Chapter 21: Siege
The Lotkin warrior ascended up the crudely made ladder with haste. The anticipation of of bloodshed driving it to it's goal. Powerful arms pulled it swiftly to the top. When it finally reached the summit, it unsheathed its sword and lifted itself to the top of the wall. The first and last thing it saw was a metal tube pointed in its face.
The top of its head disappeared in spray of pink mist. The body tumbled back down the ladder, striking and dislodging another that had been following. James lowered his shotgun and placed a boot on the top of the ladder. With a little effort, he pushed it away from the wall, sending it crashing down onto the hoard below. It was the seventh attempt at getting over the walls they'd stopped. Flash had just finished divebombing some hostiles off another, slicing them with his sword as he passed, before pushing the ladder off. Below, the Lotkin were hacking away at the wall, but the foundation was solidly built and buried deep in the packed dirt. They wouldn't be getting in that way anytime soon.
Colonel Rokjaw had been found, busily making copies of a letter informing anypony who recieved them of the dire situation. He then ordered the four fastest pegasi in his command to deliver them, two flew off to Canterlot and two went over the mountains to the nearby Griffon colony to warn them of the possible danger. The old veteran also hoped they might send help. The evacuation was moving more slowly than expected. With the guard split between running the evacuation of all the civilians and defending against the tide crashing upon the walls, they needed all the help they could get. The Colonel wished to save the town he had defended and called home for so long, but was ready to abandon it if need be. He would try though. He would try to save it with all his heart. The stubborn old war pony wouldn't quit until every option was exhausted.
Back on the wall, James had his rifle shouldered and was taking shots at targets of opportunity. Everytime he spotted a red helmet, or any other differently colored, he would put a few rounds into its wearer. This seemed to be working as the knot of hostiles around each one he dispatched appeared to lose organization and cohesiveness. Around him, unicorns from the Corps of Engineers were using their magic to launch large chunks of stone over the wall and into the attackers under Sparks' direction. Feather was galloping up and down the ramparts, helping where he could.
Clouds of crossbow bolts buzzed like swarms of wasps, embedding themselves in the wall and hissing past the defenders' heads. So many had been launched at them that the face of the wall now resembled the back of a porcupine. Some of the guards had been struck and were moved into some of the houses below so the medics could work on them. James had witnessed a couple of them get hit, one looked fatal. Still, he fought on, keeping up a steady rate of fire into the teeming mass of violence. He was almost out of ammo. He had nearly expended all the magazines for his assault rifle, and half the ammo for the shotgun. After that, it was just down to his knife and trusty pistol. James spotted another ladder coming up. He shifted his fire and started taking out the warriors lifting it at the bottom. Every one that fell was replaced by another. Suddenly, his rifle just clicked, failing to fire. He checked the breach and saw that an empty casing had gotten crushed and lodged in the chamber by the bolt. Cycling it wouldn't fix the jam and James didn't have time to dig it out. The top of the ladder was now in contact with the wall.
A guard ran up and attempted to push it off, but was hit in the forelegs, shoulder and chest by a volley of bolts, his armor next to useless against the deadly projectiles.
James ran over and dragged the unfortunate guard away from the wall. He was still breathing, but shallowly and he was starting to bleed profusely. Although he had been struck in multiple places, nothing vital appeared to be hit except for a pierced lung. A hostile crested the rampart, James whipped his pistol out and put two in its chest, one in the face. Feather arrived and tried pushing off the ladder, but had to duck into cover when he almost met the same fate of his predecessor. Another Lotkin heaved itself over the wall, but was bucked in the side by Feather, crumpling its armor inwards. The pony finished it off with a dagger to it's unprotected neck. While his teammates watched his back, James pulled some battle dressings out of his side pocket and began carefully removing the thick darts sticking out of the guard's legs. He applied the dressings and handed the pony off to an engineer and a medic that had finally arrived to help.
James returned his attention to the ladder, more Lotkin were ascending to his position. He grabbed a grenade off his vest, an old Mk II. It was a defensive grenade and had a bit more explosive power than his M67s. He palmed the the spoon in his left hand and pulled the pin. Then with his right, he took his pistol, stood up and with the remaining four rounds, shot the Lotkin climbing the ladder. James tossed the grenade at the base of the ladder and ducked as more bolts assailed his position. A moment later, the charge detonated and reduced the base of the ladder and the surrounding attackers to pulp. All at once, it came crashing down. That threat dealt with, James sat with his back against the ramparts a reloaded his pistol before holstering it. Then he ejected the magazine from his rifle and locked the bolt back. Thumbing a round from the rifle mag, he used the tip of the bullet to pry out the damaged cartridge. Then he inspected the bolt and chamber. Finding no serious damage, he replaced the round and slid the mag back into the well. James flipped the fire selector to full auto, stood up and simply sprayed the rest of the clip into the crowd of aggressors. It was hard not to miss.
He sat back down in cover and keyed his mic, "Myst, you up?"
"What ya need, boss?"
"How's the evac going?"
"We're getting close to finishing. Right now, I'm dropping off another load of wounded."
"Outstanding, keep it up."
"How is everypony down there?" She sounded very worried.
"We're fine, just keep doin' what you're doin', you're doing great."
James sighed. He hoped everyone could keep it together. He wasn't sure for how long they would all have to hold out. The Colonel wanted to hold the town, but unless something changed, James wasn't sure they could. He was down to his last two rifle mags. Better make them count. He switched out the empty and hit the bolt release, sending one home. The, composing himself for a moment, he took a peek. Not seeing anything looking in his direction, he stood up, flipped the safety to semi and started popping heads. It wasn't long before he had attracted some unwanted attention and had to duck back down to avoid being pincushioned. Then Flash came on over the radio.
"Hey James, you gotta check this out."
"What is it?"
"I don't know, I was wondering if you might."
"Where're you at?"
"Over by the western gate."
James got up and ran in a low crouch to the gate. Flash was there waiting for him.
Below, the Lotkin were trying to ram the gate down with a large trunk of a tree cut from the forest. Fortunately, the engineers had the foresight to stack the stone blocks up against the gate too. While the gate was taking a beating, the large masses of rock kept it in place.
"What's the problem?" James asked.
"Take a look towards the back of their formation, the one behind the guys with the battering ram."
The human did so and at first saw nothing. He was about to ask the pegasus what he should be looking for when he saw a flicker of light. It shined with a strange, almost familiar, luminescense. James sighted up on it. What he saw was a Lotkin without any bladed weapons or even a crossbow. Instead, it was making its way through bustling hoard of its comrades towards the gate holding some strange spherical object that was the source of the light. It appeared to be about the size of a small coconut. James didn't like the look of it. The hostiles holding the battering ram started to back off, all the warriors giving the Lotkin carrying the odd object a wide berth. Then the thing started running, winding its arm back for a powerful throw.
"Aw, shit! EVERYONE AWAY FROM THE GATE!" James tried to warn those in close proximity.
Flash took to the air and James started to back peddle. Suddenly, a bright light flashed from over the ramparts, followed by an overpressure wave and high heat. James was thrown back, tumbling like a rag doll across the deck. He finally came to a stop flat on his stomach. He immediately tried to get back up, but he was too dazed and his vision was blurry. A high pitched ring sounded constantly in his ears. He got up on his hands and knees and shook his head, attempting to clear it. Eventually his hearing started to return, he began to hear yelling and screaming. James shakily came to his feet and felt a tugging in the left side of his hip. Looking down, he saw a thin spear of wood sticking out about four inches. Wrapping his hand around it, he gritted his teeth and wrenched it out. James looked to where he and Flash had been standing only moments before. Now it was but a jagged and splintered hole. He walked cautiously to the edge and peered down. The upper part of the gate had been almost completely blown away leaving only pieces of scrap dangling from what was left of the hinges. Below, all that was left was the cracked and crumbled remains of the stone blocks. Yards away from ground zero, bodies of guard ponies lay prone in the dirt, some still moving. On the other side, the Lotkin amassed, jostling and shoving each other in a rush to be the first over the pile of rubble. Now they wouldn't just have to defend, they would have to survive.
James could no longer think, he just reacted. Grasping the edge of the platform he was on, he swiftly lowered himself down the scaffolding to the cold ground below. Snapping his rifle to the ready, he moved to the blast zone and started taking shots at anything that appeared atop the loose mass of rock. He fired round after round as the monsters began to overrun the failing barrier. Soon the wave of hostiles crashed over the obstruction. James' rifle clicked empty. he dropped the empty and slammed his last one home. Switching back to full auto, he sent bursts of hot lead into anything unlucky enough to find itself in his sights. beast after beast dropped before him, life fleeing their bodies before they hit the deck. The last round left the chamber, embedding itself in the knarled skull of a Lotkin, the rifle's bolt clacked, locked open. James swung it around his shoulder on its strap and brought up the SPAS 15. He rushed forward and began blasting everything before him, unleashing a savage war cry in defiance of the invaders. The blood red 12 guage shells arced away from his weapon, tossed aside with each pull of the trigger. James mowed down wave after wave until the earth was turned to mud with the excess of blood upon the soft dirt. At last, he fired the last shell. Quickly he stripped himself of his rifle and shotgun. Then, in one swift motion, he drew his knife and pistol together.
Guards and members of the engineer corps had pulled back a majority of those wounded by the blast by now. The first Lotkin to try its mettle with the human recieved a .45 round in its face. The next took his knife to its neck as James spun under the swing of its blade and followed through with his strike. The next tried to cleave James' head with an axe. James blocked the attack, stopping the downward stroke at the creature's wrists with his gun arm and countered with repeated stabs to its unprotected armpit and neck. Out of the corner of his eye, James saw another blade sing through the air towards his midsection. He almost didn't escape it in time, but it was caught mid swing by a short sword surrounded by a familiar light blue aura. The levitating sword suddenly batted the Lotkin's aside and drove itself through its neck, nearly decapitating the creature. Sparks appeared by James' side, followed by Feather and Flash. Together, the four hacked, stabbed, slashed and shot the abominable warriors assailing the town. Rank after rank of vile beings advanced and met their end at the muzzle of James' pistol and the blades of the ponies. Soon they were joined by the guards.
The battle at the gate waged on for more than half an hour, neither side giving nor gaining ground. Each of the Fixers and more than a few guards had aquired multiple cuts and wounds. They were all unsure about how much longer they could last. The army of foul humanoids seemed to be dwindling, but there was no let up to the violence and fighting. Then, just when the defenders found their strength failing and cause lost, several impacts could be heard from beyond the wall.
"The Griffons, the Griffons are here!" Somepony called from the ramparts.
Sure enough, squadrons of griffons descended from the sky, cutting down the hoard of Lotkin from above with long curved sabres. Further up, large floating warships dropped heavy masses of stone from high over head. With renewed vigor, the defenders pushed the panicked and disorganized cretins from the town, driving the remnants into the forest beyond. It was an amazing turn around. Though with many wounded and dead, ponies stood victorious.
James picked his way among the dead, searching for a particular object. He was due to meet the commander of the griffon forces soon, but he needed to find some evidence of the outlandish explosive that had almost devastated them all. Currently, the rest of his team was helping find wounded and dead among the twisted bodies of the Lotkin. They had refused medical attention from the medics until everypony else had been attended to. James was about to give up when he saw the same flickering light out of his peripherals. He stomped over to the source and flipped over the body it was eminating from. The beast was still alive, but a quick thrust of the knife ended its suffering. James picked up a small fist sized sphere similar to the one that had destroyed the west gate. He brought it to his face and examined it closely. The aura it omitted was extremely familiar to him, but he could not figure why. Carefully, he slipped it into his side cargo pocket. He would have Sparks examine it later. Now, there were more pressing matters.
The next few days were spent treating the wounded and burying the dead. The dead of the Lotkin were taken out away from the town and tossed into a pit in a mass grave and then burned to ash before being buried under a mass of soil. The guards who had given their lives were honored with a full military burial. After the ceremony James was approached by Colonel Rokjaw and a scarred raven feathered and coated griffon. The Colonel made a gesture, James understood and followed them into the guard headquarters and Rokjaw's office. Captain Iron Horn was already there waiting.
"Ok, let's get down to business." The Colonel started, "Commander, this is Admiral Darkwing, leader of the griffon armada that came to our aid."
James extended his hand to the officer, who took it with his claw and shook.
"Sir, its a pleasure to meet you, I think it's safe to say you saved all our hides here. You have all our thanks." James said.
"It was no problem. Once we recieved your message informing us that the same brutes that had been harassing our people had besieged your town, we were more than happy to assist in eradicating them." The griffon replied in a posh accent. "And I must give you and your team praise for your fighting skill, Commander, I watched as you and the guard routed those vile things."
"Believe me, it couldn't have been done without your timely arrival. Colonel, have there been anymore sightings?"
"No, the pegasus patrols haven't spotted any movement in the forest and the caves the attacking force came from still only show signs of egress, no tracks lead back inside."
"Interesting. They had to have gone somewhere. Are you going to continue to hold down the fort here or what?"
Iron Horn stepped forward, "The defences took a good beating, but it's nothing we can't fix, given some time."
"Yes, as long as the Captain can get the town defensible again, I think we can hold out. In the meantime we'll need defensive force to stay behind to guard against possible future attacks." The Colonel added.
James turned to the Admiral, "Sir, would there be any chance you could help out here?"
"Certainly, this town IS important to our trade economy. I will leave a few of our warships and squadrons to compliment your guard until construction is complete or reinforcements arrive."
"Thank you sir, that's very generous."
"Think nothing of it."
James returned his attention to the Colonel, "Colonel Rokjaw, if there's nothing else, I should get going. My team needs rest and I have an After Action Report to deliver to the Princesses."
"By all means."
James excused himself and walked back outside and keyed his mic, "Myst, you up?"
There was a moment of silence before he got an answer, "Flash here."
"I'm looking for Myst."
"She's a little busy with the damage on here airship right now, what's up?" James thought he could faintly hear frustrated cursing in the background.
"We're getting ready to pull chocks here, how bad is it?"
"We'll be lucky to get off the ground!" Myst's angry voice came in.
"Uh oh, what happened?" James asked.
"You'd better see it for yourself. Be careful, Myst is a bit testy at the moment." Flash warned.
James made his way to the elevators that would take him up to the docks suspended high above. On the ride up, he got a good look at the rest of the town. It looked battered and in shambles. Crossbow bolts littered many surfaces. The area around the shattered west gate was still stained with blood and stood out like a blight upon the earth. The elevator reached the top and James stepped out and walked off in the direction he thought the Clipper might be. After some searching, he finally came across it. It was a mess. Crossbow bolts stuck out at odd angles, almost all the windows were shattered. Flash was sitting outside the craft, by the side door.
"Where is she?" James inquired.
"Back in the engine compartment." Flash told him.
James entered the aircraft and made his way to the engine room. He found the pilot hard at work on the engine.
"What's the matter?"
Myst turned around at the sound of his voice. "Both one of the gas bladders and the engine got hit pretty bad. I've patched up the bladder and refilled it, but a stray bolt lodged itself in the engine block and the belt snapped."
"So we still have the balloon, but lack the capacity to generate electricity and power the propeller. Which ALSO got hit a few times."
"Can you fix it?"
"Well, sure. with some time, but all I can do for now is get the electricity going. The propeller needs to be reshaped along with the rudders and it also needs a new drive shaft."
"Can you get us back to Ponyville with just the balloon?"
Myst scoffed, "Can I? You're looking at the most skilled pilot in Equestria! We can ride the air currents, but it will take at least twice as long as before."
"Good, get it done."
"Aye aye, sir." She replied half jokingly.
James exited the craft to let her work. He walked over and plopped himself down next to Flash.
"So what do we do now?" Flash asked.
"James sighed deeply, "First we relax. God knows you all earned it. Then, we learn."
The human had discovered much about his new enemy in the past two days. Their behavior, their structure and the most unnerving; their advance in technology. He needed to find out exactly what they were planning and fast. Before anyone else got hurt. And then, there was still the matter of the missing unicorns. That was probably what worried him the most. Hopefully, he could find more answers when he got back home.