The Dawn of Friendship
"Sorrow is temporary. Love is forever."
-Colonel-Commissar Abe'Ram Goat
To say that the ride to the orbital spire was a crowded one was about as much of an understatement as stating Chaosmistress Luna is a bit grumpy in the morning. A Pegasus-class lander was designed to shuttle at most four or five passengers plus pilot, not the dozen ponies that I had crammed into it. Sergeant Chance-a-lot and his joytroopers were packed into the cargo bay, using whatever flat surfaces they could find as seating arrangements; meanwhile, my remaining compatriots found space wherever they could, one even going so far as to use the lavatory as a seat for a bulk of the ride. As Rarity needed space to perform the basic maintenance rituals on the Relic of Harmony, I let her sit up front with Spike while I got cozy with Dash on the sleeping cot.
"So...how long have you been a space mareine?" I asked, using small talk to try and dispel my evident discomfort from sharing a cot barely large enough for one. We both half-sat on each end of the bed, resting our hindquarters on our respective half of the cot while using our forelegs to keep ourselves level.
"About...thirty years or so," she answered with an indifferent shrug. I got the impression that she didn't keep track of such statistics as the space mareines had their own unique command structure that cared little for years and centuries.(1) For mareines, time was measured in deeds, which was part of the reason why she was always so preferential to spectacular but ludicrous plans.
"I...see," I muttered in response. If Dash had noticed the disappointed tone in my voice, she didn't pay it, or me, any heed. Things between the mareine and I fell silent for the remainder of the ride despite further efforts to make conversation. Dash had preoccupied herself by disassembling and reassembling the jokester pistol she had borrowed from Applejack and I even killed some time by watching the mareine as she ran through the motions with the precision that came from years of repetition. My thoughts drifted to the marieine herself and I wondered how a pony like Dash could have earned her way into the ranks of the space mareines. From what I had seen, she was reckless and egotistical, seemingly more concerned with her own glory than anything else. She had her moments of selflessness but even those might have had ulterior motives. As I watched Dash, I could see a sort of determination and focus in her eyes that I hadn't noticed before and upon her lips, there was the subtle curl of a smile. While I spent the ride suppressing the constant gurgles of fear and apprehension, Dash seemed to be looking forward to our mission. Dare I even say, she was excited about the prospect. Nothing else seemed to matter to her. Perhaps it was this singular dedication and focus that made space mareines the legends that they were and it was likely also what made them such a mystery to everypony else. Hers was a mind as alien to me as the Eldeer. In the end, since a pony could only watch someone disassemble a weapon so many times before boredom set it, I decided to head back to the cockpit to check on our status.
"Careful!" squeaked the priestess as I stepped off the cot and almost put a hoof down on her tail in the process. Pinkie's lack of chatter made me almost forget that she had been laying on the floor under the cot the entire time. Within seconds of vacating the cot, the priestess moved to claim my space and began chatting away with Dash. Technically, Pinkie did all the talking. I doubt Dash was even listening.
On the way to the cockpit, I stopped off to check on Applejack and Fluttershy, the former making use of the lavatory as a seat while the latter was sitting half-and-half in the hallway and the bathroom. "You two doing okay?" I asked.
"Ain't exactly a stretch limo but Ah've had worse," Applejack answered in her usual cheerful and confident tone. She had been passing the time by looking over a map of the spire on her personal dataslate,(2) committing every room's layout to memory. Like Rainbow Dash she preparing for the coming fight and was enthused by the prospect, though not to the same extent. Her professionalism brought a small bout of comfort to me as I would be looking to her and Dash for tactical advice.
"And you private?" I said as I redirected my gaze to the private sitting before me. Unlike Dash and Applejack, Fluttershy was idling quietly on the floor, her eyes fixated on a particular speck of rust on the floor plating.
"I...I'm fine," she insisted. Given by the way she flinched every time that the ship was rocked by a bout of turbulence, I wasn't convinced of this.
"It's okay to admit if you're scared, Fluttershy. If you want to stay in the ship, I won't think any less of you," I said in hopes of reassuring her. Even if I would be a pony short, one bad soldier could drag the rest of the team down. If she got into trouble, I suspected that Applejack would brave whatever risks to rescue her, which would only further detract from our mission. And while technically true that I would not think less of her for staying, that was only because my opinion of her as a soldier was about as low as it could get. Were she any less effective as a trooper, I would have had to reclassify her as an enemy combatant.
Thankfully, though, the private shook her head in defiance. "No, Inquisitor. I promise I won't let you down. I know that so long as we stick together, everything will be okay." That was enough to keep my worries at bay so I bid the pair farewell and resumed my trek to the front of the ship.
"Spike, what's our ETA?" I asked as I opened the cockpit door. Between Spike and Rarity, there wasn't a lot of room for me to stand so remained in the open doorway. My question was ultimately pointless, though, as I could see our destination straight ahead. When Applejack said the orbital spire was huge, she wasn't exaggerating. It was one of the single-largest pony-made structures I had ever seen outside of a shipyard. It seemed almost...surreal in its enormity, as if something that massive shouldn't be able to exist. Even though we were probably kilometers away, the spire occupied almost the entire window and stretched higher than my eyes could even see. Without anything nearby to give me any kind of scale to compare, I could not for the life of me guess the dimensions.(3) How something so grandiose could exist without collapsing under its own weight reflected the engineering brilliance of the Adeptus Mechanicolt.
"We're still almost half an hour out," Spike answered. "According to Rarity, a small gap exists in its radar field in airspace surrounding the spire. If we approach at a low altitude, it shouldn't raise any alarms. Once we're under the radar field, I can ascend the spire and dock at the highest port we can." That was very clever thinking on their part and I complimented them for their ingenuity and initiative. It was a relief to see that I didn't need to supervise every little detail of our flight, which meant I could focus my thoughts on our strategy once inside. An uncomfortable thought, however, did cross my mind.
"Just...how close to the tower do we need to get?" I asked warily. A part of me wanted to remain in blissful ignorance but the door had already been opened.
"About...twenty-five meters," he sheepishly replied. Given that our ship was about eighteen meters across, that did not leave a lot room for error. All it took was one careless twitch of the control stick and we could clip the spire or wander into the radar field, dashing any chance of catching the enemy off-guard.
"Well, I guess it's unnecessary to remind you to be careful," I said as I gazed out the cockpit once more. "And where exactly will we be docking?"
This time, Rarity had the answer and even though she was busy at work she seemed perfectly capable of handling both my inquiries and the Relic sitting on the dashboard. "There is an access port roughly four kilometers up. Typically it's used by the maintenance staff to make repairs on several of the climate monitors but I should be able to override the control panel in order to grant us access. It'll put us roughly two kilometers below the main command center, where I am certain is where our Chaosmistress will be attempting her ritual."
"Ninety-five percent certainty," she said without a moment of hesitation. "Unless she wants to perform the ritual in a utility closet or on the rooftop, the command center is the highest room in the spire. Unfortunately, access to the command center is limited to a single lift located on the far side of the tower from our access point. We'll need to make our way through three cargo bays, which I don't need to tell you will likely be heavily defended." Rarity seemed remarkably calm despite the unsettling prospect of fighting our way through Celestia knows how many Chaos ponies in a tactically unkempt fashion. Perhaps because she knew that she would be standing well behind the rest of us, giving her ample space to turn and run should things go sour. Nonetheless, having this knowledge gave us some chance to better prepare ourselves. Since I still had a long wait ahead of me, I decided to head into the cargo bay and share the information with the sergeant and his colts.
"Equipment check! Sound off!" I shouted as to ensure every pony in the ship could hear me. After a lengthy, spiraling ascent up the spire, Spike had finally leveled the ship off at our entry point. The biggest obstacle we had before us, however, was that the maintenance hatch that Rarity mentioned was not a true docking port. That meant the best we could do was have Spike hold the ship steady as close to the hatch as he could and jump over once Rarity got the hatch open. This meant a brief exposure to the frigid air of the stratosphere. As such, we all had our weapons secured to our bodies and wore special breathing apparatus since once I opened the boarding ramp, all the available oxygen in the ship would be sucked out by the pressure differential.
One by one the ponies checked their equipment one last time and sounded off an affirmation of their readiness. With everything secured, I hit the button and unsealed the boarding ramp. The seal broke with a loud hiss which steadily grew into a deafening roar as the high winds whipped across the open bay door. The maintenance hatch in question was a small indentation in the otherwise smooth exterior wall of the spire with only a small ledge in front, to which the climate monitors were mounted. Rarity slowly edged herself down the boarding ramp, her mechadendrite tail clamped to ship as a lifeline. Despite Spike's superb piloting skills, the high winds caused the ship to gently sway back and forth. "Oh...oh my! This absolutely dreadful..." Rarity remarked as she crept closer to the edge of the boarding ramp.
"Don't tell me you're scared of heights," I shouted back as I was likely the only one who could hear her over the roaring of the wind.
"Heights, no. The prospect of falling however," she answered but trailed off at the end. Reaching the end of her safety line, Rarity stretched one of her free mechadendrites across the gap and began interacting with a small control panel next to the hatch. After a few seconds, the hatch slide open and we proceeded to make the jump across. Though a slow process, each pony made it across without difficulty, save for Fluttershy who unsurprisingly became petrified when her turn came up. A part of me wanted to just leave her behind but Applejack's earlier reassurances along with the freeza gun(4) strapped to her flank convinced me otherwise. Since by that point she and I were the only ponies left in the ship, I simply used my magic, grabbed the pegasus, and shoved her across the gap before she could realize what was happening.
Once everypony was across, we shut the hatch behind us. I had instructed Spike to stay close by for as long as he could but there was only so much fuel left in the ship so we'd have a few minutes at best to change our minds and leave. Most of the other ponies had already moved ahead without me with only Applejack lingering behind to lead me through the narrow tunnels of the maintenance passages. Eventually, the passage dumped us into one of the cargo bays that Rarity had mentioned. The open expanse was filled with shipping containers of varying sizes stacked wherever there was room. But while there were plenty of crates and small nooks for Chaos ponies to take cover behind, we saw absolutely no sign of the enemy.
"This don't make no sense...why aren't there any ponies here? You sure Luna is here?" the sergeant remarked as he led his squad forward. We traveled as a pack with one pony ahead as point, one as rear guard, and the remainder of the joytroopers spread in a wide arc ahead of me
"Positive...I can feel her presence," I explained in a hushed tone as we cautiously proceeded through the cargo bay. I couldn't tell if she was close and it wasn't quite the same sensation as detecting a pony's life force but I could feel the subtle changes in the warp energies caused by her presence, like watching ripples in a lake. Even in her weakened state, reality seemed to shudder at her presence. Perhaps she was not as vulnerable as I had hoped. I prayed to Celestia I wasn't about to lead these ponies to their doom.
"If you can feel her presence...won't that mean she can feel yours too?" the sergeant replied.
"Possibly. But she'll be too focused on the ritual to notice somebody as insignificant as me," I reassured him. As I kept the Relic in a box strapped to my back, my magical presence would be so small in comparison to hers that I should be no more noticeable than a raindrop to a lake.
The tension was thick as we pressed forward with still no sign of any Chaos ponies or any of the spire's workers either. Fluttershy had it the worst - she crept across the floor like a terrified rabbit, her eyes darting across to every shadow and flickering light. The tension was even beginning to get to me too as I couldn't shake the unsettling feeling as though we were being watched from the shadows. Every so often I would focus inward and listen to the pulses of the life forces around me but the only presence I could ever sense were our own. I was beginning to wonder if perhaps I had been mistaken. We crossed the three cargo bays without so much as a sign of anything being out of the ordinary.
"This ain't right," Applejack grumbled when we finally caught sight of the elevator lift in the distance. "Luna ain't dumb enough to leave herself so open like this."(5)
"Well you're the military pony, what do you suggest?" I asked. Though many possessed one, military backgrounds were not an essential part of becoming an Inquisitor and I was a prime example of this. Though I studied the various arts of negotiation and conflict resolution, most of my knowledge was still based on theory rather than real-world experience. Having a ponies like Applejack and Chance-a-lot provided a useful pool of experience that I could draw from when I had no clue what to do next.
"If this is a trap, we're already neck-deep in it so the best strategy is just to keep our eyes open and wait for the inevitable," Applejack answered in a manner that did little to instill any sense of reassurance. Good to know our strategy for dealing with an ambush was just to grin and take it a like a pony.
As we drew closer to the elevator shaft, the inevitability we had been waiting for finally occurred. A large steel door leading to the elevator's exit suddenly fell shut, sealing us in the cargo bay. It didn't take a military genius to know what was coming next and the shout of 'Chaos to the rear' came as no surprise. Like a well-oiled machine, the joytroopers fell into a defensive position as Chaos ponies began to flood into the cargo bay. Dark sorcery must have been at work to keep all of them hidden from my senses but that should not have surprised me considering Luna's abilities. We took what cover we could behind the various crates and began returning fire as our positioned was peppered with cupcakes, muffins, and lazegun fire.
"Rarity, get this door open!" I shouted to the tech-pony. I peaked over the crate I was using for cover and noticed a group of Chaos ponies taking up firing positions on one overhanging catwalk. Acting quickly, I focused my magic on the catwalk's suspension cables, snapping several of them and causing the platform to collapse, throwing the enemy into further disarray. This barely stemmed the tide, unfortunately, as more ponies moved to fill the gaps in their lines. Soon they were outnumbering us more than ten to one and I was barely able to keep my head up long enough to even fire a few fleeting shots. "Rarity! I said get the door!"
"I am trying!" she shouted back. "But it is not easy to concentrate with so much shooting going on!" She was working on a control panel next to the sealed door but this left her in a relatively exposed position and she was continually forced to duck behind a nearby crate to avoid catching a few cupcakes in the back. "Dash, please be a dear and get these ponies off my back!"
"Oh fine, geez..." she replied in a mock complaint. Somehow I got the impression that she was simply waiting for somepony to ask for her intervention if only to make her impact all the more pronounced. "For the Empress!" the pegasus shouted as she launched into the air, arcing high over the Chaos pony lines and raining jokester rounds upon their heads. She began flying in circles above them, weaving up and down as she emptied magazine after magazine into their numbers. Occasionally, Dash would swoop down low and charge straight through a crowd of ponies and then falling back into her cycle of high-speed laps around the cargo bay. She became almost a rainbow-coloured blur, the cupcakes fired in response seemingly rolling off her body as she moved effortlessly through the air. The amount of focus needed to fly, manoeuvre, and shoot with such precision was likely beyond the limits of any normal pony. For a brief moment, I even caught a glimpse of that same steadfast, focused gaze and delighted smirk that I saw back on the ship. This was Rainbow Dash in her natural environment.
Now while I would have enjoyed watching Rainbow Dash fly rings around the Chaos ponies, I wasn't willing to take the risk that one of them got a lucky shot off and knocked out our only space mareine. The rest of us took the momentary lapse in focus to push back hard against the enemy. I briefly casted a sideways glance over to Fluttershy, only to find her curled into the fetal position next to Applejack. So much for surprising us. Thankfully things were going so well in our favour that her absence was hardly noticed.
Alas, their numbers seemed endless and it wasn't long before Rainbow Dash flew back behind cover with a sheepish grin on her face. "I uhh...don't suppose any of your have some extra magazines I could borrow?" she asked rhetorically before holstering her empty pistol. Without Dash causing havoc amongst their firing lines, the Chaos ponies were able to reorganize into cohesive unit. Our only saving grace at that point was that most Chaos ponies had little education in the basic principles of fire control.(6) They probably would have been more accurate if they were throwing the muffins at us but even with their wild accuracy, their numbers made a compelling argument to keep one's head down.
"Please tell me you've fixed our door problem," I called out.
"I've just about got it," Rarity replied. A few seconds later, her jubilant cheers alerted us of our newly-opened exit. We beat a hasty retreat through the door, which Rarity was thankfully able to close again once we were all safely inside. "I've locked down as much of the controls as possible but it's only a matter of time before they figure out how to work a manual override." Rarity couldn't give us an exact time estimate, stating that it could be mere minutes if there was a pony amongst the enemy that knew even a bit about mechanics.
"Ah reckon we could hold up in here for a nice little while," Sergeant Chance-a-lot spoke up, his eyes analyzing the layout of the room we were in. It was a relatively narrow hallways that widened into a small chamber around the elevator.
"I don't know if splitting up our already outnumbered force is a good idea," I said as I hurried to the elevator. We had a large enough force behind us and Celestia knows how much still ahead. The fact that there were only Chaos ponies thus far was equally worrying as it meant that the more battle-hardened Chaos mareines were likely being kept up ahead in reserve, waiting for us to arrive exhausted from the previous fights.
"Way I see it Inquisitor," the sergeant explained as he casually rolled the cigar across his lips, "the only thing that matters here is getting Luna. And you ponies ain't gonna get that done with a bunch of crazies trying to mess with you. And honestly, Luna wouldn't break a sweat dealing with me and my colts. It's best we stay here where we can do some good. We can keep them bottled up in this hallway and out of yer hair long enough to get the job done." There wasn't time for a lengthy debate or to weigh the pros and cons of the sergeant's suggestion. He presented a valid argument and when both Dash and Applejack agreed with his assessment, I had a unanimous agreement amongst my military advisers. I conceded to the sergeant's plan and we separated into our new grounps; the sergeant and his joytroopers formed a defensive line guarding our rear while the rest of us boarded the elevator.
"Empress be with you Sergeant," I said in parting just before the lift doors closed. I wish there was more I could have offered him aside from empty words but short of staying behind myself there was nothing else to offer. They were smart ponies; they knew what they were volunteering for.
At first, it was a solemn, silent ride in the lift. Only the occasional clicking of a weapon check broke the otherwise pervasive silence. "Any advice when we get to Luna?" Applejack asked to finally break the tranquility.
"Run interference if you can but otherwise just let me handle her," I replied. To be honest, I still had no way of knowing for certain if the Relic of Harmony would work. Rarity said it was as functional as she could make it but whether this would translate into results was another mystery altogether. Greater unicorns than myself have tried in the past without success but it had always been under laboratory conditions. This was the first time since the Luna Heresy that the Relic of Harmony has actually been carried into battle. The only comforting thought I had was the reassurance that even if I were to fail, the Equestrium would still be ready to oppose Luna. It would likely be a long, difficult struggle but the Equestrium would prevail. It had to. Either way, by the end of the day, we would either be heroes or distant memories.
We stepped off the elevator into a round, darkened chambered, dimly lit by only a few luminator rods that ran around the circumference of the room. "I thought you said Luna would be here," the commissar stated in a hushed whisper to the tech-pony next to her. "There ain't nopony here."
"No, I said she would be in the command center. We're on the lower deck," Rarity snapped back, thankfully managing to maintain an equally hushed voice despite the resentment in her tone.
"And you would be correct. I was worried that you ponies would never show up," a new voice sudden cut in, stopping us dead in our tracks. The dim lighting at first made it impossible to tell who was the source but I could tell it wasn't Luna. As opposed to Luna's dominating and commanding tone, this one was far calmer, more controlled. "I was sort of hoping for more of you but...well, beggers can't be choosers I suppose," the voice continued in a playful, insidious manner. The sound of heavy, metal hooves clopping across the floor accompanied the heavily-armoured mare as she finally stepped into view. And with that went my hope of finding Luna without running into any Chaos mareines. Granted there was only one but that was arguably even more disconcerting since it was unlikely Luna would have entrusted her safety to anypony but one of her finest.
"If you know what's good for you, traitor, you'll step aside right now," Rainbow Dash barked at the Chaos mareine. As a space mareine, she naturally had an unrepentant hatred for the traitors who fell to Chaos.(7)
The mareine, however, simply chortled, a sly smirk appearing across her uncovered visage. "Now where would the fun be in that, hm? As much as the Chaosmistress has been waiting for you, I can't just stand back and let her take all the glory, now can I?"
"She's...waiting for us?" I replied as I was taken back by this revelation. "She knew we were coming?"
"The Dark God sees all, you silly little pony. He has eyes and ears everywhere. Did you honestly believe that we wouldn't have noticed you scurrying about? Luna has known you were coming for quite some time and she even knows about the Relic of Harmony you've got with you. I'm sure she'll want to thank you personally for saving her trouble of having to find it and destroy it on her own." The Chaos mareine paused briefly, a black armoured hoof reaching up and tapping her chin thoughtfully. "In fact, I might be willing to make a compromise and meet you ponies half-way. I'll allow the Inquisitor to go on ahead to meet with Luna but the rest of you will have to stay here and...entertain me."
Everything about her offer reeked of treachery and deception but at the same time time was of the essence. Since this wasn't a decision I wanted to make lightly, I turned to my cohorts for their advice. "What do you girls think?" I whispered.
"Ah don't like it. It's too convenient," Applejack said as she motioned for the rest of us to gather in a huddle. "But at the same time, it might be our only good option."
Rainbow Dash didn't like it either, though her suggestion was fairly straight-forward. "I say we just rush her and clean her clock. When ponies stand together, there's no obstacle too great."
"Why's that? You've tackled larger numbers all on your own," the commissar riposted. "If we try to take her all at once, she'll just delay us and by the time we get to Luna, Twilight could be exhausted or worse. What's important is getting Twilight and the relic to Luna. The rest of us will try to take this mareine down as quickly as possible and join up with you."
"And what if it's just a trick? Traitors are nothing but liars and cheats. There could be a whole squad waiting up above."
"I am insulted you would call me a liar," the Chaos mareine interjected after overhearing Dash's last remarks. The fact that her tone did not waver in the slightest suggested that she was not as offended as her words suggested. "I don't mind such accusations when that is the case but this would not be one of those moments. Chaosmistress Luna is waiting for you the command center - alone. Now this is a limited time offer so I suggest you make a decision quickly before I make it for you."
I could have listened to Applejack and Rainbow Dash bounce arguments back and forth for hours but the moment called for decisiveness. "Fine, I'll go," I replied in a hurry. I knew it was more than likely to be a trap of some fashion but there was no time to waste dealing with lackeys. I had confidence in the abilities of my teammates and I had faith that the Empress would provide for us...somehow. Despite a growing sense of unease, I trudged on, pausing only briefly as I stood before the Chaos mareine. To my surprise she seemed to keep her word, stepping to the side and pointing me towards the stairs on the far side. I knew this was going to be a mistake but my only hope at this point was to capitalize on their overconfidence.
As Twilight's departure leaves a unfortunate gap in the narrative, I've been forced to rely on alternate sources to provide an account of what transpired between the Chaos mareine and the remaining ponies. After some searching, I did manage to find a report filed away in the archives. The bad news, however, is that it is from Rainbow Dash so it's not so much a report as it is her rambling into a vox recorder for several minutes. I've attempted to tidy up the transcript as best I could but I wanted to try and preserve as much of the original entry as possible.
I can't believe that [Twilight] just went and ignored my advice! This was a Chaos mareine we were dealing with; you could trust them about as far as you could throw them. Sure, the mareine did actually step aside and let the Inquisitor continue upstairs but she had no way of knowing what was waiting for her. For all she knew, Luna had an entire squad of mareines with heavies(8) pre-sighted for the top of the stairs. That's what I would have done. [Sigh] But there was no point trying to talk sense into that mare now. If she wanted to get smoked by Luna all on her own then that was fine by me. It just meant I had to do more work when I kicked Luna's hindquarter myself.
Once Twilight was gone, I figured there was no point in waiting for a written invitation to get the party started. Between the five of us, I could only truly count on Rarity and Applejack to be of any help. Pinkie just lacked the instinct necessary for diffusing hostile ponies and Private [Fluttershy](9) was just...well, one look and I could already tell she was completely terrified of the Chaos mareine. She couldn't even serve as a half-decent distraction. [Inaudible muttering] but that doesn't excuse her earlier behaviour. But I guess that's why Applejack brought her along in the first place.
So with this Chaos mareine standing before us, I stepped forward and I said to her, "Before I love and tolerate you into a coma, care to introduce yourself? You know, just so I know what to put down on my scrolls later."
[The mareine](10) just responded with this most infuriating of laughs and then said, "Spoken like a true lap dog of the Empress." Thank Celestia she took that opportunity to slip on her helmet so I didn't have to continue staring at that insane grin of hers. "I am Shadowbolt the Marauder; the scourge of a thousand worlds! Champion of Discord! Master of Pegasi and the crop of the Lunar Legion! And before I send you crying back to your pathetic ghost of an Empress, I shall show you what true despair is." And ponies have complained that I have an ego.
If there's one thing you can count on from a traitor mareine, it's that they'll never pass up an opportunity to gloat. That just gave me the few extra seconds I needed to properly size her up. Mark IV Maremus(11) power barding; structural weak points at the throat latch, inner elbow, hip joints, and wing ports. Durable but less responsive compared to Alicorn barding. Severing the exposed power cable just below the crest plate at the withers would cripple power supply to the helmet, forcing her to remove it and making her vulnerable to small arms fire. The [seize](12) pistol strapped to her left hoof, however, would be problematic. None of us had heavy armour so even a glancing hit would put us out of the fight.
I asked Rarity if she remembered how we dealt with those Thousand Mares traitors back on the Albedo. To which she said that she remembered but reminded me that back on the Albedo we also had a half-dozen Adjudicators supporting us. The plan was still perfectly valid since we were only dealing with a lone mareine rather than a hundred of them.
"Just wait for your opening," I told Rarity. "Pinkie, stay back and watch over Private [Fluttershy]. AJ, you're with me!" I knew Applejack was just as itching to show that Chaos mareine the Empress' love so we charged forward together.
Naturally, I reached [Shadowbolt] first and I rammed her at full speed. It didn't work out quite as well as I had planned. She not only withstood the impact but actually managed to bring me to a halt, locking her hooves against mine. Using her combined strength and weight, she flew upwards and redirected all my force straight into the floor...face-first. Applejack had more success as I heard a loud clang a second later and the mareine went flying across the room. Just as she regained control of her tumble mid-flight, I crashed-tackled her from below, driving her straight into the ceiling. Unfortunately, she wasn't as stunned as I had hoped she would be; she kicked me off and returned the favour and driving me into the floor like a tent stake. Not the best way to start a fight.
Once again, Applejack used the distraction as an opportunity to get the drop on the traitor. The commissar went in with both hooves kicking. I have to admit, AJ's pretty good when it comes to hoof-to-hoof combat.(13) I wouldn't have pegged any regular earth pony as being able to hold their own against a Chaos mareine but AJ was pulling it off. The Equestrian Guard needed more ponies like her [Heavy sigh and inaudible mumbling followed by prolonged silence].
Where was I again? Oh, right. Applejack and Shadowbolt. Anyways, while AJ kept the mareine busy I was able to scrap myself off the floor and proceeded to jump upon her back, hooking my hooves around her throat and left elbow.
I shouted for Rarity as I kept the traitor contained. Seeing what we were up to, AJ joined in, tackling the mareine's hind legs and bringing her crashing to the ground. We were able to keep Shadowbolt pinned as our tech-pony's extra limbs went straight for the exposed power cable just beneath the crest plate. Despite her strength, the mareine couldn't get the necessary leverage to buck either of us off until it was too late. One of Rarity's buzzsaw plunged into the gap between the armour plates and sheered the cable in half, disrupting the power supply to the traitor's helmet.
"That will avail you nothing!" the mareine shouted back. It's always a good sign when a Chaos mareines starts taunting you about inevitability. It was a sure-fire sign that you had gotten under their skin. And I would be annoyed too if somepony had cut power to my helmet, effectively blinding me. But even blind she was still a threat as eventually used her free hoof to prop herself up. She knocked Rarity off by unfurling her wings and then flew straight up, slipping out of AJ's grasp, to slam me into the ceiling. This did knock me off but I managed to grab hold of her wing and brought her down with me. However, I forgot that AJ was still below us and we both landed atop of the commissar. "You wish to do this the hard way?" the Chaos mareine said just before she removed her helmet. "Very well, we do this the hard way!"
Like there was ever an 'easy way' with traitor mareines.
It became quite obvious that she had been merely stalling us for whatever reason. Now that she was angry, she really got into the fight. That just made it more interesting. First she grabbed AJ by the tail and pitched her into Rarity; then she grabbed me by the wing and hurled me headlong towards Pinkie Pie. As I lay at her hooves, I asked when she was going to get around to actually helping us.
"I thought I was supposed to just cheer from the sidelines," Pinkie answered, apparently following my orders to the letter. Goddess, it's so hard to tell when that pony's being serious or not. Pinkie even added in, "And I've been watching the private just like you said - she hasn't moved an inch!" [Frustrated sigh] And that last part wasn't an exaggeration either. The private was still curled into the same fetal position as she was from the very start. I would have screamed at that pegasus to do something but I had bigger ponies to fry.
"Well...just shoot!" I figured if Pinkie Pie was going to trot around with a cannon on her back, the least she could do was make use of it. In fact, since the Chaos mareine was helmetless and thus had a major weak point, we all opened fire on her. Well, the others opened fire. I had to just sit there and wait. Made me regret wasting all my ammo on the heretics. [Frustrated cry] Even with most of us shooting, that blasted mareine just shielded herself with her wings. Those useless Equestrian Guard weapons did absolutely nothing! We might as well have been shining flashlights on her.
The only thing that made this all worse was I could tell what she was about to do next. I could see it coming a mile away but there wasn't a darn thing I could do about it. The very instant our guns ran dry, the pegasus reared up, a black aura forming around her, and slammed both hooves down. That black aura then exploded into a shower of energy bolts that went whizzing through the air every direction [Dash makes several whooshing sounds]. Of course, I had no trouble dodging any of the oncoming energy bolts. Rarity wasn't quite so lucky. It must have been a fear-inducing spell because the moment she got hit, she just curled into a ball and began trembling uncontrollably and whimpering. Kind of like [Fluttershy] except with a valid excuse.
Pinkie managed to dodge the bolts that got passed me and then said, "I thought only unicorns could cast magic!" Rules like that didn't exactly apply to ponies that lived in a dimension where there weren't any.(14) But I wasn't going to be intimidated by a little warp sorcery and thankfully neither was Applejack.
We charged Shadowbolt in a pincer-manoeuvre. Once again, though, AJ couldn't match my speed so I wound up reaching the traitor first, making the whole tactic pointless since she just struck at me first. Shadowbolt was fast, I'll give that much. Even in Mark IV armour she reacted swiftly, blocking my strikes and forcing me to back off with a few kicks of her own. Applejack didn't have any better luck. She hit the mareine with a full-force kick but Shadowbolt had braced herself and barely budged an inch. The commissar didn't even get to mutter an 'uh-oh' before being hit by a seize bolt at point-blank range.
Guess I shouldn't have been surprised that it was all up to me at that point. "It appears you're running out of friends," Shadowbolt taunted. Just thinking about the smug grin that was plastered across her face makes me so mad I could just scream! [Recording abruptly stops then resumes a moment later]
As I was saying, it was down to just me and Shadowbolt. Some ponies might have been scared but I wasn't. Not one bit! If anything, the odds just made the challenge all the more appealing. "I don't need friends just to deal with trash like you!" I told her.
And she replied, "Good. Stubborn foes are much more satisfying."
If stubborn foes made her happy then I was going to make her day. I charged straight at her but while she was expecting another crash tackle, instead I changed course at the last second and flew over her head. While she was still busy kicking at the air I used to be in, I swooped around and snatched Applejack's pistol. I wasn't going to win by strength alone so I took to the air and start blasting laze bolts at her. All I need was a solid hit to the brain-box and she'd be sound asleep. Shadowbolt took to the air too and it became a pegasus duel! Spitfire had an entire chapter of her training codex dedicated to pegasus dueling tactics and I knew that chapter like the back of my hoof. Of course those chapters were written with a lot more space in mind but there was enough room in the chamber for me to manoeuvre. No pegasus in the Ultraponies was better at a duel than me. Okay, maybe Chapter Master Hurricane but...oh, never mind. This isn't about her!
I started with the rolling scissors, followed by an inverted wing breaker but Shadowbolt managed to keep pace, countering with a high-pitch influx pinwheel. Laze and seize bolts were flying all over the room but we were moving faster than our bolts could fly. Then, we both fell into a diamond-nosed sweep!(15) What are the odds that we would both choose the same manoeuvre at the exact same time? Goddess, if she weren't my enemy I would have been high-hoofing that pegasus. It was obvious that she knew all the tricks in the trade so I pulled out a move from my own personal playbook, the rainbow blitz! [Disappointed groan] But I should have realized there wasn't enough airspace in the room to pull off that kind of a stunt. Half-way through the manoeuvre I got clipped in the wing by one of her shots. From there it was a one-way, non-stop trip to Floorville. I still can't believe she managed to hit me. She must have been cheating somehow!(16)
When I tried to get up, Shadowbolt landed next to me, kicked my pistol away, then planted a hoof right atop my good wing. Without my power barding, I didn't have the strength to force my way free. That darn mareine had me pinned to the ground.
Then the craziest thing happened. Just as Shadowbolt was ready to render me comatose, Pinkie let out an ear-piercing cry of 'wait!' And the mareine didn't shoot. It was probably more out of morbid curiosity than actually heeding the priestess' instructions.
Shadowbolt just looked to the priestess, who then began this impassioned plea, "Think about what you're doing! Can't you see all the misery and suffering you're causing? How can you look at yourself in the mirror and not become distraught at this shell of a pony you've become?" I'm not sure which one of us was more confused by the priestess but Shadowbolt was at least holding her fire for the moment. And Pinkie Pie didn't stop despite our puzzled looks. "Look at what you have become! You were once the pride of all the Equestrium, championing the cause of friendship and harmony. Can't you look inside your heart and see that what you're doing goes against every tiny little moral fibre in your being?"
Unsurprisingly, Shadowbolt couldn't help but laugh at the remarks and eventually replied, "In all my years, I must admit that this is definitely a first. I have stared down squads of space mareines and companies of Equestrian Guards, stood firm against tanks, and gone hoof-to-hoof against the most wretched xenos this galaxy has to offer. Are you honestly trying to guilt me into submission?"
Despite having a seize pistol leveled at her, Pinkie Pie simply grinned and chuckled as though there was some joke we were both missing. "No, I'm just distracting you."
We both just muttered a 'what' in response before noticing a hint of movement just a few feet to Pinke's left. A flash of pale light accompanied the crackling hiss of super-chilled air, the unmistakable cry of a freeza gun. Shadowbolt tried to fly out of the way but she far too late and her hindquarter was caught in the stream of molecularized coolant, flash freezing the mareine from the hip down.
Shadowbolt was stunned, as was I, when she saw that it was Private [Fluttershy] holding the freeza gun. And did the guardpony ever look pissed; I'm talking 'Luna just kicked my puppy' level of rage. If hate could burn she would have set that entire spire on fire. And the private was not quiet about it either. "How dare you!" she started off, stepping closer to Shadowbolt with each word. The mareine tried to raise her pistol but was simply hit with another blast from the freeza gun, encasing the entire limb in ice. "How dare you hurt my friends!"
I think the mareine was still in denial that such courage could come so suddenly. "This...that's not possible. How could you-"
"Not another word!" [Fluttershy] interrupted her as she shoved her freeza's barrel into the mareine's face. "I don't care who you are or how many planets don't like you, that does not give you the right to treat ponies that way, especially my friends! Now you are going to keep quiet and we are going to get you the treatment you need or, Celestia help me, I will see to it that they haul you into rehab as a pony-popsicle!"
Unsurprisingly, even under such a threat the mareine wouldn't be silent. "And be turned back into another mindless puppet of that useless sack of flesh you call an Empress? I'd rather be frozen for eternity."
I could tell that the guardpony wanted to pull the trigger and wipe that smirk off her face with a cyrogenic blast. But the private was merciful, a kindness I certainly would have not have given the traitor. "You were supposed to be the best of us. How could you turn your back to the Empress?"
"Wonder instead how she could have turned her back on all of us."
I was half-expecting the guardpony to deep-freeze the mareine but she never got the opportunity. An echoing cry of 'Girls!' in the familiar voice of our Inquisitor diverted all our attention away from the mareine. In that brief instant, Shadowbolt conjured up one last spell and teleported herself back into the warp. And that is why we don't show traitors mercy until after they've been treated. Still, the mareine was gone and that was all that mattered, even though three out of the five of us were currently on our backsides. Thankfully, though, that was when Twilight showed up.
Rainbow Dash's audio log goes on for quite a bit longer but I've always found her record of events to be a bit ego-centric and sometimes factually incorrect.
I'll be the first to admit that agreeing to the Chaos mareine's terms was probably not the wisest decision I've made in my career. In fact, an older version of myself would have smacked the younger me for going along with it. But in my arrogant youth, I figured that my faith and magic would be enough to see me through and that Luna's arrogance would be her undoing. While in a way that wound up being the truth, I could have avoided a lot of trouble and fright if I had simply stuck with my compatriots from the very start. My decision was final, however, and even though it left a bad feeling in my gut, I pressed forward past the Chaos mareine and continued to the stairs.
The stairwell was long and narrow, wrapping around the circumference of the lower chamber in a steep ascent. Behind me, I could hear the faint whispers of the conversation going on between Dash and the others and though I had only traveled a few meters, it felt as though they were a whole world away. The acoustics in the stairwell were worse than the narrow halls would have suggested. It wasn't long until the only sounds I could hear were my own hoofsteps and my ever-increasing heart rate. Initially, I had wondered if Luna was even in the tower but that truth became evident very quickly. I could feel the fluctuations in the currents of warp around me; the fabric of reality trembling as badly as my own hooves. I would be lying if I said that I wasn't scared. Fear seemed to be taking root despite my efforts to keep calm and by the time I reached the top of the steps, it was a battle of wills just to take each step.
And as promised, standing in the center of the glass-domed command center was Chaosmistress Luna. She was...much taller than I had envisioned. I knew the primare alicorns were said to stand head and shoulders above even the greatest of ponies but Luna took that to an entirely new level. A normal alicorn stood at twice my size easily but being clad in pitch-black adjudicator barding(17) made her a towering giant compared to me. What was most surprisingly, though, was the fact that she didn't seem to be undertaking any kind of ritual whatsoever. Luna was just standing there; a thought made more unsettling by the Chaos mareine's earlier revelation that the Chaosmistress had been expecting my arrival. She had been waiting for me and apparently knew the line of reasoning that would take me to the spire. Was I truly that predictable?
"Thou must be the Inquisitor," the alicorn spoke, the glowing optics of her helmet casting an almost paralyzing gaze upon me. "And we see thou hast even brought the Relic of Harmony with you." If she was in any way concerned about the relic, her booming voice masked it entirely.
"T-that's right," I replied. Unlike Luna, I did not have the resonance to mask the fear that had crept up my throat. "And I'm fully prepared to use it if you don't stop this invasion at once and return to the warp."
Luna simply chortled in response. A very faint and brief one but it was enough to make most of my remaining willpower evaporate in an instant. "We would be willing to allow thou to giveth it thy best attempt."
Oh sweet Celestia, she was actually goading me to use the relic. A smarter pony would have seen this as an immediate red flag and backed off but in my arrogance I went ahead and began channeling my magic into the relic. I could feel the ancient machination begin to come to life; the energy flowed through its conduits, slowly magnifying in intensity. But suddenly, just as the energy began to grow exponentially, it suddenly collapsed and dissipated like a house of cards falling apart under its own weight. The magical backlash that hit me was just as much a surprise but at least it was more shocking that it was painful, like a smack to the face; a smack with a lead-lined boot but a smack nonetheless. It was enough to knock me over and leave me grasping to regain my mental faculties.
"Oh dear, thou seems to have botched it most royally," Luna mocked with another chuckle. "If thou art finished, we would ask if thou would be willing to spare thyself further humiliation and simply surrender the relic to us."
I think term 'bowel-clenching terror' would be the most apt to describe my feelings at that instant. Not only had my trump card failed, it had blown up in my face. Yet despite every voice in my head screaming at me to run or surrender, I somehow managed to stammer out, "N-never! I'll never give it up!"
"Most unwise," Luna answered before leaping into the air. Massive mechanical wings unfurled as she was propelled skyward, moving faster than anything that large should be able to. I barely have enough time to react, teleporting myself away just as she came crashing down upon my position. Since I hadn't taken the time to aim my spell, I re-materialized at a random location that was, sadly, only a few steps behind the alicorn. The metal ball at the end of her tail caught me in the flank, sending me tumbling across the command chamber. Either she had been toying with me or she hadn't realize I was behind her until her tail hit me because it was not a full-force hit, as evident by the fact that I was able to stand up immediately afterwards.
"This is bad...very, very bad," I muttered under my breath. I tried the Relic of Harmony once again, channeling my magic through the ancient device but before I could build up a charge, I saw Luna was preparing a spell of her own. Out of desperation, I redirected my focus into a spell, a bolt of disarray, and fired it at the Chaosmistress. But my magic couldn't hold a torch to Luna's, whose empowered horn was able to repulse the spell as easily as one would bat aside an annoying insect. After effortlessly dispatching my spell, Luna countered with one of her own, hitting me with a black bolt of lightning.
And then I felt...numb. I felt no joy, no hope, no energy, no will. All that essence had been replaced with a cold, empty pit of misery in my heart. Even my body seemed to lose all hope and will as my legs gave out and I collapsed into a whimpering heap. "It's no use," I murmured as I tried to keep the tears from building up. "She's just too strong." Even though the words came from my lips, they felt vulgar and foreign to me, as if some unseen power had shoved them down my throat. In my mind I knew this was the work of warp sorcery but it seemed as though nothing could stop the pervasive despair from taking over. I felt as though I were drowning in sorrow, mentally thrashing for something to keep me from being pulled under. "I...I don't want it to end like this. I don't want to be alone..."
And that was when my rational mind managed to find a life-preserver. It clung onto the word 'alone' because my rational mind knew that I was not alone. I had whole entourage of ponies just a floor below fighting with all their might so they can join me. Then, as if Celestia herself turned on a beacon inside me, a flash of inspiration flooded through me. The reason that I had been allowed to proceed alone was because they knew from the start that the Relic of Harmony wouldn't work when used alone! It's very name should have made it obvious as harmony cannot exist in an individual - it was the cohesion of many joined together in singular purpose that created harmony. The Relic of Harmony was never intended to elevate one pony above others but to lead from the front.
"Give us the relic and thy suffering will end," Luna spoke, now standing before me with an outstretched hoof.
Clinging onto my last hope, I mustered every ounce of willpower I could to counter Luna's spell. "Never!" I bellowed as I unleashed another spell. Ethereal chains erupted from the warp and began latching around the surprised alicorn.
"Thou only delay the inevitable," she growled as she struggled against the magical bindings. It wouldn't hold her for long but I only needed a few seconds to get away. I had to get back to my compatriots...no, my friends.
With renewed hope, I bolted for the stairs, calling out to my friends all the while. I found my friends tired but victorious over their Chaos mareine opponent. "Celestia's horn, are you girls okay?" I called out as I raced over to Rainbow Dash, who was laying on her backside with a dazed look in her eyes.
"I'll be fine, it's AJ and Rarity that need your help," the mareine insisted as she pointed over to the others. Both Applejack and Rarity were completely incapacitated, one locked in a catatonic seizure and the other trembling in terror. I knew not what horrors they had to endure in their fight but a quick purifying spell was able to alleviate my friends' conditions.
"Hey Twi...did we win yet?" Applejack groaned when I helped her back up. "Is Luna gone?"
Unfortunately, there wasn't a need to break the bad news to my friends as a loud roar from above shook the entire spire. A second later there was an even louder lightning-like crash, which I assumed was Luna breaking free from her bindings. I only managed a sheepish grin before motioning for everypony to gather close. "Here's the short of it," I explained as quickly as I could, "I need your help to defeat Luna and to do that-"
Too bad there wasn't an opportunity to finish my explanation as Luna decided to forgo using the stairs and simply came crashing through the ceiling. Almost half a tonne of ceramite and adamaretium-clad alicorn smashed into the floor before us, nearly knocking all of us off our footing. "Insolent foals! Thou does not understand the powers thou toy with! We shall plunge thy world into eternal darkness and feast upon your misery!" Luna must have known that I had deduced the secrets of the Relic and now she was truly acting in desperation. That only served to harden my resolve. But before we could act, she unleashed another black bolt of lightning.
"No!" Dash cried as she flew to the front and throw herself into the oncoming spell. But the spell never made contact, instead it splashed harmlessly around her as if hitting an invisible bubble encasing the pegasus. At first I thought this must have been some kind of miracle from Celestia but then I saw the pendant around Dash's neck begin to shimmer faintly.
"Pinkie, you never mentioned that your lucky pendant was a magic ward!"(18) I exclaimed.
"You mean...it's not lucky?" the priestess replied, sounding almost devastated at this revelation. Tears were even beginning to collect in the corner of her eyes. "You mean...I'm not specially chosen by Celestia?"
"A magic ward?" Dash repeated with a bright grin spreading across her visage. "Hahaha! That means you can't touch me with your fancy warp spells, Luna! What'cha going to do now, hm? Are you going to go running back to Discord in tears?" Dash continued her mockery by assuming her best Luna impersonation. "Oh Discord, Rainbow Dash was so meaneth to us! She's too clever and fast and good-looking!"
Agents of Chaos were never known for their sense of humour as evident by the speed in which Luna leveled her hoof-mounted jokester at Dash. Magic wards were about as useful as wishful thinking against solid ammunition. But before Luna could fire, Fluttershy rushed forward and blasted the jokester with a stream of cryogenic gases.
"Quick, buy me some time," I ordered as I stepped back to focus my magic.
The other ponies surged forward with Pinkie blinding the Chaosmistress with a shot from her party cannon. With Luna stunned, Rarity and Fluttershy went after the legs, with the tech-pony grabbing the hind legs with her mechadendrites and Fluttershy icing over the front legs. Lastly, Rainbow and Applejack kicked the Chaosmistress in tandem, knocking the giant alicorn over in thunderous crash.
All the while I was charging the Relic of Harmony with my magic. "Girls, get over here!" I shouted out when I felt the collective energy nearing the critical point where it failed before. Like harmony itself, the relic needed other ponies in order to reach its full potential. It needed ponies that embodied the elements of harmony: loyalty, kindness, generosity, honesty, and laughter. It was exactly what all my friends had been telling me before; when ponies stood together in service to the Empress, there was no challenge they could not overcome. As my friends gathered around, the energy contained within the Relic of Harmony began to grow exponentially, as if drawing energy from them while at the same time using their natural spiritual energies to maintain stability. A brilliant white aura began to radiate outwards from my horn, gradually encapsulating my entourage and soon afterwards bathed the entire room in light.
"This...this avails you naught! Thy magic shall never best ours!" Luna shouted as she broke free her ice-bound legs.
But these were the final desperate words of a desperate mare. I felt as though the very essence of the God-Empress herself was flowing through me. Never before had I felt such power - so righteous, so pure, so uncompromising. Reality did not just bend to my will, it yielded at my very presence. I dared not even contemplate what I could do with such power at my command out of fear that the very thought would unleash said power like an uncontrollable tidal wave. It was equal parts terrifying and euphoric but in hindsight I could take some comfort in that fear. It meant that I had not become so intoxicated with power that I had lost sight of my purpose and duty. My will would not waver; my purpose was clear.
"Your hatred is annulled," my voice resonated throughout the spire. "Feel the Empress' love, apostate, and be stricken from this world!"
If Luna had any kind of response, her voice was drowned out by the thundering roar as I unleashed the full force of the Relic of Harmony.
"Boy howdy, Ah gotta admit Twilight...for a second Ah thought we were all gonna get sent to the loony bin," Applejack said, trying to hide her embarrassment behind a forced laugh. I suppose that was her way of admitting and apologizing for harbouring doubt. A straight-up 'sorry' was probably out of the question but I wasn't seeking any kind of apology from the commissar. After all, I was also guilty of having harboured doubts, not just in myself but in the rest of my team. My doubts about Fluttershy had been horribly misplaced and I had yet to apologize for them but in the aftermath of the spire assault, every pony in the city has had their hooves full restoring order. With the exception of Applejack and Chance-a-lot, I hadn't seen any of the assault team in the past week.
Speaking of Chance-a-lot, he and his team had put up one hay of a fight in that corridor. When we finally emerged from the elevator, we had found the sergeant as the sole stallion standing in a hallway filled with sleeping or unconscious ponies. He was covered head to hoof in cupcake frosting but still managed a cheery smile upon seeing us. Somehow he still had that cigar in his mouth too. And all he had to say to us was, "Back already? I was just starting to getting cozy with my new friend." Said 'friend' was a heretic pony he had in a headlock who was still flailing helplessly against the giant pony's grip.
"I'm just glad it's over," I said with a relieved sigh as I followed the commissar into Fort Sweet Apple's main redoubt. "What's the latest report from Colonel Macintosh?"
"Colonel says now that Chaosmistress Luna is gone and the rift is closed, those Chaos ponies are trapped on Ponyville," Applejack reported with not even a feigned attempt to hide her amusement at our enemies' plight. "Captain Apple Fritter is handling the mop-up operations but we've already pushed most of them Chaos ponies out of the city. They were last seen running with their tails between their legs heading north-east...probably to take shelter in the Everfree forests." Something about the Everfree forest made the commissar burst into a hearty laugh. By the time she had managed to calm down enough for me to get a word in, we had boarded a lift and began a slow descent into the bowels of the fortress.
"What's so funny about the Everfree forest? Won't hiding in the woods make it harder for us to apprehend them?"
"Heheh, let's just say the residents of the Everfree forest will be a might bit upset to find a bunch o' new neighbors squatting on their lands." She chuckled again but this time managed to keep it from getting too carried away. I was tempted to pry for more details but I had enough to deal with without contemplating the other inhabitants of the planet. If someone else wanted to deal with the Chaos ponies then that saved us some work and gave us the freedom to focus more efforts on rebuilding.
Keeping our guardponies close to the city was all the more important given the number of prisoners we had taken during our brief conflict with Chaos. The Adeptus Arbites(19) on Ponyville had already sent a missive to their superiors for the necessary transport to relocate all the prisoners to another planet for treatment and rehabilitation. Ponyville's treatments centers simply weren't equipped to handle so many cases and time was always important when it came to treating a pony for Chaos corruption. The longer a pony spent under the influence of Chaos, the harder it was to remove.
Applejack and I disembarked the elevator, proceeding into the lowest reaches of the fortress. Judging by the dust and poor lighting, it was safe to assume that few ponies ever made use of this old section of the fortress, which only better served my intentions. I quickly conjured up a small glowing orb for some lumination so I wouldn't accidentally trip over a random pipe or exposed conduit. "Hey Twilight, might Ah be a bit honest with you for a second?"
"Since when have you ever been anything but honest?" I replied with a small giggle even though AJ sounded entirely serious.
"Ah just...this don't feel right, y'know? Ponies deserve to know what happened at the spire."
Though the exasperated sigh I released might have suggested a sense of annoyance, I had long expected this line of questioning. In fact, I was more surprised that Applejack hadn't said anything sooner. As an Inquisitor, I had her absolute trust but that was only because it was required by Equestrial law. As a fellow pony, her concerns were understandable and I had prepared an answer long in advance. "What transpired on the spire is a matter of the Her Majesty's Inquisition. It has been rendered classified for the security of every pony involved. You and all the other ponies that came with me are under strict orders not to breath so much as a word of it to anypony else. As far as any pony is concerned, Luna was defeated and sent back into the warp."
Our walk through the dimly lit corridor came to an end at a massive steel door, flanked on each side by a towering Praetorian-class sentinel-pony.(20) The two machinations stirred to life, their lifeless optics fixating on Applejack and I, followed soon after by the barrels of their twin-linked jokester cannons. "Halt. Identification required," the machines chimed in unison.
"Twilight Sparkle, omega-level clearance authorization Inquisition Ordo Harmonious."
"Omega-level clearance authorized. Standing down."
"Ah know it's for our own safety but Ah just..." Applejack groaned quietly as she tried to gather her thoughts. With the steer door unlocking to the chorus of thumping mag-locks and they hiss of depressurizing heavy-duty clamps as they released, conversation was rendered pointless. Even the slow, reverberating grind of the door sliding open made it hard to hear around us. It was a long, grueling minute before the noise died down enough for AJ to continue voicing her concerns. "Ah just don't like the idea of lying to everypony like this. Was it really a smart idea to give Rainbow Dash the credit for defeating Luna?"
"The official report states that Rainbow Dash and 'a member of the Inquisition' were responsible for defeating Luna. I can't let my name get out - I have to maintain a certain degree of secrecy after all," I explained. Putting Dash's name on the report was necessary in order to give it credibility. Would any pony have believed it if I had said that a squad of Equestrian guards were able to defeat the greatest villain of the past one hundred centuries? And I couldn't say that it was the work of a squad of space mareines because there were only a half-dozen of them on the planet and all but one of them could be accounted for. There was no shortage of witnesses and public fanfare to make it impossible to accredit Luna's defeat to the other mareines. The more ponies I got involved in this elaborate lie, the more difficult it would be to maintain so it was easier to just give credit to Rainbow Dash, who unsurprisingly had no qualms about it. Even if I hadn't given Dash the credit, historians inevitably would give it to her years down the road - space mareines always got the credit in major victories. It made for better holo-vids. "Besides, it's a matter of safety. No pony is going to try and go after a space mareine for revenge. You or Fluttershy or Pinkie Pie, on the other hoof, are relatively easier targets."
"And what about this?" Applejack said as she motioned towards the open door ahead of us. "How do you think Dash or the others would react if they found out that instead of handing Luna over to the Inquisitional authorities like you said you would, y'all decided to lock her up in mah basement!"
"It's too dangerous to move her elsewhere and the more ponies that know about her, the more dangerous it becomes. That's why this has to stay between us, Commissar. If ponies found out that we've still got Luna, you can count on every Chaos pony on the planet trying to break down your door," I reassured my friend as we headed inside.
It was hard to find a dungeon suitable enough to contain a pony as powerful as Luna but the old dungeon of Fort Sweet Apples had all the basic necessities. Bound by enchanted chains and contained within a prison cell charmed by the most powerful magic wards I could produce, the former Chaosmistress of the Lunar Legion looked more like a caged animal than a prisoner of war. Without her armour she was much smaller, though still a towering figure compared to us. Dark turquoise eyes fixated on Applejack and I as we entered the room, yet the alicorn remained silent.
"Even without her horn, y'all sure this will be enough?" Applejack asked, her own eyes unable to stop staring at the stump on Luna's forehead. Removing her horn was one of the first steps I took in securing the prisoner - without it, it was far more difficult for her to channel the powers of the warp. Combined with the magic wards, she would be unable to summon the dark powers to do her bidding.
"It will," I nodded. "Just think of the possibilities Applejack. We've already taken down Luna...but what if we could save her as well? What if we could give the Empress back her sister? What if we could give the Equestrium back its Goddess? To have Celestia walking amongst mortals once more!" I don't think any pony would have ever dreamed of accomplishing such a feat. To bring back Empress Celestia would be to return the Equestrium back to the Golden Age when all ponies under the stars knew peace and harmony. What risk wasn't worth that kind of a possibility? I knew the personal ramifications I would endure if my superiors discovered my plans but I was willing to shoulder that burden when the time came.
If only I had known what the true cost would be...
1 Space Mareines undergo magic rituals that extend their natural lifespan. Though Rainbow Dash was likely somewhere in her early forties, she was still considered barely an adult by mareine standards. It's not uncommon for a mareine to reach ages in excess of three hundred years.
2 Rarity was able to download an electronic copy of the spire's blueprint before our departure.
3 Ponyville's Orbital Spire measure roughly 12.2km in height, though similar spires on other planets reach even higher.
4 A heavy weapon that utilizes pressurized cryogenic gas to flash-freeze heavily-armoured targets and vehicles. Fluttershy apparently prefers it because it's quieter compared to other weapons.
5 First rule of peace-keeping: if everything is going according to plan, you're walking into a trap.
6 Unlike the 'militia myth' pushed forward by a lot of holo-vids, experience has taught me that the average pony can't tell the difference between a stick and the business end of a muffin-stubber, let alone how to properly operate one.
7 Moreso considering the other mareine was a part of the Lunar Legion, who are considered the arch-nemesis and antithesis of the Ultraponies.
8 Space mareine jargon for a heavy jokester, which are a high-caliber, belt-fed variant of the standard jokester gun.
9 Whether by intention or ignorance, Rainbow Dash continued referring to Fluttershy as 'Private Pansy' throughout the audio log.
10 Since this was part of Dash's personal audiologs, she didn't always keep her language clean. I've censored her profanities since this book could be read by children.
11 As Chaos tends to rely on raiding and stealing to acquire materials, their technological development hasn't progressed much in the past ten thousand years. As such, most are still using the same weapons they had during the Luna Heresy, as opposed to the Mark VII 'Alicorn' barding used by modern mareines.
12 Seize weapons use a high-density energy pulse to overload the systems, both organic and mechanical, of its target. Victims of seize weapons typically fall into a spastic or catatonic seizure, unable to move their limbs for several hours. Excellent for dealing with armour that can't be penetrated by regular lazeguns.
13 Commissar Applejack was actually considered one of the best hoof-boxers in the entire sector.
14 Chaos Mareines blessed by Discord can possess limited sorcery, though unicorns are still far superior.
15 If you have any idea what Rainbow Dash is talking about, feel free to let me know. I swear she makes these names up as she goes along.
16 Perhaps if Rainbow Dash had studied her history more she would have known that Shadowbolt served as part of Luna's personal honour guard during the Great Crsuade and was later made First Captain of the Legion, the first pegasus to achieve such a rank. This made her one of Luna's most trusted and capable subordinates.
17 A heavier, more powerful version of power barding. It is so heavy, in fact, that only the primares were strong enough to fly or move effortlessly in it.
18 Most high-level priests are given a Celestial medallion that also functions as a magic ward. And likewise, most aren't told of this added feature...
19 The organization responsible for enforcing Equestrial law across the whole galaxy. They also oversee all the treatment and rehabilitation centers for Chaos-tainted ponies.
20 Bigger, meaner, and even more likely to mistake a normal pony for an enemy.