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Game Night 08: Anon Game Night (Part 4)

By twilightgamenight
Created: 18th December 2020 09:51:01 PM

  1. "Okay then, we're ready to go. Your equipment secured, you board the Gladius Frigate Herald of the Black along with several additional units of naval armsmen. Though they lack the armament, skill, and enhancements of your Battle-Brothers, these mortal men proudly go to war with you, emboldened by your hope of a mission of mercy. The Deathwatch - and the Inquisition - usually have far darker goals in mind. Though these men may fight and die alongside you, you keep to yourselves as the ship drops into the Warp and proceeds to Solan's Reach. Not out of aloofness or pride, but devotion. You spend the time deep in meditation and prayer..."
  2.  
  3. >"Without the Dark, there can be no Light," Erik intones, standing behind the chapel's podium. As the closest thing to a chaplain amongst their numbers, the duty falls to him. The ship has mortal clergy of course, but they keep well clear of the chapel while the Space Marines occupy it - long service to the Deathwatch has confirmed what common sense already says - mortal men do not preach to the Emperor's Angels of Death.
  4. >"We have purpose," the kill team responds. Five voices from five different worlds blend together in this sacred rite. The cold bite of Osric's words contrasts Ihaus's voice of hissing sand. Anovel's droning chant strikes an odd balance with Casull's oddly passionate mechanical noises. Trixus' noble voice leaps ahead - the first anyone would hear if they were listening - though his lips move in sync with his brothers'.
  5. >Between the five, their words are deafening - not in volume, but for filling the entire range of audible sound.
  6. >"Without the Lie, there can be no Truth," the Wolf Priest calls.
  7. >"We have purpose."
  8. >"Without the War, there can be no Victory."
  9. >"We have purpose."
  10. >"Without the Death, there can be no sacrifice."
  11. >"We have purpose."
  12. >The Space Marines keep their eyes firmly locked on the aquila behind the Wolf Priest - none notice the slight tremor in Ihaus's body.
  13. >"Without the Hope, there can be no Future."
  14. >"We have purpose."
  15. >"Without the Loyalty there can be no one chapter."
  16. >"We have purpose."
  17. >"Without the Emperor, there is nothing."
  18. >"And we would have no purpose."
  19. >The five kneeling giants stand, their armored boots ringing like thunder on the metal decking. Chapter serfs will spend weeks futilely trying to buff out the dents in the floor before accepting them as a sign of the Emperor's will made flesh - his Adeptus Astartes. His Space Marines.
  20. >They do not have to arm themselves - a Space Marine is nothing if not prepared - as they file into the teleportarium, each affixing his helmet as they march. Their steps do not falter even as the helms blind them - taking several seconds to link up with the armor and display visuals.
  21.  
  22. >"Wait..." Fluttershy whispers, looking through her updated character sheets and additional gear. "I have three helmets... which one do I wear?"
  23. "Let's just combine the benefits of the Wolf Helm and Diagnostic Helm - it's not a stretch to think it could be a separate attachment designed to fit."
  24.  
  25. >Erik, last in line, is also the last to don his headgear. He hesitates, looking at the unfamiliar lenses and protrusions set over his wolf-skull faced helm. Though it was done at his own request, it feels odd. Almost disrespectful to the armor's spirit. Still, it performs flawlessly as the optics blink on, automatically running through the vision cycles in a start-up test.
  26. >The Space Wolf smiles as his new accessory flashes ever deepening views of Anovel, the marine in front of him, zooming through armor to show muscle, bone, and organs.
  27. >It may not be the old ways of his chapter, but this technological miracle will certainly help in performing difficult surgeries.
  28. >The six Deathwatch Space Marines step onto the teleporter pad, bolters held ready. Erik's thunderwolf bounds onto the pad at a sharp whistle from his master.
  29. >Tech-adepts begin calibrating the machines and chanting the proper rituals. One strikes a rune on the panel, blinking in confusion as it does not alight. He pulls a stick of incense from his robes, lighting it with a flick of his fingers. He sets it onto the holder at the top of the console, repeating his chant and striking the rune again - this time the button lights up properly, causing the adept to smile in satisfction.
  30. >"Do you have a target, Brother-Librarian?"
  31. >"Get us as far in as possible without unnecessary risk," Trixus answers.
  32.  
  33. >"Could we - could we check one more time for po-people...?" Fluttershy asks.
  34.  
  35. >"One more sweep for vox and life signs," Casull orders the menials. "Let us see if we can pinpoint the enemy."
  36. >The adepts obediently adjust a second set of controls as a servitor begins counting down. Sixty seconds to teleportation window.
  37. >"We... we are reading *something* -" one tech-adept informs you. "- could be the remnants of the station's servitors."
  38.  
  39. >"Roll again, Anon!" Lyra yells at you. "Would a successful Intimidate test make these idiots to their jobs right!?"
  40.  
  41. >"Identify it. Now." the Techmarine's voice is harsh and metallic, threatening even to the ears of the adepts. "The Emperor - and we - demand certainties!"
  42. >The adepts recalibrate the machine, running the scan a second time.
  43. >Thirty seconds.
  44. >"We have located human life signs, clustered in a centralized location!" One yells out. "And - and Orkoid. The station is infested by the greenskins!"
  45. >"Lock the coordinates to the human life signs," Trixie commands.
  46. >"Ork are rapidly approaching! This will be a hot insertion!"
  47.  
  48. "Dammit Twilight, stop laughing! This is serious!"
  49. >Lyra slaps your princess in the back of the head, obviously agreeing with you, as Trixie looks away blushing.
  50. >"Bunch of filthy perverts," she murmurs quietly as Fluttershy nods in agreement.
  51.  
  52. >Fifteen seconds.
  53. >"Squad Trixus, prepare for imminent combat!" The Ultramarine draws his force sword and raises it high. "Below us, mortal men fight for their lives against the alien menace! Let us show them how it is done - Lead by Example!"
  54.  
  55. >"We go into squad mode, using attack pattern Lead by Example." Trixie looks around the table, but no one objects.
  56. "I guessed that. Sure you want to start spending Cohesion so early in the mission?"
  57. >"Of course," Cheerilee tells you smugly. "We have plenty to spare!"
  58. >Lyra half-hops onto the table, leaning over far enough to almost be nose-to-nose with Trixie.
  59. >"Scourge and Purge?" She asks hopefully, darting over to stare Berry Punch in the face. "Scourge and Purge?" Fluttershy answers her with a gentle nod when she jumps over to her and asks, "Scourge and Purge?"
  60. >"Scourge and Purge." Cheerilee beats her to the punch, as the excitable unicorn bobs over to her.
  61. >"Scourge and Purge!" Your princess agrees with enthusiasm, holding her d100 high
  62.  
  63. >The Teleportarium disappears in a flash of light, replaced by an endless expanse of impossible colors and screaming.
  64. >Or laughter.
  65. >The journey lasts forever, ending in seconds as you exit the Warp. The riot of noise and gunfire emulates the chaos of the Warp, though the laughter of the Orks is far less malevolent and the screams of the station's crew far less real.
  66. >Heavy slugs bounce off Astartes warplate - at first only because the Space Marines teleported into the direct line of fire, but the Orks quickly adjust their aim to target the new, more interesting foes.
  67. >"WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAUGH! WE'Z COMIN FER YA, UMIES!" a larger greenskin bellows, standing head and shoulders above his fellows. "GO GIT 'EM YA SLOPPY KNOB LICKIN WANKAS!"
  68. >He bashes a nearby ork boy encouragingly, leaving a red smear on the station floor and driving the rest of the lads forward.
  69.  
  70. >"Question!" Lyra raises a forehoof, as if interrupting you didn't already get your attention. "Why do these things sound like Octavia when she's had too much to drink?"
  71. "Because Tavi - like Orks - is British, and British is best!"
  72. >"Second Question!" Lyra raises her forehoof again. "What the heck is a British?"
  73.  
  74. >Osric opens fire first, thinning the oncombing horde, every bolt striking home. The Librarians - both holding their bolters in one hand - follow, their smaller weapons having less effect.
  75. >Erik leaves the Orks to his teammates, rushing to administer aid to injured survivors, trying to shield them from Ork guns with his body. With a long howl, Fluffles lopes off, dragging the injured to his master.
  76. >Casull pulls free his bolt pistol, cracking off a single shot and downing another of the xenos. Anovel heavy bolter roars with fury as he pulls the trigger, long tongues of fire licking out from the muzzle of the massive weapon. The 24mm shells do enough damage on their own, smashing apart bodies and tearing limbs free. But bolts are not the mundane bullets of mortal men - the mass reactive shells detonate after striking home, shredding Orkoid bodies, rendering their bones to shrapnel, killing and injuring even more. With a single long burst, the devastator does as much damage as the rest of his kill-team combined.
  77. >Osric rips his power sword from it's sheath, the disruption field flaring to life as he thumbs the activation stud.
  78. >"These beasts fall easily enough, I suggest we conserve ammunition," the Imperial Fist recommends, presenting his shield to the enemy. "Blades will serve."
  79. >"Agreed, Brother-Champion Osric," Trixus says, mag-clamping his bolter to his thigh and gripping his force sword with both hands.
  80.  
  81. >"What about my character?" Berry Punch ask, looking at the map tiles and counters you are laying out doubtfully. "You said I'm not spec'd for it..."
  82. >"Stick close to Trixus," Trixie tells her. "As long as we stay close and in squad mode, you get a bonus to all rolls equal to double my Fellowship bonus."
  83. >"OH!" She looks at her character sheet again. "Is that how I hit with all ten shots?"
  84. >"Yeppers!" Lyra answers. "Every roll gets a +32! Besides, these guys kinda seem like pushovers. We've killed like... half of them already."
  85. >"Or you could help me heal people..." Fluttershy softly hints.
  86. >"Okay!" Berry Punch shouts eagerly.
  87. >Fluttershy's eyes light up.
  88. >"I draw my sword!"
  89. >"Aw f-" the pegasus flinches, raising a hoof to protect her head. "Nuts, I mean nuts."
  90. >Trixie is the only pony to look at Fluttershy, but a second look at the map you've laid out reaffirms her decision.
  91. >"Your wolf will have to help you for now," the unicorn tells her, drawing confused glances from the others. "The rest of us can be of most help removing the threat."
  92. >"Do we have a plan for this?" Twilight asks, looking at her character sheet to see if any of Ihaus's lore or tactics skill would apply.
  93. >"Kill them all?" Lyra suggests.
  94. >Twilight looks at her sheet for a second longer, everypony looking to her expectantly.
  95. >"Works for me," she eventually says with a shrug.
  96. >"Dibs on the big one!" Cheerilee yells, pushing the token representing Osric forward on the map.
  97.  
  98. >"YOU SHALL FALL THIS DAY, MONSTER!" Osric roars, the vox-amplifiers in his armor boosting it to truly deafening volume.
  99. >"DA FLASHY YELLER ONE IS MINE," the nob responds, "I WANT YUR EAD FER ME POINTY STIKK!"
  100. >The two champions bash aside the lesser xenos in their eagerness to face one another, the nob doing almost as much damage to his own forces. More, possibly.
  101. >The ork hordes break on the solid wall of Astartes like the waves on the rocks, blades and staves flashing out. Casull throttles three Orks at once using his power fist and servo-arms, firing off burst from the harness's flamer and his bolt pistol at the same time.
  102. >But like waves on the rocks, the Orks flow around and between the Space Marines, heading for the softer targets.
  103. >"WIMMINZ N' CHILDUN FOIST! KILL DA WUNZ WUT CAN FIGHT BACK LATER!"
  104. >Ihaus swivels, thrusting out his hands and crackling witchfire envelopes the ork that spoke, turning the last word into a shriek of pain.
  105.  
  106. >"What are you doing!" Fluttershy yells at you, forehooves planted on the table. "I can't fight them on my own - I don't even have any weapons! All I have is a-a-a - a fancy stick!"
  107. "Maybe you shouldn't have left them all behind."
  108. >You are such an asshole.
  109.  
  110. >Fluffles rushes to his master's side, the massive wolf tearing through the Orks like a farmer threshing wheat, leaving a great crop of blood and viscera on the metal decking.
  111. >But a farmer doesn't have to worry about his crop fighting back, and Fluffles is outnumbered and surrounded. Erik tries to shove his way to the thunderwolf's side, but the onrushing tide shoves the two further apart. Blows rain down on both, brutal cleavers leaving dents and gouges in Erik's power armor.
  112. >Fluffles... is not so fortunate - not all of the blood covering him is alien.
  113. >A crudely fashioned axe that looks like it was made from scrap metal welded to a pipe comes crashing down on the thunderwolf's hind leg, dropping it to the floor.
  114.  
  115. >"ANON! STOP IT!"
  116.  
  117. >Laying prone, the thunderwolf still tries to lash out, but the Orks easily escape his jaws. Faced with something that care barely fight back, the Orks redouble their efforts. Another axe comes down -
  118.  
  119. >Fluttershy holds up Fluffles' character sheet.
  120. >"Do you see this, Anon?" She grips the top corners with her forehooves. "You did this, Anon. You. Did. This."
  121. >The page tears right down the middle, right through the cute picture she had drawn.
  122.  
  123. >Erik stands rigid, ignoring the attacking xenos as they waste their efforts on his warplate.
  124. >"Son of a bitch must pay."
  125.  
  126. >All eyes turn to Berry Punch, save Fluttershy. She's too busy giving you The Stare to give a damn.
  127. >"No, no, that was justified," the Earth Pony tells the others with a slight frown, drawing a gasp from Cheerilee.
  128. >Erik lashes out with his armored fists, smashing two Orks to the ground.
  129.  
  130. >"No!" Fluttershy protests. "Don't just tell me I do two damage to the horde."
  131. "Well, that's how hordes work - any successful hit does one damage."
  132. >She frowns at that, flipping through the combat section of the core book.
  133. >"I attack the pony who hit Fluffles! I want to watch him *bleed*!"
  134. "You see the ork - but he's not in reach."
  135. >"I use my jump pack!"
  136. "The roof is pretty low here..."
  137. >"I don't go up, I go *forward*."
  138.  
  139. >Erik rockets forward, bodily smashing aside Ork and leaving great wet streaks across his black armor. He reaches the Ork that struck the finishing blow on Fluffles in seconds and grabs its axe arm, using the momentum from his jump pack to rip and tear it free.
  140. >In a rain of blood, gore and meat, the Ork's arm is removed from its body, shredded by Erik's hands and rage. Bone and armor fragments fly about like shrapnel, injuring other nearby Orks, several of them dropping to the ground as shards strike vital points.
  141. >Roaring incoherently, the one-armed Ork twists about in agony for a few seconds before collapsing to the ground and dying.
  142.  
  143. "Happy now?"
  144. >"Better," Fluttershy whispers with a very satisfied grin.
  145.  
  146. >With the tattered remnants of the Ork's arm, Erik begins laying about himself, trying to drive the Orks away from Fluffles' body.
  147.  
  148. >"You do less damage with an improvised weapon than you do unarmed," Trixie leans over and tells her.
  149. >"I'm fighting a horde. Damage doesn't matter - only hits." Fluttershy answers. "I'm going to beat them to death with their own body parts!"
  150. >"That's - uh - a pretty detailed critical damage chart you've got there..." Berry Punch cringes, looking at the entryway. "Think you might be able to tone it down a bit...?"
  151. "Oh, right. Sure thing. So, whose round is it...? Osric?"
  152.  
  153. >The Imperial Fist's sword is locked in the grip of the alien's mechanical claw, his stormbolter twisted away from any useful direction. He slams his helmet into the towering Ork's face, giving him enough room to drive his shield into its torso
  154.  
  155. >"Whoooo!" Cheerilee yells with false enthusiasm. "Five damage. Wheeee."
  156.  
  157. >Ihaus and Trixus each strike down one ork.
  158.  
  159. >"You know... I think we may have made a mistake." Twilight leans over the map, looking at the overwhelming number of green tokens scattered around the map. "This doesn't seem to be working out too well for us..."
  160.  
  161. >Casull's servo arms lash out, clearing great swaths of space and even striking down a few of the barbarous aliens. The servo-arm mounted flamer proves more effective, a single burst turning half-a-dozen of the creatures into roaring torches.
  162.  
  163. >"I dunno," Lyra argues. "*I* seem to be doing fine."
  164. >She sticks her tongue out at her friends.
  165. "Anovel's action?"
  166. >Berry Punch idly taps the table with her hoof, thinking things over.
  167. >"They don't really pose a threat to us - not really - but we aren't really getting anywhere this way." She picks up her mug of cider, bringing it halfway to her lips. "I think we made a mistake going hoof-to-hoof with 'em."
  168. >"Yeah," Twilight snorts. "That was a *great* and *powerful* idea."
  169. >Trixie's look of indignant rage terrifies you, maybe this was a mistake. A really BIG mistake.
  170. "Well -"
  171. >"Hey!" Fluttershy cuts you off. "You're the one that's supposed to come up with the plans."
  172. >"It was my suggestion," Cheerilee tries to calm the others. "My fault."
  173. >Berry Punch sighs.
  174. >"Does Anovel have enough space to use his heavy bolter?" she asks, looking at the single square separating her character from the green tokens.
  175. "Absolutely."
  176. >"I drop my sword..."
  177.  
  178. >Anovel's winged blade crashes to the floor, it's monomolecular edge gouging a shining scratch in the metal plate. He swings up his heavy bolter, still holding onto it just by the aft grip with his right hand in a feat of strength that would have broken any ordinary man. His right hand wraps around the fore grip as he smiles under his blackened helm.
  179. >"There is no greater blasphemy than letting the Emperor's guns sit idle."
  180. >The staccato bark of the heavy bolter drowns out Trixus' response, shells explosively smashing into the Ork horde. One strikes the nob a glancing blow, drawing a roar of outrage from Osric.
  181. >"Watch your aim, Dark Angel! This one is mine!"
  182. >"Then kill it faster!" Anovel responds, correcting his fire to bring the bullets scything through the Ork horde again, cutting down the few survivors left. He hefts the weapon with one hand, reaching up to pull off his helmet.
  183. >"Anyone got a smoke?
  184.  
  185. >"Do Space Marines smoke?" Twilight asks you, her curiosity getting the better of her. Such a trivial thing, but of course she was going to ask.
  186. "Depends on the writer. Sometimes."
  187.  
  188. >The second horde draws back form Erik in fear as he tears the head from another victim, swinging the liberated body parts wildly in vicious arcs.
  189. >"You fool!" Trixus yells at him, locked blade to blade with an Ork boy. "Use your weapon!"
  190. >"It would be a disgrace to sully my badge of office with the blood of such... creatures."
  191. >Erik finally drives the last of them from Fluffles' body, back to the think black line of the Kill-Team.
  192.  
  193. >"I burn a fate point!" Fluttershy yells at you.
  194. "Burn? You only have three and they're meant for performing superpowerful abilities or to keep you from dying."
  195. >"And I want to burn one for Fluffles!"
  196. >"You're going to spend a *Fate point* on an NPC?" Lyra shouts with disgust. "That's stu-"
  197. >Twilight smacks the unicorn in the back of the head, returning the favor from earlier.
  198. >"It's her character, let her do it."
  199. "Fluffles won't be in any condition to continue..."
  200. >"I don't care..." she scratches idly at the tabletop. "I just want my Fluffles back..."
  201. >Trixie gently puts her hoof on Fluttershy's, silencing the noise.
  202.  
  203. >"Protect the Wolf Priest!" Trixus yells out, pulling back slowly. Anovel, Ihaus and Casull fall back with him, sheathing blades and unlimbering guns.
  204. >"Osric! Withdraw!"
  205. >"The Emperor alone commands me," Osric returns, tearing his sword free from the nob's grip, "and Dorn guides me".
  206. >The blade lashes out, it's crackling blue powerfield cutting through the nob's armor without pause. Alien entrails burst forth from it's sundered guts, but it keeps fighting without pause, raining down blows on Osric's stormshield.
  207. >"Hold him there," Trixus calls, turning the Imperial Fist's disobedience to proper observance of the chain of command.
  208. >With a grunt, the Casull and the others withdraw, leaving Osric to fight his battle alone, but no longer outnumbered. They engage the remnants of the horde attacking Erik from a distance, drawing them away from the Space Wolf.
  209. >The Thunderwolf still lives, though only barely, and the Wolf Priest works frantically to keep its heart beating.
  210. >Surviving humans pull back further, retreating even as the Orks withdraw to engage the Space Marines. Either they are taking advantage of the pause in the assault or...
  211.  
  212. >"Are they *afraid* of us?" Twilight asks hesitantly. "Why? We're saving them?"
  213. >"Well... " Lyra leans over grinning smugly, "Fluttershy did kind of just beat a bunch of Orks to death with a severed arm. Even if we're playing the good guys, we aren't exactly *nice* guys."
  214. >Twilight frowns slightly at that.
  215. >"Think we can spare one of us to try talking to them?" she asks Cheerilee, who just shrugs in response.
  216. >She looks to Lyra for a second, but doesn't even ask. No chance that the unicorn will stop killing while there are still enemies on the field. In her own way, she's as bad as Rainbow Dash is. Was.
  217. >Fluttershy shakes her head.
  218. >"Busy," is all she has to say.
  219. >"Someone should, but not me," Berry Punch preempts Twilight's questioning look. "I took social skills, but I don't think Deceive or Polyglot will be even slightly useful."
  220. >With a sigh, Twilight looks to Trixie.
  221. >"Fellowship is my dump stat -" she starts to explain, before being cut off by Trixie's nod.
  222. >"You are right, Twilight Sparkle. The Heavenly Savior Trixus shall speak with them."
  223. >”Ugh,” Twilight groans. “Are you sure Anovel can’t do it? His Fellowship is pretty high…”
  224. >”Yeah, but I didn’t take Charm,” Berry Punch answers. “Trixus already had Charm +20, didn’t think I would need it.”
  225. >”What happened to redundancy?”  Lyra snorts.
  226. >”Trixie brought enough redundancy for everyone.”
  227.  
  228. >Trixus mag-clamps his bolter back to his thigh and sheaths his force sword in an attempt to appear nonthreatening. Slowly, he approaches the survivors, leaving his brothers to finish off the remnants of the ork horde.
  229. >The orks fight with bestial frenzy now, not to kill or for the pleasure of killing but simply to escape.
  230.  
  231. >”Why would they run away now?” Twilight asks. “You made it sound like they actually enjoyed fighting?”
  232. >”They do!” Lyra answers, grinning like a bitch. “But if they run away, they can always come back for another go!” She gives your princess a light shove, at the same time pushing herself over to you. “Can I play one?”
  233. “That probably wouldn’t end well…”
  234. >”I’ll put all my points into Fellowship and Deceive!” she yells enthusiastically. “Just like Sir Bearington!”
  235. >You really shouldn’t have told her about that character…
  236. “Maybe next game. You like the setting?”
  237. >”It’s alright.” She frowns slightly. “But *these guys*…” she thumps the table twice, indicating the few remaining green tokens. “These. Guys.” She grins up at you happily, wiggling her eyebrows.
  238. “We’ll see.”
  239. >Might need to get Lyra and Rainbow Dash together for a game.
  240. >”Could we *please* get back to the issue at hand?” Trixie interrupts, holding up her d100.
  241.  
  242. >”Fear not, loyal citizens of the Imperium!” Trixus calls out, ignoring the carnage going on around him. “Salvation is at hand!”
  243. >”Who are you then?” a voice calls out from the crowd.
  244.  
  245. >”You’re going to roleplay this?” Lyra whines, rolling her dice between her hooves on the table. “Why bother?”
  246. >”Because half of Trixus’ bonuses only apply to Space Marines or Command tests,” Twilight answers for her nemesis, who nods in agreement.
  247. >”I assume Anonymous will penalize Trixus for Erik’s needless savagery.” Trixie looks at you expectantly. “Well?”
  248. “If you insist. Minus 40.”
  249. >She snorts angrily, though her slight smile tells you she was expecting that.
  250. >”Nothing that cannot be overcome,” she says, her smirk growing. “Do they know of Trixus?”
  251. “Only one way to find out.”
  252.  
  253. >”Before you stands the Great and Powerful Trixus!” the Ultramarine yells out. “We have come on behalf of the Emperor to bring you to safety.”
  254. >”Well excuse us if we ain’t so trustin’ of monsters like you, whoever you is!”
  255. >Trixus tries to identify the agitator, but the heaving masses of humanity all look alike in his eyes.
  256. >”You doubt the word of one of His servants…?” the Ultramarine’s tone grows dark and quiet. “We appear to you in your moment of need, and yet you doubt our intentions?”
  257. >The troublemaker does not respond to that, hiding from the piercing gaze of Trixus’ glowing eyelenses. The Ultramarine slowly reaches up and undoes the clasps holding the ancient helm in place, pulling it free and tucking it under his arm.
  258. >”I know we are called His Angels of Death,” he tells them softly. “Even our Primarch named us such. Some amongst our kind relish in that title – but sometimes… sometimes we can still serve as His angels of mercy.”
  259. >He looks over the crowd, easily identifying most as indentured laborers, though here and there the red robes of a techadept or the white of a ministorum priest stand out amongst the drab grey jumpsuits of their workers. Not the kind of people who were well-served by the system in the first place.
  260. >”Our orders are to scuttle this station with all hands –“
  261.  
  262. >”I don’t think it’s a good idea to tell them that,” Fluttershy whispers, looking up at Trixie through her lashes.
  263. >”Have faith,” the unicorn responds.
  264.  
  265. >”- so whatever happens here, you will not be missed.” Trixus holds up a hand to forestall the growing panic. “We have a ship – and free reign to go where the Emperor wills. Who knows, some of you might find better lives elsewhere, your debts of service lost and forgotten. I do not promise just to save your lives – I promise you *better* lives.”
  266. >”Why would you do this for us…?” one asks, pulling forward slightly from the crowd. He looks to be in his forties, but years of hard labor can be so deceiving.
  267. >”I would not condemn your souls without cause – for if you die here you can no longer serve, and to fail in service to the Emperor is the greatest of sins. Is that not right, Father?”
  268. >He points to one of the priests, gesturing for the man to come forward.
  269. >”What do your scriptures say of a life wasted?” Trixus prompts the man further.
  270. >”That a man’s life is not his own to choose,” the priest says hesitantly. “We do as He wills.”
  271. >”And does the Emperor desire your deaths in this place?” the Ultramarine pushes further. “If He did, would He have sent us?”
  272. >”N-no…”
  273.  
  274. >”Daaaayuuuuum,” Lyra looms over the table, looking at Trixie’s roll. “Even with the bonus from roleplaying that was a close one.”
  275. >”A little too close,” Twilight agrees, giving Trixie a snide look. “What I don’t get is –“
  276. >”Is it my turn now?” Cheerilee butts in. “Sounds like my turn now.”
  277. “Same as last round?”
  278. >“No…” she shakes her head, checking the rulebook one more time. “Since I was *abandoned* by my squad –“
  279. >”Hey, we –“
  280. >”ABANDONED,” Cheerilee repeats, cutting off Lyra, “I’ve lost the +32 bonus and I’m in Solo Mode now?”
  281. “Yeppers.”
  282. >”Feat of Strength, All Out Attack.”
  283. >”Are you sure?” Twilight asks worriedly. “You won’t be able to parry or –“
  284. >”Feat of Strength, All Out Attack.”
  285.  
  286. >Osric’s glowing sword smashes through the ork’s guard, the energy field of the blade catching the nob’s clothing and skin alight as it cuts deep into its torso.
  287.  
  288. >Twilight inhales sharply as she silently reads the appropriate critical damage result.
  289. >”Y-you’re going to want to get away from there,” she tells Cheerilee with a grimace. “Fast.”
  290.  
  291. >Osric pulls the blade free in a smooth sweep of his arm, disengaging the power field before the sword has cleared its victim’s body. He spins, sword resting on his massive pauldron, and walks away from the burning corpse slowly. The body lurches and crackles as small arms ammunition cooks off from the heat.
  292.  
  293. >”That’s kinda badass,” Berry Punch tells her friend, but Twilight raises a hoof to stall further commentary.
  294.  
  295. >Before Osric has taken three steps, the nob’s grenades detonate, silhouetting the black-armored Marine.
  296. >”Took me a second,” the Imperial Fist says stoically, gravelly voice drowning out the continuing explosions, “but I figured out his weakness.”
  297. >”And what was that?” Anovel asks, sidestepping a stray round that corkscrews out of the bonfire.
  298. >”Point blank annihilation.”
  299. >Ihaus shares a glance with Casull and the two of them break down laughing as Anovel strikes down the last ork.
  300. >It is a terrifying noise, the laughter of the Astartes.
  301. >”Save the one-liners for the rest of us,” the librarian tells Osric, slapping a hand on the Imperial Fists bright yellow pauldron. “Your are too much akin the color of your chapter.”
  302. >”What does that mean, *brother*?” Osric asks, brushing aside the hand and sheathing his sword.
  303.  
  304. >”Twilight means it was cheesy,” Lyra translates between laughs. “You took a badass moment and…”
  305. >She shrugs, at a total loss for words.
  306.  
  307. >The champion shifts self-consciously.
  308. >”I-um-well - Brother-Librarian Trixus – are the survivors prepared to depart?”
  309. >”Yes,” Trixus answers with a frown. “But we must still silence the guns before bringing our ship in.”
  310.  
  311. >”What you’re saying is, we need a plan?” Twilight asks the unicorn as she re-examines the map you sketched earlier. “I can’t figure this out.”
  312. >She drops the map, holding her head in her forehooves.
  313. >”Trixie, could you ask some of your new friends where the control center for the guns is?” she asked with a resigned sigh.
  314.  
  315. >”Ruined by the xenoforms,” one of the Techadepts answers mechanically. “I believe they have been firing the guns manually.”
  316. >”Are you the last survivors?” Trixus asks, pumping the adept for every spec of relevant information.
  317.  
  318. “Wow, good roll. Okay so…”
  319. >You flip open your notebook and jot down a few details, tearing out the page and handing it to Trixie.
  320. “Does that cover everything?”
  321. >”Hrmm… Maybe.” She puts a hoof to her chin, deep in thought.
  322. >“Any chance this thing has a self-destruct code?” Lyra chips in, showing just how dangerously genre savvy she can be. “These things *always* have self-destruct codes!”
  323. “Roll it!”
  324.  
  325. >The techadepts reluctantly shuffle around until the most senior one comes forward - he stretches, trying to reach the techmarine’s ear and whispers a sequence of zeroes and ones.
  326.  
  327. >”What the hell is that?”
  328. “Binary cant.”
  329. >”Ugh,” Lyra grunts. “Can I get that in Equestrian?”
  330. “Klaatu barada nikto.”
  331. >What the hell, why not?
  332. >Twilight looks at Lyra expectantly, her look turning to one of worry when the unicorn just smiles and nods.
  333. >”Aren’t… aren’t you going to write that down…?”
  334. >”Why?” Lyra asks. “It’s only three words!”
  335. >In unison, Trixie and Twilight groan, sharing a glance.
  336. >”There’s always one, isn’t there?” Twilight asks her nemesis.
  337. >”There’s always one,” Trixie answers, shaking her head. “Can I write that down… or…?”
  338. “No, I’m afraid the techadept spoke in binary cant and Casull is the only one who knows it.”
  339. >Berry Punch picks up her d100.
  340. >”Polyglot test?”
  341. “Sure, but it’s at a -40. Binary cant is supposed to be the most complicated language in this universe.”
  342. >With a shrug, Berry Punch lets the dice fly – a failure, of course.
  343. >”Well, it didn’t hurt to try, right?”
  344. “Well, actually…”
  345.  
  346. >The techadept screeches, pointing accusingly at Anovel as his colleagues begin chattering to each other in their bizarre language.
  347. >”What are they saying?” the Dark Angel asks, bringing his gun back up. Not quite pointing it at anything, but still at the ready.
  348. >”I-um-“ Casull’s tongue fails him.
  349.  
  350. >“Anon!”
  351. >Lyra wads up the five notes you’ve written so far, chucking them at you even as you pass her the sixth.
  352. >”Just give me the gist,” she tells you. “I don’t need to know everything they’re saying!”
  353.  
  354. >”You pissed ‘em off,” the Techmarine says, shrugging. Even the four mechanical servo-arms on his back join in.
  355. >Anovel rolls his eyes.
  356. >”I guessed that much. How?”
  357. >The Techmarine stares ahead silently for a second, lips moving slightly as if reading something aloud.
  358. >”By trying to listen in!” he suddenly blurts out, startling the Dark Angel, only to fall silent again. He continues to stare ahead, like a zealot caught in the visions of his god.
  359.  
  360. >Berry Punch groans, running her hoof around the rim of her mug.
  361. >”Trixie, can you make her not be such a –“
  362. >”The Great and Powerful Trixie is both great and powerful…” Trixie leans low, gently bumping her shoulder against her friend’s “… but you know that such a thing is beyond the power of any creature or god.”
  363. >”Wait!” Twilight shoves a hoof in Lyra’s mouth just as the unicorn finally finishes reading the next note. “I got this!”
  364.  
  365. >”The language of the techpriests is sacred,” Ihaus informs the Dark Angel as he walks up beside him. “Only those of their order may attempt to unravel its secrets. They are demanding your immediate death.”
  366.  
  367. >”So… dakkadakka time?” Berry Punch asks with a frown.
  368. >”Maybe not…” Trixie drifts off. “Could I take a look at your sheet?”
  369. >The unicorn reads it over and nods confidently.
  370. >”Are we still in squad mode, Anonymous?”
  371. >You lean over, checking the map.
  372. “Yep.”
  373. >”Excellent!” Trixie cackles, rubbing her forehooves together with glee.
  374.  
  375. >”But, guys…” the Dark Angel whines, “I’m totally a techpriest. Don’t you recognize me? I’m Kurt, from maintenance shift 5a!”
  376.  
  377. >Lyra shoves Twilight’s hoof aside and frowns.
  378. >”No way is that going to work…”
  379.  
  380. >”Kurt!” the senior Techadept yells with joy. “Holy crap, I heard you were dead!”
  381. >The other techadepts swarm the Dark Angel, patting him on the back or offering other signs of support.
  382.  
  383. >”I *told* you Deceive +20 was worth it,” Trixie gloats as Berry Punch stares at her character sheet in amazement.
  384. >”So, now that we’ve lied our way out of that situation,” Twilight sighs, slumping against the edge of the table, “what now?”
  385. >She and Trixie exchange glances.
  386. >”Fluttershy is still busy with her wolf…” Trixie says.
  387. >”And the injured civilians!”
  388. >”Yes, Fluttershy, and the injured civilians.”
  389. >The little yellow pony smiles happily.
  390. >”Not that we can do anything with them anyway,” Twilight complains. “We still have to blow up those cannons.”
  391. >”No, we don’t.”
  392. >”Shut up, Lyra.” Twilight taps her chin. “I guess we could leave her here to guard them, but that would mean she doesn’t get to play for a while…”
  393. >”I don’t mind…”
  394. >”But even *we* might need her help attacking the cannons,” Trixie counters. “Cheerilee, opinions?”
  395. >The teacher groans, locking eyes with you.
  396. >”You brought us *another one*?” she moans. “Can’t a mare just bash something and hope it solves the problem? Is this planning going to take long, because I’m starting to want some real food...”
  397. >Everypony’s ears perk up at the sound of that. Here’s your opening.
  398. “I was thinking about picking up some Chineighse. Twilight, want to come a-“
  399. >”Busy.”
  400. >Cheerilee looks to you pleadingly, but you shake your head. Twilight is going to need somepony friendly here if she’s staying.
  401. >None of the others look up at you, simply signaling their approval in various ways. Fluttershy smiles and flips her tail back and forth like a satisfied puppy, Lyra just tells you “Fried rice,” Trixie doesn’t complain.
  402. >Trixie must really be hungry – or too busy thinking about the game.
  403. >It almost hurts your feelings, being basically ignored like this.
  404. “You mares’ll be okay working out a plan without me, the *GM*?”
  405. >”Mhm,” Trixie and Twilight grunt in unison.
  406. “Well, I’ll just go then…”
  407. >You stand and turn, but a voice stops you at the entryway.
  408. >”Anon!” Berry Punch yells out to you. “Could you take Berry Pinch with you? I’m sure she’d like a chance to stretch her legs.”
  409. “Yeah, sure thing.”
  410. >”I’m worried she spends too much time reading…” the earth pony adds as you leave the room.
  411. >You smile at Twilight’s indignant squawk, your steps quickening. If she didn’t want to join you, she only has herself to blame…
  412. >Berry Pinch doesn’t show herself even after calling her name twice, so you grip the topmost building block of her fort and heave.
  413. >Well, gently lift – it is just a cushion after all.
  414. “Hey Pinchie.”
  415. >“Eeep,” she squeaks, looking up from her new book. Almost halfway done with it, you notice.
  416. “Come on, we’re going to go get some food while the boring ponies slow down my game.”
  417. >You can see the desires battling it out in her giant eyes, but… she shakes her head.
  418. >”No,” she says reluctantly. “I want to finish this book.”
  419. “Sorry, your mom said you had to come with me!”
  420. >You flip over the cushion and grab the little filly, her hooves flailing wildly for her book.
  421. >”Can’t I at least bring it with me?” she pleads, stretching for it with all her heart and soul.
  422. >With a sigh, you lower her down just enough to grasp the book.
  423. “How are you going to read that? You’re not - not built like me. Like a human. You can’t walk and read.”
  424. >”Nope!” she admits, opening the book again. “But I can read while you walk!”
  425. >You can’t say no to that face - time to accept your new life as a pony transport. Maybe get one of those baby harnesses sewn up so you can have your arms free.
  426. >Crap, if Twilight hears about this…
  427. “Alright fine, just come on and be quiet.”
  428. >She squeals softly as you cradle her in your arms and head to the front door.
  429. “Get the door for me?”
  430. >Berry Pinch looks at you with confusion.
  431. “My hands are kinda full…”
  432. >”Hands?”
  433. “Yeah, you know, the things I have instead of hooves. The things currently holding *you* so you can read.”
  434. >”Oh!”
  435. >With a little effort, she tugs the door open with her magic, and closed again after you step through.
  436. >”What are we getting?” she asks, closing the book but making no effort to escape your arms.
  437. “Chineighse.”
  438. >”Bleh.” Her face contorts in imaginary agony. “Pizza?”
  439. “No pizza. I’ve been living off pizza this past week or so.”
  440. >”Why…?” she pulls herself up to whisper into your ear. Well as close as she can get. “Is the princess a bad cook?”
  441. “What? No! And why would it have to be her cooking?”
  442. >”Well…”
  443. “You’ve eaten my food – was it bad?”
  444. >She shakes her head.
  445. “So why couldn’t I cook?”
  446. >”You can…” she drifts off, looking away. “But it’s weird…”
  447. >You walk in silence for a bit, not wanting to push the filly. You know where she’s going with this anyway. For a single mother who has managed to overcome so much, Berry Punch sure does have a hard stance on traditional gender roles.
  448. >Even for princesses, apparently.
  449. >Pinchie fidgets in your arms.
  450. “Want down?”
  451. >She nods and you kneel down so she can hop free, but you hold on to her book for her – you didn’t give the filly a chance to get a bag or anything to carry it in.
  452. “Did you notice there’s a sequel?”
  453. >You had to say something to break the silence.
  454. >”Mhm, says so right on the back cover.”
  455. “Did you want to swing by the bookshop on the way back?”
  456. >Her steps falter.
  457. >”M-maybe.”
  458. >Yes. That means yes.
  459. “We’ll see.”
  460. >The bounce in her step reminds you of Pinkie – if only Berry Pinch would get half as excited about her textbooks.
  461. >She remains cheerful all the way to the chineighse place – its name another one of those oh-so-common horse puns that hurts your mind and soul.
  462. >”Welcome to – oh, hi Anon.”
  463. “Hey, Scoots.”
  464. >You frown at her, apparently much more harshly than you intended, from the way she flinches away from your look.
  465. “Trying to get your cutie marks in chineighse food? Or is it waitressing? I thought I told you to stop wasting your time with such mundane things.”
  466. >She snorts at that, returning your look now. The filly’s lips curl downward in a sneer.
  467. >”Yeah, you did.”
  468. >”We have customers?” Applebloom’s head peaks around the corner to the dining area. She ducks back as soon as she sees you.
  469. “What’s going on?”
  470. >”I’ll go get Stir Fry for you,” Scootaloo says harshly, walking away.
  471. >Are those tears in her eyes?
  472. >Can’t be. Scootaloo doesn’t cry. Ever.
  473. >You want to follow her, to ask her what’s wrong, but Stir Fry emerges from the dining area, blocking your path. He looks confused, but then again he always does. A pony with a Fu Manchu? He definitely always looks confused.
  474. >”Yeah? What do you want?”
  475. “Um…”
  476. >You really should have put some thought into this on the way over.
  477. >”Broccoli with cashews!” Berry Pinch shouts, saving the day.
  478. >”Fried or white rice?”
  479. >”Fried…?” She looks up to you for confirmation.
  480. “We’re getting eight meals, let’s make half fried, half white.”
  481. >Stir Fry grunts at that, impatiently rushing you to finish your order. He’s usually not this abrupt – must be shorthanded, even with the Crusaders helping out.
  482. >Or maybe *because* the Crusaders are helping out. Things didn’t seem to be going too well…
  483. >You grab a menu, rattling off seven more dishes that sound tasty.
  484. >Stir Fry turns to leave, giving you an opening to slip into the dining area, but Scootaloo and Applebloom are nowhere to be seen.
  485. “Hey, Stir Fry…?”
  486. >”What now?”
  487. “Where did the Crusaders go?”
  488. >”Those two fillies? Said they had to go,” he grunts back.
  489. >Two?
  490. “What about Sweetie Belle?”
  491. >”Who?” He taps a hoof impatiently.
  492. “Sweetie Belle – same age, white coat, pink/purple mane…”
  493. >His expression doesn’t change.
  494. “… green eyes…?”
  495. >”Not many chineighse fillies with green eyes,” he grunts again.
  496. “She’s… she’s not chineighse…”
  497. >Your words are wasted on the stallion’s back.
  498. >”Fifteen minutes,” he tells you from the kitchen. “Fifteen, give or take.”
  499. >You return to the waiting area and Berry Pinch. She was never close to the Crusaders – she’s not close to any of her classmates – but she can tell something is wrong. The filly stays close to you, almost tangling your legs several times as you pace back and forth restlessly. On the four near-disaster you stop, dropping down to one knee.
  500. “Hey, I’m going to walk around a bit outside, I’ll be right back. Want your book?”
  501. >She shakes her head, so you stand and turn to leave, only to be tugged back by her little forelegs.
  502. “You want to come with me?”
  503. >”Mhm.”
  504. “Okay, just a quick walk around the building.”
  505. >You find what you were looking for sooner than expected – Scootaloo and Apple Bloom haven’t left quite yet, despite their intentions. The two fillies sit dejected, backs to the building.
  506. “Hey.”
  507. >Scootaloo’s mouth tries to twist into a sneer again, but she just doesn’t have the energy for it.
  508. >”Hey, Anon,” she finally answers, the words dead and flat.
  509. “What’s going on?”
  510. >Apple Bloom opens her mouth but hesitates, looking to Scootaloo who only shrugs.
  511. “Come on, I can’t help you if I don’t know what the problem is.”
  512. >You feel a bump as Berry Pinch pushes past you.
  513. >”If you can’t tell him, can you tell me…?
  514. >The two crusaders look at each other again.
  515. “Look, is something wrong with Sweetie Belle? Is she okay?”
  516. >The intensity of your words catches them off guard.
  517. >”Yes,” Apple Bloom answers, looking away. A half-truth.
  518. >”She’s not hurt or anything,” Scootaloo explains further. “She just… wanted to do something else.”
  519. “Oh…”
  520. >Is that all?
  521. “She’s safe?”
  522. >”Yeah,” the little orange filly answers. “I think…”
  523. >You drop to one knee, lifting Scootaloo’s face with your hand.
  524. “This is serious, Scoots. I’m serious. Is she safe?”
  525. >The filly doesn’t answer.
  526. “I’m not going to wake up tomorrow and read about a missing filly in the newspaper. I don’t care what’s going on – is she safe?”
  527. >”She’s with her sister right now…”
  528. “Apple Bloom, hey, Apple Bloom!”
  529. >You snap your fingers in front of the little Apple’s face to get her attention.
  530. “Is Sweetie Belle with her sister?”
  531. >She nods earnestly – finally a completely truthful answer, even if it doesn’t put all your fears to rest.
  532. “At Carousel Boutique?”
  533. >She nods again.
  534. “I’ll be right back.”
  535. >You duck back inside the building, paying Stir Fry and throwing in extra for delivery. You jot out a quick note and stick it in the bag of food - ”I’ll be back soon, have to check on something.”
  536. >The three fillies are still where you left them – Berry Pinch trying to cheer up the others, but failing horribly.
  537. “Pinchie, I have to take these two somewhere… do you want to go back to Cheerilee’s…?”
  538. >She shakes her head.
  539. >Good, you don’t want to let any of them out of your sight right now.
  540. “Then come on, you three. We’re going to Carousel Boutique.”
  541. >”You don’t trust us…?” Apple Bloom whines halfheartedly.
  542. “No, I do. That’s the problem. You can come with me now, or I can get Applejack involved.”
  543. >That gets them off their rumps.
  544. >As you shepherd the trio towards Rarity’s place, you see an annoyingly familiar brown stallion out of the corner of your eye – you hold up one finger, your favorite finger, in his direction without even turning your head.
  545. “Not today. Not now.”
  546. >He pauses, wordless. The one thing he hasn’t been this entire time – wordless. Silent maybe once or twice, but not wordless. That’s enough to actually make you turn to face him.
  547. “Today is not a good day for your bullshit.”
  548. >He nods sincerely.
  549. >”She’s safe. That’s all I have to say – I swear it, she’s safe for now.”
  550. “And I’m supposed to take your word for that? How do you even know what’s going on right now!?”
  551. >”No, don’t take my word for it!” he yells back with surprising ferocity. “You check on her! And don’t you – don’t you DARE take your eyes off the others!”
  552. >Reflexively you spin to make sure the three fillies with you are safe – they are. Clustered around your legs. When you turn back, the stallion is – unsurprisingly – gone.
  553. “Let’s go, girls…”
  554. >You try to calm your racing heart and panicked thoughts.
  555. “Stay close.”
  556. >You keep your eyes on the fillies as you herd them towards Carousel Boutique, making sure none of them stray or…
  557. >Apple Bloom shies away a few times as if she wants nothing more than to bolt, but she never goes more than a step or two away before coming back.
  558. >Though the sun is just above the horizon, the light still shines strong on the pale blue and purple building that looms ahead as you past the last line of buildings of the town proper. Lights shine from the windows and you can see Rarity darting around. She looks… happy.
  559. >You reach the door and without thinking jerk on the handle – locked, of course. Rarity keeps short hours on her shop – you should have known better. But you don’t care.
  560. >The shuddering boom of the door works as well as knocking – before you can even raise your hand to rap on the door, you hear the sound the door being unlocked. The door pulls open slightly, just enough for Rarity’s white nose to peak around.
  561. >“I am *terribly* sorry, but I’m afraid you will have to make an appointment –“
  562. >You put your hand on the door and push – gently, but firmly. She instinctively resists, planting her shoulder against the door.
  563. “Sorry Rarity, but I have to insist.”
  564. >”Oh!” She blinks at you, as if seeing you for the first time. “Oh, so very sorry, I did not even realize it was you… ponies have been coming around *all* day long...”
  565. >She steps back, letting go of the door.
  566. >”I *may* have gotten lost in routine for a second.”
  567. >Still, the unicorn frowns – she’s not happy at your intrusion, and is making that fact painfully - is passively – evident. She glances worriedly out the large windows of her shop.
  568. >”Well, you *are* going to come in, are you not?”
  569. >You nod, waving in the three fillies with you.
  570. >Rarity’s frown deepens as she locks the door behind them.
  571. >”Help me draw these curtains, will you Anon?” she asks as she undoes the knotted cord holding the curtains open on one window. You swiftly cross to the other, undoing the ties and letting the cloth hang down shutting out the falling sun.
  572. >You wait with infinite patience as she bundles up the few items she was gathering, her steps faltering a few times. The unicorn is tired, you realize – bone weary tired. Her red glasses hide the bags under her eyes well, but not completely.
  573. “Rarity, we’re here because of –“
  574. >”Because of Sweetie Belle?” she finishes, walking over to the stairs. She plants one hoof on the first step and looks back to you. “Well? Aren’t you going to come up?”
  575. >She jerks her head slightly, indicating you should follow her upstairs.
  576. >”It will be very difficult for you to congratulate her from down here.”
  577. >Congratulate? Dammit, you knew Scootaloo and Apple Bloom were hiding something – but a quick look shows they are just as confused as you.
  578. “Alright girls, let’s head up and say hello to your friend…”
  579. >The two Crusaders step forward tentatively, but you have to give Pinchie a nudge with your foot to get her moving. She’s not involved with this – part of you regrets dragging her into it – but your earlier worry doesn’t fade. You haven’t heard of pony pedophiles or serial killers, but until last night you would never have imagined a princess with a –
  580. >Not the time for those thoughts.
  581. >You aren’t letting any of these three out of your sight.
  582. >Rarity leads you to her workshop, as you like to think of it. Bolts of fabric lay strewn about haphazardly – mostly blues and charcoal greys, though one shimmering pearl-white fabric catches your eye for a second.
  583. “Where’s Sweetie Belle?”
  584. >At the sound of her name, the filly bounds around a dress-form.
  585. >“Hi, Anon! You were – “ She cuts off mid-sentence as she sees her friends standing behind you, almost like they are trying to hide. “Hi, Scootaloo, hi Apple Bloom.” Her voice is now more restrained. Guarded.
  586. >Rarity moans at the site of her sister, shaking her head in despair.
  587. >“I *told* you to stay still,” she complains, setting her glasses on her workdesk. “Well, damage is already done. Come on out and greet your friends properly.”
  588. >Reluctantly, Sweetie Belle steps out fully from behind the form – the reason for Rarity’s whining apparent. A ruffled half-made dress sags from the filly’s frame. She leaves a trail of straight pins behind her as she walks, the dress falling further and further apart with every move she makes.
  589. >It’s a miracle she hasn’t pricked herself on one of those yet.
  590. >Even in its ruined state, you can clearly see the beauty in the dress. It would have been one of Rarity’s finest pieces - might still be, if she can piece it back together.
  591. >Sweetie Belle ducks her head as the last few panels fall off, leaving her flank bare.
  592. >But not blank.
  593. >Not anymore.
  594. >She smiles at your shocked expression.
  595. >“Just like you said,” Sweetie Belle tells you, her voice regaining some of her earlier enthusiasm. “A star.”
  596. >She turns so you can see it fully – the pale green six-pointed star that is her cutie mark.
  597. “Congratulations, Sweetie Belle.”
  598. >”Yeah… congrats,” Scootaloo follows a heartbeat later. Her voice sounds sincere, but still strained. Apple Bloom just nods.
  599. >”What happened!?” Pinchie asks as bounces forward, tackling Sweetie Belle in a friendly hug.
  600. >”A talent scout…” Sweetie Belle answers, trying to hide her smile. “I was singing to myself…”
  601. >”Ugh,” Rarity grunts, rolling her eyes. “She barged in on one of my clients this morning and didn’t even notice he was here. Just dancing around, singing her little heart out –“
  602. “Jealous?”
  603. >”I-no!” Rarity laughs, blushing slightly. “Maybe. He*is* rather influential…”
  604. “And you get to make her dresses.”
  605. >”Indeed,” the mare smiles earnestly, “but it isn’t about me.”
  606. >She loops her foreleg around her sister just as the little filly manages to free herself from Pinchie’s hug.
  607. >”Sweetie Belle’s debut is next week,” Rarity tells you, pulling her sister close.
  608. >”It’s just an audition!” the filly corrects, trying futilely to pull free.
  609. >”Oh, nonsense!” Rarity squeezes even tighter at Sweetie Belle’s flailing body. “You’re a shoe-in! It’s your cutie mark, remember?”
  610. >Rarity dips her head, gently nuzzling her sister.
  611. >”Y-yeah…”
  612. >You lean down, staring into Sweetie Belle’s green eyes.
  613. “Cheer up, little one. You earned this.”
  614. >She tries to flinch away from your hand, but Rarity’s grip makes it impossible for the filly to escape. In appreciation of the mare’s help, you do your best not to make a mess of Sweetie Belle’s mane as you ruffle it gently.
  615. “You earned this. Have faith – everything will be okay.”
  616. >You look back to the other two Crusaders.
  617. “Everything is awesome, right girls?”
  618. >They nod and mumble encouraging words unconvincingly. Rarity doesn’t notice, but you do.
  619. >As does Sweetie Belle.
  620. >Her eyes begin to tear up.
  621. “Hey girls, I think it’s time to go.”
  622. >”I really *do* have so much to complete,” Rarity says gratefully. “Particularly now.”
  623. >The scraps of fabric that used to be the beginnings of a dress float up, circling around in the air in a pale blue aura.
  624. >Apple Bloom eagerly runs out of the room, followed by Berry Pinch. You smile at that – Pinchie can pretend to be sociable, but you just know she can’t wait to get back to reading.
  625. >Scootaloo takes a few steps towards her friend, glancing back at you and the doorway for just a second.
  626. >”We’re still on for meeting at my place tomorrow, right?” she asks, voice strained.
  627. >”W-what?” Sweetie Belle meets the pegasus’ eyes for the first time. “I-I’ll try…?”
  628. >She looks away.
  629. >”I’ll try,” Sweetie Belle repeats.
  630. >”Please…” Scootaloo begs. She turns and walks out slowly when her friend doesn’t respond, her steps growing slower and slower the closer she gets to the door. Giving Sweetie Belle a chance to answer – a chance she never takes.
  631. >Your turn.
  632. “If you need any help with anything, just come to us. Twilight and I are always here for you, remember?”
  633. >”Oh yes, certainly,” Rarity responds, too busy trying to piece her masterwork back together to really hear your words.
  634. >Sweetie Belle doesn’t answer.
  635. >Sighing internally, you half-turn to leave.
  636. “We’ll see ourselves out. You’ll come down and lock the door behind us?”
  637. >Rarity hums to herself as she picks straight pins off of the floor, lost in her own world of fabric and patterns. After a few seconds, Sweetie Belle nods.
  638. >”I’ll take care of it.”
  639. >You follow your charges downstairs, where they wait for you.
  640. “Was that why you two were so… so freaked out earlier?”
  641. >Apple Bloom and Scootaloo share a look.
  642. >”Yes,” they answer in unison.
  643. >Another half-truth.
  644. “Okay girls, you’re coming with me – we’re going back to Cheerilee’s.”
  645. >”I-I need to get home –“
  646. “Nope Apple Bloom, you’re coming with me.”
  647. >She opens her mouth to object, but your expression silences her complaints before they can be voiced.
  648. “I’ll send a message to AJ, okay? She can come pick you up.”
  649. >The little Apple nods at your compromise as you open the door. The fillies file out, but you hesitate.
  650. “Sweetie Belle!?”
  651. >You’re still on edge, worrying paranoid thoughts. You could never forgive yourself if somepony sneaks in and… does something. All because you didn’t make sure the door was locked behind you.
  652. >”Coming!”
  653. >You wait long enough to see her pattering down the stairs, Opalescence at her side. No, couldn’t be Opal – she doesn’t have red eyes. Rarity must have gotten a second cat – from the second or two it’s in your field of view this one does seem much nicer.
  654. >You step outside, pulling the door shut behind you.
  655. >The gentle click of the lock is your signal to release the handle.
  656. “Scootaloo, are your parents –“
  657. >”Still in Cloudsdale,” she answers with an angry sigh. “They should be back in two days.”
  658. >Good, this little filly doesn’t get to spend enough time with her parents, but that doesn’t solve the immediate concern…
  659. “Think it’d be okay if you spend the night at the Apple’s?”
  660. >She looks to her friend, who nods eagerly. Problem solved.
  661. “Sorry Pinchie – I know I said we’d try to swing by the bookshop but –“
  662. >”That’s okay,” she says cheerfully, “Someone left the sequel for me right here!”
  663. >She picks a book up off the ground with her mouth, the green note that was resting on top fluttering free. The little filly squeals in indignation as you rip the book from her mouth, looking it over.
  664. >”It’s for meeeee!” Pinchie whines, flailing her forelegs in the air like she can somehow magically stretch to reach it.
  665. >The book flies out of your hand.
  666. >Oh, right. She *does* have magic.
  667. “How do you know someone didn’t accidentally leave their book here – how do you know it’s for you?”
  668. >She doesn’t drop her book to answer you, instead thrusting her foreleg out. When that makes no impact on you, she floats the note up to your face.
  669. >You pull it from the air, reading it carefully – “For the pink filly.” You flip it over, looking for any other message. Your instincts prove right. “I don’t know what’s going on. I’m sorry. Be careful.”
  670. >The note crumples in your fist and you fling it over your shoulder.
  671. “Alrighty girls, who wants pizza?”
  672. >Their eager happy faces are so adorable.
  673. >You swing by Minty’s place on the way to Cheerilees – luckily, the pizzeria seems to be on the way to *everywhere.* One large pizza with pineapples should be enough to fill you and the three fillies, but you order a second to be sent to Sweet Apple Acres along with a note – “Applebloom is with me at Cheerilee’s place. Come pick her up when you have a chance. Everything’s fine. I’ll explain when you get here. Signed, Anon.”
  674. >Life would be so much easier if cellphones existed here, or if every household at least had a landline.
  675. >You carry the pizza, worried that the temptation would be too much for some of the fillies. Pinchie eyes the box like she’s trying to figure out how to swipe a slice without dropping her book. Luckily for everyone, she doesn’t make an attempt.
  676. >Angry shouts greet you outside Cheerilee’s home. Sounds like your hopes for a fun night are shot – time to play peacemaker. Scootaloo gets the door for you and you drop the pizza outside the ruins of Pinchie’s pillow fort, along with the book Twilight gave her.
  677. “Have fun, girls. If anyone knocks, come get me before you open the door, okay?
  678. >”Mkay,” Berry Pinch answers, talking around the slice she already has in her mouth. Scootaloo and Apple Bloom nod. “If you want to play anything, Cheerilee has a lot of board games…”
  679. >The rest of whatever the fillies say is lost to you as you enter the dining room – angry yelling and slurs assail your ears.
  680. “What’s going on here?”
  681. >Your booming voice silences the six mares.
  682. >”– and you’re a heretic and you’re a heretic –“ Fluttershy continues softly, not noticing your entrance. She is lying with her back on the table, the Deathwatch rulebook held up above her.
  683. >Okay, silencing five mares, but Fluttershy doesn’t count, right? She voice is too quiet to interrupt you.
  684. >Trixie and Twilight look at each other and nod.
  685. >”AND YOU’RE A HERETIC!” they yell, pointing at you and laughing.
  686. “Anyone care to explain…?”
  687. >”*They* say they’re playing ‘is it a heretic,’” Cheerilee answers, looking up from the card game she’s playing with Berry Punch. “*I* say they’re drunk.”
  688. >”I’m not drunk, heretic,” Twilight responds, throwing a foreleg around Cheerilee’s withers.
  689. “She’s not drunk.”
  690. >Cheerilee rolls eyes.
  691. “Believe me, I’d know if she was drunk.”
  692. >”Oh, so this isn’t her drunk?”
  693. “Nope. Twilight’s a horny drunk.”
  694. >The Earth Pony squeaks, throwing your princess off of her.
  695. >”Oh Celestia! I can’t know that!”
  696. >”I could stand to hear a little more,” Fluttershy giggles, rolling over onto her belly.
  697. >You sigh loudly.
  698. “I don’t suppose you left me any Chineighse…?”
  699. >Lyra points to the pile of empty takeout containers in the corner without even picking her head up from the table.
  700. “Ungrateful b-“
  701. >Berry Punch’s head twists, her nostrils flare.
  702. “-b-bananas.”
  703. >She nods.
  704. >You grab a clean plate off the table and slip out of the room, stepping around the three fillies setting up a game of Warpony Quest to grab yourself a pair of slices. Pizza after all. Wheee! You return, sitting down at your place at the table.
  705. “So, how is this game played?”
  706. >”Well basically…” Trixie answers, leaning on the table with one foreleg, “… it started with us wondering just *what* the limit for heresy is…”
  707. >”So one of us would name something,” Twilight continues, pulling herself up off the floor, “and the rest would look through the book to see if it was heresy.”
  708. >”Turns out…” Lyra says, sitting up and giving you a shit-eating grin, “… it is.”
  709. “What is?”
  710. “Everything!” Fluttershy yells, sliding off the table to lay on the floor.
  711. >”That one’s definitely drunk,” Cheerilee grunts. “Lightweight.”
  712. >Her mug still sits full at her side.
  713. “You can have some fun to, you know…”
  714. >She shakes her head.
  715. >”Twice in my life was enough – the saddest night and the happiest night,” Berry Punch sighs. “I’m not going to roll those dice again.”
  716. >Reasonable. You nod, lifting your mug to take a sip.
  717. >It’s empty. Fucking Lyra.
  718. >”Here.” Berry Punch shoves hers over to you. “I’m going to go see Pinchie, make sure she isn’t too lonely –“
  719. “Oh! I-um – she brought back a few friends.”
  720. >”Really?” The Earth Pony’s ears perk up. “Call the game?” she asks Cheerilee, who nods and starts picking up the cards from the game they were playing.
  721. >”Yeah, time for us to get back to Deathwatch anyway,” the teacher says, dropping the cards into their box. “So, tell him our plan?”
  722. >”Right!” Twilight thumps the table. “So. We have a plan.”
  723. “I guessed that much. Care to expand on that statement a bit…?”
  724. >”Yep!” She leans over, holding out a sheet of paper. You wipe your hand on a napkin and grab it, looking at…
  725. >… a redrawn version of your map?
  726. >”Your map sucked,” Lyra tells you flatly, “so I drew a new one. Got a problem with that?”
  727. “Nope. So what’s the plan?”
  728. >“First off,” Trixie flips through her notebook until she finds the right page. “First off, we have to get the survivors to the loading docks, protect them, and shut down the defense cannons, right?”
  729. “If you still want to save them.”
  730. >She rolls her eyes.
  731. >”So what we’ve decided to do is split the party,” she sneers at you. “Think you can handle that, *GM*?”
  732. “Give me your best shot. I can take it.”
  733. >”We’re splitting it three ways – SHUT UP, FLUTTERSHY, STOP LAUGHING!”
  734. >That just makes the yellow mare laugh harder. Trixie harrumphs at her, but continues after a moment. It’s not like Fluttershy’s laughter is loud enough to actually interrupt anypony…
  735. >”We’re splitting the party into THREE TEAMS,” Trixie corrects herself. “Erik and Osric will guide the civilians to the loading docks and void the surrounding sections to protect them from attack. Anovel and Trixus will infiltrate the ammo storage for the defense cannons and spike the shells. And Ihaus and Casull will destroy the generators powering the cannons.”
  736. “I…I didn’t have generators powering the defense cannons.”
  737. >”Yeah, I noticed,” Lyra tells you. “Check the map – I fixed that for you.”
  738. “Gee, thanks.”
  739. >”We do have one question, though,” Twilight says, squinting at you. “How did the orks get on the station?”
  740. “Same as you, teleported on from a passing ship.”
  741. >”But there’s a lot more of them – that would have taken a while, right?” she protests. “Why didn’t the defense guns shoot it down?”
  742. “They did – but it was a huge ship. The cannons did nothing.”
  743. >She frowns at that.
  744. >”But it’s gone, right?” Cheerilee asks. “Not our problem?”
  745. “Yep, not your problem. So, anything else you need to ask or want your characters to do before you set this plan in action?”
  746. >”Yes!” Twilight yells, raising a forehoof. “All the dead orks?”
  747. “Yessssssss?”
  748. >”I take their teeth!”
  749. “Really?”
  750. >”Yes!”
  751. >The rest of the ponies all nod in approval.
  752. “You’re really going to take their teeth?”
  753. >”Yes!” Twilight shouts again.
  754. “BERRY PUNCH!?”
  755. >”WHAT?” she yells back from the other room.
  756. “THE REST OF YOUR SQUAD WANTS TO LOOT THE ORKS’ TEETH, YOU REALY WANT TO WASTE TIME ON THAT?”
  757. >”SURE!”
  758. “WHAT’S YOUR CHARACTER GOING TO DO DURING THAT TIME?”
  759. >”WALK AROUND KICKING CORPSES IN THE FACE TO SPEED THINGS UP!”
  760. “You’re all fucking insane.”
  761. >Twilight scrunches her face at you.
  762. >”No we’re not, it makes perfect sense!” she protests. “Orks use their teeth at money – maybe we can use it to bribe them or something…”
  763. >You facepalm.
  764. “You ponies are breaking the first rule of Deathwatch.”
  765. >”Have fun?” Twilight leers at you.
  766. >Fluttershy giggles.
  767. “Never, EVER, listen to the Blood Raven.”
  768. >”Why not?” Trixie asks. “All of Ihaus’s plans have worked out great so far.”
  769. “Because they’ll steal EVERYTHING.”
  770. >”Oh, that reminds me!” Twilight’s smile makes your skin crawl. “Erik needs a gun!”
  771. >”I need a gun!” Fluttershy echoes quietly, raising her forehooves like she expects you to hand her one.
  772. “Nopony hand her *anything.*”
  773. >”Awwww…”
  774.  
  775.  
  776. “And I assume you want to take the hands, Lyra?”
  777. >”Really!?” Lyra throws her forehooves into the air. “I make ONE comment about hands, JUST ONE! And now that’s what everypony thinks I’m all about!”
  778. >”Wasn’t so much that-that you said hands would be nice,” Fluttershy slurs, crawling partway back onto the table, “it’s w-what you said they’d be nice f-“
  779. >”SHUT UP, FLUTTERSHY!”
  780. >The drunk mare giggles, dropping herself down off the table – only the eyes and the top of her head sticking up above it. Watching.
  781. >You sigh, rubbing your forehead.
  782. “How much did Fluttershy have to drink?”
  783. >”This much!” she answers cheerfully, holding up a hoof.
  784. “That… that doesn’t work when you do it…”
  785. >”Why not…?” the pegasus whines softly.
  786. “Because you don’t have fingers.”
  787. >”Ooooh.”
  788. >”Two mugs,” Cheerilee tells you. “Two mugs.”
  789. “Alrighty…”
  790. >You shut your eyes for a second.
  791. “Give me some time to work this out.”
  792. >”Hehe… ‘work this out…’”
  793. “Trixie?”
  794. >”Yes, Anonymous?”
  795. “Think you can sober her up?”
  796. >“It would be my pleasure…”
  797. >You flip open your notebook and begin figuring out the pony’s loot.
  798.  
  799. >Ihaus rips the gun from a dead ork’s hands, shoving it into Erik’s, along with a handful of extra clips.
  800. >”I appreciate your beliefs, Wolf Priest, but you will need this to complete the task ahead of you.”
  801. >Erik nods solemnly, stowing the clips in one of his pouches.
  802. >He and Osric shepherd the civilians out of the chamber – not too far, but far enough to hide the gruesome work the rest of the squad engages in. Grabbing some satchels from the dead, the other four Space Marines began filling them with the massive tusks and larger teeth from the dead orks. None were quite sure what purpose they would serve in the future, only that the Blood Raven believed they would be necessary.
  803. >Unwilling to dirty the noble hands of a Space Marine with such a task, Anovel wanders around kicking corpses in the face, leaving his brothers to collect the fruits of his labors. Casull goes at the task with savage glee, tearing apart ork skulls with the crushing jaws of her servo arms. Trixus and Ihaus work more carefully, the Blood Raven whistling a merry tune as he engages in the one thing he was born to do.
  804. >Loot.
  805.  
  806. >Twilight snorts at you, her face promising that you’ll be sleeping alone tonight.
  807.  “While the four bandits engage in looting like orks or *adventurers*, what do Erik and Osric do?”
  808. >Cheerilee looks to Fluttershy instinctively, but the little lush is only halfway through her cup of coffee. She pulls it away from her mouth to speak, but thankfully Trixie pushes it back up before whatever drunken thoughts were in Fluttershy’s head can spill out.
  809. >”Let’s get going,” she tells you. “We have the longest route ahead of us.”
  810. “Flutters?”
  811. >Even though she is drunk, it wouldn’t be right to let Cheerilee run her character without agreeing.
  812. >She stares at you unanswering, slowly – oh so slowly – taking another sip.
  813. >With an exasperated sigh, Cheerilee grips the back of Fluttershy’s head and jerks it up and down. The pegasus’s expression never changes as her head bobs in agreement.
  814. >”Why yes, Cheerilee, what a wonderful idea Cheerilee!” the Earth Pony squeaks out in a rather unconvincing falsetto.
  815. >Fluttershy takes another sip.
  816. >Good enough for you. Silence is – as they say – consent.
  817.  
  818. >Osric takes point, shield held high to ward off any ambushing attacks, and Erik trails behind, more than half-carrying the grievously injured Fluffles. Between them stretch the civilians. The white-robed priests walk up and down the line, trying to keep morale high, but the red-robed techadepts cluster around Erik and Fluffles, each one carrying one of the Space Marines’ oversized meltabombs.
  819. >”Don’t blow yourself up, wee men,” Erik chuckles, amused by the tiny mortals struggling with the weight of the explosives.
  820.  
  821. >”Hehe…” Flutters leans onto the table, poking at the map you had laid out. With exaggerated care, she picks up one of the orange token that represents the meltabombs, dropping it back onto the red token of the techadept. “It’s as big as he is!”
  822.  
  823. >Erik drops the bomb back into the flailing adept’s arms.
  824. >Osric loudly sighs over his suit’s external vox system.
  825.  
  826. >”If she’s not gonna sober up, I’m going to join her.” Cheerilee trots out of the room. “I’ll be right back – I need to get something from my ‘medicine’ cabinet.”
  827. “Okaaaaay, on to Anovel and Trixus then…”
  828.  
  829. >The Dark Angel and Ultramarine manage to avoid ork patrols – assuming orks even have patrols.
  830. >Covered by his camo-cloak, Anovel is able to scout ahead, finding a clear path for his proud and flashy companion.
  831. >As the duo reaches their destination, the Dark Angel raises a hand to halt his companion. He stealthily peeks around the corner, frowning at the huge number of orks swarming the shell storage.
  832. >”Any ideas?” he asks Trixus. “I don’t know if we have enough rounds…”
  833.  
  834. “Need a moment to think? I can go on to Twi and Lyra…”
  835. >The mint unicorn smiles excitedly.
  836. >”No… no.” Trixie answers, crushing Lyra’s hopes. “What the hell.” She shares a look with Berry Punch. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
  837. >”I hope not,” the Earth Pony answers, “because that would be –“
  838. >”HERESY!”
  839. >GAH! Did all of them need to yell that at once?
  840.  
  841. >Anovel throws aside his camo-cloak as a sentry walks by, catching the ork by surprise.
  842. >”OI!” the Space Marine yells into the ork’s ear. “IZ YA A BADMOON LIKE ME OR ONE O’ DEM PANZY GOFFZ?”
  843. >The ork jumps in surprise, instinctively raising his axe.
  844. >”Wut?”
  845. >”YA ZOGGIN GIT, I AZKED YOU WOT CLAN YOUZ WIFF!”
  846. >The ork looks confused – not sure if it should lash out with his axe or lash out *really hard*.
  847. >”Youz ain’t no ork,” it growls, taking a step closer and raising his axe higher. “Youz a Badmoon fur shur wiff dat fancy slab armour, and ain’t no Badmoon a REAL ork!”
  848. >”Iz moar ork den you,” Anovel growls back, hefting his heavy bolter. “Iz got moar dakka den yur whole mob, so Iz moar ork den you!”
  849. >The ork looks at it suspiciously.
  850. >”Where you get flash like dat?” it finally asks, clearly not liking his odds of duffing Anovel on the head and stealing his gun.
  851. >”Got it offa Wurzak.”
  852. >”I ‘eard Wurzak wuz dead,” the Ork says angrily. “Git owed me teef.”
  853.  
  854. >“Oooooh!” Trixie taps Berry Punch on the shoulder to stop her, pulling the Earth Pony over to whisper in her ear.
  855.  
  856. >”Dat knob wuz fakin’”
  857. >”WUT!?” The ork’s eyes bug out in apoplectic rage. “WHERE IZ ‘E DEN!?”
  858. >Anovel points down one of the twisting corridors, away from Trixus.
  859. >”Set ‘emself up a lil’ place down the way.”
  860. >The ork looks suspiciously down the corridor, peering into the darkness.
  861. >”Got iz mob wiff ‘em?”
  862. >”More n’he ‘ad, even,” Anovel smiles under his helmet.
  863. >The orks snorts, wrinkling his face in thought. It taps the flat of its axe against the side of its head a few times.
  864. >”OI, LADS!” It yells back to the rest of the orks, “WE’Z GOTZ US A JOB. WURZAK’S BACK!”
  865. >”WUT!?” one of them yells back. “I ‘EARD ‘E WUZ DED! GIT OWED ME TEEF!”
  866. >”Yer a true mate,” the one in front of Anovel tells him with an appreciative nod. “URRY UP LADZ, WE GOT US SOME TEEF TO COLLECT, ONE WAY OR ANOVVA!”
  867.  
  868.  
  869. >The orks rush off in a single mob, leaving the shells completely unguarded.
  870. >”That went well,” Trixus says, stepping out of his hiding place. “Though it pains me to leave an alien alive, they will all die in the end.”
  871. >”Indeed,” Anovel agrees. “Shall we plan the bombs before they return?”
  872.  
  873. “Nope, on to Lyra and Twilly now!”
  874. >“Bu-but,” Trixie begins to complain. “Oh, *fine*. Let them have their moment.”
  875. >Cheerilee returns, a swaddled bottle of something fine held in the crook of one leg.
  876. >”Did I miss anything?” she asks. “Thought I heard laughter.”
  877. >Fluttershy spins around, staring up at the teacher from the floor.
  878. >”Anovel’s an ork. We have to kill him.”
  879. >Cheerilee snorts in disbelief, pulling six shot glasses out the nearby cupboard.
  880. >”Are you sure about that?”
  881. >”Yes!” Flutters responds. She blinks twice. “No?”
  882. >She flips herself around, propping her head up on the table to stare at Berry Punch.
  883. >”Maybe Punchie is the ork?” She shuffles her body around to face Cheerilee again. “We have to kill her. It’s the only way to be sure.”
  884. >Cheerilee’s eyes flicker between her bottle and the pegasus.
  885. >”Eh,” she finally responds. “Maybe later.”
  886. >”Okay!” Fluttershy smiles at her new favorite friend.
  887. >With a snort of laughter, Cheerilee unwraps the bottle and begins pouring… is that… is it really?
  888. >Whiskey. Glorious Whiskey.
  889. >She downs the first shot before pouring a finger into each of the glasses, sliding one to everypony save Berry Punch.
  890. >You raise yours and nod to her in appreciation.
  891. >”Savor it – it’s my good stuff.”
  892. >Fluttershy jabs at her glass with her hoof, poking it three times before taking a sniff. Apparently she likes what she smells, because she dips her tongue into the glass, cautiously tasting it.
  893.  
  894. >Without Anovel’s stealth to help them, Ihaus and Casull are unable to avoid encountering wandering orks. Luckily the librarian is able to silence them quickly and silently with his psychic powers.
  895.  
  896. >”Kill-stealer,” Lyra whines.
  897.  
  898. >The generators are unguarded, though heavy bulkheads have sealed shut.
  899. >”Stand back, brother,” Casull tells the librarian. “I’ve got this.”
  900. >The techmarine aims his plasma gun with his right hand, arm outstretched.
  901. >Ihaus steps back as the plasma gun’s coils begin to radiate an acidic blue light.
  902. >”I *really* don’t think this is a good idea.”
  903. >The techmarine snorts derisively, taking careful aim with the gun.
  904. >”What would you rather do, Blood Raven? Use our only meltabomb to penetrate the door?” His laughter has a grinding sound to it, like metal scraping against metal. “We need that to destroy the generators.”
  905. >”No, but –“
  906. >”Then what?” Casull demands. “You want me to hack the control panel? I brought this mighty weapon and have not had a chance to use it once!”
  907. >The techmarine returns his attention to the bulkhead, trying to identify the ideal place to strike to crack the gate open.
  908. >He finds none, the bulkhead apparently a solid slab of metal.
  909. >So much for doing things the smart way – he fires, unleashing a stream of blue energy that harmlessly expends itself on the obstacle. A weapon capable of burning through a Space Marine’s armor in an eyeblink does nothing against this monolithic slab.
  910.  
  911. >”See!?” Twilight yells at Lyra. “I told you – it didn’t do any good at all!”
  912. >”Sure it did!” Lyra grins like an idiot at your princess. “Now I have an excuse to do this…”
  913.  
  914. >Cackling like a madman, Casull flicks a toggle on his weapon.
  915. >”W-what did you just do…?” Ihaus asks, taking another step back.
  916. >”Changed the power setting,” Casull answers, raising the gun again. “Time to make us a door!”
  917. >The coils take long seconds to charge up to full power, flicking from acidic blue to a burning white. Crackles of excess energy dance along the spine of the weapon, trying to escape the forces building up inside.
  918. >”DING-DONG, MOTHERF-“
  919.  
  920. >The word dies on Lyra’s lips as her dice roll to a stop.
  921.  
  922. >In a flare of blinding white light, the magnetic containment field of the gun fails. The unleashed energy rips apart the weapon, melting or vaporizing most of it.
  923. >And most of Casull’s right arm.
  924. >Even his enhanced and reinforced armor cannot hold back the heat of a thousand suns.
  925. >Two steps behind and to the left, Ihaus taps his foot impatiently.
  926. >”Willing to listen to me now?”
  927.  
  928. >”Go for it,” Lyra grunts. “I’m out of ideas.”
  929. >”Well first off, you should *probably* spend some fate points to heal yourself,” Twilight tells her. “Won’t fix your arm, but it *will* give you back your starting health.”
  930. >The unicorn grabs a pencil and makes a few marks on her character sheet.
  931.  
  932. >”So… hack it?” Casull asks his companion with a one-armed shrug.
  933. >The librarian responds with a simple gesture to the melted interface that used to be the bulkhead’s control panel.
  934. >”You can try if you want,” he says dryly, “but I don’t think it will do any good *now*.”
  935. >”Huh,” the techmarine grunts. “Prolly not.”
  936. >He kneels down to examine the seam between the bulkhead and walls. There is a bit of a gap there, not much, but maybe – just maybe – enough.
  937. >”Think I can pry it open with my servo-arms?” he asks hopefully.
  938. >”Nope.”
  939. >”Well nevermind then. Plasma cutter?”
  940. >”Would take too long,” Ihaus answers with a sigh. “Just use your power fist.”
  941. >”Oh.” Casull raises the fist, flexing its massive mechanical fingers as he activates its power field. “Why didn’t I think of that…?”
  942.  
  943. >”Because you’re an idiot?” Twilight answers helpfully.
  944. >”No I’m not!”
  945. >”Yeah, you kinda are…”
  946. >”Shut up, Trixie.”
  947.  
  948. >Casull takes a step back, giving his power fist room to gain momentum.
  949. >”IT’S FISTING TIME!”
  950.  
  951. >”Hey, Anon – why are you laughing?” Lyra asks with a bemused look.
  952. “I’ll – I’ll explain later.”
  953. >At the opposite end of the table, Fluttershy’s soft giggle joins your heavier laughter.
  954. >“WHAT!?” Lyra looks back and forth between the two of you. “Didn’t that sound awesome? It sounded awesome!”
  955. >”Yeah, I thought it sounded kinda cool,” Twilight grudgingly admits.
  956. >”Twilight thinks fisting is cool!” Fluttershy whispers obnoxiously loud to you from the opposite end of the table, making you laugh even harder.
  957. >”Oh screw you two!” Lyra yells. “I FIST THE DOOR!”
  958. “No, stop…”
  959. >You pause to let a few more laughs out.
  960. “That’s not a verb.”
  961. >”It *can* be!” Fluttershy sings suggestively.
  962. >Trixie reaches out with one hoof, planting it on the drunk’s head as she tries to climb back onto the table.
  963. >”Just tell the idiot the proper word to use,” she sighs, rolling her eyes as Fluttershy whines softly at her inexplicable inability to move forward.
  964.  
  965. >Casull’s first punch leaves a massive crater in the bulkhead. The second deforms the entire slab as it crumples under the force of the blow. On the third strike, the weakened metal finally ruptures. From there it is only the work of seconds to tear a hole wide enough for a Space Marine to pass.
  966. >”The techmarine reaches back with his powerfist, deactivating the destructive field.
  967. >”Hand me the meltabomb,” he demands.
  968. >The librarian hesitates.
  969.  
  970. >”You healed up by spending fate points, right?” Twilight asks, grimacing.
  971. >”Of course,” Lyra smirks. “Why?”
  972. >”You only have the power fist hand to work with…” Berry Punch reminds the unicorn. “Those things have a huge manual dexterity penalty…”
  973. >”It’s only pressing a few buttons,” Lyra whines.
  974. >”Yeah, but with fingers the size of your hoof!” Twilight argues, shoving her hoof into her companion’s face for emphasis.
  975. >”Yeah, so?” Lyra picks up her dice and juggles them with her forehooves. “We *only* have hooves and get by just fine!”
  976. >”That’s…” Twilight’s face wrinkles in frustration “… actually a good point.”
  977. >She looks to Trixie, who just shrugs, then to Cheerilee, who hefts her bottle of whiskey.
  978. >Twilight nods and the teacher pours her another shot.
  979. >”Go for it,” your princess says, lifting the glass to her mouth.
  980.  
  981. >”Oh, YEAH,” Casull grunts, slapping the explosive into place on the primary generator. It magnetically clamps itself in place, allowing the techmarine to poke at its timer with one massive finger.
  982. >”Let’s see… five minutes?” he asks Ihaus without looking back. “Yeah, five minutes should be fine.”
  983. >The librarian shrugs.
  984. >”Doesn’t really matter – those things are powerful but with an extremely small area of effect,” Ihaus says. “There’s not really much that can go wrong. As long as you aren’t actually touching it when it detonates, then –“
  985. >”Ooops.”
  986.  
  987. >”That’s it, Lyra…” Cheerilee stands and trots into the kitchen, returning with a wastebin. “In they go.”
  988. >The unicorn considers it for a seconds.
  989. >”Does anyone have some dice I can borrow…?” she asks hopefully.
  990. >”Nope.”
  991. >”Hell no.”
  992. >”Nopers.”
  993. >”Burn in hell.”
  994. >”You touch, you die.”
  995. >Lyra frowns, rolling her dice between her forehooves.
  996. >”Anon…?” she looks at you from the corners of her eyes.
  997. ”Do you think I want you to ruin *my* dice?”
  998. >Lyra sighs, shaking her head at Cheerilee.
  999. >”I better stick with ‘em.”
  1000.  
  1001. >Casull looks at the charred stump that used to be his left arm and sighs heavily.
  1002. >”Well, SHIT.”
  1003. >The Techmarine wiggles one stump, then the other.
  1004. >”Regretting all of your life choices up ‘til this moment?” Ihaus asks, trying to hide a laugh.
  1005. >”Nah, ain’t no thang,” Casull responds. He jerks his helmeted head towards the ruined generator. “Mission accomplished!”
  1006. >His companion faceplams, moaning.
  1007. >”But… you have no arms!” the librarian groans, waving one of his own limbs in the air.
  1008. >”I only lost two,” the techmarine answers. “Still have four left!”
  1009.  
  1010. >”All four servo arms are working just fiiiiiiiiiiine,” Lyra tells Twilight, leaning up against your princess. “Everything’s fiiiiiiiiiiiiiine.”
  1011. >Twilight looks down at the measure of whiskey resting in her glass, sighing. She raises it up, holding it there for a second until Lyra catches on with a shock and raises hers, returning the salute.
  1012. >”Hell yeah,” the unicorn says with a hint of a smile.
  1013. >”Hell yeah,” Twilight answers.
  1014. >The others give them a moment to celebrate, but once their glasses hit the table Cheerilee punches her hoof into the air.
  1015. >”Our turn now!”
  1016. >”Yeah!” Fluttershy eagerly whispers in agreement. “Our turn!”
  1017. >The pair gently clink their shotglasses together.
  1018. >Disturbingly, both Cheerilee’s and Fluttershy’s glasses are empty.
  1019. >You never even saw the pegasus down hers.
  1020. >”So,” Cheerilee says, waving a forehoof at you and wobbling slightly, “what’s going on with our guys?”
  1021.  
  1022. >Gunfire momentarily deafens Osric as the orks attack.
  1023. >Weirdly slow-moving balls of energy splash against his stormshield, doing no harm thanks to the protective field enveloping it.
  1024. >As the human survivors scream and scatter, running for cover, Osric pauses, carefully watching where the shots are coming from. He pinpoints each attacker in turn, watching their bizarre firearms discharge the energy bolts out of sync with the explosive sounds issuing within the machines.
  1025. >The furthest corners of his mind realize that the sound isn’t a byproduct of the weapons’ true purpose, but instead some kind of attached noisemaker to make the aliens feel better about their disturbingly silent weapons.
  1026. >He laughs silently – a true gun shakes the very soil with the roar of its firing. These…? These can’t even manage to rattle their users on their own.
  1027. >”Erik!” the Imperial Fist yells to his companion over their suits’ vox system. “Up here with me. Time to show these xenos what true weapons can do.”
  1028.  
  1029. >Cheerilee leans over to look at Erik’s character sheet.
  1030. >”Did you take Forging the Bond…?” she asks hopefully.
  1031. >”Mhm!” Flutters answers cheerfully, bobbing her head. “Not a lot of healing stuffs for me to spend my XP on.”
  1032. >She looks to you.
  1033. >”Medics kinda suck in this game,” the pegasus tells you apologetically, as if it was her fault that she couldn’t spend all of her experience on healing skills. “Had to take a loooooooooooooooooooooooot of skills I didn’t want.”
  1034. >Fluttershy whines softly, looking at Erik’s sheet.
  1035. >“I don’t even know what half these things do!” she moans.
  1036. >Cheerilee’s eyes narrow as she reads more.
  1037. >”Sweet Celestia…” she murmurs.
  1038. >Fluttershy shoves her head between the paper and Cheerilee, nose pressed up against the teacher’s.
  1039. >”What does Forging the Bond do…?” she asks earnestly.
  1040. >You sigh heavily as you watch Twilight’s eyes widen in excitement, knowing what she’s going to say.
  1041. >”Kiss!” your princess chants over and over, slowly growing in volume.
  1042. >”Okay!”
  1043.  
  1044. >”Not now, brother!” Osric says, pushing the Space Wolf back. “Not while the Emperor’s enemies stand before us!”
  1045. >Erik growls softly, rising from his crouch behind the Imperial Fist and dashing forward into the open space separating him from the orks.
  1046. >”And what about after I kill them all?” the Space Wolf yells back to his comrade.
  1047.  
  1048. >”First of all,” Cheerilee tells your drunk friend harshly, “you’re drunk. Second, you’re really not my type.”
  1049. >”And you’re not mine either!” Fluttershy smiles. “I’m just roleplaying…”
  1050. >She leans to her right, thumping her head onto the table and staring at Trixie.
  1051. >”*You’re* into roleplaying, right…?” she asks the unicorn with a drunken leer.
  1052. >”I – um… Trixie has no possible clue what you are talking about!” Trixie answers, pulling back with exaggerated disgust.
  1053. >Fluttershy’s eyes slam shut and she sticks her tongue out at the unicorn.
  1054. >”I still have half an action left?” she asks, eyes still closed.
  1055. “Yep.”
  1056. >”Drop my gun and grapple the closest ork!”
  1057. “Okaaaaaaay, roll it.”
  1058. >Fluttershy blindly gropes around for her dice, accidentally knocking them further and further away every time she gets close.
  1059. >”You do it,” she whines, giving up and pointing at Cheerilee.
  1060. >The pink pony throws her dice, bouncing them off Fluttershy’s head.
  1061. >”Owwww…” the pegasus moans softly. “Success?”
  1062.  
  1063. >With a leap, Erik tackles the nearest ork, smashing its gun from its hands. The alien is pinned beneath the Space Wolf’s armored bulk.
  1064.  
  1065. >”Kiss!” Twilight demands again.
  1066. “Alright Twilight, shut up. You’re drunk.”
  1067. >”Make me!” your marefriend demands with a suggestive wink.
  1068. >You groan.
  1069. “Lyra, could you switch spots with Twilight…?”
  1070. >With a shrug, Lyra grabs her character sheet and other gaming paraphernalia, scooting back for your princess to slide over next to you.
  1071. >Berry Punch gives you a warning growl, jerking her head towards the entryway. The three fillies sound like they’re having a good time, but you understand her warning and raise a hand to forestall any further complaints. You reach up, scratching Twilight between the ears, slowly moving your hand down, rubbing her neck as you go. She moans contently, resting her head on her folded forelegs.
  1072. “She’ll stay quiet as long as I keep this up.”
  1073. >Berry Punch nods in understanding.
  1074. “Alrighty, Cheerilee – your go.”
  1075.  
  1076. >Osric lays down suppressing fire from his stormbolter as he cautiously advances into the open area. Most of the orks dive for cover, but one – larger and bearing an overly engineered multi-barreled gun – roars in anger.
  1077. >”I’Z GONNA TAKE UR FANCY DAKKA, YA BEAKIE PONCE!” It launches itself over the barricade it was hiding behind, firing off a volley that almost drives the Imperial Fist back a step. The field covering the shield flares brightly, temporarily burning out from the force of the attack.
  1078.  
  1079. >”Fluttershy, if you’re done flirting I could use a little help here,” Cheerilee tells her partner, wincing at the loss of her shield. “If my shield doesn’t come back up…”
  1080. >She pauses, looking to you for confirmation.
  1081. “Yep, that gun will burn straight through Osric.”
  1082. >”Damn,” the Earth Pony sucks air in through her teeth. “Fluttershy?”
  1083. >”Not done flirting,” she answers. “But I think I can help!”
  1084.  
  1085. >Eric stands, lifting the flailing ork with him.
  1086. >In one smooth move, he throws the alien with all the force he and his exoskeleton can muster. It howls as it flies through the air, screeching like a falling shell.
  1087. >It strikes like one too, slamming into the ork targeting Osric hard enough to break both bodies.
  1088.  
  1089. >Fluttershy giggles as you read the damage result aloud to her.
  1090. >”I like your dice, Punchie,” she tells her designated rollproxy. “And I think they like me.”
  1091. >She pauses for a second, before finally opening her eyes again.
  1092. >”What about you, Trixie? Do *you* like me…?”
  1093. >”T-Trixie has found you to a worthwhile player…”
  1094. >”Flirt later, kill now,” Cheerilee grunts, pushing Fluttershy’s dice in front of the pegasus’s face. “Everyone’s waiting on your second half-action.”
  1095. >”Ummmm… I dunno…” Flutters stares at the map you have laid out, frowning slightly.
  1096. >”Just shoot someone!” Cheerilee yells.
  1097. >”Can’t. Dropped gun.”
  1098. >”Pick it up?” Lyra suggests.
  1099. >”Don’t wanna.”
  1100. >”Throw a grenade…?” Berry Punch offers.
  1101. >”Don’t have any.”
  1102. >Trixie’s eyes shift around cautiously, and she leans down to whisper something in Fluttershy’s ear.
  1103. >”Hehe, that tickles!”
  1104.  
  1105.  
  1106. >The little pegasus smiles as Trixie continues to talk.
  1107. >” You promise…? Mmmmm… okay!”
  1108. >Trixie sits back up, smiling.
  1109. >”I-I use my jump pack to s-sprint…?” She looks questioningly to Trixie, continuing when the unicorn nods. “Sprint to the two orks and stand over them.”
  1110. >”That’s gonna make you a target for all the others,” Lyra points out.
  1111. >”Yeah… but her force field is still working,” Cheerilee says in surprise as Trixie nods in agreement.
  1112. >Fluttershy smiles at her companion.
  1113.  
  1114. >”Behind me, brother!”
  1115. >Osric dives behind the Wolf Priest as the orks emerge from cover and open fire.
  1116. >Most of the energy balls dissipate harmlessly against the field project by Erik’s Wolf Talisman, but a few manage to overcome the barrier. Greatly weakened, they don’t penetrate the Priest’s power armor, but the suit does suffer from the onslaught, shallow craters and gouges burned across its black surface.
  1117. >But the field holds.
  1118.  
  1119. >”Thanks for that, Fluttershy,” Cheerilee says gratefully. “Not sure I could have survived that.”
  1120. >”Oh, I’m sure you could have,” Flutters protests, blushing.
  1121.  
  1122. >Osric rises from behind his partner, stormbolter blazing in a wide arc. A handful of the orks drop, some diving back into cover, some simply unable to stand after the bolts rip them apart.
  1123. >Erik drops to one knee, studying the downed orks carefully.
  1124. >The one he threw is crippled – though it still breathes, the spark of its life is fading quickly. The larger one – the one with the fancy gun – was merely stunned for a minute, basically unharmed.
  1125. >Erik pulls one arm back to strike.
  1126.  
  1127. “Wait, what?”
  1128. >”C-called Shot – brain stem?” Fluttershy repeats, questioningly this time. She glances to Trixie who nods in approval.
  1129. “But – but – you can’t see it!”
  1130. >”Yes, she can,” Trixie tells you confidently. “Erik’s Diagnostic Helm lets him see through armor and flesh to perform complex surgeries.”
  1131. >Right – you’d forgotten about that.
  1132. >”I’m just surgerizing him,” Fluttershy insists, thumping the table with a foreleg. “Roll it, Punchie!”
  1133.  
  1134. >A spike shoots forth from the Wolf Priest’s forearm-mounted reductor. Normally a surgical tool to save lives, he turns the device to an unusual and deadly use.
  1135. >The arm powers forward, the spike easily penetrating through flesh and bone.
  1136. >The looks of panic in the orks eyes slowly fades as its body fails.
  1137.  
  1138. >”Pretty brutal.” Cheerilee’s eyes are open wide in surprise. “Remind me to never piss Trixie off.”
  1139. >”What? Oh, no!” Fluttershy laughs softly, flopping one forehoof around. “Don’t worry, that part was my idea.”
  1140. >”Well, remind me to never piss *you* off then,” the Earth Pony says with a laugh, pouring herself another shot.
  1141. >”Never piss me off,” the yellow pony immediately says with a sad look, “because that would be mean.”
  1142. >Fluttershy whines softly, her tail flipping back and forth.
  1143. >”Please don’t be mean to me,” she repeats, hiding behind her forehooves.
  1144.  
  1145. >Osric’s next volley finishes off all but one of the attackers, who falls victim to Erik’s patented throw-the-closest-thing attack.
  1146. >”Well…” the Space Wolf looks around, brushing the filth from his gauntleted hands “… time to go!”
  1147.  
  1148. “Okay then… that was the last junction before the loading dock, so… time to check in with Anovel and Trixus.”
  1149.  
  1150. >Trixus gingerly applies the final meltabomb to the last of the shells lined up on the loading track.
  1151. >”Remind me again why we’re doing this?” Anovel asks, kneeling down beside the Ultramarine. “Shouldn’t destroying the generators be enough? It won’t matter if the orks have shells if they can’t aim the cannons.”
  1152. >”Redundancy,” Trixus answers, taking quick jabs at the meltabomb’s controls, afraid to let his hands linger too close to the explosives too long.
  1153.  
  1154. >”You do know that those shells are explosive too, right?” Lyra asks Trixie with a wave of her forehoof. “If you screw up setting the detonator, you won’t get off as easy as I did.”
  1155.  
  1156. >With a satisfied grunt, Trixus stands up, swiftly backing away from the shell.
  1157. >”Time to withdraw,” he says, unclamping his bolter from his thigh. “It would be unwise to be here if the orks return –“
  1158. >”OI, MATE!”
  1159.  
  1160. >”Oh, crap.”
  1161.  
  1162. >With a wave of his hand, Anovel guides Trixus back into the shadows, where the Ultramarine tries to hide himself with his companion’s camo-cloak.
  1163. >”Careful,” Trixus says over their suits’ closed vox system, “this isn’t the best place for a firefight.”
  1164. >”Really!?” the Devastator asks. “Well crap, there went my idea to punch things with GRENADES.”
  1165.  
  1166. >”Wait, what?” Fluttershy’s ears stand up straight. “I like this idea. I’m taking it. It’s mine now.”
  1167.  
  1168. >”No insult intended, Dark Angel – I trust you more than the other members of our kill-team.”
  1169. >”Yeah,” Anovel grunts. “That Space Wolf is a nutter.”
  1170. >He sighs heavily, throwing his heavy bolter onto his shoulder.
  1171. >”Time to go say hello to my new best friend…”
  1172. >He strides from behind the stack of shells hiding him from the returning orks.
  1173. >”WUT?”
  1174. >”GOOD, UZ STILL ‘ERE,” an increasingly familiar ork growls angrily. “’E WEREN’T WHERE UZ SAID!”
  1175. >”YA SLACKWITTED TWAT, DIDNCHA SEE ALL ‘IS LADZ?” Anovel yells back, leaning forward aggressively.
  1176. >The ork snorts, splattering the Dark Angel’s breastplate with thick mucus.
  1177. >”Saw plenty o’ ladz, but no Wurzak,” it says, poking at Anovel with one thick, clumsy finger.
  1178. >”Yeah, no Wurzak!” one of the lesser orks yells in agreement, waving his fist around wildly in the air.
  1179. >Anovel groans loudly.
  1180. >”Oi, ‘e sure saw you lot comin’ dinne?”
  1181. >”And wutz dat supposed ta mean, *Bad Moon*?”
  1182. >”I *mean* ‘e got da dokz ta swap ‘iz face, *Goff*.”
  1183.  
  1184. “You’re really going to try this again?”
  1185. >”Hell yes!” Berry Punch yells, driving a forehoof into the air.
  1186. >Fluttershy cheers softly in encouragement.
  1187. >”Roll it, Punchie!”
  1188.  
  1189. >“’E swapped iz face?” the ork asks, pulling his hand back from Anovel’s chest.
  1190. >”Whatcha fink ‘e needed all doz teef for?”
  1191. >The ork stares at the Dark Angel for a second – the sound of his brain slowly grinding to a conclusion almost audible.
  1192. >He rubs the back of his neck with one hand as the rest of his mob shuffles around in confusion.
  1193. >”’E took yur teef,” Anovel verbally pushes the ork. “Wurzak neva planned ta pay yuz back.”
  1194. >”Wut?” He looks directly into the Dark Angel’s eye lenses. “WUT?”
  1195. >”Yuz shuld kill ‘em all, deyz prolly all in on it.”
  1196. >”WUT!?”
  1197. >”All ‘iz ladz – dey wuz in on it.”
  1198. >”WUUUUUUUUUUUUUUT!?”
  1199. >Anovel leans forward, whispering one more word to the ork.
  1200. >”Waaaaaaugh.”
  1201. >It’s eyes flare open, suddenly bloodshot with rage.
  1202. >“WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAUGH!”
  1203. >His boyz echo the cry as they charge back down the tunnel, guns already blazing.
  1204. >Anovel looks back to where Trixus hides, crouched under the camo-cloak.
  1205. >”Well…?” the Dark Angel asks. “You coming?”
  1206.  
  1207. >”HEY!” a loud voice yells from the other room. “COULD YOU KEEP IT DOWN, WE’RE TRYING TO PLAY IN HERE!”
  1208. >Three other voices call out in agreement. Three? Wait, what?
  1209. >You pull your hand from your princess and leap up, sticking your head into the room.
  1210. >”Hiya, Nonny!” Pinkie Pie waves eagerly at you. “I’m glad you’re having so much fun with your friends, but could you be a wee tiny little bit quieter?”
  1211. >She grins at you.
  1212. “I thought I told you fillies to get me before opening the door for anyone…”
  1213. >”Yeah, you did,” Scootaloo answers, looking at you like you’re crazy.
  1214. >You gesture meaningfully to Pinkie, eyebrow raised.
  1215. >The little pegasus copies your gesture, right down to the eyebrow.
  1216. >You sigh.
  1217. “It’s fine that Pinkie is here, but why didn’t you get me?”
  1218. >”Because she came from in there.”
  1219. >Scootaloo points to the dining room, where your players wait rather impatiently for you to get back to the game. You wave off whatever they are saying.
  1220. “But… she…”
  1221. >Pinkie Pie bends over backwards to stare at you, eyes tearing up.
  1222. >”Y-you don’t want me here…?”
  1223. “Well, n-y-“
  1224. >You pause, trying to buy time for your mind to figure this out.
  1225. >Fuck it, change the topic.
  1226.  “What happened with throwing a party for Aryanne?”
  1227. >”Oh.” Pinkie frowns sadly. “She said she had to leave Ponyville for some reason. Left right in the middle of the celebration.”
  1228. “Okay… so why are you here…?”
  1229. >She picks up a model from the Warpony Quest board – the Unicorn Gladiator.
  1230. >”It’s a four player game, Nonny,” she explains patiently.
  1231. >Ah, cool. Don’t think about it anymore.
  1232. >You give her a thumbs up and slip back to your players.
  1233. “So, where were we…?”
  1234. >Twilight points to her neck.
  1235. >”Right about here, but you could go lower,” she says, leaning forward. “Back is sore.”
  1236. >You aren’t the only one to notice Trixie’s jealous glare – Fluttershy puts a comforting hoof on the unicorn, drawing her attention away from you and your marefriend.
  1237. “Cheerilee? Lyra? Punchie?”
  1238. >You sit down, subtly placing your hand just above Twilight’s wings – she purrs happily as your fingers squeeze the tensed muscles of her back.
  1239. >The three ponies look to each other, then to Trixie.
  1240. >”Call in the ship?” Cheerilee asks, pouring herself another shot. How many has she had now!?
  1241. >”Sounds good to me…” Lyra agrees, shrugging. “We just need to get rid of the dead weight and then we can make a push for the central control rooms.”
  1242. >”Remember that self-destruct code?” Twilight asks, her face still buried in her forelegs. “Without it, Casull is dead weight too…”
  1243. >”Of course,” the unicorn smirks. “It’s only three words!”
  1244.  
  1245.  
  1246. >Berry Punch shoves a hoof into her forehead.
  1247. >”That’s great – we’re *fucked*.”
  1248. >”I…um… what!?” Lyra jumps up, leaning over the table almost far enough to smash her face against her friend’s.
  1249. >”This might just be the first time Trixie has ever heard you use such crude language,” the Great and Powerful Trixie comments snidely. “Though she does not disagree…”
  1250. >”This is the first time we’ve had to rely on Lyra,” Berry Punch explains. “Can you think of a more appropriate word to explain our situation?”
  1251. >Trixie ponders the question for a second, before shaking her head.
  1252. >Lyra sighs loudly, dropping back onto her rear.
  1253. >”Is she really that bad…?” Twilight asks, despite the quieting presence of your hand on her back.
  1254. >”How many arms did Casull just lose?” Berry Punch asks rhetorically.
  1255. >”SHE STILL HAS FOUR!”
  1256. “HOW THE HECK DO YOU EVEN KNOW THAT, PONKA!?”
  1257. >Pinkie Pie doesn’t answer, but she doesn’t really need to – you can see the uncertainty in Punchie’s face.
  1258. “She’s right – Casull still has all of his servo-arms and you really need to have some faith in your fellow players.”
  1259. “Bad rolls can happen to anyone.”
  1260. >Trixie’s mouth opens to speak, but no words come out.
  1261. >”Yeah,” Fluttershy says softly. “Sometimes ponies get shoved into roles they don’t deserve…”
  1262. “I think you misunderstood what I said…”
  1263. >”Maybe,” she responds with a shrug as Trixie and Berry Punch share a look.
  1264. >”Yeah… once the cannons are down, we can just blast this place with the ship’s guns,” the Earth Pony admits.
  1265. >Lyra looks at her fellow players dejectedly, leaning on her forelegs.
  1266. >”Want to just do that instead…?” she asks with a sigh. “…since you all think I’m the worst thing since buttrape.”
  1267. >”Well actually –“ Twilight cuts off with a squeak as you pinch her back harder than necessary. “Can’t be any worse than Rainbow Dash…?”
  1268. >Her questioning tone is lost in a happy moan as you run your fingers down both sides of her spine.
  1269. “So girls? What now?”
  1270. >Fluttershy’s left foreleg smacks onto the table, causing dice and empty mugs to dance.
  1271. >”Want to come back and talk to the techieguys again?” she asks sweetly. “If-if you aren’t positive you know the words…”
  1272. >”Maaaaybe…” Lyra doesn’t raise her eyes.
  1273. >”No.”
  1274. >Lyra looks up in surprise, accidentally meeting the other unicorn’s gaze.
  1275. >”No,” Trixie repeats. “There is no time for that –“
  1276.  
  1277. >”– we must have faith in our brothers,” Trixus tells Anovel, “or else we are no better than those who followed the traitor in –“
  1278.  
  1279. >”HERESY!” the six mares yell.
  1280.  
  1281. >Anovel nods grimly, opening a squad-wide vox channel.
  1282. >”Are all objectives completed?” he asks.
  1283. >”Generator destroyed,” Casull answers. “Losses minimal.”
  1284. >”Techadepts detonating the last of the meltabombs now,” Osric replies. “Our position is unassailable.”
  1285. >”Good. Now…” Trixus pauses for a second. “Now for the final offensive…”
  1286.  
  1287. >”Lyra? The map if you would.”
  1288. >Trixie looks over the map Lyra redrew, trying to find an ideal route.
  1289. >”Sparkle – what about here?”
  1290. >Your princess crawls out from under your weary hand, looking at the map, examining the point Trixie was suggesting. She shakes her head.
  1291. >”Too close to the guns – I’m guessing you want us to move immediately, before the ship has even docked?”
  1292. >”That seems… best,” Trixie answers, with a glance to Lyra.
  1293. >If the unicorn noticed, she doesn’t respond – just plays with her shotglass.
  1294. >Cheerilee groans, walking away to drop the empty whiskey bottle in her wastebin.
  1295. >”Is this going to be another hour planning session?” she complains. “Do I need to go get more ‘medicine’?”
  1296. >Twilight’s eyes widen as she realizes just how much the Earth Pony had drunk.
  1297. >”T-that bottle was full when we started…”
  1298. >”I’m a teacher, honey,” Cheerilee responds. “Being able to handle your liquor is a job requirement.”
  1299. >Twilight sneers at your friend, her eyes narrowing in outraged anger.
  1300. >”How *dare* you –“
  1301. >”How dare I unwind after a hard day of work?” Cheerilee laughs, catching your princess off-guard. “I love each and every one of my students, but…” she drifts off with a sigh.
  1302. >Twilight falls back in shock as the mare strides out of the room.
  1303. >”You – you’re okay with this!?” Twilight asks, turning to Berry Punch. “You don’t drink, but you’re okay with an alcoholic teaching your daughter!?”
  1304. >”Cheerilee’s not an alcoholic,” Berry Punch sighs, leaning forward. “She drinks – there’s a difference. You think I don’t understand the appeal? You think I don’t want to knock one back from time to time?”
  1305. >You consider stepping in, but this is a lesson your princess needs to learn.
  1306. >”Then why don’t you?” Twilight asks, her voice a mix between genuine curiosity and outrage.
  1307. >Berry Punch blinks in shock.
  1308. >”Because I’m a mother,” she answers, deadpan. As if it was the most obvious thing in the world. “A single mother. Cheerilee drinks to relax… I drink to escape.”
  1309. >”But you don’t –“
  1310. >”But I want to,” Berry Punch cuts Twilight off. “Do you think my life is easy? Do you think it’s fun, trying to find the money to raise my daughter on my own? Trying to spend time with her, while knowing every hour with her is an hour I’m not being paid for?”
  1311. >She sighs again, leaning further onto the table, letting it support her.
  1312. >”Sometimes…” she glances to the entryway, smiling at the sounds of laughter she hears from the other side. “Sometimes I just want to get away from everything.”
  1313. >Her smile deepens as one of the fillies whoops in victory.
  1314. >”Everything but my daughter – and that’s why I don’t. Why I can’t.”
  1315. >Punchie’s eyes settle on you.
  1316. >”You know what that’s like, don’t you, princess?” she asks sadly. “Wanting things you can’t have, and the cost of trying. I just wanted someone who loved me… and I got drunk and thought… maybe…”
  1317. >She shakes her head, her pink mane swaying with the movement.
  1318. >”He didn’t. Everyone thought I would terminate… insisted, even. There’s no way I could raise a child, they said. It would ruin my life.”
  1319. >Fluttershy whimpers softly as Twilight leans forward, enraptured.
  1320. >”But it didn’t…” your princess prompts.
  1321. >”Oh, it did,” Berry Punch corrects. “It ruined that life… and now I have another life. A different one. I wanted someone who could love me so much I let it destroy that life and reforge it anew.”
  1322. >”Was it worth it…?” Twilight asks quietly.
  1323. >”Yes,” Berry Punch answers sincerely, with all the love a mother can. “It was the best mistake of my life, and that’s why I can’t let it happen again.”
  1324. >Her eyes close in a look of pure contentment as another shout of success echoes through the room.
  1325. >”I had nothing, so I gambled… and I won. But now I have something to lose. Sometimes I want to escape, but I know I can’t take her with me. And I would go through anything if it meant being with my daughter. So yes, it was worth it. All the beatings at the hoof of my father that led me to that mistake, all the hours I have to work trying to put food on the table after – it was all worth it.”
  1326. >She pauses, opening her eyes. They are still focused on you.
  1327. >”What about you, princess?” she asks.
  1328. >You know what your princess is going to say.
  1329. >Twilight opens her mouth to answer, the words faltering.
  1330. >She’s going to say that becoming an alicorn was definitely worth it – you’ve asked her this before. The extra duties, the responsibilities of a princess – they wear on her.
  1331. >Leadership comes easily to your little pony.
  1332. >But rule?
  1333. >She glances over to you and you comfortingly put your hand back on her withers.
  1334. >Lyra and Trixie fidget at the uncomfortable silence.
  1335. >”Is it worth it…?” Berry Punch repeats.
  1336. >Yes, she always told you. It was worth it. As a unicorn, she was able to study and learn and live her life… but as an alicorn? As a princess…?
  1337. >She’s able to put her learning to use, to help others live theirs.
  1338. >It’s worth it.
  1339. >Why is she having so much trouble telling Berry Punch this simple fact?
  1340. >A knock on the door interrupts you before you can answer for her.
  1341. >At the sound of shuffling hooves everyone sits a little taller, a little straighter.
  1342. >”Mr. Anon…” Berry Pinch calls to you from your elbow.
  1343. >You pat her head.
  1344. “Yeah…”
  1345. >With a reassuring smile to Twilight, you pull your hand from her back.
  1346. “I’ll be back in a minute. Try to have a plan when I get back, okay?”
  1347. >”Sure thing,” Lyra says, nodding.
  1348. >Apple Bloom stands worryingly close to the door as the knocking comes again.
  1349. >”Finally!” she whines at you.
  1350. >Pinkie Pie stretches across the room to drag the filly back to the game board, out of your way.
  1351. >She smiles at your nod of thanks.
  1352. >You unlock the door at the third impatient knock.
  1353. >”Well dang, Anon,” Applejack greets you, “I was beginnin’ ta think you’d never answer.”
  1354. >You wave her inside, stepping back to let the orange pony enter.
  1355. >”So, you gonna explain?” she asks harshly, poorly hiding her worry behind a façade of anger.
  1356.  
  1357.  
  1358. “I’ll try…”
  1359. >You gently shoo away Berry Pinch, who eagerly returns to her game.
  1360. “Have you heard about Sweetie Belle?”
  1361. >”No…” she asks cautiously. “Has something happened to her?”
  1362. >Applejack follows you as you walk to the far end of the room, away from where Pinkie Pie energetically – and loudly – keeps the fillies focused on their game.
  1363. “She got her cutie mark.”
  1364. >”Well, good on her!” the pony responds cheerfully. “Why in tarnation are you acting like that’s bad?”
  1365. >You internally sigh at your friend’s blindness – she can be worse than you at times.
  1366. “How do you think Apple Bloom and Scootaloo are taking it?”
  1367. >That gives her pause.
  1368. >”Not well, ahm guessin,” she finally answers. “Ah hope they don’t do anything reckless – they aren’t gonna take well to bein left behind.”
  1369. >She shuffles around to face the fillies, the concern clear on her face.
  1370. >”Thanks for bringin ‘em here,” Applejack says quietly. “Not just for keepin an eye on the fillies – those two need to make more friends. Can’t just be the three of ‘em forever – eventually they’ll have to grow up and live their own lives.”
  1371. >You nod in agreement.
  1372. “It can hurt, can’t it? Being that close to somepony and then losing them.”
  1373. >Applejack lets out a snort of amusement.
  1374. >”They didn’t really lose her though, did they?”
  1375. “No, but they don’t understand that.”
  1376. >She looks up at you with a frown.
  1377. >” Yeah. That’s the worst part, isn’t it?”
  1378. >Her frown deepens – it’s clear what she’s thinking about.
  1379. >”It’s not the loss that hurts the most, but the fear of losing what you have.”
  1380. >Her eyes turn to Apple Bloom, tears bubbling up.
  1381. >”You get over a loss eventually, but the fear…”
  1382. “Once you’ve lost somepony – once you’ve felt that – that fear stays with you forever.”
  1383. >You sigh. You sigh because you have to do something, anything. Otherwise you might just cry.
  1384. >”And what do you know of loss?” Her words are honest. Innocent. She truly wants to know.
  1385. “I lost my life – my world – once. Everything I had and everything I was when I was torn from my life and dropped here.”
  1386. >”But…” she drifts off for a second before recovering. “Even though you never meant to come here, it was worth it, wasn’t it?”
  1387. >You nod. It was – it is. You wouldn’t give up this life for anything. The past week with your marefriend has been heaven.
  1388. >Even though the year leading up to it…
  1389. “I – I’m sorry about Twilight. About not understanding for so long.”
  1390. >”I know that, sugercube,” Applejack tells you comfortingly. “Just wish you’d gotten it earlier. Hell, I wish I had gotten it earlier…”
  1391. >She wipes away her tears.
  1392. “Would have saved a lot of heartache all around. And a few bruises.”
  1393. >”Yeah…” she drifts off, laughing politely.
  1394. “Yeah…”
  1395.  
  1396.  
  1397. >Applejack laughs again, hesitantly this time.
  1398. "Seriously AJ, I had bruises."
  1399. >"Well... yeah," Applejack answers bluntly. "You hurt my friend."
  1400. >Another cheer from the fillies catches your attention for a brief moment, enough to remind you...
  1401. "AJ, I have a favor to ask..."
  1402. >"Let 'em finish their game?" she asks, settling down and reaching into her saddlebag. "Was plannin' to."
  1403. "Well, yeah, but that's not it."
  1404. >Scootaloo shouts in triumph, pulling a hoofful of Diamond Dog Bandit models from the board, piling them in front of her character card.
  1405. “Her parents won’t be back for two days –”
  1406. >You subtly twitch your head towards the little pegasus.
  1407. “ – and I’ve just… I’ve just got a bad feeling.”
  1408. >”Yeah, sugarcube,” Applejack answers your unspoken question. “She can stay with us. A filly needs a family.”
  1409. >This isn’t the first time the Earth Pony has voiced these concerns, to you or to others.
  1410. >”What’s worse, Anon… losing like we have…” Applejack pauses for a second, “… or having no one to lose?”
  1411. “Scootaloo has her parents, AJ. They love her and she loves them.”
  1412. >She snorts in disbelief.
  1413. >”Not goin’ down this road again – ya’ll made it clear the first time,” Applejack sighs, finally pulling a book from her bag. “Don’t worry, I’ll watch after her. Somepony’s gotta.”
  1414. “Thanks, AJ.”
  1415. >”Ain’t nothing,” she answers, cracking open her book – the romance novel she had tried so hard to hide. She sees your questioning look and smirks. “You know me, Anon. Gotta be true to myself, even if it *is* embarrassing.”
  1416. ”Aren’t worried someone might see you?”
  1417. >”Nah…” Applejack shrugs. “I thought about it and, well… who’d be brave enough to tell anyone?” she asks you with a cruel smile.
  1418. “I guess there’s nothing wrong with a little romance every once in a while…”
  1419. >”Twilight certainly seems to enjoy it,” your friend tells you with a wink. “Now get back in there – your players are waitin’ on you.”
  1420. >You give the orange pony a grateful nod. Leaving her to watch over the fillies, you slip back into the dining room.
  1421. >” – of course it’s worth it,” your princess says, her back to you.
  1422. >Berry Punch nods in agreement.
  1423. >”I’m glad you feel that way,” the Earth Pony tells Twilight earnestly. “Hey Anon… we’re ready.”
  1424. >Twilight jumps, surprised at your sudden return.
  1425. >”We were just talking about you…” Fluttershy teases. Who, you’re not entirely sure. You? Or your princess?
  1426. >She drums lightly on the table.
  1427. >”We’re going to beaaaaat you…” the pegasus sings, rocking back and forth.
  1428. “Oh?”
  1429. >”The mission,” Trixie explains with a sigh. “She means the mission.”
  1430. >”No, I don’t,” Fluttershy whines.
  1431. >No one pays attention to her.
  1432. >Cheerilee has returned with a new spirit, smiling ruefully.
  1433. >”Not as good as the last bottle, but we’re not as sober as then either,” she says, offering the bottle to Twilight. “Going to drink with me, princess?”
  1434. >Twilight hesitates for a second, gingerly taking the bottle with her forehooves.
  1435. >”Sorry…” she apologizes, ducking her head. “Sometimes I…”
  1436. >”Get a little idealistic?” Cheerilee asks. “I wouldn’t want it any other way, princess.”
  1437. >Twilight blushes slightly, pouring a glass for the other pony.
  1438. >Lyra rolls her eyes at the teacher’s forgiving smile.
  1439. >”Gee, it must be SO NICE, living up on your cloud,” she whines, gesturing to the map. “Can we get back to killing bad guys?”
  1440. >Trixie clears her throat loudly.
  1441. >”Get back to getting the bad guys to kill each other,” Lyra corrects herself with a mournful sigh. “This was supposed to be a stupid dungeon crawl!”
  1442. >”What…?” Twilight asks with a smile. “But this was your idea. Suddenly solving things nonviolently isn’t your style?”
  1443. >”Nonviolently!?” The unicorn laughs. “All we’re doing is making them kill each other instead of doing the work ourselves!”
  1444. >”And then we blow the survivors!” Fluttershy yells.
  1445. >”Blow *up* the survivors,” Trixie corrects.
  1446. >“Oh, okay…”
  1447. >You try to hide your laugher – hopefully Fluttershy doesn’t notice. She looks so sad already…
  1448. “This plan… it sounds interesting. Tell me the tale of your shenanigans.”
  1449. >”It’s a simple plan,” Trixie tells you. “Each group makes its way to a rendezvous point, causing as much chaos as possible along the way.”
  1450. “B-but… chaos is –“
  1451. >”Heresy, yes I know.” The unicorn frowns at you. “Poor choice of words.”
  1452. >She gestures to Twilight with a sigh.
  1453. >”He’s your coltfriend – you deal with him.”
  1454. >”Basically…” Twilight pauses to take a sip “… Osric and Erik run full tilt for the control room, leaving the armsmen to protect the survivors. Anovel and Trixus use their stealth skills to plant a few more explosives where they’ll do the most harm. Casull and Ihaus…”
  1455. >She pauses, waiting for Lyra.
  1456. >”Come on, this part is your idea,” your marefriend says encouragingly.
  1457. >”You know how there’s already one warband hunting for this Wurzak guy…?” Lyra asks hesitantly.
  1458. “Mhmmmmm. Am I going to like where this is going?”
  1459. >”Maybe,” she answers with a mischievous smile. “There’s a secondary control room near our characters. I’m guessing we can’t input the self-destruct code there…?”
  1460. >Lyra drifts off, hope dancing in her eyes.
  1461. “No.”
  1462. >Silly unicorn. Hope is the first step on the road to disappointment.
  1463. >Luckily she takes it in stride, expecting that answer.
  1464. >”What about station-wide communication?” she asks. “Can we access *that*?”
  1465. “Sure, don’t see why not.”
  1466. >”Oh you will, Anon,” Lyra says with an ominous laugh. “You will.”
  1467. >”Someponies don’t think the detour is worth it…” Twilight adds as Fluttershy sticks out her tongue at her. “But most of us think the detour would be… worth it.”
  1468. >The pegasus sticks her tongue out further.
  1469. >”Don’t be mean to me because you’re a coward,” Fluttershy tells your marefriend in a sing-song voice. “Tell him what you meant!”
  1470. >You grab Lyra’s dice off the table, chucking them at your friend’s head.
  1471. >”Owwwwww.”
  1472. >Trixie snorts in anger at you as Lyra stares at you in shock.
  1473. >”M-my dice…” her mouth drags open in plaintive wail. “You disrespected my dice…!”
  1474. “Fluttershy was asking for it. As were your dice.”
  1475. >Trixie’s open mouth snaps shut and she swallows her words.
  1476. >You dig into your bag, pulling out some extra dice and tossing them to the green unicorn.
  1477. “Here, these ones haven’t been ruined yet.”
  1478. >She sticks her tongue out at you, but takes the dice and gives them a test roll.
  1479. >”These will… suffice…” she answers, hiding a grin.
  1480. >Cheerilee gingerly picks up the cast-off pair, as if she’s afraid the taint of Lyra’s laziness with rub off on her.
  1481. “Nuke ‘em from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.”
  1482. >She rolls her eyes and tosses them into the wastebin.
  1483. >”Hopefully our lax standards don’t damn us all,” Cheerilee says with exaggerated grimness.
  1484. >You shrug.
  1485. “When our souls burn in eternal hellfire, I’m blaming you.”
  1486. >”Fair enough.”
  1487. >She calmly takes a sip from her glass.
  1488. “So, who’s first?”
  1489. >Lyra punches a hoof into the air.
  1490. >”US!”
  1491. >”You just want to try out some new dice, doncha?” Twilight asks, leaning over to give the mare a nudge.
  1492. >”Yes!”
  1493.  
  1494. >Casull’s massive servo-arms gently tap at the dataslate’s screen, scrolling through a map of Solan’s Reach.
  1495. >”Are you sure you don’t want me to do that…?” Ihaus asks, wincing at every movement of the massive crushing claws.
  1496. >”Yeah, don’t worry,” the Techmarine waves off the librarian’s concerns with a gentle wave of his plasma-cutter servo-arm. “I got this.”
  1497. >Casull studies the map for only a few seconds – more time is spent scrolling than actually looking at the map.
  1498. >”That way,” he finally tells his companion, pointing with the flamer servo-arm.
  1499. >Ihaus looks down the corridor and takes a step back. Not showing fear, of course, for a Space Marine knows no fear. They do, however, occasionally know the wisdom in letting the other guy walk in front.
  1500. >”After you,” the librarian says, bowing slightly as he gestures for Casull to go ahead.
  1501. >With a shrug of all four mechanical arms, the Techmarine heads up the corridor, gently slipping the delicate dataslate into one of the many pouches hanging from his belt.
  1502. >”Still got those teeth?” he calls back to his companion. “We’re going to need them.”
  1503.  
  1504. >The panic in your marefriend’s eyes is disturbing.
  1505. >”W-who has the teeth!?” she yells, her head bobbing from her character sheet to those of her neighbors. “We bagged them, but did anyone actually *bring* them?”
  1506. >With a wink, you flick a pencil to Lyra.
  1507. >Twilight jumps up, galloping around the table to check the others’ sheets.
  1508. >”No, no, NO!”
  1509. >She dashes back to Fluttershy, checking Erik’s sheet again.
  1510. >Lyra gives you a knowing nod, her golden aura picking up the pencil as she casually throws back her glass, finishing off the amber liquor.
  1511. “Hey, Twilight – did you check Anovel’s sheet?”
  1512. >She dives back to Berry Punch, pushing the Earth Pony aside to check her character for the third or fourth time.
  1513. >You feel a slight nudge on your hand and look down to see your pencil returned.
  1514. >”No!” Twilight shouts, looking to you in abject horror as Cheerilee tries – very well – to hide her laughter.
  1515. >”Have you checked *your* character?” Trixie asks, pushing back against your princess as she tries to lean over the unicorn yet again.
  1516. >”Of c-“ Twilight cuts off in uncertainty, jerking the page over to her with her magic. “Oh.”
  1517. >She trots back to her place and lies down gracefully.
  1518. >”Nevermind.”
  1519.  
  1520. >Ihaus is bizarrely nonplussed at the sudden appearance of the three weighty bags dangling from his belt.
  1521. >Casull gives the librarian a meaningful look, raising an eyebrow at the awkward calmness his companion shows.
  1522. >His helmet hides the expression, but the librarian seems to understand.
  1523. >”I’m a psyker,” he says with a shrug, as if it clarifies everything. In a way it does. “I’m used to weird crap happening *all* the time.”
  1524. >Casull returns the shrug, glad that his helmet hides his laughter. Fucking psykers, always acting like they ain’t gotta explain shit.
  1525. >”Well…” Ihaus taps one massive foot impatiently, the armored boot smashing into the metal flooring like a gong. “Are we going to dick around all day or are we going to kill some stinking aliens for the Emperor?”
  1526.  
  1527. >”Get them to kill each other,” Lyra corrects with a smirk.
  1528.  
  1529. >”Let’s just go,” the librarian says, walking away without looking back. “We have the Emperor’s work to do.”
  1530. >”Other way.”
  1531. >In an amazing display of wasted grace, the one-ton Space Marine swings around midstep, pirouetting in place to reverse direction.
  1532. >”Just needed a little room to build up momentum for a running start,” Ihaus explains as he strides past the Techmarine.
  1533. >”Seem to be walking awfully slow for a running start…” Casull comments, jogging past the Blood Raven. “How about a little wager – last one there has to tell the Space Wolf we’re out of booze.”
  1534. >”Oh, hell no!” Ihaus yells, breaking into a sprint. “I fear nothing, but no way am I stupid enough to do that!”
  1535. >The pair only slow their pace once – to deposit the bags of ork teeth into one of the automated carts used to deliver items from one part of the station to another. Casull quickly repairs the damaged machine and programs in its destination as Ihaus slips a pair of fragmentation grenades under the load.
  1536. >He holds up the pins.
  1537.  
  1538. >”Nice addition, princess,” Lyra tells her partner, giving her a nod of approval.
  1539. >”I thought you’d like that,” Twilight says, smiling in satisfaction.
  1540.  
  1541. >”Now let us pray the machine-spirit guides it true,” Casull says reverently. “And that it doesn’t hit any bumps.”
  1542. >Ihaus looks down to the pair of pins in his massive hand.
  1543. >”Oh crap.”
  1544.  
  1545. “And that sounds like it’s time for…”
  1546. >You pause, looking between the other two sets of players.
  1547. >Which pair is the most impatient? Hmmm.
  1548. >Fluttershy whimpers softly, rubbing her head where the dice hit it.
  1549. >Damn, how many times has that mare gotten smacked in the head tonight…?
  1550. >Your sudden guilt makes the choice for you.
  1551. “Erik and Osric.”
  1552.  
  1553. >”Worry not, little mortal things!” Erik yells out. “My faithful companion Fluffles shall remain to guard ye!”
  1554. >”You mean your wolf is too crippled to come along,” Osric comments wryly over a suit-to-suit vox channel.
  1555. >The Wolf Priest pauses, looking over his shoulder to the Imperial Fist.
  1556. >”Well, yeah,” he answers. “But *they* don’t know that.”
  1557. >One of the miners cautiously approaches the wolf, studying it.
  1558. >”Thing looks half-dead. How’s it supposed to protect us from the orks?”
  1559. >He gives Fluffles a light kick for emphasis.
  1560.  
  1561. >Cheerilee meets Fluttershy’s eyes, letting out a small laugh.
  1562. >”Go ahead, he asked for it.”
  1563.  
  1564. >Osric facepalms at the man’s stupidity, the armored gauntlet slamming into the ceramite faceplate with the sound of two cars meeting head-on at full speed.
  1565. >Fluffles lashes out, catching the man’s leg in his mouth and tearing. The leg comes away at the hip, pitching the man to the ground howling in agony before dying moments later.
  1566. >The tide of blood flowing from the corpse is so intense that the other humans slip and fall trying to run from the wolf.
  1567. >For his part, the wolf looks up to his master, panting in happiness at his new chew toy.
  1568. >”I dunno,” Erik says doubtfully, shrugging. “Seems healthy enough to me.”
  1569.  
  1570. >”Wait, wait, what?” Lyra grabs the open rulebook from Fluttershy, reading the critical damage table for herself.
  1571. >She frowns.
  1572. >”Sweet Celestia’s danglies!” the unicorn swears, drawing a glower of disapproval from Twilight. “You humans sure have a lot of blood in you.”
  1573. “I don’t think the chart was written by a medical doctor –“
  1574. >”Don’t EVER let him get cut,” Lyra tells your princess, ignoring you, “or let him get poked by a needle! He’s liable to pop!”
  1575. >”NAW,” Applejack yells from the other room. “ANON CAN TAKE A BEATIN LIKE A CHAMP.”
  1576. “I – um – I *really* want to agree with her, but… without it sounding like she beat me up.”
  1577. >Your princess’s brow furrows in anger as Lyra and Cheerilee laugh, but not at them. Not because they laughed.
  1578. >”Did she…?”
  1579. “I like to think I held my own.”
  1580. >”THAT’S A LIE.”
  1581. “CAN YOU HEAR *EVERYTHING* WE SAY IN HERE!?”
  1582. >You drop your voice to a whisper.
  1583. “Pears are better than apples.”
  1584. >”THAT’S A LOAD OF BULL, ANON, AND YOU KNOW IT.”
  1585. >Lyra’s eyes widen as the implications of this dawn on her.
  1586. >”And *that’s* why I’m so adamant we don’t swear,” Berry Punch says with a smile, feeling vindicated. Lyra simply bobs her head up and down in shock.
  1587. >”So… did you deserve it?” your marefriend asks.
  1588. >You hesitate, looking into her purple eyes.
  1589. >Dimly, you are aware of Berry Punch leaning forward, eagerly listening.
  1590. >You were such an idiot, not noticing how Twilight felt back then. Such a fool. Hopefully, you’ll never be so oblivious again. At least when it comes to your princess. To your Twilight Sparkle.
  1591. >”Did you deserve it…?” she repeats, her voice softer and tinged with sadness.
  1592. “Yes.”
  1593. >Her eyes close, and she inhales deeply. She slowly releases the breath, opening her eyes and smiling.
  1594. >”Okay, back to the game?”
  1595.  
  1596. >”Oh… no Fluffles, no!” Erik chastises the wolf. “Don’t do that – you’re going to make a mess!”
  1597. >Fluffles grins happily, gnawing on the severed leg and continuing to roll around in the slowly spreading pool of blood.
  1598. >The Wolf Priest groans, stepping back to avoid the blood.
  1599. >”Dangit Fluffles!” Osric yells angrily, drawing a whimper from the wolf. “DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW HARD IT IS TO GET BLOOD STAINS OUT OF –“
  1600.  
  1601. “Sheet metal floors you’re going to blow up anyway?”
  1602.  
  1603. >”– eh, nevermind. Good puppy.”
  1604. >Erik steps aside as the last of the techadepts comes running past, tears of oil streaming from his panicked eyes. A dull hiss of leaking air and the blare of distant warning sirens prove his success – the last corridor leading to the loading docks is now open to the empty blackness – without void-suits or environmentally enclosed armor, the orks are unable to reach the surviving humans.
  1605. >”They’re playing our song,” the Wolf Priest says, looking down the passageway to the slowly closing bulkheads.
  1606. >Osric nods, the flat of his blade resting on his golden yellow pauldron.
  1607. >”Sounds like it,” he says in an oddly eager monotone. “Know what time it is?”
  1608. >”Team-up O’ Clock?”
  1609. >Two helmeted heads turn to face one another – the enhanced red optics of Erik’s wolf-skull helm meeting the green glow of Osric’s eyelenses. The bulkhead slowly continues to slide shut as the two stare at each other in silence.
  1610. >”Good enough,” the Imperial Fist grunts, striding forward. His companion matches his movement, only a fraction of a second behind.
  1611. >The two stride beneath the bulkhead, less than an inch to spare.
  1612.  
  1613. >”And that’s basically it for us,” Cheerilee says with a shrug. “We get to walk through sections exposed to empty space without any problems!”
  1614. >”Wheeeeee!” Fluttershy yells, waiving her forelegs in the air, her wings snapping out straight and flapping in unison. She collapses down to the floor, her chin thumping on the tabletop. “Let me know when the fun starts.”
  1615. “Will do. Trixie? Punchie?”
  1616. >”Wellllll…” Trixie draws out the word, like a connoisseur savoring a glass of wine. “First, we obviously call in the ship.”
  1617. “Alrighty. The Herald of the Black swings free of the asteroid’s shadow and approaches Solan’s Reach.”
  1618. >”How long until it arrives?” the unicorn asks, trying to estimate how much time her characters have to waste.
  1619. “Probably… five minutes. Then another ten to dock.”
  1620. >She opens her mouth.
  1621. “And an hour for the survivors to board.”
  1622. >You expect Trixie’s mouth to close, her question answered, but it doesn’t – she speaks.
  1623. >”And Fluffles,” she reminds you. “Don’t forget the wolf.”
  1624. “Of course, and Fluffles.”
  1625. >Fluttershy’s head rocks happily on the table – she smiles and hums happily at the thought of her beloved wolf being rescued.
  1626. >”What about the armsmen?” Berry Punch asks, tilting her head. “We brought them along, might as well use them – could they speed things up?”
  1627. “Yeah, sure.”
  1628. >It sounds reasonable, and it’d be a shame for those requisition points to have been wasted.
  1629. “Trixie, roll a command test!”
  1630. >She flings her dice high into the air and leans back with a smug look. You don’t know why you bothered having her roll.
  1631.  
  1632. >Trixus cuts the long-range vox and opens the squad-link.
  1633. >”The innocents shall be removed from harm in thirty minutes, brothers,” he tells the others. “Rendezvous at that time.”
  1634. >Five confirmation runes flash on his helmet’s display as the kill-team’s members acknowledge his words.
  1635. >”It will only take us seven minutes to reach the meeting area,” Anovel says, idly checking the ammo feed on his heavy bolter. “What say we have some fun before we go?”
  1636. >The librarian considers the words carefully.
  1637. >”Any suggestions?” he asks the devastator as gunshots echo nearby.
  1638. >”Well, it *does* sound like my mates are in trouble…” Anovel answers, tilting his head towards the noises.
  1639. > Behind the two marines, the shells for the defense cannons rumble forward on their tracks as the weapons engage the Herald of the Black.
  1640. >”Trouble *you* got them in,” Trixus grumbles, readying his bolter.
  1641. >”Wotchu talkin’ ‘bout?” the Dark Angel grunts, stalking off into the dark tunnel. “My ladz iz in trubble.”
  1642.  
  1643. “Are you really going to do this?”
  1644. >”Are you going to stop us?” Berry Punch asks with a smirk. “We’ve got time to kill, what will it hurt?”
  1645. >Trixie sighs, leaning onto the table.
  1646. >”You do remember the plan, don’t you?” she asks the Earth Pony, “it kind of hinges on us NOT BEING THERE.”
  1647. >”Yeah, but it hinges on THEM BEING THERE, sounds like they’re in trouble.”
  1648. >Trixie shrugs in surrender.
  1649. >”Fine, but only until I burn through one clip.”
  1650.  
  1651. >”YA GITZ, WAT U DOING LAZING AROUND?” Anovel shouts, kicking the closest ork out of cover. “DOZ WANKAZ AIN’T GONNA KILL DEMSELFZ.”
  1652. >The large ork, looks up in surprise as the Dark Angel opens fire with his heavy bolter, splattering blue painted orks all over the metal walls.
  1653. >”Diz ain’t ur fight, Bad Moon,” it rumbles.
  1654. >”Deyz sum mankey Deffskullz,” Anovel answers between bursts. “Ain’t true orkz.”
  1655. >Trixus steps up beside the Anovel, firing off a salvo from his bolter and panicking the nearby orks.
  1656. >”’OOZ DIZ GIT?”
  1657. >”’E’z mah ammo grot.”
  1658.  
  1659. >”I will make you pay for that, heretic.”
  1660.  
  1661. >”Big grot,” the ork admits grudgingly, firing off a few rounds with his pistol without even looking at his target.
  1662.  
  1663. >”Casull’s plan will probably overlap with this…” Berry Punch says reluctantly. She jerks her chin to Lyra. “Go ahead.”
  1664.  
  1665. >The techmarine laughs as the last ork dances the happy burny dance. Ihaus sighs, pulling his pistol from its holster. With a crack, the alien’s head explodes and its flaming corpse falls to the ground unmoving.
  1666. >”Always gotta ruin my fun,” Casull whines – if a Space Marine could ever be said to whine. The noise comes out as more of a high-pitched growl, but the intent is there.
  1667. >The librarian sighs loudly, holstering his pistol and gripping his bolter with both hands once again.
  1668. >”We have work to do, techmarine. Best we be about it.”
  1669. >”Fine,” Casull concedes. “Never let it be said I let fun stand in the way of shenanigans.”
  1670.  
  1671. >”In the name of the Emperor…?” Lyra adds, trying to placate your annoyed little princess.
  1672.  
  1673. >”Quickly, techmarine – guide us to the secondary control room so we may perpetrate shenanigans in the name of the Emperor!”
  1674. >Casull’s steps falter at his companions words.
  1675. >”You… approve?” he asks slowly.
  1676.  
  1677. >”It’s in the name of the Emperor, right?” Twilight asks, grinning. “It would be heresy if I didn’t.”
  1678.  
  1679. >The two Space Marines make their way to the secondary control room without encountering a single ork. The Emperor must smile upon them, for the room is unoccupied. With his brutal claps that cap two of his servo-arms, Casull brings up the station’s vox-relay system.
  1680. >”We now have total control, brothers.”
  1681. >”Good,” Trixus replies over the squad-link, the sounds of gunfire dimly heard under his voice. “Route Anovel’s channel through the entire station.”
  1682. >Casull makes several adjustments, tapping a few buttons, turning a three dials. Overwhelming feedback shrieks throughout Solan’s reach for long, grating seconds until the techmarine finds the right combination.
  1683. >”Ready, Dark Angel,” he says as the noise quiets.
  1684.  
  1685. >”Just double checking…” Berry Punch hesitates, looking to you. “I can talk into the loudspeaker system or whatever it is without anyone near me hearing?”
  1686. “Yeah, you just shut off your suit’s external speakers.”
  1687. >Lyra nods in smug self-satisfaction, poking Twilight’s side with a knee.
  1688. >”What!?” your princess complains. “You don’t have to give me that look - *I* believed you.”
  1689.  
  1690. >Before the echoes of the feedback can die down, a new sound rumbles over the speakers of Solan’s Reach, the words filling the air of every nook and cranny.
  1691. >”DIZ ‘ERE’Z WURZAK TALKIN’. I ‘EARD SOME O’ UZ AIM TA STEAL MAH TEEF – BOG OFF, YA SOGGY GITZ, DEZE TEEF IZ MINE NOW AND FUREVAH. IFFIN YA WANNA SCRAP ABOUT IT, ME N’ MAH LADZ IZ CREWIN’ DEZE ‘ERE BIG DAKKA GUNZ, N’ WE’Z MORE N’ READY TA DUFF YUR ‘EADZ IN! MAH LADZ IZ DA BIGGEST AND DA BADDEST AND NONE O’ YUZ EVEN PROPA ORKZ ENNYWAYZ.”
  1692.  
  1693. “Back to Anovel and Trixus!”
  1694.  
  1695. >”WUZ DAT WURZAK!?” one of the blue painted orks yells out over the gunfire. “DAT GIT OWED ME TEEF!”
  1696. >”YEAH, UZ TOO,” the ork at Anovel’s side answers.
  1697. >Gunfire on both sides slows as the two mobs realize they share a common enemy. It doesn’t stop, of course – for all orks *always* have a common enemy – everyone up for a good scrap. But now the firefight is more of a good-natured brawl than an out-and-out murderfest.
  1698. >”I’z Snakrak and deze mah ladz,” the Deathskull says, pounding a fist into its chest.
  1699. >”Nazgut,” the Goff answers with a short nod as the ork beside him takes a shot to the gut. He snorts as the dying ork’s flailing gunfire takes the head off a scampering grot.
  1700.  
  1701. >”Sooooo…” Berry Punch draws out the word, pondering over her next move. “I’m bigger than them, right?”
  1702. “Taller yes, but not actually bigger.”
  1703.  
  1704. >”An’ ooz diz gitz?” Snakrak asks, pointing a thick green finger at Anovel and Trixus.
  1705. >”We’z da gitz wiff da biggest dakka,” Anovel growls, bashing the barrel of his gilded heavy bolter into a nearby ork to establish dominance. “I’Z DA BIGBOSS ‘ERE.”
  1706. >Nazgut’s upper lip curls in defiance.
  1707.  
  1708. >”Spend a Fate Point to reroll!” Berry Punch calls out, picking up her dice for another go.
  1709.  
  1710. >But the expression is fleeting, leaving the ork’s face before the rest can see it.
  1711. >”’E ain’t so bad fur a Bad Moon,” Nazgut tells his counterpart grudgingly. “We wuz gonna go ‘ave some ‘wurds’ wiff Wurzak…”
  1712. >The ork laughs at its own joke.
  1713.  
  1714. “So now you have two ork mobs under your command?”
  1715. >”That’s what the dice say, Anon,” Berry Punch answers, giving you an innocent shrug.
  1716. >Thank the gods you didn’t bother coming up with a full adventure – this adventure has not just derailed, the train somehow grew wings and did a barrel roll.
  1717. >You groan. So this is what Twilight felt like – no wonder Applejack was so angry with you. You can’t take any more of this right now, and you didn’t spend weeks crafting a new world and preparing an adventure.
  1718. “Back to Ihaus and Casull…”
  1719.  
  1720. >”Did that work?” Trixus asks over the squad-link. “Are the orks moving to the defense cannon battery?”
  1721. >Casull flicks a few more dials, cycling the display screen through a series of cameras.
  1722. >”Looks like,” the techmarine answers. “Between the mob you’re leading and the announcement, it seems like most of the orks are moving away from the control center and heading to the guns. Wurzak must have borrowed teeth from a lot of orks…”
  1723. >”Nah,” Ihaus contradicts, “they just know that’s where the best fight is.”
  1724. >He slaps the techmarine’s shoulder pad.
  1725. >”Come on, it’s time to go.”
  1726. >”Wait –“ the techmarine says, watching the viewscreen intently. “– I want to watch this…”
  1727. >Casull points to the screen with one of his claws and the librarian leans over to watch. It’s displaying the interior of the defense cannon battery – full of confused orks. Some are brawling with each other, some struggling to manually turn the guns to fire at the Herald of the Black. Just what is the techmarine pointing a-
  1728. >Ah.
  1729. >The little cart full of ork teeth trundles into the room, bumping into one of the brutes and coming to a stop. The alien instinctively reacts with violence, smashing its brutal cleaver into the rim of the bin.
  1730. >When that provokes no reaction from the inanimate object, it peers into the cargo area, curiously opening the top bag and looking inside. With uncharacteristic stealth, the ork lifts the bag and tucks it into its filthy shirt.
  1731. >”Aaaaaaaaaaaalmost…” Casull whispers. “Aaaaaaaaaaalmost…”
  1732. >The ork lifts the second bag.
  1733. >Its head jerks, tracking the flying levers of the fragmentation grenades. The camera quality isn’t good enough to show the beast’s expression, but the Space Marines can imagine the look of confused worry that fleets across its face before it ceases to have a face.
  1734. >Or much of anything, really.
  1735. >The explosion shreds the ork’s upper body with flying iron shards and teeth.
  1736. >Casull slaps Ihaus’ right pauldron with one of his claws, gouging deep scars into the raven and blood drop symbol.
  1737. >”That was AWESOME!”
  1738. >Orks turn en mass at the sound, their violence ceasing.
  1739. >And then resuming – brutally – as they fight over the teeth scattered by the blast. Even more orks pile in from the surrounding areas, drawn by the noise, the announcement, or the simple orkish ability to detect a good scrap.
  1740. >”OH MY EMPEROR!” Casull screams happily, clenching his claws and bouncing up and down in his seat, giddy as a novice Battle-Sister at her first witchburning.
  1741. >At first, the librarian thinks the techmarine is enjoying the carnage – until Casull points to the next shell being loaded into one of the defense cannons.
  1742. >A few pixels are a different color, the bright orange of a meltabomb standing out against the grey shellcasing.
  1743. >Ihaus tenses up, expecting the orks to notice at any moment –
  1744.  
  1745. >”Relax,” Trixie tells your princess with a smile. “These are the same idiots that thing Berry Punch is an ork.”
  1746. >She jerks a hoof to point to her partner, who waves eagerly to Twilight like a drunken idiot.
  1747. >A stone sober drunken idiot.
  1748.  
  1749. >The entire battery blows out in a massive explosion that rocks the station, voiding the majority of the orks. Casull and Ihaus see nothing of the carnage – the cameras destroyed in the explosion.
  1750. >”Aaaaaaaaaand our job here is done.”
  1751. >Casull flicks the viewscreen’s switch, turning it off.
  1752.  
  1753. >”Is it our turn now…?” Cheerilee asks, idly playing with her dice.
  1754. “Um… sure…”
  1755.  
  1756. >Erik and Osric tromp through the airless corridors.
  1757. >”You know…” the Space Wolf says over the suit-to-suit link “… I really don’t get these orks. I’ll kill a man in a fair fight… or if I think he’s gonna start a fair fight, or if he bothers me, or if there’s a woman, or if I’m getting’ paid – mostly only when I’m getting’ paid. But these orks? They just fight for the fun of it!”
  1758. >Osric pauses, falling behind.
  1759. >”We – we don’t get paid,” he tells the Wolf Priest. “You know this, right…?”
  1760.  
  1761. >”WE DON’T GET PAID!?” Fluttershy wails. “I only kill ponies when I get paid for it!”
  1762. “You’ve never killed anypony.”
  1763. >”Well…” she scratches at the tabletop with one hoof “… no one’ll pay me to do it…”
  1764. >She looks so sad, so impossibly sad… Fluttershy always does, of course, but she manages to look even sadder than normal this time. You lean to one side, trying – and succeeding – in stuffing your hand into your pocket.  You scramble around, trying to get past all the usual detritus that gathers there – keys, pens, dice… ah, victory.
  1765. >You pull out a single bit and toss it to the drunk pegasus, who catches it with her teeth.
  1766. “Bonbon.”
  1767. >Lyra laughs at Flutters’ fierce look.
  1768. >”Please don’t…” the unicorn pleads jokingly. “I don’t know if I can make rent on my own.”
  1769. >”I’m sorry, so sorry,” Fluttershy tells her mournfully, stuffing the bit into her bag. “I’ve already accepted payment.”
  1770.  
  1771. >”Well… yeah. I knew that,” Erik bluffs. “It’s just a figure of speech.”
  1772. >He cuts the suit-to-suit link, leaving the pair in silence.
  1773. >If Osric didn’t know such a thing to be possible, he would swear he could hear the sound of unrestrained sobbing coming from behind the Space Wolf’s skull-faced helm.
  1774. >But such a thing is clearly impossible.
  1775. >There’s no air to carry the sound.
  1776.  
  1777. “Anything else you want to do?”
  1778. >”Keep walking, I guess,” Cheerilee answers with a sigh. “I’m assuming you won’t let me ride him?”
  1779. >Lyra and Trixie’s sharp intake of air, catches the teacher off guard.
  1780. >”What…?” she jerks her head from one to the other. “What…!?”
  1781. >”I… I have to draw something…” Lyra mumbles, pulling a sketchpad and pencil from her bag.
  1782. >”This *really* isn’t appropriate!” Trixie mumbles angrily, turning her head from Cheerilee and blushing.
  1783. >”Don’t worry!” Fluttershy says supportively. “I won’t let her ride me. I mean Osric! I won’t let Osric ride me! Erik, I mean. I won’t let Osric ride Erik!”
  1784. >Her head drops back down to the table.
  1785. >”Besides,” she mumbles, “I don’t think Space Marines have the right equipment for that…”
  1786. >”THEY DO!”
  1787. “THEY DON’T NEED TO KNOW THAT, PUNKO!”
  1788. >”What are you talking about?” Cheerilee questions. “Erik has a jump pack!”
  1789. “Oh, thank Celestia. I thought that was what you meant, but these perverts had me wondering…”
  1790. >Lyra sticks her tongue out, concentrating on her sketch to the exclusion of all else.
  1791. “But either way, no, you can’t.”
  1792. >Cheerilee’s face turns an even brighter pink.
  1793. >”Nevermind,” she mumbles, trying to hide. “Let’s just keep walking, I like walking.”
  1794.  “Sorry there’s not anything else for you to do.”
  1795. >”Don’t be,” Cheerilee tells you, shaking her head slowly. “It’s our fault for being just too good.”
  1796.  
  1797. >Osric quickens his step to catch up to the Wolf Priest and the two continue their journey in silence.
  1798.  
  1799. “Sorry…”
  1800. >You smile sheepishly at your friend. It really is a failure on your part, leaving these two with nothing to do, but she was right. It is their fault; they were the ones who chose to take a path that would take them through voided sections. There’s not much you can throw at them right now that would be a challenge, or that wouldn’t be too much of a challenge.
  1801. >You make a mental note to make it up to them later, to give Osric and Erik their moments to shine. Osric is a great tank, and Erik is decent at clearing hordes – shouldn’t be too hard to work something in. But for right now…
  1802. “Casull and Ihaus? Or Trixus and Anovel?”
  1803. >The two pairs look at their partners, then to their opposites.
  1804. >”I think…” Trixie says hesitantly.
  1805. >”Them,” Twilight says, drawing a shocked look from the unicorn. “We don’t really have anything to do now except walk to the rendezvous point.”
  1806. >Lyra frowns, but nods her consent, still busy with her sketchpad.
  1807. >”Are you sure?” Berry Punch asks politely, picking up her dice again.”
  1808. >”Yeah, you two are in the middle of something,” your princess tells her. “We’re just…”
  1809. >She shrugs.
  1810.  
  1811. >A roiling wall of fire rushes up the corridor, burning orks to a crisp. It approaches the two Space Marines as bulkheads slowly grind shut, trying to contain the damage.
  1812. >Nazgut roars, firing his pistol into the oncoming blaze as if it would do something.
  1813. >Silly orks.
  1814. >”Looks like we were a little too close to the gun battery,” Anovel grumbles over the suit-to-suit link. “Time to withdraw?”
  1815. >”You would leave your ‘mates’ behind?” Trixus asks, voice full of mock worry. “Good thing you weren’t voted in as squad leader.”
  1816. >”Who said anything about leaving them behind?”
  1817.  
  1818. “Twilight… is this better or worse than Rainbow Dash and her army…?”
  1819. >She ponders the question for a second as the others look at you curiously.
  1820. >”Better, I think,” she finally says. “Because it’s happening to *you*”
  1821. >You never in your life would have imagined your little princess could smile such a sadistic grin.
  1822.  
  1823. >The Dark Angel runs forward, slamming his hands into the bulkhead, his fingers finding purchase on the smooth surface by virtue of digging into the metal like a rock climber’s pitons.
  1824. >He *pulls*.
  1825. >The gears controlling the bulkhead’s decent try to resist, they grind and squeal as the metal under Anovel’s hands deforms. With a rending crack, the teeth of the gears break off, the door gaining speed as more and more break free.
  1826. >The sound resembles the roar of his heavy bolter, muffled but still clear – a rapid staccato of thunder and screams.
  1827. >In mere seconds, the engines controlling the bulkhead’s closure give out, their machine-spirits yielding to the strength of one of the Emperor’s Chosen. Anovel releases the gate, stepping back to let it slam shut on its own.
  1828.  
  1829. >”Damn,” Berry Punch grumbles, shaking her head sadly. She grabs a pencil and makes a mark on her character sheet. “Had to spend another Fate Point to do that.”
  1830. >Trixie winces, leaning over to read the new number.
  1831. >”Only one left?”
  1832. >”Yeah,” Punchie answers. “How about you?”
  1833. >”Fate was… not on my side,” Trixie answers ruefully. “I only started with two, but I still have them both.”
  1834. >Suddenly concerned with their dwindling resources, the two look questioningly to their companions.
  1835. >”Three,” Twilight answers.
  1836. >”Also three,” Cheerilee says.
  1837. >”One…” Fluttershy whines with some prompting from Trixie.
  1838. “Lyra?”
  1839. >You suddenly realize you should have been paying more attention to these earlier – a single Fate Point can turn a failure into an overwhelming success, or save a character from certain death. And some… some seem to be running quite low indeed.
  1840. >”Lyra?” Twilight repeats, lightly nudging the unicorn, trying not to disrupt her sketchwork.
  1841. >The mare sighs, letting her pencil drop as her horn goes dark.
  1842. >”I’m out,” she says with a shrug. “Had to spend all three of Casull’s to heal him up after he lost his first arm.”
  1843. >And he’s lost another since then. This is… not good.
  1844. “What’s your health at?”
  1845. >”Negative eight,” she answers with a frown. “And no Fate Points to spend to heal.”
  1846. >Two damage from death.
  1847. >”But hey,” she continues, letting her head slump to one side and grinning, “it’s not like you gals can let Casull die, right? He’s the only one with the self-destruct code.”
  1848. >”We have the ship…” Trixie tells her menacingly. “We don’t need Casull.”
  1849. >Lyra’s grin drops from her face.
  1850. >”I’d like to find a medpack now, please.”
  1851. “Anything you find will be designed for dealing with normal humans.”
  1852. >”We’re just bigger, right?”
  1853. >”No,” Twilight tells her, shaking her head. “We have to get Casull to Erik.”
  1854. “Sorry, but that will have to wait…”
  1855. >You gesture with an open palm to Trixie and Berry Punch. Both of them are used to Lyra’s cavalier attitude, shaking their heads with disbelieving acceptance.
  1856.  
  1857. >”Brother Casull, why did you not tell us you were so grievously injured?” Trixus calls out on the squad-link as Anovel reclaims his heavy bolter and studies the carnage around them.
  1858. >”Such minor injuries are of no concern to a true warrior,” the techmarine answers, causing the librarian to swear silently. The Iron Hand had the true spirit of a Space Marine, right down to the too-often-fatal pride of their kind.
  1859. >”Squad, we are pushing up the schedule,” Trixus says after several seconds of deliberation. “Rendezvous in fifteen minutes.”
  1860. >His attention freed, the Ultramarine takes in the scene around him. Dead and dying orks litter the ground – a finer sight there never was. Unfortunately, many seem to still live, their bodies shielded from the shockwave and heat by those they drove before them, among them Nazgut and Snakrak.
  1861. >In fact, a surprisingly large number are still alive. Orks are hardy creatures, no matter what other faults they may have. Like not being human.
  1862.  
  1863. >”Way to pile on the pro-human sentiment,” Twilight mocks. “Do we have to get Pinkie Pie to throw you parties too?”
  1864. >”YES, PLEASE!”
  1865. “WON’T BE NECESSARY, POONK!”
  1866. >Her plaintive wail brings a smile to your face.
  1867. >Trixie’s sigh brings you back.
  1868. “What’s wrong?”
  1869. >”What are we going to do with all these *orks*?” she moans.
  1870.  
  1871. >”WIFF ME, LADZ!” Anovel yells out, running back the direction they traveled from, back towards the rendezvous point.
  1872.  
  1873. >”You should get rid of them,” Trixie says firmly. “There is no way this can end well.”
  1874. >”Not like you to complain about having minions,” your princess snidely comments with a snort. “Jealous that they’re following someone else?”
  1875. >”No!” The unicorn tosses her head, flipping her mane to the other side of her neck. “What happens when they see the rest of you!? We can’t risk a firefight, or Casull might get killed!”
  1876. >”Oh…” Twilight puts a hoof to her mouth. “That’s actually a good point…”
  1877. >”And I don’t really want my mates killing my teammates, or vice versa,” Berry Punch adds with a shrug. “At some point I’ll fail a Deceive test, so I’m open to suggestions.”
  1878. >Instinctively she looks to you, her usually troubleshooter, but all you can do is shake your head.
  1879. “Sorry, I’m the GM this time.”
  1880. >Punchie nods in acceptance, recognizing that she should have known better.
  1881. >”Well, any ideas…?” she repeats to the other players.
  1882. >The ponies spend long seconds in silent thought, trying to come up with a solution. If it was you, you would have gambled and gone with it, bringing them along. Or maybe killed them all by rupturing the outer hull of the station. Hell, Anovel could have just held the bulkhead open, relying on the strength and durability of their power armor to keep the two Space Marines alive. But these ponies… they always have to shoot for the happiest ending, the most lives saved. You can’t imagine Twilight’s reaction once she finishes the Night Lords books. That ending… it will hurt her. These little technicolor ponies… they don’t give in the darkness easily.
  1883. >How you admire it.
  1884. >You don’t always agree with their choices, but their innocence is always a pleasant comfort. Even after beating orks to death with severed limbs and cheerfully butchering them by the dozens, they’re still trying to save those that they can.
  1885. >Well, relative innocence.
  1886. >You’ll try to not make Twilight cry this time, but you don’t make any promises to yourself.
  1887. “Ready to continue…?”
  1888. >”No… wait…” She looks to her character sheet like the answer is there, but she’s unsure if she should use it.
  1889. “Got a question…?”
  1890. >”I – no. No question.” She hesitates again, before firmly nodding as if to confirm her choice to herself. Good, none of her lore skills would actually hold the answer to this.
  1891. >Though maybe… maybe you do…
  1892. >Sometimes a GM can be merciful, and it’s not like they know you’re making this up on the go.
  1893. >After all, when you do things right, ponies won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.
  1894. >You steeple your fingers, using your hands to hide your satisfied smile while still playing the part of the Ominous GM From Hell.
  1895. “Ready?”
  1896. >The six ponies carefully nod, wary of a trap.
  1897. >Oh those silly ponies, you’re doing this for their own good…
  1898. ”So, you’re leading the orks back down the corridor?”
  1899. >Berry Punch nods, quickly followed by Trixie.
  1900. “Okay then…”
  1901. >You grab some dice and roll them, barely glancing down at the result. It doesn’t matter what the dice say, you just needed the sound.
  1902. “On your left, you see a sign – there are escape pods that direction, down a dark corridor.”
  1903. >”Why didn’t we see those before…?” Trixie asks, suspicious – probably expecting an ambush.
  1904. “You were in the middle of combat at the time – I didn’t roll for it then since your characters never actually looked around.”
  1905. >Trixie wants to argue, you can tell – but she always wants to argue. She gives in to her desire surprisingly rarely, usually accepting the GM’s decisions like they came from some higher power.
  1906. >This time proves no exception, with her grunting in agreement.
  1907. >”Do we have time to check it out…?” Berry Punch asks, looking to her partner.
  1908. >”Doesn’t matter if we have time or not,” the unicorn says, never looking away from you. “I think we need to.”
  1909. >Oh crap, she’s on to you.
  1910. >But she’s not sure, and that doubt is enough.
  1911. >You look down, rifling through your notebook like you actually have something written there.
  1912.  
  1913. >”HOLD ON YOU GITZ!” Anovel yells at the conglomerated mob of orks he’s leading. “WUTZ DOWN DERE?”
  1914. >”Nuffin fun,” Snakrak answers. “Juz sum o’ dem lifey space boats. Ain’t even got no dakka on ‘em.”
  1915. >The Dark Angel turns, striding down the corridor. Lights flicker on as they detect movement, revealing ten hatches, presumably leading to ten escape pods.
  1916.  
  1917. >”Are there enough to hold all of the orks…?” Berry Punch asks as Trixie continues to stare at you.
  1918. “Yes.”
  1919. >”Well, then problem solved! We –“
  1920. >”No.”
  1921. >”What!? Why not, Trixie?”
  1922. >”It’s a trap,” the blue unicorn says, her lips tightening.
  1923. >Berry Punch glances at you suspiciously, trusting her friend’s instincts.
  1924. >”Are you sure…?”
  1925. >”Yes. Anonymous isn’t going to hand us this on a silver platter. If we want a happy ending, we’re going to have to earn it.”
  1926. >A loud sigh escapes your mouth before you catch yourself.
  1927.  
  1928. >”Yeah, you wuz right,” Anovel growls, turning around. “This junk ain’t worth lootin or scrapping ova.”
  1929. >He returns to the main corridor, leading the ork mob back past the ammo dump for the defense cannons.
  1930.  
  1931. >Oh. Marvelous.
  1932.  
  1933. >The room is ablaze in an apocalyptic firestorm. The backwash from the exploding cannon sent a fireball racing down the feed track, one that the bulkheads failed to seal off in time. None of the shells have detonated from the heat, but any minute now…
  1934.  
  1935. >”Choo-chooooooo!” Twilight calls out, bringing a deeper frown to Trixie’s face.
  1936.  
  1937. >”Shud we ‘ead fur doze ‘scape podz afta all, boss?” Snakrak asks, something akin to fear lurking in his brutish eyes.
  1938. >Anovel looks to Trixus questioningly, but the Ultramarine shakes his head.
  1939. >”See that one over there - the one with the rocket launcher?” Trixus asks over the suit-to-suit link. “Have him shoot the wall.”
  1940. >”Why? That will just suck out all of the air.”
  1941. >”And the fire with it,” the librarian answers. “The orks should be able to survive the vacuum long enough to make it past the next bulkhead before it can close.”
  1942. >”OI, YOU!”
  1943.  
  1944. >You roll for the rocket’s damage, silently asking yourself why you put the ammo storage chamber on the exterior of the station. Doesn’t make any sense, but too late to go back on it now.
  1945.  
  1946. >”RUN YOU LAZY GITZ!”
  1947. >The Dark Angel leads the charge, his armored feet sounding like rolling thunder as he stomps across the metal floor. The sound grows fainter and fainter in the diminishing air, the closing bulkhead cutting off the flow from the rest of the station.
  1948. >Trixus, unburdened as he was, reaches the bulkhead first, his back banner hanging limp without any air to make it flutter. The gate is almost at head height – there is no way most of the horde will reach the other side in time.
  1949.  
  1950. >”Break squad mode, enter solo mode,” Trixie tells you, sitting up and crossing her forelegs in an oddly human fashion. “Feat of Strength for the additional four strength.”
  1951.  
  1952. >The Ultramarine swiftly grabs the lower edge of the bulkhead, straining to halt its decent, but the slab continues to plunge downward.
  1953.  
  1954. >”Spend one Fate to boost Feat of Strength.”
  1955.  
  1956. >Trixus heaves up, straightening his body and lifting the gate. The engines scream in protest, sounding loud even in the near-airless environment.
  1957. >Orks stream past him into the relative safety of the other side, herded by Anovel. As the Dark Angel slips past the Ultramarine, he grabs hold of the bulkhead from the far side, holding it long enough to let the Ultramarine and the last few aliens duck under.
  1958. >With an uncharacteristic sigh of relief, the Dark Angel lets go, letting the metal slab slam into the ground as its engines unleash their pent up frustration.
  1959.  
  1960. >”Down to one Fate Point,” Trixie says grimly, yet still smiling in self-satisfaction. “I hope you’re happy.”
  1961. >Not really…
  1962. “Yep!”
  1963. >You shift, pointing to Twilight and Lyra.
  1964. “Your turn!”
  1965.  
  1966. >With a sigh, Casull turns the viewscreen on again, quickly cycling through the active cameras.
  1967. >Ihaus doesn’t ask why – the intent is clear; the techmarine is trying to find a clear route. No time for backtracking due to sealed sections, and the pair now lack any way to penetrate the sturdy bulkheads. No time to fight, either, even if they could risk it. Casull flips through the cameras quickly, almost faster than the librarian can see.
  1968. >It takes under thirty seconds for the techmarine to find a safe path.
  1969.  
  1970. >”And now we run to the rendezvous point,” Lyra says with a total lack of enthusiasm. “Yay.”
  1971. >”Yay,” Fluttershy softly echoes.
  1972. “Anything you wanted to do before you leave? Or on the way?”
  1973. >Lyra shakes her head glumly, picking her pencil up again in a golden aura.
  1974. “Twilight?”
  1975. >She gives a brief shake, her bangs rustling lightly. With a sinking heart, you notice her lips purse tightly, her eyes half-closed. Her mind is not here, and where it is… is not a happy place. Dammit, she shouldn’t be this way – you’re the one having to deal with their bullcrap. Not that it isn’t amusing, but… Space Marines pretending to be Orks?
  1976. >Maybe she’s just having an internal hissyfit at that like you are. Wouldn’t that be nice? Your marefriend getting pissed off at the same things as you?
  1977. >Twilight’s eyes move slightly, glancing to you. As if unable to bear the sight of you, they close. Slowly, with grim finality.
  1978. >You reach over, touching her back lightly. No reaction.
  1979. >With as convincing a smile as you can summon, you address the next pair.
  1980. “Cheerilee? Fluttershy?”
  1981.  
  1982. >Osric’s power sword makes quick work of the bulkhead, the glowing disruption field easily cutting a hole through the slab. He and Erik sprint across the open chamber, easily making it before the bulkhead on the other side can seal it off.
  1983.  
  1984. >”Well, we’re here,” Cheerilee says half-heartedly. “Time for the boss fight?”
  1985. >”Almost…” Twilight tells her, eyes still shut.
  1986. >She leans into your hand, bringing a hint of a genuine smile to your face. You scratch lightly, bringing a happy sound from your princess’s throat.
  1987. >”Trixie…?” The unicorn’s ears perk up as Twilight says her name. “Think you can slow down slightly to give Erik time to heal Casull?”
  1988. >She pauses.
  1989. >”As best as he can, of course,” Twilight finishes after a second.
  1990. >”Of course.”
  1991.  
  1992. >Casull and Ihaus burst into the chamber next, the librarian quickly unclamping his bolter and seeking cover.
  1993. >”Were you followed?” Osric asks, raising his shield and stormbolter without waiting for an answer.
  1994. >”No, but Anovel and Trixus are accompanied by…” the Blood Raven’s words falter as his mind blanks on the proper term.
  1995. >”Trouble,” he finally says. “They have tricked some orks into believing them their leaders, and I don’t know how they will react to seeing the rest of us.”
  1996. >”Heresy…” the Imperial Fist growls. He glances to Casull questioningly. “Why are you not arming yourself, techmarine?”
  1997. >Casull holds up the stumps of his arms.
  1998. >”Ah,” Osric’s voice rumbles, seeing the reason. “Decided to give the filth a fighting chance? That’s sporting of you.”
  1999. >”Yes, let’s go with that,” Casull laughs at his squadmate’s words.
  2000.  
  2001. >”I… I can heal now…?” Fluttershy’s head lifts off the table. She almost seems sober, at least for the minute or so it takes for her to call out Erik’s actions and roll the dice.
  2002.  
  2003. >Erik leans forward, examining the charred remains of Casull’s arms.
  2004. >”Well… in my expert opinion as a priest AND a doctor…” the Space Wolf drifts off, looking at the wounds from another angle “… you should really start praying right now.”
  2005. >He reaches to his belt, pulling free a bottle of some thick paste, smearing it on the stumps. The Wolf Priest follows up with his forearm-mounted reductor, applying surgical staples to the areas still open and seeping fluids.
  2006.  
  2007. >Fluttershy looks at her dice.
  2008. >”Well…” she shrinks back slightly “… I’m afraid I couldn’t get you to full health, but you’re no longer below zero!”
  2009. >Her mouth opens in an eager smile as Lyra checks the result.
  2010. >”Nice, up to ten,” the unicorn says, changing the number on her character sheet. “Thanks, Fluttershy.”
  2011. >”Oh, it was no problem at all, just doing my job…”
  2012.  
  2013. >”… which apparently I DON’T GET PAID TO DO,” the Wolf Priest shouts.
  2014. >He squirts tubes of repair cement over Casull’s stumps to reseal the techmarine’s armor.
  2015. >“BOY DO I SURE LOVE WORKING FOR FREE.”
  2016. >”Do I want to know…?” Ihaus asks Osric, jerking his head back to indicating the ranting Wolf Priest.
  2017. >”You’re a Blood Raven – of course you want to know,” the Imperial Fist answers flatly, still focusing on the corridor Trixus and Anovel are coming from. “You Blood Ravens want to know everything.”
  2018. >Ihaus looks back to Erik.
  2019. >”No,” he sighs. “Not in this case.”
  2020.  
  2021. >”Are you mares ready?” Berry Punch asks eagerly. “How are we going to play this?”
  2022. >Twilight looks at her character sheet again – she’s just begging to ask you something. You can tell. But she doesn’t.
  2023. >Your princess shakes her head.
  2024. >”Go back into squad mode for the +32 and tell them we’re orks?” Lyra asks with a frown.
  2025. >Trixie shrugs.
  2026. >”I’m sure I could come up with a better idea…” she says “… but… who knows how long that would take…”
  2027. >She makes a mark on her character sheet.
  2028. >”We go into squad mode –“
  2029.  
  2030. >”AN’ DEZE AR ME LADZ!” Anovel shouts, waving his arm to the rest of the kill-team.
  2031. >One of the smaller orks squints his eyes, looking at Osric with suspicion.
  2032. >”’E ain’t no ork…” the alien says angrily, lifting his gun threateningly, only to explode in a burst of blood.
  2033. >”O’ COURSE DEYZ ORKS!” Nazgut shouts, shaking blood off of his fist. “JUST AV A LOOK AT I’Z CLAN MARKINZ!”
  2034. >”So… do I start killing…?” the Imperial Fist asks over the squad-link, punching forward with his stormbolter and accidently displaying the yellow pauldron on his right shoulder.
  2035. >”Oh, yeah boss, I seez it now,” another ork says to Nazgut. “’E’z wearin’ yeller, jus’ like a Bad Moon aughta.”
  2036. >A chorus of agreements bubble forth from the horde, some obviously fake but more than willing to play along to avoid their leader’s wrath.
  2037. >”You see, brothers,” Anovel says cheerfully, “that’s the trick of it. I don’t have to convince them all, just the biggest.”
  2038.  
  2039. >”So, boss fight time?” Lyra asks, wide-eyed.
  2040. >”Boss fight time,” Twilight agrees.
  2041. “Am I *really* that predictable?”
  2042. >All six mares nod.
  2043. “Even to you, Twilight? Even though I’ve never GMed for you before?”
  2044. >”I like to think we’ve…” she pauses, smiling “… shared enough for me to know what you’ll do.”
  2045. >”And what does *that* mean!?” Trixie demands, pulling her cape onto herself and fastening the clasp.
  2046. “It means I’ve read her favorite books –“
  2047. >” – and I’ve read his,” Twilight finishes.
  2048. “But she’s still wrong. You all are.”
  2049. >”No… no boss fight…?” Fluttershy whines. “How are we to prove our devotion to the Emperor if we cannot slay His enemies in His name…?”
  2050. >You really hadn’t planned on a boss fight – so many of your prior Deathwatch games ended with the group finding a way to defeat the boss without even firing a single shot. But…
  2051. “Well, if you insist.”
  2052.  
  2053. >The wall at the far end of the chamber tears open in a flurry of gunfire. Five massive orks in scrapwork exoskeletons bash their way through the weakened metal.
  2054. >”WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAUGH!”
  2055.  
  2056. >”Scholastic Lore: Orks !“ Twilight yells, flinging her dice at the table. “What the hell are those!?”
  2057. “Meganobs.”
  2058. >”Stats?”
  2059. >You check her roll – barely a pass, despite her high stats.
  2060. ”Sorry, you didn’t roll high enough…”
  2061. >”And if I spend a Fate Point…?” she asks, pencil hovering over her character sheet.
  2062. “That won’t get you stats, but I’ll tell you their capabilities.”
  2063. >She doesn’t even think it over, quickly marking the spent point on her character sheet.
  2064. >”So what can they do?”
  2065. “Their guns are better than yours, their melee weapons are better than yours, and their armor is roughly equivalent.”
  2066. >”Including painkillers that let them ignore some critical damage effects?”
  2067. “Including those.”
  2068. >Trixie frowns at that, smacking the table to get Twilight’s attention.
  2069. “Go away so you can plan…?”
  2070. >The two nod in unison.
  2071. >”Take me with you!” Cheerilee silently mouths as you rise.
  2072. >You beckon for her to follow, but Twilight puts a foreleg around the mare’s withers, pointing to something on the map and whispering into her ear.
  2073. >Silently, you pray for her soul and step into the other room.
  2074. >Applejack looks up quickly, fear dancing in her eyes.
  2075. >”Oh, it’s just you,” she says, relieved.
  2076. “Yeah, just me.”
  2077. >She pulls her hooves off of her book – despite her earlier words, it appears she was trying to hide it. The Earth Pony notices your smile and returns it, shaking her head sadly.
  2078. >”Old habits…”
  2079. “Say no more.”
  2080. >Applejack goes back to reading as you walk over to the fillies – and Pinkie Pie.
  2081. “How are things going over here?”
  2082. >Berry Pinch looks up to you, her face bearing a wide smile.
  2083. >”Great!” she tells you. “I think we’re almost through this dungeon!”
  2084. >You can see that – the deck holds only a few more cards. The boss room has to be coming up soon.
  2085. >”And we just got a pile of new treasure cards!” Scootaloo adds, grabbing the top card of the treasure deck. Her face falls as she reads it.
  2086. “What did you draw…?”
  2087. >You circle around to see.
  2088. “Wow, the Wishing Ring. That’s the best treasure in the game!”
  2089. >Pinkie Pie and Berry Pinch shove their heads next to hers, reading along with her.
  2090. >”Yeah, that’s a GOOD card!” Pinchie says, holding up a hoof to brohoof.
  2091. >”Maybe…” is all Scootaloo says as she puts the card down next to her others. “The problem is – the problem is knowing what to wish for.”
  2092. >Pinchie hesitantly pulls her hoof back awkwardly, extending it back when Scootaloo realizes she has left the other filly hanging and reaches out to tap it.
  2093. >”Sorry…” the little pegasus says, still looking at the card.
  2094. >”You can use it to get *any card in the deck*,” Pinkie tells her, giving her a slight nudge. “Aren’t you going to use it?”
  2095. >”Yeah, aren’t you?” Apple Bloom asks quietly. Angrily.
  2096. >”But what would I get?” Scootaloo asks. “Better armor? A better weapon? Healing potions?”
  2097. >She buries her head in her forelegs.
  2098. >”That’s the problem with wishes!” she yells, her voice muffled by her legs. “Too many choices.”
  2099. >Pinkie Pie grabs the filly and lifts her up, wrapping her forelegs tightly around Scootaloo.
  2100. >”I think she’s being smart!” the pink party pony tells everyone. “There’s no point making a wish if you don’t know what to wish for!”
  2101. >You take advantage of the moment, reaching over Pinkie Pie to ruffle Scootaloo’s mane while she’s trapped in your friend’s embrace.
  2102. >”Lemme go lemme go lemme go!” the little pegasus yells, struggling to free herself. At least her voice is back to normal not… sad. Melancholy. Despairing.
  2103. >”Is that your wish?” Pinkie Pie asks, nuzzling the filly.
  2104. >”No!”
  2105. >Pinkie laughs as Scootaloo continues to fight with her characteristic fire.
  2106. “Hey Ponka, if you could wish for anything, what would it be?”
  2107. >She turns her head to face you, seemingly ignoring the flailing filly trapped in her forelegs.
  2108. >”Oh, silly Anon,” Pinkie tells you. At least, she’s facing you, but the words don’t feel like they are *meant* for you. “I wished to be happy, forever and always.”
  2109. >She smiles wide.
  2110. “Oh silly Ponk, I don’t think you need to wish for that. You’re already happy all the time!”
  2111. >She smiles sadly as you pet her head, her mane bouncing like a spring as you pull your hand back.
  2112. >Her words – or yours – have a calming effect on the pegasus –  Scootaloo’s struggles cease as she stares at the mare in surprise.
  2113. >”Come on…” Pinchie whines gently, oblivious to whatever just happened. “Let’s get back to the game!”
  2114. >”Yeah,” Apple Bloom agrees, more sad than angry now. She grabs the dice from the board. “My turn, right?”
  2115. >”HEY ANON, WE’RE READY!”
  2116. “BE RIGHT THERE, TWI!”
  2117. >You give Pinkie Pie another pat on the head.
  2118. “Thanks for looking after them.”
  2119. >”It’s the least I can do…” she tells you, finally releasing Scootaloo.
  2120. >The little filly takes another look at her treasure card, shaking her head ever so slightly.
  2121. >No, not her head, her whole body twitches in an uncontrolled shiver.
  2122. >She gives the Wishing Ring card a slight nudge, pushing it under a different treasure her character had won earlier.
  2123. >”ANON!”
  2124. “COMING!”
  2125. >”Could ya keep it down?” Applejack grumbles, flipping the page. “Ahm tryin’ ta read.”
  2126. >You look down to the fillies – they’ve returned to their game, but with markedly less enthusiasm. Berry Pinch seems confused, but the other two…
  2127. >”Don’t worry, Nonny,” Pinkie Pie tells you, rubbing her cheek up against your leg. “I’ve got this.”
  2128. >You idly run a hand through her curly mane. It glides smoothly between your fingers – always does, no matter how tangled it is. The mare smiles – you’re pretty sure she lives off three things – sweets, parties, and physical contact – and yet she puts her forehooves on you and pushes gently.
  2129. >”Go. Your party is waiting for you.”
  2130. >You pull your hand free from her cotton candy mane – you always expect it to be sticky, but your hand always comes away clean, not even a trace of natural oils.
  2131. >With a last look to Scootaloo, you leave the room.
  2132. >”Took you long enough...” Trixie grumbles, forelegs still folder across her chest. It can’t be comfortable for a pony to sit like that – she’s doing this to make a point. You notice she’s even put her hat back on. You sigh internally – this is no longer Your Friend Trixie sitting at the table, but the Great and Powerful Trixie.
  2133. >”Well… he did have to clean up…” Fluttershy whispers, looking fearfully to Twilight Sparkle.
  2134. >”What…?” Cheerilee asks, leaning back to get a clear view of the other room, as if she was worried the fillies had trashed it.
  2135. >”He *did* say he was *coming*…” the pegasus giggles as the rest of the table roll their eyes. Her face suddenly turns serious. “You really shouldn’t do that around fillies. We might have to report you.”
  2136. “It wasn’t like that and you know it. Pinkie Pie and Applejack were right there –“
  2137. >”You’re cheating on Twilight?” Fluttershy gasps in horror. “How could you…?”
  2138. >She seems on the verge of tears – but are they real? No way could she possibly believe this…
  2139. >With a sigh, Trixie levitates her hat, dropping it over her neighbor’s face. The drunk screeches quietly.
  2140. >”Turn on the lights! I’m scared of the dark!”
  2141. “You’re scared of everything, Fluttershy…”
  2142. >”S-stand back!” She scrambles away from the table, trying to escape the bestial flesh-eating human that’s coming after her in her imagination. Unfortunately, the hat is caught on her ears and follows, keeping her blind. The tip of the hat glows purple with Twilight’s power –
  2143. >“Stay away! Trixie will save me!”
  2144. >Your little alicorn releases her magical hold on the hat with a chuckle, holding out a hoof to her nemesis.
  2145. >”Your princess begs for rescue,” Twilight tells her, “will you let the vicious Anon feast on her innocent flesh… or will you heroically defy the monster?”
  2146. >Fluttershy squeaks in fear as she bumps up against the far wall, unable to retreat any further.
  2147. >”I-I spend a Fate Point!”
  2148. “Those only work in the game.”
  2149. >”Trixieeeeee!”
  2150. >Shaking her head in irritation, the unicorn magically pulls the hat from Fluttershy’s head. Though she snorts in anger, you can clearly see the smile on her face, even as the hat settles on her head, its brim obscuring everything above the nose.
  2151. >You know that feeling. It’s nice to be needed, even if your own pride won’t let you admit it.
  2152. >”Return to your place, pegasus,” Trixie booms loudly. “The beast will not hurt you.”
  2153. >”N-not while you’re here…?” Fluttershy asks, carefully crawling back to the table.
  2154. >”Never,” Trixie corrects her, tilting her head back to stare you down. “Isn’t that right, monster?”
  2155. “I would *never* hurt Fluttershy!”
  2156. >”See?” Trixie asks, flipping her head to look at the little drunk. “He is under my power now and you are safe.”
  2157. >Your eyes meet Twilight’s and both pairs roll in unison.
  2158. >”So…” Lyra leans forward, trying to catch your eye “… can we start the killing now…? Or dying. Whatever, I’m not picky, so long as I don’t have to put up with this anymore.”
  2159. “Okay everyone, roll for initiative!”
  2160.  
  2161. >”SQUAD, FIRE FOR EFFECT!” Trixus roars over the squad-link.
  2162. >He pulls his bolter from its place on his thigh, firing off a four-round burst at the closest of the Meganobs. Full-auto fire rings out from the rest of the kill-team, most harmlessly detonating against the thick metal slabs bolted to the ork’s exoskeleton, but some digging deeper. A blast from Casull’s plasma cutter sears straight through the armor plate on the Meganob’s chest, drawing an angry grunt from the beast beneath.
  2163.  
  2164. “So now that you’ve all burned your reactions and a hell of a lot of ammo to do minor injury to one enemy, what now?”
  2165. >”Drop Fire for Effect Squad Mode,” Trixie tells you mechanically, “enter Strongpoint Squad Mode.”
  2166. “How many Cohesion points does that cost you!? How many do you have left?”
  2167. >”Enough,” Trixie says with a smile.
  2168.  
  2169. >”BROTHERS, FIRE ON MY TARGET!” Trixus calls out, the squad subtly shifting stances to redress their battle formation.
  2170. >A single shot cracks out from the librarian’s bolter, glancing off the injured Meganob’s chest.
  2171. >Without having to share another word, the kill-team aims for the melted hole in its armor. Single targeted shots crack out along the battle-line. Even the bolts that miss their targets dig deep into the weakened plate, blowing out shards of yellow-painted metal.
  2172. >Anovel alone does not aim for the gap in the Meganob’s armor, his weapon not designed for such precision work. His heavy bolter continues to roar in unrestrained fury, burning through ammo like a power sword through warm butter. Two bolts fly wide, missing altogether. One glances against a sloped shoulder plate, spinning free before detonating. The rest…
  2173.  
  2174. “Ouch.”
  2175. >”So… that’s eight hits at 3d10+12, discarding the lowest… and Strongpoint lets me reroll damage, right…?” Berry Punch asks, giving you the most magnificent of shit-eating grins. “Even after deducting 20 damage from each shot from armor and toughness…”
  2176. >She drifts off, gesturing to the growing pile of dice as each pony pushes theirs over to her.
  2177. >”Do I even need to roll this?”
  2178. “Of cour-“
  2179. >”Please,” Lyra cuts you off, begging. “You hit every single location at least once - I want to see this.”
  2180. >The unicorn turns to you, eyes wide with glee.
  2181. >”Critical Damage effects stack, right…?”
  2182. >Sometimes… sometimes these ponies are not so innocent after all.
  2183.  
  2184. >The Meganob shudders under the impacts, the sheer force of the impacting bolts rocking its whole body.
  2185.  
  2186. >”Oooops...” Berry Punch mutters, grabbing and rerolling a hoofful of dice. “Forgot Righteous Fury…”
  2187. “So how much damage total?”
  2188. >”After reductions… 56.”
  2189. >And that puts the Meganob at -25, with a penetrating hit to every single hit location.
  2190. >Sometimes a GM has to know when to bend the rules, to follow common sense. For example, logic dictates that the ork’s ammunition can only explode once, but that’s not what the damage results are saying right now.
  2191. >Sometimes… sometimes it’s best to follow the rules blindly. For the lulz.
  2192.  
  2193. >The ork explodes with a mighty bang, both arms blasted from its body, its legs exploding in eruptions of blood, pieces of its body flying in all directions as it is torn into bloody gobbets, ceasing to exist in any tangible way, entirely turning into a kind of crimson mist. Due to the unspeakably appalling manner in which their companion is killed, two of the Meganobs at its side immediately turn to flee, but too late - the powerplant for its armor detonates, along with the unspent ammunition for its arm-mounted gun. Between the flying armor shards, body parts and ammunition…
  2194.  
  2195. ”Everyone within…”
  2196. >Oops. Forgot to roll that.
  2197. “…four meters takes nine hits for 1d10+5 damage and two hits for 1d10+2 damage.”
  2198. >Lyra’s eyes grow even wider.
  2199. >”Holy crap what.”
  2200. >The unicorn is too surprised to make it a question – the words come out flat and shocked.
  2201. “A hit to each arm, one to each leg, one hit to the head, and three to the body. All at maximum effect.”
  2202. >Cheerilee puts a foreleg across Lyra’s withers.
  2203. >”Calm down, honey,” the teacher lectures. “None of that damage stacks, so it won’t actually hurt them. Even if Berry Punch rolls tens for everything, it won’t get past their damage reduction.”
  2204. >”That doesn’t matter!” Lyra shouts gleefully. “She just made something cease to exist SO HARD that – that –“
  2205. >The unicorn runs out of words settling for a squeal of delight.
  2206. >”Can we use this chart for *all* of the games we play?” she begs Cheerilee. “Because there ain’t no Critical Existence Failure like Deathwatch Critical Existance Failure.”
  2207. >”None of us are in the blast radius, correct?” Trixie asks you with a sneer.
  2208. “No, neither are your ork buddies.”
  2209. >”Oh Celestia, I hadn’t even thought of that!” Berry Punch says worriedly, examining the map you’ve laid out to see if there is anything else she overlooked.
  2210. >”Don’t worry,” Twilight comforts her. “It’s a big room – even if he had rolled a ten, all of us would be out of range.”
  2211. >You feel a pang of pride in your marefriend – it must have occurred to her to check while they were planning.
  2212. “So… everyone’s used up their actions and reactions?”
  2213. >You could simply check the initiative list you jotted down to keep track of the turn order, but you already know the answer.
  2214. >Five mares nod sadly, Trixie a second behind the rest as she tries to think of a new trick to pull but finds nothing. Fluttershy simply answers with a shrug – there’s not much her character can do without a weapon, and even in her state she recognizes that charging the orks weaponless would not be a good idea.
  2215.  
  2216. >The two remaining Meganobs charge forward, their double-barreled guns spitting bullets. Ork accuracy being what it is, most go wide, but the small percentage of shots that hit are still a deluge of firepower. Anovel stumbles back, blood leaking from several tears in his breastplate and Ihaus takes a shot to the head that shatters his helm’s optics.
  2217. >The Nazgut, Snakrak and their mobs react instinctively; the Deathskulls opening fire on the two advancing Meganobs while the Goffs charge forward, axes and pistols waving.
  2218.  
  2219. “Same gimmick this round?”
  2220. >”Almost,” Trixie answers while Twilight nods in agreement.
  2221.  
  2222. >”SQUAD, SHIFT AIM – FIRE ON NEW TARGET!”
  2223. >Four Space Marines blaze away at one of the advancing Meganobs, as Ihaus struggles to remove his damaged helmet. Their shots strike true, shredding one of its legs and dropping it to the ground.
  2224. >”SQUAD, FIRE FOR EFFECT!”
  2225. >They adjust their aim, the Blood Raven joining in this time. Shots lash out against the fleeing pair of Meganobs and though neither fall, both suffer significant damage.
  2226. >The Wolf Priest simply yells encouragements to his comrades.
  2227.  
  2228. >“Are you just going to sit out the boss fight?” Cheerilee asks the pegasus, giving her a slight nudge.
  2229.  
  2230. >”No wonder you don’t get paid,” Osric growls. “If I was your boss, I wouldn’t pay a lazy slacker like you.”
  2231. >With an exasperated sigh, the Wolf Priest looks about for something to throw. Too bad all of the nearby orks are on his side…
  2232. >”Hey, hey you.”
  2233. >A legless ork pauses in his efforts to drag himself forward, giving the Wolf Priest an ugly look.
  2234. >”Wut do uz want, Bad Moon?” it sneers, blood still leaking from its truncated legs. “Lazy git, can’tcha see sum o’ uz is trying ta ‘ave a decent fight ‘ere?”
  2235.  
  2236. >”Talking is a free action, right?”
  2237. “For you, Flutters? Sure.”
  2238.  
  2239. >”I am bored, so you have two choices,” the Wolf Priest growls, leaning over the crippled alien. “One – I can stitch you up and hope you survive.”
  2240.  
  2241. >”Oh dear, that sounded like a threat…” Fluttershy winces. “Can I do that over?”
  2242. “No.”
  2243.  
  2244. >”Two – I can throw you at that fucker over there –“ Erik points to the still advancing Meganob “ – so you can maybe get some fighting in before the rest of us finish the job. Your call.”
  2245. >”Throw me, ya plonka!”
  2246.  
  2247. >”This is my fault,” Cheerilee says to you apologetically. “I shouldn’t have…”
  2248. >She drifts off.
  2249. >”… no, actually this is kinda funny.”
  2250. “Hey, I’m just glad we aren’t playing Inquisitor. In that game, a Space Marine does more damage on average throwing rocks than he would actually firing a gun.”
  2251. >”Can we play that next!?” Lyra asks giddily.
  2252.  
  2253. >The ork lets out a bellowing warcry as it flies through the air, axe held high in both hands.
  2254. >”WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAU-“
  2255. >Splat.
  2256. >The Meganob is flung back a step by the force of the impact, otherwise unharmed. But the other ork…
  2257.  
  2258. >”It’s okay, Fluttershy,” Cheerilee comforts the pegasus. “I’m sure it’s how he would have wanted to go…”
  2259. >”But. He. Just. Wanted. A. Good. Scrap!” the little yellow mare says between sobs. “And I killed him!”
  2260. >She sniffs a few more times, wiping the tears from her eyes with a hoof.
  2261. >”I spend my last Fate Point!”
  2262.  
  2263. >The ork pulls itself up from the ground, miraculously still moving despite half his skull being caved in. With one hand it clings to the Meganob’s leg, with the other it swing its axe again and again.
  2264. >”WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAUGH!”
  2265.  
  2266. >Fluttershy smiles, humming happily to herself at her new friend’s survival.
  2267. >You’re glad you went with common sense this time – there’s no way an ork in Mega Armor could reasonably reach someone latched on to his legs. Hopefully Berry Punch doesn’t make this one explode – it’s doubtful you could fudge those rolls enough to let the little bastard survive.
  2268. >The pegasus’s lips move silently as she sings a little song to herself, the movement too small to even guess at what she’s singing. But at this very time and place, you like to think it’s ‘Ere We Go.
  2269. “Are you happy now, Cheerilee?”
  2270. >”Oh Celestia, yes!” the Earth Pony shouts, finally letting the laughter that’s been building up escape.
  2271.  
  2272. >The fleeing Meganobs rally, drawn back by the sound of a good fight. They charge back into the room, guns blazing, leaving a trail of spent cartridges. Anovel gets struck again repeatedly, too focused on firing his own weapon to dodge. The wounds are deeper this time – only his suit’s painkillers keep him in the fight.
  2273. >The fallen Meganob seems unfazed by the injury, continuing to blast a stream of bullets at the Space Marines. Ihaus takes five more hits – the shots stitching their way up his breastplate. The first three impact the golden aquila on his breastplate, penetrating no further than the decorative piece. The fourth strikes the rim of Ihaus’ armored gorget, spinning free but doing little harm. Shards of ceramite break off from the impact, dotting the librarian’s face with bloody craters.
  2274. >The fifth cuts a bloody furrow across the Space Marines’ left cheek, tearing into the bone itself.
  2275.  
  2276. >”Spend one Fate Point to heal,” Twilight tells you, throwing a d10 into the air. She frowns at the result. “Spending a second…”
  2277.  
  2278. >Ihaus shakes off the injury – he has suffered far worse in his centuries of service.
  2279. >The fourth Meganob continues to advance, dragging the crippled ork behind him as he walks. He forgoes his gun, instead bringing his snapping power klaw around in a vicious jab at Osric. The Imperial Fist is caught off-guard, too focused on firing hit stormbolter at the retreating pair to bring his shield up in time. It is only by the slimmest of margins that the ork’s attack fails to connect.
  2280.  
  2281. >”I think we’re going to have to give up on Strongpoint and Fire for Effect,” Cheerilee hisses in imagined pain. “We need to save our reactions for defense.”
  2282. >”The Great and Powerful Trixus knows that the best form of defense is a good offense!” Trixie shouts, louder than necessary. “But…” she drags her hat from her head “… he is open to suggestions. We cannot continue to waste our Fate Points like this.”
  2283. >”Well…” Twilight taps a hoof on the table edge. “Let’s go back to Lead by Example for that massive bonus to all rolls and then fight defensively. Osric still has all of his Fate Points, right?”
  2284. >”Yep!” Cheerilee proudly answers.
  2285. >”We let you take point. Anovel and I fall back to let Erik fix us up. Casull needs to stay back too…”
  2286. >She grits her teeth, realizing what she’s just said.
  2287. >”That would only leave Osric and Trixus to hold the line for a couple of rounds, so nevermind…”
  2288. >”No,” Trixie says firmly. “Your plan makes sense. Trixus shall simply find a way…”
  2289.  
  2290. >Even if he *is* out of ammo.
  2291. >The Ultramarine frowns, seeing his so-called squadmates fall back in the face of minor adversity. Time to show these lesser Marines from lesser chapters what it means to be one of the Emperor’s Chosen.
  2292. >”Brothers, you have forgotten what it means to be Space Marines, so I must LEAD BY EXAMPLE, AND HOPE YOU REMEMBER!”
  2293. >Trixus casts his spent bolter aside and draws his force sword. The blade crackles with eldritch witchfire as he charges forward to meet the Orks face-to-face.
  2294. >”DO NOT MAKE ME FACE THIS CHALLENGE ALONE!”
  2295.  
  2296. >”What the heck was that?” Berry Punch demands. “You said it was a good plan, then you berate us for following it?”
  2297. >”*I* said it was a good plan,” Trixie answers, trying to hide her blush. “That doesn’t mean Trixus would like it – he is… a proud warrior.”
  2298.  
  2299. >The librarian drives his sword into the side of the Meganob attacking Osric, the phantasmic flames burning through armor and flesh alike. The beast roars, lashing out with its klaw and catching the librarian’s free arm. Ceramite fractures under the strength of the scissoring blades, driving shards into Trixus’s flesh. And though the blades do not cut through the vambrace, the librarian can feel the bones of his forearm shatter under their grip.
  2300. >Ancient armor that has served the Adeptus Astartes for ten thousand years, since the Great Crusade itself, is crushed almost beyond repair, saved only by the timely intervention of Osric’s power sword.
  2301. >”Never forget,” the Imperial Fist calls out to Trixus over a suit-to-suit link as his blade cuts through the Ork’s arm, severing muscles and power cables alike, “a Space Marine *never* stands alone. We are not the tricksters of the Assassin Temples, or the lonely warriors of the Custodes – we are the ASTARTES. AND WE FIGHT AS BROTHERS!”
  2302. >The Meganob flinches away, roaring. Not in pain, for it cannot feel the pain of its injuries, but in outrage – the klaw’s blades hang limp, his victim has escaped his clutches.
  2303. >”Even when this galaxy dies and the very last one of us fights a doomed struggle against the coming darkness he does not stand alone, but with ten thousand years of loyal battle-brothers at his back.”
  2304. >Osric slams his shield into the ork’s face with enough force to make the protective field flare brightly, knocking the Meganob off his feet.
  2305. >Before it can rise, Nazgut and his lads fall on the Meganob, hacking at it with their cleavers and axes. Alone they would stand no chance of penetrating it’s armor, but together…
  2306.  
  2307. “And that’s the second one gone.”
  2308. >While the others smile, Fluttershy looks to you with eyes full of worry.
  2309. >”Is – is he…?”
  2310. “Don’t worry Flutterbutter, your buddy probably okay. He, uh –“
  2311. >You fling some dice behind your screen, pretending to check the results.
  2312. “Yeah, he managed to roll out of the way in time.”
  2313. >”Yay.”
  2314.  
  2315. >Ihaus steps up beside the Osric and Trixus, a long row of staples sealing the gash along his left cheek. He tosses a bolter clip to the other librarian, who catches it with his injured arm.
  2316. >If the Ultramarine feels any pain as the shattered bones grind against each other, he does not show it.
  2317. >”We should probably keep our distance,” the Blood Raven advises. “You will need this more than I.”
  2318. >Fire gathers around his hands, drawn from the warp. It flickers up his fingers, small tongues of flame licking at the tips.
  2319.  
  2320. >”And?”
  2321. >”And what, Lyra?” Twilight asks back. “I spent a half-action tossing Trixus the clip and the second focusing my powers. I’ll have to wait until next turn to actually use it.”
  2322.  
  2323. >From behind his brothers, Casull unleashes another shrieking burst from his plasma cutter, the servo-arm allowing him to aim the gun from high above the others’ heads.
  2324. >The ball of blue energy rips into the crippled Meganob, fatally burning through its torso.
  2325.  
  2326. “Three down, two left.”
  2327.  
  2328. >Those two unleash twin streams of gunfire at the Imperial Fist – bracketed between the two, he is unable to dodge, forced to rely on his shield and power armor to protect him and his brothers. The bullets that strike the shield cease to exist in any tangible way, the defensive field scattering the fragile slugs to miniscule shards. The bullets that strike his armor dig deep, some penetrating the thick warplate fully.
  2329. >Wet streaks dribble down the black-painted plates covering his right arm.
  2330. >The damage to his armor pains Osric more than the damage to his arm – his Mark Eight armor may not have the illustrious history of older suits, but it has served him well in its short time.
  2331.  
  2332. >”There’s only two left…” Trixie says hesitantly, “… should we go back to Strongpoint or Fire for Effect…?”
  2333. >”I don’t think so,” your princess answers her. “We only have six Cohesion left, and this might not be the end.”
  2334. >Lyra scoffs at that.
  2335. >”This is the boss fight! What more can there be?”
  2336. “Hey, don’t blame – you mares are the ones that demanded this fight!”
  2337. >The blue unicorn looks to you suspiciously and you match her gaze. She breaks first.
  2338. >”Trixie thinks you might be right, Twilight Sparkle,” she says harshly. “We shall save our Cohesion.”
  2339.  
  2340. >Trixus laughs as he retrieves his bolter and slots the new clip into place.
  2341. >”Your friends seem to have problems aiming,” he says to Anovel over the squad-link. “Let us show them how it is done!”
  2342. >”My pleasure…” Anovel answers, jogging up to join the others.
  2343.  
  2344. >”Well?”
  2345. >”Well what, Lyra?” Berry Punch asks. “I have to spend my full action moving into position or I won’t be able to see the Meganobs.”
  2346. >”And Trixus spent his picking up and reloading his weapon,” Trixie adds.
  2347. >”What about you, princess?” the green unicorn whines. “Finally going to do something!?”
  2348.  
  2349. >A sheet of warpborn fire shoots out from Ihaus’s hands, to the sound of dark laughter. Faces leer out of the fla-
  2350.  
  2351. >”Spending my last fate point to reroll that,” Twilight says, shaking her head firmly. “Not summoning any deamons. Nope, not me. Not gonna do that.”
  2352.  
  2353. >The fire flickers out of existence only inches from Ihaus’s hands.
  2354.  
  2355. >”Like *that* was any better,” Lyra complains.
  2356. >”Better than summoning daemons? YES! YES IT WAS!” Trixie shouts at the other unicorn. “Twilight Sparkle made the right choice there – this is a game of dwindling resources, and we are running low on all of them. Our characters are all-but invincible gods of war while we have Fate and Cohesion, but now…”
  2357. >She sighs loudly, holding her head with both forehooves.
  2358. >”How much ammo do you have left…?” she asks, not looking up.
  2359. >”Who?” Punchie asks.
  2360. >”Everyone.”
  2361. >”Enough for four bursts with my heavy bolter,” Berry Punch answers. “Full load on my bolt pistol.”
  2362. >”I’ve got 112 rounds for my stormbolter,” Cheerilee says cheerfully. “Osric won’t be having any problems with ammo.”
  2363. >”Half a clip for my bolter, two clips for my pistol,” your princess chimes in.
  2364. >”Basically unlimited,” Lyra says, smirking.
  2365. >Fluttershy shrugs.
  2366. >”Whatever I can get my hands on…”
  2367. >Trixie sighs again, finally uncovering her face and crossing her arms across her chest again.
  2368. >”Twilight Sparkle… you know him…” she says slowly “… what are the odds there will be another combat encounter after this?”
  2369. >Your princess glances to you, trying to read your face. You try to keep it neutral; it takes everything to stop yourself from laughing. You didn’t even plan to throw *this* encounter at them, but…
  2370. >They insisted.
  2371. >Twilight bites her lower lip in uncertainty.
  2372. >”Well?” Lyra demands, yet again.
  2373. >”I – I –“ Twilight stumbles over the words.
  2374. >”Well…?” Trixie repeats, surprisingly the softer of the two.
  2375. >”Yes!” Twilight finally answers, turning to face the magician. “Anon *always* has something planned, something up his sleeve. He’s going to do whatever he can to mess with us. If we don’t save up for the next battle, there *will* be a next battle. If we do, there won’t be.”
  2376. >That really wasn’t your intent, but – again – if they insist…
  2377. >”And now that I’ve said that,” she continues, “he’s going to have to prove me wrong – so there will be another fight no matter what.”
  2378. >You try to keep yourself from laughing. Well, apparently there will be another fight – you’d hate to make a liar of your princess.
  2379. >”And then…” Twilight drifts off.
  2380. >The five other mares pull closer, listening intently like to an oracle spouting prophecy. Perhaps that *is* what your princess is, in a fashion.
  2381. >”… and then, sacrifice.”
  2382. >She closes her eyes tightly, trying to block out the memories.
  2383. >”Sacrifice?” Lyra asks, confused. “What the hell does that mean?”
  2384. “It means my character died to beat her last campaign.”
  2385. >”No,” Twilight whispers. “It’s more than that – you let Quicksilver die –“
  2386. “Quicksilver?”
  2387. >”The pegasus that stood over Rainbow Dash’s character, defending her when she was helpless. That’s right, Anon – he had a name – and you didn’t just let him die, you *glorified* his death.”
  2388. “Yes, but –“
  2389. >”His family was still alive,” she cuts you off. “You rescued them with the rest of the slaves’ families.”
  2390. “Why didn’t you say something!?”
  2391. >”You saw how Pinkie Pie reacted to his death! I couldn’t do that to her!”
  2392. >”THANK YOU!”
  2393. >”And it’s not just that one campaign,” Twilight continues, ignoring Ponka’s interruption. “It’s happened before and since, and not just in games…”
  2394. >She drifts off, biting her lip to keep from crying.
  2395. >Oh.
  2396. >Just a week ago, you offered to leave Ponyville – to leave *her* – because you thought…
  2397. >”… it’s in your books and your stories,” Twilight recovers. “I don’t know if it’s you or this setting or humans in general, but you worship sacrifice! Do you want to know why I picked Soul Hunter to read? Because most of your other stories could be summed as ‘the good guys die – sometimes they also win.’ I thought the Night Lords books would have a decent chance of the main characters surviving!”
  2398. >Well, fuck.
  2399. >Twilight stops, suddenly embarrassed at her outburst.
  2400. >”So, yes…” she says to the other players. “There will be another combat encounter, and then one of our characters will have to die.”
  2401. >The mares look at each other in awkward silence, pointedly avoiding meeting your eyes.
  2402. >Slowly, silently Cheerilee raises her left forehoof to her muzzle.
  2403. >Lyra can’t help but notice, quickly doing the same.
  2404. >With a snort, Trixie follows suit, as does Berry Punch.
  2405. >After a nudge from Lyra, Twilight does as well, leaving a bewildered Fluttershy still singing silently to herself.
  2406. >”What?” She finally asks as all eyes land on her. “Whaaaaaaaaat?”
  2407. >Realization dawns on her face, breaking slowly across her sad features.
  2408. >”Oh screw you all!”
  2409. “How about we just hold off on that for now – I have NO intention of making someone kill themselves.”
  2410. >”Yeah, but it’s going to happen,” Twilight grumbles to herself, sitting up and crossing her forelegs like Trixie.
  2411. “I promise – unless you blow up the control room and someone has to trigger the self-destruct manually, no one is going to have to sacrifice themselves.”
  2412. >She relaxes slightly at that – you can see the tenseness of her shoulders flow away, the set of her jaw soften. But she’s still worried…
  2413. >”It’s just a one-shot,” Lyra tells your princess. “Doesn’t really matter if our characters die.”
  2414. >”Actually, I’m kinda liking mine,” Berry Punch says, leaning over the table. “Wouldn’t mind playing a little more of this after tonight.
  2415. >From the look on Trixie’s face, she wouldn’t mind either – but she won’t admit it. Not now, not when she’s in this kind of mood.
  2416. >Instead, she shuts her eyes and thinks.
  2417. >”Fire for Effect,” Trixie says slowly, commandingly. “It doesn’t matter if we run out of ammo – after this encounter we use blades only. We don’t want to risk destroying the command room with a misfire or stray round.”
  2418. “Remember, you still have two mobs of ork boyz that could –“
  2419. >”I’m sorry, Berry Punch, but we have to get rid of them,” Trixie says, sounding truly remorseful. “They are…”
  2420. >”Fun?” Lyra suggests with a smile.
  2421. >Trixie nods in agreement.
  2422. >”But they’re a liability,” Twilight finishes the other’s thought. “Between their firepower, explosives and lack of marksmanship... well… we’re lucky the only hole they’ve put in this station is one we wanted.”
  2423. >”Yeah, I know…” Berry Punch tells her companions reluctantly. She looks to you out of the corner of her eyes. “Is this what the princess means by sacrifice?”
  2424. >”No,” Twilight answers for you, shaking her head. “This is our choice –”
  2425. “As it was Quicksilver’s…”
  2426. >The color drains from her face.
  2427. “I just helped –”
  2428. >”It’s not like that at all,” Trixie interrupts. “You let him die, whoever he was. We are *not* going to let these orks die; we can always pick them up later, if we keep playing this game.”
  2429. >”So…” Lyra draws out the word, rolling her dice between her forehooves “… you said Fire for Effect, right…?
  2430.  
  2431. >Two rapid bursts of plasma shoot forth from the techmarine’s weapon, burning through one of the remaining Meganobs. The beast keeps coming on, but its steps falter, it’s movements slow. It may not feel the pain of its grievous injuries thanks to its armor, but even an ork’s physiology has its limits.
  2432. >Ihaus cracks off a pair of shots –
  2433.  
  2434. >”Why not go full auto?” Cheerilee asks your princess. “If we aren’t going to be using our guns –“
  2435. >”It won’t take four shots to finish it off,” Twilight answers. “Even if we don’t plan on using them, I want to keep the option.”
  2436.  
  2437. >The ork falls as the bolts tear into its torso, its body finally giving out.
  2438. >With a sigh, Anovel raises his heavy bolter, only opening fire once the weapon’s rangefinder shows him to be eleven meters away –
  2439.  
  2440. >”Well, that upgrade was handy,” Berry Punch grins.
  2441.  
  2442. >The last Meganob crumbles under the onslaught of fire, turning into a nice long red streak across the floor.
  2443. >The Dark Angel sighs again, detaching the ammo feed from the gun and locking it to the side of his backpack.
  2444. >The two librarians magclamp their bolters to their thighs, giving Casull ugly looks.
  2445. >”We’re already putting a lot of faith in you to remember that code,” Trixus reminds the techmarine. “Don’t test our patience further.
  2446.  
  2447. >”What!?” Lyra shouts, her head flipping back and forth between Trixie and Twilight. “It’s not my fault they aren’t detachable!”
  2448. >”They *can* be…” Fluttershy sings. “Osric has a nice sword…”
  2449. >”YEAH!” Lyra yells. “What about Osric and his wrist-mounted stormbolter?”
  2450. >Twilight and Trixie share a brief glance.
  2451. >”We trust Cheerilee,” they say in unison, causing the Earth Pony to bow in graceful acknowledgement.
  2452.  
  2453. >Casull moans, disengaging power to two of his servo arms. They fold up, nestling against his armor’s power pack.
  2454. >”Good enough?” he asks resentfully.
  2455. >”I guess…” Ihaus answers grudgingly.
  2456. >The kill-team looks briefly to Erik; the Space Wolf has taken the time to remove his helmet just so the other Space Marines could see his smug grin.
  2457. >”And you mocked me when I didn’t bring a gun…”
  2458.  
  2459. >”Did we?” Cheerilee asks. “I honestly don’t remember…”
  2460. >”Well…” Lyra shrugs. “YOU WERE STUPID FOR NOT BRINGING A GUN!”
  2461.  
  2462. >The orks firmly pretend to not notice Ihaus or Erik’s clearly not-orkish faces, instead focusing on Anovel.
  2463. >”Wut now, boss?” Nazgut asks the Dark Angel.
  2464. >”NOW YOU N’ UR LADZ GET IN DOZE SPACEY LIFEY BOATS N’ TRY TA GET BACK TO DA FLEET.”
  2465. >The orks shuffle their feet, uncertain of what they should do. Their boss said to leave, but it’s just not orky to leave a fight…
  2466. >”Wut ‘bout Wurzak?” Snakrak asks slowly.
  2467. >”Wurzak’z ded,” Anovel answers. “Musta bit it when da big gunz blew.”
  2468. >Most of the orks nod in understanding – more than any other species they are used to “freak accidents” and the like.
  2469. >”Yeah, figgured dat,” Nazgut responds sheepishly, rubbing the back of its neck. It sighs, sounding so very heartbroken. “Well ladz, ya ‘eard da boss, GET!”
  2470. >The nob bashes the closest ork forward with the flat of his axe, herding them back down the corridor. It pauses at the hatch, looking back.
  2471. >”Ainchu commin, boss?” it asks.
  2472. >”Naw, got wurk ta do. Uz get on dem boats n’ send out a signal fur da ships ta find ya, gotz it?”
  2473. >Nazgut nods sadly.
  2474. >”Yeah boss, I gotz it.”
  2475. >It doesn’t move, though.
  2476. >”YA GOT SUMFIN ELSE TA SAY, Ya GIT?”
  2477. >The ork’s beady eyes flare in surprise.
  2478. >”Well, yea’ boss – uz wuz a good boss, even if ya iz a beakie.”
  2479. >With that, the nob turns and runs, following his mob back to the escape pods.
  2480.  
  2481. >Lyra looks at you questioningly.
  2482. >”Because of Octavia, I could figure out *most* of what the orks were saying,” she says. “Most of the time. But what the heck does ‘beakie’ mean?”
  2483. >The other mares mirrior Lyra’s look – curious and confused by this one word.
  2484. >”Yeah… was that a good thing or…?” Berry Punch frowns slightly, worried about what Anovel’s buddy meant.
  2485. >With a sigh, you jot down the translation on a piece of paper and hand it to the Earth Pony – none of the other characters speak Orkish, so you leave it up to her if she wants to share.
  2486. >She unfolds the scrap, reading the words twice.
  2487. >”Space Marine,” she finally says. “He knew I was a Space Marine…”
  2488. >”But…!”
  2489. >Lyra is too shocked to even continue her exclaimation.
  2490. “It passed a Scrutiny test a while back.”
  2491. >”So why didn’t he –“
  2492. “But you’d already led them through several encounters, so I took a loyalty test – same as a henchman. At a minus 40, of course –“
  2493. >”Of course,” Trixie agrees, nodding.
  2494. “Passed with flying colors.”
  2495. >Berry Punch carefully refolds the paper, sliding it into the pages of her rulebook.
  2496. >”Well…” she smiles “… now that they’re safe…”
  2497.  
  2498. >”As are the human survivors,” Trixus adds, relaying the information from the Herald of the Black to the rest of the team.
  2499.  
  2500. >”Advance in squad mode, using Lead by Example?” Trixie suggests. “All of our other squad abilities only affect shooting.”
  2501. >”That will put us dangerously low on Cohesion,” Twilight answers with a sigh. “Just in case…”
  2502. >”Yeah,” Trixie groans.
  2503.  
  2504. >The kill-team advances up the next corridor, weapons held at the ready. Osric takes the lead, shield high.
  2505. >”Any sign of enemy contacts?” Trixus asks , looking about carefully, wary of ambush.
  2506. >”None,” the Imperial Fist responds, keeping his eyes fixed straight ahead.
  2507. >There is no sound except for the heavy tread of the Space Marines.
  2508. >”This is always the worst part, isn’t it….?” Ihaus asks the others. “The waiting…”
  2509.  
  2510. >”Just get it over with,” Twilight pleads wearily. “It’s late, we’re screwed. Just give us the next encounter.”
  2511. “Are you sure?”
  2512. >”You’re going to do it anyway,” she frowns. “Just do it.”
  2513. >You look across the other players – you didn’t want this game to be difficult, it was supposed to be a simple dungeon run, just like Lyra had said. Why do they do this to themselves…?
  2514. >Cheerilee nods to you, agreeing with your princess. Trixie as well.
  2515. >”It’s late, Anon,” Berry Pinch sighs. “I need to get my daughter home. Let’s do this.”
  2516. “Okay.”
  2517. >If they insist.
  2518.  
  2519. >The wall behind the Marines bursts open, a mechanical walker stomping through the gap, four buzzing chainsaw arms tearing strips of metal from the wall.
  2520.  
  2521. >Twilight opens her mouth.
  2522. “Deffdread. Massive robot twice your size, four arms with the equivalent of power claws. Want the rest of the stats?”
  2523. >”Not going to make me roll for it?” she asks, rolling her dice around under her hoof.
  2524. >You shake your head – you didn’t want this, they asked for it. No sense making them suffer more than necessary.
  2525. >”It doesn’t really matter, does it?” Trixie asks before your princess can answer. “We can’t win this fight, can we?”
  2526. “It’s possible.”
  2527.  
  2528. >”Run,” Osric says. “Just run.”
  2529. >The Imperial Fist turns back, charging towards the snapping claws of the mechanical beast.
  2530. >”Come with us,” Ihaus encourages, sprinting onward. “You can’t fight that!”
  2531.  
  2532. >”I have my stormshield and all three fate points,” Cheerilee tells your princess with a sad smile. “Hopefully I can hold it long enough. Time for the sacrifice you spoke of.”
  2533. >”No…” Twilight looks at her character sheet again, looking away quickly. Her head trembles. “This isn’t it.”
  2534.  
  2535. >Osirc’s glowing blade flashes out, scraping across one of the machine’s mechanical arms, severing power cables and hydraulic pistons but doing no real damage.
  2536. >”RUN!”
  2537. >”Fall back with us –“
  2538.  
  2539. >”If we get too far away, you’ll lose the +32 bonus,” Trixie warns her friend, “but if you come with us…”
  2540. >”Then we risk it breaking past me,” Cheerilee frowns. “Look, it’s just a one-shot – doesn’t matter if Osric dies. But we can’t let Anon beat us – not in front of the princess.”
  2541. >She smiles to Twilight, glad to have an excuse for her competitive streak, but the alicorn shakes her head.
  2542. >”I said this isn’t it – you don’t have a chance of winning. Do a fighting withdrawal if you must, but you’re coming with us. I won’t leave you.”
  2543. >”It’s just a one-shot –“
  2544. >”All the more reason,” Twilight says, cutting off the teacher. “You want to prove to me that you can beat Anon, I get it. But remember, this is my first time playing with you, too.”
  2545. >”So you want to beat him too, right?”
  2546. >Her mane sways as she shakes her head again.
  2547. >”I don’t care about that,” Twilight tells her. “I have to prove to you that I’m not the kind of pony to abandon others. Your troubles are my troubles, even if it is just a one-shot game for a system we’ll never run again.”
  2548. >Cheerilee grimaces.
  2549. >”I can respect that, but it’s not necessary –“
  2550. >”If it’s not necessary, then why hasn’t Berry Punch come to me for help with her daughter?”
  2551. >Both Earth Ponies jump in surprise.
  2552. >”Or Lyra… if you’re having trouble finding your place in life… and… Trixie… I –“
  2553. >Twilight sighs, her eyes drooping.
  2554. >”I’m new to this princess stuff, okay? But still, I can try to help… it’s what I’m supposed to do.”
  2555. >She glances to you.
  2556. >”I’m supposed to help others, to be their friend. I *want* to, but I’m just not –“
  2557. >Twilight turns back to Cheerilee.
  2558. >”Ihaus will not abandon Osric, and I won’t abandon you – any of you. Will you help me learn to be the best princess I can be?”
  2559.  
  2560. >Osric takes a step back, catching the incoming attack on his shield. He takes another three steps back, dancing out of the way of the next swing. He retreats as quickly as he can, following in the footsteps of the rest of the kill-team. Eventually he stops trying to attack the rampaging machine, focusing purely on dodging or blocking its attacks.
  2561. >”How much further, librarian?” he demands, barely catching the next attack in time.
  2562.  
  2563. >”If you absolutely positively want to avoid a heroic sacrifice, it’s going to have to be soon,” Cheerilee says. “Down to my last fate point now.”
  2564. >It’s been four rounds of combat, more than enough you think.
  2565. “You’ve arrived, but –“
  2566.  
  2567. >”The door is locked tight!” Trixus shouts, giving up on prying the shutters open. “We will have to blow it open!”
  2568.  
  2569. >”Anyone have any demolition skills?” Berry Punch asks, frowning at her character sheet. “I’m sure we could get through the door eventually, but…”
  2570. >”Kinda running out of time,” Cheerilee finishes, raising her eyebrows meaningfully.
  2571. >Trixie grunts in agreement.
  2572. >”We have to get through this door in one action, and all we have are grenades –“
  2573.  
  2574. >” – who can do it?”
  2575. >The techmarine shoulders his way past the others, clawed servo arms help high.
  2576. >”Why not Casull?”
  2577. >”Because you have no arms you cursed bastard!” Ihaus answers, fumbling at his belt for a grenade.
  2578. >”So what do I have to lose?” the techmarine asks, snatching the grenade from Ihaus’s belt with a claw and jamming it into the gap between the doors with enough force to lodge it there.
  2579. >It takes him several long seconds to get the massive claw to grab the tiny pin.
  2580.  
  2581. >”Fire in the hole!” Lyra shouts cheerfully.
  2582. >Twilight can’t even put her despair into words – a groan suffices.
  2583. >”Oh come on!” the unicorn shouts.
  2584.  
  2585. >”HAVE FAITH!” the techmarine cries out, turning his back to the door and flinging the grenade’s pin at the Deffdread.
  2586. >As anyone with common sense would expect, the pin bounces off the thick sheets of armor doing no damage. Not even to the yellow paint haphazardly sloshed over the rusted mess.
  2587. >”Bah, must only work for Erik.” Casull grunts, his disappointment almost – almost but not quite – distracting him from the true issue at hand.
  2588. >Of course, it is rather difficult to forget about an explosive.
  2589. >Not for very long, in any case.
  2590. >Particularly one on a timer.
  2591. >”Oh cr-“ Casull’s words are cut off by the grenade’s detonation – the doors peeling open from the blast. Not enough to admit passage, but enough to catch the attention of the room’s occupant.
  2592. >”UZ GITZ BETTA RUN, AIN’T NOBODY GETTING’ DEZE TEEF!”
  2593. >A high pitched whine drowns out the roar of the Deffdread’s chainsaw claws, followed almost immediately by a blinding streak of sickly yellow light that burns an even larger hole through the door. The beam sears down the corridor, clipping Anovel –
  2594.  
  2595. >”And I’ll spend my last Fate point to reroll that,” Berry Punch tells you, reaching for her dice again.
  2596.  
  2597. >- clipping one of the purity seals hanging from Anovel’s armor as he dodges out of the path.
  2598. >A wise choice, the Dark Angel realizes as the beam shears off one of the Deffdread’s arms by chance.
  2599. >”Who ordered the starship-grade weaponry?” Casull complains, scrambling away from the door. “Because it sure as hell wasn’t me!”
  2600.  
  2601. >”Oh crap,” Berry Punch groans. “Trixie, did you tell the Herald of the Black to start shooting?”
  2602. >”What!? No!” the unicorn protests.
  2603.  
  2604. >”I have not had contact with the ship since –“ Trixus breaks off, listening intently to his vox. “Since now. We are out of time, brothers – multiple ork ships are inbound.”
  2605. >He charges the weakened doors, shattering them apart with a single kick.
  2606. >”What!?” Anovel asks, sprinting through the gap, sword at the ready. “How!?”
  2607. >”Drawn by the escape pods’ signals, undoubtedly,” Ihaus answers, following on the Dark Angel’s heels. “In our mercy, we have brought this upon ourselves.”
  2608.  
  2609. >”Wait –“ Lyra holds up a hoof to silence Fluttershy before the pegasus can call Erik’s actions. “Somehow, these spaceships are shooting at us!?”
  2610. “No, that’s just coincidence – there’s only one ork shooting at you right now –“
  2611.  
  2612. >The ork cackles as its oversized gun begins to whine again, crackles of energy dancing along the length of the weapon.
  2613. >”SHORE COST ME LOADS O’ TEEF, BUT I’D SAY VERA WUZ WURF IT! NOT LIKE DEY WUZ MINE ANYWAY!”
  2614. >It swings the weapon back up to point at the cluster of Space Marines at the door.
  2615. >”‘OW NICE O’ YOU BEAKIES TO BUNCH UP FUR ‘ER!”
  2616. >”Oh that’s just ridiculous,” Casull whines, sticking his head around the shattered remnants of the door. “Half of those barrels don’t even do anything!”
  2617. >”WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON BACK THERE!?” Osric bellows as he dodges another swing from the Deffdread.
  2618. >”Oh, nothing interesting,” Ihaus answers tersely. “Just another ork threatening to murder us all with some kind of alien death ray.”
  2619.  
  2620. >Cheerilee stands up, leaning onto the table to get a clearer look at the battle-map.
  2621. >”Oh, Anon,” she coos,” You shouldn’t have – it’s not even my birthday.”
  2622. “Aww shucks, Cheerilee. Sometimes I just like doin’ nice things for my friends.”
  2623. >”Trixie, I think we –“
  2624. >”Regroup,” the unicorn says. Cheerilee smiles and nods. “Using our last two Cohesion.”
  2625.  
  2626. >”ASIDE, BROTHERS!” Trixus calls.
  2627. >”AIN’T NOBODY GETTING WURZAK’Z TEEF!”
  2628. >The Space Marines scatter as the ork fires for the second time, throwing themselves out of the path of the beam.
  2629. >The Deffdread has no such luck, the putrid light drilling through the cockpit. The machine spasms as its operator dies – one flailing limb catching Osric in the torso. The still spinning teeth of the claw dig deep into the Imperial Fist’s breastplate, sending flecks of the marine’s black ceramite plate flying.
  2630.  
  2631. >”And that’s my last Fate Point,” Cheerilee says with a smile, making a mark on Osric’s sheet, “but I think that was worth it!”
  2632. >She leans to her side, reaching past Lyra to give your princess a nudge.
  2633. >”We’ve done it,” she tells her, “and no sacrifice.”
  2634. >”Yeah,” Lyra grumbles. “Just one last ork to kill and we’re done.”
  2635. >”Assuming you remember the words,” Trixie says, leaning onto the table with a smile. “And if not… I’m sure we can figure something out.”
  2636. >Fluttershy rolls her eyes *so hard* at that she falls over onto her back.
  2637. >”Let’s just kill the ork so she can say her damn words!”
  2638. >“And if she doesn’t remember?” Twilight asks apprehensively. “What then?”
  2639. >Fluttershy groans from her place on the floor.
  2640. >”Then we wouldn’t have a very good story, would we?”
  2641. “I’m afraid I’m not going to fudge things *that* much, Flutterbutter –“
  2642. >She jerks herself upright, staring at you confrontationally.
  2643. >”Who said it’s up to you?” Fluttershy demands, slamming a hoof into the table.
  2644.  
  2645. >”HAVE FAITH!” Erik roars, grabbing the closest thing and flinging it at Wurzak’s, hoping to put it down before it can fire again.
  2646. >The rubber ducky bounces off the ork’s face, drawing a confused grunt from its mouth.
  2647.  
  2648. >”Care to explain that?” Twilight demands, her lips drawn tight.
  2649. “Hey, you never let me look in your notebook, why should I let you look in mine!? I’ve got a d100 chart for randomly generating objects that I spend hours on!”
  2650. >You hold up your empty notebook, waving it in front of her face.
  2651. >”But… a rubber ducky? Why?” Berry Punch joins in.
  2652. “Because I rolled a 63!”
  2653.  
  2654. >Erik looks down at his hand in bemusement. Well, that was weird…
  2655. >Wurzak roars in anger, cranking a lever on his gun to a higher setting.
  2656. >”I really suggest –“ Casull takes a step back. “ – I mean, maybe you should rethink that –“
  2657. >He backpedals quickly, putting distance between himself and the ork as the weapon’s charging whine grows into shriek.
  2658. >”I AIN’T GOT TIME FER YUR WARNIN’S, SPACE MEREEN!”
  2659. >”Stop him!” Ihaus roars, leaping forward to tear the gun from Wurzak’s hands. “If it –“
  2660.  
  2661. “I’m… sorry…”
  2662. >Twilight shuts her eyes tight, sighing.
  2663. >”I knew it,” she whispers.
  2664. “It’s not my fault!”
  2665. >Your princess leans forward, resting the knees of her forelegs on the table and holding her head. Her eyes open just enough to see you.
  2666. “No, really!”
  2667. >You lift the GM screen, letting her see the roll.
  2668. “See!?”
  2669.  
  2670. >The weapon explodes in a ball of uncontrolled energy, a new sun – a green sun – flares into existence for a brief moment.
  2671. >Ihaus roars as the overloading weapon sears his bare face – not in pain, but in failure.
  2672. >They say – the Emperor said – that Space Marines know no fear.
  2673. >This is a lie.
  2674. >They fear not death or pain or suffering. They do not fear oblivion or the blade or the gun.
  2675. >They fear failure – and Ihaus is *afraid*.
  2676. >A black streak smashes into the librarian, throwing him from the blast and standing between the two, taking the brunt of the explosion.
  2677.  
  2678. >”And that was Trixus’ – and the party’s – last Fate Point,” Trixie says regretfully. “We are… out of tricks.”
  2679. >She spits the last word from her mouth, as if disgusted by the taste of it.
  2680. >”But at least you’ve saved the Ihaus!” Fluttershy cheers happily, grinning like a drunk idiot.
  2681. >”You shouldn’t have,” Twilight sighs. “You should have gone for the gun and destroyed it to save the control room, because now –”
  2682. >She glares at you.
  2683. >” – somepony will have to trigger the self-destruct manually.”
  2684. >”This isn’t his fault,” Fluttershy tells her plaintively. “We didn’t blame *you* during the last campaign, did we?
  2685. >Enough of this…
  2686. >”No but –“
  2687. “Enough.”
  2688. >You open your notebook and hand it to your princess.
  2689. >Try to – she closes her eyes and twists away to avoid it.
  2690. >With a sigh, you hand it to Berry Punch instead. The Earth Pony takes a quick glance and smiles at you, amused at your “notes” for the session.
  2691. “Berry Punch, is there anything in there about Meganobs?”
  2692. >”Nope,” she answers, flipping through the blank pages.
  2693. “Anything about Deffdreads?”
  2694. >”Not a word.”
  2695. “At any point did I write something about making characters sacrifice themselves?”
  2696. >”You know as well as I do that it doesn’t.”
  2697. “So those boss fights…?”
  2698. >”I’m guessing that’s because we demanded them?”
  2699. “Yep.”
  2700. >”You’ve just been giving us what we say we want,” Lyra says, sounding hurt.
  2701. “I’m sorry for that. As your GM, I shouldn’t have let you push things too far.”
  2702. >That makes your princess turn back to face you, if only for a second. She quickly looks away, her embarrassment plain for you to read.
  2703. >“But I wanted to *earn* this!” Lyra insists, thumping the floor.
  2704. “And you have, haven’t you? Cheerilee defeated an enemy none of you should have even been able to hurt! You’ve fought on despite losing multiple limbs! Fluttershy beat orks to death with their own skulls! Don’t you think you’ve earned your victory?”
  2705. >”Not yet,” Twilight Sparkle says firmly. “We still have to destroy the station. I’m not going to let you go easy on us –“
  2706.  
  2707. >Ihaus gestures to a bank of semi-molten cogitators and control panels with one hand.
  2708. >”How bad is the damage, techmarine?” he asks, voice devoid of hope. “Can you still activate the self-destruct?”
  2709. >Casull hesitates, studying the damage for a second, testing a few stations.
  2710. >”Yes,” he finally answers. “But – it will not be delayed. One of us will have to remain to trigger it.”
  2711. >”I – I will not abandon any of you,” the librarian says firmly. “I cannot leave any of you to die alone in this place.”
  2712.  
  2713. “You get your damn sacrifice after all, Twilight. Just remember, I didn’t plan for this…”
  2714. >”I did,” she says sadly. “I’ve planned for this since I made my character.”
  2715. >Twilight looks down at her character sheet.
  2716. >”I really liked this character; he knows everything,” she says, tears beading up in the corners of her eyes. “He knows *everything*…”
  2717. >”Too bad one of your Lore skills can’t help us now,” Trixie tells her, finding a way to sound insulting and sympathetic at the same time.
  2718. >”No, no they can’t…” Twilight answers, wiping the tears away with her hoof.
  2719. >She picks up her character sheet with both hooves, staring down at it and…
  2720. >Smiling?
  2721. >”I planned for this from the beginning,” your princess repeats.
  2722. >Her smile grows wider, without a hint of sadness.
  2723. >She brings her head up, staring into your eyes.
  2724. >Hers twinkle - *sparkle* - with joy as she passes her character sheet to you.
  2725. >”Notice anything…?” she asks, grinning.
  2726. “Well, I see you lied to everyone – you still have a Fate Point left.”
  2727. >She shakes her head even as Trixie’s jaw drops in outrage.
  2728. >”No, I didn’t lie – that one wasn’t available.”
  2729. >”Available?” Cheerilee demands, leaning past Lyra once again to grab Twilight’s shoulder. “Look, we’d understand if –“
  2730. >”Actually…” Twilight responds, grinning shyly, “… I kind of forgot about it. In my mind, I had already spent it…”
  2731. >”On what?” Trixie yells.
  2732. >Twilight smiles, not answering.
  2733. >”Anon…?” she finally asks.
  2734. “Yes?”
  2735. >”What’s the last skill listed on Ihaus’s sheet?”
  2736. “Wisdom of the Ancients.”
  2737. >Oh.
  2738. >Didn’t see that before.
  2739. >Your marefriend took so many Lore skills, she Old Man Henderson’ed you.
  2740. >”And what does that do…?” she asks playfully, still staring out at her fellow players.
  2741. “I – I have to answer any one question you have.”
  2742. >”Why didn’t you use that when we were fighting the Meganobs!?” Lyra exclaims. “Or when the Deffdread showed up!?”
  2743. >”I almost did,” Twilight admits. “I almost did…”
  2744. “That’s why you kept looking at your character sheet...?”
  2745. >”It’s such a useful skill,” she responds, turning back to face you. “But so… difficult. I can make you answer any one question I have. *Anything*. But only one.”
  2746. >She sighs.
  2747. >”The hardest part was figuring out what to ask for…”
  2748. >You wonder if Scootaloo ever figured that out herself.
  2749. “And your question is?”
  2750. >Your princess smiles again, her expression full of joy and love.
  2751. >”How do we get our happy ending, Anon?”
  2752. “And by ‘happy ending,’ you mean…?”
  2753. >Probably not the first thing that popped into your head.
  2754. >”Everybody lives,” your princess answers, still holding that smile. “Just this once, everybody lives.”
  2755. “The party?”
  2756. >”Everybody,” Twilight responds. “Us, the survivors on the ship, the orks in the escape pods. *Everybody*.”
  2757. >Oh bless these little ponies and their innocence.
  2758. “You’re not making this easy on me – from your own demands, someone has to be here to trigger the self-destruct – assuming –“
  2759. >You cut that short after a look from Lyra.
  2760. “You don’t have time to repair the controls because of the oncoming ork ships, and you can’t risk a fight between them and your ship because that might kill the survivors you rescued.”
  2761. >”I know I may have put you in a difficult position…”
  2762. >”You led him to this.” Trixie seems almost unaware of the words coming out of her mouth – as surprised as the rest of you. “You made this happen, didn’t you, Twilight Sparkle?”
  2763. >Your princess blushes, ducking her head.
  2764. >”I *may* have pushed here and there, but…” she risks looking up, afraid that the other ponies are angry with her “… I couldn’t imagine a better ending.”
  2765. >”Overcoming impossible odds and *everybody lives*?” Cheerilee smiles slightly. “That’s a pretty good ending.”
  2766. >Trixie and Lyra nod grudgingly, but Fluttershy beams a smile.
  2767. >”Everybody lives!” she says happily, as if the ending is already set in stone.
  2768. >Berry Punch simply smiles.
  2769. >She likes happy endings.
  2770. >”Well, Anon?” Twilight asks, putting a hoof on your hand. “How are you going to solve this?”
  2771. >Her voice drops to a whisper.
  2772. >”You *did* promise you would solve *everything*.”
  2773. >The ponies stare at you expectantly.
  2774. >”WELL, ANON?”
  2775. >”I’M THINKING, AJ!”
  2776. >”THINK FASTER!”
  2777. “Can people/ponies/orks your characters haven’t met die?”
  2778. >”Everybody lives,” Berry Punch insists, putting her forehooves on the table aggressively.
  2779. “Okay then…”
  2780.  
  2781. >Osric sets up the teleport homer as the other five Space Marines get to work, stripping off Casull’s armor.
  2782. >”You’re sure this will work…?” Ihaus asks hesitantly, even though it was his idea.
  2783. >”Of course,” the techmarine answers. “The self-destruct has to be triggered vocally, so we can use my suit’s vox to relay the message. Do you think we’ll find a functional vox unit anywhere else in this ruin?”
  2784. >He looks at his battered wargear.
  2785. >”And it is best that we use mine – after the damage it’s sustained this day, I was planning to rebuilt it anyway.”
  2786. >It takes the marines under five minutes to strip off the armor and reassemble the suit – not completely, just the essentials. Casull’s breastplate, gorget and powerplant sit near the control panel, green power indicator’s glowing steadily.
  2787. >”Test, test,” Trixus whispers into the squad link.
  2788. >”Coming through loud and clear,” Anovel responds, holding one thumb up.
  2789. >”Osric, is the teleport homer ready?” Ihaus asks the Imperial Fist, helping Casull gather the remnants of his armor – the parts that can be saved.
  2790. >”Indeed, and none too soon,” he answers, pressing the activation rune. “The ork vessels will be entering firing range soon.
  2791. >”Herald of the Black, this is Trixus. We are ready for extr- “
  2792. >The ship’s captain does not even wait for the Space Marine to finish the sentence, ordering the teleporter activated immediately and powering away from the station at full thrust.
  2793. >Without even stepping from the teleporter array, Ihaus pulls the microphone from his gorget, handing the wireless device to the techmarine.
  2794. >”Hurry, brother. You know better than us the limited range of our suits’ vox systems.
  2795. >Casull nods, holding the microphone close to his mouth and whispering.
  2796. >”Klaatu barada nikto.”
  2797.  
  2798. >”Sweet Celestia,” Berry Punch utters. “I was afraid I was going to have to use Deceive...”
  2799. >Lyra laughs, facehoofing.
  2800. >”Can we… can we redo that?” Lyra gasps. “Can we pretend I didn’t remember? I want to see this.”
  2801.  
  2802. >”Brother…” Osric looks over to the techmarine, “… is something the matter?”
  2803. >”No, no…” Casull shakes his head sadly. “Just thought of something amusing. It’s not important.”
  2804. >Trixus pulls his helmet from his head, smiling contently.
  2805. >”Well brothers, ships sensors confirm the destruction of Solan’s Reach,” he tells him. “Mission successful.”
  2806.  
  2807. >Twilight’s hoof is still on your hand – you pull free, putting your hand on top and wrapping your fingers around it.
  2808. “Well, Twilight…? Everybody lived. Satisfied with your happy ending?”
  2809. >”It’s okay…” she answers softly. “But what about *our* happy ending?”
Twilight Sparkle Anon Trixie Berry Punch Warhammer 40k /tg/ Traditional Games Complete NSFW

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