A My Little Pony fan fiction...
M = Moderate mature content
Apparently there are places within this land that have never been traveled by man throughout the ages of humanity's occupation of this dying planet. Blanks on the map. Mostly rumors passed on by individuals who seek absolute serenity from the fear that strikes our hearts everyday. Somewhere the terror and bloodshed will not follow. A place one can so foolishly call "safe." One man has never believed such lies. The road was his deliverance. With trust a long dead concept in the wastelands, his rifle was his friend. And with deadly opposition of his strive to survive, it was also his sword. His car was his warhorse and shield. He was a knight of the open road. He stopped for no one but himself. And no one has ever caught him yet. His name is Skyray. He was given the name when he was four years old, around the time his family migrated to a small colony outpost in the Oil Seas, somewhere in a territory once called Texas. The exact meaning of it is still unclear, but to him it was the result of a cheesy "prophecy" that he would be the savior of a remaining Eden on the brink of suffering the same fate as the rest of this world has. A ray of light to bleed through the ashen sky and illuminate a darkened world, so to speak. His real name is long forgotten, so for the longest he can remember he has gone by the simplified nickname of Ray. The road was unusually clear of rubble and debris of improvised fighting vehicles left over from the great wars, almost glowing under the beaming desert sun. It was hot. Too hot for Ray to handle, as sweat caused his ragged clothing to cling uncomfortably to his body. He pulled over to the clearing along the road and removed his chest holster and shredded leather vest. He let out a disappointed sigh as there was very little change in his overall comfort. He observed the wasteland around him, then at the road ahead. He felt like the only inhabitant of the planet. Truly alone. He shut off the engine and listened to the Earth. Nothing. Pure silence. No wind, no tumble of loose vegetation, and most important of all, no distant rumble of a dozen angry war machines charging for their prey. Oddly enough, no ringing in his ears as he usually had after long drives. Have the hours upon hours of listening to my own unmuffled engine caused me to go deaf? Is that even possible? He shifted in his seat to hear the scraping of his clothing against the rough canvas covering. Nope, I'm perfectly fine. Now to find that canteen within the mess of my belongings in the back... A rumble. An all too familiar rumble echoed from somewhere in the distance behind him. He leaped out of the car, whipped out the binoculars from a pouch on his belt and scanned the horizon as thorough as he could. He saw nothing but the endless seas of refracting light along the desert surface. Finally, he spots something. Yes, something in motion. Emerging from the curve of the Earth, growing into a familiar blob of silhouette. Then it rose higher than higher in his lenses. Unusually high. Then the familiar sound transformed into something beyond his normal expectations. As the flying object grew nearer, He heard an earth-shattering "Whomp! Whomp! Whomp!" as repetitive as a heavy machine gun with endless ammo reserve and little to no danger of overheating. A helicopter. A rather large one, at that. Normally in situations like this, Ray had a naturally-camoflaged car cover which acts as the perfect cloak from airborne scouts. Unfortunately, that was before falling victum to common theft by a band of scavengers when he last refueled. Now he was as plain as day to anyone with a pair of functioning eyes. Just let it pass over. Maybe they'll leave me alone. Another part of his subconscious told him that he has literally gone insane to believe such a thing. It passed over without hesitation, low enough for him to read the insignia on the side of the fuselage: "Destruens Angelus," Latin for "Destroying Angel." It was a highly-modified and elongated CH-47 "Chinook" serving as a gunship and transport, with large sections cut away from the sides for fast-loading of passengers. It also had wings spanning from the center fuselage line, carrying pylons for various air-to-ground weapons. Whoever was operating this beast must be a part of a widespread rebel faction. This was highly irregular for any lone scavengers to want anything to do with, due to it being far too high-profile in contrast to intentions of running from larger threats. This thing belonged to a large force in power. Someone with intentions of conquering over minorities too feed their lust in power. Ray knew what followed would be much worse. To confirm his thoughts, he took another look at the horizon. Sure enough, a parade of charging vehicles stormed his direction from the distance. Buggies, Infantry Fighting Vehicles, even mobile artillery. A rogue military faction. Ray's heart sank. No one has ever survived an encounter with a rogue military faction before, and this marked Ray's first encounter without any means of escape or evasion. Time to run. Ray leapt into his custom desert-warfare-modified 1970 Chevrolet El Camino and started the engine. As soon as he pulled out, back onto the road, the giant tandem-rotor helicopter circled around, nose-down and low altitude in perfect attack stance. Ray accelerated, causing the brief bombardment of unguided rockets to miss and hit the road behind. The Chinook passed over, roaring like the battlecry of a hundred angry dragons. He keept his foot on the pedal, forcing himself to keep his vision on the road ahead. Don't stop. Don't look back. Just keep going! A sand buggy with various Jeep modifications somehow made it's way next to his passenger door, a rear gunner aiming an arrow-launcher at his front tires. Ray whipped a 1911 out of the holster on his passenger seat and shot the gunner dead-center in the forehead. He tumbled from the caged gunner nest behind the driver, to the road with a cringeworthy "thud" audible over the two rumbling engines. The driver swerved and hit Ray's car in attempt to run it off the road, but to no effect. Ray looked to the other driver with an amused grin, surprised how anyone could fathom the idea of how such a small "toy" of a vehicle could ever budge the power of Ray's transport. My turn. Ray swerved and hit the buggy, running it off the road, into the desert. The unsecured driver lost control and crashed head-on into a large rock formation, sending him flying through the windshield and into the dunes ahead. The Chinook approached him for another attack run, unloading its overall arsenal. Ray swerved on the road, attempting to dodge as many projectiles as he can while he looked for a way out. There. Off to the left of the desert road was an unusually dense oasis of vegetation, sinking deep into a groove in the earth. A stream, possibly, which can't bee seen from this angle on the road. But there was no bridge in sight to indicate as such. Either way, the trees should provide decent cover while evading offensive fire from the Chinook. Ray drove off the road, into the vegetation. The band of angry war machines followed, except for the unfortunate weaponized transport vans made specifically for road-travel that tumbled in the dunes. The Chinook also followed, straining to get a clean shot of the El Camino, shredding the trees with armor-piercing machine gun fire. A 6x6 mobile artillery vehicle aimed its turret at Ray and fired a shot. The shell blasted the rearmost quarter of the El Camino, causing Ray to loose control and run right off his mental path within the vegetation, into the predicted stream of shallow yet rushing water, tumbling through the algae-slickened rock. The last of this memory of a nightmare... a waterfall. Darkness blankets the world around.
Interesting. Lots of Mad Max action going on, but no ponies yet. I'm eager to see how they'll fit in this story.
Dear Princess Celestia,
Today I learned that nopony kicks ass without tanker gas. Nopony!
Your faithful student,Fluttercopter
Distorted images played in Ray's mind as he woke up. He remembered his encounter with rogue faction on the desert road, his car flipping into the mysterious stream, how time seemed to have slowed down at that very moment. Suddenly, his senses woke up. Pain shot through his entire body as he lay sprawled in the dirt. He could hear voices. They caught me. He snapped his eyes open and quickly crawled to his feet to face his captors. He felt light-headed, forcing him back to the ground. He looked around him, trying to find the source of the voices. Instead he found himself alone, in a forest. Trees and bushes towered over him, with thick branches of leaves shredding the rays of sunlight straining to illuminate the surface. He was bombarded by sounds of nature; birds, insects, a nearby stream of water. It was cold, much colder than what he was use to. It felt almost Arctic, causing him to shiver. "Are you okay?" a soft, feminine voice called out behind him. Ray spun around, fingering his chest for the holster containing the 1911, then ceased as he realized that he was not wearing anything above his belt. He found himself facing the wreckage of his El Camino, with its many contents spread across the ground as if it got hit by an incendiary explosive. What stood atop the wreckage sent Ray's senses of reality spinning in the most confusing circles. He blinked his eyes tightly to clear the illusion away, but to no effect. They were right there in reality, two of them, staring at him with their big, gleaming eyes. Equine, no doubt, yet so unworldly with their abnormally large eyes and candy-colored coats. They held very human expression on their faces, as they looked on with genuine curiosity at the bloody mess of a human before them. They speak... in English. "Where am I?" Ray asked, convinced that he was no longer on the planet he knew so well. "The outskirts of the Everfree Forest.... sir." the yellow one said in a frightened tone. She hid her face behind a long, flowing mane of pink hair. She had wings like a bird. A pegasus? "On what planet?" Ray asked in response, with a very stern tone that forced the yellow creature to shy away even more. "Earth." the cyan-blue one spoke up, with a much louder and rougher-sounding voice than the yellow one. Even her hair colors were loud, with a perfect rainbow spectrum within her raggedly-cut mane. She also appeared to be a pegasus, but bore a much stronger build than her shy counterpart. "What planet are you from?" "Earth." Ray replied flatly. "Hmm. I guess you're not from Equestria then." "Equestria?" She snorted. "Definitely not from here." She then looked down at the wreckage of Ray's weaponized El Camino below her hooves. "What the heck is this thing?" "That was my car." Ray replied hoarsely, struggling to his feat. "Damn rogues ran me off the road." Not technically, but much easier to explain to his new company. He remembered the oasis of vegetation off to the left of the desert road, how unusual it was in such a hot climate. The infamous rabbit hole... and I stumbled through it. Ray saw the connection with the many rumors about untraveled lands he has heard from so many scavengers in his lifetime. Those blanks on the map. And he found one. But what of his previous "company"? Ray saw no sign of the rogue faction. Just the thick forest around him, and the two pegasi standing on what's left of his vehicle. He was still in pain, but also felt hungry. And thirsty. Very, very thirsty. Let's see how far this rabbit hole goes. "I don't suppose you have a place I could get cleaned up, or maybe something to eat?" "Um, yes." The yellow pegasus said softly with a slight smile. "Please, follow me." She leapt from the wreckage and led the way through a clearing in the forest, with her rainbow friend following close behind. Very welcoming attitude. Indeed, far more welcoming than what Ray is use to. Ray took another look at his car before tagging along, at all of the work he put into preparing this machine for the aftershocks of an apocalypse beyond our imagination, now totalled before his eyes. He let out a sigh as he reached for his jacket and holster, slinging them over his shoulder, then reaching through the debris in the back for his rifle, a modified Walther WA-2000 converted to full-automatic fire, which included a hand-made extended drum clip of 25 rounds. He slung the weapon over his shoulder with the rest of his stuff and followed the two pegasi. As he traveled through the thick forest floor, he couldn't help but worry that his arrival to this strange land had been shadowed. Like scavengers, rogue military factions also investigate the remains of their prise, in hope to find salvageable equipment and weapons to add to their ever-increasing arsenal. Yes, and food, which even included the occasional surviving animal companion. But there is no apparent sign of them. With their overly-large stock of weaponized vehicles - and aircraft, no less - they should stick out like a sore thumb. Where did they go? Why didn't they follow me here? Perhaps they did, but through a different rabbit hole. The trio arrived at a small cottage situated in the woods, not far from where they found Ray. It was quite beautiful, but also very strange. It appeared to be constructed of unprocessed wood slovenly skinned bare of bark, exposing the tan vascular cambium within. The roof was covered with leaves from a parasite plant that grew like ivy, giving the structure a whimsical appearance of being carved straight from the heart of a giant tree. The windows were old-fashioned glass panels held together by manufactured wooden frames. They had locks holding them closed. The door was also of older-fashioned design, like an arrow pointing to the sky, or perhaps more accurately, a shield placed upside-down. It was short, just the right size for these two pegasi. Too short for a human to walk through comfortably. They must be an independent race in this land. No apparent owners, and they appear far too clean to be wild. They must represent the equivalent of human civilization! "My-..." The yellow pegasus tried to speak. "My name is Fluttershy." Ray adored her sweet little voice, but remained shocked at how this equine species is able to speak English to him, let alone communicate verbally at all. The name finally processed through his mind. Fluttershy. Very fitting name for you, my timid little friend. "I'm Rainbow Dash." The multi-colored pegasus just opposite of her friend announced in her charmingly raspy voice. Of course you are. Ray began to question why their names sounded so simple, and why they seemed to represent looks or personality in contrast to human tradition - or at least Western tradition, for that matter - of a forename bearing similar origin and a surname that one inherits from their family. Maybe their organization of such things hasn't fully developed yet. Ray snorted when he realized that he also went by both a mononym and a nickname of such that doesn't indicate his family line either. "You can call me Ray." "Where you from, Ray?" Rainbow Dash asked. Hmm, "where?" indeed. "All over." It was as good of an answer as any. "What do you mean by that?" She asked, squinting at him suspiciously with her bright, purple eyes. They almost look red when they are as partially-concealed as they were at that very moment. "I live on the road. I go wherever it takes me, and I never stop. At least, until I'm low on gas or food and water." He paused, looking back on his dreary history. "I've been on the road almost my whole life. Even my family." "You don't have a home?" Fluttershy asked him, staring sympathetic at him with her wide, blue-green eyes. They almost seemed cyan, but a different shade than Rainbow Dash's coat, which resembled more of a sky-blue. No, there was definitely a green mix in there. Possibly the result of a color-clash between her cyan iris and bright yellow coat. "Just my car." And in his world, a car is the ideal home for anyone who wants to escape the clutches of corruption and tyranny. A colony is a crowded drain of your life, and an ideal target for invasion by rebel factions. A house is a structure waiting to be bombed to rubble. A tent is a way of begging to be burned alive. A subterranean home is the most secure of almost permanent living due to the extremely low profile, although many are still uncovered and end up being converted into basecamps for rogue military factions. In a vehicle, you at least have a running or fighting chance, depending on your stance in a situation with opposing threats. When they finally reached the door to Fluttershy's cottage, Ray noticed marks on the hind-quarters of the two pegasi. They looked like brands or insignia. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe they do belong to someone. Or "something". The mark on Fluttershy was a trio of pink butterflies flying upward in direction, while Rainbow Dash's was a rainbow-colored lighting bolt descending from a fluffy white cloud.More likely tattoos. "What are these marks?" "Oh-..." Fluttershy almost squeaked. "Those are our cutie marks." Ray began to loose the feel of this whimsical atmosphere when he heard that. In fact, he now felt like he was loosing grasp of his masculinity. Cutie marks? I know these are intelligent pony-like creatures obviously on the peak of advancing their civilization, but that sounds like a dub of a nine-year-old girl. However, curiosity of this strange place was still flooding his judgement. He felt the urge to explore it further. "We receive them when we discover our true talents." Fluttershy continued, beginning to loose her fear of Ray's presence. "How? Does someone ink it into your coat or something?" "No, they appear magically, just when you discover your talent." Ray began feeling that insecurity again. So the rabbit hole leads to a magical land of talking ponies with "cutie marks." I'm literally in the mind of a little girl. All that's missing in this picture is the flood of pink highlights bleeding through every object in sight. Fluttershy pushed the unlocked door open to her cottage with a welcoming gesture. At least they appear generous. It's better than running for your life, alone, on the roads of nightmares.
Although she did not express it, Fluttershy felt extremely hesitant to invite this stranger into her cottage. She had never seen this kind of being before, nor did she know what it was capable of. It appeared very intimidating, standing tall on only two legs, and muscle wrapped so tight under bronze skin. And the clothing, what a mess! Ripped to shreds, just barely hanging from its body, stained with dirt and blood. She could see the pants were colored like camouflage, but for a desert, not like the woodland patterns she's seen in books.
The things it carried around its belt and shoulder were very strange. On the left hip was an olive-drab pouch that carried equally-colored egg-shaped objects with handles and rings projecting from the tops. On the right was a pouch containing binoculars, and a knife within a brown sheath. On the shoulder was what appeared to be the remains of a jacket of an unknown dark material, and another belt with various straps holding another sheath that contained something metallic with a curved handle. Even more curious was the object slinged to its back, which looked like a futuristic crossbow, but without the horizontal lath and string. Weapons. He's carrying weapons into my home.
"You can set those by the door... that is, if you don't mind." A pony carrying weapons into her home was one thing, but simply the thought of an intelligent bipedal from another world carrying weapons she did not know the capability of into her home sent an uncomfortable tremble through her body. But he seemed friendly, despite his irritated tone when answering questions. There was a sign of softness under the rough exterior. Every beast has a heart. All it needs is the warmth of one's kindness.
He was hurt, weary, cold, hungry, alone, and confused. If she found a wild animal under the same distress, she would do whatever it took to help it. The very same would apply to a fellow pony. I will help him. It's what I do best, after all.
Trees. Trees everywhere, covering a lush and beautiful land rich with life. What happened to the desert? The dunes, the canyons, the rubble? And where is the road? The pilot and of this flying beast of a Chinook helicopter turned to his young co-pilot. "Where are we?"
The co-pilot was reading a crumpled hand-sketched map of the desert roads of their land, searching for the mysterious country of life they found themselves soaring over. "It's not anywhere on the map, sir!"
This is by far the least likeliest thing to ever happen to this faction of rebel fighters. They have traveled wide and far among the strangest of lands, but never have they experienced the complete disappearance of one location to make way for the replacement of another. This is beyond getting lost in the desert. By some unexplained phenomenon, we have all been taken to a place left untouched by the world's conflict.
"Commander, we're low on fuel. We should regroup with the column, don't you think?"
"Yes, you're right."
Commander Taggard Tolwin was the primary leader of the "Phantom Raiders," a paramilitary organization formed since the apocalypse. Of course, back then, his father was the the leader. Its purpose was to rid the world of scum that supported the cause that lead to the decay of their country and spread their concept of an "empire." Unfortunately, the "cause" has been long forgotten. Commander Tolwin was on the simple mission of spreading destruction wherever he felt there was opposition.
This aircraft was also his father's. He learned how to fly it when he was fourteen and has developed the skill throughout his life. However, the modification from transport to gunship was his own idea. They had a great bird's-eye-view, making it an ideal scout, and it served as a perfect heavy-lifter of equipment over harsh terrain, but their firepower was limited to only ground fighting. Since he could not find an operable dedicated gunship, he improvised and weaponized his father's aircraft.
What also makes his Chinook so unique was the fact it was not a "true" CH-47. No, this was a one-of-a-kind experimental aircraft called the Boeing-Vertol Model 347, which his father stole from a museum located in the late state of Alabama. It was essentially a CH-47 with a stretched fuselage to allow the installation of pivoted wings and a retractable crane-operator's station below and rearward of the ****pit area. Remarkably, after all of these years of careful maintenance, this single experimental still functions as if it came fresh from BV's experimental workshop.
Commander Taggard Tolwin's personal modifications included the installation of a General Electric GAU-17 minigun in a fixed turret under the nose, with the basic trigger assembly replaced with a modified aircraft trigger system that lead to the flight controls. Many large, jaggedly-cut holes were made in the fuselage sides, which allowed quick-loading of troops and equipment instead of loading primarily from the rear cargo ramp. Mounts for various heavy machine guns were added in front of the holes, to defend the troops loading or unloading from the aircraft in firefights. The pivoted wings were welded and bolted in a fixed position to keep them from tilting, which allowed the installation of six total pylons for mounting removable weapons and equipment such as unguided rocket pods, guided missile tubes, or auxiliary fuel tanks. The original wing controls were also stripped away and replaced with electronic triggers for the weapon systems.
It was a true beast of war that resembled early gunships created by the Soviets during the cold war. A flying infantry fighting vehicle, and a tank's worst nightmare. Tolwin felt empowered when he flew this monster. Unstoppable. And who wouldn't in a flying war machine that outguns anything on the ground?
As he headed back to the unit, he remembered his encounter with the lone scavenger in the weaponized El Camino back on the desert road. He knew there was something "off" about that particular encounter in contrast to the many others in his lifetime. Why didn't he hide his vehicle from me? Why didn't he run as soon as he saw my unit? A trap came to mind. Yes, he planned this. He wanted to be found, so he could lead us here. But why?
Whoever the man was, he was a skilled driver. Tolwin had unleashed so much firepower onto this mysterious man, yet he dodged every last bit of shrapnel. At least, up until one of the mobile "Snooty" guns blasted him into the shallow ravine. There was a stream... in the middle of the desert. Yes, that's what lead us here. "He" led us here through that oasis. But did he survive? No. I doubt it very much. If the shock of that incendiary shell didn't affect him first, that waterfall sure would've.
The "Raider" unit situated their column at a temporary basecamp in a large field outside of the thick forest. Vehicles and personnel were scattered everywhere, like a colony of ants. They had cars of all kinds, both military and weaponized civilian transports.
The military vehicles included HMMWVs, Jeeps, sand-buggies, M1A2 "Abrams" tanks, 2S25 "Sprut" tank-destroyers, one ZSU-23-4 "Shilka" anti-aircraft vehicle, and one World War 2-era M5 "Stuart" tank. They also had two Russian BAZ 5922 6x6 vehicles with turrets taken from 2S1 "Gvozdika" mobile artillery vehicles. The barrels to the 122mm self-propelled howitzers located in the turrets were cut short, giving them the appearance of stretched cones. These were jokingly nicknamed "Snooty" guns.
The civilian vehicles were mostly mixed hybrids or full reconstructions from basic chasis, but the notable ones were Chevrolet Camaros of all late 70's-era types and Ford F-150 pickups. Five of the Ford hybrids were modified in likeness to the armed pickups used by the Libyan rebels during the infamous conflict against their leader sometime long before the apocalypse. They carried rear mounts for weapons including heavy machine guns, rocket-launchers, anti-aircraft guns, even Hydra 70 rocket pods taken from downed AH-64 "Apache" attack helicopters.
Combined, this ambitious army is an unstoppable force in power. There has yet to be one scavenger, soldier, or rival faction that held equal or outweighing capacity of a devastating arsenal as the Phantom Raiders had.
Commander Taggard Tolwin's Chinook finally regrouped with the rest of the faction and landed softly in a temporary LZ represented by four burning fuel barrels aligned in a wide square formation. Tolwin stepped out of the aircraft and waved the "refuel" signal with his left hand, prompting the fuel truck to drive next to the LZ, unloading personnel needed to oversee the procedure. Two men stayed behind to monitor the gauges and operate the valves, while two others dragged a long hose up to the aircraft. The hook-up was located under a panel located on the starboard side of the fuselage, just along the lower fairing housing the fuel tanks, which resembled a long bulge.
A very tall and dark man wearing woodland hunting-camoflage emerged from the Shilka anti-aircraft vehicle and ran up to the Commander with anxiety flushing over his face.
"Taggard!" the man shouted over the roar of the Chinook's engines. Him and Commander Tolwin were very good friends since the beginning of their lives in the faction, which meant they could comfortable address each other by names instead of using traditional rank formalities.
"Yes, Marchetti, what is it now?" Tolwin replied in an irritated tone. Marchetti also served as the Second-In-Command of the group, purely the choice of Tolwin himself, as a good friend. However, Tolwin often hated when with the majority of his service, all he had to report was regrettably bad news. Though, most of those arising situations were beyond his control. It's the well-known matter of restraining one's self from strangling the messenger.
"The relays are gone! I mean, gone! Nowhere on the trackers. It's like they vanished into thin air!"
"Could the Chinook have flew too far out of range or-..."
"No, I mean even before you went scouting off over the woods! Bam, gone!"
Yes, that was another one of the many modifications done to the Chinook. Just behind the co-pilot's seat, right next to the crane-controller's box, was an electronic relay device for a local GPS. A seven-foot "whip" antenna extends from the fuselage to relay a signal from three transponder devices on the ground, which are arranged in a perfect triangular diameter across whichever land the faction operates. These are either placed on the ground independently, or are driven in small scout vehicles in careful alignment. When the combined signal is sent to the relay device in the aircraft, it is sent to the Shilka, which currently plays the role of the group's command vehicle. An on-board computer is fed the signal and translates it into a 3D vector map of the area within the transponders' diameter, which allows visual tracking of their units, as well as opposing forces. The aircraft can be anywhere within the overall diameter to relay the signal, but not directly on the ground due to surface obstruction.
"Did you check the transponders?"
"We can't find them! Not even a null signal, like all three suddenly disappeared!
"We must be way out of range. Set up some more trackers in a five-mile diameter, starting from here, to..." With a sudden loss of words, he translated the rest of his order through his hands, gesturing to the forest and land beyond. "That general direction."
"Alright!" Marchetti ran back to the Shilka to relay the order to the assigned personnel.
Tolwin noticed a group of soldiers setting up a large olive-drab tent in the middle of the faction's gathering and strolled through the comotion to investigate.
"What's this supposed to be?" he asked in a lighthearted tone.
"Medical tent, sir!" one of the soldiers shouted, continuing with his task.
"Great! When are you planning on raising the mess tent? I'm starving!"
"It'll be up in just a moment." the soldier replied with a smile.
"Awsome." Tolwin walked away with an amused snicker. That was the mess tent they were raising, evident by the lack of a bright red cross over the roof. Honest mix-up. Nothing to go overboard about.
Commander Tolwin was about as strict with his soldiers as any other military commander would be, maintaining the ideal balance of disciplin needed to run a fully-functional combat unit. But he knew when to be human at just the right moments. It kept them from fearing him as they would an insane dictator, while knowing their place in the ranks and their assignment. Perfect organisation. He smiled again, reminding himself of the tent mix-up. As perfect as a paramilitary faction could possibly be, given the circumstances.
Wow, this is great!!!!! It's building up to something big, I can tell. I don't want to miss it!!
Vince Johnson - A merciless enemy but a powerful ally.
LOL, the Boeing-Vertol 347 was a nice touch. I wonder if the real thing can handle all of those modifications in the fic. I imagine there would be a helluva lot of drag with gaping holes cut into the sides...
Thanks guys! More to follow.
fluttercopter wrote:LOL, the Boeing-Vertol 347 was a nice touch. I wonder if the real thing can handle all of those modifications in the fic. I imagine there would be a helluva lot of drag with gaping holes cut into the sides...
That and the weapons would weigh it down. SIX hardpoints??!!!!!
Sting, without the tilt-effect of the wings, there's not enough lift to carry all the weight you're visioning with this beast! D:
If I remember correctly, the wings already have anhedral for lift in a fixed-position, like the Mi-24's wings. Should be just enough to lift the steroid-enduced weapons load on Tolwin's Chinook.
Interestingly, earlier in developing Tolwin's aircraft, at one point I settled on having howitzers on each side of the fuselage, as tribute to some of the unused aerial artillery concepts proposed for the Chinook back in the early-70's, PLUS the load already present in the fic. But that's when I felt it was getting a little too silly, so I downgraded a bit.
I don't have trouble believing in the weapons load at all, even with howitzers (dude, you shoul've gone with that!), because Chinooks are well-known heavy-lifters. They can handle a lot of weight, though there is the issue of efficiency in standard flight. Maybe that's what you're all getting at?
It's the holes that bother me. I know it's post-apocalyptic so I expect some whacky elements of improvisation in vehicle design, but what's the point? It can still load and unload quickly in an assault with just the cargo ramp and side door open.
Tolwin isn't trying to make his father's Chinook a smooth ride, he wants just enough modifications to assist in his drive for destruction. More efficiency in combat, not aerodynamics. It's just his character.
Keep in mind the Model 347 is about 20-30% longer than a normal Chinook, therefore less efficiency in loading/unloading troops and equipment in an assault using the factory openings.
Yeah, but sometimes you can't have one without the other. It's like those dumb attempts at flying tanks. The literal tanks with wings, not the Soviet overkills you like so much.
But okay, stubborn villains can be stubborn. Granted not alot of people would think about these technical details firsthand in the world you're presenting.
Yeah but maybe you could draw us an example Sting? I mean you can't just have holes wherever you please in an aircraft fuselage. :P
Update man, update!!!
Cool your jets, I'm working on the next chapter as we speak.
There was a deep, black void everywhere. Pictures began bleeding through the vacuum like acid through paper. They moved. It was like a dream, while watching a black-and-white television distorted by static and no sound to speak of. It died away, then returned to the black emptiness, only to be immediately replaced by color. Rainbows of light dissolve the darkness, eventually forming pictures quite different from what was experienced in the dream. Ray awoke to find himself laying comfortably in a large bed off to the side of a cheerfully-decorated room. How did I get here? What is this place? What the hell am I doing in someone's house?! His panic died. Oh yes, the pony-things. I was invited by one of them into her home in the woods. But how did I end up here, in bed, asleep? I don't remember-... His thoughts were interrupted by the door opening ahead. From the hall emerges a very shy creature holding a wooden tray of food with her teeth.Fluttershy. I remember this one... her name is Fluttershy. "Oh good, you're awake!" Fluttershy said excitedly through her busy teeth. Odd how she knew exactly when to come in here... with food, no less. She must know what happened. "How did I get here?" Ray asked in a soft tone as not to startle her. She set the tray on the night stand next to the bed so she can speak. "You fainted." Ray took a moment to process this. It failed. "What?" "You fainted," she repeated. "Just after you set your belongings next to the door, you collapsed to the floor shaking. I was so worried!" Ray was mildly surprised, as he finally remembered that it wasn't the first occurrence. He had passed out many times in the past due to both heat-exhaustion and food-deprivation. This was another one of those occurrences. He has not eaten anything in well over a week. The only source of nutrition he has gotten all of this time was his canteen of water constantly being tossed in the back of his El Camino, out of arms' reach, which was his method of rationing until another water source could be found, or at least until he reaches five miles between "checkpoints". Fluttershy continued. "When you didn't respond to me, I checked your pulse. It became pretty clear you only fainted. So I decided to take you up here, with the help of Rainbow Dash. I cleaned you up and shrew your old clothes away." He caught that last part but remained silent until she finished. You have no idea how hard it was to find a leather jacket with those kind of customizations. Those of which were worn to the core over time and use. "Here, I fixed you something to eat. After all, you need lots of energy." She grabbed the tray and headed closer to the bed. Ray sat up, fixing his legs in a straight position. Fluttershy placed the tray in front of him, carefully adjusting it to his comfort. Not only an intelligent race, but so unusually considerate to my needs. Such an uncommon thing in the desert. I wish I could've found this place sooner. Ray took a careful look at the food in front of him. It was nothing unusual, in fact it was definitely Earth food; scrambled eggs, pancakes with butter and syrup, and a cup of strawberries, all neatly placed on a clean, white plate. The glass next to it contained an unknown juice. It was clear like water, but colored with a bronze tint. It almost looked like an alcoholic drink, but without the fizzy bubbles. I'll check that stuff out later. He waisted no time digging in to the most delicious food he had ever ingested.Finally... pancakes with butter and syrup... fresh eggs... and strawberries, oh! I haven't had these since I was six! In only a five-minute timeframe, his entire plate was clean. Now to try that "stuff." Ray picked up the class and held it to his nostrils to take in the scent. It was fruity, and generally very familiar. "What is this?" Ray finally spoke up. "Apple juice." Fluttershy replied in a delightfully educational tone. Apple juice... I've had apples, but never have I had the privelage of drinking the juice of such a fruit. Here goes... Ray took a gulp. It was perfection. By far the smoothest and tastiest liquid he has ever drank. He guzzled the rest until there was nothing left, then sat the glass on the tray with brief gasp of air. And a hardy burp with room-clearing capability. Fluttershy let out a quiet giggle. "Oh, my. I guess you really liked it." Ray looked at her with a grin. He was still very hungry, and wasn't shy in grasping the opportunity to acquire more of this amazing food. "This was great. You know what I could really use now?" Fluttershy listened with her usual enthusiastic expression. Ray was expecting a somewhat different reaction. He continued. "Bacon." The enthusiasm was quickly replaced by confusion. "Bake... on..." She doesn't know what bacon is? "Bake... oh! I'm sorry, do you like your breakfast baked?" "No, I-..." Don't bother. They probably have a different classification system for their meat products, if they even eat meat at all. Best learn more about them before requesting things normally found in my world. "Nothing. The food was good. Thank you." "Oh, it's no problem at all." She said with that adorable smile forming on her face again. Finally it hit him. Breakfast. "Wait, how long have I been here? In bed?" "You slept all through the night. It was about eight PM when we found you." She looked at a clock sitting on the nightstand. "It's nine o' clock in the morning now." Maybe that's why I feel so good right now. A good night's sleep. To his recollection, it was the longest he has ever slept in his entire life. And as far as a bed goes, this was beyond laying on top or between blankets sprawled across the seats of his El Camino, depending on temperature. However, in Ray's world, actual sleep was a rare luxury. Enemies are everywhere, in the form of scavengers and paramilitary factions. They are on your tail every mile down the road. You never, ever let your guard down for one minute in the desert, or they will get you. This was Ray's biggest mistake yesterday. He let his guard down once, only to cross paths with an unknown rogue faction. It is a miracle he still lives and breathes, and an even bigger miracle these godsends of pony creatures took him in and helped him get back on his feet. "Listen," she spoke up after a moment. "last night, Rainbow Dash and I visited a friend of ours in town and told her about you. She really wants to talk to you." A friend... in town. A town. My God, there's more of them. "You have a town?" "Yes, it's called Ponyville." Name aside, this was a breakthrough find for Ray. Not only was this race of equine capable of independent living and human social nature, but they have advanced so far as to create the rarely-seen permanent and vast colonial settlement known as a "town". He was eager to investigate. "Well, just let me get dressed and we'll get going." Oh right, she threw my clothes away. "Okay." she said, removing the food tray and setting it on the nightstand, then trotting over to an open closet. From inside she pulled out a plain white shirt and faded jeans. Human clothing, much to Ray's surprise. She laid them out neatly on the bed, just next to where Ray was laying. "I found these in your... um... "car"... your metal machine thing in the woods." I had extra clothes in my car? How careless of me to miss that. I'm damn lucky no scavs stole them when they had the chance. Where did I even get them for that matter? He picked up the clothes to get a better look. The shirt was ruined with blotches of stains, from what appears to be axle grease. "I washed them last night the best I could. I'm sorry, I couldn't get those stains out." "No problem." Ray put the shirt on to see if it fit. It didn't, though being slightly larger than his normal size was an advantage. More airflow, so to speak. Next were the faded jeans, slightly ripped at the knees and stained with the same material as on the shirt. Fluttershy left the room to give him some privacy. This was a major breakthrough. But what overshadowed it was a cloud of confusion and insecurity. Ponyville has been visited by an intelligent being from another world, but how and why? Yet a much more troubling question followed. Is it a threat? Regardless, Twilight Sparkle was a talented young unicorn who leapt at any and all opportunities to research matters as this unexplained phenomenon, whether it be magical in nature, scientific, or otherwise. Danger has always been a lingering setback, but not a primary concern. It is this audaciousness that has won her the acclaim in her work, not to mention the overall enjoyment. This is thanks to years of ambition and desire to learn all that can be learnt by one pony and more, and use it to her advantage with all of her ability, not to impress others, but to express the benefits it could bring to one's life. There was also the confidence built with the help of her daring friend Rainbow Dash, the bravest pony she has ever known. Twilight remembered when her two friends visited her during the night, when the mysterious being slept soundly at Fluttershy's cottage. Their report on the matter gave her that uncontrollable urge to explore. And she did, alone, in the Everfree Forrest, with foolish dismission of security. She remembered discovering the remains of the odd machine laying waste in the earth, nearby an unidentified river of calmly-flowing water. What in Equestria was that thing? It had wheels and strange seats inside, and what appeared to be controls. It must've been this being's transportation. She remembered it had a rather simple name. "Car". Yes, a car. A form of manually-guided transportation, the likes of which she has never seen before. Insecurity struck again. Weapons. That's right, Fluttershy spoke of weapons!With this realization, a flood of important questions stood strong in her mind, those of which classified this being's stance in society. Is he a soldier? A hunter? A terrorist? Or an innocent on the run from something of a larger threat?Whichever the possibility, Twilight hoped for the sake of ponykind that it meant them absolutely no harm at all, and its form of defence would be used for just that, and only that. Defence. Perhaps now isn't the time to ponder these things. The focus as of that moment was the ensure the enjoyment of this being's visit to their world, and their town no less. A warm welcome that will hopefully have an alternate effect to her initial welcome to this lovely place. Even with that exception, Pinkie Pie's parties have always spread joy to any and everypony she has ever met, and none have been failed by her efforts. Pinkie Pie was Equestria's most uplifting spirit. Her mission was to spread laughter, the simple reaction to joy in its most raw form, wherever she could. The whole world was her friend, and she ensured that it be filled with nothing but fun and pure happiness. This was her talent, and she lived by it every waking moment. Specifically, this party was her method of welcoming and befriending newcomers. She didn't care who this entity was or where he came from. She just wanted him to be her friend, and for him to enjoy his stay. The entire town knew about this newcomer by the time this party had been set up, thanks to Rainbow Dash, and eventually, Pinkie Pie. Therefore, literally everypony was invited. About 85% of the population was there, in the library where Twilight currently resided and worked. It amazed her at how many ponies this building could accommodate, especially given that it was not technically a building, but a giant tree that has been carefully hollowed-out into a livable dwelling. "They're coming, they're coming!" Pinkie shouted excitedly as she glanced out one of the windows nearest the front door. This made the entire crowd freeze from their activity, just as Pinkie turned the lights out to conceal them in the shadows. The classic surprise party awaited this newcomer. The waiting shook Pinkie with anticipation, but it made Twilight rather uncomfortable. It felt like an entire sixty-seconds had gone by before she heard the twist of a doorknob. She watched as the front door opened slowly as Fluttershy led Ray into the room. He was so tall that he had to hunch down to fit under the archway of the door. However, he looked far less intimidating then what Twilight had imagined. He looked lost. She began to actually feel sorry for him at just that moment. Suddenly, Fluttershy dived to the floor, covering her ears and eyes. "Surprise!!!!" The entire room lit up, exploding with life and flying confetti. What happened next was a complete backfire. In response to this startling display, Ray dove to the floor next to Fluttershy, unslinging what appeared to be one of the weapons she had spoken to Twilight about. He rolled into a crouching position behind one of the nearby desks, aiming his weapon dauntingly at the lively crowd, who at that point began dying down into a cluster of shocked onlookers. "Are-are the loud noises gone?" Fluttershy said as she stood back up. She noticed the unusually stunned crowd around her and decided to look behind her for Ray. She gasped and backed away into the rest of the onlookers as she watched his threatening display before them all. "Ray!" Twilight shouted. Ray's attention focused on her, as did the barrel of his weapon. Play it cool, but be stern and to the point. He's not stupid, and could be acting on instinct. But... he could also be mad. "Please, put it down." Ray didn't move. "Please. We just wanted to welcome you here." Ray began trembling. His aim was off. Twilight took this opportunity to edge closer. "It's okay. Don't be frightened." Ray shook more. The weapon slipped from his trembling hands and crashed to the floor. He broke down in a sobbing mess behind the desk. "I'm sorry..." He said. He was acting on instinct. Look at him, he's actually apologising. Twilight walked up to him and gave him a hug. The crowd let out a huge gasp and edged closer themselves. Pinkie Pie joined them in the hug as well. My goodness, what has this being been through? The Everfree Forest was beautiful this time of day. The treetops were so lush and dwelled with all kinds of life. Birds sung their beautiful songs and flew with glee through the radiantly blue sky. But something has disrupted their harmony, as they dive to cover within the trees. From behind the dense wall of green rose massive helicopter blades, slicing the air like like giant razors, the engines roaring like a stampede of a million buffalo. The trees swayed and shook under the powerful downwash the rotating wings exerted upon them, forcing perfectly healthy leaves to be ripped away from the branches. Tolwin's Chinook has been refuelled, and was now ready for action. Until their exact position has been confirmed, Tolwin's own mission was to locate the wreckage of the mysterious driver's vehicle. He knew it had to be somewhere along the river they came here from, so he decided to backtrack. We might even find our route back to the road. So far their search had been uneventful. They have yet to find the wreckage, and there was still no sign of the desert. "What kind of insanity is this?" Tolwin thought out loud to his co-pilot. Riggs was his name. He joined the faction when he was 17, then already an expert fixed-wing pilot when he flew with his father in the rare Transavia PL-12 "Airtruk", the only example of this aircraft ever exported to the former United States. They were both shot down somewhere over the desert and rescued by Tolwin's faction upon engaging the unknown enemy at fault. Riggs' father was unfortunately killed on impact, but Riggs survived with minor injury, and was able to assist the lone pilot Tolwin in his monster Chinook against the opposing threats. To this day he suffers from depression as a result of his loss, but he masks his pain around Tolwin with a witty and sharp attitude. "Sir, I'll bet you two packs of cigarettes he's camoflaging his car from us." Riggs said as he scanned the forrest floor with his binoculars. "Can't rule it out. He had enough time when we refueled." Tolwin had a second thought. "Wait a minute, that's contradictory as to why he was out in the open back on the road. No, he's down there waiting for us and we're just not seeing him yet." Riggs rolled his eyes. "Maybe we just caught him by surprise back there, sir." Tolwin rubbed his eyes with a groan. "God, I've got a headache." Ah, yes, the scouts. I wonder if they've come across anything while setting up the trackers."Jonesy, any progress?" He was referring to the young technician situated in the crane-controller box behind them. Jones was the operator of the on-board relay device for their local GPS. He was also very skilled with computers, which was highly unusual in their world where computers were rarely used due to a lack of reliable power supplies. Unlike the well-equipped "Phantom Raiders", however. This was where he was allowed to use his skill to its fullest potential. "My screen's still blank!" He replied to Tolwin. "Shilka!" This time he was calling Marchetti's command vehicle back at the basecamp. "This is DA. Any word from Faust's unit yet?" Marchetti's voice crackled on the radio. "Yeah, they just set up the first tracker a minute ago! Nothing else to report." "Sir," Jones called out. "I heard." Tolwin replied. This is no use. It will be like looking for a needle in a haystack. The desert and the road are a whole different ball game. "That's it, I'm done. We're heading back." "Checking off second pointless flight." Riggs muttered, covering his radio.
Ray felt sick to his stomach. He knew this was no longer the world he knew all his life on the road, and that without knowing the details of his arrival, he might never go back. He was stuck here, in a town of intelligent equine. It took him until this very moment to realize the severity of the situation. They were nothing but aliens to each other. Certainly Ray refused to live the rest of his life running in a world that was literally out to get him, but that hellish land was his home. He knew it well. It was a part of who he was. But in contrast, he was no longer alone.
The party at the Ponyville Library did not even start, yet it immediately died as soon as Ray drew his weapon. But instead of running for cover or attacking him, the community still welcomed him with open arms. To him, this was beyond custom hospitality. This was something far greater. He didn't understand how anyone could act so fluidly on a pure heart, even in a place like this. It felt like a fantasy, but it was oh so overwhelmingly real!
The crowd of ponies sat around him with genuine curiosity. They no longer expressed any slight sign of fear. Ray sat upward next to the desk with his legs crossed and his rifle in his lap.
"First," Ray said, wiping away a final tear from his eye, "I want to apologise for drawing my weapon at you. That was very rude of me. It's just... surprises from my world have a more lethal affect on people than here, so I act on my insticts of survival." He paused for a moment, looking upon the many sympathetic faces. "I hope you can forgive me, and understand that I don't mean any of you any harm."
"Can you tell us about where you came from?" A unicorn off to the left asked. Her coat and mane were various shades of purple and violet. Her hair was cut very neatly in straight patterns and carefully concentrated curves, giving an amusing impression of candy-colored bacon. Even her eyes were purple. Her cutie mark appeared to be a shining star surrounded by six smaller ones.
Amazing. They have unicorns here too. The question processed. Ray began sweating around his collar and upper back. He had very poor social skills because of his lifetime of isolation, which made this exchange unpleasantly challenging. Before answering the purple pony's question, he decided to find out who she was. "And you are?" Ray asked, trying not to sound sarcastic despite the innapropriate tone.
"My name is Twilight Sparkle." She answered. "I'm a unicorn pony, by the way."
"I noticed." Ray shut his eyes in shame. Watch your damn tone.
Twilight appeared to ignore his mistake and continued. "We've never had anyone like you visit us before. I'd..." She quickly corrected herself. "We would really like to know more about you. That is, if you don't mind telling us."
Ray took a deep breath to soften his aching heart. In order to tell them what they wanted to know, he had to tell everything. Like a story. I hate telling stories. He swallowed and took another breath to speak. "I can tell you I originated on the very same planet as you. But where I come from, there is nothing but terror, torture, and death." He paused for the gasping crowd digesting his words. "Hell."
Twilight put her hoof on his knee, attempting to comfort him as he proceeded. He now found more strength inside. "Some hundred years ago or so, the whole world collapsed under a massive wave of destruction. I don't know exactly what caused it, but it might've been a conflict of governments. Nuclear fallout changed everything forever. Millions died, and many others fled for the roads to escape the aftershocks.
Since there were virtually no major forms government left as time went by, armed forces split up and became private defence forces and paramilitary factions. Some faught to defend the land and their concept of freedom. Others faught for extermination... to wipe out opposition, or feed their uncontrollable lust in power. They were armies without countries anymore.
Civillian people strove to excape their clutches. People like my family. We never stood a chance against the great beasts of destruction. We were taught to run. Never engage an enemy with capability of wiping out communities, just run. And never look back. Problem is, you're never the only one on the road. There's always a scavenger, or a group of scavs, that want what you have, and they're gonna get it if it keeps them alive. They will kill you for it without mercy.
So, I grew up teaching myself the philosophy of surviving the road of nightmares. You are a phantom. Stay low-profile, never interfere in someone else's fight, never start one yourself, keep running, and don't stop, not until you need to refuel or re-supply. Even then you are a faceless phantom that remains unprovoked. When danger arrives, and you have nowhere to run, then you fight your way out. You are a knight of the open road. You car is your warhorse and shield. Your rifle is your sword. You are a steel warrior that nothing can penetrate. Unstoppable."
Ray paused for another moment to look at his crowd. So many eyes were wide in astonishment and so many jaws were dropped with disbelief.
"Wow..." whispered Rainbow Dash with amazement and admiration.
"Of course," Ray continued, "the origin of the world's end has conflicting stories passed on through various communities. My mother and father told me it was a nuclear war, others say it happened internally within our own country. Collapse in economy and government, thus a domino effect. Then there's others with more biblical explanations." Ray rolled his eyes. "I don't know what to believe about anything anymore."
"Sounds like a hard place to make friends in." an Earth pony spoke up with a thick southern drawl. She had an orange coat with a perfectly yellow mane and tail, and eyes green like blades of grass. She wore an old cowboy hat that appeared to have gone through all kinds of messy affairs without being properly cleaned. Her cutie mark was a trio of red apples.
"And that's why your rifle... your sword... is also your friend." Ray paused to think and added to his statement. "Though some people have animal companions to keep them company. Dogs, sometimes cats... maybe even bugs. Problem with that, though, is that you have another mouth to feed. And when you're on the brink of starvation, your animal friend becomes..." Ray stopped as he saw disgusted looks around him. "You get the idea."
"Tell us about cars." Twilight said, breaking the akward silence.
"You don't have cars here?"
"No. We have horse-drawn buggies and carriages for general transportation. We also have railroad trains for freight and long-distance travels. Some are also horse-drawn, but we recently developed steam-powered prototypes. Like the 'Friendship Express.'"
"Well, vehicles like cars work pretty much the same way as both carriages and trains put together. They're powered machines like a trains cabable of long travel, but they're like carriages in the sense that they carry less load and are free to move wherever you, the driver, guides it. However, we've advanced far ahead of steam-power in my lifetime. Now we have internal combustion engines that run on fuels like diesel or gasoline. There's also some that run on both fuel and electricity, or even pure electricity itself, but those are pretty much useless."
"Where do you find the fuel?"
"Before the apocalypse it was easy. You use to be able to go to a station that serves the purpose of refuelling your vehicle. Some say they were almost everywhere, along the side of any road you travel. Now you have to barter for it, or steal it from other vehicles."
"Can we see your car?" a small filly nearby asked in a similar drawl to the older orange one. She was yellow with red hair, and adorable orange eyes. She also had a large, pink bow tied to the back of her head.
"Sure you can." Ray replied with a friendly smile. He then turned to the others. "Right now?"
"Why not?" Twilight said with an adventurous expression.
"Follow me then."
The second scout team waited impatiently for the techs to set up the second transponder device. Normally it takes about five minutes to calculate the the terrain and approximate the location of the other transponders before it can send a null signal to anything. Once the device is set up, the signal becomes a useable link that awaits the completion of the other devices before it can be sent to the relay device in Tolwin's aircraft.
But for this group, however, it could take even longer, for they are still trainees of special tecnician Jones.
The team's vehicles were left unguarded just opposite of the site, so they could aimlessly wander the area as they pleased. Faust stood next to a tall redwood, putting out his cigarrette on the thick, red bark. He was approached by two other team members, Junkers and Agusta, who wore irritated looks on their faces.
"Who's idea was it to bring the school kids along?" Junkers snapped.
"What do you expect?" said Faust. "Jones is busy parading around with the old man. Besides, someone's got to monitor the damned thing."
"Get a dog in a mechanic's suit and he'd get the job done in time for lunch."
"Yeah, speaking of that, what time is it?"
Agusta took a look at his watch. "About one o'clock."
"Damn. Another hour." Faust looked at the ground in dissapointment. Suddenly, something shiny in the grass caught his eye. He reached for it and picked it up.
"What is it?" Junkers asked.
It was a small and heavy can-shaped, metallic object with a black and brown label that read "Duracell." A D-cell battery. He's here.
"A battery?" Tolwin asked into his helmet radio. They received Faust's transmission as soon as they headed back to the basecamp. This better mean something beneficial.
"Not just that." Replied Faust's distorted voice over the radio. "We also found miscellaneous mechanical parts, a plate of vehicle armor, and a half-empty canteen of water." Yes, we've found him. Finally!
"And I trust his vehicle is somewhere within that vicinity?" Tolwin responded with a grin of excitement forming on his tired face.
"No, we can't find it anywhere."
The grin faded. "What do you mean you can't find it?"
"I mean just that, sir. We've scouted the area twice. No car in sight. Just this stuff littered about the place."
"Faust, the car is totalled. You saw how the 'Snooty' gun took him out. Even if he survived, he couldn't move it without an industrial vehicle. Or an aircraft, maybe."
"Maybe someone was here before us and did just that, sir."
Tolwin thought for a moment. Can't rule out the possibility. The mysterious driver is alive, and definitely not alone. Therefore, we are also not alone here. "Finish up with the transponder and RTB when you're done. We'll talk about this later."
"Yes, sir." The transmission ended with an uncomfortably loud click of static.
Faust hung the hand-microphone back up to the radio set up in his Otokar Akrep light reconnaissance vehicle and leaned back into his seat with a deep exhale. "Yep."
"Well," Junkers started as he stepped closer to Faust's door, "those were the biggest pieces we could pick up. There's some nuts and bolts, metal and glass shards, and a few other things hanging around the grassy areas. Stuff like that."
Faust managed a nod to Junkers and continued to stare out his windshield, lost in his thoughts.
"Faust," Junkers said, breaking the sudden silence, "I've been thinking."
"That makes two of us." replied Faust in a mildly irritated tone.
"I think we're still in the desert."
Okay, you've peaked my interest. "Excuse me?"
"Well, technically not, but I think we're still in the same land."
In other words, we're still on the same planet. Faust had been wondering about this as soon as they arrived to this strange place, and he had come up with a similar conclusion as well. However, he was interested in Junkers' take on the theory.
"Why do you think that?"
"Well, first of all our radio communications are Sat-Com. The fact there are still orbiting satellites capable of sending and receiving transmissions tells me we are still on Earth, in the same dimension, in virtually the same province of the desert. And the only reason we're not picking up our older transponder signals is because, A, we've traveled too far out of range, or B, someone found our transponder sites and sabotaged them. And I'm very heart-set on A."
Well done. I'm pleased to hear another person sharing the same thoughts on the matter. Let's see what else you have to offer. "What else?"
"I'm still working on some other theories. Trying to make sense of some other things."
"Be sure to let me know when you sort it out."
Junkers nodded and stepped away from the door. "You know, you should take it easy. I'll buy you a drink when we get back."
Junkers lacked an appropriate comeback and instead walked away pretending to hide his smile.
God, I feel like a shepherd of aliens right now. Ray led the group of ponies through the thick jungle that was the Everfree Forest, weapon comfortably slung to his shoulder. A select few of the ponies stayed behind due to their fear of this place, which Ray did not quite understand. Though he has never been in one so lush and beautiful, this particular forest appeared to him as normal as any other. After all, they did find him here.
"So," Ray began, "what's the deal about this place? Why are you so afraid of it?"
"Things in here don't work the same as in the rest of Equestria." Rainbow Dash answered.
"What do you mean?"
"Well," Fluttershy answered, "animals care for themselves and plants grow on their own."
"Plus," Rainbow Dash added, "the clouds do everything all by themselves! Moving, raining, you name it."
Ray was completely lost with these latest "facts." How is this abnormal activity at all? Then it occurred to him. Ah, so good ol' mother nature must work completely different here. That means, the mysteriously 'different' Everfree Forest must be the gateway back to my normal world. It all makes perfect sense. But, why be so afraid of it? Why not explore it? Certainly, this purple unicorn Twilight Sparkle fits the type to do just that. Let's find out. "So, how does that make it the least bit intimidating? Sure it's probably strange and all, but I don't find it sinister."
"'Cause," Rainbow Dash began, lifting off the ground with her beautifully feathered wings, hovering in front of Ray with a playfully mischievous expression, "every pony who's ever come in, has never come... out!" My multi-colored friend, you are adorably amusing, but you don't scare me one shiver.
"Rainbow!" the southern pony shouted, "It wasn't funny the first time, and it sure ain't funny a second time!"
Rainbow Dash crossed her front hooves, as a human would with their arms when intimidated. "It wasn't supposed to be."
"Still, knock it off."
"Fine, Applejack, sorry for having a little fun with our new... friend." She sighed and turned to Ray again. "What the heck are you anyway?"
"A human." And Ray left it at that, continuing along the path within the forest.
"A hooman... ha! That's a funny name."
Applejack grabbed Rainbow's tail with her mouth and swiftly yanked her back to the ground. "Hush up."
"Jee, AJ, you're awful bossy today. Eat a rotten apple this morning?"
Ray ignored the pony-folks' shenanigans and proceeded with his own thoughts. The rainbow pegasus' earlier words failed to intimidate him, but they were still thought-provoking. If ponies have traveled in this forest before, and have never returned, it's likely because they found my world. Yes, it is a gateway! And their absence is likely due to the fact danger lurks almost everywhere in the desert. It took him a moment, but he finally realized something bizarre about the gateway theory. If the forest is the pathway between worlds, how is it that I'm the very first human to discover their land? They've obviously been here for quite a long time. Decades by the looks of it! This... this doesn't make any sense.
When they finally arrived at the spot where Ray was discovered by Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy, he froze in surprise. It's gone! There was a mess of dirt and rock where the wreckage had previously lay in waste, but there was no obvious sign of the vehicle anywhere. Like it had completely vanished.
"Hey, where'd it go?!" shouted Rainbow Dash.
Ray's instincts took over again, forcing him to unsling his WA-2000. "I swear it was here. Someone must've been here and towed it out. Someone with a vehicle capable of removing it without getting snagged on the slopes here. Like a..." His voice trailed off, as he remembered a very specivic vehicle a certain rogue faction had in their devastating inventory. Like an aircraft. Or a heavy-lift helicopter, to be precise. Yes, the faction was here. They have my car!
"What about that over there?" the small, yellow filly nearest to Applejack asked, pointing ahead of them with her hoof.
Ray look ahead, in the approximate direction she indicated. Something metallic was situated within a mess of brush not too far ahead of them. It was light tan like a sandy desert, streamlined with segmented plating. Some kind of armored vehicle? His heart sank. It's them. "Twilight, get everyone out of here. Now."
"But why?" She asked curiously. "What's wrong?"
"Don't ask, just trust me. Get everyone back to town. Hurry."
She nodded with slight confusion. "Okay, everypony, let's go."
As Twilight hurried the other ponies in the opposite direction, Ray began venturing towards the partially-concealed military vehicle.
"Aren't you coming with us?" She asked.
"No. I'll catch up with you later."
Twilight was uneasy but didn't argue with him, and instead continued on with the rest of the group.
Ray wanted a closer look at the vehicle, to confirm it was the very same faction he had escaped from back on the desert road yesterday. He stuck to cover behind the trees as he advanced further into the woods, weapon trained towards the suspected enemy. Adrenalin rushed through his body as his heart pounded, speeding his breathing rate and sharpening his senses. He forced his overtly loud breaths through his nose.
Voices. He stopped and kneeled behind a slope in the ground, peering through the scope of his rifle to see his enemy more clearly. He identified the vehicle as a heavily-armored HMMWV with a roof turret bearing a modified 14.5mm ZPU-4 quad-barrel anti-aircraft gun. Next to it was an Otokar Akrep with a communication dish projecting from the roof in place of the machine gun turret.
Panning his scope to the left of the site revealed the source of the unclear voices. Four unarmed men wearing green flight suits stood around a seven-foot cylindrical device planted firmly in the ground. Ray didn't recognize the vertical piece of equipment at all, but it appeared to be some kind of long-range communication device, or some kind of relay for sending or receiving signals. The predicated technicians were using high-tech military laptop computers placed within armored briefcases, probably to communicate with the device and adjust it for whatever function it served.
Various other men patrolled the site, armed with what appeared to be a mix of American, French, and Russian firearms, including modified Colt M4A3s, FAMAS F1s, and Kalashnikov AK variants of all major types. All wore hand-stitched service patches reading "Phantom Raiders - Voces Seditionis" with the text wrapping around the image of an eagle being slain by a metallic bolt of lightning.
Ray realized this was the closest he has ever come to a rogue faction before. He was careful to stay hidden behind the brush as he advanced closer, stealthily, ensuring himself as not to step on anything to exert a loud noise. He was still curious about the odd device the four techs were gathered around, taking further glances at it through his scope each time he knelt back to the ground. Details became more clear as he proceeded, but it still wasn't enough. He finally found a spot within a depression in the earth where he could read the stencilling on the side of it. It read "DARPA - SGPTMTU X224 NO 16."
Ray knew the first acronym meant "Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency," but the following abbreviation was the true puzzle. He figured that if the device was old enough to be a product of the former DARPA group, then the "X224" designation most likely indicated an experimental, hence an "X" instead of "M" for a military production model. In which case, it was probably stolen from one of the agency's experimental workshops. The "NO 16" indicated it was not the only device of its type to be constructed, therefore the faction might have gotten their hands on the rest of them.
As he panned further down the device with his scope, sure enough he came across the bold stenciling "EXPERIMENTAL." Training his gun to one of the tech's computers he could see computer code being manipulated, with a bordered header at the top of the screen reading "Standalone Global-Positioning and Terrain-Mapping Transponder Unit - #16." Mystery solved. It's a fancy tracking device.
Something cold and metallic pressed against the back of Ray's head. Time seemed to stop.
"Don't move," said a stern, yet muffled voice, "unless I tell you to. Got it?"
Ray nodded slowly, as not to alarm his captor, feeling the gun barrel scraping against his skin.
"Excellent. Now I want you to let go of your weapon."
Ray complied, indexing his finger away from the trigger and neatly setting his rifle into the grass. He felt the gun barrel break contact as as the sound of crunching leaves echoed in his ears. He looked down at his belt. He was still wearing his equipment, including his sheath containing the M1 combat knife. Since his right hand was also concealed from this angle, he had an idea. "Are you sure you want me to do this?"
"Don't speak. Just do as I say."
Ray nodded. If I die doing this, I die, but at least I did by finally trying this trick on someone. Here goes... In the blink of an eye, Ray rolled to the right, whipping his knife from the sheath and throwing it dead center in the heart of his captor. He was a soldier wearing all desert camouflage from the Gulf War era, now stained by blood rushing from his wound. He let out a cry of pain under his Bandero mask, waving and firing his weapon in all of the wrong directions. The gunfire pierced Ray's ears as it echoed through the forest, catching the attention of the nearby soldiers. Oh ****!
They scrambled. Three of them, followed by a third leaping from the Otokar Akrep, ran towards the sound of the gunfire. Others, including the techs, took cover behind the vehicles, with one daring individual jumping into a gunner seat positioned behind the HMMWV's anti-aircraft gun.
One of the advancing soldiers spotted him. "There he is! Open up!" Time to run. Again.
Ray grabbed his weapon and dove for cover behind a thick redwood tree just as the whole company erupted with gunfire. Ray whipped his gun around and returned fire, forcing the approaching soldiers to dive to cover themselves. He quickly recoiled back to cover behind the redwood, giving them a chance to waste more bullets. As he whipped back around to return fire yet again, he ceased the moment he saw the four monstrous barrels of the AA gun trained at him. You've got to be kidding.
"Hit it!" someone shouted between the loud pops of the automatic rifles.
Ray sprinted away from the tree, diving for a slope in the land. The AA gun rumbled, sending earth-shattering tremors through the ground. Ray watched as bright red tracer rounds streaked across the treetops above like fireflies from hell, with the armor-piercing explosive rounds shredding the ground and nearby plant life. Soon enough, his previous cover that was the giant redwood sported a massive hole at the base. It was now weak, forcing it to break and crash to the forest floor, taking several smaller trees with it.
Ray did not want to stick around any longer. He leapt from the slope and sprinted back to the pathway out of the forest, trying desperately to escape the endless wave of high-caliber slugs and splinters of wood blasted away from trees unfortunate to be caught in the AA gun's line of fire. Ray was eventually clear from the gunfire, but now was most definitely not the time to slow down. I have to warn Ponyville.
"Cease fire!" Faust shouted to his team, who continued battering the forest with their weapons. "I said cease-..." He trailed off the moment he saw Junkers emerge from the Otokar Akrep with a M202 FLASH rocket-launcher over his shoulder, with the transponder situated directly behind him. Junkers extended the rear tubes and took aim. "No! Wait!"
It was too late. Junkers fired an incendiary rocket into the forest, setting fire to the shrubbery within the blast radius. Faust tackled him to the ground, ripping the launcher away from his hands. He got back to his feet and faced the unit. "Cease fire, god dammit! Put a sock it it!"
Silence at last.
"What's you're problem?!" Junkers said, getting in Faust's face.
Faust's eyes reddened with rage. "What's my problem? You want to know what my goddamned problem is?!"
Junkers began shying away, looking at the trees instead of Faust's angry eyes.
"Look at what you did!" Faust shouted, pointing at the fire growing in the distance within the forest. "You just started a forest fire with that thing!"
"How was I supposed to know?"
Faust picked up the M202 multi-barrel launcher and read the stencilling out loud to him. "M202A2 FLASH - FLame Assault SHoulder Weapon - 4 Max. 66mm incendiary rockets." He paused and looked back up at his shameful team member. "'Incendiary' means 'fire', you dumbass!" Faust pushed the launcher into Junkers' arms with force that threw him off balance.
"I'm... I didn't-..."
Faust ignored his stuttering and looked behind Junkers, at the transponder device. "And as if that isn't bad enough, look what your backblast did to the transponder!"
Junkers turned around to look. It was completely scorched, with various plastic components almost completely melted away. The field laptops were burnt to a crisp, screens cracked, melted and distorted. Useless.
"Congratulations. You just wasted a perfectly good, billion-dollar transponder setup."
Junkers swallowed hard, backing away, looking at the ground in shame.
Faust paused to calm himself. "Agusta!"
"Yeah?" Agusta answered from behind the AA gun.
"Junkers is under arrest. Keep your sidearm on him until I get back."
Agusta reached for his holster and pulled out his FN Five Seven, aiming it at Junkers. "Junk, you mind relieving yourself of your weapon?"
Junkers glared at Agusta, throwing his rocket-launcher at him with a sudden outburst of anger.
Faust reached inside the Otokar Akrep, grabbing two medium fire-extinguishers, and began walking away from the unit.
"Faust!" Agusta shouted. "You mind telling me where you're going?"
"To try and put the damned fire out, what do you think?"
"You're not serious."
He shrugged. "Doesn't hurt to try. Just keep your gun on him. I'll be back soon enough." He continued on.
Along the way, Faust muttered curses under his breath. The extinguishers were extremely heavy, being early and bulky Kidde 468003 Pro models with class D dry chemical powder. Blisters began forming in his palms the longer he carried them, but refused to take break, as the fire was still in the early containable stage. When he finally reached the area ablaze, he dropped one of them in relief and began attacking the flames. It was more than enough to put them out, and to his surprise, he didn't even need the other unit. Before long, it was fully contained. Faust dropped the extinguisher on the ground and sighed with more relief.
The sound of a twig breaking behind him woke up his instincts, forcing him to draw his sidearm. "Who'se there?" There was no answer. Suddenly another twig breaks, from the opposite direction. The driver. He's toying with me. "I know you're out there!" He scanned the forest in all directions, but saw no one in sight, except for the Raider team in the distance.
A blood-curdling yell of terror echoed in the forest, followed by a single gunshot.
"Faust?!" Agusta shouted, keeping his gun on Junkers. Something must've happened. The driver must still be out there! He tried again. "Faust!" Nothing.
"You two!" He waved his sidearm at two soldiers still dug in the dirt from their earlier firefight. "Go check it out."
They nodded as they pulled themselves to their feet, then headed into the forest. Into the great unknown.
Keep Low. Move Fast. First Kill. Die LastOne Shot. One Kill. No Luck. Pure Skill.
Not an MLP fan but I'll give it a read anyway and tell you what I think. Looks interesting.
Yippie Kai Yay, Mr. Falcon.
Updated cover art:
I must find the town leader. Every community like this had one, and Ray hoped that this one would be a more reasonable type, as apposed to the occasional fascist with a narcissistic superiority complex. Ray had to remind himself he was no longer in that world. They will listen. They have to listen, for I fear this populace may suffer the same fate as many others in the pathway of the beast's drive for destruction.
Several curious eyes met his as he ran wearily through Ponyville's town square, towards the library. Dirt and wood splinters stuck to his skin and clothing, giving the impression of having been through a terrible conflict. Unknowst to the ponyfolk, it was far worse than any "conflict."
There was a crowd gathered around the library. Ray tried to locate a familiar face... Where is that purple unicorn? Twilight Sparkle... And there she was, just in the open doorway of the building, appearing to desperately maintain order in the disorganized gathering.
Ray stopped just where the chaos began, trying to catch his breath.
Twilight saw him through the crowd. "Ray!" She shouted, running through the crowd like an agglomeration of shrubs. "What happened to you?"
"The rogues." Ray replied, panting. "there here... they're coming..." Come on, control your breathing! You sound like a madman.
"The who? Who'se coming?"
"The rogues!" He gulped so much oxygen he was forced to cough a portion of it up. Get to the point. There's no time. "I have to speak with your town leader. It's important."
"You mean the mayor?"
Mayor... yes. A town mayor, of course! "Yeah, where is he?"
"I'll take you to her."
Ray mustered enough energy to follow Twilight as she abandoned the group. However, five of them also broke away, following as well. Among them were the familiar rainbow one, the shy one, and the southern one.
"Wait for us!" Rainbow Dash shouted.
The other two ponies he did not recognise: an entirely pink pony with a fluffy mane and an unusual method of bouncing to her destination instead of walking or running, and a breathtakingly white unicorn with a beautifully-styled purple mane and tail. Now's not the time to make anymore friends.
"Mayor... Mare." Spike said aloud, signing a piece of parchment. "There. All set."
"Very good." replied the mayor. "Now send it, please."
Spike rolled the letter and held it in front of the nearest open window. With a big, deep breath, he blew the letter into a dissolving green plume of magical matter that swirled from his claws to its destination through the window.
The mayor's office was clean and bright with color tones that hurt Ray's eyes, especially when the sunlight beamed through the open window, concentrating on purely-white surfaces. Squinting helped, but it made him appear even more intimidating, already standing at attention like a soldier. It seemed the appropriate thing to do when confronting a higher authority, even one of a seemingly peaceful community such as this.
Spike was also a very distracting presence. A baby dragon... this just gets better and better. Ray hoped the adult stage was as equally friendly as this younger one before him, in contrast to what he has heard from fantasy stories as a child. He was a chubby little fella, standing short on his stubby feet. His head was so large it amazed Ray how he was able to keep his balance. His scales were a light purple, with bright-green spines standing short but straight along his back and the top of his head. He spoke in an obviously young voice, shadowed by a tone and vocabulary of at least an eleven-year-old.
The message that Spike "sent" was a letter to Princess Celestia, the ruler of this "country" and apparently the mentor of the purple unicorn that stood with the rest of her friends behind Ray. The subject was regarding his visit to Equestria, as well as the opposing faction that followed him. He stressed that immediate action must be taken against them, or they would suffer a terrible fate.
Ray stood impatient and could no longer hold himself back. "Is it nessessary we stand and wait here?"
"Trust me," the mayor said, "with a message like this, expect a reply within the next thirty seconds."
Ray gave up trying to figure their "system" of things. If messages could be magically sent to their recipient in a matter of seconds, then an insanely quick reply shouldn't be much of a surprise.
And sure enough, a familiar plume of green magical matter swirled through the window, forming into a similar roll of parchment to the one they had sent to the Princess. It seemed to hover at just the right moment for Spike to catch it as it began to plummet to the ground. He unrolled it and cleared his throat to read it out loud.
"Dear Ray," he began, "First I would like to welcome you to our land of Equestria, and sincerely hope that your stay in the lovely town of Ponyville has brought you much enjoyment and support. Regarding the undesirables you spoke of, I would like to thank you for bringing this urgent matter to my attention. I have sent a legion of two-hundred of my finest soldiers to Ponyville to counter this terrible menace." Spike trailed off with obvious worry in is bright, innocent eyes. He looked up at everyone and spoke with a tremble in his voice. "Is there going to be fighting? Here? In Ponyville?!"
"Spike!" Twilight shouted, hinting for her little assistant to focus on continuing the letter.
"Sorry." He looked back down at the disturbing text and continued on. "From what I have heard about your travels among the outside territories, you appear to be an excellent warrior and potential keeper of peace, however, I do not wish for you to participate in any possible violence before I have spoken to you about this situation personally.
I want you, Twilight Sparkle, her friends, and her assistant, Spike, to come to the palace immediately. I look forward to meeting you, dear Ray. Sincerely, Princess Celestia."
Peculiar. Almost reckless decision, especially since they don't know who they are fighting. I hope for their sake that her men have the right tools for this kind of warfare, or she could be marching two-hundred souls to their death. Not factoring collateral damage... the innocent lives of Ponyville, even Equestria itself.
The mayor interrupted his thoughts. "The Friendship Express arrives in twenty-five minutes, everypony."
"Don't worry," Twilight said, "we'll be ready. Good luck."
Indeed. You'll need it.
The mess tent was loud. Trays clanged, voices errupted from wherever one turned, and vehicles rumbled everywhere outside the tent. It smelled like a mixture of rotting meat soaked in gasoline and rolled in a giant ashtray. People smoked while they ate roadkill and bread, and while drinking the dirtiest of "filtered" water. The liquid-purification devices on the HMMWVs were damaged for the moment, forcing them to consume water stored in broken Brita filtration and storage containers.
Tolwin, Marchetti, and the young co-pilot Riggs were seated at the far corner of the rowdy mess. They were able to speak about the situation freely without having to worry about anyone eavesdropping and causing a panic.
"This just doesn't make sense." Tolwin thought outloud. "We've backtracked at least twice but there was never any sign of the road."
Riggs rolled his eyes yet again. "To be fair, sir, we didn't go very far. What, maybe about a mile down the riverside, tops?"
Marchetti looked at Tolwin in the eyes with perfect understanding. "The driver."
Tolwin nodded. "I can't help it." He picked up the filthy water, about to drink it, but upon quick inspection he decided otherwise and set his cup back down. "Something about this man seems so unusual. The first encounter on the road, him leading us to this... well, here..."
"Has anyone found the wreckage yet?" Riggs asked.
"Nope." Marchetti replied. "No reports since Faust's unit called in about the car junk. But I suppose it won't be long before they eventually uncover it." He glanced over to Tolwin, who was obviously lost in his thoughts as he stared into the abyss of his filthy cup of water. "You think he's still alive, don't you?"
Tolwin sighed. "I don't know what to think. All I know is that I have a gut feeling we've fallen into some kind of trap."
Everyone froze at the thought. The driver's actions that led them here made it no surprise to them, but having actually fallen into such a situation was a frightening thought. Especially since they have yet to find their escape. Which is, of course, thanks to their commander's reckless curiosity. Tolwin realized his mistake, but he also felt prepared either way.
Special tecnician Jones entered the tent, running towards the three men in haste.
"Jonesy." Tolwin called. "What do you got for me?"
"Sir," he started, "we've lost contact with the second scout team."
All three stood to their feet in surprise.
"What?" Riggs asked curiously.
"First Team also reported hearing gunfire on their way back to basecamp. Sir, I think..."
Tolwin put his hand up to silence Jones, as he watched the traffic coming in and going out of the mess tent. Within the mix of faces he spotted a distinguishably familiar one.
"What?" Jones asked, turning the direction Tolwin was looking.
"Faust!" Tolwin shouted, leaving the table.
Faust turned to his commander and stood at attention. "Sir!"
"What the hell happened? Why aren't you prepping the second transponder?"
He slowly stood at ease. "Sir, we need to talk. It's extremely important."
Just finally caught up to the latest chapter. Very nice story. Your writing is improving a lot.
When will the next chapter come?
"Now listen up!" Shining Armor called out from the balcony overlooking the Celestial Ward, to the two-hundred battle-ready Royal Guardsmen below. "Your time has finally come! All of your training and hard discipline has been for this very moment! For you see, unwelcome visitors have arrived into our great land. They seek violence and destruction, thereby threatening not only the kingdom, but the balance of peace and harmony we've built for so long under Celestia's rule.
I'm sincerely confident that you are all ready for the task at hand... to finally have the honor of proving your loyalty to the Princess and your kingdom by defending it with your combined strength and determination." And with that, Shining Armor took a pause to admire the sincerity of the soldiers' expressions. He knew they would defend their princess and their land with their very lives, because of their genuine love of both. They were honored to serve under Princess Celestia, for she was the primary reason why Equestria has been known by everyone as the pinnacle of peace and harmony. It was perfection. They would do whatever it took to ensure its security.
Shining Armor understood this dedication by heart. He served under Celestia as Captain of the Canterlot Royal Guard, as well as Celestia's primary military advisor. He was a very well-respected military leader for his brilliance regarding tactics of modern warfare in the name of protecting the princess and keeping peace among Equestria. He has publicized nearly two-thousand revolutionary tactics and strategies within Canterlot's branch of military power. They were flawless, having been physically tested in realistic battle scenarios with his fellow guardsmen by other high-ranking officials. He and his men were prepared for any threat of the modern age.
Before he could continue his speech, a high-ranking guardsman next to him cleared his throat, indicating to Shining Armor that time is running short. He understood and wrapped it up with a few final words. "Equestrians! Brothers and sisters of the sword, we have and will forever remain guardians of harmony. Fear not of our new enemy! Show them we will fight without mercy in the name of freedom!"
The enthusiastic band of warriors responded with a hearty "Hoorah!!"
Shining stepped back to allow his accompanying guardsman official to take over. "All yours, Colonel Blackburn."
"Thanks." said Blackburn, uncomfortable with Shining Armor's choice of ending with a motivational speech instead of saving it after operational briefing. Colonel Blackburn was second in command of the Royal Guard, specially selected field commander of ground forces, which meant he was chosen to lead this army into battle personally, with the aid of five squad leaders to oversee organized field tactics executed by the two-hundred soldiers split into five specialized units respectively.
"Time is in short supply, so I will get right to the point. According to an anonymous source, the enemy has situated themselves within the depths of the Everfree Forest. They are highly mobile, and it is only a matter of time until they have discovered the neighboring town of Ponyville."
Shining's heart skipped a beat. Ponyville. Home of Twilight Sparkle, my dearest sister! Oh, how I wish I was assigned field commander of the operation to ensure your security personally. But I'm afraid that it is from the princess' discretion that I must perform my duties here, for Canterlot is also in great danger.
Blackburn continued. "Ponyville has no form of defence whatsoever, which indicates their chances of surviving an attack are almost nonexistent. Fellow guardsmen, we will change that. We are to act as both defence and stabilization. It is imperative we drive this enemy back, and away from Ponyville, for it is a vital strategic position that exposes the location of Canterlot.
We will arrive via battlewagons, with units of fourty guardsmen per squad leader. We will follow tactics 'secure and overwatch' and, should we engage, 'reserve-engagement and defend', in which squad leaders Dornier and Wulf will lead their men in the first wave of the engagement. Maveric and Breguet's men will stand by as reserve forces, and finally Gulfstream will situate his unit deep within the town as the last line of defence."
Shining ignored the rest of the briefing, as he has heard all he needed to hear. They were going to execute two proven tactics tested by himself in the past, except this time they will be used in actual battle.
Their organisation as an army also concerned him a great deal. The Royal Guard consisted of a total of five-thousand, three-hundred men. This was the lowest troop-number of any government, purely because the Guard was Equestria's only line of defence. No dedicated army or naval corps, however an unofficial "aero-corps" could easily be improvised with pegasus ponies, Guard or otherwise, should a situation arise that is out of traditional ground forces' control.
It also consisted of a sub-corps called the "Lunar Guard." These were guardsmen specifically assigned in protecting Princess Celestia's younger sister, Princess Luna, as well as the rest of the palace during the general night shift. Most of the Lunar Guards consisted of chiropteranoid pegasi hybrids, but there were a small number of unicorns and earth ponies that patrolled the palace grounds.
Indeed the Guard was a highly-trained organisation in comparison to lower-class military corps, but their power in numbers was regrettably insignificant.
I pray they are prepared for this conflict. A faceless enemy is the worst kind of enemy, since we have no knowledge of what they are capable of.
Princess Celestia and Princess Luna watched the two-hundred guardsmen through the great observation window overlooking the Celestial Ward as they moved out, following the lead of their respective field commanders.
The two royal cerapters were absolute goddesses in appearance, larger than average ponies, clad in regal attire both simplistic and elegant, also in expression of their royal duties. Celestia had a brilliant cutie mark representing the golden sun, while Luna's represented a radiant quarter-moon. Their seas of manes and tails flowed like waves against gravity, thanks to powerful yet lustrous magic. Luna's, during the night, was even more impressive. Under the gleaming ocean of stars, her mane contained sparkling representations of every known constellation. During the day, however, it was as plain as a cloudless sky of blue.
"Big sister?" Luna said to Celestia, turning to her with such innocent aquamarine eyes.
"What is it?" replied Celestia, returning her sister's gaze with a smile that highlighted her already beautiful purple eyes.
Luna looked back out the window, observing as Shining Armor made his way back to the main palace grounds. "Why didn't you let Shining Armor take field command of the operation? I mean, after all, is he not the brother of Twilight Sparkle? Don't you think he would want to see her again and oversee the protection of her from this menace?"
Celestia's smile faded as she too adverted her attention to the outside activity. "Luna, my dear sister, let's not forget about the previous threat made against Canterlot. I need him here to perform his protection spell over the palace while the selected guardsmen control the latest situation in Ponyville."
Ah, yes. The return of our dreaded enemy. Let us hope the threat in Ponyville can be contained in time for their arrival. This time, I hope, we are ready for them.
Shining Armor emerged from the entrance to the great hall and bowed before the princesses. "The troops are on their way, your majesty." He announced to Celestia.
"May I perform the protection spell now?" Shining asked, standing at ease.
"Yes, of course."
Equestria. It was a name coined for the land long before the rule of Celestia. For centuries it had been an undiscovered land among the intelligent ponies, one of many blanks on the map. Ponies had been born into a world of chaos and hatred, starving for the most basic of needs. Food was scarce, weather was harsh, and pony races and cultures were divided by such petty differences. For what seemed like eternity, they were slowly consumed by darkness brought upon them by both the elements and their own attitudes.
Apparently it was their attitude towards each other that dramatically shifted the magical laws of harmony into turmoil, thus affecting the natural elements themselves. The three major pony races - Earth, Unicorn, and Pegasus - were forced to explore the outside territories to start their lives over, in attempt to re-build their societies in a way that functioned harmoniously. Little did they understand that they were missing a vital element to end their bitterness once and for all. Friendship.
When the three leaders of their respective races discovered Equestria, it took the most unlikliest of of individuals to show them was friendship truly meant. Their hearts melted and they united, co-founding in a way that kept balance in harmony and peace between races.
Not long after this revolutionary discovery, the first cerapter was born into the land. She wielded the most powerful of magic that saw potential as means of controlling the magical laws in favor of maintaining peace among them. It was so powerful it seemed to effect the sun itself. For this, she and her family were considered royalty. Soon, she would have a sister of the same magnitude of power. They were assigned co-rulers of Equestria. It would not be long before Equestria's flag bore a coat of arms that represented the two sisters.
As Princess Celestia carried the burden of raising the sun at dawn for her subjects, her younger sister Luna would bring about the moon at night. To much of the ponies' surprise and utter gratefulness, they carried out this tradition for centuries. They were like mighty goddessess, as they were so powerful that they were literally immortal. To date, they still bore their earliest titles as princesses.
However, Luna became bitter. She felt as no one cared for her significance in the magical balance of their land. Celestia's subjects seemed to favor the daylight, but shunned the night. After many years of this rejection, Luna left her older sister's side to become an independent ruler of her own. But instead of maintaining natural balance, she vowed to bring about eternal night. Only then did she feel she would get the love she deserved. Her decision shifted the laws once again, transforming her into a wicked and much feared mare of darkness. She was Nightmare Moon.
Celestia attempted on many occasions to reason with her bitter sister, but she would not listen and proceeded with her terrible ways. For this, Celestia was left with only one choice to protect her land. With all her incredible magical ability, she banished her younger sister to the moon itself, for a duration of one-thousand years.
Celestia in the meantime carried the burden of controlling both the sun and the moon. As the years passed, ponies continued to live their lives in harmony, as if this banishment of royalty never happened. Indeed it became a legend among many, but time dissolved it into a "ponies'-tale" that would be soon forgotten in the modern era's peak.
But one dedicated unicorn researcher knew the severity of the story. The moment Twilight Sparkle discovered the startling legend, she knew it would not be long before harmony would once again be in jeporady. Twilight urged Celestia to act upon this arisen situation, as Nightmare Moon's punishment of isolation was drawing close to its end. Celestia, however, had a very different plan in mind.
Twilight marked the beginning of a generation that began losing touch with the concept of friendship, the very element that founded harmony in Equestria. She had no friends, but a mere assistant in her studies, the baby dragon Spike. Books and research were the foundation of her world, and nothing more. Celestia feared this social isolation would spread, and the balance would crumble in favor of Nightmare Moon's great power. Not even Celestia could prevent it like before. Even more so, Twilight was her most faithful student and apprentice. She loved her like a daughter, and therefore wished for Twilight to live her life in understanding of how this balance worked. But there was another, even deeper reason.
Harmony was not entirely a single element, but made up of six different elements - honesty, kindness, laughter, generosity, loyalty, and magic. Without any of the five elements, there would be no magic. And without magic, harmony could not be brought to balance. Let alone friendship itself. Everypony lived by these elements as well as they could, however the true elements lived in spirit through six very special and gifted ponies. Celestia knew Twilight was one of them, but like a sleeper she had not awoken to this realization. She needed to experience what true friendship was in order to defeat Nightmare Moon and maintain balance in harmony.
Celestia urged Twilight to find friendship in Ponyville. It was not without immense resistance on her part, but when she did find friendship, the sleeper inside had awoken to the most chilling revelation. She and her friends represented the elements in the flesh, and with their combined power, they were able to defeat Nightmare Moon and revert her to her true self. Luna had felt the revelation herself, for she begged her older sister forgiveness for what she had done and vowed to never let her bitterness overcome her in such a way again. Luna and Celestia ruled together once again, in peace.
Though as time passed in which other rival governments or powerful forces would challenge the integrity of the balance, it remained the pinnacle of harmony for many years to come.
Harmony... in the flesh. Unbreakable, never forgotten, and forever shall it remain.
The mid passenger compartments of the Friendship Express were equipped with electronic vibration-dampening absorbers and were constructed with heavily sound-proofed material. Faint hums and light trembles often snuck through, but could easily be ignored by an occupied mind.
Such as Ray's mind as he let the legend of Equestria and pony-kind sink into his thoughts.
He and Twilight Sparkle were seated face-to-face next to a passenger window. She had just finished telling Ray one of the most awe inspiring stories he had ever heard in his life. And it was not a work of fiction. It was real!
Before him sat the element of magic, something that defied Ray's life-long belief in the universe's known laws. Accompanying them were the rest: Honesty, represented by Applejack, the hard-working earth pony with the thick southern drawl. Kindness, represented by the timid and oh so caring pegasus Fluttershy. Laughter, represented by Pinkie Pie, the playfully energetic pink earth pony. Generosity, represented by the beautiful white unicorn Rarity. And finally, loyalty, represented by the bold and brave pegasus Rainbow Dash.
Heroes. My god, this is so fantastic, I can barely keep my sanity. Have the fairey tales I've heard so much as a child be true? Could the so-called myths be fact? I can't wait to speak to their Princess. Oh, I have so many questions!
Tolwin was genuinely shocked and amazed. As he stared through the lenses of his binoculars, he spotted what he swore were an alien equinoid species running a beautifully rich town. They were everywhere. So this is where the driver intended to bring us. So many questions flooded his mind as he watched, never peeling his eyes away from the lenses.
He was accompanied by Marchetti and Riggs, who worse equal astonishment. Among them was also Faust, shifty-eyed about the group and what they were witnessing. The Shilka was sitting idle just behind them, on a steep slope that overlooked the distant town, not far from the second transponder site in the forest.
"Those were the ones that attacked us." said Faust, pointing at a particularly large band of newcomers to the town. Tolwin observed. They appeared to wear medieval battle armor and weapons. Some even drove old-fashoned carriages that carried more of them.
"How many?" Asked Tolwin, almost in a whisper.
"A platoon of fifteen."
"How did they get past the AA gun?"
"They hit us in a crossfire. They were armed with bows-and-arrows and took out our major armament before finishing us off."
Tolwin, for the first time since they arrived at this slope, took his eyes away from the binocuilars and turned to Faust. "Then how did you escape?"
He took a pause to think. "Well, Junkers accidentally started a fire with one of our weapons, so I went out alone in the woods to put it out. I figured the smoke would give away our position."
After a moment of silence Tolwin became agitated. "That doesn't answer my question."
"Oh right, well, I warned some of them off with my weapon and made a run for it. I had no choice, because by then they had already took out the majority of the squad. Eventually re-enforcements came and I was horribly outnumbered."
This is so uncanny. The driver lead us to a land of intelligent equine... but why? In an instant, he remembered his theory on the driver's intentions and looked back at the town with a smile. It is a trap! And here it is, staring us in the face with the most innocent camoflage imaginable.
"This just ain't real, man." Marchetti said with a snort of disbelief. "How is this even possible?"
"Regardless, they stand in our way as an opposition." Tolwin said, once again looking through the binoculars.
"Excuse me, sir?" asked Riggs.
Faust, however, grinned deviously with perfect understanding.
"They're hostile." Tolwin put his binoculars in his belt-pouch and walked toward the Shilka. "We now have a potential settlement for operations. But first, we have to clear it of said opposition."
"But, this is the first contact with an intelligent species other than people!" Protested Riggs as he followed Tolwin. "They could be aliens from another planet for all we know."
"Yeah, an intelligent species that wiped out my whole squad." Faust interjected.
"Your squad was lazy! Always keep your guard up, even with a force of seemingly weak defence as these things."
"What do you think we were doing, throwing darts?!"
"I'm just saying, it's rare incompetence when the gunfighters lose to a knife."
"Shut up!" yelled Tolwin. "We're going back to basecamp to pack up and prepare for our invasive strike. Riggs, make sure the gunship is fuled and hot before we move out."
Dusk began rolling through the evening twilight. The winds settled and the birds climaxed their sweet music before finding a final resting place for the coming night.
Ponyville was cleared of civilians, who at this point were in hiding within the Town Hall's subterranian shelter. The Guard was situated in major road-blocks and overwatch positions around the town. Gulfstream's men in particular were situaded around Town Square to protect the Hall, with crossbow snipers placed in the nearby clock tower.
Trenches were dug around the outward parimiter of the town facing the direction of the Everfree Forest, with haystacks and rusty rail-bariers to slow down whatever enemy ground forces charged at them, giving the Guard a better opertunity of driving them back in a heated battle. The barriers also surved the purpose of temporary cover say the guardsmen have a chance to drive the enemy back, however that meant it was also potential cover for the enemy as well.
The trenches were dug along the earth in layers like an onion, with the closest of which keeping the unit's leaders, including field commander Blackburn. They also contained reserve supplies and weapons for over half of the entire legion.
Everypony watched and waited with what felt like an eternal duration thanks to their utter nervousness. Blackburn was no exception, for it was also his first official conflict. My enemy, my faceless enemy... unmask yourself and step out of the shadows for us all to see. We want to witness your shame in challenging our great land's integrity. We will never crumble in the hooves of such a likeness as yourselves. Come, my enemy. Your fate awaits.
"It's gonna get dark soon." mumbled Wulf, breaking the tense silence. "They might use the shadows to their advantage."
"Right." Dornier agreed. "Better get the torches lit around the parimiter. Who has them?"
"Um... Maveric's unit, I think."
"Hey, Mav!" Dornier shouted further down the east side of the trench.
"Yeah?" answered a distant voice.
"You got any torches?"
"Well, who has them?!"
About five seconds passed as Maveric could be heard mumbling a conversation with his men. Then: "I think Breguet has them!"
Dornier turned to the west-side. "Breguet!"
"Set up some light around the outer defences!"
"No campfires," said Blackburn, "just tiki torches and candles. Campfires will take too long to set up."
"Right. Breguet! Tiki's and candles only! Black's orders!"
"Alright!" acnowledged Breguet, gathering his selected torch-bearers.
"Wulf." Blackburn said.
"Cover them with your archers, alright?"
"Yes, sir. Archers! Follow my lead, lets go!" He lept from the trench and galloped in the direction of Breguet's unit as they set up the torches, with his archers following in two-by-two formation. Once grouped, they spread among each of Breguet's men to provide decent cover while they were occupied with their task.
"They better get here before sunset." Said Dornier. "The mountains are going to cast an unpleasant shadow over the plains that any ground forces could pass through stealthfully."
"Up until the torches, at least." Blackburn interjected. "They'll be lit up enough for the qlose-quarters assault groups, but the archers are gonna have a real problem with range."
"Hmm, I dunno. Closer for them the better, in my opinion."
Blackburn shook his head in dissagreement. "I tried it once myself. Depth-perception is off when you attack silhouetted targets."
"Gulfstream's men'll have a real bad day then if things go south up here."
"He's only got fifteen swordsmen." He let out an amused chuckle.
"Oh, horseapples. We'll have to get Mav's unit to fall back if the first three defence lines are penetrated."
The Raiders were packed up and ready to move out as they scrambled for their vehicles, heading out for the pathway through the forest. Among them was Tolwin and his monster Chinook gunship, leading the way across a shallow horizon.
Riggs let out a yawn over the radio.
"Riggs," Tolwin said, "you alright?"
"Yeah, I'm just aces, sir."
"Good. I don't want you falling asleep at the wheel."
"Just worn out. My back's killing me too. Been sitting in this seat too long today."
Tolwin rolled his eyes with a sigh. "So's mine, just suck it up until we secure the town."
"It's gonna be hell trying to organize an assault without our GPS." Jones said, casually seated at his station in the crane-controller box.
"I know. Just make sure Marchetti leads the armored column in first. I want the softskins as far back as possible."
The Shilka's interior was a cramped mess of machines that made it extremely difficult for one to leave their seat, or station itself. It was dimly-lit with only with two red lights and computer screens. It rattled and heaved uncomfortably as the driver pushed through rough terrain.
Marchetti was seated just rearward of the vehicle, at the "command station", sandwiched between Faust and an assisting technician, who went by the name of Virus.
Jones' voice crackled over the radio. "Shilka! Metalheads forward, softskins rearward. Copy?"
Marchetti hit the transmit button. "Roger." He then switched to the general ground frequency. "All MBTs and mobile artillery up front, spread out. ACs and softskins in reserve. Stand by."
Various drivers shouted their acknowledgements over the radio.
Faust in the meantime was writing something on a clipboard with one of their grease pens. Marchetti couldn't help but notice and expressed his curiosity.
"Hey Faust, what are you doing?"
Faust flipped the front page back and showed him. It appeared to be some kind of checklist with scribbles of mathematical equations in various places. "It's our munitions reserve. I'm just estimating how much we lost in the attack back at the second transponder site."
Marchetti nodded and went back to his buisness.
Faust flipped the page over again and continued his activity. Except that the second page wasn't a list at all, but what appeared to be a note or letter to someone. It read:
All is going as planned so far. Please thank the primary operations advisor for such a well thought-out plan. However, there is some troubling concern I have that I feel I should share with you. These new subjects are far greater than the last ones. They are much smarter, and much more resourceful. They are armed with such devistating firepower, the likes of which that are a fearful match against our own arsenal. I fear my cover won't hold for long. I strongly suggest you delay the lone arrival and prepare your forces immedietly.
He finished it off with "Signed, Operative 29."
The great hall glimmered a shadowless scintillation as sunlight flooded through every which window that surrounded its brilliant interior. Which made little sense to Ray, as the sun was close to its daily term. It's magic. And that will be my answer to any phenomenon yet unexplained by my own knowledge of the universe's laws.
And there stood before him and his pony friends, among two gold-clad Royal Guardsmen, a radiant goddess of a cerapter, so regal and so pure. She was breathtaking. Princess Celestia...
"Welcome!" she called upon her subjects arriving to her presence. "It is lovely to see you all again, and it is a great pleasure to finally meet you in person, Ray."
Ray bowed as the six ponies did. "The honor is mine to be bestowed with the privilege of meeting you in your beautiful kingdom, your highness." He got back up, on cue with the others.
Celestia giggled. "Dear Ray, you need not impress me with bold expressions."
Ray blushed for the first time in his life as he stood at ease. "It comforts me, your highness."
She gave a smile that spread contagiously over the majority of the group. "You may call me Celestia."
Such heart this cerapter has. What an honor these ponies have in serving under her rule. I envy them so much. Time was short, and Ray knew it like a question that ate at the mind, desperate for an answer. We have to act immediately before the Raiders discover this place. "Princess Celestia, I'm afraid time is-..."
"Time," she interrupted, "is in short supply as of late, this I know. Our enemy of the great desert has shadowed your travel to Equestria. The legion of guardsmen I sent to Ponyville will be an adequate stabilization force that should contain the situation while we discuss the details of their stance."
"Their stance is quite clear, Celestia. They are a great enemy to you, me, and everone else in their path."
"I know, but why? What do they seek in this evergrowing drive for destruction?"
"Destruction itself, I'm afraid. They kill simply to cleanse the world of opposition to a long dissolved cause." Not to mention grow their terrible arsenal. Which I should mention... "However, there is a major detail you've not factored before sending your two-hundred soldiers into battle."
"What might that be?"
"Technology." The word made Celestia furrow her brow. "Everywhere I look in your kingdom, I see the most primitive of technology. Swords, crossbows, spears, carriages, and the most thin of armor. If this is the state you have sent your men in, I'm afraid you will have to prepare two-hundred wooden caskets. For you see, the Phantom Raiders are equipped with a devastating arsenal of modern human technology. Explosives, firearms, computer-guided weapons, reactive armor, and vehicles with engines strong enough to pull themselves."
"I've seen it." said Twilight. "I've seen Ray's vehicle in the forest. If we are up against an enemy of this magnitude, we are in great danger."
Celestia looked at the floor, obviously deep in thought about these new details.
"Worse yet." Ray said, glancing through a nearby window. "They have a gunship."
Celestia looked to Ray again, brows furrowed once more.
Ray noticed her confusion. "An armed helicopter, your majesty. A flying machine with powerful weapons, able to hit targets otherwise impossible to reach with ground-based units."
Gasps errupted from everyone in the hall. Celestia herself let out a deep sigh, bowing her head as if she were ashamed of something. "I..." she began, "I have made a terrible mistake."
"What is it?" asked Ray. His friends also looked on with with their adorable curiosity.
She straightened herself once more. "Recently we have fallen victim to a terrible race that has threatened Canterlot. They are clever creatures, on a very similar drive for destruction. When you told me of an enemy of great power, I had made a foolish assumption that you were referring to them." She paused for a moment, walking towards a window overlooking the palace protected by a bright, pink forcefield. "They, too, are dwellers of the desert. Ever since we've expelled them from the country. They want revenge." She turned back to Ray. "You see Ray, I did have minor doubts. That's why I brought you here, not just to welcome a newcomer, but to find out if these were truly our known enemy. And I needed to know from you, personally. It seems our situation has escalated much more than I had anticipated."
"Wait a minute," said Twilight, "what known enemy? You don't mean..."
Ray was lost with panic. You've got to be kidding. Now we have another enemy to worry about? "So who is this enemy you're talking about?"
"They're called changelings." Celestia answered. "A very deceptive species capable of mimicking whatever lifeform they come in contact with, that is the closest to their own biology, of course. They've fooled us once before, even penetrated our thick interior defences. We defeated them eventually, but not in whole. I fear they are regrouping and preparing another invasion as we speak."
"They feed on love." Twilight added.
"Love?" A species that feeds on a pure emotion?
"Pure love. It's a long story, but my brother fell victim to their queen during the invasion. They have very powerful control over pony minds when they feed."
"How were they defeated?"
Twilight smiled. "That's the irony of it. The very thing they came for defeated them. The love between Princess Cadance and my brother was so strong, that it literally gave him power to perform his protection spell on a dramatic overdrive, which expelled the changelings from the palace and the land itself."
"However," Celestia stepped in, "the circumstances are different this time. We had been prepared for their arrival since you came here, Ray, but I'm afraid that now your enemy has interfered in this conflict, we will not be able to drive any of them back with traditional methods." She turned and walked away from the group, towards a tall door with brilliant celestial design. Her horn glowed as she inserted it into a small opening at the center. It came alive with magic as it opened to reveal a beautifully-decorated case.
Rarity was obviously awestruck as Celestia levitated it before them, her eyes wide and bright like blue sapphire. "Oh my..." She said, lost in its elegance.
It opened, revealing six items encrusted with shimmering gold, and large gemstones that resembled symbols seen on the ponies' cutie marks. Five were necklaces, but the sixth was a type of crown or tiara. These must be the elements. The physical representations, anyway, according to Twilight.
"You must use the elements once again, my little ponies, and defeat our new enemy, before it's too late." Celestia levetated the elements swiftly to each pony. "The fate of Equestria rests in your hooves. As well as yours, Ray."
My hooves... what now? "What shall I do?"
"Defend the elements. Protect them, and your friends, while they perform their spell."
Ray took a breath to speak, obviously in objection, but Celestia lifted a hoof to silence him.
"You need not warn my further of the power wielded by these people. With the elements by your side, you shall be invincible. You have my word. Now go!"
With that, The group led Ray through the exit of the great hall.
A rumble. It echoed across the horizon, spreading among the dozens of cautious ears. It was distant and low, but worthy of the attention that the guardsmen payed to their surroundings, of which were slowly darkening as the sun went deeper behind the great hillsides that surrounded Ponyville.
"What is that?" Blackburn asked with a whisper, to nopony in particular.
"Sounds like a machine." Dornier answered.
Blackburn looked around but saw nothing out of the ordinary. "Where is it coming from?"
Nopony answered. The sound grew closer and closer, heavier, almost like a fast heartbeat that began trembling through the ground.
"Steady everyone! Look sharp!"
Something hissed ahead of them, like a firework launching from a mortar tube. The result, however, was not a pretty burst of light in the sky, but a firey explosion that leveled a small building just behind the trenches. Hot debris rained upon the guardsmen like molten rock and ash from a volcano. Many startled from the blast found themselves panicking, desperately shaking the burning debris away from their coats.
"What was that?!" Dornier yelled.
Blackburn frantically tried to find the source. "I don't know! I don't see anything!"
"Look!!" Wulf shouted, pointing to the direction of the supposed source.
Blackburn saw it clear as daylight itself, soaring through the sky like a dragon attacking its poor unfortunate prey on the ground. It was a metal flying machine! It had wings that never flapped, but two extra pairs on its head and rear that seemed to rotate at breathtaking speed. Its force was strong enough to brew a windstorm that kicked dirt and rock all around it.
"What is that thing?!" shouted Wulf, hugging the dirt of the trench.
Before anyone could answer, a puff of smoke popped from a bundle of tubes hung underneath the stationary pair of wings, with the familiar hiss of an airborne projectile. Within a split second, yet another building was reduced to burning rubble.
"I don't know," shouted Blackburn, "but we've got to take it down! It's destroying everything!"
"How?!" asked Dornier.
"Archers! Take it down!!"
"Yes sir! Archers, take aim and fire on my command!"
The guardsmen awoke from a brief catatonic state, readying their weapons as the flying beast flew over them.
"Ready!" Wulf called. "Aim! F-..."
Something else in the distance made a loud and repetitive popping sound, like Chinese fireworks. Bright yellow objects the size of fireflies passed over them, with a buzz like angry wasps. Many tiny explosions erupted along the dirt of the trenches with what almost sounded like little screams or whistles.
Dornier's hoof suddenly blasted away from his forearm, flying into the trench behind him. He let out a terrible cry of pain as blood sprayed from the stump. Blackburn shouted a curse as he tried to support him, trying to figure out how to help. A soldier on the east side somehow lost his head. His body tumbled to the bottom of the trench, with his head rolling past many shocked guardsmen desperately taking cover from the chaos. Many screamed with panic, running out of the trench and away from the battle.
"No!!" Blackburn yelled. "Get back over here! Take cover!"
"Oh sweet Celestia, what the hay are these things?!" Cried Wulf as he watched ahead.
Blackburn saw them too. They were like carriages, but they weren't pulled by anything they could see. They were of metal construction, with tracks like a steam tractor or crane. They had long tubes projecting from the tops, pointing straight at them. They rolled closer, crushing rocks and plant life beneath them. An explosion erupted from the front of one of the land beasts, causing another one that sent a shockwave through the west-side of the furthest trench outward to the command line.
Many of the fleeing guardsmen were quickly mowed down by the smaller popping weapons that were apparently launching micro projectiles everywhere.
Blackburn looked back down to Dornier, who lay cradled in his arms, eyes wide in motionless horror towards the sky. His cries of pain, his breathing, his heartbeat, all ceased to be, due to his apparent blood-loss. He was dead. No, this can't be. Dornier, my old friend, fight it! You're not dead yet! "No, Dornier, stay alive! Don't you die on me!" He shook his friend with desperate franticity. "Don't die on me, Dornier! Fight it! Dornier!!!" It was no use, for Dornier lay a lifeless and bloody corpse in his arms. Blackburn was in shock as he stared into his empty eyes. Tears fought to run while his stomach lurched in a way that he had never felt before. This is real... no, this is a nightmare. It's just a nightmare! Order Mav to fall back. Wait, what? Mav? Oh, Maveric... fall back, why? Blackburn looked beside him. Wulf was hugging the dirt as he yelled to him over the explosions and screaming.
"We have to get Mav's unit back!" Wulf crawled closer, grabbing Blackburn's left foreleg. "Blackburn, snap out of it! We have to go! Now!!"
Oh, yes! Maveric's unit is emergency support for Gulfstream! "Right, order Mav's unit to fall back and regroup with Gulfstream's unit! Go!"
Wulf turned to Maveric's direction in the trenches. "Mav! Mav!! Fall back! Fall back, now!! Regroup with Gulfstream!!" He turned back to Blackburn as he made his way out of the trench. "Come with me, sir!"
"No, you have your orders! Now go!!"
"I'm not leaving you behind, sir! Let Dornier go!"
Blackburn took a breath to respond, but found that he would be communicating with cloud of red mud and rock, as an explosion engulfed his very existance before his eyes. He felt a slight sting on his face and rubbed a hoof on the irritated region. He felt a large, gaping wound, possibly fragmentation from the explosion. His mind struggled to expel all realization of the events that unfolded. No, keep it together. You have units to command. Wake up! Leave Dornier and get out of the trench bef-...
Darkness. A sudden black hole of nothingness.
But behold! There was light again. Dirt.... rocks... grass... I'm on the ground? Where am I again? Blackburn came to realize he was laying on his side, on the ground no less. He could hear almost nothing but a loud ring in his ears, and eventually muffled thumps and bangs, as if someone were punching a pillow behind him. Get up. Nothing moved but his blinking eyes looking at the ground. Get up and look where you are. Still nothing. He was completely paralyzed, feeling absolutely nothing below his neck.
A trail of blood crept across the ground just under his snout, from the direction of his unfelt body. In a matter of seconds the trail became a puddle that kept expanding. Is that from... me?!
He shifted his eyes towards the horizon. There something massive approached him, like a tractor with a head sprouting four tubes with repetitive bursts of fire coming out the ends. Behind the head looked like a giant cereal bowl attached to a short pole, with a needle-shaped protrusion at the center.
Three guardsmen leapt from nearby trenches, onto the metal beast, banging and prying at separations along the hull. A small hatch opened underneath, with what appeared to be a hand emerging from within, throwing gray soup cans onto the ground below. Yellow smoke burst from the cans, expanding in a dense cloud around the machine. The guardsmen atop coughed and choked, tumbling to the ground in agony as they grasped their throats.
The machine kept coming closer to Blackburn. Closer and closer it rolled, its tracks merely feet away from his face. His fate would be near in seconds. But... I'm not ready...
The Shilka rocked violently, as if driving over dense boulders in the dirt.
"Driver!" Marchetti shouted. "Watch the terrain, man! The radio almost fell on the floor!"
"Sorry," he responded, "I think I just ran over one of those things."
Marchetti sighed and grabbed a roll of duct tape from a cubby next to Virus, ripping long strands away and sloppily securing the radio setup.
"Why don't you just bolt it down?" Virus asked.
Marchetti paused to look at him, unsure of his partner's seriousness towards the painfully obvious. "Does it look like I have the tools? Does it? No, so I'm temporarily slapping this crap on it until we secure this place."
Virus shied away.
The radio crackled on the command line. "Shilka! Do you have any RPGs?" It was Tolwin this time, instead of Jones.
Marchetti hit the transmit button. "Yeah, but no rockets. Why?"
"I'll have John drop some off then. Listen, hold your position."
"Driver! This is good, park it right here."
The driver did as he was ordered and stopped the vehicle.
Tolwin continued. "Problem is, there's snipers in the clocktower just northwest and they're taking out a couple of softskins behind the Metalheads. I'd take care of it myself but we're engaging some hostiles near the town center."
"Why not have the Metalheads take care of it then?"
"Too high. Structure below is too sturdy for a quick demo too."
"Alright, Shilka out."
Knocking was heard on the other side of the turret hatch right above them. Marchetti got out of his seat and opened it to see who it was. "John boy! Wow, that was fast!"
"Got some rockets for you, sir. Plus a bunch of other goodies."
"Sweet! We'll be right out." Marchetti turned to the rest of the Shilka crew. "Alright, I'm staying behind. The rest of you go take care of it."
Virus was first out of his seat, reaching for two RPG-7s secured behind Faust. He handed one to Faust, gesturing for him to follow him out the hatchway. He followed, first taking in his surroundings as his head emerged from within, before taking a step further out of the vehicle. He was surprised to see how far the unit had pushed through the town in such a short time. Many buildings were piles of rubble engulfed in massive flames. Smoke and ash plagued the air he breathed. Not to mention the slight lingering scent of yellow tear gas.
Tolwin's Chinook could be seen in the distance, reducing even more structures to rubble with the assistance of the armored units on the ground.
"Faust!" Virus shouted, returning back to the Shilka with two RPG-7 rockets slung in a munitions pack behind his back. "Come on out, I got the goods!"
Faust inched his way out, jumping onto the ground next to Virus. He followed him to a safe distance away from the vehicle, watching as John emerged from his own vehicle, an FAV built from a buggy chassis, with an old M2 flamethrower setup. With it, he set ablaze the doorway and windows to a nearby house. A terrifying scream of pain erupted from inside, with a four-legged creature emerging from inside, onto the ground in a burning heap.
"Hey Faust, load me up."
Faust grabbed a rocket out of the pack and handed it to him. Virus loaded the rocket into the launcher, then casually aimed it at his target somewhere in the air. Faust looked in the direction and saw the aforementioned clocktower full of equine snipers.
"Anyone behind me?"
Faust looked around. Only John at a safe distance, still setting fire to the houses. "No, you're good."
Virus fired the rocket. The entire top section of the tower broke apart from the shattering impact of the explosion and crumbled to the ground. Virus lowered the smoking weapon and turned to Faust with a shy grin.
"I think I'm getting a little rusty with this thing." He walked back to the Shilka with a chuckle.
Faust managed a plastic grin back, but payed closer attention to the chaos that plowed deep through the town. He slung the RPG to his back and pulled out a blank piece of paper from inside his jacket, and a pen from one of the front pockets. He began writing another letter:
This is growing out of hand. I'm having second thoughts about this plan. They've destroyed nearly half the town in a matter of minutes. The Royal Guard were merely a speed-bump in their path! I had anticipated a brief firefight between us, but they didn't even have a chance to defend themselves. We are all poorly-armed fools to even think of going up against this menace! Again I stress, I have a bad feeling about this plan. I hope you got my last message, and have your men prepared by time you receive this one. Prepared not for engagement, but to defend yourselves in retrograde. Fall back. You are in far more danger than you think. You must trust me on this. Fall back before it's too late!
Signed, Operative 29.
"... and then I said 'no, you silly filly, you can't put lima beans on a cupcake!' Lima beans! It turned out okay with the brownies, though." Pinkie Pie had been expressing her excitement throughout the ride back to Ponyville. How she landed on the subject of a wacky backstory to the discovery of one of her new favorite snacks was anyone's guess.
Ray felt sick again. Not because of Pinkie's story, but because of nerves. He was heading into the hornet's nest with a super-weapon that he had never actually seen in action for self-assurance's sake. Yes, they were cute little ponies. But they apparently wielded power beyond imagination.
All of the ponies seemed excited to use the elements again, even the overly-timid Fluttershy, as if they had done it multiple times before with success. Which, of course, they have. Twilight, however, held a different expression.
"Something feels so wrong." She finally spoke up.
"What's the matter, sugarcube?" Applejack asked with concern that spoke for the rest of them.
"I've never known the Princess to make such a huge mistake."
"Don't worry about it." said Rainbow Dash. "She's a pony too, remember? Everypony makes mistakes, even great minds like Princess Celestia."
"I know, but this is the kind of mistake that jeporadises a number of lives."
Ray preferred not to interfere in other individuals' affairs, but seeing as the current situation had been called upon by human interference, he felt he should add something reassuring. "It was still an honest and forgivable mistake. The Raiders caught us all by surprise."
"You don't know her like I do, Ray."
"That may be, but it no longer matters anymore, does it? After all, we're just a train-ride to victory." I hope.
His words seemed to do the trick, though in minor affect, for Twilight managed a slight smile. Satisfied with his small success, he reclined in his seat, turning his head towards the window. The contrast of the interior lighting with the darkness outside made only his reflection visible. His face was a weary mess of dirt and bloodstains on seldom-shaven skin. Good lord, is this how I presented myself to the Princess?
His thoughts were interrupted by a green glow streaking past the window. "Whoa."
"What?" Twilight asked. None of the ponies seemed to have noticed.
"Something green just shot across the window outside. Like a big tracer."
"What's a tracer?"
"It's a bullet with a colored pyrotechnic charge at the tip that ignites when-..."
A loud thud was heard on the roof above them, followed by what sounded like something running. Something with four legs, no doubt. Definitely not a tracer!
"I don't think now's the time for any more Q&As." Applejack said. "I think those buffalo are back, y'all."
"But we're not even near Appleloosa!" shouted Rainbow Dash. "Are we?"
Something shook the passenger car violently, like an explosion somewhere near the frontal quadrant. Then a second one came, but this one was strong enough to force everyone tumbling to the floor. The car began shaking as if it were in the epicenter of an earth-shattering quake. Ray and the ponies hung on to their seats As tight as they could, until the car began tilting to the side, eventually rolling around and around like a turbine. Everyone was thrown around the compartment, gaining injury from frequent impacts with rough surfaces.
The car suddenly stopped at a tilt to the left, with everyone colliding into the windows. The force of Ray's impact with the sturdy composition of his rifle between him and the glass forced him to crash straight through, with many dozens of shards cutting him on the way out.
Ray fell about ten feet, onto a steep slope that caused him to slip and roll an additional hundred-fifty until a level trail stopped him from going further. He was on his stomach, aching all over from the violent impacts, his skin and clothing covered in dirt and bloodstains. He managed to roll onto his back with a groan, trying to find the train. He saw it off to the left just further up the slope, derailed, with the passenger car laying sideways between the tracks and a giant sequoia tree. He rolled back onto his stomach, relieving the additional discomfort of his gun digging into his spine.
He mustered the strength to get on his hands and knees, and finally upright on his feet. It was a miracle none of his bones were broken.
Someone silhouetted in the moonlight was approaching him on the trail, just a few meters away. Humanoid.
Ray unslung his rifle, aiming with his iron sights instead of the scope, since the lenses were caved in. "Stop! Who's that?!"
The person kept walking towards him, no hesitation whatsoever.
"Stop right there!"
He did no such thing, except for raising his palm out as if to identify himself as a friendly individual, and for Ray not to fire on him.
"Who are you?"
The person finally stopped where the moonlight illuminated the area through the branches of the surrounding trees.
Ray lowered his weapon in shock, for the individual before him was a photo-accurate and cleaned-up representation of himself. As Ray stepped closer to ensure his eyes weren't deceiving him, his apparent "copy" did the same, with a duplicate expression of curiosity. How can this be? What kind of magic is this?!
"You're... me." Ray said, hoping to invoke a verbal reaction.
Sure enough, it did. The duplicate Ray repeated his words in the exact same tone and voice.
This is freaky. Wait... The memory of his conversation with the princess made his heart sink in realization. "Oh ****..."
The duplicate Ray threw a punch so hard and fast that it knocked him out cold.
Faust stepped over tons of debris left from the destruction of the town hall, scouting around for survivors. There were obviously none at the surface, but he knew there was a secret room where ponies could hide in an emergency. Sort of like a bomb shelter. All spies of his division knew about it.
And sure enough, Faust found himself standing on a large, wooden trap door on the floor. He kicked pieces of debris off and pulled it open, peering through the dim lighting to see inside.
It was just like an old bomb shelter, with beds lined everywhere. And to his surprise, the population in its entirety filled it just over its intended capacity. They all stared silent at him, just waiting for him to do something terrible. He looked around at the surface around him. No one could see him where he was. I wonder if I should tell them...
Something nagged at his mind, something he could not explain. No. Not yet. And with that, Faust put a finger over his lips with a "shhh", closing the door and covering it back up with the concealing debris.
"Hey Faust!" Someone called outside.
"Come here, I need your help."
Faust took a pause to look at the door, unsure of his decision. Forget it. Worry about it later. "I'm coming."
"A thousand years!" Riggs was reading a book from the shelf of the town's library.
Tolwin's Chinook was sitting just outside of the giant tree structure, in a clearing just wide enough for blade-clearance. Tolwin accompanied Riggs, reading some of the material as well, but Jones stayed in the aircraft in case they were to get a message from Marchetti.
"What?" Tolwin asked curiously.
"It says here this 'Princess Celestia' banned her sister to the moon for a thousand years. Good god, how long have these creatures been here?"
"You don't really believe this crap, do you?"
"Well, wait. When was the apocalypse?"
Tolwin shook his head. "I dunno, about a few hundred years ago, I think. Look, it's just a story book these things wrote for entertainment. From what I see, this collection is filled with nonsense about magic and potions and whatnot. It's all crap."
"Still, it's the only book I can find so far that describes their origin. Though vague, I think I could figure out what's real and what's fiction. You know, like translate."
Tolwin nodded with faux agreement. "Translate fiction to fact, huh?"
Riggs smiled. "Yeah."
Tolwin grabbed the book out of his hands and hit him on the head with it, then threw it on the ground next to him. "Keep looking." He then went back to reading his own book.
Riggs gritted his teeth, turning back to the shelf. Don't you have a basecamp to set up? He spotted a book titled "Supernaturals: Natural Remedies and Cure-Alls that are Simply Super". Amused at the title, he picked it up and thumbed through. "Hmm."
Tolwin turned around. "What now?"
"It says here that spider webs can be used as an antiseptic for cuts and scars."
"Gossamer. Yeah, you didn't know that?"
"I don't think it's exactly common knowledge, sir."
Tolwin rolled his eyes. "Crack open a survival manual once in a while."
Riggs flipped through more pages, unable to hide his amusement for what passed his eyes. "Poison joke?!" He let out a laugh that echoed through the entire library. "Sir, look. It has a cure for 'poison joke', a plant that causes ponies to temporarily loose their 'special talents'. That's not all, look. 'It is like poison oak and ivy, but its results are like a joke'. Oh my god, can I keep this? Please?"
Tolwin sighed. "Sure. Consider this the basecamp's complimentary souvenir shop."
"Man, this'll kill in the mess."
Marchetti entered through the open door, announcing his presence by clearing his throat.
"Marchetti," Tolwin said in the lightest tone possible, still facing the book in his hands. "why aren't you manning the radio in the Shilka?"
"Me and Virus found something you might want to see." He stepped aside to let Virus in. He carried a large, old-fashioned two-reel movie projector and a rolled-up projection screen, setting it in the middle of the room. Faust followed behind him, holding a box full of film reels. He set it on a nearby desk, moving his hands away to reveal lettering on the cardboard reading "Archives: set three of nine."
Riggs was dumbfounded. "Wow."
"I know, right?" said Virus. "This thing's got to be a million years old."
"Yeah, but the films look brand new." Faust interjected.
"Hey," Riggs said, stepping closer to the items presented to them, "let's watch one. The box says 'archives', so maybe we'll find something on there."
Tolwin thought for a moment, then closed his book and tossed it on the desk with the box of film reels. "Alright. Set it up."
The familiar vacuum of nothing. The familiar bleeding of transitioning color pictures. The familiar dream. Then, awareness.
Ray awoke from what felt like the most restless sleep he had ever gotten. His entire body ached as it lay sprawled on the... ground? Where am I?
He opened his eyes and sat up to see his surroundings. It was dark, but faint features on the supposed "walls" could be seen by glowing orbs of green material wrapped in the most bizarre mixture of what appeared to be bone and smooth but rotting flesh. But it did not smell like decay at all. In fact, he could not smell anything at the moment.
It was like a cave with no way out. A cave made from the inside of some giant creature's ribcage.
He could hear sounds around him, like the slither of something slimy. He bolted to his feet, reaching behind him for the muzzle of his WA-2000. To his surprise, it was not there. Even his 1911 was gone. All of his weapons. Eventually, the slithering stopped, replaced by the familiar footsteps of four-legged animals.
He turned to see a pair of bright, blue eyes squinting at him. They seemed to lack pupils of any sort. Before long, he found himself surrounded by even more of these eyes.
"You have no way out, human." One shadowy figure spoke up. "You're trapped. Don't even bother looking for an escape. The hive will stop you."
... Hive? "Alright... what if I ask nicely?"
A heavy laugh echoed from outside, followed by the slithering sound again. To Ray's realization, the sound came from an opening doorway to the room. A doorway that resembled a biological orifice of some kind.
A much taller figure entered, with a green glow emitting from a jagged unicorn-type horn, illuminating the room far more than the surrounding orbs in the walls did. It had the familiar big and expressive eyes like the ponies he had previously met, but the rest of it was truly bizarre. Not only did its elongated pupils resemble that of a cat or snake, but it also had wings like a cicada, bright-green wing covers like a jewel beetle, a teal abdomen like a bluebottle fly, and a mane and tail made up of what appeared to be thick, blue gossamer. Its fur coat looked more like an exoskeleton as it reflected light, except along the leg regions. The hooves appeared to be riddled with holes, like ashen Swiss cheese.
Now that there was more light in the room, Ray could make out the other figures. The usual pony size, bearing similar features as this larger one. They seemed like hybrids of ponies and insects. Insectoid equine. Or equanoid insects?
"I often forget how amusing you humans can be." The tall female cerapter spoke in an accent that stressed every word that rolled off her tongue, with a voice that carried dual-frequency.
"Who are you?" Ray asked flatly. "What do you want from me?"
She did not answer. Instead she levitated his WA-2000 in front of him, well out of arms' reach.
Ray lunged for it, but she quickly levitated it away, causing him to crash to the vainy floor again.
She giggled. "I knew there was a good reason for keeping you alive. You'll be quite fun to play with."
Ray rolled into a sitting position, a vengeful scowl on his face.
"I am Chrysalis, dear human. Queen of the Changelings!" She stepped closer to Ray, lowering her head to him with a devilish grin. "Welcome to my hive."
Ah, so these are the dreaded changelings! "You're a lot uglier than I imagined."
The grin faded into a scowl that met his. Ray expected a form of physical punishment for his words, but instead she backed away and levitated the weapon in front of him again.
"This is a strange weapon, human. But very fascinating nonetheless. How does it work I wonder?"
"Keep wondering. I'm not telling you anything."
The grin was back. "Oh, you're going to talk, my friend. Oh boy, are you going to talk if it takes me twisting every one of your limbs with my bare hooves until they snap!"
Is she serious? Ray could not help but laugh at her threat.
The grin left once again, replaced by a snarl. "What is so funny?!"
"Why me? Of all humans that have recently infiltrated Equestria. Honestly, miss Chrysalis, you amuse me."
"Oh please, we both know you were closest to my territory on the way back to Ponyville. And you shall address me as 'My Queen', dear human!"
"My name is Ray... my queen." Yet another miracle liberated Ray. The fact that this changeling queen had a high tolerance for his bold sarcasm.
"However, more specifically, I needed to do something about you and your new friends so you wouldn't spoil my plans."
"My invasion of Canterlot, of course! While the Phantom Raiders weaken the defences of the Royal Guard in Ponyville, my battle-ready army will infiltrate the palace and strike the heart of Equestria. And with the two princesses out of the way, we'll be able to combine our forces and finish off the remaining Guard. Equestria will be ours!"
"So it appears you've gotten to know the faction. Or have you always been in cooperation?"
"Pft! They are merely pawns in this operation, and they don't even know it! And to ensure everything follows as planned, I've taken the liberty of placing one of my best agents under cover in their organization."
"So, how did you know they would be coming here, into Equestria of all places? Did you lure or drive them here somehow?"
"Mmh, no, you were a good enough lure, much to my own surprise, though I haden't really factored you into the plan. In fact, that's when I came to realize you would be a problem... as soon as I heard about you from one of the Raiders themselves. Anyway, we hadn't known exactly when and how a human force in power were to invade. It was a long and agonizing wait, especially given that previous 'visitors' had suffered such quick fates. You are a very violent species, Ray."
A long and uncomfortable pause washed over the room, until Ray decided to speak up again. "What a wonderfully delusional plan... my queen."
Chrysalis slipped a tongue over her snake-like fangs, then turned to face her minions. "Did you hear that, Cattani? Your plan is wonderfully delusional."
One of the drones snorted in response.
Ray tilted his head in confusion. "I thought it was 'your' plan."
She turned back to him. "Not in its entirety. I came up with the base plan, and my 'primary operations advisor' here polished the rough exterior. He's quite brilliant, if you ask me."
"So what do you plan on doing with the Raiders once Equestria finally lands in your hooves?"
"I believe Cattani calls it a 'mop-up operation'. Basically, when we combine our forces at the heart of Canterlot, we can properly defend our new land against the invading humans. Us changelings vastly outnumber them thousands to pathetic hundreds! Not even hundreds, if my calculations are correct. I forgot about their losses on the way here... back in the desert. Thanks for your assistance on that matter, by the way."
Ray shook his head in disbelief. "Do you even know what you're dealing with?"
"Hmm, yes, I have a very good idea. But please, tell me your point of view. You're the one who is supposed to be talking anyway. This was, after all, an interrogation!"
Ray pointed at his weapon still floating in the air. "See that gun?"
"Ah, yes. I believe I asked you how it worked."
"Well, it shoots bullets... or small metallic projectiles, at a fully-automatic rate, at an extremely high speed. Nothing can avoid it."
She inspected the weapon with great enthusiasm. "Interesting."
"But there are much larger ones that fire even higher calibers than this one. Some strong enough to punch through feet, not inches, of thick steel armor. They have power to decapitate, even explode depending on the bullet design."
Chrysalis' jaw was obviously dropping slightly at what she was hearing, but she retained her stern expression.
"The Raiders are equipped neck-deep in this kind of firepower. But that's not all, my queen. I believe I mentioned explosives? Yes, they have plenty of that, in the form of hand-thrown or muzzle-launched bombs called grenades, and projectiles like rockets and computer-guided missiles. Keep in mind these have power to level things like a small hut, to an immense superstructure.
And chemical weapons! Poison gasses. Terrible and painful way to die.
Lastly, vehicles. The Raiders have vehicles that climb literally any terrain without much hesitation. Land and air. They have a gunship. A flying machine with a combination of all of the weapons I've told you about. It alone has the power to destroy more than half of its own faction. It's a damn miracle my own vehicle was agile enough to escape it back in the desert."
"And what is this all supposed to mean to me?" Her eyes showed contradiction to her question of relevance. She understood perfectly.
"It's very obvious, my queen. You are nothing but gnats in a garbage can. They'll plow through you and your forces like a T-90 through a wooden wall! A nuisance. A mere nuisance. Not even close to a serious threat by comparison. I'm not even sure the famous elements are powerful enough to stop them."
Chrysalis paused for a moment. "Hmm. It seems I've been neglected certain intelligence. What say you about these latest details, Cattani?"
Cattani cleared his throat nervously to speak. "It's the first I'm hearing of it, my queen."
"I'll bet. And what of our diligent 'Operative Twenty-Nine'? Have we heard anything new from him yet?"
"Yes, my queen. Just a moment ago."
She sharply turned around to face Cattani, magically throwing Ray's rifle to another drone. "What?! Why didn't you inform me?!"
"You were busy speaking with the prisoner, my queen. I didn't want to interrupt you."
"Interrupt! By all means, if its operation-related interrupt to your heart's content! Understand, Cattani?"
He bowed his head "Yes, my queen."
"Fine then, what did dear Operative Twenty-Nine have to say?"
"I have the letter right here." He picked up a roll of paper from the ground with his horn, levitating it to her.
"Ah, wonderful!" She began reading it, then stopped to look at Ray. "You know, Ray, your species' writing skill is very poor compared to that of unicorns and cerapters. How unfortunate poor Operative Twenty-Nine has to carry the burden of taking human form until the next step in the operation." She went back to reading the letter. Awkward silence again, as she took her time with every word. She wore no major expression to note, but something was definitely wrong, as she appeared to be reading the letter over again, about a second time, then a third time. She finally stopped and rolled the letter up, giving it back to Cattani.
"Okay..." Ray muttered impatiently.
"Well, Ray, you have given us much to think about. You may now join the rest of the prisoners." She raised a hoof to someone behind him.
Before he had time to react, the ground gave away, forcing Ray to tumble through a jungle of slimy root-like protrusions, until he hit the ground of another similar room. But this one was slightly different. It was lit somewhat brighter, with glowing blue orbs on the walls instead of green.
"Ray!" A familiar voice shouted, followed by a barrage of hooves wrapping around him.
"Yeah, it's me." Ray said hoarsly.
His senses did not deceive him. Before him were his pony friends, excited to see him again. They all bore minor injuries inflicted from the train wreck, but they didn't seem to phase them at this particular moment. They eventually let go of him.
"We were so worried!" Fluttershy said. "We thought the changelings might've done something terrible to you."
"Yeah," agreed Rainbow Dash, "especially since they dragged you off to a different cell than us."
Ray looked closer at his friends. Some important details were missing. "What happened to the elements?"
"We don't know." Twilight said. "We were looking for them after you went missing. The changelings captured us before we could finish searching."
Ray looked around at the surrounding faces. Three of them, however, were out of place in addition. Human faces. The Raiders... They sat upright against the nearby wall.
One of the men met his gaze and spoke up with a friendly smile. "Hi there. I'm Faust. I believe you're our enemy."
Well, this is going to be interesting. I have quite a lot to say to these imbeciles.