. Still, without Princess Luna around, we won’t have any sort of Equiis-dominant command structure.”

Twilight stood at the front of Equinought Squadron, speaking to several smaller groups of ponies. The Nurgle-worshiping mares of Phage Squadron stood directly opposite the Elements of Harmony, listening intently to the Princess. A group of cloaked and hooded ponies stood off to the side, while several pegasi bearing a wide variety of wargear hovered overhead. Pinkie Pie stood at the rear within her Dreadnought, its crested pink helmet glowering down at the equines below.

“They called down our entire division, though. What’s going to happen to our unit commanders?” Lightning Dust asked.

“Reckon they’ll keep y’all in line out in the field,” Applejack drawled. “But none of ‘em really know what’s waitin’ fer us on an Imperial planet. Them guard fellers don’t fight like the Orks. We gotta stick t’the humans.”

Breezy Blight puffed a small cloud of toxic gas from her helmet filter. “How do you know what’s waiting for us? You’ve never been on another planet either.” Her wings, one of which was a bladed, rust-edged augmetic, swung open irritably and then slid into a resting position over her back.

“Technically, no,” Rainbow Dash admitted. “We’ve seen them, though. Even fought a few wars down there.”

“You… what? How? That doesn’t make sense,” Rot Blossom mumbled.

“Don’t worry about the details, dearie. The point is that you should, as usual, stick close to our big, tough, two-legged friends,” Rarity chided. It wasn’t common knowledge that Equinought Squadron frequently had Luna carry them into Solon’s dreams for combat practice. Frankly, the Warsmith was afraid that any other ponies that learned about it would want to join in until he had half of Equestria invading his rest.

Twilight nodded. “In addition to the standard Imperial defenses, there’s a non-zero chance that we’ll be facing enemy Space Marines!”

“Wait, really? There are bad Space Marines?” asked a pegasus soldier in shock.

“Well, TECHNICALLY the ones we might end up fighting are the good Space Marines. But yeah!” Pinkie chirped.

“Right, right… Keep forgetting we’re evil now, kind of,” another mare mumbled.

Twilight started to say something else, but her words trailed off to nothing when an Iron Warrior walked past the equines. He stopped just a few feet past Phage Squadron, craning his head up to study the lander. Gaela silently followed some way away, stopping behind the crowd. None of them paid her any attention, despite several noticing her arrival.

All the ponies remained silent. Even the ones that had been chatting amongst themselves and mostly ignoring the impromptu briefing stopped short and stared.

After many seconds of increasingly tense silence, the Chaos Space Marine turned his helmet to the side, glaring down at the ponies through a visor of blood red.

“Does my armor fascinate you that much, little ponies?” the Astartes asked, tapping his chainsword against the side of his greaves.

“Yeah, it sure does,” Applejack drawled.

The Iron Warrior hesitated for a few more seconds before he glanced down at his chest and hissed a curse. A spot of gleaming red was poking through the chest plate in the middle of a Chaos Star, like a gem set in a relief.

“Oh, come on! That could be a real embellishment! You don’t know!” Chrysalis snarled, turning toward the equines and pointing to her chest.

“Gemstones just aren’t in fashion within the Legion, I’m afraid,” Rarity sighed. “It really does look rather fetching, but you’re obviously Chrysalis.”

“Bugger me, they really DID let her loose,” Poison Kiss groaned. “And you went along with it? You actually signed up with the lads what you tried to bury with the bleeding Orks?”

“’Signed up’ is generous phrasing. But yes,” Chrysalis admitted, buffing her knuckles against her chest. The red spot vanished under a shell of gold, matching the rest of the Chaos Star spread over her breast plate. “Why wouldn’t I? The forces of Chaos were good enough for the rest of you.”

“Well you kind of started an uprising and united all the world’s other races against us, even going so far as to work with other aliens who are even worse,” Twilight pointed out bitterly, “so we were under the impression that you were pretty invested in resistance.”

“Meh. It was a good effort,” Chrysalis shrugged. “This result is… not optimal, but I’ll take it.”

“Good effort? GOOD EFFORT?! Do you have any idea what we went through because of you?!” Breezy growled. “Why did you even do it?! If you don’t even care, why did all those people have to die?!”

“Mostly to get rid of freaks like you,” Chrysalis spat, tapping her chainsword against the pattern of skulls painted on Breezy’s shoulder pad. Then she started walking toward the lander’s embarkation ramp “Techpriest! I’m sick of chatting with your pet ponies. Let’s board, already!”

Breezy Blight snarled and snapped up her leg bolter to aim at the changeling’s back, only for Gaela to slap it back down with the flat of her axe as she passed by. “It’s not ready for boarding yet. The servitors-“

“We’ll wait inside, then,” Chrysalis interrupted, striding up to the lander. The teams of servitors and Scavurel loading cargo onto the transport gave the apparent Space Marine a wide berth while she stomped up the ramp, and the Changeling Queen heard no further objections as she entered the main hold.

Gaela heaved a sigh and followed, turning to speak to Twilight as she passed. “See to it your people restrain themselves. I will see to the shapeshifter.”

“Good luck,” Applejack grumbled as the cyborg ascended the ramp.

Chrysalis walked to the corner of the largely empty personnel hold, and then seated herself in a corner, atop a metal crate. She looked back and forth, staring at the walls of plate metal and the panels full of blinking lights and unfamiliar runes. Gaela entered a moment later, and a hiss came from her helmet before it split apart and settled the pieces into her gorget.

Chrysalis looked up at her, her eyes narrowing. “I don’t think I’ll ever quite get used to your real face. It’s not nearly so different from your helmet as one would expect.”

“Some day I aspire to replace this shell of meat and bone entirely with one of impregnable metal, rather than merely masking one with the other. You’re fortunate you get to choose based on your immediate need,” Gaela explained as she approached the Changeling Queen.

Chrysalis simply stared at first, and then raised her hands to her helmet, pressing the fingers of her gauntlet against the thickened ceramite dome. After a few seconds the helmet vanished, disintegrating into a green mist. Gaela beheld what she assumed was the face of the Iron Warrior Chrysalis had copied; Thanallas, according to the spoofed ident-tags. A hard-bitten Astartes with lines of arrow-shaped scars across his leathery skin and no nose stared up at Gaela, and then lifted a hand. A shimmering panel of reflective light jumped from the gauntlet, and Chrysalis saw her borrowed face for the first time.

She peered closely at her reflection, turning her head back and forth. “I… wasn’t actually sure if any of them had a face to begin with,” Chrysalis admitted, drawing an armor-encased finger over her jaw.

“Understandable, seeing how your first contact with an Iron Warrior was Lord Serith,” Gaela admitted.

Chrysalis snorted. “Yes. I figured the others may be different. I just looked at this one and I saw… something cross my vision. Then I changed. It feels… different than before, though.”

“It is different,” Gaela said flatly. “It’s better in every capacity.”

“You may be right,” Chrysalis admitted, scowling. Then she held up her boltgun. “No; surely you’re correct.” The gun turned into a sheathe of bright green energy, and then reshaped itself. The shell of magic peeled away, exposing the glowing flex shielding of a standard plasma gun.

Chrysalis held up the gun awkwardly, turning it back and forth as if unsure what to do with it. “I spent enough time with the Orks to appreciate their own unique belligerence, but you humans are something else. What does it take to create creatures like these ‘Space Marines?’ Or creatures like Serith? Or the Warsmith?”

“Or you?” Gaela asked.

Chrysalis looked irritated for a moment, and then closed her eyes. The body of the Iron Warrior flashed a bright green, and then seemed to pop and vanish into emerald motes of light. Left behind was Chrysalis, who laid across the top of the crate with her forelegs crossed in front of her.

“This all happened so quickly that I have to confess I’m somewhat overwhelmed. I haven’t even been awake for a full day since that ridiculous cowgirl pony left me for dead in the temple. And then I find that my abilities have… changed. Changed a lot,” Chrysalis grumbled, looking down at the gleaming red object in her chest. “I no longer feel like the bodies I take on are mine. I barely feel that THIS body, my real body, is mine!”

“Because it is not,” Gaela insisted. “You are the Warsmith’s weapon now; like any other pile of crude matter, he’s drawn out your potential and placed you among his arsenal such that you can execute his will. This is the price of power, as the equines have learned well, and one that you have conceded to.”

Chrysalis looked up at the Dark Techpriest through narrowed eyes. For a few minutes she said nothing, and the only sound within the transport was the clanking footsteps of servitors moving cargo.

Then, finally, Chrysalis sighed and looked away. “I must admit, I was expecting to be welcomed to this army with a sappy friendship speech, or maybe a song. I find your fawning adulation for that spider weirdo sickening, but admittedly less offensive than having ponies squeaking at me in melody.” She looked up at the tech-cultist again. “Fine. I’ll play your game. Who knows? If you freaks can feed my hive perhaps this will all work out after all.”

The sound of greaves stomping up the embarkation ramp came from the entrance. Equinought Squadron boarded the lander with the addition of Spike and the exception of Pinkie Pie’s Dreadnought, and then walked to the back of the hold several feet away from Chrysalis. An interior door hissed open a moment later, and Pinkie bounded inside from wherever they were storing her assault walker. The other ponies followed in groups that were more or less divided by unit, and each one offered a glare at the Changeling Queen before giving her a wide berth.

Gaela watched the equines board for several minutes, and then turned back to Chrysalis. “Why did you want to take this lander?”

“Because your boss smells,” Chrysalis snapped.

“As I explained before, you can reproduce a pressurized filtration system at will,” Gaela pointed out. Chrysalis just glared at her, so after a few seconds she continued. “Very well. But why THIS lander? You seem to have selected this one only after sighting the equines, all of whom bear some grudge against you.”

“I can’t reveal ALL my secrets,” Chrysalis said coyly.

The main doors slammed shut once the servitors had embarked, sealing the cargo hold. The cyborg slaves moved to a set of maintenance braces on the lander’s wall, and the whine of engines heating up came from outside.

Twilight stamped her boot against the floor to get everyone’s attention, and then took off her helmet.

“Hello everypony, and congratulations and-or condolences on being selected for fleet duty during this next raiding circuit!” she began, floating her helmet to the floor and then standing her forelegs on it for extra height. “You’re all relatively experienced among equine squads, but what we’re getting into from here on out will be very different from the skirmishes you’re used to! For almost all of you, this is your first time leaving our world’s atmosphere! For everypony here except myself it will be your first trip to another planet!”

There were murmurs among the other ponies. Many were excited, and a few were anxious.

“We’ll be going over what you need to know about our raiding target and review specific extraplanetary tactics once we actually board the ship and begin combat preparations. In the meantime, there’s a few things you should know about our primary method of transit, the Harvest of Steel!” She paused for a few seconds, sucking in a deep breath. “First of all, let’s just get this out of the way: the Harvest is a daemon. That’s not a metaphor. It’s a giant monster possessing an armored hull and engines, and we’re going to be living inside it for a while.”

A pegasus raised her wing straight up. “Question: Why, tho?”

“Good question! I’m not completely clear on why the Iron Warriors would want ponies on the flagship, where their elite strike forces and leadership are. I suspect it’s because Warsmith Solon feels I should be there, and if I’m staying there he may as well post all us ponies there.”

“So this is your fault, huh?” Lightning Dust grumbled.

“It’s not a bad thing! The Harvest isn’t dangerous!” Twilight protested.

Spike gave her a look. “What? Yes it is.”

“It’s… I mean, it CAN be, but inflicting actual harm upon passengers is rare!”

“We were attacked by a possessed trash pile.”

“That wasn’t the ship! It was a random daemonic incursion! We’re talking about the ship here!”

“I think it’s kind of important to know about how often we’re going to be attacked by daemons on the ship,” Rainbow Dash said. “Is this a once a week thing? Are there daily daemons?”

“There are NOT daily daemons, no. This was an isolated incident!” Twilight insisted.

“You were attacked three times in, what, an hour?” Spike grumbled.

“I consider the entire day’s battles a single incident! Now let me continue!” Twilight snapped before clearing her throat. “Anyway, while there are certain protocols to be followed because the Harvest is a fusion of technology and arcane Warp-flesh, for the most part the vessel functions just like any other ship! You’ll have bunks and mess halls and sanitation cells and regular work assignments! For the majority of you it will be your first time on a voidcraft and your first time experiencing Warp travel, and as somepony who’s been all the way to the Eye of Terror and back I can tell you that most of it is surprisingly mundane! So I don’t want any of you to worry or start panicking if you hear strange noises, or a crew member cracks a joke about being in a monster’s belly, or you see a mummified engineer trapped in a mass of cables against the wall with her expression locked in perpetual agony! It’s all perfectly normal!”

There were some uncomfortable murmurs from the ponies, but unlike before, none of them interrupted to ask questions.

“…… Also you might have nightmares every single night,” Twilight added quickly, coughing afterward. “Sorry.”

“Say what?!”

Chrysalis narrowed her eyes and then tilted her head to look at Gaela questioningly.

“Yes, she’s being serious,” Gaela replied to the unspoken question. “As for the trapped crew, they’re quiet and unobtrusive. Treat them as you would a decorative statuary.”

“When we were on board during the attack on the space hulk they kept screaming and swiping at me!” Pinkie Pie complained, suddenly stepping out from under the Techpriest’s robes.

Gaela scowled down at the mare. “That’s because you kept trying to feed them candy.”

“What kind of monster gets MORE upset when they’re given delicious treats?” Pinkie demanded, waving a hoof at Gaela accusingly.

A servo arm reached down and grabbed onto Pinkie’s tail, dragging her back under Gaela’s robes and out of sight. “Anyway, Sparkle is correct that the risk from embarkation is minimal, and her experience to the contrary was unique. Daemonic incursions are rare and quickly terminated.”

“Hmph. Kind of a shame. It actually sounded rather interesting,” Chrysalis admitted.

“Yes, yes, I know it’s terrible. And there’s other creepy aspects to living in the Harvest too. But it’s a perfectly viable living space and battleship and, by the way, the air inside is at least clean enough that you can walk around without a face mask,” Twilight huffed. “Are there any other questions?”

Poison Kiss tapped her boot against the deck. “Is there a Chaos Temple on board? If there’s going to be a lot of mucking about day-to-day I might fancy some extra prayers.”

Twilight hesitated, so Gaela turned around to respond. “There are temples on the Harvest, yes. In addition, the underdecks contain a quarantine zone specifically reserved for Nurgle’s devoted.”

“Really?” Rot Blossom asked, her ears perking up. “What’s down there?”

“I don’t know, as I am not part of that cult,” Gaela drawled. “But surely it differs little from any other altar to the Plague God. Rotting remains, pools of offal, rust and detritus, and other such filth easily find their way to the bowels of our voidcraft.”

Breezy squealed in delight, clapping her front greaves together. The other ponies gave a few uncertain chuckles and shifted slightly to give the cultist mares some more space.

Lightning Dust raised her wing in the air. “I’ve got a question: if the ships is alive, and it doesn’t eat us, what DOES it eat?”

“People who tick me off,” Twilight said flatly.

There was a long, tense pause after that answer, and then the alicorn laughed. “Ha! That was a bit of an inside joke! But seriously, the Harvest does feed on the body and souls of the living, and those souls usually come from warriors and prisoners who have the misfortune of being our enemies. Next question!”

“Are we really going to have to fight humans on this mission?” a unicorn asked timidly. “They’re supposed to be on our side, aren’t they? Isn’t there anything we can do for them? I don’t wanna kill a human!”

Twilight grimaced. “Another good question, and a rather uncomfortable one. Humans are generally divided into Imperial and Chaos factions, from what I understand, with our good friends here in the 38th Company being a mere splinter of the ‘Chaos’ faction. Most humans belong to the ‘Imperial’ faction, and it’s there that the fleet finds most of its targets.”

Then she seemed to brighten. “However, while war IS the default status, there’s still something we can do! Chaos primarily refreshes its numbers by convincing humans to turn on the brutal, oppressive Imperium and join Chaos instead! With the power of friendship – aided by tactical superiority – we can show the humans a better way!”

Most of the ponies cheered, brightening at the thought.

“Is it actually better, though?” asked a hooded unicorn near the back.

Twilight grimaced. “Look, Chaos is a terrifying cult filled with monsters and blood sacrifice and torment. There has to be something out there even worse if humans are willing to defect in the first place, right?”

“Maybe we just get all the loser humans? You know, like how the 38th Company gets all the loser Iron Warriors?” asked a stallion.

“Oh, come on!” Twilight protested. “You all know at least a few humans from Ferrous Dominus! Do they seem like losers to you?”

There was a long silence from the other ponies, along with some quiet shuffling and awkward coughs. Gaela elected not to respond either, busying herself by calculating the estimated time to arrival.

“Darling, we’re getting sidetracked,” Rarity warned while she re-did her hair.

“Right. Yes. As I was saying, if you find yourself in a position to convince Imperial humans to be our friends and join the 38th Company, you should know that it’s a regular practice of theirs!” Twilight nodded decisively.

“They also take people who aren’t willing to be our friends, but happen to be wounded or helpless,” Rainbow Dash added. “So we have options if you really don’t want to kill anybody.”

Twilight hunger her head. “Ugh! Rainbow Dash, could you just-“

A metallic crashing noise came from the access doors, startling the lander’s occupants. It didn’t sound like a weapon impact, and there was no explosion or hull breach. Still, it was worrying enough that Gaela turned on her heel to scan the door for any sign of damage. Chrysalis tensed, preparing herself to leap behind the Equinoughts if necessary.

“What was that?” Applejack asked. “I didn’t hear nothin’ like that the last time we made this trip.”

Gaela narrowed her organic eye, and then her helmet started shifting back into place. “We have a problem.”

“What’s the problem? Is it Orks?!” Rainbow asked.

“Space debris?” Twilight guessed, rapidly putting on her own helmet.

“Is it daemons? PLEASE say we don’t have daemons already,” Spike begged.

“It is not any of those things,” Gaela said darkly. “It’s worse.”

“WORSE?” Fluttershy yelped. “What’s worse than daemons?”

A sizzling, shrieking sound came from the doors as a set of glowing claws punched through the barrier. The primary lock that kept the doors sealed extra-tight for void travel promptly fell to the floor in pieces.

“KNOCK KNOCK!!” screamed Tellis.

“Oh,” mumbled Twilight, clicking her helmet into place.

A loud, heavy screech came from the doors as they were slowly pried apart. Air started to rush out of the opening, and the nearest ponies scrambled away while the interior began to depressurize.

One pegasus mare made the unfortunate decision to spread her wings while escaping, and she instantly caught the bulk of the air rushing past her and out into low orbit. She was lifted off the floor and swept backward, her hooves and wings flailing uselessly. Threads of unicorn magic reached out toward her, but in the panic of the moment the telekinesis was either poorly aimed or not enough to help. The mare was flung, screaming, into the widening slit between the lander’s access doors.

Then she landed in a large, metal-encased hand, which promptly carried her back into the lander’s cargo bay.

“YES! Found the pony transport!” Tellis shouldered his way into the cargo bay, and the lander’s entry doors slammed shut behind him. The hiss of escaping atmosphere still came from the embarkation ramp, mostly because of the holes torn in the blast doors, but the Iron Warrior ignored it and stepped forward.

“Hey Tellis!” Rainbow Dash said brightly. “You’re late! Or were you assigned to a different transport?”

“I dunno. Probably? All these tubs look alike.” Tellis held the pony he caught like a cat, resting her on one arm and scratching her back with his free hand. She seemed extremely uncomfortable with this arrangement, if not mostly stunned from nearly being sucked out of the transport.

Tellis walked up to Equinought Squadron and stopped right in front of Twilight. She looked up at him warily.

“… Did you want something from me, Tellis?” she asked after a tense pause.

“You’re damn right I do! I want an apology!” Tellis snapped, still petting the confused pegasus in combat armor.

“An apology for what?” Twilight was genuinely confused. Obviously she didn’t remember doing anything to slight the Chaos Lord, despite her antipathy for him. Aside from that, though, she had assumed he would never resort to demanding apologies over more physical means of demonstrating his displeasure.

“For what?! You guys boarded a daemon-infested derelict! You had an awesome space adventure and you left me behind!” Tellis protested, his wings spreading behind him in what Twilight assumed to be some kind of intimidation pose.

The mare on his arm started squirming and flapping her wings, and Tellis paused to let her down onto the floor. Then he went back to glaring at Twilight, his arms crossed over his chest.

“Of COURSE we left you behind!” Twilight continued once the pegasus was clear. “Our objective was to take the ship intact and with minimal damage! We didn’t need you to get bored and start kicking in control panels or trying to vent sections of the ship or tossing us into the reactor pits!”

“When have I EVER done something like that?!” Tellis demanded.

A sizzling noise came from behind him. Tellis turned to look, and he saw that Gaela was standing in front of the cargo bay entrance. Her welding laser was rapidly sealing the holes made by his claws, while at the same time she wedged her axe into the remains of the lock to force it closed. Twilight coughed, still staring up at the Chaos Lord.

“…… Whatever, dweeb. I didn’t want to join your lame boarding party anyway,” Tellis grumbled, turning sharply away from Equinought Squadron. He pointed over to Chrysalis, which immediately set off a whole host of alarm bells in her head. “Did we find another changeling? Cool! I hope that Sorcerer jackass doesn’t kill this one for laughs!”

“Oh, right, you two haven’t actually met, have you?” Rainbow Dash smirked and rushed up next to Tellis, hovering at chest level. “Chrysalis, this is Tellis. Tellis, this is Queen Chrysalis! Well, ex-queen, I guess. She’s more like a vassal now.”

“Vassal Chrysalis. Cool, cool,” Tellis mumbled, striding up to the changeling in question. “Vassal to who, exactly?”

“To the big, dumb, smelly one,” Chrysalis replied sharply.

“You’ll need to be more specific. We have two of those. Was it the dorky smelly one or the angry smelly one?” Tellis pressed.

Chrysalis considered the question for a moment. “Definitely the dorky smelly one.”

“He saved your life, you know,” Rainbow Dash reminded her somewhat bitterly.

“And gave me the power to turn into a giant killer robot!” Chrysalis added. “But he’s still dumb and he still smells.”

“This one sounds a lot smarter than the other changelings,” Tellis remarked, tilting his helmet to the side. “And you said she was the Queen?”

“That’s correct,” Chrysalis said, her lips twitching into a smirk. “Up until the remainder of my hive was scooped up for the Warsmith’s experiments, I was the absolute ruler of the changeling race.” She paused, touching a twisted hoof to her chin. “… I suppose I still am, assuming any of my hive are eventually freed. But ultimately I serve you weirdos.”

“So I can still build my changeling farm, then!” the Chaos Lord said brightly. “I don’t know where I can set up on the Harvest, but I’ll put something together. I can get some dirt and food from the first raid! What do you guys eat?”

Chrysalis just stared at Tellis incredulously, so Rainbow answered his question instead. “Apparently they can eat the Warp if they’re around a portal or something, but usually they eat love. I’m not totally sure if it’s, like, sexy love or warm-and-fluffy-feelings love. Probably both. But they definitely eat love.”

“So… should I feed them hookers, then?” Tellis asked uncertainly.

“Why are they LIKE this?” Chrysalis complained to the armored mares behind Tellis.

“Very long lifespans combined with an environment of distilled terror, psychic torment, and constant warfare,” Twilight mumbled. “Although most of them still aren’t like Tellis, so take from that what you will.”

Some yellow lumens in the ceiling turned on, and a grating, feminine voice came from the vox caster.

“Beginning docking approach. All hands, prepare cargo bays and embarkation links for contact.”

A tremor ran through the vessel’s hull, agitating some of the ponies. New sounds filled the cargo bay as heavy machinery started to move and the servitors woke up once more.

“Welcome to the Harvest of Steel, the most holy vessel of Chaos. May you all be blessed by its agonizing radiance, and fortunate enough not to meet your end within its depths."

“Thank you!” Pinkie Pie chirped, waving to the vox caster.

Harvest of Steel
Deck C-13 – equine bunks

“Well these are… hmm… cozy.”

Rarity levitated her helmet onto a metal peg on the wall, looking over the room interior with a resigned expression. It had three beds attached to one wall, each one mounted higher than the other, and a cramped central floor area. Opposite the bunks were some storage racks, and on the wall opposite the entrance was a cogitator. There was little else of note in the room, and the seamstress immediately found herself pining for the spacious, if equally dull, quarters back in Ferrous Dominus.

“Boy howdy, it’ll be good to take all this armor off!” Applejack stepped in behind Rarity, and then a series of clicks came from her suit as all the sleeve locks disengaged. “A little help, Rares?”

“Of course, darling.” Rarity’s horn began to glow again.

Rainbow Dash flew in over the other two, spinning around once in the air to take in the interior. “Ceiling clearance is way less than I’d like, but whatever. I don’t expect to be hanging out in here anyway!”

Twilight stood outside the room with Spike at her side. Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie had already been dropped off in the adjacent room, although the latter had already run off to explore.

“Me and Spike are in the room next door, although I’ll probably head up to the bridge to meet with Solon before we breach Warp space,” Twilight explained. “You can come with me if you’d like, but I have to warn you it’s not very… nice in there.”

“Not nice as in shrouded with foul-smelling smoke, or not nice as in crew and bystanders die frequent, gruesome deaths?” Rarity asked as she started to disassemble her own armor.

“Somewhere in-between, I think.” Twilight looked up at the bunk room’s ceiling. “Also, that reminds me: if the wall or ceiling opens up to reveal a giant eyeball, do NOT panic. Everything is fine. Just ignore it for a little while and it’ll go away.”

The other mares gave her worried looks. “Ah kinda feel like that shoulda come up earlier, when ya were talkin’ about the ship to everypony,” Applejack mumbled.

“Yes, you have a point, but Tellis cut us short. Anyway, my point is that they’re scary, but harmless,” Twilight explained with a nod.

“Probably,” Spike added.

Twilight turned to glare at him, and the young dragon shrugged. “Look, Gaela’s told me stories, okay? There are LOT of people who just up and vanish around here!”

“I think I’ll let you girls get settled in,” Twilight grumbled, turning away from the doorway. “Come on, Spike.”

Twilight’s horn flashed as she approached her own quarters, and a purple glow surrounded her armor. After a few seconds the power armor winked away, and she raised a hoof to the ident-scanner next to the door.

“The servitor should be by soon to drop off our things,” Twilight said as the door slid open. “We just need to check… uh…”

Twilight trailed off in surprise. Spike groaned. On the side of the room, laying on the bed mounted on the wall, was a familiar stallion. A batpony, specifically. Boasting a licentious grin and a fresh red rose clenched tightly between his teeth.

“Hello, my Princess,” Dusk Blade purred, his tail lightly whipping against the mattress. “How may I service you?”

Spike started making choking noises. Twilight stared blankly at the other pony for several seconds, and then took a deep breath.

Her horn flashed purple, and after a burst of light surrounded her body she was wearing her power armor again.

“Wh-Whoa, wait. Hold on!” Dusk said nervously, taking the rose into the tip of one wing. “Did you not want any service? That’s fine! You can say no! Uh… do you want the flower, though? I didn’t hurt anyone to get it this time!”

“Dude,” Spike said, the single word exuding considerable disdain.

“What? You said to stop hiding in her room! I stopped! This is me stopping!” Dusk retorted, standing up.

“You’re STILL HERE!” the young dragon snapped.

“So what? You never said I have to stop showing up entirely! And really if I wasn’t going to reveal myself like this what difference does it make if I just hide away somewhere?”

“Lieutenant,” Twilight said calmly, interrupting his panicked argument, “follow me, please. You can leave the rose with Spike.”

She suddenly turned around and started walking down the hall. Spike seemed confused, but still took the flower when Dusk hopped down and trotted past him. The batpony quickly caught up with Twilight, and they silently walked down the hall.

The silence between the two continued as they walked. The ship was fairly busy, with groups of menials and servitors carrying things through the decks. The wasted, entrapped crew writhed and mumbled hysterically within the few alcoves in the area. A few other ponies walked along the halls in groups as well, either chatting amongst themselves or happily following some human.

To Dusk Blade, however, there was nothing else but the alicorn mare plodding alongside him. Granted, she was enclosed in a pressurized shell of hardened ceramite, armed, and hadn’t even taken her helmet off for this walk, but still. Simply being in Twilight’s presence lifted his spirits immeasurably. Also she hadn’t actually made any move to activate the force harmonizer, which he interpreted as a strong positive sign.

“… You know, I have to admit that when you first told me you liked me, I was kind of glad,” Twilight said suddenly. Dusk’s ears perked up as she continued. “I’d never been told that I was, well… attractive to anypony before then. Besides the shock of the confession, you’re also surprisingly smart and a prime physical specimen, technically speaking. Quite a few of my friends insisted I could do worse!”

“And you could, but you shouldn’t have to! Settling for a pony worse than me would just be embarrassing for a Princess,” Dusk said with a firm snort.

“Yes. Sure.” Twilight stopped, glancing back and forth along the hall. The left side contained the outer bulkhead, and this particular section was riddled with entry locks for savior pods. On the right side was some kind of holding facility conspicuously labeled “Kennels” in the noosphere tag and covered over with warning runes.

She turned around, popped her helmet’s seals, and then floated it off of her head. Twilight took a moment to shake her mane free of the armor gorget, and then regarded Dusk with a cold, irritated stare.

“I’m not glad anymore, Lieutenant,” the alicorn said bitterly. “In fact, this whole… arrangement, or relationship, or whatever you want to call your habit of stalking and hitting on me in-between random acts of cruelty, has just about reached the limits of my patience.”

Twilight’s expression tightened. “You’re a bad pony, Dusk. And it isn’t JUST that you’ve done bad things, but rather that you regard moral behavior as a thin façade you have to wear around civilized ponies. You’re not too dumb to know better, and you’re not a sociopath! You’re simply a poisonous, unrepentant soul who doesn’t think of anypony but himself!”

Her expression became even more heated as she noted the complete lack of reaction from the batpony. “And you know what? Maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world. Certainly the Company can make use of ponies who are clever and amoral! You’re good at breaking into places and killing people; who am I to demand you be more than that? But I will never, EVER… are you even listening to me?!”

Dusk seemed to snap out of a daze, and he shook his head. “Sorry about that. I was just… lost in your eyes. Didn’t hear a thing.” He gestured to the mare’s face, seemingly oblivious to her building temper. “I love the new optical augment, by the way. What pattern is that? It’s really sleek!”

“It’s not any particular pattern, I don’t think. I actually got it from-“ Twilight stopped and shook her head violently. “NO! Cut that out! I’m rejecting you! Stop making small talk!”

“Oh come on. I get that you don’t like me, but I’m really trying to do better now! I gave up slavery, got a friend of my own, and went on a series of calamitous misadventures to make myself look good in front of the Elements of Harmony!” Dusk sighed, his pointed ears flipping down. “I can change! Give me a real chance!”

“Once upon a time, I would have taken you up on that offer,” Twilight admitted. “Long ago, I probably would have made it a personal friendship mission of mine to teach and rehabilitate you. And then, assuming it worked, JUST MAYBE I would have considered actually being your special somepony.” Then her eye narrowed and her horn sparked. “But that’s not my job anymore. Your behavior isn’t my problem to solve, and if you can’t think of any reason to be a better pony other than having a chance of getting into my power armor it’s probably a doomed effort anyway. The answer is no.”

“That… It’s…” Dusk tripped over his words as he tried to reply, wilting under the alicorn’s steely glare. “Okay. Then… can we at least be… friends?”

He raised an upturned hoof toward the Princess, smiling nervously. Twilight stared at it for a few seconds, and then lifted a boot and pressed its adamantium tread against Dusk’s horseshoe.

Dusk brightened. Twilight’s horn flashed.

Dusk Blade materialized in a burst of purple light and stumbled backward in shock.

“What?! Where?! How?!" Glancing around, he saw he was in some sort of small enclosure. It was made to hold several people, judging by the seats built into the walls, with a single entry hatch on one side. It was also very dark inside, with the only light coming from a small window slit in the entry hatch, but that wasn’t much of an impediment for a batpony.

A beeping noise came from somewhere nearby, and then several lumens came on to light Dusk’s surroundings. He rushed up to the entry hatch to open it, only to see Twilight’s face appear behind the window slit.

“Hey! What is this?” the thestral demanded, slamming a hoof against the hatch.

“It’s a savior pod. Don’t think I didn’t notice that you weren’t on the fleet deployment roster,” Twilight grumbled. More beeping came from the devices within the pod, and a clunking noise announced that the hatch had locked. Twilight’s augmetic pulsed with light, feeding more data into the navigational cogitator. “The trajectory I uploaded should have you landing somewhere in the badlands. Hopefully you’ll end up close enough to Ferrous Dominus that you’re not late to your next shift.”

“What?! That…” Dusk was about to start pounding his hooves against the hatch, but hesitated. “That’s actually pretty helpful. I didn’t really have a plan for going back if my seduction attempt didn’t work out.”

“You’re welcome,” Twilight deadpanned.

She stepped back, and a loud buzzer went off before a bulkhead slammed into place in front of the hatch. The final safety locks disengaged, and after a moment the pod was shot into the void.

Twilight stared at the sealed bulkhead silently for over a minute after the pod was ejected, tracking the arc of the vessel down to the planet. It was actually quite difficult to program any kind of landing point using only her augmetic interface, even one targeting a planetary region as vast as the badlands. Whatever she thought of Dusk Blade – and she had a LOT of thoughts on Dusk Blade – she didn’t really want to be the one responsible for launching him into the middle of the ocean.

Finally satisfied that he wouldn’t land anywhere TOO hostile to equine life, Twilight disconnected from the datastream and turned around. She was surprised to see Spike walking down the hall toward her; he must have followed her shortly after she left her room.

“Hey Twi, the servitors brought the rest of your stuff so we’re free to head out if you still want to check out the bridge,” Spike explained while he approached. “Or you might want to hunt down Pinkie Pie and subdue her. I think she found one of those eyeballs in the bulkheads.”

“Yeah, no, I’m not touching that. I made her promise to stay out of the calefactor, that’s enough,” Twilight mumbled, turning around. “Let’s go to the bridge. I want to see if I can get some nav-data. The Company never did let us know where in the galaxy we’re going in our deployment order. Not that it makes much of a difference to us, but maybe they have a particular planet already picked out as a target.”

Spike nodded and followed along. “By the way… I know he’s a creep and all, but I’m glad you didn’t teleport Dusk into the kennels.”

“Say no more,” Twilight mumbled. Then, after a few seconds, she craned her head back toward her assistant. “I mean that seriously, by the way. Never mention him again unless it’s to warn me that he’s back.”

Spike silently pressed a claw against his cheek, and then drew it across his lips while making a “zzzzzip” sound.

Harvest of Steel – bridge

“And our special guests have arrived at last. We are about ready to depart, then?”

Twilight grimaced as she entered the bridge. It was a disturbing place at the best of times, but she was particularly worried to see Serith standing at Solon’s side. The Sorcerer and the Warsmith himself were the only individuals here that she recognized; evidently Vice-Commander Sliver was working elsewhere.

“Hello, Lord Serith,” Twilight said warily. “I didn’t think you’d be coming with us. Don’t you have to manage the Nethalican?”

“You needn’t worry about our precious temple, Lady Sparkle,” Serith chuckled. “I’ve taught the secrets of its operation to the unicorns of the cabal and sent a crew to watch over it. I couldn’t bear to miss the excitement of your very first pirate raid!”

While Twilight was wondering how worried she should be, Solon swiveled his body around toward the Princess and her attendant. “Sherith washn’t going to come at all, actually. But apparently Missh Trixie wanted to come along sho they took a shuttle here before the fleet wash asshembled.”

Spike blinked in surprise. “Trixie? Why would Trixie want to come along on a pirate raid?”

“For the thrill of adventure and the exploration of the great unknown, surely,” Serith mused aloud. “If nothing else, it was a useful opportunity to leave the bleak crowds and sweltering industries of Ferrous Dominus. She confided to me that the city is quite dull when the streets aren’t full of rampaging Orks.”

“The Harvest of Steel speaks!” From one of more than a dozen alcoves placed along the walls, a withered man with his body wrapped in cloth and cabling began to writhe and shout. “It welcomes the Purple One! The pact is complete! The maker returned!”

“Yes, fine, we went over that on the way back. You’re welcome.” Twilight said with a sigh.

“The Harvest just wants you to know,” moaned a woman on the other side of the bridge. “She’s very satisfied you are within, and no longer hungers for your demise.”

“Great. Thanks.” The mare’s ears flattened against her head. All the Warpsmiths were staring at her now, obviously annoyed at the disruption. “Let her know I’m… uh… glad to be here,” she mumbled unconvincingly.

“Awwwwwwwwww,” came the tortured choir of voices from the entombed crew.

“If that’sh all, we should begin the transhlation to Warp shpace,” Solon interrupted, swiveling back to the main control panel.

“All vessels are moving into breach formation,” announced a Warpsmith. “All augurs are clear. Navigation calculated.”

“The Warp sings!” gasped another crew mummy in a delirious stupor. “The tides shift to speed us on our journey! Deliverance at last! Sweet carnage!”

Solon poked at his console, and the entire hull trembled slightly underfoot. “Activating Warp enginesh. Empyrean breach in three. Two. One…”

Twilight watched intently at the holoscreens at the front of the bridge. A crackling spike of plasma rapidly expanded, as if poking a hole into the void and then peeling it open further. An explosion of color filled the emptiness before the fleet, spilling into realspace from the unfathomable ocean beyond.

“… Still rainbow-colored, I see,” Serith said after a moment.

“Yesh, it ish,” Solon grumbled. “It doeshn’t sheem to have any sherioush effect, at leasht, but I wish you’d come up with a working theory for thish.”

“I’m afraid I couldn’t begin to imagine the cause, Lord,” Serith said sadly, turning his helmet to stare at Twilight.

“Warp exit has reached optimal circumference,” growled a Warpsmith. “Accelerating to maximum sub-light speed.”

“Hmm? Engines are unresponsive. What’s wrong?” demanded another, leaning closer to his own console screen.

“The Harvest… hesitates,” one of the entombed crew admitted, sounding puzzled.

Another one shrieked. “Something stirs! A disruption from within! AAAAAAAAAUGH!”

A cracking noise came from the ceiling. The web of cabling, pipes, and wires split apart along a jagged line, yawning open like a predator’s jaws and bending the surrounding metal as if it were flesh.

It convulsed with an indescribable wet sound, and then Pinkie Pie dropped out onto the floor amidst a blast of confetti.

The opening quickly closed again, vanishing back under the mesh of components while the bubbly pony lay on the deck blinking.

“… Huh. The Harvest is better now,” mumbled the crewman from before.

“You may proceed with Warp entry,” Solon advised the other Iron Warriors.

“Right. Yes. As I said, accelerating to maximum sub-light speed,” the Warpsmith said again, shaking his head and tapping his console.

As the floor started to tremble from the motion, Pinkie rolled upright to face Twilight and Spike with a characteristically huge grin. “Twilight! You’ll never guess where I’ve been!”

“Nobody cares,” Serith said flatly.

“I care a little bit,” Spike admitted.

“I’m extremely curious but also terrified at what the answer could be,” Twilight said, “so let’s just save this conversation for later, okay?”

The Harvest of Steel rocketed forward into the colorful miasma of the Warp, its bulk eventually swallowed by the swirling, prismatic wisps. The rest of the freighters and escort vessels followed, diving into the ocean of nightmares before the tear in realspace finally sealed shut.

The hunt had begun again, at last.

Author's Note:

This has been a while in coming! I'm already well into the second chapter, but I don't expect I'll have it before 2020. Have a merry Christmas and a happy new year!