Chapter 16: Chasing Questions
It was partly cloudy out, large clouds rolled lazily across the sky, occasionally casting a shadow across the small town below. The town was populated almost exclusively by the denizens of Equestria, except for one.
Down at a small coffee shop, sitting alone outside at a sequestered table in a small corner, sat a very large, bald headed man. He calmly sipped his drink, observing the townsfolk passing by. On the table was a small crumpled notepad scribbled with writing. He'd been asking around about myths and legends originating in the forest that bordered the town, but had so far failed to find anything substantial.
However, he did make some progress. Some of the ponies he talked to mentioned a time, years ago, when the town of Ponyville had its very own human. He didn't gather much, all he talked to said the man that used to live here was very secretive and never talked much to anybody from the town. Except for a select few. He now had a few of those names on his list, he just had to decide where to start.
There was the apple orchard nearby, where he had worked briefly for some reason, a library he visited from time to time, ponies had seen him go to the local veterinarian a couple times and then there was a 'Rainbow Dash' he seemed to be the most involved with. He found that she was one of the pegasi that handled the weather over the town and ran a small business on the side. Skydiving, if he was correct. He would have to sign up for lessons later.
He sipped his drink again, noticed that the cup was almost empty and downed the rest in a single gulp. Then he grabbed the notepad, sticking it into one of his pants pockets and walked away, heading for the library as it was closest. He didn't get far when something bumped into the back of his legs.
"Oh, sorry Mr. Jackson!"
He looked down and saw a small purple maned pegasus on a tiny scooter, "hey Scootaloo, no worries. What are you up to today?"
"Not much, just trying to get back to class. Love to chat, but I gotta go!" She quickly said, once again taking off on her scooter, using her wings to propel herself forward.
He had only been in town a week or so, and he didn't know how much longer he had off, but Jackson was already on friendly terms with most of the townsfolk he met. Especially little Scootaloo, she reminded him of his daughter, feisty and full of energy. Adventurous and always out to try something new. The very thought choked him up a little, but he quickly shoved it back down and capped it.
Jackson continued on to the library, it took him only a few minutes to get there from where he was. He soon came to a large tree sat in the middle of town. He had been told to look for such a thing, but had assumed it would just be an architectural style, not an actual gargantuan hollowed out tree with doors and windows.
He approached the front door and gave the wood a rap of his knuckles then waited. a few minutes went by before he heard a scrabble of sharp claws against hardwood and he stood back from the doorway. It finally opened and Jackson found himself puzzled, staring at open space.
"Down here, buddy." Said a voice in slight annoyance.
Jackson gazed down and saw a short lizard in purple scales standing on just two legs, "Oh, hi. I'm uh, looking for a Miss . . ." He pulled out his notes and glanced at them, "Twilight Sparkle?"
"And you are . . ."
"Jackson, Darius Jackson. Is she in?"
"Sure," the lizard said grumpily, "just gimme a minute to get her, she just got back from a trip up north. Come on in." He left the door open and walked off to the back.
Jackson let himself inside and closed the door behind him. The interior was huge, bigger than it looked from the outside. The entire surface of every wall was covered top to bottom with a variety of books. Across the room were two doors, one was open, exposing a modest kitchen. Off to the right was a set of stairs carved out of the wood that ascended up to a small, but comfortable looking loft.
After a few minutes, the closed door on the other side of the room swung open and a magenta coated unicorn with a raven mane emerged, "I'm so sorry, I was a little busy, what can I help you with? Oh!" She said in surprise, rushing over when she saw who it was, "You're one of the humans that somehow breached the quantum fabric of the space-time dimensional plane! How did you do it? I examined the area and got base residual readings of a high energy magical event, but there was no evidence of a hole or tear. Is there any possible way you could tell me how you did it?" She fired off with excitement.
Jackson just stood there the whole time, utterly perplexed. He considered himself pretty smart, but everything the unicorn had launched at him was currently beyond his comprehension. So instead, he shook himself out of his blank stare and tried to get back on the topic of why he was there.
"Uh, I don't really know about all that. I just wanted to ask you a few things Miss Sparkle. My name is—"
"Chief Darius Jackson, species: human, gender: male. Occupation; specially trained operative for high risk or clandestine operations with emphasis on combat, sabotage and/or intelligence gathering. Or to put it in base terms, a special forces soldier." Twilight said with confidence.
"Yeah . . . How did you know all that?" Jackson said warily.
"I have a few need-to-know privileges given my position as head researcher for magical conundrums such as this. So, is there anything specific you could tell me about your travel experience?"
"No, not really. We just kind of walked through a cave after getting trapped in a snowstorm. I Didn't really feel anything weird or see any flashing lights or something crazy like that. Listen, I'd love to answer your questions some other time, but I'm kinda busy right now." Jackson said gently.
"Oops, sorry. I can get carried away some times. So what can I help you with?" She asked cheerily.
"I'm looking for some information."
"Well you came to the right place!"
"I'm trying to find out anything related to rumors or myths of strange things or creatures in the forest nearby, the Everfree I think it's called."
"Hm . . . There are plenty of things like that, the forest is a pretty strange place, uninhabited for more than a thousand years, since the schism occurred between the two Royal Sisters. As for creatures, there are more than enough of those running around in there, some of them quite dangerous. I can have my assistant, Spike, pull a few books related to the topic and the forest's history for you." She offered.
"I'm looking for info on something more recent, like a demon."
"Oh, you're talking about that silly story that's been going around!" She said in realization. "Well, I can assure you there's no such thing. Just wild stories made up by bored ponies. Pointless really."
"Ok, but I got another question."
Jackson's voice dropped to a low tone, "I'm also looking for a certain person. Human like me, shorter, fair complexion, goes by James here, last name Kaughn."
Twilight stood motionless, face unreadable. Jackson suffered an awkward silence and was about to break it when the unicorn beat him to it, "I'm sorry, I don't know anypony like that. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm very busy at the moment and I must ask you to leave. If you still want the books, Spike will help you."
Knowing when he was being blown off, Jackson wanted to push the issue. However, he also didn't want to cause an incident in a town where he barely knew anybody, so he backed off, "I'm sorry to hear that, Miss Sparkle, don't bother with the books."
Without giving it another thought, he turned and left, resisting the urge to slam the door behind him. Bringing his notepad back out, he extracted a pen from another pocket and crossed off the library along with Twilight Sparkle's name. She was smart and he was sure he woudn't be able to get anything out of her very easily, at least not by asker her nicely.
Going down the list, he locked onto the name of the orchard, Sweet Apple Acres. Information he gathered told him that it was run by the Apple family with the primary manager being a mare by the name of Applejack. Jackson looked up into the sky, he'd forgotten to put on his watch that morning, and estimated it to be about two in the afternoon. The orchard wasn't far, but it wasn't close either, so he immediately set off in its direction. If he didn't get his answers there, he would try again the next day somewhere else.
Luna sat on her bed, enjoying the company of a dusty old book from the library. It dated back three centuries before her return, definitely an era she needed brushing up on. On her bedside table was a glass of wine, which with a flick of her mind, she enveloped in her distinctive nightshade magical aura and brought up to her lips for a sip. It was early morning, the sun was rising, her sister had taken over her duties not long before.
She was just starting to relax and get comfortable, laying back on the pillows, drawing the curtains tight over the large window to block out the sun, when her reading was interrupted by the sudden entrance of a wisp of green smoke through the cracks in her sill. With a twist and a small flash, it materialized into a rolled up piece of parchment tied off with a small green ribbon. Recognizing the message for being one from her informant, she quickly grasped the parchment and unraveled it with a flex of her abilities.
She read eagerly, interested in what he had found. It was not as much as she had hoped, far less than really, but it was a start. Hopefully, in short order, they would find the elusive being she sought. And then maybe, she could end her country's pain.
Jackson rose from his bed, like a corpse from the grave. He was tired. He had gone to the orchard, but none of the ponies working there would help him until the day's work was done and there was a lot of it. By the time they had finished, the sun had set and it was past supper. With a little luck, he tracked down the mare known as Applejack and began asking her a few questions. The whole time, a very large red stallion was there, watching his every move suspiciously with threatening eyes though he didn't utter a word.
Applejack had proved just as troublesome as Twilight, except instead of giving him a straight answer about what she knew, she just danced around with her words, confusing them up so that yes could have been no and no could have been yes. The entire ordeal was exhausting and once again, he had come up empty handed.
Getting to his feet, Jackson stood over his desk and looked down at the notepad sitting on the surface. He still had a couple more places to go. He could go find Rarity, but contact with her had been limited. There was the skydiving company, he still had to set that up. Then there was the local animal doctor. He found out her name was Fluttershy and she happened to live close by. He decided that was where he would start that day.
Jackson quickly got dressed and ran down for a brief breakfast before heading out the door, only giving Mayfield and Flash a casual wave before he left. They were already deep into their meals and let him go. With a brisk pace, he set out for the residence of Fluttershy.
He wanted to make this quick so he could get to making his skydiving appointment before the day was out. One of the perks of having control of the weather was that the forecast was always one hundred percent right, no matter what. Flash had told him the previous evening that tomorrow would be an ideal day to stay in, the weather team was bringing in a veritable downpour.
Soon, a small cottage on a short rise emerged around the bend. Jackson recognized the description of it he got from a nice pegasus in town and hurried on to what he was sure was Fluttershy's house. He didn't get much further, however, as a rainbow streaked blur shot past him. The backwash of air threatened to tear his clothing away and he watched as it angled up and came back around towards him at a slower velocity.
Fearing the worse, he dropped into a combat stance, ready to face what might be an attacker. The blur don't rush at him, but rather slowed down and became a very aggravated looking cyan pegasus with a multicolored mane. She came to a hovering stop in his path with a very angry look in her eyes and forelegs crossed.
"And just where do you think you're going?" She challenged.
"Listen, I don't want any trouble right now. I was just on my way to see a pony named Fluttershy, that't her place, right?" Jackson responded calmly, pointing past her to the cottage.
"Oh no you're not." She said defiantly, "I heard about you goin' around and asking questions. Piece of advice, bub, lay off!"
"What's the deal? I just want some information, that's all."
"Nuh-uh. You wanna go bother Fluttershy, you'll have to get through me first!"
Jackson weighed his options. He really needed to get as much info as he could, but he didn't want to have to cause trouble to reach that goal. At the same time, this pegasus had come out of no where and was hassling him for almost no reason. He was in a secluded area, he might be able to push past her with out much incident. A second later, he made his decision.
"You know what? I ain't out to cause her harm, if I wanna go talk to her, you really can't stop me." He warned, starting forward.
The pegasus lunged at him suddenly, but he was ready. He stepped back and caught her hoof as it lashed out at his face. He twisted and threw her back using her own momentum. Only instead of crashing into the ground or a bush, she instantly used her wings to correct herself and came back for more. This time, Jackson attacked, but only to shove her away. He didn't connect. He felt his arm get gripped between two hooves and before he knew it, he had been flipped upside down onto his chest.
He tried to get back up, but she was on top of him like a thunderbolt, pinning his arms and placing a hoof to the back of his neck, "Now if I were you, I'd consider going back where ever you came from and forgetting all about whatever you were curious about." She said.
"How'd you learn how to fight like that?" Was his calm reply.
"None of your business!"
"I was just asking because it's kind of how they fight in the RSTG. Did Flash teach you?"
The follow up question caught her off-guard, "Wha- what do you know about the RSTG? You know what, don't answer. In fact, I've had enough of this conversation."
"Ok, ok, just one more thing. I'm looking for something in the forest, rumors of it have been going around. You hear anything about this de—" Jackson stopped as the hoof on the back of his neck began to grind on his skin and force his head tighter against the ground.
"Listen to me and listen good. I don't know exactly who you are or what you want, but stay away from Fluttershy and stay away from the forest, clear?" She said in a menacing tone.
"Hey, I'm just a guy looking for his lost brother."
The pegasus mare paused for a minute, seemingly in thought, but then got off him and took to the air. Jackson got to his feet and rubbed the back of his neck with a hand, trying to massage out the pain. He pulled his notes out, which had been crumpled in all the activity and looked at the names. He'd spoken to Pinkie, Twilight and Applejack. Rarity he'd never met formally, but she was a unicorn. He'd been on his way to see Fluttershy. All of them were connected, friends he was told.
Jackson took out his pen and circled one of the names, Rainbow Dash. That had to have just been her, she knew Fluttershy and mentioned other friends. He then crossed out the skydiving thing, he didn't think he would be able to swing that now. Even so, the pegasus had still given him some information to go on, even if she hadn't meant to. She was the only one who had told him specifically to stay out of the forest. Jackson thought it was high time he went for a nice, scenic hike.