Twilight Sparkle was feeling the oddest sense of déjà vu. The knocking at her door had awakened her before, she was sure of it. Her encounter with Rainbow on the street, and her confrontation with Lord Anderocus were similarly familiar. She shivered as the Aquila climbed, as she heard Deumos's story of the Emperor, and as she beheld the Lux Foedis for the first time… except it wasn't the first time. It was like she was acting out a story she'd heard in a dream; nothing felt quite real. Even the fight with the adept at the doorway didn't shock her, for she'd expected it.
She finally shook the creeping sense of unreality when they were ambushed in the main gallery. The squad sent ahead darted into the side passage, and Twilight wanted to scream at them to be careful, but they quickly peeked their heads back out, signaling that the passage was clear.
"Right!" Seria barked, "They're not defending the route through the generatorium! Everyone, move it, through there!"
As Twilight ducked into the doorway, she saw heavy servitors lumbering out of a side passage further down the gallery, and knew with sudden, iron certainty that that group had been diverted, somehow. She didn't know how she knew, but she knew.
A team of guards set up in the doorway with heavy weapons, preventing the heavy servitors from following, while the rest of the group forged on ahead.
This corridor was far narrower than the gallery, though not quite as much so as the flame-blackened passageways they'd traversed before. The humans could walk nearly four abreast if they so chose, and Rainbow wasn't quite as tense here, where she could spread her wings without her pinions hitting the wall.
They threaded through hallways for quite a while, following Seria's directions, before the guard commander stopped the whole group.
"The generatorium is just ahead," Seria explained. "I'm sending a pair of troopers to recon, just to make sure we aren't walking into an ambush."
They waited in tense silence while the two troopers moved ahead. The scouts were gone for only a short time before returning, their hands shaking where they gripped their weapons.
"Commander… there's something unholy in there." The lead trooper reported, unsteadily.
"Unholy? What do you mean 'unholy,' soldier?" Seria asked sharply.
"I mean warp-touched, Commander. Evil." The trooper shuddered.
Twilight and Rainbow shared a worried glance. "Warp-touched?" Twilight asked, "Do you mean daemons?"
The guard nodded, spastically, whispering, "Unholy," again under his breath.
"Lord-Captain, Commander, it might be best for us to lead this time." Twilight said, mentally preparing herself for the horrors she was likely to face.
"What? If there is something warp-touched in there, you'll need every bit of firepower available to deal with it!" Anderocus exclaimed.
Twilight shook her head. "Your weapons and armor and machines are something we aren't equipped to deal with, Lord-Captain but daemons we can handle." Twilight glanced at Rainbow for support, and received a firm nod. "We, Rainbow and I and my friends, have a special power within us. If a daemon, a thing of Chaos, is in there, we will destroy it. We have to destroy it."
A wave of muttering ran through the guards, and Twilight caught the words, "Gray Knights!" repeated more than once in awestruck tones, whatever it meant. The unicorn ignored it, focusing instead on Anderocus's face, trying to mentally compel him to agree.
Finally, he gave a reluctant nod. "Very well, Lady Twilight. Go on ahead, and we will follow, and support you should you need it."
Twilight smiled at the dark-maned human. "Thank you, Lord Anderocus. We won't let you down."
Twilight and Rainbow led the way into the huge, vaulted space of the generatorium, humming with the constant noise of the huge plasma reactors. Twilight felt a wave of wrongness as she entered the door, and a glance at her friend showed the pegasus had noticed it, too. There were vile symbols painted on many of the reactors in what looked like blood, but Twilight somehow instinctively knew that the sigils were a secondary threat. If they could find and destroy the sigils' maker before they could be triggered, they would fall inert.
They hunted through the massive, thrumming space, Rainbow staying on the ground to keep near her friend. Near the center of the room, they finally found their prey.
The short, slender figure stood before one of the largest generators, chanting low, blasphemous words. It was surrounded by a dozen tech-priests, their bodies twisted into horrifically abstract sculptures of flesh and metal. Rainbow hopped up in the air, dropping to the ground hard with all four hooves, producing a sharp clang as she hit the deck.
The figure turned, revealing the face of the seneschal, Tangro. "What?" Tangro barked, his voice oddly distorted. "You aren't here. You can't be here! I looked, and you didn't arrive!"
Twilight snarled at the light-maned human, suddenly realizing just why she and her friends had been so uneasy around him. "We are here, monster. And whatever you're doing, we're not going to let you finish."
Tangro goggled at the two ponies. "You are here. How is this possible?" The seneschal suddenly cackled wildly, flinging his head back and stretching his arms upward. "Oh, my lord, my lord, what a transcendent betrayal you have visited upon me! Thank you! Thank you for this delicious gift!" He lowered his head, glaring at the two ponies. "You don't even know what I am, do you?"
"I do." Rainbow Dash stepped forward, her voice unusually somber, sounding almost like somepony else's. "I know what you are. You are betrayal personified, a lie given shape." She bared her teeth, flaring her wings. "I wish that Applejack was here too, to see you fall. You are the opposite of everything we stand for."
Tangro cackled again, his body beginning to shift, like Hammer's had, only far more smoothly. "Am I now? We'll see. We'll see how loyalty and friendship endure, when faced with a choice between their duty and their friends. Only two of you are here, against me who once faced all six. Two of them fell that day, the two that stand here now, and you are destined to fall again! So speaks Azgad-Denoroth, Lord of Change!" Tangro's body suddenly and explosively mutated, growing to enormous height and sprouting shimmering, multi-colored feathers in a grotesque parody of Rainbow Dash's coloration. Its head elongated into a huge beak, and a staff appeared out of nowhere that it clutched in one hand. Standing before them was a vast, blue-scaled hybrid between a human and a vulture, cackling at them in triumph.
"Oh, that is it," Rainbow exclaimed, her voice returning to normal. "You so don't get to use my colors like that, punk!" She took off, streaking toward the compartment's ceiling. The daemon screeched, hurling a volley of multicolored flame at her that she nimbly dodged.
Twilight's horn glowed as she prepared her own offensive. She flung darting thrusts of telekinetic force at the towering figure. It tossed out a web of glimmering, ever-changing magic, absorbing her attack with little spits of argent fire that was quickly cut off from the rest of the spell net.
"How amateurish, Element of Friendship." The monster sneered. "Try mine." It spun its web toward her, the fire growing hideous leering faces as it flew. Twilight slammed together a spherical shield, holding it tight while the vile prismatic flame writhed around it, silver sparks spitting everywhere. Twilight winced, feeling the uncomfortable proximity of the daemon's tainted magic, but her shield held.
The daemon cackled again. Twilight was getting heartily sick of that sound. "Not bad! But now, your choice! To strike the foe, or ward those that aided you! Make that choice, Bearer!" It flung a taloned hand out, making a beckoning motion, and dozens of swirling, ever-mutating horrors rose out of the floor and turned to where Anderocus, Seria, and their guards crouched, watching the battle.
Twilight saw Rainbow diving toward the towering daemon, but she changed her course as the legion of smaller ones emerged. She traced a curving path, striking those that were closest to the humans and evaporating them with spine-shivering screeches and spitting showers of silver sparks.
Why do I occasionally think in alliteration? Twilight wondered, but shook the thought aside. The faint rainbow-striped wake the pegasus left behind had just given her an idea. She shoved a heavy wave of force at the daemon lord, forcing it to concentrate on defending itself for a moment, and shouted, "Rainbow Dash! Rainbow!"
"What? Kinda busy here, Twilight!" The pegasus obliterated another group of capering daemons, but despite her efforts, their numbers were growing.
"I'll defend the humans! Climb up to the very top of the chamber!"
"What? Why?" Rainbow darted closer.
"Once you're up there, dive at Tangro, and do a Sonic Rainboom right over his head!"
Rainbow stared at her, wide-eyed. "Twilight, are you crazy? Do a Sonic Rainboom inside? I'll wreck everything in here!"
"Just do it, Rainbow! We need something he hasn't seen before, and if he's seen a Bearer of an Element do a Sonic Rainboom right over his head, I'll eat my horn!"
Rainbow gave her a dubious look, but shot off into the upper reaches of the chamber anyway. Twilight focused her magic, hoping that the master daemon was still off-balance from her earlier attack, and concentrated on flinging small spheres of force at the daemons nearest the human position, disintegrating them just as Rainbow had been doing.
She was quickly overwhelmed. There were so many, and more appeared more quickly than she could destroy them. Worse, she could feel energy gathering, and realized that the daemon master had recovered and was preparing to strike her down.
It cackled. "And thus your choice is made, Element, as I knew from the beginning that it would be. Fare…"
There was no warning, only a flicker of light at the edge of Twilight's vision. Rainbow Dash came hurtling down from the vaulted ceiling, trailing an increasingly-brilliant wake of rainbow-striped light. She hit her target speed directly over the hideous bird-thing's head, a massive prismatic shockwave blasting out like a halo above it.
The huge reactors groaned as the shockwave struck them, but they fared far better than the daemons that flooded the room. The army of lesser beasts vanished in an instant, ripped away by silver light, and the huge birdlike figure let out a final, horrific shriek as the rainbow ring pushed every part of it in a different direction, tearing it apart in a massive silver blast that shimmered in the center of the Sonic Rainboom.
The shockwave even picked Twilight up, tossing her across the room. She had a brief instant of panic, fearing that she was going to strike one of the reactors or one of the frighteningly-spiky gargoyles that adorned seemingly everything in this ship, but her fears vanished when she struck something yielding, something that grabbed at her and held her as she skidded to a stop.
She found herself lifted and gently set on her feet by the two guards who'd caught her, cushioning her flight with their own bodies. They glanced at each other, and she heard the murmur of "Gray Knight!" again.
Rainbow Dash swooped down and landed next to her, panting heavily. "Man, it was hard to dodge all those reactor things at that speed. Wish the Wonderbolts coulda seen me! Did I get him?"
Twilight nodded, "You got him, Rainbow. Good work!"
Anderocus stepped up to the two ponies. "I… I don't think I've ever heard of anyone defeating a daemon like that before. I'm in your debt… everyone on this ship is in your debt." His face firmed. "Let's go get your friend."
Smugness. "I told You, Sister. A tiny change, just a nudge, and it all turned out for the better. For everyone."
Surprise. "So it did. I confess, Sister, that I am shocked that You managed it so adroitly."
Mild self-satisfaction. "I might be rusty, but I can still get the job done. Who's the best little sister, eh?"
Amusement. "If there is a better sister than Mine, I have yet to see it. I am so glad to have You back again, Sister. I doubt I would have managed half so well on My own."
Placation. "You would have done fine, I'm sure. Back to work for Us, though. We'll need to leave a door for Our guests to leave by."
Love. "Indeed, Sister. Indeed."
Confessor Deumos stood at the edge of the small xenos town, waiting impatiently. The aftermath of the small civil war aboard the Lux Foedis had left him feeling oddly incomplete; he'd steeled his soul and his body in preparation for a battle against the treacherous Magos, only to find that both he and the servants of the Machine had been deceived, foully deceived by the vilest of foes.
It had been worse, in a way, that he had felt so conflicted about the battle in the first place. Yes, striking against one who had disobeyed his superior's command was a righteous cause... but the catalyst had been a single alien. Deumos had led soldiers into battle, slain servants of the Machine and seen his own followers fall... all for the sake of a single xenos life. The waste of it was sickening. Almost a hundred and fifty brave Guardsmen fallen, a score of tech-priests dead, and it had all been for nothing. They had all been played like game pieces by a servant of the Ruinous Powers that Deumos hadn't even suspected. It was fortunate that Anderocus had been able to convince Tersiaard's senior subordinates that they'd been manipulated, or more loyal servants of the Emperor might have fallen.
Deumos ground his teeth, remembering. The fighting had halted abruptly, Magos Tersiaard's orders calling for his acolytes to stand down coming over the suddenly-restored vox net only moments before Lord Anderocus's command for his own followers to do the same. Confused, Deumos had complied, even executing two men who had been so impious as to refuse him. That they'd fallen to recover a single winged xeno, when even now, standing next to the Aquila near the xenos town known as Ponyville, the Confessor could see over a dozen, had been irrelevant. A command had been issued and disobeyed, and examples had to be made. Obedience was the underpinning of the Imperium.
Deumos had been sick with rage when Lord Anderocus had told him about Tangro's corruption in the aftermath, just before the Rogue Trader escorted the two aliens and their recovered compatriot back down to the surface. The Confessor's self-confidence had been badly shaken by the news; a daemon had possessed a man he'd known for years, and Deumos hadn't even noticed? He'd assigned himself harsh penance, and even now, over a month later, his self-inflicted scars still pained him.
Even more galling than his own failures had been the fact that the daemon had been purged by two of the aliens, without any kind of help from the Emperor's faithful. Indeed, according to the soldiers who'd come to him for confession, the xenos had gone out of their way to safeguard the lives and souls of the guardsmen who'd accompanied them, one of them even leaving herself open for what might have been a devastating attack from the corrupted Tangro. And the one with the rainbow-striped hair had been so damnably proud of it! It was unseemly in a creature that many of the soldiers in Deumos's flock had come to regard as being akin to a Grey Knight, one of the semi-legendary daemon-hunting paladins of the Inquisition.
Still, Deumos had been grudgingly impressed by the creature's bravery. As a man who'd seen battle repeatedly, both with the Arbites and with the Guard, the Confessor admitted that the distraction she had provided when the massive serpent attacked had taken tremendous fortitude, and had pushed him to seeing her as a fellow warrior, rather than just another xeno. That she and her leader had faced down a mighty daemon lord, with no hesitation and no fear that the soldiers had seen had reinforced Deumos's opinion in that regard, even if their behavior was often... frivolous.
And, oh, it was so often frivolous, and Deumos was a man who despised frivolity. The aliens' cheerful, chirpy behavior and penchant for celebrations and parties grated on his nerves, and he considered it utterly inappropriate in beings who faced down daemons. Such an entity should be grim and focused, its purpose and resolve obvious to all who beheld it, not... not cheerfully grinning and boasting about winning athletic competitions, for the Emperor's sake!
The aliens clearly cared little for Deumos's opinions, however, so he was left to steam while they conducted their business with Anderocus and Tersiaard, save for the times when the purple one felt like asking him more questions about the Emperor. He had answered, of course, as a stalwart foe of Chaos was deserving of his respect no matter its behavior, (in all honesty, he'd considered the behavior of the only Inquisitor he'd ever met to be considerably more reprehensible than these creatures had been) but she'd left him be after a few days, and he was glad for it.
He'd continued to attend, though he had little to do besides observe. The xenos had finally agreed to provide the materials the Lux Foedis needed, in exchange for the mining machines the Lux had been carrying for Emperor only knew how long, the training to operate said machines, and one of the Lux's shuttles, though Deumos had no idea what they intended to do with the vehicle. (The offer of servitors to help run the mining machines had been turned down with almost indecent haste.) There'd been additional trades on the side, of course, there always were. The Lux would be leaving with several cargo holds full of rare gems that would fetch a fortune back in Imperial space, and all it had cost them had been a few near-useless trinkets. Multi-fuel generators, old cogitators, data-slates, vox units, that kind of thing. Nothing actually valuable. Anderocus had been privately cackling with glee over the profits they'd be making.
Oh, well, he didn't have to put up with it any more. The rest of the Lux Foedis's senior officers were in town, attending the "farewell party" the xenos had insisted on holding. Another party. At least it would be the last one he'd have to worry about. Deumos himself had ducked out as soon as he possibly could, and made his way to the landing field so he wouldn't have to endure any more frivolity. Now he just had to wait for the rest of his people to pry themselves free. However long that might take.
Deumos sighed, breaking his stolid façade for a moment to rub his forehead in irritation. Based on past experience, he could be standing here for hours.
"Feeling all right?" A soft voice spoke behind him, causing the confessor to start slightly. He hadn't even had a hint that anyone else was around, and cursed himself for his lack of vigilance.
Deumos managed to keep himself from spinning about in shock through an iron effort of will. Instead, he turned slowly, maintaining his dignity. Standing behind him was one of the aliens, but it was unlike any of the others he'd seen. For starters, it was huge, nearly tall enough to look him in the eye. Its dark-colored hair and tail seemed to ripple in an ethereal breeze that the priest couldn't feel, and it sported both a horn and a pair of wings, while the other xenos he'd seen possessed one or the other. (Or neither) This individual, with the odd hair and the dark blue coat, was the first he'd seen with both, and it made him cautious.
"Merely impatient to be on my way," the priest replied, curtly.
The large alien smiled gently. "I can understand that. You have been stranded here for almost three months, and I imagine you are eager to return to your home."
Deumos shrugged. "This is far from the longest time I've spent outside the Imperium's borders. Nonetheless, it will be good to return to the realms of Mankind once more."
"I imagine." The creature fell silent.
Deumos fidgeted uneasily, made uncomfortable by the close presence of this alien. "If you seek to speak to my master, I believe you will find him in the center of the... party in the town square." The priest hoped this creature wasn't planning on pestering him as much as the rainbow-haired one had done to Commander Seria. The commander must be possessed of astounding patience to deal with the creature daily, though she'd confessed to Deumos that she actually found it likeable. The confessor had been baffled by the revelation. He may have come to respect the xenos, but liking them was a good bit further than he was prepared to go.
The xeno shook her head. "No, Confessor, I am not here to speak to your master." She regarded him steadily. "I am here to speak to you. To thank you, actually."
Deumos wrinkled his brow. "To thank me? Whatever for?" Deumos thought back over the last three months, but he couldn't think of a single thing that he'd done for the xenos that one or more of the rest of the Lux's crew hadn't.
"For giving me answers." The creature stared off into the distance for a moment, teal eyes pensive. It had an expression of deep sadness writ upon its features. "They were not answers I particularly enjoyed receiving, but they were answers, and I owe you my thanks for that."
Confessor Deumos was by now thoroughly baffled. He'd never spoken to this creature before, he was certain of that. Its size and distinctive features would definitely have registered. "Your pardon, but I honestly have no idea what you're talking about. Have we met?"
The xeno shook herself, reorienting to the present. She smiled at Deumos again. "Of course, forgive me. We have not spoken directly, but a mutual acquaintance asked you questions on my behalf. My name is Luna, and you have my gratitude for bringing news of the fate of my old friend."
"A pleasure," Deumos said reflexively, still utterly lost as to the creature's meaning. "Though I must confess my confusion. What friend are you speaking of?"
"The one whose story you related to my sister's protégé, Twilight Sparkle."
Deumos blinked. That was the name of the purple xeno, one of the two who'd accompanied him back to the Lux. But the only story he could remember telling her was... "You couldn't possibly be referring to the Emperor, could you?"
Luna laughed softly. "That was not his true name, of course. He had many, through the years, but I believe he felt that it would be better for his people to simply refer to him by title. But yes, he is the one to whom I refer. He was my friend, long ago, and I feared for him after I stopped hearing from him." The alien looked down, the sadness in her face intensifying. "It seems I was right to fear."
Deumos was outraged for a moment. This creature was claiming familiarity with the Holy God-Emperor of Man? He almost denounced her zealously, but he suddenly recalled Setaron's collapse, at dawn of the first day they were on this world. "You..." his mouth was suddenly dry. "Are you the being that Malachai sensed, that first dawn?"
The xeno shook her head. "No, I know what time you refer to, and it was not I that your telepath sensed, but my sister, Celestia." Luna paused, clearly remembering something. "I am glad you mentioned that, actually. Celestia wished me to convey her apologies to the poor man; she had no intent to harm him."
Deumos felt a hollow pit forming in his stomach. This... this was blasphemy. For an alien to claim a relationship with the Emperor... it was absurd. Yet, at the same time, these aliens had demonstrated even to his satisfaction that they weren't enemies, and Malachai had indicated that a being of power comparable to the Emperor could be found here. And there were two of them?
"You... you claim to have known the Emperor?" Deumos finally said, his voice strangled.
Luna nodded calmly, her mane swirling about her head. "I did. We never met face-to-face, but we communicated mind-to-mind for millennia. He was older than Celestia or I, and often offered advice. Good advice, generally. Celestia never really trusted him, but I came to regard him as a dear friend. To hear what happened to him... it strikes me to the heart, Confessor. I cannot even begin to express my sorrow. I truly, truly wish he had told us about his son's rebellion; I would have come to his aid in a heartbeat. I would have found a way to help." A tear slid down the alien's dark-furred face.
Deumos had no idea what to say. The teachings of the Imperial faith held that aliens were not to be trusted, that they intended no good for Humanity. Yet this being was claiming to have considered the Master of Mankind a friend, lamenting His fall, and wishing she could have aided Him in His darkest hour. He wanted to dismiss this as a lie, but what possible purpose could such a lie serve? These beings were demonstrated foes of Chaos, so they couldn't be trying to corrupt him. This creature, Luna, had made no attempt to undermine his faith in the Emperor or the Imperium; she simply seemed to be sharing a moment of honest sorrow.
Finally, just to see how she would respond, Deumos answered. "I wish you had been able to aid Him, too. Perhaps things would have turned out differently."
The winged, horned alien smiled kindly at the Confessor, tears still brimming in her eyes. "Perhaps. I like to think I could have made a difference. You are most kind to say so. In any case, I am glad my people could aid yours, even if I was unable to aid my old friend." She looked toward the town, as the sounds of the party changed subtly. "But it seems the party is entering its final stages, and it will soon be time for your people to depart. Thank you again for the news you have brought. Rest assured, Celestia and I will see you safely from this system."
Surprising himself, Deumos bowed to the tall creature. "Perhaps, if fate is kind, we will meet again, then."
Luna gave an enigmatic smile. "Perhaps we shall, Confessor. Perhaps we shall."