August 13th, 2551
Pale magenta light filled the air surrounding Trixie's throne, clashing with the glow of electric lights and burning hearths before projecting the Unicorn mare's shadow far over the room. The dazzling light show her magic produced danced across the ancient stone walls of the great hall in baroque patterns.
Trixie's lieutenant grew only more confused as she watched the former stage-magician's horn light up. "Mistress Trixie, what do you mean? I still don't understand."
"This is only the beginning." Trixie repeated cryptically.
"What is beginning? We've failed to do significant damage to the Imperial leadership, the human UNSC and Equestria are likely as close as ever, some of our finest fighters went down, our support within the Covenant may have died with Kusovai, and Sombra was not able to use the Elements or Discord to reconstruct himself early." She narrowed her eyes under her fiery-crimson mane. "And why do you speak to us in riddles? What we need are clear, tangible orders!"
"I for one, am in agreement with young Sunset Shimmer here, Mistress Beatr..I mean Trixie. The New Sovereignty, Insurrectionist though it may be, is first and foremost, a fighting force..." Aurelius tapped the underside of his energy staff on the stone ground twice for emphasis.
"...and any army, needs proper organization and leadership. I may have been a general in my prime during a forgotten age, but there's only so much the others and I can do to keep that assorted rabble you call soldiers in line. Also, without my colleague Honoria around, I'm even less the warrior I once was." He pointed a hoof at the scars on his armor. The burned and jagged lines formed an 'X' across the hardlight surface, unable to be repaired by any modern tools, magic or conventional.
Sunset Shimmer nodded and half-smirked appreciatively at the shorter red-coated Earth Pony, a concession she rarely made for anyone. "Thank you, Aurelius. At least somepony see's what's wrong here. I should also throw in.." Shimmer glanced at a grey-feathered Gryphon that was approaching them intently. "...that our Gryphon allies will only be hospitable for so long, Trixie."
Trixie's magenta eyes bored into Sunset Shimmer and Aurelius as her spell neared readiness to be cast. She was growing extremely tired of their insistent usage of emphasis, as if she were nothing more than a petulant, brash school filly. Finally, the magic hit the floor in front of them with a loud magical whirring. The spell, a hoof-sized orb of energy almost the same color as its caster's eyes, hung there, humming a low repetitive beep.
It then expanded to reveal a real-color, highly-detailed holographic display of Planet Equis, depicting the vast world's numerous continents and oceans. The planetary projection was supplemented by additional data: city and structural layouts, weapon schematics, dossiers on officials from Equestria and neighboring countries, seismic scans of Canterlot Mountain, and more.
"Behold, Sunset Shimmer, Aurelius! The true plan has been set in motion by your efforts this day. Trixie simply does not waste so many of her hard earned followers for no reason. My dears, every decision and command she makes has a profound purpose for our cause, which will be victorious very soon!"
Whether she was convinced of Trixie's sincerity or not, Sunset Shimmer remained quiet, focusing her attention on the hologram. Aurelius' ego however, still needed some convincing.
Puzzled, frustrated, and ignoring the display, he said, "Great and Powerful Trixie, while we may have some like-minded ponies, men, and Covenant on our side, as well as the benefit of secrecy to our enemies, we are nowhere close to fulfilling our lord Sombra's true vision quite yet. Surely we're on the brink of disaster if anything!"
Although having just expressed her anger, Trixie was now startlingly calm and collected. She pulled her lips into a thin smile towards Aurelius, lazily resting her chin on crossed forelegs, her star-embroidered cape rising to fringe her neck and silver mane like a clear winter's night. Trixie also made it her point to make a portion of the dark Alicorn Amulet she wore around her neck visible to him.
From his perspective, Aurelius silently mused that his leader resembled a large predatory cat, reclining after gorging itself on a fresh kill. Trixie, as arrogant and overbearing as she can be at times, was a mare to be reckoned with. When Trixie had power at her disposal, she did not hesitate to exercise it, and Aurelius respected that in a superior. Even with respect out of the question, for Trixie, the Alicorn Amulet would be a strong deterrent from any manner of rebellion on his or anyone else's part.
The former Imperium commander filed his thoughts away for future reference, and took a gander at the holographic display
As seconds passed, Trixie's hologram revealed its contents and details to the two ponies, who changed their expression from first skepticism, to astonishment, then to satisfaction upon finally gaining full comprehension.
Trixie's smile became a grin, and her brow furrowed. She stood up and got off her throne, greeting the incoming Gryphon.
"Yes, now you both understand Trixie. Are you not embarrassed at having ever doubted her?" Her question was only rhetorical, and she did not await a response from them, sauntering towards the nearing Gryphon instead.
"Commissar Dimitrov, welcome! What brings you to Trixie's inner sanctum? Does the Premiere of the Griffonian Union have news of their war against the Czar's remaining loyalists?" She raised an eyebrow. "Or does he request for more intelligence regarding the strength of the Equestrian Empire and surrounding countries?"
"Privetstviya, Mistress Trixie." Dimitrov slowly removed his heavy military cap and held it at his armored chest, frowning sadly. "The latter, Mistress, but Premiere Tiran's requests are secondary for now. You see, Gilda has returned, terribly injured and this could only mean that your assault on Canterlot was likely..."
Dimitrov finally noticed the other two ponies standing on the opposite side of the hologram spell dominating the throne dias, staring impatiently at him. "Oh...I see."
Trixie beckoned him over towards the others, levitating a large wooden chair towards him from a seating area at one end of the great hall.
"Join us, Dimitrov. Trixie the Great and Powerful was just in the middle of explaining our true plans of attack. It would be most rude not to share it with our most gracious hosts."
The Gryphon Commissar abided and took his seat. Trixie smirked and assumed the voice of a schoolteacher ready to lecture her pupils. "Now Commissar, as Trixie has told her faithful followers, Canterlot was just the beginning. A wake up call for the Empire!"
Sunset Shimmer fell into a giggling fit. "What is it?" Trixie hissed, unpleased at the interruption.
"Some of our spies did make anonymous phone calls to those idiots in the Canterlot Imperial Guard, earlier this morning. The spies wanred them and a few IBI spooks cryptically, that their 'Day of Discord was nigh approaching.', something weird and freaky like that. They didn't take the bait until our boys and Kusovai's Covenant were already right on top of them."
A lone UNSC Pelican hummed its engine quietly as it flew from the Canterlot Space Port to a waiting battlecruiser, the EIN Vanguard of the Sun, in high orbit. The ship and her escorts were ready to take its soon to be passengers: Ackerson, the twin Spartan III's, and the detachment of Spartan Blue Team, back to Reach at a moment's notice.
Luna watched the dropship vanish into the retreating evening sun with a mixture of relief and, oddly enough, indifference. She strode purposefully, each shoe landed after the other on the dust and debris-covered pale blue flagstone road with a stately grace only an Alicorn, or one of upstanding lineage, could possibly possess.
The heavy footfall of several groups of armored hooves and pairs of boots followed in step after her, one of which belonging to the imposing form of Master Chief, clad in his all-green Mark IV Mjolnir armor.
The Spartan's three Imperial counterparts had voluntarily stayed behind to help the Guard keep Discord secure so that Celestia could go about her duties without worry. The sun still had to be lowered completely for the night, and there was the matter of the International Summit looming over the Empress' mind much like the Gala had.
"I think we're nearly there, I recognize the little clock tower in the middle of the plaza." Captain Flash Sentry said, glancing past the rows of ornate buildings, towards a larger one in particular as he lead the group through the streets.
"Goodness, you never realize how much damage and carnage a battle can cause until it's already over." Doctor Anders remarked behind the group of royalty, commanders, and Wonderbolts, scanning the various leftovers of the still very fresh Battle of Canterlot.
Various intervals of the streets nearest Star Swirl Plaza were marred with scorch marks and craters from exploded grenades. Shop windows and stucco limestone-marble walls were shattered, vitrified or pockmarked with holes from bullets and plasma burns. Damaged and bent police barricades loomed like bizarre art sculptures over certain areas, and the ground was littered with ammo casings, spent medi grenades, and discarded or lost equipment.
"Are you guys certain no bystanders were hurt fatally?" Applejack asked, walking slowly with Anders, Twilight, and the others while surveying the damages. Thankfully, cleaning up the dead and recovering wounded had been made the top priority as soon as Canterlot had been deemed secure again.
"We have yet to find any civvy with anything more serious than a broken horn, twisted wing, or broken legs and arms. It would seem the Insurrectionists had very strict orders to only kill military personnel." General Forge answered, next to Flash Sentry.
"And they certainly followed those orders to the extreme." Shining Armor threw in with a scowl, recalling all the patients his fiancé was helping to treat back at the Palace.
"Insurrectionist bastards." Spectra Dash muttered absentmindedly under his breath.
"What concerns me, is the what the Covenant were doing." Master Chief said suddenly. He had been silent most of the way down from the Palace to the city, and his voice caused the Wonderbolts flanking him and Luna to twitch slightly in surprise.
Luna eyed him curiously, and several others turned to listen as they walked and trotted. "How so?" She inquired.
"These Covenant, the escaped defectors, they were working with the Insurrectionists, some of which were human." Chief analyzed his surroundings through his helmet's visor, then looked at Luna again. "Covenant do not work with Humans."
It was a simple statement of solid fact, but its significance could not be ignored in the context of the recent battle. Luna nodded, pondering the battle and her interactions with the so-called Covenant defectors' leader. "Obviously something is afoot within the Covenant Empire and powers on this very world that we lack knowledge of. Perhaps we should incorporated the Bureau of Intelligence directly into our Armed Forces as soon as possible, so that they will directly cooperate with us."
"I dunno Your Majesty... Are you certain the Director will be willing to hand over the autonomy of his government branch to the military so readily?" Spitfire inquired skeptically.
"Irrelevant, Air Commander. If it is our will to consolidate the branches of government not under sister's control as we see fit, the Director will have no choice but to acquiesce to the change." Luna shot back quickly. "Such is the way of the Imperial Diarchy."
Spitfire grinned and nodded almost timidly at her superior, chuckling nervously. "Of course, of course."
"Alright, we're uh, we're here." Sentry said with slight reluctance, after a few more minutes traversing the city. Looking at the restaurant made his bit purse nearly cry out, for it would soon be greatly diminished.
Along with Anders, Twilight, Rarity, Pinkie Pie, and Fluttershy gawked at the building while everyone else continued ahead of them.
Tartarus' Kitchen was a fine establishment, or at least the two-story exterior certainly portrayed it as such. While the building shared some of the common Canterlot architectural design styles, it also possessed elements of a unique and prominent alternative style.
Canterlot marble and gold filigree was accented by sleek, vibrant thick-pane windows lined by rows of miniature reflecting ponds, perfectly linear hedges, and well-tended white and red rose bushes. Everything appeared untouched by the fighting that had occurred literally just down the street, hours before.
The appearance of the restaurant drew Twilight and Anders into a lengthy intellectual discussion regarding architecture eccentricities found throughout the world, which caused Rainbow Dash to stray away from them in boredom.
Rainbow herself settled on discussing combat techniques with Shining Armor and Spectra.
"That's definitely in your league of eating establishments, Rarity. It sure is super-duper ritzy!" Pinkie Pie exclaimed, adeptly balancing Anders' birthday cake on her back as she bounced casually.
"You're most definitely right, darling." Rarity answered back with certainty. Her eyes twinkled as she imagined herself strolling elegantly inside.
Fluttershy seemed slightly less enthusiastic than her companions. "I've heard that the owner is rather loud and frequently uses profanity when he's angry. And he's easily angered!" She murmured, growing increasingly tense as her imagination ran wild.
Pinkie Pie patted her affectionately on the back and smiled cheerfully. "Don't worry, how much of a potty-mouthed pony can he be?"
Tartarus' Kitchen Restaurant
Blue Team Kitchen
"Oh, for fuck's sakes. C'mon guys, really? Raw chicken?" An accented voice shouted out.
Slamming the plate down on the stainless steel counter, world-famous Equestrian chef Gordon Ramsneigh fumed red with rage underneath his blonde mane and coat of beige fur. "Look at it, it's fucking raw!"
The junior chefs around Gordon, all stallions and men donning blue aprons over their white jackets similar to Ramsneigh, stared at him with flushed faces. Some were embarrassed, others scared senseless. "Undercooked! All of you, touch it! Stone bloody cold!"
"Yes Chef, sorry Chef!" They chorused, hesitantly poking at the poorly cooked dish.
"Eh, why did the chicken cross the bloody road?"
"Because it's not fucking cooked!"
Ramsneigh slammed his hoof on the counter, causing the poultry to jostle slightly on the shiny china. "Yes Chef!" He shouted back mockingly. "We don't serve our patrons under-cooked meat! You could kill someone doing that, you stupid idiots! AM I CLEAR?"
"Yes, Chef Ramsneigh!"
"Now get your arses moving and restart the orders! I can't believe you guys, the ladies on Red Team are steam rolling you over there!" He leaned over towards Red Team. "Excellent work, ladies!" He then returned his attention to the Blue Team. "What the fuck is next from you all, DRY SOUP?"
"Oh, Celestia bless..." He nearly face-hoofed. "Piss off!"
The Blue Team hastily returned to their stations as Ramsneigh trotted back to his usual location up front, where he approved all dishes before sending them out to his customers. As he muttered to himself, he noticed a large group of newcomers in the entry veranda.
Business had been slow all day for obvious reasons, and Ramsneigh was beyond jubilant at the sight of more patrons to serve-almost incompetent kitchen staff notwithstanding.
"Oh, fuck me." He murmured under his breath when he finally noticed who the new arrivals were, through the front windows.
Effectively, three fourths of Equestria's top military brass, the Princess, Wonderbolts, and the mares known to have defeated Nightmare Moon were all now strolling towards his business. Based on tonight's performance, his life's career will either be fully realized to its maximum, or sent straight down the toilet, Ramsneigh thought to himself.
"Jean-Phillip, we have new guests, very important guests!" Chef Ramsneigh shouted at his Maitre d, cupping his forelegs at his muzzle in hopes of amplifying his voice and increasing the sense of urgency. "Let's move it, I need your Prench arse out here!"
Jean-Phillip nodded and strode purposefully towards the Red and Blue kitchens.
People Ramsneigh could readily identify as the Captain of the entire Royal Guard-wearing his wing in a medical sling-and the new human general of the Imperial Marine Corps, were the first to enter. They politely held the doors open for the large group following them.
The leader of the Air Force and half of the Empire's Wonderbolts trotted in. The Guard Captain trained his eye on the Air Commander for an overly prolonged amount of time as she past him.
They were soon followed in turn by the Army's Lord General, a tall heavily-armored and helmeted soldier, a rainbow-maned stallion prodding at his bandaged chest awkwardly, and then Princess Luna herself. The Chef nearly gasped aloud at the sight of the Alicorn.
The Elements of Harmony, as Chef Ramsneigh could tell immediately from their personal attire, followed last with a short, black haired woman wearing white scientists' robes, the Minister of Technology.
"Bloody hell, did this place just turn into the freaking Grand Assembly Chambers when I wasn't looking?" Ramsneigh muttered nervously, thinking aloud. He dusted off his chef's jacket and straightened up his posture.
Maitre d Jean-Phillip managed to gracefully welcome the prestigious guests in, much to his boss' absolute relief. Everyone got seated at their preferred locations on one side of the restaurant, where there was stair access to a rooftop deck.
Fulfilling his promise as the losing party of their bet, Flash Sentry approached Gordon Ramsneigh as he was criticizing the girls of Red Team for their current lack of proper organization. The Earth Pony's eyes lit up with astonishment at the handsomely large bag of bits Sentry handed to him, declaring that he was covering everyone's tab.
The amount had totaled out to three weeks of Sentry's average salary as Guard Captain, and Royal Guards of all ranks are paid very generously.
Some in the Empire speculate that it was one of Celestia's many ways of saying thanks for all their effort day to day: being living statues, hauling around heavy antiquated armor and weaponry, and preventing hapless tourists from wandering into private areas of the Palace, as well as keeping watch for rebel terrorists and escaped alien prisoners-nowadays.
While Pinkie Pie fanatically lead her friends in celebrating Anders' birthday, most of the Pegasi in their party took places at three specific tables, ordering a plethora of different dishes, which threatened to tip Ramsneigh over the edge with the screaming meemies.
Flash Sentry, having braved the economic toll of the night, could now relax and enjoy himself with his comrades. He approached the table where Luna and the rest of the non-Air Force military brass had convened, and promptly took a seat next to Forge. A waiter approached, and Sentry sent them on their way with an order of wine.
"Thing about bets, and Lady Luck in general, they can be your wallet's best friend." Forge said in greeting, taking a casual sip of his beer.
"That's kind of funny, you mentioning fortune. It's officially the Day of Discord now, and Friday the thirteenth of all things." Sentry interjected.
Forge chuckled and continued his statement. "Eeyup, and luck can also kick ya in the ass."
"Yeah, yeah. Go ahead and gloat." Flash made a mock hurt face, then flexed his good wing and raised his hooves in the air, stretching dramatically. "Always remember who's the one with the higher wage and the best long range shot, though." He then adopted a suave facial expression and smoothed part of his blue mane, peering briefly over at one of the Wonderbolt's tables. "Did I also mention the looks?"
Forge could only grin at the Pegasus. "Look at you, mister big shot! Sure, you got the looks, but what about the moves?"
The intonations in Forge's voice were starting to make Sentry suspicious."Whoa, hey! Where are you going with this, what do you mean?"
Sentry unknowingly took Forge's bait, and the man happily pressed on. "You don't think I haven't seen you giving Spitfire the ol' eye?" He looked over his shoulder at the Air Commander and Wonderbolt Captain, then winked at Sentry conspiratorially. "I know a crush when I see one."
Briefly, the skin of Flash Sentry's face was the consistency of a ripe tomato, completely ignoring his bronze coat of fur. He sneered at Forge for a second, then chuckled lightheartedly. "Is it really that darn obvious?"
While his grin grew wider, General Forge rapped a hand on the table top lightly. "Go for it Sentry! Ask Spitfire out!"
"Yeah right!" Rainbow Dash jeered at them from across the table. Luna, who was eating a rather colorful salad consisting of at least a dozen different plant species, raised an eyebrow at her.
At some point, Rainbow and Applejack had moved over from Anders' table, which had been turned by her and Twilight into an impromptu lecture hall regarding the origins of various Equestrian and Earth desserts, as well as a myriad of other topics, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, and Fluttershy listened to them with rapt attention, while Pinkie Pie devoured the remainder of the cake.
"Pinkie Pie, remember what the Empress requested, save at least a piece for her, darling!" Rarity cautioned.
With her mouth half-full, and crumbs falling everywhere, Pinkie replied."Oh, sure thing Rarity! You don't need to worry, it's so darn delicious!"
Rainbow Dash and Applejack were now listening to Shining Armor and Spectra banter about battle tactics. Rainbow grinned sheepishly at the staring Luna and the Master Chief, then to Forge and Flash. "What? I was only joking!"
Although Flash Sentry had the courage to look over at Spitfire, he still had his inhibitions, and Rainbow Dash just made his confidence drop by a full five thousand feet. "Oh there's no way in Tartarus she'd say yes. She's Air Force, she's Wonderbolt! I'm just Royal Guard, it...it wouldn't ever work out." He stammered
"Better to ask now and know, then not ask and never know." Forge pointed out, taking another draft of beer.
Sentry shuffled in his seat nervously. Dammit, he's right. "Ah, the wine is as good as this place boasts!" Sentry proclaimed awkwardly to nobody in particular. He got up suddenly and stood on all fours, eyes darting around fanatically. Casting a final glance at Forge, who gave him a thumbs up, Sentry said, "Here goes nothing."
Flexing his good wing to help gather his thoughts, Sentry took a deep breath and trotted purposefully towards the Wonderbolts' tables.
Luna observed the pegasus Captain as he went, and chanced a grin at the Master Chief. "They're lucky they are of the highest rank in thy respective branches, and that thou art Captain of the Royal Guard. Romantic involvement among the officers of the same branch is expressly forbidden."
"With all due respect Princess, I find Equestria's hierarchy a bit...strange." Chief replied.
Luna giggled lightly. "We are in agreement. A thousand and one years ago, we felt the same about the power structure of then." She waved a hoof around the table. "Hark! How the strangeness of affairs has been doubled for our fair Equestria of present, empires and starships indeed!"
"Here, here!" Shining Armor affirmed, raising his glass. The others near him chorused in agreement.
The Princess smiled at the gesture, only to snap into her professional stoic expression upon glancing at the clock. "Lo, our time to elevate the Moon has arrived! Chief, we pray you join us on the roof for this affair, 'tis a wondrous sight!"
Promptly, Master Chief arose from his own seat and stiffened up. "Yes ma'am." He made his way over to the stairs leading to the roof.
As Luna turned to follow, she heard a voice say, "Hey, I wanna see the Princess raise the Moon too!" A quick glance revealed it was a couple of Wonderbolts.
"Then carry thine selves out to the front lawn of this fine establishment. Thou hath seen the Moon raised countless times before, already." Luna replied sharply, leaving no room for argument. She then disappeared, trotting up the chique polished steel steps with haste.
In the intervening time, Flash Sentry returned to his seat next to Forge, a massive grin painted across his muzzle. "She...she said freaking yes! We're meeting up at the Cloudsdale Cloudiseum, tomorrow afternoon!"
Forge chuckled like a Viking warrior, patting the Captain roughly on the back. "I knew you had it in you buddy!" He flagged down the Maitre d', whom was making his way to the kitchens. "Hey, Mister Philippe, could we get a full tray of wine over, our friend the Royal Guard Captain here finally worked up the nerve to ask that special someone out!"
Jean-Philippe smiled warmly and nodded. The Earth Pony then paced briskly towards the nearest wine rack.
While Forge sat happily, Sentry got up with a new thought stirring in his mind. He stared at Spectra, who was still in conversation with Shining Armor. "Say, I'll be right back, Forge. I told Spectra I'd deal with his problem for him."
The Marine General was obliged to ask him what he meant, but it was clear Sentry was too focused on something to be anything more than cryptic with an explanation.
Flash Sentry walked around the table and tapped the other Pegasus on the shoulder. Outside of his original armor, Sentry could now see how short Spectra actually was. The ancient hardlight armor had given him an extra two feet, but without it, he was now barely taller than Rainbow Dash.
"Spectra, you remember what I said earlier? Regarding your armor situation?"
Spectra looked bemused as he set down his glass. "Yeah."
"Well I think you're going to like what I have in mind." Flash pointed his hoof at his silver and gold breast plate. "How would you like to be one of my lieutenants in the Royal Guard?"
"An officer's posting? Dude, you can't say no to something like that! Say yes!" Rainbow Dash urged.
"Well..." Spectra murmured thoughtfully, looking back and forth from Rainbow Dash to Sentry. "The Order of the Archons likely no longer exists, so I'm free from any past obligations..."
"Say yes! C'mon!"
"You'd get access to the finest armor and weapons, the sweetest digs, and the most prestigious tasks arguably in the entire world." Sentry threw in.
Finally, Spectra Dash nodded. "...How can I refuse? You have yourself a new Lieutenant!" Sentry beamed as Spectra got up from his own seat and stood as straight as an ancient oak tree. He gave Sentry a salute, holding a foreleg to his brow. "At your command, Captain!"
"Well alright then! Report at the Royal parade grounds at 08:00 tomorrow. We'll suit you up in your new armor, and I'll have you swear the oath. Welcome to the Guard, the Royal Guard!"
Both nodded to each other then Flash Sentry took his leave, returning to his side of the massive polished oak table. Shining Armor, Applejack, and Rainbow Dash expressed their congratulations to Spectra, who tried his best not to break into a goofy grin from happiness, for fear of conjuring up Pinkie Pie to the scene.
Above everyone, Luna and Master Chief stood on the roof. The former prepared to perform her duty, whilst the latter observed the landscape of Equestria rolling out before them.
The rooftop deck boasted a scenic view of the capitol city and out over the Equestrian countryside as far south as the extreme edge of Northern Ponyville.
Equis' Sun was sinking over the forests and hills of the Western horizon. Simultaneously, the combined lights of Canterlot and Ponyville shined in the wake of the rapidly darkening sky. Luna focused intently on her astronomical body, feeling the intense surge of the telekinetic forces within her as they exerted themselves upon the silver mass of the great sphere.
In silent awe of her inherent magical might, Master Chief stood by and slowly loosened his helmet. It came off with a quiet but unsubtle hiss of air. He held it at his side as he observed both the sky and the Alicorn changing it.
"You see, Chief. This is one of the reasons why we rule over such a vast land as Equestria. It was Tia and I who wrested control of the Sun and Moon from the corrupt leaders of the Unicorn tribes long after our armies deposed Discord." Luna watched the Moon ascend as she spoke, her cyan eyes affixed to it. "Since then, and until my...banishment, then now once more, sister raises the Sun. She allows it to drift on its normal course, then hastens its descent."
The sky turned from shades of orange and faint yellow, then to crimson-magenta, and onto deep violet and cerulean, before finally transitioning to the gentle dark cobalt of true night, which was nearly identical to its Princess' natural coat color.
"You must do the same with the Moon, then?" Chief asked quietly.
Having raised the Moon to its optimal height for the night, Luna turned to face Master Chief. This was the first time she had seen him take his helmet off. His face, however, was cast in shadow from the structure of the roof behind them, only his forehead and prominent cheek bones could be made out, even by her.
Master Chief detected something in the Alicorn's body language, and allowed his normally suppressed sense of curiosity to run rampant. "Why exactly.." He asked slowly. "...did you ask only me up here, Luna?"
Luna sighed and looked out over the city. "Is it not obvious, warrior?" She faced him again, with a pleading look on her face. "What I have to say, only someone such as yourself will be able to truly understand. You see...Me, you, all Spartans and any Alicorn warrior that has ever preceded me and mine sister's generation...we're kindred! All our lives we knew, and know, naught but duty, war, tradition, discipline and protocol."
She unfurled her wings slightly. "It makes us quiet, stoic, and unequivocal. Our creative fires kept confined, our emotional urges suppressed, all for the advancement of either those we serve, or those who serve under us."
"What about Empress Celestia?" Chief asked. "She seems open and sociable to me."
With a nod, Luna continued. "Aye. Tia was...the first such one of us to break away from the millenia old system of beliefs and protocol that had been imposed on naturally born Alicorns and military officers in Archon Spectra's time." Luna sighed as she delved through her thousands upon thousands of memories.
"She reasoned, that as the apex species of all Equines, we set the example for the others to follow. When we had reawakened from our long sleep in what is now the Everfree forest, the great space faring civilization we had been born into had long faded from memory."
Luna then gazed toward the direction of the Palace, eyes narrowed. "Discord, having awoken before us, ruled the hundreds of primitive tribes with impunity, causing chaos and preventing society from rising beyond tiny villages and hamlets. When we defeated him and finally began our rule centuries later, well over a thousand years ago, Tia had said that it was a new age, and new ages call for new ideas."
"Did you agree with her?"
"Yea, and nay. While I acknowledged sister's desire to bring a new order to the land the now unified pony tribes would coincidentally name, Equestria, I was reluctant to completely abandon the ideas our father had so ingrained in Ancient Equestrian society. Ultimately, it helped set in motion what lead to my...my banishment one millennium ago. There are other more prominent causes for that, but I shan't dwell on them now."
She stepped closer to him, and her silvery-blue mane almost began to billow like Celestia's. "You see, we are one in the same, Chief. I sense something...unique in you. You follow strict doctrines, as do I, but you are also more willing to go above them for the greater good, if necessary. For this reason, I chose you to represent the UNSC above your peers."
The noise of everyone downstairs drew her eyes to the staircase entrance. "When the Spirit of Fire crashed here, it was an act of Fate, I know it! We are at the dawn of a new era, one which calls on unique, exceptional individuals to pave and lead the way to greatness. I have massive plans for this Great War of ours, and I'd like people like you, Tia, Twilight Sparkle and her friends, and all their supporters at my side as we see them through. Confidants, comrades..."
Her eyes softened drastically and her voice lowered. "...friends."
John-117 stood tensely for a moment, then replied, setting his helmet back in place. "Princess, if you can convince the UNSC to follow your plans against the Covenant-whatever they may be-you can count on the Spartans to be your tip of the spear. It's what we were born to do."
Both shared a knowing nod, then slowly, Luna proceeded gracefully down the steps, Master Chief following closely after. Silver moonlight glistened off the doors, walls, and roof tiles, accenting their departure. The night sky hung still and quiet with stars twinkling, for well-placed magic wards prevented the electric lighting of the city from snuffing out the pleasant view of their celestial fires.
Back downstairs, all the tables had eventually mingled into one, as their gathering drew to a close. Gordon Ramsneigh observed the group quietly alongside his Maitre d, Jean-Philippe. Both Earth Ponies were breathing massive sighs of relief. Both Blue Team and Red Team had pulled through, and not a single one of Luna's party had complained of any horrendously prepared dishes.
Once Luna and Master Chief had come back into view, everyone raised a toast to Luna. The duo joined them, and those who had them, raised their glasses multiple times.
Toasts were then made in honor of Anders' birthday, their victory, the leadership of General Forge and Flash Sentry throughout the day, the Spartans, and to Ramsneigh for being such a gracious host upon such short notice. The five-star chef smiled and thanked them warmly, defying his rather fierce public image.
Finally calling it a night, the military high officials returned to their posts, both planetside and in orbit. Doctor Anders prepared to check on her HQ before retiring to her estate, Princess Luna and company checked in at the Palace, and the Elements of Harmony got ready for the flight back down to Ponyville.
Above Saddle Lake
"Spike better have taken decent care of the Library while I was gone." Twilight murmured tiredly.
"No worries dear, Spike is the most trustworthy dragon we know!" Rarity said, straining her voice over the loud DJ PON3 EBC broadcast Rainbow Dash was tuning into on a data pad she had taken from the front of the hovercraft passenger cabin they were all sitting in.
"Alright folks, we'll be at the Ponyville Aerodrome in about ten minutes, sit back and enjoy the ride." The pegasi pilot stated over the intercom.
Pinkie Pie sat wearily in her seat, clutching her stomach. She was also jittery from all the sugary frosting she had ingested. "Oh boy, cake sure is yummy, but no good for the tummy." She muttered, giggling quietly at her own rhyme.
Suddenly, she shot up, seemingly recovered from her sugar-induced stomachache. "Crud, I forgot to stop by the Palace and leave Celestia some cake!"
"Don't worry about it sugarcube, I'm sure she'll forgive you fer forgettin'. We'll just have to bake her a nice cake some other..." Applejack paused abruptly as she noticed something.
Pinkie Pie had disappeared.
"...time." AJ finished weakly, eyes widened and her mouth in a comically baffled 'O' shape.
After awhile, Applejack shrugged. "Pinkie Pie... A mystery wrapped in an enigma, Ah'd say."
"Whoa, guys, you gotta hear this news bulletin about Scootaloo, Applebloom, and Sweetie Bell. The IBI is calling them a bunch of heroes!"
Rapidly, everyone got up and crowded around Rainbow Dash and the little tablet in her hoof, listening to the broadcast.
"Ladies and gentlecolts, faithful listeners the world over! I'm pleased to report to your sweet ears, that we have the pint-sized heroines right here in this very studio, A, to the Awesome! Tell me miss Sweetie Bell, just how did you and your adorable little club manage to convince the Covies to go running scared back to their alien mommies' basements?"
As Applejack and Rarity listened to the radio interview, both mares glared and shouted, "They did what?"
Celestia's Royal Apartments
Time had flown by since her younger sibling had raised the Moon, and Celestia was still busy dealing with paperwork for the upcoming Summit.
There were many details to cover. What emissaries and dignitaries were specifically going to show up? When? Would they bring their own security details, or would Celestia's Guards have to take up the brunt of the responsibility? Would any of these nations turn violent if they see certain rivals present at the Summit? How would she handle such an event? Who would keep the dignitaries fed and comfortable as the deliberations continued? How would she keep the other nations from suspecting Equestria of treachery or perpetrating Imperialism?
These were but a few of the eventualities and variables Celestia had to deal with, prepare for, and at least consider. The mountains of parchment and beeping data pads emphasized the sheer volume of her work load.
Not surprisingly, Celestia was considering hiring assistants and aides more and more by the day.
A sudden rasping at her balcony doors drew her up from her mahogany desk with a gasp-filled start. Her magenta eyes widened in alert. The day's recent attacks had given her mind cause for slight paranoia.
She prepared to call in her guards, but decided to approach the matter herself. "Who's there?" The Empress called out in a neutral but firm voice.
"Hi Your Majesty!"
Celestia gasped again and practically jumped at the voice behind her. She turned, only to behold the gaze of Pinkie Pie's grinning face.
"I brought you cake like you wanted!" She declared sweetly. Pinkie Pie did not await the Alicorn's response, and she placed the plate containing the slice of cake in Celestia's right hoof.
"Sorry, I can't talk right now, gotta go now, bye!" Pinkie Pie disappeared into thin air as quickly as she had come. Celestia stood there, and observed the space the mare had just occupied, wide-eyed.
After several awkward seconds, Celestia shrugged and set the plate down on her desk, covering some of the documents in the process. Smiling, she began humming a pleasant melody as she dug into the cake with the fork that had come with it.
"Da-da da-da, dah! Da-da da-da, dah!"
Taking a break from the diplomatic summit documents, Celestia focused her attention on some digital messages pertaining to another matter entirely.
The messages were sent by Doctor Catherine Elizabeth Halsey regarding herself, as well as her AI companion, UNSC Smart AI CTN 0452-9, better known as Cortana. They were inquiries as to what accommodations the Empress could provide, for the pair's impending arrival on Equis during the Global Summit.
A/N: This chapter took a long time to write, for some odd reason. Did I capture Luna and Master Chief's personalities okay in the rooftop scene? I certainly hope I did!