Chapter 29: Getting Into It
There was his target. Down the small rise, near the town center. About twenty of the Royal Guard, maybe a little more. They were all cooped up in a hastily constructed wooden cage like animals. Though they may resemble the equines back in his own world, James knew better.
The worst part was the members of their own kind patrolling the perimeter of the cage, jeering, sometimes taunting the captives. Then again, humans did that too, if not worse things. He was proof. He was about to prove it again. He almost felt sorry for what he was about to do, but then he remembered why he was doing it. It has to end, for her sake.
James climbed down from the roof of the armored vehicle he had borrowed from Myst's hangar. He didn't know who had constructed it, but he would have to thank them later. Right now, he had it parked on a small hill in the middle of the recreational park just outside of town. None of the Lotkin or ponies that had launched the attack had bother to go there, they didn't have a reason.
James tried to remember what this particular faction was called. He thought Jackson had said something about Renegades. It didn't matter. They were all dead to him now anyway. James stowed the M110 he had been using for recon and climbed into the driver's seat, starting the engine as he did so. The electric whine was kind of annoying, but the sound didn't carry far. It was actually pretty quiet.
He didn't turn on the lights, it would give him away. He didn't need to anyway, he could see perfectly well in the darkness of the night, another strange ability he'd developed over the last few years. It was something he wondered about, it certainly wasn't his doing, he was sure.
Still working out his plan of attack in his head, James drove as close as he dared to the edge of town closest to where the captive guards were being held. As he neared to an acceptable spot, he switched off the engine and let the vehicle coast the rest of the way there. It was a nicely concealed position behind a few tall bushes. Then he quickly got out and pulled his rifle up and waited. . .
Nothing. His arrival seemed to have gone unnoticed. It wouldn't last, he was sure. Next he checked his weapons, ensuring they were ready to go. He twisted a suppressor onto his rifle, he'd use it as much as possible next to his knife. He didn't have one for the revolver. A quick double check and he was good to go.
Walking fluid and silently up to a row of houses, James flattened himself against a wall, the wood tugging at his clothes. Right then, he decided he should have picked something more durable to wear, he was only in a T-shirt, jeans and his old boots—the rubber soles were new. Weapon ready, he moved forward to a small space between two of the houses. Not an alley, but not a full road either.
Some one stepped out from it, looking around. James slowed down. It was a stallion, earth pony, he had a blade on him. If he turned his head just a little more to the left, James would be spotted. Of course the human would never allow that to happen.
James waited just a second more before he decided that the stallion was alone. Then he crept up next to him, put the barrel against the side of the poor guy's head and pulled the trigger. There was a wet pop as the stallions brain exploded out the other side, staining the ground. His body just slumped to the ground in a heap, blood black as oil in the night pooling around what was left of his head.
Knowing he couldn't just leave a body laying around for discovery, James grabbed a pair of legs and dragged it around to a stack of hay bales behind one of the houses. He just pushed a few of them over and like that, it was hidden from sight. He returned to the gap, no one had noticed.
James went forward to the street. He scanned the roof tops, but there was no movement. There were lights on in some of the houses though. A lot of the towns folk were still there. That wasn't good. The houses were made of wood, if a firefight erupted they wouldn't know to get down and stay flat on the floor.
He'd have to play this carefully. Lure the attackers out some where safe and waste 'em there. James quietly moved down the street and spotted Sugarcube Corner. He smiled as a plan formed in his mind, he hoped Pinkie wouldn't mind him borrowing some of her things while she was out.
He went up to the front door of the store and gave it a quiet knock. A few minutes later, there was no answer so he checked the door. It was unlocked. He readied his rifle just in case and moved in. He found the place deserted. Some pastries still sat in the display case at awkward angles, but there was evidence that the Cakes had already vacated the building. Hopefully, they'd gotten somewhere safe.
Without another moment's notice, James moved upstairs, the wood creaking under his weight, to Pinkie's attic room. Most of her things were still there, but he noticed a few items missing. The Party Cannon, for one, was gone. She really didn't leave home without it. With luck she'd left what he was looking for. Some searching in the back near some old dusty boxes and he'd found what he'd been looking for.
James hefted the box, letting his rifle dangle on its strap, and went back outside. Most of the attackers were camped out in the center of town, near where the captive guards were, he'd need them to clear out momentarily. He went back outside of town and opened up the box. He grinned as he peered down at the contents. Fireworks.
James arranged some of the rockets so that they would shoot off in different directions and then went to gather a bunch of dry hay. Once he thought he had enough, he went back to the box and struck a match. He lit as much as the hay bundle as he could and then unceremoniously dumped the flaming pile into the box of fireworks.
James estimated he only had seconds, so he turned and sprinted as fast as he could back into town. He went as far as he dared without being discovered and ducked into a storage shed that turned out to be an outhouse. He wasn't aware they still had them in town, it must be an old one. It stank, but he ignored it. Better than getting caught and having to fight his way out.
The first flare shot into the sky. He saw the light from it angle through the small heart shaped hole in the door. It went off with a loud pop, casting harsh light every which way. Then there was a pause. At first, James thought that the rest of the box had failed to light, but then the night air was suddenly filled with such a cacophony and flash of light that he almost jumped.
It didn't take long for a response. Just minutes later, a great press of bodies streamed past, he heard hooves as well as the pounding of hobnail boots as a large group of the oppressors streamed past to make their investigation. He waited until they had all gone past and then some. The right decision as some stragglers came barreling by.
Another moment of caution and then he decided it was clear. James cracked the door and peered out. Still clear. He went to open it wider, raising his rifle as he did so. The clatter of metal and equipment came from around the corner, James tried to close the door again, but too late. on the opposite side, a body crashed into the door with a grunt of surprise, knocking James down to the dirt.
James scrabbled back to his feet and raised his rifle, but something kicked it out of his grip. It was a Lotkin warrior, one of the changed one and it had a pistol. It aimed it squarely at James' head. James wasn't going to have any of that. With one hand, he slapped the pistol away, it discharged into the ground. With the other hand, he pulled out his knife and slashed at his opponent, but it saw the attack coming and dodged it, countering with a hook. James ducked under it, low to the ground, and picked up some dirt as he came back up, flinging it into the Lotkin's face.
Blinded, the Lotkin started firing wildly, cursing him in its harsh language. James pressed himself against the side of the building as rounds zipped past him. Sides stepping, he grabbed the fighter's arm and drew his blade across the wrist, severing tendons and causing the Lotkin to drop the firearm. Then it was a few quick jabs to the face to disorient the bastard. Lastly, James thrust his knife up underneath its sternum and twisted, shredding its heart and lungs. James caught the body and shoved it into the outhouse, pulling his knife from its chest and closing the door.
Some one was bound to have heard all that. He didn't have much time as it was. Knowing his time had just been halved by that little mishap, James hustled over to the center of town. He spotted a few more of the ponies snooping around, but they were easily avoided. Finally, he got to his destination. There was a big roaring fire near the center of their camp. Stupid, it would be harder for them to see out, and spot him.
Avoiding some of the individuals who had remained at the camp, James snuck around behind the cage, ensuring not to startle any of the guards. Many of them were wounded. He noticed a few on the ground that were worse off than others. He also noticed one of them wasn't breathing.
With a glance around, he made sure none of the Renegades were in sight. Then he knocked on one of the wooden planks that made up the impromptu prison. "Hey, over here." He whispered to one of the guards.
With a start, the guard—a pegasus—turned around. "What the?"
James pressed a finger to his lips in a silence gesture. "I'm here to help, but I'm gonna need some of your help."
"Another human? Who are you, are you one of Jackson's group?"
The guard didn't recognize him. James looked the guard up and down, he was young, probably only enlisted in the past few years. Plus, his longer hair and scruff of stubble probably helped disguise who he was. Good, he liked it that way. "Yeah, I'm with Chief Jackson's crew." It was partially true. "Where's your CO at?"
The pegasus frowned, "He's dead. They executed him. They executed him right in front of us!"
"Shh, shh, calm down. I'm gonna get you all out of here, but I'll need some help first, ok?"
The stallion took a few deep breaths. "Ok. What do you need us to do?"
"Who's the best spell caster here?"
"That'll be Corporal Burl, I'll go get him."
James waited a few anxious seconds while the pegasus went to go get him. When he finally returned, he had a dull brown unicorn in tow. "Serge said you needed my help?" He asked.
"Yeah I'm gonna try to get you all outta here. Where are your weapons stored?"
"That'll be in some of the crates over there," he gestured with a nod of his head, "But if we try to break out now, they'll shoot us!"
"Don't worry, I have a plan." James reassured them. He took out his knife and began hacking away at some of the wood, keeping an eye out as he did so. In a few minutes, he had made a hole big enough for a pony to squeeze through, though not comfortably. He had Corporal Burl slip out and then turned back to the Sergeant. "I'm going to set off a diversion with the Corporal here. We'll lead them away from town. When we do, bust every one out and grab your weapons, hit 'em from behind while they're focused on us."
"How will we know when it's started?" The Sergeant asked.
"Don't worry, you'll know it when you see it."
The sprawling camp was horrible, it was a terrible sight to see so many displaced. Even more demoralizing was the state of the Royal Guard members that passed through. Many were injured, some irreparably so. Rainbow Dash wondered how many of them were from Ponyville or other cities around her country. It had only been hours since the initial attacks and refugees were still pouring in. It might not even be the only camp like this.
With a flap of her wings, Dash took to the air. The camp looked even more dismal from above. Row upon row of tents housed thousands. The reason for her flight wasn't a better view, however. She had somepony to check up on. After a few minutes flight, she reached the medical aid tent and touched down outside.
Dash trotted in and was almost pushed aside by a frantic nurse, off to some awaiting emergency. She ignored it and went towards one of the back corners through the rows of injured and sick. Fluttershy was back there, helping where she could, but she wouldn't venture far from a particular cot unless her help was sorely needed.
She was back there all right. At the moment, she was arguing with her primary patient, who wasn't enjoying lying in a bed too much. Garth was trying to get back up again, spouting lines about honor and his duty to fight for his adopted country. Of course, Fluttershy was having none of it.
"I said no." She told him sternly. "Your wounds haven't all properly healed yet, you could get an infection. Besides, teaching in Canterlot is one thing with that eye, but fighting any battles is right out!"
"No buts!" She gave him a hard stare and he finally relinquished, laying back down with a gravelly sigh.
Her will imposed, Fluttershy turned to one of the other patients nearby, a unicorn with burns down one side, and started changing out his bed pan. Dash approached cautiously, she wasn't the same malleable Fluttershy anymore. This one was way more assertive, especially when it came to the well being for others. That's not what worried Rainbow Dash, though. It was how sudden the change had been.
Dash approached from the side and used a familiar tone, "Hey 'Shy, how are you holdin' up?"
"Fine." Was the yellow pegasus' short, almost emotionless reply. "Is you shoulder better?"
"Yeah, thanks for that. Listen, me and the rest of the girls were kind of worried."
"What do you mean?" Fluttershy asked, focusing on her task.
"Well, it's just that... you haven't been quite acting yourself lately." Dash said awkwardly, rubbing the back of her head with a hoof. "Are you doing ok?"
Fluttershy didn't answer immediately. First she finished replacing the old bed pan for a new one, then moved onto another patient to check their temperature. "Nothing's wrong." She replied robotically.
"You sure? You seemed kind of stressed. Fluttershy, we're your friends. If you need to talk about something then you just—"
The normally kindly pegasus suddenly rounded on Rainbow Dash, "I said I was fine!" She stated with a new edge to her voice. "Now if you please, I'm very busy." She then stomped off to another wounded guard and began changing the dressings on his wounds.
Rainbow Dash stood there in a shock. What had happened to her usually timid friend? She would have to talk to the others about it later. For now, she thought it best to leave Fluttershy alone and left the tent.
Dash once again took to the sky and circled around the camp a few times, thinking about what to do. Twilight was with Spike. They were trying to get a letter to the princesses, but without any success. Applejack was helping to erect more tents for the incoming stream of new refugees. Rarity had taken up repairing the clothes of the now homeless ponies with Sweetie Belle. Pinkie, of course, was being Pinkie. She was traveling around the camp, trying to bring some cheer to the displaced children.
Trying think of something productive for herself to do, Dash circled the camp another time. She wanted to fight, to punish those that had done this to her fiends, but all she really knew was the basic stuff, things she'd picked up through years of scrap fights and what James had taught her, she didn't really know how to use a weapon.
Rainbow Dash passed over the clearing that had been set aside for the airships the RSTG used. She looked down and saw Myst's ship. There, in the light cast from the cabin, she was reading a book with her son snuggled up against her side and fast asleep. She got an idea. Aria used to work closely with the covert fighting force, maybe she knew somepony that could help.
On her feathery wings, she glided down, alighting on the dark grass near the airship. Myst looked up at the soft thump of the pegasus' impact and closed the book. As Dash walked over, Myst carefully extricated herself from her son's warm side, making sure he remained comfortable and asleep before getting up and moving to intercept the air bound mare.
"Hey RD, what's up?" She said in a whisper.
"Not much, Aria. Can you help me out with something?" Dash replied in kind.
Myst nodded and motioned for the pegasus to follow her, taking her out of earshot of Flicker, but still close enough to keep an eye on him. "So what's going on?" Myst asked, picking up on the urgent tone in Dash's voice.
"I was kinda wondering how I could get in on this stuff."
Myst tilted her head to the side with confusion, "What do you mean?"
"I want to fight, like you guys do." She clarified.
"Oh. Well, I don't get into any actual fighting, not any more at least, and my Night Mares really just get the boys in to do their work and provide close air support."
"No, I meant like the RSTG guys. I want to take the fight to the saddle soap sucking cowards that did this." Rainbow Dash said with angry determination.
Myst looked uneasy, "You sure you want to do that? What would James think, Celestia rest his heart?"
Aria still didn't know that James was actually still alive, even though he'd dived right past her airship a few times—always out of sight—when Pinkie had asked to tag along on one of their sky diving activities. The pink party animal had really taken to the fun and adrenaline rush associated with it.
Even so, Aria was right. James wouldn't approve. A big part of the reason that he had gone into hiding was to help protect her from the violence that had followed him through life. But everything had changed now, the violence had searched him out and found her instead. Dash suddenly felt a pang of hurt and worry as she thought about him. Multiple times, she had considered flying back to find him, but her friends needed her help and if anypony could take care of themselves, it was James. That, at least, he would approve of.
"I have to do this, Aria. If I don't try to contribute some way, I might let my friends down. He wouldn't think highly of that. So can you help me, or not?" She countered.
Myst still didn't look convinced, but her answer wasn't one of rejection. "Have you tried speaking with Garth?"
"Fluttershy won't let him out of bed, let alone teach fighting again."
"Hmm, the only two ponies I could talk to about it are Flash and... Lectric. . ." She said with some dismay. But then something else popped into her head. "Wait. Flash's team!"
"What about 'em?"
"I know a couple of them weren't in Canterlot, they were on a training exercise when it happened!"
"Who, can they help me?" Dash asked perking up.
"Maybe. It's only two of them and one's a unicorn, but the other's a pegasus, he could teach you what you want to know." Myst said.
"Awesome, where are they?" Rainbow Dash asked in anticipation.
Myst's features became apologetic, "Well, unfortunately you're gonna have to wait a little. They went out on recon trip a few days ago, they won't be back 'til tomorrow. Or whatever constitutes as tomorrow seeing as the sun won't come up."
"Oh, ok. Who am looking for when they do come back?"
"His name's Sylver. Sylver Lyne. His spotter's name is Sumner Breeze."
"All right, thanks." Dash said as she turned to leave.
She was about to take off when Myst stopped her, "Hey Dash!"
"Yeah?" She replied looking over her shoulder.
"Be careful, ok? We never did find James' will, but I'm sure he'd have wanted us to look after you so try not to get hurt."
"Don't worry, Aria." Rainbow said as she took off. "I don't intend on goin' out that easily."
She really didn't. Now she had a couple names and they were from Flash's team. James had trained Flash and Flash's team was trained by both Flash and Garth. She would ask the Stallions to train her to fight offensively, use weapons and if need be, to kill. Although she hoped it wouldn't have to come to that. She'd seen the way it had affected James, she wasn't sure how it would affect her as well.