Of War and Friendship

by DocDelray

First published

Mandalorians and Ponies working together to stop the Deathwatch, what could be better than that?

Set after the Legacy story line. A crew of Mandalorian commandos make a blind jump through hyper space after flying into an ambush and end up crash landing in an uncharted star system. Unfortunately for them and the races that call this star system home, the Deathwatch are close behind and looking to finish the job.

Inspired after playing a lot of Star Wars Sagas and watching way too much Friendship is Magic.

Time line and prologue

It has been one hundred years since Kade Skywalker defeated Darth Krayt.
Much has changed in the galaxy.
The Fell Empire has recovered much of its strength since the treachery of the Mof Council.
The Jedi have since removed themselves from the greater politics of the galaxy, choosing instead to focus inward and heal the still lingering wounds left by the Sith.
The bulk of the Sith whom seeded war across the galaxy have all but vanished into hiding, there are some who still remain causing havoc and proclaiming themselves the despotic rulers of poorly defended outer rim sectors.

During this time much has changed for the Mandalorian people.
A growing number of force users among the population has yielded new military applications.
Under the guidance of the new Mandalore Shaysa Fett the Mandalorians have become stronger.
With newfound strength and force wielding warriors Fett has set about liberating the surrounding sectors of space from the weakened Sith forces.
Their worlds liberated, many have willing flocked under the Mandalorian banner to find safety and security in the outer rim


Night had settled on the aptly named City of Bone. Shaysa Fett reclined against the soft pillows of the lavished couch as she sifted through the information on her datapad. A half breed of human and some undistinguishable race, she was had recently taken the highest seat of power in Mandalorian society. She was the Mandalore. Her dark golden eyes coupled with the near red pink tint of her skin and firry red hair created an exotic air about her. Fett’s strong athletic build was a reward from her warrior lifestyle, flaunted by the nightgown she now wore. In the far corner of this regal suite lay her scarred and dented battle armor and her weapon of choice - a power hammer.

At her feet a pair of Strill pups snarled and challenged one another over a bone that they had both long since stripped of its’ flesh and muscle. Shaysa regarded them both with an amused smile as they snapped and growled threats back and forth.

This was cut short as a holographic image grew to life from the projector built into the surface of the table. A fully armored and helmeted Mandalorian stood at attention, at whom Shaysa shot a bored look, “I assume you have a good reason for disturbing me Colonel.”

He quickly snapped a salute, “Forgive me for the intrusion Mandalore, but you said you wanted to be informed should there be another report of piracy in the newly secured Ojoster sector.”

She let out a low growl as she set down the datapad and picked up a glass of wine, “So they struck again did they?”

“Yes ma’am,” The Colonel answered back as he looked over a datapad of his own, “Two more cargo transports have gone missing; we recovered wreckage that belonged to both. It would appear they were destroyed just like the others.”

“Colonel, there is a difference between pirates and insurgents.” Fett stated flatly.

“I’m not sure if we should jump to the conclusion of terrorists ma’am.” He replied in a shaken tone.

“Five cargo ships have been destroyed by these as of yet unidentified pirates.” Fett reinforced her position, “This is no simple act of spacers preying on the weak and selling off cargo. They attack and leave no survivors and then pull out before any of our ships can enter the sectors. These are acts of a small guerilla military force. It’s time we showed these bastards we’re done playing games with them.”

“Very good ma’am, what are your orders?” The Colonel questioned as he stood at attention.

A grin came over her face, “Assemble Epsilon Squad.”

He looked to be taken by surprise by her decision despite the blank face of his helmet, “Epsilon, is that wise?”

“I’m aware of their reputation for being unorthodox with their missions, as well as the high collateral damage they seem to cause,” Fett stated, “However, I’m also aware of their flawless record for completing those very same missions. They’re perfect for rooting out these guerillas and taking care of the problem.”

With noticeable hesitation he bowed his head to her, “As you order, Mandalore!”

With the holographic image vanishing she swirled the contents of her glass with an amused grin, “Try not to blow up any planets this time boys.” She mused to herself before sipping the sweetened wine.

It Begins

I have watched and played witness for far too long. For what feels like an eternity, I have played unwilling audience to the ever-growing destruction and chaos of the galaxy. Order has become a meaningless term and peace a luxury for those living in ignorance of hardship. But this was not always the case. There was a time long ago when a golden age enveloped all worlds.

During this golden age, the entire galaxy lived as one and prosperity spread like a wildfire from planet to planet. But this time came to a close, as most do. The tendrils of corruption and greed wriggled their way through the golden halls, as those who once served the people now only served themselves. War after war chipped away at the golden age until everything fell apart, and misery took the hearts and minds of the people.

As time pressed on, the chaos only seemed to worsen as forces of both darkness and light clashed, time and time again. Both believing themselves to be on the side of righteousness and justice, their conflicts tore entire worlds asunder and ended countless lives. It has become clear that if nothing is done, this galaxy shall destroy itself.

I have set in motion my plans and machinations. This galaxy shall be put right; it shall be saved. The cost will be high and the losses unimaginable, but nothing changes without something acting upon it. History will remember me as a monster, but I welcome this label. It will be deserved for what will happen, what must happen. For if nothing is done, this galaxy will simply destroy itself in the throes of blind chaos. If you are reading this, I only hope that you will see the good I sought to bring about.

Excerpt taken from broken data-pad
Owner unknown

The empty black of space is split as the YX-1980 transport aptly dubbed The Cheatin’ Whore dropped from hyperspace, it’s hull marred by fresh patches of blaster fire and the tell tale signs of battle damage. Onboard her crew was frantically dealing with keeping the ship’s systems from failing.

At the helm sat Kad Skirata, a tempered human in his late thirties, his dark blue eyes danced over the readouts on his consol as they flashed various warnings at him. His form was clad in Mandalorian armor baring the influences of the old ARC Troopers. Around his waist hung the traditional combat skirt while strapped to his left shoulder was the trademark armored bandolier and pauldron. The plates were tan in color with a dark golden trim. His head was topped with raggedly kempt dirty blond hair that had begun to tint with grey, “Torb, ya’d best have some good news for me.”

Behind him a Chiss in grey and blue armor answered back, “Long range communications are busted, main sensor pack is fried, our hyperspace drive is offline and we’re leaking fuel.” Torb Gieta was an odd sight, especially among Mandalorians considering how rare it was to find a Chiss so far from their own sector of space. His dark blue skin and eerie red eyes with raven black hair was a staple of his people. The right side of his face however was deeply scared from a shrapnel blast, his eye replaced with a robotic one that glowed the same creepy red as his left one. He tapped away at the keys before him quickly going through charts and maps of the area, “The good news dear Captain is that we are still well within Mandalorian controlled space, we just happen to be in an oddly undiscovered location within.”

With a sigh Kad looked over his shoulder at the Chiss, “Thought I asked for some good news.”

“Fine then, perhaps this will make you happy, we aren’t being followed.” Torb quickly replied.

“That comfortin’ thought won’t mean jack if ya don’t find us a place to settle down on.” Kad shot back.

To the left side of Kad sat his brother Kell, who did what he could from the co-pilot chair to keep them on course, “Blue balls, if you do not get us a landing zone soon I will put my damned robo foot up your rear and turn on the hammer function!” Kell’s deep brown eyes glared over his shoulder at the Chiss. Sweat had begun to pour over his shaved head and ebony tinted skin. His armor set him apart from the others, matte black with dark green trim and lightly padded marking him as a scout. The most distinguishing part of this human though was the bulls’ eye etched into the side of his scalp in scar tissue. The second most was the bright pink ribbon tide around his left gauntlet.

“I know you’re gonna say it.” Kad chimed in with.

“You better not be using that evil mind voodoo of yours.” Kell chirped in retort.

“Ya ain’t that hard to read ner’vod, don’t need the Force for that.” Kad replied cheerfully.

“Aight then, we came all the way out here to look into a report about pirates, so why was there a haran frigate waiting for us!?” Kell shot back at him with an air of annoyance in his voice.

“Bad intel.” Torb stated flatly as he continued his work.

“Bad intel usually means a few more guys than we thought there’d be, bad intel means there’s a tank and not a speeder. This wasn’t just bad intel, this was a dropping the frigging ball!” Kell yelled back at the Chiss computer expert.

Kad shook his head and looked to his brother, “Ner’vod we can’t do anything ‘bout that just now, so focus on gettin’ us to the ground without exploding and or if possible without crashin’.” His attention returned to his control panel, “We’ll beat the osik out’a that di’kutla who told us to expect a light enemy presence when we get out’a this mess.”

Kell gave a snort as he rolled his eyes at this last bit, “Oh yeah, IF we get out of this.”

To the rear of the ship sparks showered over a towering figure. His massive body was clad heavily in blood red mandalorian iron. His appearance was reptilian, dark green scales of his flat gaunt face and the ridged brow line marked him as a member of the lost Taung race, the jagged scar down the center of his face marked him as Traycn the clanless. Golden eyes filled with rage as he tried to keep a power coupling from dislodging yet again. A stream of angry curses in Mando’a flowed from his mouth as plated bionic arms hefted into place components that would be otherwise far too heavy for any being to lift.

“We should have forced our way onto their ship and slaughtered every last one of those hut’uun!” The enraged Taung bellowed as he took a welder to another panel.

Behind him a Zabrack with neatly kept horns watched his massive companion work, doing what little he could to help keep things from getting too out of hand. His armor was white with red trim and on his left pauldron was the mark of the medical officer, while his face bore the traditional tribal tattoos of his people, “That’d be great Tray, then I’d have to patch up the ship AND the squad… provided we actually lived long enough to bored the frigate.”

“Hmph, Zex, I had figured you to have more of a stomach for combat.” Traycn chided him.

“Combat I don’t mind, it’s the aftermath that gets on my nerves.” Zex replied as he handed him another power tool.

The ship’s secondary engine wasn’t in any better shape. A lone human did what he could to keep the fire that had over taken the machinery at bay. Fire-extinguisher in hand and clad in light weight purple and white armor this brightly red haired young man worked as hard as he could. Arkanna Kershom was one of the youngest of the crew and newest member of Epsilon squad and newest “recruit” into the pay back system.

With a sigh he waved the smoke out of his face and shook his head in defeat, “Ya know, when they told me I’d be doing my part to repay my debts, I thought I’d be doing simple stuff like police work!” He called out over the sounds of sparking wires to the rest of the ship’s crew.

“Well if you’d prefer rookie, we could always pull over and let you out!” Kell’s voice shot back at him from the cockpit.

The young warrior bit back the urge to yell something back but quickly thought it better not to and instead took up his fight to keep the flames from spreading to the rest of the ship, “Point taken!” He called back over his shoulder.

At the front of the ship Torb continued to work his magic along the keyboard as he shifted through every planet in the system, “Gentlemen, I believe we’re in luck!” The Chiss rang out, “One of the planets in this system is capable of supporting life, oxygen rich atmosphere, lush wild life and vegetation.”

“Sounds like a great place to set up a summer home…” Kad mumbled under his breath, “I see it Torb, bringin’ her in now. I don’t spose there’s a landin’ beacon anywhere on this rock?”

“No such luck.” Torb answered.

“Oh goody a primitive planet.” Kell chimed in with his usual arrogant tone.

“Anyone else find it just a bit odd how deep we are into Mandalorian space and yet this planet ain’t on any maps or charts?” Kad spoke up.

“You worry too much vod,” Kell reassured him with a punch on the arm, “We’ve flown blind into hordes of Sith troopers and worse before. I doubt this rock’ll throw us for any major loops.”

“Still… I gotta bad feelin’ bout this...” Kad flipped on the ship’s intercom, “Aight boys, buckets on an’ strap down, might get a little bumpy.”

The hull of the Cheatin’ Whore was incased in flame as the ship dipped into the atmosphere. Tremors shook the interior of the ship as it started to cut a firry swath through the sky. Flames embraced and kissed the hull of the ship turning its’ exterior into a massive ball of fire that hurtled towards the ground below. With much reluctance the ship began to steady out and fight back against the angry onslaught of gravity. The speed of the falling metal hulk finally cutting to manageable levels, the fire that had all but consumed it finally subsiding as a small clearing within a thick forest came into view, an acceptable spot to put down the ship where it would be out of view.

This did not go unnoticed as the vessel passed over a small hamlet just on the outskirts of the forest. The strange inhabitants were all drawn to the sky by the loud roar of the fireball that tore across the night sky. The fanning flames dying away to reveal something all the stranger, a metal beast that slowly descended into the wilds and out of view.

The Mandalorians of Epsilon squad held their collective breath as the landing gear of the descending transport inched their way to the ground. Above the forest the engines finally sputtered their last breaths and began to only spew out smoke behind them. No longer able to hold themselves aloft the freighter took a sharp downward drop into the waiting woods. As the belly of the ship touched ground a jarring wave passed across the interior of the ship shattering monitors and knocking lose wires galore whilst sending anything not strapped down hurtling about the cabin. The ship was filled the jarring sound of metal scrapping as the vessel slid along the ground to a slow stop.

Sparks showered from busted electronics and shattered view screens. Kad gave the cockpit of the Cheatin’ Whore a quick once over then looked to his companions, “Well, any landin’ ya can walk away from right?”

Some sectors behind them an Ardent class fast frigate sat in the orbit of a pot marked moon. Normally a weapon strictly used by the Fel Empire, this one bore the insignia of a long forgotten chapter in Mandalorian history, the symbol of Deathwatch.

Onboard the ship, the bridge crew scrambled about their tasks as a less than happy looking officer barked his orders at them, “Bring all engines to full, I want that ship’s drive trail found and our vessel on an intercept course immediately!” The man giving the orders was a human in his early thirties. His head of black hair was rimmed by a ring of grey along the lower half. Dark brown eyes glared over his scrambling crewmen, “Find me the gunnery sergeant, I want to know who gave the order to fire on that vessel!” His strong figure was clad in the dark grey and dark blue armor of his compatriots, the insignia on his right shoulder marked him as First Lieutenant Shariad Feltan.

Over Feltan’s shoulder the double doors of the main lift opened, through them stepped a tall thin man clad war weathered armor. His thin gaunt face spoke of an air of sophistication and education from what looked to be forty plus years of life, his ice blue eyes told of a very cold and analytical mind. His blonde hair was showing the clear signs of his age, dotted with silver hairs and the clear signs of aging, it was kept slicked back and in neat order. Over his right shoulder hung a caplet baring the Death Watch symbol embroidered upon it, Davian Teth, Commanding Officer and captain of this frigate, “Lieutenant, report!” His voice cut through the confusion of the bridge like a knife causing the staff to snap to attention and salute his presence.

Feltan quickly snapped into a crisp salute as he took several steps away from the command post, “Sir, an unknown vessel transmitting a Mandalorian military IFF appeared out of hyperspace. The gunnery crew opened fire claiming to have been given the order. The vessel while wounded, managed to escape us.” Feltan remained at attention as fear ran up and down his spine.

Teth’s eyes bore holes into his second in command as he gave the report, “Go through the ship’s logs and find the fool who fired the first shot, I want him executed for his incompetence. As for the ship, was it able to get off any kind of communications?”

“No sir,” Feltan quickly answered, “We managed to hit their main com dish before they escaped as well as causing heavy damage to their engines they could not have gotten far.”

“Find that ship and destroy it. I and my colleagues did not spend billions in credits rebuilding the legacy of our fore fathers just to have it crumble to dust before our return to the galaxy.” Teth waved off his Lieutenant to set him on his tasks as he looked out over the bridge.

His mind mused on the inglorious end of the Deathwatch centuries ago just barely a year after the famed battle of Yavin. How they had been all but wiped out by a band of spacers under orders from the former Empire. A small smile tugged at the edges of his mouth as he mused on how powerful an idea truly was and how the still weakened and war torn galaxy was in for quite the shock at the return of the Deathwatch.

A lay of the land

Sparking wires and loose metal panels hung haphazardly from the ceiling and walls. The rough landing of the Cheatin’ Whore had taken its’ toll on the ship. A full hour had passed since their touchdown. Her crew of Mandalorian warriors gathered in what was left of the common room of the ship.

“So, what’s the damage?” Kad questioned his squad mates.

“Besides being half buried in a hillside you mean?” Traycn asked sarcastically, “The main engine’s completely shot and the secondary is nothing but burnt scrap now, same as our communications systems. Baring any chance that this rock has a functioning ship yard or intergalactic communication hub, we have no way to repair the ship let alone get a ride out of here.”

Kad sighed in frustration as he patted the nearest wall, “Gar pirusti, udes jii.” There was a moment of silence among them all as they shared painful stares, “Ain’t nothin’ we can do ‘bout all of that. Anyone got any good news?”

Torb tapped a few keys on computer mounted into his gauntlet bringing up a shaky hologram, “Sensors picked this up as we came down.” The image of a ruined palace formed before them, “These ruins are just barely a mile from our position.”

“Rope bridge looks to be the only way into the ruins.” Traycn pointed out, “Heavy canopy cover from the forest, steep cliffs, very defensible.” He pointed out with a hint of admiration.

“Not to be the wet blanket here but that frigate can’t be too far behind us,” Arkanna added to the discussion, “If we stay here we’re sitting on a big fat bull’s-eye.”

Yet another long silence between the crewmates before Kad spoke up, “Scuttle the ship,” He said in a monotone, “Grab every piece’a gear, blasters, grenades, if it ain’t nailed down then smash it. Torb I want ya to hit the computers, get every piece’a data off this rig then wipe the slate clean.”

The Chiss gave an amused snort, “I had anticipated this situation, months ago, and already have backups of every single file on the computers as well as set up a mass wipe program.”

The entire crew stared at him in silent surprise, “We Chiss take pride in our ability to anticipate and prepare for any possible outcome.” Torb added as he continued his work.

“Ya know what,” Kell slipped into the conversation, “Sometimes you scare the osik out of me.”

“Ooookay then…” Kad continued, “Let’s move people, I want this rust bucket damn near scrapped before dusk. Load up everything on one of the speeders, assumin’ either of ‘em are still functionin’.”

“There is one more thing,” Torb interjected, “The main communication array might have been damaged in the fire fight, but I believe Traycn and I could jury-rig something to replace it.”

“Fine, grab whatever ya guys need,” Kad replied, “Let’s move it boys, sun’s goin’ down an’ I do not want to transverse an alien world in the middle’a the night!”

Without another word they broke to go about tasks. It didn’t take long to unload the armory, every weapon was quickly crated up or handed out along with grenades and powerpacks. Traycn and Torb made quick work of the com station as well as grabbing every spare wire and circuit board that looked intact. Within two hours the ship had been stripped of just about anything of major use. Just outside the cargo bay doors was a speeder loaded down to the point where its repulsors had trouble keeping it at a hover.

Keeping themselves spread out and on alert they made the long trek through the thick forest. Kad stole one last glance over his shoulder at their beloved ship, his mind replaying the near death moment on Geonosis that brought them into possession of the transport ship. All the adventures it had carried them through, the heated battles it’d saved them from and saw them through. He knew the ship would reach its end someday but never once thought it would be so inglorious.

The sun was setting behind them as they left the clearing and final resting place of the Cheatin’ Whore, pressing deeper into the brush. Far ahead of the pack, Kell kept a tentative watch on the surroundings ahead of them. Scouting deeper into the forest safeguarding their path, his eyes glancing from one read-out on his HUD to the next. As he made his way something blipped across his motion tracker. Bringing his rifle up he kept himself trained on the area it had appeared. Slowly he inched his way closer to it only to find a small long eared creature spring out and dart past him.

“Freakin’ wild life is playing hell on my radar systems.” He complained over the coms to no one in particular.

As their column moved on, the tell tale signs of running water caught their attention which Kad opted to break from the group and gather one of the most important supplies of all. Several empty jugs were slung over each arm and a pair carried in each hand as he made his way from the forest path to the river side, “On the plus side we won’t die from dehydration, this stuff is clean an’ clear.”

His task had to be a fast one though, they were losing the evening light and fast. Each jug in turn was dunked under the flowing water until it was filled to the brim and pulled out. Something drew his attention though. Quickly getting to his feet and swinging his wrist mounted blasters up till they were leveled with his chest. His helmets’ HUD said there was nothing there though. All he saw were the markers of his comrades. But he was sure he’d heard it, a voice.

“Hey guys, any’a you say somethin’ over the com?” Kad asked cautiously as he continued to scan his surroundings, weapons at the ready.

“Nobody over here said a peep.” Arkanna’s voice answered.

“Hah, does baby need me to come hold his hand?” Kell wasted no time on the chance to insult his brother.

“Shut up an’ secure them ruins di’kutla.” Kad barked over the coms.

A quick spike in the force drew his attention to a sentient mind behind him. Acting on instinct he took a dive forward to give himself distance as he came out of the roll with his weapons aimed and ready. It was then that he saw the massive form rise up from the water.

“Haar'chak…” Kad muttered to himself.

As the waves parted a long mass of bright violet scales rose up into the air as part of a long elegant serpentine body. It already towered over the Mandalorian but a sinking feeling in Kad’s gut told him there was still a lot more to this thing beneath the waves. Taking a few steps back his eyes traveled up its’ intimidating length stopping on the long sharp claws, a snout no doubt filled with serrated teeth, its’ huge reptilian eyes and a well quaffed head of bright orange hair.

Blinking in confusion, Kad shook his head clear and checked again. Sure enough it was still there, a head of admittedly very well kept and cared for hair. A feat that he found both confusing and impressive all at the same time considering it had just risen out from the depths. Slowly his hand reached behind his back hovering just above the handle of his lightsaber.

“Oh my, hello there!” The beasts’ chipper tone was more than a little disarming.

Kad’s hand relaxed a bit as he waved weakly up at the serpent, “Uh… howdy.”

Meanwhile, the rest of the crew had reached the outer perimeter of the castle ruins. Kell stood at the foot of the bridge and teased it with his foot before looking back at the group, mainly at Traycn, “I don’t think the speeder or big lovin’ is gonna make it across.”

“I am not big I’m just healthy!” The Taung shouted back angrily.

Torb shook his head in aggravation as Kell and Traycn began arguing back and forth over the size problem of their personal one man army, “Enough,” He snarled at them both to silence them, “Traycn will remain here with our gear and provide us an escape route, everyone else, we’re going in there.”

The remaining four quickly made their way across the bridge and with trained military precision stacked themselves against the door before pressing inside, each member of the squad checking his corners and keeping his teammates safe from any harm that may be hiding just out of sight. As they swept the main hall each com chimed in with an all clear one after another.

“This place looks pretty dead…” Zex stated under his breath as he scanned the area from behind the sights of his carbine.

Torb nudged their sniper in the side, “Kell, your helmet has the best sensor pack out of all of us.”

With a nod he placed his rifle on the ground beside him and took a knee, “I read ya.” Placing a hand to the side of his helmet he began sifting quickly through various vision modes and readouts as he looked from the ceiling to the floor slowly taking in the area, “All scopes look clean.”

“Great, now we just need to get thunder thighs and all that gear onto this side of the ravine and we’ll be set.” Arkanna stated.

As if on cue there came a load crashing noise of metal slamming into the ground just outside the doors. The force of the impact threw dirt and dust into the air around them. Bringing their weapons up the team spilled out into the courtyard.

Outside the only thing they found was their heavily armored companion standing at the center of a small crater, the pair of heavy duty jump jets on his back still smoking. Clamped in his metallic grip was the now twisted remains of the speeder. All about the crater was the scattered bits of gear taken from the ship. Traycn’s visor looked up to scan his companions, “I got bored waiting… brought the speeder.”

“Yeah… what’s freakin’ left of it!” Kell berated him.

“The supplies are closer to our new base of operations.” Traycn added triumphantly.

The sound of breaking twigs across the ravine drew their attention as Kad exited the brush weighed down with the newly filled watered jugs, “Fellas… what happened to the speeder?”

“Traycn.” Was the unanimous reply from the others.

“Haar'chak, guess we’re walkin’ from now on.” Kad trudged his way across the rope bridge before dropping the water jugs at their feet, “Hey guys, can I ask you lot somethin’?”

“What’s on your mind fearless leader?” Arkanna asked.

“Well… do you guys think my armor looks drab?” Kad reluctantly put the question out there as he could feel the now uncomfortable air around them become thicker. The visors of their helmets kept him from seeing their reactions but he knew what the looks on their faces were.

“Beg pardon?” Kell was the only one to speak up.

“I… I met one’a the locals at the river, looks like they speak basic, so that’s a plus right?” Kad said skirting the question of his brother.

“No, not what I asked.” Kell was not about to let him jump topics.

“Well, he was a very friendly fella,” Kad began recounting his experience, “Had a… nice head of hair an’ uh… mustache… oh and he happens to be a giant river snake. Said that I should consider a deferent paint scheme for my armor, or maybe a… fashionable cloak to… accentuate it…”

There was a long silence from the entire team as they stared at him in uncomfortable disbelief, “I think it looks fine.” Zex chimed in with a comical tone.

“Yes well, if we could return out focus to the situation for a moment,” Torb interjected, “So we’re dealing with big water snakes that talk?”

“Well I didn’t get him to talk at length bout the planet,” Kad retorted, “But I got the impression that whatever he was wasn’t the dominant species.”

“Makes sense,” Zex added, “This planet isn’t nearly aquatic enough to have developed that kind of a species in mass. To evolve across the majority of it there would need to be a much higher water to land ratio. From orbit it looked to be a fairly standard garden world-”

“Boooooring.” Kell rudely interrupted.

With a sigh Kad shook his head, “Okay, stow the chatter. What’s the sitrep on our new home?”

“Couldn’t find jack on the scans, looks to be clear.” Kell replied.

“Fine by me,” Kad stated, “Gather the gear an’ pile in, four hour watch shifts, I’ll take the first one.” He stole a glance overhead as a clear star filled sky filled his view, “Kell, you an’ Arkanna give this place a quick sweep, report whatever ya find.”

With a nod the pair disappeared into the castle as the rest of them gathered up what they had brought with them and moved deeper into the ruined building. The mostly crumbled walls seemed oddly sturdy despite nature’s encroachment on this would be bastion. In time the weapons and gear were all accounted for and checked. A small fire had been stared at the far side of the main hall. In a corner of the room the odd pair of Traycn and Torb slaved over what still looked like a mish mashed pile of wires, circuit boards and diodes.

Kad left them to their work as he leaned against the large wooden door that sat ajar, his visor’s blank stare looking out into the forest. In the back of his mind he kept rolling what happened before his new “acquaintance” showed up. It felt as though someone had called him out. It felt like eyes were on him, keeping close tabs on his actions, it was veiled though, deep behind the Force itself.

What dreams may come

When his shift came to an end Kad couldn’t be happier. The fatigue from the whole ordeal had finally started to settle on him. His mind and muscles ached for a rest of any kind as he took a seat against a stone pillar near the small fire his comrades had made.

He could still feel those eyes upon him as he settled in for the night. No matter how hard he tried to focus on where it was coming from it only pushed him farther away. Glancing up at the full moon over head he could feel another presence. This one was a bit more welcoming and reassuring. It filled him with a slight calmness about the current hopples looking situation.

Wrapping his cloak around him he closed his eyes and let sleep take over at long last. As he drifted off a harsh wind began to blow through the ruins. It began growing in intensity howling and ripping through the building. Soon everything it touched starting turning to dust and was cast away. All around Kad the world was being blown away and turned into a swirling mass of dust and debris even his comrades were ground away leaving nothing behind.

Just as suddenly as the storm appeared it vanished, leaving Kad alone in a barren waste of coarse sand and rocks the sky around him was an empty pitch black. With a grunt he got to his feet and surveyed the new location. Far in the distance sat a large darkened temple. A soft blue glow came from within it as an all too familiar voice drifted over the wind, “Mandalorian, come forth.”

With some reluctance Kad began the trek towards the only real landmark in this entire sand blasted waste. Time seemed to stretch for an eternity as the landscape never changed not even a sign of whether it was day or still night. As he pushed forward he ventured a glance back only to see that his footprints were coving themselves over returning the sand to its’ undisturbed state.

Finally Kad reached the steps of this strange temple, “Come Mandalorian,” The voice upon the wind beckoned him. He could hear it clearer now this close to the temple. It was old and withered yet somehow it hid strength behind this rasp. Within the temple seemed somehow to have grown twice in size. Massive stone columns flanked either side of the entrance, strange lamps floated from them giving off an eerie blue light, leading to a raised dais where a solitary figure sat in meditation. He appeared human at first glance though clearly far taller. His form was thin and lean with deep seeded wrinkles over his features. Long snow white hair and beard hung from him like the simplistic robes around him, it reminded Kad of how the few Jedi he had met tended to dress.

Slowly and quietly he inched his way towards this ancient man. Once he was a foot away the eyes of the elderly creature sprang open revealing solid black orbs that looked very much like a star dotted night sky, “Man of Mandalore, why have you come here?” Kad could see his mouth move but that voice still seemed to ring in his head.

“Ya called for me remember… where ever here is.” Kad muttered the last half under his breath.

A single hand was held up in Kad’s direction when it did a blinding pain shot through his body dropping him to his knees, “Do not patronize me child. Now why have you come to this world?

As the pain subsided Kad could feel his wits returning, “Haar’chak… we didn’t come here by choice, our ship crash landed!” He managed to pull himself into a sitting position, “We couldn’t leave if we wanted to.” Kad’s eyes narrowed with this being, “Now, you tell me, who or what the haran ya are!?”

It regarded Kad like a school master to a child seeking answers beyond his faculties, “Who and what I am, are beyond the limited comprehensions of your mongrel kind. I am a being comprised purely of the Force. This world you have stumbled upon is under my watch. If you must name me then you may know me as the Guardian.” The Guardian stroked its beard as he sized up the Mandalorian.

“Guardian, my brothers an’ I have no intentions’a staying on this world longer than we have to. But our ship was destroyed in the crash.” Kad continued to plead their case.

I know of your plight and I know of those you bring in your wake. Those whom will rain death upon this world destroying all that they touch in their selfish quest for power.” As the Guardian spoke cracks began to appear on the stonework, “Your blundering has doomed this world!”

Kad watched as pillars and walls began to crumble around them, falling away to leave a war torn field smoldering with the wreckage of blasted homes. The sound of roaring engines drew him to the sky where the frigate from before hung motionless as if sitting on the clouds of smoke. Movement at his feet drew his gaze to a small form caked in ash and char as it weakly reached out towards him, “Okay, we screwed up, I get it! What can we do to fix it?”

Slowly the world began to return to normal, “Man of Mandalore, you and your kin brought war to this world. Your task will be a simple one. Face the coming storm and stop them. This world cannot fall to these invaders.

One skeletal digit touched Kad’s forehead, upon contact he found himself back in the ruins. Around him his brothers slept as Arkanna kept watch near the entrance. Pulling the cloak tighter around him Kad tried to will himself back to sleep.

Night passed with little to no incident. A thick fog had settled on the area obscuring much of the ruins. From a high tower to the rear of the structure Kell sat scanning the area from the scope of his rifle, his helmet sat on the ground near his feet. On the windowsill was perched a piping hot cup of caf. From behind his weapon he focused intently on what looked like the vague silhouette of rooftops.

Taking a bored sip from his glass he continued to scan over the area a bit more before tapping the spare com on his wrist, “Looks like we might just have company after all.” Part of him was tempted to see if he could score a hit from all the way back here on a weathervane, “I can see what looks like a settlement near the edge of the forest, can’t make out any specific numbers from back here.”

“Nicely done Kell,” Torbs’ voice came in over the coms, “Pack it in and come on down.”

Kell finished off his caf as he looked out over the distance, a mischievious grin etched over his face as he checked the silencer at the end of his rifle, “Roger that blue boy…” Bringing the stock to his shoulder it was a simple task to bring that tempting target back into his sights. A quickly adjustment here and a shift in the angle, “Packing it in…” His finger eased back the trigger sending a bolt of energy silently flying over the tree tops. He eagerly kept his eye trained on it until finally it sparked and spun rapidly.

Scooping his helmet up Kell quickly made his way down the spiral stairs to the rest of the group. The fire had been kept alive as a pot of the boiling liquid simmered beside a few cooking protein bars. Around the fire the rest of the team busied themselves with either breakfast or double checking gear. Kell poured himself another cup of caf as he glanced over at Kad who looked a bit ragged, “Ner’vod, you look like this swill tastes.”

Kad forced a smile, “Bad dreams, you’re lookin’chipper. What’d ya do?”

Kell merely smirked as he sipped on his drink.

To the side of the group the Torb worked diligently on a circuit board, a holographic readout floated before him, “I believe we should make contact with the local settlement.”

“Hah, I’m gonna get me some local babes!” Kell happily chimed in with.

Torb kept his attention focused between the readout and the board, “I suggest a diplomatic approach with this.”

“What’re ya thinkin’?” Kad asked between sips of caf.

“Simple, we don’t go in with the obscenely big guns… until they give us a reason, that is.” Torb gave a knowing smirk at the mention of this last part

The sun was making its climb into the noon day sky when the small force from Epsilon made their way through the forest. Zex, Kad and Arkanna had taken the task of reaching the local settlement.

“Boy, this sure is great!” Arkanna stated loudly in a sarcastic tone, “Never did anything like this with my old squad.”

“Rookie, would ya shut your trap…” Kad was steadily losing patients with him.

“Crash landing on an uncharted planet full who knows what, nope never done anything like this before!” Arkanna spat out as they marched on.

“Hey Rookie, how’d ya end up in Epsilon squad again?” Kad happily asked.

“At least when I crashed that cargo transport there was a spaceport on the planet!” Arkanna declared loudly.

With an annoyed sigh Zex moved away from the two muttering about giving up his life as a doctor for this. Something on his HUD’s motion tracker drew his attention though, “Hey guys.” The two seemed focused on their argument and coming close to blows. Zex had no patience for any of this as he delivered a swift smack to the back of their helmets, “Hey, knock it off and check your scopes!”

Sure enough each one of them finally noticed the same thing, “What in the Force… that is a really big blip.” Arkanna stated, “Think it’s your buddy from yesterday?”

Kad shook his head, “Couldn’t be Stephen, rivers’ in the other direction.”

Arkanna tilted his head in a confused fashion, “The river monster is named Stephen?”

Kad ignored him, “Better go check it out.”

“Yeah let’s head TOWARDS the massive blip on the motion tracker, I’m sure nothing bad could come of that.” Arkanna blurted out in his usual sarcastic tone.

The trio covered the ground quickly enough coming to a rocky outcrop overlooking a meadow. The life of a Mandalorian normally prepares you for just about anything and any situation but what they saw in the valley below was never covered in boot camp. A massive five headed reptilian beast stomped a path of destruction as it chased down three oddly colored four legged creatures. What made it truly odd was the fact that the three smaller ones were screaming in, “Is that basic? Are those little things yelling in galactic basic?” Arkanna voiced everyone else’s thoughts.

“Haar’chak, we can’t just stand here and let ‘im get eaten.” Kad stated as he took his saber from his belt.

“Why can’t we? Standing here is looking really safe.” Arkanna quickly pointed out. As he looked his comrades in the visor he let out a sigh, “We’re not gonna stay here are we?”

Kad took him by the collar and pulled him visor to visor, “This ain’t up for discussion, we’re out here lookin’ for locals an’ we just found ‘im in trouble. We’re goin’ down there and we’re killin’ that thing. Now if you are done complainin’ like a frightened moisture farmer then why don’t you start acting like a Mandalorian! You copy?”

Arkanna nodded his head, “Loud and clear, sir!”

“If you two are done acting like a pair of kath hounds in heat…” Zex chided them as he readied his carbine.

The descent was a swift slide down the side of the rock wall. Once down they split into two groups to out flank the beast. Kad kept to the underbrush as he moved around the outside of the incident. On his HUD he could see the icons pointing out the progress of his comrades. Closer now he could make out clearly these odd quadrupeds as they ran for their lives. They reminded him of beasts of burden he’d seen on many other worlds but these ones were smaller at only four feet on all fours.

Stranger still was the coloration of these creatures. One was a bright orange with large green eyes as well as a blonde mane and tail combo and what looked to be a wide brimmed hat and what looked picture of fruit on the flank. The second was pure white with dark blue eyes, a purple mane and tail that looked to be expertly styled and a diamond pattern. The third looked to be flying? Sure enough it was airborne and kept aloft by a pair of small feathered wings the cyan hue of its coat coupled with the rainbow stripes of the mane and tail. From the sound of their voices it was clear they were each females respectively.

One of the hungry mouths of razor sharp teeth pulled back and lunged at the scampering prey heading straight for the white one. Thankfully the maw missed the target, slamming into the ground and sending the would-be snack hurtling through the air and skidding to a stop several yards away. A smirk came across Kad’s face as he saw the other two make a fast about face to defend their friend. The flier quickly striking one of the heads with her back hoof before zipping around to harass the other heads, “Kandosii, these things have some fight in them!” Kad’s joyous praise was cut short when the flyer was snatched from the air by a vicious maw that gave her a violent shake before sending the sky blue creature hurtling into a tree. A cold lump formed in the pit of his stomach as the brave little creature slid to the ground. Digging deep into the force, Kad focused the energy through his muscles to propel himself faster.

The orange one had placed herself between the monster and her comrade. As the flyer was tossed aside like a ragdoll a look of shock dawned on her. The hulking beast loomed over them, it gleefully eyed its meal as green eyes glared defiantly back. She dug her hooves deep into the dirt as she braced herself for the inevitable fight. One vicious head reared back and lunged at them, ready to gobble down the treat.

Kad finally managed to reach the besieged four legers, igniting his saber as he closed in on the target. A blade of golden energy sprung from the hilt. Still dipping into the Force the Mandalorian warrior was able to launch himself over them and head long at a tooth-filled maw. His blade delivered a swift blow across the face of the monster sending it reeling in surprise and howling in pain. Kad now stood between the beast and its prey, blade ready to strike again.

Fighting monsters and making friends

The members of Epsilon squad were used to getting the odd jobs the galaxy threw their way. They’d seen and done some strange things and faced down everything from Sith lords to megalomaniacal AIs that gained self awareness. But saving four legged beings from a five headed monster was a new one.

Kad stood his ground, the emotionless visor of his helmet glaring into the five sets of reptilian eyes that now leveled themselves with him. Behind the mask he couldn’t help but smirk, granted it was an intimidating sight but it was also a challenge. He ventured a glance over his should at the bewildered pair of quadrupeds, offering them a quick mock-salute before lighting up an acknowledgement light on his HUD.

Arkanna and Zex rose from their cover in the bushes, blaster bolts burning the creature’s hide as they fanned out into a wider formation, careful to not cross their fields of fire. The sudden appearance of more opponents threw the heads into an angry confusion sending them snapping and lunging in all directions in the hopes of snatching up at least one of the attackers.

“Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeah, come on you big ugly freak, get you some!!!” Arkanna excitedly taunted the monster as his weapon sent bolt after bolt of energy into the scaly hide.

The confusion was all the opening the force wielding Mandalorian needed. The world around Kad seemed to move at a snail’s pace as he rushed forward into the tangle of necks and tooth-filled maws. His aim was to put this creature down quickly before this fight dragged on, all he needed was a clear shot at the wide stocky midsection. Kad’s movements were fast and fluid as he ducked and dodged through the chaos, his saber burning shallow cuts against any part of the beast that got too close.

A mere four feet from his target he brought his saber up to stab into it when a stray head scored a hard blow into his side, sending the Mandalorian airborne. Kad hit the ground with a loud crack as his armor plates scraped against the rocks and dirt. What small bubble he could create at the time with the force softened what could have been a far worse fall. The landing had knocked the wind out of him, leaving him sprawled on the ground. Kad’s vision was a bit hazy but quickly returned in time to look up and see rows of sharp teeth about to clamp down on him. His hand instinctively went to ignite his saber but there was nothing, several yards away the weapon laid in the dirt.

In the midst of weighing his options a sizeable stone knocked against the beast’s head just above the eye followed by two more similar blows. One jagged stone managing to dig into eye and cause enough pain for the hungry mouth to reel back in pain. Kad looked to the direction the stones came from and saw the white four legger’s horn glowed with a soft blue light, several more jagged stones floated in the air around her surrounded by this same glow. He nodded a quick thank you to her as he pushed himself back onto his feet. It dawned on Kad that she probably had the right idea - he just needed to find a bigger rock.

Looking to the side Kad spotted a sizable boulder half-buried in the dirt. Holding a hand out towards it, he reached out through his mind till he felt the huge stone in his grasp. With a subtle motion it lifted itself from the ground and hung motionless in the air. His hand made a quick motion in the direction of the center head of the monster sending the boulder hurtling through the air swiftly and crashing into the targeted head. The force of the blow shattered the stone and sent the beast off balance, it tumbled backwards uncontrollably crashing onto its’ back.

Kad reached out once more summoning his weapon back to his hand and igniting the energy blade once again. Tapping deeper into the force around him he leapt high into to the air. The Mandalorian warrior brought his blade downward stabbing through scale and bone as it plunged into the monster’s chest and pierced the heart. There was a loud chorus of shrill cries of pain before the whole creature went limp and lay still. Kad stood atop the massive corpse looking down at the pair of awe struck natives. There wasn’t time to drink in the thrill of victory though, “Zex, wounded.”

With no hesitation the Zabrak medic made a quick beeline in the direction the flier had been thrown. His weapon quickly slung over his shoulder as he produced the suitcase-sized med case from his pack. Zex came to a sliding stop as he knelt over top of the sky blue creature as he set about examining her condition in busy silence. He paid her companions no mind as they approached the scene, the soldier was switched off and the doctor back on. Healing his patient was his only concern right now.

With a heavy sigh Kad slid off the belly of his fallen foe and steadied himself against the carcass as he stumbled a bit. That heavy blow coupled with pushing his body with force augmentation left him feeling like he had just gone several rounds of sparing with Traycn. Glancing toward the pair of quadrupeds, he could feel their unease pouring out around them. Regaining his composure the lead member of Epsilon approached the two, “Don’t worry,” He kept his voice at a calm smooth tone, “Corporal Zex is one of the best medics in the Neo Protectors. Your friend is in good hands.”

Arkanna lowered his weapon, making his way up to the dead monster and poking it with the muzzle of his carbine, lightly kicking it in one of its necks. “Well, that sucked a lot less than I’d thought it would have.” The Mandalorian let his weapon hang from its sling, patting Kad on the shoulder as he left him to play diplomat and marched over to where Zex was working on the blue native. “So, what’s the prognosis? Is it gonna live?”

“SHE,” Zex corrected him with a healthy dose of annoyance in his tone, “,has multiple lacerations on her hind legs and quarters, left wing looks to be broken it’ll need to be splinted and soon, there’s a fracture on her front left leg and I don’t like the look of that knot she took from the fall.” He quickly stated as he began disinfecting the cuts and applying bandages.

Arkanna watched him work, “Shoot ’er up with some bacta and let’s move on.”

Zex gave a sigh, “Where do I begin with how that’s a bad idea? Firstly we don’t know how long we’ll be on this planet and I don’t want to squander our finite medical supplies. Secondly, her physiology is completely alien and there is no telling what kind of reaction our medications could have on her system. Even a small dose of bacta could cause anything from a mild allergic reaction to full-on organ failure.”

The young Mandalorian couldn’t help but feel a bit more concerned for the small creature’s well being, “So what can we do for her?”

“All I can do for now is patch her up and keep her comfortable.” He replied in a somber tone. Glancing over his shoulder at his younger comrade he added, “She’s in very good health, I’m confident she’ll pull through.”

As Zex and Arkanna discussed the fallen one’s injuries Kad had thankful he’d managed to keep the attentions of their new friends on him while Zex worked. The good doctor tended to get rather snippy when pestered, “My name is Captain Kad Skirata of the Mandalorian Neo Protectors.” He stated an air of pride in his voice as he bowed his head to them, “I trust the two of you are alright.”

They seemed to calm a bit as it became clear they weren’t going to hurt them as the orange one was the first to address him with a tip of her hat, “Mighty fine’a y’all ta come when y’did Cap’n,” That accent was a bit hard to place but it’s drawl was starting to grow on him, “Name’s Applejack.”

“Yes, we are sincerely grateful for the timely rescue Captain Skirata.” The horned one’s voice hinted at a well-educated background. Something about this creature invoked memories of a brief time on Coruscant under the employ of Fel nobles, “I am Rarity, a pleasure to meet you.” She stated with a bow of her head, “Though I do wish it were under better circumstances.”

Applejack gave a concerned look over her shoulder at the busy medic, “We’re both fine an’ all, but we’re powerful worried ‘bout our friend Rainbow Dash.”

With a nod Kad called over to Zex, “How’s the patient looking, doc?”

“Honestly I was expecting her to be in a lot worse shape than she is,” Zex replied, not bothering to look up from his work, “I expect her to make a full recovery, provided she stays off her wing for the next few days.”

“Heh, ah don’t see that goin’ too well,” Chuckled Applejack, “Probably have’ta hogtie ’er afore that one stays on the ground.”

“Thank heavens she’s alright…” Rarity said with a sigh of relief, “Now if you wouldn’t mind answering one more question, what are all of you? I don’t believe I’ve seen anypony quite like any of you.

“Well like I said before ma’am, we’re Mandalorians.” Kad stated as his visor reflected her eyes back at her, “Though, if ya wanna get into specifics,” He began pointing out as he slid the helmet off, “I’m what’s called a human.” Kad tucked his helm under his arm as he surveyed the bewildered looks of the two, “Epsilon, buckets off.”

With the order given the other two members of the team removed their helmets to reveal the flesh and blood beings beneath the armor plates. Zex of course received the majority of the stares being only somewhat humanoid in appearance.

“Ah guess it’s safe ta assume y’all are the owners of that there metal thingy we found.” Her answer came in the form of a shared laugh between the men.

“We are very sorry for that, ladies.” Kad said with a bow of his head to the two, “We had a bit of a mishap and ended up crash landin’ on your lovely planet. We hope to be able to call for a ride soon and be out of your, uh, hair.”

“My word, then Twilight’s theory was correct, you really are from another world?” Rarity stated with a hint of shock and awe, “Well that would explain your “unique” appearances.” Her gaze began to shift up and down Kad as she began circling him.

The seasoned warrior began to feel a bit awkward as she sized him up and down, “Uh, is something wrong ma’am?”

“Oh darling, these colors are just atrocious.” She stated flatly, “You really should consider something a bit less drab-looking, especially when using gold.”

Without missing a beat Arkanna quickly took the initiative to point a finger towards his commanding officer, “Hah!”

“Private Arkanna,” Kad’s attention swiftly changing to his subordinate, “I don’t believe the perimeter is going to secure itself, do you?”

The joy of his small victory crushed before he could truly enjoy it. Arkanna hung his head in defeat for a moment before slipping his helmet back on, “No sir, I’ll get right on that sir…” Unslinging his weapon, he began to move about the edges of the clearing.

Kad returned his gaze to Rarity and Applejack, “So what was that thing chasin’ you two?” He asked glancing over his shoulder at the massive carcass, “I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of anything like it before.”

“That there is, or least was, a Hydra.” Applejack informed him, “Real nasty critters, but aint’ ever heard’o them travelin’ so far from the swamps an’ bogs like that feller did.”

Kad rubbed the stubble of his chin as he tried to phrase his next question, “Well, now comes the slightly uncomfortable question, what exactly are all of you?”

“I’ve been wondering that myself.” Zex chimed in as he splinted the injured wing, “There are no known quadrupedal species with your obvious levels of intelligence.”

“Oh-ho, you are too kind sir,” Rarity stated with a strong hint of pride in Zex’s comment, “You certainly are in luck, we happen to be three prime examples of pony-kind.” Her hoof motioned toward Applejack, “Firstly are of course the hard working Earth ponies.” She then motioned toward the bandaged up Rainbow Dash, “Next, are the airborne Pegasus ponies.” She then motioned to herself, “Finally are we magically graceful Unicorns.” Her voice softened to silk as her eye lashes fluttered with a tilt of her head.

The three warriors were clearly still very dumbfounded by this new information as they stared blankly at Rarity. Arkanna of course spoke what was hanging in the minds of everyone else, “What in Sith’s blood is a pony?”

Zex broke the awkwardness with clearing his throat, “Excuse me ladies but do you happen to come from the settlement past the forest here?”

“Sure do sugar-cube!” Applejack happily replied, “Ponyville, mighty fine town.”

“Do you have any medical facilities in, erm, Ponyville?” Zex asked as he re-equipped his helmet, “I’ve done all that I can with my field kit and would prefer it if I could get her to a medical staff more familiar with your physiology.”

“Nurses Redheart an’ Tenderheart run a clinic back in town.” Applejack replied as she trotted over to her friend’s side.

Zex fished around his pack a moment before producing a collapsible gurney before closing up his field kit before returning it to its’ place on his back, “Kad, I’d like to take her into town for further treatment.”

“Sounds like a plan doc, get ’er ready to move and we’ll head out.” Kad replied with no hesitation.

A gasp from the unicorn drew their attention, “The rest of our friends are still back at, at, well whatever that metal box thing is, our friend wanted to stay behind and examine it further.”

Kad and Zex exchanged a look before his gaze rested on Rarity, “Friends?”

Enter Deathwatch

There were few things Kad hated more than dividing his forces, especially considering how limited they usually were. The situation however was against him, they had a wounded civilian on their hands and three more potentially stuck in the wilderness. With some reluctance the order had been given to let Zex escort his patient back to town with the aid of Applejack. While this was underway the remaining three, Arkanna, Kad and the native Rarity, would press on to locate the remainder of these ponies and escort them back to town as well. All in all it sounded like a fairly simple and routine plan, provided they didn’t cross paths with anymore hydras or any other monster that called this planet home. Then why was Kad’s stomach a ball of ice?

Something was still setting off warning signals for Kad but as always the force was less than forthcoming with whatever it might be trying to tell him. How did those weirdoes in the Jedi order put up with this stuff or even understand it? He managed to push it to the back of his mind writing it off as just being uneasy with his team split up.

“Miss Rarity,” He hoped conversation would give him something else to think about, “I gotta say I’m impressed with how well you and your friend are takin’ the whole ‘life on other planets’ thing. I would’a expected it to be a rather world-shatterin’ revelation.”

The unicorn trotting alongside him smiled warmly up at him, “Well, you and your comrades are very strange and I will not pretend to understand any of this. However you all seem to be well-mannered enough.”

Kad forced a smile as his thoughts drifted to the rest of his team and how her opinion of them would be more or less dashed after meeting them, “Oh yes, we’re quite the gentlemanly crew… That’s for sure.” He said as he traced the scars along his chin.

This brief interlude was quickly broken by the sound of blaster fire far ahead of them. On instinct Kad and Arkanna immediately got low and readied their weapons. Kad quickly slipped on his helmet and put himself between Rarity and the direction the sound came from.

“Report,” Kad kept the hilt of his saber gripped tightly in his hand, holding off on igniting the blade to keep their position from being exposed.

Arkanna scanned the area from behind the sights of his carbine while hugging the side of a tree, “Doesn’t look like we’re the targets sir.”

“Advance, low and quiet,” Kad ordered with a motion of his hand. His attention shifted to the shocked looking unicorn behind him, “Stay close quiet and low to the ground. If things get too heated you run and hide.”

She nodded slowly as her eyes darted between the two Mandalorians. There were no more words between any of them as they slowly crept through the underbrush. Time seemed to stretch as they made the advance - the chronometer had barely ticked away, yet it felt like hours had passed.

Arkanna stopped his advance near the edge of the clearing they had made a forced landing in just the other day, “Voices up ahead,” He spoke in a hushed tone over the comlink.

“I said shut up!” The voice was male and from the sound of it very agitated.

As the clearing came into view they found the source of the voices and the blaster fire. Five humanoid figures wearing armor not unlike the Mandalorians, the key difference was the uniform look. Each of them was clad in black and blue armor, carried the same weapons and bore a bright red W etched into their shoulder armor.

Two of these soldiers stood guard over a pair of ponies that Kad and Arkanna had come to know as a pegasus and a unicorn. The unicorn’s coat was a shade of violet, her mane and tail was dark purple with a streak of pink and lighter shade of purple. The pegasi had a light golden hued coat, her long pink tail and mane looked to be fairly well taken care of. The two of them cowered under the blaster muzzles aimed at their heads.

At the center one of the troopers had his boot’s heel firmly placed on the back of a bright pink earth pony with rather unruly curled pink tail and mane. The muzzle of his blaster rifle was pressed tightly to the back of her head, “One more stinking peep out of you, one more damn song and I will vape that puff ball you call a head!” Her captor snarled.

A terrified gasp nearly escaped Rarity’s mouth before Kad’s hand moved in front it to muffle the sound, “Put your head down and cover your eyes and ears as tightly as you can.” He whispered into her ear. Nodding in compliance the unicorn hugged the ground covering her head and pinning her ears against her head.

Kad took a cylindrical device from his belt. Through the ocular controls of his HUD he sent his comrade a signal to standby which was immediately answered with a signal of compliance.

“Come on Grey, you’ve already scared the osik out of them,” One of the troopers chimed in as he watched the scene unfold, “The Commander told us not to engage the locals unless necessary.”

The trooper known as Grey merely chuckled as he pushed his blaster closer to the back of the pink pony’s head, “Who’s going to care if we put down a couple of the primitives?”

A snapping twig brought the attention of the soldiers to the edge of the clearing raising their weapons. As they did they were met with a bright white light and ear shattering pop. Grey’s world became a hazy blur as panic overtook the clearing.

In the confusion Kad and Arkanna sprang from the tree line. The two closest to them were quickly set upon by Kad, his saber burning through the mass produced armor of their chest plates. The two standing guard over the unicorn and pegasus were met with a hail of blaster fire. From the corner of his eye Arkanna caught sight of the last trooper standing and armed, sending a volley of blaster fire in his direction. The panicked pony under his target’s feet throwing him off balance, just barely missing but destroying the blaster rifle in his hands.

Grey found himself tumbling through the haze around him his ears ringing loudly muffling the sounds of blaster fire around him. The smell of ozone filled his nostrils as he felt the weapon he was holding fly from his grip. In a hurry his hand quickly searched around as he tried to right himself quickly gripping something that wasn’t grass, something long and soft.

Epsilon’s advance was quickly halted as the last remaining trooper pulled the golden pegasus by her hair and brought the frightened creature closely to his chest between himself and his attackers. Her legs kicked helplessly at the air just as a blade sprang from his gauntlet and pressed against her neck, “That’s far enough!”

“Fluttershy!” Rarity gasped in shock. She had entered the clearing as the sounds of fighting died down to corral her friends.

Kad and Arkanna kept their weapons leveled with Grey as he scrambled to his feet holding Fluttershy tightly against himself. She could feel the sharpness through her fur as it begged to draw blood. Frozen by fear her eyes silently begged her would-be saviors for help as they kept their distance.

“Let’er go.” Kad ordered as he took a step forward.

“Not a step closer, Jedi!” Grey yelled as his blade drew a few droplets of blood from his hostage.

That word always got deep under his skin, “I’m no Jedi…”

“Both of you, disarm now, or I’m staining her coat from the ne-“ Grey’s words were cut short as a blaster bolt cut a path through the air. Smashing through the visor of his helmet and piercing through his right eye denting the back of his helmet outward. His body crumpled to the ground as his arms became dead weight around his terrified hostage.

“Nice shootin’ rookie.” Kad stated with approval.

“Not really sir, I was aiming for between his eyes.” Arkanna admitted as he moved to free the trembling pegasus from the dead man’s grasp, “You alright ma’am?” He asked softly as he knelt down to examine her closely, “You’re going to be okay, we’re with the Mandalorian Protectors. You’re safe now.”

She stared up at him wordless and still gripped by shock with a small red line on the side of her neck. In a sudden shift of emotion Fluttershy wrapped her forelegs around Arkanna and buried her face against his shoulder and wept uncontrollably.

Arkanna put his hands up in surprise as he looked to Kad for answers, “Uhm… sir?”

Kad patted the young Mandalorian on the shoulder with a chuckle, “She’s a cute one rookie.”

Arkanna awkwardly looked between Kad and Fluttershy before patting the teary eyed mare’s back, “There, there...”

The journey from the forest into town had thankfully been uneventful for the Mandalorian medic and his charges. With Applejack’s help and directions they were able to bypass the major thoroughfares of Ponyville and reach the clinic unnoticed. Applejack had protested Zex’s decision wanting to get her friend to the nurses as quickly as possible. A concern he could understand but the less onlookers and gawkers that saw him the better. With the clinic’s placement on the far edge of town it wasn’t a hard feat.

As they came to a stop near the entrance Applejack looked him over for a moment, “Maybe Ah’d best go prep ‘em afor y’all head in.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it. We medical professionals have a sort of universal language.” Zex stated in a calm casual tone before forcing the door open with Rainbow’s stretcher in hand, “Nurses, I have wounded here!”

It had been a quiet afternoon at the Ponyville clinic until the bipedal creature in full armor burst into the main lobby with an injured pegasus in tow. Both nurse ponies shared a shocked and confused look for a brief moment but were able to quickly regain their composure and take action, “What happened to her?” Tenderheart asked they moved Rainbow to an empty gurney.

“She picked a fight with a hydra,” Zex felt in his element as he and the pair of nurse ponies moved her quickly to an examination room, “Lacerations on her hind legs, sutures are in place and holding. Left wing may be sprained, so I took the liberty of splinting it, to be safe. She suffered a blow to her head when she hit the ground but the swelling appears to be going down. I suspect she may have bruised several ribs in the exchange however without more knowledge on your species physiology I can’t say for certain until she wakes up.” He was able to divulge all this information in what seemed like a single breath much to the surprise of the farm pony he came in with.

“Thank you sir, we’ll take things from here.” Tenderheart stated calmly as the two nurse ponies set about taking care of Rainbow Dash.

With a smirk beneath his helmet Zex glance over at Applejack who looked more than a little surprised at how smoothly that went over, “I told you, the universal language of “Oh shit someone’s hurt,” we all speak it.” He casually stated as he tapped the red-cross etched onto his pauldron.

Commander Davian Teth strode through the halls of the fast attack frigate Skira alongside him an Ensing read off the information on his datapad, “We’ve identified the ship sir, the uhm, the Cheatin’ Whore. The vessel is registered to Kad Skriata.”

Teth raised his eyebrow at this information, “The same Kad Skirata from the Geonosis incident?”

The fresh faced Ensing double checked his information, “Aye sir, Captain Kad Skirata of the special forces branch of the Mandalorian Neo Protectors and commanding officer of Epsilon Squad.”

“We’ll deal with the mad beasts of Epsilon when the time comes,” Teth stated flatly as they entered the hanger bay, “Has my shuttle been prepped?”

“Yes sir.” Came the swift answer, “Your personal guard is already onboard and the pilot is awaiting your orders sir.”

The shuttle craft’s descent through the atmosphere was a smooth one. Teth mused at how this lovely little blue and green orb would make a wonderful hidden base for the Death Watch. Deep enough inside Mandalorian space that they could strike at their enemies yet remain completely under their noses. Making his way to the cockpit he treated a far more impressive view of the virtually untouched world below them, “Pilot, set us down there.” He drew his man’s attention to a regal looking city settled into the side of a mountain.

“Sir, are you sure about this?” A hint of unease was easily detected in the pilot’s voice.

“We’re looking for the people in charge, pilot,” He brought up a holographic readout of the city, “This city’s absolute opulence screams nobility.” Teth reassured him with a pat on the shoulder.

The roar of the shuttle’s engines split the normally peaceful air around the city of Canterlot. Its citizens brought to a frightened stand still as this metallic monstrosity decended from the sky and landed in the center of the city. Upon touchdown the entrance ramp to the belly of the ship lowered to the ground. Six Death Watch troopers exited the ship weapons firmly in hand as they lined up in two columns on either side of the ramp. Teth strode from the ship with his head held high as he scanned the growing crowd of ponies from behind his full helmet.

They were like nothing Teth had ever seen before and would have easily mistaken them for some kind of animals had they not been muttering amongst themselves in frightened tones. Slipping his helmet off he looked from one pair of uneasy eyes to the next, “Citizens, my name is Commander Davian Teth.” His voice was loud and full of authority, “I represent the Mandalorian Neo Protectors. I have come to your planet chasing a crew of dangerous fugitives. I seek an audience with your leaders.” It sickened him to claim himself a member of that filth the Neo Protectors, but the guise of their banner may make things easier for him during his search.

The calm

Kell stared out across the lush forest below the ruins from his perch in the remnants of the few towers still standing. His rifle trained out across the expanse watching for any kind of movement or hint or approach. The stalwart sniper and assassin of Epsilon squad, keeping a silent vigil over their base camp and safe guarding what few vital supplies they still had. Though he had been in this situation time and time again, once even waiting a full six days without moving an inch till his target came into view, his mind trailed as it always did. This day they drifted to one subject in particular, how freaking bored he was.

He didn’t mind the peaceful woodlands - after all, they were a welcome change of pace from constantly being shot at. Part of him yearned for those blasted battlefields and ruined cityscapes, at least he’d have something to do besides sit here and play guard. Looking through his scope he started to line up that weathervane once again with a childish smirk coming across his face. He wondered if his brother had reached that town yet. In Kell’s mind he could hear Kad scolding him already for scaring the osik out of the townsfolk of the primitive planet. The calculations ran through his head at lightning speed as his finger came around the trigger. Suddenly something caught his attention and made him hold his fire. A winged figure cutting through the clouds, from this distance it was impossible for him to guess anything beyond size and current airspeed.

“What in the endless black was that?” He muttered to himself as he lowered his weapon.

A signal flashed several times on Kell’s HUD, it was Kad and his signal for switching to an encrypted long range frequency, “Big Sam’s Fish Market: we catch ’em, you gut ’em.”

Over the comlink he could hear the sound of his brother muttering a curse or three, “Why did I request you join my squad again?”

“Because you’re dumb and a horrible judge of character.” Kell laughed.

Kad sighed, “Kell, shut up, I’ve got a mission for ya.”

“Darn and here I was enjoying my guard duty here at fort Pile’o Rubble.” He said in a condescending tone, “What d’ya need bro?”

“I want you to rendezvous us. Found some locals out here in the woods and some soldiers holdin’ them at blaster point… I think they were Deathwatch.” Kad let this last part slip quietly to his brother.

An icy lump landed square in the middle of Kell’s stomach as he heard this, “Whoa wait, I think there’s a problem with our comlink, ‘cause it sounded like you said Deathwatch.”

“I wish,” Kad sighed out, “They were waitin’ for us at the ship, a couple of locals happened to get there first and ended up gettin’ blaster rifle neck massages. The rookie and I found ’em before things got outta hand. Heard one of ‘em blurt out they were Deathwatch.”

Kell shook his head in frustration, “Jeez, all the cool stuff happens when I’m not around.”

“Just move your sheb, will ya? We’re continuin’ on to the settlement, I want you to hook up with us halfway.” Kad stated before killing the comlink.

“Roger that vod, moving out.” Kell stated before cutting off his comlink.

The simple thing to do would be to just take the stairs back down and head out of the ruins through the main hall but that would also be the boring thing to do. With a smirk the sniper took a few steps away from the broken out window before running head long towards it and launching himself into the air. His free fall only lasted half a second but it felt like an eternity as the wind whipped past his armor. As he neared the ground his jet pack kicked on and stopped his descent letting him safely touchdown unharmed.

Taking a moment to glance back up at the window he’d just jumped through Kell couldn’t help but laugh at his own antics, “Hah, we have the coolest jobs in the galaxy.”

Bringing his rifle up to his shoulder Kell began his sprint into woods following the locator signal for his brother. Kad’s information still ate away at his stomach though, the Deathwatch were back and they’d shot up their precious ship. His emotions began to slowly turn towards a driving need for revenge. A sneer stretched across his face, he’d make them pay for every blaster burn every scratch in the paint and every dent in the hull. Deathwatch or not nobody wrecks up the Cheatin’ Whore and gets away with it, nobody.

On Kad’s side of the forest he glanced over his shoulder at Arkanna who still had a frightened pegasus latched onto him. The rest of her friends had recovered more or less and were now trying to help calm her down. The poor girl seemed to be made of glass, and Kad was sure being held at knife point didn’t help her much. His heart went out to the poor girl it really did but sentimental feelings would have to wait.

Turning back to the group he cleared his throat, “Okay I need to keep this brief so listen up,” Switching himself over to authority mode, “Quick introductions, I’m Captain Kad Skirata, he’s Private Arkanna Kershom,” Nodding in his comrade’s direction, “We’re from the Mandalorian Neo Protectors and I’m sure you have a mountain of questions but I need you all to save them till we’re out of these woods. We don’t know how many more of those Deathwatch troopers are out there and I don’t want our position bein’ given away so please keep the small talk down.”

His visor fell on Arkanna, “Private, you plan on carryin’ her the whole way?” A hint of annoyance hung in his voice.

Arkanna looked between his commanding officer and the one he’d heard Rarity call Fluttershy, “No sir, it’s just… She’s got a really mean grip, Captain.”

With an annoyed sigh Kad looked to the other three ponies for a hand, or hoof in their case, “Ladies if you wouldn’t mind collectin’ your friend.”

The other three were helpful enough in getting their friend to let his soldier go they could continue on. Kad could have sworn that purple one with the horn had given him a dirty look. Not that it would matter in the long run, keeping his men and them alive was the only priority. They could vilify him all they wanted and tell their little children scary stories about the heartless man from the stars. At least they’d be alive to tell the stories.

“Now, do any of you know the fastest route out of here?” Kad softened his tone in hopes of compliance, “Preferably one that won’t draw a lot of attention to us.”

“OH, I know!” The bright pink one chimed in loud and happily, “If we head that way it’ll put us right outside Fluttershy’s cabin!” She stated proudly, waving her hoof in the direction; she reminded him of the time Kell gave the ad’ikas too many sweets.

“Arkanna, take point and keep an eye out for Kell’s marker.” Arkanna nodded in compliance and quickly moved out ahead of the group. With that done Kad looked back to the pink one, furrowing his brow behind his visor. “And pinkie, try to keep it down, will ya? We don’t need any more of those troopers showin’ up.”

Her massive blue eyes grew almost twice their size, “Wow! You guessed my name in one try! What gave it away?”

“Wait your name is… Ya know what? Fine. I’m not even gonna question this.” Kad looked to the purple one, “So what’s yours, Violet?”

“Actually my name is Twilight Sparkle,” She replied in a fairly civil tone, “I’d like to thank you for helping us earlier, but…” She gave an uneasy look towards where the short lived skirmish had taken place, “Was it necessary to kill those things?”

Kad muttered something under his breath before he started marching, “Ma’am, when we get someplace safer I’ll be more than happy to exchange philosophies with ya. Till then you’d best stick close to us, unless you wanna wait for more them.” He motioned with his helmet over his shoulder back towards the clearing they had left behind.

In his head he started drawing a few parallels between this Twilight Sparkle and a Jedi he’d met a few years ago. Kad hadn’t gotten along with her at all and it felt like he and Twilight would be no different. For three months they were constantly at one another’s throats over every little thing. By the end of that mission they’d come to literal blows four times and to his pride Kad took her arm in their final duel. He hoped he was wrong about this unicorn, last thing he wanted to do was turn his saber on her but damnit all if she didn’t sound just like a Jedi.

On the outskirts of the forest sat the tiny village of Ponyville. On the far edge of the town sat a small stone building with a large red cross painted against a white background. Inside this building the medical officer of Epsilon squad, Zex Thornedrak looked over the notes he’d been given by the pair of medical ponies. Behind his visor his eyes quickly scanned over their prognosis and from what he could tell he was fairly close with his own diagnosis earlier. Maybe pony anatomy wasn’t that hard to figure out after all.

Setting the notes on a table alongside his weapon he looked over at the freshly patched up pegasus on the gurney at the center of the room. It had taken some doing to convince Applejack to leave Rainbow Dash’s side and trust him and the nurses to care for her. Loyalty and comradery like that was why he’d signed up with the Protectors in the first place.

The sky blue pegasus began to stir and shift with a labored groan and what he assumed were curse words as far as these pony things went. Zex moved to her side and spoke softly, “Whoa there, you’ve been through a lot. If you move around too much, you’ll just make your injuries worse.”

“Ugh… Horse-apples… What happened to the hydra?” She grumbled as the haze began to fade, “Rarity and Applejack… They alright?” Her tone began to border on panic.

“The hydra is dead and your friends are safe.” Zex stated coolly.

Eventually the fog lifted from the mare’s eyes bringing the armored figure into view, “What the hay!” She exclaimed in shock as she tried to move away only to rewarded with a shock of pain through her body, “Ow.”

Zex shook his head and crossed his arms, “Relax. If I wanted to hurt you, why would I bring you back to your village? Or the hospital, for that matter?”

The bandaged pegasus turned this fact over in her head a moment before settling down, “You… have a point there.” She reluctantly conceded, “Who and what are you though?”

“I’m Corporal Zex Thornedrak, I’m a medical officer with a group of people called the Mandalorian Neo Protectors.” He began to slowly inform her as he started to remove his helmet, “As for what I am, my species is known as Zabrak.”

“Nice horns.” She commented moving her foreleg over her head.

“Thanks, trimmed them a few days ago.” Reaching onto the table Zex picked up the notes that Tenderheart had left him on her condition, “Ms. Dash, I have to say I’m impressed you took such relatively light damage considering the circumstances. I honestly expected to find you at the bottom of that tree with your spine folded in half like a piece of flimsy.”

She was noticeably uncomfortable with how forward he was being on the subject, “Well I am one of the toughest ponies around.” She said with a proud smirk puffing out her chest, a sharp pain caused her to quickly deflate, “Ouch.”

“Bruised ribs.” Zex stated flatly as he looked the sheet over, “No matter the planet or the species, verda are always the same.”

Rainbow tilted her head in confusion, “A what?”

“Verda, warriors in the Mando’a tongue.” He pointed out, “No matter where you come from, you all do the same thing: run head long into the blaster fire then limp back to people like me or Tenderheart to patch you back up.”

She lowered her head a bit and tried to avoid the medic’s stern gaze, “I couldn’t just let that thing hurt my friends.” Rainbow Dash said bitterly.

“But you didn’t have to take it on alone,” Zex countered, “You had a team of able bodied, uh, ponies. If you had worked with them as a team you could have avoided ending up in a hospital bed. Hell, if our team hadn’t shown up all three of you would be in that thing’s belly.”

Zex noticed how deeply his words were starting to cut into the girl, “Look, life is a very finite currency Ms. Dash,” His tone began to soften as he rested a hand gently on her back, “Don’t be in such a hurry to spend it so quickly.”

Zex had to remind himself she was clearly still young and still had that fire they all had in their bellies. He just hoped she’d be one of the lucky ones that learned the hard lessons of combat before she ended up extinguished. Maybe this life patching up the wounded was starting to make him jaded like the others had pointed out, if that was the case then he owed Kad his prized bottle of Trandoshan Blood Wine.

Arkanna continued to press on ahead of the main group, quietly stepping between downed branches and logs, doing everything his training told him to avoid making a sound. He kept his weapon at the ready, constantly scanning ahead of himself for any hint of life or movement that could pose a threat. He was sure he was alone but couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched.

A snapped twig behind him caused him to whirl around bringing his weapon up, only to find a familiar timid pegasus on the other end of his cross hairs. “Haar’chak, don’t sneak up on me like that!” He cursed at her as he quickly pointed his weapon’s muzzle to the ground.

The look of fear etched across her face told him plainly that she knew what his weapon was and what it could do, “Look, sorry about snapping at you, ma’am.” He said calmly as he brought his carbine at ease across his chest, “Bit on edge being on a strange world and all.”

She seemed to settle a bit after his apology but continued to hold her silence as she watched him, “So, they said your name is Fluttershy, right?” She nodded a yes to Arkanna’s question. A little progress is progress right? “Mesh’la gai, why aren’t you back with the rest of your friends?”

Looking off to a patch of ground she spoke softly at almost a whisper, “I… I wanted to thank you for saving me; I’m sorry for bothering you though.” Her face turned a shade of red, “I’ll just get out of your way Mr. Arkanna.”

“Naw, you’re okay I guess.” He said, feeling a bit sorry for the shy girl, “Just stay close to me and try not to make too much noise.”

Hearing this, her attitude seemed to drastically change for the better as a smile stretched from ear to ear, “Oh, thank you, I promise not get in your way.” She said happily in that soft tone as her wings lifted her a few feet off the ground.

It occurred to him that it was rather strange how such tiny wings could lift her off the ground like that. Zex would probably be able to spout off some medical jargon about evolution and junk to explain it. The galaxy was certainly full of some pretty wild and crazy junk.

Arkanna pressed onward with Fluttershy floating close behind him. For the most part she’d remained quiet for the trek, “Uhm, I was wondering if I could ask you something, I mean, if it’s not too much trouble. I don’t want to seem like a bother.”

He came to a stop just outside the clearing his HUD had marked to meet up with Kell, “What’s on your mind Fluttershy?”

“Oh well…” She looked to be having trouble digging the words up, “What exactly are Mandalorians?”

Arkanna could barely hold back a laugh which caused her head to droop sadly as she landed on the ground behind him, “Sorry, I don’t mean any offense. It’s just that, people have asked that question for centuries.” He took a knee to put himself at eye to visor level with her, “To be honest, it’d take too long for me to explain, especially to an aruetii.”

She lowered her gaze away from his venturing a glance past him when it looked as though something moved. Something was indeed moving: it looked like a watery reflection of the forest around it, and was headed straight towards them both. Her eyes went wide in panic as she jumped back, screaming.

Arkanna brought his weapon around but found it stopped half-way and wrenched from his hand as a blow connected with his chest plate. Stumbling to his feet he quickly went for his pistol, only to feel a much heavier blow strike his torso with a loud metallic clang. Falling backwards he found himself staring up at the barrels of both his carbine and a long rifle.

“Hey rookie, you need to seriously work on that reaction time.” Kell’s all too familiar voice rang out as the reflective shimmer faded away revealing his comrade standing over him.

Before any other quips could be exchanged Kad entered the clearing with the other three ponies close beside him, “Good work private, you found Kell and Ms. Fluttershy.”

Kell gave the gathering of quadrupeds a once-over before looking to Kad, “Vod, I thought you said you were looking for locals not pets.” He quickly noticed the enraged glares he was receiving from them for his comment, “Osik, they can understand me can’t they?”

Arkanna dusted himself off as he got back up and took his carbine back, “Hey Staff Sergeant, remember how you said you were gonna get you some local babes? Meet some of the local babes.” The private did little to hide his sarcastic tone and was rewarded feeling the muzzle of Kell’s high powered blaster rifle press against the side of his helmet.

“Kell, no vapin’ the rookies,” Kad was quick to chastise him, “He’ll probably get himself killed soon enough.”

Meet the neighbors

The city of Canterlot was all a-buzz this day, all thanks to visitors from the sky calling themselves the Mandalorian Neo Protectors. At the center of the city sat their shuttle craft with a pair of armed guards standing at attention on either side of the gangway. Directly across from them a pair of royal guards stood watch keeping a close eye on these “visitors”. Behind their visors the pair of Death Watch troopers sized up these so-called “guards” as they hoped and prayed to receive a kill order from Teth.

“I’m really getting sick of the look those two are giving us, man.” One of the troopers muttered into his comlink. One of the advantages of a full helmet design was the ability speak via a private com without alerting those around you.

“I know what you mean, that one on the left is just asking for a blaster bolt to the face.” His comrade grumbled back.

“I hate how Teth wants to play politics with these… things.” He muttered in disgust.

“Maybe we’ll get lucky and he’ll just shoot their princesses so we can start taking this world like real warriors.” His comrade complained.

“If that happens I’m tearing my knife through the one on the right’s throat.” He snarled over the com.

Within the palace itself Teth examined the rather impressive stained glass windows of the main hall. It occurred to him that it was a rather amazing feat that these creatures with their limitations could build such a regal city. He assumed these windows told the history of these aliens, Teth found it rather odd how he saw nothing pertaining to any kind of major battles.

His gaze came to a rest on the depiction six of these pony things apparently facing down a strangely mismatched mutant of some kind. This was the second time he’d seen these six saving the day.

A pair of large double doors with elaborate gold trim design opened at the end of the hall. A pair of royal guards trotted in flanking a tall quadruped. Unlike the others he’d seen she was far taller, even more so than himself. Her fur was solid white with a long flowing mane and tail of multiple colors. The other important factor about her was the fact she seemed to have traits of all three breeds he’d seen: long horn and wings. The crown, air of importance about her and the way she carried herself told Teth plainly she was the one he’d been waiting for.

“Greetings. I am Princess Celestia, one of the rulers of Equestria.” She stated bowing her head to him.

“Your highness,” Teth addressed her bowing low, “I am Davian Teth, Commander of the frigate currently in orbit over your world and member of the Mandalorian Neo Protectors. I am sorry for our abrupt entry into your city, Princess Celestia, but the criminals we’re chasing are armed and extremely dangerous.”

Her stare became a bit more critical, “And what exactly makes them so dangerous, Commander Teth? Forgive me if I seem to withhold assistance to you, but showing up in my city with armed soldiers does little to help your case.”

The delicate dance of politics had always been the battlefield he excelled at. He kept himself a blank slate, “These men we are chasing have committed acts of piracy, terrorism and murder. For several months now they have been cutting a swath of violence through the outer rim systems, including the deaths of five of my men. We managed to wound their ship and unfortunately it was forced down on your world. Make no mistake, your highness; these men are no mere pirates and bandits.” He continued, “They are as well armed as they are skilled.”

He could see her wheels turning behind her eyes. Teth had to admit she was no fool and he would need to use all of his cunning to convince her, “You have my word your majesty, upon capture my forces will leave your world immediately if that is what you wish.”

“And what is it you wish from me Commander?” She questioned, “I cannot, and will not, allow you to march armed soldiers through the streets of towns and villages on a witch hunt.”

Just what he was waiting for, “Of course not - in your position I wouldn’t allow it either. I do however have a request that may suit us both.”

Her brow arched in curiosity, “I’m listening.”

“The ship we’re hunting crash landed in the wilderness south of here near one of your settlements.” He paused a moment when he detected a slight shift in her otherwise stoic demeanor, “I propose a joint operation to investigate the town and surrounding wilds using a small detachment of both your guards and my troopers, each lead by our best men. I think your citizens will be more at ease and be more willing to help if they see us working alongside their known protectors.”

Teth held back the edges of a smile as he saw the temptation in her eyes to submit to this idea. He was curious about that settlement though, something there was causing her some concern. If he could find out what it was then maybe he could use it to his advantage. The game of cloak and dagger had begun, and Teth would be damned if he let an alien four-legger, no matter how smart, beat him at his own game.

The trip out of the forest went without incident for the real Neo Protectors and their pony charges. As the trees gave way, the members of Epsilon were treated to the sight of a small home that at a distance could easily be mistaken for a hill. It looked like something ripped from the pages of a child’s story. From the looks of things the place was practically a tiny zoo as many different types of native fauna scurried about.

Kell watched a couple of the small long-eared ones scamper by and muttered over his com, “Wonder what those’d taste like in the pot.”

“These ones look domesticated vod,” Kad was quick to shoot back, “Stick to huntin’ the ones in the forest; I don’t want you freakin’ these folks out.”

Arkanna observed the shift in the general attitudes of the four ponies they had been escorting as their town came into view. He couldn’t help but smile at hearing their happy tones, it gave the young private a swelling of pride in his chest, “So, what now Captain?”

Kad looked between the town and the ponies they’d already met, “Well Private I’d say we go introduce ourselves to the neighbors.”

Like a shot Pinkie was practically at eye level with him smiling from ear to ear excitedly, “Oh, that’s a great idea, everyone in Ponyville will wanna meet you all! Especially after they hear how you saved us from those meanies. OH OH OH! We have to have a welcome party!”

Kad had never seen anything move that fast before. Even tapping into the force as much as he physically could he doubted he could have moved that quickly. He wondered what kind of damage she could do with a knife and a bit of training, “Uh, wow, hey, yeah, a party huh. That sounds real nice an all Ms. Pie, but no need to go all out for us Mando boys or nothin’.”

Kell threw his arm around his brother’s neck and pulled him into a headlock, “Vod, I can’t believe you, it’s rude to refuse hospitality. ‘Sides, when was the last time someone threw us a party for showing up?”

Kad gave a sigh of defeat as he pulled himself free of his brother’s grip, “Fine, we’ll go to the party!” Much to Kad’s annoyance both Pinkie and Kell began chanting party in unison as she bounced around happily. One of these days he was going to have to learn to tell his brother no, “When he gets drunk I ain’t corallin’ him!”

The three members of Epsilon squad kept close behind their new friends, a considerably much easier trek than the one through the thick woods and underbrush. As they entered the town all activity came to a grinding halt as every eye was on the aliens traveling alongside their townsfolk.

“Wow, real friendly place isn’t it?” Kell muttered sarcastically.

Kad looked over the uneasy eyes that were watching them, “Buckets off boys, show’em those beautiful smiles.”

Some of the onlookers seemed to be a bit more at ease as they saw the metallic plate weren’t part of their actual bodies. The members of Epsilon tried their best to look less like trained killers. The trademark armor and weapons made it a little hard.

Kell ventured a wave at a pair of mares that were eyeing him, “Ladies, lovely weather today.” He gave a chuckle as they quickly turned away to murmur to one another, “Hah, I think it’s working bro, they’re starting to warm up to us.”

Twilight shrugged, making her way ahead of the group. “You should have seen the way they reacted to Zecora before they warmed up to her. Everypony locked their doors and windows, closed shop for the day…”

Pinkie Pie bounced along behind the violet pony, her tone cheerful as she spoke. “I even wrote a song about her!” The other ponies cringed as she belted out her tune, “She’s an evil enchantress and she does evil dances, and if you look deep in her eyes she will put you in trances! And what will she do? She’ll mix up an evil brew, then she’ll gobble you up in a big tasty stew! Soooo, watch out!”

The boys of Epsilon stared at the pink pony, flat expressions on their faces. Arkanna raised a brow, clipping his helmet to his belt. “Catchy.”

Kad was starting to see what set off that Death Watch trooper, “That was uh, interestin’ Ms. Pie.” His attention shifted to his men, “Kell, Arkanna, I’m gonna go check on the doc. I can trust you two to gather us some supplies and not cause any trouble right?”

“Vod,” Kell exclaimed in a hurt tone, “I can’t believe you’d expect such crass behavior from your own brother! And here I thought you had more faith in me.”

“Do I need to remind you of the time you got us all arrested on Corellia?” Kad asked casually.

“How was I supposed to know she was a Mof’s daughter?” Kell complained.

At Canterlot castle, Teth made his way to a private room far from the prying eyes of the princesses or their staff. A pair of troopers kept him flanked on either side their weapons at the ready, “Wait outside and make sure no one comes into this room.”

With a quick nod the pair took up positions outside of the room. Their already rather frightening appearance was more than enough to deter any of the curious members of the castle staff from coming within arm’s reach of the door.

Taking a holo-projector from his belt Teth held the disc in his palm. The form of his Lieutenant, Shariad Feltan came to life and quickly saluted him, “Commander.”

“Lieutenant, have you made contact with the fleet, will they be sending the reinforcements I’ve requested?” Teth was rather anxious despite his voice keeping any hint of this from showing.

“All attempts to reach the fleet… have failed sir…” Feltan replied with a strong hint of unease in him.

Teth raised an eyebrow while his upper lip became stiff, “Explain yourself; Lieutenant.”

“Sir, all attempts to reach outside of the system have failed, it’s taking quite a deal of power to maintain the comlink between us as it is.” He pointed out to his commanding officer.

“Have you traced the source of the jamming?” Teth was clearly beginning to lose patients.

“I am afraid not Commander. Whatever or whomever is doing this they’ve hidden themselves well. This may be the reason this star system has gone unnoticed for so long.” Feltan reassured him, “I’ve ordered the men to continue scanning the planet and surrounding star system for any sign of the cause.”

Teth began weighing his options, “Very well, keep me posted on the situation. In the meantime Lieutenant, I want you to select five men from among the crew and have them report to me planet side. Remind them they’ll be deploying under the guise of the Neo Protectors and to keep their trigger fingers under control.”

Arkanna made his way through the streets of Ponyville alone, Kell having disappeared just as expected shortly after they parted ways with the Captain. He honestly preferred it this way. With his weapon still slung over his shoulder, he quietly examined the small shops and homes. “Mighty fine place,” He mumbled to himself.

Every now and then the Mandalorian spotted a pony or two eyeing him with curiosity and fear, muttering to themselves about the strange creature wandering their streets. For the most part he was given a very wide birth, most of the locals wanting to avoid getting too close to him. Every now and again a few of the children would run up and touch his boot or leg plating and scurry back to their friends to prove how brave they were. A small smirk came to his face as he watched this play out - it reminded him of when his friends back on Dxun would do something similar to Old Man Shellizar’s pet Kath Hound. How they used to take turns running through the fence to touch the angry beast’s horns or hide and then run back. How many times did that monster take a bite out of them, or its master took a shot at the little cretins?

A rumble drew his attention to something he’d ignored for a long time. He was hungry. Wandering into what looked to be some sort of trade district, surely there was something here to fill his boots. One of the advantages to being raised Mandalorian was being trained to have a stomach made of bes’kar, but something that actually looked tasty was always a plus too.

His gaze settled on a wooden cart stacked high with delicious looking red fruits of some kind being tended by a large red pony with a bright orange mane. He seemed to be the one of the few that didn’t shy away when the Mandalorian approached, a welcomed change.

“Merchant, how many credits for six of these whatever -you-call’ems?” Arkanna asked as he dropped a few small gold and silver bars onto the cart.

The merchant pony examined the credit bars for a moment before looking back to the Mandalorian, “Ah’m sorry sir, but Ah ain’t sure Ah can take these, well, whatever they are.”

“Excuse me?” Arkanna exclaimed, “These are galactic credits, everything from Coruscant to Hoth is bought with these. They’re even made with gold, for crying out loud!”

“That may be sir,” The large pony stated, “But we only accept Equestrian bits ‘round here.”

Before Arkanna could respond a familiar soft voice spoke up above his head, “Uhm, pardon me.” Hovering above them was the pink-maned pegasus, “I can pay for him, if that’s alright, that is.”

Arkanna relented to Fluttershy’s kindness allowing her to pay for his lunch. He was finding it increasingly hard to tell the girl no - something about those eyes, he thought to himself. After a short travel they came to a relatively deserted spot away from the increasingly annoying stares the Private was forced to put up with.

He was just happy to have a shaded spot to catch some rest, taking one of the shiny red fruits from the bag he gave it a quick examination before biting into it. The rush of flavor and sweetness filled his mouth, “Oh man, these things are definitely better tasting then protein bars!” Arkanna happily declared before taking another juicy bite. Glancing up from his meal he caught sight of Fluttershy watching him closely, upon being caught she quickly looked off to the side, blushing brightly.

Arkanna found himself having to push the conversation once again with her, “So, your friend, the doc taking good care of her?”

As he’d hoped, she seemed to crawl out of her shell a bit. “Oh yes, Doctor Zex said Rainbow Dash would be just fine after a few days of rest.” She beamed up at him with a happy smile.

Kandosii mesh’la, that’s wonderful news.” Part of him had actually been quite worried that the injuries she’d sustained would be far worse.

“Uhm, Arkanna…” She began to fidget a bit while wrestling to spit up her words, “I was wondering, I mean if it’s not too much trouble that is, if you could answer my question from before, about Mandalorians.” She quickly hid her face from him behind a wall of pink locks staring at a patch of ground for comfort, “I’m sorry, I’m probably being a pest, I’ll just-“ Her words were cut off with a surprised squeal as Arkanna’s hand rested gently atop her head.

“We got time and we aren’t being shot at. I think I can try to explain it to you.” Arkanna spoke softly to her, “But it’s gonna be a long story, you sure you really wanna hear it?”

He was surprised at how brightly the crimson color shone through her golden coat as she stared up into his eyes slowly nodding a yes, “Alright then.” Arkanna conceded as he placed a piece of fruit before her, “The first couple of things to know about us, is we’re nomads at the core with no true home beyond our families, blood or otherwise. We have no race, species or bloodline, anyone that wishes can look to join our ranks. But it’s not all that great, we’ve got centuries of wars, conflict and fighting under our belts. But all of that eventually led to what we’ve become today, Mandalorian Protectors.” The next few hours Arkanna set about regaling her with stories of his people and their culture. He couldn’t help but wonder if someone from a world as sheltered and peaceful as this one could even start to understand them.

One wild party

Waiting, he hated waiting. There was a battle out there just on the horizon, he could smell it but instead of being out there bracing for the coming storm he was here watching over crates of ammo and supplies. It ate away at Traycn ‘till it slowly began to twist him up inside. The massive warrior had passed the time thus far tending to the weapons and equipment that had survived the crash. But there are only so many times you can field strip a stack of blaster rifles and double check the parts.

A large stone in his metallic hand and his beloved vibro-axe in the other, he ran the course stone across the blade again and again methodically tendering the edge of his precious weapon. The screech of metal scrapping rock echoed off the ancient walls filling him with a growing urge in his gut. Traycn was Taung, a Mandalorian warrior to the core, he needed blood.

Strapping the axe to his side, Traycn began gathering the gear he needed and made his way to the main hall. Torb was still busy working on yet another circuit board. The Taung regarded him with a grunt, “Stepping out, need to hunt.”

“Hoping to find some of those Deathwatch soldiers Kad reported finding?” The Chiss inquired in a bored tone.

With a predatory grin Traycn looked over his shoulder at his comrade, “If the dead gods are smiling on me then I will find many worthy opponents for my blade.”

Finally free from the confines of the ruins, Traycn gladly bounded through the brush and overgrowth. The untamed wilds always made him feel more at home, even at peace in a strange way. No rules of engagement, no superior officers, just the axe in his hand and the burning drive that pushed what muscles were left in his body to move.

With no direction in mind he quickly found himself in a small gap in the trees with thick bushes corralling him on either side. Something about the air around him hung heavily around the warrior like a warning. Gripping his weapon tightly he moved to the center of the clearing in defiance of this warning.

Glancing about he quickly noticed that everything was silent around him, no birds, no small animals. Looking to one of the trees he found a number of tiny stone figures in the shapes of the local animals he’d seen thus far. He had to admit these things were extremely life like.

As he examined the statuettes closely Traycn would appear not to notice the slight rustling of the bushes behind him. From the brush the strangest creature as of yet rose up slowly behind him, topped off with an avian head the creature had a long reptilian body with stubby wings and claws. The awkward beast reeled itself up behind Traycn as it prepared to strike only to be caught unawares by a flash of cortosis-woven metal.

With a satisfied smirk Traycn looked over his kill. His axe having split the beast’s head along the beak leaving it lying in a lump on the forest floor, “I eat well tonight!” He proudly declared as he lifted the body into the air.

In no time a small fire was made to cook the “Lizard Bird” as Traycn had chosen to call it. The body of his kill hung on a makeshift spit over the fire roasting the carcass and filling the air with the fragrant smell of meat. His stomach snapping at him in eager anticipation for the meal before him, but the warrior would be denied his meal.

As he took the carcass from the fire a small insect like creature landed upon his arm, its almost perfectly circular body and bright pink color and rather large bulbous eyes gave him the creeps. Trying to ignore the tiny thing Traycn lifted the Lizard Bird to his mouth only to find nothing but the spit and bones. Glaring daggers at the small insect as it stripped his meal to the bone within seconds. With a snarl, Traycn was more than ready to squash the pest when it suddenly took on a sickly demeanor and hacked up a brightly colored orb which suddenly sprouted wings and eyes of its own.

Moments later Traycn had a number of smaller spits, with four to five of the pesky insects stabbed onto them, leaning into the fire. With a happy sneer the Taung took one of the spits and pried one of the bugs from the stick and chewed it with a satisfying crunch. The insects oddly enough had a rather nice taste to them. Before returning to the ruins he at least would have something with flavor to eat.

Kad, Zex and Kell stood shoulder to shoulder as they stared ahead at what they saw as one of their harshest challenges since landing the ship. A trial that would test these three senior members of Epsilon squad to their limits, one in which they would be forced to stand tall in the name of the Mandalorians as a whole. They knew it would take every ounce of courage they had, all of their guile, subtlety and cunning to survive the long night ahead of them. Not once since leaving port did Kad even venture to think he and his men would face something like this. A welcome party, or as Pinkie had so happily declared it, a “Welcome to our planet!” party.

The building before them, they had been told was called Sugar Cube Corner, was quite the oddity even compared to the rest of the town. It was elaborately decorated to the point it looked more like it was made out of confections and candy treats. A large banner hung over the front door reading “Welcome Mandalorians” in what might have been crayon. The sounds of music and laughter spilled into the streets from the door way.

Kell glanced over at his comrades with a playful girn, “So, sure we got the right place?”

Kad looked to his brother, then the surrounding area, “Vod, where’s the rookie?”

Kell gave a casual shrug before heading towards the door, “Not sure, must have gotten lost. I’m sure he’ll turn up eventually.”

Kad shook his head with a sigh before following after him, “Can I ever give you a simple task?”

“What? I’m not his babysitter.” Kell retorted, “’Sides, he’s a big boy. I’m sure he’ll be fine amongst the dangerously peaceful natives.”

Before any of them reach the door an all-too-familiar pink blur burst through and began excitedly encircling them, “Finally, you’re here! Come on come on, get in there and mingle! The party’s already started!”

“Alright, alright Ms. Pie, we’re movin’,” Kad relented as she rammed her head into the small of his back pushing him forward through the door.

As the three of them stepped inside every eye was on them with nervous curiosity. Silence gripped the room until Kell fearlessly strode into the middle of the room, “What up my party people, who’s got my hooch!?”

A few snickers rose up from the crowd as the tension began to waver. It certainly helped matters that Pinkie Pie gladly vouched for them and practically demanded that the party continue. The amassed locals seemed to slowly warm up to the warriors in their midst, it was rather surprising to them how welcoming these pony creatures were.

As the sun sank into the distance, an unassuming-looking carriage rolled its way into the outskirts of Ponyville pulled by a pair of earth ponies in Canterlot armor. At the reigns was a figure hidden behind a dark brown cloak. The occupants of the carriage made this arrival truly unique. Crammed into the close quarters of the metal box were four Deathwatch troopers and three more of the royal guards, one a unicorn and the other two pegasi.

A knock on the roof gave the troopers their signal as they began giving their weapons and gear a final once-over and checking their ammo stores. The dull red unicorn amongst them took notice of this, “How much trouble are we expecting, Sergeant Tolik?”

The trooper with a Sergeant’s insignia emblazoned on his pauldron regarded him with a glance from his visor, “Sergeant Gallant, my men and I always expect the worst of whatever we walk into.” He gave the guard ponies a quick once over as he loaded a fresh power pack into his rifle, “If anything, you and your boys are taking this situation far too lightly.”

With little warning the carriage came to a sudden stop, jerking the occupants a bit and causing the troopers to quickly ready their weapons, the pair of pegasi preparing for a quick dash forward. The pair of Sergeants had been the only ones that seemed to keep their heads about them during this unexpected change of events.

Switching on his helmet’s com Tolik would have words for the driver, “Report.”

“Sir, I think you might want to have a look at this.” Was the answer that came over the com in a confused tone.

As the occupants piled out, they were greeted with the awkward sight of a large happy-looking banner hanging over the bakery proudly reading “Welcome Mandalorians”. The entire group gave each other confused looks, “No one told them we were coming, did they?”

Arkanna had done his best to try and explain his people and their culture to Fluttershy, a long process that seemed to stretch into the evening. He never had been much of a history buff and it didn’t help much that it was his worst subject during his days in the academy on Concordia. She had surprised him though with how receptive she was, though there had been more than one moment where a hint of shock and possibly disgust was evident. For her part in the experience the timid pegasus had kept such feelings to herself till Arkanna’s lecture had concluded.

“So that’s about the best I can explain what it means to be Mando’ade.” Arkanna stated leaning back against the tree with a tired sigh.

Her head tilted to the side staring at him curiously, “Mando… ah… day?” She asked trying to sound out the word.

“It’s from our language, Mando’a.” He said with smile, “Means child of Mandalore.”

Fluttershy nodded as she took in this new information, “And, what does that word you called me back in the forest mean, ahrooty?”

Arkanna chuckled at her attempts to struggle with the phonetics of the language, “Aruetii,” He corrected her with a grin, “Ah-roo-ay-tee, aruetii; it means a few things but in the context it meant outsider.”

A small smile came to her face as she started to absorb this knowledge, pointing a hoof towards him, “Mando’ade,” Then motioning to herself, “Aruetii.”

Arkanna was surprised how quickly she’d picked up the pronunciations, “Kandosii mesh’la, jate bora.”

The sound of praise in his voice brought a blush to her cheeks as she stared at the ground, “Uhm, I was also wondering, if you don’t mind teaching me a bit more that is, what does that other word you keep calling me mean; maysla?”

Much to her own surprise a bright red tint came into the human’s cheeks as he glanced off to the side, “Oh that, uh… Ya know what? I think that’s enough lessons for today, okay Fluttershy?” Out of an old habit when feeling uncomfortable he began to rub the back of his neck.

As part of his underlay beneath the armor moved from his neck the edges of a ragged mark became apparent. Her curiosity piqued, the pegasus drew closer to examine him, “Oh my, Arkanna, what happened to your neck? Are you alright?”

At the sound of this question the Private’s attitude quickly shifted and became more defensive, “Not a damn thing.” Pulling the underlay material back up to cover his neck he got to his feet and collected his gear. Glancing over at her it was clear the harshness in his tone had been like a sudden slap in the face, “Sorry, but it’s getting late so we should go find your friends.”

Before a response could be given the sound of blaster fire in the distance drew their attention to the center of town. Out of reflex Arkanna quickly took his helmet from its place on his belt and slipped it back onto his head as he brought his weapon around from its slung position. A shaking beside his leg drew his attention to the ground finding the mare huddled behind him cowering and staring wide eyed up at him.

“Stay close to me, just like in the forest, okay?” Arkanna said in a calm voice.

As he’d hoped, it looked to give her a bit more confidence as her wings began to work again and levitate her a few inches from the ground while staying pressed to his back. Bringing the weapon up to his shoulder he headed off with Fluttershy in tow towards the sound of the ruckus.

The party had been going quite well at Sugar-Cube Corner. Mandalorian and Pony alike had managed to break the ice and enjoy themselves. The warriors of Epsilon did what they could to prove they weren’t a threat to them even going so far as to leave their rifles and helmets on a table towards the back of the room.

Kell had wasted little time in gathering a small crowd of mares around him as he started retelling the adventures he and his brother had been on, “So as Kad takes the ship between these really tight pillars I look up and notice a loose outcrop of rocks and stuff. Taking aim, I fire into it and suddenly we got an avalanche raining behind us and on top of those fighters chasing us!”

Zex, after being questioned by Pinkie Pie about what types of food and sweets they liked, found himself giving a lecture on the varying diets of sapient life forms across the galaxy, “When you think about it, the fact is that most dietary intakes fall into the category of omnivoric. Most species and races evolve over the centuries finding nourishment from whatever sources are on hand. Those able to survive and gain dominance were usually the ones that became more flexible…”

Kad had never been a big fan of parties himself, usually sending Torb in his place to put up with the whole social appearances to deal with the higher ups and nobles. This however was different, the feeling of comradery and friendship that permeated the area through the force put him at ease. A smile crept across the weathered Captain’s features as he sipped on a glass of punch.

“Enjoying the party, Captain Skirata?” The all-too-familiar voice of a certain violet unicorn chimed in to break his drifting thoughts.

“Aye, you an’ your girls put together a fine party, ma’am.” Kad replied giving Twilight a smile, “Right friendly of you lot; wish we got a decent welcome like this more often.”

The majority of the crowd being far too busy enjoying themselves to notice the late arrivals: a pair of armed troopers in black and blue armor flanking a red coated unicorn in royal armor entered the bakery, taking a moment to scan the crowded room.

Tolik aimed the muzzle of his rifle to the ceiling and let several blaster bolts loose, granting him a sudden dominance over the assembled townsfolk. Behind his visor he couldn’t help but smirk at the angry glare Gallant gave him for his actions, “Don’t worry, just a bit of crowd control.” He reassured his would-be partner.

With no hesitation, the members of Epsilon quickly moved to the front of the crowd between the soldiers and townsfolk as a tense standoff began to set in, “Steady boys…” Kad muttered to his teammates.

“Kad Skirata,” Tolik addressed him, “You and your men are hereby placed under arrest on the charges of piracy and murder. Surrender yourselves quietly please, we don’t want a scene.”

Kad glanced between Zex and Kell whom both gave him a nod, “Under whose authority?”

“Under the joint authority of her royal highness Princess Celestia and the Mandalorian Neo Protectors.” Gallant quickly chimed in. This bit of information seeded confusion and panic in the collective voices of the room.

Haaranovor ti jehaat hut'uun!” Kell snarled before spitting on Tolik’s visor, a collective gasp rose up from the crowd.

With a grumble Tolik wiped the offending saliva from his mask and spoke softly, “Taylir naak burc'ya, nayc copaanir kih burc'yas kadala.” He motioned to the packed room.

From the back of the shop yet another trooper appeared with a pair of pegasi in the same regal armor as the unicorn in tow. Frightened muttering began to rise among the assembled ponies as the confusion became a heavy pitch.

Val liser slanar, nayc jaon'yc.” Kad replied as he placed a hand on his brother’s chest plate to hold him in check, “Mhi liser vaabir ibic sa Mando'ade.” Kad’s eyes burning through Tolik’s visor as he goaded him on.

A small application of will through the force has been known to bend minds and motivate with great ease. However Kad had guessed his enemy well. With a nod an open path was given to the front door which almost every pony present gratefully used to exit the building. In moments the bakery was quickly cleared, save for those in armor and five mares in particular.

Outside the bakery Arkanna and Fluttershy rounded the alleyway to find the carriage and armed guards outside of Sugar-Cube Corner. He cursed under his breath as he took in the situation. Staying to the shadows of the alley, the Private weighed his options, knowing none of them look all that great.

“Ohmygoodnessohmygoodnessohmygoodness…” Fluttershy muttered to herself in a panicked tone.

“It doesn’t look that bad… I mean, just outnumbered, out gunned…” Arkanna attempted to convince her things weren’t that bad and failing, “Okay, maybe it is.”

This only made things worse, her voice cracking with terror, “But my friends are in there and the rest of the townsponies, you have to do something!”

Arkanna covered her mouth and pulled her closer to the wall beside him, “Fluttershy, listen to me, the Captain and the others are in there with them. We still have a chance at this.” Her trembling began to subside a bit as a shine of confidence returned to her eyes.

He glanced back at the building and saw a stream of ponies leaving in a hurry, “You see that mesh’la, that’s gotta be the Captain’s handy work. Now I just need an opening…”

Kad had hoped to get every noncombatant out of the building by taking a jab at his would be captor’s pride. The plan was to deal with this without any civilians getting in the way. As usual the best laid plans never seem to work that well, “Ms. Sparkle, why don’t you and your girls get some air?”

“Not until we get to the bottom of this.” The unicorn barked back.

“Yeah, you guardsponies’ve got the wrong guys!” A rainbow maned pegasus with a bandaged midsection chimed in.

“I agree, these fine gentlecolts are practically heroes.” Was the defense from the posh unicorn.

Gallant narrowed his eyes on Twilight, “I have the utmost respect for the Elements of Harmony, but I must ask you to let us handle this.”

The energy in the room began to shift and change slightly. A shift that most wouldn’t notice save for a small majority, those being the three unicorns present and one particular human towards whom this shift seemed to center upon.

Tolik began to raise his weapon to his shoulder, “You should listen to him ma’am, you and your friends step outside and let us take it from here.”

Time seemed to become a crawl as Kad made a quick motion towards the three at the front door. Unseen forces slammed into them, sending Tolik and the trooper he had entered with into the air and through the front windows behind them. The slam of force energy propelled the pair into the broad side of the carriage outside with an audible smashing sound, sending the four left outside into a panic.

This had been the opening Arkanna had hoped for. Leaving the golden pegasus in the alley he sprang forward, pulling a pair of stun grenades from his belt and hitting their safeties to arm them. Coming to a stop, he rolled both of them ahead of him through the worn streets. One came to a stop between the pair of earth pony guards that been hauling the carriage and were currently in a rush to unlatch themselves. The other rolled under the carriage and under the legs of the pair of troopers that had been standing at the ready outside.

Gallant had felt the odd shift and readied a barrier to defend himself from this alien feeling. Unfortunately he had not counted on the metal tray that caught him in the side of the head. In the ensuing chaos the royal guard Sergeant tumbled to the side and into a display stand of various sweets, leaving him sprawled on the floor, Zex standing over him with the offending metal tray.

Kell’s arm moved on a mix of instinct and reflex as his hand quickly drew his side arm and brought it up to level with the chest plate of the trooper at the rear. The familiar burn of ozone began to drown out the sugary sweets in the air as the two traded shots. The Deathwatch peon let loose a few bolts of energy that only found themselves burning into the wall behind Kell. The Epsilon sniper however only needed one shot which slammed into center breast plate of his target sending him crashing into the display case in front of the counter.

The pair of pegasus guards quickly took to the air in hopes of at least taking the leader of their targets, making a beeline for Kad. Turning on his heel and making a quick motion in their direction the pair found themselves frozen in mid air for a split second. Their confusion was compounded as they suddenly slammed into one another with a loud crack before they fell to the center of the room in an unconscious pile.

Behind them all Gallant was just barely pulling himself to his feet when a pair of loud pops came from just beyond the saloon style double doors. An armor clad figure quickly stormed into the building his weapon at the ready, as he did the swinging door cracked the unicorn Sergeant across the face sending him hurtling into unconsciousness.

Arkanna looked about the chaos of the room before stopping on his Captain, “Did I miss the party?”

The long night, Part 1

Darkness. This was Tolik’s world as of late: A blank slate of black going hand-in-hand with a pounding pain that shot through his limbs and back with little remorse. Slowly, his mind began to piece together what had happened to him today. He’d been woken from a rather enjoyable dream involving that Twi’lek cantina girl back on Crossion, when he’d been forced out of his bunk by an alarm. Next thing he knew he was being deployed planet-side and introduced to a race of quadrupeds and was suddenly forced to work hand and hoof with one of the local guard Sergeants. That’s when he started to remember the bakery, the party they’d crashed and the failed arrest. Then it hit him like a ton of bricks, or rather like the carriage he was still embedded in.

His mind ran a mental checklist on the damage his body had received, going thoroughly through each piece and part till he’d came to the conclusion he was well enough to move. The darkness shifted into a foggy haze as he found himself staring at the ground from several feet in the air. It took some doing, but eventually Tolik pried himself from the sizable indentation he’d left in the side of their ride, falling to his hands and knees as strength refused to return to his limbs. In the back of his head he gave a little prayer of thanks to whoever was listening for the reinforced armorplast platting in his armor - nowhere near as strong as the pure beskar but enough to absorb impacts and most blaster bolts.

Blasters, the word rang out in his mind. His rifle was gone. Tolik’s hand went to his hip and felt the empty holster, “Those sons of mynocks… they took my weapons…”

From the front door of the shop stumbled Gallant, his armor and coat still splotched by confections. Tolik could see the left side of his face starting to puff a bit and the favoring of his right eye, “Suppose it’d be hopeful thinking to assume you had better luck inside.”

Gallant gave him a deadpan stare as he limped his way over to the trooper, “It would have helped if you told me ahead of time that one of them could use magic.” He growled out between bared teeth.

Tolik pulled himself into a sitting position with his back to the carriage, “I didn’t know he was a damned jetii’tal.” He shot back, “Intel on these guys is sparse at best, Gallant. You went in knowing just as much as I did.”

“What… What the hay is a jayty tol?” The guardspony’s confusion only seemed to deepen.

“Jedi blood, one of those damned Force-using freaks.” Tolik attempted to explain in his own unique and eloquent way, “It means we should have brought a hell of a lot more guns.”

“Now they have all the guns you brought…” Gallant stated flatly as he surveyed their men and colts as they began to come to, “Why didn’t they kill us? They took all of us out with relative ease but only took your weapons when they could have executed us.”

Tolik pulled his helmet off to breath in the clean night air. He was a human well into his thirties. With a fair complexion and shaved head littered with scars about his face brought together with a squared jaw and dark brown eyes, “Can’t even begin to figure it burc’ya. In their place I would’ve killed us all.”

His helmet off Tolik noticed something peculiar about it. A holo-recorder had been mesh taped to the side of it with a note in galactic basic with a very simple message, Message for your boss. With a sigh he pried the small device off the side of his bucket, “Gallant, see to the boys would ya, I need to make a call.”

Teth had been in a position of command for several years now. He’d heard just about every excuse in the book and suffered every conceivable set back - at least, he had hoped so. “You’re telling me that a full contingent of ten soldiers, five of which were armed to the teeth, and four men outmaneuvered and incapacitated all of you.” His voice strained to contain the rage and anger building up behind his usually calm exterior.

The holographic image of Sergeant Tolik stood stock still as he readied himself for whatever berating he was about to receive, “That… is affirmative. Sir.”

His eyes burnt with rage as he stared down the trooper, “And what about this message they left you?”

With a nod the Sergeant tapped away at something out of range of the projector. His image scrambled for a moment and then replaced its’ self with that of Kad Skirata. “Hello there you ship bustin’ dink. Right now you’re probably ticked off an’ shoutin’ up a storm at your poor Sergeant. In all honesty ya should’a sent a lot more troops.

“But that aint here nor there. As you’re probably aware of by now, we know who you people are, and if you haven’t read our file then let me point somethin’ very important out to ya: we ruin the lives of guys like you professionally. Sadly though, I can make all kinds of threats till this recorder runs out of memory and I’m sure you’d just shrug it off. Why wouldn’t ya? You’ve got the guns, the troops and a ship in orbit just itchin’ to start carpet blastin’ the planet.

“I’ll just say this: we’re comin’ for you. We’re gonna carve our way through every man you put in our way, and if need be I will find a way to tear that ship of yours outta’ the damned sky an’ use it to beat the ever livin’ osik out of you.

“Now the way I figure ya got a few options here: one, you leave the planet and we all go our separate ways while you get to cut your losses on this whole mess. Two, you do the stupid thing of throwin’ everything you have at us and we kill all your men and use their corpses to decorate your tomb. Three, you make the even bigger mistake of stayin’ in that nice pretty city ya found, put all the guys we have to shoot in one place and sit back on your newly acquired throne till we come to kill ya. Personally, the crew an’ I are hopin’ ya ignore option one.”

With that the image shifted till Tolik returned to view, “What are your orders, sir?”

Teth gave a labored sigh as he rubbed his temples, “Hold your position in the village. I’ll see to damage control with the Princess and getting reinforcements to you.”

The holographic image snapped a salute before vanishing leaving Teth in the now dark and empty room. Alone with his thoughts a moment he gathered himself for his next bout with Celestia. He found it rather unsettling how well versed she was turning out to be in the games of politics and intrigue. Davian had to admit she was a worthy adversary, and if pressed on the subject he might even admit to respecting her.

No rest and no stops as the bulk of Epsilon made for the ruins deep in the wilds. The thick canopy strangled what little light the moon provided, swallowing what path there was in darkness. Moving at top speed while in full gear over uneven terrain was no easy task but they were used to the difficult.

Finally reaching the front of the ancient castle the four came barreling through the massive double doors. If not for the locators on their HUDs they would have been met with a hail of blaster bolts from their immense comrade.

While in route Kad had informed their fellow squadmates of the obvious impending retaliation. Traycn had wasted no time in readying his full armor and gear. Huge crimson plates of Mandalorian iron were being strapped into place about his form, seeming to add another full foot in height and bulk, “These Deathwatch huut’uns had better show.” Traycn snarled as he clipped one of many modified weapons to his wrist mount.

“Don’t worry Tray, if I got these guys figured like I hope we’ll have one haran of a party on our hands.” Kad replied with an impish smirk, “Hate for ya to get all dressed up with no one to kill, big fella.”

“Is it really necessary to jump to that kind of extreme, Captain?” A familiar feminine voice questioned from the doorway.

Glancing back at the violet unicorn Kad regarded her with a casual nod, “Don’t worry ‘bout it Ms. Sparkle, we’re professionals.” It suddenly dawned on him, causing a double take at what his mind had just registered that he did indeed see, “Megin haar osik!?”

Helmets aside there were looks of shock at the collection of three ponies Kad and the others had assumed were left behind in the village. Twilight Sparkle accompanied by Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy glanced around the room as the uncomfortable silence filled the air.

Traycn saw this as an ample opportunity to show his diplomatic prowess, “Can I eat them?” This was met with the expected looks of shock and even terror from the far smaller creatures, Fluttershy especially whom quickly hid herself behind her friends. No one understood his brilliance.

Kad gave the hulk of a warrior a death glare before returning his anger towards the ponies at their door. His eyes narrowed on the three as his jaw clenched tightly while the obvious fight for control of his anger waged inside his head. Clearly picking up on this the three took a collective step back from the approaching CO, “Twilight, what in the haran are you doing here?” Kad’s words managed to squeeze out through his grating teeth.

Finding confidence Twilight took a brave step forward, “I wanted to know what that scene at the bakery was about. Those… men, they had the same uniform look as the ones that attacked us in the forest, they were with royal guards and claiming to be Protectors like you.”

His gaze shifted to Rainbow Dash, “And your excuse?”

“I wanted to know how you guys did all that cool stuff back there, I’ve never seen anypony stick it to Canterlot’s best like that in my whole life. It was awesome!” She stated with an excited grin.

Kad’s hardening gaze moved to Fluttershy who cowered behind her friends, barely squeaking out, “I… I just sort of followed them… I’m very sorry…”

“I don’t understand why you’re getting so angry, Captain Skirata - if it’s about letting ourselves in-“ Twilight’s words fell short as a firm hand came around her snout holding her mouth shut.

“You three have made a very big mistake.” Kad’s words came slow and barbed, his eyes bore holes through Twilight’s gaze, “Kell was coverin’ our tracks to keep this location from the enemy. You three made a whole new fresh set’a tracks all the way to our front door. You understand why I’m a LITTLE perturbed yet?”

Before the exchange could carry on a shaft of light dropped from the sky and into the center of the main hall; rocketing to the ground through ragged remains of the roof. As it struck the ground the entire room filled with a blinding light that took all present off guard.

When the overwhelming glare began to die down standing before them was a breed of Equestrian they had never seen before. Far taller than the others they had seen so far and the first one to come close to their own height. Her coat was a dark hue that barely skirted the line between blue and black, with a mane and tail that flowed in nonexistent wind and looked to be made of the night sky itself. Stranger still was the fact this creature had both wings and a horn. Her turquoise eyes scanned a glare over the room which had come to arms at this unpredicted appearance.

“Princess Luna?” Rainbow breathed out in surprise.

At the mention of princess the majority of Epsilon eased off on their collective trigger fingers. Kad still holding Twilight by the snout however was in the minority and was the one Luna’s none-too-pleased gaze rested on, “Foul cretins, thou trespass upon our world tis not enough - now thou hold hostage the Elements of Harmony!?”

Kad glanced from Twilight to Luna then back again, “What of whats now?”

A dark blue aura surrounded Luna’s horn and began to darken. Similar auras appeared around the members of Epsilon, the world around them became a far heavier one as they felt gravity itself triple. The Mandalorians found themselves forced to their hands and knees as they fought in vain against this strange force.

Now given free reign of her mouth again Twilight made a B-line for the Princess, but was surprised as Fluttershy spoke up before her, “Princess Luna, please stop this! They aren’t the bad guys.”

“What dost thou mean?” She gave the pegasus a critical eye at this comment when a shift in her aura called her attention to the crimson hulk who fought the hardest against her will, “Thou shouldst cease thine struggles oaf, lest I increase the gravity another three fold about thee.”

Those words, they were fuel for him. Fuel for the already-raging fire that was building by every second wasted. The others were forced to their knees, but Traycn refused to kneel. Not to this creature - not to the unworthy. With a rage-laden snarl he forced himself to stand and take a labored step forward.

“What madness is this?” Luna was shocked at the resilience of this creature but would not be defied in front of her own subjects. The glow about Traycn deepened forcing him to stumble, “Stay still beast, if thou forces mine hoof I shall crush thee to but a smear!”

As the weight increased so did his rage, hate and anger. It built higher and higher far faster than she could amass the gravity against his onslaught. Traycn rose from his knee, the stone work beneath him cracking as he forced his body to continue its trudge forward.

The three ponies were speechless at the exchange before them. The most shocking aspect was the growing look of fear on the face of their monarch, “S-stop this at once, I command it!” Her voice began to crack as the reptilian beast closed the distance between them, “What manner of monster art thou?”

Wall after wall of bone crushing force slammed the body of the Taung. His cybernetic enhancements and ceramic-plated bones took it all with stride. The overwhelming urge to kill this “Princess” kept his body moving despite the shattering pain that ran through his body, “I… am… MANDO’ADE!”

Finally in arm’s-reach, Traycn poured every ounce of his rage into his cybernetic arm till it willed itself to lift. Cold metallic fingers enclosed around Luna’s neck, stopping short of breaking her spine too early. With his prey in his grasp the aura faded and the pain was but a lingering annoyance. A sickening grin came across his features as his hindrances lifted.

Luna struggled for breath as her limbs struck uselessly against the thick metallic plates upon her captor’s chest. She soon found herself hoisted into the air before being slammed into the stone floor sending a stunning shockwave through her body; the unrelenting grasp around her neck holding her to the ground. Her face pressed into the floor, a voice growled into her ear, dripping with a bone chilling hatred, “Ramaanar laandur aruetii.”

A collective scream of “No!” went up from the three as Traycn’s free arm quickly rose up with a blow aimed to smash his opponent’s head open and end this fight. The strike never came though - there was no sound of bone shattering and organs spilling from the open cavity. Instead the fist hung in the air unmoving and locked in place as Kad’s palm rested gently against the metallic knuckles keeping his man in check.

“Think she’s learned her lesson Tray.” Kad stated through labored breaths as he stood over the still body of the Princess, “Keep her still a spell while I have words with her though, just in case.”

After getting a nod of approval Kad knelt down beside Luna to look her in the eye, “Now I’m a decent enough fella to chalk that up to jumpin’ the gun. But if you try some’in like that again I’m gonna let him kill ya in whatever twisted nasty ways are runnin’ through his head. Ya copy?”

“I… copy…” Luna wheezed out through her pressed windpipe.

Kad took a step back as Traycn released her and Zex quickly moved in to check her vitals. In all honesty it was a surprisingly defused situation all things considered until, “I… I can’t believe you just did that to Princess Luna!” Kad was slowly starting to regret saving Twilight, “First the royal guards and now one of the Princesses. I’m starting to wonder if you six aren’t the real Deathwatch!”

As the words left her mouth something familiar pressed into the back of her head that sent a paralyzing shiver through her body. “Little girl, if we were Deathwatch you and your friends would be long since dead.” Kell stated flatly lacking any of his usual emotion as he pressed the barrel of his rifle into her head, “And that lovely town of yours would be nothing but a smoking crater. Spit on us like that one more time and I’ll throw your sheb to the real Deathwatch and let them show you what makes us different.”

“Enough!” Torb’s stern tone rose above the room, drawing everyone’s attention to the normally quiet Chiss, “I have had enough of this childish pandering and posturing. Kell, shoulder your rifle and get to the north tower and keep watch for Deathwatch’s eventual counter-attack. Traycn, you will take two steps back from the Princess and allow the poor girl some breathing room.”

With a grumble Kell pulled his weapon away from Twilight’s skull and sprinted off into the ruins. Torb knelt beside Luna taking one of her fore hooves lightly in his grasp and helping her sit upright, “My apologies your highness, the civil skills of my comrades are on-par with that of most juveniles. My name is Brast’or’bintrano Gieta, though most find it easier to call me ‘Torb’.”

Arkanna was starting to wonder if maybe it would have been easier to just accept the dishonorable discharge and jail time instead of the transfer that landed him here. A presence beside him drew his attention to the yellow pegasus standing on his right. A smile came to the Private’s face as he patted her head, “Thanks for standing up for us, mesh’la.”

A bright pink tint came to her cheeks as she felt his hand against her, “No problem…”

Kad moved to pull Traycn off to the side, “Tray, do you remember that little contingency plan we came up with? Do you think you can get it ready?”

The Taung smiled knowingly at his human comrade, “It’s been ready since we arrived.”

The long night, Part 2

Deep in the darkness of the woods three black clad figures made a slow crawl through the brush. Black visors scanning the area just beyond the tree line, behind their masks the pitch black was burned away by advanced optics. Scouts from the Deathwatch had made their way through the forest following the hoof prints left behind by several locals. They were ghosts slinking through the shadows and melting back into them as they examined the ruins ahead of them from the other side of the gorge.

Their arrival had not gone unnoticed. High above them from the most complete tower at the back of the ruins, Kell watched them methodically through the scope of his rifle. His finger sat eagerly at the edge of the trigger as he watched them, “Strills are sniffing about the nest.” He muttered into his com.

“Keep an eye on ’em, vod.” Kad’s voice replied back, “The rest of their pack shouldn’t be too far behind.”

“Gotta admit, real hard not to take one of their buckets off from here right now…” His crosshairs danced over the forehead of rearmost scout, “Give them a damn good reason not to try and sneak in here.”

Udesii vod, udesii; there’ll be plenty to shoot at soon enough.” Kad reassured him.

“Copy that…” Kell sighed in a defeated tone.

At the rear of the ruins an eerie silence hung heavy in the air as everyone, man and pony alike, waited for the coming storm just on the horizon. Make-shift battlements had been scraped together from the long fallen pillars and any other stone works time had discarded. Care had been taken to ensure the civilian charges would be kept safe as they remained huddled behind a stone barricade.

Zex, Arkanna and Torb had been delegated the task of keeping the rear secured, a task Kell had gleefully taken advantage of to create numerous jokes about. Arkanna gripped his rifle tightly as he tried to steady his breathing and pounding heart. Beneath his gloves he could feel his palms surfing on an ocean of sweat. His mind raced endlessly, putting him more and more on edge.

“Arkanna, you alright? I’m reading some massive spikes in your heart rate.” Zex’s voice chimed in over the com.

Arkanna cursed under his breath at the person who came up with the remote medical interface built into their armors, “Huh? Uh, yeah. I’m fine, never been better.” At least he was kind enough to use a private channel and not broadcast it to everyone on the team.

“You’re nervous.” Zex shot back at him.

“I’m not nervous, why would I be nervous?” Arkanna snapped back at the medic.

“Your first time facing odds that are stacked against you, no retreat, low chance of survival; I’d be nervous, too.” Zex’s response was like a shot to the gut.

“Okay… maybe that would make me nervous.” He reluctantly replied.

“Keep a brave face for their sake, we don’t want them thinking for a second we can’t handle this.” Zex advised.

It actually hit a cord with the young Private. In their position he would be ten times as frightened as he is now. He was their only defense and the only way they were going to walk away from this. Arkanna felt almost no confidence in their survival of this half-baked plan the Captain and Traycn had come up within a matter of a conversation. But he had to make them believe he did. Looking over his shoulder at the four mares he gave them a thumbs up, grateful for the helmet that hid his more than forced smile. The root of the gesture was probably lost on a race that had no fingers to begin with, but the message seemed to get across as a few small smiles crossed their faces. Turning back to keep watch on the hallway, he started to feel a bit more confident, not just in the plan but in himself. These quadrupeds were starting to grow on him.

High in orbit above the still-unnamed planet, the attack frigate of the Deathwatch was a knife hanging over this unsuspecting world. The rear hanger of the ship slid open, allowing a far smaller craft to depart. Aboard this drop shuttle a small contingent of Deathwatch troopers sat eagerly anticipating the fight to come.

“So the scouts’ve confirmed our quarry’s location, gentlemen.” The trooper wearing a Major’s insignia stated, “We will be dropping into the ruins ahead of our main force. Our job is to bloody and bruise these sons of mynocks so the rest of our boys can march in and execute them quickly.”

“Major, I heard there might be some locals in the area - what do we do about them?” A Private spoke up.

“Tagline Teth has set up is they were taken hostage and then killed by their captors. So you see them, put’em down and try and make it look like an execution.” His superior answered back.

“Too bad, I heard these things aren’t that bad to look at.” A Corporal chimed in.

“Didn’t you hear that from Mackers? You know that guy has a thing for Bothans, right?” His comrade chided him, “I wouldn’t take his word on how good a female looks if I were you.” Laughter built up from the soldiers alongside a number of colorful comments.

“That aside, ain’t all this a bit much Major,” Questioned one of the troopers, “I mean, we six plus twenty guys on the ground, all to take down a couple of guys?”

“These men are Spec Ops, son,” The Major replied as he looked over his pistol, “Rumor has it they’ve been through some of the wildest osik the galaxy’s thrown at ’em. On top of that they’re supposedly ranked among the top six of the Mand'alor's best and we’ve confirmed that at least one of them is a force user. We are treating them as a high level threat, even if we do outnumber them.”

The shuttle cut a fiery path through the sky as its engines tore a loud roar through the silent night. Her pilot kept a tight level field with the tree tops, skimming along towards their destination. The trees began to thin slightly as they rapidly approached the ruins - below and behind them, a host of troopers trudged through the darkness, each man eager for the battle just within sight.

As the craft neared its destination, the side doors quickly slid open with three men to each side ready to deploy. Beneath them the ruins sat quietly, the long-since dilapidated roof would give them easy access for a jet pack deployment - but looks are usually deceiving.

The moment the shuttle slowed to a stop over the target area, several warning lights began to flash in the cockpit. Pilot and copilot both tried to locate the source of this alarm only to spot it too late, “Missile, missile, break off!”

An anti-armor round designed for taking out tanks, walkers and in this case drop ships, slammed into the side of the cockpit. The warhead tore through the armored plates, glass showering the two with molten durasteel and shrapnel before engulfing them in a ball of fire. As the ship was rocked by the resulting explosion, several of the soldiers onboard managed to bail out, igniting their jet packs in free-fall to keep from slamming into the rocky ground below.

Only one man wasn’t so lucky, a Private that had been knocked on his back as the ship began its death spin over the gorge just outside the ruins. Trying desperately to pull himself to his feet as the increased force of gravity and stomach-churning spin threw him about the cabin till a weapons crate came loose from the wall and pinned him to the back of the ship. Over the sound of the dying engines he could hear the Major’s voice over the com screaming at him to bail out, just before the shuttle became his grave.

“Bail out Private, bail out now!” The Major shouted into his com only to be answered by the sight of the burning wreckage slamming into the rocks below, “Dammit! All units hit the groun-“

The words stopped short from his mouth as a blaster bolt from somewhere in the darkness pierced his helmet. His body became a rag doll drunkenly rocketing through the air out of control propelled by his jet pack.

In a panic the remaining four quickly made for the ground and cover of the ruins as the next in line of command took charge, “Sniper, get to the ground and head for cover!”

The trap was already sprung, though. Heading into the ruins themselves was the reaction Kad and Traycn had been counting on. Outside and across the sheer cliff side the ground forces had amassed. Having witnessed the shuttle vanish into the rocky depths and then one of their fleeing comrades taking a sniper round to the head, these troopers were more than ready to spill blood. From their position across the bridge they could hear the sounds of blaster fire and the flashes from the grime-encrusted windows.

Within the ruins themselves, Kad brought his saber down across the midsection of the last unfortunate Deathwatch standing. The golden blade of energy left a brightly burning slash over his enemy’s chest as he toppled lifeless to the floor. There was little time to take in the moment as Kell’s voice rang over the com, “Don’t unpucker just yet boys, we got incoming!”

A split second after Kell’s words touched his ears an explosive round from the outside slammed unforgivingly into the barred front door. The shockwave sent the force wielder toppling head over heels through a rain of splintered wood and rubble - rolling to his feet, Kad dove behind a thick piece of stone moments before the main hall became alight with blaster bolts cutting through the smoke, “I think phase one is going well!” He called out over the exploding conflict.

Traycn waded into the fray grinning with intent behind his visor as he brought his large rotary blaster to bear and leveled it with the large hole in the front of the castle. Pulling back the firing mechanism the barrel began to spin, creating an angry growl as it warmed up before spewing bolt after heavy bolt of energy through the gap. The sounds of screams from beyond the dust and debris only served to egg on his blood lust and fury as the Taung let lose a war cry over echoing blaster bolts.

“Would you look at that, Tray’s mood finally improved!” Kell snickered over the com before letting another few blaster bolts fly from his long rifle.

Kad hugged the mass of fallen stone work that was kind enough to soak up the enemy fire with remarkable ease. He had to hand it to the Equestrian stone masons of old, they certainly knew how to make them strong. An armor plate on his wrist slid back as a pair of blaster barrels slid into place with a satisfying click. Bringing his arm over the wall, Kad let lose several blind shots in rapid succession, “Just s’long as he keeps shootin’ in the right direction!”

“I hate to interrupt your fun Captain,” Torb’s voice came in over the coms, “But you might want to start pulling back before you get overrun. We want them inside the ruins for this plan to work after all.”

“Maybe if we ask them real nice they’ll let us pull back.” Kell stated in a cheerful tone.

Kad glanced behind his shoulder at a still standing pillar bringing a small smirk to his features, “I think I got us an out. Tray, Kell, keep me covered will ya!”

Igniting his saber, Kad took a running start through the blaster fire as bolts of energy whizzed past him, a few lucky rounds managing to singe his armor. As his allies laid down a covering barrage he pushed himself through the force to add more speed to his sprint. With a focused swing Kad’s light saber pierced the marble with ease, cutting the lower half from the base. The easy part done, Kad reached out with the force till he felt the pillar in his grasp and began to wrench it free - with a motion towards their enemies, the stonework hurled through the air.

Panic gripped the Deathwatch troopers as they began to flee from their assault for fear of being crushed beneath the marble onslaught. The once exquisite stonework forcefully wedged itself into the jagged hole, stemming the assault. Following his comrade’s lead, Traycn unloaded a volley of blaster bolts into the surrounding walls and ceiling causing the hole to collapse in on itself.

“We’re pullin’ back towards your location. Keep an eye out for any of ‘em that got wise an’ found another way in.” Kad relayed to the rest of the team, “Vod, time to abandon that lil hidey-hole’a yours. I’ll meet ya on the roof.”

Kell was already scanning through the chaos below looking for another target, “Haar’chak vod, you always have to cut my fun short.”

At the rear of the ruins the sounds of fighting echoed off the walls, permeating the tension hanging in the air. Arkanna had heard his commanding officer’s orders over the comlink and sadly, it brought him little comfort. In the back of his mind he kept telling himself Zex’s advice over and over again: keep a brave face, even if you don’t believe it. They need to see them confident and damn-near invincible. Problem was, all this waiting for the fighting to start was starting to tear at his nerves.

A prodding at his back leg moved his attention to Rainbow Dash standing behind him, “Hey, you’re Arkanna, right? I wanted to know if there was anything I could do to help you guys out.”

Not getting shot came to mind rather quickly, “Uh, Rainbow Dash, wasn’t it? You wanna help us out, just stay behind the barricades and keep your head down. We can handle this.”

From behind the carefully-lain rubble, Twilight Sparkle called out to her friend, “Rainbow, get back over here. These men are soldiers, let them deal with this!”

“Ugh, I can’t stand all this sitting around, though! It’s driving me crazy!” The anxious Pegasus shouted back.

“Rainbow, you’re still injured. Get back behind the barricade.” Zex ordered, “You haven’t healed from your injuries yet. I won’t allow you to muck up both mine and Tenderheart’s hard work piecing you back together.”

Grumbling to herself, she turned to trot back to her friends when something hot zipped past her cheek. The scent of ozone and burnt fur and hair filled her nostrils as fear froze her mid-stride. A blaster bolt struck the ground ahead of her in a descending line from where the side of her face had been caressed. Everything came to slow motion as she heard the panicked cries of her friends and felt the stinging pain of her ribs as an arm looped around her mid section and hoisted her off her hooves and dragged her to cover.

“You may want to keep your head down, my dear,” Her Chiss rescuer stated in a surprisingly calm tone.

A split second later the room was filled with the roar of blaster fire from the far side of the hall - a small detachment of the Deathwatch troopers had found an alternate route into the castle ruins. Blaster bolts lit the darkened room with flashes of red as they flew back and forth from either side.

“Hey, Zex!” Arkanna called out to his comrade as they returned fire.

“Yeah?!” The medic answered back between bursts.

“I’m not feeling nervous anymore!” He shouted in a sarcastic tone.

From the Deathwatch line, a bold trooper charged forward toward the barricades. On his approach he was easily cut down but his true aim was made very clear as a small metallic object let fly with his dying breath. Hurtling though the air, a cold lump formed in Arkanna’s stomach as he realized where it was going to land: right in front of the ponies.

Breaking from their line, the Private took off in a dead run after the arcing explosive as it flew through the air. In his head he kept cursing himself, Stupid stupid this is so stupid! Blaster bolts burned through the air around him as he charged forward after the grenade, This is how people get killed on their first missions, this is where you’re gonna die you idiot! His arm outstretched for the hurtling bobble as his fingers closed around it, No dammit, I am not dying here - I won’t die here! Coming to a stumbling stop, he cranked back his arm banking on the already built up momentum just as the grenade started to let off a warning screech, I won’t die here and neither will they! Forcing every bit of strength his arm his muscles could afford, he hurled it towards an already cracked window. A proud smile came across his face behind his visor as the device detonated safely outside the room, “Yeah, that’s how we do things in the Protectors!”

“Get back into cover you fool!” Torb’s voice rang out over the com bringing him crashing back to earth.

It was now that Arkanna realized he was standing in the open near the barricade they’d constructed for the ponies. Turning back to the fight the Private felt a something slam into his chest plate. It was hard and angry, no feeling or remorse behind it as it knocked the wind out of him and sent him sprawling to the ground, This is where you’re gonna die you idiot, he began scolding himself again.

Everything was blurry for the next few moments. His eyes fought to refocus as his lungs worked hard at moving air through his body once again. Arkanna’s mind raced with questions as he fought to regain composure on the situation. What happened, I was shot. Are you dead? No, I’m not dead yet. Why aren’t you dead? Reinforced armor plating absorbed the blaster bolt. He felt something around his chest - a pressure. It wasn’t from the blaster bolt - this was different. It was pulling him somewhere. He could make out a faint voice over the sounds of the firefight, the voice was at the far end of the tunnel, distant from him. Every second his mind began to focus and the voice came closer until it was right on top of him, almost literally. It was full of worry and fear, “Oh no oh no oh no, don’t be dead, please don’t be dead!” Fluttershy?

His vision returning to him he could make out the readouts on his HUD. Beyond that was the wet eyed Pegasus that had pulled him to safety, pleading for him to show some sign of life, the visor didn’t help much with that. His hand moved to rest behind her head causing her to freeze up with a look of shock gripping her cerulean eyes. Arkanna guided her forehead to rest against the forehead of his helmet, “I’m alive, mesh’la… I’m alive.”

“I told you he was fine!” Zex yelled out from the front of their defense line, “What could I know about it though. I only have a readout on my HUD detailing every squad member’s physical condition, heart rate and even armor integrity.”

“If you’re done resting your laurels Private Kershom, then kindly help us push back these ruffians!” Torb barked at him.

Wincing as pain shot through his chest and back, Arkanna pulled himself to his feet and used the overturned stonework for support. Bringing his rifle up to bear, he rejoined his comrades in keeping their enemy back when he noticed - oddly enough - the small group they were engaged with was starting to let up on their assault.

From the Deathwatch line a loud cry rang out as a body was sent flying through the air as a ragdoll being discarded by a child. With a bone jarring crack, he landed limply in front of Epsilon squad. Crashing through the enemy troopers the all too familiar mass of red beskar plates charged through taking a pair of men with him as he slammed them both into the ground. To the dismay of both sides, the sound of metal bending under the sheer might of the warrior’s cybernetic fists sent a shiver down everyone’s spines.

A pair of weapon mounts sprung to life upon the hulk’s shoulders, their droid-controlled targeting systems picking out enemies and letting loose a rapid volley into their shattered line. No longer holding the advantage, those remaining quickly fled back into the ruins to find the rest of their team, the sounds of blaster fire nipping at their heels.

With a disapproving snarl, Traycn watched his prey scurry off into the ruins, “Bah, Sith boot-lickers make for better opponents than these dar’manda!”

“A pleasure you could join us, Traycn. Truly we would be lost without your might and skill.” It was hard sometimes to tell if Torb was being serious or condescending, his tone almost never changed.

“Time is running short.” From his belt, Traycn produced a small device consisting of a single button. With no explanation or hesitation he pressed down the button atop it, sending the detonation command to a pair of explosives hidden on either side of the room’s only surviving entrance, causing a collapse and sealing the rear hall. “It is time to leave.”

“What do you mean time is running short?” Twilight asked as she trotted up to the crimson titan, “How are we supposed to leave, anyway? You just sealed this chamber.”

Without a word, he walked past the Unicorn and her questions till he stood at the back wall. The armor plates around his arm began to shift and slide as hidden mechanisms hummed to life and revealed themselves. Several plates moving to provide added strength and defense to his knuckles others moving to clear the path of ventilation systems as a loud humming from his arm grew with intensity. Traycn brought his fist back and unleashed a heavy blow upon the stone wall. Upon connecting, a burst of energy was let loose from his knuckles, creating a burst of gravity at the center of the punch. The coupling forces cracked and fractured the stonework crumbling much of it into brittle clay, “That is how, lady Sparkle.”

The ponies were rendered speechless as they stared at this display of strength and technology, but also at the slight hopelessness of this escape plan. Just beyond the newly formed “exit” was a sheer drop down into the foggy depths of ravine, and far beyond that lay their salvation. The only problem was…

“That’s way too far to jump!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed, a sudden twinge of fear in her voice. “Even if my wings were at one hundred percent, me and Fluttershy couldn’t carry us all across that gap!”

“And there’s no way I could teleport everypony at one time!” Twilight added to the fretting.

Torb from the corner of his visor kept a close watch on Luna: she seemed unfazed by the situation. This only added another note to his ever growing mental dossier on the so-called Princess of the Night. But they had more important things to take care of right now, “Kad, Kell, the rear chamber had been sealed off and we are about to make for the other side. What is your status?”

“We’ll meet ya on the other side, now haul your shebs over there!” Was the Captain’s reply from the coms.

“But how do we get across? It’s just so very far!” Fluttershy pleaded as she stared out over the expanse, her knees starting to shake.

Arkanna rested a hand on the small of her back seeming to calm the shaky Pegasus down, “Fluttershy, I need you to do me a favor, okay?”

Looking into his visor on the verge of tears as the endless stress weighed down on her fragile form, “I… I think I can…”

Arkanna pulled her closer to him as he held her tightly to his chest. The sudden closeness brought a bright tinge of red to her face, her heart beating violently against her rib cage as she heard him whisper into her ear, “Don’t scream.”

Before anyone or anypony could react, Arkanna with Fluttershy tightly in his arms leapt through the jagged gap in the wall. Frozen in shock and confusion, the Pegasus did little to resist or fight. What confused her most, though, was the fact that she still fully trusted he wouldn’t let her come to harm. Whether on purpose or subconsciously Flutteryshy brought her forelegs around Arkanna’s neck to hold herself tightly to him. The jetpack on his armor screamed to life, propelling them across the gap and coming to a sliding stop in the wooded area on the other side.

The remaining ponies stood slack-jawed as they witnessed what looked like a suicidal plunge and then suddenly the pair were rocketed to the other side by a ball of fire. With little time spent on explanation, Torb and Zex scooped up Twilight and Rainbow Dash and proceeded to repeat the process.

As Traycn approached Luna she quickly cut him off by spreading her wing against him, “I require not thy assistance.” What seemed like a quick skip propelled the Alicorn across the gap with a swift flap of her wings, landing with surprising grace.

Traycn’s entrance, however, was less dignified as the large jump jets required to propel him lobbed his form across the breach. His heavy form leaving a small crater as it connected with the earth below him.

“Where’re the Captain and the Staff Sergeant?” Zex questioned as he scanned over the assembled.

“They would do well to hurry, not much time left on the counter.” As if on cue from Traycn, the entirety of the ruins became alight with a massive explosion. Fire burst from every nook and cranny, spilling from every hole and crack.

“No…” Twilight stared in horror at the destructive display before her as a cold voice in the back of her head pointed out none of this would have happened if she and her friends hadn’t followed after them.

Zex shook his head with a sigh, “I wouldn’t give them a funeral just yet, ma’am.” He said, pointing to a pair of objects rocketing across the night sky.

“What is that?” Rainbow inquired as she watched the twin balls of fire.

“That would be our Captain and Staff Sergeant… acting like children rather than grown men.” Torb replied.

Traycn’s landing was suddenly made all the more professional - Kad and Kell unceremoniously came down in a sharp arc and coming to a rough skidding stop through the dirt. The landing itself would have been fatal if not for an application of force powers on Kad’s part.

“Are… are they alive?” Twilight asked sheepishly.

Zex stood over the pair and gave them both a quick kick in the side, immediately getting a reaction as they tried to pull themselves up, “Yeah, they’re alive, just stupid.”

Kad looked to his brother coughing in pain, “Why do I let you talk me into osik like that?”

“Hah, like the doc said, you’re just stupid.” Kell gleefully replied through the pain.

Marching on

Tolik needed a drink. Nothing smooth, nothing weak, a strong gut-rotting drink that would rip apart his insides so he didn’t have to feel anymore. Any new kind of pain to drown out the one already sitting in his stomach since the failed attack began.

For his team’s failure and humiliation, Tolik and his men had been left back in Ponyville with the royal guards to monitor the situation as it unfolded. They had made a base of operations out of the lobby of a nearby Inn, despite the obvious objections from the owners. He had been listening closely to the com-units since the scout team set off into the woods following fast after the hoofprints several locals had left.

At first he had begrudgingly given in to his superior’s punishment and figured he’d get his shot at revenge when and if they brought them back alive. If not he had plans to take a few pot shots at their corpses to make himself feel better. Instead all he got was an earful of disaster.

The man leading the team on the shuttle, Major Jax Yularian, had been a good friend of his. They had gone through basic together and kept one another alive during the siege of Mustifar. That had been the operation that brought them both to the attention of the Deathwatch. They had both sworn that neither of them would join this shadow group unless the other came along.

Now he was dead. The report, screamed in by his second in command, had stated a sniper round took him out mid-drop. No details beyond that, the boy giving the report had taken a lightsaber to the chest according to another panicked soul that was cut down all too soon as well.

Tolik wanted revenge all the more, now. To tear someone’s throat out with his bare hands and carve out their chest cavity with a vibro-knife. Things only went worse from there, though: twenty men, armed to the teeth, charged into those ruins. They had the overwhelming advantage over this enemy and it was all nothing but a trap.

Even from the village he could see the explosion as it blossomed against the night sky. A white ball of beautiful death erasing everything and everyone it touched in one brilliant blinding flash. Tolik needed a drink.

The Deathwatch Sergeant had forced his way into the establishment’s kitchen and begun sifting through the contents of their pantries. Somewhere in this building there had to be at least one bottle of something alcoholic. Over his shoulder he could hear the sound of hooves on the floor boards. Tolik braced himself for what he assumed would be another rounded of heated words with the Inn keeper’s wife. Instead he found himself staring down Galant.

“If you’re here to lecture me then at least help me find something to get drunk off of,” He grumbled as he roughly moved the contents of another cupboard around.

“Is that the reason Ms. Autumn came to me in a huff yelling about ‘that armored thug in her lauder’?” From the sound of Gallant’s voice, it was clear he was biting back a lot more than just that.

Tolik didn’t give a care at this point. Not after all that’d happened and how little he could do to stop any of it. Finally his prayers were answered with a mostly full bottle of cooking sherry, “Hell, this’ll have to do…” Without a word to his fuming companion the Deathwatch Sergeant popped the cork and downed a quick swig of the tart contents with a wince before slamming the bottle down on the counter.

Shaking his head the Unicorn approached him and took hold of the bottle magically to take a drink as well, “If we’re going to get drunk at least explain to me what just happened in the forest.”

“Gallant, how many folks close to you, have you lost in combat?” Tolik snapped at him before taking back the bottle for his next greedy gulp.

“I’ve lost a few young colts here and there in border skirmishes. Especially with the griffons - cut throat monsters, those ones.” He replied.

“I’ve seen at least a hundred men and women die in front of me.” Tolik muttered as stared into the bottle, “Never let a single one of them drag me down no matter what.”

Gallant took his turn with the sherry, “What changed this time?”

“A man very close to me, a friend since our youth in basic training and the only man I’d trust with a blaster at my back was killed out there by the scum we’re chasing.” Tolik took a long drink from the bottle as he fought to douse his rage with alcohol.

Gallant let the human have the lion’s share of the liquor, “You couldn’t have changed the outcome, Tolik. You would’ve died in their trap just the same.”

“We should’ve stopped them right here!” He snapped at the guardspony as he slammed the bottle down, “We had them, Gallant, right in our cross hairs. If those damned women hadn’t been in the way, we could’ve gunned them down or something!”

Gallant pulled the bottle from his grasp, “Then they probably would’ve killed us, too! Tolik I’m sorry for your friend but drinking your pain away isn’t going to bring him back.”

“Gah, don’t give me that damned rubbish Gallant. I heard enough of it from my ex-wife, I don’t need you trying to guilt me about drinking.” Tolik snarled.

“You misunderstand me friend. I’m not lecturing you about the evils of drinking. I’m trying to suggest is…” Magically he slid the bottle off to the side and then produced a silver flask with gold-leaf engravings, “That we drink to his memory rather than his death.”

No rest, not yet. The tension of the battle in the ruins still fresh in the air, the members of Epsilon knew they couldn’t rest this close to the smoldering remains of the ruins. The second they had gotten the Skirata brothers to their feet it was time to move. With their pony charges in tow, the crew quickly set out to put as much distance between them and the crater that according to Twilight was once some called The Sisters’ Castle. Maybe when all this is over they’ll name that smear on the landscape after them.

The initial destruction of the site seemed to be a rather nerve-wracking sight for the majority of the civilian ponies tagging along for the ride. Twilight, as expected, had been more than a bit vocal about their careless emulation of the structure and its’ historical significance. Luna, however, seemed less shocked about the ordeal; rather Torb could swear he saw the faintest hint of a smile across the monarch’s face as flames consumed the building. The Princess stated calmly that she was more than happy to see the place of her fall from grace, her grand betrayal and eventual defeat destroyed. Wishing only that it could have been razed to the ground far sooner.

Through the stranglehold of the canopy, hints of the coming dawn filtered through the leaves. It was now Kad who was starting to notice the fatigue settling on them all, Pony and Mandalorian alike. He was pushing them all to their limits and knew it wouldn’t be much longer before it was too much for them to bear, “Give ’em a rest boys, we pick up the pace in thirty.”

An exhausted sigh of relief lifted from the group as a whole. The members of Epsilon positioned themselves in a wide perimeter around this small patch of forest. Each man kept watch in a different direction with weapons at the ready as they used the forest around them for cover.

Twilight broke from her friends to approach Kad, “Captain, where exactly are we going?”

He regarded her with a glance from the corner of his visor, “Got a gut feelin’ ‘bout this direction.” Kad motioned straight ahead into the forest.

“Gut or the Force?” Kell quickly chimed in.

Twilight shifted her head to the side in confusion, “What exactly is the Force?”

Kad turned her question over in his head as he thought of a way to explain it, “Well, accordin’ to the Jedi, the Force is this sort of energy. It flows through everythin’ around us: me, you, the rocks an’ trees. Some folks’re born able to tap into it, I just happen to be one of ‘em.”

“So it’s like magic, then.” Twilight happily chirped as she felt she’d reached a point she could grasp.

“I suppose so, I ain’t no scholar, ma’am, but for all I know the two might be related.” He replied as he continued to keep his watch, “By the by, any clue what’s in this direction?”

“The only thing that way is Froggy Bottom Bog, it’s swamp land that sits adjacent to the Everfree Forest.” She replied.

“Swamp land, eh? Sounds like a good place to disappear, don’t it vod?” Kad playfully asked his brother.

Behind his visor Kell smirked from ear to ear, “Mhi sah vhipir."

“I thought you might agree.” Kad chuckled as patted his brother’s shoulder roughly.

One other thing began to weigh on the young Unicorn’s mind though, “Captain Skirata… sir, I… I’m sorry for what happened at the ruins. If my friends and I hadn’t-“

Twilight was stopped midsentence as Kad rested a hand atop her head, and began to muss her mane, “Just a setback Ms. Sparkle. ‘Sides, we got outta that mess with our lives an’ took a sizable chunk outta those Deathwatch dinks. On top of that, gave them reason to pause next time they decide to go gunnin’ for us.”

“But, all of that gear and equipment we saw set up at the ruins, it was all destroyed. Now we’re wandering around the Everfree Forest, possibly still being hunted down.” She exclaimed as she looked between the two Mandalorians, “How can you be so calm about this whole situation?”

“They’re nomads.” Fluttershy softly spoke up from her spot nestled between Luna and Rainbow Dash. Every eye and visor was suddenly on the Pegasus whom quickly shrank trying to hide herself behind long pink locks, “I mean, uhm, that’s what Arkanna taught me anyways…”

Slowly the gaze of the other Mandalorians shifted to Private Arkanna, “She was curious about our culture.”

“Hah, bet that’s not all she’s curious about.” Kell snickered as he turned back to his watch.

“Losin’ all those supplies is a setback ma’am, like Ms. Shy said though, we’re nomads.” Kad reassured her, “Everything we got on hand we can survive with. We run outta ammo, we’ll take it off the dead. We need food, we’ll hunt an’ scavenge for it. If everything we got breaks down, we’ll fight ’em with our bare hands. Mando’ade nayc dinu laam.”

Twilight had no idea what Kad had said to her at the end. But the unwavering pride in his voice pushed itself into the young Unicorn’s heart and brought with it a smile to her face, “I think I understand now Captain, thank you.”

After a rest travel seemed easier on them all as spirits seemed a bit higher and most of the tension from before mostly faded and given way to small talk. Eventually the forest began giving way to the swampland. Hard dirt began to slowly shift to a softer loam, the trees began to thin out and become replaced with breeds more suited for the wetlands. Above them, the sun too began washing away all vestiges of night.

Kell surveyed the land ahead of them, “Well, not as bad as being stuck someplace like Dagobah. Doesn’t look half bad for a swamp, maybe we could hang a few curtains, some throw pillows over on that moss pile- SHIP!”

Everyone’s eyes quickly darted to the direction the Staff Sergeant was pointing. Sure enough, resting on a tiny island of solid ground was a shuttle matching the one they had shot down back in the ruins. Epsilon quickly switched back to the soldiers they were as each man readied his weapons and spread out in a wide pattern to move in closer.

The ponies could do little else but watch from the safety of a fallen tree as their friends investigated the area. When satisfied this might not be an ambush, Kad and Traycn made their way towards the rear hatch of the ship, “Figures they’d lock it, think we’ll get lucky an’ find the keys inside?” Kad joked.

“Hmph, not with our luck Alor’ad.” Traycn grunted out as he continued to scan the area with his hefty blaster ready at hip level.

“Rookie, get your sheb over here an’ pick this lock will ya.” Kad called out to his man. He couldn’t help but notice a worried look, more so than what he’d seen as normal at least, on Fluttershy’s face as the Private sprinted through the swampy terrain to the ship.

Arkanna quickly produced the tools of his trade, “Yeah, bet you’re glad you got stuck with an infiltration expert now aren’t ya?” The Private proudly declared as he went to work on breaking the door’s security codes.

“Inflate your ego after ya get the door open Rookie.” Kad was quick to point out as kept looking around for what had to be an inevitable attack. His hand gripped the hilt of his saber tightly as he fought the urge to ignite the blade and just slice open the door.

“Juuuuust about got it… there it is!” With a hiss the hatch’s air tight seals released and the door began sliding out of the way. As he was trained, Arkanna quickly moved away from the door with his weapon ready for any sign of trouble.

Traycn wasted no time in filling the gap as he stormed into the ship, ready for another fire fight. All that greeted him was an empty shuttle, “Clear!”

As time passed by, it became clear that there wasn’t going to be any kind of attack and a small camp was thrown together around the ship. Traycn was eagerly taking stock of the ship’s systems and equipment while others did the heavy thinking. Just the way he preferred it.

Their guests were just happy for use of the onboard refresher to clean up and to finally rest. The boys of Epsilon were more than willing to let them rest while they took stock of the ship and kept watch as the sun began its slow decent in the distance.

At the far end of their perimeter, Arkanna leaned against a tree, his hand nervously tapping the side of his rifle as he kept watch. His mind ran through the events of the past forty eight hours, crash landing on an alien planet, hunted by a force ten times their size and even getting shot. Now they had the shuttle, a way off the planet, but why did that thought keep making him feel ashamed. Soft foot falls drew his attention to the all too familiar Pegasus, “You should be resting with your friends, mesh’la.”

Fluttershy stared at the ground as she shrank a bit from his sight, “I’m sorry but… I just can’t sleep.” She stated in that soft tone as she probed a bit of dirt with her hoof, “I’m probably bothering you aren’t I, I’ll just go back to the camp.”

The Private took a seat on a jutting root and patted a spot beside him, “A’right then, you can sit up with me but don’t say I didn’t warn you when you’re too tired to move tomorrow.”

Smiling nervously, the Pegasus trotted over to take a seat beside the warrior, “Thank you.” Her eyes fixated on the star filled sky above them, “Arkanna what’s it like, going to different worlds and travelling through space?”

Arkanna had to give this some serious thought - how do you explain something as complex as whole other worlds to someone who’s only just learned there’s of life beyond her own sky? “It’s pretty fantastic out there mesh’la. Seeing the sun rise on an alien world can be the most breath-taking thing you’ve ever seen. The fire of re-entry dancing off the hull of your ship as you fall through the atmosphere is like riding a comet to the ground. Or the shimmering lights of a planet-spanning city as you look down upon it from the darkened side of the planet.”

Her eyes lit up with every word he told her, “Oh my, and what about the animals?” A growing excitement clinging to her voice.

“Heh, well there’s all kinds of animals, sure.” Arkanna was more than happy to continue regaling her, a small grin coming to his features from behind his visor, “If a planet can support life it’ll of course have all kinds of critters living on it.”

The young Pegasus was happily enthralled with the idea, “Oh, I’d love to meet them someday.”

“When we get out of this mess mesh’la, I’ll take you out there sometime.” Arkanna said motioning towards the night sky.

A bright red shade filled Fluttershy’s cheeks, “That… that would be so nice of you…” She muttered to the ground, shielding herself behind her long hair.

A chilled wind kicked up that cut through her fur and sent a shiver through her body. On reflex, her body curled up against the closest source of warmth. Much to her disappointment, Fluttershy learned how uncomfortable armorplast plates can be.

Arkanna watched this play out as she quickly pulled away from the cold, unfeeling casing that protected him. Reaching into a duffle he’d been carrying since the ruins, the Private produced a long, light brown cloak that was quickly draped over her form, eliciting a surprised squeak, “All-temperature cloak, any better?”

She nodded slowly, very thankful for the wide hood that now hid her crimson-hued face. “Yes… Thank you, Arkanna…” Being made for a standing race like Arkanna’s, the cloak hung awkwardly around her form, covering her completely.

The quiet moment was cut short by the approach of Kad, “Rookie, your shift ended over an hour ago; what’re ya still doing up?”

Arkanna quickly rose to his feet to snap a salute at the Captain, “Sir, I wasn’t feeling tired so I took Zex’s shift.”

Kad shook his head in frustration, “I ain’t seen you rest since we touched down - if you’re stimmin’ up-“

“Sir no sir, I’m no stim-head!” Arkanna quickly defended himself, “I just… basic only preps you for so much ya know, sir…”

Fluttershy watched the exchange between the two warriors, for the first time she started to see them as mortal things like herself. Their unstoppable façade had begun to crumble before her, letting her see them in a new light, yet her eyes were fixated solely on him.

With a sigh Kad removed his helmet and looked into Arkanna’s visor, “Rookie, you’re feelin’ real tired.”

“I’m feeling real tired…” He repeated in a trance like tone.

“You’re gonna go get comfy next to the fire an’ get some rest.” Kad said into his soldier’s visor.

“I’m gonna… Go rest by the fire…” Arkanna took his rifle lazily in his hand and started marching back to the campsite.

Kad’s attention shifted to the mare draped in the cloak, “Ms. Shy, would ya mind givin’ me a hand with somethin’?”

“I… I suppose so, Captain, sir… What do you need from me?” She asked nervously squirming under his gaze.

Fluttershy soon found herself beside the fire with sound asleep Arkanna resting his “bucketless” head on her shoulder. Her face was a red beacon as her heart punched heavily against her rib cage.

“Thank ya kindly, ma’am.” Kad said happily he looked the pair over, “Now, just stay here an’ make sure he doesn’t leave.”

At the crossroads

Kell had never been the major gear-head of the group. In fact his daughter was always a far better mechanic than he ever was. But he had to handle this on his own for a change. Sitting upon a stump he had removed several of the armor plates from his leg, fully revealing the mechanical replacement where his right leg once stood some years ago. The sniper began checking connections and gears as best he could on his own leg.

“Whoa, your leg, it’s…” Glancing up from his work he found a rather shocked looking Rainbow Dash.

Snickering a bit, he continued his work, “Yup, lost my real one to a nasty land mine, vaporized my right leg and one of my wee boys.”

“Did… did it hurt?” She carefully asked as she moved for a better look at the mechanical limb.

“Happened too fast to really feel it - all I heard was a click under my boot, next thing I know I’m on my back staring at the sky and vod’s screaming at me to keep my eyes open.” Kell continued on as he tightened a few gyros.

“Do you ever miss having the real thing?” She asked, shivering at the thought of going through the same ordeal.

“Ya know, sometimes I miss having a flesh and blood leg.” Kell stated sullenly, “Then I break someone’s rib cage with a gravity pulse kick and I’m happy again. Between you an' me, I miss the testicle more.”

She watched him continue his work in silence for a moment, fighting for the courage to ask what was really on her mind, “There’s something that’s been bugging me… and I need somepony who’s not gonna sugar coat it for me.”

Kell was already reattaching the armor plates to his leg, “Don’t leave me in suspense babe, what’s on your mind?”

Rainbow dug into herself deeply as she forced her eyes to meet Kell’s, “Back at the ruins, somepony took a shot at me and missed by barely a hair… he didn’t miss on purpose did he?”

Kell got to his feet as he gave the leg a few test motions, “Nope, you and your friends are on their hit list same as us, now.”

His casual and nonchalant tone about the ordeal only fed the now growing fire and anger in her gut as it spilled out through her eyes, “Why… Why are they doing this? What’d any of us do to them?”

“Because they can,” Kell stated as he began gathering up his tools, “They see you as smaller and weaker, they have weapons they don’t believe you can match or stand up against. Not to mention a ship in orbit just dying to start bombarding your world. Sad fact is, that’s how the galaxy works sometimes, kiddo. But I wouldn’t worry too much about it.”

“Oh yeah - what’s not to worry about?” Rainbow said sarcastically, “Besides some jerks from space deciding at any second to blow everypony I know away.” She exclaimed through bared teeth.

Kell kneeled down to bring himself eye level with her. A glint in his eye accentuated the blood thirsty grin on his face, “’Cause they ticked us off, and we ain’t about to leave till we kill every last one of them.”

Dash felt herself take an unconscious step back from the malicious marksman, “That’s… uh, that’s good to know. I think I’m gonna go get some shut eye, nice talking with ya Kell.”

Kell withheld the urge to laugh as he watched Rainbow trot off to join the majority of the group by the fire, “What a sweet girl, she’d make a good Mando if she could harness that rage.”

Within the ship itself, Kad, Torb and Luna discussed the battles to come while examining a holographic readout of the city of Canterlot. The Princess surprised the hardened officers of Epsilon with her tactical knowledge, “The majority of Teth’s forces hath taken to the inner city, whilst a small collection of personal guards move freely about the castle grounds. My sister does what she can to keep his hoo- pardon me, his hands tied. But I fear her efforts are in vain.”

Kad rotated the hologram to the mountainside, “A stealth team could use this overhang, use rappellin’ equipment an’ scale up the side, get into the palace from the rear.”

“All well and good, Captain, but their efforts will be for not if we don’t make a large enough scene to draw them all out.” Torb pointed out as he shifted the image to the main streets of the city, “The main thoroughfare is too wide open though - we’d be walking into a slaughter.”

“Well Torb, that’s why we do what we do best,” Kad said with a playful smirk, “We improvise.”

From the shadows of the craft came a guttural snarl, “And just how limited will we be ourselves?” All eyes shifted to the Taung reclining in one of the pilot’s chairs, a bottle of strong scented liquid in one hand.

“Traycn, I can’t but feel ya got somein’ you wanna get off your chest.” Kad took a few fearless steps towards the lounging behemoth.

A sneer came across Traycn’s face as he leaned forward, “Did your POWERS tell you that?” He chided him as he took another long drink, “You’re right Alor’ad, I have a few qualms with how you’ve been handling things.”

Kad’s eyes narrowed on the drunken Sergeant, “Well now, don’t keep me in suspense.”

“You’re holding us back.” Traycn stated bluntly as he took another hit from the bottle, “We could easily wipe these enemies off the precious little blue and green orb, yet you want to sit and plan like this rock matters to you.”

“Ain’t our world Tray, no sense turnin’ it to ash.” Kad pointed out.

The Taung began to laugh hysterically, an action that left Luna feeling a bit put off, “Or maybe the cute cuddly locals have made you soften, Alor’ad - maybe you don’t deserve that title anymore. Maybe we should refer to you as Jetii?”

Kad snatched the bottle from his metallic grip and greedily drank down the remainder of its contents, “It’s clear you ain’t much for talkin’ Tray, so why don’t we just get this over with?”

“Thought you’d never ask… Captain!” Metal knuckles connected with no remorse to Kad’s chest, sending him flying through the air and out the back of the shuttle.

Kad rolled head over heels to a stop several yards from the shuttle. Shaking his head clear he pulled himself back to his feet, “Everybody gets one, Tray… everybody gets one.”

The commotion drew everyone’s attention to the red giant thundering his way out of the ship, “This has been coming for a long time, Jetii. Do you have any idea how frustrating it has been to take your orders? I am the genetic clone of a conqueror, my progenitor slew your ancestors with his bare hands, and now you have the gall to order me around!”

Kad smirked from ear to ear as he dusted himself off, “Come on, Tray, tell me how ya really feel.” He called out sarcastically, with arms spread wide.

With a rage filled roar, he charged forward with a wide gaping swing. The augmentations beneath the armor plates and shell poured all their power into his limbs as they sought to end his target’s life. Kad’s speed being far greater gave the smaller warrior an out from the attack as he dove past Traycn and rolled to his feet behind him.

Traycn’s blow connected with the tree Kad had been standing in front of. A shower of splintered wood filled the air as his blow cut through the trunk with ease, toppling it over. Frustration began to take hold on Traycn’s actions as he turned with another wide swing that just scarcely missed its mark. Kad could feel the rushing wind of the blow as he jumped back to a safe distance.

The commotion had drawn everyone’s attention to Traycn’s angered fueled assault on his commanding officer. All save for Arkanna, still gripped by sleep and held there fast by Kad’s small application of the force, the young Private continued to snooze soundly by the fire. Still snuggled up to Fluttershy who watched the fight unfold, frozen in terror, made it all the more difficult to move - if she could - with Arkanna’s arm wrapped around her.

“What in the hay is going on, why are they fighting!?” A panicked Twilight Sparkle demanded as she watched the larger slower Traycn bound through obstacle after obstacle that the faster Kad positioned between the two of them.

Zex placed a hand on her back to keep her calm, “Relax and watch, the Captain’s just reinforcing his position as leader.”

“What are you talking about? We need to help him! That massive monster’ll tear him apart!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed as she readied herself to charge in. A blaster bolt cutting through the air and striking the ground in front of her drained all the confidence she had.

Kell sat on his stump rifle leveled with the group and a small plume of smoke wafting from the barrel, “No one interferes - vod has this under control.”

“Stop running and fight me you Jetii hut’uun!” Traycn fumed as he smashed yet another large rock into dust. Kad’s speed had always given him trouble in spar sessions, and in this swampy terrain it was even worse. His cybernetic enhancements gave him pure unadulterated strength to force his way through the muck and mud, but it slowed his charge to a crawl.

“I don’t need the Force to take you on, ya ast’ehut di’kut!” Kad called out as he side-stepped another would-be fatal blow. He knew this fight was serious, and all his opponent needed was one blow to end his life, but it was hard not to find this fun, “Maybe if I stood still, ya might be able to catch up!”

Traycn had suffered this long enough. Looking to the side he spotted a sizable boulder at his feet. If he couldn’t get Kad to stand and fight him seriously, then he could at least make him regret it. Metal digits gripped the coarse surface as gyros beneath the surface turned and wined in anger as the massive stone was hoisted into the air.

Kad’s eyes narrowed on the Taung as he began to suspect his intentions, “Traycn, don’t do somethin’ you’re gonna regret.”

Without a word, the behemoth sneered back at him as he quickly reeled the boulder back and let it fly. The target however wasn’t Kad, but rather the lightly defended pair of ponies and unfortunately Zex as well.

Kad pulled himself deep into the Force, letting it surge through his entire body and shift his perspective of the world to a slow crawl. Fully immersed within the power, he reached out, letting it take hold of the stone as it inched towards his comrades. Feeling it in his grasp he yanked back on it, forcing it to make an about-face and sending it careening back to Traycn.

Still brimming with confidence, the Taung slammed his fist into the rock, shattering it into a fine powder mist that filled the air around him. This quickly faded, as through the dust Kad rushed up to him with a rapid volley of strikes aimed at his unprotected head. Traycn’s rage built to a boil, creating a buffer between him and any pain Kad intended to inflict. Letting loose a loud roar, he swung his metal arms in a wide arc towards the ground in hopes of crushing his opponent.

Kad stepped back from this blow and let it slam into the swampy mud and muck. Reaching out through the Force once more, he summoned a knife to his hand from its boot sheath, the blade crackling to life with a bright blue electric energy in his hand. Moving quickly, he used Traycn’s arms as stepping stones to bring himself face to face with the angry brute. Without any hesitation Kad plunged the blade through the open collar of the armor and into Traycn’s shoulder.

Traycn let out a roar of pain as the electricity shot through his body. He could feel the surging energy jump from augment to augment, tearing into him and through his entire body. The Taung could feel himself shutting down as his arms now refused to move - as did the rest of his body. Close to a full ton of metal and armor weighed down in the mud as smoke drifted from his body.

Kad stared into eyes of his opponent; they showed no feeling of remorse, no regret for his actions. Defiance was all he could see as he looked into Traycn. Taking a step back, Kad took in a deep breath to calm himself and control his urge to take his saber and simply end the creature. Instead, he reeled himself back and snapped a kick into his face, pouring quite a bit of force energy behind the blow to throw what little balance was left in the brute and send him onto his back in the mud.

Silence gripped the campsite as Kad stood over top of Traycn, “I wanna make this clear,” He looked over everyone assembled, “This ain’t our world, but Deathwatch is OUR mess, an’ we ain’t leavin’ till we clean it up! I ain’t sufferin’ a dissension in the ranks, so any o’ ya want out, now is the time, ‘cause the next man who turns on me is a corpse.”

Kell hopped off his spot on the stump and strode over to his brother, smiling proudly, “You know you got me at your back vod.” He stated placing a hand on his shoulder.

Zex shook his head with a chuckle, “Like I’d ever follow Traycn’s lead, sir.”

“This whole squad would fall apart without me to guide it Captain, afraid you’re stuck with me as well.” Torb stated as he looked over the mess Traycn had made.

“No more marmalade, please…” Arkanna mumbled in his sleep.

“I think that means yes, maybe.” Fluttershy muttered with a nervous smile.

“And thou hath earned my support as well, Captain Skirata.” Luna stated as she trotted towards him, “I believe I hath seen more than enough to measure thine character, Captain. Thou art a warrior of honor and conviction, thou art what our world will need to weather the coming storm. I hath been told that thine people are known for acting as soldiers of fortune - if thou will accept, I wish to hire thee.”

Kad raised his brow in surprise as he glanced over his shoulder at Kell who wore a look of surprise as well, “We’re flattered your highness, but ya should know Mandalorians ain’t cheap to hire.”

A coy smirk came across the Princess’s face at the mention of payment, “Rest assured good Captain Skirata, the treasury of Equestria shall provide ample payment to thee.”

Kad took a second to see the looks of approval among his men before answering her, “A’right then your highness, you just hired Mandalorians. Your cause is now our own an’ your enemies our targets.”

Luna gave a bow of her head to them happily, “Excellent, consider thine selves members of the Lunar Guard as of this moment.”

Kad’s attention moved back to the still fuming Traycn stuck on his back in the mud. Placing a foot on his chest plate, Kad leaned in close to him, “Ya hear that? Now we’re hired - we got ample reason to help these folks now.” With very little care he yanked the knife out of Traycn’s shoulder with a quick pull, “I’ma want my knife back. When your pieces reset I want ya off your lazy sheb and preppin’ my new shuttle for takeoff. Let’s try not to have this conversation again, you copy Tray?”

With much reluctance the Taung finally breathed out between his bared teeth, “I copy… Alor’ad… I will follow you.”

Luna watched him hop off the beast’s chest, “Art thou certain he can be trusted?”

“Would ya rather I execute him your highness? We’re your men now, after all.” Kad asked as he leveled his wrist mounted blaster with Traycn’s head.

“Nay, I do not wish you to end his life needlessly!” Luna exclaimed in shock.

“How do ya like that vode, a noble who’s actually noble.” Lowered his weapon with a smile, “I wouldn’t worry ‘bout Tray’s loyalty ma’am, he just needed to be reminded who’s in charge.”

Traycn would be stuck on his back for the next hour, staring up at the night sky. The hole in his shoulder hurt and his augmentations burned and smoldered inside him. He could feel them starting to run their restart sequence. At least the booze running through his veins was dulling the pain, but wasn’t helping his pride.

Kell leaned over him with his trademark smirk, “Hey big guy, how ya feeling?”

The Taung snarled at him as he imagined his metallic digits tearing through flesh and bone like flimsy. To see the arrogant sniper torn to shreds at his hands would certainly make this night seem a lot better.

“Just so ya know, next time you try take my brother down like that, I’m gonna open a new air hole in your dome.” He stated flatly as he probed the side of Traycn’s head with the muzzle of his weapon, “I’m always watching you, Tray - always.”

A hard choice

Kad and Kell silently prepped their gear for the final task ahead of them before they could rest easy for a time. Nearby, a confused and concerned Twilight watched the brothers go about their tasks, “But I thought you said you had enough food to last yourselves another week. What’s the point of this hunt?”

“Ain’t lookin’ for food or trophies ma’am,” Kad answered her as he gave his lightsaber a once over.

“That shuttle hasn’t been here for very long, Sparkle,” Kell added, “Vod and I are gonna go out while we still got the night on our side and hunt ‘em down before they find us.”

Her stomach began to twist a bit as their intensions became clear, “You’re going out there to find the ones who brought this ship and kill them, aren’t you?”

With a playful smirk, Kell tapped the tip of his nose before going back to his rifle, “If you’d prefer, we could let ’em find us while we’re snoozin’ so they can slit that pretty throat of yours.”

Her eyes narrowed on the sniper, “Your scare tactics won’t work on me, Staff Sergeant. I fully understand that what you’re doing is what you feel is necessary for everypony’s safety… but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with any of it.”

“I’d start worryin’ about ya if ya did, ma’am.” Kad stated as he scooped up his helmet and slipped it on, disappearing behind a mask of Mandalorian Iron.

Kell wasn’t far behind his brother, returning to the ever-familiar world of the HUD. With a smile he brought his fist up – Kad, with no hesitation, imitated his movements, bumping knuckles with him, “Time to roll, vod!” Kell exclaimed happily.

“I got your back brother!” Kad replied excitedly.

Twilight found it hard to withhold the urge to roll her eyes at this “foalish” behavior as these grown men hyped each other, “Please take care of yourselves out there.”

Before anyone could move, their attention was quickly drawn to the sound of unfamiliar voices at the far edge of camp, “I’m telling you we left the shuttle somewhere around here.”

“Why didn’t you leave the locator active?”

“Those spec-ops guys might pick up on it, then we’d be down another shuttle.”

Kad gave his brother a confused look from behind his visor before sending out a quiet alert to the rest of the team via their HUDs. In seconds the pair was joined by Torb and Zex as they each took an ambush position, waiting for the speakers to come into the open.

“That’s all well and good Jenson, but now WE can’t find the damn ship!” Exclaimed one of the Deathwatch troopers as they strode into the swamp, clearing ignorant of what they were walking into.

“Only six strong, lightly armed.” Torb pointed out over the comlink.

“What say we try a diplomatic approach this time around, fellas?” Kad ordered as they watched the troopers come fully into view.

“See, I told you it would be here.” One trooper exclaimed happily before taking notice of the small camp that had sprung up in their absence, “What the hell is all this though?”

On cue, Epsilon quickly surrounded the Deathwatch troopers from their hiding spots. The advantage of numbers meant little to the angles for firing Kad and the others had on them. “I’m sure I can guess what you boys are thinkin’ right now. You’re thinkin’ ya might be able to fight your way outta this wee trap that ya walked into.” Kad stated as he ignited his saber, “Let me just dash them hopes right quick.”

A splash of sunlight began to melt away the cold grip of sleep over the Private. The world of his dreams started to fade away and none too soon - what was with that tea party with the pack of kath hounds? A foggy haze still covered his world as the welcomed scents of fresh brewing caf hit his nostrils, going hand in hand with the faintest hint of wild flowers.

Arkanna could feel something soft and warm against his face. Eventually his vision came into focus as he sat up and turned find his pillow from the night before, coming eye to eye with Fluttershy’s bright crimson face - just barely an inch away from her. Despite the nervous look on her face, he couldn’t help but give a tired smile at the situation, “Jate vaar’tur mesh’la.”

“Morning…” She barely managed to squeak out.

Sitting up, the Private went about getting a hot cup of caf from the fire, the bitter liquid giving him the kick he needed to start moving. Slowly, he started taking note of a few changes around the camp. For starters, the flattened chunks of stone with what looked like fist indentations, a few trees on their sides and finally the men in their underwear, mesh-taped to a tree. Confused but not phased the Private gave them a nod and raise of his cup before turning back to Fluttershy, “Huh… I can’t shake the feeling that I may have missed something last night.”

Still flushed bright red, she smiled nervously as she glanced at the ground, “You may have missed a few things…”

“If they kill us, I just want to get this off my chest,” One of the captured troopers began to confide to his comrades, “This is all your fault, Jenson.”

Jenson looked to his compatriots in shock, “Me? What’d I do?”

“You left the locator beacon turned off!” One of the six shouted in retort.

“Anyone could’ve made that mistake.” He pleaded.

“No Jenson, only you could get us THIS screwed!” One more bit back.

The team quickly buttoned up as the approach of one of their captors accompanied by an equestrian who looked more than a little irate, “Oh, don’t stop on our account, boys.” Kad stated with a smirk, “I want ya boys to meet a friend’a mine by the name’a Rainbow Dash. See, she ain’t too pleased ‘bout you fellas comin’ down here an’ startin’ trouble.”

“Not pleased at all, Captain.” The Pegasus snarled through bared teeth, “Especially after somepony tried to blow my head off!”

One of the captured troopers gave her a cocky sneer, “Too bad they missed.”

“You think so huh?” The frustrated mare took a step forward while wheeling her body around, kicking out with her hind legs at the arch of the turn. Her hooves connected with the tree with a loud jarring crack, just barely missing the offender’s head. Rainbow found herself taking a great deal of satisfaction in the frightened look in his eyes, “Next time, I don’t miss.”

“Kandosii Dash’ika!” Kad exclaimed with a laugh, “See, these equestrian girls might look cute an’ what not. But they can kill just as easy as you an’ me.”

Rainbow felt a swelling of pride as the Captain talked her up, made all the sweeter by the frightened look in the Deathwatch trooper’s eyes, “See, me and the Cap here got a little bet going. I think I could crack your skulls in one buck.”

Kad snickered as he took a knee to watch, “Now boys, there’s a way to avoid this untimely death by peeved off Pegasus, you tell us the access codes to your hanger bay an’ you ain’t gotta get drenched in your friend’s last thoughts.”

“You think you scare us, you-” The trooper’s words were cut off as a pair of hooves connected with the side of his head, bouncing him off the tree trunk. A stream of blood gushed from a gash in the side his head and nose, “Haar’chak!”

“Looks like ya owe me lunch Dash, didn’t bust in one shot.” Kad said in a disappointed tone.

“Gah, I can’t believe you just did that, you cantina harlot!” Another swift buck caught him across the face, shattering his jaw with a loud snap.

“That sounded like an insult to me.” Dash stated with a playful grin.

“I’d say one more should open that nugget, Dash’ika. Give ’em another good kick.” Kad advised as he watched the trooper cough up blood, teeth and incoherent curse words.

“Wait!” Jenson was the one to crack, just like Torb predicted. Within moments Epsilon had a plethora of vital information ranging from troop strength, the possibility of reinforcements and even the access codes for the hanger bay, “And then when I was twenty-two I paid a Bothan to sleep with me so I could lose my virginity…”

Dash watched in uncomfortable silence as they let the Deathwatch trooper Jenson spill every detail about his life, “Wow… That was more than anypony needed to know… Ever.”

“Yeah… Kinda sad we let ’im keep going, now that I think about it…” Kad stated sorrowfully.

“How do you think we feel, having to hear it too?” One of the troopers chimed in sarcastically.

The approach of hoof falls drew Kad’s attention to Luna’s advance. He could swear even in this swamp she walked regally, “Your highness.”

“Captain Skirata,” She addressed him with a bow of her head, “I trust thou hath gained the knowledge thine sought.”

He regarded the troopers with a bemused glance before looking back to the princess, “That an’ more your highness. We should be ready to go on the offensive on your command milady.” He gave a side long look at the prisoners as he subconsciously reached for his saber hilt, “What’re your orders for this sorry lot?”

“I shall deal with them myself, Captain,” Luna stated firmly as she looked over the prisoners, “You and thine men should make ready what preparations are needed, I will join you shortly to discuss the operation in full.”

Kad snapped a quick salute to the princess before marching back towards the main camp. He and his squad had been hired by nobles several times before in the past, but this was first time he’d found himself actually enjoying it. This Equestrian took far more interest in the well-being of her soldiers and respected them enough to allow them to make the right calls far more than any stuffed suit from Coruscant ever did, “Hey Captain, you got a second?” The cyan Pegasus’ worried tone brought him back to reality.

“Speak your mind, Dash.” He replied.

She hesitated for a moment as she glanced back at her hoof-work and the red trail she had been leaving in the mud, “That… Act we put on, it really was just an act, right? You weren’t gonna make me kill any of them, were you?”

Kad came to a stop, “Dash, how far would ya go to protect everyone an’ everythin’ ya loved and cared about?”

She cocked her head in confusion as the question mulled over in her brain, “I… I don’t understand.”

“If killin’ those men meant your world’d be safe, would ya have followed my order? Would you have killed them?” The aged warrior’s eyes turned to hardened steel as they bore into her.

She forced herself to keep her eyes locked with his, but it was a battle Rainbow was slowly losing, “I… I don’t know… I mean if it meant everypony’d be safe then…” She trailed off as she scoured her soul for the answer - could she really take the life of another creature? The frustration and confusion began to mount on her as the subject threatened to tear apart everything she’d been raised to know as right and wrong.

Kad took a knee to bring himself eye-level with her, “Dash’ika…” Placing his hands on her shoulders, his tone took on that of a parent addressing their child. “Any di’kut can kill - a life can be taken in the blink of an eye. A Mando’ade, a Protector, takes a life for a reason. We all got our reasons to fight an’ kill ad’ika, you an’ yours gotta decide if you do too.” Rising to his feet, he took the helmet strapped to his belt and regarded her with one last look, “’Cause my brothers an’ I can’t save this whole damn planet an’ protect you lot forever.” Before slipping his bucket back on continuing back to the camp.

Rainbow Dash watched in silence as the warrior strode away from her, his parting words becoming a halo that hung about her head. A reason to fight, to give everything she had: heart, mind, body and soul towards protecting everypony she could, to protect Equestria. As well as a reason to kill an enemy that would not hesitate to kill her either.

She trotted after him and easily managed to overtake the human and place herself in his path, “If it’s that easy, then what’s your reason Captain?” Her old determination was starting to return to her eyes.

Behind his visor, a smile crept across Kad’s face as he reached onto his belt and produced a holodisc. Pressing the button on the side of it, an image of himself with his body armor and weapons came into view. In his arms was a woman of a light blue tinted skin, her light pink hair was cut short and her golden eyes shone happily as she leaned into the warrior’s arms. Before them both was a child that bore quite a resemblance to the pair, his skin had a slight blue tint and his hair a mix of red and pinkish hues with golden eyes, happily making faces at the direction the image was taken from, “My wife, Shin’ima and our son Cassus. I took this image before I shipped out just like I always do. I fight the enemies of the Mand’alor so they can live happily. That’s my reason ad’ika.”

The Pegasus was taken aback by this piece of information, and quite frankly had no idea what to do with this knowledge, “I… I’m sorry. I didn’t realize.” Before anymore confused stammering could pour out, she felt his hand rest atop her head and began ruffling her mane.

“Not like you’d’a known, kiddo,” He took pride in seeing a smile return to her face as he mussed her hair, “Now why don’t ya run along an’ find the doc? Said he was ready to take them bandages off ya.”

This bit of news brought a wide excited smile to Rainbow’s features, “Thank Celestia, it’s about time!” The Pegasus quickly trotted off in search of the medic before stopping to call back to him, “Hey Cap, thanks for the talk, I think things are a bit clearer now.”

Kad let out a chuckle as he watched her gallop off in search of the Corporal. He couldn’t help but muse to himself, Vod’s right, she’d make a good Mandalorian. Fierce and determined with a sense of justice, they could all be of use if they’d just… His mind began to trail off as an idea formed, bringing with it the edges of a smile.

Later that afternoon the entirety of the party had been assembled at the ashy embers of the fire before. All eyes were on Torb and Luna as they went over the situation, “The Princess and I have discussed our options and it is clear our highest priority is the frigate-class Star Destroyer currently in orbit,” The Chiss strategist began the address as he produced a holodisc that projected the image of the ship, “Thanks to the efforts of the Captain and Ms. Dash, we now have the access codes to their hanger bay.”

The cyan Pegasus quickly spoke up, “Whatever happened to those guys, anyways?”

Luna gave a wry smile in return, “They took a trip.” Her thoughts drifted to how shocked the small collection of prisoners must have been to suddenly find themselves no longer in the swamplands, but instead the snow-drenched city of Stalliongrad.

With a motion, the image shifted to a more detailed layout of the interior of a ship of this design, “Our current plan will be a swift assault on the frigate to take out their engines and hopefully knock it out of orbit.”

“Why not take the bridge and use the ship to our advantage?” To Epsilon’s surprise, the question came from Twilight.

“Too many between us an’ the bridge,” Kad retorted, “The ship still has a crew well over two hundred strong. On top’a that, between all of us we can’t pilot a ship that size without a crew to man it.”

Torb highlighted a hallway near the hanger bay, “Also the hanger is closer to the engine room. We can cause far more damage and cripple the ship if we head there.”

Traycn had remained quite since the fight the other night. Nursing his shoulder and pride as he avoided contact with every other being, “We need to do more than cripple it.”

Kad’s attention fell on the Taung, he was reluctant to allow him his say after his mutiny but he knew better than to question his strategies, “What’cha got in mind Tray?”

“Simply crippling the ship only slows them down. If we want to truly cut off this Teth’s arms then we must destroy the frigate completely.” Traycn stated as he changed the layout view to bring up the engine room itself, “We overload the core and lock the engines into a rapid decay with the planet.”

“That’s a good idea and stuff but, where’ll it land?” Rainbow chimed in.

“We’ll worry ‘bout that detail when we get to the engines,” Kad assured her, “Whatever we chose to do we have two more problems, Deathwatch’s got troops all over the capital and there’s bound to be a few marchin’ about Ponyville as well.”

“I hath no doubt the scoundrel will retaliate swiftly upon word his vessel is destroyed.” Luna stated with growing concern, “Upon leaving the ship I shall rejoin my sister to face Teth, together the palace will be brought under control with ease. As we bring things to order within the castle, the rest of you shall throw off what troops he has left in Ponyville before joining me in Canterlot.”

“I don’t like the idea of ya facin’ him on your own your highness.” The Captain stated as he watched the monarch through his visor, “Wish you’d reconsider this part of your plan.”

Luna placed a reassuring hoof on his shoulder with a smile, “Thine concerns are welcome good Captain, but this threat must be faced by Equine kind just as much as thine own troops. Our subjects must see we are willing to face any threat to protect them.”

With a reluctant sigh, Kad gave in to her charms, “I understand milady, ya can’t leave all the fightin’ to us. Don’t mean I gotta like the plan though.” His attention shifted to the other three ponies in their care, “Which brings us to one more bit’o concern: you three young ladies.” The three mares shared a concerned look between themselves, “We can’t keep protectin’ ya girls at every turn, an’ now Deathwatch is gunnin’ for ya just like us. Time to make a choice girls: what are ya willin’ to do to protect your home world?”

An awkward silence choked the air as the trio hesitantly mulled the Mandalorian’s ultimatum over. Rainbow Dash bit down on her lip as she took a bold step away from the group puffing out her chest and giving her newly freed wings a quick flex, “Alright Cap, I’m in!”

Fluttershy watched her friend take the first step looking between her, Twilight and one of the Mandalorians. Swallowing hard she tried to force what little courage she had to the surface before taking a shaky step forward, “I’d like to help too… If that’s okay I mean.”

Not one to leave her friends in the lurch Twilight moved up alongside them, “I want to do my part too, sir.”

Kell let out a chuckle as he looked over their new “recruits”, mentally weighing their usefulness, “Kandosii, that’s the spirit girls!”

Kad’s attention shifted to Traycn, “Get’em fitted for that armorplast Deathwatch “donated” to us. In the meantime, we gotta find a use for you ladies.”

Training day

The afternoon sun hung high in the sky over the Everfree forest, its wildlife scurrying about their usual tasks of survival either ignorant or just indifferent to the strange pair that journeyed into its depths. Rainbow Dash flew excited circles around Kad as she followed him through the wilderness, “So what is it you’re gonna teach me, Cap? How to move stuff with my mind? Or maybe how to fly one of those space ship things? Or some kind’a secret Mandalorian fighting style?”

Kad regarded her with a wry smile while her mouth raced as fast as her mind, “You’re close on the last one, kiddo. Been told you’re a decent fighter Dash, so I’m gonna give ya a little lesson in how to fight like a Mandalorian.”

Rainbow landed on an overturned tree with a proud smirk, “I’m one the toughest in Ponyville, maybe the whole of Equestria! I bet I could even give you a few pointers, Cap.”

Feeling satisfied with the clearing they’d come to, Kad began stripping off sections of his armor and weapons, stacking them on a stump. “Ya just might Dash, ya just might.” Cracking his knuckles and joints, he looked the Pegasus over, “A’right Dash’ika, I want ya to come at me with everything ya got.”

She canted her head to the side in confusion at his request, “Say what?”

“You’re gonna learn how to fight, same as all of us do. No holds bar, no pullin’ punches an’ no holdin’ back.” Kad stated as he fell into a fighting stance, “You use everything ya got to hurt me with Dash, cause I promise ya ain’t going back to the camp unscathed. Unless you’re feelin’ scared, ad’ika.” He chided her with a sarcastic tone.

Rainbow’s nostrils flared and eyes narrowed as his words cut into her pride, “If that’s how you want it Cap…” With a flap of her wings, she quickly shot into the air high above his head, “Hope you’re ready for this, Mandoboy!”

Kad had to admit he wasn’t expecting her to be so fast, far faster than he was without the use of the force. The cyan blur shot down towards him leaving a rainbow trail as she aimed to connect her forehooves with his face. Experience, however, gave the warrior the advantage as he moved forward at an angle into her attack, bringing his arm out to clothes-line her mid-dive.

His arm caught almost dead-center in the neck, causing her eyes to go wide in shock as she felt her windpipe flatten for a moment. Kad let out a grunt as the pain of the airborne pony slamming into his forearm at high-speed registered. Not letting up, the Mandalorian followed through against Rainbow Dash’s momentum to fling her into the ground.

Dash landed hard on her back, coughing and gasping to fix her windpipe. Her eyes went wide as the human overtop of her brought his heel down towards her face. Quickly rolling to the side, she managed to avoid the boot, pulling herself back to her hooves - it was becoming clear Kad wasn’t playing games with her. Her ears flattened against her scalp as she bared her teeth and lowered her stance to a more aggressive posture.

“Now that I got your attention…” Kad said to her as he massaged the feeling back into his arm, “Maybe you’ll start takin’ this a bit more seriously!” Kad took to the offensive this time, rushing in on her with a swift volley of blows, the Pegasus’ deft movements keeping her a step ahead.

It wasn’t until she felt her back against a tree that she realized he wasn’t trying to hit her; he was taking ground away from her. For a split second, Dash was treated to another view of the bottom of Kad’s boot as his leg snapped into place to deliver a swift kick. The Pegasus speedster had no intention of taking another blow from the Human attacker - rolling along the surface of the tree, she managed to reposition herself away from the blow and quickly took to the air again.

Kandosii, use every advantage ya have!” Kad complimented her, “If ya have a blaster then shoot ’em, ya gotta knife then stab ’em. Honor’s a really romantic concept but it don’t mean osik if you’re the one gettin’ shipped home in a body bag.”

“If you don’t believe magic exists, then why did you insist on coming along?” Twilight regarded Torb with a critical eye.

“I felt the Captain touched on an interesting hypothesis when he drew a line between what you know as magic and what the rest of the galaxy knows as the force.” He calmly replied, “I simply wish to observe and draw my own conclusions on the subject. Also, it is against regulations for a client such as the Princess to be without an escort.”

“His presence matters not Twilight Sparkle, thine focus is needed if thou wishes to learn these lost spells.” Luna was quick to correct her would be pupil.

The Lieutenant took a seat beneath a tree to observe the pair of Equestrians with a bemused grin. The idea of magic being real was an amusing thought to him. He was a man of science and analytical thought, as any Chiss worth his salt would be. To him, magic was a fool’s way of explaining what they didn’t understand, or feared may counteract already cemented beliefs.

Glancing over in Torb’s direction once more brought a shiver to Twilight’s spine; the shade of the tree, combined with the eerie glow of his cybernetic eye and dark blue skin, gave him an appearance akin to that of a demon from Pony lore. She couldn’t let this play on her mind though - if she wanted to make herself useful to Epsilon Squad she needed to learn magic most Ponies had never needed to seek out for centuries. Magic she knew her mentor would never allow but her current teacher was insistent on. Taking a deep breath, she gave Luna her full attention, “I’m sorry your highness, I’m ready to begin now.”

“Combat magic is a lost art; it functions on different levels than what my sister hath taught thee. Thou must be determined and resolute in thine task; thine will must be iron-clad in the defeat of thine foes.” Taking several steps towards a rather thick ancient tree, “We shall start with the Sword.”

A dark aura incased her horn and with a quick flick at the center of the tree an unseen force began violently splitting straight up the center. Torb and Twilight both watched in shocked silence as the air was filled with the rain of shattered wood and splinters. The Princess turned to face the pair, beside her floated a crescent of glowing luminescent energy, “Now then Twilight Sparkle, tis thine turn.”

A battle of wills had begun at the center of the camp as Zex’s unwavering gaze stayed locked with Arkanna. Between the pair of them, Fluttershy looked back and forth nervously as the soldiers glared daggers at each other.

“I don’t understand why you’re being so resistant to this, Private.” Zex proclaimed as he tried to keep his cool.

“Because I really don’t see how it’s important.” Arkanna snarled back.

Zex sighed rubbing the bridge of his nose, “Look, I need to teach Fluttershy as much field medicine as I can in the span of one day. It’ll be much easier on a live subject.”

“Oh, no, that’s okay, I mean, if he doesn’t want to…” She quickly muttered out hoping to defuse the situation.

“If I have to pull rank I will, Private!” Zex angrily pointed out to Arkanna.

She let out a frightened squeak as the Corporal began to lose his temper, “No, please stop.”

Arkanna looked down at the pleading Pegasus cringing beside him. The Private let out a defeated sigh, “Fine Zex, you win.”

“Good, now strip down to your pants and get on the gurney.” Zex ordered.

Fluttershy let out a sigh of relief as the fight finally came to a peaceful conclusion. For a moment she feared the two might come to blows with her caught in the middle. Looking back to Arkanna, she watched him remove his body armor and underlay shirt. She found the anatomy of the alien’s race strangely fascinating. He lacked the same qualities that Equestrians’ possessed; without the armor, Arkanna was considerably less bulky as some of his comrades, no doubt due to his youth.

She took quick notice of several tell-tale scars and injuries. The most prominent was the large bruise on his chest, no doubt left from the fight at the castle. The few others seemed old and likely had been present for some time. Her eyes fell on his shoulder, where three scars ran along towards his back, an injury her mind quickly connected to that inflicted by a sharp claw. Eventually her sightseeing took her to the jagged scar across his neck. Remembering the reprisal she received back in Ponyville, her eyes quickly averted to the ground.

Arkanna watched her reaction, feeling a sharp pang of guilt strike him. A voice in the back of his head told him he screwed up this time; he silently promised he would make things right. For now he could start by playing the part of the hapless victim in need of medical attention. Finally disrobed, Arkanna climbed onto the gurney, the built-in repulsors keeping it hovering a few feet off the ground. He gave the pair a nervous smile, “So, do you want me to make some wounded noises?”

Zex gave him a swift swat across the forehead, “Knock it off.” His attention shifted back towards the Pegasus beside them, “Now then, the patient has suffered a blaster bolt to the chest,” Zex gave this emphasis by harshly poking the sore on the Private’s chest, receiving a pained grunt in return, “His life is in your hands Cadet, what’re you going to do?”

“Oh, uhm…” Fluttershy stammered as she looked over the supplies Zex had laid out for her, “I… I start by disinfecting the wound?” She looked to the Zabrak medic who gave her a nod. It was a strange change of pace to work on something that wasn’t a woodland creature, or even Pony for that matter. Zex assured her that Human anatomy is a good starting point for many other races so it would serve her best to start there.

Arkanna let out an annoyed sigh as he felt the Pegasus clumsily apply a bandage to his chest. Zex offered her no help beyond the occasional bit of verbal advice or correction in technique. He let out a painful noise as a slip of her hoof landed a hard poke at his bruise causing her to pull away from him quickly in a panic.

Zex was quick to stop her retreat and force her forward, “What are you doing? This man is dying and needs your help; you cannot hesitate for even a second!” His words and gaze were stern and unyielding.

“But… But…” Fluttershy stammered as she cowered away from his watch.

“Fluttershy, in the field things will be much worse than this. You can’t just slink away from a wounded soldier.” Zex nudged her towards Arkanna, “Now get in there and save his worthless life.”

“Wow, I am sooo glad you’re our medical officer.” Arkanna muttered sarcastically.

The spar between Rainbow Dash and Kad continued on in seclusion, the pair trading blow after blow. Fist connecting with face, and hoof connecting with gut as the blood of Human and Pegasus mixed on the dirt between them. The fire in their eyes refused to be quenched despite the blood and sweat stinging them.

The side of Rainbow’s face was starting to swell up along her left eye, a sharp pain in her jaw shooting back and forth through her head. The metallic taste of blood washed through her mouth as the cut on the inside of her mouth kept a steady trickle flowing. Every inch of her body ached and her lungs were balls of fire clawing at her rib cage, “Okay… You’re pretty good Cap, I’ll give ya that.” She managed to force out between labored breaths.

Kad was in no better shape. The aging warrior could feel his years starting to show, but he refused to make use of the force to take her on and now he was paying for it. Almost every one of his joints screamed at him, as did the shots Rainbow had managed to get in, “Yeah, ya ain’t half bad yourself Dash, sloppy but not bad.” He said with a playful smirk, “What say we take a little breather, let ya get your strength back.”

“Oh, just for my benefit huh?” She snickered at him before falling back on her haunches.

“Watch the mouth Cadet, I’m still your rankin’ officer.” Kad was quick to remind her as he retrieved his canteen from the pile of gear. His throat was thankful for the sudden gush of cold cleansing water that poured over it. Taking a seat beside the cyan Pegasus, he offered her the canteen.

Dash happily took a long, greedy gulp of life restoring water. She let a happy sigh as she felt the liquid was over her sore muscles with every drop. Something felt off though; from the corner of her eye she could swear she saw something move. Her attention shifted to the warrior beside her who scanned the tree line around them, “We’re not alone, are we?”

Kad took the knife from his boot, “Nope,” He placed the weapon beside her before ruffling her mane, “Time to really show me what you can do, Dash.” Getting to his feet, he started back towards his gear with an air of confidence about him.

The Pegasus looked from Kad to the blade, then back to the trees. Swallowing hard, she could feel a cold drip of fear in her gut as she slowly bent down and took the weapon in her teeth. Getting back on her hooves, things started to become clearer as several growling forms began to materialize from the wilderness.

The first thing Kad’s mind touched upon seeing these animals were Kath Hounds, until he saw their bodies were made up of what looked to be plant life. Taking the lightsaber hilt from his gear he began the casual walk back towards the worried-looking Pegasus, “Remember when I asked ya if you could kill if I ordered it?” He kept a close watch on her as the plant creatures inched closer towards them. With a light touch the energy blade buzzed to life, leaping forward from the hilt, “Only two ways outta this clearing, Dash: on our feet, or in their bellies.”

The one at the head of the pack leapt forth, snarling in hunger as it went for what would be the easiest meal, its jaws ready to clamp down on fresh meat, to draw blood and feed the empty hole in its stomach. A pained yelp escaped the beast’s maw as the golden blade of the lightsaber passed through its form with ease, leaving it split in two at Rainbow’s hooves, “No day dreamin’ Dash, time to prove your worth!”

Moving back to back with the Captain, Rainbow gulped, hoping to douse any hint of fear in her gut. She could do this, she could fight these animals. Her teeth bit down hard on the hilt of the combat knife as she watched another one come rushing in for a taste of Pony meat. This time she was resolute as her veins filled with adrenalin: ducking under the snapping jaws, she tilted her head to let the beast gut himself with his own momentum, its sap-like blood spraying across her face and body as it shrieked a death knell.

Tossing the body off, she caught sight of her next opponent who eagerly sought to take advantage of her awkward state. A snarl of her own escaped her throat as Dash wheeled her body around and let fly with the hardest buck she could physically muster. She felt her hooves connect hard with the wooden body of her opponent; she could feel it go limp in the air as it crumpled from the inside, the force of the blow sending it sprawling back to the rest of the pack.

The fire in her lungs had burst out and begun to consume her entirely. Muscles melted into her bones as she began to move on autopilot. Blade and hoof each found their targets as she tried to keep a tally of her accomplishments - her hard work was paid back with bites and scratches to her limbs and flank. Despite it all, she managed to catch sight of the Captain; it amazed her how he seemed to simply wade through them. Everything his weapon touch tore apart like a hot knife through butter. Biting down harder on the hilt of her weapon, she fought hard to regain her place beside him and face down the remnants of the pack.

Torb was a man of science and hard facts. He refused anything that could be explained away so easily by simply stating it was magic. In the course of an afternoon, he was treated to a show of what the Equestrians considered magic, watching the purple Unicorn try to regain her posture after a grueling session under Luna’s tutelage. The Lieutenant still couldn’t say whether or not there was a direct connection between the force and this magic, but one thing was certain: “Your majesty, if I may be so bold, how long have you been holding back?”

The question had not been unexpected, and Luna’s attention shifted towards Torb, “I wished to know thy intentions before passing judgment upon thee. Celestia may wish to give all the benefit of the doubt, but I did not trust the words of Commander Teth. His dark descriptions of thine crimes seemed far too convenient for my tastes.”

“You’ve met this Teth fellow, then?” Even the slightest hint at his character would garner an advantage.

“Only in passing - in all honesty, I could not stand being in his presence.” Luna stated with clear agitation, “His words were far too honey-coated not to conceal venom beneath their surface, and his eyes veiled a darkness. I fear the many years of peaceful rule hath made my sister blind to such evils in the hearts of others…”

Torb watched the Princess closely for a moment before, “There is something more to all of this, something you aren’t telling us.” The pair regarded one another with a critical stare for what seemed like an eternity, “No matter, as long as it does not interfere with the mission. I feel we should return to the camp, we have lost quite a bit of daylight.”

Upon return to the camp the three of them were treated to a most unusual sight. A panic-stricken Fluttershy was nothing unexpected to see, but the fact that she was attempting to wrap the nonexistent wounds of Private Arkanna who was now looking quite akin to a mummy. Behind them both the Corporal shouted orders at the Pegasus, “No, if you do it like that you’ll cut off circulation, do you want him to lose that arm!?”

The unfortunate Pegasus appeared close to tears as she tried to correct any mistake he pointed out, “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry…”

Haar’chak, I leave you lot alone for a few hours an’ look what happens!” Kad exclaimed as he marched his way into the camp, beaten, bruised and coated in what looked to be tree sap. Carried on his shoulder was Rainbow Dash in similar shape, “Medics, front an’ center if ya would.”

Zex regarded the pair with a look that could bore holes through duracrete, “What in the haran happened to you two?”

Kad gave him an impish grin, “Was just havin’ a friendly spar ‘till some… What’d ya call ’em, Dash?”

“Timberwolves…” The fatigued Pegasus grunted out.

“Timberwolves went an’ picked a fight with us. Was a good learnin’ experience for ’er.” He stated with a smile.

Zex examined the pair closely with an angry glare, checking them over before giving them both a good swift slap to the head, “You’re both fine. Now hit the refreshers and stop trying to waste my time and supplies.”

Kad gave the Dash a wry smile and wink, “Gotta love that Mandalorian health care.”

Night came quietly to the campsite with little else in the way of incident. A sizable bonfire had been prepared at the center of the camp where the members of Epsilon squad and their Pony recruits were gathered. The warriors from Mandalore encircled the Equestrians with Kad at the head, several flat metallic boxes at his feet.

Kad’s visor reflected the light of the fire as he looked each of the Ponies over before looking to the others, “Brothers, we are here tonight because these three seek a place within our ranks.” He said motioning to the Unicorn and Pegasi, “Who here will vouch for them?”

Torb strode forward and placed a hand on Twilight’s shoulder, “I will vouch for this one Alor’ad. I have witnessed her potential first-hand; she will make a fine Mandalorian.”

Kad nodded to Twilight then looked to the other two, “An’ what about them?”

Kell moved forward and stood beside Rainbow Dash, “I’ll speak up for this’n vod. She’s got a fire in ’er, I want to see how far this one’ll go.”

Fluttershy looked nervously between her friends then back to the Captain. Looking over at Zex, her heart began to sink as his visor seemed averted away from her.

Kad watched the nervous Pegasus before looking to the others, “Will anyone stand for her?”

Several seconds turned into hours as Fluttershy began to sink behind her long pink locks. Her saddened fog broke as a hand rested on the small of her back, “I'll stand with her.” Following the source of the hand and voice, what she saw brought a tint of red to her face as Arkanna stepped up to vouch for her.

“She isn’t ready for field work.” Zex quickly objected.

“She’s my charge; I’ll take responsibility for her.” Arkanna retorted, giving her a reassuring stroke of her mane.

Kad nodded to the Private before turning back to the Ponies, “These verda of the Mando’ade see potential in all of you, should you take this invitation you will cease being Equestrian and take your first step towards being Mandalorians.”

For a time, the only noise anyone could hear within the camp was the sound of the fire’s crackle, until one soft voice broke in proudly, “I accept.”

Her friends watched shocked in shock at Fluttershy’s sudden boldness before speaking up as well. Behind his visor Kad grinned from ear to ear as he watched them step up to the challenge. Venturing a glance towards Luna, he could see a hint of pride on the monarch’s face as she watched them, “Then step forward and receive your gifts Cadets, retrieve your pel’gam.”

Each of the cases was opened in turn revealing a set of altered armor plates and body suites, “In the Mandalorian culture some colors carry a meaning to them: they represent the warrior beneath the armor. Fluttershy, your love of all things livin’ and nurturin’ spirit is reflected by this shade of orange. Rainbow Dash, you are stalwart in your resolve and unyielding in your intent, represented by blue. Twilight Sparkle, your sharp mind is duty bound to your friends an’ monarch, we felt green reflected your soul quite well.”

As the three mares were left to examine their gifts, Kad picked up the fourth case and made his way over to Luna, “Your highness, the boys an’ I felt it would be fittin’ to gift you with this as well.” Opening the case revealed a collection of matte black plates of armor, “Black, the color of justice; it would honor us if you would wear the armor in battle.”

With a soft smile, the Princess of the night nodded in agreement to the warrior before a glow incased her horn as well as the other sets of armor. In a quick flash each of the four mares found themselves clad in the armorplast plates. Their design was meant to offer protection mostly to the chest, back and sides as well as the legs. Lacking the materials for a full helmet system a scaled down version had been created, primarily an armored head band with a HUD visor and ear mounted comlink. It was surprising how much meticulous work Traycn had put into each armor: calculating size, weight and even making room for wings in the reconstruction. The Taung could not help but feel a swell of pride at the sight of his creations.

“Wow… This stuff is incredible.” Twilight commented breathlessly as she took in the plethora of information that flowed before her eyes on the HUD.

Rainbow gave her wings a few test flaps before she was satisfied she still had full unrestricted use of the precious appendages. Giving a much more serious try with them until she was a few feet off the ground, “This stuff is gonna shave a few tenths of a second off my normal speed but I like how it feels. Makes me feel invincible!”

Fluttershy looked herself over before looking uneasily up at Arkanna, “It feels… Heavy…”

“You’ll get used to it mesh’la.” He muttered quietly to her.

“You have each taken the first step on a long path.” Kad stated proudly as he looked them all over, “From here on you ain’t Equestrians any longer, you are family, our family. Brothers, make your new sisters feel welcome!”

At this a cheer went up from the warriors as they each in turn took a moment to welcome and banter a moment with the three of them, “Enjoy yourselves tonight, ‘cause tomorrow at the crack’a dawn, we take the fight to Teth.”

Lighting the fuse

The bonfire had begun to die down, as did the celebration that had carried on around it. It was a beautiful moment of bliss to distract everyone’s minds from the grueling battles ahead of them. Through the night the Mandalorians and their newly inducted Pony recruits shared what little strong drink they had, and their collective mountains of stories. Torb had elegantly stated that it was a chance to celebrate the lives they had all lived and the people they were before marching headlong into the waiting jaws of death. It was a strange mix of comradery and a morbid acknowledgment of the uncertain future ahead of them.

Kad reclined happily on a jutting root that acted as a make-shift seat, his back against the tree trunk behind him. With a tired smile, he nursed what was left in his cup. Upon his knee sat his helmet staring unblinkingly at him, silently reminding him where his true loyalties lay. He quietly regarded the gaze with nod and a grin of understanding, “Excuse me, Captain, sir.” A soft voice beside him pulled his eyes to the orange armored Pegasus, her cheeks lightly tinted red from what little taste of liquor she’d had.

The Captain gave her a wry smile as he tipped his cup to her, “Ah, Shy’ika, what can I do for ya?”

Fluttershy took a seat beside him on her haunches as she stared at the ground. She found it rather amazing how her visor let her see as clear as day, despite knowing it was the middle of the night, “Rainbow Dash told me you’re really good at giving advice, so I wanted to ask you something…” The small amount of booze in her system gave her enough courage to start talking openly.

Kad gave a hearty chuckle at this, “So I’m turnin’ into the squad buir. What’s on your mind?”

Reluctantly, her gaze moved towards his, finding them holding a surprising kindness. “Well… I… I don’t even know where to begin; I don’t understand what’s going through my own head.” A growing look of frustration began to swell up within her like a beacon in the Force.

Kad placed a comforting hand atop her head and spoke softly, “From the start then, ad’ika.”

Taking in a calming breath, the Pegasus steadied her thoughts and resolve, “I guess it started after he saved me at your wreck sight. I honestly thought for the first time ever that I was going to die when that blade pressed into my neck. At first I was just curious about him - he’s so different from anypony else I know, but the more I learn the more I want to know and I just don’t understand why!” Her voice began to crack as she poured her heart out before the warrior.

Kad watched her go on and on, stone faced - only ever raising a brow towards the end, “Wait, you mean the rookie, Arkanna?”

Her frustration became crystal clear as her face took on a bright crimson shade, “Oh, I just don’t understand any of this. Am I crazy, sir? He’s an alien in every sense, but when I’m around him I feel safe. Even around my friends, coming this deep into the Everfree forest would leave me trembling, but around Arkanna I don’t feel as threatened by it.” Biting her lip, she stared up at Kad.

He stared down at her with a slightly critical look in his eyes as he crossed his arms over his chest, “An’ just what’s wrong with bein’ close with an alien? My wife happens to be one, an’ our son is a half-breed.”

“Oh my no, I didn’t mean it like tha-“ Her panic stricken train of thought was cut short as a hand once more rested atop her head and began to ruffle her mane.

“Relax; I was just teasin’ ya.” Kad playfully admitted to her, “Look ad’ika, the galaxy is a crazy sort’a place, an’ ya never can quite tell what’s gonna happen or where you’re gonna end up, least’a all who ya might end up feelin’ for. There ain’t nothin’ wrong with how ya feel.” He tapped her breast plate with his finger, “That right there’s got more power in it than any Master Jedi or Sith Lord could ever dream’a musterin’, an’ it’s what really separates us from them.”

Much to the warrior’s surprise, the soft-spoken Pegasus wrapped her forelimbs tightly around his waist and hugged herself against him. With a soft smile, the older human put his arms around her shoulders to bring her into the embrace, brushing a hand through her mane. His mind replayed similar moments with his own child after dealing with a nightmare. In a hushed tone, he began to mutter comforts to her in Mando’a. Their literal meanings were lost on Fluttershy, but she could feel the intent behind them.

Finally feeling calmer, her thoughts began to organize themselves. With a bright smile, her eyes looked back up to the Captain’s, “What do you think I should do, sir?”

Kad rested a hand on the side of her face and brushed his thumb along her cheek bone, “Ya say you’re curious ‘bout the boy, right? Try sharin’ somethin’ ‘bout yourself with ’im. I’ll give ya a bit’a time before we take off in the mornin’; get whatever ya got outta your system before the mission. Need ya both focused and ready.”

She gave him a happy nod before hugging him tightly again, “Yes sir.” Kad let out a grunt as her limbs tightened on him. Arkanna was right - she really did have a mean grip.

In the town of Ponyville, the strange visitors from afar had begun to make themselves a bit more useful to the citizens of the tiny town they had been exiled to. A pair of troopers had been assigned to one task in particular: fixing the mess that had been made at Sugarcube Corner some nights before. One of them was a human male looking to be in his late twenties with sandy blonde hair and green eyes, while the other was a Twi’lek, light blue in hue with dark brown eyes and a tribal tattoo pattern running down his lekku. The pair carefully put the last touches on the repaired display case they’d been working on.

“Alright, just a little to the left Mackers, and that should center it.” The Twi’lek stated.

“Right’o Yazan; aaand now how does it look?” The human dubbed Mackers questioned.

Yazan gave him a thumbs-up, coupled with a proud grin, “Kandosii, that should do it!”

The duo had worked into the night, working hard at repairing the bakery after the long, hard brow-beating Tolik had treated them to. As the day progressed, the owners of the establishment, Mr. and Mrs. Cake, had watched the alien creatures clean the mess they had made. They had been pleased by the gesture, but still felt very awkward about the arrangement.

As the work came to an end, Mr. Cake took a few brave steps up to the troopers with a nervous smile, “Thank you boys again for cleaning things up.”

The pair shared a knowing look but chose to bite back any sarcastic remarks floating between them, “Wasn’t any trouble sir.” Mackers proudly answered him, “You and your kin take care now sir, and sorry again for letting that fight break out.”

“Oh, by the way boys,” Mrs. Cake quickly interjected as she trotted over and placed a small white bag in their hands, “A little thank-you gift. You both take care, now!”

The two gave her a genuinely happy smile as they nodded a thank-you to the Cakes. As they made for the exit, a wad of pink ended up bumping head-long into Mackers’ gut, sending him back a few steps. “Pardon me, ma’am,” He stated with a sly smile as he looked over the mare in front of him, “Should pay better attention to where I’m going.”

Pinkie Pie had a reputation for being an extremely friendly pony, especially to new-comers to the village. However, she regarded the armor-clad pair with suspicious glances as she inched her way around them to enter the bakery, “Yeeeeeah, hi.” Once her path was clear she quickly moved into the kitchen and disappeared behind the swinging doors.

Finally moving into the streets, Yazan gave Mackers a sharp poke in the side, “Hey, what was with that look back there?”

“I wouldn’t read into it man, she’s probably still mad at us for busting up the place.” Mackers replied as he checked the sweet-smelling contents of his bag.

“Didn’t mean her - meant you and that smile of yours.” His comrade quickly corrected him.

“What about it?” He questioned, failing to see the point.

“Last time I saw that look in your eye, you disappeared for a few days with that Cathar from the cantina, and then got slapped with child support nine months later.” Yazan reminded him.

“First off, how was I supposed to know we were genetically compatible?” Mackers defended himself, “Secondly, that pink one is kind of a looker, ya know?”

“I just don’t understand your obsession with females far removed from your own species.” Yazan stated, shaking his head as he took a cupcake from the bag and began to happily devour the small treat.

Far across the market square, Tolik watched as the pair laughed and carried on. Leaning against the post that held up the hotel’s awning he took a sip of caf, observing the pair as well as the rest of his team. Under the soft glow of the street lights, he took note of the rest of his squad as they conversed and even joked with these aliens. In the back of his mind he could just hear Teth’s voice now chastising them for dereliction of duty. It pained him as he watched these young men he saw almost as sons smile and laugh with the very creatures they may be ordered to kill at the drop of a hat. Taking another sip of caf, he let out a tired sigh as the grim prospect played on his mind. Over his shoulder the sound of already far-too-familiar hoof falls came.

Gallant trotted his way up beside Tolik as he began to observe the actions of both their troops. A soft glow encased his horn as a mug filled with a hot black liquid floated beside him, “I don’t understand how you can drink this swill day in and day out, Tolik.” The Unicorn guard stated as he forced down a sip of caf.

He regarded the fellow Sergeant with a smile and nod, “You get used to it.” His attention then shifted back out to the rest of Ponyville, “Seems the boys are starting to settle in nicely to our exile.”

Gallant gave him a nod as he watched his pair of Earth Pony guards enjoying a laugh at something their new-found Trooper friend had told them, “This town is certainly not the worst place you could have been dropped and left to be forgotten,” Glancing up he gave Tolik a wry grin, “Besides, at least you’ve got us for company.”

Tolik rolled this over in his mind for a moment before looking back to his friend, “Gallant… I wanna say thanks, for the other night. If you hadn’t gotten to me I would’ve marched into those woods with nothing but a pistol, stinking of cooking sherry and looking to either kill or get killed.” He gave him a smile, “You’re a good friend.”

The Guardspony gave him a wry smile as he continued to watch the nightly scene play out before them, “Don’t get soft on me now, Mandalorian; we still have those fugitives to capture.”

The haze of the coming morning had begun to settle on the wilds, slowly but surely stripping away the vestiges of night. Very little was stirring in the Everfree Forest, save for a pair of armored figures moving quietly through the brush. Arkanna followed close behind the quiet Pegasus as she led him through the forest. Behind his visor, he wore a look of boredom as he tried to figure out what would warrant getting him to follow her out this far. The only clue he had been given to her intent was that she had something for him to see, and he honestly hoped it wasn’t going to be some small “cutesy wootsy” critter friend she had made.

Eventually they came to a large clearing of rolling hills, covered in what looked like flowers, “We’re here.” She said in that soft tone.

“Oh yeah… Uh, this looks really nice, mesh’la,” In his head he cursed at himself for not being able to just tell this girl no when she came to him stuttering her requests, “Those are some real pretty flowers you have here.”

She shook her head and sat back on her haunches, “Oh no, I didn’t bring you here to see flowers.” She said as she avoided his visor’s gaze, “If you could just watch, if that’s okay, I mean, you probably have other things to do…”

Arkanna shook his head with a sigh and took a seat on the grass beside her as he removed his helmet, “Might as well see what makes this place so special to you.” Arkanna gave her a smirk as he lounged back, “Came all this way, after all,” he said, giving her a soft smile.

The rising sun brought with it a strong wind that came down through the trees and whipped over the fields of flowers, causing her to gasp out excitedly - as excitedly as her whispers seemed to get, “Look, it’s starting.”

Arkanna’s tired gaze looked out over the fields, wondering what exactly it was he was supposed to see. As if on-cue, a wave of multi-colored wings began to fill the air around the field. His eyes went wide as he beheld thousands of tiny winged insects rise from the flowers and fill the air with shimmering color as the sun danced through their wings.

The young warrior was speechless as he watched this colorful symphony play out before him, the sweet scent of flowers filling the air. It wasn’t until he noticed his mouth getting dry that he realized it was hanging open.

“I know you and your friends are working hard to help us…” She nearly whispered to him, “And the Lieutenant told us that things would only get harder after all of this… So, I wanted to share this with you…” She said in a shaky voice as she tried to avoid his gaze.

Arkanna glanced over at the mare who was turning a bright scarlet as she looked off to the side, smiling nervously, “You know what? You’ve got a really impressive world, Fluttershy.” He said as he placed his arm around her shoulders, causing her to turn even redder.

“T-thank you… Arkanna…” She managed to force out as her voice shook violently. Biting her lip she kept her eyes fixed on the wall of butterflies. Fluttershy took a steadying breath as she managed to scoot herself in closer to him.

The pair watched the shimmering wings glint their cascade of colors in the growing light of the new day in comfortable silence together. Fluttershy slowly ventured a gaze up at him, a soft smile coming across her face as she watched the human enthralled with the scene playing out before them. Unconsciously, she leaned her head onto his shoulder as her cheeks became a soft red tint.

This quiet moment would have lasted for hours on end, if not for the sound of Kad’s voice coming over the comlink reminding them to return to camp for the start of the operation. Arkanna let out a disappointed sigh as he scooped up his helmet, “Captain’s got some real nice timing,” He muttered to no one in particular. Arkanna gave her a playful smirk before slipping back behind the mask, “Alright mesh’la, let’s go save the world.”

As the pair returned to the camp they could hear the loud hum of the shuttle’s engines awakening. The rest of Epsilon was busied readying gear and weaponry, checking power packs and grenade belts. Upon Arkanna’s approach Zex tossed the Private a bandolier lined with power packs that was quickly strapped around him.

“Load up people; we got a frigate to drop!” Kad called out over the comlink.

The soldiers of Mandalore had no reservations about piling into transport craft, their Equestrian recruits, however, seemed to have a few reservations about the strange, unearthly growl of the engines or the cold metal beneath their hooves. All save for Rainbow Dash, who seemed rather excited about the idea, “So, we’re really about to go into space?”

Behind his visor, Kad couldn’t help but smirk at her eagerness, “Aye, Dash; in just a moment we’ll be on our way to the inky black.” He said with a motion to the sky.

She eyed the co-pilot’s chair for a moment before looking towards her new CO for confirmation. Much to her delight she received the nod of approval she’d hoped for. Barely containing an excited giggle, she leapt into the seat beside him, looking about eagerly and waiting to see what was just beyond the sky she called home. As the last of the team climbed aboard and the landing doors locked closed behind them, the ship began to lift from the shallow mud. She watched with bated breath as the world around them began to slink away, and felt the shudder of the machine’s bout against gravity. A sudden burst of speed pressed her back into the seat as she beheld their ascent’s acceleration.

Rainbow Dash had seen the sunrise from above the clouds a thousand times before, but this time it held her interest in a vice. She watched, almost awe-struck as the clear blue and light tints of yellow and orange started to melt away from view. The sky shifting to the “inky black” as Kad had stated. She found herself at a loss for words as the planet she had known as home for years fell away and took a strange new shape in her eyes. The sight of not only Equestria but all other nations at once, the vast oceans and rolling clouds was like nothing she could describe.

With a snicker Kell prodded her side, “Careful there shiny, don’t wanna use up all the oxygen.”

It was at this point Rainbow Dash realized she’d been staring out the window, her jaw agape the entire time. Becoming flushed with embarrassment, she managed to pry her gaze from the admittedly breath-taking scene before her, “What’s a shiny?”

“You’re a shiny,” Kell replied, “You an’ the other recruits; you’re all shiny and new.”

“An’ we get to help scuff ya up.” Kad added as he started punching in coordinates, “Alright folks, we should be comin’ up on that frigate pretty soon. So strap in an’ get ready.”

“Out of curiosity Captain,” Twilight interjected, “But what happens if this plan of yours doesn’t work?”

“We bug out an’ hope we can outrun their guns,” Kad stated as he continued to check his controls and heading, “That don’t work, we’ll be dead, but you can chew me out for all eternity then, Sparkle.” He added as he gave her a sidelong look from behind his visor.

Shaw Salizar sat watching his monitor with a look of boredom-fueled annoyance. Ever since coming to this new system, he’d been slated for double shifts daily and it was really starting to get to the Corporal. With an annoyed sigh, he looked over the readouts one more time while in the back of his mind wishing he hadn’t loaned his holovid of “Twi’leks Gone Wild” to his bunk mate. He felt himself coming close to falling asleep when a small blip appeared on his screen.

Going into reflex mode he began looking over the object’s registration, finding it matched a shuttle that was sent out a few days ago to hunt down those Protectors. There was one glaring problem though: they were supposed to have come back to the ship a day ago, “Shuttle three-seven-one, this is control, respond.”

Things continued to seem rather odd as the response came via voice transmission only, “Control this is three-seven-one, requesting permission to dock, over.”

“Three-seven-one, you’re a full day late for your scheduled return, respond.” He kept a finger hovering over the alert signal. One tap and the ship’s entire gunnery crew would be taking pot shots at the tiny vessel, “Also, why are you responding via voice only? Has your holoprojector been damaged? Respond.”

“Uh, no, no damage here control just uh, well, are there any COs in earshot of ya?” The voice answered back nervously.

Shaw gave the bridge crew a quick once over finding them all to be busy with their own work at the moment, “Not a one, mind explaining yourself three-seven-one?”

“Look, try an’ keep this to yourself, alright? We met a few of the uh, local flavor.” He responded with.

“You spent a whole day fooling around with the locals?” Shaw’s voice was dripping with annoyance.

“Yeeeeeah, we might have, also we might have a uh, bit of cargo with us.” Came the shaky reply.

“What do you mean a bit of cargo?” Shaw could feel his ire rising ever faster.

“Okay look, here’s the whole story, we met a few local girls, they were all kinds of impressed with our ship an’, well, after one thing led to another we thought we’d take ’em on a tour.” The voice on the other side of the com informed him.

Shaw was suddenly aware of a few feminine giggles and voices in the background, “Wait, aren’t the aliens on this world all quadrupeds?”

“Look man, I’ve been stuck in space with a ton’a guys, no shore leave coming any time soon AND my woman left me. The parts all match so I’m goin’ for it.” Were the tired and exasperated words, “Make ya a deal, man: get me into a hangar bay with no wanderin’ eyes an’ preferably no cameras an’ I will get you every dirty detail, maybe even introduce ya to one of the ladies.”

Shaw sat for a moment, looking about at the rest of the bridge crew as an impish grin came across his face, “Fine, send me your docking code then head for bay two, should be empty and I’ll shut off a few of the cameras for you.”

Back in the shuttle, Kad looked back at the rest of his team, beneath his visor he wore a content smile, “Roger that control, sending codes now.”

The tiny craft made its way along the side of the far larger vessel. Rainbow and Twilight both crowded the main view port as they took in the sight of the imposing vessel. Fluttershy seemed to prefer cowering beside Arkanna, holding onto his leg tightly. Luna, however, glared daggers at the warship as she took in the great power of their enemy.

Back at the control station, Shaw kept his word of shutting off the cameras in the landing bay, almost all of them. A childish grin came across his face as he watched the ship glide through the bay doors and come to a stop. He narrowed the view on the shuttle as the gangway dropped, watching in bated anticipation for the females to disembark. His eyes went wide as a massive form covered in thick armor and weapons strode out of the shuttle followed by several more armed men. One of them stopped in his tracks and looked dead center at the camera and leveled his blaster with it before everything went to static.

In the landing bay the intruders were treated to the wailing sound of sirens going off around them as a rather familiar voice called out over the loudspeakers, “Intruders in hangar bay two, I say again, intruders in hangar bay two!”

Kell couldn’t help but chuckle as he watched the sparking remains of the camera he had just blown away, “So much for the element of surprise!”

Torb quickly turned their current situation over in his head as he calculated the odds to formulate a strategy, “Captain, I suggest you, the Staff Sergeant and Cadet Dash head for the engine room. The rest of us will hold this position till you return.” He removed a computer spike from his belt and tossed it to Kell, “Use this on the main console after you finish up.”

Kell looked the spike over before placing it in his bandolier with a chuckle, “Like I said before, Torb: sometimes you are just plain scary.”

Waiting for the drop

Lieutenant Feltan narrowed his eyes on the panicked members of his bridge crew. While others scrambled back and forth, he remained resolute and calm, focused singly on the one emotion he felt at this moment: rage. What else could be expected? The incompetence of one man had opened the door to their enemy. When this whole debacle was over, he was going to execute him personally. The only silver lining he could see to this whole mess was after they had overwhelmed the fools in their hangar bay they could recall their troops and start rolling this pathetic orb with blaster fire, “I want a status report Ensign, and what is taking my line to Commander Teth so long!?”

“Sir, security forces have reached the hangar doors, it seems they have been sealed from the other side, torches are being deployed to pry them open!” One young member of the bridge crew frantically replied.

“Communications are down, sir; someone has managed to slice into our systems!” Came another frightened voice.

“Then vent the damn hangar; space them!” Feltan snarled back.

“It’s no good; they have full control of systems there!”

“Damnit, deploy counter slice measures!” Feltan was starting to lose his patients.

“We’re trying sir; they’ve dug themselves in too deeply.”

“Tell the security teams to forget the torches, they’ll take too long,” He was done playing games with these intruders, “Just blast the doors open!”

Bay two had quickly been turned into a defensible position in the short span of time. The help of both Luna and Twilight’s combined telekinetic abilities, as well as Traycn’s raw strength made the task go by quickly enough to keep Torb in a pleasant mood. His mechanical eye allowed him the luxury of keeping tabs on the enemy beyond the sealed doors, “They’ve given up on trying to cut through… That probably means…” His flesh and blood eye went wide in fear as it dawned on him, “Take cover now!”

Several of the powered doors that connected the hangar to the rest of the ship exploded outward in a hail of sparks and heated metal. Behind the calamity a hail of blaster bolts cut burning paths through the smoke and debris. Within seconds the scent of ozone hung heavily in the air as bolts of energy cut back and forth across the wide open expanse.

Epsilon had managed to entrench themselves well before the doors exploded outwards onto them. Overturned crates and supply caches made for excellent make shift barricades against the hail of blaster fire. The doors made a perfect funnel as well, limiting their enemy to only entering a few men abreast at a time from three locations. Torb watched this all play out with a bemused grin across his face, tactics would always win out over brute force and sheer numbers.

Several bolts from above grabbed his attention, dragging it to a catwalk system hanging over the bay. A contingent of troopers had managed to take this high ground; if they were allowed to keep this advantage, the team would be routed with ease, “Traycn, Sparkle, bring down that catwalk, now!”

The Lieutenant’s voice rang out clear and commanding over the firestorm that ragged around them and took a clear effect on the pair. A bright aura sparked to life around Twilight’s horn as she scrunched her eyes shut in concentration, in seconds the same aura encased a portion of the walkway. To similar effect a concealing compartment on Traycn’s arm snapped back to allow a wrist mounted rocket to slide into place. Taking careful aim the explosive snaked through the air, striking and tearing apart a vital support for the catwalk as the aura-wrapped area tore itself away from the supports. In a panic the Troopers above them scrambled for cover and at the very least a steady place to stand.

Twilight watched in surprise as the metal wires were snapped and torn asunder under a relatively light application of her power. She couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief as several of the troopers were merely incapacitated. The prospect of ending another being’s life clawed at her mind as she focused her magic to further wrest the last of the catwalk from its hold and smashing it into the far side of the bay.

To Twilight’s shock, Luna seemed less appalled by the idea as the translucent spell blade carved with ease through an unlucky attacker who managed to close the gap. The battlefield, weapons and even opponents she faced now were far different than those she faced thousands of years ago but the thrill seeping into her bones was the same. In truth, she welcomed the challenge the weapons of these aliens brought to the table. The luminescent crescent that hovered beside her deftly followed her mental commands, soaking up blaster fire before carving a swath through the air to slice into her chosen target.

Traycn loved this chaos. The smell of ozone scorching his nostrils, the defining roar of blaster fire and the sounds of energy bolts breaking against armor plates, all of this served to satisfy the bloodthirsty monster he embraced. His heavy rotary blaster sang its song of anger bolt after bolt, a rage-filled scream that sounded like a symphony to the Taung. He found himself standing back to flank with the Princess of the Night as the battle pressed on. The pair regarded one another with a brief glance of approval before returning to the blood lust before them. He cursed himself for starting to find a reason to like this monarch.

From behind the barricade Zex and Arkanna found themselves in the all-too-familiar situation of returning fire to a growing number of enemies. Behind one of the crates curled in a ball, Fluttershy buried her head under her forelimbs, trying desperately not to scream in terror. Zex shot the cowering Pegasus a dirty look from behind his visor, “I told you she wasn’t ready for the field.” He growled into his com.

“Would you just focus on the hundreds of guys trying to shoot their way in here,” Arkanna snarled back, “I’d kinda like to say I survived my first truly FUBAR mission!”

“She doesn’t have the temperament for th-“ Zex’s words fell short as several blaster bolts scored direct hits against his chest and shoulder armor. Falling backwards onto the ground he could feel the searing heat through his body sleeve as the pain from the blow ran through his spine, a few curses managed to escape past the pain.

A pink and yellow blur suddenly filled his vision as he felt himself being dragged further behind the barricade. The Corporal found himself being propped up against a heavy crate as the near hyperventilating Pony savior muttered the steps he’d spent the afternoon beating into her over and over again, “I can do this, I can do this,” She continued to repeat to herself as she tried to pull his helmet off.

“Fluttershy, I’m fine,” Zex managed to cough out, “Their blasters aren’t going to penetrate my beskar’gam.” Beneath his visor he couldn’t help but smile softly at the look of relief on her face, “You pulled me out of the fray to catch my second wind though; very good, Cadet.”

Arkanna glanced back at them with a smirk before letting lose another volley, “Hope the Captain is having an easier time than us.”

To the rear of the ship, the hallway connecting the hangar bay with the engine room was not a long trek by any stretch of the imagination. The small number of security forces hunkered down within the hall however made things move less than quickly.

As Kad and Kell entered the hall they took notice of the six troopers holding the room. The pair gave each other a look from behind their visors and new exactly what was on the other’s mind. With an excited grin, Kad ignited his saber and immediately went on the defensive, blocking and deflecting bolt after bolt of energy.

His marksman brother kept close behind him using the energy blade’s defensive wall to his advantage as a moving cover. Between the blocks he brought his rifle up around Kad’s shoulder and let fly a precise shot that scored deep into his target’s chest. The armor penetrating bolt tore open the body armor with ease. Between a few more blocks he took a knee and let off another shot that flew true into the visor of another enemy.

Behind them Rainbow Dash watched this frightening display, her jaw on the floor. She kept herself close to the wall and as out of sight as possible. The armored Pegasus hugged a support beam that ran along the wall, biting her lip as she searched her mind for some way she could help her new allies. Under her breath, she cursed her hooves and lack of magic; how was she supposed to help them if she couldn’t even use a blaster?

This expertly-trained tag team maneuver had taken the due years and countless battles in similar settings to perfect. The hard work showed as they whittled their enemies to the final pair, who clearly were tired of wasting their ammo as the both simply dropped their weapons and deployed gauntlet mounted blades.

With a quick motion, the charging pair was sent sprawling violently into the locked blast doors at the end of the hall. The unrelenting Force energy behind the assault shattered their spines on contact with the three-inch-thick durasteel door, leaving man-sized dents in it.

The three of them regrouped at the halfway point as suddenly a door beside them slid open. On the other side, a man clad in standard Deathwatch fatigues was on his way out of the room, whistling to himself and carrying a datapad under his arm. Upon seeing the armored and armed assailents he froze in his tracks and looked the three of them over. Without a word, he simply took a step back into the bathroom behind him and let the door shut. Once more or less safe, he proceeded to press the lock button and return to sitting on the toilet, reading his datapad once more.

All three shared a confused look before shrugging it off and heading for the blast door. In no mood to waste time, Kad began plunging his saber into the major support sections of the thick metal blast doors. Behind him, Kell kept a close watch on their rear from behind his scope, taking a few pot shots into the main fray.

Neither took much notice of their Pony charge who gave the dead troopers around them an uneasy stare. She could feel her lungs begin to deflate rapidly as she looked over the crumpled figures around them. Silently, Rainbow gave thanks to Celestia that they were all wearing full body armor, making the sight of their corpses less “personal”.

The groan and whine of weakening metal filled the air as Kad worked his saber blindly through the machinery. With a loud screech the door began to slump, and with a satisfied smirk he summoned up another onslaught of Force energy to slam into the broken blast doors. The massive metal slabs exploded outwards into the engineering bay, taking what few security forces they had with them. The few surviving stragglers were easily picked off with blaster fire as the three of them stormed the engine room.

Rainbow was in awe at the massive amounts of machinery that filled this room. What looked like miles of tubes bristled with energy as they snaked their way out into the rest of the ship. At the far end, casting an eerie blue glow upon the rest of the room was the heart of the entire mechanism, spinning turbines and humming with power as it supplied life to every corner of the ship.

Kad motioned to his brother, “Vod, hit the main terminal an’ start muckin’ things up. Rainbow I want yo-“ A large, clawed hand grasped Kad by the back of his armor and proceeded to lift him into the air and chuck him into Kell.

Pulling themselves upright, they beheld the imposing sight of a rather large Trandoshan: Standing at least seven feet in height, its body beneath the darkly patterned scales was one of thick, solid muscle. He let out a low hiss as his sharp, red eyes narrowed on the pair, “Sssso, you think you can come into MY engine room and kill MY men do you?” Reaching behind his back he proceeded to produce a pair of sharply curved vibro-knives. Licking his chops in hunger, he flicked the safeties off and let the blades hum to life, “We’ll jusst sssee about that.”

A blue blur slammed into the large creature, sending it into a maze of conduits, “I’ll keep him distracted; you guys hurry up with the plan!” Rainbow called out to them, hoping the fear she felt deep down wasn’t cracking into her voice. Taking a deep breath, the Pegasus took off like a shot to engage the enemy three times her size.

Kell brought his rifle up to his shoulder, ready to let lose a torrent of blaster fire until his brother’s hand rested on the barrel, “Vod?”

“We gotta use the time she’s buyin’ us.” Kad lamented despite the bad taste it left in his mouth, “How long ya think the others can hold the hangar!?”

With an annoyed growl, Kell relented and shoved his travel pack into his brother’s arms, “You set the bombs, I’ll take care of the terminal.”

On all four hooves, Rainbow came to around halfway up the midsection of an average human; compared to the Trandoshan she barely came up to his waist. He gave the small Pegasus an enraged glare, “Ssso you’re one of the quadrupedss.”

“And you must be a Diamond Dog’s rear end.” She said with a smirk, summoning up some much-needed boldness.

“Little creature, I am going to kill you, ssskin you, eat your meat and then offer your bonesss to the Ssscore Keeper.” He said, licking his fangs in anticipation as he twirled the blades in his claws.

That admittedly shook Rainbow slightly; no one had gone to those exact lengths to threaten her, “Yeah, well you’ve gotta catch me first, ya buck ugly!”

Feltan had let this abuse go on long enough. He needed this situation brought under control and he wanted it done right now. Leaving the relative safety of the bridge, he intended to bring an end to the chaos personally. His full armor donned, he gave his gauntlets a quick test flex before the lift opened up to the crowded hall of troopers. Upon seeing him, his men quickly made a path for the Lieutenant.

Unphased, he strode out into the chaos, giving the battlefield a quick survey. Immediately his gaze zeroed in on the Equestrian fighting by way of luminescent blade that hovered protectively around her. A sneer etched across his features beneath his visor as reinforcing plates and thick supplemental armor dropped from his gauntlet to encase his fists. A satisfying roar of sparking energy leapt about his hands, and with a burst of his jetpack, Feltan was sent airborne over the hangar bay.

A roaring over the sounds of blaster fire drew Luna’s attention to the ceiling, just in time to see Feltan’s assault. Her crescent blade of magical energy just barely managed to stop the attack, but sent the Princess back several steps as she regained her composure. This human now had her full attention as the blaster fire around them suddenly faded into the background.

Pressing in deeper, Feltan’s shock gloves managed to let loose a burst of energy that knocked the crescent away. Taking a step back as well, he brought his arms up as he dashed forward to let loose a quick volley of blows, electricity sparking from the metal plates over his knuckles. To his surprise, the quadruped was able to hold her own as far as avoiding his blows and stopping them short of their target with the aid of her levitating weapon. One satisfying blow landed hard against the side of her face, letting loose a burst of energy into her.

After the blow connected, the Alicorn Princess merely gave a chuckle as a small trickle of blood escaped the side of her mouth, “Thou may be worthy of my time human.”

Feltan’s eyes went wide as the glow around her horn became more intense and a second blade appeared from thin air. Leaping back with surprising speed, the brawler created a much needed distance with his opponent, “Well now, this is getting interesting.”

Rainbow was starting to really hate this close-quarters stuff. The tight spaces of the conduits and support structures around her felt like the walls were pressing in on her every second that went by. Things were made all the worse by the angered lizard with a pair of knives that cut through everything they touched like it was made of thin fabric.

Her opponent had overwhelming strength and weaponry on his side, but Dash knew she had him beat in terms of speed and maneuverability. She played back the Captain’s fight in the swamp against Traycn; the comparison of the two filled the mare with a sense of pride in her skills.

Ducking and weaving about the room, she managed to keep the raging reptile on a leash as she laughed a few taunts at him, “Come on, you’re so slow! Guess you Deathwatch losers aren’t much against Ponies who fight back, are ya!”

It had the desired effect as his arm swung in a wide arch, leaving him completely exposed to the Pegasus. Finally going on the offensive, Rainbow let loose a buck with all her might into his knee. A shrill roar of pain and the satisfying snap of bone filled the mare’s ears as she watched him fall to one knee, unable to stand any longer.

Letting out an enraged hiss the Trandoshin flung both of his blades at the speedy Pegasus. The curved blades flew through the air just as Rainbow was charging in for another assault. Spotting them in time, she used her inertia to direct her hooves to the wall, running along the bulkhead’s surface. Leaning at a sharp angel in hopes of avoiding the weapons, she held her breath as they flew past her, one blade just barely scraping along her shoulder armor, leaving a shallow gash and taking a small bit of mane with it before both buried into the support beam behind her.

Adrenalin surged through Rainbow Dash as the fight looked to be completely in her favor now. Riding the high she ducked in past an angry swipe of his claws and delivered another hard blow from her hooves to his gut. With a flap of her wings she shot up past him with a kiss good bye from her forelimbs. Using the ceiling for leverage, Dash kicked off with all her might and speed, rocketing a blow across the Trandoshin’s face.

Her celebration was cut short however, as a claw grabbed her hind leg tightly in a vice-like grip. Before she could yell out in protest, another grabbed her harshly by the tail and swung her hard into a wall. The blow knocked the wind out of her as she coughed to refill her lungs with precious air, when she felt something grab her by the back of her armor and yank her violently upwards.

The Trandoshan snarled with pleasure as he began to unleash a number of hateful blows into the Pegasus’ face, sides, stomach and chest. Rainbow could feel the heavy blows even through her armor. Her limbs flailed about as she did her best to protect herself from the blows that rained onto her, but she could feel her strength starting to fade along with her confidence, “Ah, I mussstn’t damage your hide too badly; the Sssscore Keeper would look poorly on sssuch a thing.”

With a chuckle, he threw the limp Pegasus across the room, “I’m betting they brought a few more of you with them didn’t they?” He taunted her as he rose to his feet, “Maybe I can get away with having sssome fun with you before I let you die,” With a painful roar he forced his knee back into place with a loud pop, “Then I’ll collect your friend’sss hidesss asss well.”

A hungry sneer etched across his features as he stalked towards the Equestrian, “Jussst imagine the feassst I can create from all of you,” He took great pleasure watching her painstakingly crawl away from him, “Yesss, that isss it prey, ssscurry away from me, let the fear marinate your very sssoul before you die.”

Reaching out he took Rainbow Dash harshly by her mane and pulled her back hard. She let out pained grunt as he yanked her backwards like a school yard bully tormenting somepony for small differences. Rainbow hated bullies. As he yanked her backwards towards him, she spun around to face the Trandoshan whose eyes went wide with shock as a cold feeling entered his chest. Looking down in shock he saw the source of his pain was one of his discarded knives gripped tightly in the mouth of the Pegasus.

Rainbow glared up into the look of disbelief in her tormentor’s eyes. Disbelief quickly replaced itself with a look of rage and hate as he raised his arms to deliver a deadly blow. Biting down harder Rainbow managed to hit the safety on the knife causing it to hum to life. The look of shock returned to her enemy’s features as she gave a quick upwards burst of speed from her wings. The vibro-weapon carved through flesh, bone, muscle and scale like they were nothing, splitting the Trandoshan at an angle from the middle of his midsection up through his right shoulder.

Dash shut her eyes tightly as she felt the warm spray of blood splatter across her face. The metallic scent clawed at her nostrils as the taste trickled through between her bared teeth begging her to gag on reflex. Landing overtop of her dead opponent, she watched the now glassy eyes as they stared at her, lifeless. She bit down harder on the hilt of the weapon as she breathed heavily between her teeth and nostrils, fighting to keep her stomach under control.

The firefight in the hangar bay continued to rage on as the rest of Epsilon fought to keep control of the area; too many of Deathwatch’s numbers were pouring in now, and starting to take up more advantageous positions of fire on them. Twilight hugged the back of a crate as she felt the blaster bolts impact one after another into it. She could feel her fur standing on end as the energy began to charge the air around her.

She watched as her new friends fought tooth and nail to hold their ground against the ever-growing odds. Her gaze settled on the Princess as she engaged one of the enemy in single combat, a dance of death that forced her to remind herself that Equestria’s borders weren’t made with kind words. Biting her lip, she ventured a glance around her hiding spot and was greeted with a sight that sent chills down her spine. An enemy soldier was deploying a rather large tube-like weapon. Twilight ventured a guess that this was no blaster as he steadied himself and took aim at the ship.

“No…” She breathed out as a wall of smoke escaped the tube at both ends and a smaller metal tube riding a jet of flame burst out. Twilight immediately remembered the weapon Traycn had used on the catwalk and a cold pit formed in her gut. Swallowing hard, the Unicorn shut her eyes tightly as she took off at a gallop towards the ship.

“Twilight, stay in cover blast it!” Torb screamed at her over the comlink.

A soft purple light encased her horn as she ran through the hail of fire. In a bright white flash the young mare vanished and reappeared atop the shuttle. Focusing all of her energy into her horn, Twilight created a wall of energy around the craft as she held her breath, bracing for impact. The missile exploded against the side of her shield, sending a shockwave of pain through the Unicorn’s body. Twilight let out a scream of pain as the shield shattered from the massive hit. Breathing heavily, her eyes began to blur, watching helplessly as the trooper fired off another round, this one aimed right for her.

She shut her eyes tightly and braced for another impact, holding her breath as she expected the fiery end. A loud clang in front of her drew her attention to the mass of red blaster-scarred armor that placed itself between her and certain death. Several armor plates on his left arm began to shift and rearrange till a strange new device was brought in place from its hiding place beneath the armor. With a flash, a wall of energy formed in front of the arm, creating a shield. Taking a knee, Tryacn brought the shield around between them and the incoming missile.

The explosive shell hit flat against the energy shield, engulfing the roof of the shuttle in a ball of fire and smoke. The trooper looked on, pleased with himself as his comrades patted his shoulders and helmet in congratulations. From the smoke a whistling noise rang out as a massive axe cut a path through the air landing square in the offender’s chest. The force of the blow sent him hard against the wall behind him, pinning him into it. Tied to the handle, a pair of small round devices that beeped in anger and filled the other troopers with despair, “Thermal detonators, hit the de-!” Was all that escaped their lips before the area became a ball of fire.

Twilight strained her eyes against the smoke and heat to see the red and charred black figure standing over her. Traycn’s left arm had been all but destroyed, its remnants hung from the socket as chunks of metal clinging to cybernetic muscles and wires that fed into the jagged hole below his shoulder. Parts of his armor had been scorched black from the explosion, as well as half of his helmet had been all but torn asunder, tearing deeply into the side of his face. She was speechless as he regarded her with a sidelong glance before hoisting his heavy weapon with his remaining arm and returning to the fight.

Kad placed the last charge on the side of the complex machinery that made up the frigate’s engine, “Vod, all done here!”

Kell’s focus was fully engrossed with the main engine’s systems, “Just about got it, I need someplace to send this crashing down.”

Kad looked over to the nearly hyperventilating Rainbow Dash, “Dash, we need a location to drop this bird.” There was no answer as she stared at the dead body before her.

In her mind there was no sound, not even her own pounding heartbeat, let alone the nearly defining roar of the engines. She could barely make out someone calling her name through the filtering shock when a hand took her by the collar of her armor and pulled her away. Face to face with the Captain she finally came back to reality, “We need a place to drop this thing Dash, snap out’a it!”

Letting out a steadying sigh she clipped the knife to the belt around her mid section, “Y-yes sir, I’m on it sir.” Her voice shook with every word.

“Rainbow, how many settlements are in these badlands here?” Kell questioned as he tapped the screen.

“Only a hooffull, and even then they’re few and far between.” She answered back as she tried to wipe some of the blood from her face.

The marksmen looked from the bloodied Pegasus to the split corpse behind her and let out a whistle, “Nice kill babe; might make a Mandalorian out’a you yet.” Kell remarked as he started punching in commands and then sliding Torb’s “gift” into the open port. The engines behind them started to roar and groan loudly as their energy reverberated off the walls around them, “That should do it.”

Kad tapped a button on his wrist, causing the charges’ indicators to shimmer, dotting the room with red lights. Turning to leave, Kad sent out a message over the comlink, “Torb, charges are set and the ship is on its way down, we’re pulling back to you!”

Feltan had been a champion shock boxer since he was a juvenile, over the years he had kept up his skill becoming faster and stronger for it. With the expert timing that came from years of training, he ducked and weaved his way through the slicing blades. Several managed to scrap shallow cuts into his armor, even scoring gashes in the gaps between the protective plates.

The Princess was clearly no stranger to the art of combat either. Her own form was dotted with tell tale signs of scored blows against her armor. Having spent a thousand years in exile, she had played a pivotal role in the forming of her nation. Never having been one to lead her forces from the safety of the general’s tent far from the true battle, she had always found her home at the very front of the conflict. It was here that her battle hardened magic was put through its paces.

Blade met knuckle as the pair continued to square off. Luna could barely hold back a smirk as the thrill of battle seeped through her bones; behind his visor, Feltan shared the same look. Neither one had felt pushed like this in ages, in Luna’s case, centuries.

A panicked voice over his comlink tore at Feltan’s attention to the fight, “Sir, the ship!”

Gritting his teeth, Feltan forced the Alicorn back several paces as he took a defensive stance, “Damnit boy, do I need to hold your hand!?”

“Sir, no, you don’t understand!” The fighting all around them was brought to a sudden halt as the ship began to shudder, “We’ve lost control of the engines, we’re on a direct course with the planet! All attempts to regain control have failed; we’re going to crash!”

A cold realization fell over Feltan as he watched the knowing grin on Luna’s face grow. They played him; SHE played him. Kept him distracted and locked in the hangar bay while they set the ship’s own engines on a collision course with the planet. Snarling out several curses in alien dialects the Lieutenant retreated from the fight with a burst from his jet pack, “Give the order to abandon ship, regroup with Teth at the capital city!”

Kad and his team returned to the hangar in time to catch the last leg of the firefight as they rejoined the rest of the team. Twilight and Fluttershy both were more than relieved to see their friend return safely but were taken aback by the crimson smeared across her and the distant look in her eye.

“No reunion speeches? Good,” Kad blurted out as he made a beeline for the shuttle, “If you all’d kindly step aboard I’d rather not be here when the bombs go off!”

Feltan made his way to the bridge of the ship through the panic-stricken crew that fought against the rapidly changing gravity to get to an escape pod. He wasn’t surprised to see the bridge empty as he fought against the growing tremors to reach the fire control station. Punching in his authorization he brought the ship’s auto cannons under his direct control, “You will not bring this ship down so easily.”

Kad and Kell both took the controls for the shuttle craft as they punched in their commands as quickly as they could. The space beyond the atmospheric shielding was a wall of fire as the ship began entering the atmosphere. Giving one another a look of concern from behind their masks the pair drifted the small craft through the shielding and into the burning atmosphere.

Arkanna gave Fluttershy a cocky grin from behind his helmet, “What’d I tell you? Like riding a comet to the ground.”

Fluttershy was too far away for his words to reach her. Every inch of her told her she should be frightened out of her mind, that she should be curled up in a ball hoping against all logic that something would save her. But all she could do was stare sadly at Rainbow Dash’s blank slate expression.

“You’ve gotta be kiddin’ me!” Kad snarled as the air around them suddenly became filled with capital ship blaster fire.

From the fire control station on the bridge Feltan let out a chuckle of joy as he watched the tiny shuttle bob and weave to avoid the massive ship guns, “That’s right, run you little cowards!”

Several rounds managed to score hits against the shields and even soak the damage through into the ship itself. The vessel began to shake violently as the Skirata brothers fought to keep control of the decent. A small flashing red light on the board drew Kell’s attention, “That is not good.”

“We’re falling through the atmosphere while being shot at, how much more “not good” can it get!?” Twilight exclaimed as she wrapped her forelimbs around a hand railing keep from bobbing around.

“Like, ‘Oh man oh man, we’re all gonna die’ not good.” Kell replied as he fought with the controls.

“Can thou get us to the surface?” Luna inquired calmly as she watched them work at a fever pitch.

“Don’t worry ‘bout that your highness, gettin’ to the ground ain’t the issue,” Kad told her, “The state in which we get there, that’s up for some debate.”

“What is it with you and crashing ships!?” Arkanna called out sarcastically.

“Never had this problem till you showed up!” Kell replied dripping with venom.

As the timers on the explosives reached zero, every single one of them went off at once creating a chain reaction throughout much of the ship. Feltan stumbled as the shockwave threw him into the nearest control station. Wrapping his arms tightly around it, he watched the ever-approaching ground come hurtling closer to him, “Well… damn.”

The tiny shuttle bucked and rocked about as the dying engines gave way to gravity’s uncaring grasp. Warning lights went off all over the cabin as someone yelled out to brace for impact. The cloudy sky began to give way revealing a jagged mountain range. Despite the panic driving situation the Princess stood tall and calm through it all, “Captain Skirata, Twilight Sparkle, I will need your help, immediately!”

As the tiny craft rocketed towards the angry ground below a soft azure glow began to engulf the vessel. Within, the Princess and Twilight’s horns glowed brightly as Kad stood beside them both, his hands resting on their shoulders as he focused the Force into both. Slowly it began to break free of gravity’s pull, their descent slowing. Inside, sweat began to form on their brows as all three fought tooth and nail to keep their concentration from slipping. Eventually the ship started to lift slightly and no longer cut a downward angle towards the ground.

Lifting slightly, it started to make a smoking path through the mountains into a wide open valley within them, guarded by the impassible mountains around them, acres of land untouched by any form of sapient life. A lush, green field dotted with trees and a lavished lake of fresh water. Under any other circumstances it would look like a paradise in the rolling mountain field; right now, it just looked like a landing zone.

The shuttle made its descent into the valley, inching its way to the ground little by little. As it touched ground, the belly of the ship began to scrape against the grass and dirt as it kicked up a trail. Eventually the vessel skidded to a stop after cutting a shallow trench along the valley.

With the danger gone, the trio was free to break their concentration. Kad fell to one knee as he started to feel the backlash of Force energy rippling through his body. Likewise, the Princess stumbled into Traycn’s massive form, quietly thanking the small favor for avoiding the ground. Twilight would have found herself collapsing into the ground if not for Zex catching the mare.

Kell looked back at all the passengers as he removed his helmet, “Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank you for flying Air Skirata, please return your tray tables to their upright positions before disembarking. Just a reminder; please don’t bother trying to get a refund as there will be none. Once again, thank you for flying Air Skirata, please get your shebs off the ship and have a pleasant day.”

Cards on the table

How could this have happened? Who was to blame for such an unforgivable debacle? This question plagued Teth’s mind as he watched the fiery wreckage of his precious frigate pierce the far horizon. The Commander of this force of Deathwatch troopers bared and gritted his teeth as he fought to control his anger. In the distance he could see the streaks of escape pods raining down from the sky; their downward arch would put them relatively close to the city, at least. Under different circumstances, the view might be considered beautiful; the way the fire of re-entry danced off the hull of the ships in the hue of the dying sunlight, perhaps even romantic.

Holding onto his anger, he gripped the balcony railing till he felt his knuckles go white beneath his gloves. Teth desperately wanted someone to shoot over this; just one expendable peon to blast a hole through was all he really wanted. Over his shoulder, he heard the ever familiar hoofsteps of the ever troublesome monarch, “Commander Teth, you don’t seem well.”

Her tone grated against his mind, he could hear the empty concern she made little effort to conceal from him, “No your highness, it would appear I have very little to feel well about…” He had to keep control, there were still cards to play, “Do you see that fire in the distance, or the objects raining from the sky?” He gave pause till he was sure everything had sunk in “That, your highness, is my ship, crashing through your atmosphere.”

Much to his fury the Princess remained silent as she watched him bite down on his growing rage, “Somehow those rabid dogs got aboard my ship, killed their way into the engine room, and managed to crash it into the planet!”

She continued to hold her tongue and watch the Commander as he raged on further, “To make matters even worse I’ve been receiving com chatter from the survivors that they had received help from several of your own people.” He quickly closed the gap between himself and the Princess, keeping his dagger eyes piercing into her own cold emotionless eyes, “First you keep my hands tied at every turn and now your own people are giving aid to these terrorists. What is it you’ve been withholding from me, Celestia?” Teth snarled between his teeth.

Over her shoulder several of the royal guard were clearly agitated by Teth’s sudden boldness. A motion from her wing signaled them to stand down, “Commander Teth, I believe it is time you and I had a talk.” Her words reflected the ice of her stare.

He ventured a glance past the Princess to her guards, they were clearly still on edge and anything but happy about this alien acting so boldly towards their monarch, “I agree, Princess Celestia.”

Sparking wires, loosened maintenance panels and cracked readout screens. A sight Kad was begrudgingly becoming quite accustomed to, “Ain’t askin’ for excuses here Tray, just whether or not ya can get it back in the sky.”

Traycn gave a snort as he continued to work elbow-deep in the shuttle’s systems, “Getting back in the sky will be an easy task Alor’ad,” With easy effort he yanked out a burnt up piece of the guidance system and tossed it aside, “Keeping it in the air, that will take skill.”

Kad gave his comrade’s shredded shoulder pauldron a pat, “If anyone can do it, it’d be you, Tray.”

“I’ve done more with less.” The battered behemoth chuckled as he continued his work, literally single handed.

Kad strolled outside the ship to where the rest of his would be team was situated. A small fire had been built to give them warmth and light to fight back the chilling mountain air. He quickly noticed everyone’s attention was on the night sky as hundreds of white streaks cut across the black veil. A quick sift through his optical controls brought the built in electro-binoculars in his HUD up. Zooming in on the objects he let a sigh, “Haar’chak…”

“What do you see, Captain?” Twilight inquired with a confused cant to her head.

“We got escape pods, an’ plenty of ’em to boot.” Kad stated as he motioned to the raining lights. Using his finger he traced the general path of the escape pods, “Least we got a good idea where to find the town from here.”

The Unicorn scholar made her way to his side and watched the balls of light fall to the ground. She suddenly wished her own visor hadn’t zeroed her vision up close to reveal the full silhouette of the falling objects. Knowing each of those balls contained armed and now very angry enemy soldiers filled her gut with a ball of ice, “Do you really think we can save everypony, sir?”

Kad gave a sigh, he’d been wondering when that accursed question would come up. Pulling his helmet off, he took a knee beside Twilight and tilted her visor band to her forehead to look her in the eyes, “I ain’t about to promise you that, Twilight; from this point on, things are gonna get real dangerous, an’ folks are gonna get hurt an’ probably killed.” To his surprise there was no shock of revelation in the young mare’s eyes; she had been expecting this but needed to hear him say it, “One thing I will promise you, is that your brothers an’ I are gonna do all in our power to see you girls through this an’ send those sorry core slugs packin’.”

A weak smile spread over the Unicorn’s face as she nodded in agreement, “I understand sir, and we’ll do everything we can to help.”

“Speakin’ of help…” Kad pulled himself back to his feet and moved to address the rest of the camp, “Alright folks, ain’t no time to rest, soon as Traycn get’s our bird floatin’ again we head out.” He motioned to Arkanna, “Private, you an’ Cadet Fluttershy take stock of our ammo an’ weapons.”

Arkanna snapped off a quick salute, “Aye, sir!”

Kad turned to his Alicorn employer, “Your highness, if you’d be so kind, think me you an’ Torb should go over the last details of our plan.”

The Princess gave him a courteous nod, “Of course, Captain.”

A small smile across Kad’s face as things started to feel less hectic and chaotic, he always loved that nice lull after a firefight, “Rainbow Dash I want yo-“ It was then he noticed they were short a Pony, “Where in the haran is Cadet Dash?”

Those eyes were burned into her now. A cold dead stare full of hate and anger, frozen forever in her mind, screaming at her from the shadows of her mind; reminding her over and over again that she killed him. She killed him, nopony else; she stabbed the blade through his gut and tore it up through his torso and split him open. She’d been coated in his blood and still reeked of it, despite having dunked herself in the lake as soon as they had landed. She still tasted it on her tongue, no matter how many times she had tried to wash her mouth out in the past hour.

The adrenalin, the rage and the unease of combat had long since left Rainbow Dash’s body, leaving her burnt out and used up. No longer able to ride on the high of her own surging blood, her stomach finally gave way. What little she had eaten since the start of this adventure purged itself out of her gut and onto the grass floor of the isolated forest. She was thankful nopony had seen her sneak off to the far side of the valley; the last thing she wanted was for the others to see her like this.

Her mind wouldn’t stop replaying what had happened. Those heavy blows strike her exposed face and armored body; their hate and rage penetrate through the plates to sting her. His taunting words cut into her mind as he laughs at her pain and promises to visit even worse to her friends. She could see the knife he threw just moments ago stuck in the floor panel in front of her. She hears his heavy foot falls as he strides towards her, laughing and taunting her. He believes she’s crawling to safety but all she’s doing is getting the weapon and gripping it tightly in her mouth. She feels his claws grasp her tightly by the back of her mane; in this instance everything goes red.

She returns to the valley, the taste and scent of vomit is heavy on her senses. Her eyes sting with tears and sweat as she stares in disbelief at the ground. There is only a brief moment of peace before her stomach begins to contract violently again forcing her heave up even more. They come stronger and angrier as her mind forces her body to punish her repeatedly for her sins. Her punishment is interrupted by a hand resting on the back of her neck and pulling her mane out of her face. Sobbing a bit, her attention pulls away from the ever-growing pile of throw up to find Kell standing over her, “T-thanks…”

Nodding to her, he guides the Pegasus away from her mess and offers her the canteen on his belt. Breathlessly thanking the marksman, she falls to her haunches and lets the water splash out over her tongue before giving her mouth a good cleaning rinse and spit. As the warrior beside her removes his helmet, she does everything she can to avoid looking him in the eyes.

Taking a seat on the ground beside her he produces a flask from his belt pouch and offers it to her, “This’ll get the taste outta your mouth.”

With no hesitation, Rainbow took a quick drink and quickly regretted it. A scorching lash spread over her mouth and tongue as it burnt any other taste from her mouth. Wincing in pain, she handed it back to him with a gag.

Chuckling, he takes a quick swig from it, “Hah, not for everyone, I guess.” He gave the sulking Pegasus a glance, “So, wasn’t the same as killing those plant critters was it?”

She shook her head quietly as the guilt started to gnaw at her again, a life was ended, hopes and dreams snuffed out at her hooves. Rainbow stared at the ground, hoping the answer might be there in the dirt before her, “I… I didn’t want to kill anypony…” Those eyes glared at her again, “He would’ve killed me and everypony else…” They stare through her, accusing her, hating her, “I didn’t have a choice, I had to kill him!” She screamed into the ground as tears started to well up in her eyes.

Kell placed an arm around Rainbow Dash’s shoulders and brought the Mare close beside him. In response to the act, her forelimbs wrapped about his torso as she began to weep into his chest plate, “I’ll be honest kiddo, the first one is always gonna stick with ya.”

She stared pleadingly up at him, “How, how do you do this? None of you ever get phased by this; how can you kill somepony and just move on?”

Kell took a long drink from his flask as he stared off into the distance, mulling over Rainbow Dash’s question, “Dash, would you like to know how I got this marking here?” He traced a finger along the scar tissue pattern of a bull’s-eye etched into the side of his head.

Silently, she nodded a yes to him as she stayed latched around his midsection. With a sigh, Kell began his tale, “See, all started back when I was just a spotter fresh outta basic and ready to show my stuff to the Protectors. Fresh-faced and only sixteen years old, I got paired with this older fella named Gazack; he was a good man. While on patrol we got ambushed by some bandits that thought they could set up shop in a ghost town.” Kell’s eyes start to become a bit more distant as the story progresses, “Gazack took a blaster bolt to the side of the head and went down. In a panic I scooped up his rifle and took aim on the guy that got him. It was some kid, had to be about the same age as me or even vod at the time. I saw him and he saw me, time stood still for a second as we quietly prayed the other wouldn’t shoot. His shoulder twitch a hair, his finger started to tighten on the trigger, so I shot. Got him right in the forehead.”

He looked back to the quiet Pegasus, who had thankfully stopped weeping, “Shortly after I took the shot, the rest of our squad showed up and cleared the remaining bandits out. To celebrate my graduation from fresh recruit to bloodied marksman, I burnt this mark into the side of my head.” His finger traced along the pattern thoughtfully, “It always reminds me of that kid who could’ve gotten me.”

“How… How long ago was it?” She finally spoke up.

“Let’s see, I was sixteen at the time so, twenty six years back.” Kell remarked as he took another drink from the flask, “Been killing ever since.” He glanced at her confused and horrified expression, “Honestly it comes down to one of two things, either they kill you or you kill them.”

Rainbow returned to gazing at the ground, “The Captain told me something like that…”

With a sigh, Kell mussed her mane, “Look Dash, your first kill is gonna stay with ya for a long time; they always do. When you fight for a living like us you have to get used to it. From the time we learn to walk we’re taught to fight and that eventually we WILL have to kill.”

She remained silent for a time as she gave this some thought. It baffled the Pony; she’d lived a somewhat carefree life peacefully in Equestria, save the occasional world-ending crisis. The idea there were entire planets of beings that learned from the time they were foals how to fight and kill was albeit a frightening concept. Suddenly Kad’s words came back to haunt her, ‘How far would ya go to protect everyone an’ everythin’ ya loved and cared about?’ She started to understand what he was telling her now.

Traycn let out an angry grunt as he switched out the burnt out systems; the lack of an arm made the task less than graceful. Letting out a long stream of curses in Mando’a, he attempted to continue his work as best he could. The sound of hooves on metal brought a growl to his lips; the last thing he needed right now was to deal with these things. Glancing back, his sharp eyes pierced Twilight who’d approached him nervously.

“Uhm, Sergeant Traycn… Do you have a moment to talk, sir?” She managed to stutter out.

With a bored snort he returned his attention to his work, “If you must Cadet, just be quick about it.”

“I… I wanted to say I was sorry… If you hadn’t tried to save me your arm would…” She bit down on her lip as she struggled to keep her emotions in check.

Traycn refused to tear his attention away from his task, however, “I didn’t jump in the way to save you.” He responded cold and flat, “I only jumped in the way to save the ship.”

Her eyes went wide for a moment as this information struck her hard. Slowly her mind made sense of it; after all, he was willing to kill her to get at the Captain. Why would he care if Deathwatch killed her, either? Shame and embarrassment seeped into her face as she thought about how stupid she was to think this monster cared about anything.

“However,” He continued as he kept his attention on the work, “I should be thanking you.”

Her eyes snapped to him in surprise, “Thank me?”

He begrudgingly grunted in agreement as he twisted another bolt into place, “You threw yourself into the line of fire long before I did. You saved this craft and then you helped it land.” Reluctantly he looked back at her finally, “For these actions… I thank you.”

Twilight still hung her head dejectedly, “I still feel like it’s my fault you lost your arm…”

The Taung warrior gave her an annoyed snort, “And just where were you on Sargolla during the ambush?” He finally turned to face her completely, “When did you take up the Sith light saber that severed my arm?”

She felt her-self take an unconscious step away from him as she bit her lip trying to find the words, “I… I…”

He closed the gap between them and nudged her with the jagged metal stump that at one point had been his left arm, “I lost this limb long before I ever met your pitiful kind, Twilight Sparkle. It can be replaced, again.”

She fought back the urge to turn and leave as his eyes tore her apart. Her gaze managed to look past him towards the mass of components that had once been the primary flight controls, “It looks like you have a lot of work here; I could help with that you know, I’m very good at technical stuff.”

Traycn was more than a little surprised by her suddenly chipper tone. Reluctantly, he looked between her and the mass of junk that used to make up the ship; he then looked to the jagged scrap where his arm once hung. The hardened warrior hated to admit it, but he needed help to finish his task, “I will… Tolerate your presence, little sister. But if I feel you are becoming a nuisance I will not hesitate to break your neck.”

With a triumphant smirk her horn began to glow with a dull aura, the same energy began to encase a number of tools that had been scattered about and now lifted in the air around her, “Great, let’s get to work then!”

Arkanna and Fluttershy sat beside one another, going through the duffle bags of equipment and weaponry the team as a whole still had. The Private tried to make sense of how she could occasionally hold objects single hoofed; he could understand it if she wasn’t wearing the customized underlay over most of her body, hooves included. Maybe it was some kind of limited use of the Force; it would explain how they claimed they could walk on clouds.

She canted her head in confusion as she held the power pack out towards him, a small tint of red forming under his stare, “Uhm, Arkanna… Is everything okay?”

Snapping out of his random thoughts, he gave her a nod, “Huh? Oh yeah, just fine. Go ahead and throw that one in with the burnt out packs.”

As they continued with their inventory, Arkanna could feel the pang of guilt starting to swell in him again. The light veil of silence that had begun to nestle between them only served to make it worse for the Mandalorian. With a sigh, he finally broke the quiet, “Fluttershy, I uh, I just wanna say I’m sorry…”

“What for, Arkanna?” Confusion gripped her tone.

Rubbing the back of his neck, he fought to hold down the right words, “Well, for dragging you and your friends into this fight. For all the trouble we’ve caused, and are still gonna cause… Mostly for what happened back in your village…”

“Oh, that…” She stared down at the half charged power pack in her hooves nervously, “I… No, it’s okay, I’ve mostly forgotten about it, really.” She declared with a forced smile.

The Private wasn’t buying it though, “It wasn’t right for me to snap at you like that,” He said with a heavy sigh, “It’s just that, there are a lot of bad memories latched onto that scar along my neck. I let those memories come out when you started questioning me about it and well… I was wrong to act that way, sorry.”

Swallowing down a bit more courage, she placed a hoof on his hand while looking up to meet his eyes, “Tell me, please.”

Arkanna was reluctant to let her know his more than sordid past, but her azure eyes pleading with him to bare his soul had begun to break down his defenses. Finally he couldn’t deny her any longer, “Alright, fine; but it isn’t a pretty story.” He gave her a sharp stare before starting his tale, “Not every Mandalorian out there is a decent person; hell, Deathwatch is proof of that. My old man was a real good example of how far someone could fall.”

His tone started to become a bit more agitated on the subject of his father, “He would get real angry sometimes, just to be mad; then he’d go drink himself stupid and take it all out on me.” His fists clenched down tightly on the grass as he kept the story going,

“He’d come home blind drunk and mad; that’s when he’d come find me and take it out on my hide, used to beat me just about every single day. Eventually I just got sick and tired of it; I wanted to stop him once and for all. I started the fight this time, got him good and angry then ran into the woods near our home. I waited in a ditch for him to run by then snuck back into the house where I found his old blaster rifle.”

His eyes started to become distant as things progressed, “I waited with it aimed at the door, my arm was killing me trying to keep it leveled, was so scared I almost wet myself. Then I saw him in the doorway; I held my breath as I squeezed the trigger, the kick from the rifle sent me flying back into the wall and knocked the wind out of me. The bolt missed him by a mile but shattered the bottle in his hand, and now he wanted blood.”

Unconsciously he reached up with the other hand and touched his neck before pulling down the fabric over his neck to let his scar show, “He took me by the hair and dragged me into the middle of the room, started yelling at me; I couldn’t make out the words through the slurring. Next thing I know he takes the broken bottle and slashes me across the throat. My shot was heard by some passing MPs though; they stormed the house and tackled that stupid drunk and rushed me to an ER.”

His hand dug angrily into the ground as the events continued to play over and over in his mind. He hated coming back here, hated reliving this moment in time. Arkanna braced himself for what he knew was coming next: the pity would be in her eyes, she’d start giving him words of sorrow and sadness just like everyone else. It always sickened him how so many people always thought they had to feel so sorry for him when they learned the truth.

When he looked to her, however, he was shocked to see none of that present; instead of sad, pitying eyes, he saw kindness and warmth. He could feel his face starting to heat with a sudden rush of blood as his gaze became riveted with her own. Gently her hoof rested atop his hand, sending a calming wave through his arm and releasing his grip on the soft loam. A soft smile came across her features as she leaned in close and nuzzled his neck, which served to turn the Private a bright crimson as he started to feel his pulse quicken at the unexpected affection.

“It doesn’t have to hurt anymore.” She whispered before pulling away.

Arkanna could feel a bit of wetness starting to form at the corners of his eyes as her words danced their through his ears. Coupled with the bright red clinging to his features, he found himself wishing he still had his helmet on. He would give anything right now for the concealing glare of the T-visor. Clearing his throat and his mind, he shook off the sentimentality of the moment, at least for the time being, “Alright mesh’la, we… We really need to get this done.”

Fluttershy watched him quickly return to the task of inventory, wearing a kind smile. She rejoined the effort of taking stock of the dwindling ammunition, but she couldn’t seem to remove the smile from her face.

The throne room of Canterlot Castle has played the battle ground for many a political war throughout the long history of Equestira. For centuries, the fate of the nation has been decided in these white marble halls. Now was no different, as the possible fate of the planet itself was being quietly wagered in this battle of iron wills.

Teth stared down Celestia from across the room. Surrounded by the royal guards, he could feel the would-be trap starting to close in around him. He playfully mused that they must not trust him, anymore. A pair of Earth Pony guards stood ready to cut off any attempts to move in closer to the Princess, while a pair of the Unicorn breed were at his back. The only opponent he cared about was the Alicorn, however, “An awful lot of security for a conversation, Princess Celestia.” His gaze narrowed harshly on her, “On the subject of security, you wouldn’t happen to know the whereabouts of my bodyguards, would you?”

She didn’t even bat an eye as her cold stare stayed fixated on Teth’s, “They are being detained for the moment, Commander Teth. I wish to discuss a rather disturbing letter I received recently.”

His stone-faced stare began to crack slightly as a brow raised, “And what did this message have to say that brought so much alarm?”

In a flash, a scroll appeared before her, suspended in the same telekinetic aura around her own horn, “It would seem one of my subjects wanted to break her silence on an altercation that occurred several days ago in the Everfree Forest. The letter states that she and several of her friends were violently held against their will by a group of soldiers that fit the description of your own men,” Her tone began to rise a bit with anger as she continued on, “According to this source, they called themselves Deathwatch. The timing puts it just before your arrival here in Canterlot.”

Teth scoffed at these accusations, “Deathwatch; a rather bold claim your highness. Just how reliable is this person? After all, your own subjects are beginning to lend aid to the very terrorists we’re trying to subdue.”

Her visage betrayed nothing of what went through her head; she wore a mask that had been tempered in the fires of debate and dispute for centuries, “So you have claimed as well. What proof do you have of this dissention amongst my subjects?”

Reaching onto his belt, slowly, at the risk of agitating the guardsponies any further than they already were, he produced a holodisc projector. Pressing a button on the side of it, he summoned up the image of an armored Unicorn mare ducking and dodging through blaster fire before vanishing in a flash of a light. Tapping another button, the video rewound and froze on a clear image of her form and face, “This video was forwarded to me moments before the destruction of my ship; this young lady was among the force that invaded the ship and attacked my men.”

His eyes stayed fixed on Celestia’s and as he’d hoped they betrayed something, “Your highness, you know who this girl is don’t you?”

Her mask began to slip from her as a coy smile came to her lips, “Of course I know who she is; how could I ever forget my star pupil and holder of the Element of Magic, Twilight Sparkle?” Behind her eyes, things quickly began to fall into place and the deceptions fell away, “Commander Teth, the Elements of Harmony would never turn on their kingdom, let alone their Princess. Your game ends now Teth, I ask that you surrender peacefully.”

The Unicorns behind him began to slowly advance as the Earth pair lowered themselves into a stance ready to pounce. A telekinetic aura engulfed his sidearm and carefully removed it from the holster, the weapon floating back to one of the Unicorns. The second moved up closer to Teth’s side with a pair of shackles floating beside him. Teth kept his gaze fixed on the Princess, no longer wearing a visage of calm emptiness; now all he showed was rage and disgust, “Do you really think the Deathwatch so easily subdued, your highness?”

Celestia shook her head sadly, “Do not resist, Commander; you cannot win.” She urged him with surprising kindness in her voice.

Taking his helmet from his belt, he let his face disappear behind the glare of the T-visor, “Gar mirdir ni dinuir laam, aruetii.” He hissed at her as he clenched his fists tightly at his sides.

The guard hovering the shackles was a bit hesitant at this show of defiance, but a glance at the Princess made him feel a flood of confidence. What could a lone alien do against an immortal? His question was answered quite harshly when he strayed too close to him. With speed that even left the Princess at a loss for words, Teth quickly closed the gap with his jailer and buried his elbow as deep into the front of his neck as his strength could afford.

Teth’s violence was not without purpose and method. As he let lose the vicious assault, a small, cylindrical object was tossed into the air. Over his shoulder, the flashbang went off with a blinding white light and ear shattering pop. As disorientation gripped the room, he quickly made a beeline for the Unicorn holding his blaster pistol. His arms wrapped around the head and neck of his target with practiced ease; though alien to many of the creatures he had used this technique on, the general principles were the same. With a quick twist, a satisfying snap filled his ringing eardrums as the Unicorn went limp and fell to the ground.

Blaster in hand, a triumphant smirk formed over his face. With no mercy or hesitation, Teth let fly several blaster bolts into the remaining guards; their armor did little to protect them from the force of the alien weapon. The bolts of energy scorched deep black marks into their bodies as they fell to the floor in mid attack.

A sneer etched onto his face at the more than outraged look in Celestia’s eyes as she glared murderously at the human. To his side, the Unicorn with the smashed windpipe was starting to painfully stir and bring himself to his feet. Without a care, Teth let a bolt strike the stallion square in the chest dropping him back to the ground, “Alone at last, your majesty.”

The entire castle seemed to shake with Celestia’s anger as the marble floor beneath her began to crack and shatter, “I wanted to end this peacefully, Human; but it would seem you prefer suicide!” Her hoof slammed down hard into the stone surface releasing a burst of golden hued energy that tore across the ground towards Teth.

Diving to the side, the Commander barely avoided the force of her attack as it tore a marble pillar behind him into dust and crumbling debris. Rolling to his feet, he quickly started darting across the room, letting fly several blind blaster bolts that the Princess easily avoided. The ground behind him continued to explode from Celestia’s retaliations nipping at his heels; cursing under his breath, Teth took to the air with a burst from his jet pack.

Zipping through the air, he produced a handful of disc objects that fit easily between his fingers. Coming to a sliding stop far from his opponent, Teth let the small objects fly from his hand. In mid-air, serrated blades sprang from their sides and began to spin at a high speed, propelling them through the air.

Celestia easily deflected the bladed discs with a swat of her powerful wings, toppling them off into the floor and pillars. Teth used this distraction to dart through the open, letting fly another volley of blaster bolts, the piercing energy projectiles connecting harmlessly with the wall of golden energy around the Princess.

Rage burning in her eyes, Celestia telekinetically tugged Teth towards her by his neck. The Human was helplessly torn across the throne room along the ground till he found himself pinned with a hoof on his chest and blaster hand, “I have had enough of this, Commander; stand down or I WILL kill you!” She had little time to make good on her threat as a pain pierced her from behind, sending a shock through her entire body.

Luna guided her hoof over the holographic layout of the castle grounds, “I believe the highest concentration will be here, near the main hall and courtyard. However, I believe we can bypass this if we-“ The Princess of the Night stumbled a bit as her sentence skipped mid-beat.

Kad quickly moved to her side, “Your highness?”

Shaking slightly her mouth was agape in horror as she quickly pushed away from Kad’s embrace, “No, Celestia!” With little explanation she rushed away from the warriors and spread her wings wide. With a flap she took off like an ebony rocket vanishing into the night sky, the force of her take off digging a small crater into the soft soil.

Kad called out to her uselessly over the comlink, “Luna, this is what he wants, fall back!”

The single sting was but a prelude to the furious hive of hornets that dug savagely into Celestia from behind. Her skin beneath her fur tingled numbly under the barrage; she could feel the numbness cutting apart her nervous system and draining her body. An angry glare behind her found three of Teth’s troopers firing on her.

Summoning up her will, Celestia let lose a wave of energy with a swipe of her wing in their direction, the force of the blow toppling the troopers head over heels. A sharp pain in her neck drew her attention immediately back to Teth; a device on his free wrist was aimed at her, and a small dart clung to the side of her neck. She could feel the poison working quickly through her battered body as the last of her strength was being sapped away. With everything she had left, Celestia reared herself back on her hind legs to bring her forelimbs down to stomp in Teth’s head.

Teth used her weakened state to his advantage, though. Launching himself forward into the Princess and throwing off what balance she still had, he sent the Equestrian monarch toppling to the ground. Teth stood proudly over the weakened Alicorn as he motioned to one of his men, “Inhibitor collar, now!”

With no hesitation, a trooper took a knee beside the Princess and snapped a large metal ring around her neck. A loud whine and hiss came from the device as it quickly went to work; tiny needles within the collar created a constant supply of mind-altering drugs that would keep her lethargic, while various other devices and built-in electronics disrupted neurological functions. In whole it was intended for subduing powerful Jedi, in theory it should work on a power house Princess.

“What took you so long?” He snarled at the troopers as he began to weigh his chances if they hadn’t shown up when they did.

“Sir, we hit heavy resistance during our escape,” The one wearing a Corporal insignia replied, “We lost Tanner, Hallsy and Ballrock.”

Teth sighed in annoyance at this news, “Blast, they were good men,” Turning to the stained glass window, he activated the all-channel function of his long range comlink, “To all loyal soldiers of Deathwatch, our charade has ended. Begin taking the capital city; kill everyone who resists.”

Looking back to his men, “Get ready; the other one won’t be far behi-“ Shattering glass rained down from overhead stopping Teth’s words flat as the ebony-armored Alicorn smashed her way into the throne room.

Luna came down hard, shattering the floor under hooves as a dark blue flash moved around her form, her blade cutting through the air and slashing through the three troopers in her way. Catching sight of her incapacitated sister sent a burning rage through Luna’s veins, “How dare thee strike down a celestial sister; thy suffering shall be legendary for thine sins!”

As her blades bore down upon the Human he made no motion to avoid them. In a flash a weapon familiar to the night sister was summoned to his hand. The gleaming blade of purple energy that sprang from the device’s hilt held her weapons at bay as sparks of energy erupted from their clash, “Princess Luna was it; you have no idea the depths of MY sins.”

With the aid of her wings she propelled herself away from Teth, she could feel a power welling up around him, “You… You are like the Captain.”

Beneath his mask he sneered at this conclusion she had drawn, “The good Captain Skirata and I are worlds apart,” He leveled the tip of his saber pointed directly at her chest, “As you shall soon see.”

Each mirrored the other’s movements as they quickly rushed forward meeting blade to blade again and again. Luna’s crescents danced about the air around her slashing away and deflecting Teth’s own assaults. The Human kept surprising pace with her as he wielded his saber single handed, preferring to strike with swift flicks of the wrist. This seemingly fragile style served him well as he managed to keep just out of her reach just as she kept out of his.

“You move so gracefully Luna,” Teth joyfully commented as he danced around her meeting strike for strike, “Join me and I can make you far more powerful than your sister.”

Her blades interlocked with his saber to hold him in place, “You would bargain for thy life now?” She snarled at him, “I had suspected thee a coward.”

“I bargain to make you something more than just a mere Princess of a meaningless world,” His foot caught her against her chest plate with a swift kick freeing himself and forcing her backwards, “I am offering to make you a queen feared across the galaxy, I can taste the hatred and darkness that clings to your heart.”

He could see his words taking an evident affect on her as her attacks began to come with increased ferocity, “You spoke of my sins, but perhaps I should speak of yours,” He called out as a spell blade barely missed his neck, “Princess Luna, or would you prefer Nightmare Moon?”

A vicious glare passed between the pair as her attacks began to come more savagely, “You will be silent deceiver!”

The wild and angry blows sent the Deathwatch Commander on the defensive as he fought just as hard to fend her off, “Yes, that’s it, give in to your anger. Let it awaken the darkness that lingers within you.”

“There is no darkness within me,” She counter pointed as she countered another blow, “It was purged by the Elements of Harmony!”

“Why do you deny the truth?” Teth danced past another wild swing with a taunting blow from his hilt to the side of her face, “It taints you; even now I can feel the hate filling your heart and soul. Embrace the dark side; let the hate flow through you!”

Her anger finally came to a boil as she lashed out with both blades in a wide arc aimed for his head, “ENOUGH!” The room around them shook with the very force behind her voice. Her eyes widened in shock as she realized her mistake, there was little she could as Teth ducked under the attack and moved in past her defenses.

From the tips of his fingers arcing bolts of dark blue lightening flew through the air striking the Princess hard. The onslaught of electricity lashed and tore at her forcing her to her knees. The scent of burnt flesh, hair and fur filled her nostrils as a maddeningly blinding pain filled every corner of Luna’s body. She let out a cry of pain as her muscles began to spasm uncontrollably.

Only for an instant did the unrelenting pain finally subside. Several arcs of electricity still danced about her armor as her lungs struggled to refill themselves and bring strength back to her limbs. A metallic snap filled her ears coupled with a new found pressure around her neck. Panic began to take hold as she felt what little strength she had regained slip away from her. Desperately she tried to summon forth her blades but to no avail, no matter the spell or technique her mind found it impossible to focus and call forth the energy needed to create even a simple levitation.

Kneeling beside her, Teth ran a hand through her flowing mane of stars as he removed his helmet to look her in the eyes, he happily drank in the look of hate and rage that they spilled forth towards him, “For beings your own people mistake for gods, you both certainly fall to mortal frailties.” He ran a finger along the inhibitor collar that clung tightly to her neck, “Struggle all you like your highness, the device around your neck and the neck of your sister was designed to restrain the most powerful Sith and Jedi in the galaxy.”

Through the shattered window, the growing sounds of screams and blaster fire could be heard rising up from the streets. Teth continued to stroke the mane of the ever weakening Princess Luna, “In my time here, I have passed the hours reading up on your people’s history,” The song of chaos grew stronger and louder, “In all the time Canterlot has stood as the capital city of Equestria, not once has it ever fallen to an invading force.” A cruel smile slid over his face before he rose to his feet, leaving Luna to watch helplessly. He began to ascend the dais leading to the throne, “I am rather proud to change history itself for you!”

He took a seat upon the throne, lounging back in the massive seat designed for the full size of the Alicorn rulers, placing an elbow on the arm rest and bringing his hand to his chin with a wicked glint in his eye. Luna could swear for a moment they tinted a dark red as he happily listened to the sounds of Canterlot burning.

Tolik's Lament

A cold lump formed in Mackers’ stomach as he watched the flames light the distance behind a background of building smoke. Through the scope of his newly-acquired rifle, he could make out the silhouette of the city he’d been informed was known as Canterlot. He’d also been informed it was the last location of Commander Teth, as well as the capital city of the nation of Equestria, “Oh, osik… That does not look good.”

At his side, Yazan shook his head in disbelief, “Maybe there’s an explanation for this; those black ops guys could’a doubled back and hit the capital, or maybe part of the ship fell on it.”

Mackers let the weapon hang from its shoulder strap as he slumped down against the wall behind him, “The ship fell too far away for that, man…” He muttered in shock as he stared at the ground, “He wouldn’t order it, would he? The Commander is blood-thirsty, sure, but unarmed civies on an under-developed world?”

His comrade grabbed him by the arm and dragged him to his feet, “We gotta talk to the Sergeant about this.”

Quickly making their way through the throngs of frightened townsfolk, the pair headed for the Inn that had become their base of operations. The tension that hung in the air around the town felt like a fog as they pressed forward. Mackers could feel the guilt building in his bones as he waded through the sea of eyes cast on the distance.

The situation in their communications hub was less encouraging. A quiet, somber tone strangled the life out of the room. Their comrades shot worried looks at the late-comers as their Sergeant stood over the holoprojector,

“Sir, I fail to see how action of that nature is necessary if the capital is under our control.” The building rage in his voice was poorly hidden, if at all.

“Sergeant Tolik, are you refusing to follow my orders?” The holographic image of Teth scrutinized him.

“Of course not sir, but, these villagers are no threat to your occupation; I don’t believe this level of action is necessary.” Tolik did everything he could to keep his mounting anger in check. He knew first-hand that Teth was not above executing soldiers he felt were mutinous.

“Sergeant, several of these “innocent” villagers have already joined the enemy and were part of the attack on the ship,” Teth was clearly losing patience with his soldier, “I want this village made an example of. In a day’s time, reinforcements will arrive; when they do, you are to carry out my orders to the letter. Do I make myself clear?!”

Reluctantly, Tolik bowed his head in submission to his Commanding Officer, “Yes, Commander Teth… I understand.”

Teth watched the image of his Sergeant fade out as the transmission ended. Something about his tone and demeanor rubbed him the wrong way. But for now, that would have to wait; he had a city to bring under control. Through the shattered stained glass windows of the throne room, he could still hear the sounds of blaster bolts and the screams of the soon-to-be-conquered.

A sizable portion of his men had reached the castle, and had begun clearing out or subduing any members of the palace guard. Teth had to admit, he was impressed by their tenacity in the face of a losing battle. Not a single Royal Guard surrendered to his men; even the youngest, fresh-faced recruits faced down the volleys of blaster bolts, unflinching. The bravest and boldest of their number had made a hardened storm on the throne room to free their monarchs, sadly offering him less of a challenge than their rulers. Their bravery was inspiring, and this left him admittedly frightened of these creatures. Word will quickly spread to the rest of the city about what had happened here in the palace; even when the city is taken, they will have rebels and insurgents to deal with.

Several troopers were hard at work clearing the bodies of both Deathwatch and Pony alike from the throne room as Teth strolled to the shattered windows to drink in the sight of his conquest. Pride swelled in his chest; if he was to be stranded on this world, then he would simply have to take it for himself. His attention was pulled away from the wondrous sight by the labored words of his prized captive, “I’m sorry, dear Luna, you will have to speak up; I’m afraid I can’t hear you over the sound of my men killing your people.” He said with a playful smirk.

The ebony Alicorn glared at him from the floor beside the throne. She and Celestia both had been placed on either side of the throne, laden with shackles and chains like prized pets, “Why… Do you… Keep us alive…” The powerful drugs, poisons and mental disruptors made it a chore to speak, as the words leaked out between her bared teeth.

Teth smiled as he turned to face the Princesses and make his ascent up the dais, “I’m afraid you two are just far too valuable to me alive; at least, for now you are.” He stated as he ran a hand along her cheek, taking his seat upon the throne, “Did you see the way those Guardsmen faced their deaths without a second thought, all for the chance to save either one of you? No; when I kill the pair of you, it will be on display to all your citizens.”

His musings were cut short by the approach of a trooper baring a Major’s insignia on his breast plate. As he came to a stop at the foot of the dais, the Trooper snapped a crisp salute, “Status update for you, sir.”

He watched Teth who waved him on to continue, “The palace has been brought under control, the majority of the resistance has been weeded out and castle staff brought under heel.” He reported, “The city is taking a bit longer than expected; however, it appears the defenders are falling into disarray and pulling back. Casualties have been within expected ranges.”

“Very good, Major;” Teth stated with a nod of appreciation towards the soldier, “I want you to assemble a platoon, march them to the town of Ponyville and raze it to the ground. When you get there, kill every man, woman and child.”

“No… Please… Do… Do not…” Celestia pleaded between labored breaths.

“You and that town only have your beloved pupil, Twilight Sparkle, to blame for this.” Teth stated as he ran his fingers through her mane, driven by the disgust in her eyes, “Now they will all die because of her.”

Tolik was silent for a time as he stared down at the holoprojector before him. Across from him sat his helmet, the solid black T-visor glaring disapprovingly at him. He could hear the chastising voice of Jax in the back of his head; even from the grave, his comrade wasn’t letting him get away with anything.

The weathered Sergeant could feel the eyes of his younger charges begging him for reasons. How could he explain this to them; would they still follow him, or would they see him as a traitor?

“Sarge;” Yazan broke the silence, “He really did it, didn’t he? That twisted chakaaryc ordered an attack.” Tolik always knew he was a smart kid.

“Tell us he’s wrong, Sergeant,” Mackers demanded, “This can’t really be happening - can it?”

In the back corner of the room, the quiet pair of humans shared a look before turning their attention back to their superior. The Razzan twins, Rollins and Igor, identical to a tee; both stood well into seven feet tall and were built like a pair of dreadnaughts. The only discerning difference between the two was Rollins’s shaved head and Igor’s shaggy brown locks; for the most part, they preferred to always stay quiet and follow their orders. The current situation, however, had stirred the pair of leviathans into joining their companions as they moved to stand alongside Yazan and Mackers.

Tolik refused to face his troopers as his mind tried to make sense of whole situation; to find a way to explain it all to them. Reaching to his left shoulder, he proceeded to remove the armor plate that magnetically clung to him. Looking over the Deathwatch emblem, his heart began to sink, “Why did you join this outfit?” He asked no one in particular. Turning to face his men, he eyed them each closely, “Why did any of you join Deathwatch?”

The four Troopers looked between themselves, “Same reasons most joined up, Sarge:” Yazan answered, “Money, adventure, a chance to return Mandalore to its former glory.”

Tolik’s fist slammed into the table, causing all four of them to jump to attention, “I don’t want the damned tag line, I want the REASON you joined.”

“They said I wasn’t fit for the army, but Deathwatch was willing to take me.” Mackers replied.

“I wanted out of my dead-end life…” Yazan pointed out.

“We needed the money for our folks.” Rollins stated glancing at his brother.

Tolik stared into the visor, “My closest friend was head-hunted by them, but he wouldn’t join unless they took me as well…” He looked down at the patch in his grasp, “We signed on with promise of credits in sums the military would never pay us.” He turned to face them, “We thought we could instill a sense of true honor in the men we led, and the money was good.”

He tossed the emblem to their feet, “At some point, every warrior needs to make a choice. What he thinks is right, what he thinks is wrong. I’m making my choice; you four need to make yours. None of you have to follow me from this point on. We’ve been given orders to level this town in the morning; orders I don’t aim to follow, and I’m perfectly okay with the death sentence it earns me. Any of you want to avoid being branded as traitors, I suggest you shoot me now.”

Not a word went up from the young soldiers as they weighed their options. Tolik braced himself mentally for what very well could be either his death or the death of these young men. To his surprise, each one took a step forward and stood at attention, snapping a salute.

“What’s our first move, Sarge?” Yazan chimed in.

A smile teased the edges of Tolik’s mouth, “First things first: we need to fill in our friends in the Royal Guard, and hopefully get them to help.”

“And uh, how do you think that’s gonna go over?” Mackers questioned nervously.

Tolik smirked half-heartedly with a nod, “I’m sure I can guess how Gallant’ll react to all of this.”

A heavy hoof connected against Tolik’s jaw sending shards of pain from one end of his head to the other. He stumbled slightly as he reached up to check the soreness of his jaw, making sure nothing was broken. The slight metallic tang of blood tickled his tongue as he nodded in understanding, “Alright, I deserved that.”

“You deserve a hay of a lot more than that!” Gallant barked as he barely restrained himself from rearing up and slamming another hoof to the side Tolik’s face, “We should kill you where you stand!” There was an uneasy hush that hung over the room as Gallant verbally tore into Tolik.

“Alright, you want me dead; fair enough,” Tolik could feel the side of his face starting to swell up; those hooves hurt a lot more than he thought they would, “When this is all over, you can be first in line. Hell, you can even use my knife. But we need to live through the coming osik storm first!”

The Guardspony leveled a glare on the fellow Sergeant that could burn through durasteel, “And why should we trust you? You could be leading us all into a trap!”

With that, Tolik drew his pistol, leveling it with the Unicorn’s right eye. On reflex, every one of his troops brought their own weapons to bear with their former companions. Tolik couldn’t help but feel impressed all the more with Gallant; not so much as a blink or bat of an eye, all the more reason to respect him, “If we wanted to fall in line with Teth’s orders, we would have killed you already and started on the town. Now, you got two options here: help us, or get out of our way.”

The tense standoff lasted for a sliver of eternity, as neither side was willing to back down or submit to the other. The Unicorn knew that what he was saying had a grain of truth to it; why would they waste time setting up a trap just for five members of the royal guard, when they could just shoot them where they stood? With no shortage of reluctance, Gallant nodded his head in agreement, “What is your plan, Mandalorian?”

A small smile came to Tolik’s face as he holstered his pistol; as expected, the troopers flanking either side of him brought their weapons to rest, “A real simple one, actually. You and your boys get the townsfolk to evacuate and head for the hills, while me and mine set up a barricade and make peace with whomever we worship and ask for swift, honorable deaths.”

Gallant didn’t even raise a brow at the mention of their suicidal odds, “And where are these ponies supposed to go?”

“Don’t matter, just so long as they get out of here. Once you’re away from the town, scatter in all directions; make it so they can’t track you.” Tolik stated, “You’ve got till morning to get these folks clear of here; I suggest you get busy Sergeant.”

Yazan and Mackers found themselves working to convert several crates, a wagon, and a fruit stand into an acceptable defensive position. The pair was mostly silent as they put their surprisingly vast carpentry knowledge to use. Neither one had said a single word as they worked for the past hour in continuous silence. Over their shoulders, the Royal Guards were hard at work organizing the civilians and keeping them from panicking.

Mackers let out a heavy sigh as he nailed another board into place, “So, you ever think this was how it was gonna end for you?”

Yazan let out a snort, shaking his head, “I’m not dead yet.”

“Hah, key word there: yet.” Mackers chided him. He watched sadly as a grey and blond Pegasus mare tried to keep her foal from crying as she hefted her pack onto her back, “You think these people’ll ever get their lives back in order after all of this?”

His friend was silent for a moment, trying not to acknowledge the mass exodus behind them, “I dunno, man. Heck, we probably won’t live to see how this all turns out in the end,” He said, shaking his head, “I’ll tell you one thing, though: standing up to Teth like this and helping these folks… Makes me feel good, I feel real good.”

“One thing I regret above all else,” Mackers added to the conversation as he glanced back at a pair of mares helping each other, “Never did get to sample the local flavor.”

Yazan gave him an annoyed sigh, “There is something seriously wrong with you, Mackers. We’re probably going to die soon, so I just gotta know: what motivates your thought process?”

“Well, the farther apart the species, the less likely it is I can get her pregnant,” He replied, “Besides, you gotta admit; the curves of those flanks are real nice.” Mackers added with a playful smirk.

“Mackers, you are by far the biggest sexual deviant the galaxy has ever known,” Yazan informed him as he placed a hand upon his shoulder, “When you die, the universe will certainly be left a slightly more boring place.”

For a time, Mackers was stunned by his comrades words; possibly even touched by this heartfelt moment, “You expressed feelings. Lame.” He couldn’t help but ruin it.

Tolik had to admit, things were actually going smoothly for a change. The Royal Guards had been true to their task and managed to evacuate nearly the entire town. A few stragglers remained here and there, but for the most part, it really looked like he wouldn’t have to worry about civilian casualties. Behind the visor of his full helmet, he proudly watched his men set up and dig in for the coming assault. They were ready to face their deaths without a second thought; they were Mando’ade to the core. Familiar hoof falls drew his attention over his shoulder to find Gallant.

“You should be leading the evacuation.” Was the only thing Tolik could find to say to him; what else can you tell someone you’ve betrayed?

Gallant moved up beside him and took in the sight of these former Deathwatch troopers setting up their barricades, “Swift Wing is more than competent enough to take the lead.”

“You’re not staying.” Tolik snarled at the Unicorn as he resisted the urge to beat him unconscious.

“And you really think I’m about to leave you aliens to defend one of OUR towns completely unsupervised?” He asked with a sharp critical eye, “Besides, I want some payback…”

A small smile crested across Tolik’s face; he did what he could to keep his tone gruff and angry, “Fine, stick around and die if you want, just don’t expect me to mourn you.”

“You’ll be dead, too, idiot.” Gallant happily reminded him.

Maybe it was the stress of the battle just over the horizon, or maybe it was just a pair of aging warriors finding common ground. The pair of them couldn’t help but laugh alongside one another at the fact that their almost certain demises were just a few hours away, and yet all they could do is argue.

Tolik held his side as the laughing fit finally subsided, “Gallant, you should’ve been born a Mandalorian.” Taking his side arm from its holster, he held it out to the Unicorn, “You think you can figure out how to use this?”

“I think I can figure it,” Gallant’s horn began to glow as an aura surrounded a blaster rifle Tolik had left leaning up against a tree. The weapon floated in front of Gallant who happily examined it, “I think I’d rather use this, though.”

The morning came quietly and reluctantly as the first rays of light crested over the horizon in the distance. Tolik watched as a force of soldiers twenty men strong came through the morning mist along the main road. Several carts pulled, with no shortage of reluctance no doubt, by a few battered Canterlot citizens. As they came closer into view, Tolik noted Gallant’s sudden tensing, “Hold onto that, just a bit longer.” He reassured him.

As the carts rolled to a stop, a trooper proudly displaying a Major’s markings upon his breast plate disembarked. His attention shifted to the tired creature strapped to the cart, “The next time you drag your feet transporting us, I’ll shoot you myself.” He stated with a glare from his visor.

Tolik took a deep breath to steady his nerves as he looked to the rest of his team before slipping behind the cover of his helmet. So far, he’d managed to act as a competent leader; now it was time to put it all into practice. Getting to his feet, he paid his Equestrian companion a glance, “Keep me covered.”

Gallant gave him a confident salute, the blaster rifle he kept hovering beside him. This did little to inspire Tolik with more confidence; he reminded himself that everyone dies eventually. Who knows? Maybe they’ll get lucky and take some of them with them.

Tolik made his way out of the make-shift cover to meet the Major and his forces halfway, “Major, I’d like to welcome you and your men to Ponyville.”

From behind his visor, his superior eyed the empty streets, the doors left ajar. Here and there were a few scattered remains of torn clothing, dropped mementos and the like, “Sergeant, where are the villagers?”

Behind his mask, Tolik couldn’t help but smirk, “Damnedest thing, I woke up and they were all gone. Guess the ruckus you caused up the mountain scared them all away.”

“How stupid do you honestly think I am?” This was not an unexpected reaction, “I know you’re an accomplished soldier, so I will give you a chance to explain yourself,” The Major stated before drawing his side arm and leveling it with Tolik’s visor, “Before I decide to shoot you for treason.”

Tolik could hear the shouts of protest of his men over his com, he was just thankful none of them were within ear shot. He mused on how their antics probably WOULD get him shot regardless, “I felt the orders were wrong, sir.”

“So you took it upon yourself to aid possible enemy combatants!?” His superior demanded.

“I took it upon myself to do what I felt was right.” He shot back.

“What charming last words.” The Major stated mockingly before a blaster bolt cut through the air within the town and struck his weapon, knocking it clean from his hand and across the dirt road.

Mentally, Tolik followed the path of the blaster bolt back to where he’d left Gallant behind. Quietly he gave a thanks of praise to the Unicorn’s surprising skill with a blaster and his amazingly good timing. Not one to lose the advantage, Tolik quickly stepped in and planted a swift blow to his neck, sending him to the ground.

This, unfortunately, brought a number of blasters aimed at him. His own weapon was leveled with the Major’s face as he stood over him, “All of you, look at what you’re doing,” He called out to the rest of the troopers, “Look at what you’ve done! Attacking unarmed civilians, working them at blaster point and now you stand here with your weapons drawn on your own allies!”

A number of Troopers began to shift uncomfortably as his words started to hit home, “This is wrong, and we all know it!” His gaze shifted from the mostly defeated Major to the rest of the platoon, “None of this furthers the goals or ideals of Deathwatch, or has anything to do with purifying the soul of Mandalore! This is nothing but Teth furthering HIS goals, HIS agendas and every one of us are his pawns in his game!”

He could see a few of them beginning to look more and more uncomfortable with where they were standing. This filled the Sergeant with renewed confidence, “I’m nobody’s pawn; how many of you can say the same thing?”

An awkward silence held the field for a moment. Tolik was certain he was about to be gunned down at any second. Thankfully, the much-awaited volley had yet to come as a number of troopers began tearing off their Deathwatch insignias and moving to stand behind Tolik. Behind his visor, a grateful smile etched across his weathered face as six of the soldiers chose to switch sides. His attention shifted back to the Major on the ground, “Things are looking a bit more even now; what say we just call this a stalemate and go about our business?”

To his surprise the man before him began chuckling. Tolik had expected rage, spitting and cussing or maybe even indignant reassurances of Teth’s superiority, but not laughter, “Did you really think I would come all this way and not bring any back up?” The man’s words sent a chill down Tolik’s spine as he tapped a device mounted on his wrist.

From the far side of the village, a group of ten more troopers exploded from the forest and surrounding the town, their jet packs ablaze as they shot through the wilderness and into the sky over the town. These airborne attackers let loose a devastating volley of blaster bolts across the town square as they took to the rooftops. Taking cue from their comrades, those still loyal began letting lose their own assault.

Tolik immediately turned on his heels and let lose a number of blindly fired blaster bolts into the crowd firing on him. He could feel the heat of the kinetic energy as they tore through the air all around him. To his right, one of the defectors was not so lucky as a number of bolts from his former comrades tore the man apart.

Cussing up a storm, Tolik made a beeline back into the safety of the defensive line that had been set up. Diving head-first over a rather sturdy barricade, he quickly pressed his back to it as a number of blaster bolts slammed into it, again and again. Looking to the side, he caught sight of Gallant who called out to him over the fire, “So, negotiations went well, I take it!”

“Yeah, I think they’re gonna surrender any second now!” Tolik called back sarcastically.

The sudden attack from the forest had caught Yazan and Mackers by surprise. The pair ran frantically as the deadly barrage nipped at their heels like hungry kath hounds looking for meat. Their original defensive position had been reduced to splinters under the sudden assault.

Mackers fired several blind shots over his shoulder as he kept pace with his friend, continuing to spew a long stream of curses between shots. Yazan took him forcibly by the forearm and dragged him through an open doorway to get them out of the line of fire. Tumbling through the door, the pair found themselves in an all-too-familiar setting.

“Oh man, please tell me we didn’t…” Mackers sighed as he looked over the display cases and shelves of the local bakery.

“The Cakes are going to kill us…” Yazan lamented as he realized his mistaken choice of refuge.

Several blaster bolts broke through the windows and the weaker areas of the walls, giving them little time to continue kicking themselves. The pair of troopers dove behind the main display counter as the shop began to explode into a cacophony of chaos all around them.

“GAH! We just fixed this place!” Yazan screamed in rage as he switched his weapon over to fully automatic and began letting fly a volley of shots out the front door.

Mackers took him by the shoulder to snap him back to reality, “You’re wasting ammo, tail head!”

“I don’t care, so long as I waste one of them!” He yelled back.

As unlikely as it seemed over the sounds of combat, they heard the squeak of a floor board behind them. Bringing their weapons around, they quickly pointed them away as they came face to face with a bright pink mare, “Ms. Pie, what the in haran are you doing here!?” Mackers demanded as another volley caused him to shrink behind their cover all the more.

The pink party pony hugged the floor watching in horror as her home and place of business was shredded by the weapons of the off-worlders, “I’m sorry!” She called out to them over the ricocheting fire, “We left in a big hurry and the Cakes forgot one of little Pound Cake’s favorite toys; I thought I could sneak back and grab it before anypony noticed me gone, now the bakery is getting shot to pieces again!”

The pair of warriors shared a look before returning to Pinkie, “Uh yeah, sorry, that would be our bad… Again...” Mackers stated as another angry volley burst through the building.

Through the chaos of it all, Gallant and Tolik had managed to take refuge behind the now-charring remains of vegetable stand. Both took turns firing over the sides of their slowly-diminishing cover, the smell of burnt wood and ozone burning their nostrils as the fighting continued. The morning sun was low in the distance when all the trouble had started, now it was nearing noon and it looked as though they had lost twice as much ground as they had gained.

Tolik ventured a glance around their cover only to have a blaster bolt scrape his helmet and force him back into hiding, “You’d think they’d get bored and go home.” He couldn’t help but make light of the situation.

A half hearted smile came to the Unicorn’s face as a blaster bolt tore apart another corner of their cover, “Now wouldn’t that be nice.”

Tolik looked sadly at his ammo indicator on the side of his pistol, “I’ve ten shots left; you?”

Gallant levitated his weapon to view the power pack indicator, “If I’m reading this right, I’m almost out of ammo too.”

As a few more blaster bolts struck their hiding spot, “Look, Gallant; I was only following orders, and in retrospect if I had kept following them I’d be on the other side of this fire fight right now.” Tolik pointed out.

The Guardspony relented slightly, “I still haven’t forgiven you or your people for what’s happening… But I’m proud you chose the right side, in the end.”

“I’m starting to question that right side thing.” Tolik joked as he watched another of his defectors get torn down, “Ah well. At least I get to die with a clean conscience, right?”

The roar of engines rang out over the sounds of blaster fire, bringing the fighting throughout the village to a brief halt as all eyes shifted to the skies. In the distance, a blaster burnt shuttle craft made a wobbly path through the air towards the town.

“Is that with us or them?” Gallant asked as he watched the craft enter their air space.

“I have no idea…” Tolik answered as he watched the craft start to list to the side. Suddenly a panel on the side of the craft popped off with a small explosion. Smoke and flames began to jut from the hole in its side as it began to sway from side to side, starting a less-than-noble path towards the ground.

A collective cringe went up across the town as the craft fell out of the sky and made a crash landing into the side of the large building at the center of the village. Splintering wood and sputtering engines filled the air as the ship came to an all-too-sudden stop in the side of the structure.

Tolik shook his head sadly, “Whoever that is, I sure hope they’re better at fighting than they are at flying…”

The Ponyville Skirmish

The cabin of the shuttle shook as the craft lumbered through the Equestrian airspace, its belly filled to the brim with warrior and pony alike. With every foreign noise and rattle came uneasy stares and worried looks. At the controls, Kad and his newly-appointed cyan co-pilot, Rainbow Dash, kept the hulk sailing towards Ponyville’s general location.

Kad was impressed with how quickly the young Pegasus was picking up the craft’s controls. Her love of speed and flight made him wonder what it would take to get her behind the stick of a star-fighter. It would probably take quite a few thousand credits worth of alterations to the controls to make the ship work for her. A thought then entered his mind: maybe it would be cheaper to alter the pilot, in the long run. This was something he would have to talk to Torb and Zex about if they survived this whole thing.

“Ponyville, dead-ahead Cap!” Rainbow proudly declared as the tiny village came into view. Her words were met with audible sighs of relief from her fellow Equestrians.

“Good to see it’s still in one piece,” Kad commented as he switched control of the ship back to him, “I’ll see if I can bring us down near the edge of town an-“ He paused as he double-checked a few instruments, “Well, that ain’t good…”

“What is it now?” Twilight asked with a noted tone of annoyance in her voice.

“Oh, nothin’ we can’t handle; just might have to reach the ground without the ship is all.” Kad stated calmly.

“Is crashing ships some kind of theme for you?” The purple Unicorn snidely asked.

“Hey, this sort’a stuff never happened till we picked that one up,” Kad stated with an accusing finger pointed at the Private, “I want whatever dark pact you went an’ made broken before ya get us killed Private!”

Arkanna hung his head dejectedly with a sigh, “Yes sir, sorry sir, it won’t happen again sir.”

Rainbow’s attention was riveted to the ground below, her sharp eyes followed beams of energy flying back and forth across the town, “Cap, it looks like there’s a fight going on down there, and it’s pretty one-sided.”

“Let’s see if we can’t even the odds,” Kad pulled his helmet on before setting the autopilot, “Buckets on folks, we’re gonna hit the ground runnin’ hot an’ heavy. Traycn, pop the hatch, lets’ see how they like a good ol’-fashioned Mandalorian air drop!”

The one armed Taung slammed his fist into the emergency release button on the side of the rear hatch. A loud metallic grinding sound filled the air, followed by a loud pop and then a bang. With little else in the form of warning, the ship began to shudder as it started taking a sharp downward tilt towards the ground, “Uh-oh.”

“What do you mean uh-oh; there should be no uh-ohs!” Twilight’s voice began to crack with panic as she wrapped her forelimbs around the nearest solid object to keep herself level.

“This is turning out to be one of THOSE missions.” Zex grumbled as he slipped on his helmet.

“I don’t know what you’re complainin’ about doc, I can’t get enough of this osik!” Kell happily called out with an excited yell over the chaos.

Despite rumors of incompetence and talks of a lacking in organization, the Mayor of Ponyville was in truth a rather enterprising mare. For years she had managed to get herself re-elected several times over. Every smear campaign her competitors had run to bring her down had ended in failure.

The upcoming attack on her beloved town was a frightening concept but it was also a chance to pad the poles. Elections were coming up in a few months and what better way to cement herself as an unwavering pillar of the community than to remain behind “selflessly”. All she had to do was come out of all of this alive and she was guaranteed to keep her office.

Very quickly, though, she was reminded of Ponyville’s curse. For all the tiny town’s good qualities, it also constantly took center-stage whenever the strange and otherwise crazy or creepy befell Equestria. It was one of the reasons not many ponies ever really wanted the job. This curse became all too clear as a metal hulk tore its way through the wooden walls of her office and came to a screeching halt in front of her desk.

Dust and dirt filled the air as everything slowly settled around the mare. Any normal pony would be cowering for their lives, at this point. After surviving both the return of Nightmare Moon and Discord, and now an invasion of alien warriors that wanted nothing more than to burn her town to the ground, she had understandably become rather desensitized to the strange and unusual. With a loud “THOOMP” and the battle cry of “KARATE!” a sizable chunk of the spaceship’s side suddenly exploded outward, followed by a contingent of armored aliens and ponies.

“I freaking love this leg!” Kell cheered out as the armored plates of his mechanical limb shifted back into place.

The Mandalorians and Ponies alike came to a stop as they all finally noticed the office mare sitting behind the desk, staring emotionlessly at the shuttle parked in the middle of the room, “Oh wow, uh, real sorry ‘bout that ma’am,” Kad stated, “I’m sure we can fix all… of… this…” He slowly trailed off as she reached into her desk and produced a tall bottle of dark brown liquid. With no hesitation or words, she tore the cap off and began drinking down the contents furiously, “Ya know what, this is probably a bad time; we’ll get back at ya later.”

Picking their way through the wreckage, the team made its way outside through the crumbling hole that used to be the front door. Outside they watched the dwindling number of defenders continue their desperate holdout against Deathwatch.

Torb looked out over the growing violence tearing across the small village. His mind quickly began to pick apart the situation and began formulating plans, “Captain, it appears the Deathwatch have a clear division in their ranks. We need to move quickly and take advantage of this schism.”

“You’re the tactical expert, Torb,” Kad stated as he took the saber hilt from his hip, “You got the call.”

“Fighting is thickest at the center of the town,” Torb stated as he motioned over the scenario, “I suggest sending Traycn to assault their right flank and carve towards their heart whilst you head through the left. Meanwhile Kell and Cadet Rainbow Dash will take to the rooftops and provide fire support and engage their airborne troops. The rest of us will head to the center to provide direct support.”

Igniting his saber Kad motioned to the rest of the team, “You heard the man, Epsilon; move out an’ make some noise!”

The scent of fresh backed cakes, muffins, cupcakes and other baked goods were normally what one would expect to be greeted with in Sugarcube Corner. Today was anything but normal, however, as blaster bolts continued to cut apart the air inside the small building. The smell of burnt wood and ozone strangled the sweet smells away as debris rained around the pair of Deathwatch defectors and the pink mare.

“How much ammo do these guys have!?” Yazan called out over the sounds of blasting.

Mackers crawled his way through the exploding bakery to Pinkie’s side, “Pie, does this place have a back door?”

“Well yeah,” she blurted out over the fracas, “Most places have a back door when they put in a front door, especially a bakery. I mean how else do you think we get all the baking supplies in? Not the front door because then we’d have to get around the display counter and that would just be an inconvenience. But I guess that doesn’t matter now since it’s pretty much getting destroyed ag-,“ She was finally quieted down when Mackers grabbing her by the snout firmly. How can anyone talk that much during this kind of situation?

“Okay, thank you, I get the gist of it!” He glanced over his shoulder at Yazan before looking back to her and leveling her gaze with his eyes behind the visor, “I want you to listen to me Ms. Pie, very carefully. When I give you the signal I want you to run out that back door and keep running. Do not stop running and do not look back, do you understand me? DO NOT LOOK BACK.”

She blinked in confusion before pulling herself out of his grip, “Okay great, but what about you two?”

The pair shared a look before Yazan answered her, “Doesn’t matter, we knew the risks.”

Like a bag of flower to the head it quickly hit her and hit hard, “Wait, but if you guys stay here- *GASP* No no no no no, you two don’t need to do that!”

“Pie, this is not a discussion,” Mackers shouted at her, taking her by the back of the mane to keep her eyes on his visor, “Now on the count of three, you run for it!”

Her frantic pleading fell on deaf ears as the two of them braced themselves to rush the entrance of the bakery, “Pie, three!” Mackers yelled out as the pair of them jumped what was left of the counter ready to run through the blaster bolts. Something was different though, “Not to complain but, why’d they stop firing on us?”

The three of them stared confused at the front door of the bakery as the sounds of something new filled the air. A buzzing hum rang out alongside the sounds of blaster fire and yelling. Cautiously, the trio slowly approached the front of the store, Mackers and Yazan kept their rifles at their shoulders, ready for whatever was out there. Suddenly, a body flew through the remnants of the front window, scattering what little glass still clung to the structure. Landing at their feet, a still-smoking gash stretched across his torso, the metal plates of his armor still glowed from the extreme heat.

Pinkie recoiled in revulsion at the sight of the body before them, “He doesn’t look so good…” She muttered out as she carefully avoided the corpse.

Mackers slowly took a step towards the door, “Hey uh, whoever you are, just a heads up! We’re part of the group trying to save the town so, please don’t Jedi us!” He called out.

A quick burst from his jet pack helped give Kell the propulsion he needed to reach the rooftops of Ponyville. A few more quick leaps and short term bursts helped him reach a high enough perch that he had a good view all around of the town. He unslung his beloved weapon of choice and laid himself out on his stomach to steady his aim. Staring down the scope across the town, he paid little mind to the swift breeze that brought his partner for this operation beside him.

“So, you ready for this, chekar?” He asked playfully not taking his eyes from the scope.

With a sigh the Pegasus looked out over the town before her, anger swelling up in her breast, “Does it matter? We can’t just let these punks have the run of the town, can we?” Rainbow demanded as she reached under her wing to remove the vibro-knife from her belt. Gripping it tightly in her teeth, she hit the triggering device once to confirm it still worked. The loud hum of the sonic vibrations brought a feeling of satisfaction to her.

Behind his visor Kell smirked from ear to ear, “A good answer, evaar’la verd,” He muttered as he zeroed in on a target from behind his scope. Drawing a bead on one of the troopers rocketing over the village, his mind quickly ran through all the calculations before squeezing the trigger. With a quiet “vwip” a blaster bolt fired from the weapon and cut down range till it struck the target dead center in his chest.

Sparks flew from the troopers’ chest plate as the blaster bolt pierced through his armor and tore him out of the sky. The limp form zoomed about the air for a moment before slamming into the ground with a small explosion from his jetpack rupturing, “Now get out there before I take all the glory.” Kell happily challenged the mare.

Biting down hard on her weapon’s hilt, Rainbow Dash summoned every bit of courage she had and launched herself into the sky. Zipping through the air, she homed in on one unsuspecting soldier, and could see those eyes again; she had to shut them out, erase her mind of that. She couldn’t allow herself to falter; not now, not this close to the enemy.

Her weapon hummed to life as she made a tearing dash past her target. She felt the all-too-familiar drag of the blade as it cut through what material dared stay in its path. The metallic scent of blood and the cry of surprise assaulted her senses once more. Dash bit down harder on the weapon in her mouth and focused on the adrenalin pumping through her veins. She continued to scold herself; pointing out she didn’t have time to throw up again.

This distraction would have cost Rainbow Dash her life. As she watched the dead trooper tumble to the ground with a jagged, deep cut through his neck, another flew in behind her to take revenge for his fallen comrade. His weapon raised and ready to end the Pegasi’s life, until a sparking flash crashed violently into the side of his head. Over the comlink in her visor band she could hear Kell’s happy chuckle, “Watch your sheb out there, chekar; wouldn’t wanna lose a valuable verd in the making like you.”

A smile crept across his face as he let another bolt fly, striking an unaware trooper in the neck, “You should move your jets by the way; already two kills ahead of ya!” Kell called her out over the com.

Killing turned into a competition? The idea churned Rainbows’ stomach, but then again; if there was one thing the Pegasus hated, it was losing. This gave her something to focus on though; this gave her thoughts and motivations that felt less grim, “Not for long, Staff Sergeant!” She shouted back over the comlink.

Torb led the charge into the heart of the town. Blaster pistol in hand, he fired several shots into the sizable crowd of attackers as his team made their way into the pitched battle. A playful smirk crossed the Chiss’ face as his heart and mind raced to face this test of his strategic prowess. Diving for cover, he took little hesitation in shouting out orders, “Zex, Shy, see to the wounded! Twilight, Arkanna, move up to provide fire support!”

Tolik and Gallant shared a thankful smirk as it seemed help, beyond all logic and reason, had actually arrived, “Damn fine timing, eh burc’ya?” The Mandalorian chuckled.

“Damn fine indeed,” His Unicorn counterpart replied.

Zex grabbed the nearest downed man he saw that still registered some kind of life signs on his HUD. The programmed medical interface began diagnosing the Trooper’s condition as the medic dragged him out of the line of fire and behind a rather ornate-looking statue of a horned Pegasus. The structure immediately brought the image of Luna to mind.

Pulling the young man’s helmet off, he quickly applied a shot of pain killer to the side of his neck, “Just hold on, guy…” He shut out the confused whimpers from the younger soldier as he went on about being sorry for some sin or another, “Knock off the blubbering kid, try and act like a Mandalorian.” He scolded him as he found the blaster wound to his side, “You don’t want to survive this scratch and then have all your friends hear about how you cried, do you?”

To his side he saw the timid Pegasus pulling a man out of the fray and behind a nearby building. Pulling his helmet off, she began running through all the first aid she’d learned from both Zex and her years of tending to the forest critters. Reluctantly, the jaded medical officer had to admit she was doing rather well.

Twilight bit back a few choice words as she found herself once again forced to use her magic in ways her teacher had never intended, while trying not to get killed. Her eyes nailed shut in concentration as she focused her powers on a pair of troopers dug in deeply ahead of her. In a flash of violet, a shockwave rippled from her horn, expanding quickly into a massive tear of energy that tore across the battlefield. Its strike shredded the would-be barricade and sent them hurtling through the air.

She let out a gasp as she saw the destruction she had caused to the building beside them: The side wall had crumbled and shattered into dust from the force of the blow. A cold shiver inched its way up her spine as she started to realize just what her powers could potentially cause. Her train of thought was derailed, however, when a hard metal shoulder slammed into her from the alley beside her. Twilight found herself sprawling along the dirt road till she was pinned tightly to the ground by a Deathwatch trooper. Her eyes went wide in fear as a jagged curved blade sprang from his gauntlet raised and ready to strike.

Parjai Kyr’tsad!” The trooper yelled out as his arm descended to bring the blade into her neck. Twilight shut her eyes tightly and braced herself for what she was sure would be a rather painful death, but rather than the feeling of cold metal tearing into her fur and flesh or the sounds of her death throws, she heard a sudden and surprised “Urk!” as the weight of the soldier was yanked off of her.

Her eyes shot open quickly as she watched the trooper yanked off of her by a long length of rope around his arm. The momentum of his journey was brought to a sudden and unfortunate stop as the hard tug sent him propelling into a pair of orange hooves. They struck him forcefully in the side of the neck with a loud crack as his head began to hang at an unsettling angle. As his body went limp, Twilight quickly shifted her gaze to the all-too-familiar mare standing over the body with a look of contempt for the invader.

Twilight’s heart sang with joy at the sight of her friend, but before any kind of reunion could be had, a stray blaster bolt chose this moment to skim the surface her pauldron. She could feel the heat of the energy projectile as it skimmed her armor, passing through her protective underlay and making her fur stand on end. This quickly brought her back to one of the many lessons her recent time in combat had taught her, and she felt she needed to share with her comrade, “AppleJack, get to cover!” She shouted to the farmpony before diving behind something solid as well.

From the other side of the town, Kad and his newly-acquired pair of troopers and one pony carefully made their way through the alleyways and around homes. It was a slow progression to the center of town as they weeded their way through several of the Deathwatch Loyalists. Rounding a corner, Kad held his hand up for a halt as he switched on his com, “Need some eyes vod, how’re things lookin’?”

“Torb and the others are holding their own pretty well, all things considered,” Kell chirped casually, “Oh, watch your heads; Kablam, baby!”

From seemingly out of nowhere, an armor-clad form dropped from the sky, landing in front of them, a smoking hole in his chest. Their collective gazes shifted upwards to see a rainbow-tailed fighter engaging a pair of troopers held aloft via jet packs. Trails of fire mixed and mingled with colorful trails as the exchange heated up.

She may have lacked combat training and the firepower of her opponents, but Rainbow Dash had one major advantage she had no problem with exploiting. She was hundreds of times more maneuverable than any jet pack. Utilizing this, she allowed one trooper to get closer to her, keeping herself from moving in a straight line to avoid any blaster bolts. Once her opponent was close enough, the speedy Pegasus performed a swift looping maneuver that took him completely by surprise.

Before he could react, her hooves connected hard with his back and shoulders with all her force. Pushing all of her energy into her legs, Rainbow kicked off of her opponent, sending him into a sharp downward arch that sent him screaming into the ground. Beneath her a small explosion removed the enemy trooper from existence, causing her heart to skip a beat.

Her attention riveted on the final trooper when something from the ground caught her attention, “HEY, RAINBOW DASH!” Shock running up and down her spine, she quickly shifted her sight to the ground, spotting a bouncing ball of pink.

“Pinkie Pie,” She muttered from the blade still clenched in her teeth. This distraction was all he needed to squeeze a few shots off at the distracted Pegasus, and the bolts slammed hard into the thick plating Traycn had placed on her sides; however, the force and heat of the attack still registered with her clear as day. A gasp of pain escaped her as the shock of the assault knocked the fight out of her wings, sending her in a downward spiral towards the ground.

From wreckage of the town hall, Kell had watched the exchange from behind his scope, wincing as he saw her eat the attack with her side but completely unwilling to let this offence go unanswered. Lining his cross hairs up with the last of the air corps, he pulled his trigger back, letting loose a bolt of energy from his silenced rifle. The avenging bolt of energy burnt through the air till it slammed into the jet pack of his target. On the doomed soldier’s back, an unfortunate chain reaction took place as the armor-piercing energy bolt hit his fuel tank, consuming him in a ball of fire.

Kad watched her hurtle to the ground as she tumbled from the sky. Taking off in a dead run, the Mandalorian was able to close the gap with her as she fell head first, his waiting arms quickly grasping her as she fell into his chest rather than the dirt. A pained grunt escaped him as the wind left his lungs and the force of her impact threw him off balance, sending him to the ground.

“OH MY GOSH; RAINBOW DASH, ARE YOU OKAY!?” Pinkie was on the verge of hysterics as she ran to Kad and Dash’s side in a blur of speed.

Kad placed a hand on the top of her curly mane, “Udesii ad’ika, udesii,” He said in a calming tone as he fixed Rainbow’s position against him to let her see her friend’s condition, “She’s fine, just got the wind knocked out’a her is all.”

Dash began to stir as the pain in her side downgraded from a sharp, painful burning to a dull, lingering pain. Coughing as air forced itself back into her lungs, she looked up to see both Pinkie Pie and Kad’s familiar visor and helmet art, “Cap… I lost my knife…” She managed to force out in a pitiful tone.

With a snicker, he ruffled her mane before setting her back on her hooves, “We’ll find ya a new one, Cadet; now shake it off an’ get back in the fight.”

She had barely taken a step when the blue-eyed wall of pink wrapped itself around her neck tightly, “Dashie!” Pinkie squealed out as she squeezed her friend.

Rainbow ignored the clawing pain in her side as she forced a forelimb around her friend, “Hey Pinkie…” She grunted out, “I thought the town was evacuated; what’re you doing here?”

She let out a happy giggle as she took a step back, “Oh, that’s a long story,” She said waving her hoof dismissively, “What about you and the goofy new get-up,” She asked poking one of her armor plates, “Are Twilight and Fluttershy with you too?”

A wry smile crossed the Pegasus’s muzzle, “Yeah, they’re here, too; I’ll explain everything after we finish saving Ponyville for the ten-millionth time.” She said with an exaggerated grin and eye roll.

“Cadet Dash,”

Kad’s commanding tone caused her to make a quick about face and straighten her posture as her side burned in protest, “Sir!”

“Last of the fightin’ is at the center’a town,” He informed her, “If you’re done restin’ your sheb, we got’a siege to break!”

Giving a quick salute with her forelimb, a fire of pride ignited in her chest to burn away the throbbing she felt, “It’d be a pleasure Cap!”

“Hey, chekar,” Kell’s voice rang out in her ear from the comlink, “I’m still two ahead of ya.” He snickered at her from his sniper’s perch.

The Deathwatch Major watched as the last of his men fell to the renewed defenders, “Fall back, fall back!” He yelled out over his com as he let loose bolt after bolt from his pistol. Turning to make a quick escape, he found himself staring into a wall of singed red metal.

With a smirk, Traycn took the Major by his arm, massive digits encasing his hand and weapon with ease. The sound of painful screaming and crushing bone created a crescendo that teased happily at the warrior’s ears. Feeling less and less pity for this coward who would choose to run and live rather than stand and fight till the death, he hoisted him by the broken appendage into the air. Much to his delight, this action caused the screaming to become all the more elevated in pitch and volume.

“Sergeant,” Torb’s voice rang out over the cursing and screaming, “The fight is ours, and it would seem you have caught quite the prize.”

With a proud grin he dangled the Major in front his comrade, “My prowess as a hunter is unquestionable!”

“Kill me, I won’t betray the Deathwatch!” He spat at them through the pain that vibrated over his body; from his crushed hand to his dislocated shoulder.

Torb made a slow and deliberate approach towards the Major as he slid off his helmet. The gleam of his cybernetic eye added another level of terror to the already wicked grin on his face, “That is why they call it ‘interrogation,’ my dear Major. No one ever intends to tell all their secrets. But you will.”

With a happy sigh, Kad watched as the blaster fire died down. Pulling his helmet off and latching it to his belt, he took in the scent of fresh air and lingering ozone as a warm breeze teased at his sweat-soaked brow. He watched as his Pony recruits happily reunited with their friends; it brought a bit of pride to the warrior’s heart, hearing their uplifted tones.

He had watched as Pinkie and Rainbow made a beeline for Fluttershy and Twilight as they entered the rubble of the village square. From around a building, he saw the last two of their group of six come running out to meet their friends, now that it was safe. He was impressed that Applejack and Rarity both seemed no worse for wear, despite the destruction around their town. A coy smile came to the Captain’s lips as he let them have their happy moment; the longer it lasted, the longer before he’d have to hear Twilight nag on and on about their blaster-charred town. It just wasn’t an Epsilon mission if there wasn’t massive property damage.

“From throwing me and my boys around like rag dolls with that sorcerer osik, to saving our shebs,” Tolik stated as he strolled towards Kad, holstering his pistol and removing his helmet, “Name’s Tolik, mighty fine timing, Captain.”

Kad grinned a bit at this statement, “Guess that makes us big damn heroes.”

“Either way, it was a fine rescue, Captain,” Gallant stated as he took Tolik’s side, “I prefer living to talk about a suicidal last stand, myself.”

“Now this right here; was one hell of a party!” Kell proclaimed happily as he entered the square, his rifle slung over his shoulder and helmet on his belt.

Tolik’s gaze narrowed on the sniper, “Mighty fine shooting, marksman; not too many that can hit a target using a jetpack.”

Kell gave a shrug, “What can I say, man? I’m kind of a big deal ya know-“

Tolik’s fist quickly caught Kell across the jaw knocking him to the ground. With no hesitation Kad, took the former Deathwatch soldier by the collar and ignited his saber, “You got a one chance to explain why you just did that.”

“This man killed a good friend of mine,” Tolik stated as he tightly clenched his fists. It took every inch of his self control to keep from risking the saber and leaping upon the marksman to beat him to death, “During the castle assault in the forest, report said a blaster bolt took him square in the forehead.” He growled out.

Kell wiped a bit of blood from his lip with a smirk, “It was a damn good shot, too.”

“Kell, ya ain’t helpin’ the situation.” Kad chastised his brother.

“Tolik, control yourself!” Gallant spat as he pulled him back with a touch of magic, “They just pulled our flanks out of the fire!”

Tolik looked back at his Equestrian comrade before returning to Kell, “Till this is over, I’ll fall in line. But eventually, you and I are settling this score.”

Kell let out a chuckle as he grinned through the pain in his jaw, “Looking forward to it.”

Kad shook his head as he watched Tolik and Gallant leave them. Turning to his brother he offered him a hand up off the ground, “You got a real talent for makein’ friends ya know that.”

Taking the hand, Kell hoisted himself off the ground and dusted himself off, “I’ve always been the popular one vod; you should be taking notes. So what’s our next move?”

Kad turned the situation over in his head, but there was something there, something nagging and burrowing beneath the surface, “Not too sure, I think I’mma take a minute or two, go knock on the sky an’ see who answers.”

Kell let out an annoyed sigh at this answer, “Really wish you’d rely more on your gut than that junk brother.”

“Ain’t steered us wrong yet,” He was quick to remind him with a slap on the shoulder, “Sides, never hurts to look at all the cards bein’ played.”

Another long night

Ponyville Hospital had always been a place of comfort and healing, and now even after all the violence that had torn through the town that role remained the same. Under Zex and Torb’s insistence, the structure had been chosen to act as a base of operations. After all, it was a sturdy structure that had been untouched by the fighting, with plenty of rooms and even a decent cache of medical supplies and food that had been left behind during the evacuation. Under Zex’s command, however, a very detailed list of any supplies or food they took was to be drawn up for the staff upon their return.

Though the attack from Deathwatch had been beaten back, small fires still burned about the town. The heavy scent of ozone still clung to the night air, mingling with the smell of burning wood carried on the wind. It was a sad sight to any native to the village, but to the Mandalorians who fought to protect it, this was a clear sign of victory and something to take pride in.

As the sun made its descent beyond the horizon, Tolik and Gallant had taken it upon themselves to clear the bodies from the town. It was a grizzly task, but important none the less. The battle-hardened Unicorn and Human worked through what was left of the day into the coming night, removing weapons, power packs, rations and anything else that might prove useful to them all.

“So, you really plan on killing him?” Gallant asked, as he rooted his way through a dead trooper’s bandolier.

Tolik didn’t even glance up at Gallant as he removed one trooper’s wrist mounted weapon rack, “Eventually; for now, we’re all in the thick of it together.”

“And what happens when he kills you?” Gallant asked as he added another power pack to the growing pile.

“Well thanks for the vote of confidence, horn-head,” Tolik snarled in retort. “Besides, whose side are you on, anyways?!”

He rolled his eyes as he started tugging at one trooper’s armor plates with his magic, “I’m not on anyone’s side, but something about the guy tells me it wouldn’t be a pretty fight.”

“What do you want me to do, Gallant? Forget he killed my best friend; my brother?” Tolik ranted, “No, that chakaar is in arm’s reach; I’m gonna do my part and help stop Teth. Eventually I am going to end him, for now I’m going to keep him alive so I can kill him later.”

Tolik finally took notice of the Unicorn’s awkward task of stripping a couple of the bodies, “What in the void are you doing?”

“They don’t need the armor anymore.” He stated casually as he pulled the chest armor off one of the corpses, “Might as well upgrade before they start to smell it up.”

“That makes a lot of morbid sense actually.” Tolik agreed.

“I’ve been honored to wear the regalia of Princess Celestia for all these years,” He pulled the helmet off and began to float it before him as he examined its makeup, “But after seeing those weapons first-hand, no way it’ll stand up to a blaster.”

“Hah, about time you figured that out,” The warrior stated with a chuckle as he produced his multitool from his belt, “I’m feeling crazy; let’s make our own armored pony.”

Under Zex’s guidance, one of the larger rooms to the rear of the hospital had been converted into a makeshift infirmary. The Zabrak medic was just happy that a bed made for an Equestrian was large enough to fit the more common humanoid species. He started to feel his luck turning around, as a number of them had their own first aid packs with them. Every bit of medical supplies counted in the long run.

A few beads of sweat rolled down between his horns and along his brow as he tended a blaster wound. The defectors had suffered heavy losses before Epsilon had shown up; aside from Tolik, Mackers and Yazan, there were only four other survivors and they were all too shot up to be any help from this point on, “Cadet Shy, when you’re done over there, I need you to treat a blaster wound to that young lady’s side.”

“Yes, Corporal,” She managed to reply as she continued seeing to the pair of ponies Deathwatch had used as slave labor.

The Corporal couldn’t help but note their recent skulking company. It had taken a bit of glowering and ordering to force Fluttershy away from her friends and see to her duties as a medic, but Rainbow Dash had gone out of her way to avoid spending too much time with them, practically jumping at the chance to help bring in the wounded. In a way, it was painful to see someone who’d been so energetic suddenly become so sullen. Not everyone took to their first taste of blood; Zex was actually glad she was having such an adverse reaction to the violence. It meant she wouldn’t be prone to the bloodlust most new warriors gave into.

Fluttershy trotted her way over to one of the corner beds where yet another armored figure lay holding its side. She quickly noticed the form of this soldier was far more lithe and curved in certain areas. Reminding herself not to stare, she reached up with her forelimbs and pulled off the helmet, finding a human with much softer features about its face and very short-kempt, blonde hair complimented nicely by a pair of smoky blue eyes.

Pulling herself into a sitting position with a wince, she gave Fluttershy a wry smile, “Like what ya see there, doc?”

Fluttershy was quick to look away, “Oh, I’m so sorry; it’s just that you’re the first female human I’ve seen.”

“Yo, Dash,” The sound of Arkanna’s voice quickly pulled Fluttershy’s attention away from the ground to the Private. With his helmet tucked under his arm, he gave the Pegasus he’d been looking for a nudge to snap her out of her thoughts, “LT wants us to make a sweep of the town before we turn in.”

“Hey Private,” The female defector called out to him, “You’re the one who carried me off the field, right?”

“Yeah, that was me,” He answered turning to face her.

She gave him a soft smile, “Thanks for the save; name’s Mallia Xelin.”

“Arkanna Kershom,”

“I owe ya one, Kershom,” She said as her tone took a far sultrier shift, “Maybe after all this is over, I could thank you personally for saving our shebs.”

Arkanna gave her a nervous smile, “Yeah, just might have to take you up on that,” He gave Rainbow Dash another nudge to get her up and moving, “Come on Dash, I wanna get this sweep done with.”

Fluttershy looked back and forth between the exchange; a feeling of worry and dread starting to build up inside of her. As Arkanna and Rainbow Dash left, she suddenly noticed what Mallia’s eyes were following as he left. This caused a hint of anger to slip into the soft spoken Pegasi’s gaze.

She suddenly took a closer notice of the ways her body curved beneath her armor; toned muscle and a honed physique. Fluttershy cast her eyes down at her own body. By Pony standards she was perfect, but now that she was comparing herself to a human, one of HIS kind; all she could see were the glaring flaws. The emotions she had begun to acknowledge were running rampant through her head now. She couldn’t understand; why did she feel so inferior standing next to this woman, why did she want to yell her head off at her? She bit down hard on her lip as she tried to keep these raging emotions in check. Looking down at her own body Fluttershy ran her hoof along her own chest as she stared sadly at it.

“Hey doc,” Mallia snapped her out of her thoughts, “You gonna fix my side or what?”

“Oh, yes, of course, I’m so sorry!” Fluttershy replied as she quickly got back to work with a forced smile plastered across her face.

Arkanna and Rainbow Dash made their way through the streets of Ponyville, checking every alleyway, side street and corridor. Something felt off to the warrior, “Hey Dash, you even here tonight?”

“Huh?” The multi colored Pegasus glanced up at his visor in confusion.

“You’ve been spacing out since your friends showed up;” He pointed out, “What’s bugging you, anyways?”

“Just… Got a lot on my mind is all.” She muttered as they rounded another empty dead-end, “How do I even face the others after everything I’ve done so far?”

“Oh yeah, you’ve done some real terrible osik,” He stated in a sarcastic tone, “Dash, because of you we managed to bring down that frigate before it could start blaster rolling your planet. And as for those fliers today, we would’ve been picked apart by those creeps if you hadn’t torn your fair share out of the sky.” He gave her chest plate a prod, “You’ve kept your squad safe so far and done a good job at it, too; take pride in it, vod.”

Rainbow searched for a way to counter these points. Killing was wrong, but she only did so in defense of herself and her comrades. A life is sacred, but did that mean she should lay her own down so somepony else could kill her instead? Every argument she tried to make in her head seemed empty and shallow at this point. With a sigh of defeat, she hung her head, “I guess you’re right…”

The pair remained silent as they continued on with their patrol for a while longer until Dash cleared her throat, “Hey Arkanna, can I ask you something kinda personal?”

“No one else around, I don’t see why not.”

In the back of her mind, she cursed herself for what she was about ask him, “I was just wondering,” She stated, trying to force as much of a casual tone into her voice as possible, “You don’t happen to have a, uh, special somepony do you?”

“A what?”

“You know, special somepony, a marefriend?”

The terminology was a bit lost on Arkanna until he started turning it over in his head for a moment, “Wait, you mean a girlfriend?”


Arkanna shifted a bit uncomfortably as he kept his pace and attention on their surroundings, “I uh, uhm, is this really the time or place, Dash? I mean, there could still be a few Deathwatch troopers hanging around here.”

The Pegasus smirked a bit at the nervous tone she got from her comrade. With a snicker, she nudged his side with her wing, “Come on Private, like you said: no one else around.” She gleefully reminded him, “So spill it the beans, you got… What was it called, girlfriend, or what?”

He bit down on his lip as he tried to find the easiest way to answer this loaded question, “I uh, I might have this girl I’m sort of interested in.”

“Oh yeah, what’s she like?” She questioned him, an excited tone in her voice as she trotted alongside.

“Well… She’s a really sweet girl,” He said as he rubbed the back of his neck in nervous habit, “She’s got the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen; when I look at ’em, I feel like I could spend all day just staring at them. She has a voice as soft as the patter of a summer night’s rain.” As he continued his train of thought, he leaned his back against a partially destroyed building, “She has a kind, vibrant heart that just sort of… She makes me feel like I could be a better person. Like, just being around her makes me want to live up to whatever image she’s built of me.”

Behind his visor, a soft smile graced the young warrior’s lips at the angelic image he was building inside his head, “I’ve had a pretty messed up life, even by Mandalorian standards; but when she’s around I can’t even begin to give an osik about the past.”

He remained lost in this thought for a moment until he noticed his partner hovering beside him at eye level with a huge grin stretching from ear to ear, “Sooooo, anypony I know?” She asked with a playful tone as she draped a forelimb around his shoulder.

Arkanna nudged her away with an annoyed grunt, “Like I’d tell you.” A thought struck him, “What about you, Dash? Got your eye on “somepony” special?”

Dash gave an embarrassed grin as she glanced to the side, “Oh, me? Well uh,” Her ears suddenly shot up, “Oh my gosh, what was that!?”

Arkanna swung his weapon around in the seemingly random direction ready for the fight, “What is it?”

“I uh, I think I saw something over there! I’ll go check it out.” Rainbow quickly stated before taking off like a bolt.

The basement of the hospital had everything Torb needed. It had low, ambient light, a heavy locking door, a collection of out-of-service surgical equipment, and most importantly, a drain in the middle of the floor. The last part surprisingly tended to be the most important part of a good interrogation, depending on how messy things got.

At the center of the room, hung over said drain, the captured Deathwatch officer dangled by a thick rope binding his wrists and slipping around the rafters. His broken and shattered hand had turned a dark shade of black and sickly red from the lack of circulation. His armor was long-since stripped away, leaving him in only his underlay pants. There were no windows, no clock, no way to tell just how long they’d left him hanging here, alone, in the damp corridors below the hospital. A single light overhead was the only illumination he was permitted. In the darkness, a leaky water pipe dripped over and over again; at first, the noise was nothing more than a drip in the background. Slowly, it had become a minor annoyance, but now it was deafening roar, tearing away at his eardrums.

From the darkness ahead of him a single red orb glowed, “So sorry to keep you waiting,” Torb kept his tone polite and sincere, “I had to find a few tools; some misleading labels slowed the process, you understand.”

The Major glared at the red dot in the distance as it stared back with no sign of emotion, “You should be glad you humans don’t have the blessing of dark-vision; if you could only see the devices I’ve scrounged up.”

Torb finally stepped into the light, darkness melting away from his dark blue skin and armor. In his hand, he playfully toyed with a rusting jagged blade, “This little thing was part of an amputation set; such primitive devices, but for our little exchange I feel they’ll work nicely.”

“I won’t talk, Chiss.” He snarled through the pain ripping through his arm.

“Oh do stop with the stalwart garbage,” Torb sighed as he tapped the rusty implement against his chest, “You see, there are very simple rules to this game we’re playing. I ask you questions, at first you lie or refuse to talk, at which point I will hurt you in horrible ways. Eventually, you start to break down and start divulging tid-bits of information to me. But the more I learn, the less useful you are.”

He grabbed the Major by the dislocated shoulder, roughly forcing pressure on it, “Make no mistake, you’re going to die here in this hole in the ground. How long before that moment arises depends on you.”

Traycn stood at attention beside the heavy metal door that connected the main level of the hospital to the low basement. With his weapon at his side, he replayed the battle that had entertained him several hours ago. The screams of his enemies as they tried to run from him still echoed in his ears, coupled with the sounds of blaster fire. The feel of his metal knuckles connecting brutally with an unfortunate warrior foolish enough to stand in his way. These glories came to a halt as Cadet Sparkle accompanied by the three they had secured at the end of the fight approached.

His mind quickly brought up a personal dossier he’d mentally formed on each one after meeting them. The white one, Unicorn species, Rarity; seems too much like Torb, should keep an eye on her. Pinkie Pie, hyperactive, species Earth type; annoying, may be worth being executed for killing that one. Applejack, another Earth type; seems strong, might be worth my time. Having left his helmet to linger on a nearby table, he was able to cast a far more menacing and meaningful glare upon the encroaching Equestrians. The group was hesitant under his sharp, golden gaze and fire-scarred visage.

Much to his surprise and no shortage of feeling impressed, Twilight was the only one not to shrink away slightly from him, “Sergeant Traycn, I’ve been introducing my friends to the squad,” She said with an uneasy smile; Traycn’s stonework stare did little to encourage her.

The sound of Rarity clearing her throat shifted his gaze quickly to find her, “Indeed; Sergeant Traycn was it? We’re all very grateful for what you and your compatriots have done in keeping our friends safe.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” Applejack stated happily as she moved up alongside her friends with a wide, friendly smile, “Was mighty kind of y’all. Even goin’ s’far as savin’ the town from them varmints; why, I’d say all’a Ponyville owes you fellers.”

Pinkie quickly stepped in with a massive grin across her face, “I’ll say! Now that I know there are more of you nice Mando guys I need to throw you a welcome party too! Oh, maybe even a thank-you for saving our planet one after you save Canterlot, too!” She bounced excitedly as she laid out plans for a celebration of some kind.

Traycn ground his teeth as he held himself in check. How dare they, how dare these weaklings, these laandur? They belittle him and his deeds with ideals like kindness and selflessness. He was a warrior, a verd, he did as he was ordered; fought, killed, won and all the while doing so for only three reasons. All that he did was for the personal glory, the glory of Mandalore and the payout that waited for him at the end of this. He couldn’t care less if their whole species was wiped out in a heartbeat in front of his face. As Pinkie continued to prattle on, he could feel the servos of his remaining arm begging him to crush her skull. A beautifully familiar sound from far beyond the door he protected brought a look of shock and horror to all four of the Ponies.

“It sounds as though somepony is in trouble down there!” Rarity gasped out as she made for the door. Her progress was brought to a sudden halt as a massive metal hand blocked her path.

“Everything is under control; go about your business,” Traycn recited the tag line Torb had taught him a thousand times over. Narrowing his gaze upon the three Ponies he snarled out, “Leave.”

Twilight quickly placed herself between her friends and the Taung, “Let me handle this girls, the Sergeant takes some getting used to.” She reassured them before looking up at him and refusing to budge from her position, “They didn’t mean anything wrong Sergeant, they’re just concerned somepony might be injured down there.”

He looked briefly at Twilight’s companions before looking back to her, “They are aruetii; our business is not for them to know, Cadet Sparkle.”

She took a brave step forward show her refusal to back down, “It would help if they knew why they couldn’t go near this area, Sergeant.”

The gargantuan warrior finally lamented to her, “The Lieutenant is engaged in information retrieval.”

The screams of pain brought the horrid reality crashing in on the Unicorn recruit, “You mean he’s torturing that soldier you captured!? Does the Captain know what’s going on here?”

A sickening smile came across his face, “If you honestly think he’d put a stop to this, then go tell him yourself,” He gave pause for a blood curdling scream, “I would hurry if I were you, I don’t think he has much time left.”

The rooftop of the hospital made for a rather relaxing place to meditate, far from the racing thoughts and feelings of his comrades. It also provided a nice view of the area.

Ever loyal to his brother, Kell kept watch on the physical world while Kad went looking for answers. Kell paced backed and forth, watching his brother as he sat stock-still on the ground. He never liked the idea of putting too much trust and faith in the Force. What could invisible magic and communing with ghosts teach a person that they couldn’t learn on their own?

With a sigh, he took a seat with his back against Kad’s, placing his rifle on his lap, “I don’t know if you can hear me way out there vod, but you better get some damned answers out there.”

The world around Kad melted away into pools of sand under the unrelenting force of a powerful wind, shifting and changing the world around him until he no longer sat atop the roof of Ponyville Hospital. Instead, he found himself within the main hall of the Guardian’s temple. Subtle changes had taken place since the last time he was forced to pay a visit to the mysterious care taker of the Force. The ancient stone pillars had begun to crumble and crack, the tapestries were fraying as their luxurious colors faded into shades of grey.

At the center dais of the room the ancient figure sat. The solid black eyes that reflected eternity had taken on a pained appearance. His breathing was labored and shallow as he regarded the Mandalorian Force user with a curious look, “I did not summon you, Mandalorian; how did you find this place?”

A smirk etched across Kad’s face, “I’m a faster study than ya thought old man.” To his right he watched as a pillar crumbled into dust, “Though, maybe I should’a called ahead, let ya clean up a bit.”

Drink in the sight of it; this is all because of your savage kind, after all,” The room shook with the Guardians’ anger as he snarled the words out.

Kad paced around the room noticing the rapid decay, “An’, just how’re me an’ my crew responsible for all this?”

You fractured the veil,” He stated in a labored tone, “Now something has broken the balance needed to keep this world in check. I have stepped in to bring both under control, but the strain of these two monumental tasks is draining what strength I have.”

Kad strode forward towards the dais, “That’s a real cryin’ shame; really, I’m heartbroken ‘bout it. Since I ain’t no Jetii sage, how ‘bout you explain this all to me. I came here to get some answers, an’ I aim to get’em.”

With a steadying breath, the ancient being adjusted himself, “For centuries, this world and its system have been hidden from the eyes of the galaxy. The veil, which makes the system appear as though there is nothing but empty space, has kept it untouched for countless generations. The unfortunate side effect of this defense is the toll it takes on the rotation of the planet. To maintain the veil and keep this world alive, I entrusted responsibility of moving the world upon a pair of sisters whose strength in the Force was beyond anything this world had ever known.

Motioning to a tapestry Kad beheld the image of the Princesses standing on either side of their world, “So all that talk ‘bout raising an’ lowering the sun, there was a bit’a truth to that.”

Indeed, I entrusted to them and their kind stewardship over the world. Every being has its purpose, and theirs was maintaining the balance and keeping order,” He continued, “Under the guidance of the sisters this world has prospered.”

“Prospered?” A hint of rage hung in Kad’s voice, “How can ya call this prosperous? They’ve been livin’ in blind ignorance, ignorance you forced on’em!”

I do not have to explain myself to you, boy.

“No, but from the look’a things you’re getting what you deserve.”

My time is growing short. Something has happened to stop the sisters from tending to the planet’s rotation.

“Are they dead?”

No, I can feel them, they still live. But something isolates them, holds them outside of the Force. You must free them, you must… Restore the balance… Or the veil will crumble.” The Guardian was on the verge of pleading as he spoke.

Kad could feel the otherworldly space around him trembling as more of this hidden world began to disintegrate around him. Looking over his shoulder, he watched as an empty void began to overtake everything around them, crumbling into nothing. With no shortage of consideration he began weighing his options before stating flatly, “No, I don’t think we’ll be doin’ that.”

You would doom this world, then?”

“Don’t assume ya know what I’m up to old man,” Kad bit back at him, “My boys an’ I, our new allies an’ recruits, we’re going to the palace. We’re gonna free the Princesses and throw Deathwatch off the mountain. But most importantly, we’re gonna free this world from the hold you’ve had on it for too long.”

As Kad strode his way up the dais, a tinge of fear broke out in the Guardian’s stoic persona, “What do you think you are doing? I have watched over this world for centuries, I have kept it safe from those would rape it!

A dull violet light began to encase Kad’s hand as he closed the gap between them at a casual pace, “Nothin’ changes without a shove in either direction; right or wrong, this stagnation ends now.”

The Guardian extended his hand palm out towards Kad. Pain rippled through the warrior’s body and forcing him to his knees, “My powers are divided, but I am still strong enough to handle the likes of you!

Gritting his teeth, Kad began pushing back through the Force. The stonework around him began to crack and crumble outward as the invisible bubble began to form around him, “Death even comes to the immortal; you of all beings should know that!”

With a labored motion, Kad pushed the Guardian’s influence away, smashing through what little of the temple still existed. Lunging forward, he jabbed with his energy-clad hand. The Guardian easily deflected the blow away from his chest; rising to his feet quickly, he struck Kad with a solid punch to his gut.

It connected with surprising force; with a gasp of pain, Kad was sent flying into the void. Reaching out with the Force, he took hold of a nearby pillar suspended in the emptiness. The floating object was quickly moved to stop his advance into the nothing.

“How dare you, mongrel; you trespass in MY realm and now declare that I am going to die?” With a motion, several other pillars floated from the emptiness around him, their jagged edges leveled at the Mandalorian, "For a brief moment, I believed you would be the one to save this world, now I see you are nothing more than an invader, just like the other one!

As the sharpened shards of rock flew towards him, Kad focused his control on the Force behind himself before launching into the fray. His weapons and equipment were useless in this reality, but his power over the Force seemed enhanced. The stone skewers became stepping stones for the fast-moving commando as he leapt from projectile to projectile.

The world around him exploded into chaos as every motion from the Guardian put more obstacles in Kad’s path. Landing on a tiny island suspended in the void, the Mandalorian suddenly felt like a cornered animal as every projectile he’d avoided made a sudden about-face. Looking up above the Guardian he spotted his way out of this. Reaching out with the Force, Kad took hold of the illustrious tapestry, yanking it from its position and wrapping it tightly around his opponent.

The confusion had given Kad the opening he needed. Once again using the objects intended to kill him, he darted from stone to stone till he was once more upon the dais. Finally within striking distance, Kad lunged forward again, this time taking his target by surprise. His hand plunged deep into the chest of the Guardian. A look of shock and realization melted into the aging face as he looked down at the hand plunged into his body.

In a show of mercy Kad knelt down, laying him upon the dais still wrapped in the tapestry, “What… What have you done?

“I severed your connection to the Force,” Kad replied, “In your condition, pretty much fatal.”

His veins began to glow a florescent purple as the energy inched its way through his body, “They are not ready…

Kad leaned in close to whisper to him, “The Mando’ade will pull them outta the darkness an’ into glory; usin’ your corpse as a steppin’ stone if we have to.”

His breathing began to slow as the void tore more of the temple façade away from existence, “What parent… Wants to see their children move on to where they no longer need them?

Before Kad’s eyes, the ancient’s form quickly started to decay in his arms. His connection to the Force now severed, the countless centuries quickly took effect on the Guardian’s body. Flesh shriveled and crumbled into dust till everything faded from existence.

In a flash, Kad found himself back on the rooftop; a presence at his back drew his attention to the armored form leaning back against him, “So, bring any good news from the great beyond?” Kell asked after feeling his brother shift behind him.

Before he could answer, a rumble filled the air. The world itself seemed to shudder around them. Part of him wished he could explain how this felt to him. Kell lacked the training and focus to feel the Force around them, the feeling of control being returned to the planet itself as century-old chains fell away. No one without sensitivity to the Force could feel this massive ripple of power.

“What in the hay was that!?” A confused voice rang out. Behind them Kad and Kell found a more than frightened looking Twilight Sparkle hugging the roof tightly as she looked around in confusion.

Behind his visor Kad wore a tired grin as he pulled himself to his shaky feet, “That was the sound of freedom, ad’ika.”

The confusion of the situation had derailed her for a moment before Twilight shook her head clear and took a resolute stance, “Captain, are you aware of what the Lieutenant is doing to our prisoner?”

Kad simply waved this issue off, “I prefer not to know the gritty details of Torb’s hobbies.”

Her eyes quickly narrowed on him, “He’s torturing that man. How can you be so nonchalant about this?”

“Here’s a better question, why are you so concerned ‘bout an enemy soldier?” Kad asked as he strode towards her.

“Enemy or not, what he’s doing isn’t right!”

“That man down there was ready to burn this town to the ground an’ kill every man woman an’ child that call this place home,” Kad stated angrily as he poked her chest plate harshly, “That man down there strode into town usin’ your own people as slaves to haul his weapons an’ troops. You really think he’d be showin’ you the same concern or kindness if he had you in chains?”

“Mercy is all well and good, ad’ika,” Kell weighed in on the conversation, “But misplacing it will get you killed.”

Before Twilight could utter a retort to this, Torb’s voice rang out over the comlink, “Captain, we seem to have an incoming call for you.”

Kad gave Twilight a look before turning away to focus on the com in his helmet, “This better not be long distance, we ain’t got coverage.”

“No sir, it’s the Deathwatch Commader, Teth.” Torb stated as he ignored his CO’s joking tone, “He says he wants to speak to you and Cadet Sparkle; he says he wishes to speak to you both alone, sir.”

Kad gave the Unicorn a surprised look before glancing at Kell. His brother silently took the hint and made himself scarce. Reaching onto his belt, Kad produced his holodisc and motioned for Twilight to come closer, “Patch him through.”

The holographic image of Teth formed in the palm of Kad’s hand, casually taking in the pair, “Ah, Captain Skirata, so glad you could find time to speak with me.” His gaze settled on Twilight next, “And you must be the infamous Twilight Sparkle; Princess Celestia holds you extremely high regard.”

She regarded the tiny image awkwardly as she stared into the face of their enemy for the first time, “What have you done with the Princesses?” She kept her tone in line with every fiber of her being, she was a stranger to the ways of war but she knew she couldn’t show a crack he could manipulate.

Teth held up a reassuring hand as he smiled kindly at her, “They are both quite safe, if not a bit predisposed at the moment.”

“Get to the point of this call Teth,” Kad snarled as his finger hovered over the button to end the transmission.

“Of course,” Teth’s tone betrayed his lack of interest in dealing with his foe, “It would seem, Captain, that you and I are more or less set evenly now.”

“How do ya figure that?”

“I shot down your ship, you blew up mine. I sent a platoon of men after you, you blew them up. The fact is I can see now just how futile the idea of chasing you and your merry band would be. Every time I reach out to grasp you by the throat, you pull away and cut my hand.”

The image of Teth began to pace back and forth, “You see Captain, I am in fact a reasonable man, and would prefer to put this issue to rest as quickly as possible. I am willing to offer you the same deal you offered me, despite the annoyance you have made yourself out to be,” His gaze once more settled on Twilight’s eyes for a moment before looking back to Kad, “If I am to be trapped on this world, then I intend to rule it.”

“So, you expect us to just step outta your way?” Kad asked.

“I don’t care where you go, and I don’t care where you vanish to. Just so long as all of you, the traitors, even the Ponies just disappear. I will never hunt you down nor will I ever come looking for you. All of you can live out your days peacefully out there somewhere.” Teth reassured them, “Just so long as you stay out of my way.”

Kad looked at Twilight then back at Teth, “That is a real temptin’ offer ya got there Commander. An’ I’m sure a couple of the boys would love nothin’ more than to spend their days relaxing on a pretty orb like this,” A small smile started to curl at the edges of Teth’s lips, “However,” The smile quickly faded, “We’ve been made official members of the Lunar Guard, hired by Princess Luna herself. You holdin’ her captive, well that makes us look bad, an’ after that incident where we set the whole planet’a Geonosis on fire, we really can’t afford the bad press.”

A proud smile came to Twilight’s face as she looked up at the Captain. She had a mounted pile of issues with how he and his men handled situations, but there was one thing she’d learned about them. They won’t betray their loyalties.

Teth sighed shaking his head, “That is unfortunate Captain, but not unexpected.” His eyes narrowed on Kad, “I was honestly hoping it wouldn’t come to this, Skirata.”

Reaching out of sight of the camera he dragged a frightened mare into view by her mane. She couldn’t be much older than Twilight, her light golden mane and tail blended with her dull yellow coat. Tears ran down her face as she pleaded for her safety and that of her children. Grabbing her roughly by the back of the neck he forced her to look straight ahead at them as he knelt down beside her.

“Please… please just let me and my colts go, we’re not with the resistance I swear to you…” She sobbed and pleaded to him.

He ran a hand along her face causing her to cringe in fear as he whispered soothingly to her, “Hush now, shhhhh, it’ll be okay.”

“Teth, what do ya think you’re doin’?” Kad started to feel a bit uneasy about this situation; he could feel Twilight shifting in panic as she stared at the image.

“I just want you both to meet someone,” Teth stated happily as he stood up and ran a hand through her bedraggled mane, “Tell them who you are my dear.”

Through the tears and sniffling she finally muttered out, “My… My name is Honeydew…”

“And what do you do here?” Teth asked softly.

“I… I’m a servant here at the palace…” Her body shook with the same fear the gripped her voice.

“And do you know Twilight Sparkle?” Teth continued to bombard her with questions.

“Only… Only in passing… All of the palace staff know who she is and the things she’s done to protect Equestria.” She replied.

“But I wonder just how much she knows about you,” Teth looked dead into Twilight’s eyes demanding her full attention, “Does she know you were wed to a rather brave member of the castle guard? That you have a pair of strapping young boys.” A smile came across Teth’s face as he continued musing, “They look the spitting image of their father; they even have that strong, defiant stare in their eyes.”

His mood shifted into a rather somber tone as he continued speaking, “He was very brave; you and your boys should feel pride in how he died. A number of the guards made for the throne room to free at least one of the Princesses, the ones that didn’t stay behind to hold my men back in vain, at least. In the end, he was the last to die by my hand. He fought well; they should be proud of their father.”

His words though spoken sweetly only forced more painful tears and sobs from Honeydew as he continued to stroke her mane, “Would it shock you to know that his death was the result of Twilight Sparkle’s actions?”

Her eyes flew open in shock as she looked up at him in confusion, “What… What are you talking about?”

Teth kept his eyes latched onto Twilight, “It was because of Ms. Sparkle’s attack on my ship that prompted me to face Princess Celestia. A confrontation that eventually lead to his final stand in the throne room as he tried to free your monarchs.” His gaze ripped into Twilight, “So many dead because of one girl’s choice.”

Honeydew’s eyes quickly looked to Twilight’s as they begged for an answer. The look of disbelief and horror as someone you believed in and trusted is shown to be the one who hurt you the most. It made Twilight want to run and hide from this place.

Kad could feel it, deep down in his soul he knew what was coming. Maybe it was the Force, more likely it was years of dealing with men like Teth. He knew it was coming. The muscles in his arms tensed and his hand begged to push Twilight out of the way, shield her from the awful truth. But something stopped him: a darker voice in the back of his head stayed his hand and held him back. It whispered to him that she needed to see this; if she was going to survive as a Mandalorian, then she absolutely had to watch. Cursing under his breath, he tightened his fist with his rage and bit back the urge.

With a soft sigh Teth drew his blaster, “And so many still to die,” With no hesitation, he brought the weapon to the back of her head and pulled the trigger. In a muzzle flash she fell forward in a limp pile, her eyes fixed open in a look of shock and confusion.

NO!” Twilight screamed out at the top of her lungs at the sight playing out before her. She could feel tears forming up in her eyes as she glared at what Teth had done.

The Deathwatch Commander brought an accusing finger to bear with the Unicorn, “You brought this on her Twilight Sparkle, you forced my hand and now she’s dead!”

“You didn’t have to do that Teth…” Kad snarled at him.

Teth nudged her corpse with his boot, “Remember this, I can still hurt you without actually finding you. After all, I have an entire city full of unarmed civilians. Every time Epsilon or their allies rear their heads I will start executing them.” He looked down at the body before him, “Don’t worry about her children, though; I’ll see to it they’re raised to be proud members of Deathwatch.”

The transmission cut out from Teth’s end, taking with it the image of the dead mare, but not the boiling anger Twilight felt in her breast. Tears of anger rolled down the side of her face, soaking her fur as she breathed heavily through gritting teeth. She wanted blood, she wanted vengeance.

Kad placed a hand on the back of her neck, causing her to start sobbing uncontrollably, “You wanna see him pay for what he did?” There were no words, only a quiet nodding of her head as she stared at the ground watching her tears puddle around her hooves, “Good, hold that feelin’, keep the image in your mind,” He tilted her gaze up to meet his visor, “Follow me to the capital an’ I promise you will see him die.”

Catching our breath

“Let me see if I understand everything,” Torb stated with an exasperated sigh. The Chiss Lieutenant had clearly been hard at “work” with their Deathwatch captive. Drying blood stained and smeared an apron he’d put on over his armor to keep down the mess. A spattering of blood and sweat hung to his brow and gloves, “You communed with this powerful being via Force trance and instead of getting valuable intel on our current situation, you decided it would serve us best to just out-right kill him while he was weakened? Oh but that’s not the best part of it all, killing him has essentially destroyed what these people think is the natural order of the world and caused who knows what kind of repercussions?!” It was clear he was losing his usually stoic patience.

Kad shot him a tired grin as he stretched out against the wall behind him with a yawn, “Well, when ya put it like that, one might stand to reason I screwed somethin’ up.”

Torb shook his head as he massaged the stress-induced headache away, “Kad, there is no telling what you’ve done to this world just yet.”

“Oh come on Torb, not like this is the first world we did somethin’ stupid on,” Kad thought it would probably be for the best not to start listing off the trillions upon trillions of credits worth of damages they’d caused over the years. Everything from space stations and factories to ship yards and entire planets, it seemed there was no limit to what Epsilon team could destroy, “So their planet spins on its own now; failin’ to see how that could be considered a world shatterin’ event. ‘Sides, what’s the worst that could happen?”

Far from the small scale conflict being waged on the far flung mystery planet, high above the planet Ordo, the last moments of a savage space conflict were being waged. The remaining defenders of the Ordo ship yards scattered to the stars and planet surface below as the turbo lasers of massive wedge shaped battle ships tore through what remained. A trail of debris now encircled the planet where once an impressive dry dock station kept satellite over the dusty world.

A force of twenty ships had suddenly appeared from hyperspace with no warning early that cycle. Several Destroyers and various capital class ships supported by a number of support vessels. At the head of the assault was the massive Dreadnought class ship, Blood Fury, its’ massive guns and innumerable weapons had delivered the killing blow. Their attack had been lightning-fast and merciless. The moment their ships had left hyperspace they had opened fire on the station and any ship in orbit. A scrap that had left the commanding officer of this attack force feeling more than a little empty and unchallenged.

Aboard the lead vessel, Admiral Hrask Yen had led the opening blow against the Fett Loyalists in the name of Deathwatch. An attack made far too easy with the aid of the Protectors’ own IFF system. A clever tactic, and one that would in no way work a second time, but it had certainly made for a blood-soaked beginning to this new age of civil war. A war that Hrask was hell bent on seeing to its bitter, broken end.

The Admiral was a surprisingly imposing figure, despite his stature. Standing closely to five foot four inches with a moderate build, one could easily make the common mistake of underestimating him. What made Hrask a frightening figure however, was more the mystery that surrounded him. Never seen outside of his armor, even at social functions he begrudgingly forced himself to attend, no one in any faction of Mandalore knew anything about whom or what Hrask was.

Only his reputation defined him. A ruthless tactician and cold-minded warrior in single combat, Hrask had cut a trail of blood from various races and species leading to his new post at the head of Deathwatch’s aptly named Reaper Fleet.

From the bridge of his ship, Hrask watched in boredom as the last fleeing star fighter was vaporized out of existence in a brief flash of fire before emptiness quickly took its place. Behind him, he could feel the presence one of his men, “Report,” his raspy tone scratched out over his helmet’s speaker.

His First Mate winced a bit at the sound of his commander’s voice; it had always felt unnatural to him, “Sir, all other Deathwatch fleets are reporting success in their ambushes of strategic points on the outskirts of Mandalorian space,” He stated as he scrolled through the datapad in his hand.

Hrask didn’t turn to acknowledge the trooper who nervously gave his report, “You have something else to report?”

“Sir,” The trooper made it a habit to triple check everything before he told the Admiral. The man before him had made the mistake of overlooking something that turned out to be rather critical and soon found himself left adrift in space with no jetpack and whatever air was in his helmet, “Do you recall the sudden disappearance of Commander Davian Teth a week ago?”

Hrask briefly mused on this fact, “Yes, the fool rushed off after a wounded cargo ship that had escaped him.”

“We’ve just now received the signal from the frigate’s emergency beacon.”

This had him interested. Turning to face his first mate, he quickly snatched the datapad from his hand and began scrolling through the information as his first mate continued his briefing, “The signal came from a system that… Well, it isn’t on any star charts, yet its location places it well within the confines of the Mandalore sector. Sir, Reaper fleet is the only branch of our force close enough to act on this before the Protectors move in to investigate; what are your orders?”

Hrask threw the datapad aside as he turned back to the main viewport, “Inform all other ships that we are moving on this system, contact the rest our forces and tell them to run interference for us. We don’t have much time to clean up Teth’s mess and I do not want that pretender to the name Fett getting in our way.” He growled out.

With a quick, sharp salute, his officer moved about the task of organizing the rest of the ships to leave this system. In the meantime, Hrask mused about the thought of simply executing Teth on the spot for his foolish behavior. After all, if Teth was taken alive, it would put the entirety of Deathwatch in danger with what he knew. His hand brushed along the hilt of beskar blade at his side as he mused running his colleague through upon finding him.

Zex observed his “student” as she finished seeing to the last of the patients. Begrudgingly, he had to admit that she had a talent for taking care of the hurt and wounded. It was unfortunate: As a medic, she was going to see the brutal results of her companions and the enemies they faced. A warrior caused the wounds, but he had the option to move on and keep fighting elsewhere; she had to be elbow-deep in the mess. He really did feel sorry for her.

The horned man could see the growing stress taking its toll on her even now. Her movements were sluggish and sweat had thoroughly soaked her face. He watched her look sadly at the blood that clung to her, not a drop had been her own, “Cadet Shy,”

She jumped a bit at the sound of her name and quickly turned to face Zex, “Yes, sir?”

“You did a good job here recruit,” She could use a bit of a confidence booster right now, “Go grab some wall and rest up.”

A bright smile clung to her muzzle as she stared up at the Corporal, “Thank you sir, it’ll be nice to get out of this armor…”

“Leave it on,” He ordered her sternly.


“We’re still in contested territory Cadet,” Zex was quick to point out, “Do you honestly think the enemy will give you time to strap your armor back on?”

She wilted under his gaze as she tried her best to hide herself behind her hair, “I… I’m sorry…”

Zex lamented a bit, “It’s alright Fluttershy; you’re still learning all of this.” He motioned to the far side of the room, “Go grab some wall and rest up, I want you close by in case I need your help again.”

She gave him a half-hearted salute with her hoof before trotting off to find a comfortable way to lie in the far corner. Turning back to his stack of notes and charts, the Zabrak medic continued his seemingly-endless work. Most importantly were a few prototype concepts he had begun to work on after a suggestion from Kad. Personally, he thought it was far too ambitious an idea: augmenting these Equestrians to make them more compatible with their tech and gear. However, the scientist and biologist in him found the concept exciting, even revolutionary. The ideas they had cooked up during the limited down time after the second shuttle crash mostly involved the use of cybernetic augments but now he had his own ambitious ideas. Perhaps a more lasting change could be found with Yuzhong Vong bio-tech.

His mind danced about the theories and possibilities. Very little was still known, even after hundreds of years, about Vong bio-tech. In his tired state, Zex began to believe there was a chance to alter their DNA to result in more humanoid features. He began to feel like a mad man as he calculated how many generations it would take before the change became permanent in their species.

“What are you doing?” His hand froze mid note, “Look at what you’re proposing, you’re a doctor; this is sick and twisted! You're not that man anymore.” Taking a deep breath, Zex let the pen rest on the side of the desk. His mind was right, what he was dreaming up was a sick and twisted venture; something Torb would have come up with. After rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Zex tore up the notes he’d come up with. He told himself that when this mission was over, he’d take a long relaxing trip to Concord Dawn, find a nice beach somewhere and just lay out in the sun.

How did he get to this point? Something he tended to think about when there was nothing to keep him occupied. Zex was never fond of his past and preferred to keep it where he left it, behind him. When it was quiet though, it was impossible not to start thinking about it.

The main way into an Epsilon Squad was to screw up so badly they have to consider killing you until they realize they can still make use of you. It was a prison sentence in and of itself: you either pay off your debts to Mandalore or you die with honor in combat. When he was younger he’d always blamed the system, the people in charge for what happened to him, blinded by the foolishness of youth.

He was one of the best medics in his field unit. An up and coming healer that could easily transfer out of the military at any time he wanted to get in with any hospital in the Mandalore sector he wanted. A perfect future was more or less guaranteed for him, until one mistake. Then again, one mistake is all it took to get you stuck in an Epsilon Squad. There was heavy fighting tearing through the borders, and his unit was dug in deep to treat the wounded. Zex had been working elbow-deep in some young warrior that had taken shrapnel through his legs when a priority patient had been wheeled in. War Master Tullious, the mastermind behind the rock solid defenses that had kept that world in particular safe.

Zex was the best surgeon they had, but instead of handing off his current patient to treat the War Master he chose to stay where he was. Tullious died from his wounds and the inept hands of a fresh faced medic. Zex was held up as being responsible for his death and very soon was given the choice of dishonorable discharge and loss of his license or a mysterious transfer.

In the months that passed after his transfer into his new squad, he had been resentful to those in charge for what had happened to him, believing that it was corruption in the system that led him to this demotion. It wasn’t until a long night of drinking alongside Kell that he came to see things in a new light. The only thing that put him in this predicament was himself, no one and nothing else, just him. He could have let one of his peers take over, he could have handed his patient off to another doctor and seen to Tullious, but instead his own arrogance and pride kept him from seeing just how minor the condition of his patient was and how serious the War Master’s state was.

Glancing back over his shoulder, he watched the tired Pegasus try to get comfortable in the corner of the room. Zex stifled the urge to laugh trying to keep his usual serious outlook going, “Fluttershy, you can use one of the empty cots,” He stated flatly, “Grab some wall is just a figure of speech.”

A bright red tint of embarrassment clung to her face as she lowered her head with a weak smile, “Yes, sir.”

Zex snickered a bit as he went back to his notes, “Good thing I didn’t tell her to fill her boots.” He muttered to himself.

Clearing her throat she took a brave step towards him, “Uhm, sir, actually, I was wondering if I could maybe take a walk and get some air?”

“Go ahead Cadet,” Came the reply as he kept his attention on his work, “Don’t wonder off too far.”

Kell sat in the lobby of the hospital, supposedly on guard duty, but most likely looking for a way to goof off. Reclined in one of the chairs, his feet were propped up on a coffee table while he flipped through the pages of a magazine. Surprisingly, he was finding the current article on techniques for dying one’s wings to be fairly informative and there was a recipe towards the front about a seasonal cake made using summer fruits that sounded pretty delicious. It occurred to the sharpshooting loud mouth that he was, unfortunately, bored. This was a dangerous thing for someone who’d proven he could hit a target from orbit, provided he had a rifle and power supply able to shoot through the atmosphere.

Across from him, the unusual pair of Deathwatch defectors occupied the seats on the other side of the room. In a small way, Kell was starting to like the two: Mackers was a deviant with almost no restraint, and Yazan had to be one of the most blood-thirsty Twi’leks he’d ever met. Yazan had fallen asleep with his gun in his lap and a magazine over his face, snoring loudly. Mackers had been hard at study on what could be considered a skin-mag for these creatures. He watched as the young soldier unfolded the image of a mare lounging on a rather lovely beach.

“Hey guys, got some good news! The parts DO match!” Mackers called out in triumph.

“Great, now let me get some sleep you freak…” Yazan grumbled at him.

Kell’s curiosity sadly had been piqued, “Lemme see that,” With a quick motion, he snatched away the magazine from the younger solider before taking a moment to examine the picture. She certainly was an interesting specimen, dark grey coated female with blood red hair and tail; Kell always had a thing for redheads, “Well what d’ya know, sure looks compatible at least.”

“Oh dear!” A soft wilting gasp rang out from side.

Kell beheld the shocked and slightly appalled looking Pegasus recruit, “Cadet Fluttershy, things going well in the Infirmary?” He casually inquired before returning to the images of mares showing themselves off in various ways for the camera.

“I… Uh…” She stammered as she tried to regain her composure, “Staff Sergeant, should you really be looking at that in the middle of the waiting room?” She asked with a surprising amount of sternness in her voice.

He could barely hold back a snicker at her distain for his choice of literature, “Eh, probably not,” With a smile he tossed it back to Mackers who quickly reopened, “What ya need Shy?”

She forced back her urge to say something about the tasteless magazine the group of males had been passing between themselves and focused on the reason she came looking for him, “Well, I was wondering if maybe you could possibly teach me some of your language, if it isn’t any trouble I mean,” Fluttershy quickly took notice of the awkward stare her superior was giving her request, “It’s just that, everypony else is busy and well, if I’m bothering you I can just go…”

Normally Kell would let her wander off and go back to his article on dying feathers but something inside his head clicked. A mischievous glint twinkled in his eye as he realized this was an opportunity he couldn’t let pass him by, “Ya know what Cadet, I think I can help you with this.” He said proudly as he patted her shoulder.

Fluttershy quickly lit up at his words with a hopeful smile, “That would be wonderful!”

“So what do you wanna learn to say kiddo?”

“Well…” Her cheeks turned a light shade of red as she fought to dig up the words she was looking for, “I want something I could say to Arkanna before the big mission tomorrow… You know, wish him luck.”

This was too perfect; Kell could swear this had to be some kind of set up, it was all so easy, “Hmmm, well let me think here,” Set up or not, he was going to get a good laugh about this later, “Okay, repeat after me, ‘Nee kat-tay-LEER da-RAH-soom gahr tee ahn nair kah-ROH-ta’.” He slowly sounded the words out for her.

Nodding along she began repeating what he had told her, “Nee kat-tay-LEER da-RAH-soom gahr tee ahn nair kah-ROH-ta…”

“Good, now say it all together.”

Ni kar'taylir darasuum gar ti an ner kar'rta.” She gave him a wide smile.

“There ya go!” Kell happily declared before ruffling her mane.

“So… what does all of that mean?”

“It uh, it means, ‘I care for and respect you my dear friend’.” He replied with a confident nod.

Fluttershy’s smile widened at this information, “Oh, that’ll be perfect to tell him, thank you so much, Staff Sergeant!” She stated happily before hugging him tightly.

With a chuckle, Kell returned the hug, “Alright now, you should get some rest, kiddo. Long day tomorrow, and who knows who you’re gonna have to patch up.”

Kell watched the young mare trot away repeating the words to herself over and over again under her breath till she disappeared around the corner. As he looked for his magazine from earlier he couldn’t help but notice his two “companions” giving him a wry grin, “What is it?”

“Heh, you really have that di’kut aruetii going man,” Mackers pointed out with a snicker.

“Hah; ‘dearest friend,’ really?” Yazan joined in gleefully.

Kell leaned forward motioned for both of them to do the same, “Yeah, you know what else is funny?” Once they were both close enough he grabbed them both by the collars, his mood quickly darkening now that he had his hands on them, “Me splattering both of you chakaars for talking like that about her or any of OUR recruits. She deserves the title Mandalorian more than either of you two, so call her that again and I will show you what real traitors like you two deserve.” With a quick motion he forced the pair back into their seats, “You both copy?”

The pair were understandably speechless after the treat. There was something in that glare he gave them both reason to pause and consider their next words with utmost care. Silently agreeing with each other, they simply nodded in compliance with him rather than speak up.

Grunting in annoyance, Kell picked up his magazine and flipped it back open to the article he’d been reading, “Now keep it down you di’kutlas. I’m trying to read, dammit.”

The patrol of Ponyville had been a slow progression between Rainbow Dash and Arkanna, but at least it was a quiet one compared to the fight earlier that day. Arkanna honestly preferred and appreciated the still calm of the field after a battle. It felt like the world itself had become fatigued, and simply collapsed from exhaustion.

Rounding a corner, he came to a home with a door ajar; this could be a good spot for any stragglers to hide, a good enough reason to investigate. Glancing back at his Pegasi companion, he gave a quick nod towards the door to silently inform her they were going in before bringing his rifle to his shoulder. Thankfully, he received a nod in return as she moved up beside him, drawing her newly-acquired knife. Her new weapon didn’t have a vibro cell like the one she lost, but the feel of the blade close at hand gave her a great deal of confidence.

On Arkanna’s signal, the pair stormed through the door, their respective visors easily clearing away the darkness around them. The Private motioned to Dash to examine the next room over as he moved towards the other. He kept the footfalls of his boots as quiet as he could against the hard wooden floor. It wasn’t until his chest started to throb that he realized he’d been holding his breath since he entered.

“All clear here.” Rainbow’s voice chirped over the com.

“Yeah, clear over here, too,” He replied.

Feeling a bit calmer, he started to take in his surroundings a bit better. Moving towards a corner table, Arkanna found a collection of framed pictures, a number of which looked fairly old. For the most part, they were just random Equestrians to him: nameless faces that were sure to forget him and anything he’d have done on this planet after they left. It was an unfortunate side-effect of his line of work. Someone might remember vaguely a warrior, they always remembered the armor and sure enough they always recall whatever you screw up or destroy. A thankless life, but why have it any other way?

Looking to the side, he found the remains of the last meal the occupants were having before being rushed out to safety. His heart sank a bit; more vegetables and fruits. Oddly enough, he could swear he saw some flowers between slices of bread. Before he could question their eating habits any further, a rumble in his stomach interrupted the train of thought. Taking an empty bowl, Arkanna gathered what looked good and still good enough to eat before strolling out to meet back up with his partner.

Upon exiting, he was face to face with a critical stare from Rainbow Dash, “Did you just steal that food?” The sharpness in her tone made her disapproval all the more obvious.

Taking a seat on the front steps of the house Arkanna pulled his helmet off and set it beside him, “This isn’t stealing, this is salvaging food so we don’t starve. Stealing would imply someone was still staying in this house.”

“I think the term for that is looting.” She was quick to shoot back at him with a scowl.

“Looting?” The Private was clearly offended by her accusations, “If I was looting, I would’ve taken everything in that house I could carry if I thought I could make a few credits for it. All I did was grab us food before it spoiled.” Taking a piece of fruit from the bowl, he took a satisfying bite out of the thick skin, “If you don’t want any of this I’ll just eat your share.”

She kept her distance for a time, but the feeling of her own stomach gnawing at her insides started to break down her resolve. She had yet to eat anything since they got back from the assault on the frigate, the events of which had forced her to empty what little her stomach had in it. Biting down on her lip, she started weighing the options before her: it felt wrong to take food from somepony’s mouth, but by the time they got home the food would be half rotted anyways. With a defeated grunt, she took a seat on her haunches beside him and picked up a piece of the random assortment in her hooves and began to eat. She was surprised by her own voracious appetite after all the violence she’d seen so far that had turned her gut inside out.

Soft hoof falls in the dark caused Arkanna to bring his weapon up quickly on reflex and settle on the target. Seeing the orange-coated mare on the other end of the muzzle, he lowered his weapon immediately. Glancing to the side, he saw Rainbow frozen in mid-motion as she had been going for her knife. This whole mess had everyone on edge, it seemed. Taking the juicy piece of fruit out of his mouth, the Private nodded a greeting to the Earth Pony, “Evening Applejack, everything alright?”

The startled farmhand took a moment to collect herself before trotting forward, “Howdy. Everythin’s fine, s’far as Ah can tell, jus’ wanted ta take a walk an’ see the damage fer mahself.”

He motioned to a hole torn into a house from a grenade, “It probably looks bad to all of you, but to be honest this is some pretty light damage,” He took another bite from his liberated food and regarded the new pony casually, “I heard you took down a trooper today all on your own. One kick, too; that’s some impressive osik,” His tone showed just how impressed he was with her actions.

Applejack shifted uncomfortably from his praising tone as she stared at the dirt, “Weren’t somethin’ Ah wanted ta do…” She muttered bitterly.

Rainbow Dash started having a sudden flash back to that forest floor, the tears and endless stream of vomit forming a puddle around her hooves. She could see that same pain restrained behind her friend’s eyes. She was always more restrained and more disciplined than Rainbow had ever been, but this was going to eat her from the inside if she didn’t do something. Lifting her visor up to her forehead, she let her concern show in full before moving next to Applejack and draping a forelimb around her. She could feel the words that both of the Skirata brothers had given her start flowing out of her, “The first one stays with you forever, AJ. I’m so sorry you had to do that, but Twilight’s alive thanks to you, don’t you ever forget that…”

The heavy restraint and emotional walls Applejack had built up around herself in such a short time had begun to crumble away. Weakly leaning into her friend’s comfort she let her frustration and sadness spill out, “Ah… Ah don’t know what happened out there… Ah saw’em pinnin’ ’er to the ground; if Ah hadn’t…”

Arkanna watched this all play out in front of him with no shortage of curiosity and confusion. The idea of saving a comrade from certain death was something he’d have been celebrating. Preferably with a couple hundred beers, courtesy of his comrades, “Like Dash said, you saved your friend, your bruc’ya; you should be proud that she’s still alive and able to finish this fight.”

Applejack forced a weak smile across her lips as she slowly regained her stoic composure, “Ah know that…”

“You’ll be okay, workhorse; dust yourself off and get ready, ‘cause we’re gonna finish those Deathwatch punks for good and save all of Equestria just like we always do!” Rainbow stated proudly as she gave Applejack a reassuring nudge.

She smiled broadly in return, “An’ then any’a them varmints ‘cross the galaxy’ll know not ta tangle with the Elements of Harmony!”

A smirk played at the edges of Arkanna’s lips, “Hah, we’ll make Mandalorians out of you girls yet.”

Kad and Torb had gone over the holographic images of Canterlot a hundred times, and so far the only thing they could agree on is that a small shadow team could sneak in from the back end of the palace hanging over the edge of the mountain. They had three new pairs of eyes to help them examine and look for a way to get in that Deathwatch wouldn’t have eyes on. Each of their newly-added Pony minds added something new to the equation. Rarity’s perfectionist mind and eye for detail could spot the tiniest crack in a strategy. Twilight’s newfound determination and drive, combined with her vast knowledge, brought out a true strategist in her. Pinkie Pie, well… Every plan needs someone that can think outside the box, and for five minutes inside of one just to prove a point.

Torb sighed in irritation as he looked the image over yet again, “It baffles me: how can something that was obviously built with no intention of turning back an attack be so difficult to invade?”

“We ain’t lookin’ to occupy it, Torb, just to get in an’ get to Teth as quickly as possible.” Kad reminded his second in command.

“I still like my plan the most!” Pinkie chimed in hoping to rally more support to her side.

“Darling, I highly doubt they’ll let us in if we ask politely and offer them cake.” Rarity stated with a slight hint of venom in her tone.

The puffy pink Pony pouted in defeat as she put a hoof to her chin in thought, “You underestimate the power of cake.”

Twilight had remained silent for the majority of the planning session, her eyes riveted on the image before her. In the back of her mind, she replayed her days under Celestia’s tutorship. She kept searching her mind for that mare, Honeydew, somewhere in the background. Had she really been there the whole time, completely ignored while her studies took president? It burned her mind as she fought to find this single mare, desperately searching her out to keep at least something of her alive, “Twilight.” Kad’s firm tone brought her back to the task at hoof.

“Yes, sir,” She quickly shifted her attention to the Mandalorian’s eyes.

“You’ve been pretty quiet this whole time; hopin’ ya have a better idea than Ms. Pie.” He said giving Pinkie a side long look.

“I find your lack of faith disturbing...” She hissed under her breath.

Before she could reply something caught her eyes along the side of the mountain, “Of course, how could you be so stupid, Twilight…” She chastised herself before shifting the image to show the side of the mountain, and focusing the hologram onto a single point towards the bottom.

“Of course…” Torb could barely hold back the impressed sound in his voice as he took in the new point of interest. A pipe leading sticking partially out the side of the rocky surface covered by a thick grate, “A sewer system,”

The violet unicorn smiled proudly to herself, “The Canterlot sewers are one of the city’s best kept secrets,” She looked up to Kad, “Unless you know where to look, you’d never know they even existed, the entrances are hidden that well.”

“But why didn’t Princess Luna tell us ‘bout these sewers?” Kad asked as he turned the idea over in his head. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d gone trudging through the muck; maybe these Ponies kept the underground as clean as the top side.

“She was banished for a thousand years,” Rarity informed them, “They would have been added while she was still locked away in the moon. Before that, she and Celestia both lived their days in the palace at the center of the Everfree Forest; there’s no way she would’ve known they existed.”

Kad’s attention moved to the Chiss deep in thought, “You look like ya got somethin’ for me, Torb.”

Torb looked the image over once more as he started to formulate a plan, “Yes, I think I have a way we can make this attack work after all, provided we have one resource that will be crucial to this plan.”

“An’ what might that be?” His CO asked.

“We’ve used the majority of our explosives already, and I highly doubt our mechanical genius Traycn can whip us up a fresh batch of explosive weaponry,” Torb started laying out his train of thought to make sure everyone and everypony present could keep up with him, “Captain, do you still have that ‘special ration’ they issued you?”

A look of understanding came across Kad’s face as he reached into one of the larger utility pouches of his belt and produced a long, tubular container, “Four thermal detonators, high-end explosives, each with a modified core to double the yield,” He explained the full extent of the dangerous devices sealed away in his hands, “So how do we make use of these angry boys, Torb?”

A grim smirk etched onto the Chiss’s face, “Oh, I think you’ll enjoy this plan,” His gaze moved to Rarity and Pinkie, “You two and your friend with the hat are going to be play a very important part in it.”

“Why…” Luna breathed out between her bared teeth, rage boiling over in her eyes as she glared at Teth.

“To make a point,” He stated causally as he strolled over to one of the broken windows of the throne room, “I wanted to make sure there was no room for doubt about how far I’ll go for victory.” He looked over at the chain laden princesses with a wry smile, “Also, I’ve always wanted sons; never had the time to settle down and father any, though.”

“You sick…” Celestia pushed against her bonds but felt her body give way before her will. Something was missing; the collars had kept her and Luna both disconnected from the source of their power but they could still feel it in the distance. It felt as though it had been blinked out.

Teth drank in the sudden look of realization on her face, “Oh good, you CAN feel it, after all; I was afraid the collars made it harder for you to sense the shift in the Force.”

Both Alicorns began to register a look of panic between each other, “What hast thou done!?” The Princess of the Night demanded.

“I didn’t do anything,” Teth assured them before glancing over at the spot where the mare’s body had been laying until he ordered it disposed of, “Well, nothing except what you saw.”

Before the exchange could continue a trooper quickly barreled through the door, “Commander!”

His attention was immediately on his soldier, in his mind he was already thinking up ways to punish this fool for barging in like he did if this wasn’t important, “What is it, trooper?”

“Sir, the emergency beacon launched by the frigate, before it went down-” The Deathwatch trooper seemed to be speaking as quickly as possible and tripping over his own words.

“Get to the point soldier!” Teth demanded losing patience with the man.

“We just received a signal sir,”

Teth’s eyes went wide in alarm, “What, are you sure?”

“No mistaking it sir, the make-shift comcenter we set up just got pinged by the Blood Fury, Admiral Hrask Yen’s personal destroyer.” He stated before producing a holodisc from his pocket, “He’s on the line right now, says he wants to talk to you immediately.”

Before Teth could make any kind of protest, the holographic image of his superior officer sprang to life in the soldier’s hand. Forcing an official look on his face, Teth straightened himself out to address the Admiral, “Admiral Yen, I was beginning to think no one would pick up our signal.”

“Teth,” Even over the interference of intergalactic communication that voice grated at his mind and sent a shiver through even Teth’s spine, “You have this moment and this moment alone to convince me I shouldn’t just throw you out an airlock once I enter the system. Now what did you do with MY FRIGATE?”

Teth cleared his throat as he fell back into where his true strength lied, his face becoming an empty, blank look as he composed himself, “Admiral, it would appear that cargo ship was anything but; it was carrying a special forces team from the Neo Protectors. Epsilon Squad.”

Despite the helmet, Teth could tell this name registered with the mysterious commanding officer, “Epsilon you say, I’ve heard rumors about these madmen.”

“I can assure you sir, that all of them are true,” Teth stated, “I believe I know where they are right now, with the ships you have-“

“No,” Hrask quickly cut him off with a sharp commanding tone.

“Sir,” Teth was understandably surprised by this.

“I have no intention of helping you with your coward’s tactics,” The Admiral pointed out as he crossed his arms over his chest, “You have lost face and honor amongst Deathwatch, you are going to regain it like a Mandalorian. Face them in combat and kill them yourself.”

“Sir, these men are far more dangerous than even the rumors make them out to be,” Teth pleaded, “My forces have been reduced to less than half and even our warship is gone. To make matters worse they have been gathering local resistance to their side even converting some of my own men.”

“That is because you’re an incompetent leader,” Hrask callously pointed out, “If it wasn’t for your Darjetti abilities you would have never been given a command.” The Admiral gave pause to let these facts sink into him, “I will provide you with a resupply of weapons and manpower but that is all you shall receive.”

Teth forced a smile across his face, bowing his head, “Of course, Admiral.”

“I expect this problem to get resolved and quickly, Teth; do I make myself clear?”

Once the image faded away, Teth let out a sigh of relief before looking back to the trooper still awaiting orders, “Inform the men, we’re going home soon; and bring my new sons to me, I wish to have a moment with them.”

Best Laid Plans and Intentions

The cold grip of night kept a strong hold upon the city of Canterlot, casting deep shadows upon the dimly-lit hallways of the castle. Once patrolled by the royal guards in regal armor, the new occupation had spared no time in taking their place. Armed Deathwatch troopers stalked the hallways and corridors of the palace on guard for any possible challenge to the new rule.

One trooper in particular was busy tending to a rather important assignment. In front of him, a pair of very young Unicorn colts trotted closely together, eyeing the armored soldiers warily. The pair were more than slightly similar-looking to the other; deep khaki coats with dark brown manes and tails, the only way to tell them apart were their eyes. One having a pair of crystal blue and the other having bright green eyes. They kept pressed tightly to each other as they were escorted to parts unknown. For as long as they had known, the castle had been like a home to them, but now it brought only a tinge of fear to their hearts.

As they came to a large set of double doors, their escort stepped forward and opened them. Beyond was a brightly-lit study where the alien they and all the city had come to know as the leader of this invading force. With a disarmingly soft smile he motioned for them to enter, “Good evening children, please enter,” His gaze shifted to their escort, “You’re dismissed, trooper.”

With a salute he quickly stepped back and shut the large heavy doors behind the foals, sealing them in. Teth made his way over to the pair, who instinctively backed away in fright. Coming to a stop, the Commander knelt down to bring himself closer to their level, a very small and subtle application of the Force calmed them slightly to make the interaction easier, “Tell me boys, what are your names?”

The pair exchanged a frightened look before the blue-eyed colt took a brave step forward and spoke in a shaky voice, “M… My name is Hammer, sir, and this is my brother, Anvil,” He said motioning to the other, “Why are we here?”

Teth looked between the pair, “Hammer and Anvil. Yes; fine, strong names,” He said softly, “No one has told you yet, have they?”

“Told us what?” Anvil, the decidedly more timid of the two finally spoke up.

Teth took a deep calming breath as he stood up and made his way to the large fireplace at the center of the back wall of the study, “Children, I am afraid I have some grim news for you…” With his back to the children he stared into the flames as he prepped himself for his coming performance, “It… Has to do with your mother… I’m afraid…”

“Momma…” Anvil’s voice cracked as he stared ahead in disbelief.

His brother Hammer took a brave stride forward, his eyes riveted to Teth, “What happened to our mother, what did you aliens do to her!?” The anger in his voice barely drowned out the shake brought on by frustration and confusion.

He took this moment to smile to himself, children had such fertile minds. Replacing it with a mask of sadness and distress he finally looked back at the foals, “WE tried to save her,” Teth stated firmly as he took a step towards the pair, “A weapon was smuggled into the palace, a weapon that your mother set off unknowingly.”

Part of him drank the looks of bewilderment in their eyes, the swelling pools of tears threatening to burst out. They were at their breaking point, all it would take is a little more, “We tried everything we could to save her… Her injuries were far too… extensive. Had our ship not been destroyed, there is a good chance her life would have been saved with the medical equipment we had onboard.” Teth informed them with a growing hint of frustration in his own voice.

Turning away from them, he let out a sigh and gathered his thoughts before looking back at them, “I am so sorry for you both…” Kneeling down, he reached out and placed a hand on both of their backs, “But there is no doubt in my mind that her last thoughts were of her children.”

The two could no longer hold back their emotions as they pulled away from Teth’s grasp. Hammer continued to glare daggers at Teth as tears streamed down the sides of his face matting into his coat, “I don’t believe you; why would anypony do something like that, why would they hurt our mom!?”

“Fear,” Teth said in a flat, emotionless tone, his gaze becoming a lifeless mask, “Fear and ignorance of the new way of life we seek to usher in for you and your people.” Teth brushed the tears away from their eyes as he continued, “Because of this fear they lash out, your poor mother was caught in the crossfire, she was never the true target of the attack, I was.”

Placing a hand under their chins, he gently lifted their gazes to meet his own, “It’s my fault she was killed, and it was by my hand your father rests honorably, so it is my duty to raise you both, as Mado’ade.” Another small application of the Force through subtle words overwhelmed what little will they had left. Placing a hand on their heads, he spoke softly to them, “Ni kyr'tayl gai sa'ad, I know your name as my child. Dry your tears and rest my sons, tomorrow you start your lives as Mandalorians.”

Twilight Sparkle laid wide awake curled up on an empty hospital bed in the back corner of the waiting room staring at the wall in front her. She couldn’t sleep; no matter how many ways she reminded herself that she would need the energy for the coming day, she still couldn’t force herself into slumber. Every time her eyes closed, she could see that look of fear and disbelief in that mare’s eyes just before the muzzle flash, before they glazed over and she fell on the floor. Dead. She didn’t want to see those eyes anymore, she had to make it right again.

A hand at her back roughly nudged her to stir, “Up an’ at ’em ad’ika,” The voice of her Captain commanded.

With an annoyed grunt the purple Unicorn forced herself to sit up on the bedding, her armor making the task feel a lot more labored than it should have been, “Fine… Not like I slept anyways.”

Kad gave her a wry smile and shoved a cup of hot black liquid into her hooves, “Drink up an’ fill your boots Cadet, we move before sun up.”

She gave the contents a cautious stare before giving it a test sip and quickly pull away from it in disgust, “GAH, what is this stuff!?”

With a laugh he gave the Unicorn a slap across the back, “Hot cup’a caff, liquid focus in a glass. That stuff’s dragged our people from one end’a the galaxy to other five times over for centuries.”

Twilight gave him a weary glare before forcing another sip to pass down her throat, “Let me guess, they were trying to get away from this swill.”

“Give it a few years, Twilight, an’ you’ll start to hate it even more.” He stated with a smirk before leaving her to regain her senses.

Rolling her eyes she continued to force down the hot beverage using every bit of her restraint not to gag on the wretched drink. Forcing herself off the cot, she found herself barely able to keep her legs from wobbling. Her body trapped between wide awake and the demand to pass out from exhaustion enhancing every sensation tenfold.

With a grunt she followed after the Captain as best her sluggish form could grant her. A voice in the back of her mind kept telling her that he would lead her to Teth, an opportunity she couldn’t let slip by. She needed to face this monster for herself; the only way that would happen was if she stuck to Kad every step of the way.

Losing sight of him for a moment, she rounded the corner that lead to what had more or less become a sort of office and infirmary for Zex, “Just what in the haran is this!?” Her hooves came to stop near the doorway at the sound of anger that soaked Kad’s voice, just out of sight. Curiosity was always the mare’s biggest weakness. Slowly, she peeked her head around the corner to see what had him so angry.

Kad stood glaring at Zex, a knocked-over waste paper basket between the two of them. In the Captain’s hand was a crumpled piece of paper, he held it accusingly towards the dejected looking medic. From where she was hiding, Twilight could barely make out what was on the discarded paper, only able to see a number of strange symbols similar to the ones that showed up on her visor’s HUD and sketches that looked almost like ponies.

“Sir, I… I can explain,” Zex stammered out as he put his hands up in defense.

“Zex, I asked ya to look into possible armor mods an’ prosthetics, optional procedures,” He held up the paper in his hand for emphasis as he fought to keep his words in a hushed tone, “This stuff here ain’t nothin’ short’a butchery.”

“I know it looks bad, sir; it was a lack of judgment on my part is all,” Zex defended his actions all the more.

Kad glanced at the sleeping wounded and still soundly sleeping Pegasus in the corner, “Has anyone else seen this?”

“No, sir, just you,”

“Good,” Kad shoved the papers into Zex’s hands and snarled under his breath, “Take this osik out back an’ burn it, all of it.” Kad’s face slowly shifted from anger to disappointment, “I thought you were past this demagolka junk Zex…”

Zex stared at the notes for what seemed like an eternity before taking them back from Kad, “So did I…”

As Kad left the infirmary, Twilight quickly hugged the side wall, letting him pass her by. Maybe he was just too mad or focused; perhaps he didn’t even see the armored mare hiding in the hallway since he didn’t even give her a glance. Once he was well enough away, she quietly entered the room, “What the hay was that all about?”

Zex gave the Unicorn a scowl before gathering the rest of his ill conceived notes, “Nothing you need to worry about Cadet…”

“The senior members of my team are at each others’ throats; I think it’s only reasonable that I ask why.” She shot back at him. She might not have been considered a full-fledged warrior yet, but she had learned that one needed to hold their ground when confronting one of them.

Zex was quiet for a moment after her sharp words, “Tell me Twilight, on your world do you have a saying along the lines of ‘The road to ruin is paved with good intentions’?”

She nodded leaning her side against the door frame, “Of course, it’s a common lesson among all cultures of this world,” Putting a hoof to her chin she let herself muse out loud, “So you have the same lesson where you’re from as well. Fascinating that even with light-years of separation there are common tales and stories that exist on whole other worlds.”

“Indeed…” Zex muttered in reply as he strode towards the door allowing the Unicorn to join him in tow, “There was a man during a period of time known to the galaxy as the Mandalorian Wars. His name was Demagol,” He practically forced himself to spit the name out as he spoke it with great disdain, “And he was nothing short of a true and horrible butcher.”

Twilight quietly followed along with the medic as he gave her the history lesson, “During the war he sought to create Force wielding Mandalorians to serve as a counter against the Republic’s Jedi. The experiments that followed were horrible, they were our enemies but what he did to them, even to the children… what he did was unforgivable.”

Her stomach lurched a bit at the thought of what could have happened at the time, “It’s kind of hard to fathom sometimes, so much has happened throughout the galaxy and nopony was ever the wiser,” She turned the information over in her head for a time as things began to snap into place, “So that word the Captain called your work must mean… What is it you came up with?” She asked recoiling a bit in disgust.

Zex stopped a few feet outside the back door of the hospital. He looked to the stack of crumpled paper in his hand then back to Twilight, shaking his head, “A sin against everything we stand for.” He stated flatly as he produced a lighter and began to bring the flame to the paper.

The scientist in her took hold of the Pony’s actions as she quickly reached out and wrapped a forelimb around his arm, “Wait, but what if there was something we could learn from your theories? For all we know, this could change life as we know it for ponykind.”

His eyes grew cold and uncaring as he bore into her, “And are you willing to lose your soul just because you THINK it might help?”

“I… well, I mean…” She stammered against his question.

“Twilight, Demagol thought he could take apart the Force itself and put it back together for the Mandalorians, all he succeeded in doing was killing children. Do you want to walk the same path as one of the most hated men in galactic history?”

After a moment her grip on his arm loosened as she took a step back from him, “No… I’m so sorry…” Her gaze shifted to the ground in front of her as shame crawled its way through her. She had spent every moment of her life in the pursuit of knowledge and now she had come to learn the price some pay for it.

Zex set fire to the papers, letting the flames consume his work and the wind spread the ashes like petals on the wind. With a weak smile he placed a hand on the back of Twilight’s neck, running his hand through her mane soothingly, “Twilight, look at the Captain. He’s one of many in a new wave of Force using warriors, true Mandalorian Knights. We have the Force users that monster sought to create centuries ago, and we did it without his sick methods. You see, in the end, we succeeded without Demagol. You and your people will succeed without this too.”

A timid smile teased at the edges of her mouth as she watched the ashes fly away on the morning breeze. The scent left behind lingering in the air around them brought a touch of fear to the back of her mind. Canterlot; how much of her hometown was still intact, how much would be left after all of this was done? Slowly her gaze lifted to the distant peak where the crown jewel of Equestria was nestled. The only way she would know would be to climb the mountain alongside her new allies.

Far over the horizon, hints of the coming day were already starting to split the night away. Zex let out a tired sigh as he started towards the front of the hospital, “Come on Sparkle, don’t wanna be late for the briefing, do you?”

Everyone left that was able to fight, be they human, pony or anything in between had gathered in the main lobby of the hospital. The benches and chairs had been arranged in a circle around the holographic image of the city. Kad took a moment to look over his would-be platoon; they were looking ragged, tired and most importantly hungry to see this all come to an end. His eyes stopped on the Royal Guardspony he’d come to know as Gallant, the golden armor of his sect had been replaced with obviously salvaged armor plates from the dead Deathwatch. The sloppily pieced-together suit of armor was somewhat laughable, but it looked like it might do the job to protect the Unicorn. Shaking off the urge to break into laughter, he turned his attention to the hologram, “Alright folks, here it is; one last push an’ we’re done with this osik,”

Torb stepped forward, “After some deliberation, we have come up with this plan of attack for assaulting the capital city of Canterlot.” With a motion the image moved to the sewer grate, “Our main force will enter the city through the underground; once inside, it will be up to Sergeant Gallant to lead us through the catacombs to get us as close as possible to the palace.”

“I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to track thieves and the sort through those sewers, I can get you within spitting distance of the palace grounds,” The newly armored Unicorn stated proudly.

“While this is going on,” Torb shifted the image again to the far side of the mountain, “A stealth incursion team of Private Arkanna and Staff Sergeant Kell will scale the blind side of the mountain using rappelling equipment.”

“Never see us coming,” Kell stated coldly with a grim smirk as he nudged Arkanna.

“Let’s hope not,” Torb replied moving the image out to show the mountain as a whole, “During all of this, Cadets Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash will be using the unchecked cloud cover of the area to move in and provide logistic support on enemy movements.”

“We’re doing what, now?” The cyan Pegasus was more than confused by the large words.

The Chiss strategist couldn’t hold back the groan, “Hiding in the clouds and pointing out where the bad guys are…” Torb stated, dumbing it down a bit for her as he rubbed a sudden, growing soreness in temples.

“Oh, well that makes more-” Rainbow Dash froze mid sentence as she suddenly realized something important, “Wait, what the hay! I’m not going to be a part of the big battle!?”

Kad raised a brow at her outburst, “Got somethin’ to say ‘bout your assignment, Cadet Dash?”

“You bet I do,” She snarled stomping her hoof against the ground, “You’ve got me running RECON while the fight is on the ground! You need me in the fight Cap, no other pony here has as many kills as I do.” As the words left her mouth it quickly dawned on her that her friends were eyeing her uneasily. A cold lump of ice formed in her stomach as she looked around the room.

The shame of her outburst had only begun as Kad strode forward, “No, CADET, what I need is somePONY that can keep an eye on the enemy for me an’ let me know when I’m ‘bout to get a blaster shoved up my sheb!”

The booming anger in his voice caused her to cringe, the coldness in his gaze pushed her back a few steps, “I… I just…”

Crossing his arms over his chest Kad seemed to soften slightly, “What I need, Cadet Dash, is for you to make sure we all get out’a this alive. Without your eyes watchin’ out for us, we lose a vital edge against the enemy. Now, you ready to fall in?”

The tomboy mare smiled weakly as she gave the warrior a salute with her forelimb, “You can count on me Cap, none of those punks are gonna sneak up on you if I have anything to say about it!”

“If we’re all done, I have one last aspect of this briefing to cover,” Torb reminded the room, returning their attention to him, “Now, all of this hinges on one last aspect of the plan: our distraction at the front gates.” He stated motioning to Rarity, “Ms. Rarity, Apple and Pie will be posing as a group of merchants on their way to the capital with their loaded down wagon of goods. The guards on duty will no doubt stop them, confiscate their wares and more than likely turn them away. This is exactly what we want to happen.”

Twilight raised her hoof drawing attention to herself, “Why is this, Lieutenant?”

The Chiss smiled from ear to ear, eagerly looking forward to the chance to explain his grand gambit within the plan, “Very simple, we will have hidden the small handful of thermal detonators we still have within the goods. Once we give you girls the signal you’ll have to detonate them; the explosion will draw the majority of the Deathwatch forces out to investigate. We use this as a cover to break into the castle from the front while Arkanna and Kell find and neutralize Teth.”

The look on Twilight’s face was nothing short of disdain, “You want our friends to carry dangerous explosives to the front gate and HOPE the troopers there take it all away and kick them out?”

“They’ll have the detonator switches with them; if they get into trouble they can use the bombs then and there.” Torb stated casually.

“That’s not the point-” Twilight’s rant was stopped before it began as Applejack put a limb around her shoulder.

“Listen sugarcube, ya’ll been doin’ the fightin’ fer us this whole time,” A forced smile did little to hide the unease in her friend’s voice, “If we got a chance ta help some, then I wanna do my part.”

“It sounds super scary and all, but we can’t just sit around and do nothing while our friends are in trouble!” Pinkie happily added with a bubbling smile.

“Besides darling, I’ll be there to make sure everything goes according to plan.” Rarity proudly reassured her.

“You’ve all got your assignments,” Kad stated as he moved to the center of the room through the hologram, “I won’t lie to any of ya ‘bout our chances, it looks grim; they still got well over a hundred strong up there an’ all we got is one platoon’s worth’a folks. To top it all off, they not only got the high ground but the blasted castle to boot.”

“Everything hinges on us takin’ down Teth one way or another,” Kad looked to each of them as he spoke gauging their reaction, “It ain’t been an easy trip this far. Getin’ shot down twice on the same planet, fightin’ tooth an’ nail through dusty old ruins an’ then crashin’ a war ship into the planet. We have long since surpassed the point in which Teth and Deathwatch are gonna be underestimatin’ us. Well ya know what, that’s what bein’ in Epsilon Squad is all about!”

“We’re the under dogs, even amongst our own people we’re looked down on as the dregs an’ mad beasts of Mandalore,” His voice echoed with pride, “But every time they push us up against the wall we find a way to beat the odds. We’ve made a life out’a makin’ the impossible happen, with all odds against us we blast our way clear to the other side. We always manage, because that’s what we do, that’s why we’re Epsilon, that’s why we are MANDALORIANS!”

“Now I ain’t much for makin’ fancy speeches an’ the like. I’m a warrior, a verd, first and foremost, my actions speak for me. Now I aim to send one hell of’a message when I march up that hill out there, find that hut’uun chakaaryc an’ put my boot heel to his jaw!” He stated loudly as he pointed in the general direction of Canterlot, “Who here is comin’ with me?”

In response, Kad was answered with the sounds of weapons being loaded and readied and hooves stomping against the floor between excited cheers for a swift victory, “Then what’re ya lot waitin’ on, me to get all the blasted glory for myself? Let’s move out!”

As Epsilon and their new allies made their way out of the hospital they began breaking into their appointed teams. Arkanna and Kell were at the edge of the forest about off ahead of the rest of the teams when the soft spoken armor plated Pegasus mare landed alongside them, “Uhm, Arkanna, do you maybe have a moment please?”

“Of course mesh’la,” He stated with a smile tucking his helmet under his arm, “What’s on your mind?”

She fidgeted a bit nervously, “Well, I went and learned a little more Mando’a last night, I was hoping I could give you a message before we all head off, if that’s okay I mean…”

He gave her a soft smile while taking a knee to come face to face with her, “Yeah, that’d be just fine Fluttershy,” Indulging her before what very well may be their final fight was the least he could do for her, “What do you want me to know?”

Clearing her throat she quickly recalled the words she’d learned the night before and their pronunciations, “Ni kar'taylir darasuum gar ti an ner kar'rta,” She stated happily and proudly as she formed each word.

Her expression quickly changed to shock and confusion as Arkanna’s reaction was less than what she’d expected. The young warrior’s eyes had gone wide while it appeared as though ever drop of blood in his body had rushed to his head bringing a bright flush to his face, “Oh dear, did I say something wrong?”

“N-no, no you didn’t, there’s nothing wrong with what you said,” He was quick to defend her, “But, I mean, I just didn’t know you felt like that, well I’d hoped you might but, uh, I mean,”

Arkanna’s stuttering was cut short as Kell took the helmet from under the younger warrior’s arm and forced on over his head. Taking the boy by the collar of his armor he began dragging him away, “Come on Kid, we got work to do, talk to your girlfriend when we’re done.”

“Erm, uh, yes sir!”

Fluttershy was left surprised and flushed as the pair disappeared into the wilderness heading towards the mountain. She could feel her heart beating almost uncontrollably after Kell’s words, “G-girlfriend?”

Breaking in is the easy part

The afternoon sun hung high overhead, the faint rays of light able to escape the overgrown cloud cover illuminated the ground below. Epsilon and their allies had made quick progress through the forest to make as much time as they could to reach the base of the mountain. The mix of Aliens and Ponies alike approached the unattended sewer grate with caution, expecting a Deathwatch ambush to be waiting for them as soon as they exited the tree line.

Gallant made his way to the grate, his horn glowing, “Give me a minute, I’ll have the lock off.”

Large metallic fingers reached past him and gripped the bars tightly. With little to no effort, Traycn tore the aged grating off its hinges, tossing it unceremoniously over his shoulder.

The Unicorn Guardspony gave an annoyed sigh before glaring over his shoulder at the mass of weapons and armor, “Or we can cause more damage to our besieged capital, that works too.” He snarled.

“Sorry ‘bout that, Sergeant, but we’re in a bit of’a hurry if ya’ve forgotten,” Kad reminded him before pushing past and into the tunnel. Keeping his saber at the ready, he made his way into the tunnel, his visor’s various vision modes and motion tracker scanned the area. Once satisfied, he moved a bit further coming to a large open area, “Okay folks, all clear.” He alerted the rest of them over the com before alerting the other teams, “This is Uppercut broadcasting on all channels; we’re in. All other teams, status report, over.”

Dash’s voice came in first, loud and eager, “Cloud Eye here, over top of target now, nothing to report yet, over.”

Next came Rarity, “This is, ugh, Sucker Punch, ready and waiting for signal. Honestly, I don’t see why we had to get stuck with such a vulgar code name… Over.”

Finally Kell spoke up, “Ghost Team is in position and ready to move, over.”

Behind his visor a satisfied smile came across Kad’s lips, so far everything was going according to plan for a change, “Ghost Team, start climbin’, break. Cloud Eye, report anything that looks out of the ordinary, break. Sucker Punch, begin operation underhanded an’ stop complainin’ ‘bout your code name. Out.”

“Affirmative, vod. Ghost Team out.” Kell stated before giving the steep vertical rock surface he had and his comrade were going to have to scale, “So, you ever gone rock climbing, kid?”

Arkanna was busy loading up the ascension gun strapped to his gauntlet, “I grew up on Dxun, sir. I’ve climbed quite a few trees; never tried a mountain, though.” As soon as he felt the weapon was ready he turned his visor towards his superior, “What about you, Staff Sergeant? Ever done something like this during all those crazy adventures you guys are famous for?”

“Hah! Had to climb a sky scraper or three,” Kell joyfully recalled as he gave his own rappelling equipment a quick once over, “That counts right?”

“Whatever you say, sir,” Arkanna replied before firing his grappling hook up the side of the mountain. A satisfied grin came across the young warrior’s face as the metallic end of the seemingly endless length of liquid cable finally hit the rock surface he’d been aiming for. Powerful hooks sprang from either side of the grappling hook, digging deep into the side of the mountain before a drill built in for extra security bore deeper into the rock securing the rope. Arkanna gave the rope a few test tugs before he felt happy enough with it to start the very long climb.

Activating the retraction for the cables, the pair started the climb beneath the palace. The lack of combat had one unfortunate side effect for Arkanna, his mind began to wonder back to the village, back to what she’d said, ‘Ni kar'taylir darasuum gar ti an ner kar'rta,’ His mind kept replaying her words, that look of pride on her face, no hint of doubt in her eyes, “Did she really mean it…” He muttered to himself.

“She sure looked like she did.” Kell stated as he ascended alongside him.

Beneath his helmet, Arkanna’s face had become bright red with embarrassment, “I uh, I didn’t mean that, I meant-“

“Rookie, stop making excuses, will ya?” Kell chastised him, “The girl just confessed her love to you. You gotta man up, son.”

“I… I know,” He sighed shaking his head, “It’s just… I’ve only known her for a week, how could she feel so strongly?”

“I dunno man, maybe things work at a different pace on this planet,” Kell fought hard to keep his tone as serious as he could, smothering any urge to burst into laughter as his younger comrade continued to squirm, “She even went outta her way to learn the Mando’a to say it, to boot. Girl seemed pretty serious.”

Arkanna fell silent for a moment, the rushing wind and grind of the retracting rope filling in the gap, “Yeah…”

“So, you like her or what?”

Behind his visor Arkanna smiled softly to himself, the answer came easily to him, “Yeah, yeah I like her.”

“Then what’s the problem, kid? Tell her how ya feel when this is all over.”

He looked between Kell and the rest of their trip up before nodding to himself, “Okay, yeah, when this mission is over and Teth’s taken down, I’m gonna tell her how I feel!”

High above Canterlot, hidden behind a thick wall of clouds, a pair of Pegasus ponies surveyed the city below. Life high above the world had aided in the evolution of sharper eyes than any other pony race. A gift Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash were both hard at work putting to use as they trotted from one end of the cloud cover to the next, checking the ground below from behind a thick wall of hazy grey and white.

It was an uneasy sight even from their vantage point. A number of the buildings looked even worse than the wreckage of Ponyville after the fight there. The once solid white city had been darkened by tell-tale signs of blaster fire along the sides of the buildings. A few walls showed the now-familiar signs of small explosives and grenades. It turned their stomachs to think they held so little back against defenseless civilians.

Rainbow Dash let this stew before letting out a frustrated sigh, the destruction below her started to couple with something far more personal. She had given in to Kad’s orders but she still didn’t agree with them. She knew she was a way better fighter than Twilight ever was, she should be down there alongside the rest of them. Instead, she was watching the virtually empty streets, with the occasional couple of troopers marching about.

Part of her felt more than a bit jealous, like she’d been nudged aside for the new favorite, wasn’t it enough for Twilight to have both of the Princesses in her corner? No, now she would have the Captain in her pocket too. What was next? The Wonderbolts? These thoughts started to wrench her gut even more. How could she think that about her friend? It didn’t feel right, but it wasn’t easy to ignore, either. She quickly bit back on these thoughts; she needed to stay focused, everypony was counting on her. In the fight or not, she’d show them she could handle anything they threw at her.

“Do you think I said something wrong to him?” Fluttershy broke the silence that had grown heavy between the two.

“Huh, I dunno,” Dash casually shrugged her worry off as she watched a small collection of troopers chatting each other up in an alleyway, “Are you sure you said the words right?”

Fluttershy nodded, “Very, I said everything the Staff Sergeant told me I should say,” With an exasperated sigh, she let her head hang sadly, “I just can’t understand why he’d look so shocked.”

Dash nodded along with her friend’s words as she continued to monitor the streets and rooftops below. Something wasn’t sitting right with her, “Hey Fluttershy, which direction is the main shopping district?”

The other Pegasus thought for a moment before trotting along the clouds, “It should be somewhere around… Here I think.” She indicated with a jab of her hoof against the fluffy surface.

Digging at the cotton with the tips of their hooves, the pair managed to make a few small peep holes to survey the ground below. Peering down, sure enough they’d found the market district but something still felt wrong, “Where is everypony?” Dash asked in frustration.

Sure enough, much like before, the streets seemed deserted save for the occasional Deathwatch trooper. There wasn’t a pony to be seen anywhere. Even with the city under occupation, ponies had lives, jobs, bits to earn and spend. But everything was still, an empty quiet strangled the cityscape. Doors to homes and shops hung ajar; most looked to have been kicked down or blasted off their locks.

A sinking feeling started to form in Fluttershy’s gut as the worst possible outcome came to mind first, “You… You don’t think they…” She gasped out in horror.

Dash shook her head, “Sweet Celestia, I hope not…” Her eyes narrowed as she glanced back at Fluttershy, “We need to call this in.”

After receiving a confident nod of approval Dash tapped the tapped the comlink built into her head set, “Uppercut, this is Cloud Eye, over…” There was nothing on the other side of the line but a few grains of static, “Uppercut, this is Cloud Eye, over…” Still no answer, “Horse apples, what the hay is wrong with this piece of junk?” She snarled as she continued to activate the com just like they’d shown her.

Fluttershy watched her friend fumble with the technology for a moment until a strange shadow caught her eye. Its shape was oddly familiar to her as it glided along the surface of the clouds, growing larger at a regular pace. Slowly she turned her gaze skyward in time to see the belly of a craft descending right on top of them. It’s build was very similar to the shuttle they’d used to reach the frigate, but this one in particular had much more girth to its design. Gasping in terror, she quickly tackled Rainbow Dash and forced her into the clouds themselves.

“What in the-“ Her words were cut short as her friend’s hoof quickly moved around her mouth to keep her silent. Before she could react the rumble of engines filled her ears and the physical shake from their back wash engulfed her as the drop ship passed mere feet away from through the clouds. Fear dug harshly into the back of her spine as the outline of the vessel drifted through the hazy grey of the clouds towards the ground.

Pulling herself free of Fluttershy’s grip, Rainbow Dash risked a tiny peek at where the ship was headed. Much to her dismay, it was on its way towards the heart of the city, what laid there destroyed every fiber of hope she was clinging to. There were twice as many soldiers as they were told to expect gathered at the center of the city. Lining up and disembarking from their dropships, weapons in hand they began forming up into teams and moving into the city. Despite her best efforts, Rainbow couldn’t for the life of her count how many there were.

She could feel her rage starting to build to a fever pitch as she watched a line of ponies in chains being lead from a large warehouse near the square. Twenty in all, they ranged in age from what looked to be middle aged to closer to herself. Mares and Stallions of all different breeds were being forced onto the empty dropship, huddling together in fear.

One young Unicorn colt with a dark grey coat and silver mane quietly managed to slip his bonds with a small application of magic. Wasting no time, he took off like a bolt for the nearest alleyway only to be blindsided by one of the troopers, knocking him to the ground. Several of them gathered around the colt, having a good laugh at the pained look on his face before one of them slammed the butt of his rifle into his face. This was just the opening strike to a shower of blows that rained down on the stallion.

Dash was on the verge of lunging down into the middle of the crowd of soldiers until she felt something wrap around her torso. Ripping her eyes away from the beating, she looked over to Fluttershy who couldn’t look away from the sight before them. Her eyes were welling up with tears as they watched in horror. Quiet sobs escaped her mouth as she held onto Dash as tightly as she could.

Finally when the pony stopped trying to fight back, he was taken by his mane and dragged back towards the waiting shuttle craft. Unceremoniously, his body was thrown into the hold of the ship, several ponies quickly moving to check on the young colt’s condition. As the ship’s engines began to hum to life, the doors slid shut and its bulbous body started to rise up into the air with ease.

Rainbow gritted her teeth; she couldn’t stand bullies, but there was no way just the two of them, more likely in a fight just her, could take on what looked to be hundreds of enemy soldiers alone. But at least now they knew where all the missing ponies had gone, “We have to get a hold of the Captain, somehow.”

Guard duty, one of the most boring jobs anyone could get tapped for. Especially on a planet that could offer little to no resistance to the current invading force. PFC Persephone Kraus was currently stuck with this most loathed of assignments. A fresh warrior from the Deathwatch recruitment drives, she had indulged her much beloved blood lust during the sacking of Canterlot. Now her talents were being wasted at the front gate to the city alongside six others.

Her mind had nearly settled on getting one of her squadmates to shoot her in the leg so she could at least leave this boring rock when something on the horizon caught her attention. Zooming in with her helmet’s built in electro-binoculars, she settled on the image of an approaching wagon piled down with a random assortment of goods pulled by three Equestrians. A blonde haired, orange one; and a solid white horned one with a purple mane and tail along with a bright pink one that looked as though she stuck her tongue in a light socket to style her hair. All three had one thing in common: each one was dressed up in a uniform-looking beret hung over their left ear.

Glancing back at her comrades, Kraus strode forward with a pair of troopers at her back to intercept the cart before it got too close to the city, “Hold it right there,” She commanded placing a hand on the grip of her rifle, “What’s your business here in the city?”

The Unicorn strode forward to meet her, seeming less effected by the normally rather intimidating armor than her friends, “Why hello there, dear! My compatriots and I are most certainly here for business. Rarity, of the Manehattan commerce guild,” She stated proudly as she offered a hoof to Kraus.

The PFC simply stared at the limb and teased with the idea of simply blasting her head off her shoulders, “Yeah, and?”

A look of disappointment came across Rarity’s features as she retracted her hoof, “Aaaaanyway, my co-workers and I are here to bring our latest shipment of goods to the Canterlot market.” She looked past the three troopers in her way to the others still at the gate, “Might I ask, where are the usual guards? Come to think of it, who are all of you?”

Kraus tightened her grip on her weapon; she could try pointing it at her to get the point across, but from what she knew of these primitives they’d just stare in curiosity, “The city is under ‘New management.’ Now, I suggest you and your friends turn around leave immediately.”

Rarity gave an exasperated gasp at this information, “Whaaaat?! But you can’t expect us to drag this cart ALL the way back to Manehattan!” She motioned to the piles of barrels and crates loaded up high, “It was bad enough to find Ponyville a ghost town; if we go back with everything we left with, we’ll lose our commissions!”

“PFC Kraus,” The voice of her commanding officer caused her to jump to attention as she bit back a few curses, “Is there a problem over here?”

“No, sir,” Persephone quickly responded, “Just dealing with some merchants who can’t take a hint.”

“Miss Rarity,” The blond one spoke up with a rather formal and fluent accent flavoring her words, “Perhaps we should do as the good lady suggests and turn back.” She pleaded.

“Nonsense Jacquelyn, I will not be deterred,” She stated flatly waving off her cohort before trotting towards the soldier in charge, “Good day, sir. My name is Rarity; these are Jacquelyn and Pinkamena, we represent the Manehattan commerce guild,” She stated offering him her hoof with a playful bat of her eyes.

Beneath his helmet the aged trooper couldn’t help but smirk a bit before taking her hoof lightly in his grasp, “Charmed; Sergeant Garlan,” He declared with a strong hint of pride, “I’m afraid, Miss Rarity, that Private First Class Kraus is correct, however. The city is under lock down for the time being.” He kept his tone formal yet relaxed.

“Oh, but I’m sure you could find it in your heart to help out a lady in distress?” Rarity asked with a teasing pout.

Kraus’s stomach was about to turn over at this blatant display going on in front of her. Her hand begged her body to reach for the trigger and put an end to this high class trollop before she became any more of a nuisance, “Sir, I really don’t think we have time for this.”

This was clearly the wrong thing to say, “And I think we have more than enough time to kill, Kraus,” Her Sergeant’s tone made her flinch, “You three, help them unload the cart. That means you too, Kraus!”

Slinging her rifle, Persephone grabbed the nearest crate with an annoyed grumble. She was however thankful the pair of Earth breeds was willing to do their part and help move the goods. The bright pink pony moved up alongside her with a barrel on her back, “Hi there!” The bubbly tone of the unusually chipper pony burrowed through the back of Kraus’ skull, “I’m Pinkamena, Pinkamena Diane Pie, but most ponies just call me Pinkie. So your name is Kraus huh? That’s a really weird name. You seem like a really weird creature though, but that’s okay because I’ve always believed that we’re all the same deep down. So what are you all, anyways? You don’t walk on all fours so I know you’re not a pony of any kind, and you don’t have wings so you’re not a gryphon-“ It took everything Kraus had not to slam the crate she was carrying into the side of Pinkie’s head before stabbing her repeatedly with her wrist blade.

The work was swift, if not more than a little annoying with all the constant chattering and yapping from Pinkie over every teeny tiny detail and random thought that entered her mind. She had pestered Persephone on everything from where she grew up, how many friends she had, what her favorite sweets were and what kind of parties she liked best, “Well, now that we have that all out of the way, I believe it’s time we discussed payment.” Rarity’s words worked her last nerve.

Risking the backlash of breaking rank, Kraus leveled her weapon with the ponies, “Okay, I’ve been playing nice long enough. We unloaded your cart, now you want us to PAY you?” Flicking the safety off, she fired a few rounds into the ground around them to show off what her rifle could do, “How about you scurry on down that trail before I decide to pay you one blaster bolt at a time!”

Rarity stood her ground despite the dust being kicked up around her hooves by bursts of kinetic energy. Her eyes leveled on Kraus, becoming a harsh glare, “Madam, we are merchants delivering our goods, we don’t do this for FREE!” She snarled out at the trooper. Kraus was more than a little taken aback by this show of bravery. Rarity, however, had dealt with her kind before: ponies bullying and glowering her into selling for cheaper prices than what was already marked, “I have had to put up with thieves and bandits all the way here and if you think for one second I am about to walk away without payment,”

“Miss Rarity, perhaps we should just call this one a loss,” Her blonde counterpart pleaded.

“No no no no no no, I shall not be pushed around by armored thugs!” She declared while staring down the now livid Deathwatch trooper.

“Alright, that’s it!” Persephone brought her weapon to bare dead on with the Unicorn, the shot never came, however, as her rifle was wrenched from her hands and used to slap her upside the helmet.

Tumbling to the ground, Kraus looked up to see her Sergeant standing over her with the rifle in hand, “I don’t believe I gave you permission to discharge your weapon, Kraus!”

His yelling did little to help with the ringing in her head after the blow, “Sir, I can explain…”

“Shut up and pay the woman, Kraus,” Garlan growled out at her as he proceeded to turn the weapon on its former owner.

With some hesitation, she proceeded to reach into one of her belt pouches, producing a small pile of credits that had been magnetically held together in a neat stack. Giving it one last, sad look, she tossed the credits to Rarity who proceeded to snag the alien currency in a soft blue magical field. She floated the credits in front of her for a moment as she examined them curiously, “I don’t suppose you have any bits?”

“You might wanna hold onto those, ma’am,” Garlan pointed out to her, “After your planet gets colonized you’ll be able to live like a queen on those things.”

Far below the streets of Canterlot, the aptly named Team Uppercut trudged their way through the underground tunnels. It was rather surprising just how clean the majority of the sewers had been kept, but this did little to vanquish the typical scents that hung heavy in the stagnant air. To the best of his knowledge, the guardspony Gallant led the way through the seemingly endless twists and turns.

“We should be coming close to the surface soon,” He called back to his charges.

“Thank Celestia,” Twilight muttered bitterly, “I’d kill for fresh air at this point.”

“Knowing how our plans go, you’ll probably have to,” Zex was quick to remind her.

“I welcome the coming slaughter.” Traycn was nearly salivating at the thought.

Kad paid the chatter around him little mind; something felt off. It was in the air around the city, like a shroud had been laid over top of it. Something within the Force was eating away at his gut again; something was just out of sight, and it was taunting him. Activating his comlink he sought to gain some kind of insurance by way of his scattered team mates, “All teams, this is Uppercut. Status report, over.”

This was something he didn’t want, the worst possible thing at this moment in time. The coms were filled with dead air, “I say again, this is Uppercut, broadcasting on all channels. All teams, status report, over.” The static across the channels only served to further his agitated feelings, “Haar’chak, thought this problem got fixed when the veil dropped…”

“It’s probably just interference from the rocks,” Torb was quick to offer the most likely solution, “It should clear up once we get to the surface.”

At the rear of the formation Mackers scanned about the area from behind his rifle, “Coms nothing, does anyone else feel like we’re being watched?”

“Tolik, keep your boy in line will ya.” Kad ordered.

Tolik gave an annoyed sigh before looking back at the nervous trooper, “Mackers, you keep embarrassing me in front of the psychopaths and I’ll take you out back and beat you.”

“Seriously kid, probably some homeless wretches wonderin’ ‘bout the armored aliens trudgin’ through their place.” Kad assured him.

Almost as if on cue, a blue and gold blur slammed into Mackers from the shadows. The former Deathwatch trooper found himself being violently wrestled across the sewer floor, knocking his rifle from his hands and even knocking his helmet off. Mackers had little to go on as far as whom and or what was on top of him; the darkness of the tunnels combined with the speed of this assailant made it nearly impossible to tell. One thing was certain, it was female. It was easy for him to tell from the sound of her voice as she cursed and cussed at him, the faint hint of her shampoo despite the surroundings and a hint of sweat.

Though a small, twisted part of him enjoyed the roughness and attention, he wasn’t about to let whoever she was beat the tar out of him. In between her flurried blows he managed to position his foot on her chest. Forcing his strength into his knee, he was able to force her off of him and attain some breathing room. Not wanting to lose the advantage, the defector sprang forward after his attacker, landing fully on her back and pinning her to the ground with his forearm behind the base of her neck. From his gauntlet, his jagged combat blade sprang forth and was quickly pressed to the side of her neck.

“Okay lady, I enjoy rough foreplay, but you’re starting to get on my nerves.” He snarled into her ear, “Now why did you attack me, and why didn’t any of you guys…“ He stopped halfway through his speech as he finally looked up to see a rather large, motley collection of ponies surrounding the rest of his team mates, “Help… me… Uh, hi there. We come in peace?”

His attacker used this distraction to force herself free of his grip and immediately spin around to face him with a swift blow to his chin with her forelimb. Mackers could see for the brief moment that she was a Pegasus with a fiery blonde and red mane and tail and a dark golden coat. Her form was clad in the tattered remains of a blue and gold form-fitting uniform that the galactic pervert had to admit hugged her quite nicely. It was clear from her weathered appearance and tell-tale cuts, bruises and scorch marks in her fur that she had seen her share of heavy action as of recently. When the blow connected, his whole world went blurry with pain, sending him back a few feet onto his hindquarters.

“Jeez lady, what is your freaking problem with me!?” He yelled out in annoyance as he rubbed his face.

“Maybe she’s one of the ones you never called back?” Yazan snickered at him before the earth pony flanking him gave him a glare.

Traycn’s grip on his weapon tightened as he looked over the assembled force. His mind started to quickly paint targets on them each in turn as he mentally plotted the possible slaughter lined up before him. Even with numbers and their “magic,” they could never be a threat to him. Maybe he could start things out by breaking their wills, snap one in half with ease, splatter the entrails across the room and make them wear their allies. Yes, the blood and shattered bone scattered across the room would make for a lovely, soul-breaking scene, in his opinion.

Kad could feel this bubbling bloodlust swelling up inside his comrade and quickly placed himself between the one armed beast and the ponies, “Whoa now, think we all’d best just calm down b’fore someone gets hurt.”

“I agree,” A male voice spoke up from the crowd, as if on command they parted letting him through. He was a Unicorn of some clear refinement from the way he carried himself through the room, head held high and commanding look in his eye, a jagged cut running through the left one beneath a placation of bandages. His coat was a solid white, accentuated by a well-kempt, blue mane and tail brought together by a mustache. On his form was a black turtle neck shirt with an obviously stolen utility belt worn around his torso as if it were a bandolier, and a blaster pistol holstered near his hip.

The pony eyed Kad and Traycn up and down a moment, “Hmmm, you seem different from the invaders, but only slightly… Who are you and what are you doing here with Deathwatch?”

“Former Deathwatch,” Tolik was quick to snarl at the pony holding their lives at the moment. Gallant was quick to roughly prod his side with his hoof for his outburst.

“They’re aliens, same as the ones up top; we should be killing them, not talking to them, Fancy Pants!” The fire haired Pegasus snapped.

Through his bruised ego and jaw, Mackers couldn’t help but snicker at this, “Fancy Pants? That’s your leader’s name? Man, do you ponies name each other on drunken dares or something?”

She quickly spun around and cracked a hoof across his face again, this time drawing a steady trail of blood from the side of his mouth. Mackers doubled over, holding his face and spitting up some more red, “Gah, okay, I deserved that one…”

Twilight had kept herself sandwiched between Zex and Traycn when the other ponies appeared. In the back of her head she had been going through her extensive list of spells trying to find one to defuse this situation until, “Fancy Pants?” She quickly forced herself into the open, meeting eye to eye with the stallion bringing with it a rush of joy, “It is you!”

Fancy Pants felt his jaw almost hit the floor at the sight of her, “Wait, Twilight Sparkle, from the Canterlot Garden Party?”

“So they’re employing other ponies to do their dirty work now,” She turned a wrathful eye to Mackers as she mentally tore him limb from limb, “If you think we won’t kill our own…”

Rubbing the pain out of his jaw Mackers glared back at the Pegasus, “At the risk of getting punched again, I don’t even know who she is, ya shabuir.”

Spitfire entertained the idea of slamming her hoof into Macker’s face again before she looked back to the stallion in charge, “Fancy, you know who this mare is?”

“Of course,” He stated happily, “This is Twilight Sparkle, a student of Princess Celestia and one of the Elements of Harmony.” He regarded her armored companions wearily, “Though it would seem she is keeping rather… Odd company, these days.”

Twilight smiled weakly, “I can explain that,”

“Please do, Miss Element.” Spitfire snorted indignantly.

She chose to ignore the edgy Pegasus and stay focused on the fellow Unicorn, “Fancy Pants, these soldiers, they aren’t with the Deathwatch,” Twilight reassured him as she lifted her visor band to look him in the eye properly, “They call themselves Mandalorian Neo Protectors; they’ve sworn themselves to Princess Luna herself and are here to help liberate the city.” She looked from him to the rest of the ragged ponies assembled, “I know none of you have a reason to trust me or these warriors, but I swear to you as Celestia’s personal student and the Element of Magic, we're here to defeat Teth and stop the Deathwatch!”

“In short,” Kad added, “We’re tryin’ to save your shebs. Now either get on board or get out of our way.”

An awkward silence hung in the air as everypony glanced between each other, “Miss Sparkle,” Fancy Pants broke the silence, “That is a rather tall promise to make, considering what’s happened in the last few hours.”

“Oh good, I was wondering when that little catch was going to pop up and completely derail our plans.” Zex chimed in sarcastically.

Kad gave Zex a warning glare from behind his visor before looking back to Fancy Pants, “What’s the situation here in the city?”

“I’m afraid it’s becoming quite dire top side,” Fancy Pants stated sadly as he began to lead them through the tunnels, “Early this morning, more of these Deathwatch ruffians began showing up. This time was different from the sacking of the city, they were more organized, methodical and controlled. During the first attack they were like wild beasts shooting anypony that showed an ounce of resistance. Many of the city’s population escaped to the underground during the attack.”

As they passed through the tunnels Zex took note of a number of wounded ponies lined up along the tunnel walls. A few of them being treated by a frantic looking medical staff, “You did good getting your people to safety,” He praised them.

“I’m afraid we aren’t much,” Fancy sighed, “We’re just shop keepers, merchants, police a small hooffull of survivors from the local garrison and what members of the guard weren’t butchered. We’ve stolen a few weapons here and there and are making things hard for Deathwatch, but I’m afraid we can’t put a dent in their force now.”

“You mentioned more of them showing up,” Torb reminded him.

“Yes, more of their ships flew in and began unloading troops in the early hours just before sunrise,” Fancy recounted, “They swept through the city, capturing everypony they could get their claws on. The oddest thing was they went out of their way to keep as many alive as they could. Preferring to subdue their prey rather than outright kill them. Since then, they’ve been loading ponies onto their ships and taking them away.”

“Slaves,” Torb stated flatly, “A practice that Mand’alor Fenn Shysa put an end to after forcing the Imperials from this region of space.”

Everypony in ear shot had a sudden look of shock and disgust on their faces, “They’re taking them as slaves!?” One pony in particular spoke up angrily.

“All the more reason for us to finish this mission,” Kad stated rather coldly. Part of him felt bad for all this trouble he and his crew had brought to their doorstep, but if he wanted to help them he’d have to get to the surface. Getting all emotional wouldn’t do any good, “Torb, tell me ya got a way to salvage things.”

Beneath his helmet’s blank expression the Chiss grinned from ear to ear, “I always have a plan, Captain. Provided these brave fighters are ready to throw off their invaders.”

Rainbow Dash had caught something in the distance, from the corner of her eye that made her instinctively pull back into the clouds. It was a shimmer in the distance, like a piece of glass reflecting sunlight. The shimmer had come from a burnt-out clock tower that had a rather good view of the entire city. Glancing back at Fluttershy, she motioned for her to follow and keep quiet.

The pair made their way through the clouds as quietly and cautiously as they could, not wanting to risk going above the fluffy white and grey cover, lest a drop ship on its way down spot them, and certainly not wanting to go below and risk drawing enemy fire. They did their best not to disrupt the clouds as they slinked their way over the city to Rainbow Dash’s target.

Once they were overtop of the tower, Dash risked another peek through the cotton and found what she was afraid she’d seen. The barrel of rifle just barely stuck out of the window, slowly adjusting itself every few minutes. Someone was in there, and they had the majority of the city in his sights.

Dash nudged Fluttershy before motioning to the tower. Fluttershy bit down on her lip and shook her head no, hoping to deter her oldest friend from doing something that might get both of them killed. Unfortunately, Dash had other plans as she let herself quietly slip beneath the clouds. Swallowing hard, she forced herself to follow after her. The city had always been an intimidating thing to behold, but there was a kindness in the air during her past visits. As it stood now, Fluttershy felt as though she was flying near the pointed fangs of a dragon ready to snap shut on her if she got too close or alerted it to her presence.

The pair silently hovered down to the window in the opposite wall and found a lone Deathwatch trooper with a rifle on his shoulder. He was scanning the skies in the distance rather intently. Had he seen Dash?

If he had, he wouldn’t be alive long enough to make it matter. This thought motivated and drove the speedster as she reached onto her belt and drew her knife between her teeth. In her mind she plotted out how to go about this, all the angles to come at him, the different ways to use the knife and surprise to her advantage. It wasn’t until she tasted a bit of salt on her tongue that she realized she was sweating bullets.

She could feel Fluttershy’s eyes on her - she knew what they looked like right now: sad, frightened and begging for another way. Rainbow Dash knew if she looked her in the eye, there would be no way she could do what had to be done. Taking a deep breath through her nostrils and holding it, Dash let herself drift through the broken-out window he had his back to.

Dash refused to let her hooves touch the ground, knowing they’d make too much noise and take away any chance she had of making this as quick and clean as she could. Digging her teeth into the hilt, she slowly glided over the wooden floor like a soft breeze until she was inches away from her prey. Her eyes narrowed on the back of his skull. With a quick motion she wrapped her forelimbs around the faceplate of his helmet and yanked back while her other limb wrapped as tightly around his torso as she could, pulling him back into her. She brought her blade into his neck and with a swift motion of her neck, dragged the metal through his skin.

She felt the hot liquid soaking her forelimb through her armor and underlay as the metallic sting filled her nostrils once again. As his body went limp with a sudden shudder, she flapped her wings rapidly to make up for the shift in weight. She managed to lay his body out on the floor with some effort.

Satisfied that he was in fact dead, Dash finally allowed herself to breathe. Her breaths came fast and shallow as she continued to keep her body and mind from panicking. Not over the body or the smell of blood that had been staining her nostrils since the frigate; it was panic for the pony behind her. Fluttershy had seen her fair share of death since this adventure started, but now she’d seen Dash take a life personally. She refused to turn around - didn’t want to look her in the eye, see that horror and disappointment on her face, “We don’t have long. Look around and see if you can find anything useful.”

“R… Rainbow Dash…” Fluttershy stammered as she awkwardly landed inside the room. Her eyes glued to the bloody corpse at her friend’s hooves, “You… You just…”

“Fluttershy,” Rainbow Dash was surprised by the harsh growl in her own voice when she said her name, “We don’t have time for you to start blubbering and getting squeamish.” She finally forced herself to look back at her friend, her heart breaking slightly as she saw a few stray tears rolling down her cheeks, “Now help me, please. I need you right now.”

Fluttershy fought to summon up the courage to move further into the room. She couldn’t take her eyes off the corpse on the floor. She’d only seen the dead at a distance so far, and the effects of a blaster compared to those of a knife were very different. But what hurt the most was seeing her childhood friend performing the deed. Dash was right though, she had to be brave and she had to stay in control. For Rainbow Dash, for the other ponies all counting on her, for the Captain and for, “Okay… I… I’ll try…”

Dash let out a sigh as she trotted over to the rifle still set up in the window. Curiosity getting the better of her, she lifted the weapon up in her forelimbs and brought her eye to the scope. She scanned along the city center, watching the soldiers coming and going. Under her breath, Dash cursed whatever twist of fate saddled her and the rest of pony kind with hooves rather than fingers as the cross hairs settled on the head the trooper who started the beating earlier.

“Rainbow Dash,” Fluttershy’s voice quietly tugged at her ear.

Glancing back at her friend, she found her standing next to a strange looking box. It sat with the top open and a long antenna sticking out of the top of it. There was a mass of buttons and knobs and glass screens built into it, “What the hay is that?” Whatever it was, there was no way it was made by ponies, “It looks important, you’d better smash it to be safe.”

“Uhm, are you sure, I mean, it looks expensive…” Fluttershy questioned, “What if something really bad and scary happens when it’s broken?”

Rainbow Dash narrowed her eyes, “Look, that thing wasn’t put here by anypony, It has to belong to Deathwatch, so we’re smashing it.”

“O… Okay…” Fluttershy took a deep breath as she reared herself back on her hind legs and let out a soft grunt as her hooves daintily connected with the side of the device. She forced an awkward smile at her friend.

Rainbow rolled her eyes in annoyance as she took the rifle out of the window and trotted over to the box. Taking the weapon in her forelimbs, she brought it down as hard as she could on the device, causing it to dent inwardly from the force of the blow. The weapon and equipment both seemed to be holding up a bit, so for good measure she slammed the weapon like a club into it several more times. Eventually, all that was left was a sparking mass of metal and wires, “There we go; that’s how you smash stuff like a pro.”

It was at this point a crackle came in on Dash’s comlink that caused her to freeze up and smile excitedly, “I say again for the tenth time, this is Uppercut to all teams: what is your status, does anyone have their ears on? Over.”

Are we there yet?

Dash felt as though she was about to jump out of her skin at the sound of the voice on the other side of the comlink, “Cl-Cloud Eye here, reporting in, Cap!” She cursed herself under her breath for the way her voice cracked slightly while addressing her commanding officer. Very uncool of her, “Uhm, over.”

“Finally, been tryin’ to get someone for the past hour,” From the sound of things Kad hadn’t noticed her slight outburst, “Status report. Over.”

With a quick, steadying breath Rainbow Dash forced herself to become serious again, “We found the city mostly deserted, and the cause is they’re loading ponies onto their ships and taking them away. From the look of things, they’re keeping ‘em locked up in the warehouses near the market district. Over.”

“Good work Cloud Eye, a right fine recon,” Her superior’s praise brought a proud smile to her face, “Don’t worry ‘bout the captives, Torb’s puttin’ together a team usin’ some volunteers we found down here. He’ll have ’em free and causin’ trouble for Deathwatch soon enough, should make a good show.” This news helped raise the spirits of both Pegasi eliciting a sigh of relief, “Main concern right now though is Ghost Team and Sucker Punch. Can’t raise either of ’em.”

Rainbow Dash glanced at the sparking wreckage in the corner, “Well, we found this metal box thing in a clock tower, after we smashed it we were able to talk to you again. Over.”

She heard him groan something explicit, “Jammers, was afraid of that. Looks like they’ve been expectin’ us, good thing we didn’t plan to stand ’em up. If they’re movin’ on schedule then Sucker Punch’s already dropped off the goods.” And if Dash knew Rarity, she knew that she was anything if not punctual, “Knowin’ Kell, he’s goin’ through with his part of the plan, regardless. I need you to get Sucker Punch’s attention to set off the fireworks then rendezvous with Ghost Team before they walk into a trap with no back up. Over.”

Snapping a salute to nopony in particular with her forelimb, Dash puffed out her chest, “Don’t worry Cap; leave everything to me! Cloud Eye out!”

As her com shut off she suddenly noticed the confused look in Fluttershy’s eyes, “Uhm, Rainbow Dash… How are we going to do all of that?”

“I don’t know, but we have to find a way; everypony is counting on us.” She stated with an air of determination. Her eyes scanned over the room, there had to be something in here they could use. Finally they stopped on the dead trooper, “Hmmm, maybe our new friend here can help…”

Fluttershy bit back the churning in her stomach as Dash rolled him over onto his side and started rifling through the dead man’s pockets and pouches, “I… I really don’t think this is okay…” She said, desperately trying to deter her friend’s new course of action.

Rainbow Dash however paid her pleading little mind, “Look, I’m not doing this for fun; maybe he’s got something we could start a fire with or… Wait a second… Fluttershy, look at these.”

Trotting a little closer, she soon found what leant a hint of excitement to Rainbow Dash’s voice. In her hooves she had a pair of metallic balls that the pair had seen a number of times already, wielded by friend and foe alike, “Are… Those, what I think they are?”

Try as she might, Dash couldn’t wipe the smile from her muzzle, “If they are, then we just found a way to signal Rarity and the others.”

Fluttershy smiled weakly at this revelation. She was happy that these devices would help them keep the rest of their friends safe, but it still saddened the kind hearted mare to no end that it would still cause others to get hurt. Violence only ever breeds more violence, but Deathwatch had proven their majority to be beyond simple acts of good will. In her musings, something new entered her mind, “Uhm, Rainbow Dash… I uh, I don’t know how to use a grenade, do you?”

Dash paused a moment before staring blankly at the tiny orbs of destruction, her ears began to droop along with her confidence, “Well buck…”

Kad let out a sigh of relief as the comlink was cut off; maybe this plan would work, after all. Taking a moment, he regarded what was left of his team for assaulting the palace. With some reluctance he had agreed to Torb’s plan to take the defectors with him and rally the rest of the resistance to free the captives and fight back, leaving Kad with Traycn, Zex and Twilight to make the attack on the castle. Ideally, he’d prefer to attack the city with close air support and an artillery barrage all backed up by a full company, but the chances of that were looking more than a little slim to him.

His gaze rested on their Equestrian ally. Her large, expressive eyes made it easy for him to read her with or without the Force. Kad could easily tell she was more than a little apprehensive about the way things were going. What he found odd was how willing she was to follow along with the plan, “We need to double-time it to the surface; show’s ‘bout to start.”

Torb let himself be led by Fancy Pants back to the main tunnels, “Are you absolutely sure about this plan of yours, erm… Torb, was it?”

“I see little option otherwise, my friend,” Torb sighed, “You lack weapons and training, but you have numbers and possibly even surprise. But the most important tool of all will be giving them drive.”

“But they aren’t fighters,” His companion reminded him, “There are only a hooffull of experienced soldiers here and most of them have lost all hope after the first attack.” The stallion hung his head dejectedly, “Now with all that’s happened since this morning, any fire they had has died.”

Torb removed his helmet and tucked it under his arm. In the dim lighting of the underground, his dark blue skin and raven hair made him almost melt into the shadows around him. The eerie glow of his crimson cybernetic eye shone brightly in the inky dark. Despite this, his smile held a disarming softness to it, “Then I will rekindle it.”

As they made their way to where the majority of the displaced citizens were gathered, the Chiss strode to the center of the room, looking about at the tired, hopeless faces around him. He reminded himself that he’d done more with less in the past, “People of Canterlot, why have you surrendered?” His words came out stern and loud as he connected with every eye he could, “Do you not see what I see? You are on the cusp of victory, and yet here you sit in the darkness and filth while your city lays besieged by mongrels!”

A number of faces in the crowd showed the expected result of confusion, a few seemed bemused by his efforts, “You see them coming to your world in greater force; what you fail to see is that this means others are on their way. The Protectors are on their way! There is no way they can turn a blind eye to this world and there is no way they will let Deathwatch do as they please. But until they arrive, you cannot stop your fight!”

He could feel it, he had every eye on him now, every ear hanging on his words, “Right now Deathwatch is taking your friends, your neighbors and your FAMILIES. They will put them in chains and sell them to the highest bidder if we do not act!”

“What do you expect us to do, alien?” Torb was beginning to wonder if anyone would take his bait.

“Fight! Fight with your pride and your courage, fight until you are free!” He bellowed to the crowd.

“They have weapons the likes of which nopony’s ever seen,” Another random face called out, “What you’re asking for is suicide!” Angry murmurs from the crowd joined in on this sentiment.

“If that is the case then fight to your last breath!” Torb snapped back at them, “Fight for every inch of ground, fight for every grain of dirt. If every one of us dies this day, then let them say we did so with a ferocity that shook the galaxy!”

He could feel their rising emotions all around him; he nearly had them, “Ponies of Canterlot, your people need you. Who here will go to them?”

Through the murmurs and concerned mumbles the gold-and-blue-clad Pegasus known as Spitfire strode forward till she was standing in front of Torb, “I’m going.” This only caused the crowd’s conversations to grow, “I’d rather go down fighting than sit here in the dark waiting to be saved!”

Not to be left out, Fancy Pants strode his way beside the Chiss. His chest proudly puffed out as he looked on into the crowd, “I, for one, would never be able to look myself in the mirror again if I didn’t do my part. My friend, you have my support to the bitter end, should it come.”

Others in the crowd began calling into question their own worth as slowly but surely more mares and stallions started stepping forth proudly declaring their support. Many of whom had to break themselves away from the tearful protests of loved ones. Inwardly, Torb couldn’t help but smile proudly, they weren’t much of anything at all, but they were a small army. Slowly but surely, a few cheers from the crowd became a loud roar of shouts and yells of support.

Fancy Pants muttered to the Lieutenant under all the shouts and cheers, “I do hope you’re right about help coming.”

Torb couldn’t hold back a smile, “You and I both.”

The oppressive walls of the sewers slowly started to give way around Kad and his small contingent. The smell of fresh air pushed its way past them the further they trekked. This small fact lent a sizable boost in moral to Twilight Sparkle as her pace quickened a bit. She knew what was waiting for her on the surface, the same destruction she’d seen in Ponyville; only this would be on a much larger scale. Her birth place and home for the better part of her life had been ravaged in her absence, and only enemies lurked around every corner.

“Sir, voices up ahead!” Zex called out, killing her musings.

“Probably that patrol Fancy said he’d sent out,” Kad reminded them, “Just try an’ keep it civil an’ there shouldn’t be any trouble.” This last bit he said directly to Traycn, receiving a snarl in retort.

Twilight began craning her ears to get a better feel for the voices Zex had picked up on. There was something about one of them; it tugged at her mind and heart when she heard it. As they got closer her spirit began to rise as she started to fully recognize who it was, “Is it… Is it really?” She blindly darted past the rest of her group down the tunnels, moving head-long towards the voice that unintentionally teased at her.

“Sparkle, get your sheb back here!” Kad yelled at the young mare as she broke away from them in a hurry.

Deaf to her CO’s angry words, all she could think about was the source of that voice. As the darkened wall around her gave way to the blinding sunlight ahead, she quickly found herself barreling out into a spillway nestled discreetly behind an alleyway. Nearly at full gallop, she was barely able to come to a complete stop before almost running head-long into a group of armored stallions.

They were a ragged group, their armor scarred and scorched from near misses of blaster fire. The pikes and halberds kept at the ready looked to have seen much better days, but wear and tear meant they had dispatched a few of the invaders, at least. Her approach, though, had not gone unnoticed as they quickly whirled around and brought their weapons to bear against her, freezing only after seeing she was Equestrian.

At the head of this small collection of warponies was the one she’d hoped to have found again. Against all hope and overwhelming dread, he was standing here right in front of her. A white Unicorn stallion with those strong, unbreakable features, his dark blue mane and tail coupled with soft blue eyes. His form clad in the armor of a guard captain with a pair of blades sheathed on his back. Upon seeing her, his face was the epitome of both shock and joy. The boundless strength she’d known him for looked to drain away as he stumbled slightly, “Twilee?”

She quickly bound forward and wrapped her forelimbs around his neck tightly, “Shining Armor, you’re alive! Thank Celestia!” Twilight felt as though she might start crying uncontrollably then and there as her brother embraced her.

“Twilight, what are you doing here,” He finally took notice of her new look, “And where did you get this armor?”

There was little time to explain as the rest of her group had begun to catch up, “Cadet, you run off like that again an’ I’ll put a blaster bolt through your leg!” Despite the blank glare of the helmet, Twilight could feel the anger radiate from the Captain.

Shining Armor quickly pushed Twilight behind him as he rushed forward, “Soldiers, enemies in the tunnels!” His magic’s aura encased his swords and quickly drew them as he closed in on Kad.

Twilight’s eyes went wide in shock as she realized what was happening around her, “Shining Armor, wait! Don’t!”

Kad showed no hesitation with his opponent. Saber quickly igniting with the sound of energy springing to life, the lightsaber’s blade cleaved through the pony-smithed swords with ease. This created a brief second of shock in the pony’s eyes and was all the opening he needed as his fist quickly connected with the side of his face.

Stumbling back slightly Shining Armor was quick to shake off the blow and was ready to move back in against his foe. He found himself stopped in his tracks as the saber’s blade of golden energy was leveled with his face. The heat from the weapon was like standing near a continuous jet of flame. His eyes held strong and defiant with Kad’s visor as his aura grasped what was left of his blades tightly, his mind searching him over for a weakness he could exploit.

“I’m gettin’ real tired of folks attackin’ us because they’re too dense to notice we ain’t Deathwatch.” Kad snarled at the Unicorn.

“Sorry but you aliens all look alike, to me.” Shining growled back at him. Throughout the exchange, his mind sought a plan of attack. This one was different from the others he’d ran into and certainly armed in a way that set him apart, but he had to protect his soldiers and most importantly his sister.

Before any move could made; a bright flash of purple energy encased them both and before either knew what was happening, they found themselves several yards away from each other. Twilight stood in the middle of them, a look of frustration on her face, “Everypony needs to calm down, right now!”

Looking around the broken clearing of the spillway, she could see her diversion came in the nick of time. Traycn stood over a pair of guardsponies, their spear uselessly jabbed into the thick metal of his chest, barely leaving a scratch. Zex thankfully had more or less surrendered and was busy trying to calm down the Taung monstrosity before he killed anypony, “Shining Armor, he’s telling the truth! They aren’t with Deathwatch; they’re with a group called the Neo Protectors, and they’re here to help us save this city.”

Twilight’s brother kept his broken swords at the ready as he made his way back to his sister’s side, never once taking his eyes off Kad, “Sorry if I’m little slow to trust these… Things, but we’ve been fighting a losing battle out here, if you haven’t noticed. Now why are you here with these aliens and why are you wearing their armor?”

“Short answer,” Kad chimed in casually, “She’s one’a us.”

This answer didn’t seem to sit well with him at all as he turned an angry eye Kad’s way, “What’d you say!?”

“She accepted the armor, swore herself to my command an’ followed me here to your doorstep, son,” Kad recounted for him as simply as he could, “Your sister is a Mandalorian now; one that needs more than a little work in the discipline department, I might add.”

Twilight lowered herself a bit in recoil both at Kad’s words on her breaking protocol and the eyes burning into her just behind his polarized T visor. To make things even worse, her brother’s stern gaze was now tightly fixed on her now as well, “Twilee, what exactly did you get yourself into?”

Taking a deep breath she forced herself to keep her eyes with his, “Big brother, you’re not the only one charged with protecting this city and our nation as a whole. Did you honestly think I would just sit back and watch as ponies were hurt and even killed, while YOU could be killed? Maybe you forgot, but I am an Element of Harmony, a pupil of Princess Celestia and a proud citizen of Canterlot, and I will not sit idle during this crisis.” Twilight was more than a little surprised by the determination in her own voice and how easily the words flowed from her, “Captain Skirata and his warriors offered my friends and I a chance to help them stop this madness. We accepted.”

The look of restrained anger in his eyes had been replaced with a hint of disappointment and sadness. Twilight wished she could block out those eyes, that somewhere in this headband’s visor there was a way to keep that look from boring into her, “I’m sorry big brother… But I had to do something…” She muttered out as she hung her head.

The feeling of a limb moving around her neck and pulling her close shattered her sadness, “Twilee, I understand… I just wish that you didn’t have to see what they’ve done to our home.” Shining Armor spoke softly to her, bringing welcomed comfort to her heart.

With a sigh, Kad let himself add to the emotional display, “Son, from one soldier to another, we both know you don’t always get to pick an’ choose your allies. Sometimes ya gotta take what ya got, an’ right now all we got is each other.” Disengaging his weapon and returning it to his belt, Kad strode forward to the pair of Unicorns, “Twilight has kept me an’ my boys safe more than once; she’s a bright girl an’ got power like I ain’t ever seen. She’s a valuable asset an’ I’m proud to have her an’ her friends with us.”

“In the Mandalorians, we have a sayin’,” Kad continued as he removed his helmet and placed it under his arm. A smile upon his weathered features made him look less like a cutthroat warrior and more like a kindly teacher, “Aliit ori’shya tal’din, family is more than blood. Our family is made up’a those willin’ to fight beside us an’ watch our backsides. It’d be an honor to welcome you as well, son.” His hand extended to the stallion awaiting an answer.

Shining Armor looked between the hand, his sister and man’s disarmingly friendly look, “My… Allegiance is to my Princesses and my sister, first and foremost, Captain,” With some hesitation he placed his hoof in the offered hand, “If it will save our city, however, I am willing to offer you whatever assistance I can.”

Giving the hoof a firm shake, Kad nodded knowingly along with Armor’s words, “Of course, wouldn’t have it any other way,” Slipping his helmet back on his world returned to the readouts of his HUD, “I’d suggest startin’ by gettin’ back to the rest of your folk, there’s gonna be a big push to free the captives while we hit the palace. They’ll need every experienced, uh, hoof, they can get.”

Armor gave his still disturbed looking soldiers a motion towards the sewer entrance, “You heard him, make sure Fancy gets all the help he needs.” Kad couldn’t say he was surprised that Shining Armor stood his ground while the rest of his men hesitantly galloped off into the darkness, “What, you didn’t think I was gonna let my little sister march off into the enemy stronghold with a bunch of heavily armed weirdoes without me, did you? Besides, as a Captain of the Guard, I have a score to settle back at the palace.”

Kad couldn’t help but smirk at this declaration, they were making the most interesting friends and allies on this trip, “Hah, ya got a right fine vod there Twilight; a right fine brother indeed.” His gaze shifted out to the greater part of the city, “Now we just need the girls to set off the fireworks an’ we can start this party proper.”

Kell and Arkanna had finally made their way to the overhang of the palace over the edge of the sheer mountain side. The pair had managed to find a ledge to set up a temporary camp to take a much needed breather and final equipment check. There were few words between the two as they prepared mentally for their final leg of the mission. They would have to be quick, precise and most importantly, silent.

The silence had finally started to nag at Arkanna, “Sergeant, we haven’t heard a peep out of the other teams; should we be worried?”

Behind his visor Kell rolled his eyes in frustration; he’d rather have his brother here, but of course he just had to be leading from the front, “I wouldn’t worry ‘bout it kid, just keep your mind on the target.”

Dark thoughts, however, had begun to inch their way into the young warrior’s mind, “But, what if something happened to the others? We’ve been out of contact with everyone else for well over two hours.”

“What do ya wanna do kid, send up some smoke signals?” Kell snapped at him as he reassembled his beloved rifle, “They’re alive; got a gut feeling about it. If they weren’t, would you want Teth to get away with that, too?”

Arkanna let out a sigh as he gave in to the Staff Sergeant’s words, “No, Sergeant; I’d want to shoot the chakaar myself.”

“That’s the spirit, kiddo.” He stated happily as he slapped the Private’s shoulder plate, “Now get ready, we’re going up an’ over, no jetpacks.”

Arkanna looked out over the overhang and the awkward angles it created with the palace, “No jetpacks, this is gonna be a little rough…”

Slinging his rifle over his shoulder, the assassin smirked happily, “That’s why we’re an Epsilon Squad; we do this stuff just for kicks!” Taking aim with the ascension cable on his gauntlet, he let the grappling hook fire out over the expanse and sink into the rock surface, “Now try to keep up.”

Arkanna watched as his Staff Sergeant flung himself off the ledge with an excited cheer. His eyes followed the motions of the adrenalin junkie as he swung out over the open air. At the peak of his swing, the cable quickly began retracting, pulling him to the edge of the stone surface.

Taking a deep breath to steady his already screaming nerves, Arkanna took aim with his grappling hook and fired into roughly the same area as Kell, “Okay, you can do this… You can do this…” He repeated to himself to build some kind of confidence in his otherwise suicidal actions. Closing his eyes, the young Mandalorian flung himself off the ledge and into the waiting arms of the open sky. Letting out a surprised yell, he copied Kell’s motions to a tee as his cable quickly began pulling him in. The sudden tug in a new direction sent a burning pain ripping through his arm before he slammed into the cliff side.

His fingers quickly grabbing hold of the ornate architecture of the palace, he began climbing, trying to ignore the angry protests from his shoulder to his wrist. He had to keep pace with Kell, who had already managed to scale to the edge of a balcony.

Kell gave his charge the signal to stop; he was crazy, but not stupid. With the optic controls of his HUD, he flipped through his vision modes until he settled on the sonar. Every little sound created a detailed map of world around him and happened to be a useful tool for seeing what or who was right around the bend. The heart beats and idle chatter of a pair of Deathwatch troopers created an outline just beyond the rock surface.

The assassin motioned to Arkanna about the two troopers just ahead of them on the balcony. After receiving a nod of recognition, Kell positioned his artificial leg against the castle wall gripping the edge of the balcony. The metal plates of the fake limb began to shift and rearrange. With an excited grin he kicked off the surface with a dull THUMP, the indentation of a boot print left on the surface. His body propelled by the sudden burst was able to make the rather impressive acrobatic flip over the edge of the railing.

The metallic limb came down in an arc, using the heavy momentum to land a brutal blow to the top of one trooper’s head. As the weaponized leg slammed dead-center on top of the target’s helmet, a second burst of focused gravity was released with another THUMP. The force caved in the helmet with a sickeningly satisfying crunch as the metal gave way to the blow, taking a sizable portion of the skull with it.

As the other trooper brought his weapon to bear against the sudden intruder, Arkanna slammed into him from behind, the Private’s wrist mounted slide blade jamming itself into the enemy’s unprotected side. The jagged blade slid between his ribs and into his lungs before a quick pull fully deflated the organ. Going limp in his arms, Arkanna set the body on the ground carefully, so as to not make any unwanted noise.

“Not bad, kid,” Kell playfully praised him as he brought his rifle from its sling to his shoulder, “Now we dig in here and wait for the signal, assuming the plan is still on.”

Rainbow Dash sat on her haunches, glaring daggers at the metallic orb in her hoof. Silently, she demanded it give up the secrets of its inner workings as she turned it over. Her eyes critically examining every switch and crevice of the weapon, “Come on, these things can’t be THAT hard to figure out, I mean, they’re made to be turned on and then thrown away before they explode. How many different ways can these things explode anyways, can they explode twice or something?”

“Uhm, Rainbow Dash…” Fluttershy began nudging her friend’s side, “We might have a tiny problem.”

“Huh, what is it now?” The speedster was starting to get more annoyed by the second as the prospect of more complications was presented.

She followed the direction her friend’s hoof was pointing, to the small device sitting on the ground near the felled Deathwatch Trooper. A gruff voice was emanating from the comlink lying upon the floor, “Angel three, respond.” It sounded like he was losing his patience as well.

Clearing her throat, Dash quickly scooped up the tiny com and forced her best colt voice she could muster, “Uhm, this is Angel three, reporting in. Over.”

“Angel three, we’re reading a problem with your jammer, what’s going on up there? Over.”

Dash glanced at the still-sparking wreckage of her recent carnage and bit down on her lip as she tried desperately to come up with an excuse, “Oh, uhm, it must’ve shut off when I bumped into it, no worries; I’ll have it back up and running in a jiffy, over.”

She cursed under her breath as the voice on the other side didn’t seem to be buying it, “I’m sending a tech up there; you just keep an eye on the streets, over.”

“Uhm, negative on that,” She looked at Fluttershy who seemed to be reflecting the panic she was feeling quite well, “I can get this thing working again. It’s fine, I’m fine, how are you?”

Fluttershy stared at her friend slack jawed in shock as she silently begged her, why, why would you say that, “Uhm… I’m fine… I guess… I’ll just, get that tech to you right away… Out.”

Fluttershy could muster only one word from her stupefied condition as she stared unbelievingly at her oldest friend, “Why?”

Dash gave an annoyed grumble and stomped the tiny comlink under hoof, “Ugh, was a boring conversation anyways.” Her attention returned to the grenades they had found; it wouldn’t be long before they had company.

Fluttershy in a near panic moved closer to one of the broken-out windows, “Rainbow Dash, we have to go before they find us.” She desperately pleaded with her.

“Hold on, I think if I just…” As she fiddled with one of the switches on the orb it suddenly started humming angrily like the one back at the ruins, “Oh buck, I think I figured it out!”

Tossing the orb along the ground and activating its brother, she did the same with it. Both Pegasi quickly made for their exit just as the sounds of boots on the stairs could be heard. Venturing a glance behind her, Dash found herself staring into the visor of the dispatched tech as he made his way into the clock tower. A devious smirk came across the daredevil’s muzzle, “Sorry pal, but I DID tell’em not to send anypony.”

Leaping from the window, the pair of fliers quickly swooped upwards towards the clouds, leaving the confused trooper to wonder what all that was about. All too late, he noticed the final warning beeps of the explosives near his feet.

In a field some ways outside of Canterlot, the would-be merchants sat with their emptied cart staring at the city in the distance with uneasy gazes. It’d been almost an hour since they dropped off the explosive-laden goods and made a hasty escape to wait for word from the rest of their group. Each dealt with the tension in their own way: Applejack seemed content to pace back and forth, casting an uneasy glance every so often at the regal city. Rarity had been looking over the “profit” she had made at the Deathwatch’s expense, while Pinkie simply sat with the detonator in hoof, flipping the safety cap on and off the button as if tempting fate to cause chaos before it was intended.

Applejack couldn’t help but shoot the posh Unicorn a glare as she examined the credits she’d been given, “Ah can’t believe ya’d do somethin’ so low-down, Rarity.”

She barely batted an eye at the comment as she held one of them up to the sunlight, trying to figure out just how much they were worth, “I was merely playing my part, dear. As one of the mercantile class, even you must understand that a profit MUST be made. If I hadn’t asked for payment they might have suspected us.”

The farmer found it hard to argue with the dress maker’s logic as always but, “But it still don’t feel right; ya still tricked ’em inta payin’ ya while slittin’ their throats… Besides that, who knows where that money came from? Blood money don’t bring nothin’ but bad luck.”

She rolled her eyes at the superstitious idea, “You can stop trying to brow-beat me over it; I already feel awful for the deceit, especially after stopping to actually talk to them.” She looked sadly at the small pile of galactic currency before her, “Sergeant Garlan seemed like such a gentlecolt, it is truly a shame to meet him under these circumstances.”

Behind them, Pinkie continued flicking the safety cap back and forth. She was lost in her own mind as the click created a continuous rhythm while she toyed with the simple-looking device. She honestly found it strange that something so small could actually be so dangerous. What kind of worlds did these Mandalorians and Deathwatch come from where the most horrible things could be so small and unassuming?

Applejack watched Pinkie’s actions sadly as something slowly dawned on her, “So, who’s gonna push the button?”

Rarity’s stomach began to churn at the thought of what that button would unleash when pressed, “You’re right; somepony is going to have to…” She let her words fall flat as it gnawed at her, “Hard to believe something so small is supposed to end so many lives. Not a choice to be made lightly.”

Taking a deep breath the Unicorn sighed out, “I’ll do it.”

“Hold on there, sugarcube,” Applejack quickly protested, “Like you said, this ain’t somthein’ to take lightly now, an’ Ah ain’t gonna let ya take the hurt fer this’in.”

Rarity quickly locked eyes with Applejack; though she was mostly in control, there was a hint of rage in her sea of blue, “I appreciate you wanting to protect our feelings Applejack, but I think it would be best if I took responsibility for this,” It was clear from her tone that she was barely holding back the fear of what was about to happen, “You may be my physical superior, but mentally I feel that I am far better equipped to handle the ramifications…”

“It ain’t ‘bout that an’ you know it!” Applejack snapped at her retort, “Would ya just let me take care’a this one? Please, Rarity.” She hung her head in shame, “Ah’ve taken one life already, ain’t a pain Ah want any of y’all to know how it feels…”

Before Rarity could say anything in response, a loud bang rang out across the valley. Their eyes darted toward Canterlot, where a small plume of smoke could barely be seen, “What in the world was that?”

The answer she got in return was another, louder explosion. Much like the one that rocked Ponyville from the Everfree Forest several nights ago as a ball of white consumed the gates of Canterlot. They could feel the rumble from the blast rattling through their bones and shaking the ground beneath them. Slowly and reluctantly, the pair cast worried eyes on the baker who had been holding onto the detonator this entire time. Her hoof was firmly pressing the button down as she watched this play out unblinkingly. This sadly beautiful ball of energy that consumed everything it touched.

Slowly, Pinkie pulled herself away from the sight as it started to die down. Tears stained her face as she forced a weak smile, “That was the signal…”

Torb gave his thrown-together army of volunteers and a small handful of trained fighters a quick once over. Part of him wondered how many of them would be coming back from this alive, less out of a feeling of guilt for what he was about to push them into, but more from a strategic point of view. He could take solace in the fact that at least their numbers will swell once they reach the slave cages. It was a proven fact after all: once you tear off their chains, they’ll gladly fight for you. Even die for you, their beloved liberator and savior.

He was thankful for the few capable fighters among the Equestrians that he had. Though he found their armaments laughable and their armor to be more showy than effective, they at least knew how to kill. It was an interesting sight to see Tolik and his last remaining two defectors standing alongside this improvised force. Even stranger still was the sparsely armored Gallant standing proudly in his thrown together armor, flanked by a few of the surviving royal guards whom looked more than proud to be there.

A loud rumble shook the ground as a bright white flash consumed the skyline towards the gates. Drawing his pistol, Torb pointed it in the direction of their target, “Forward! For Canterlot, for Equestria!”

The city around them seemed to shake and shudder under the sound of the blast in the far distance. Windows above them shattered, and shards of glass began showering from above like a shimmering torrent of rain. Twilight huddled in close to her brother on instinct and reflex as a magical bubble incased them both to protect from the sheets of transparent razors.

Kad and the others took little to no action to avoid the falling glass as it trickled uselessly against their fully armored forms. The Captain’s gaze shifted to the palace in the far distance, “Time to settle up, Teth….”

As the world around them shook, Arkanna was certain the entire city was about to slide down the side of the mountain, “Jeez, what exactly did the Captain give them to detonate?”

Kell barely stifled a bemused laugh as he brought his rifle up and headed towards the nearest entryway, “Less talking, more hunting; we got a mad man to catch remember?” With a quick blow from his shoulder the door swung open, Arkanna close behind him as he entered weapon at the ready.

The pair of Pegasi had barely escaped the clock tower before its top had been turned into a smoldering match head. The blast wave aided their ascent quite nicely as they returned to the cloud-cover for safety; not a moment too soon, as a new, much larger blast wave rippled through the air. Squeaking in fear, Fluttershy cringed as she fought to force herself to stay airborne.

Rainbow Dash’s gaze narrowed on the horizon, “Okay, time to hook up with the Private and Staff Sergeant!” She called back to her companion as they soared over the city with a thick wall of grey and white to keep them safe. An excited shiver climbed up the Pegasus’ spine as it dawned on her: they were about to win this thing.

Now it's a party

The rays of light muffled by thick grey clouds clawed their way through the stained-glass windows of the palace dinging hall, casting dull colors across the floor. Teth brought the warm cup of liquid to his lips, giving it a sip as he looked over the latest reports. He had to admit, it was reassuring to have Hrask’s forces supplementing his own. The data-pad in his hand gave a detailed readout on supposed profits from the newly acquired “cargo”. With what had been loaded onto the ships just above this world already, Deathwatch stood to make a hefty profit off this detour - especially with slaves of such a unique quality. The credits would fund their war for decades.

Though raised in what could be called a noble family, Teth had never been much for the opulence that came with great power. This gilded room and its extravagant decorum was enough to make the hardened warmonger’s stomach churn. He was, however, thankful for the lovely view of the expansive forest far below the mountain. The natural and true elegance of this world was indeed a marvel to behold.

The sound of boots coupled with the tiny trot of hooves drew his attention away from his data-pad and thoughts as his newly taken in sons were guided in by their escort. A smirk came across face as he took in the tiny Equestrians standing before him: They looked very smart in their newly-fitted uniforms of dark grey, “Good afternoon children,” He said with a warm smile, “Come, have a seat.”

As he motioned to a pair of empty chairs, the young colts cautiously made their way to their seats. On an unseen cue, several of the troopers assembled in the dining hall moved to place a freshly prepared meal before the boys, “Eat up my sons, we have a big day ahead of us.” The pair gave one another a worried look before returning to the meal, staring at it as if it had just said something out of the ordinary.

Teth let out a chuckle as he watched them, “It isn’t poisoned.” He stated playfully as he took a leafy green from one of their plates and popped it into his mouth, chewing it up and swallowing it down, “There’s no reason I would adopt you both only to kill you.”

Giving them both a reassuring pat, he began to stroll the length of the room in open thought, “It is important that you both know what is expected of you as Mandalorians; most importantly though, as Deathwatch.”

Anvil’s curiosity began to get the better of the young colt, “But, what does any of that mean? We’re both Unicorns and, well… We aren’t anything like you.”

Teth chuckled at this naive statement, ruffling the foal’s mane, “Being Mandalorian is not about race, nor is it about species or even gender. It is an ideal, an ideal that bands peoples of all walks of life together as warriors and as family.” His words echoed with pride that swelled in his chest, “We are known throughout the galaxy as the most elite fighters, highly sought mercenaries and bounty hunters. It is said that a single platoon of Mandalorians is worth an entire regiment of the Fel Empire’s feared Stormtroopers. There was a time when the entire galaxy quaked in fear at the very mention of the Mandalorians, when every star system bore the deep-running scars of our wars. But this was… a time before…”

His voice began to lose its solid pride, growing more in anger. “Before traitors like Jaster Mereel and cowards like Duchess Satine sought to break us with the reforms of their new ways. Before the Commando Codex sought to tie our hands, and before the so-called New Mandalorians and their pacifist ways turned us into nothing but shells of our lost glory. We were the most feared force the galaxy over, and now the false Fett and her Neo Protector reformists sit in power, making nice with the rest of the outer rim while breeding her Force user army and sitting atop the largest armada in the galaxy.”

Turning to face his children, Teth looked between the pairs of large, curious eyes, “As Deathwatch, it is our duty to revive the true spirit of Mandalore. It is our duty to bring the people back to the old ways, to make the galaxy remember why it should fear us.” Placing a hand atop both of their heads, he continued his speech, “This is our legacy, my children; your legacy.”

The entirety of Canterlot violently shook with a loud rumbling bang. Hammer and Anvil screamed in terror as the shockwave crawled its way through the walls around them. They could feel a heavy form over top of them, the sudden cover bringing a strange calm to the pair. Opening their eyes, they were both equally shocked to find Teth protectively shielding them with his body.

As the rumbling subsided, Teth pulled himself from his protective posture and turned a rage-filled eye towards the nearest trooper, “I want a status report, immediately!” Over his shoulder, Teth could hear the sound of the glass door to the balcony being forced open and the familiar heavy fall of boots.

At the center of the city, all activity came to a halt as the shockwave rippled through the streets and alleyways. Every trooper was on high alert as a huge plume of smoke rose from the direction of the main gate. One tall and imposing figure bearing the markings of a Captain tried to make sense of the chaos, “Gateway, give me a status report, over! I say again, does anyone over there read me? Over.”

With a frustrated growl, he turned his attention to the nearest soldier he had, motioning toward the smoke, “Take squads five and twelve and investigate, I want to know what’s going on over…”

His words began to trail off as his gaze shifted to a small puddle on the ground. The shockwave from the explosion had come and gone, but the water rippled and vibrated. It was then that he noticed a growing noise in the distance; it was a rolling thunder that shook the ground as it drew closer. Slowly, he turned his eyes to the edge of the city square and saw them: a wave of Equestrians a few hundred strong galloping at full speed towards their position.

The slight wave of panic seeing this technicolor sea crashing towards them was quickly shaken off as the Captain began bellowing out his orders on the coms, “Firing positions! Take firing positions and mow them down!” These would be his last orders - a blaster bolt seemingly from nowhere slammed into his neck sending him toppling to the ground.

Far across the battlefield behind the charging lines, Gallant proudly floated his blaster rifle in front of his face, staring intently down the sights with a smirk. Tolik let out an impressed whistle at this feat of marksmanship, “Now I know for sure you should’ve been born a Mandalorian.” He snickered, slapping the pony Sergeant on the back.

A hail of energy bolts exploded from the Deathwatch line, sending hordes of projectiles down range into the more than hapless front line of the attacking ponies. What few blasters the ponies now possessed rang out in retaliation against their enemies, creating a crossfire of bright energy bolts.

High above the planet, Hrask stared out over the world below him from the bridge of his dreadnaught. Dark thoughts, as always, began to creep into his mind as he watched the pretty blue and green orb spin along its axis. It would be so easy to simply obliterate this garden world, with all the ships under his control and the lacking technology of those that called it home. He mused about how it would be like stepping on a bug.

“Sir, we have a report from the ground teams,” The slightly shaky voice of the communications officer spoke up.

The Admiral gave a wave of his hand signaling him to continue as he continued to watch the planet below, “They’ve come under fire; it appears the locals have begun to fight back in force,” The com tech continued, “They have blasters and appear to be surprisingly well-organized, and there seems to be a group of Mandalorians mixed in with them.”

“What clever creatures they are. If they want to fight a war on our level, then we shall accommodate them,” Hrask stated to no one in particular, “Load up gunships seven and twelve with the hunter killer droids for aerial drop, and no heavy weapons. I’d rather not take any chances with something like that perched on the side of a mountain.”

In the far distance it was easy to hear the echoes of blasterfire with as deathly silent the rest of the city was now. It sent a shiver down Twilight’s spine when her mind touched on what the sounds of chaos meant. She needed to focus on something else, anything else; if she didn’t, she might break down and cry at the thought of so many dying right now.

Her mind immediately locked on those eyes: confused, hurt, and begging her for understanding, just a small sliver of knowledge to shed light on her plight. No; she couldn’t go there, not yet. She had to keep it within reach, though; it would drive her through the abandoned city and to the palace. If she gave in to it now, she’d lose her need and drive to fight, she needed something else, “Shining Armor, if you’re here, does that mean Cadence is here too?”

Her brother seemed more focused on their task at hoof, but as always the voice of his sister brought the stallion back to reality, “No, thank Celestia; she was away to Trottingham on royal business.” A weak smile came across his lips, “Funny thing is, I was going to catch an airship and meet her today.”

Twilight’s stomach began to churn as one question in particular started to claw at the back of her mind, “Mom and dad?”

Shining Armor shook his head sadly; this was one he didn’t want to answer, “I don’t know…” He said with a heavy sigh, “Deathwatch has been too heavy in the residential district for us to scout the area. I’ve kept the area where their ships keep landing under constant watch but… I haven’t seen them loaded onto any of the ships.” The guard Captain did what he could to keep his voice steady and confident, “But that doesn’t mean anything, Twilee, you hear me? It doesn’t mean anything.”

Kad had been traveling ahead of the pair, his close proximity made it hard not to overhear most of the conversation, “So, this Cadence; she your girlfriend?”

Shining Armor was hesitant to answer at first, preferring to keep these off-worlders at a distance, but a little small-talk might break the growing tension in the air, “My wife.” Was the flat reply given in return.

Nodding knowingly, the Mandalorian said, “Got a wife an’ son waitin’ for me back on Concord Dawn, myself. We got a nice homestead there; real quiet, kinda like this world,” He ventured a glance back at the stallion, happily drinking in that look of inner conflict those massive eyes failed to hide. A mix of wanting to maintain his distrust and decided hate, and the sudden realization that they were in many ways a lot like one another, “Ya got any wee sprats yet?”

The stoic knight began to crack a bit in embarrassment at the question, “I, uh, no. Cadence and I don’t have any foals as of yet, Captain.”

Kad couldn’t help but smirk a bit as he learned the right buttons to push, “Lemme tell ya, ain’t no feelin’ in the whole void like the high ya get when ya learn you’re gonna be a buir, a parent. When I found out Shin’ima was pregnant I couldn’t stop grinnin’; creeped the osik outta my squad at the time.” The warrior recalled proudly.

Curiosity began to get the better of the stallion despite his best efforts, “So how old is your son?”

“He’s ‘bout seven an’ a half; goes on an’ on ‘bout how he’s gonna become a Mandalorian Knight like his father. Go ‘round the galaxy protectin’ our people an’ such.” Despite the mask and the slight mechanical sound of his helmet’s speaker, it was easy to guess the wide smile on his face.

Twilight fought to hold back a chuckle as the Captain continued on, even giving Shining Armor a few pointers on fatherhood. The ring in his voice brought a soft smile to Twilight’s face as she started to see a new side of her commanding officer. He had his flaws, but beyond them was a loving husband and caring father who loved his family. It brought with it a slight ache to her heart as her mind touched on the ever-growing dark inside her own head as of late. What if everything didn’t go as planned? He may never see his wife and son again. Her gaze drifted past Kad to Zex far ahead of the column; there was so little she knew about these Protectors. For example, what about Zex? Did he have a special somepony waiting for him? A family perhaps; or just somepony depending on his return, hoping and praying that he would come home alive? The curse of her mind expanded this thought even further to their enemy, Deathwatch: it was made up of aliens just like the ones she stood beside now. How many of them had families? How many had loved ones waiting for them back home, never to see them again?

She cast her eyes in the general direction of the still-raging blaster fire. Biting down on those feelings, Twilight pushed such thoughts out of her head. If not, then she might not have the courage to do what had to be done. A heavy weight settled upon her back; she could feel it was greatly restrained, or else it might have crushed her beneath its mass. Straining her eyes away from the flashes of a light far off and her neck upwards, she beheld the massive form of Traycn standing over her and looking out towards the battle’s direction. Through the crack in what was left of his helmet’s visor after the missile attack, she could see his sharp golden eye gleam with a hunger and ferocity that made her somehow feel envious.

“Take heart Cadet Sparkle, these Equestrians stand on the brink of history,” He said proudly as he motioned over the cityscape, “they fight with heart and die with honor.”

“I don’t think I’d like the view from a mountain of corpses…” She replied with a bitter tone.

“History is written in blood, the planets formed by bone. You would do well to learn this fact, little sister.” Traycn snorted in retort as pushed past her.

Despite what he might have thought, his words had reached her. The young mare knew for a fact from her studies that peace only lasts so long, and that no border is ever truly safe. This was history playing out before her, what would very well become one of the most important moments in their entire world’s history. It had been the entire time, her perception fogged by rose-colored glasses. Beings from another world had come to their planet: first contact, and the first conflict with them. Sometimes it felt like being an Element of Harmony was in a way a curse with how often these world-changing events came up.

Deathwatch’s firing line let loose volley after volley of blaster bolts across the square, tearing into the charging ponies. What few weapons the Equestrians had stolen answered back in turn, giving their compatriots some form of cover across the killing field. What few that made it through the enemy line made the brief victory count.

One lone, dark-coated earth-breed mare with wild, red curls braved the barrage of energy bolts overhead, her once-beautiful form now marred by burn marks and cuts. A lucky bolt managed to strike her back leg, sending her sliding into a rubble pile, providing some protection. Pain ran through her back leg, begging her to stay put. Looking to the side, she watched a stallion she used to get her coffee from daily fall over dead as several bolts tore into him. She never knew his name; she saw him every day and never once asked his name. Gritting her teeth, she found the strength to get back up, fighting off blinding pain and pulverizing fear as she forced herself to push along the ground beneath the burning wall overhead.

Crawling her way to the enemy barricade, she thanked Celestia under her breath that she hadn’t been spotted. Over the sound of blasters she could hear one of the aliens just above her yell out, “Grenade out!”

Closing her eyes, she braced herself for what she was about to do. The moment she heard the metallic ringing, she forced herself over the line to tackle the trooper with grenade in hand as she let out a defiant cry, “For Canterlot!” In a bright flash and loud pop she, the trooper and four of his comrades were removed from the galaxy. Her last thoughts were on that colt she watched die, but no matter how hard she tried she just couldn’t recall his name.

From the opposite end of the fire fight, Torb watched as everything played out through the built in electro-binoculars of his HUD. Things were moving far too slowly, his volunteers were fighting with everything they had but it just wasn’t enough to make good headway. Switching on his comlink he connected to their only unfortunate hope of winning this, “Mackers, what is your status?”

The defector’s voice came in loud and clear, “Approaching target now.”

“Be quick about it, we’re at risk of losing what ground we’ve gained.” The Chiss snarled over the com.

Behind the warehouse containing the captured citizens, a small team consisting of Mackers, Yazan and the Pegasus freedom fighter Spitfire took a brief second to prepare themselves. The fire-gold flyer looked down indignantly at the bonds she was being forced to wear for this ruse, “I really don’t like this plan…” She grumbled as she gave the chains a test tug.

Yazan glanced back at her grinning beneath his visor, “You’re just mad because you have to play the slave.” He stated teasingly.

Mackers gave his comrades a quick glance, “Here goes nothing…” With a quick motion of the optic controls he patched into the all too familiar coms of his former compatriots, “This is Hunter four, we are bringing in a fresh one; hold fire. I say again, hold fire.”

They held their collective breaths until a voice came back over the comlink, “Door is open, Hunter four. Bring in the merchandise and be quick about it; hostiles are making a mess out front.”

Despite the mask, Mackers radiated a sense of victory at the sound of this news, “Copy that, making approach now.”

As more ponies were cut down by constant blaster fire, a new sound drew Torb’s attention as it roared to life over the fighting. Turning his attention skyward, he watched a pair of combat shuttles lower themselves from the clouds. His visor quickly zoomed in on the objects overhead, a sly smirk coming to his features as he watched their doors open and prepare to drop their payload, “How very clever of you.”

Fancy looked between Torb and the sky, his eye straining to make out what the Mandalorian was seeing, “What do you see?”

“Just what I was hoping for,” He stated with a laugh.

Metal racks extended from the sides of the ships and began releasing metallic, oval-shaped objects. These mysterious pieces of equipment free-fell from the sky, impacting behind the Equestrian line, sewing much-needed panic as they buried themselves into whatever, and in two cases, whoever they landed on. This initial shock was turned into cold fear as the unscathed outer shells began to shift and move, rearranging until the shell formed layers of armor over an alien construct. Long, thin limbs like metallic skeletons tipped with long talons and sharp curves to their forms all brought to a head by a bright red cyclopic eye.

One weathered Pegasus stallion found himself staring up in breathless shock and awe at the towering metallic monster. The bright red eye in the center of its head burnt into him unblinkingly before everything was ended. With speed beyond the scope of flesh and bone, one razor-tipped claw came crashing down upon the pony with no remorse and no hesitation.

Fancy Pants watched in absolute horror as what seemed like hundreds of these monsters took shape around the battlefield and started attacking every pony in sight, “Forgive my ignorance but how is this something you would hope for!?”

Taking his pistol in hand, Torb could barely contain his smile as he took aim on the nearest attacking droid, “Just watch,”

Yazan and Mackers roughly lead the restrained Spitfire into the holding area. All three doing their best to keep up the appearance of captors and captive; this came easier for some than others. The Twi’lek gave the mare a hard shove with the butt of his rifle when she started to slow a bit, “Come on four legs! Keep moving or I use the barrel, next time!”

Muttering under her breath, Spitfire fought the urge to drop her chains early and just attack the blue-skinned alien. Her thoughts shifted to more important things, however, as they entered the area the ponies were being kept. Make-shift holding cells had been set up along the walls, containing what looked to be hundreds of frightened ponies of various breeds and descent. They had been packed tightly, four to a cell. The doors to each holding pen had a number of wires running along the metal; before she could question what they were for, she watched a mare accidently rub up against the cell door, receiving an electrical shock in return.

Spitfire sighed sadly as she looked over all the ones that hadn’t made it underground. The Lost Ones, as she’d taken to calling them. Her mind raced as she tried to figure out how many had already been taken off-world, slaves to these barbarians. She put her thinking on hold as a pair of troopers made their way towards them.

“Hey, you two chose one helluva time to come back,” He motioned towards the echoing sounds of fighting, “The locals decided to finally grow a back bone.”

“We noticed,” Mackers replied, “Had to kill three others before this one finally surrendered to us.” He nudged her forward roughly to add emphasis.

It was then that the trooper noticed something off about this Equestrian, “Hold up, why aren’t her wings secured?”

Spitfire smirked from ear to ear as she gave the nearest one a playful wink. Before any reaction could be made, she quickly launched herself into the air with a swift flap of her wings. Once at eye-level with his visor, she swung the chains around his neck before darting straight up with another flap of her wings. The chain tightened with the swift movement, filling the air with a loud snap before the Deathwatch trooper went limp.

Following her lead, Yazan swiftly leveled his blaster with the other trooper, letting loose a volley into him. Several bolts of energy slammed into his target’s chest, his armor’s strength failing him as they tore into the man beneath the plates. The force of the barrage sent him flying backwards onto the ground with a loud thud.

Chaos quickly gripped the holding area; six more troopers entered the room with their weapons ready, drawn in by the sounds of blaster fire. Yazan and Mackers quickly dove behind the nearest objects they could find before they began to let loose several blaster bolts at the new enemies. High above them all, unseen in the rafters, Spitfire undid the loose binding around her legs and quickly sought out a target. Crouching down with her wings spread out, she became a bolt of lightning streaking towards the earth at the speed of light and crashing into her chosen enemy.

All the while, the frightened captives watched helplessly as this battle raged just beyond their bars. Several stallions and mares began shouting out words of encouragement to the would-be saviors. Some even risked the pain of electric shock as they kicked at the doors and walls of their cages.

Fancy Pants looked worriedly between Torb and the metallic monsters ripping into their comrades, “What is it you’re planning, Torb?”

As the Chiss removed his helmet, he gave the upper-crust Unicorn a childish grin, “I wouldn’t worry too much, dear boy,” He tossed the helmet towards his compatriot, “Hold that, will you? Damned thing tends to cause interference.”

With no warning, the Chiss aimed his pistol towards the nearest droid and began firing at it, the small-caliber blaster bolts striking harmlessly against the armored plates of the automaton. Its red optic quickly glared in Torb’s direction, having forgotten about the cowering mare it had cornered. With an excited laugh, the strategist let fly several more bolts, “That’s right, I’m over here!”

Fancy went wide eyed as this suicidal act played out before him, “Have you lost your mind!?”

“Only some of it,” Torb happily retorted as he fired a few more shots at the droid, “That’s right, focus on me; chase down the high end threat!”

Letting out a metallic growl, the droid dropped down to all fours and began to gallop towards the offending Chiss. Torb fired off a few more bolts, seeming to not notice or maybe just not care as they struck uselessly against the droid. As it got closer it lunged forward onto the Mandalorian, pinning him to the ground; this did little to change Torb’s seemingly-positive attitude about the situation.

“Good, just needed you in range,” He said with a sneer as he stared into the single bright red optic.

As its claw raised to skewer him like it had several Equestrians, Torb’s cybernetic eye began to glow bright red. The droid came to a complete stop as its eye twitched about in a confused manner. Fancy stared in awe as the metal monstrosity sat unmoving, poised to strike and end the life of the organic in its claws.

Unseen by Fancy Pants or anyone else observing, was the battle being raged on an electronic scale. The cybernetic enhancements plugged into his brain allowed Torb to remotely slice any electronics within his range; this droid had just put itself well within his striking distance. With some quick thinking and swift adjustments, the Chiss was able to easily outwit and outsmart any of the built-in failsafes and countermeasures. Moments later, the droid removed itself from atop Torb and sat upon its haunches like a pet awaiting a word from its master.

With a sly smirk Torb sat up and looked over at the very confused and dumbfounded Fancy Pants, “What… What just happened here?”

Torb tapped the metal plate on the side of his head, “We had a meeting of the minds.” Brushing himself off, Torb rose to his feet and looked his new “pet” over, “Ah yes, this is a very good day; do you know what this is?”

Fancy could only shake his head no, the words refusing to come to him, “This, my friend is a series sixty seven hunter killer class heavy combat droid.” Torb stated proudly as he ran a hand along the sleek frame, “High impact-resistant alloy frame, cortosis weave armor plating, super heating vibro cell enhanced claws, anti-personnel flechett launcher as well as a rapid-fire heavy blaster, both arm-mounted by the way. But all these bells and whistles aren’t even the best aspects of the droids.”

His eye began to glow a bright red along with the droid’s eye, “Every single one of these droids are linked via a wireless network.” Once more the electronic warfare raged under everyone’s noses, “It means that all their minds are one. Every droid sees, hears and knows what the others know. And all I needed was one droid, to corrupt this network!”

Throughout the battlefield the droids stopped their onslaught, frozen in mid-motion as their programming began to twist and reshape to their new master’s will. Much to the confusion of the bloodied Equestrian resistance fighters, the metal demons quickly turned and began to charge towards the Deathwatch line as a pack of hungry wolves catching the scent of blood.

One of the troopers stared in disbelief as their weapons began to turn on them, charging towards them and showing no signs of stopping, “Ion weapons… Get us some damned ion weapons up here!” He called back to the rest of the troopers further behind the battle line, trying to break the sense of panic and keep some semblance of order.

A heavy metal form crashed into him rapidly digging its claws through his armor till satisfied that the target was terminated. The plates along the droid’s arms slid back as a pair of blasters shifted into place. Swiftly moving through the now-enemy line, it began spraying bolt after bolt in rapid succession from one arm while unleashing punishing, wide bursts from the other.

Fancy watched in morbid fascination as the tide seemed to turn in the blink of an eye. A small tinge of sorrow crept in as he watched the Deathwatch soldiers were torn apart one after another. His gaze shifted to the only one remaining beside the pair as it looked between the Unicorn and the Chiss, “And… Why did this one stay behind?”

“I wanted a pet,” Torb stated happily as he stroked the droid’s head, much to his amusement the droid responded like any animal leaning into his touch.

“Would you please repeat that, Private?” Hrask’s voice dripped with barely restrained anger at this latest bit of news.

“The, uhm, droid network has been sliced, sir,” The unfortunate Private working the com-station stammered out, “We… Have lost control over the droids.”

“And the kill command?”

“No effect, sir…”

Hrask gave a guttural growl over this information; he was half-tempted to simply kill this peon cowering before him. Before any such therapeutic slaughter could commence a frantic voice called out from one of the bridge’s stations, “Admiral Hrask, we have hyper space signatures incoming!”

Turning his visor quickly to the main view port he watched as a force of ships two times the size and strength of his own suddenly appeared. His eyes narrowing on the largest vessel at the head of this fleet, upon seeing the garish depiction of a strill gnawing on a skull he knew who was leading this charge, “Fett…” He snarled as his hand tightly gripped the hilt of his sword.

“All ships, full power to shields, take up defensive pattern phalanx!” Hrask barked to the still-panicking bridge crew. He could hear them relaying his orders to the rest of the ships and their commanding officers, “Sound the full retreat for our ground forces, we are leaving this system! Somebody down there bring me Teth, I want that idiot alive!”

As Kell and Arkanna forced their way through the balcony doorway everything seemed to slow down to a crawl. They had expected to find a few Deathwatch forces inside, but neither of them thought they would find this. Here in front of them was the man they had been chasing after for the past week. This man, who had shot down their ship, hunted them like animals and killed hundreds of unarmed civilians. And now here he was, standing right in front of them, Commander Davian Teth himself.

Acting on instinct the pair quickly let loose a volley of blaster bolts into the handful of troopers protecting Teth. Catching them off-guard, they were able to cut down the bodyguards in short order before leveling their weapons on Teth. Kell could barely withhold a smile as he started to move towards his prey, “Well, well, well - what do we have here, rookie?”

Arkanna started to move along the opposite side of the room to keep the target flanked, “Looks like the jerk what’s been causing us all kinds of trouble, Staff Sergeant.” Arkanna tightened his grip on his weapon as they closed the gap.

Teth didn’t bat an eye as the Mandalorians moved to either side of him, “Gentlemen, I don’t believe I invited you to lunch.” He stated casually as he reached for his cup of caf, “Honestly, where are your manners?” He motioned to the pair of colts sitting behind him, clearly frightened by what was going on around them.

“Says the man with a blaster pointed at him,” Kell happily reminded him. The sound of soft sobbing drew the assassin’s attention away from Teth to the strange sight behind him, to the pair of colts in freshly-pressed uniforms cowering together behind him. He quickly bit back a number of choice words at this sight, settling instead upon, “Who are they?”

“My sons; I can trust you to leave them out of our affairs, yes?” Teth answered back in a calm tone, still sipping on his caf.

This whole thing was giving Arkanna a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. Something felt off about all of this: how calm Teth was, it was unsettling, “Sir, shall I secure the prisoner?”

“I’d rather break his face then toss him off the cliff side, but vod wants him alive.” Kell complained to no one in particular, “Cuff ’im.”

As Arkanna cautiously slung his rifle, he reached onto his belt and produced a pair of binder cuffs, “Put your hands behind your back.” The Private ordered.

Teth stared through the young man’s visor to the eyes beneath, sending a chill through Arkanna’s spine, “Is all of this hostility necessary? I’m unarmed, after all.”

“Your hands; put them behind your back, Teth.” Arkanna ordered again, his voice starting to crack with apprehension and rising in pitch.

Teth smiled at how on-edge he seemed to be putting the young soldier, “Are you afraid, young man?”

“I said put your hands behind your back!” Arkanna repeated with a clear sense of agitation in his voice.

Something about all of this gnawed at the back of Kell’s head. Why did this whole thing seem so familiar to the sniper?

Teth closed his eyes as he breathed in deeply, setting his cup back on the table, “Yes, I can feel your fear, growing inside of you.”

Kell’s eyes went wide as the freighter carrying the realization crashed into him violently, “Rookie get back!”

It was too late for either of them. With a swift motion, bolts of electricity flew from the tips of Teth’s fingers and danced over the bodies of the Protectors, their screams of pain echoing off the walls of the dining hall as pain beyond anything they’d felt burned away at their minds and bodies. This agony created a song for Teth’s twisted ear to dance to as he let out a hearty laugh. Motioning upwards, the pair was lifted into the air by the bolts of dark-side energy made manifest.

With a swipe of his hands, the pair of Neo Protectors was cast through the stained-glass windows of the dining hall with a loud crash. The motionless bodies were flung far and wide beyond the edge of the balcony. Slowly, Teth turned to face his children, “That, my sons, is the power that fear can grant you.” Over his shoulder, a pair of shadows moving like wind chased after the ejected Mandalorians.

In case you were wondering

Adrenaline, fueled by fear and anxiety, threatened to consume both Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash as they chased after their targets. They had just reached the palace when they watched a pair of familiar armored figures smash through the stained glass windows: Private Arkanna and Staff Sergeant Kell’s limp bodies helplessly plummeted from the castle’s tower towards the uncaring rocks far below. On instinct the pair of fliers made a mad dash towards the falling men.

Their wings beat hard and fast as they pushed their bodies to their limits to catch up to their swiftly-falling comrades. A cold lump or realization began to swell up inside of Rainbow Dash’s stomach as something became horribly clear to the mare: They had hit terminal velocity, the ground was fast approaching and it wouldn’t be long before their friends cracked like eggs against the stones. Mad with desperation, she pushed her mind alongside her body to find a way.

In a flash, it struck her; there was a way to save them, but she’d need Fluttershy to pull it off. Rolling to the side she locked stomach to stomach with the shy mare and began adding her own wing power to her friend’s.

Initially confused by the act, Fluttershy quickly realized her friend’s plan as their speed began to pick up exponentially. Focusing herself on the plummeting Mandalorians below, she pushed her wings to strengthen their descent.

The air around the two mares began to thicken to almost suffocating levels as the laws of physics demanded their obedience, but this law they intended to break. An invisible wall began to squeeze and contract around them, threatening to break the pair should they slow even for a moment. Pushing harder against the unseen, it started to relent and budge beneath their wings until, finally, everything broke.

In a flood of light and sound that tore the air apart and split the overhanging clouds open, a multi-layered corona of pink, red, yellow and blue exploded. A twisting, turning helix of rainbow and pink energy and light formed behind the pair as they disengaged to split off and cut a path towards one of the Mandalorians below them. With newfound speed, the Pegasi had no trouble reaching their comrades. Rainbow Dash latched herself onto Kell’s side as Fluttershy looped her limbs around Arkanna, hugging tightly to his chest.

Far and wide across the city, the sight of the technicolor explosion could be seen from beyond the torn and cracked buildings and walls as its blast tore a sunlit hole through the grey sky. The sight of this filled their hearts with a newfound flicker of hope as an omen of possible victory.

From their position in the back alleyways of the once-gilded city, Twilight and the others could see the waves of color tear open the sky, its true purpose lost on all but her as they watched this veritable fireworks display.

This display of light and color drew Teth’s attention back to the window as he watched the colorful jet-streams trail behind the Pegasi. An impressed smirk drew across his face as he watched them swoop down and take hold of their allies, “These aliens are just full of surprises.”

Fluttershy’s heart began to sore as she and Rainbow Dash managed to grab hold of Kell and Arkanna. They had done it! They’d saved their friends, just like always. But something gnawed at her, though; something that she and Rainbow had clearly over looked. They were still heading towards the ground, and they were going far too fast, now. Against the onslaught of wind, she managed to glance to the side and see Dash already starting to arc her path to avoid slamming into the ground.

Try as she might, Fluttershy just wasn’t as strong a flyer as her friend. Pouring everything she had into her wings, she managed to level out just in time to brush against the high, unchecked grass below the mountain. Her victory would be short-lived, though, as the terrain ahead became uneven and hilly.

Fluttershy’s mind touched on the night of the firefight in the castle ruins, the leap of faith he’d taken with her in his arms. Taking a deep breath, she braced herself for what she was about to do and the pain she knew was about to be put upon herself. Tucking her wings into her sides, she rolled to the side to place herself between the ground and Arkanna. It was a well-known fact that Pegasi were built to absorb high-velocity impacts, living at such high altitudes.

As the ground began scraping against her body, Fluttershy fought back the urge to scream. The soft loam quickly gave way to long-buried stones and rocks beneath the lush surface; she could feel every hard surface beating against her armor like hordes of claws scrabbling for the flesh and bone beneath the protective shell. Her body dug out a shallow ditch as she skidded across the ground, holding tightly to the human’s body as she beat back every instinct to scream. Arkanna’s words echoing in her head, “Don’t scream,”

Rainbow Dash watched helplessly as her friend cut a path of overturned dirt into the edge of the woodlands just beneath the capital. The weight of her own burden had finally begun to take its toll on the plucky athlete as she quickly lost speed and altitude. With a tired grunt, she let Kell’s body land as gently as she could beneath a nearby tree.

Dash’s blood began to run cold as she galloped to the edge of the trench her friend’s body had just dug out, “Fluttershy!” With no hesitation, the adventurous flyer threw herself over the edge and rushed towards the pair of battered forms at the end of the dirt path.

Fluttershy laboriously pulled herself to her hooves with Arkanna draped over her back. There was a blinding pain that tore at her body and tried to force her legs to give up. Her armor had been scraped and torn in areas where the rocks had tried to rip into the mare. A jagged cut ran down through her left eye, the attacking stone just barely missing the chance to blind her, but the unbearable sting of blood and sweat forced the orb closed regardless. Multiple bruises littered her unprotected face, her mane and tail had lost their usual, impeccably-styled look as her right wing hung limply at her side. A fierce pain jumped up and down her front-right leg as she began limping her way forwards.

Running to her friend’s side, Rainbow quickly gave her a hoof with the heavy load as they carried the unconscious warrior away. Leaning the warrior’s limp body against a tree, Fluttershy breathed out a tired thank-you to her friend as she continued to fight the urge to fall over.

Noticing the uneasy wobble the mare had about her, Dash placed her fore-hooves on her friend’s shoulders to steady her and get a better look at her condition, “Whoa there, Fluttershy, you need to take it easy after that landing.”

“I’m… I’m fine…” She managed to force out between labored breaths, “… Need to check Arkanna and Kell’s condition,” Fluttershy stated as she fought to pull away from her friend.

“You’re hurt,”

“I’m a medic,” She stated flatly before pushing past Rainbow Dash, making her way over to Kell’s side.

Dash bit down on the urge to tackle her and just knock the Pegasus out cold, “Fluttershy,”

The gentle mare had already removed the Staff Sergeant’s helmet and was at work examining his condition, “Rainbow, we both know I’m not much use in a fight to begin with,” Her voice shook slightly as she kept her attention on her work, “and right now I’m in no condition to fly,” To add emphasis to this she tried in vain to move her injured wing, “The best way I can help is to make sure these two are alright and do my job as a medic.”

The sounds of blaster fire rang out in the direction of the city drawing the attentions of both mares. A sad frown came across Fluttershy’s face, “But right now, you’re needed up there.”

Rainbow Dash gave her a long sad look before drawing in a deep breath, “Well… I wanted to be a part of the big battle,” She stated sarcastically, “Think you and the boys can get along without me?”

Fluttershy gave her a warm smile despite the pain that wracked her body, “Oh, don’t worry about us. I’ll make sure they stay safe.”

None of them wanted to take this route, but their choices were more than a little limited at the moment. Rarity took a deep breath as she stood face to face with the devastation she and her friends had helped cause. They could hear the sounds of fighting deeper into the city calling to them.

“Are ya sure ‘bout this sugarcube?” Applejack questioned hesitantly.

Another steadying breath forced the posh Unicorn to fight off any hint of unease in her voice, “I’m afraid so; our friends are fighting for their lives at this very moment, and I for one will not sit idle. Could either of you?” Her deep blue eyes searched Pinkie and Applejack’s faces for doubt.

Pinkie strolled past her friends into the charred remains of the front gates, “No way am I gonna let those meanies hurt our friends!”

Applejack smiled weakly, “Not a chance.”

The three ponies picked their way through the wreckage carefully as the sounds of blaster fire bounced off the blackened walls around them. With no warning Pinkie stopped mid-stride, shaking uncontrollably as she found herself staring down at her hoofwork. The charred, half-crumpled remains of a Deathwatch trooper lay out before her. Armor half melted away, seeming to fuse with the humanoid’s skeleton, cementing it to the ground and wall it was slumped against. She quickly shut her eyes tightly as tears began pour out from her eyelids as she tried control her breakdown.

Rarity moved up beside her and found herself riveted to the unfortunate wretch on the ground. She could feel a steel grip twisting her insides and threatening to force their contents out of her, “Pinkie, darling, we really can’t stay here, we have to keep movi-”

Her words fell flat as a form from the darkness came slamming into her with all its might. The Unicorn found herself toppling head over heels down a collapsed chunk of street and stone into the now-exposed sewers below. Her head met a rather large stone at the bottom of her descent, bringing her to a sudden stop, and into the darkness of unconsciousness.

Now, in better light, the attacker could be clearly seen: Half-charred armor of a Deathwatch trooper hung to the feminine curves of her body as her visor looked back and forth between the only two ponies still standing. Not wasting time or her advantage, she quickly made for Applejack, slamming her knee into the face of the stunned apple farmer, “I was hoping you’d come to finish the job,” Kraus stated coldly as she turned her attention to Pinkie Pie.

Gritting her teeth, Pinkie charged in at Kraus in a mad dash. The party pony lunged at her with a battle cry, only to find herself suddenly with her hooves being grasped tightly in the trooper’s hands, “Uh-oh…” Cold realization sank into the poofy-maned mare as her mistake became violently apparent.

With a quick tug and a twist, Kraus used Pinkie’s momentum to her advantage, swinging her into the remnants of a pillar. Pinkie let out a painful grunt as the weakened stonework crumbled on impact and found herself half-buried in rubble. She had little time to test her rocky restraints before a fist connected with the side of her face, turning her whole world into a black canvas.

The sound of galloping hooves drew Kraus’ attention to the charging, orange mare behind her. This one seemed to know what she was doing, as she moved in quickly and gave her very little room to maneuver. Rising to her hind legs, Applejack let loose a volley of anger driven blows with her forelimbs. Kraus’ arms came up to block and protect as she found herself being forced back. The Mandalorian renegade had to admit that the pony’s blows actually hurt quite a bit through her armor.

An opening finally presented itself when one of Applejack’s blows went wide. Behind her visor, Kraus sneered from ear to ear as she quickly made the pony regret her mistake. Stepping in, she buried a fist into her gut before striking an elbow across her face. Applejack found herself stumbling back from her opponent as she lost balance with her hind legs and reverted to all fours.

Snarling in defiance, the apple farmer reared back on her forelimbs to let loose a powerful blow with her prized hind legs. Kraus found herself barely avoiding the deadly assault as it slammed into the stone wall behind her. Beneath a strike that would unlatch even the most stubborn piece of fruit from its branch, the stonework cracked and crumbled away into dust.

Falling back through the scattering debris, Krause made a quick escape from the powerful earth pony. Clearly, a direct attack wouldn’t help her with this opponent. Applejack, however, was not about to let her enemy escape so easily and gave chase through the thick cloud of dust. The mare strained her eyes against the thick veil as she found herself instinctively taking far more cautious steps the further she trekked.

The farm pony could feel glaring eyes watching her from the shadows as she moved deeper into the newly exposed room, “Y’all best be listenin’; now Ah’m willin’ ta go easy on ya if’n ya give up peaceful-like,” She half-pleaded. Debris finally settling around her, she could see the room at least appeared emptier than it felt.

Applejack’s body tensed as she scanned every corner of the room, searching for signs of her attacker. Slowly trotting to the center of the room, she could feel every shadow glaring at her. Eventually she turned her back on the wrong one.

Kraus had been waiting for this moment, when “Jacquelyn’s” attention would be away from where she was hiding. With trained and honed swiftness, the trooper closed the gap between herself and her prey, tightly grabbing the unsuspecting pony around the waist and hoisting her body into the air. Applejack let out a yelp in surprise and a brief protest as she demanded to be released. Letting herself fall backwards with the pony hoisted over her shoulder, Kraus used Applejack to absorb the fall, gravity only serving to enhance the cruelty of the blow.

Rolling away from her prey, the renegade trooper instinctively drew her wrist-mounted blade, ready to finish the mare. Much to her delight, her opponent laid out in the rubble, unmoving but barely breathing. A smirk came to her face as she pulled herself to her feet, “Good, don’t want you to die until after I deal with HER.” The words dripped with spiteful venom as she stalked into the crumbled hole the Unicorn had tumbled through.

Rarity had just begun to regain her senses as a blinding pain beat rhythmically inside of her head. Her vision blurred still as something started to dawn on her, that rhythm wasn’t just inside of her head, something was clacking on the ground. Hoof-steps maybe, “Well well well, look at the little witch now,” The voice caused her eyes to spring open as fear gripped at her heart.

Rarity had very little time react as the hard tip of Kraus’s boot connected violently with her gut. The pain forced her to curl up as she cried out in pain, “Oh, I’m sorry, did that hurt?” The words oozed disdain, reflected in another blow to the Unicorn’s ribcage.

Kraus was enjoying the sounds of her pain, a sick symphony that brought her so much joy. Pulling her helmet off, she let the half-burnt piece of armor fall to the ground with a loud THUNK, “I wanna watch you squirm with my own eyes, you little freak.” The armor may have saved her from the explosion, but the effects were still clear: her skin, once a pristine pale was marred red from the heat, her rough-shorn auburn hair looked to be partially singed, “You and your kind need to be shown your place in the galaxy,” She snarled at her before grabbing the mare by her mane and dragging her out of the hole.

The Element of Generosity fought back against the uncaring fingers that grasped her tightly and drug her across the stone surface. Reaching the top, Kraus threw her forward before connecting another heel to the mare’s shoulder, “This is where you belong, under the heel of someone stronger than you!” She was on the verge of screaming as she rained a few more blows onto Rarity who curled herself up in defense.

Kraus let out a laugh as she struggled to get away from her, “Batting your eyes like some harlot, twisting my comrades around your little finger; all the while you were simply slipping the noose around our necks!” Another harsh blow met Rarity’s chin, causing a dribble of blood to be drawn from the side of her mouth.

Grabbing her hind legs, Kraus pulled her back before she could crawl away. Smiling happily, she set herself down on the pony’s chest, pinning her forelimbs to her sides with her knees. The pain and weight made breathing nearly unbearable for the fashionista as she struggled against the irate Deathwatch trooper, “Does it hurt?” She cooed coldly while forcing her eyes to stay with hers, “It’s only gonna get worse; I’m gonna make this take a long and painful time before I finally kill you.” Kraus glanced between Pinkie and Applejack, “Don’t worry though; your friends get to die quickly.”

Her fingers quickly clasped around Rarity’s neck and began to squeeze tighter and tighter. She struggled harder against the pressing hands at her windpipe as her oxygen came thinner and thinner. Gagging and gasping, Rarity did her best to break free as fear and panic reflected in her eyes and tears rolled down her face.

“This is where you die, an’ I’m gonna drink in every second of the light leaving your eyes.” Kraus snickered as her sick game continued to play out. She teasingly would let her grasp loosen just enough to allow enough oxygen in to keep her awake and most importantly, alive, “That’s right, keep struggling; maybe you’ll get free!” Kraus teasingly laughed at her as she felt her forelimbs fight against the pin that held them at her side. Behind her, Rarity’s back legs kicked helplessly as she fought to free herself.

Kraus leaned in close and whispered into the mare’s ear, “After I’m done here, I’m going to hunt down every single one of your mutant kind,” She teasingly let her words pour into Rarity, “Your mother, your father and anyone with a drop of your blood in their veins. I’ll hunt them down and squeeeeeze the life out of them,” Her grip tightened quickly with her words forcing out a weak, choking gasp from Rarity, “They’ll all die… Just… Like… Yo-”

Tunnel vision had always been a problem of Kraus’; she would become engrossed with something to the point where the world around fell out of focus. This time would prove rather disastrous for her as a solid, blunt force connected with the side of her head. Had she paid more attention to her prey, she might have noticed the sudden shift in her eyes as they flashed from stark terror to pure rage, or even the faint, blue glow around her horn. Kraus tumbled off of the pony as a solid blow from a levitating rock struck her on the side of her head.

Rarity coughed and gasped as the sudden influx of oxygen filled her otherwise deprived lungs. Her head spun wildly with a mix of rushing blood and mounting rage. Bringing herself to her hooves and fighting off the uneasy shaking in her knees, she sluggishly brought herself to where Kraus had landed. The human before her fumbled pathetically to pull herself upright as a long trail of red ran down the side of her head mixing with the grime and sweat that caked her skin.

Breathing heavily, she fought to keep her feelings and her mind moving in one coherent direction, continually reminding herself that she was better than whatever dark, horrid fantasy was driving her, poking and prodding her from the forbidden recesses of her mind. She had seen the kindness, and to some extent, even selflessness that this thing’s kind could display. But then again, could Rarity even call this monster human? Or even a Mandalorian, for that matter?

Standing over the lost and disoriented form beneath her, she could hear her words bouncing off the inside of her skull. She could see Kraus’ dark dream playing out in her head: Her mother, her father, even Sweetie Belle. She would make good on her promise, she’d kill everypony she knew and loved, regardless of how old or even how young they were. Something equally terrible dawned on her: just how many had died by this woman’s hand already? How many cowered in fear of this uncaring alien and her attacking race? Rarity knew she had her answer, this thing in front of her wasn’t a human, it wasn’t some other kind of alien; it was a beast, formed by taking all the worst and most horrible things in galaxy and compressing them together till they formed a sentient life form.

Kraus’ eyes began to refocus as she found herself on her back. A sharp, throbbing pain in the side of her head made moving a cumbersome task. She quickly discovered this while trying to sit up, only to find herself slipping back onto her back. Upon the return of her eyes, she found herself staring up into the face of the mare she vowed to torturously kill. Kraus could see the conflict of emotions beating back and forth within overly expressive eyes.

A dark sneer etched across Kraus' face, “You don’t have the ba-,”

She had put up with enough; enough of her taunts, enough of her threats. Rarity’s forehoof slammed into Kraus’s face with a loud cracking sound. The force of the hate-filled blow sent her backward into the shallow trickle of water running along the sewer floor. Breathing heavily and sharply, Rarity glared down at the woman beneath her, the pain in her limbs quickly becoming numbed by the growing rage. The voice of reason that had dominated so many of her actions in the past was now nothing more than a whisper being pushed far away from her.

Her hoof rose up and struck another hard blow to the woman’s face. Her body moved on its own as her limb rose up and struck her across the face again and again. Kraus gurgled out what might be protests or maybe even begging for her life, all were quickly silenced by the mare’s blows. Rarity pounded the woman again and again as a deafening noise rose up, barely drowning out the sounds of bone and flesh giving way to hate and fury. With every blow she could see this woman ending the lives of her loved ones, one at a time, strangling them all. The visions came fast and tinted dark red as her forelimb fought against the lethargic pain growing within it, fatigue and wear setting in.

Suddenly something wrapped tightly around her and pulled her back to the sewers, back to the battlefield of Canterlot and away from her darkening fantasies. Panting and wheezing, Rarity fought to free herself from the vice like limb around her midsection, “Rarity, now calm down, sugarcube!” Applejack’s words pleaded with her, “This ain’t you, Rarity, an’ Ah know this ain’t a road ya wanna walk!”

The veil of violence had fallen away from her eyes as the shades of red started to fade back to normal. Breathing heavily, she was finally aware of the screaming pain in her forelimb, her lungs and throat ached from yelling. With great hesitation, she cast her eyes upon the outlet for her rage, broken and bloody at her hooves. Flesh swelled up and bruised while skin tore and bones broke as Kraus’ chest rose and fell in a shallow rhythm. Rarity began to tremble in Applejack’s embrace, no longer fighting back as her actions started to crash down around her.

Rarity was no judge of human tastes but she could only assume that she may have been considered lovely at one point. Not anymore, not after what she had done to her. Her eyes traveled to her own fore-hooves, her pure pristine white fur was stained with drying redness. Tears welling up in her eyes as she felt her stomach lurching from side to side, “I… I… Pinkie Pie, somepony needs to check on her.” She quickly stated as she pulled herself free.

Applejack sadly watched the mare stumble away from the scene she’d created with her own hooves. A pain-wracked chuckle drew her attention back to the broken human behind her, “Heh, should’a let ’er finish it,” Kraus coughed out behind a spattering of blood and pain.

The apple farmer’s eyes narrowed tightly on the Deathwatch trooper. Trotting over to Kraus’ side, the normally gentle and kind mare could only stare down at this creature in contempt and disgust. Through broken teeth and trickling blood, the broken woman continued to laugh between flashes of pain, burning deeper into Applejack. Taking a steadying breath, she took her growing anger under control, “Ah just didn’t want ’er ta know how it feels ta take a life,” Her hoof rested on the woman’s neck and pressed down as the broken trooper barely struggled to fight back. Emotion faded from her eyes as she put her full weight into it, “Already know what it feels like mahself, what’s one more?”

Mandalore Shaysa Fett drank in the organized chaos of the bridge crew around her. Men and women moving from station to station as this small portion of her fleet prepared to secure this system before the rest of her forces arrived. She always enjoyed these moments before battle, the feeling of energy in the air as everything started to come to a boiling point. Her armor’s red and gold color scheme set her far apart from any other armored Protectors on the bridge, making her a bright beacon in the sea of confusion.

Her fingers tapped out a rhythm on the helmet tucked under her arm as she watched and listened to the unfolding scene, “Mand’alor,” Fett’s attention shifted to a young private scanning over a datapad, “We’ve completed analyzing the ships; they matched the fleet that attacked Ordo’s dry dock.”

A playful smirk came to Shaysa’s lips at this information, “So our opponent is that traitorous dog Hrask,” Everything she knew about the diminutive Admiral told her to expect a rather bloody exchange in the next few moments, “Move all ships forward to engage the aruetii forces and scramble Havoc and Ripper squadrons to take off after the opening volley.”

The far larger force of ships under the banner of the Neo Protectors moved in closer to the smaller Deathwatch fleet. Volleys of turbolaser fire and missiles from both sides tore across the empty void of space. The airless vacuum drained all sound from the exchange as hundreds of turrets unleashed countless salvos into one another’s shields.

From either side, star fighters began to pour out of the larger, carrier-class ships. Deathwatch’s forces entered the battle in heavily-modified R-28 star fighters, their armor and weapons systems having clearly been overhauled to combat modern threats. The Protectors, however, preferred the use of a swept-wing fighter closely taking design nods from the old Mandal Motors fighter known as the Scyk, creating a new dual engine interceptor simply dubbed the Scyk MKII.

A careful exchange began to take shape as these smaller combat vessels fought tooth and nail as they ducked and darted between the exchanges of capital ship weapons. One particular Protector fighter moved ahead of his formation in order to chase down a Deathwatch fighter. The pursuit took these pilots through the shrinking gaps between their capital ships and dangerously close to the spraying fire from these massive behemoths. Though the Scyk MKII lacked the heavier armor of the R-28, it made up for the lack of defenses with speed and agility - speed it was able to use to close the gap just enough to riddle the fighter’s hull with blaster fire. The vessel swung away from the fireball in time to avoid being caught in the blast, “Havoc Three, splash one!” The words excitedly rang out across the coms.

From the bridge of her massive vessel, Fett drank in the flashes of blaster fire exchanging back and forth between the hulking warships, while in between the smaller star fighters cut swaths of destruction, filling in any gaps in the skirmish. An excited smirk came across her features as it became apparent that all the rumors of Hrask were true: Despite the smaller size of his fleet, he was able to hold his own. The Mandalore was impressed when one of her assault frigates became the first casualty, entirely consumed in a ball of fire. Twice the ships meant her opponent had twice the targets to choose from. But Fett didn’t need to wipe him out, only stall till the rest of her forces entered the system.

Teth’s attention forced itself away from the most incredible display of physics breaking he’d ever seen in his life in order to return to his children. His posture quickly switching back into parental mode, “Are you two alright?” The concern hanging from his words brought a feeling of sincerity to them.

The pair slowly nodded in unison as they both struggled to understand what had just happened. This brought out a soft smile in Teth, “Thank goodness,”

Sounds of heavy foot falls snapped the pair of colts out of their stunned silence. Quickly jumping from their seats, the pair made for what seemed the safest place in the room as of yet: behind Teth. Their human protector quickly turned to face the new intruders. A pair of his men pushed their way into the room in a near panic; they came to a sudden stop as they caught sight of the dead troopers. Teth’s steely gaze brought them both to attention.

“The two of you had best have a good excuse for being so late while my SONS and I were being attacked!” Teth bellowed causing them to flinch.

“S-sir, we, uh,” One of the pair stammered as he tried to organize his thoughts, “Sir, the Neo Protectors have entered the system and have engaged our fleet; Admiral Hrask has ordered a full retreat and our men have begun pulling out of the city.”

Teth had never been quite so thankful for his inhuman talent for masking his emotions as the rage in his gut wanted to spill out and crush these messengers, “I see,” A sensation through the Force drew his mind to a spot not far from the palace, his true prey in this fight would be here soon. His gaze moved to the colts at his feet before returning to the troopers, “Take my sons to the shuttle and get them to safety, I will remain and deal with Mandalorian Knight outside the palace.”

Both troopers shared a look from behind their visors, one of them almost making the mistake of asking how he knew this, “Yes, sir!” Instead they made the smart choice of simply following their orders and snapping off a salute.

Teth knelt down to the pair of colts, speaking softly and confidently, “I need you both to be strong and go with these men. I’ll be right behind you both, alright?”

The sharp stench of ozone filled the warehouse as the small contingent of guards fought against the smaller force of invaders. Mackers and Yazan had taken refuge behind a system of pillars doing their best to draw any stray fire away the caged civilians. Spitfire, however, preferred a more direct approach to the battle.

Her blinding speed and impossibly smooth maneuverability had been trained up from years of stunt flying. Try as they might, the Deathwatch couldn’t keep her at a distance, continually losing valuable ground as she darted from target to target. The length of chain wrapped around her forelimb had gone from restraint to deadly flail in a fraction of a second as it scored bone-shattering hits as she zipped about the room.

One of the few remaining defenders attempted to make a run for freedom as he let fly blind blaster bolts over his shoulder. Passing far too close to one of the slave pens, one colt decided it was time for some payback of his own. His front hooves reached out between the bars and took hold of the man’s leg, yanking hard to pull the captured limb into the bars. The trooper let out a painful yelp as the electrical current trapping the bars coursed through his body causing his muscles to spasm. Fighting through the pain, the colt held on tightly to the leg and the bars.

This act of defiance would unintentionally pay off in a pretty big way for both the colt and everypony else. The massive surge of electricity passing through the cage, its occupant and the trooper was enough to cause an overload throughout the system. With a loud pop, the cages began to swing open, the locking mechanisms blowing off from the sheer influx of excess energy. The newly-freed ponies were quick to join the fray against the last two of their guards and tormentors. All but one colt, who’s smoking body clung tightly to the leg of a still trooper smoldering inside his armor.

With a proud smirk, Spitfire took charge of the fresh reinforcements, landing herself before them and the exit, “All of you, I need you to listen to me! Right now your friends, your neighbors and loved ones are fighting just outside to free our city. I understand you’ve been through a lot, but we need your help if we’re ever going to push these aliens off our world!” Her wings spread out wide as she puffed out her chest, creating an almost regal look, “We need to show Deathwatch the strength of Canterlot and Equestria! Who’s coming with me!?”

It wasn’t hard to convince them to keep fighting; the adrenaline high these ponies were still riding was palpable. A famous figurehead like a Captain of the Wonderbolts could push them to do just about anything after she fought so hard to set them free. Cheers and shouts of support quickly grew from the crowd of Equestrians when their savior lifted her chain-wrapped hoof to the sky in defiance. Drinking in the joy and adulation, Mackers and Yazan joined in with the crowd as they started to pour out the front doors of the warehouse.

Spitfire couldn’t help but be impressed with herself as she watched the throngs of ponies gallop into the streets. For the first time in days her heart soared high and showed no signs of falling. With a wide smile, she turned towards her current partners in crime and began trotting towards them. She was starting to consider that maybe not all of these aliens were the same.

As Mackers turned his attention to the pony, his eyes immediately were drawn to a small red dot creating contrast against her fiery coat; the dot moved along her side towards her head, suddenly flicking a few warning lights off inside his head. Darting towards her, everything seemed to move in slow motion as he leapt to tackle the mare out of the way. He yelled at her to get down, but his words came out at a crawl from his adrenaline-fueled maneuver. His body collided with her, toppling them both out of harm’s way as several blaster bolts struck the ground.

Yazan quickly leveled his weapon with the attack in the rafters, letting loose several bolts of energy that buried into the structure around him. Gritting his teeth, the Twi’lek trooper continued to spray fire into the ceiling as he tried to keep up with the frantic movements of the Deathwatch trooper overhead. A clinking noise behind him drew his attention to the grenade that had landed during his spray and pray moment. Cursing loudly, he dove out of the blast radius as he was propelled by the explosion into a stone pillar, slumping to the ground.

Spitfire quickly pulled herself free of Mackers, glaring daggers up at their attacker, “Think you’re safe up there!?” She called up at him as her anger began to flare up again. With a swift motion of her wings, she was quickly launched into the rafters with a triumphant sneer, “Think again!”

Caught off-guard, the soldier stumbled back as he let several blaster bolts fly blindly. The ever-confident stunt mare deftly avoided them with ease. Her fur stood on edge as the familiar heat of energy weapons came teasingly close to her, only serving to fuel her actions as she ducked and dodged across the tight quarters of the rafters. With a swift burst of speed, she slipped behind the Mandalorian traitor, wrapping her chain tightly around his neck. Her back hooves pressed into the small of his back as she used his body for leverage to tighten it and cut off airflow; instinctively, his grip on his weapon tightened, sending off several shots wildly into the room before his body went limp.

Spitfire stood over her prey in triumph before casting her eyes to her allies below, only to become filled with shock at what she saw. Just below her Mackers lay on the ground, holding the front of his helmet and screaming in pain. The edges of his visor were scorched and shattered as blood trickled through his fingers and the lower edge of his helmet. Her blood began to run cold as her eyes followed the fresh blaster marks along the floor leading towards her wounded alley as he writhed on the ground. Slowly her attention drifted to the chain around her hoof and the dead trooper hanging limply from the rafters, her mind eventually finishing the equation.

Aim to misbehave

Overlooking the streets of Canterlot, a lone sharpshooter tracked the movements of rebellious ponies as he zeroed his scope in on one Unicorn in particular. He’d watched the sky-blue stallion rally freedom fighters left and right. Now it was time to break what confidence he’d managed to foster in his people with a single blaster bolt.

The readouts of his scope and HUD interacted with each other as they dialed in the range and adjustments needed to hit the target. One shot, one kill; that’s what he wanted as he tracked the crosshairs over the colt’s head. The sniper couldn’t help but sneer gleefully as the pony was so unaware of his presence, of how his life hung by just a thread. As his finger touched the trigger of his rifle, something slammed into him from behind. The unyielding force of the blow sent him toppling from his window perch and slamming into the ground with a bone-shattering crunch.

Rainbow Dash watched the hapless Deathwatch trooper fall to the ground, landing head-first onto the stone streets of the city. Her keen eyes quickly picked out her next target before she exploded back into the sky. If nothing else, she was going to keep everything above street level clear at all costs. She quickly found herself joined by other fearless fliers, her own small army of Pegasi, fighting against all odds to clear out their city.

The influx of support, however, did little to lift the speedster’s heart. She ventured a glance towards the palace. Her heart sank a little as she thought of Twilight marching into what was undoubtedly the enemy stronghold, “You’d all better come back…” She muttered bitterly to nopony in particular.

The palace was just a stone’s throw away now. All the fighting had drawn out the majority of the enemy forces, just as Torb had predicted. Unfortunately, there was still an uncomfortably large contingent of troopers standing by just outside the palace. Examining this from the alleyway, Kad cursed under his breath at the heavy numbers protecting the castle.

“If any’a you got a plan, I’d be receptive to it ‘bout now.” The Captain assured them as he looked over the hopeless situation.

Traycn’s mind turned the numbers over as he sized up their enemies. Though he was known more as a savage and a brute, he was still a master of war and tactics. Only one option came to mind, “Alor’ad, be ready to move.” He stated flatly as he hoisted his heavy rotary blaster up to his hip.

Twilight looked up at him confusion, “Sergeant Traycn?” Her eyes darted between Kad and Traycn as she sought an answer to this mystery.

“Ya sure ya wanna do this, Traycn?” Kad asked sadly, “Sure there’s another way ‘round this mess.”

“We have neither the time nor luxury to seek it,” The massive warrior snapped at him, “That pathetic excuse for a militia will be wiped out if we do not reach Teth soon and force him to order the cease fire.” His voice carried surprisingly stern command to it, “There are too many for us to wade through and they have the defensive advantage. Someone must draw them out and open the way.”

With a sigh Kad’s shoulders slumped, “I know better than to question your numbers.”

“Do not mourn, Kad Skirata; it makes you look just as pitiable as the Jetii weaklings,” Traycn chuckled as he gave Kad’s shoulder a nudge with his weapon.

As he made his way towards the opening of the alleyway, Twilight could feel the sudden somber grip in the air around them. The only time she could recall this oppressively saddening feeling was at the funeral of her great aunt. Her eyes quickly darted to the only face not hidden behind a protective mask. She could read Shining Armor like a book and quickly realized what was happening, “Oh no, no Traycn you can’t-”

Her nearly screaming voice was brought to a halt as pair of familiarly strong hooves wrapped around her chest and mouth to keep her still and quiet. Twilight struggled weakly against her brother’s grip, “Twilee, we can’t draw attention to ourselves,” He softly reminded her as her muffled voice squealed in angry protest.

Stopping at the end of the alley, Traycn gave his comrades one last look, stopping first on Twilight, “Do not struggle little sister, and remember this: there are no heroes among the Mando’ade. It is expected of you to give your life to protect your people. Your family.”

“Besides, he’s not going alone.” Zex spoke up defiantly.

“Doc, this ain’t the time nor place to be playin’ martyr.” Kad snarled at the medic.

“This has nothing to do with my past sins Captain,” Zex reassured him, “But we both know he’ll need help out there. With two of us out there, we can watch each other’s backs.”

Kad roughly took him by the shoulder and stared him down, visor to visor, “You both die out there an’ I’m gonna be real cross with the both of ya.”

“If you’re tagging along Doctor, then you’d best move quickly before I leave you to fend for yourself,” Traycn growled impatiently.

Behind his visor, Traycn couldn’t help but smirk in anticipation over the coming battle just around the corner. Rounding the corner he came face to face with the literally fifty-to-one odds stacked against him. Their hesitation to open fire at the sight of the hulking giant revealed they clearly hadn’t expected anyone to make it this far to the palace, “Kyr’am motirs shal gar, aruetii!” His voice called out loudly in anger before the sounds of blaster fire filled the air.

Several rapidly-fired bolts of energy tore into a pair of Deathwatch troopers, knocking their lifeless bodies to the ground. These were the opening cords to a fresh chorus of destruction and chaos. Traycn’s volley was quickly answered with hails of blaster bolts slamming into his armor plates. The thick layers of Mandalorian Iron easily soaked up the otherwise deadly hail of energy blasts; they couldn’t protect him forever, but it would take more than their standard equipment to crack him open.

From the alleyways, Zex cut a path through the winding corridors to find a flanking position. With a steadying breath, he brought his blaster rifle to his shoulder. A flick of his finger and the weapon was switched into full-auto before he pulled back on the trigger and let a constant stream of energy bolts tear across the courtyard and into several troopers’ unprotected backs. He quickly received a number of angry blaster bolts striking the alley walls around him in response. Lacking the thick armor of his comrade, Zex had to rely on using the environment for cover as he fell back behind a trash skiff.

The pair of Neo Protectors fought back as hard as they could to keep all the eyes in the courtyard on them. None of them noticed the sudden flash of bright purple energy just behind the regal double doors of the palace.

In a sudden flash of violet energy, three figures were blinked into existence just within the castle walls. A transition through time and space that was not without its toll as the three stumbled a bit, regaining their bearings.

Shaking his head clear, the Captain of the Royal Guard focused his mind as an aura began to encase his horn. A dark purple sheen appeared over the entrance to the castle as he let out a tired grunt, “That should keep them out, for the time being.”

Out of curiosity, Kad gave the field of light an experimental poke. A light ripple of energy shimmered around the impact zone but his hand couldn’t penetrate beyond the paper thin layer, “Okay, gotta admit, that’s actually pretty neat.”

Twilight stared at the magically-sealed doorway that separated them from their comrades. She could hear them fighting just outside and out of reach. It tore her apart inside as anger and sadness coupled together and formed their own creation that quickly surged and burned brightly inside her body. Hateful eyes shifted to her commanding officer, the alien that had led them this far, “How could you?”

“Got a problem, cadet Sparkle?”

“Zex and Traycn, they’re your soldiers, your friends, how could you let them throw their lives away like that?” Her teeth ground in her mouth as she fought a losing battle to keep her head, “You barely tried to stop them, did you even ca-”

Her rant was cut short as the hard metallic plate of Kad’s hand guard connected with the side of her face. The force of the blow sent the mare into a state of shock, tumbling off her hooves and landing on her side. A hot flash of pain in the side of her face was the only real clue she had of the blow ever landing.

Kad stood over her, the light casting his dark silhouette over the mare. The empty black stare of his polarized visor tore at her as his presence permeated waves of anger, “Cadet Twilight Sparkle,” His voice dripped with the promise of pain and wrath far exceeding the relatively light tap she had received to the side of the face, “Corporal Zex and Sergeant Traycn chose to stay behind to give us an opening, a sacrifice I will not allow you to squander. Every Mando’ade is expected to fight to their last breath to protect their people and complete the mission. Every second you squander standin’ here tryin’ to blame me for their choices brings them closer to death.” The stern tone in how he addressed her brought back images of a rather angry stallion disappointed in what his little girl had done, “Get on your feet an’ move out before I really lose my temper,” He grabbed her by the collar of her armor and forced her eyes to stay with his visor, “You copy?”

She looked to her brother, wanting to find some type of support or defense. Her heart sank as she could see from the look on Shining Armor’s face that he clearly supported what Kad was saying. A hoof rose to her cheek to try and rub away the stinging pain. She could feel shameful tears scratching at the back of her eyes, wanting to spill forth. In her mind’s eye, the Deathwatch leader’s blaster flashed, and confused, frightened eyes turned glassy as her true enemy returned to the forefront of her mind. Teth. “Yes, sir,” Twilight forced out with a shaky tone as she climbed back to her hooves, “I copy.”

This was his element, his purpose for existing. Traycn rippled blaster fire into the horde of enemy troopers, not once showing signs of backing down. Bolt after bolt of energy slammed into his beskar plates as his attack was answered back tenfold. Despite the warning lights going off across what was left of his HUD, he couldn’t help but feel a grim sense of satisfaction.

From a hidden lab on some backwoods farming world to the gladiator pits of Geonosis, and even the blood-soaked steps of the Imperial palace. His life had led from one battle to another, facing enemies the likes of which most would turn and run from. He could feel a bolt crack the casing of his leg; the mechanical limb was at risk of failing him.

He was throwing everything he could at them; every weapon built into his armor was spitting death at the Deathwatch trooper. He found a great deal of satisfaction in watching his fifteenth man fall to the endless streams of bolts.

A violent sparking drew his attention back to his accursed leg as the armor began giving out. The mechanical limb beneath was quickly shredded by bolts of energy. He could recall the day he lost his flesh legs, the feel of the Rancor’s jaws clamping down on the limbs before he collapsed its skull under his gravity fist. It was a glorious battle that brought a smile to his face in the middle of the chaos.

As the limb gave way he found himself falling to one knee, but refusing to let himself go down without fighting. Traycn let out a roar over the sounds of blaster fire as he continued to unload every weapon he had in reach upon the enemy.

A loud bang and the feel of hot metal raining against him drew his attention to the automated blaster that had been perched atop his shoulder. All that was left of it now was sparking wires and twisted metal hanging uselessly from his body.

A pain at his side tore at him as his chest plate began to fail him now. He could feel the metal wearing down under the constant stress of this battle. His mind wandered to the incident wherein his torso had been damaged to the point of needing replacement: The loose I-beam of that destroyer’s hull puncturing his armor and body, the exposure to the vacuum of space. A weaker being would have died, but he was not weak.

He wasn’t weak; he kept telling himself this. He wasn’t weak, they were the weak ones, “I am not weak!” He bellowed out as he forced himself to stand again, unloading what little was left of his ammunition into the mass of black and blue armor as he charged forward.

Traycn could taste their fear and panic as he pushed himself through the waves of pain striking him. A loud pop over his shoulder was followed by the feeling of hot debris and shrapnel raining down his collar. He didn’t need to look; he knew they’d managed to destroy his last automated gun. This did nothing to slow or deter the charging monster.

Another lucky rain of blaster bolts destroyed the blaster cannon he’d been wielding for so long. The faithful weapon was reduced to molten slag in his hand. It was too late to stop him now as hate, rage and pure, unadulterated wrath drove his slowly fading systems.

A flash of pain in his side caused him to stumble a moment and let out a curse; he knew that pain all too well. They had finally wised up and found an ion weapon. Digging deeper, he forced himself to stay on his feet as he tore forward towards the offending trooper.

As he entered their ranks, several of them tried to slow his progress, only to be knocked to the ground and in one unfortunate soul’s case, trampled underfoot. Bolts of ion energy hit his body repeatedly stealing every ounce of strength the warrior possessed. More than half of his body had been lost over the years of constant battle and each piece replaced with cybernetics.

Once in striking distance, the metal plates of his remaining arm shifted and changed to bring his last remaining weapon to bear: An arm-mounted rocket with a high-yield warhead. The opening volley of this skirmish had destroyed the launching mechanism, but at this range he didn’t need it to launch, just detonate.

With a loud, defiant roar, his mighty limb rose up in a high arc and came crashing down on the hapless trooper in his path. The mass of metal and rage came crashing down on the humanoid’s body with unrelenting force. As the fist impacted the poor man’s head and chest, the air was filled with the sounds of bending metal and cracking bone. Inside, the explosive strapped to his arm a tiny device clicked into place, sending out the detonate signal.

With a grim sneer, Traycn thought about the life he’d led up to this point. All the battles, the enemies he had faced and the trials he had persevered through. He was proud of his life and how it was all about to end: like a true warrior, like a true Mando’ade. There was only one regret that nagged at him as a ball of fire consumed him and the world around him, ‘Kad Skirata, I never did get to kill you,’

From his position in the alleyway, Zex could see very little of the fight between Traycn and the Deathwatch, save for the occasional dead body. Blaster bolts continued to slam into the walls around him as he hugged closely to his cover, revealing himself only long enough to fire off a volley of bolts in rapid succession.

Diving back into cover the Mandalorian medic quickly switched out his spent power pack for a fresh supply of ammo. A life on the battlefield had taught him a great number of skills beyond medical expertise. His skills with a blaster rifle had grown exponentially, skills he was happy to share with Deathwatch free of charge.

The smell of ozone began to mix with what he could only assume was the now burning garbage inside the skiff. It wouldn’t be long now before they blasted their way through the weak metal box and began showering him with energy bolts. With a tired sigh, he removed his helmet and let it roll away from him along the grimy floor of the alley.

Reaching into collar of his armor, he produced a small locket hanging from a thin chain. With a quick yank, he pulled the keepsake from his neck and wrapped the length of gold tightly around his hand, “Zeala, Me’sary, I’m so sorry I was never a good enough father to both of you…”

A few bolts managed to pierce deep enough through his cover to scrape along his cheek. Flinching off to the side, Zex cursed a bit before returning to his prayer, “If this is where I die, I only hope the two of you will forgive me when I meet you on the other side.”

Taking a steadying breath, Zex brought his weapon close to his chest and took one last moment to stare sadly at the locket. There was no time for regrets, no doubts, only action. Rolling to the side, Zex brought himself out of cover to unload another volley of blaster bolts in a fully automatic burst of fire as he was greeted with a bright flash and a wave of heat before being knocked off his feet and thrown down the alleyway. All around him the buildings shook from the force of the explosion as a wall beside him crumbled and fell apart. Zex curled his body up, trying to protect himself as best he could as the pieces of the buildings started to fall around him, pinning him to the ground. He cursed himself under his breath for being stupid enough to remove his helmet; never remove your helmet.

The trio of Kad, Twilight Sparkle and Shining Armor made a mad dash through the halls of Canterlot castle. All was quiet until Shining Armor spoke up for everyone, “I know I can’t be the only one thinking this, but why haven’t we run into any more guards?”

“Could be the riots outside,” Kad stated as he rounded a corner, saber in hand only to be greeted with another empty passageway, “Or sheer dumb luck, either way I ain’t ‘bout to complain.”

Shining let out a chuckle as thought about how unlikely the latter truly was, “Oh yeah, the heavens are truly smiling on us after half the city gets shot up by alien soldiers.” He stated sarcastically.

Twilight had remained quiet for the most part, still quietly fuming under the surface after the indignant blow and brow-beating she’d received. A wave of discomfort her brother easily picked up on as he pulled up beside her to speak in a hushed tone, “Twilee, what's bothering you now?”

She gave him a sidelong glare from behind her visor before focusing on the path ahead of them, “Nothing much, just that you let your own sister get knocked around when she’s standing up for what she feels is right,” Twilight hissed at him.

Rolling his eyes Shining Armor easily countered her, “Twilight, as much as I can’t stand the idea of you being involved in all of this, he IS your commanding officer. That means he has to be obeyed and respected. Personally, I think he was far too easy on you. If you’d been one of my soldiers, a slap and stern talking to would seem like a blessing compared to what I would’ve done to you.”

The thought sent a shiver down her spine. She’d glimpsed just how harsh her brother could be when he believed she was intentionally trying to ruin his wedding, “But still, he let them stay behind-“

“A decision he has to live with.” Shining interrupted her, “The burden of command isn’t something to be taken lightly, Twilight. I guarantee he remembers the names and faces of every soul that served under him and didn’t come back. I know I do…”

Twilight could feel the air leave her sails as her cause was suddenly defeated so harshly. Though now she could see her brother in a new light; he’d spent a long time away from everypony during his tour of duty. She was starting to understand why he never talked about that time abroad.

Another explosion rocked the palace around them. Stumbling on her hooves, Twilight found herself toppling into the back of Kad’s leg, grabbing onto the Mandalorian out of reflex to keep from falling over, “You guys ARE trying to save this city, right?”

Kad was too preoccupied by something else to respond to the young mare. Something within the Force had shifted, changed. Focusing on this point he found the answer, though part of him already knew what he would find there, “Traycn is dead,” He stated flatly as he tried to control his rising anger.

Twilight stared at Kad’s back in shock as this fact was thrust upon her, “But, how, how can you know that?! He might still be alive!” It surprised even her just how much her voice began to buckle.

“His presence in the Force faded away, can’t sense ’im any longer.” Kad replied in a grim tone.

“What about Zex?”

Kad took a moment focus his mind upon his comrades, “Zex is still alive, just lost; hard to tell where the good doctor’s ended up this time,” With a great deal of hesitation Kad looked over his shoulder at the pair of Unicorns at his back, “We have to keep movin’.”

With a pain-laden grunt, Zex slowly began to open his eyes and take in his surroundings. He found himself on his back, staring up at small strands of sunlight trickling in through chunks of rock and stone overhead. Zex had expected something like this, but something was off about it. The haphazardly dropped pieces of rock looked to be too far away to have landed on him and on top of that why didn’t he feel any overwhelming pressure?

Slowly, the world began to focus more clearly for the Zabrak as the dust still filling the air began to subside as small hints began to build up to reveal where he was. He could feel the cool trickle of very shallow water running along the back of his head. The smell of mildew and grime hung heavy around him as he scanned about the dark carved-stone walls before it dawned on him, “I must’ve fallen back into the sewers.”

He looked down at the locket still wrapped around his hand before muttering to no one but himself, “Thank you girls, you’re always watching over me.”

With his peace said, he forced himself to sit as he did a quick mental check list on his condition. All the toes and fingers were able to move, no broken bones he could feel, even all his horns were accounted for. Pulling himself to his feet, he started to cautiously make his way through the tunnels underneath the Canterlot streets. He found himself favoring his right leg, damage taken in the fall, he assumed.

Overhead, he could hear the sounds of battle still raging just above him. The sounds of blaster fire and the hooves stomping around coupled together barely drowned out the sounds of yelling from either side. It amused him; from where he was standing, it was impossible to tell whose side anyone was even on. He could hear something up ahead of him in the dimness of the tunnels. Voices.

Carefully, his hand moved to the blaster pistol at his hip as he moved cautiously around the corner. Drawing closer he could hear them much clearer.

“Why… Why didn’t you just leave me?” Female, her voice was labored, pained, obviously wounded from the sounds of intermingled coughs.

“Just shut up, will you?” Male, sounded under quite a bit of duress, no doubt worried about his friend’s condition, “You already know the answer to that.”

Hugging the wall, Zex inched a bit closer with his weapon at the ready. His calling as a doctor begged him to see to the wounded, but the soldier in him reminded him it could very well be Deathwatch waiting around the bend, “Hey out there; is your friend hurt?” He called out from his hiding place.

“Who’s out there?” The male voice snarled back.

“Calm down, I’m a medic,” Zex reassured him, “I can help your friend but I can’t do jack if you kill me.”

There was a hushed conversation just out of sight. Zex kept himself pressed to the wall as he half expected the sounds of blaster fire for his troubles. Much to his surprise though, “Alright fine, but we’re going to be watching you!” The male voice called out to him.

Slowly Zex rounded the corner, holstering his weapon as he saw a pair of ponies and not the Deathwatch troopers he was afraid he’d found. Drawing closer, he could make them out much better now, a male Unicorn and a female Pegasus. The stallion bore a deep chestnut coat and auburn mane and tail. From the look in his eyes, Zex had a feeling this one might have missed the announcement that some of the aliens here were on their side. Either way, he kept a close and protective vigil over his friend. The mare sat propped up against the sewer wall, her dark blue coat was stained with burn marks from blaster fire while her dark green mane hung over her eyes as she breathed heavily, holding her chest.

Zex phased out the angry glares of her bodyguard as he set about his work. Carefully moving her forelimb out of the way, he could see the injury that was causing her so much trouble, “Blaster round collapsed your lung.” He pointed out as he reached for the medical case he kept strapped to his back, “You’re lucky to be alive, ma’am.”

“Moon-Beam…” She coughed out.

“Beg pardon,”

“My mother was always called ma’am… Just call me Moon-Beam, please,” She stated with a pained smile.

Returning the gesture softly, Zex nodded in agreement, “Alright then, Moon-Beam, you can call me Zex.” The work to mend her wounds didn’t take long for the medic’s heavily trained hands. Over his shoulder, Moon-Beam’s companion continued to mutter hatefully as he hovered off to the side, just waiting for the first sign of their trust being misplaced. Zex suddenly remembered one of the things he missed about working in a hospital, the simple joy of how family members and the like were kept very separate from the work.

“So, how’d this happen?” He might as well start some idle conversation to pass the time.

“Some of us got cocky and tried to push into the residential district…” She forced herself to recount, “Not a smart move on our part…”

“We trotted right into a damned slaughter,” Her friend stated bitterly, “There had to be over a hundred of them ready and waiting for us. We’re the only ones who made it out of that massacre alive.”

“You made it out though,” Zex pointed out as he kept up his work, “Being alive is a victory all its own, whether you like it not.” Over his shoulder, he glanced at the hovering stallion, “Tell me, are there any more wounded being evacuated to the underground?”

He gave the alien a quizzical look before answering, “Yeah, it’s pretty much the only safe place in the city right now.”

“Good. If you want them to live, you’ll take me to them.”

Twilight, Kad and Shining Armor made a quick charge through the eerily empty halls of the palace. Twilight especially felt uneasy about how empty and alien everything felt to her. There had always been servants and various other members of the palace staff mulling about their appointed tasks. Now it felt more like a tomb, still and empty, the life drained out of the walls around them.

Something odd started flashing red on the corner of her HUD. Quickly Twilight searched her memory back to the briefing Torb had given them on the various functions they had access to. Her ears perked up in excitement as she remembered, the small circle in the bottom right hand side was a motion tracker. This information sent a shiver down her spine as she realized that if it tracked motion and the marker in the center was supposed to be her, then the markers showing up behind them had to be, “Captain, we’re going to have company soon,”

Kad’s attention glanced onto his own motion tracker before letting off a few curses, “Knew it wasn’t gonna last.”

“Some of us aren’t wearing space armor,” Shining quickly pointed out, “Mind filling in the odd colt out?”

Kad tapped the side of his helmet, “Built in motion trackin’ system, standard issue with any heads up display,”

“So there could be enemy troopers right on our heels then?”

“’Fraid so,”

Twilight’s pace came to a sudden stop when she noticed her brother no longer at her side. Looking back she found him standing his ground in the middle of the hallway, “Shining Armor, what are you doing?”

“Both of you keep going,” He told them as he looked over his shoulder, “I’ll buy you the time you need to get Teth.”

Twilight quickly closed the gap with her brother, “NO!” Her voice cracked and broke under the stress of her own emotions as she pleaded in protest, “I won’t lose you too!”

“Ya sure ‘bout this son,” Kad was surprised by the hesitance in his own voice.

“This hallway is the main thoroughfare leading to the throne room,” The colt brought to his attention, “It’s narrow and should box them in and will help me keep them in close quarters.” A broad confident smile stretched across his face, “They aren’t getting past me.”

“Shiny, please don’t do this,” Twilight continued to plead with her brother weakly.

“Twilee,” With a warm smile Shining Armor pulled her into a head lock and mussed her mane playfully, “I’ll be fine, I promise. Now go and save the world again, little sis.”

Twilight forced a weak smile as she let herself linger latched to her brother’s presence a bit longer, “You’d better stay safe, BBBFF.”

Shining Armor’s attention shifted to Kad, “Skirata, you’d better bring my sister back in one piece.”

“You’d best be comin’ back to claim her then son,” Kad replied with a hint of pride, “Got too many damned strays on my heels as it is.”

Twilight gave her brother one last, long look before following after the Mandalorian as they continued their charge towards the throne room. Her heart sank a bit as she fought to keep morbid thoughts from her head. She couldn’t let Shining Armor die, not in her own head.

As the pair neared the massive, regal double doors leading to the throne room, Kad reached into the Force. He took hold of as much power as he could muster on the fly and launched it forward with a quick gesture. The invisible wave sent dust and dirt flying around it, cracking the marble pillars and floor where it brushed to closely to them before finding its target. Connecting with the doors, they gave very little resistance to Kad’s show of power. The heavy metal hinges that held them aloft were torn asunder as the heavy pieces of gold plated metal were sent airborne.

Teth watched this display with an amused grin on his face, his helmet set casually on the armrest of the throne he happily occupied. One door buried itself into the dais at a sharp angel. The other seemed to be honing in on him by chance as it skipped across the floor before finding the energy to keep flying towards the Deathwatch Commander.

With a swift motion of his own, the offending door was easily grasped through the Force and buried into the wall behind the throne. Teth sneered from ear to ear at the pair standing in the doorway of the throne room. Firstly the irate Unicorn mare whose horn began to glow and spark with the violent thoughts of spells that she wanted to tear him apart with. Secondly was the Mandalorian Knight standing with his saber at the ready as he took up a fighting stance.

Teth glanced at the destruction their entrance had caused before looking back at them, “Twilight Sparkle and Kad Skirata, I feel as though I’ve made you both angry.” A toothy grin slid across his face to make him seem less human and more on par with an animal eyeing its next meal.

The devil's due

For over a century the nation of Equestria had enjoyed unparalleled peace and prosperity. It was a golden age under the banner of the keeper of the sun, Princess Celestia, a seemingly endless reign of peace. The city of Canterlot had been a symbol of this great era for hundreds of years. An untouchable metropolis of alabaster and gold shining high above the nation glittering in the sunlight the Princess moved across the sky.

Throughout this time Equestria’s enemies had lusted for their prosperity, bringing war to the doorstep of this nation. Few could ever stand up to the might of the Equestrians, their magical expertise, unparalleled industry and unwavering pride made them a force to be reckoned with. There had been the scant few whom, through acts of duplicity and subterfuge, had for a brief time nearly taken the reins of power only to be thrown down. It would take an invading force from far beyond the borders of not only Equestria but the star system to take the city and hold it.

Deathwatch had done what so many before them had failed to do. They had captured the capital city of Equestria, they had taken the celestial princesses captive and in the course of six hours of fighting had seemingly broken their spirits. With their superior weapons, technology and ruthless tactics it appeared as though this golden age would burn away. But now like all those that came before them, their grip on all that they had gained was quickly slipping away from them. With the help of the Mandalorian Neo Protectors, all that Deathwatch had accomplished was falling apart.

In the streets, hundreds of ponies charged bravely through the hail of blaster fire with renewed vigor and courage whilst Torb continued to rally their efforts. Deep within the sewers, Zex’s medical expertise was pushed to the limit as he directed the makeshift triage unit. High above the planet, Mand’alor Fett and a portion of her personal fleet tore into the Deathwatch ships in an effort to route them from system. Throughout the city, true Mandalorians and Equestrians fought side by side against the invaders, slowly regaining ground inch by inch. But all of this may as well have been taking place in a wholly other solar system as far as Kad, Twilight and Teth were concerned. At this time, the only thing that mattered in the galaxy was this moment.

Twilight’s eyes zeroed in on Teth. She could feel her anger boiling over inside of her chest and lapping at her mind. Her thoughts raced as she turned over every spell in her expansive repertoire for something to make this monster suffer for everything he had done. It was then that she noticed the forms beside the throne. Chained to the floor on either side was what her eyes and mind told her were Princesses Luna and Celestia, but something didn’t seem right about them.

Their normally long, flowing manes and tails of rainbow and deep night sky had changed and become more corporeal. If not for the armor she had been gifted by Skirata and his crew, she would not have recognized Luna, her mane and tail having reverted to the soft sky blue she had seen after the defeat of Nightmare Moon, while her mentor and beloved teacher’s now resembled the long flowing pink strands she had seen in many of the ancient texts. Twilight could see the pained expression in their eyes as their bodies lulled against their restraints.

Teth only took an ever-growing delight in the young mare’s growing ire, “I tried to warn you Twilight Sparkle, if you continued to push against me I would find another way to hurt you.”

She ground her teeth as she drug her hoof against the ground in a challenging fashion, “Teth!”

Before she could charge in her path was blocked by a heated blade of golden energy, “Hold Cadet,” Kad commanded as he kept his gaze fixed on their target, “He wants ya mad an’ stupid, keep that head cold.”

“Oh yes, listen to the “Good Captain,” little Twilight,” Teth chided her teasingly as he ran a hand through Luna’s mane. The Princess recoiling in disgust at the human’s touch as she glared up at him, “After all, you’re too far out of your league here.”

It was the last straw, and the young mare had heard enough out of this man and wouldn’t put up with it anymore. The glow around her horn grew to a blinding luminescence as she focused everything she had into a single application of magical energy. Letting out an angry shout, she let loose a beam of bright violet energy from her horn that tore across the expanse of the throne room, aimed straight at Teth.

Rising from his seat, the Deathwatch Sith held his hand in the path of the beam as he reached out with his own application of the Force. Pain shot through his arm and tore into his shoulder as the blast connected with him, but his mind remained iron-clad and focused. A devious sneer plastered on his face as took hold of the energy and began collecting it into the palm of his hand. Through the Force, he began to twist the energy and its properties until its purple hue shifted into a dark, menacing blue. He could feel the shock radiating off the young Twilight from across the room, “I told you little girl, you are out of your LEAGUE!”

A jovial laugh could be heard over the sound of crackling electricity that sprang forth from Teth’s palm. Tendrils of dark blue energy that leapt about the room, smashing through everything they touched with unrelenting force. Twilight watched in frightened awe as pillars of stone were ripped apart by this tidal wave about to crash down upon her. Shutting her eyes tightly, she braced herself for what she assumed would be a very painful death. A death that never came.

In her confusion, she opened her eyes to find Kad standing in the way, his blade crackling against the ripping, tearing sparks of energy. With a pained snarl the Mandalorian Knight let out a loud shout as he pushed against this incarnation of the Dark Side with his own pull on the Force. Focusing against the onslaught, he managed to shunt the wave away from them, crashing into the adjacent wall in a roiling mess. Upon impact, the stone surface was decimated under the flood of raw power. She felt the blast wave ripple through her body as the wall was vaporized, exposing the throne room to the world outside. Dust and debris filled the air as seconds dragged into eternity before being sucked out of the sizable hole in the side of the castle.

Twilight’s gaze remained riveted on Kad’s form. His shoulders slumped in a tired manner as they began to rise and fall with each heavy breath. The sounds of laughter drew her attention past her protector to the man high upon the dais. Beads of sweat had begun to form along Teth’s brow as he continued to find entertainment in this whole exchange. She could feel her drive and desire to see this man pay quickly rekindled at the sound of his hateful laughter.

“I am impressed, Twilight Sparkle,” He stated as his hands began a teasingly slow clap, “I judged you all wrong, you have such raw power, such untapped potential. With the right training you could become a Sith of unimaginable power! Join me-”

His monologue stopped short as a chunk of debris struck him upside the head. The sudden blow caused him to topple backwards onto the throne in stunned silence. Equally shocked by the sudden interruption, Twilight quickly looked back to Kad to find his arm still extended from the surprise throw.

“You talk too damn much Teth,” Kad proudly teased him as he leveled his saber on the enemy commander, “Now, hows ‘bout you order your boys outside to surrender peaceful like, an’ we’ll only beat ya half way to death.”

Wiping a bit of blood from his brow, Teth narrowed his eyes on Kad, “Even if I did fear your wrath, Skirata, I am no longer in command here. My superior, Admiral Yen Hrask and a portion of his personal fleet entered the system early this morning with fresh troops and warships. I have been relieved of command and given one task: kill you.”

Behind his visor, Kad smirked from ear to ear at these words, “Fine by me, been hopin’ to kill you all week.”

Teth stared the pair down a moment before slipping his helmet on, “If this suicidal path is what you seek,” The bright purple light of his saber filled the air around him as he gave the pair a formal salute with the weapon, “Then I shall accommodate you.”

Kad ventured a glance from the corner of his visor to the mare at his back, “You ready for this, Cadet?”

Twilight’s horn began to shine a dangerous violet as she trotted up beside him. A wry grin slid across her muzzle as she locked her visor with his, “I have your back, Captain.”

“How touching,” Teth mocked as he began a slow decent from the dais, “But if you two are finished, I would very much like to kill you both and reunite with my sons.” His stroll continued until he stood at the center of the throne room, awaiting their approach.

The world was a foggy haze yet again. Arkanna was starting to get really tired of always ending up like this. He couldn’t see, but he could still feel.

The cool breeze brushing over the sweat of his forehead sent a comforting chill through his body, this had to mean he wasn’t wearing his helmet. The warmth of the sun tickled his face as the gentle wind passed over him; his mind immediately guessed it was shade from a tree. Then there was the less than pleasant pain that danced through his body, no doubt damage from the fall. But how did he survive the drop? There was something else he felt, something cold brushing along his forehead.

With no shortage of will, Arkanna’s eyes began to flutter open. The bright afternoon sun obscured his view of the world. He could make out a form before him silhouetted by the rays of light, through it he could make out teasing glimpses of gold, orange and pink. The soft tinkle of his savior’s voice checking to see if he was alright told him exactly who he had to thank.

Fluttershy watched curiously as the human began to stir after running a damp cloth over his forehead. She let out a sigh of relief as his eyes opened, “Oh thank goodness, you’ve been out for a while Arkanna, how are feel-“

Without warning, his hand reached out and cupped her unscathed cheek. Her heart began to slam itself into her chest wall as blood poured into her cheeks forcing them to take on a deep crimson shade. She found herself fixated on his smile as her lungs desperately fought to find air.

“A guy could really get used to seeing that face when he wakes up.” Arkanna stated in a soft tone and warm smile.

Fluttershy fought and struggled to reply to this flirtatious praise but could only manage a few nervous squeaks. Finally she managed to find the force of will to speak, “I… I’m glad you’re okay… I was worried you might be seriously injured…” She managed to stutter out as she found herself unconsciously leaning herself into his touch.

Arkanna finally took note of the soft spoken Pegasus’ own injuries, “You look like you took quite a beating, mesh’la…”

“Oh, uh, a small mishap during landing…” She reassured him with a weak smile.

The young warrior took a moment turn this over in his head, “So I guess I owe you my life. Thank you, Fluttershy, but what about the Staff Sergeant?”

“He’s still out cold, I’m afraid.” She said, drooping her head low in shame.

“Might be his leg, the cybernetics are linked to his nervous system. Damn Sith lightshow probably did a number on him worse than me.” The young Private mused out loud. Something suddenly dawned on him, “Wait, the Captain!”

Trying to rise only rewarded him a blinding flash of pain that forced him back against the tree. Fluttershy quickly moved to his side, placing a hoof on his shoulder to keep him still, “Please, you’re too injured from the crash,”

“But the Captain and the others, they don’t know Teth is a Sith…” He grunted out through the pain, “We have to warn them before they walk into a tra-“ Before he could finish his protest, the side of the castle in the distance exploded outwards, “Ya know what, never mind. I think he figured it out himself.”

On an unseen signal, Kad rushed forward towards Teth. Over his shoulder, Twilight let fly another blast of magical energy that burned a path towards the offending human. Behind his visor, Teth smirked slyly at their coordinated efforts. With a swift motion, his blade connected with the energy blast to send it flying off in another direction before quickly moving to block and counter Kad’s own attack.

Their blades locked, sending sparks of energy as the energy weapons hissed and squealed under the pressure from either side. The pair pushed forwards into one another trying to force an opening between each other. Time came to a crawl as Kad reached out through the force to grasp something behind his back. Teth had sensed the subtle ripple and quickly pushed himself away as a smaller shoto saber flew to Kad’s outstretched hand and ignited. The green blade barely scored a shallow hit across one of the plates protecting Teth’s gut, leaving a glowing gash in the metal before it quickly cooled into a black cut.

Kad gave him no moment for rest as he quickly pressed his attack, the pair of blades cutting and slicing through the air. Each blow was aimed for some vital spot on Teth’s body and came in rapid succession as he forced him backwards. Likewise, Teth’s own swift motions met and forced away each blow blinding speed, but this did little to prevent him from being forced to back up.

A bright purple flash over his shoulder drew a tentative glance away from the onslaught of energy blades to catch sight of his secondary opponent. Twilight blinked herself into existence some feet behind Teth, her horn still burning a bright violet as she let lose a blast. Grunting in annoyance, Teth maneuvered himself to deflect Kad’s latest assault while reaching out with his free hand to take hold of Twilight’s latest attempt on his life.

Once again he took hold of the young mare’s influence on the Force by way of his own, grasping it tightly and reshaping it to suit his needs and will. His new weapon in hand, Teth took a more offensive approach to dealing with Kad. His more refined style allowed him to slip his weapon between Kad’s two and with a quick flick of his wrist his blade bounced between them both, forcing an opening. The way now clear, Teth slammed the roiling orb of dark blue energy in his palm into Kad’s chest.

He could feel the burning energy wave pass through his protective shell of Mandalorian Iron and rip into his body. With a pained shout, Kad found himself knocked off his feet and sent sliding across the smooth stone floor until a small pile of debris stopped his journey.

The main threat pushed away for the time being, Teth’s attention quickly shifted to Twilight. Reaching out with the Force, he grasped the Unicorn by her neck and lifted her high into the air. Twilight’s limbs fumbled uselessly to fight off the invisible grip she felt pressing into her airway.

Recovering from the assault, Kad forced himself back up in time to see his companion being strangled high above the ground. But most importantly, Teth had his back to him. The plates on his wrists shifted to bring the blasters mounted in his gauntlets to bear, and with no hesitation or ceremony, Kad let fly a rapid assault of energy bolts into the back of his enemy.

The blaster-resistant materials of Teth’s armor easily absorbed the small arms fire as it pelted his body and forced him to stumble to his knee. His concentration broken, Twilight found herself tumbling through the air until she landed in a heap upon the dais. Before Teth’s attention could return to Kad, a clack against his boot drew his attention to small fragmentation device that had just landed beside him. Cursing loudly, Teth pulled upon the force to distance himself from the grenade with no small help from his jet pack as well. With a loud pop, a sizable piece of the floor had been torn apart.

Coming to a stop Teth turned his angered attention back to Epsilon Captain who was now back on his feet and in a readied stance, “Grenades and blasters, really?!”

“What, you forget you were fightin’ a Mandalorian?” Kad chided him before darting forward to close the gap.

Twilight forced herself to come to, the plates of her armored shell clacking together as she stirred. Her neck felt as though it had been stuck in a vice as her head continued to spin. Finally finding the strength to rise to her hooves she took note of where she was. Her eyes darted between the two Princesses restrained to the floor. Her attention then touched on Kad and Teth who were busy exchanging blows and counter blows. An idea formed in her mind, bringing with it a spark of hope and a bright shine to her horn.

Teth sensed Twilight’s ripple through the Force as he suddenly realized she was beside his prized captives. With a swift counter blow, he created yet another opening in Kad’s assault and placed another powerful burst through the Force into his chest, hurtling him back several feet into the wall behind him. Drawing upon the Force, he moved to retake the dais.

The chains around both Luna and Celestia began to glow a soft violet before the light intensified. With a swift magical wrench, the metallic bonds were torn asunder under her ethereal strength. She took a quarter of a second to admire her work before focusing on the collars around their necks. Twilight had little opportunity to do so as yet another invisible grasp took her around the back leg and yanked her violently backwards.

With a loud thud, Twilight found herself tumbling across the floor. Her protective shell scraped along the ground until she came to an inevitable stop on the other side of the room. Shaking her head clear, she found herself staring up into the deathly glare of Teth’s visor. Twilight barely had enough energy to rise to her hooves ready to continue the fight when a white hot, burning pain shot from her shoulder throughout her entire body. The sounds of sparking energy filled her ears and sent a cold chill down her spine despite the intense heat radiating through her body and uncomfortably close to her face. The smell of burnt metal mingled with that of fur and flesh as they assaulted her nostrils. Her entire form was stiff as she bit down hard against her own teeth, fighting the urge to scream. Reluctantly, her eyes shifted to behold the violet glow of Teth’s weapon plunged into her shoulder. Slowly, she ripped her eyes away from it to stare up at the Deathwatch Commander.

Sneering behind his mask, Teth gave his weapon a subtle twist and began to angle it downward at a torturously slow pace. He enjoyed the sight of tears beginning to roll down her face from behind her makeshift visor. Slowly she moved with his weapon till she was on her knees before him, “I am growing very tired of you Ms Sparkle.” He snarled out before giving the blade another twist to force out a muffled gasp of pain, “I think it’s high time I killed you.”

Her mind fought and struggled against the unbearable pain that ripped her apart from the inside. She had to fight to find footing within her own mind as images and moments of past triumphs, losses and the regrets of paths never treaded threatened to overwhelm her. Finally something shattered through it all to bring order to her mind once again, “TWILIGHT!” Princess Celestia’s voice cut through the madness and the pain to restore her faculties.

Twilight’s horn flashed a bright purple before she blinked out of existence once again, leaving Teth to glare at empty air. Following her path through the Force, he found the mare laid out upon the ground gasping in shallow draws of air. Standing between him and his prey though, was Kad Skirata.

In a burst of speed, Kad pressed another attack into Teth’s defenses. The pair continued exchanging blow after blow as the fight moved towards the shattered opening of the throne room. As their fight progressed, Kad reminded him that this was no exchange with a Jedi as a swift kick connected with his cod piece. Teth stumbled back with a painful grunt before lashing out against Skirata with a blow that was quickly locked with the Knight’s saber.

This gave Teth the opening he needed. With a twist of his wrist, his weapon sliced into the blaster mounted on Kad’s right arm. The blade continued its circular motion, aiming to lop off his hand at the wrist. Kad could see this gruesome attack coming and with some inner reluctance, let go of his saber as he backed away from the assault. With a swift motion through the Force, Kad’s lost weapon was sent hurtling over the ledge into the forest far below the mountain. Left with only his shorter shoto in hand, Kad fell back into a defensive position.

With renewed confidence, Teth proceeded to press his attack once again, his blade’s swift strikes slamming into the small light saber that fought hard to keep him at bay. The crackle of energy filled the air as Kad found himself fighting to keep his footing. A jab from Teth’s weapon nicked his thigh, sending a burst of pain through his leg. As his body stumbled to one knee, Kad found himself fending off several random blows, several managing to bite into his lightly protected arms and side. The wasp-like stings tore at him until finally he found an opening of his own.

Digging deep into his resolve, Kad sprang forward through the brief opening Teth had made, swinging his short saber in an upwards arch. Teth cursed his own over confidence as he stepped back to avoid the full-on assault, though the weapon scored a biting cut that tore across his chest plate and his helmet. Teth leapt back to retreat from the attack, through his armor he could feel the flesh smoke and smolder from the intense heat. His visor was cracked and charred, making the helm more of a hindrance than a valued piece of protection. Yanking the now-useless armor piece from his head, he let it fall to his side as he narrowed his gaze on Kad.

From their position far below, Arkanna could make out the familiar flashes of energy that danced about the edge of the castle’s newly opened balcony. The warrior tried to bring himself up, but found an impassable wall of pain between him and his goal as well as Fluttershy’s own insistence that he stop trying to strain his body so soon. He ground his teeth as he tried to find a way to rejoin the battle overhead.

“Please, Arakanna, you’re in no condition to fight…“ She weakly protested as she fought to keep him from standing and hurting himself again.

“I can’t just sit here like this, though!” Was the young Private’s retort as his mind hunted for a way he could help his comrades. His gaze then settled on the weapon beside Kell, “Fluttershy, I’ve got an idea.”

Far above the planet, the battle to control the system itself raged on as capital ships continued to duke it out back and forth. Between the explosions of massive guns, and missiles streaking through the empty black, star fighter pilots fought a pitched battle to maintain the edge of fighter superiority. Neither side showed any sign of stopping, but in the end the numbers spoke louder than the tenacity.

The Neo Protector forces outnumber the Deathwatch two to one, a sharp difference that after several hours of fighting had changed very little. Fett was never a fan of wars of attrition, but if this was the way Hrask wanted it, she would oblige him. The bridge of her dreadnaught shook under the payload of another volley striking their shields.

“Would someone tell that idiot Armand to stop show boating and move his squadron out of the path of our main guns!?” Fett bellowed her orders over the chaos of battle, “And tell Cousland to get his frigates into a firing line with the destroyers.”

Mand’alor, we have incoming hyperspace signals!” A member of the deck crew cried out to her.

In the blink of an eye, a force of fifty or more ships of the same makes and models as those under Fett’s command appeared in the system. As they dropped out of hyperspace, the larger carrier vessels began launching their fighter wings as they moved to join the Protector’s assault.

From the bridge of his ship, Hrask watched with quiet frustration as his far smaller fleet was now dwarfed by this massive show of arms. There was a moment of frightened silence that gripped the bridge crew before one lone officer broke it, “Sir, your orders?”

“All ships, we’re leaving this star system, now!” Hrask ordered with finality, “Tell the ground teams to escape the city as quickly as possible, there is nothing we can do for them!”

“What about Commander Teth, sir?”

That name sent a tinge of anger through his spine, “Leave the idiot to his fate.”

Twilight sluggishly pulled herself up off the ground. Her foreleg felt as though it was about to fall off as it demanded and protested that she remain on the ground. With much effort, she pulled herself into a sitting position upon her haunches. Her eyes stung with sweat and tears as she strained to keep them open and seek out the man responsible for her current condition. Eventually she found him facing down Kad upon the ruined ledge of the castle.

It was in this moment that both Kad and Teth chose to abandon their honed training and skills. The pair simply began raining blows upon each other in rage-filled swings that crashed into one another. Blade met blade over and over again, sending sparks of energy through the air as each man fought to gain the upper hand in this exchange.

Teth’s blade finally found the opening it needed as he scored a deep slash across Kad’s chest, forcing him backwards. The beskar armor soaked up the blow as it was meant to, but beyond the metal plates and underlay he could still feel his skin burn from the powerful heat. With a malicious grin, streams of blue energy leapt from the tips of Teth’s fingers and slammed into Kad’s body, toppling him into a pile of debris on the edge of the gap.

Twilight could see the opening she needed. Her will took hold of her body and began forcing herself to trot forward through the bite in her shoulder as she limped along. Her head lowered to level her head with Teth as she started to pick up speed. Her wound screamed at her with every step despite her best efforts to ignore the pain.

Teth took a great deal of satisfaction in watching the Knight at his feet writhe in agony under his assault. Regaining his composure, the Deathwatch Commander placed a foot on the mostly beaten Protector’s chest, “Don’t worry about your little friend, I’ll be sure to kill her as soon as I’m done with you!”

Teth’s blade rose high into the air, ready to plunge into one of the gaps in Kad’s armor. As the blade fell, something struck the Commander’s hand. A bolt of red energy from far below in the forest connected with his hand, the high-caliber blaster bolt designed for penetrating most kinds of armor easily passed through the material of the glove. It tore through flesh and bone, striking the saber in his hands and causing a small explosion. Stumbling backwards in pain and disbelief, Teth stared in shock and horror at the bloody mess that had been his hand.

Far below and within the forest, Arkanna stared through the rifle’s scope. Smoke wafted up from the muzzle as Fluttershy acted as his makeshift tripod. A proud, satisfied smirk was on the young man’s face as he took in the result of his squeeze of the trigger.

“Nice shot…” Fluttershy meekly praised him.

“Not really,” Arkanna answered back with a bemused grin, “Was aiming for his head.”

Teth’s anger became an unchained storm within the force as he let himself become lost in the rage of battle. This too was short lived as a new sensation assaulted his nerve endings. It is well known that before they were a tool of magic, the horn of a Unicorn was just as much a weapon. As Teth ventured a look, he found that one long, pointed spiral of bone belonging to a particular mare was now jammed firmly into his side.

Through her visor and the sting of Teth’s own blood now rolling down her face, Twilight glared up at him in furious anger and defiance. With a quick tug, she yanked the horn from his side. Using the momentum from this action she made an about-face; rearing up on her only good foreleg, she shouted out, thrusting her hind legs in a hard, swift buck. The hooves slammed into Teth’s side, launching him over the edge of the drop. The pain shooting through her spine and forelegs, however, forced her to fall forward in a heap.

Teth could do little else beyond hurtle towards the jagged ground below. His only remaining good hand fumbled to get his jetpack to work, only to hear the sputter and sparks as it failed to activate. Several blaster holes in the jetpack’s casing showed signs of energy weapon damage. Kad’s attack had scored an important hit, after all. As the ground quickly approached, he brought his arms up to stop the fall on instinct before hitting the mountain side in a sudden loss of velocity.

Kad looked out over the edge at the smear that used to Davian Teth before crawling his way over to the exhausted mare across from him. Reaching her side, Kad pulled off his helmet and pulled himself into a sitting position.

Twilight began to feel all the exhaustion from the days of constant fighting finally crash in on her. All the magical energy she had forced through her body was taking its toll, and now she had a hole burnt into her shoulder. Weakly, she pulled herself up and leaned against the Mandalorian’s form, staring out the gaping hole in the side of the castle, “Did we do it? Did we finally win?” The words flowed forth with a touch more desperation than she would have liked.

Kad placed a sluggish hand atop her head and ruffled her mane, “Yeah… We did it kiddo… We did it.” His eyes shifted to the tired creature leaning into him, “So, feel better now that he’s dead?”

Through the haze, it was hard to settle on the emotions coursing through her now, “No… I don’t know yet…”

Kad smiled softly as he draped an arm around his comrade, “Good. Welcome to the Mandalorians.”

A brave new world

With the last of Deathwatch’s ships forced from the system, the Neo Protector fleet moved to create a protective line around the planet. From the larger craft, handfuls of smaller shuttles began to launch in a descent towards the planet’s surface. Packed inside the lead craft, Mandalore Shaysa Fett and her personal guard led the charge. A holodisc in the palm of her hand contained the image of flagship’s second in command, “I still wish you’d reconsider this, Mand’alor.”

“A Mand’alor’s place in battle is leading her people from the front line, Corso,” She was quick to remind him, “Now, what do we know?”

The image shifted to that of the city’s layout, “It would appear that Deathwatch is gradually letting go of what we believe is the capital city. Scans show less and less blaster fire, and they have also picked up Neo Protector armor tags.”

“Epsilon squad?” She asked as she examined the image of the city.

“If I had to judge based on destruction alone, no contest. This is the work of Kad Skirata and his boys.”

A playful smile etched across her face, “And what about that jamming signal?”

“We’ve cut through it; if any of them have their ears on, they’ll hear you.”

Nodding in conformation, Fett switched her helmet’s main comlink to an open channel, “This is Mand’alor Fett calling any and all Neo Protectors on this frequency; report in, over.”

To her surprise, rather than the familiar voices of her favorite team of screw-ups, she was greeted with a feminine yet gravelly voice, “Whoa, you mean these things are working again? Erm, I mean, uh, over.”

Fett shared a look with her body guards. Despite the lack of emotion that their visors showed, you could easily taste the confusion in the air, “I say again, this is Mand’alor Shaysa Fett of the Neo Protectors. Identify yourself immediately, over.”

“Oh. Uhm, this is Cadet Rainbow Dash,” She stated proudly, “Nice to meet ya. Over.”

“Whom are you attached with, Cadet Dash? Over.”

“Epsilon squad. So you’re with the Neo Protectors, huh? What took you guys so long? You’ve missed almost all the excitement, over.”

“Cadet Dash, that’s quite enough!” Torb’s voice cut in over the com, “Mand’alor, I apologize. She’s uh, well she’s still learning, over.”

As amusing as the conversation was, she was glad to hear the Chiss’ voice again, “Quite alright, Lieutenant,” She assured him, “What is your status, over?”

“We’ve formed a rather tenacious militia out of some of the locals and have begun taking the city back piece by piece. However, I am not certain they can last much longer without some much needed support, over.”

“Support is on its way; what about Kad Skirata? Over.”

“Last report from the scouting team placed him entering the palace, over.”

Fett looked to her men, then the craft’s pilot, “Then that’s where we’re going. Cadet Dash, you still got your ears on, over?”

“I do, over,” Came the mystery girl’s reply.

“Good, I want you to meet us there; I’ll need a local guide, after all. Mand’alor out.” With that out of the way, she set her com to a private channel to speak only with Torb, “So what exactly are we dealing with as far as these locals go?”

“They’re… Very unique,” He answered as he struggled to find the words to sum it up, “You’ll know them when you see them, that’s for sure.”

As the drop-ships descended through the cloud cover towards the city, one of the pilots happened to catch a glimpse of something that made him do a double-take. Flying alongside their ship was a strange, four-legged creature with wings like that of a bird, but its main body was covered in grey fur. Its mane and tail were a bright blonde that looked to be regularly teased by the wind. Nudging his co-pilot, the pair found themselves staring at this oddity. It gave them both a happy wave, to which they both reluctantly waved back. Smiling from ear to ear, it banked to the side and made a sharp dive towards the city.

The co-pilot shook his head with a sigh as he returned to his instruments, “Great, it’s gonna be one of THOSE planets.”

The troop ship made its way over the battered cityscape towards the broken remains of the palace courtyard. Carefully, it hovered over the edge of the sizable blackened crater. As she disembarked, Fett scanned the area, “Now, where is this ‘Rainbow Dash’?”

As if on an unseen cue, Rainbow Dash’s armored form glided towards the ground from the rooftops. She came to a sudden stop a few feet away from Fett and her men, “Cadet Dash, reporting for duty!” She stated happily as her chest puffed out in pride.

The sudden appearance caused a few troopers to ready their weapons in surprise until Fett’s hand rested on their sights, forcing the blasters to lower, “Don’t get trigger-happy boys, check the armor. She’s one of ours.”

“Apologies, Mand’alor…” The pair stated shamefully.

Stepping forward, the leader of the Neo Protectors began to look the young speedster over, “So, you’re Skirata’s newest recruit, then?”

Rainbow Dash eyed the pair of Protectors that had nearly raised their weapons on her before returning to the one addressing her, “Yeah, he made me and two of my friends members of Epsilon squad. So what’s a Mandalore, anyways?”

Behind her visor Fett tried not to snicker at the seemingly silly question, “Well, to put it simply, it means I’m both his and now your boss,” Fett casually stated. This bit of information seemed to leave the mare at a loss for words. Striding past her, Shaysa made her way towards the dully glowing door, and her hand glided over the rippling layer of energy keeping her away from it, “So you know your way around this place, correct?”

Snapping out of her daze, Dash quickly stumbled for an answer, “Oh, uh, yeah. I’ve been to the palace more than a few times, sir, ma’am, uh…”

“Just Mand’alor is fine, Cadet.”

“Right, well, the door’s been magically sealed and I have no idea how to get it open. I’ve been looking for another way in bu-“

Ignoring most of Dash’s words, Shaysa reached for the war maul strapped to her back. Once in hand, the head of the weapon began to spark bitterly to life before being raised up and slammed into the wall adjacent to the door. Upon contact, the weapon produced a concentrated pulse of gravity with a loud “THUMP” which crumbled the wall with ease, “That’s quite alright, Dash, I think I found a way inside.”

On the corner of Mane Street, there sat a café. During its hay day, it was celebrated as being quite the hot spot for anyone to grab a piping hot cup of caffeinated beverage. Now its main purpose was to be a safe haven to rest a spell between fire fights for a small collection of Deathwatch defectors and their pair of pony comrades. The fighting continued just outside the now-barricaded doors and windows.

Tolik closely examined and cleaned his rifle while he kept his back pressed to a solid chunk of wall. Gallant carefully followed his motions, trying to learn as quickly as he possibly could how to care for and clean one of these weapons in the field. In a corner of the café, Mackers sat, taking a long draw from his canteen. Black, burnt flesh could be seen peeking from the edges of gauze that had been held to his wounded eyes by a strip of blue and gold fabric. Beside him, a tired Spitfire did her best not to give in to the fatigue gnawing at her mind while Yazan kept a close lookout near the doorway.

“Hey Sarge,” The Twi’lek called out.

“Told you already tail-head, we ain’t Deathwatch anymore so I ain’t your Sergeant,” He gruffly replied from his work.

“Fine then; hey, boss,” He sarcastically corrected himself, “Looks like we’ve got drop ships touching down, Neo Protectors finally showed up.”

An awkward pause held the room for a moment, “Well… Ain’t that just great…”

“This isn’t a good thing?” Gallant questioned.

“For you lot it is,” Tolik pointed out, “For us, well, they won’t exactly be giving us a friendly welcome with arms wide open.”

Mackers chuckled at this, “Yeah, more than likely we’re gonna end up in chains and shipped off to some penal station.”

Spitfire furrowed her brow in annoyance at this statement, “But you guys aren’t with Deathwatch. Hay, you’ve been helping us take back the city from them.”

“But they were members,” Gallant chimed in as the full weight of this information dawned on him; “They willingly participated in a terrorist organization, that makes them criminals.”

Tolik smiled teasingly at Gallant’s words, “Yeah, that’s the sad truth; we were terrorists before we became stand-up gents.”

“So that’s it?” Spitfire felt herself teetering on the edge of another wave of blinding rage, “When this is all over, they’re just gonna arrest you? Even after everything you did to help?”

Her back stiffened at the feel a hand resting against it, “It’s all the good we’ve done that’s probably going to keep us from getting executed on the spot,” Mackers pointed out, “Sides, if you’re going to miss me that much, you could always come visit. I’ll be right there waiting for ya, after all.”

Spitfire gave him a wry grin before shaking her head, “Geez, you just don’t give up, do you?”

A faint aura surrounded the spear as it swung through the air. The thick metal of the weapon’s body slammed into the knees of an offending Deathwatch trooper, toppling him over in pain. Before the soldier could react, the sharpened tip forced itself into through the alien’s side and pierced his lung.

Breathing heavily in exhaustion, Shining Armor glared in defiance at the remaining two Deathwatch troopers. With a quick telekinetic wrench, he pulled the weapon from his latest victim and leveled it with them, “Well, come on then!”

The troopers shared a look behind their visors before looking back to the Unicorn. What had started as seven men had been cut down to just these two. Shining Armor’s prowess in defensive magic had protected him from their blaster bolts and given him the openings he needed to tear into their numbers. But now that his strength had been nearly depleted, the survivors took their chances, leveling their blasters with him.

The brave stallion charged forth with a battle cry which was answered in turn by a hail of blaster bolts. His barriers shone brightly as they sprang forth to meet the attack, but this time his body began to buckle under the force. Stumbling, he lost his mental grip on his weapon before a bolt of energy pierced his magical field and bit deeply into his back leg.

With a pained cry, Shining Armor fell to the ground. His mind fought desperately to keep his barriers strengthened under the constant waves of blaster fire.

“Hah, look at the big brave horn-head now,” One of his attackers sneered at him over the volley.

“Told ya man, just gotta lay on the pressure to bring these ones down,” His comrade stated between bolts of energy, “They’re a real drain on the ammo, but they can’t keep the ray shield act up for long.”

Unfortunately for theses troopers, the sounds of blaster fire drowned out the sounds of foot falls on the marble floor and the crackle of energy. Fett closed the gap between herself and the unsuspecting troopers with practiced speed. The head of her maul slammed into the side of one with a dull “THUMP” of gravitational energy coupled with the bending of metal and breaking of bones from the fatal blow. Using the momentum and garnered surprise, she continued through with the swing, letting it pull her back around to strike the remaining trooper in the gut with an upwards arc.

She watched with no shortage of satisfaction as his body limply rag-dolled through the air and skipped off the ceiling before falling in a heap on the floor several yards down the hallway. She took a moment to observe the look of dumbfounded confusion on the stallion’s face before offering him a hand up, “Five out of seven, all armed with blasters and you with just a spear. You, good sir, are a warrior worth knowing. Mand’alor Shaysa Fett, leader of the Mandalorian people and head of the Neo Protectors.”

Shining Armor hesitated a moment before looping his hoof with her hand and pulling himself back up, “Thanks. Shining Armor, Captain of the royal Canterlot Guards.”

“Whoa,” His gaze moved past his savior to the armored Pegasus and collection of aliens behind her, “Shining Armor, you did all of this on your own?”

He gave a tired smirk in response to Rainbow Dash’s shock and surprise, “What, did you think all they taught us in the guard was how to look smart while standing at attention?” He asked her sarcastically.

In the rubble-scattered remains of the throne room, Kad Skirata carefully hoisted the tired body of Twilight Sparkle into his arms as he trudged towards the dais. No longer pulling on the Force, his body began to wrack him with pain and fatigue. He quietly cursed his age and the detriments that came with it every step he took.

Eventually, the tired warrior reached the top of the seemingly endless stairs. Once his ascension was finished, he placed the young mare beside her mentor before letting himself slump down beside his employer. He gave Luna a tired smirk, “Sorry the rescue took so long ma’am, had to stop an’ ask for directions.”

A labored chuckle escaped the Princess of the Night as she shook her head, “T’was a fine display of skill and prowess my Captain,” She assured him, “The men of Mandalore art truly worth their heavy price.”

He let himself lean lazily back against the throne behind him. Kad withheld the urge to discuss the payment he and his men were owed. The dirty business of what they deserved could wait after all, for now they deserved to soak in the happy glow of victory. His gaze shifted to the larger, white Alicorn to his right, a soft smile crept onto his withered face as he watched her nuzzle his wounded comrade, “So, you must be this Princess Celestia I’ve heard tell about.”

The elder sister looked to the human and nodded in confirmation, “And you must be this Captain Skirata I’d heard Teth lamenting over.” She gave the human a wry smile, “I would stand to greet you, but I’ve just gotten ever so comfortable.” Her hoof tapped the collar around her neck for emphasis.

Kad grinned at her biting comment, a royal with a sharp sense of humor was always entertaining, “Aye, that’s fine ma’am, didn’t feel like standin’ up either,” He retorted, “Kad Skirata, Knight of Mandalore, head of Epsilon squad in the employ of the Mandalorian Neo Protectors and now member of the Lunar Guard.”

“My, that is quite a lot of responsibility,” She stated softly, “It must be tiring to serve so many masters, Captain Skirata,” She commented.

After dealing with Torb for so many years, Kad had a feel for when casual conversation was something more. He could only assume she was politely digging for information and possibly leverage to use if needed. Just another thing to admire about this woman, “Brings in a hefty paycheck at least; that certainly keeps the wife happy.”

The sounds of hooves and boots against the marble drew their collected attentions towards the shattered remains of the doorway. Kad felt his spirits lift greatly at the sight of a very familiarly crimson-clad warrior brandishing a gravity maul. “Speaking of masters,” he snickered under his breath.

The ponies in Fett’s care darted past her and the group upon seeing their beloved friend and monarchs. Rainbow Dash quickly made the jog across the throne room, nearly tackling Twilight Sparkle as she threw her forelimbs around her friend’s neck in a tight hug. Behind her, Shining Armor limped his way to his sister, forcing the pain in his back leg out of his mind to keep him from stopping.

Shaysa motioned to her body guards. “See to the wounded,” she quickly barked at them, “and get those damned collars off of them.”

Kad cautiously made his way down the steps to the ground floor, waving off one of the troopers as he passed. As he approached, Fett removed her helm and hooked it to her belt before throwing her arms around the grizzled warrior in a tight embrace before pulling away and looking him over, “Kad, you look like osik.”

“An’ you look almost presentable, Mand’alor.” He shot back at her teasingly.

Beneath the torn streets of Canterlot, a broken and battered Earth pony colt carried his Pegasus comrade’s limp body through the maze of tunnels. Blinding pain coursed through his body with every step, but he refused to give in. Two things drove him: saving his friend and the one thing that could, rumors of a medical center thrown together under the streets. He could hear in the distance the sounds of others talking and the sounds of hooves rushing about.

Turning the corner, he found himself freezing in shock and surprise. In the large antechamber, several cots and makeshift gurneys had been set up where ponies of just about every walk of life were laid out and being treated. Doctors, nurses, anypony with so much as a medical degree and/or first aid training was hard at work saving lives. But that wasn’t what had caused him to stop in his tracks; it was the red and white armored alien busily tending to a young mare’s wounds.

Zex’s gaze shifted to the beaten stallion and the friend on his back, “You there, don’t just stand around gawking, put your friend on that empty cot in the corner. Hurry up!”

He found himself flinching on reflex at the sound of his commanding voice. Without a second thought, the colt quickly made his way to the cot and gently deposited his friend. He couldn’t stop staring, though. He’d heard that a number of aliens had come to help them with this fight; he even heard the speech the blue-skinned one gave. But now he was seeing it first hand, them making good on their word.

Zex shot the colt a glare, “Are you critically injured?”

“I, uhm, I mean, I got beat pretty bad but-” He managed to stammer out under the stressful gaze.

“Then get out,” Zex snapped at him while moving to the next patient, “Unless you have any kind of medical training or are in critical condition, you’re just taking up space and wasting our time. Leave.”

This lit a fire in the young colt’s chest as he began to glare daggers at the Zabrak. His mouth had barely opened to issue his own protest before Zex motioned to one of the nurses resting against the far wall, “Nurse, get him out of here.”

“Yes, doctor,” She politely obeyed despite the pain shooting through her legs. She quickly made for the colt’s side and guided him out of the room despite his protests to be left alone.

Over his shoulder, Zex could hear the angry protests of the young boy. He began to judge the inflection, the use of catch phrases and idioms, figuring the colt to be well into his teen years. Quietly, he cursed Torb under his breath, “You don’t care how old or young your pawns are, do you?” He asked no one in particular with a strong hint of bitterness in his voice.

Glancing to his side, he noticed the approach of a middle aged Pegasus stallion he’d come to know as having the unfortunate name of Flatline. Zex felt as though this poor choice in name on his parent’s part and his own, as far as line of work was concerned, seemed like some kind of comedy. He possessed a cream-colored coat; one could only guess what his mane and tail looked like before completely succumbing to the onset of grey and age, “A bit harsh, don’t you think Zex?”

He fought to keep himself in line, this man was his better in the field of pony medicine, and he deserved respect, “Perhaps. I think I’m just getting grumpy from withdrawal, been a good six hours since my last cup of caf.”

“Maybe it’s time you took a rest then, son.” The older pony suggested.

“I can still work, believe it or not being mad keeps me focused.”

“Alright then, but if you keep this up I’m gonna have to take that shooter from you for all our sakes.” Flatline chided him while motioning to the blaster holstered on Zex’s hip.

Zex gave him a teasing grin, “Don’t worry; I’d never shoot a patient. Their annoying family, that’s another thing, though.”

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Zex,” He cautioned him.

“Oh, and why not?”

“Because then they go from being annoying friends and family members of patients to being annoying patients themselves.”

Far beyond the walls of Canterlot proper and far below the mountain it rested upon, at the edge of the woods beneath it, Fluttershy rested in the grass beside Arkanna. The pair had watched the ships descend upon the city as the sounds of battle continued to die down. The feeling of the cool summer breeze and the whistle it made through the soft grass made her body beg her for sleep. With half-lidded eyes, she gazed upon the once-perfect city overhead as plumes of smoke wafted through the air to mix with the thick clouds above. Beside her laid her cracked visor beside Arkanna’s helmet.

Arkanna on the other hand was more fixated on the shy mare beside him. His mind replayed the moments from this morning, the words she spoke to him in perfect mando’a, Ni kar'taylir darasuum gar ti an ner kar'rta. His mind kept playing it over and over for him, alongside his conversation with Kell on the mountainside. He took a deep breath as he steadied himself; he had to tell her. If not now, then when?

His mouth went bone-dry as he forced himself to speak to her, “Fluttershy,”

She turned her unhindered teal eye towards him with a disarmingly soft smile, “Yes, Arkanna?”

He felt his cheeks suddenly flush up as she smiled up at him. The words froze in his throat and refused to budge one inch as he struggled with them. He couldn’t understand this, why was he having such a hard time talking to her?

Granted, she was extremely unique compared to the other alien races in the galaxy, but he knew that wasn’t what set her apart from other girls he’d met. His mind traveled back further to that night in the mountain valley. How he poured his sob story out to her like he’d done to other women before. How he had expected her to follow suit with them and pity the young man, but instead, he could almost feel the softness of her fur against the side of his neck again, the warmth of her smile and eyes burning into his soul and chest, her words gently trickling into his mind, It doesn’t have to hurt anymore.

Arkanna could feel his heart racing rapidly as he tried to keep himself cool and collected. Taking a deep breath he refocused himself, “There’s something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about,” He managed to force out as he carefully constructed the conversation, in fear she might be frightened off. Arkanna reminded himself she was the one who confessed herself to him first, “See, thing is-”

His words fell flat as the sounds of a drop-ship’s engines drowned him out. Cursing himself for being so slow on the trigger, he looked up at the descending ship before looking back to the mare beside him, “Ya know what, I’ll tell ya later!” He called out to her over the roar.

With time and effort the unnamed Protector was able to deactivate the locking mechanism of the inhibitor collar. Behind his mask, he couldn’t help but smirk in triumph at his handiwork before carefully removing the device, “You may feel a bit groggy, your highness, but that’s just the drugs and poisons leaving your system.”

Celestia let out a sigh of relief as she adjusted to the sore feeling in her neck. Her head was still spinning, but she could feel her body fighting back against the detrimental substances in her bloodstream. As a breed, Alicorns possessed a hearty immune system and constitution that dwarfed most others, but the alien material would take longer than dealing with the poisons native to her world. With a kind smile, she bowed her head in thanks to the trooper. “Thank you, it feels so good to be rid of that accursed thing.”

Luna eyed her own former collar with no small hint of disgust, “What would warrant such devices be built?”

“Not every Force user out there’s got good intentions, ma’am,” Kad replied, “The collars were designed with rogue Jedi an’ Sith in mind, keep ‘em from tappin’ into the Force as well as keepin’ ‘em disoriented an’ such.”

The Knight’s attention shifted to the Protector seeing to Twilight’s wounds, “How’s my girl lookin’?”

“Her shoulder’s looking pretty messed up, not to mention everything else that saber hit.” He stated flatly, “I’ve done all I can with these med-packs, but we need to get her to the ship’s medical bay.”

The young mare weakly protested, “No, I’m fine, really, I wanna stay and help…”

“Ya got a strong will, Sparkle,” Kad complimented her, “But I’m more inclined to listen to the fella with medical trainin’ on this one. Prep ‘er for medivac.”

Shining Armor had taken up a post beside his sister to keep a close eye on her while his own wound was patched up. At the mention of ships and medivacs, he quickly focused on Kad, “What is it you’re planning to do with my sister now?”

“Get her the medical treatment she needs,” Kad snarled at the stallion, “Lest ya’d rather she lose the limb?”

With a great deal of reluctance, Shining Armor backed down from his protest, “Fine then, Captain…”

“Shining Armor…” Twilight called him back to her side.

“What is it, Twilee?”

“Mom and Dad, someone still needs to find them,” She pointed out in a shaky tone.

The Captain of the Guard smiled warmly to his sister as he ran a reassuring hoof through her mane, “Don’t worry about it Twilee, I’ll find them. You just get yourself fixed up alright.”

Kad cursed himself under his breath for coming off so short with the boy. He knew all too well how he was feeling first-hand. After Kell lost his leg, he had flown into a blind rage, tearing into the enemy line. It took five strong men to hold him down and drag him back to camp. It didn’t help either that he was picking up on Fett’s own heavy agitation.

The Mandalore had received a transmission from the ships in orbit and recused herself from the others. Since the message had started, Kad could feel his friend and leader’s emotions become far more sullen as it progressed.

With an annoyed sigh she shut off the device and turned her attention back to the rest of the throne room, “Your highnesses, there seems to have been an incident.”

“And what incident would that be, Mandalore Fett?” Celestia inquired cautiously.

“It would appear that a number of ships have just dropped out of hyperspace into your star system,” She began informing them, “Fleets of warships from both the Fel Empire, Galactic Alliance, even the private militaries of both the Czerka Corporation and the Hutt Cartels, and an envoy from the Jedi Order. Your planet has just caught the entire galaxy’s attention, Princesses.”

Everyone in the room looked frozen in shock as this information began to sink in. With a tired grumble Twilight let her head practically slam into the trooper’s arm that had been supporting her, “UGH, why can’t anything with you guys ever be simple?”

“Forgive my ignorance,” The solar sister chimed in, mostly hoping to draw attentions away from her student’s outburst, “But what could we have possibly done to garner such attention?”

“Probably the same thing that lead us here,” Fett informed her, “A few days ago there was a massive ripple through the Force that went from one end of the galaxy to the next. The shock wave it created could be tracked all the way back here to this planet.”

“Huh, wonder how that could’a happened…” Kad asked himself while trying not to draw attention.

“Either way, your solar system just got really crowded and not many of them are exactly happy to see a fleet of Mandalorian ships here guarding the planet. Your highnesses, I need your help to defuse this situation.” Shaysa pleaded with them both.

Celestia looked more than a little taken aback by the earnest words of the leader of an entire interplanetary force, “It would seem things are as dire as ever,” She stated hanging her head dourly, “But I fail to see what good we can do in this situation.”

Rising to her hooves, Celestia made her way to a shattered window that looked out over her smoldering city, “Furthermore, our city is still gripped by chaos and conflict. Our people need their monarchs now more than ever.”

“And that is exactly why WE need you right now as well your highness,” Fett stated, “The Mandalorians cannot speak for your world, it would appear as just a land grab to expand our territory and lead to needless conflict. In the end, this star system would be turned into a graveyard.”

“Then I shall go.” All eyes quickly shifted to behold Luna standing proudly, her wings spread wide to add finality to her position, “My sister, you are right. Our people need the assurance that their princesses still care for them. Though if what the Mandalore says is true, then at least one of us must see to these savages at our door.”

“Luna…” Before Celestia could protest, she found her sister’s forelimbs wrapped tightly around her neck in a strong embrace.

“Thou hath always been the beacon of hope to our people and I their protector in the night,” She softly reassured her before stepping away. The setting sun glinting off her ebony armor created an otherworldly glow about her, “I shall face this as I have all our nation’s foes.”

Reluctantly, Celestia bowed her head as she gave in to her sister, “Good luck, my sister. You carry the pride and authority of all of Equestria.”

With every bit of this authority, Luna turned to Kad, “Captain Skirata, it would appear thine contract doth still stand.”

“Aye, milady,” He stated returning to the world behind his helmet’s HUD, “Epsilon squad has your back.” Over his shoulder he shot an order at the young speedster, “Cadet Dash, fall in for escort duty.”

Rainbow quickly stiffened herself into attention before snapping off a salute, “Aye, Cap!”

From the collapsed hole in the side of the palace came the roar of a drop ship’s engines. The metallic hulk hovered with surprising grace just inches from the hole itself as the side doors slid open to reveal the empty belly. With no hesitation, Luna strode into the waiting ship, flanked on either side by Skirata and Rainbow Dash. The trooper that had been treating Twilight carefully hefted her onto a hover gurney, loading the injured mare on as well.

Shaysa could see the unease in Celestia’s eyes as she watched her sister and student board the craft. Stepping to her side, she placed a hand upon the Princess’s shoulder. “No harm will come to them under my care, I swear it. In the meantime, I ask that you take my personal guard for protection.” She stated before boarding the vessel herself.

As the ship pulled away from the side of the palace, one of newly gifted bodyguards approached the Princess of the sun, “What are your orders my lady?”

Celestia sadly watched the craft ascend out of sight before turning to the trooper. “We take to the streets. The citizens of Canterlot will know their princess still protects them.” She stated boldly as she strode for the balcony, spreading her wings wide to soften her descent to the ruined streets below. Risking a glance over her shoulder, she found her protectors quickly following suit, their jetpacks making up for the limitations of not being born with wings.

Shining Armor found himself left alone in the broken throne room. His eyes still fixated on the path the ship had taken to leave the planet. He could feel his heart begin to sink as he watched his sister being whisked away to who knows where. Forcing himself to pull away, he kept reminding himself of what he had to do. Their parents were still lost out there in the chaos; no matter what, he would find them.

The air inside the drop-ship was thick and uncomfortable as it made the long climb back into orbit. They all found themselves sitting in an uncomfortable silence until one armored Unicorn began muttering incoherently about “giggling at ghosties”.

Kad’s attention was immediately on the young medic that had been seeing to her, “Dear lord son, what’d ya give her?”

The medic looked back and forth between Kad and the yammering Twilight, “I… I just gave her a light sedative, something to help with the pain; it shouldn’t be affecting her this much.” He stammered out in confusion.

Rainbow Dash cleared her throat with a playful chuckle, “Yeeeeeeah, Twilight is what you’d call a “Light Weight”. When we go drinking, one of us usually gets designated to keep an eye on her.”

“I’m fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine,” She managed to slur out with a wave of her good hoof in dismissal.

As the vessel came to a stop, the side doors slid open to reveal the crowded and extremely active hanger bay. Other drop-ships were being prepped as well as a number of fighter craft. Teams of engineers scrambled from one task to another as fire teams assembled for combat duty.

Dash found herself in awe as she watched this busied scene play out. The sheer mixture of species and armor styles caused her to realize something: just how small her world and scope of the universe had always been. Up until this moment, she’d been able to focus on something. An opponent, a goal, anything to keep her mind from wandering. Now she could see firsthoof just how vast the galaxy truly was.

Kad took the young medic by the shoulder to stop him mid stride, “Take care’a that girl for me, will ya?”

“Don’t worry sir; I won’t let her out of my sight.” The medic stated.

To this, Twilight let lose a stream of frantic giggles, “Can’t blame ‘im with a sweet flank like mine,” She teased the medic before prodding him with her good hoof, “Heeeeeeeeeeeeey, are you single? Cause you sound really cute under that mask.”

Rainbow withheld the urge to laugh at this, though several fits of giggles escaped her. She sincerely wished she knew how to record things with the visor she was given. A hard jab to her side drew her attention back to her duty and the less than happy Mandalorian standing over her.

“Mind on the job, Dash,” Kad reminded her sharply.

“Sorry, Cap,” The cyan Pegasus quickly blurted out before falling in line alongside her commanding officer as they followed closely behind Mandalore Fett and Princess Luna.

The Equestrian Princess did her best not to show the shock and awe she felt as they moved through the massive capital ship, “Tell me, Mandalore Fett, what dost thou know of those I shall be facing?”

“I won’t lie to you, your highness, probably the only one who won’t,” Fett stated, “Your world is ripe with potential and resources, they will greet you happily while plotting ways to take everything away from you. They’ll offer you alliances under the guise of friendship to get what they want. Then when all of that fails, they’ll just start trying to intimidate you with the sheer force of their military.”

Luna couldn’t help but chuckle at this information, “Tis good to know politics are exactly the same on other worlds.”

“Hah, I guess some things just never change despite other differences,” Fett stated with a wide smile.

As they passed a large window, Dash couldn’t help but stop and take in her second trip into space. This time, however, she found herself less in awe at what she saw. Warships far larger than the one frigate she and her comrades had brought down littered the blackness as far as her eyes could see. She could feel the fear clawing its way along her spine as she saw the metallic hulks crowd their way into position. What’s more, she could see far off in the distance vague shapes moving through the black, silhouetted by the lights along their hulls but too far away to fully recognize. The ones farthest away seemed to conjure the more nightmarish images of what could be stalking her world.

Kad could feel the terror the mare tried to subdue inside herself. His hand rested upon her shoulder, bringing her a little closer to his side. His heart sank a bit as she looked up at him pleadingly from behind her visor. Through the Force, he could feel her emotions lapping at him. He had always disliked this aspect of his abilities, but at this moment he hated his rank all the more. The father figure in him wanted to hug her tightly and tell her everything would be okay, that she’d be safe. An action that would be viewed as unbecoming of a Captain, let alone a Knight.

“Things are still really bad, aren’t they, Cap?” Dash did everything she could to keep her voice from shaking.

Kad took a knee beside her as he fought to find the right words to calm her with, “No point in tellin’ ya any other way, Dash. Lotta folks out there are lookin’ to take your world an’ pump it dry, regardless of who they hurt in the process.” He could feel the turmoil inside her overflowing. With a sigh, he began to give in to the emotions flowing out of her, “No matter what happens here, Dash’ika, never forget you have your aliit, your family, an’ we will protect you.”

With no hesitations or restraint the young athlete threw her hooves around her Captain’s neck squeezing tightly, “Thanks, Cap.” She whispered weakly to him.

Kad was hesitant at first, but the parent in him slowly took over and brought his arms around her as well, hugging her tightly, “Promised you girls we’d see ya to the end of this, an’ Mandalorians never break their promises.”

Unbeknownst to the pair, Luna had stopped to watch this display of affections. A soft smile graced her muzzle as she watched one of her subjects and this alien sharing a bond forged in the recent conflict. It was heartening to see, with such heavy odds stacked against them. She in turn, though, was unaware of Fett closely watching her reaction.

For a fraction of a second, a devious smirk crawled across Shaysa’s features before it was quickly quelled. “Princess,” she called her back to the task at hand, motioning towards a pair of doors, “If you’ll step this way, we have a room already set up for you to address them.”

As the doors slid open upon her approach, Luna found herself in a large conference room. Scattered about the room were holographic images of aliens in various garb and regalia. She immediately recognized several of them as human but could not even begin to imagine who or what the more “unique” beings were. Try as she might, she could not help but stare at the massive, grotesque slug-like beast that proudly wore silken garb.

“Mandalore Fett,” A human dressed in military sharpness angrily spoke out, “How long will you keep us waiting here?”

“Gentlemen,” she began as she scanned the room, “and I use the term loosely, I thank you all for your patience. As eager as all of you might be to set up claim, however, this world is in fact inhabited and its occupants have something they would like to say.”

Stepping aside, she allowed Luna to take the forefront as she summoned up every vestige of courage she could find in herself. Before she could speak, the massive slug beast began bellowing in anger as it motioned towards Luna.

“I agree with Shuga,” The well-pressed militant chimed in, “This is more than a little insulting of you, Fett! Just what games are you trying to play here?”

“Admiral, perhaps the most honorable Shuga and yourself should not be so quick to judge,” A lone robed figure spoke out in her defense.

“Keep it to yourself, Jedi!” He bit back in anger, “You and your lot should’ve stayed to your damned cloisters.”

Soon the room exploded into a shouting match. Luna watched the aliens argue back and forth. She soon remembered why she had always recused herself from politics and left it to Celestia. Her anger soon began to boil over as she slammed her hoof into the ground with force enough to bend the metal beneath it, “ENOUGH!” She bellowed forth with the Royal Canterlot Voice, Kad was sure the entire dreadnaught shook under its force.

The room became a sea of shocked faces as all eyes turned to Luna, “I see that even across the stars, power doth not lead to sophistication and manners.”

“How dare you! Do you know to whom you speak?” Her friend the militant snarled at her.

“Nay, I do not,” She answered clearly and defiantly, “And clearly neither dost thou. You shall be silent alien, for you trespass in sovereign territory.”

She could see the shade of his face becoming darker with anger, “I am Admiral Caleb Shaw, commanding officer of the Hyperion Fleet of the Fel Empire, under whom I have been given the authority to-”

“That is enough, old man,” A much younger-sounding voice took him off-guard as a new figure pushed him aside to take his place. Rather than dressed in the dark grey uniform of the last human, this one appeared to be clad in red and black armor of a vastly different design than that of the Mandalorains. Crimson cloth was draped around his shoulder and tied off at the waist. His eyes shone a dark brown, his hair was a light auburn that was neatly kept, all brought together by a strong, handsome jaw line, “You overstep your boundaries, Shaw. You represent the Empire, but I AM the Empire.”

Looking to Luna he bowed low to her, “A thousand pardons my lady, the good Admiral forgets his manners far too easily. I am Nero Alexander Fel, crowned prince of the Fel Empire. Please, continue.”

The Alicorn found herself slightly taken aback by the sudden outpouring of kind words, but quickly regained herself and bowed her head to the human before returning to the rest of the crowd, “As I was saying,” her words came to her stern and strong, “I am Princess Luna, ruler of Equestria and keeper of the night. I speak with the authority of my people and our nation.”

“For millennia, our people hath stood tall and resolute against any and all whom would visit harm upon us. Time and time again, our enemies have laid siege to our borders, seeking to claim the riches within. Time and time again, we have stood tall against the greatest of odds, emerging victorious. As I look around this room, I see the same greed and covetous shine in the eyes around me. Perhaps a paranoia born of the evils visited by one being of blackest heart, or perhaps merely a caution born of centuries of conflict.”

“Know this: the proud, strong nation of Equestria will not bow its head in fear, nor allow itself to be trampled under heel. You have come to our world with weapons and might capable of wiping out all life within this solar system, thus I know it would be foalish to stand alone against this assembled might… But we shall not stand alone.”

“Equestria has one other long-standing tradition beyond that of our independence, and that is our peaceful desire for friendship and co-existence. For too long, we have been ignorant not only of all that has transpired in the galaxy around us, but also of our neighbors across the sea of stars. In these past few days I hath played witness to the depths of kindness, courage and honor the Mandalorian people are capable of. Seen firsthoof the bonds that are formed and the families created from seemingly nothing at all. I have seen the heart that lay beneath the armor.”

Luna’s gaze shifted to Shaysa, “Mandalore Shaysa Fett, I offer to you our allegiance as well as my friendship. Will you accept our friendship?”

Moving to stand beside the Equestrian princess, Shaysa placed a hand upon her shoulder, “It would be my honor, your highness, to welcome you and your people to the ranks of the Mandalorians.” Her attention shifted to the various delegates, “As this is now Mandalorian space, I trust the lot of you will be able to find your own way out.”

As several more arguments began to erupt from the assembled representatives, the young Fel prince broke through the chaos, “Perhaps, the lovely princess and Mandalore were not clear enough. As such, the Fel Empire stands ready to defend them both.” With a motion, he shouted to someone outside the hologram’s range, “All ships, move to join the Mandalorian fleet and ready all weapons.”

True to his words, the massive collection of warships of the Hyperion fleet broke from the amassed wall of ships, falling in line alongside the Neo Protectors. With a proud smirk, the image of Nero Fel faced the rest of them, “Now, I suggest that you all take a moment to decide if war with both the Empire and the Mandalorians is truly worth saving face over.”

Rainbow Dash’s stomach became a ball of ice as the apprehension within the room became all the more oppressive. She quietly thanked Celestia for the visor hiding the fear reflected in her eyes as she scanned the faces in the room. Stopping on Luna, she could see the rage and unwavering determination of her princess. It heartened her to see the fire of her monarch as her own spark of confidence returned to her.

Time dragged on for what felt like an eternity until one by one the holographic images of the assembled delegates began to fade away. The com attached to Fett’s wrist suddenly chirped to life with the voice of one of the bridge crew, “Mand’alor, all ships are pulling out of the system.”

Dash suddenly realized she had been holding her breath through the entire ordeal. With the sound of this good news, she let out a sigh of relief as her legs buckled a bit from the overwhelming stress. Unconsciously, she leaned into the armored legs of her CO. It wasn’t until she felt Kad’s hand pat the top of her head that she noticed.

“My, that certainly was quite the standoff, wasn’t it?” Nero casually commented before looking back towards Luna, “I must apologize for my so-called peers, your highness. Far too many of them are lacking in common manners.”

Luna felt a smile force the grim intensity from her face, “Tis quite alright, Prince Fel,” she stated, “I hath dealt with far worse barbarians. Though, I must thank thee for thine supportive stance.”

“Indeed, perhaps when next we meet it will but under far more desirable circumstances, as I’m sure the holo-projector does your beauty little justice.” He stated fondly.

A sudden heat filled Luna’s cheeks as his words forced her to become rather flushed, “I, uh, indeed, Prince Fel. I wish thee a safe journey, fare thee well.” She quickly forced herself to stammer out as her tongue tripped over the simplest of words, causing the red tint to push past her darkened fur all the more.

With a bow, the image of the Imperial prince faded from existence. Luna felt herself nearly collapse in embarrassment at the thought of how foalish she must have seemed. A prodding at her side drew her attention to Shaysa and the wide grin she bore, “Why dost thou stare so?”

“Oh nothing; that was just cute, is all.” Shaysa snickered.

Kad and Rainbow Dash sat beside one another, staring out across the inky black as ships moved about the solar system. A makeshift bench had been put together with the use of a misplaced supply crate. Their head gear respectively had been left beside them to take in the view without the HUD readouts.

The young mare couldn’t stop staring at her world just below them as apprehension still clung to her tired form, catching her Captain’s attention, “Got some’in on your mind there, Dash?”

With a sigh she shifted a bit, “I was thinking, it’s kinda funny. From this far up, you can’t see any of the damage to Canterlot or Ponyville. Heck, you can’t even tell where they are from here.”

“Certainly puts plenty into perspective, I ‘spose, but what’s really buggin’ ya kiddo?”

“I know we saved the day and stuff, but… What happens now, Cap?”

“Wish I knew, Rainbow, I really do,” Kad stated regretfully, “Thing is, you all know about what’s goin’ on out here now, an’ the rest of the galaxy is now very well aware you all exist. Can’t promise ya things’ll go back to the way they were. What I do know, is your world is forever changed, an’ you were there for it every step’a the way.”

“But… Everypony that died in the fighting… Traycn…” Tears began to well up in the young mare’s eyes as this painful fact dawned on her.

Kad rested his forehead against her own as he spoke softly, “Utrel'a gar sur'haai ner adiik. Dry your tears, Rainbow Dash. They died an’ you lived, so live for them.”

With a sniffle, she wiped the tears from her eyes on the underlay between the armored plates of her forelimb. With a smile, Kad mussed her mane playfully, “Att’a girl. ‘Sides, ya won’t wanna be bawlin’ your eyes out when ya see what I got ya.”

Her head canted curiously to the side as he produced a parcel wrapped in blue cloth. Gingerly, she took it in her hooves and looked it over for a moment, “What is it?”

“Well, that there is a box,” Kad pointed out sarcastically, “Just a heads up though, the gift’s inside.”

Rainbow rolled her eyes before pulling the cloth from the sleek, polished metallic box underneath it. Carefully, she unlatched the container to peer inside, her eyes lighting up as she did. Lying before her was a weapon she had become very accustomed to, a vibro-knife. Dash was anything but an expert on the weapon, but she could tell at first glance this was of far better quality than the one she had lost over Ponyville.

Something beside the weapon drew her attention, an insignia of some kind made to be added onto any armor at any given notice. She had seen this symbol before though, mainly on Arkanna’s own armor. She turned her gaze curiously towards Kad, “I… I don’t understand.”

“Rainbow Dash, you’ve proven yourself a true warrior an’ I feel you’d make a damn fine Mandalorian,” Kad stated proudly, “To put it plain an’ simple, I want you on my squad, Dash.” He could see the Pegasus was more than a little overwhelmed by this news, “But I ain’t gonna force it on ya, got plenty’a time to think on it. ‘Sides, Twilight should be gettin’ outta surgery pretty soon. Why don’t you run along an’ go fill ’er in on what she’s missed? I’m sure you’re just dying to tell’er.”

She smiled from ear to ear as she took the weapon from its case and hooked it to her belt. Taking a moment, Dash admired how it looked hanging from her hip in a nearby reflective wall panel. The athletic mare embraced Kad in a quick hug before galloping off to find her friend.

Kad watched the young warrior-to-be dart off as he smiled proudly to himself. The moment the mare was out of sight, his mood shifted and became dourer, “Ya won this battle kid, but the war’s just startin’.”

Loose Ends

The world was a dismal mess of dark grey and florescent lighting. Twilight groaned as she forced her eyes to stay open until they focused. Eventually details started to take shape; she could make out the light fixtures overhead and the plating of the ceiling. A dull pain nipped at her shoulder where the saber had plunged into her. To her relief, it no longer tore at her as sharply as it had before; in fact, her body now felt lighter compared to earlier.

With some reluctance, her eyes moved over her form to investigate. She found that her armor had been removed, and in its place a hastily thrown-together hospital gown had been wrapped around her. Bandages had been applied to her shoulder over what had been the hole burnt through her skin and bone. Her afflicted forelimb had been placed in a sling to keep it from being put through much more strain. A warm sensation drew her attention to her unhindered hoof only to find a hand holding it.

Twilight’s eyes quickly darted up along the arm to discern the owner of this limb. Sitting beside her, clad in dark blue and gold armor was a human male that was unfamiliar to her. He appeared to be somewhere near Arkanna’s age at first glance. A strong jaw line and messed blonde hair framed a youthful face and bright blue eyes. His eyes finally moved to Twilight’s, causing her to freeze up inside as a touch of heat entered her face.

“Hey, I was wondering when you were gonna wake up.” Her mysterious new friend said with a teasing smile.

A thousand questions ran through her head, but her analytical mind zeroed in on the ones that would be the easiest to get answers for, “Who in the world are you?”

“We never did get formally introduced; I’m medical officer Dax Theydar.” He stated with a chuckle.

“Ah, yes, nice to meet you Dax. My name is Twilight Sparkle,” She replied with a polite nod, “Now, if you don’t mind, why are you holding my hoof?”

Dax glanced down at his hand still on her hoof before letting it go with a slight tinge of embarrassment, “Oh, that. Well, you sort of forced me to promise I’d hold onto it until you woke up.”

Twilight could feel a bright red heat filling her cheeks, “Heh, I’m sorry about that. I uhm, I tend to get very ‘friendly’ when under the effects of mind-altering substances. I, uh, what exactly did I say and or do?”

A playful smile etched across Dax’s face, “Let’s see, you pestered me to remove my helmet because you wanted to see if I was ‘as cute as my voice sounded,’ then you wanted to know if I was single, which eventually led to ten minutes of blatant pick up lines.” He watched with an amused chuckle as the mare tried to sink out of sight into the mattress, her face a crimson beacon that burned through her violet fur, “I don’t get hit on by many of my patients, so it was a very interesting experience for me.”

”Well, since you’re awake now, I need to get to the planet surface and help with the relief effort,” Dax said as he rose to his feet, giving her one more heartwarming smile, “I’ll leave you and your friends alone to catch up, I’m sure they’re dying to fill you in on all the excitement you’ve missed.”

She gave him a confused look as she watched him leave, “My friends?”

Looking to the other side of the room, her heart sank in near terror at what she saw. Sitting on the bed that shared this room were both Rainbow Dash and Kell Skirata. They both fought hard to keep their fits of laughter from spilling out until Dax had exited the room. Loud, jovial laughter rolled out of the cyan Pegasus as she fought to stay sitting upright, holding her sides.

With a pained groan, Twilight magically pulled her pillow out from under her head and used it to cover her face, muffling an annoyed yell. Satisfied that the majority of her bottled rage had left her system, she peeked an eye out from under it, “How long have you both been there?”

“Literally the entire time,” Kell snickered.

Rainbow Dash laboriously forced herself back up, still wading through waves of giggles, “So Twi, got yourself a coltfriend now?”

She shot her friend a death glare before forcing herself to sit up in the bed, “How long have I been out?”

Kell returned his attention to a pile of cards that set between himself and Rainbow Dash on the bed, “Few hours. Not surprising, considering you took a lightsaber stab like that.”

Dash stared at her friend sadly, “Does it still hurt?”

Her hoof tentatively reached up to touch the wall of gauze over the wound, “Not like it did earlier… It was painful though, like nothing I’d ever felt before… It was like my entire body was being set on fire from the inside out.”

“Technically, it was,” Kell pointed out as he drew a card from the pile before throwing one back in, “Nasty things, those Jedi weapons. They tear whatever they hit apart down to a molecular level with super-heated energy.”

Both ponies stared blankly at the human who seemed to take little notice of their obvious discomfort. Clearing her throat, Twilight sought to break this sudden uncomfortable silence, “Well… That certainly sums up how it felt. So, what exactly was Dax talking about? What’d I miss?”

Rainbow Dash smiled excitedly at the chance to recount everything of note from the past few hours, “Only Princess Luna staring down like a billion warships and then tellin’ them to get the buck outta here ‘cause we were gonna take our chances with the Mandalorians!” She nearly squealed at the thought of what she’d seen, “I mean, I knew the Princesses were powerful an’ all, but jeez, I’m starting to see why you look up to them, Twi!”

Kell snickered at the dumbfounded look on Twilight’s face, “Don’t feel too bad, I missed out on it too.”

Her mind was still having trouble processing everything around her, but one thing clicked very quickly to bring words into her mouth, “Wait, she… She allied us with the Protectors without consulting Celestia or anything?”

“Pretty much so,” Kell replied, “You guys are all officially part of the Mandalorian Nation now.”

Dash canted her head to the side in confusion as a deathly serious look fell over her friend’s features. The speedster found herself dreadfully lost on the subject of politics, “Something wrong, Twi?”

Twilight shook her thoughts clear as she refocused on Dash, “Nothing, just… Thinking about something, that’s all. So where is everypony else?”

Kell tapped his chin in thought as he brought up the last time that subject had come up in conversation, “Let’s see, last I heard your friends from the village are all hard at work with the relief effort on the surface along with both of the Princesses as well as Zex an’ Torb. Neither of whom would leave the planet till the job is done; Torb thinks it’d set a bad example if he were to rile them up for conflict and then walk away, Zex just thinks if he lets someone take over for him they’ll just get it wrong. Our young Private Kershom has all but vanished alongside the lovely Ms. Shy. And vod is off with Mand’alor, probably discussing our next deployment.” He grinned from ear to ear as he brought this to their attentions.

Far removed from the rest of the ship and crew were the lavished, yet modest quarters of Mandalore Fett. The room was slightly larger than most other crew quarters, decorated with a number of tapestries depicting ancient battles long past on worlds far removed from the one they orbited now. About the room were several furnishings that were more lavished than most onboard would own. Fett enjoyed indulging in the fruits of her labors from time to time, a joy she took great pride in, considering how far she had to go to gain it all.

The ruler of the Mandalorian nation set a pair of glasses on the reflective surface of the table at the center of the room, beside them a jug of sweetly scented liquid. Across from her sat her long time friend and the commanding officer of her favored team of misfits, “Help yourself, Kad. From your report, I’d say you’ve earned a drink.”

The aged warrior nodded and took her advice, pouring them both a tall glass of the red-tinted liquor, “Best thing I’ve heard all day.” He declared with a wry smile.

Taking a long sip, Fett began sizing him up for a moment, “You’ve been pretty quiet, Kad, why don’t you just get things off your chest? It’ll make drinking easier.”

Kad turned the words over in his head as his misgivings began to rise to the surface, “Alright then,” Setting the glass down, he looked Fett dead in the eyes, “I can understand certain forces showing up after that Force wave ripped across the galaxy an’ such, but there’s a few things that don’t add up. First bein’ the size an’ scale to which they all showed up. I can understand a few exploratory ships but these boys looked ready for an all-out war. Second bein’ the presence of several corporate militaries, for the life’a me I can’t figure why they’d even know ‘bout this.”

Fett continued to nurse her drink, happily savoring the strong sweetness of the fruits used to concoct it, “That is awfully strange,” She playfully mused, “What theories do you have about all of this business, Captain?”

“Just the one,” Kad took a long drink from his glass. If this came out wrong, she’d have every right to bust him down to a Private; last thing he wanted to do was screw up his career without getting to taste the good stuff, “Someone told them to show up ready to conquer.”

Shaysa reclined back against the soft cushions of the couch, swirling the contents of her glass in deep thought, “More than likely, though I wouldn’t worry about that, Skirata,” Taking another sip of wine she turned her attention towards the planet floating outside the window, “I’d be more focused on this Princess Luna. Very odd how quickly she jumped at the chance to bring her people under our banner.”

Kad’s brow rose in curiosity at this new theory, “You think she’s up to somethin’?”

Ner burcya, everyone in this galaxy is up to something,” Shaysa snickered, “The question is, just what can we gain for ourselves by letting her indulge in these pursuits?”

“In the meantime though,” Shaysa continued as she slid a datapad across the table towards him, “We have our own pursuits to focus on.”

Off in the distance, the sounds of fighting could still be heard throughout the streets of Canterlot. With the retreat of Deathwatch’s main forces from the system and the influx of Neo Protectors into the city, things looked to be dying down very quickly. This was a much welcomed change of pace for the besieged Equestrians, but provided little comfort to Tolik and his small group of defectors whom still made camp in the bombed-out ruins of the once lovely café. They and their pair of pony companions remained in an awkward silence as things continued to progress outside.

“Sounds like all the fighting is moving to the other side of the city,” Their Twi’lek lookout brought to the group’s attention, “I’d say the western half from the sound of it.”

“That puts them in the residential district,” Gallant stated with a happy sigh, “Guess things are finally almost over.”

“Perhaps,” The entire room whirled around to find the Chiss second in command of Epsilon squad. Torb leaned casually against the back wall near the entrance to the kitchen, his helmet tucked under his arm. The blue-skinned humanoid grinned from ear to ear as he looked over the room, he could just taste the unease in the air. Despite every weapon being trained on him now, or at least in Mackers’ case his general direction, Torb showed no signs of fear, “However, I don’t believe these criminals should be allowed to see this victory outside of a detention center.”

“You gonna arrest all three of us all alone LT?” Tolik drew a bead on Torb’s forehead as he awaited the answer.

Torb snickered a bit at this rather outlandish challenge, “No, I’m afraid I just don’t have the time for such troublesome things.” He stated waving off the notion, “If you haven’t noticed, I’m heading the entire relief effort here, as well as coordinating the actions being taken to subdue the remnants of Deathwatch. So you see, I just simply don’t have the time to waste on three terrorists-turned-heroes.”

Tensions in the room began to subside as a few weapons began lowering, “So you’re going to let us go, then?” Mackers chimed in with a hopeful tone.

“Hardly,” Torb scoffed, “I just don’t have the time to deal with you is all.” The Chiss turned to leave the same way he had snuck in, only to stop mid stride, “You know, with so many of the Mando’ade running around the city right now, all one would need is a change in armor color and they could sneak off this planet so easily…” He mused out loud before glancing over his shoulder, “Well, that’s one way to look at it, anyway.”

As he turned the corner behind the shop, he found his newly acquired “pet” droid keeping guard along with the Equestrian, Fancy Pants. The Unicorn gave his alien friend a quizzical look, “I say, do you really plan to let them go free like that?”

Torb gave the pony a teasing smirk, “Free? Oh, I would call their situation anything but free. You see, I am always looking to expand the assets I have in the field, letting them ‘go’ is nothing short of me doing just that. They will soon learn there is no place in this galaxy they can go that I cannot find them. Their freedom is nothing but an invisible cage.”

Slipping his helmet back on, he gave the Unicorn another glance from the corner of his visor, “For now though, we really should stay focused on the problems at hand. Or hoof, I suppose.”

Aboard the personal dreadnaught of Mandalore Fett, on the top level of the ship sat what had been dubbed the observation deck. In truth, this relatively small section of the ship was nothing more than a hallway with a few benches, potted plants and a large pair of windows allowing a view on either side of the ship. The area had originally been nothing more than an unused area of the ship that linked a few non-essential areas together. However, after receiving several requests for a lounge and in a few cases a bar to be added to the ship, Fett thought it would be in everyone’s best interest to keep liquor away from the hordes of warriors with access to capital ship weaponry. Instead, the simple and cheap solution was chosen to make use of the long hallway.

At this time the entire area was deserted, save for one pair of figures lounged upon one of the benches. The young warrior Arkanna Kershom and the Equestrian volunteer Fluttershy sat side by side, their armors long since discarded and their wounds bandaged. It was clear now just how much damage the soft-spoken mare had taken in her rescue attempt. Strips of white linen covered the side of her face and eye as well as around her midsection and a splinted wing.

Arkanna had suffered relatively light damage from the fall, and couldn’t help scolding himself over how she had to shield him from the impact the way she did. He tried to keep his attention focused on the coming and going ships over her planet, “So, I told’ja I’d show you some of the galaxy when this whole mess was over with,” He happily reminded her, “I don’t think I’ll be counting this, though.”

Fluttershy giggled softly at his comment, “Oh, that’s okay, really. I’m just happy that whole terrible ordeal is over with.”

There was one thing that kept crawling back into the warrior’s mind though, ‘Ni kar'taylir darasuum gar ti an ner kar'rta,’ It just kept replaying over and over in his mind, “Fluttershy, I, uh,” He knew he had to talk to her about it, “There’s something I wanted to talk to you about,”

She turned her good eye up at him curiously, a slight tinge of red in her cheeks at the reluctantly serious tone of his voice, “Y-yes, what is it?”

He could feel his own cheeks become heated as he stared into her cerulean orb, he felt himself unconsciously fidget under her gaze, “Well… It has to do with what you said, before the mission started.”

Her face became the epitome of worry and dread, “Oh no, I-I didn’t say something wrong did I?” She gasped out.

“No,” Arkanna quickly corrected her, “No, there was nothing wrong with what you said, nothing at all wrong with it.” The young human cursed himself over and over again in his mind. He was a verd, a warrior elite of Mandalore, talking to a girl regardless of how cute she was or what planet she came from should not be this difficult for him. It was then that something dawned on him, “Uh, but, what exactly did you think you said?”

“Oh, well, I was told the words meant, ‘I care for and respect you my dear friend,’” She stated happily with a flap of her good wing. Her head canted a bit curiously up at him, “Why, wasn’t that what I said?”

Arkanna slowly shook his head which only made the look of worry and dread on the timid flyer’s face grow all the more desperate. Her cheeks turning into red beacons through her golden fur, “W-what did I say then?”

He had been afraid of this, with a heavy sigh he tried to break the news to her gently, “Well, uh, what you actually ended up saying was a profession of love to me with all your heart and soul.”

Arkanna had believed her face couldn’t get any redder than it already was, and he found he was sorely mistaken. The fragile mare’s face became a bright red beacon as this information and the gravity of what she said sank in. Her body began to shake and tremble as fear and panic gripped her core. Tears began to swell up in her eye as Fluttershy’s breathing became shallow and rapid, “I- I- I…”

The urge to run and hide became overwhelming for her. How could she say something like that to somepony she barely knew? How little he must have thought of her, the foalish little thing from another planet trying to stumble around with his people’s ways. The only thing she could think to do now was find some dark corner of the ship and cry her heart out. No longer able to stand her ground under his gaze, she shut her eyes tightly and attempted to bolt as fast as her pain-wracked body would allow.

Something was wrong though. No matter how hard she forced her limbs to move, she didn’t feel as though she was moving anywhere. Her eye cracked open to find herself flailing them uselessly in the air. A pressure around her stomach drew her attention to the strong arm wrapped around her, keeping her from fleeing. This would push her further into a panicked state as she muttered incoherently about her own short comings until a hand moved soothingly through her mane. The young mare’s body froze for a moment as goose bumps formed beneath a layer of golden fur.

“Fluttershy, it’s okay,” Arkanna said softly as he continued his efforts to calm her, “I told you, mesh’la, there was nothing wrong with what you said. Not one thing.” He was relieved to see his words were having an effect as she stopped struggling and let herself be held, “I understand that someone played this trick on you, but to be honest, I’m kinda glad they did.”

“Y- you are?” Her shaken words were laid heavily with confusion.

Arkanna smiled thoughtfully as he watched her start to relax, “See, you saying that forced me to start thinking, and, well, thing is…” His cheeks began to burn as feelings started to surface, “I like being around you, Fluttershy. The more I am the more I want to know about you, your world. I dunno if any of this makes sense to you; hell, I’m sort of stumbling through this myself.”

He found it hard to judge her feelings as she refused to turn and face him, but Arkanna wouldn’t let that deter him. This was something he knew he had to do, “I know we haven’t know each other that long, but, I’d really like it if, uh, well, if we could give us a chance, y’know?” The words fell out of his mouth in a clumsy fashion, feeding his already growing embarrassment, “And, well, who knows, maybe someday you can say those words again and mean them.”

For several agonizing seconds, Arkanna found himself staring at the back of her head. The anxiety began to reach a fevered pitch until finally she turned to face him. Her face was still a bright shining ball of red; tears ran down her good eye and soaked the linen over the other orb. A wide smile was plastered on her face as she looked into his eyes thoughtfully. Without any hesitation she threw her forelimbs tightly around his neck and began squeezing him tightly, immediately surprising the human with the amount of strength her frame provided. Pink tresses fell against his face as her timid words tickled his ear, “Okay.”

Arkanna felt his heart leap in his chest at her words. The young warrior smiled from ear to ear as his own limbs moved to embrace her form. Without thought, his lips pecked her upon the cheek, gifting him with a surprised gasp. Snickering a bit, he finally pulled himself away to look upon the joyful mare’s face, “So, whaddya say we go see if Twilight’s woken up yet?”

Far from the battleground that was Canterlot or the still smoldering rustic town of Ponyville, in the snow choked northern lands sits the city of Stalliongrad. An industrial megalith, this city of iron, stone and snow is one of the few bastions of life in the blistering cold. Though founded by the ponies of Equestria, it has since become home to a melting pot of different races, all seeking to make their personal fortunes in the cold city of the north. The city’s reputation for taking in all comers worked to the advantage of a group of strange beings that appeared out of nowhere, clad in nothing but the smallest amount of clothing. To the relief of the alien visitors, very few questions were asked and even fewer of the citizens seemed to really care about them beyond a passing curiosity.

These same six beings now currently occupied a large wooden table in one of the city’s seedier bars. It was here that the group of exiled warriors had managed to find not only work, but a wardrobe to survive the cold in. Between them, several bottles of clear alcohol were past around as they unloaded their gripes upon one another.

“I still say this is all your fault, Jensen,” The only other human pointed out with an angry grunt before taking a long drink from one of the bottles.

“When are you guys gonna let that whole tracking beacon thing go?” The besieged Jensen pleaded.

“Maybe when we get the credits to get off this rock,” The Nikto of the group snarled at him, “Until then, everything is your fault.”

Before any more complaints could be levied against the most disliked man at the table, a canine creature padded its way over. Its slumped form had been clad in what looked to be finer materials than the groups’ ragged-looking gear. It regarded the group of aliens with suspicious, golden eyes before leaning against the table, “Just got word from the boss, we have a job for you newbies.”

The former Deathwatch warriors gave each other a bemused look at the mention of the slanderous title of “newbie”. Being the largest of them all, the Nikto leaned in closely, his facial spikes nearly touching the canine’s snout, causing him to shift uncomfortably, “The boss better be paying us this time.”

Sounds of creaking metal and the choking stench of burning circuit boards filled Lieutenant Feltan’s senses as he finally began to regain consciousness. With a pained grunt, he forced himself to sit upright despite the screaming pain across his body demanding he not. As his vision began to clear, he found the torn remnants of his ships’ bridge all around him. Sparking wires that still carried some power spilled out from their busted containers while shattered instrument panels continued to blaze warnings that were now frozen upon their screens.

His mind was a jumble of events that refused to move in any coherent order. With a great deal of effort he started picking individual points out as he tried to work out what lead to this current situation. He remembered the commando team sneaking onboard his ship with a few of those things, the Equestrians. The battle in the ship’s hangar bay became a fresh, visceral chain of events running through his mind. He could recall the fall through the atmosphere, the fire of re-entry dancing across the hull of the ship as he took manual control of the weapons systems and attempted to shoot down the offending shuttle. Most importantly, he could recall her. The tall Equestrian in black armor, her speed and grace in combat was impressive, to say the least.

Feltan forced himself to get to his feet, the image of that woman driving his rage and anger. He could feel the spiteful fire burning away his pain as he took to his shaky legs. His vision finally cleared, and he could see through the nearest shattered viewport the twisted state of his ship as well as its current location.

As far as his eyes could see there was nothing but dirt, sand and rocks. He had been left in a desolate wasteland with the wreckage of a warship. Grumbling some choice words about the sorry excuse for a planet, he started his arduous task of escaping the grounded hulk.

The trip through the remains of the ship was a long and extremely depressing walk for the Lieutenant as he picked his way through the wreckage. As the hours passed by, he found himself reminded at every turn of just how much he had screwed this mission up. The occasional dead Deathwatch trooper’s glassy stare begged him for answers he just couldn’t find the time to give. Only one thing pushed him forward, just one single thing that kept him from just putting a blaster muzzle to his chin and ending everything. It was her, the warrior in onyx armor that pushed harder than any other opponent. She consumed his mind and drove him forward every step of the way. Her graceful motions, perfect form, it consumed his mind. She was out there, and somehow he was going to see her again, and kill her with his bare hands.

The thought of murderous revenge helped to pass the time, and Feltan finally reached a working hatch that was close to the ground. With a little bit of elbow grease and a lot of cursing, the airlock door was forced open. The desert sun glared down upon the armored alien as he stepped out into its burning embrace, making him very thankful for full-armor climate control. With a brief survey of the surrounding landscape, he spotted on the distant horizon what looked like hints of civilization. Feltan reminded himself that where there’s civilization, there’s booze.

His heart skipped a bit at the prospect of drinking away his troubles. Before he could get very far a deep, gruff voice spoke up from behind him, “Excuse me, sir.”

Slowly turning around, Feltan found himself face to face with a creature unlike any he’d ever seen before. Massive and as bulky as it was huge, this strange beast was covered in thick dark brown fur. A rather important-looking headband filled with feathers sat atop this thing’s head. Feltan would wager from the rumble of his voice that this creature was more than getting on in years.

“We do not wish to bother you, but it seems you have placed your giant metal wedge in the way of our sacred stampeding grounds, and would be most thankful if you would please move it out of the way.” The aging alien said.

Feltan raised a brow from behind his visor at the mention of “we” and slowly peeked past the creature’s thick shoulders. He found several hundred more of these things waiting patiently for this issue to be resolved. His attention then shifted back to the one that had been addressing him, “Ya know what, you move the damn thing,” He stated as he started to march towards the town. Reaching up to his shoulder, he removed the shoulder armor that bore the symbol of Deathwatch and tossed it away, “I quit.”

A makeshift landing zone had been put together on the outskirts of the city walls where a number of long range shuttles sat at the ready as Mandalorians and even a few ponies helped to unload the desperately-needed cargo. The level of security for this area was understandably high as droves of armed troops came and went. Watching all of this from the vantage point of the city wall, Tolik took careful note of the landing patterns of the ships and the movements of the soldiers.

He and his defectors had taken Torb’s passive advice and found a way to change their colors quite literally. With the aid of Gallant and a quickly thrown-together spell on his part, the former Deathwatch Sergeant had to admit that this Unicorn magic stuff was more than a little useful. Tolik, however, was less than happy about the two Equestrians insisting on staying with him and his group of fugitives for so long.

“Alright, just a few hundred armed guards between us and that shuttle. No pressure.” Tolik informed the group in a casual tone.

“So what’s our plan, then? How do we get onboard one of those ships?” Gallant asked as he peered over the side of the wall.

From behind his helmet, Tolik gave the Equestrian a quizzical look, “Hold up a second, who said you were coming?”

Gallant brought himself eye to visor with the Mandalorian, “Do you honestly think I’m about to let a couple of terrorists go running around the galaxy unchecked on MY watch?” His tone was dipped slightly into a snarl, “Besides that, if I’m further than twenty yards away from any of you, the spell will fade. If you want off this planet alive, you’re gonna need me.”

With an annoyed grumble, Tolik finally gave in to the pressuring of their comrade, “Alright, fine, horn-head. You can come along, just try and keep up with the rest of us.”

“Hey, that’s one more member to our merry band!” Mackers happily declared with a chuckle, “So what about you Spitfire, you wanna come see the galaxy?”

The mare accompanying them had remained quiet for the majority of their trip to the city outskirts. Her mind was deep in a cascade of thoughts until Mackers roused her from these visions, “Tempting offer, but I can’t just leave Equestria when there’s still so much work to do.” Moving to Mackers’ side she placed a hoof on his shoulder, “Means this is probably goodbye. Try not to get yourselves killed out there, will ya?”

Spitfire hesitated a moment as she was leaving, “Oh, what the hay,” She muttered before wrapping her forelimbs tightly around Mackers’ neck and pressing her lips tightly to his. The blinded human in her grasp was clearly taken off guard before his own limbs moved to embrace the mare as well. The kiss continued unhindered by the slack jawed expressions of their companions until it reached its natural conclusion. With a proud smirk she pointed out, “For luck.”

Yazan cleared his throat to gain some attention, “Hey, I could use some luck, too, ya know.”

Shaking his head in annoyance, Tolik motioned to them all, “Alright, knock off the goofin’ around. we got a ship to steal!”

It didn’t take long for the small team to make its way to the landing zone. As per their quickly thrown together plan, Gallant and Tolik were on point running interference while Yazan helped Mackers trudge his way aboard the shuttle. Everything would be put the test soon enough as a pair of guards watching over the hastily set up airfield moved to intercept them, “Hold up, actions back in the city, you boys get lost or something?”

“Let me do the talking,” Tolik muttered under his breath in blind hope that the rather large ears of his Equestrian friend would pick up on it, “Soldier, we need to commandeer one of these shuttle crafts, important business.”

The pair of guards shared a look before taking a moment to examine the entire group, most of all the injured man being led around by his comrade, “Yeah, look, secret mission or not, I’m not about to just let the first random group to walk up to me today walk off with a billion credit spacecraft because he asked nicely for it.”

Before Tolik could utter another word, Gallant strode forward past him, “Excuse me soldier, but perhaps you didn’t get the same orders we were issued.”

There was an obvious attempt on one guards part to stifle a clear and present snicker at the quadruped’s angry words, “Oh, clearly I have been kept out of the loop. Do enlighten me, four-legs.”

Gallant’s eyes went cold with rage as he magically tugged the soldier by his collar to bring him eye to visor with him. To the hardened Unicorn’s credit he didn’t flinch or break eye contact for even a second as the caught trooper’s partner leveled his weapon on him and started yelling orders for him to let him go, “What is your rank soldier?” He growled out.


“Corporal, the last time I checked, Equestria had come under the Mandalorian banner. As such, I am to assume my rank of Lieutenant Commander should still trump yours!” Tolik had to admit that this display gave him chills to watch as well, “My escort spoke out of turn; I am the one in need of this shuttle craft in order to collect the much-needed support troops from the Manehattan garrison as well as find this brave young man much-needed medical help after saving my life. Now unless rank and file works differently on whatever back-water planet you crawled off of, I suggest you stop getting in my way, soldier!”

With a magical shove, the trooper was pushed away from Gallant’s path as he continued on towards the nearest craft with an air of authority and purpose in his step. From his side, Tolik made his way to stroll beside him and snickering a bit, “Lieutenant Commander?”

“Always thought it sounded really important,” Gallant replied with a chuckle as they boarded the ship.

Kad strode the halls of the dreadnaught; like any son of Mandalore, being surrounded by so much weaponry and destructive force brought a feeling of ease to his soul. The heart and soul of the Mando’ade was that of vagabonds, wanderers and nomads. But to travel across the endless night sky in the sheltering strength of such a weapon of war was enough to set any Mandalorian’s heart a flutter.

His attention briefly returned to the datapad in his pocket and the plans Shaysa had shared with him during their drink together. Over the years, Kad had become more than aware of her drive and desire to raise Mandalore to heights not even achieved by her supposed ancestor Boba Fett. The knight himself had been an integral part of her plots and schemes and even played a key role in her rise to the title of Mand’alor. Even now, Kad could find no reason to hesitate or pull out of his support of the woman he put into power.

A knowing smirk slid over his face as he recalled those words he’d spoken to the Guardian before his death, 'The Mando'ade will pull them outta the darkness an' into glory; usin' your corpse as a steppin' stone if we have to,’ He never was good at visions or reading the Force, but he could certainly see it now, the change and glory he had promised for the Equestrians. Shaysa always seemed to have a way of putting everything into perspective for him.

Rounding the corner, his destination came into sight: The infirmary room in which he had left his brother and the mare he owed his life to now. Through the open doorway he could see Kell and Arkanna trying to show the three mares how to play pazaak. The sounds of laughter and happy chatter warmed the warrior’s old heart.

Behind him, an elevator door hissed open as a multicolored wave of white, orange and pink rushed past the human, making a dash for the door. Regaining his bearings, Kad watched the jovial chaos with the addition of the rest of their six mare team, most of all the happy bouncing and singing of Pinkie Pie. All the warrior could think about was one of the most important tenants of his people. Family is more than blood, and these girls knew exactly what that meant.

A presence behind him drew his gaze to the blue-eyed Unicorn stallion clad in purple armor with a tightly-wrapped back leg he tentatively avoided putting pressure on, “Shining Armor,” Kad greeted him warmly, “Find what ya were lookin’ for, son?”

“Yes,” He stated with a relieved smile upon his face, “Our mother and father had managed to take shelter during the first wave. Turns out that dad’s old skills from his time in the Equestrian Armed Forces weren’t as rusty as I’d always assumed they were.

Kad gave him a teasing nudge, “Never count us old kath hounds down an’ out boy, otherwise ya just might get bit.”

The Captain of the royal guard shifted a bit as he fought to find his words, “I… wanted to thank you, for keeping my sister safe, and for saving the city. I can’t imagine how much longer we would’ve lasted without your help.”

He took a moment to regard the Equestrian as one soldier to another, “Considerin’ what odds you were up against, I would venture to say that ya did a damn fine job out there son. You an’ your sister are the heroes here, me an’ my boys are just mercenaries hired to do a job.”

“Worth every bit from what I’ve seen,” Shining Armor complimented before his mood shifted to a more serious tone, “We’ve still lost so many, dead or… Or taken.”

“I’m sorry for what Deathwatch’s done to your world an’ for the people they’ve taken.”

“Tell me, what’s going to happen to them?”

Kad was silent for a moment before finally, “There’s an old sayin’ that dates back a few thousand years, 'Mandalorians don’t take prisoners, they use ’em’. From what I’ve heard an’ seen, they’ve got two choices now: join Deathwatch’s ranks or be put in chains as slave labor.”

Shining Armor let this information sink in as he slowly began to stew in his ever-growing anger, “You’re going after them though, right? Stopping Deathwatch is what you Neo Protectors do, isn’t it? I want to go with you when you do.”

“I’m no Protector son, not anymore,” Kad stated in a low tone, “Was given my walking papers just an hour ago, I’m being transferred back to the Mandalorian Knights.”

He could read the confusion and frustration in Shining Armor’s face like an open book, “Let me explain somethin’ to ya; a Knight of the Mando’ade is tasked with protecting our people an’ worlds. Your people an’ your world are under our banner now. Besides that, Deathwatch is trouble for the whole Mandalorian sector. You’re damn right I’m goin’ after ’em.” He glanced at the makeshift celebration in the adjacent room, “Till then son, go to your sister an’ soak up this victory. The next fight’ll be here when it’s ready.”

Light years away from the formally besieged star system, on the distant reaches of the outer rim, was a long-dead star system overlooked and ignored by many star charts. There was little reason to enter this area of space beyond maybe dumping trash or charging one’s engines before the next jump to hyperspace. A white dwarf sat at the center of this edge of nowhere, casting a deathly-pale light upon surfaces of the few planets in the system. Along the outskirts of this solar system was a thick chain of asteroids, the largest of which were dotted with the tell-tale signs of mining operations long since past.

It is here that Deathwatch had built themselves an extensive base of operations that stretched throughout the entire asteroid belt. The discarded remnants of the now-dead mining operation had given them an ideal platform to build a base on top of. The radiation given off by the dying star that barely lit the system helped mask engine signatures and power sources, adding additional touches of security.

On board his personal flagship, Hrask examined the latest pair of “recruits,” courtesy of a rather strange turn of events. Standing before the hardened Admiral was a pair of frightened and confused young Equestrians clad in light grey uniforms. Behind them, a lone trooper assigned to them as their guardian stood stock-still. Behind his visor, the Deathwatch Admiral picked the children standing before him apart with a scrutinizing eye, “So, these are the ‘sons’ of Davian Teth?”

“Aye sir,” The trooper answered back, “We managed to get them off the planet after receiving the order to retreat.”

Hrask could see a strong glimmer of potential in these children. They had lost their family, been taken from their home and dragged halfway across the galaxy. Despite being clearly frightened by their lack of control on the situation, they stood strong side by side. Yes, they could be fashioned and honed into acceptable weapons of war, “Find them a place to settle in and begin their training. You are dismissed.”

With a sharp salute, the trooper began escorting the colts from the room. Upon their exit, a red light began to flash on a console built into Hrask’s desk. With a few memorized commands, the entire room was locked down before a holo-projector built into the ceiling created a blurred image at the center of the room. A hunched-over creature clad in black robes that obscured his form and face leaned heavily upon a gnarled staff.

Moving to stand before the visage, Hrask kneeled to the grainy image as his head bowed low, “My lord,”

“Yen Hrask,” the words slithered out from broken, rotting teeth with a sickening tinge to them, “I am to understand that congratulations are in order.”

“Yes my lord,” he replied, keeping his gaze fixed upon the floor, “The civil war has begun, and the forces of Mandalore will be far too preoccupied brining their own house in order to be a threat to your plans in the outer rim. Though it would appear that one of our agents, Davian Teth, was lost in the process.”

“I felt his death, it is a minor setback,” he stated coldly, “but not one without its benefits. Before his death I sensed a massive surge through the Force, it would appear he found something that may be of great use to us on this strange new planet.” A withered hand reached up and stroked along his leathery chin, “There is something powerful hidden there, something that may aid us in our efforts. See to your war, Yen Hrask, but keep a close watch on this planet and their allies. They must not be allowed to interfere again.”

Bowing his head lower, Hrask awaited for the hologram to finally fade away, “As you wish, Grandfather."


Far to the north of the Equestrian border, deep within the snow-capped mountains, sat an ancient fortress carved into the living stone itself. In centuries long past, it had been a key military outpost during aggressions with the Gryphons to the north. During these brutal exchanges, the ancient fortress had changed ‘hands’ several times. Now it served as neutral ground and an ideal location for peace talks and summits between the various nations.

Celestia paced back and forth along the stone balcony overlooking the sprawling mountain range. Her eyes scanned the skies with an impatient glare as her hooves clacked against the stonework. It had been several days since her world had learned it was not alone in the universe. In this time their new allies, the Mandalorians, had extended a hand in friendship towards the various nations bringing about the talks today.

Finally, upon the horizon, she saw what she had been waiting for as a small shuttle craft made its way across the mid-day sky towards her. With a few choice words, she eyed the craft as it made its descent. A strong wind kicked up from the engine blowback, rippling through her long, bright pink mane and tail. A small pang of sadness teased at her as she was reminded of the power she no longer possessed since that fateful encounter with Teth. Granted, her magical prowess was still far beyond any being alive, though barely a fraction of what she once could wield.

As the craft hovered in place over the edge of the balcony, its gangway lowered to allow the important passengers to disembark. Celestia recognized the humanoid forms and the distinct armor of Shaysa Fett. One key figure stood out to her, a tall Equestrian standing close to half the size of Celestia. She was clad in alien armor hued as the night sky that had been fit to her unique form. A deep blue aura surrounded her helmet before it was lifted off, letting Luna’s sky blue, short-kempt mane spill out.

“Sister, Mandalore Fett, how nice of you both to finally show up.” Despite centuries of honing her diplomatic skills, Celestia could do little to drain the venom from her tone.

“I apologize Celestia, completely my fault,” Shaysa stated cheerfully, “I insisted we share a glass of Corellian Blue, calm the nerves before such an important talk. You really should consider joining us, next time.”

Celestia fought as hard as she could to withhold the urge to verbally tear into the alien warlord. Keeping a vice-like grip on her emotions, “Perhaps at a later date. For now though, I would like a moment to speak with my sister before we address the others.”

Shaysa gave a bow of acknowledgment before leaving the pair. The white Alicorn waited until she was satisfied their off world guests were no longer in ear shot before turning a critical eye to her sibling. Her growing ire now clearly reflected in her face.

Luna let Celestia stew a moment in her anger before finally losing patience, “If thou doth have something of which to speak-”

“Indeed I do Luna,” Celestia quickly cut her off, “What exactly were you thinking when you forced us into this alliance?”

“That I was acting in Equestria’s best interests!” Luna barked at her sister.

“Be that as it may, you did this without any discussion with me or any consideration of the allies Equestria already had!”

Luna snorted indignantly at the mention of allies, “Yes, let us take a moment to look at those whom think themselves our equals, the feathered cats or perhaps the cave mutts.” She spit out each term.

“Luna, it’s been centuries, when will you let these old hatreds die?”

Luna quickly spun around to meet her sister eye to eye, “Centuries, perhaps for thee dearest sister, but not for I. The treacheries and vile acts our people suffered at claw and talon are but distant memories for thee, tis not but a long dreamless sleep that separates me from those dark days. As for our new alliance, I was led to believe my crown still held power and authority, perhaps that hath changed as well with the political shifts whilst I slumbered those many years away.”

Celestia visibly fought to keep her growing anger from getting away from her, “How dare you throw that back in my face! Not a day has gone by in all these years that I don’t regret what I did to you.”

Luna let out a sigh as she brought herself into check as well, “I am sorry my dearest sister… I doth speak out of turn and with little thought of how my words may wound.” Her head lowered in sadness as she moved closer to her sister, “When I stood upon the vessel of Mandalore Fett, I was witness to hordes of ships spread out across the endless night. Twas an act of desperation and a choice born of little consideration, but I shall stand by it.” Her shimmering eyes desperately stared into Celestia’s, “I ask thee sister, please, stand with me and see this choice to its end, if not for I then our people.”

Celestia let out a tired sigh as she broke under her sister’s pleading eyes, “Alright, I will trust your judgment Luna, I only hope we can defuse the situation waiting for us inside.”

Behind the visor of the helmet under Luna’s wing, a small icon had been flashing the entire time this conversation had gone on. A similar icon was active in the far corner of Shaysa’s HUD as well. With a knowing smile, she ignored the untrusting glares of the beings assembled. The massive hall, like the rest of the fortress had been carved into the living rock and was formed to accommodate the majority of this planet’s species. Shaysa’s gaze drifted over the ornate carvings that decorated the walls and the spiraling pillars that lined the room. At the center of the room, a much welcomed roaring fire pit crackled and cast a dim light upon the hall while at the furthest end of the room a wide open balcony allowed a breathtaking view of the mountain ranges.

Fett’s attention was drawn away from the wonderful craftsmanship when the double doors behind her swung open to allow the entry of the Equestrian Princesses. The Mand’alor took note of the glaring stares they received from the assembled beings all clad in what she assumed they viewed as finery in their borders.

One creature in particular took this moment to let them know just how displeased he was with this meeting, “Celestia, what exactly is the meaning of all of this?” Fett took apart what she could recognize about this creature’s build. It appeared to be a mix of feline and avian wrapped in finely-sewn garb. His large, powerful wings flared out in anger, “All of our courts have received envoys from these… These things, and now you leverage archaic treaties to force a meeting of our countries.”

The white Alicorn raised a hoof, “Please, try to calm yourself, Prime Minister,” She spoke smoothly, “I am sure you have all had a moment to at least hear what these beings have to say.”

A tall, brutish-looking creature snorted in retort. Its body was strongly built and bipedal, wide shoulders and thick muscles rippled beneath thickly plated armor that gleamed brightly. Atop its head sat a pair of long, sharpened horns jutting out from either side of the beast’s head, “They speak nonsense about being travelers from the stars.”

“Because we are,” Shaysa stated flatly as she reclined against a randomly chosen pillar.

Celestia shot a biting glare at both Fett and then towards Luna who snorted back the urge to break into a fit of giggles. Her mind briefly mused on how nice it would be to magically silence the pair of them; at least until this whole affair was over. She returned her attention to the rest of the delegates assembled, “Yes, as hard as it is to believe, they have been telling you the truth. They do in fact come from far beyond our own solar system.”

“I believe it to be true,” A stocky figure dressed in a pressed, blue uniform with a chest adorned with medals spoke up. The canine creature with short stubby back legs and long muscular arms padded its way towards the center of the room, “I have seen their technology at work, no nation on this planet can possibly boast such advancements.”

“And what exactly do our visitors from the stars want from us?” The bird cat questioned as it looked over Fett in a predatory manner.

Behind her visor, she couldn’t help but smirk at the ever-thickening air of unease around her. Pushing herself from the pillar, she began a casual stroll towards the opened end of the hall, “All we want is cooperation,” Shaysa stated as she leaned her elbows and back against the stone railing, “To that extent, I have a simple message for you all.”

“What message would that be, off-worlder?” The horned hulk questioned.

She assured them in a pleasant tone as she took in the view, “You see, we Mandalorians are a very welcoming group. All are welcome, and all are equal under our banner. We have allied ourselves first with the nation of Equestria, but we can just as easily extend the same courtesies to all of you, as well.”

To this, the already very vocal half-bird half-cat couldn’t help but laugh, “Hah, you sound exactly like Celestia and all her talk of friendship and peace. It is a tempting offer, but spies within the white gold city have heard whispers that the goddesses of the sun and moon have fallen from grace. What would stop us from simply attacking Equestria in their time of weakness?”

From one of the pouches on her belt she produced a small device as she turned to face the room, “This.”

With a press of the button, the sky behind her lit a bright crimson before massive bolts slammed into the jagged mountain visage on the horizon. The deafening roar of explosions and smothering heat drowned out the shouts and screams of fear and surprise. Mand’alor Fett stood her ground, back lit by the barrage from far above the planet, her visor reflecting the uncaring bonfire of the fire at the center of the room.

As the shock began to wear off, all eyes were on Shaysa, “Now, just in case anything was lost in translation allow me to rephrase that little statement,” Her voice rang out clear and bristling with authority, “Equestria is now under the protection of the Mandalorians, her people and her land are considered a vital part of our nation. As such, any acts of aggression taken upon the Equestrian people or attacks made on her holdings will be seen as a declaration of war against the Mandalorians. Now, I’m sure a few of you are considering testing this for yourselves. So let me offer you a little bit of advice.” With a motion, she pointed out the smoldering heap of rock that once was a mighty, snow-capped peak, “Remember what you saw here today, remember what we are capable of, and then ask yourself: is extinction truly worth saving face?”

In the throes of the chaos, Celestia beheld this show of force and aggression in mingled shock and disgust. A chill ran down her spine as she began to realize the extremes her new allies were capable of going to. Her gaze quickly shifted to her sister, only to find her heart being gripped tightly in fear and sadness by what she saw. Upon Luna’s face was a smile of satisfaction.

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