• Published 2nd Jan 2013
  • 4,835 Views, 741 Comments

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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7: A Gruesome Discovery

Chapter 7: A Gruesome Discovery

Jackson and Mayfield trudged on back to the barracks and their quarters. They were both battered and tired. After Garth had awoken, Mayfield was afraid that he was in for a real beating. Instead, to his surprise, the large war fighter stood up and began bellowing in his strange laughter before striding forward and clapping Mayfield on his back with his great hands. Then he put both the humans through a series of exercises to test their flexibility and endurance, something which left them in their now sore and tired state.

"What I don't understand, is why you had to hit him hard enough to knock him out."

"It was a fight, wasn't it?" Mayfield retorted.

"I just can't help but feel that if you hadn't done that, he wouldn't have made us run through all that stupid crap." Jackson said.

Wincing at every step, the duo walked back in the mid day light towards the building that housed their quarters, and food. Not only were they exhausted, but famished as well. They'd burned a lot of calories in the eventful morning and needed direly to replace them. And even though their bodies hungered, their taste buds were lacking the same enthusiasm for the spoils of the mess hall, the fare being as it was.

Quickly and quietly, they got their food and sat down, hopefully in peace. In silence, they ate, shoving fork after fork full down their throats to fill the massive void that was their stomachs. Mayfield suddenly stopped and picked something out of his food that appeared to be a flower.

"What's that?" Jackson asked.

"Think it's a dandelion. Well, they are edible." Mayfield said, bringing it to his mouth.

"Might need some sugar on it, they're pretty bitter." Jackson chuckled as Mayfield popped the plant into his mouth and bit down on it.

Mayfield started chewing, an unpleasant expression rising to his face, "Mmm... lots."

With gusto, they consumed their meals, enjoying the brief peace of their repast. It did not last long, however, as soon the sound of hasty hooves approached the table. Flash trotted up and came to a stop next to the two masticating humans.

"Aw, what now?" Mayfield muttered with some annoyance.

"Hey man," Jackson said, "we've been working all morning, let us eat and then we'll get back to your tests."

If the pegasus was offended by the shortness of the human's words, he didn't show it, "Actually, no more tests for this afternoon. You have an assignment."

"An assignment, so soon?" Mayfield asked quizzically.

"Yes. Upper management thinks you both need to see what the extent of our problems are yourselves. Get back to your quarters and rest up, you need to be fresh and ready to go by 1900." With that, Flash turned and trotted away without another word.

Jackson and Mayfield watched him go for a second before quickly returning to their meal.

Mayfield shoved another forkful of greens into his mouth, chewed and swallowed, "Well mate, I'm down for a party if you are."

"Yup, should be interesting." Jackson replied without enthusiasm.

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Jackson sat up in his rack, a cold sweat streaking his face. He had had a dream, one that had haunted him for almost a year now. His little girl, his pride and joy, sprinting around the house in search of new adventure. Then she got slower, lethargic, small injuries transformed into emergencies and almost uncontrollable bleeding. It was something that almost never left his conscious thought.

He arose from his rack, seeing Mayfield still passed out on his own mattress and shambled to the head. Jackson turned on the faucet and splashed some cold water on his face. Briefly he checked his watch, the time read 1852. It was almost time to get up, so he went back to the room and proceeded to shake Mayfield awake.

"Hey, hey, hey!" Mayfield said as Jackson shook his shoulder. "Oh," he said while sitting up and looking around, "damn, still here. What time is it?"

"Time to get to work." Jackson said.

"Right then, let's hop to it."

Mayfield popped out of bed and started getting dressed along with Jackson. They were almost fully clothed when a knock came at the door. Jackson finished buttoning up his top and moved to the door. He opened it wide to reveal a charcoal colored pegasus.

"You two ready to go?" Flash asked.

Jackson glanced back to Mayfield who was just finishing up with his boots, "Yeah."

"Good, follow me."

Flash began trotting away, Jackson and Mayfield left their quarters and walked after him. The dark colored pegasus led them out of the building and down towards the docks. After several silent minutes, they finally came to the fenced in area that held the operations group's transports. Already, one of them was on the tarmac, engine spun up and ready to fly. Flash took them to this aircraft and brought them to the side door. Jackson looked inside and saw four stallions, all armored up and armed to the teeth.

"Any chance we get our own equipment?" Mayfield asked.

"We have armor for you both loaded in the back, as well as your weapons. Go ahead and gear up." Flash told him.

"All right then."

Jackson climbed in, followed by Mayfield. As the pegasus had said, a pile of weapons and armor were piled in the back corner of the compartment, including Jackson's Mk 48, which had been repaired, and Mayfield's sniper rifle. Both picked up their respective weapons and gave them a quick once over, making sure they were in good working order. After that, they retrieved the armor, something that was like contemporary body armor, but... different. It was like Dragon Scale armor, except it was thinner and more form fitting.

"What is this gonna protect us from, letter openers?" Jackson complained.

"Don't worry, they'll work." Flash assured, "they're actually an improved design of the original your old friend brought with him. They'll stop anything short of cannon fire."

"If you say so..." Jackson replied while strapping on the protective garment.

The occupants now all aboard, the airship began rising into the air, the engine pulsing a gentle vibration across the deck. In no time, Jackson and Mayfield were all suited up; body armor, tac vest, helmet, safety goggles, throat mics attached to small radios, ammo and NVGs. Together, they sat down on one of the benches that lined the bulkheads, away from the rest of the team.

The rest of the team consisted of the four other stallions; a chestnut coated pegasus with a lime green mane, a white coated earth pony with a black mane, a sandy coated unicorn with a dusky orange mane and the almost all silver and gray unicorn that seemed to be the second in command in the group. While the two unicorns were armed with assault rifles, the other two only sported swords and a few weird looking grenades.

A few moments of uneasy silence passed before Flash walked over and began to introduce the crew, "Everypony, we have a few tagalongs for this op. This is Jackson and Scratch," he said, pointing to the humans, "they'll be assisting us." He then turned to the humans and began going down the row of stallions, "This is my team, we're called 'The Fixers,' Princess Luna's go-to." He pointed a hoof to the pegasus, "This is Sumner Breeze, he's our spotter."

"Yo." Said the chestnut pegasus, raising a hoof in greeting.

Flash continued, "Then we have Frosty Glade," the white earth pony nodded, "Saffron."

"Call me Saff," the unicorn said.

"And of course, Sylver Lyne."

"Hey, how's it goin'?" Jackson said with a short wave.

"Ok, now down to brass tax," Flash went on. "We're en route for a settlement by Galloping Gorge. They've sent a missive calling for help against a series of attacks they've suffered on their outlying farms. We believe this may be the work of the Renegade Tribe. As such, our team has been sent out to investigate."

"Real quick," Mayfield questioned, "what's this 'Renegade Tribe' you're always going on about?"

Flash sighed, "After we stopped the invasion, the survivors of the opposing army sought to make a treaty with our rulers. They were granted land to inhabit on some of the unoccupied islands off the western coast and to the south in the San Palomino Desert. The Renegade Tribe is a splinter group that still believed that all of Equestria should belong to them and them alone. For the past few years, they've been attacking our country using guerrilla tactics, harming us and instilling fear into the populace."

"So why don't you just go wipe 'em out?" Jackson suggested.

"Unfortunately, they are extremely hard to pin down, as they are constantly on the move." Flash said.

"What about 'cutting the head off the snake?'" Mayfield said, "We do that shit all the time. Although some other wanker is always there to take his place."

"I'm getting to that." Flash responded. "From what we know, their leader is a warrior called 'Sahjri Khot.' Loosely translated from their language, it means 'Death's Call.'"

"A bit on the dramatic side, innit?" Mayfield commented.

"Maybe, but the tribe takes it very seriously. Apparently, he's behind all the attacks. We don't know where he is or where his group is operating from, but if we can track the movements of the raids, we might be able to trace them back to where ever he's hiding."

"Ok, so we go on this little fact finding mission and what, hunt down and capture the bad guys for info?" Jackson asked.

"That's the plan. But be warned, these guys don't go down easy. They wont let themselves be captured, they'll take their own lives first and take any of us with them if they can. Be prepared for a hard fight."

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Something nudged Jackson's shoulder, soft at first, but then with more energy. Reluctantly, he opened his eyes, lifted his head and looked over to see Mayfield was shaking him awake.

"Wakey wakey, eggs and bakey, we're on spot." The black haired man said with a mocking tone.

"Shit. All right."

Jackson got up from where he was sitting and scanned the compartment. The rest of the team was busy gearing up; Flash, the earth pony and the two unicorns were buckling into what looked like parachutes while the chestnut pegasus was simply adjusting the straps on his weapons. Jackson and Mayfield found a couple of other rigs with harnesses fit for their frames. Sensing what was about to come, the two humans hastily began putting their own devices on, checking and re-checking each other to ensure that nothing was loose. Once finished, they moved to the side door where the rest of the team was waiting and Flash stood looking towards them expectantly.

"I'm sure you both know how to jump." He said, "There's a small settlement northeast of the small mountain range by Galloping Gorge. We'll be hitting the deck just outside it. Right now, our task is to perform a covert insertion and sweep the area for the next few hours until dawn. If we don't find anything, then we hit the town for any info the inhabitants might have, understand?"

Both Jackson and Mayfield nodded. Behind Flash, Sylver opened up the side door, letting in a rush of cold air.

Flash turned to his team, "Breeze, you're up!"

The pegasus gave a curt nod before hurling himself out into the night. After about thirty seconds, Flash pointed a hoof out the door and the other three stallions followed suit, swiftly exiting the vehicle. Once they were all away, Flash returned his attention to Jackson and Mayfield, who were now standing by the door.

"Well, take a leap." The pegasus urged.

Without hesitation, Jackson launched himself through the door way. Mayfield stayed just a second longer though.

"What's the matter, Scratch, got the jitters?" Flash teased.

"Not exactly, I just have a question." Mayfield said in response, "If you've got wings, why do you have a parachute?"

Flash narrowed his eyes, "Old injury, now get the fuck out there." He shot back while giving the human a hard shove with his forelegs, sending the man careening into the night.

"Ugh, humans." Flash sighed before jumping out of the aircraft himself.

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



Whipping wind whistled past Jackson's face as he fell from the sky, quickly reaching terminal velocity. His Mk 48 was bumping rapidly against where it was strapped on his stomach, but the armor he now wore reduced the feeling to nothing more than gentle nudges. With caution, he spread his arms and legs to further slow his fall.

Below him, he could see faint green glows in the blindness of night, patches of photo luminescent material adhered to the backs of his temporary teammates' helmets. Past his right side, a reddish-brown pegasus shot by, buffeting Jackson briefly with a gust of air. He smiled as he thought about the dynamics of having a completely sentient being capable of flight falling beside him. The potential was almost limitless.

Suddenly, Jackson noticed a quick jerk in the the lights below him. Instincts, honed through years of experience, took over. Swiftly, he arched and reached for the pilot chute, yanking it from the pack and tossing it into the air above him. Following a few anxious seconds, he was violently snatched up, the main chute catching the atmosphere and abruptly slowing him down to a gentle drift towards the ground.

Twin handles popped off, unsecured from his vest by the arrest of his fall. Recognizing the system, Jackson grasped them, taking control of his descent. With nimble adjustments, he followed the other three down to the patchy surface of the terrain below. Within no time, the ground rushed up to meet him. Training and experience lunging forth in his mind, Jackson prepared for his landing, prepping his legs for the impact.

With a bump and a roll, the large dark man brought himself to an uncomfortable, but safe stop. Working quickly, he turned and started rolling up the cords before the wind could catch the chute and drag him unceremoniously across the dirt and scrub brush. In seconds, he had his parachute secured and rolled in a neat pile on the ground.

Next, he readied his weapon and strode forth to meet his other teammates. Nearby, Breeze the pegasus thumped onto the ground. Seconds later, Mayfield hit the deck, closely followed by Lieutenant Commander Flash. All hands and hooves on the ground, the team converged to hash out the plan. Flash pulled out a map, spreading it out on the ground, and a red filtered flashlight. Illuminating the map with a crimson glow, he began to speak.

"Here's the town of Galloping Hills," he said, pointing to the eastern end of the mountain range, near its base, "We're up here," he drew a hoof north to the scrub lands that separated The Frozen North from the rest of Equestria. "There are a few outlying farms between us and the town. This is where the most activity is being reported. We'll sweep the area on the way into town. Sylver, I want you to take Jackson and Scratch, take the east side in."

"Sir."

"Frosty, Saff, you're with me, Breeze is on over watch. Any questions?"

Mayfield raised a hand, "Yeah, what's our ROE?"

"Return fire only, unless you, your teammates or a civilian are in a life threatening situation." Flash said.

"Right then."

"Ok, everypony knows their part. Get to it and stay safe."

The meeting concluded, each team went their own ways, while Saffron the pegasus leaped into the sky. Flash's fire team ventured west and south while Sylver took the two humans east. The stars flickered brightly in the sky overhead, a half moon in the western hemisphere helped to light the area a little. Neither team saw the use of their NVGs necessary, letting the natural night vision of their own eyes guide them across the scrub plain.

Training kicking in, they spread out in a wide line, minimizing the risk of casualties should they unexpectedly come under fire. For a few hours, they continued like this, occasionally checking in with their spotter and the other team. Boredom started to set in for Mayfield and Jackson, it seemed like it was turning into a long night. That is, until a set of low buildings appeared on the horizon. Instinctively, Sylver and the two humans crouched down, eager to conceal their presence.

"Sir, this is Sylver, we've encountered a set of buildings, clustered close together, I think it might be one of the farms." The unicorn said into his mic.

Sylver's radio crackled as a response came through, "Are there any lights?"

"No sir, no sign of activity."

"Check it out, but proceed with caution."

"Yes sir."

Sylver glanced over to his two teammates and signaled them to use their NVGs with a hoof. It was time to move in and they needed every optical advantage. With all the stealth they could muster, the small team crept warily towards the buildings, alert and eyes open for any and all movement. The humans held their weapons at the ready, though still pointed to the ground, accidentally shooting a farmer would not do for any of them.

Silently, they moved in. Every rock, every bush, every corner and every shadow posed a threat. Eyes dutifully scanned the area ahead, ready to react to anything that might try to take them by surprise. Fortunately, they met no resistance upon entering the cluster of buildings, all that was there to greet them was an eerie stillness and the silence of the night.

The buildings consisted of a small house, a tool shed and a modest barn. Jackson and Mayfield looked to their team leader. Sylver nodded and they split up, each going to a separate structure. Jackson ran up to the house, avoiding the windows and stopping at the front door. He noticed the door was slightly ajar, something worried him. He stowed his weapon, letting it hang from its strap and pulled out his pistol. Cautiously, he nudged the door open, it swung inward on creaking hinges in dire need of oil.

Jackson put one boot in, then another, guard raised in the expectation of an attack. Eyes moving across the interior, he studied everything he saw inside the house. It was a mess. To the side of the room, to his left, a table lay overturned by some windows. A few chairs had been smashed up and there was debris all over the floor. Treading softly, he resumed exploration, further entering the abode. As he walked, something crunched under Jackson's boot. He paused, weapon raised, listening incase his presence was made know to anything that might be in the house.

There was no other sound or movement, he was alone. Jackson bent down to see what he had stepped on. Moving his boot, he uncovered a small picture frame, the glass broken and cracked. Gingerly, he picked it up and examined it. There was a photo behind the broken glass, a family of four posed in front of the house inside the picture, smiling and happy in the moment that was captured within. Jackson gently placed the frame on a nearby piece of derelict furniture and continued his investigation.

The rest of the house revealed a frightening tale. The kitchen was left with food still on the stove. Stale bread, left out on the kitchen table, was left to gather mold. Transitioning to the bedrooms, Jackson found garments strewn haphazardly on the floor, drawers pulled out and closets ransacked, as if the previous occupants of the home had been over eager to leave in a hurry. His search turning up nothing else, Jackson strode back to the main room and out the front door to the yard where Sylver joined him shortly after.

"Find anything?" The unicorn asked.

"No, not really. Although it looked like there could have been a struggle in the house. No bodies though, no blood."

"That's because they're behind the barn..."

Sylver and Jackson turned, slightly stunned at the words, to Mayfield returning from his own search.

"What do you mean, where?" Sylver inquired with morbid anticipation.

"Two of 'em, 'round the corner. Executed by the looks of it." Mayfield said.

"Damn it, that's not good." Sylver muttered.

"Something else," Mayfield continued, "they were shot."

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