• 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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Canyon Sin Nombre

Chapter 47: Canyon Sin Nombre

The scene presented before them was almost gruesome in its surgical appearance. Seven bodies were laid out on the ground in various positions in the slender beams of the moon, each with a neat little hole in its head. Jackson noticed that a few of them had punctures in their chests. It seemed that after the first few went down, the rest scrambled in a panic and the shooter adjusted his aim for the change in his targets' movement. The 'follow-up' shots to the heads of those bodies meant that he had come down from his firing position to ensure the job was done.

"Relentless bloke, isn't he?" Mayfield commented as he nudged one of the corpses with his boot. "Check it out," he said, kneeling down to the lifeless body, "these are more of the same guys that look just a little too much like us." He emphasized the last word, referring to the human appearance of the Lotkin littering the blood soaked soil around them.

"Armed like us too." Jackson kicked a pistol out of the stiffening hand of one of the bodies next to him.

"So what do you think?"

"We're close!" Cray said from the corpse he was examining. "Looks like this was recent, from the amount of blood I'd say they took their last breath almost an hour ago. And look at this!" He produced a small glowing orb from the pouch on the side of his subject. "I was right to grab the armor augments!"

Jackson rolled his eyes, "Yeah, they worked so well the time I was tricked into testing them..."

"Please, have more faith in my gadgets!" Cray snorted. "Besides, I was in training for the RSTG by then, you can blame the un-orthidox procedure on the esteemed Dr. Wright."

"Seems like quite an un-orthidox career change." Mayfield quipped. "Given our current circumstance, I'd have stayed with the cushy job, mate."

"You have no idea what is was like to work with that pompous ass." Cray said in his defense. "Brilliant researcher and you can thank him for some of our recent armor developments, but too often, he'd let his interns do the work and claim the credit for himself. Much less of that...what I guess you humans would call bullshit?...working with the RSTG."

"Right you are, mate!" Mayfield gave the unicorn an approving nod. "Never had a special place in my heart for boffins m'self. But you're all right."

"Thanks... I guess?"

"Sorry to interrupt you gossip girls down there," Sumner's voice crackled over the comms, "but I thought you should know that I spotted a lone figure on the southwest side of the mountain, 'bout a few hundred feet up. Looks like there's a lot of hidy-holes, so if we don't hurry, we could lose him fast."

Jackson perked up at the news, though he didn't like what it signified. "I'm surprised you managed to spot him, he must be bookin' it for something." He said into his comms.

"Yeah, he's moving at a pretty good clip. Do you want me to engage and intercept?"

"Negative, he could view you as hostile. Keep an eye on him, we're rolling out."

Mayfield and Cray were already moving to the vehicle, Jackson ran to catch up. They quickly climbed inside, taking up their positions as Flash engaged the gears and sent Daisy rolling forward at a hurried pace. Swift, now riding inside, stuck her head out the top hatch with Mayfield, he tongue lolling out in the strange pleasure dogs received from such an activity.

One of the front tires struck a large rock, jostling the crew. Jackson almost saw himself go over, but he held on tight and righted himself, the end of the road was close at hand and he wouldn't lose it for anything. From high above, an eagle winged warrior dropped in altitude, shouting a warning into his comms, "Enemies ahead! I suspect they are searching for their missing comrades."

Jackson cursed, "Thanks for the heads-up, Kai. Any chance we can avoid them?"

"I am sorry, there does not appear to be a way. The canyon is too narrow and I doubt your strange craft can climb the sides."

"Shit, alright." Jackson pounded on the roof a few times and leaned towards the top hatch, "Flash, go dark, we got trouble ahead." The old pegasus dutifully obeyed, plunging their route into darkness before flipping down his NODs. The rest of the team followed suit, eager to catch the hostiles unawares.

Gliding high in the night sky, Kai twisted and unsheathed his massive sword. He lived for times like this, the thrill of the hunt and the privilege of fighting along side his battle mates. His keen eagle's eyes, though not as effective in the night, scanned the group of Lotkin below like he was deciding between cuts of fine meat, choosing which one would have the honor of being his first kill of the evening.

Kai chose one near the rear of the pack, it wasn't particularly paying attention and seemed to be just along for the ride. Folding his wings, the griffon banked into a steep dive, his muffled armor dully flapping against his body as he sharply picked up speed. The thrill was rising in his chest, urging him on, faster and faster.

When he was just a scant ten meters from the ground, he flared his wings open silently, just as he was taught, though it still produced a noticeable whumpf. Kai's prey glanced curiously over his shoulder at the soft sound as Kai landed in a cloud of dust. The Lotkin's face barely had time to register shock before a long silvery glint of metal sang through the darkness and delicately liberated the soldier's head from his shoulders.

The body crumpled to the pebbly dirt with a few muffled clinks of armor. The rest of the procession spun around at the noise with weapons raised, but Kai had already flapped up, diving again to lance his second victim straight through the chest. His third came at him from behind, sword raised and ready to draw the griffon's blood. Kai delivered a clawed kick, raking the attacker's neck with bloody furrows and sending him to his knees. Kai finished his third victim off with an over hand strike, cleaving the Lotkin from the joint of his neck and shoulder to the center of his belly, exposing bone and organs and quickly spilling his enemy's blood in sprays and spurts.

Kai jumped back, dodging another swing, but he was met with a new problem. The others now had their firearms leveled at his chest. Kai thought of how he might get out of this one to live, he had made the mistake of engrossing himself for too long in the heat of battle and thus exposing himself.

Salvation came in the form of a high pitched whine from further down the small, but steep canyon. "Kai, up, now!" Jackson's staccato order's spat in his ear. Some of the survivors were already turning to face the new noise. Kai took the opportunity of the momentary distraction to extricate himself with a few powerful flaps.

Daisy swung around the corner at high speed, threatening to careen into the canyon walls. Mayfield smiled as he flipped the safety on the back of the mount and depressed the triggers with both thumbs. Hell issued forth from the weapon as its fat projectiles punched fist sized holes through the unwary Lotkin. Most were still bunched up were they had tried to surround the griffon and were swiftly reduced to quivering tatters of flesh upon the cold rocky ground.

Some were brighter than the others and had dove for the canyon walls as soon as Daisy appeared and were now trying to return fire from their limited cover. As Flash slowed and turned the vehicle broadside out to provide greater cover, Jackson took the opportunity to roll off the top and lay-up behind a rounded boulder. He then went to work sending a concentrated swarm of hot death at any that were foolish enough to expose themselves.

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James paused in his climb. He set his foot back down from where he had lifted it and pivoted towards the racket that sprung up in the foothills below. He recognized the dull crack of an M-2. It went on for a moment and then a new, lighter rip of smaller caliber munitions firing in periodic bursts could be heard coming from a small canyon below.

He tensed, he knew that sound. It was the same weapon he'd heard over and over and over again throughout his past, one that had save his own life many times. His hands clenched tightly around his rifle as the significance of the sound turning up here of all places sunk in. Either Luna had betrayed him and sent his friends after him or they had figured it out on their own. Maybe it was some combination of the two, he didn't know.

One thing was certain. His friends had no idea what they were putting themselves in. They should have stayed put, that way he would be the only possible casualty, clean and efficient. He begrudgingly began to descend from his place, knowing that the earth shattering sounds of combat in their backyard would surely summon more of the fearsome warriors he sought to destroy. His friends were putting themselves in evermore danger for him, something he had an urge to protect them from.

So he walked, exchanging the mag in his rifle for a fresh one. Already, he could see a dark mass trickling out of the lower mountain entrances below, on the move for the party of would-be rescuers like an over-turned ant hill. It was turning out to be a rather bloody night. Not that he had any particular problem with that aspect.

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Shards of boulder flew out in every direction as Jackson ducked back behind cover. His position was receiving a pounding, covering him in a thin layer of rock dust that flew up in the air from the impact of bullets and settled down on his head and shoulders. Mayfield had had to abandon his spot on the mount as he found himself drawing more and more fire.

He was crouched behind Daisy's engine block, popping up occasionally to quickly pick off a soldier or two before dropping back down under a hail of projectiles. Between him, Jackson and Cray, they'd managed to take out quite a few of them in the initial attack, but Jackson swore that their numbers were growing instead of dwindling as they should. It was their fault, of course. The sonic waves they'd produced with their weapons in the firefight had brought the mountain down upon them, but what other choice did they have but to turn around and go home?

Fortunately, the shear canyon walls made for a natural bottleneck. But if the Lotkin managed to get a few shooters up top.... "Sylver!" Jackson shouted over at the unicorn trying to squeeze into cover behind one of the vehicle's large wheels. "You think, you can teleport up on top of the canyon wall or something?"

Sylver snorted, "I wish! You know how much easier that would make my job?"

"So you can't..."

"No! That's an advance piece of magic! Most I can do is physical manipulation and basic healing spells! Maybe a little combat magic."

"Shit-" Jackson winced as a bullet smashed a chunk out of the edge of the boulder he was sitting near. "We'll have to improvise!"

"What did you have in mind!?"

Jackson tapped his ear then pointed at the sky. Sylver shot him a quizzical look. While Sylver was trying to figure out what the human was getting at, Jackson placed a call up to the eagle eye flying high in the sky, well out of range of their enemies' weapons. When he finished explaining the situation into his microphone, Jackson waved over to get Cray and Swift's attention.

He held up three fingers, "Thirty seconds!" Jackson shouted over the din. "Stand up and provide covering fire! Make sure they keep their heads down!"

Jackson blindly fired a burst around his cover as he scanned the dark sky above. In no time, a black dot formed and grew broader at an increasing rate. Jackson counted down, the griffon now clearly in sight. Once he reached 'one', he shouted the order and he, Cray, Swift and even Mayfield sprung up and began firing wildly at anything that moved.

The display of force was impressive to say the least and accomplished its task at forcing the soldiers on the receiving end out of sight. With a clear path open, Kai dove from on high like an avenging angel and plucked the bewildered Sylver from the ground. The unicorn wrapped all four of his legs as Kai pumped his wings more vigorously to take both himself and he passenger high out of the canyon.

Once they were clear, the four shooters ducked back behind their respective cover as the Lotkin in return rose as one and unleashed an equally bowel loosening display of their own. Daisy rattled and shuddered as wave after wave of rounds collided with her frame. Somewhere, a window shattered. Jackson slumped down behind his chipped and cracked boulder to attach a new belt of ammunition to the one in the feed tray that had now been greatly reduced in favor of swapping it out entirely. He glanced up as he finished and was relieved to see the griffon safely deposit Sylver on the top of the left canyon wall, where he could do some serious damage to their enemies.

Mayfield, far too cautious to move from his already tenuous position, shouted into his radio, "Well, that worked! What do we do now?"

"I'm not really sure!" Jackson responded, "Kill them before they kill us?"

"That's it!?"

"I'm kinda playing this by ear!"

"Fucking brilliant, mate!" Mayfield returned, his voice dripping with cynicism.

"They're advancing!" Flash warned from his entrenched position with Iron.

"Aw, fucking bloody great news!" Mayfield leaned over and shoved his hand into one of Cray's pockets.

"Hey!" The unicorn stallion protested.

"Aw, calm the fuck down you nancy ponce, I need this!" He extracted his hand, brining with it the small orb Cray had removed from the corpse he'd been examining earlier.

Mayfield leaned away from his cover and wound his arm back, "Heads down, frag out!"

"It's not a fra—!" Cray began to correct, but his words were cut off by the ensuing explosion of heat and pressure as the orb Mayfield had launched struck a rock and obliterated everything in its immediate vicinity.

Those Lotkin that were not near the epicenter of the blast were thrown about every which way. One landed chest first with a heavy thud on top of the cover Flash and Iron were using. The two wasted no time in skewering the unfortunate soldier with both their blades. The others didn't fare much better. As some of the less critically injured wandered about in a shocked haze, Jackson and Mayfield simply cut them down with a few well placed shots.

The rest went scrambling back for cover, putting a little more distance between themselves and the RSTG members than they had before. To their misfortune, they found it still did not help them much. Three dropped to the ground like lifeless sacks of rocks with shots straight to their heads, though the report from the issuing rifle was curiously absent.

Jackson thought it odd, but knew not to look a gift horse in the mouth as it were, "Good shots, Sylver!" Jackson praised over comms, "I don't think I even noticed your fire."

The reply that came was in obvious confusion, "What are you talking about? You guys screwed up my overall sight picture with that blast, I'm still changing position!"

Jackson cocked his head in puzzlement over what he'd just heard. Then the answer to his mental question came tumbling down on him like a rockslide. "He's here!"

"Huh?" Cray glanced over questioningly at Jackson's sudden outburst.

"He's here, he just took out three of those fuckers!"

"Five- no, six now." Mayfield quipped as he peeked over Daisy's hood.

The Lotkin at the other end of the canyon were now in a slight panic. Not only were they facing a wall of fire power in one direction, but now something was picking them off one-by-one from behind. One of them made a break for where he thought the shots were coming from, only to have his chest explode outward as a loud CRACK rolled through the canyon like thunder.

"Got one!" Sylver confirmed triumphantly over the comms.

His announcement was superceded by the crackle of gunfire as the Lotkin rounded on his position and lit up the canyon wall. Sylver rolled back from the edge just in time, "I'm good, changing position." He informed his worried teammates.

Jackson noticed the Lotkin were no longer paying attention to them. Now was their chance. "Cray, jump on the fifty! Toph, cover from the hood! Swift, Flash and Iron, on me!" He leapt from behind the jackhammered boulder, his impromptu assault team following suit.

Jackson lead from the front with Swift beside him, heads low and weapons up as Cray fired over top of them. All the Lotkin saw was hot lances as the bullets screamed down the canyon, playing light along the walls. By the time they noticed Jackson and his crew, it was too late.

Jackson shouldered heavily into another outcropping of rock with a grunt and proceeded to fire on two Lotkin soldiers he now had an angle on. Swift ducked under his line of fire and swung around the other side, surprising two other soldiers. She clubbed the first with the but of her rifle, breaking his nose and sending him reeling back, the other she shot quickly in the face. She spun around to finish off the other, but he was now leaking blood all over the rocks from a small hole that went in one side of his neck and cleanly out the other. Surprised, she scanned the hills above for the shooter, but found no sign.

On the opposite wall, Flash and Iron were working in tandem, trading blows and slicing down any who dare stand in their path. They whipped through the enemy like a dervish of blades, killing or mortally wounding all they came up against. Those that did survive the vicious attack were promptly put down with a short burst from Jackson's weapon.

Another small group of soldiers came barreling down the canyon, but for the moment it seemed to be the last of them. Sylver wondered if the others were falling back to a more defensible position to lie in wait in ambush somewhere up the mountain as he lined up his next shot. He placed the reticule squarely on the leader's chest, ensuring a clean shot and a possible secondary impact on the Lotkin following behind.

The unicorn took a few breaths and slowly let his magic begin to squeeze the trigger. The leader's head snapped to the side in a burst of blood, the soldier behind him suddenly tripped up on his predicessor's body and fell to the ground. "Hey!" Sylver complained loudly to no one in particular as his kill was stolen right before his eyes. He settled with putting a heavy round through the one that had fallen before switching to another target.

He only was able to pick two more off, taking the arm off one and landing a round straight through the chest of another. The rest were already sprawling on the ground with a few neat holes bored through their sides and backs. Sylver huffed in annoyance and began searching along the canyon floor and the walls for any targets of opportunity.

Back down on bottom, Flash and Iron were finishing up the last of the Lotkin that had been sent to drive them off. With a quick swing of his blade, Flash lodged the edge into the neck of a particularly tall soldier with a thwack, who then began scrabbling at the cold metal feebly. Iron came up from behind and bucked the Lotkin off Flash's sword before drawing his own across the thing's abdomen. The Lotkin reflexively bent and tried to stuff his entrails back in, but quickly succumbed to shock. Swift calmly walked over and put the barrel of her rifle flush with the dying enemy's head, ending his pain with a muffled snap.

The canyon fell into an eerie silence. Jackson and his team glanced around for any more targets, but there were no more to be had. The canyon, now littered with the bodies of the unfortunate, began to acquire a foul stink as the smoke from the cordite intermingled with the sickly sweet bouquet of death.

Breathing heavily in the fouled air as he caught his breath from the exhausting fight, Jackson called his team, "Give me a sitrep, everyone report."

Swift nodded an ok to him from across the way, Iron close by her but limping somewhat. "I'm fine but I took a round to my wing." Flash reported and indeed his right wing was extended out at an awkward angle. "It's all right, the things have been pretty useless since the last injury anyhow."

"Sylver here, I got no more hostiles in sight. Nor any signs of the son of a nag that kept taking my shots."

From down the canyon, they could hear the familiar whine of Daisy's engine, "It's Toph! The wee boffin and I are aces, bleeding a bit, but otherwise ok. Daisy looks as though she's been run through the ringer, but she still purrs just fine. If you could even call it that, damned electric engine."

"Kai?" Jackson queried.

"All is calm in the sea of night."

"Glad to hear it." Jackson let out a tensioned breath, at least his team made it through with relatively minor injuries. "Sumner, if you're still up there, do you got a fix on our target or did he get away?"

Static flared in Jackson's earpiece for a second, but then the pegasus came through loud and clear, "Yeah, about that... I don't know if you can see, but he's standing right at the edge of the southwest wall. How he got there completely eludes me."

Jackson's head snapped up, his heart began to hammer in his chest. There at the top of the cliff, a lone figure stood framed by the doleful moon behind him. As Jackson watched, the figure turned and began walking away, disappearing behind the lip of the canyon wall.

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