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Disclaimer: I do not own My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, or any of the ideas or characters related to it. I do not own Marvel or any of its ideas or characters. I really wish I did though. I make no money from this writing. I really wish I did though.
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic


    THE CRUSADERS #8
   
    FEATURING: THE INVINCIBLE IRON MARE; THE INCREDIBLE HULK: THE STRONGEST ONE THERE IS; SWEETIE BELLE: THE FIRST CRUSADER; CAMEO: AGENT OF S.T.R.I.K.E.; THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MARE; AND THE MIGHTY LANCER!

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    *

    Sombra’s Letter

    *

    “I, Lord Sombra, Sorcerer Supreme, do address this letter to the fair Princess Luna of Equestria, by way of the magic fire I have bred into my dragon breed. May it find her well.

    “It was I who a fortnight ago defeated the menace of the Annihilation Wave. With a spell crafted with the help of my mentor Grogar of Tambelon, who rescued me from my would-be Crystal Empire enslavers, I banished the alien menaces back to the dark realm from which they came.

    “The reason I left the battlefield so quickly, without even a hello or goodbye, is that I also killed Grogar that day. He planned to use the threat of summoning the Annihilation Wave as a way to conquer the world, and so I destroyed his symbol of protection and sent him into the dark realm with them. May he never trouble a single pony soul again.

    “I wish I could have stayed, Luna. I wish I could have returned to you and Equestria a hero, and join in your rejoicing the victory. But I dared not do so and break the fragile peace between Equestria and the gryphons. My mind considers the greater good and my heart shatters like crystal under the strain. I wish I could rip it from my bloody chest and feel nothing, but like all except the dreaded windigos I am doomed to a life of feeling.

    “So, here is what will happen. I will disappear into the wastes; leave the civilized world for a place of my own and others like me. Do not come looking for me. Or if you do, look for my dreams.

    “I will be waiting.”

    *

    And now, the story continues.

    *

    In the ruins of the base command center Luna looked over her tired, scared, beaten ponies with her one good eye, as above them the alarms blared out there were only thirty seconds before island destruction. “I have failed you all. I’m so sorry.”

    Sweetie Belle, the only Crusader aside from Surprise left for all she knew, gave her a hug. “It’s okay. We all did our bes—”

    Every door, air vent, and maintenance access hatch in the circular room blew open, letting in a flood of sparkling green flames. Luna closed her eyes as she felt the flames wash over her, over every inch of her battered and sore body. It didn’t burn as she expected, bringing one thought to the forefront of her mind.

    Spike.

    When she opened her eyes she no longer in the crumbling remains of the STRIKE island base, but somewhere far closer to home; the royal throne room in Canterlot. It was still night, so there were no guards standing watch over the room. But Luna wasn’t alone. As she turned in a slow circle where she stood she found Sweetie Belle, Surprise, Daisy, and dozens of ponies and diamond dog STRIKE personnel from the base, all of them looking around in varying degrees of shock, surprise, and confusion. Some were injured, some were unconscious, but they were all there, safe and relatively sound. The only people who seemed to be missing were Galaxy, Cameo, Hawkeye, Lancer, and her son.

    “He saved us,” said Sweetie Belle to Luna’s left, causing Luna to stop turning and look at her. “Spike saved us all from the island with his flames. I never could have imagined her could breathe fire that hard or that long.”

    Luna had never imagined it either. That was what worried her. “Where is he now though? Why isn’t Spike here?”

    Sweetie shrugged. “Maybe he went after Loki?”

    Before any of them could think on this any further, the main doors into the throne room burst open and a trio of guards ran in. They skid to a stop quickly enough and gaped at Luna and the others. “P-Princess Luna!”

    That was the signal Luna needed to snap out of her funk and get back to being the princess the ponies around her needed her to be. She stood tall as she could and began shouting commands. “Get medics here, now! We have wounded! Alert my sister! Somepony, headcount of survivors! Daisy, get to the Canterlot communications tower, see if we can connect back to the island! Go!”

    Everyone around there ready to go, went. Luna nodded in satisfaction, and then staggered to the throne and leant against it as the last four days crashed down onto her. Her ruined eye was starting to hurt, and she felt dizzy. Everything was coming apart. The center could not hold. “Everything… it’s all gone....” She had failed to protect that which her husband had left her. Not only STRIKE, but their son as well.

    She felt a hoof on her side. She looked and saw Sweetie Belle there, something fierce gleaming in her eyes, something that reminded Luna all of a sudden of Twilight Sparkle. “It’s not over yet, majesty. You still have me, and Surprise. Galaxy’s smart and resourceful enough to have found a way out of there on her own. It’s not over yet.”

    Luna nodded and pushed off from the throne as teams of nurses and doctors started entering the room. “No, no it isn’t. You’re absolutely right. Oren was right to name you leader of the team. Let’s get to work.”

    *

    Galaxy locked eyes with Cameo. She wanted to say she was sorry; sorry for leaving everyone behind, sorry for him having to come save her, sorry for the way she had always acted, sorry for everything. All she could do though was hold out her hoof for him to take. Cameo took her hoof in his, she pressed the center of the teleport collar, and the world turned to white around them.

    A second later Galaxy’s Manehattan apartment faded into existence around them. Galaxy smiled, a triumphant fanfare sounding off in her head as she backed away from Cameo and rested her trembling legs. Aside from feeling sick to the stomach, as she always did after teleporting, she seemed fine.

    “We made it. Good Faust, we made it. It worked. I didn’t want to tell you back in the cell, back we really only had about a thirty percent chance of the teleport working. Hah, haha, oh I’m going to be sick….”

    [It is good to see that you survived. I will link now to the STRIKE communications network and monitor if anyone else escaped.]

    “Yeah, you do that.”

    As she rested Galaxy watched Cameo drag the still-unconscious Vulture over to the collection of chairs and couches in front of the flat screen TV mounted on the wall, pull a pair of hoof cuffs from a suit pocket, and cuff the pegasus to the heaviest couch of the bunch. To Galaxy it looked like Cameo was doing his best not to kick him. “You know, there’s no way that will hold him once he wakes up.”

    Cameo nodded, and then knelt down beside the Vulture. It took some work, but after a minute he managed to remove the Vulture’s claws, bladed wing tips, and beaked helmet. He tossed them to the other side of the spacious room. “We don’t need to make escape easy for him.”

    “Suppose.” Galaxy stood up again and trudged over to the bar area on the opposite side of the room from the TV and couches. As she went she used her magic to open the fridge and grab several prepackaged sandwiches from it. “I never realized how much almost dying could make you hungry. I feel like I’m ready to collapse. I wonder if that’s from the teleporting, the multiple hits to the head, or the horror at everything that’s happened today that I’m barely holding back.”

    Cameo looked over at her. “Stop messing around. We need to get in contact with Canterlot. We need to figure out what Loki’s planning and stop him. We need to get out of here and just… just do something!”

    Galaxy finished off one of the tomato and lettuce sandwiches before looking back at Cameo, giving herself time to think out her response. “Listen, Cameo—”

    “That’s Captain Cameo to you,” he said, talking over her. “I served eight years in the Gildedale military before joining STRIKE, so don’t think to talk down to me.”

    Galaxy rolled her eyes. “Fine then. Listen, Cap, I just now got outsmarted by a maniac and lost the closest ponies I’ve had to friends since I was a little filly. The world is probably about to end. I’m going to eat these sandwiches now.”

    Cameo went silent, for how long Galaxy didn’t know. It was a thoughtful silence though, a silence that couldn’t last for long.

    He spoke up again as she neared the end of her second sandwich, his tone softer this time.  “I knew you were close to Miss Belle and Surprise. Lir too, maybe. They were the closest you’ve come to friends?”

    Galaxy put down the last sandwich and grabbed a bottle of water. She turned it in circles through the air with her magic as she fought over whether to answer that question. “It’s… hard to say. Being adopted, I mean, it was hard enough making friends as a kid. Harder still when you’re so much smarter than everypony else.”

    She opened the bottle and drank from it. “And then, well, ponies grow up. Who wants to be friends with the only blank flank in the class? In the school? Who wants to hire the only known adult blank flank? So, family business it is, giving a general idea of being stuck up and snooty. It’s a reputation far easier to live up to than it is to break out from.”

    Cameo sat down to Galaxy’s left at the bar counter. She watched him as he stared down at the table. “In Gildedale… it’s traditional to wait until a filly or colt has earned their cutie mark before naming them. To better reflect their roles in life. Hm. I earned mine when I managed to buck two whole acres of apples by myself in a single day. Guess my Apple Family roots showed through there. It’s strange to me to think now how you’d still be without a name. Blank, like an unused piece of paper.”

    Galaxy stared. “How can you stand that though? Fate, destiny, whatever junk you want to call it? How can you stand being defined by your cutie mark?”

    “Well, if you want to ask that, how can you stand being defined by your lack of a cutie mark?”

    Galaxy had no good response to that, which annoyed her. She passed Cameo the last sandwich and stood up, heading for the TV area where, she remembered, she had left a very important laptop. “Yeah, well, it’s an old-fashioned a notion anyway. I’m living in the now, right now.”

    She felt Cameo’s eyes on her as she walked. “There’s nothing really wrong with being old-fashioned. It didn’t get us into this mess at least.”

    Galaxy stopped in her tracks. She felt like hitting her head against a wall. That was another good point from him.

    Turning, she pointed a hoof at him. “You are an annoying, pretentious, stupid… thank you. For coming to save me back there. Good save.”

    He stared silent at her for a moment, and then nodded and smiled. “It’s all in a day’s work. I—”

    [Activating apartment suite comm systems. STRIKE secure channel established with Canterlot castle.]

    A voice Galaxy easily recognized came over Ultron’s speakers built into the ceiling. “This goes out to any and all STRIKE personnel. This is Princess Luna. I am in Canterlot with the island base personnel, as well as several superheroes. This is a level nine emergency. Please respond.”

    Relief hit Galaxy, hard, physical relief. It hit her hard enough to send her staggering to a couch and leaning against it. Across the room from her she could see Cameo hurriedly putting on his earpiece to respond. He looked how she felt. “They’re alive. Loki hasn’t… hasn’t won. Not yet. Hah, hehe. And he’s not going to either.”

    *

    “This goes out to any and all STRIKE personnel. This is Princess Luna. I am in Canterlot with the island base personnel, as well as several superheroes. This is a level nine emergency. Please respond.”

    Lancer groaned as the royal voice crackled from his earpiece and brought him back to consciousness. For a length of time he wasn't sure of he lay there bringing together his fractured thoughts and taking stock of himself. He didn’t feel dead, for starters. His bones ached, his muscles felt twitchy, and his chest felt like a hole had been punched into it, but he knew he wasn’t dead. That was good, at least.

    “Princess Luna, this is Agent… Captain Cameo. I’m with Galaxy in her Manehattan apartment. She managed to teleport us out of Loki’s cell in the nick of time. We currently have the Vulture unconscious and in custody.”

    Lancer rolled from his side onto his back and forced his eyes open. The grass was soft beneath him and the stars were beautiful above him. Over the sound of the voices in his right ear he heard trees creaking and leaves rustling, and a weak, erratic sound, like labored breathing perhaps. He was near to a forest then. That was nice, he liked forests. They reminded him of the groves his Apple Family friends had tended back in Gildedale.

    “Cameo, it is good to hear your voice. Spike got us out with his fire breath. If you escaped a different way, he must not be with you either.”

    Lancer pulled the putty-like arrow off his chest with a fore hoof and tossed it aside. It was some kind of nonlethal arrow, meant to incapacitate with electrical charges, not kill. Kyrie was conflicted, then. She didn’t want to kill him. He could save her.

    “This goes out to all STRIKE personnel. Does anyone know where Spike is?”

    A groan somewhere near to him shook Lancer to full alertness. With a grunt he rolled to his belly and pushed up, climbing to his four hooves. There was a dark forest a quarter-mile to the north, the Everfree Forest he realized, but it was the slumped, shivering dragon a few feet from him that commanded Lancer’s attention.

    “Repeat, does anyone know where Spike is?”

    Lancer activated his earpiece. “This is Lancer. He’s here with me, near to the Everfree Forest. He… he does not look well.”

    That was an understatement, thought Lancer as he walked over to Spike. The dragon lay on his back, wings crumpled beneath him and hands at his sides. His eyes were closed. At first glance he seemed fine, but as Lancer got to his side he saw burn marks surrounding the dragon’s mouth, blood seeping from between the dragon’s neck scales, and his chest seemed deflated, almost caved in.

    Lancer had never heard of a dragon getting burned.

    A new voice came over the earpiece. “Lancer, this is Princess Celestia. I am on my way immediately. I’m bringing a friend. Stay there.”

    “Yes ma’am.”

    Lancer took off the earpiece and threw it away, and then knelt beside the downed dragon. “Spike, what did you do?”

    “Saved… you….”

    Lancer nearly jumped as Spike opened his eyes, coughed, and looked down at Lancer at his side. “Dragons cannot… teleport anything that is stronger than the dragon… I did any, anyway.”

    Lancer put a hoof on Spike’s arm and almost immediately pulled back in shock. The dragon was cold as ice. “What can I do? What can I do to help?”

    Charred scales splintered at the corners of Spike’s mouth as he visibly struggled to smile. “Nothing to do. I’m checked out, done. Burned out my magic core, roasted… my lungs… it was worth it. Only… two regrets.”

    Lancer felt hot tears fill his eyes and let them fall. A hero like Spike, whom Lancer owed his life to, deserved tears. “What are your regrets?”

    The answer came a long time waiting as Spike struggled to speak, Lancer seeing his eyes start to glaze over. “I wish I could have saved my son, and….” He looked away from Lancer, up to the stars above. His smile grew. “I wish I could have… seen her one last time. T… Twilight… I am coming now….”

    Spike’s chest stilled and the light left his eyes, leaving them nothing more than dark pools reflecting the night sky.

    Lancer sat there for seconds, saying nothing, not having anything to say, until the sound of hooves behind him made him look up. There stood Princess Celestia and Sweetie Belle. Both mares wore looks of utmost grief. Lancer felt he had to say something. “He was… a good dragon.”

    “The best,” said Celestia. “Spike was the best dragon.”

    Sweetie Belle cried as she brought a hoof to her earpiece. “This is Sweetie Belle. Spike is down. Died saving us. He’s gone.”

    *

    “This is Sweetie Belle. Spike is down. Died saving us. He’s gone.”

    Galaxy and Cameo shared a look. Neither could say anything.

    *

    “This is Sweetie Belle. Spike is down. Died saving us. He’s gone.”

    Kyrie shut off the Quinjet radio and increased her speed, all the while doing her best not to look at Loki behind her. “I’m sorry, sir. He was a good dragon.”

    Loki wept.

    *

    Hours passed. Surprise, in costume sans mask, walked the Canterlot hedge maze, as lost in it as she was lost in her thoughts. Spike, the legendary hero, friend to the near-mythic Princess Twilight Sparkle and friends, savior of the Crystal Empire, was dead. Galaxy and the others were scattered across Equestria. Loki had everything he needed to release the Annihilation Wave, and thanks to Spike’s death had all the more reason to do so.

    “Earlier I’d been kinda sad the emergency was over because it meant we’d be going our separate ways, but this isn’t what I’d wanted at all.”

    Surprise shuddered as thunder rumbled somewhere in the distance. At some dark prodding she looked up and away from Canterlot castle and the mountain it clung to, out to the open air where floated Cloudsdale. The hundreds-strong collection of clouds, brought to Canterlot for better unicorn help in decontamination, looked dark and eerie in the night, the obscured lightning and smudges of soot in the clouds ominous.

    Surprise knew that the lightning was being used to destroy any remnants of the black liquid rainbow they found, but that didn’t help her any. She had a bad feeling from the place, deep in the pit of her stomach. It wasn’t her Pinkie Sense, but something else, something more primal. It was the sensation felt as a child, sure there was a monster under the bed that would grab any stray hoof that wandered too close, the sensation that unspeakable horrors filled the world when eyes were closed for the night.

    Fear clung to Surprise’s body like a wet towel.

    “Oh, what Flash would think if he saw me right now, hehe. At times like this, I wish I could just laugh it all off like a j-oof!”

    Surprise staggered back from whatever hard, unyielding object she had walked into and rubbed her nose, before looking ahead. Almost immediately she felt her pulse quicken and the urge to bow fill her, even though she did not fully understand what she was seeing.

    In front of her stood a ring of six stone pillars, each as tall as an apple tree and spaced far enough apart for a pony the size of Princess Celestia to easily walk through. Atop of each pillar rested a dull-grey stone orb the size of a regular pony’s head. Moss and ivy grew on the pillars, but the orbs remained untouched and pristine.

    An inscription on the nearest of the pillars read “Waiting for those whom destiny chooses.”

    It was a long wait. To Surprise it felt like nobody had been there for a long time. How long, her mind couldn’t fathom. But as she walked around the ring, looking at each orb in turn, she felt that she wasn’t alone. She stopped in her tracks and looked around, noticing for the first time how well-lit the area was despite it being night. “Hello? Is someone there? I should warn you, I’m superpowered and seriously not in the mood for any joking around! I’ve had a really bad day today!”

    No answer came, unless the rustling of the hedge maze in the wind was the response. Surprise looked around a moment longer, so sure she felt watched. But she could see or hear none there. “Must be nerves then. Yeesh, listen to yourself, Spidey. Talking to yourself like some silly pony. Heh.”

    Surprise turned away from the ring of pillars and took a step, only for something to crunch beneath her hoof. Surprise froze. “What was that, a leaf?”

    It turned out it wasn’t a leaf, but a folded piece of paper, new and crinkly. Such an odd thing to find out in the middle of a castle hedge maze.

    “Who left this here? Is there no janitor or anything?”

    Surprise picked the paper up and unfolded it. Her fear dissipated as she read to herself the song lyrics written in beautiful hoofwriting on the paper.

    “When I was a little filly and the sun was going down....”

    *

    Sweetie Belle paced the length of the castle throne room, emptied by that point of the STRIKE refugees teleported there save for her and Daisy. Even Princess Luna had been forced to the medical ward. The quiet gave Sweetie Belle, and through her earpiece Galaxy in Manehattan, room to think. “We need to find Loki.”

    “So glad we have you to tell us this,” said Galaxy across the line, also pacing. “Don’t know how we’d get that far on our own.”

    “Focus, Gal. What do we know? Loki escaped, safe to say his plans are the same. He needs a power source to—”

    “No,” said Galaxy, “he doesn’t, not anymore. He captured Lir, right? Well Lir, or more accurately the Hulk, has massive amounts of both Dark Realm and raw magic to kick start it in one package, which were all Loki needed. He could go anywhere in Equestria and open his portal anytime he wants, thanks to Hawkeye.”

    Sweetie Belle glanced over at Daisy at the foot of the throne, but if the distraught pony overheard Galaxy’s comment she didn’t show it. “Then listen, if he has everything he needs then we need a target. There has to be a location he’ll want to attack first. Where?”

    Galaxy scoffed. “I don’t know. So far all of his attacks have been about opportunity, what will benefit him the most. Manehattan, if a success, would have taken out the whole world’s ability to organize defenses. Taking Stalliongrad would have crippled Equestria’s manufacturing capabilities. Cloudsdale would have utterly trashed worldwide weather systems. I can’t find any rhyme or reason to… wait….”

    Sweetie Belle stopped pacing. “What? What is it?”

    *

    “What? What is it?”

    Galaxy ignored Cameo’s questions, mirroring Sweetie Belle’s, and with several seconds of typing pulled up the species demographics of every major city in Equestria on her wall-mounted TV screen. She scanned over them, scattered thoughts collating into a single idea. “Stalliongrad doesn’t fit.”

    “What?” said Sweetie Belle. “Gal, what do you mean it doesn’t fit?”

    Galaxy singled out the attacked cities from the on-screen list. “What I mean is that we’ve been looking at this all wrong from the start, and I feel like an idiot.”

    Now Galaxy heard Sweetie Belle’s scoff. “So like me or any other pony then. Okay, Stalliongrad doesn’t fit. How?”

    “In Manehattan, Shocker and the Vulture set up the portal machine at the UC building before Loki arrived. At Cloudsdale those two set up the machines all on their own, Loki never showed up at all.”

    Cameo spoke up. “Because you, Sweetie Belle, and Surprise captured him in Stalliongrad.”

    “Wait a minute,” said Sweetie Belle, her voice coming across the line as rising with excitement. “I think I see where she’s going with this. Shocker and the Vulture were nowhere in sight in Stalliongrad. And even then, if he’d wanted to drain the concert of magic he wouldn’t have chased them out of the building. No, that wasn’t an attack. That was a performance! Loki only went there to get captured and gain personal access to Lir!”

    “And Cloudsdale got the other two captured,” said Galaxy, smiling. Now she felt like her proper genius self. “Ignore Manehattan, Manehattan’s its whole separate thing. Think in terms of race like Loki. First attack hit Stalliongrad, a primarily earth pony city. Second attack hit Cloudsdale, a pegasus city.”

    Galaxy looked over at Cameo. “Next stop is a unicorn city.”

    “A unicorn city,” said Cameo. He looked back at Galaxy, eyes hard. “But there’s only one unicorn city.”

    *

    From the hidden depths of Cloudsdale, lightning discharging around in him in every direction, Loki in his gryphon form, golden armor giving him a fearsome visage looked down on Canterlot in disgust. The ponies down there were so happy. So untouched by real pain, real hardship. Their meager lives and meager achievements meant the world to them, yet stood like blasphemies to him. What right did they have to happiness next to his misery? None. He wanted them to suffer, mentally and physically, suffer until they longed for something as simple as pain.

    Loki turned and glared at the time-locked Hulk behind him, the half-alicorn, half-diamond dog strapped to a trio of the magic harvesters. Already they were on, draining the magic and Dark Realm from the beast to activate the portal. It would only be a few minutes more before activation, and victory.

    The flapping of wings made Loki look away from the Hulk as Hawkeye came to a landing beside him. “The jigs up. I was listening in to STRIKE communications and Galaxy figured out our plan of attack. They know we’re going for Canterlot.”

    “Do they know we hide in Cloudsdale?”

    Hawkeye touched a talon to her ear, waited several seconds, and then shook her head. “No. They’re searching the mountain, I think.”

    Loki gave a nod and held aloft his scepter. Grogar’s scepter, and the tool of his return. “The world has grown fat and cowardly in the peace of this Friendship Era. Today, I bring forth a nightmare ages past, and all the world shall FEEL MY AGONY!”

    A beam of magic shot out from the gem at the end of the scepter and struck the center magic harvester. A deep humming arose from it, echoed by the other two as, above them, the clouds began to swirl.

    *

    Galaxy shut off the computers and stepped over to the wall-dominating windows. “Ultron, it’s time to suit up. Bring out the Mark VII.”

    Cameo stood up straight and watched with some measure of awe as the floor in the center of the room, at first seemingly-solid marble, split down the middle and slid open. Three platforms rose up from whatever storage area was below that apartment, and atop each platform was a suit of Iron Mare armor.

    Each armor was different. The armor farthest to Cameo’s left lacked any visible weapons and was a cool grey rather than the bombastic purple and gold Galaxy was known for. The original prototype suit, he assumed.

    The second armor looked identical to the armor Cameo had seen Galaxy use throughout the adventure thus far, except it was black and gold instead of purple and gold, and it looked built for a stallion’s body type rather than a mare’s.

    But the third armor made Cameo stop and take notice. This armor was classic purple and gold, and it was clearly built for a mare. But unlike all the other armors Cameo had seen, this one was bipedal, balanced on the rear hooves while the front hung down to the sides, ending in five segmented robotic fingers.

    Galaxy stepped up to the armor and slipped on a new collar, this one gold. She pressed the front of the collar and with a mechanical whir the whole front of the bipedal armor opened up, panels sliding and folding to allow entrance. She caught Cameo staring and grinned. “Started work on it after the Manehattan fight. The modular nature of the armor allows for modifications and improvements to the existing model, so that I don’t have to build a whole new suit when I come up with new ideas.”

    “Right,” said Cameo, walking around to look at the armors from the front rather than from the side. “But, why fingers?”

    Galaxy glanced over at where the Vulture’s armor and its robotic claws lay, letting the inspiration go unsaid, and then turned around so that she faced away from the new armor and reared up onto her hind legs. Cameo stood impressed by the unicorn’s balance as she half-walked, half-fell into the clutches of the armor. A mechanical symphony sounded as the machinery and armor slid back into place, the faceplate snapping into place last as she winked at Cameo. Then the blue eyes came online with a hum. “Nnnh, ahh, fits like a glove. Right, time to save the world.”

    Cameo stepped back as Galaxy staggered off the platform in her new armor, watching her switching as the need arose for either two-legged or four-legged movement. She had impressive balance. “So, I guess this is where we part ways then? Unless you don’t mind carrying me all the way to Canterlot or…?”

    [Actually, Agent Cameo, Princess Galaxy has already arranged for this eventuality, taking into account your relative helplessness during the battle of Cloudsdale.]

    Cameo turned around at the sound of more whirring and clanking behind him, and saw the black and yellow armor opening up in a similar manner to Galaxy’s armor.

    [I will instruct you in the basics on the way to Canterlot.]

    *

    Surprise threw the throne room doors open with a shove of her shoulders and ran into the room, her spine feeling like it was doing the mamba in her back as her Pinkie Sense went crazy. Not that she needed her Pinkie Sense when she could simply look out the window and see the swirling mass of blue energy tearing Cloudsdale apart. “SWEETIE BELLE! Something really bad’s happening!”

    “Yeah, I know!” Sweetie Belle threw Surprise’s Spider-Mare mask to her. “Come on, it’s time to be a hero.”

    Surprise slipped the mask on over her head, becoming Spider-Mare, and as she did she felt some of the fear gnawing at her thoughts disappear. She looked at Sweetie Belle with a smile, even though it couldn’t be seen through the mask. “Okay, now what? An alien invasion’s pretty different from a mugging or bank robbery.”

    Sweetie Belle, wearing a fresh costume, strode over to an open window and stared up at the forming vortex in the sky. “Goal’s the same. Protect civilians and stop the bad guys. We need to get up there and free the Hulk. He’s the power source for the portal. Then we take down Loki.”

    Surprise went to Sweetie Belle’s side. “Release the Hulk… right next to Canterlot. Right. Great idea.”

    “I trust him to do the right thing. If nothing else he’ll be madder at Loki than at any of us.”

    Surprise couldn’t argue with that logic. Before she could say anything else on the matter however, five squadrons of Equestrian military pegasi in full grey body armor and wielding high-caliber machine guns flew into the sky from launching areas all throughout Canterlot, filling the air as they converged on the nearly-formed portal.

    They came too late. Surprise stared slack-jawed as what at first seemed a single amorphous mass streamed from the dimensional portal. Then countless streams of crimson energy shot from the mass in all directions, cutting the overwhelmed pegasi to pieces, and Surprise realized the mass was hundreds, thousands of grey, metal, arrow-shaped aircraft, each at least twice the size of any of the pegasi soldiers they were fighting. Some were even bigger. It was like a nightmare.

    A flare of Surprise’s Pinkie Sense was her only warning, giving barely enough time to tackle Sweetie Belle to the floor before the Annihilation Wave jet crashed through the window. Sprawled on the floor, Surprise watched as the craft twisted around in midair to face toward them, the whole body of the craft shifting and unfolding like some madman’s puzzle box, sprouting arms, legs, a head, until it closer resembled a living, mechanical monster than a jet, all sharp angles and jagged edges.

    “Galaxy’s gonna have a heyday when she sees that.”

    Sweetie Belle leapt to her hooves and charged the metal titan. It released a mechanical roar and held out an arm, a laser cannon the size of a tree log sliding out from the forearm and firing a blast of red energy. But Sweetie belle was too fast, jumping over the blast and slamming all four hooves into the robot’s face. The whole head crumpled like tin foil and it collapsed to the floor.

    “One down,” said Sweetie Belle, charging and leaping through the window, Surprise hurrying to follow her, “a million more to go.”

    *

    The screams of the terrified ponies running about Canterlot, running from the metal monsters raining from the hole in the night sky above them, echoed up to Loki on the remnants of Cloudsdale like music, punctuated by the thrumming of an alien laser or explosion as another building crumbled. It was the music of war, of death and destruction. It did not make Loki happy like he expected it to.

    The cloud he stood on quivered as Princess Celestia landed on it a yard away, her eyes blazing as fiercely as the sun she controlled. “Loki. End this. Now.”

    “I couldn’t, even if I wanted to.” He turned to her and smiled. “And I don’t want to. I don’t see you trying to stop me either.”

    Celestia gave a grim smile and looked past Loki. “That’s because he’s about to.”

    Loki turned around and promptly got a face full of Mjolnir. He felt his beak shatter like glass in a numb sort of way, more surprised than anything else as he flew backwards off the cloud, tumbling through the open air a dozen yards or more before managing to come to a stop. “Gah! Aaaaugh, gahhhhh!”

    The pain was excruciating. Loki shifted into his dragon form to repair the damage, and even then he continued to feel a ghost of the pain. He glared at Celestia and Lancer as they flew at him, one with a horn brimming with the burning power of the sun, the other with a hammer containing all the power of the storm. Both looked enraged beyond all reason. Loki was confident in his own abilities, but this was too much even for him, calling for a wholly different strategy.

    Loki grabbed an alien craft as it zoomed past and flew away fast as possible.

    *

    Lancer started to go after Loki, intent on finishing him off once and for all, but Celestia grabbed his cape before he could. “Hold. Loki will keep this fight centered on Canterlot castle, and us, and that is something we need right now to keep casualties low. Without him the Annihilation Wave would run wild.”

    Lancer grit his teeth, watching Loki disappear into the swarm, but admitted she was in the right. He pulled his cape free from her and looked at her. “What shall we do then?”

    “Go free the Hulk. He will help us.” Celestia’s gaze turned up toward the portal. “I have an old enemy to greet.”

    Lancer followed her gaze and saw the new figure descending from the portal, someone completely unlike the machines around them. It could only be Grogar.

    “Free the Hulk. Very well. Good luck.”

    “No, good luck to you, Crusader.”

    Celestia flew off. Lancer didn’t waste any time watching her go and instead turned and flew to the cloud where the Hulk stood trapped by the magic harvesters. He didn’t know anything about computers, machinery, or the intricate spell structures that surely went into creating and operating such deadly devices as the magic harvesters, but he did know one important little fact.

    An alien craft flew at Lancer. He batted its laser blasts away with his hammer before cleaving the enemy in half down the middle with one swing.

    “Hitting objects with Mjolnir,” he shouted, flying full speed at the closest of the three magic harvesters, hammer grasped in both hooves and pulled back for one almighty blow, “tends to break them!”

    *

    The streets of Canterlot were thronged with panicking ponies fleeing from the invading alien hordes. They ran to the castle, seeking its soldiers and protective walls, while Sweetie Belle ran in the opposite direction toward where the remains of Cloudsdale floated, Surprise close behind. Every so often they would encounter a lone unicorn soldier firing at the crafts with his magic or attempting to direct the pony traffic, but it only took the brief glance Sweetie Belle would give them to tell they were just as scared as the civilians they were trying to protect. It almost made her scared; almost, but she couldn’t afford to be afraid when there was so much riding on her and the others.

    “Mare Do Well, to your right!”

    Sweetie Belle jumped at Surprise’s warning, dodging as one of the, for lack of a better term, transformers fired its arm cannons at her. The explosion sent gravel flying every direction and sent a parked car flipping onto its side.

    Surprise zipped past Sweetie Belle on a web line and slammed her two rear hooves against the transformer’s chest. The thing staggered back but didn’t fall. The next moment it slapped at Surprise on its chest, but the earth pony was too fast, flipping out of the way of the garbage can lid-sized hand and onto the machine’s right shoulder.

    “Hey ugly, just get yourself a peg leg and you can go as a pirate for next Nightmare Night!”

    The machine growled and slapped at Surprise again. She dodged and stuck a web line to the top of the transformer’s head. Holding the other end, she flipped off the transformer’s back and leaped to the debris-strewn ground. The still-snarling head came with her and the robot dropped like a rock.

    “Man,” said Surprise, “these things break as easy as Kit Kat bars!”

    “Only at the joints,” said Sweetie Belle, hitting the chest of the fallen machine to no effect to show what she meant. “Just look at it. Not a scratch anywhere else.”

    The ground shook as half a dozen more machines landed around the two ponies, all growling and clicking as they readied their cannons. Sweetie Belle looked at them and unhooked a trio of exploding discs from her utility belt with her magic. “And then of course there are the sheer numbers of them.”

    Surprise growled and began swinging the web line with the robot head still stuck at the end, like a flail. “Okay then, who’s next?”

    The six robots opened fire. Sweetie Belle rolled out of the way and sent two of the exploding discs flying, taking out the legs of one of the machines at its knees.

    Surprise flew over her, landing on the falling machine’s chest, leaping off it a split-second later, and with the added momentum smashed another machine’s head and arm off with her makeshift flail.

    Sweetie Belle spun around and sent her third disc into the barrel of another machine’s cannon, reacting with the charging energy to take out it and the two machines next to it. Keeping her momentum she leaped and grabbed hold of Surprise’s flail, letting the other mare spin her around hooves-first into the final robot’s midsection and carving clear through it.

    More transformers flew down, firing their lasers. Sweetie Belle yanked a car door from its hinges with her magic and used it as a shield from the enemy fire, while Surprise shot out three web lines to three separate transformers. She pulled with all her strength, sending the three machines colliding into each other. The resulting fireball knocked Sweetie Belle off her hooves rendered her deaf for a moment.

    Before she could get up one of the machines pinned her to the ground with its three-toed foot and aimed its cannon straight at her head. Its mouth opened to reveal two rows of jagged metal shards for teeth. “RESISTANCE MEANS NOTHING. WE WILL DESTROY YOU AND EVERY OTHER ORGANIC BEING ON THIS PLANET AND CLAIM IT AS OUR—”

    Repulsor beams tore apart the machine’s arms and legs, sending it collapsing all around Sweetie Belle. She pushed the smoldering foot off her chest and got up on her hooves in time to watch the two new armored arrivals and Surprise mopping up the last of the current group of transformers.

    “Nice of you to finally join us, Gal.” Sweetie Belle trotted over to the two armored ponies, taking quick stock of the one’s hands and bipedal stance and the other’s black and gold color scheme. “Galaxy and…?”

    The armored stallion slid his faceplate up, revealing Cameo. “It’s me. Well, me and Ultron. He’s handling all the complicated stuff. Having an A.I. in your suit really helps.”

    “Yeah, I know. Thinking of making more.” Galaxy went to Sweetie Belle’s side and looked up at the swarms of alien crafts attacking the city. “So, what’s the plan, Belle?”

    Sweetie Belle moved to the center of the group and looked up at where the portal swirled in the sky, for a moment wondering what Rarity would think if she saw her little sister now. “Save all the ponies and destroy all the machines we can, it won’t mean a thing as long as that portal’s open and Loki’s still out there. We need to finish this. Iron Mare, Cameo, I need you two to fly up there and—”

    Once again, Surprise’s shout was all the warning Sweetie Belle had before the centuries-old building yards to her right exploded out, sending blocks of marble the size of apple carts flying toward them. Galaxy blasted them away, and then with Sweetie Belle and the others stared in a mix of awe and terror as a new machine strode out of the rubble.

    “Gal… can you blow one of those things up?”

    “Uh, maybe?”

    The machine was twenty stories tall and resembled an elongated metal skull perched atop a mass of metal tentacles. A trio of laser cannons the size of yachts pivoted atop the head and its sides to aim at the gathered heroes.

    “HULK SMASH!”

    A grey and black blur slammed into the machine from above, caving in the skull-like dome like paper. The whole thing shuddered before falling to the side, smashing into the rubble of the building it had emerged through as the Hulk jumped down from it and landed in front of Sweetie Belle and others. He towered over all of them, teeth bared and fists clenched. “I hate robots.”

    Reactions were immediate. The two armored ponies reared back and aimed their repulsors at him. Surprise backed away several steps. Sweetie Belle stood her ground and looked deep into the hybrid creature’s wolfish eyes. She saw anger beyond belief there, but not directed at her.

    “Thank you, Hulk, for taking that thing down.”

    The Hulk growled and spat to the side. “Owed a favor to that Thunderer. He smashes good, I like him.”

    Sweetie Belle and Galaxy shared a look. “Thunderer?”

    A gust of wind blew down the street, tussling Sweetie Belle’s cape and sending debris flying. The next moment Lancer stood among them, hammer at the ready. “Greetings, friends.”

    At any other time Sweetie Belle would have grabbed the pegasus into a hug, but at that moment there was a war going on, so she settled for a quick salute. “Lancer. What’s the situation upstairs?”

    “I destroyed the magic harvesters that kept the Hulk contained, but the portal still seems to be powered. Also, Princess Celestia is doing battle with what I believe to be Grogar.”

    Sweetie Belle nodded. “She can handle that, so this invasion’s up to us.”

    A boom like thunder echoed through the city, drawing the attention of all the heroes. They looked, Galaxy letting out a curse at the sight of half a dozen of the towering skull-heads marching down the street toward them, surrounded all around by countless of the smaller robots. A splash of gold and red in the midst of the grey revealed Loki was with them. The Hulk destroying the first skull-head, Sweetie Belle realized, must have drawn the attention of the whole army.

    Galaxy spoke up first. “How’re we doing this, Belle?”

    “As a team.” Sweetie Belle gestured around. “Iron Mare, Cameo, take the city perimeters. Keep these things from hitting the smaller towns nearby. Lancer, you have the sky. Bring the lightning to those bastards. Spider-Mare, we have street-level, keep an eye out for stranded civilians. And Hulk? Just smash.”

    The Hulk grinned and smashed a fist into his palm. “Good plan.”

    The enemy was almost to them. Sweetie Belle removed a metal rod from her utility belt and clicked a button, extending it into a bladed staff at long as her body. “Let’s do this then. Crusaders, ASSEMBLE!”
Dawn nears. Who is left to pick up the pieces?
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:iconpj202718:
Vision: As expected, we're at the part of the story where the heroes regroup, count their losses and get ready to bust some heads. Given who one of the casualties happens to be, the death-seeking maniac calling the shots really needs to 'taste the rainbow', as it were.

Originality: The way in which the end of the disappearance of one element of the story (namely, the things about Sombra) blends into the larger tale adds some historical depth to the proceedings.

Technique: Given that a situation like this would have to involve a certain amount of scrambling around to figure out who's still standing in the real world, the sensation of watching them improvise their way out of the mess Loki made gives it that extra touch of realism.

Impact: While I AM sad to see Spike pass away, I'm fairly confident that he'll have some help being avenged. (See what I did there?)
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:iconbronyman1995:
Well, in all actuality, this has been my least favorite chapter so far.

It really felt rushed. All your other chapters have been taking their time, showing everything in nice detail, and now, it's: BOOM, Spike's dead and the battle starts within 20 mins of it.

No time to let the pain seep into everybody's psych or have anybody question what's next. It really felt like you rushed it.

And you know I'm a huge fan of this, so it pains me to give this chapter lower then average marks. Maybe it's because I'm a tad tired, having just read another fanfiction update that clocked in at 16,000 words.

But Cameo getting a suit was awesome (if a tad out of the blue).

Hopefully you understand.

But Spike's last words gave me MAJOR feels, so good work there.
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:iconshadowchilly:
Shadowchilly Featured By Owner Apr 17, 2013
Well... I got another, but I didn't order it with extra death... Spike's last words hit the spot, but this chapter feels a little too speedy. It feels like it should have been the last part of chapter 7 rather than chapter 8.

So in order to make this chapter seem right, I now unofficially will call it: Chapter 7 part 2!

With that out of the way. Still hate the fact Hawkeye betrayed them, and that you still kill off all we know and love...

Keep up the good work, and keep hitting us right in the feels!
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:iconsolaris90:
Solaris90 Featured By Owner Apr 19, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Okay.
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:iconpj202718:
pj202718 Featured By Owner Apr 15, 2013
Hmmmmm.....While I am sort of sad that Spike died (understatement of the year), at least his passing helped to save the day. Also, I like how you merged the end of the Sombra arc with the rest of the story.
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:iconsolaris90:
Solaris90 Featured By Owner Apr 15, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you. And yeah, I really seemed to have a thing against Spike this story, didn't I?
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:iconpj202718:
pj202718 Featured By Owner Apr 15, 2013
Ah, well. At least he's with his friends and loved ones.......
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:iconsolaris90:
Solaris90 Featured By Owner Apr 15, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
At least he died heroically. I hate it when characters are killed for no other reason then for shock value. I always try to avoid that when I can.
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:iconpj202718:
pj202718 Featured By Owner Apr 15, 2013
Which makes you better at it than the imbecile at Archie Comics plotting to get some of that sweet, sweet zombie action.
Reply
:iconsolaris90:
Solaris90 Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Wait, what? Archie Comics is going through a zombie phase? You mean like the Sonic the Hedgehog series or the actual Archie series?
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:iconpj202718:
pj202718 Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2013
Starting this December, we have to endure an on-going series called "Afterlife With Archie"; you see, Reggie accidentally runs over Hot Dog, they try to use voodoo to bring him back and things go down hill from there.
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:iconsolaris90:
Solaris90 Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Oh please no. That's just... stupid.
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