• Published 2nd Jan 2013
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Slipping Through A Sideways Door - hornethead



A man accidently follows his friend, who was believed to be dead, to a strange and colorful land mired in conflict.

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State Of Mind

Chapter 34: State Of Mind

"I still think this idea is rubbish."

"You got any better ones?"

". . .not really. But aren't they the same guys we been fighting?"

Cray frowned. "No, they're not. True, we fought them years ago, but there hasn't been any hostility since. We even trade with them now. Besides, if I know anything about their culture, they'll despise the Renegades."

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend." Jackson mumbled.

"Sort of. They don't really have much reason to fight for us even if they were attacked."

"So, what? We just ask nicely for them to march into Canterlot with us?" Mayfield snorted, "Better chance they tell us to bugger off and go arse ourselves."

"Better than trying nothing." Cray countered.

"Cray's right." Jackson said. "We gotta try something and this is better than trying to mount an assault with just the nine of us and no ammo." He turned to Blackjack who was leaning against the helm of his boat. "You got any objections? It's your boat."

"Hmm. . . Take my boat into Lotkin territory and try to convince them to fight for the enemy that crushed and humiliated them five years ago." He said mockingly. "Yeah, sure, sounds great." He nodded sarcastically. "While we're at it, why not visit the griffons and tell them all about how clawless their nest mothers are? No offense Kai, just pushin' a point."

On the tail of the boat, the large griffon paused and looked up from his task and gazed at the stallion with something akin to indifference before silently resuming the steady, rasping rhythm of sharpening his great sword.

Returning his attention to the spec ops members, Blackjack said, "But if y'all want to go ahead and get your heads put on on spikes, I won't stop ya."

"How very generous of you." Redflare said with a scowl. "Honestly, I don't think it's a good idea, the only good Lotkin is a dead one. Maybe alive if they're screaming in pain."

Jackson shot the pegasus a look. He shrank back a little, but the scowl remained. "All opinions considered," the large man said, "it's still our best course of action. Blackjack, set course for the islands."

The earth stallion shrugged, "Your funeral," but he still moved to the helm and adjusted the boat's course.

Jackson stood up, "I want everybody rested and ready to go, check your weapons and gear and stand by." He looked straight at Redflare. "You, in the cabin, we need to talk."

The scarlet red pegasus huffed but followed Jackson in as he ducked under the low door frame of the cabin's entrance. Swift Paws was the only one inside at the moment, but Jackson dismissed her with a flick of his head and she left without complaint. Jackson gestured to a low table attached to the starboard bulkhead and together they sat down across from each other.

Jackson regarded Redflare for a moment who uncomfortably shuffled his wings in the seat. "We need to have that talk about your attitude now."

"What attitude?" Redflare replied crossly.

"Remember back in Van Hoover a couple of nights ago? When we ditched the garrison?"

"What about it?"

"There was the issue with the excessiveness in your attack and the words you were using." Jackson rested his elbows on the table's edge and laced his fingers. "You clearly have a problem with the Lotkin. Question is, will this become a problem for us?" Redflare looked down at the table surface, not meeting Jackson's eyes and didn't respond. "Redflare, why did you join the RSTG?"

"Because..." the pegasus mumbled in response.

"Because what?"

"Because whatever!" Redflare said angrily.

"Red, unless you tell me what the problem is, I can't help you. If I can't help you, then you're a liability and you'll stay here on the boat while the rest of us go out and do our job." He threatened. "Now, what's the matter?"

"I don't wan't to talk about it."

"Red..."

"I said I don't want to talk about it, my family's none of your business!" The pegasus shouted.

Jackson didn't react, but he caught the slip. Now he just needed to press it. "Family, you got problems at home?" Redflare didn't reply, instead glowering at the table surface once again. "You know, I had family problems too, everybody does at some point. My brothers and sisters fought all the time and when our parents passed, everyone kinda just drifted apart. But you gotta remember, you got family here too. In this community, everbody's got each other's back."

At Jackson's mention of parents, Redflare slowly looked up. "Your parents died?"

"Yeah, hit me pretty hard. Especially when none of my siblings would talk to each other or help with the funeral. But I always had my buddy, Kaughn. He was as much brother to me as anybody. Red, your parents still alive?" Jackson asked, picking up on a hunch.

Redflare's face darkened. "No. They're not."

"C'mon brother, talk to me."

"They killed them."

"They killed them? Who killed them?"

"They did, those rot eating monsters."

"Monsters?" Jackson was confused for a second. "You mean the Lotkin?"

"Yes." Redflare said, shaking with anger. "All Mom and Dad wanted to do was travel around the country, sightseeing and enjoying their retirement and they killed them." He said darkly.

Jackson leaned back in his seat. "So that's why you joined, try to get revenge or something?"

"Yeah."

Jackson let out a huff and wiped his face with his palm. "All right, look." He said. "My parents died of age, so I can't exactly relate. However, I do know what it feels like to have some one you love taken from you. Was I mad? Yeah. Did I want revenge? You bet. Unfortunately for me, I wasn't going to get it because unless I began beatin' up cancer patients, I wasn't going to be able to do a damn thing about it. And unless you know exactly who did it that goes ditto for you."

"So what, you're saying it's meaningless?" Redflare angrily asked.

"Meaningless? No. Futile? Absolutely. Now, I know next to jack shit about most of this world, but I did read up on some of it's enemies. These guys we're gonna go talk to, they don't just randomly kill. They only fight 'worthy opponents', ones that can kill 'em back. Who ever killed your folks, it wasn't them."

"If you say so." The pegasus grumbled.

"I do. Now, I need to know, can I trust you to keep your shit in check?"

"Yeah..." he mumbled.

"What? Say it louder, I want to hear clearly."

"Yes, ok!?"

"Good." Jackson rose from the table and went to head back outside. "Take a minute to calm yourself then get prepped, if Blackjack's charts are right we should be there in an hour or so."

"Aye, Chief." Redflare responded, still in a huff.

Leaving the pegasus to himself, Jackson returned to the weather deck and checked on the rest of his team. For the moment, all were taking the chance to unwind and relax a little; some getting in a nap, others eating what they could while they could. Mayfield himself was slumped over in his seat where Jackson had left him, letting out the occasional snort or grumble.

Jackson tried to get comfortable and get some shut eye, but he found he had too much on his mind for that. He wondered how they were all going to survive this war of perpetual night and his thoughts turned to his friend, only recently reunited, and wondered if Kaughn was ok or if he was in some kind of trouble. Not that his old teammate couldn't handle himself in a dangerous situation, but he had always worried about his buddy's state of mind.

Jackson grabbed a piece of equipment and distracted himself cleaning it, pushing the thought from his mind. Kaughn was just fine the last time he saw him, better in fact, if he really wasn't having the nightmares any more. Jackson eased back in his seat with his task, comfortable with the knowledge that at least his brother would be all right.

==================================================




"Well, that's just not at all right!"

"I said quiet and keep your head down!" James angrily whispered, shoving Quick Fix's head back down behind the rock they were hiding behind.

The unicorn mare looked back up at him angrily, "We can't just do nothing!" She protested.

They were just off a wide trail that ran parallel with the river that came down from the mountain Canterlot sat regally on. It was a bend in the river and the road and James had had the thought to take a look around the corner before traveling it, something that had probably just saved them from a nasty encounter. "Well, what do you have in mind, run in and ask them nicely to cut it out and head back to their private hell hole?"

Near the bank of the river, a convoy had stopped to refill their water. Something that in itself would be unremarkable, except for the fact that this particular train of wagons each had a cage mounted on their backs, each one filled with miserable looking ponies. Around them patrolled a medley of Lotkin and stallions. Except for the ponies pulling the carts, all were armed dangerously.

"Screw you, we can't just let them go like that."

"Yes Q, we absolutely can." James replied matter-of-factly. "There's about twenty of them and only two of us. Even if I set up a hasty ambush, I'd be overwhelmed pretty fast and you can't shoot for shit. No, we head back and find a way around or wait until they pass." He said, turning to make for the hidden spot they'd stashed their vehicle.

Quick Fix's face wrinkled in something like disgust. "So you're just gonna leave them?"

"Yeah," James said without looking back. "They're not going to hurt them or they wouldn't be in cages. I'm not getting shot and fuckin' up my chance at killing the asshole responsible later." He continued walking for a moment before he realized she wasn't following. James spun around, "Hey you coming or..." she was gone, "Shit!"

James rushed back to the rock they'd been hiding behind and peered over. He didn't spot his companion at first, but after a bit of searching he spotted her trying to sneak up on the trailing wagon, it was the least defended. He pulled out his pistol, the only weapon he had on him at the moment besides his knife, and watched as she snuck past one of the guards and tried opening the door of the cage on the back. "Dammit.," he cursed to himself, "what do you think you're doing?"

She actually made it to the cage door and was in the process of trying to figure out how to open it when a bored guard took a stroll around the corner of the wagon. And spotted her. "Hey, what do you think you're doing?" It was a unicorn stallion, unfortunately armed with a rifle, the barrel of which he promptly pushed up against her head. "Hey boys, got a loose one over here!"

She was immediately converged upon by a couple of the Lotkin guards, thick hands descending onto her shoulders. "Hey, let go of me you jerks!"

"Shut it!" The stallion that had caught her pointed to a few of the other guards, "You guys, hit the tree line and search the area, there might be more of them around. Bring 'em back here, if they run, shoot 'em."

Three Lotkin and two stallions nodded and fanned out, heading for the forest. James cursed as he watched two of them start heading his way. A bit of ire grew at the pure stupidity of the mare's actions, but that would have to wait until later. Now, she had gotten members of the convoy hunting for him. Capture at this point was simply not an option. Silently, he melted back into the night shadows of the forest. It was time to get a little bit confrontational.



Back at the wagon, Quick Fix was kicking and bucking against her captors, but they strongly held her in place. In an act of desperation, she tried to use magic, but as soon as her horn flared up one of the Lotkin wrapped a meaty hand around it. "No, little pony, not unless you want removed." He put gruffly.

Heeding the large soldier's warning, she ceased her struggles and resigned herself as they began opening the same door she had been trying to unlock to toss her in. Meanwhile, three of the five chosen to search the area reported back to the stallion that had captured her. "You didn't find any others?" He questioned.

"No." One of the other stallions replied. "We didn't see any other tracks or signs of other strays."

"What about Lantern and Straug?"

"They didn't come back yet?"

"No, you see them—"

Suddenly a short scream split the air out among the trees, but was instantly silenced. The soldiers went tense, as well as the caged ponies huddled in fear. "What was that?" The leader demanded.

"I don't know, I think that was—"

"Shut up! Everypony spread out, weapons out, cover the tree line!" The lead stallion barked. The Renegades stood to and the night air was filled with a chorus of clicks and clacks as those with firearms readied their weapons. "We know you're out there!" He shouted into the forest, "Come on out now and we won't hurt you too much."


To the left, there was a quiet rustle of bushes. All eyes and weapons immediately trained to the source of the sound. "If that's your only offer, I might as well stay in here." A voice called back from the darkness of the wood. "Besides, your guys aren't all that great at their job. This one barely put up a fight!"

Now near the front of the wagon train, a dark heavy lump came sailing out from the forest to land on the ground near the feet of the guards there, rolling a few yards before stopping. It was a small, melon sized rock and one of the unicorns levitated it up for a closer inspection of the fluffy blood-stained mass tied to it. "Son of a nag, it's Lantern's tail! The bastard cut it off!" He screamed angrily.

Without thinking further, the unicorn gathered ten of the others, little over half the guards there, and rushed into the area where the stone had come from, a desire for blood in their eyes. The rest of the Renegades waited and kept watch and for almost a whole five minutes, it was silent. When the sounds did come, they were strange.

The crack of a branch here and there, the snick snick snick of something bladed being used repeatedly. Occasionally, there was the odd clack of a small metal mechanism. Most disturbing of all, however, was the absolute lack of any other noise. There were no shouts, no foot falls, no screams, nor any other voice save for the first initial scream.

After another moment, all the sounds ceased altogether. Tentatively, the Renegades' leader called out to his troops, "Sickle? Thakt? You guys ok out there? Did you get him?"

The voice that answered him was the one he didn't recognize, the one from before. "Nah, they didn't get me. Nice try though..."

"The hay, what do you want?" The leader said, glancing around to see how many troops he had left. In just a short time, they'd gone from a strong twenty to a mere eight. But the guy in the woods was still only one. He hoped.

"Honestly," the voice said, "if you guys just take off, that'd be it. You know what, leave the prisoners too." Back in the cage, Quick Fix smiled a little.

"Fat chance, why would I do that?"

"Because I'll kill you." The voice stated like it was a simple fact.

The leader scoffed. "Right, sure. Listen pal—"

"No, you listen, pal. You guys are holding me up here. Just fuckin' leave so we can all go back to what we were doing."

The leader now had a pretty good idea of where this guy was now from their conversation. With a flick of his head, he ordered five of his remaining guards to sneak around and try to take him by surprise, keeping two back in reserve. "Oh? And what is it you were doing out here?" He said, trying to distract whoever it was with their conversation.

"Truthfully? I was actually planning on killing you all at some point any way."

"Oh really?" The leader said in a haughty tone as he watched his soldiers near the tree line.

"Yup, and honestly, you guys are making it way too easy."

Muzzle flashes suddenly shone from the undergrowth, accompanied with the report of one of their own rifles. The leader watched in horror as his soldiers were gunned down at the tree line. In the light of the rifle fire, the leader thought he could see a crouched two legged figure smiling, no, more like maliciously grimacing. His thoughts flicked back to the unicorn they had just captured, she was in the forest with who ever this guy is.

The night fell silent again, they were the only ones left. Who ever it was in the forest disappeared again. The leader barked an order and had his two remaining soldiers grab the unicorn mare out of the cage and bring her over. Using his magic, he took out a pistol that hung from his side and pointed it loosely at her head.

"Who ever it is you are, come on out now, we got your friend!" The night remained still, there was no response. "Come out and put down your weapons or we'll kill her!"

Another moment of silence. Then, "Oh, like I haven't heard that one before, how original!" The voice came from their left.

The leader pivoted and saw standing there, gun aimed at him, a two legged creature, one of the humans he was sure. The human's eyes bothered him. They were looking in his direction, but not at him, through him, like there was something more important going on off in the distance.

The leader cleared his throat, "Original or not, I'm serious. Put down the gun or she dies, and then we pick a younger one after that."

The human looked at the brown coated unicorn, her eyes pleading help. Then he shrugged, "Go ahead."

The leader was completely taken aback by the answer, "What!?"

"Did I fucking stutter? I said, go ahead. Take her life in cold blood, you think I'm some kind of hero, gonna cooperate in exchange for her life?" He pointed his gun squarely at the leader's head. "Either way, you're all gonna die."

For a moment, they were all stunned. Then, the stallion holding Quick Fix said; "Dude, are you nuts or something? He's gonna do it!"

The human smirked, "No he's not." The barrel of his gun twitched and he pulled the trigger, blowing one side of the stallion's face away. The Lotkin holding Quick Fix down pulled out a long knife, but he took three to the chest before he could use it. The leader whipped his gun around to the human and managed to squeeze off a couple rounds, the human's clothes fluttering from the passage of the bullets through the air, but that was all he got before he dropped to the ground with a hole in his throat. The whole thing lasted about four seconds.

When it was over, Quick fix stood up, panting from the adrenaline of the situation. Her eyes briefly met those of her captor's leader. He was still alive, although sputtering and gurgling on the cold dirt while his life leaked out of his body in spasms. She would have stayed like that until he died if James didn't interrupt her then.

"Q! Get those ponies out of the cages there. You got what you wanted, happy?"

Quick Fix broke out of her trance, but she didn't do as she was told. Instead, anger over rid her actions. "YOU!" She shouted angrily, "You were gonna let them kill me, are you serious!?"

James exhaled and clutched at his side. "Not really. Are you dead?"

"Well, no, bu—"

"Then I didn't let them kill you, did I?"

"That's hardly the point!"

"Whatever," James said, "it's your fault for getting yourself caught for a stupid reason." He walked over to the leader's prone body. He was breathing, but very shallowly. He wasn't going to last long. One hand still holding his side, James used the other to put the barrel to the fallen unicorn's temple.

The unicorn's eyes opened briefly, wild with fear as they focused on the gun and the hand holding it. "Mr. Kaughn, what are you doing, stop!" Quick Fix shouted. James didn't pay attention to her and with a muffled clack of the slide, he ended the unicorn's life, the dirt beneath his head exploding out in a puff of blood infused spray.

The morbid task done, James stepped to a large rock sticking half-way out the dirt and sat down. Quick Fix approached him in a huff of rage. "The hay you do that for, he wasn't a threat any more!"

"He was going to die any way." James retorted, "Better that than a slow death. You think of that?"

"No, I..." James grimaced and lifted his hand away from his side as he looked at it. Already, a dark splotch was spreading in the wan moonlight. "You're hurt!"

James waved a bloody hand at her, "Just a scratch. Look it's stopped bleeding already. Get to the wagons, let those poor ponies out already, I bet they're thirsty."

Warily, Quick Fix left James to tend for himself at his insistence. She went and began opening up the cages, much to the occupants' gratitude. Still, she couldn't help but look back at the hunched over figure sitting on the rock as she did so and wonder just who and what she had gotten herself involved with.

Author's Note:

Art work by: CptBrony

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