• 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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Devastation

Chapter 8: Devastation

At the back of the barn, Jackson stood with Sylver. They looked down on two bodies that lay slain in the cold dirt.neither were bound, but both had obviously been beaten. Dried blood stained the ground around them. Some of it had come from multiple wounds they had across their bodies, but most was from the multiple bullet wounds clustered tightly in their chests, the spent shell casings of which littered the earth in two messy piles just yards away.

Jackson knelt and picked up one of the empty shells, inspecting it in the low light of the moon, "Seven-six-two, rifle round. Probably automatic. You guys got weapons that use this round?" He asked the unicorn beside him.

"Yeah, a bunch, but this ins't from us. This is really strange. The Lotkin have never used firearms, still don't as far as we know."

"They have any outside help?"

"They did during the conflict, unfortunately from some of our own citizens." Sylver said, a bit downcast at the thought.

"Any chance this is still an issue?"

"Unlikely. After the war was over, we captured them all and put them behind bars. They're still there now."

"Even so, where'd the hardware come from?" Jackson wondered.

"Hard to say. Could've scavenged them from the battle a few years back. We lost a lot back then. Soldiers, and the equipment they carried."

The soft pad of boots on loam announced the arrival of Mayfield, back from his investigation of the scene. One hand held the strap of his rifle, which was hung over his right shoulder. In his other was a photo, recovered from the house. As he walked over to his two teammates, he glanced at the corpses, shaking his head somberly as he did.

"Find anything?" Jackson said loudly.

"Not much, a lot of it makes for a downer, but I did find a bit a hope." He tapped the photo, "Lot of foot prints, lot of hoof prints. A load of the hoof prints belong to this poor couple here. Most are in the yard, but eventually they lead here," he explained, gesturing to the bodies. "Looks to me they put up a bit of a good fight before... you know."

"So where's the hope in all this, Scratch?" Sylver asked semi sarcastically.

Mayfield tapped the photo again, "The kids. Found another set of tracks behind the house, small enough to be juvenile."

Sylver perked up slightly, "You see which way they go?"

"'Course mate! Looks like they headed southwest."

"Good. Maybe they made it to Galloping Hills."

Suddenly, all their earpieces crackled to life, "Lieutenant Sylver, report."

"Sir, we checked out the farm. The area is clear, but there are two casualties." The gray coated unicorn responded.

"Ours?"

"No sir, civilians."

Flash growled softly in anger on the other end, "You got the TOD?"

"Hard to tell."

"Guess."

"Might be three, maybe four days. There's a possibility the hostiles could still be nearby."

"Roger that, Lieutenant. Good work. Our search turned up squat. Rendezvous at the town by dawn, hurry up, the sun's coming."

"Understood, sir, Sylver out."

The group stood in silence a moment, before Jackson broke it, "All right, so... lead the way?"

"Yeah, come on," Sylver said dejectedly, "we've got a long walk."

"Wait..." Mayfield interrupted, "we gonna do anything about the bodies, bury them maybe?"

Sylver sighed, "I wish we could, but we don't have the time. We'll let the townsfolk know when we meet up with the Lieutenant Commander, they'll see to it."

"Sorry to hear that..." Mayfield said sadly, "Well, let's get on the march then, shall we?"

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



The darkness of night was retreating, giving way to cold gray morning light. Nocturnal creatures returned to their dens while the dwellers of the day emerged to begin foraging for food. Birds woke from slumber, chirping their cheery song. All the while, three figures marched across the plain, their goal in sight.

The small town of Galloping hills lay before them, only a few scant miles away. Smoke could be seen rising from chimneys, the inhabitants scurrying about in the start of their morning routine. It would be a welcome and calming sight, were it not for the horror the three had witnessed not a few hours past.

A short distance away, another group, similar in size, though not in composition, trotted abreast of the first at an angle, quickly closing the gap between them. Not far overhead, a lone pegasus flew, keeping watch over them all. In short time, the two groups finally met, the motley team known as the Fixers rejoined. As they regrouped, the pegasus took to the ground, tired and spent from a sustained flight. Meanwhile, the two team leaders came together to discuss recent and upcoming events.

Flash trotted over to his lieutenant, "Sylver, good to see you back safely. You doing ok?"

"Yes sir, though I wish I could say the same for..."

"I know. Could you get a good angle on what happened there?"

"From what we found, the whole incident didn't last long. The farm was attacked, the owners beaten and dragged across their property, then.... well, they were executed." Sylver described grimly.

"Executed? Same style as others we've found?"

"No sir, that's the problem. They were shot with firearms, rifles to be exact."

"Rifles? This is disturbing." Flash said with puzzlement. "Were there any other tracks, other than the farm owners'?"

"Yes, there were. Scratch found some belonging to their children. Fortunately it looks like they got away. We think they might be safely in town. Other than that, nothing but Limas."

"Damn. Poor kids. Hopefully they're all right. Good job lieutenant. Let's see if we can find some more answers in town."

Together the team walked towards the town of Galloping Hills. In just over an hour, the managed reach the outskirts, the main street of the small settlement now clearly in sight. But something was wrong. The townsfolk that previously had been seen going about their mornings were no longer visible. In the small amount of time it had taken the Fixers to arrive, it had turned into a virtual ghost town. Sensing something was amiss, the operatives raised their guards and and began scanning for hostiles.

As they got closer, troubling details began to appear. Walls were pockmarked with bullet holes, while some buildings had sustained visible damage with gaping holes ringed with soot and charred wood. Smoke no longer rose from the chimneys and an uneasy silence had settled around the area.

"Damn. Looks like this town's been shithoused." Mayfield quietly commented.

"This isn't good." Flash said. "Everypony watch for movement, Saff, keep an eye on our six."

Slowly, the group approached the town, eyes roaming over the roof tops and probing alley ways. When they got close to the entrance to the main street, they stopped. The air had suddenly become deathly still, as if it were waiting for something. Flash pointed to Sylver and Frost, motioning for them to advance. The two stallions nodded and moved forward, weapons ready. They were half way there when a wagon suddenly shot out from behind a building. The rickety vehicle careened across the street before crashing into the side of the building opposite, effectively blocking the entryway into town. Sylver and Frost back peddled fast while the entire team raised their blades and firearms, dropping into combat positions.

"Stay where you are!" A voice shouted from amongst the buildings, "There's a lot of us and we're armed! Turn back now or my archers will open fire!"

"Is he for real?" Jackson said, glancing over to Mayfield who just shrugged.

Flash stepped forward, clearing his throat, "This is Lieutenant Commander Flash, we're with the RSTG. Identify yourself and tell me what's going on here!" He angrily shouted back.

The challenger hiding in town didn't answer back. The team listened as there was some shuffling behind the buildings along with frantic whispering. Finally, the sound of hooves on a wooden roof echoed towards them and a new voice called out.

"If you're with the RSTG, then why do you have those two things with you?" The unidentified voice spat with contempt.

"Oi! Is he talking about us?" Mayfield said with annoyance.

"If you think those are Lotkin, you are sadly mistaken." Flash shouted back, "I'll explain everything to you, but first we need to come in and talk, you're town looks like it's been through a rough patch of crabgrass."

Another moment went on in tense silence before the pony in the town finally responded, "All right. But only one come in, unarmed. And no funny business!"

Flash thought this over for a minute. The townspeople were obviously spooked about something. Probably something to do about the current condition of their town and likely even with the discovery Sylver, Mayfield and Jackson had made only hours before. In a second, he made his decision.

"Frost, Sylver, regroup with the team." He ordered as he started stripping gear, "I'm gonna go in and speak with them, stay here and keep an eye out for anything, comms stay on channel two. If I'm not back in fifteen minutes or I don't call in, radio our airship and call for another team."

His orders given, the team leader trotted off at a brisk pace to the wagon. When he was within a few yards of it, it slowly drew back a few feet to allow him admittance. The charcoal colored stallion passed through quickly. Once he did, it swiftly slammed back shut against the side of the building it had been resting on.

Anxiously, the rest of the team waited, senses on high alert for any sign of trouble. Mayfield watched the town intently, occasionally raising his rifle to get a better look at a point of interest through his scope. Sylver absently pawed the ground with a fore hoof impatiently. Jackson looked at his watch, counting down the time. Five minutes passed, then eight and twelve. At fourteen, Sylver activated his mic, ready to call the airship. Just seconds away from the fifteen minute mark, as Sylver was about to make the call, his radio crackled to life.

"Lieutenant, bring the team in. It's safe."

Sylver hesitated a moment, unsure of the situation, before carrying out his orders, "You heard him gentlecolts, let's move. But don't lower your guard, keep three-sixty security."

The team began their approach, steadily moving towards the blocked street. When they were close enough, it withdrew a little, allowing just enough room for each of them to pass one by one.once they were all safely inside, it moved back into its position, pushed by two earth stallions, blocking the exit out.

Inside, the Fixers found a small group of guards, some armed with spears, others with bows, a few were visibly wounded, battle dressings stained red covering spots on their bodies not covered by armor. Among them stood Flash and a rather grim looking sergeant of the Royal Guard.

"So those two are the 'humans' you told me about. I apologize for the misunderstanding, but things have been pretty rough around here." Spoke the sergeant.

"It's ok. Tell my team what you told me." Flash said to him.

The sergeant let out an exasperated sigh, "Very well," he started, directing his attention to the newcomers, "It started two weeks ago. A few sightings here and there, Lotkin by the looks of 'em. At first we thought they were just passing through for trade, we know there's a small settlement of theirs northwest, up by the coast and while not often, they do travel through here on the way to Manehatten for whatever business it is they do. But then folks started disappearing. Then without warning, a large group attacked the town, shooting what they could and blowing up what they didn't. Now most of my stallions are in the infirmary and the Captain's dead! It was horrible!"

The sergeant stopped talking, disturbed by the past events. Flash took the opportunity to further brief his team, "Sergeant Boon here has been holding the town however he could for the past week. From what he's told me, we're looking at about twenty or so hostiles. We need to locate them and neutralize the threat, questions?"

Before any of the team could open their mouths the sergeant interrupted, "No! Please don't leave! They haven't attacked in a few days, they're sure to return tonight, I don't think we can last much longer here!" He pleaded desperately.

"I'm sorry sergeant, but-"

"No, wait, he's right." Mayfield cut in with a sly smile.

"Really, how so? Elaborate."

"He said they'll probably be coming back, right? They don't know we're here, so why not set up a little surprise party for them?"

"What are you getting at?"

"I know what he means." Jackson added, a smile forming on his lips as well.

"What?" Flash said in question.

"Easy. We do just what my friend here said. We wait for them to come, and then do what we do best. You got explosives?"

Flash thought in silence for a few seconds mulling it over. Then in almost an instant he understood what they had in mind. In a swift movement, he keyed his mic.

"Skyla, you still floating around up there?"

"Sure am, boss." Came a quick response.

"Find a clear place to land in town, we'll be here a while."

"You got it."

Flash then returned his attention to the humans in his charge, "Ok, we'll go your way. What's the your plan?"

"Easy," Mayfield said as constrained excitement sprang to his face, "these Lotkin fellas like a good ol' fight, yeah? So we invite them in with a little challenge and then... pure, unbridled, chaos."

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



Jackson and Mayfield were walking back to the airship, which they had learned had been dubbed the "Alister." Beside them was Sylver, who had been helping them ferry supplies to the town entrance from the ship. The plan was almost set, all they had to do now was retrieve a few weapons suited for the task and set the trap.

They approached the ship and clambered in through the side door, heading towards the back of the compartment where the extra gear was stowed. In there, the door to the engine compartment was open, the airship's pilot and mechanic hard at work tuning up the engine. She was a female light blue coated unicorn with a white mane and icy blue eyes clad in an olive drab flight suit. Strapped into a modified shoulder holster under her left foreleg was a 9mm pistol. On one shoulder was a patch with the infamous symbol of a spread winged phoenix clutching a knife and rifle with the Letters RSTG embossed over it. On the other was a quite different patch. Dark wings tipped with silver flared out from the center which held a pair of menacing crimson eyes on a field royal purple. The words emblazoned over the image read "The Night Mares."

"Hey Skyla, how's the old bird doing?" Sylver said in passing as he pulled out a trunk.

"Still fit as a fiddle. Battery just needs a little recharge." She replied as she warmed up he magic.

In the meantime, Jackson and Mayfield went about gathering the most critical part of their plan and stuffing it into bags, the explosives. They were small bricks of a sort of hardened shell. They came in a metal box with a set of tiny peculiar devices the Sylver had explained were the "hammers." Apparently the bricks were not unlike the strange grenades that the members of the RSTG carried, they needed to be struck and broken to go off, but they had a much more higher concentration of power stored within. Jackson was a little uneasy about handling what he saw as extremely volatile and unsafe ordinance, but he had been assured by the silvery unicorn stallion that they were quite stable, having been heavily enchanted to only detonate when struck by the special "hammers."

Still, it didn't exactly calm him. Once his bag was full, Jackson hopped out of the aircraft and began making his way back to the town entrance. Mayfield, however, remained behind, finding interest in the large item Sylver was currently extracting from the trunk.

"Blimey, where'd you get that from?" The human asked in admiration at seeing the large firearm.

Sylver had pulled out a large caliber sniper rifle, chambered for the .50 Cal BMG round, "You like it? It's an M82. My father passed it on to me when he retired, told me to keep good care of it, said somepony very important gave it to him years ago."

"Ha ha, nice. You sure you can handle that cannon, little pup?" Mayfield teased.

"Meh, I'm all right with it..." Sylver replied vaguely with a smirk on his face.

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


Jackson walked down the street cautiously, careful not to let the bag over his shoulder bounce with his long strides. As he walked, he took in the sights of the town, the first real civilian population he'd encountered since arriving in this strange place. Most of the shops and houses were decrepit and and damaged, but the damage was recent and it looked like the town had been a great sight to see before ill events had befallen it.

The ponies that inhabited it were no better off. A lot looked like they hadn't seen a good meal in a while and most wandered the streets with their heads drooped low. Children were almost non-existant, hidden away by their mothers and fathers in the now dilapidated buildings they still called home. It was a sad sight to see and it made Jackson angry.

A flutter of movement caught his eye, just off the road. His attention snapped to it, years of conditioning thrusting his mind into friend-or-foe identification mode. What he saw was a small filly peering at him from around a corner, a look of sadness and fear evident in her eyes. She was alone, Jackson looked around, searching for her parents, he was sure they were nearby. Then something clicked in his head. He glanced at the filly again, the dark brown color of her coat, the pattern of her tan shaded mane, but most of all, the dark gray hue of her eyes, they were the same as the female in the photo he had stepped on back at the barn.

In that moment, his heart sank. Tentatively, he took a step towards her. Suddenly, she cowered back in fear and began to retreat back into the alley. She started breathing quickly, panic setting in.

"Hey there, it's ok, don't be scared." Jackson said with a calming voice as he knelt down to the ground.

Tears started welling up in her eyes before she took off down the alley without warning.

"Hey, wait!"

Jackson dropped the sack of explosives and ran after her, cutting down the alley and leaping over random piles of trash. The filly led him down several twists and turns, she was actually fast enough to almost lose him a few times. Finally, they reached a dead end, the filly panicking in the corner, scratching at the back wall with her hooves.

"Hey, calm down, I'm not here to hurt ya." Jackson explained soothingly, "I just wanna--"

*SLAM*

Jackson was abruptly cut off as he was knocked violently to the cold ground.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO MY SISTER!?" Shouted a booming angry voice.

Training taking over, Jackson sprang to his feet, drawing his pistol from the holster on his thigh, "Now hold on right there buddy, I recognized her, I just wanted to see if she was ok." He warned.

Hurriedly, the small filly scampered past Jackson and behind the large, angry stallion that was now on the wrong end of a gun. The stallion was large and muscular, strength rippling under a tawny coat. Around his neck hung a tattered striped scarf of a similar color to his eyes. Dark gray eyes shown with an intensity of anger under a messy brown mane. Looking past the scathing face, Jackson studied the apparent new threat and saw a mark on the stallion's flank, one of a hammer forcefully striking a metal shield.

"Yeah right, definitely doesn't look that way. And if you think that little blaster scares me, go ahead and take a shot!" The stallion said, squaring up for a fight.

Jackson sighed and slowly lowered his sidearm, "Ok, listen. I'm not about to shoot somebody over nothin'."

"Sure, whatever. You expect me to believe that? You said you recognized her, where from?"

"Yeah, I recognize her and you too in fact. I'm glad to see you both made it here safely." Jackson said with tranquility.

The ire in the stallion's face rose even further, "Just what do you mean? How could you know anything about us!?"

Jackson sighed, almost afraid of what his next words might do, "This might be hard to hear. I'm with the RSTG guys. On our way in, we found a farm. I searched the house, inside I found a photo of you two. Although it must've been an old one, you're a lot bigger in person."

The anger in the young stallion dropped, replaced with deep concern, "The farm... Our ... The owners, ar- are they ok?"

"I uh... I'm sorry."

Behind the stallion, the small filly teared up and began to cry softly. The stallion almost seemed to lose composure. But he looked down to his sister, now clinging tightly to one of his legs. At the sight, determination leapt to his face and he turned back to the large human standing before him.

"I... thanks. We uh... we..."

"It's ok... I... I know what it's like to lose family. If it means anything, it looks like they put up a pretty good fight." Jackson said in consolation as he holstered his weapon.

"Yeah, that sounds like pops. You uh, you said you're with the RSTG?" The stallion asked.

"Yeah, we gonna get rid of the baddies for you guys. Take care, everything will work out ok."

"Yeah, uh, I hope so."

Jackson turned to leave, remembering the important task he had set to earlier. He only made it a few feet before he felt a tap on the shoulder, tensing at the unexpected contact.

"Hey, you guys are based in Canterlot, right?" It was the stallion.

"Uh, yeah. But I'm not really with them." Jackson replied, turning. "What's your name?"

"It's Iron. Iron Defense."

"All right Iron, you and your sister stay safe."

"We will. Thank you."

Sensing he needed to get back to work, Jackson turned and left the two behind. He had something important to do and even more of a reason to do it. Exiting the alley, he picked up the bag of explosives and continued on to the main entrance. One way or another, he was going to end this suffering

Author's Note:

OC Iron Defense created by: Shawn820

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