• Published 15th Oct 2011
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Halo: Fall of Equestria - Big-Mac-115

The final frontier of the Human-Covenant war brings chaos where no man, or pony, thought it could go

  • ...

Chapter One: Contact

War is an abominable thing. It is bloody, vile, oppressing, heinous, and vexing. But worse than war is the idea of defeat. With defeat, comes hopelessness for whomever experiences it, and without hope, comes things far worse than a simple war could ever bring. However, let this be certain; no civilization, large or small, is defeated when lives are lost, when physical possessions are plundered, or the place of one's homeland is destroyed. Defeat, in all it's hideousness, comes only when the morale is oppressed. When hope is lost. When all will to defend and protect is taken. Only then will defeat prevail. And with a reason to fight, be it personal gain or the better will of a whole, anyone can bring hope. Anyone can sustain the moral of their people. Anyone can be a soldier, anyone can defend and protect, and most importantly, anyone can win a war.

And without a reason to fight, defeat has already conquered.

Chapter One: Contact

March 19, 2756
0949 hours
Royal Palace, Canterlot, Equestria

Where is the Princess? Dauntless glanced around her courtroom for what felt like the hundredth time, and flicked a stray lock of dark purple hair out of his eyes. He felt bare, and almost incomplete, without his hemet and armor; normally he would be wearing it, especially when requested in the Princess's presence. But she had called upon him on such short notice this morning, waking him up at about six-thirty in the morning by sending one of her combustive letters into his barracks. She had a knack for doing things like that.

He and his squad of four other royal guards; Stalwart, Sunspot, Specter, and Ruhig Tödlich, had been standing in formation for the last three hours, chins held high and motionless at a crisp attention, and they were growing tired. They had been summoned by Her Majesty, requesting their presence in the matters of discussing a mission she had for them, and though she didn’t disclose exactly what this “mission” entitled, if the order came from Princess Celestia herself, they knew it had to be of the utmost importance. At this point, Dauntless had begun to think it was another one of her little jokes (she had been bestowed the nickname 'Trollestia" for a reason), but he and the rest of the team didn't DARE run the risk of leaving early in case she did in fact show up; it would probably mean demotion at best, the end of their careers at worst.

However, just as he began to think he'd been royally played, he heard the massive door to the courtroom open behind him, followed by heavy hoofsteps. Not daring to turn around and break his saluting stance, he had to assume it was Princess Celestia, and he spoke up on behalf of his troops. "Ma'am, 22nd Royal Security Regiment, reporting as ordered, ma'am!"

A chuckle came from behind them. "At ease, soldiers!" Luna mocked in a deep voice.

Dauntless was slightly startled at her presence, and he and his squad turned around to face her. "Princess Luna! We are here on strict orders to see Princess Celestia. Have you any idea where she is?"

"Oh, you mean you got a letter from her saying that she 'had a mission that she needed you to accomplish, and she needed to see you in her court at once'? THOSE strict orders?" Luna smiled slyly.

".......Yes, ma'am. How did you kn-"

The princess of the night chuckled. "Good, glad to see my hornwriting matched hers enough for you to think it was indeed her."

Actually, Dauntless didn't check the hornwriting; orders were orders, and they weren't to be questioned. He kept this to himself, though. "Your Majesty, with all due respect, you have wasted our valuable time by summoning us here without legitimate reason. Have you an actual request of us, or are we simply here for your amusement?" He said this last sentence with a biting tone; he didn't like the fact that he lost the last three hours just standing here doing nothing.

She smirked. "A bit of both, actually..... What? Is there a problem with wanting to spend some time with Equestria's best group of soldiers every once in a blue moon?"

"When we could be doing better, more important things, yes there is a problem."

The princess sighed. "Ugh, you guys are no fun. Anyway, yes I do have a small assignment for you."

That's more like it. For a moment, I thought I was going to have to start calling her "Princess Lunnoyance". He laughed silently to himself.

Luna circled around in front of the five guards as she spoke. She was large, taller than most other ponies in Equestria in fact, but by comparison she was still dwarfed by these five massive stallions. "You're probably not gonna like this, but you all know my nephew Prince Blueblood, right?"

Yes, unfortunately... Everypony in the royal palace hated that little brat, Dauntless and his team being no exception. "Yes, ma'am. Why do you ask? Does he need a good flank-kicking?" He knew it was okay to joke around and loosen up a bit; Princess Luna regarded the Royal Guards as more of personal friends rather than militants, and they felt the same way about her.

"Well of course he does! He ALWAYS does! And you're always welcome to do so, any time you wish. I won't stop you!" She laughed. "Anywho, he wanted me to ask a favor of you. Mind you, I know you're probably not g-"

"Ma'am, permission to interject?"



Princess Luna frowned and drooped her shoulders. "Aww, c'mon! You haven't even heard what I have to say!"

"You said 'Prince Blueblood' and 'favor'. That's all I need to know."

".....Touche. But, even still, listen. Evidently he and another of his acquaintances was visiting Ponyville lately, and his little friend wandered into the Everfree Forest, got lost, and now he hasn't heard from him since. Blueblood mentioned his name was Eminence, and he said he wished for you to go look for him. You know, 'search-and-rescue mission'!" Her voice dripped with fake enthusiasm.

"Well, if he wandered into the Everfree forest, not only is that his own stupid fault, but he's probably dead by now as it is. When did he go missing?" Dauntless had heard this sort of thing many a time: stupid kid wanders into the forest, gets lost, never heard from again. Ponies got lost in the Everfree all the time, and nobody ever even bothered to look for them because it's almost a guarantee that they're dead already, so why should some little spoiled rich kid that is friends with Blueblood have the most elite squad in the country come looking for him?

Luna tapped her chin. "Umm... He said a week? I think. Yeah I know his chances are low to say the least, but still, can you do it? It is not like you have anything better to do as it is."

Dauntless sighed loudly and rolled his eyes.

"Look, I know you're probably not gonna to find the kid, but can you at least go so you can say you tried? Apparently it was one of his closest friends, and as much as I dislike Blueblood, he IS still my nephew. I don't want to see him go into a depression or something. Pleeaassee? Out of the goodness of your heart?" She puffed our her lower lip, making the puppy dog face. It was a face Dauntless couldn't resist, and she knew it.

".......Ugh, I SUPPOSE we could make a couple passes over the forest... But if we find him, and IS by the grace of Celestia still alive, he's going to wish the hydras and manticores had gotten to him first."

"THAT'S the spirit! Besides, you don't even have to actually rescue him. As long as the effort was made, HOPEFULLY Blueblood won't be whining about it as much."

Yeah, right... Now that he though of it, as much as Dauntless hated Luna's nephew, he had to have a little sympathy for him; he had lost many good squadmates, friends... Even family members in the line of duty, so he understood how Blueblood probably felt right now.

"Men, back to the barracks and get ready. We're leaving in one hour. You have till then to prepare. Move out!"

Every stallion in his squad except Ruhig Tödlich saluted with a booming "Sir, yes sir!", and then they all trotted briskly through the door in the direction of the barracks. Dauntless watched them as they exited, then his eyes returned to Luna, who was smiling broadly.

"Thanks, Dauntless. I know it's probably hard to do this, considering how obnoxious Blueblood is to you guys."

Dauntless waved his hoof dismissively. "Naahh, I don't much mind doing it. If it's any consolation, I can sympathize with him a little bit. I've lost too many good men - most of them being either close friends or relatives of mine - in combat. I know how it feels to lose someone close." He paused for a moment. ".......You think he would want me to talk to him? Blueblood, I mean."

Luna winced. "Ehh I don't think that'd be such a great idea. He's sensitive enough about it as it is, and you know how the whole 'authority figure' thing just rubs him the wrong way. I think the best you can do is just try to find his friend for him. That's about all he'll respond to."

"Understood. I am going to return to my quarters with the rest of the squad to prepare. Good day, Princess."

He turned to leave, but Luna stopped him. "Wait! Once again, thank you. I'm sure Blueblood himself would thank you as well, if he wasn't too busy moping..." She rolled her eyes.

"It isn't a problem, ma'am. Like I said; I know where the boy is coming from. I've seen too many good men die for a lost cause. And I'll do everything in my power to keep from losing more."

The princess smiled softly. "Well, that's... Very noble of you. Good luck, Dauntless. Although, I know you hardly need it. And I'm sure I'll be hearing back from you soon." She gave him a wink.

Dauntless blushed slightly. "Thank you, ma'am."

"Quite welcome....... Now, uhh, dismissed! Go to it! Uhm... Break a leg, or whatever it is you guys say!"

The stallion couldn't help but laugh out loud at this. "'Dismissed' will do just fine."

* * *

March 19, 2756
1029 hours
En route to Ponyville, Equestria

"Boss, permission to speak?"

"Go ahead."

"Why the hay are we out looking for this colt? You and I both know he's long dead by now."

Dauntless stopped in mid-flight, turning around and grabbing Sunspot's collar armor with a hoof, and angrily brought his face closer.

"Because it's the right thing to do. Imagine, for whatever reason, you lost your mother. Or your brother. Say you went and requested the help of the Royal Guard to assist you in finding her. Say they laughed at you and told you right to your face 'she's already dead, kid. Might as well forget about it.'..... Is that what we do? Is our job to turn down ponies that come to us in their times of need? Does that sound like Celestia's Royal Security Force to you?"

Sunspot blankly stared back into Dauntless's eyes. "No, sir. That is not what we do. You're right." Dauntless released his collar from his grasp with a forceful shove.

Specter spoke up. "Dauntless, with all due respect, sir. I know the true reason is not because 'it's the right thing to do', even though it is indeed: The reason is because you are defending Prince Blueblood. Why? It is uncharacteristic of you."

It never failed: Specter could see right through anypony's emotions, no matter how much they play it off, or how much they try to hide them. He always managed to probe through their minds with his. Darn-near telepathic..... And almost creepy.

Dauntless shook his head. "I can't give you a straight answer to that, I really don't know myself. I suppose it is because I don't like the idea of another pony dying for nothing: we all know how it feels to lose someone close. We've all lost friends and family in battle, and I don't think anypony - even somepony like Blueblood - should have to experience that. I know you all know exactly what I am talking about: there is a difference between a life spent, and a life wasted, gentlemen."
There was momentary silence as Dauntless's words sunk in to the consciences of his men.

"Then sir," Specter spoke out again, "let us waste no time."

Dauntless and the other three nodded in agreement.

The remaining fifteen minutes of the journey to Ponyville were silent.

They arrived at the small populace at about a quarter to eleven, and landed in the town square, where they were met with looks of both concern and fear by many of the citizens.

"So wheredye suppose we start lookin'?" Stalwart asked in his thick Scottish accent. "Ye think we should just head right into the forest, or should we do abit o' askin' around first?"

"It'd probably be best if we interviewed somepony to get a general idea of where he was last seen... But I'm not sure anypony here is in the mood for talking. At least to us." Sunspot replied, surveying the wary looks of the ponies, most of which were clearing away from the square.

This sort of reaction was typical: small-town ponies like this seemed to think of the Her Majesty's Royal Guards as some alien invaders rather than sworn protectors. Of course, when they were about six times more muscular and easily two to three feet taller than the average pony, who could blame them?

"Hold the phone, looks like somepony decided to be friendly enough to introduce themselves." Stalwart gestured to a purple unicorn who was approaching them, seemingly unfazed compared to the other inhabitants of Ponyville.

"Good morning, sirs!" She greeted them, grinning. "We noticed you seemed to be looking for something. Is there anything we can help you with?"

"'We'? I think it's just you. Nopony else seems to want to be of any assistance." Dauntless replied.

The unicorn laughed uncomfortably. "Right... Sorry about that. Anyway, I'm forgetting my manners. My name is Twilight Sparkle, and this is-" She glanced over her shoulder, looking for somepony who wasn't there. She turned around and called out to the missing pony. "Fluttershy! Don't be disrespectful! Come say hello!"

Dauntless followed her gaze, and found himself looking at a yellow pegasus several meters behind Twilight Sparkle, who was shaking and seemed ready to bolt away.

"My apologies, you'll have to excuse her. She's a bit shy, as you can tell." Twilight sighed.

Dauntless shrugged. "You say it as if cowering from us is an unusual reaction. Don't worry, we're used to it. Now, since you asked, we actually could use your help with something. We're looking for a certain unicorn, his name is Eminence. We were told he was here about a week ago with Prince Blueblood. I'm sure you've heard of HIM, yes?"

The unicorn rolled her eyes. "Yeah. I haven't met him, but I don't like him. He was a jerk to one of my best friends at the Grand Galloping Gala. From what I hear, he's a stuck-up snob and a real pain in the flank."

Dauntless laughed; he found it hysterical that even ponies from this small town and that had never even met the prince hated him. "Well, you heard right, Miss Twilight. Believe me, I do not think kindly of him either. However, we're here on orders to find the aforementioned acquaintance of his that has gone missing. He supposedly wandered off into the Everfree Forest. We were wondering if maybe you had seen any ponies that looked of royalty anywhere around?"

Twilight gasped. "Oh my... That's awful! I wish I could be of more help to you, but I haven't seen or heard of anypony like that. I didn't even KNOW Blueblood was in town... I hope you find him, though. Eminence, that is." Her brow furrowed in concern. "Actually, I have a fairly extensive knowledge of the Everfree, and I could possibly use my magic to help you locate him. Would you like me to come with you?"

"Well, I appreciate the offer, Miss Twilight: but I'm afraid I cannot allow it. Really, ponies are encouraged not to go into the forest as it is, so I can't take you in there, even under our watch. It would be..." He searched for the word. It wasn't unlawful, but the Princess surely wouldn't smile upon the idea of taking this unicorn into the Everfree and possibly risking her life to look for some lost pony.

Then it hit him. "Wait, you said your name was Twilight Sparkle?"

She tilted her head and nodded, slightly confused at the sudden change of subject.

"YOU'RE the one Celestia always talks about!" Sunspot called forth with excitement.

Dauntless shot a warning glance back at him for speaking out of line. "Yes, we have heard many great things about you. She calls you her 'prized pupil', her 'prodigy', the 'Element of Magic', is it?"

Twilight blushed. "Yeahhh that's me I guess."

"Well, it is an honor to meet you, ma'am. My name is Dauntless, and this is Sunspot, Specter, Stalwart, and Ruhig Tödlich." He gave each of them their respective nods as he said their names. "We are 22nd Royal Security Regiment."

"Top o' da mornin' to ye, malady!" Stalwart boomed with a wide grin.

"Hey, how's it goin'?" Sunspot cooed in a seductive tone, which earned him a jab in the ribs from Stalwart.

"Greetings, Twilight Sparkle." said Specter in his usual, monotone voice.

Ruhig Tödlich only gave a quick nod of acknowledgment.

"You'll have to excuse him." Dauntless said. "He lost most of his ability to speak in a fight, so he rarely talks."

"Eh, I know how that is" Twilight said with a shrug, and motioned back toward Fluttershy, who still seemed terrified and on edge.

"Speakin' o' that," Stalwart interjected, staring at the yellow pegasus, "I think I just might try to talk ta her. Maybe get her to calm down a wee bit."

Dauntless glared at him, but Stalwart simply shrugged. "What? She seems like she could use somepony ta talk to." He walked casually in the direction of Fluttershy, who quickly took several unsteady steps back, stumbling on the last one.

Dauntless rolled his eyes. He knew there was no point in trying to stop the read-headed stallion. Stalwart considered orders hardly more than friendly requests, and he really didn't see himself getting into a heated argument with Stalwart anytime soon; he was even larger than Dauntless, and even though he outranked him, Stalwart wouldn't think twice about getting phyisically violent with a superior officer. He had done it before.

He then remembered why they were here in the first place, and that they had a job to do. "Well, all things aside, back to our original conversation. I appreciate the notion that you would like to help us in our search Miss Twilight, but I don't think the Princess would think kindly upon the idea of me taking her prized pupil into the Everfree, regardless of the reason."

"I understand." She gave a respectful nod.

Dauntless nodded back. "Alright. Gentlemen! Let's move! Stalwart, that means you too."

"Aww, but I was just gettin' acquainted!" He called over from near Fluttershy, who seemed to have calmed down significantly in the brief moments the two had been talking.

He narrowed his eyes at Stalwart. He need not say anything; his expression did the talking for him. Get over here before I tell everyone in earshot that you still sleep with a teddy bear.

Stalwart knew that these threats weren't empty, so he trotted over to Dauntless's side once more and took his place among the ranks, muttering something under his breath.

"Well thank CELESTIA! I was starting to think the flirting would NEVER end." Sunspot exclaimed as sarcastically as possible.

"Hmph! And YOU'RE one ta talk?" Stalwart scolded. "Does 'hey, how's it goin'?' ring a bell?" He mocked Sunspot in the same seductive tone he had used on Twilight.

"Well at least I didn't go out of my way to try to get some from that pegasus!"

"Now you listen here; I wasn't tryin' ta 'get some', I was just makin' a friendly gesture, somethin' that the likes o' YOU wouldn't know about if it came up and bit ye right in the a-"


They immediately stopped squabbling and snapped to a crisp attention. "Yes, sir!"

Dauntless turned back to Twilight. "Disregard anything those two say. They tend to forget who they are sometimes." He said with a hint of embarrassment.

Twilight laughed uneasily. "It's fine. I understand that males can't help but have the urge to flirt sometimes; it's natural."

"But that's just it. These are supposed to be my trained, disciplined soldiers, NOT some group of teenagers out looking for their next date." He said this with a stern glare back at his troops.

Twilight shrugged. "Well, I suppose that's not any of MY business. Maybe you should knock them over the head more often, to keep them in line!" She teased.

"Oh, I'm likin' this idea!" Stalwart said excitedly, and with that, he slammed his hoof down on Sunspot's helmet, hard enough to make it ring for a good five seconds.

Sunspot was too stunned by the blow to respond immediately: instead he stood dazed for a moment before turning to his attacker, who just grinned broadly.

"What? 'Twas the lady's idea, not mine."

Dauntless had given up at this point: he simply stood staring at the ground in front of Twilight, rubbing his temple with a hoof until they were finished. "Are you two going to be like this every time we leave the palace? If so, I'll just take Specter and Ruhig next time."

This was enough to silence the two stallions.

"Again, I apologize for the UN-EXEMPLARY behavior of these two." Dauntless shook his head in disappointment.

Twilight just laughed. "As improper as it is, I must admit it's considerably entertaining."

"Yeah, well, as much as I know they'd like to be, they're not comedians. ESPECIALLY when we're on assignment."

"Well, like I said, perhaps a good kick in the flank would be in order for them every so often and DON'T DO IT!" Her eyes widened as she saw Stalwart look at Sunspot with a devious smile.

"Anywho, good luck to you guys! I hope you find whomever it is that you're looking for!"

Dauntless smiled warmly. "I do too, Miss Twilight. I do too. 'Twas a pleasure meeting you! Hope we cross paths again soon!" With these last few words, he and the other four guards took to the sky with their powerful wings, and began flying toward the Everfree.

* * *

March 19, 2756
1104 hours
Town Square, Ponyville, Equestria

"That was... Interesting." Twilight thought aloud as she watched the five stallions as they glided over the buildings of Ponyville, away from her and Fluttershy, and in the direction of the forest. "Alright, lets go, Fluttershy."

She looked over her shoulder at the pegasus, who was sitting on the ground and still shaking slightly as she also watched the guards depart. "Fluttershy, don't worry. They're gone. And besides, it's not like they were ever going to hurt you in the first place."

She warily pulled herself off her rump, and continued walking with Twilight to Sweet Apple Acres, where they were to be having lunch with the rest of the Apple family later today. "I... I know, I just... They were so big and scary-looking. I know they meant no harm, but they're just so loud, and they seemed a little bit hostile, I guess..." She paused. "But... I like the one with the accent who came over and talked to me. He seemed really nice..... Well, of course, aside from always harassing the blonde one... But I guess that's just what boys do....."

"Well, they're all nice in their own way." Sorta... She wasn't sure if the one that they called Sunspot was "nice" in any way, considering that he had little to say but sarcastic and disrespectful remarks.

But something about them seemed familiar, like she already knew that particular team of royal guards on a personal level. Had she read about them somewhere? Had she studied them without recalling it? Had she met them before? She hadn't a clue. Their names struck a bell, too. She knew that the leader's name, "Dauntless", meant fearless and brave. But she also felt like that name meant something else, like she SHOULD remember it, but couldn't.

Then it dawned on her. "Of course! 22nd Royal Security Regiment! I KNEW they sounded familiar!"

This sudden outspoken epiphany earned a confused and frightened look from Fluttershy.

"Oh, sorry. I was just thinking about that group of soldiers, and something brought to mind about them. Then I remembered that they're the ones that Princess Celestia always talks about! She boasts about them quite a bit, actually. According to her, they're about the best team of militants in Equestria. I just wish I had remembered that when they were here, I would have brought it up! Wow, I actually feel kind of honored to have met them, don't you?"

Fluttershy's eyes wandered uncomfortably "Umm, well... I suppose... They seemed..... Okay..."

Twilight was a bit disappointed at her lack of enthusiasm, but she understood; Fluttershy had never been big on anything that had to do with war, conflict, or any sort discordance at all.

".....What was the big one's name again? Fluttershy asked sheepishly. "Stalwart, right?"

Twilight nodded.

"...Stalwart..." Fluttershy repeated quielty to herself, and smiled. "He hardly had time to introduce himself before the one with the purple mane said they had to go."

"Yes, but you have to understand, they didn't come here to socialize: they're on a mission to find a missing pony. They only stopped to ask us if we had seen him. They were in a bit of a hurry."

Speaking of being in a hurry, Twilight remembered that they told Applejack that they would be at Sweet Apple acres by eleven fifteen, and they had probably lost about ten minutes talking to the guards.

"Oh no, c'mon, Fluttershy! We're going to be late!" She picked up the pace to a brisk trot, followed by Fluttershy, to the apple farm, where she planned to spend the rest of the day eating, playing, and generally having a good time together with her best friends.

But plans change.

* * *

March 19, 2756
1810 hours
Everfree Forest, Equestria

Dauntless's fears were being realized. He knew from the start that there was little chance of finding the missing friend of Blueblood, but he tried to be as optimistic as possible up to this point. They had been flying over the Everfree in their standard overlapping search pattern for several hours now, with no sign of anypony so far, and though they still had only searched about half of the forest, there wasn't much hope left; they were now several miles from Ponyville, and the farther and farther they ventured from the town, the thicker and more dangerous the forest got. If they hadn't had success by now, they weren't going to have any at all. But still, they persisted. He thought it was ironic that he had been reluctant to even try to find him when Luna had first suggested it, but now it had turned into such a personal objective. He still wasn't sure why, either.

"Specter, see anything?" Dauntless asked desperately.

"Negative." He replied.




He shook his head.

Dauntless sighed. "And I KNOW you haven't seen anything Stalwart, because you would be having a hyperactivity attack right now."

"Too right, mate."

"Boss, believe me, I wanna find this colt just as much as the next pony, but..... I'm sorry, but there's just no hope at this point. We've looked over almost half the forest, and there's just nopony here. I think we should just go home." suggested Sunspot.

Dauntless sighed. As much as he didn't want to admit it, the young stallion was right. At this point, they were surely wasting their time. Besides, at least we tried, right? He shook his head. No, trying isn't good enough... But there was simply just no hope left.

"Alright..... Let's turn around boys, we're heading b-"

Dauntless felt somepony tap his shoulder, and he turned to see Ruhig pointing a hoof toward the horizon in the distance. He followed his gaze, and saw what looked like..... Smoke? Yes, it was smoke, slowly trickling out of the treeline and over the forest. He felt his heart rise in his chest, almost threatening to leave him. Could it have been a campfire set by the missing colt? A signal for help? He hadn't a clue. But whatever it was, they were going to investigate.

"Men, I think we may have found something."

They made a beeline for the spot where the smoke seemed to originate from, and descended below the treeline, and into the dark canopy of the forest. However, upon reaching the ground, they found something that surprised and disheartened them: a small hut, or what was left of it, stood in a clearing of burned trees and scorched undergrowth, about a hundred feet in diameter. They speechlessly and unknowingly spit up and began wandering about, surveying the scene, taking it in with both caution and worry. There were patterns of black, charred bark on the trees, almost as if somepony had splashed molten lava about the litte clearing. Small bushfires still danced on the ground, but the were of no immediate threat; they were too small, and looked to be about ready to die on their own. The small house itself stood in small segments. Only parts of it were still standing, the majority looked as if it had been blown apart with a considerably-sized explosion. Which may or may not explain the strange burnmarks on the trees and ground... Dauntless thought absent-mindedly.

"Well I'll be damned..." Stalwart said grimly, and motioned for Dauntless and the others to come join him on the other side of the clearing. They did so, and what they saw made their hearts drop like stones; there, in a small crater-like depression in the forest floor, was the body of a pony. Or was it a pony? No... Dauntless recognized the telltale black stripes and off-white body of a zebra. His eyes played grimly over the corpse: most of her coat around her back and flanks had been singed off, revealing bare skin that was red, splotchy, and covered in heat blisters. Her face wore and expression of shock, her mouth hagning open and her eyes staring cold and lifeless at the forest in front of her. Around her neck and front legs were dozens of gold bands, many of which had been melted together and become just large, twisted masses of metal. But near her chest and stomach was the most disturbing sight. Her entire lower half from the navel down was missing, the flesh and bone that would and should have been connecting the two halves was also blackened and burned to a crisp. Some of her organs were spilling out from her abdomen, the red, raw flesh a gruesome and gory sight that made even Dauntless, a hardened and desensitized soldier, want to throw up. Feeling his stomach turn over inside of him, he had to look away and breath through his mouth to get rid of the rancid smell that the burning flesh produced. He couldn't begin to imagine what - or who - could have done this. The only thing that he could think of was possibly an attack by a rouge dragon, but he wasn't so sure, because if that was the case, it probably would have consumed this body. He consulted his expert. "Specter, what's your analysis on what could have happened here? This is like nothing I've ever encountered before."

The lean, brown-maned stallion just stood silent, still looking about at the forest around him and the body.


He shook his head. "The pattern of burn marks and rate of the depression of the fire is inconsistent with a possible forest fire, and fact that there is still a body left unconsumed rules out the possibility of a dragon attack." Once again, is was almost as if he read Dauntless's mind. "And there is no weapon or force on Equestria that I am aware of that could cause such an explosion as the one that was inflicted upon the dwelling of this individual. Or, I am assuming that is her dwelling." He shook his head. "I do not know."

Hearing these words come from the mouth of Specter was terrifying; he ALWAYS knew. He ALWAYS had a hypothesis. But now, he just didn't know. But, nopony knew everything, so with a slow nod Dauntless said "Alright. Men, stay alert. We don't know who or what did this, and they may still be nearby." It occurred to him that this incident had to have happened recently..... VERY recently, since there were still small fires going on the ground and the charred marks on the trees still glowed slightly red with embers. He also wondered why this zebra was here, this deep in the forest. He wondered how long she could have been out here, and how she had survived. Well, up until now... The forest was a tough environment, not only because of the beasts that lived here and could easily kill and eat a pony, but resources were also very limited. Then he remembered.


"Come again?" Sunspot said, confused by the sudden and un-germane statement.

"Zecora. She is... Well, WAS, the only pony under Celestia that was ever granted permission to live here in the forest. I remember reading about when looking through some files at the Palace. Celestia only allowed her to stay here because she claimed there were herbs and other ingredients that she used for spells and potions, and they could only be found here. Deep in the Everfree.

"Celestia almost didn't allow it, but being such a powerful and intelligent enchantress, Zecora said, and proved, she could take care of herself. For the most part, at least." He avoided looking at the corpse again. "Well, we had best get burial detail. Specter, document the victim and time of discovery, and label the incident as 'unknown death', and send it to Celestia. We'll have to get an investigation team out here eventually to-" his words were cut off by a loud grunt behind him. He turned around, and found himself facing Ruhig. ".....Did you say something?"

The brown pegasus shook his head.

Dauntless cocked a brow; Ruhig Tödlich wasn't one to speak out of line. Hell, he's hardly one to speak at all... He brushed it off, though. "Anyway, we had best be getting back to Canterlot. There's nothing more we can do here. We'll note the coordinates and schedule and investigation of the scene."

"Sir, what about the colt that we came all the out here lookin' for?" Stalwart reminded him.

Dauntless's stomach twisted even tighter; he had forgotten the original mission of searching for Eminence.

".......It's as Sunspot said: there's hardly a chance he's alive by now. Especially with whatever creature did this," he motioned to the zebra's mangled body once more, "still wandering around the forest. We... We failed. Not only Zecora, but Eminence. We failed them." Those words tasted like vinegar coming out of his mouth. We failed. The mere thought was detesting.

He took one last wary glance back at the scene, and with a lump still in his stomach, Dauntless and the rest of 22nd Royal Security Regiment took to the sky once more, on their way back to Canterlot, where they had a new mission: find out what did this, and stop it before it could harm any more citizens in Equestria.

Little did they know how hard this mission would be.

Two pairs of beady, red eyes watched them from the shrubbery as they departed.

Once the five creatures had flown away, the smaller of the two brutes snorted and re-holstered his plasma rifle, turning toward his commanding officer. "Why could we not just kill them? Now they are simply going to return to their capital and notify their leaders of our presence!"

"Patience, young one. It hardly matters; our presence on this planet will be obvious shortly as it is."

"Yes, but NOW they have time to prepare!" he huffed.

The massive, nine-foot-tall brute captain stood up and deactivated his active camouflage, all the while glaring down at the younger. "Bastehm, your tongue is going to get you into heaps of trouble if you do not keep it in check."

He huffed one more time before apologizing. "Forgive me, master."

They climbed out of the underbrush and walked toward the middle of the bare patch of burned turf, where the body of the white-and-black striped alien still lay in the crater caused by their plasma grenades. "So what do you suspect these creatures are? Forerunners?" Bastehm asked, looking down into the hole with disgust at the hideous foreigner.

"Doubtful.... They would possess more superior technology than they have displayed in the time we have been watching. We have been here for weeks, and have not seen so much as an electrical appliance, let alone any sign of Forerunner technology."

"Then this will be easier than we had originally anticipated." He grinned a sharp, toothy grin.

"Aye, but alas; we must be patient. We mustn't attack before the fleet is ready."

"Then what do you call that?" He asked, pointing toward the half of the body that remained in the crater.

Malmee shrugged. "Insurance. She would have tried to run and tell the rest of the population of our discovery."

"Then WHAT does it matter?" Bastehm hissed. "Those other five are on their way to do the same right now!"

"Watch your tone, boy," Malmee growled. "You almost gave away our position back there as it was. It if were not for our active camouflage, they would have surely spotted us when you did your impatient mumbling. It would be beneficial to you if you learned to keep your mouth shut." He paused. "Although, you do have a point. However, it does not matter; the rest of our ships will be dropping out of slipspace within the hour, and our assault on this world will begin."

As if on cue, the sky suddenly grew darker, and three-dozen Covenant battle cruisers, corvettes, and light destroyers entered normal space, just a couple hundred thousand feet above the surface of the planet. The two looked up at this sight, and smiled wickedly.

Malmee held his wrist up to his mouth and spoke into his COMM system. "This is scout unit 107-B, hailing Regret's Sentence: the rest of the fleet is inbound and ready to proceed with the operation. We will begin our attack on the nearest populace via our Phantom in approximately one cycle. Do you copy, over?"

"This is captain of Regret's Sentence, we read you. Any significant findings to to report from the ground?"

"Affirmative, captain. They possess limited technology and appear to be unarmed as a race." He said this on the verge of excitement and hysteria.

A booming laugh responded from the other end of the COMM link. "Then the overthrow of this planet and activation of the installation will be a most swift victory." With a click, the link was disconnected.

The two brutes strode with purpose back to their Phantom dropship a few hundred meters away in another clearing, where a platoon of a dozen grunts, ten jackals, and four more brutes awaited them. Upon return, they all shared a rousing battle howl, and lifted off, preparing for their surprise attack of the town that the natives of this planet called "Ponyville".

Stage one of the invasion was in progress.