The evening air was warm and humid. Pine trees dotted the landscape as a five soldiers made their way to their checkpoint up a hill. The squad was in the middle of a week long patrol along the northern border of their country. It was common for the Confederate Military to assign groups during peacetime these tasks to keep their skills and abilities in check. While there was an extremely low risk of hostile contact of any kind, with the exception of wildlife, they were equipped with live rounds and the latest equipment and gear for safety. Since Anagonia had been at peace for so long, it had more or less become a task by instructors to see if veteran servicemen and women could keep up with the pace.
Lieutenant Colonel Jacob Regulus led four rookies on this mission. He was made clear it was live fire and that in the area they were patrolling there had been sightings of wild bears. If he got too deep into trouble back up would be a radio-call away, but otherwise they were to be alone for the duration so Jacob could properly train the newly graduated recruits. Jacob went prone and his squad followed suit, he checking his map and the supposed locations of other squads and outposts in the area. It was almost ritual that during these exercises at some point the squads would eventually play "pranks" on each other. Of course command would send out the "special assignments" and any squad involved would replace live rounds for dummy rounds just in case anyone got too trigger-happy.
Such was the case at this moment. Jacob signaled for his squad to huddle. They were inside good cover and they already spotted the "hostile" squad trekking in the open over the ridge. He quickly briefed them on the plan with quiet whispers and hand motions. Making sure everyone was on the same page, he ensured each one had dummy rounds chambered and loaded. Satisfied that all safety regulations were followed he motioned for each one to get into position. They lined the top of the ridge watching the other squad slowly approach their position. Slowly he grabbed his radio gave the signal to shoot the signal. One of his squad loaded their M203 with a smoke round, standing prone and firing.
"Squad Foxtrot, this is Squad Zeta, we have your position and you are dead. Confirm status." Jacob smirked as he waited for the response from the radio, watching as the squad down below raised their hands up in defeat as the smoke round burst just a few yards from them.
"We are confirmed dead. Good job Colonel."
Jacob could tell the other squad leader wasn't too happy with the outcome. Without delay Jacob gave an order for his squad to make way down the ridge to meet their comrades. It was the conclusion of a three-day hide-and-seek between the two groups and he wanted to meet the man responsible for keeping the other squad hidden for so long. He also wanted to know why the hell he would bring them in the open!
Just a few feet away from each other the squads holstered their weapons in preparation for a long deserved handshake. Jacob, however, wouldn't get the chance.
All nine soldiers watched in horror as they knelt over in pain. Jacob held his chest as he started to vomit. He groaned in pain as his vision blurred and the world around him started to go dark. He looked up to see the medics from both his squad and the other recoil in horror as they tried to reach for him. An invisible energy pushed them back along with any other soldier that tried to intervene. Not knowing what was going on Jacob tried to reach for the nearest medic whom in turn tried his best to grip his commander's hand. Just as he was inches away, reality literally dissipated into nothingness as the last thing he felt was an incredible pressure on his body.
Am I dead?
Those three words repeated themselves several times inside what Jacob felt was his mind. He wasn't really sure where he was or which was was up or down. On one hand he could sense he had structure, but somewhere in his consciousness the truth that he had no real form at the moment came forward. He wasn't dead nor was he living. He felt like he was in limbo between both worlds.
Memories of who he was and how he got to this state of being quickly assembled together in his mind. He remembered the exercise with the four new recruits. He remembered his name, rank and mission. He remembered who he was and the last moments before he got here. He remembered the look on the medics face as he reached for Jacob's hand.
Where am I?
Slowly he felt he could tell which way was up and down despite feeling like he had no form. When he willed the movement of his arms or legs he could sense a response. Had he died and gone into limbo? No, he couldn't have. He knew he wasn't dead. It was as if a mighty hand had ripped through space and time and dragged Jacob to where he was now.
A loud KA-KRACK sounded around him.
It was deafening. He felt the ground beneath him. He took in a deep breath, arching back as if it was his first. He gazed up into the sky in that precious moment and saw a clear sky. He filled his lungs full of the precious life-giving air and felt the support of his M-16 Assault Rifle. He used it like a crutch as he tried to stand. His body literally shaking as he regained control of his physical form and gazed around him. The ground was charred in a circular fashion as if an explosion had gone off. In the epicenter of the event Jacob realized to his horror he was currently standing.
All this had taken a few seconds. He didn't have a chance to see if all of his body had made it. Behind him he heard and felt a loud roar of some mighty and vicious beast. His instincts took hold despite his current state and he aimed his weapon properly as he went prone. Instantly he pulled the trigger and a three round burst fired from his weapon. There was no more roaring. He took in a sharp breath, thankful for his years of training as his eyes widened. The larger-than-life creature fell to the ground lifeless. Blood oozed from a spot in between its eyes.
Jacob quickly recognized that the beast seemed to be part bear and lion. The answers of how or why didn't come to him quickly enough as he turned a complete one-eighty to the sounds of whimpering. His rifle pointed dead center at the head of another creature, but this time his instincts refused to allow him to pull the trigger. The hard-drilled combat training recognized an innocent combatant, whatever it may be and he lowered his weapon. Before him a creature only heard of in fairy-tales lay shaking on the ground with a few cuts and bruises.
Ignoring the pain in his body from all the sudden movement he sprinted over to the creature. He had enough time to recognize it as a griffon, part eagle and part lion. The poor thing had spots where its feathers and fur were missing. He concluded quickly that whatever caused him here had placed him in the center of what appeared to be a battle. Jacob wasn't sure how to properly treat a wounded animal, but this one appeared to still be breathing and not too badly injured on the outside. Its head was on the ground as one eye was wide and staring at him which he concluded to be a good sign. He saw the beak move, as if it was trying to speak.
Jacob's mind refused to allow him to take stock of the situation in detail. His only objective was to ensure that this creature was alright. He reached behind him to his pack instinctively to where his canteen should be. A silent sigh of relief passed his lips as he felt it, unstrapping it and unscrewed the cap. He placed on hand behind the head of the griffon and raised it just so. He gently poured a bit of water into the beak, slowing it to a trickle as the creature started to drink. Its heavy breathing had subsided to gentle breaths at this point in between gulps. When he thought the griffon had enough of the water he replaced his canteen on his pack and lowered the head back to the ground.
"T-thank you," came a very feminine voice. At first he didn't know where it originated from, but once he saw the griffon's eye trained on him he somehow knew it had talked.
His response was more based in his training than logic. "You're welcome, ma'am," he said. Giving up trying to understand the situation until later, he allowed himself to just go with the flow. "My name is Jacob Stein. I'm here to help you." He smiled gently, knowing full well that chance had placed him here but circumstance dictated he follow through with his oath. Citizen of his country or not, he was trained to serve and protect.
The griffon tried to sit up. Jacob assisted her, at least he assumed it was a she. He took note that there was a slight gash on the opposite side of her head but her other eye seemed alright. She looked at him with a confused expression. "I don't know where that is," she said, "but you saved my life." He could swear she was smiling. "My name's Gilda."
Jacob nodded. He looked around quickly, not recognizing the forest clearing he was in. He looked back at Gilda. "Where am I, Gilda?"
The griffon blinked several times. She looked at the spot where he had suddenly appeared from, then back at him. She placed a claw on her head as if she had a bad headache, grunting. "You're in Equestria," she said as she looked back at the burnt patch on the ground. "Where are you from? How did you suddenly appear here?"
"I'm from Anagonia," he said. "I'm not sure how I got here, but one moment I was home and then I appeared here."
Gilda stared dumbly at Jacob, then she started to laugh. It sounded deeply sarcastic to Jacob but he ignored it. "Well here I was thinking you knew I was in trouble!" She groaned, shaking her head. "The one time in my life when I honestly believed someone did something good for me and it was done by chance!"
Jacob scowled. Gilda took quick note and lowered her head. "Sorry," she said. "I've just never had anyone do anything nice for me. Let alone save my life."
"Don't worry about it," Jacob said with a smile. He blinked, "What happened between you -" he said looking back at the mythical lion-bear thing and back at Gilda, "- and that thing?"
"I don't know. One moment I'm walking and the next thing I know that thing appears!" She sighed. "When you appeared I thought I was done for."
He smiled. "Can you walk?"
"I think so," Gilda said as she tried to stand. Jacob reached to help her. Once she was standing she nervously looked between Jacob and the ground before clearing her throat. "Well, I think I need to go."
Jacob stood and let his rifle hang by its strap around his shoulder and neck. "Alright, but can you direct me to the nearest town?"
She pointed with a claw to where he noticed a dirt road. "Follow that road and you'll find Ponyville." Gilda cleared her throat. "It's been nice, you saving my life and all, but I really have to go."
He tried to object but before he could she spread her wings and took the air. He noticed how she struggled in doing so, standing there and watching as she disappeared beyond the trees. Jacob sighed. Forgetting about the griffon for the moment he grabbed his canteen and took a long drink. Whatever had brought him here he had enough sense to realize he was no where near his home. He knelt and took off his pack, reaching inside to grab his radio. As he suspected there was no response when he called, just static. He tried his compass and was thankful that at least it showed where north was. The last thing he tried was his GPS unit which displayed a "NETWORK ERROR" message on it. It simply stated "out of range".
Adding things together along with the unusual event that led him to be here, he assumed that his quest to find his way home would be a long one. Wherever he was, it was far from Anagonia. Very far. He replaced his backpack on his back and kept hold of his weapon. He had only one lead. A town called Ponyville. Without the griffon here to ask more, he would have to seek answers elsewhere. Starting down the clearing to the dirt road he placed all worries and emotions about his predicament to the back of his mind. He needed to find a place to rest and food to eat. After that he would allow himself to properly think on what was happening.
Gilda watched the strange creature make its way down the direction she had pointed. A lapse of judgment had caused her to direct Jacob away from Ponyville. From atop her perch of the tree she raked her front claws on the branches, trying to figure if it was worth the effort to even correct her mistake. He had saved her life. At the same time he appeared in exactly the same way the beast had come. Her mind was divided on what to do. In the end, despite her normally brutish nature towards everyone else, she concluded it was probably safer that he walk away from civilization.
The way he had taken care of the beast with his magical staff-like weapon horrified her. It was the loudest sound she had heard in her life besides the sound of the two appearing from nothing. There was no telling what horror that could unleash. No telling what world they had come from!
Gilda looked down at how tight her foreclaws gripped the branch. What was she thinking? The humiliation that Rainbow Dash and her friends had done to her was enough to warrant that. At the same time, she still adored Dash as a friend. During her time of isolation she came to realize that the pegasus had a lot more than she ever had. It was as if she had come to admire that about her.
The griffon grumbled to herself. In the end she decided to follow Jacob, if only to quell the feeling of guilt that wracked her mind.
He had saved her life, after all. It was the least she could do.
It had been several hours since Jacob had seen any other entity besides the birds and an occasional deer that fled at the sight of him. He had found a stream a while back and refilled his canteen and washed away the grime on his face. The land he was in seemed vibrant and full of life. Even the trees looked as if they were well kept. Sometimes as he observed he wondered if this was, in fact, some type of paradise. Obviously the appearance of the bear/lion beast coincided with his in this land, so he quietly figured that perhaps the most in a natural predator he would see would be what he would find at home. Everything seemed so similar, but different.
He found a rock beside a tree and took the opportunity to take a break. Setting his rifle to his side, he set down his gear and sighed in relief at the weight that was taken from his tired body. Jacob figured it was about time he assessed his situation properly and started to think on the facts.
What he knew for sure now was that this "Equestria" was somewhere far from Anagonia. He knew basic scientific theory from his time in college and gathered that whatever event had taken him here was some kind of freakish teleportation between two locations. How or why it had happened he couldn't accurately figure. He had read an article once as be browsed the internet about freak wormholes appearing in reality that some believed was the cause for the random disappearance of people. It was the best guess he had for what happened to him. While quite discomforting, he wasn't entirely scared of this hypothetical guess.
For one thing the only creature he had seen was a mythical beast of lore. It could talk, sure, but that only gave Jacob the impression that other creatures he might meet may have that ability also. How he understood their language was beyond him, but it was an advantage. The griffon didn't seem to carry anything relating to any sort of technology. That didn't mean that anything else he didn't see would either. After all, Gilda had directed him towards a town, which only meant that whatever people inhabited this land had a good level if intelligence. It gave him slight hope that somehow he might find a way home, however doubtful.
The last thing he could claim as fact was that however advanced these people were, they weren't as advanced as him. There was the slim chance they were and his technology just couldn't pick up on their satellites, if they had any. But that chance was so remote that he didn't place hope in it and instead excepted, at the very least, a bronze age culture to thrive. Telling by Gilda's surprise of him he could also conclude that humanity was something unknown here.
Jacob felt better after thinking things through. While he was naturally scared of the possibility of never going home, it didn't seem all at a loss. He would have to play it cool and follow the procedures of a first contact that were taught in the Military. He had been the head of many a delegation sent to greet natives of foreign lands and establish relations. From both equally-advanced nations to tribes and groups of peoples. Since he figured Equestria didn't have a highly advanced civilization he would follow the procedures for establishing relations with native tribes.
If he was right in his guess, then none of his technology that he kept with him could fall into anyone's hands here. He could explain it, but beyond that handing something over as such would be like giving stone age man the power of machine guns. It could possibly lead to a degradation of culture or worse. He didn't want to end up the source of a problem that would take centuries to get adjusted to.
If worst came to worst, he would find a living on the land far from any civilization. It would likely be his only choice if he couldn't find a way back home. Jacob knew it was his responsibility as a soldier and protector to ensure that any people, whether his or not, was safe from any harmful influences.
Jacob took a drink of his canteen and casually opened an MRE ration. He poured some water and mixed the contents before slowly eating. Looking at what he had he figured he had about another week's worth of food. After that he would have to find other sources of food. That was something he was sure he could solve here, seeing as animal life was abundant.
"Whatcha' eatin'?" a familiar voice asked beside him.
Jacob reached for his handgun holstered at his side not sure if his mind was playing tricks on him. He turned to face the source of the voice he heard and saw the griffon from earlier. How he had missed her coming beside him was a slight worry, but he released his grip from his weapon and went back to eating his MRE.
"It's a Meal Ready to Eat," he said in between bites. "It comes packaged dry so all I have to do is add water and mix."
"Oh," responded Gilda as she walked beside him and sat on her haunches, tilting her head as she observed.
"You hungry?" Jacob asked. He had a protein bar that he could spare.
She shook her head. "Not really. Thanks anyway."
He nodded. "How long have you followed me?" Jacob took another bite.
"Ever since I pointed you in the wrong direction," she said bluntly.
Jacob blinked, then looked at her. "Wrong direction?" His first instinct was that this was a trap of some kind. However he pressed that thought back. He had saved her, however accidental the event, so it was highly unlikely she would be trying to trick him.
"Yea, sorry about that." Gilda said apologetically as she rubbed the back of her feathered head. "I was kinda in a mess and not thinking properly."
Jacob smirked, finishing his meal and discarding the trash back into his pack. He took a drink of his water. "No harm, no foul," he said.
Gilda smiled. Jacob smiled back. She then pointed at his rifle, "So what is that thing? Some kind of magical wand?"
He laughed, "This thing?" He picked up his M16 and held it so she could see. "Not quite, but to you it would seem like it." He shook his head, "No, not magical. It shoots metal that where I come from are called bullets. It uses gunpowder as a source." He watched her reaction to see if she knew what it was. As excepted, she had a confused look.
The griffon shrugged. "I don't know what that is, but I can understand the metal part." She thought for a moment. "Kind of like a bow and arrow?"
So they did have grasp of simple weaponry. His assumption was correct, it seemed. "Kind of, but really fast and almost impossible to dodge." He set his rifle down.
"Ah," she said nodding. "Well from what I saw I don't want to be on the receiving end of it, that's for sure."
Jacob chuckled. "Lucky for you that'll probably never happen. Though I can tell you as someone who has been shot with a bullet, it really is quite an unpleasent experience."
Gilda look horrified, "How did you survive?! That creature was easily twice your size and it died!"
"That's right," Jacob said, "but thankfully I was shot by someone who didn't know how to properly use a weapon like mine."
Gilda shrugged and nodded, "Whatever. At least you didn't die." She looked down then away. "Good thing you didn't, I guess."
Jacob was touched. He reached out and patted the griffon on the head. In response Gilda tilted her head and smiled again. After a few moments he placed his pack back on his back and stood with weapon hanging by the strap around his shoulder and neck. "So how about we head the right way?"
Gilda nodded and came beside Jacob, the two starting their trek towards Ponyville.