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XCOM: Ranger

by Wanderer D

Chapter 1: Chapter 1: Lost

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Ranger

Chapter 1: Lost

By Wanderer D

o.0.o Three Years Ago o.0.o

Sunset Shimmer had emerged from the mirror into the vegetation-covered remains of a large building. The mirror on this side was a half-collapsed statue of what could have been either a pegasus or an alicorn, if she went by the marble wings that lay next to a broken-off horse head.

She grimaced at the state of the thing. A jagged crack had split it from corner to corner, and the magic that shimmered in her wake slowly faded away from the statue, leaving it dull and dead. Clearly her immediate return to Equestria was out of the question.

She took a moment to look down at herself. Gone were the hooves and her soft, orange-yellow coat. Now she had some sort of appendages, long and thin with no real claws at the end… similar to the minotaurs, in fact, except her whole body had changed.

The portal had provided her with clothing, which was convenient, given the lack of fur or coat, although her mane was still as long and luscious as ever before. Even her saddlebags had transformed into a black, orange and red backpack, with thankfully everything else intact as well.

Her diary was in one piece, as well as the book on forbidden magic she had snuck out of the library, and it seemed the purse containing her gold and gems was also in good condition.

She noted the position of the Sun, mentally comparing it to when she had arrived. It was clearly late afternoon, with the sun setting slowly over the trees. She still had some hours of light, but that wasn't her main concern at this time. Her surroundings demanded her attention, as the gut feeling that she had made a huge mistake grew within her. She hugged herself and looked around. A creepy feeling had begun crawling up her spine, and the vague sense that she was being spied on slowly started to dawn into her mind.

She looked around, carefully assessing the area, but found no sign of anypony around… it was just a feeling. She forced herself to shake it off as much as possible and took a deep breath.

There were signs of something big and bad having happened there—there were some sort of wagons or vehicles strewn around, rusting and broken, with strange machines being the apparent cause of the destruction. The building itself had a solid path carved through all three stories of it right through the middle and across… if there had been any more to of the building besides what she could see, it would have been behind the main structure... but whatever had stood back there, it had been completely obliterated by a blast of such potency that little but the occasional piece of concrete survived.

"Well." Sunset looked around warily, keeping her voice down, but still wanting to hear a normal pony voice. "This is not exactly as I had planned."

Granted, she had more than one plan to show up her former mentor, but at least one involved her being at the head of an army large enough to threaten Canterlot. However, it would be hard to raise an army to take over her home if the whole place was like this.

Still grimacing, she approached one of the machines. The sense of dread and wrongness grew with each step up until she was just a few meters away from the device. It was almost solid metal, and it had embedded itself into the concrete like some sort of metallic flea, creating a small crater upon impact.

Some sort of dark green material—dried out and mold-like—had grown and expanded around it, glowing faintly green in the sunlight, and several creatures, looking disturbingly similar to how she did now, had obviously attempted to flee the point of impact, only to somehow be petrified in place.

Sunset picked a branch from the floor and poked one of the still creatures, watching as it crumbled into ashes. Scratch that. Not petrified. Pretty much destroyed.

She shivered, the machine itself was giving her an unearthly, disturbing feeling, not too different than some of the dark magic she had encountered during her studies and the permeating feeling of being watched. Fighting down more shivers, Sunset turned instead towards the building.

Investigating the place provided no real information to Sunset other than that the locals had fled and left the dead behind. The first skeleton, bipedal like herself and holding what seemed to be a red electric guitar in better days, lay forgotten among others, most facing the interior of the building, but still close to the entrance.

Most likely they had gathered to witness whatever had transpired, and then tried to escape without success, ending up dead and at the mercy of the elements and possibly carrion eaters. Their clothes so far didn’t mean anything to her—they could be made for males of the species or females, for all she knew… although her own garments gave her an idea of what presumably some females wore as it was. The skeletons themselves gave her little additional information. A quick study of their jaws revealed canines and molars… which gave her an idea of their diet.

Vegetation had crawled through the broken windows, creeping up the walls and growing freely in the rooms within. It took her little time to figure out the purpose of the building itself—after all, she had been to school plenty of times and the desks were a dead giveaway. Bags containing useless, rotted and moldy books, technology beyond what she was used to and also useless with the lack of whatever it was that powered their devices.

A lot of them had held little flat rectangular things... roughly the appropriate size to be held in their claws, and these were strewn among the bodies, almost on a one-to-one ratio. There was a cafeteria, but the food had rotted away or been consumed by animals at some point or another. A large fridge to the back had revealed ribs and bones of potential meals confirming her earlier thoughts… these bipeds were carnivores… or at least omnivores. And now, so was she.

She had often wondered what that would be like... eating meat. She had attended many meetings and diplomatic events with beings such as griffons or minotaurs, both species well known for being carnivores. It had been strange. They had brought their own foods when visiting and when Celestia and she had visited the Griffon capital, had offered them both cuts of meat. Surprisingly Celestia had eaten some—not much, but enough to be polite—and although they had glanced at Sunset with some curiosity to see if she would eat at all, they had been perfectly fine with providing her with a salad.

Celestia had later revealed that, although it wasn’t palatable for ponies to eat meat, it was something they could eat. Sunset had been curious, yet slightly repulsed by the idea of eating meat regardless… but now that she thought back on it, the thought was not repulsive at all, in fact, it was somewhat appealing.

She frowned, sitting on one of the stairs leading to the second floor. It was odd that she would think favorably about meat eating so quickly after coming to this world. While it was conceivable that she would grow accustomed to it, the natural expectation would have been to have some initial reservations. She wondered then, if her transformation was not only biological, but also mental. Surely, if she could accept that concept so readily, or walk firmly so quickly and even use appendages she'd never had before so proficiently in the space of a few minutes, other things that she might have found not-so-appealing as a pony would now be viewed differently.

Morally speaking she didn’t feel different at the prospect. Nor had her objective of growing in strength and power before heading back to Equestria changed. She still felt her magic flow within her, although subdued, as if the source for her powers was much weaker, but otherwise unimpeded.

It was entirely possible then that this world had a different, weaker magical field to tap into, making her rely entirely on her own reserves, which were thankfully extensive. This was, however, worrisome as it would limit her interactions by putting her in a less-favorable position in comparison to what constant access to her full power would have been like. Once more the gut feeling that she had screwed up came in in full force.

Sighing, she thought back to her comfortable room and bed, her stomach grumbled at the thought of hay fries and salads... just before anger flooded her veins once more at Celestia’s temerity in implying her inherent destiny would be denied.

She stood up and proceeded to examine the building more thoroughly, finding a few blankets—kept in plastic bags and therefore sealed and protected from the outside—in the mostly intact infirmary.

Sadly, she would have to scavenge for food and truth be told, her foraging skills were not all that great.

She pressed the blankets flat and stored them in her backpack. Not knowing whether it would be useful or not, she grabbed the cleanest, least damaged of the small rectangular devices—it had been inside of a purse—and threw it into one of the bags. Perhaps she could fix it, or at worst trade it in, if she found somepony alive. There were no useful books in the library, which had mostly rotted away, but she did find an office.

To get to the second floor of the building, split in half as it was, had required some rather creative jumping and scrambling. The stairs had been completely destroyed in parts, and it really spoke to the architect's skill that the place still stood solid after the damage it had suffered.

She wandered around the hallway, avoiding the rooms that had been burned through by whatever had split the building in half, and found the office intact. After prying open several cabinets, she discovered a trove of useful things, including a large knife of some sort (certainly not something she expected to see in a school), and a slingshot. A quick look around, finding several magazines of questionable content as well as even more devices of unknown purpose, gave her the idea that this was perhaps things taken by teachers from students and stored here.

The office itself was in pretty decent condition, and seemed to be a dedicated one with a smaller room to the side. It didn't take Sunset much time to figure out that it belonged to someone important here, and this being the school… it had to be the Principal's office. She wondered briefly how the Principal here would have compared to Celestia's management of her unicorn academy.

Making a note of the location and state of the place, she proceeded to investigate the building. The school had the usual rooms. A lab, a (rotting) library, a room full of strange equipment, a workshop and a gym.

Finding the gym had been fortuitous indeed—she had discovered several other interesting things. The school seemed to have a healthy sports curriculum, as rotten wooden bats (and some metallic ones in surprisingly good condition) were stored along with rusted-out foils, and sturdy bows were kept.

She grabbed a bat, giving the rusty foils a forlorn look, remembering the introductory lessons in fencing she had insisted on taking while at court… it would have taken some practice, but she was sure that the principles of fighting with a bipedal body would be similar enough to adapt. As it was, the swords were in too bad a condition to be of much use even as piercing weapons.

In any case, a bludgeoning tool such as the metallic bat would have to do for now.

Sunset stepped out of the building and onto the cracked concrete steps that had led into the school. It was finally night time, and the moon illuminated most of the area clearly. Just a few meters ahead, what little remained of street and buildings became a wild jungle… something she'd have to face soon, but it was probably not ideal to do so at night.

Grimacing, she went back into the building, and up to the only room in decent condition she had found… the principal's office. On the way there, she noticed a small room behind the stairs and quickly glanced inside. Several machines with glass windows showed snacks of some sort inside, some of them even humming and still apparently working. Those were inevitably cool to the touch, and didn't show any sort of vegetation growth inside. There was plenty of stuff there that clearly contained a lot of sugar.. something that would take a long, long time to go bad.

Sunset considered her options, on the one hoof, she should eat something... but on the other hoof, her breaking the glass and attracting (possibly hostile) attention was definitely not appealing. With the feeling of anticipation and being watched she had been sensing since she arrived, it was clear her instincts were telling her trying to get food from there would be a very real risk… and her instincts were seldom wrong.

After a few moments ruminating her options, she decided she wasn't hungry enough yet to risk it, and proceeded upstairs into the office, pushing the desk firmly against the door. She covered the windows as best she could with what remained of the curtains, then rolled the carpet over, revealing a much cleaner floor under it, where she lay down her blankets.

The owner of the office had some (mostly ornamental) candles around, so it was a simple matter to light a few and position them in a convenient location for her to make herself comfortable.

She rummaged through her backpack, pulling out her stolen book and carefully opened it. Might as well get some studying done. She'd have to leave in the morning… the portal wouldn't open for a while and the feeling that she was being watched—that she was in danger—had not faded at all.

o.0.o

Sunset sat up with a start, her eyes wide, and her breathing heavy. She felt cold sweat running down her new skin, making her shiver. Something had woken her up, and she dared not turn the candles on again until she figured out what it was. The moonlight so far was enough to illuminate the office room she was in, and she took advantage of that to carefully move about.

Crawling on all fours to the window, she parted the curtains slightly; just enough to be able to peek outside.

The moon—which oddly enough didn't have Nightmare Moon's silhouette on it—was already on its way down, but high and bright enough to cast its white-blue light on the street across from her. The machines that she had noticed glowed and pulsated now in ways they hadn't done a few hours ago, and walking on the streets… or rather stumbling and dragging their feet, bipedal creatures shuffled around in a small pack. One of them cried into the air, and she realized it was that noise which had woken her up.

In the distance, the sky lit up orange, as if a huge fire had started suddenly, and a strong booming sound—an explosion—made the windows rattle.

She held her breath, watching as the creatures gathered and ran, some slower, some really fast deeper into the vine covered buildings.

Sunset shivered. At least that had made up her mind in which direction to head: a straight line in the opposite direction.

After making sure she couldn't see or hear them, she made her way back to the backpack and pulled out her bat. It seemed like a poor weapon of choice now, considering the speed of those things.

Still, it gave her some comfort to have a weapon at hoof. Claw. Thing.

Taking a deep breath, she lay down once more, gripping the bat tightly, her ears straining to hear any sounds around her and trying to decide whether the bumping sound was just her heartbeat in the silence, or something else creeping towards her.

It was going to be a long night.

o.0.o End Chapter 1 o.0.o

Next Chapter: Chapter 2: Pursuit Estimated time remaining: 28 Hours, 40 Minutes
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