As I woke, I stared at the unfamiliar ceiling. I rolled out of the bed and put on a fresh t-shirt, as well as the work trousers I had been wearing the day before. I got dressed, and wondered what I would do toady. Maybe Celestia wanted to have another talk, or maybe she would tell me about the history of ponies. I opened the door to the hallway and left my room.
I wandered down the corridor, and saw Princess Celestia coming the other way, she smiled as I approached, and said, "Good morning Dutch. I hope you slept well. I was just on my way to wake you."
I tilted my head, "Don't you have servants to do that?"
"Yes, but I would like to talk to you again."
She turned round, and I followed her back the way she had come, "Alright, shoot."
Celestia thought for a moment, then said, "You mentioned that humans waged war with each other, but I was curious. Have you experienced anything similar to war in your past?"
I flinched, "What are you talking about?"
"Twilight told me about how you fought those creatures in the Everfree Forest the night you were searching for the Elements of Harmony. She said how you acted without hesitation, and defended them with your life. Someone doesn't act like that unless they've seen things," she turned to me, "So tell me Dutch, have you seen things?"
I stopped dead in my tracks, and retreated into my mind, back to when I was fifteen. I had seen stuff, stuff no one should have seen at that age. Or done. I had locked it away for years, but Celestia was bringing it back up. She was suspicious.
"I don't want to talk about it." I said simply, carrying on walking.
Celestia paused for a moment, but nodded, and continued with me down the hall, "I actually wanted to show you something, but I want to give you a warning beforehand. It might startle you."
She led me outside, where two guards were waiting for us, with a case on a table in front of them. They bowed as the Princess walked up to them. She looked down at the case, then to me, then she turned to the guards and said, "Open it." The guard removed the latch and lifted the lid. What I saw made my heart stop, and my blood run cold.
It was a rifle.
I took a second look. It wasn't just any rifle, I knew about this one. It was an L1A1 SLR. I had used guns before when I was an army cadet, but I remembered how this specific rifle worked, how it fired...
...what it did to a human body.
I knew all of this, because I had to use one in the past.
"Where did you get this?" I asked, my voice flat, devoid of feelings. I didn't remove my eyes from the weapon.
"When you hugged me yesterday, I used a memory spell on you--"
"AND YOU THOUGHT IT WAS OK TO READ MY MIND?!" I shouted. I turned to Celestia, who had taken a step back at the sudden outburst.
"I apologise Dutch. I wanted to know what your world looked like through your eyes, and my curiosity got the better of me. When I found this, I became intrigued, but now I realise my mistake." She stared into my eyes, "I am truly sorry."
Her apology made me calm down a bit, and I turned back to the rifle, it's black shell staring back, "What else did you find in there?"
She paused, "There was something else. Close to the memory of this device was another memory, but it was protected by something. Even I couldn't reach it. I assumed it was something you had locked away, and I didn't pursue it any further."
"Good. I'm not at all comfortable about what you've done, but I am grateful that you left that part of my mind alone."
I picked up the rifle. It was as heavy as I remembered it, but it felt smaller due to my extra height. All at once, the memories of those days came flooding back.
So much shooting, so much fear...
...so much death.
I looked across the garden, and saw a row of apples lining a fence, like targets. I looked at the Princess, who said, "I understood from your memories that it is a weapon, but I thought you could show us how exactly it functioned."
The guards brought up another box, and opened it. This one had several magazines lying in it, all filled with brass rounds. I picked one of them up and inserted it into the rifle, pulling back the charging handle. The knowledge of what to do had never left me, even after five years. I walked over to the apples, until I was standing about thirty yards away.
"You might want to cover your ears."
Being left handed, I pulled the rifle up to my left shoulder, lining up the sights on the first apple. I steadied my breathing, flicking off the safety catch, and squeezed the trigger.
The rifle let off a loud crack, and the recoil kicked into my shoulder. I was older now, stronger, and it didn't feel like as much as it did before. As I saw the empty casing eject from the weapon's side, I gave credit to whoever built this. They had crafted it perfectly, and the mechanisms functioned exactly how they were supposed to. But that didn't mean I had to like it. I saw one of the apples on the fence explode, and a vision flashed in front of me.
Those people, sleeping in their beds, unaware of me, standing over them, with the same rifle in my hands.
I snapped out of my flashback, and turned to see the Princess and the guards still standing by the table. I walked over to them, removed the magazine and the round in the chamber, and placed them back into their respective boxes and closed the lids. I looked at the Princess.
"How many did you make?" My voice was flat again, just like when I had first seen the rifle.
"Just the one."
I thought for a moment, "If you don't mind, I'd like to get some breakfast."
Celestia simply motioned for me to follow her, and we reentered the castle.
I was now sat in a carriage, thinking back to the events after that.
Breakfast had been fairly quiet; I had spent my time thinking about the rifle. Why had Celestia built it? It was a weapon of war, designed for pain and death. I didn't see how or why it would serve a purpose here in Equestria. But, it was the Princess who had decided for it to be made, and who was I to question her?
Shortly after breakfast, the Princess had offered to take me back to Ponyville. I had accepted, but I asked to take the rifle with me. If anyone was going to use it, it was going to be me. I couldn't risk anyone getting hurt because of unfamiliar technology.
Celestia had agreed, and placed the rifle in a carriage, along with all my other gear. She said I would be travelling in a supply convoy. There was a guard camp near the northwest border that needed resupplying, and some of the soldiers were eager to see me. After we had reached the camp, the carriages would head south and take me back to Ponyville. I was planning to take the rifle and lock it up somewhere. Too many bad memories came from it.
So that's were I was now. In a carriage, with another one behind it, heading along a dirt road. The rifle and its ammunition were in their cases next to me, my knife was strapped to my torso, and the rest of my stuff was in the carriage behind us.
I had been so busy thinking about what had happened that morning that it took a moment to realise that the guard next to me was talking to me. I looked over to him, "Sorry, I zoned out for a minute. What were you saying?"
"I was wondering," the guard said, "In your world, where did you live? What was your country like?"
"I lived in a place called the United Kingdom. It was a small group of islands off the coast of the main continent. There was a Queen, but she didn't have nearly as much authority as Celestia. There was a seperate government that did all of that."
"Did you have a family?" I looked over at him, "Sorry, I was just curious is all. My name's Silver Cloud," he held out his hoof, and I shook it.
"Dutch," I released my grip, "My dad, and a brother. My mother died from an illness a few months before I came here."
"I'm sorry," said Silver, "I've got a daughter living in Ponyville at the moment. Her name's Scootaloo. Do you know her?"
"Some of my friend's sisters talk about her, but I haven't seen her face-to-face."
"Well, she talks about you quite a bit when I'm home. Almost as much as that rainbow pegasus she idolises. When you get back, see if you can find her," Silver's expression suddenly dropped, "She needs a many role models as she can get."
"What do you mean?"
"Her mother left me, took everything except her and the house in the divorce. I think she ended up running off with another stallion. Whenever I'm not here, on duty, I'm in Ponyville, trying to help her get a good life. When I heard this convoy was taking you to Ponyville and needed guards, I signed on for the ride. I'm hoping to see her by the end of the day."
He was cut short as the carriage came to a sudden stop. I climbed out, and saw another, overturned carriage blocking the road. Two of the guards were in a deep argument with two other ponies, who I guessed owned the carriage. There were trees lining one side of the road, and a steep hill on the other. Silver climbed out after me, and examined the situation.
"Darn. This is going to slow us down. I'll go and tell the guys in the other carriage." He trotted down the road to the second vehicle.
I turned back to the wreck. The guards had finally convinced the ponies to move it, and they said they had to get some rope from inside. I saw them run round behind the carriage, and I turned my gaze towards the forest. It was unmoving, quiet, and not a single bird was singing.
Something's not right here. I was about to inform the guards who had been talking to the ponies, when I saw something fly over from behind the wrecked carriage. It only took a moment for me to realise what it was. Oh shit!
Everything seemed to slow down. The bomb took an age to travel in its arc as it flew over me, and it was close enough for me to see the fuse burning. A small, black, spherical package of misery, the size of an orange. Other ponies had seen it, and I heard a voice shout, "BOMB!"
Silver Cloud was the last to see it. He had been standing behind the second carriage, with his back to it, enjoying the peace and quiet. As he turned round, the bomb bounced off the roof of the carriage and hit him on his helmet with a metallic thud.
Silver was left momentarily frozen on the spot, open-mouthed with shock. It deflected off the metal plate, down onto the dirt road before slowly rolling underneath the carriage itself, right in front of him. Instinctively, everypony, including myself, threw themselves on the ground and covered their heads. There was another second of total silence.
Then the bomb exploded.
A blinding flash of light, followed by a deafening bang and the pulse of a shockwave. I imagined the shrapnel, hundreds of pieces of red hot metal and splinters flying in all directions. I feared for Silver's life, he had been standing right next to it.
My ears were still ringing, and I was dazed from the shockwave. I looked around slowly, like I was half-asleep, and saw a guard taking cover behind the front carriage. His voice sounded distant as he yelled, "Ambush!" and I shook my head, rising steadily to my feet. As my vision cleared, I crouched down next to the guard.
"What the hell's going on?"
"Bandits," the soldier shouted back, "They're coming from the trees, with crossbows and magic."
I looked through one of the windows onto the other side, and saw at least a dozen ponies coming from the forest. Some were brandishing crossbows, but a few of the unicorns were firing bolts of magic from their horns, creating scorch marks in whatever they hit. I looked over at the second carriage, and saw that the bomb had gone off right under the passenger area, where all my stuff was. I ran over to it, and heard Silver Cloud shouting, "I'm hit! They bucking got me!"
I saw Silver lying in the road a few yards back from the new wreckage. Blood was starting to form on his white coat, and he tried to stand, screaming with pain as he did so. Ignoring the wall of death heading our way, I bolted out from the safety of the carriage and dragged Silver behind it, resting him against a wheel.
I looked over his injuries. His chest armour had a couple dozen holes in it, and blood was slowly leaking from each of them. His legs were also fairly torn up, as they didn't have any protection, with metal and wood protruding from several puncture wounds. His face also had a gash along it where a piece had sliced him. He coughed up blood as he sat up, and looked at me.
"Let the medic help me, you get out there and buck those guys up!" He forced a smile through the pain, and I let another pony examine his wounds.
I pulled open the door of the second carriage and looked around. It was a real mess, most of the supplies inside had been torn apart from the blast. I saw my pack in a corner, and pulled it out, finding it to be pretty much intact. Unfortunately, my bow, which had been seperate, had been shredded by shrapnel, and only a few pieces remained. Bollocks. My bow's trashed, and these guys aren't close enough to use my knife. That only leaves one other option.
I threw my bag on my back, and I ran back to the front carriage. I saw some of the guards had begun to fire back with their own crossbows. I opened the door, and saw the two cases still sat where I had left them. I pulled them out and rested them on the dirt road. I pulled the rifle out of its case, ignoring the memories my mind forced up, and placed all of the magazines into my pockets. When I came to the last one, I slid it into the rifle and loaded a round.
I saw the guards had the front and centre of the convoy covered, so I ran back to where Silver was, and covered the back, peeking out when I arrived. It was a good thing I did too.
A bandit was slowly making his way towards us, darting behind each tree and hiding for a bit before moving to the next one. He was wearing a brown cloak and hood, and a piece of cloth was covering his face. He had crossbow on his back, and kept moving as stealthily as he could. It was obvious what he was planning to do: creep up on Silver and the medic and finish them off. I will always remember the expression in his eyes. It was one of complete intent.
Oh no you don't, you son of a bitch. I flicked the safety off the rifle, and paused. That was when I realised I was about to kill a pony for the first time.
I leaned out from cover and aimed down the sights at him, letting him get closer. When most of his body filled the sights, I decided he was close enough, and pulled the trigger three times. I soaked the recoil into my shoulder, and kept my eyes on the bandit. I saw the three rounds enter his chest with dull thuds, his body absorbing them like a sponge. It forced him backwards, a look of surprise in his eyes, and he crumpled on the floor in a lifeless heap. I fired a few more rounds into the trees to stop anypony else getting the same idea.
I moved back to the centre of the convoy, and looked to see where the other bandits were. As I poked my head out, another bomb came flying out of the trees and landed next to me. Now I was the one frozen, but I forced my legs to move, and ran towards the hill on the other side of the road. The bomb exploded, and the shockwave caused me to stumble just as I reached the edge. My extra momentum resulted in me rolling uncontrollably down the hill, with the rifle tumbling after me.
I must have hit my head something on the way down, because as I reached the bottom, my vision blurred, and I felt pain in my skull. I came to a stop, but found that I couldn't move. I could only lie there, listening to the sounds of shouting guards and blasts of magic as I drifted into unconsciousness.