• 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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Confliction

Chapter 39: Confliction

Jackson stood still as his harness jerked around him. Mayfield was behind him double checking all the straps and hooks on his pack, ensuring it wouldn't fail to open properly during their dive. Once he was finished, Jackson turned around and did the same for Mayfield. Once that was done, he said, "Go help out those guys from the tribe, it looks like they're struggling."

"Yeah, got it." Mayfield replied, moving off to go help their four Lotkin friends.

"Hey Chief!" Whirl shouted from up near the cockpit, "I got comms, somepony on the line wants to talk to you!"

"Coming!" Jackson said, weaving his way through the bustling soldiers around him getting ready. Once he got up there, he took the headset from Whirl and put it on his own head. "This is Chief Jackson, go ahead."

"Hello there, Chief. You might remember me, it's Lieutenant Commander Flash." Said the voice on the other end. In the background, Jackson could here chatter of guns and the general racket of combat.

"I sure do. Now, you might be wondering why I'm calling..."

"Oh, I already know." Flash said pre-emptively. "I have some of my best moving on the gates of the Palace now, just like you asked. Should create a fine hole for your guy to slip in."

Jackson fell silent and thought about what he was just told. Then he keyed the mic again, "Excuse me? We ain't even in there yet. Who did you talk to?"

"What do you mean? I got a call thirty minutes ago from somepony saying he was with you!"

"Aw shit..." Jackson cursed, running a hand down his face. "Ok, so what did he tell you?"

"He said he was already in the docks, but needed a diversion so he could slip through into the Palace. We started that twenty minutes ago. I haven't heard a word from him since, so either he made it or he's dead."

"No. If it's who I think, he ain't dead."

"You know him?" Flash asked.

"Maybe. I could be wrong. Listen, keep what you're doing. I got about ten bodies up here ready to dish out some pain. We'll jump down into the gardens, do you know if that area's clear?"

"I can't give you a definite answer, but looks like almost all the Renegades in the Palace came out to meet us, so I'd say you got a fair chance."

"I usually like better Intel, but that'll have to do. We'll be dropping in five, good luck down there."

"Good luck yourself. I heard that the guy behind this is Prince Blueblood. Do me a favor, when you catch him, smack him around a little for me."

"I'll see what I can do, Jackson out."

Taking off the headset and handing it back to Whirl, Jackson turned to face the rest of his team, "Everyone listen up! We're jumping in five! Iron, Swift, Red, Cray and Mayfield are with me. Whirl, after we jump, I want you to take Strake, Kai and our friends here to the docks. Have Garth provide close support and then land once you've cleared them. After that, I want you all to rendezvous with us in the Palace. Got it?"

Everyone shouted their confirmation. Jackson moved to the side door and threw it open, looking down at the scene below them. Canterlot was in chaos. Fires raged in more than one part of the city, sometimes engulfing whole buildings. The area around the gates of the palace was especially bad.

He could see in the light of the moon and the fires a great swarming mass like an army of ants. Muzzle flashes and the occasional explosion peppered the fighting below. Jackson was thankful that the Lieutenant Commander down there had managed to draw much of the fighting to the castle's courtyard. The gardens, he was glad to see, seemed completely empty.

Garth maneuvered the ship over the castle grounds in preparation for the jump. In the cabin, Jackson and his team lined up for the final go. Once Jackson was satisfied with their positioning, he took the leap. Behind him, Cray, Iron, Swift, Redflare and Mayfield followed suit, following their leader into the free fall.

The burning cold wind whipped around them as they dropped from the sky, angling for the gardens. As they neared the earth, the sounds of combat rushed up from the battlefield. The cacophony of firepower and clashing metal was almost deafening. Jackson waited until he was a mere four hundred meters from the ground before he tossed the pilot chute and brought his fall to a slow drift above the gardens. Above him, he heard the similar whumfs of chutes deploying that indicated his teammates had successfully done so as well.

On impact, Jackson hit the quick release on his harness and tucked and rolled to absorb the shock. He came up with his sidearm in hand, scanning the area for threats. Happy that his arrival seemed to have gone unnoticed, he holstered the M9 and un slung his carbine. Then he activated his comms, "Everyone check in, where you at?"

"Toph here, I'm with Swift. Moving to you."

"What about Red and Iron?" Jackson demanded.

"This is Red, I'm with Iron. We'll be there in a second, Iron hit a small... snag."

"What is it, you guys in trouble?"

"Uh... no." Iron said over the radio. "I kind of, ah... got stuck."

"What do you mean?"

"He got caught in a tree!" Redflare said, trying to stifle his laughter. "Me and Cray are trying to cut him down, be there in a sec."

"Don't take to long we gotta move." Be hind him, Jackson heard a rusting in the bushes. He brought up his weapon, but relaxed when he saw it was just Mayfield and Swift Paws.

"Aye-up, watch where you stick that thing!" Mayfield said with a chuckle.

"Sorry, just a little on edge. You guys ready?"

"Sure thing."

A moment later, Redflare, Iron and Cray materialized from the darkness and joined the rest of the group. Jackson made them check their weapons a final time. "Remember, we don't know who all's inside, so those of you with firearms, check yourself before you shoot. We don't want to kill anyone that don't need killing. Toph, I want you up front with Swift, make sure we don't run into any surprises. Cray, I need you to watch our backs, don't want nothin' sneaking up on us either."

His teammates acknowledged their roles and moved out. Mayfield and Swift went quietly forward towards a door with Jackson, Iron and Redflare following and Cray keeping an eye out for anything following them. They entered the passage and found it eerily deserted. Signs of battle were everywhere, but there were no bodies, nor anything waiting for them. They expected to be some resistance, but nothing like this. It made Jackson wonder at the situation. He couldn't see all the Renegades in the Palace rushing out to join the fighting.

Hesitant and wondering at the strange scenario, they moved on, clearing room after empty room along the way. As they neared the throne room, things change. They turned a corner and were hit immediately by a most gruesome sight. There were splashes of blood mixed with the marks of missed shots all around the walls. One wall had been almost completely blasted away, revealing the wrecked interior of what looked like a servant's quarters.

As Jackson stepped forward, his foot landed on something soft and squishy. He looked down to see a severed arm and hand, the ragged stump of stringy flesh terminating at the elbow. His eyes panned up from the grisly sight and found that most of the corridor was littered with corpses of Lotkin and pony alike. Some looked to have gone quickly, with shots to the head or chest. Others weren't so lucky. Jackson saw a Lotkin warrior with its own sword lodged in its gut, intestines spilling out in a ropy heap. A unicorn lay on his side, horn broken and lower jaw missing, seeming to have been shot off. His exposed tongue rested in a puddle of his own blood.

Mayfield looked around, inspecting all the damage. "Bloody hell. Who or what d'you think did all this?"

"I'm not sure, but I might have an idea. Check it out, they're all Renegades, every single one." Jackson said.

"Think some of our boys out there got in?"

"I don't think so." Cray said, looking up from the pile of empty shell casings he was pawing through. "Some of these empty shells don't fit with the weapons here. I'd think there'd also be some casualties from our side as well."

Up ahead, Swift Paws was nosing the air. She started wandering towards the blasted hole in the wall, following some kind of scent. Jackson noticed and and started following her with Mayfield. "What is it?" He whispered.

Swift Paws' ears twitched then went flat against her skull as she let out a low growl. "One is still alive." She pointed her weapon into the servants' quarters at a mostly intact wardrobe that seemed to have escaped the wrath of whatever had raged through their position.

Jackson pointed at Iron and Mayfield, signaling them to move forward and investigate. As quietly as they could, the crept up to the piece of furniture, weapons at the ready. Taking up position on either side, they got ready to open one of the wardrobe's doors. With his fingers, Mayfield counted to three.

On three, he wrenched the door open and jumped back with his rifle aimed at the interior as Iron lunged forward and ripped the occupant out. "No no, please don't kill me, don't kill me!" A pegasus came rolling out, cowering and covering his head.

"Shut it!" Mayfield hissed, backhanding the Renegade soldier. Iron moved forward and placed his blade against the pegasus' throat, ready to slash.

"Wait, hold it." Jackson ordered. Iron obeyed, but his didn't move his blade away either.

"P-Please don't kill me." The pegasus stammered. "Please, j-just let me go. Just let me go, I have to get out of here!"

Jackson approached and knelt down until he and the Renegade were face to face. "We can't just let you go, but we won't kill you either. If you can tell us what's happening here."

"What don't you have eyes, you idiot?" The pegasus nervously blurted out. "They're dead, they're all dead!"

"I can see that." Jackson said patiently. "I want to know how. Who did this, Royal Guard? RSTG?"

"I wish it was!" The Renegade said, shaking uncontrollably.

"Come on, spit it out!" Mayfield demanded, raising his hand for another strike.

Swift Paws wrinkled her sensitive nose in disgust, "He has soiled himself."

"Ok, ok!" The pegasus recoiled. "When the attack hit the gates, we were ordered to fall back and reinforce the entrance to the throne room. We didn't even make it there! About half-way, something attacked us from behind. We thought it was the Royal Guards or something but it was just one guy. Before any of us even turned around, six were already dead. He tore into us, just killing and killing. A few of us managed to land hits on him, but he just kept coming, like some kind of demon! After I saw him shoot Tango's jaw off, I lost it. I ran in here and hid."

"Hmm..." Jackson leaned back and considered what he had just heard. "Which way did he go, did you see?"

"N-No I didn't."

Suddenly, from down the corridor, came the echoing sound of gunshots. Jackson shoot to his feet and brought his carbine up. Out in the hallway, Cray leaned in, "Chief, the shots came from the direction of the throne room, we should hurry."

Jackson pointed at the pegasus, "Quick tie him up. Use the bed sheets."

"No way, you can't leave me here, I'll mmmfhmmhmm—" The pegasus' words were cut off as Mayfield shoved a balled up washcloth in his mouth and bound the pony's wings and legs.

They tossed him back into the wardrobe and hustled out into the dark corridor, alert for whatever danger might await them. More shots rang out, closer now, along with the clear sounds of a scuffle. They reached an intersection and paused, wondering which way to go. Swift Paws' ears twitched, "This way." She said, and started off to the left.

"But that heads away from the throne room!" Cray told them.

"Doesn't matter, this way's where the action is." Jackson said as he rushed after the diamond dog.

They double timed it down the passage, straining to get to the fight. The smell of cordite was heavy in the air as they rounded a corner and came upon an odd situation. A line of Renegades with their backs to them were kneeling some overturned furniture and firing potshots down the hall. On the other end, a few with melee weapons were rushing a group of four ponies.

Jackson was surprised to see Sylver firing back at his attackers while Twilight shielded him with magic. Sumner was fighting of some of the ponies that had rushed him with Applejack bucking the ones that moved around his guard into the walls. Overhead the entire manic scene, Rainbow Dash was trading blows with a pegasus.

Acting quickly, Jackson began firing into the backs of the Renegades with guns, "Everyone, take 'em out!" He barked.

Before the Renegades could react, Iron, Redflare and Swift Paws leapt into the fray, cutting down and shooting any that got in their way. Jackson stayed back with Cray and Mayfield, the three of them blasting any of the shooters that tried to turn their weapons on their teammates. The attack wasn't perfect, and Swift Paws took a round to the leg and Iron a cut to his face, but it was suitable enough to disrupt their enemies.

In just a few moments, the tide was turned and Jackson and his team found themselves mopping up the hostile soldiers. Above them, Rainbow dash, with the help of Redflare, sent the pegasus Renegade spiraling to the floor. As he fell, Dash pounced on him, pinning him to the ground an taking out her knife. Around her, the battle died down as the Renegades were killed or otherwise incapacitated and Jackson ordered a cease fire.

Dash panted with fatigue, her body shaking with the rush of adrenaline from her fight. She raised the knife high, ready to plunge it into her attacker's chest. Then much to her shock, his head exploded. Blood and bits of bone and brain splashed across the dirty floor as the bullet exited and skidded down the hallway. "Cease fire, I said cease fire!" Jackson bellowed. "Who was it, who made the shot?" He angrily demanded, glaring around at everybody.

"Wasn't me." Mayfield told him.

"Nor I." Said Swift.

Sylver also shook his head no, as did Cray, "None of us were firing and I didn't hear a gunshot."

Back from the way they came, Jackson thought he heard the sound of foot steps running off, but he couldn't be sure. "Shit. Cray, Mayfield and Swift, keep an eye out, we ain't alone. Iron and Red, go check on the others and make sure they're ok." Walking up gently, Jackson knelt down with a still shaking Rainbow Dash and took the knife from her now slack grip on it. "Hey, you alright? You're not hurt or nothin', are you?"

Eyes wide, she was staring down at the dead form before her, "I almost... I almost k-killed..." she managed to get out between breaths.

"Hey, don't worry about it. You didn't and you're still alive." Jackson consoled her, helping her to her hooves. He pulled out a canteen and offered it to her, "Here, have some water."

She took it from him and opened the cap, drinking greedily. After she had almost emptied it, she handed it back and seemed to calm down some. "Thanks." She muttered.

From the other group, Twilight and Sylver trotted over. "Mr. Jackson, thank you for coming when you did." Twilight said gratefully.

"Don't mention it. Tell me this though, how the hell did you guys get in here?"

"We found a back way in through some old mine shafts." Sylver answered. "After Miss Twilight cleared a blockage for us, we found ourselves in the eastern quarter of the Palace. We were searching the castle for somepony when we ran into these guys."

"Searching? For who?"

"It's James." Rainbow Dash blurted out. "He's here and he's gonna get himself hurt again. We came to get him before he does something drastic."

Jackson then remembered all the bodies, the carnage they had found in the passageway they'd passed through. "There's no way he could have done all that, that's not like him..." he said under his breath.

"Done what?" Twilight asked.

Jackson flinched, surprised that she had heard him. "Nothing. Are any of you hurt?"

"Just some cuts and bruises. Nothing serious. Are you guys here to help? There's a lot of fighting going on outside, what's happening?"

Jackson reloaded his weapon and checked his pouches. "Flash and his guys are hittin' the gates hard." He explained. "We jumped in while he drew the forces holding the Palace to him. Garth is here as well with some of his Lotkin buddies, they'll probably be joining us soon."

"His buddies? What buddies?"

"Oh yeah, you might be glad to know. He talked with one of the tribes off the coast and convinced the chieftain help liberate the cities. They'll probably attacking now."

Twilight's eyes when wide with wonder while a smile spread across her face, "Really!?"

"Yup. On that note, we should probably get on with our own mission. Sylver?"

"Yes?"

"Think you and Sumner can look after the girls for a little bit longer? We've got to get to the throne room."

"I'm going too." Dash proclaimed.

"I can't let you do that. Where we're going is dangerous and I don't have the time to be looking out for you as well as looking after my own."

"But—"

"No, you're not going and that's final. Sylver, make sure she stays with you, use magic if necessary. I'm sorry RD, but you're no killer."

"We'll head to the vault." Sylver said. "It's not that far off and we'll be safe in there."

"Sounds good. We'll come get you when we're done."

"Roger that. Sumner, girls, lets move!"

Sylver trotted off with Sumner, Twilight and Applejack in tow. However, Rainbow Dash stayed back, staring up at Jackson with anger in her eyes. "You better bring him back when you find him. You better, or..." she trailed off threateningly.

"Don't worry, Dash." Jackson assured her. "I have a feeling we'll find him where we're going. Now get out of here."

Rainbow Dash hesitated, but after a moment she relented and chased after her friends. Jackson let out his breath and some tension with it. He didn't know how James would react if he had inadvertently gotten her killed or hurt. "Everyone consolidate and check yourselves. It's time to end this."

His team regrouped around him and they headed back the way they came. In just a few more minutes, they were back at the intersection. Cray pointed out the route they needed to take and a moment later they found themselves at the great doors of the Royal throne room.

"So what should we do?" Mayfield asked with a smirk, "Try and sneak through a window or blast our way in, guns blazing?"

From the other side of the doors, they heard a trio of gunshots followed by a muffled scream. "Guns blazing." Jackson said.

Cray, Jackson, Mayfield and Swift took up position while Iron and Redflare moved to one of the doors and turned their backs to it. As soon as they were ready, Jackson gave them a nod. Gathering up their energy, the two stallion wound up and then bucked the door as hard as they could.

As the door flew open in a shower of splinters, Jackson rushed in first with his carbine up and ready. What met him inside was nothing short of obscene. The door hadn't opened fully, the corpse of a pony was blocking its way, half the poor stallion's head having been blown away. He saw another with two neat holes in his chest and a third in his head. Two other stallions lay a short distance away, an earth stallion and a unicorn. Both had been stabbed to death, but the unicorn's entire head had been removed.

Blueblood was up on the throne, freaking out and screaming at two forms fighting at the base of it. There was James. Jackson lowered his weapon at the awful sight of his best friend fighting one of the new forms of Lotkin in hand-to-hand combat. James himself was in rough shape. He was bleeding from several gunshot wounds to his thigh, right chest and shoulder and numerous cuts crossed his limbs.

Jackson watched as James ducked a swing from the Lotkin and replied with a punch to the armpit, stunning it. James took the opportunity to then grab the warrior around its neck and bring its face down to meet his knee. He kneed the Lotkin in the face over and over, only stopping once its visage was nothing more than a pulpy mess. Then he let the body go to slump onto the ground.

James coughed up a bit of blood and wiped it from his mouth with the back of his bloody hand. Then his gaze turned to the unicorn trying unsuccessfully to hide behind the throne. Step by step, James began to climb the stair up to him. "Kaughn! Oh shit, you're fucked up. Hey man, get down here, you won."

James turned his head slightly, but otherwise didn't acknowledge Jackson. Mayfield stared at the man that was still making his way to the throne, "Jackson, that's not natural, mate. Your boy's done in a bad way." He commented.

They all ran up to the base of the throne, watching as James reached the top. Blueblood panicked and cast a spell, enveloping James in a light blue aura and attempted to lift him off the ground. James simply latched onto one of the arms on the throne and pulled himself forward towards the trembling prince, fighting against the magic. When Blueblood then tried to run past him, he found himself being wrenched to the floor by his horn.

The surprise and the pain caused him to lose concentration and release the spell. James landed gruffly on his feet and pulled out an old revolver from his cargo pocket that looked strangely familiar to Jackson. As Blueblood looked up, he found he was now staring down the barrel of a very large gun.

Jackson rushed up the steps. "Kaughn! Kaughn, cut it out, don't do it!" He yelled, slowly coming to a stop a few feet away from his friend.

Without looking up from his prey, James said, "He has to die, Jackson. He hurt this country, he hurt my friends, he hurt her."

"Kaughn, the girls are fine. RD is waiting for you at the vault. Now why don't you put the gun down and come with me so we can patch you up."

"Yeah, I saw them. She almost killed someone back there, but I stopped it. I killed him so she wouldn't have to. Now I have to kill him. He sent a hit squad after me, they hurt her. If I don't kill him now, he'll do it again."

"Hit squad!?" Blueblood said, his voice cracking with fright. "I did no such thing! You were supposed be dead for years now, I didn't even know you were alive!" He pleaded.

"Sure you didn't.' James replied, cocking the lever back on his gun.

Blueblood threw up his hooves over his head in a futile attempt to block the bullet he was sure was coming. Jackson had other plans though, "Kaughn, you're not listening to me. He'll get his, don't worry about that, but we need to take him alive. I'm sure he'll go on trial and he'll go in a nice dark prison with nothing but scraps to eat and a bucket to shit in, but I need you to put the gun down."

James turned his head to face his friend and looked him directly in the eyes. "Can you promise me, Jackson? Can you promise?"

"Yeah man, I can. You heard him any way, he didn't send nobody after you. Just relax, man. Relax."

James considered Jackson's words. For a tense moment, it seemed like he was going to go through with it any way. But then he lowered the gun. Blueblood let loose a palpable sigh of relief. Then to his terror, James stepped forward with his right arm cocked back and pistol whipped the prince across the side of the face.

Blueblood spit out a few bloody teeth and started rubbing the spot profusely, "Ow, what did you do that for you oaf!? If you're trying to knock me out, that wasn't a very good job."

James huffed, "I wasn't trying to knock you out. I just wanted to hit you." He slumped down into the throne. "Now get him out of here before I change my mind." He said darkly.

"Sure thing, brother." Jackson waved over Mayfield and Iron who promptly trussed Blueblood up in restraints and dragged him away, careful not to be too careful as they bounced him down the stairs. Turning back to James , Jackson said, "You all right, man? You look like shit."

"I've been better." James wheezed.

"No shit. C'mon buddy, we got to find you a medic."

"Are my wounds bleeding?"

"What?"

"My fuckin' boo boos, are they bleeding anymore?"

"No, they're— what the fuck?" Jackson watched with incredulity as he saw that the bleeding had in fact stopped, most were already scabbed over. "Holy shit. What happened to you?"

"If I knew, I'd tell you. I'll tell you one thing though, it's pretty fuckin' helpful."

"I still want you to see a medic, it's a wonder you're still walking around. I know at least a few of your ribs are broken."

"Yeah, hurts like hell." James said, closing his eyes. "Tell you what, I'm gonna take a nap and then find something to eat and drink, then we'll talk."

"Ok man, whatever you say. At least this is all over now."

Before he nodded off, James whispered, "Not by a long shot."

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