Chapter 17: Some Come To Light
Wavering flames danced on torches set on a stone wall, the rock blackened from their soot. The passageway echoed with the heavy step of shoddy boots marching in time, their owners enrobed in strange ceremonial garments. They marched in two columns with a multitude of others between them in black cowls. Permeating the air was a dark guttural chant that seemed to foul the air itself.
They came to the end of the passage, emerging into a high vaulted chamber, the ceiling of which was lost in the shade of night. Upon their appearance, a vicious cheer erupted from a mass of Lotkin that populated the grand floor below, the chanting grew ever louder. From the way the hooded figures had come, they made their way up a steep ramp to a platform above the bubbling crowd of bloodthirsty brutes.
Up there, over looking the spectators, the others of the ceremonial group stepped up onto a raised dais, elevated above their peers. In private alcove hidden behind the platform, sat a lone figure in more elaborate robes than the rest, reading a thick book filled with cruel writing. It closed the book and stood. It approached the dais, the crowd falling silent as it did.
With a flourish, it pushed off its hood, revealing a gnarled head. It called out, "SAHJRI KHOT!" The gathering loosed a savage roar in praise, which the figure in the robes of royalty silenced with a sharp hand gesture. Then, continuing in the harsh tongue of its people, "Today, we gather to initiate the worthy into a higher ascendance! Through our covenant with the great end, these shall be the knowledge to destroy our enemies!" Then with grimness, it raised it's arms high to the air in invocation.
"Khot ayeen! Khot ayeen!" Began chanting the leader, "Khot ayeen! Khot ayeen!"
The rest of the congregation slowly joined in, chanting in such a fervor that the entirety of the gargantuan chamber was soon reverberating with a damning call of a grotesque nature. A shimmer appeared in the air over the dais. It pulsated, growing stronger and stronger, vibrating with the chant of those that called it forth.
With a flash of the purest white, an essence came to be. It took a humanoid form and descended down to the dais. The congregation halted their chant, staring in reverent silence. It had no features of any discernable nature other than four limbs, a torso and a head. Though white in form, a dark pallor seemed to hang in the air around the being, as if it were a despicable corruption of something once great.
Without lips to move it spoke, its voice callous and sinister, "Hmmm Children, my faithful followers. . . You seek, purpose. You seek, retribution. You seek, knowledge!" Its subjects cried out in agreement. "You seek what is rightfully yours. YOU ARE NOT CONTENT TO KOWTOW TO THE WILL OF THE EQUESTRIANS LIKE THE WEAKENED ILK OF THE TRIBES!" Once again, the crowd roared at the being's riling words.
"I give you knowledge! Knowledge belonging to a race even more devious than yourselves! Do you accept this gift!" Its devotees let up riotous praise, stomping feet and banging swords on armor.
The vile being turned to the volunteers gathered on the dais. It raised its arms in their direction, their cowls blown back by an unseen force, exposing the heads of the Lotkin that wore them. Tendrils sprouted from the being's fingers, piercing each of their foreheads. Violently, they began to convulse, but they did not fall, their bodies were locked in an invisible embrace. When it was over, a quarter of them fell to the floor, lifeless.
The ones that remained stood stout as the tendrils receded, leaving neither a mark or wound of any kind. There was a difference in, however. Their eyes. Their eyes burned with a new, stronger desire for destruction, and the knowledge to use it. Now turning from its creations, the being faced the group's leader.
"You have more of your tools now. Use them. Feed me."
The sun was on its way to set, casting pink and red hues across the sky. Jackson sat at a bar he'd found in Ponyville, the Hoof and Mouth, that was to his liking. It was secluded and out of the way, not many of the towns people went there. It wasn'g exactly a dive, the place was clean and the beer good, even if the Equestrian brew was a little salty for his taste.
He sat at a table in the corner, his back to the wall and his face to the entrance. Old habits died hard. Idly, he scribbled on a pad of paper, doodling next to the plan he had laid out for his little trip. It was something he'd come up with based on the information he had gathered on the forest. From what he'd heard, he had to be careful.
The door to the street opened and he looked up. Mayfield walked in and looked around the bar before spotting him. With a wave and a smile, he made his traipsed over. With a slight panic, Jackson ripped the paper off the pad and crumpled it up under the table, he wanted to keep his plans a secret. Unfortunately, Mayfield was as experienced as him in the art of hiding things.
"Hey, there ya are! Been looking for you, mate. What you got under the table there?" He asked, sliding into a seat across from his friend.
"Uh, nothin', man. Just some uh. . . Shopping list." Jackson quickly made up.
"Hm." Mayfield considered. "Bollocks, you're hidin' something. C'mon, what is it?"
"I told you, man, don't worry about it."
"Nuh-uh. Hey, what you drinkin'?" He whistled towards the bar, "Oi! Barkeep! Pitcher of whatever he's got, please!" He called, twitching his head at Jackson's mug. "So whatcha got hiding there?"
"I said nothing, just drop it!" Jackson muttered a little angrily.
"Ha, no chance." Mayfield leaned over the table and reached for the paper Jackson had crumpled into a ball. Jackson resisted, wrestling with the Englishman for control over the item. They fought hard, giving each other a few punches in the ribs and arms, but ultimately, Mayfield was the victor, ripping a chunk of the paper out of Jackson's hand. "Ah, that wasn't' so hard. Now, what have we got here?" He smoothed it out as best he could and started reading.
The bartender came over and placed a pitcher and mug on the table, but Jackson didn't take notice, focused as he was on the man across from him, "You can be an asshole sometimes. You know that, right?"
"And you can be a fucking bellend, but it doesn't really matter much in the long run, does it? What is this, planning on a little camping trip in the forest? It's gonna be an absolute downer without your best pal."
"It's not a camping trip."
"Wait a tick. Is this all about your friend there, yeah? The missing bloke? Yeah! I can see it in your eyes! Hey, now why didn't you invite old Topher here, it hurts being left out y'know."
"Its nothing personal, its just something I have to do. And don't tell anyone, all right? I don't want to mix the others up in this, especially since it seems to be a sensitive issue around here." Jackson angrily whispered.
"Ok, now listen buddy." Mayfield said, pouring himself a drink from the pitcher, "You're trying to go on an adventure here and I'll not be left at the house with that wacky winged bastard asking me all sorts of questions while you have all the fun. Besides, from everything I've heard about this Kaughn fellow he sounds like someone I'd like to meet. If he's still alive, of course." Mayfield argued.
"This ain't open for debate. I'm going alone, so let's just drop it before you announce my plans to the whole town and attract some very unwanted attention. Got it?" Jackson said with finality, snatching the paper from Mayfield's hand.
"All right, all right, don't getcha knickers bunched up. So what do you want to do now, since we're here?"
"Nothing, really. I was actually about to go home."
Mayfield gave an uneasy smile, "Oh, no, no, you don't wanna do that right now. Flashy's got his gal over and it's a bit loud over there. Distracting, really."
"Damn, ok. Well, you ordered the pitcher, might as well finish it."
"That's the spirit!"
Just then, the door again opened. Both humans glanced up to see who it was and did a double take. Sparks had just walked in, a misty gray unicorn mare following close by him. He walked over to the bar and began chatting up the bartender with the mare, laughing at some unheard joke.
"Ah, shit. I hate it when bosses show up just when you're about to have fun." Mayfield said, turning his head away and trying to look inconspicuous. "Who you think that bird is with him?"
Jackson studied the mare, "I think that's the pilot that took us here last time. I think Flash said her name was Myst or something."
"Oh, right. She did mention his name briefly, but I didn't think they were together."
"Yeah, and I think they got a kid too. Uh-oh."
"Uh-oh? What uh-oh? I don't like uh-ohs, Jack."
"They spotted us."
"They're walking over."
"Bugger all, there goes my night of debauchery. . ." Mayfield muttered.
Sparks trotted up, Myst alongside and smiled at the two humans, "Hey, funny seeing you two here. What're you up to?" He asked cheerfully.
"Not much," Jackson replied non-chalantly, "could ask the same of you. What's up? I didn't figure you for the type to go to bars with all the seriousness."
"Well, I'm off duty now and this is my favorite bar. It's actually kind of a tradition of ours to come here before taking off again. The seriousness is on hold until I go back tomorrow."
"Yeah, we figured we'd go out and have some fun before he has to leave again." Myst added. "Too soon if you ask me."
"That's nice I guess. It's just you guys?" Jackson asked.
"No, a few of my girlfriends are joining us too. Hey, you guys wanna come too? It'll be fun, I promise." Myst said with a mischievous wiggle of her eyebrows.
Jackson looked at Mayfield, who clearly wasn't happy about spending his off time with one of his bosses, "C'mon, you said you wanted to do something."
"Fine," Mayfield relented, "we'll bloody do it."
"Awesome! I'll go get us some drinks!" Myst exclaimed and ran off to the bar to make her orders.
While she did that, Sparks pulled up a chair and took a seat next to the humans, "So, how has your stay here been so far?"
"Can't complain." Jackson responded.
"That's good. What about you, uh. . . Topher, right?"
"Yeah, sure. Guess I'm ditto with Jackson here."
The conversation was halted when the giggle of various females approached the table. Myst walked up with two other mares. The other two hung back while Myst stepped forward to introduce them, "Guys, this is Lily and Quick Fix. Lily helps run a flower shop in town, Quick Fix is thinking of becoming a pilot. Girls, these are the two humans from work I was telling you about."
"'Ello." The two humans greeted
Without any prompting, Sparks used his magic to draw up a few more chairs from some of the surrounding un-used tables. Lily, a cream white earth mare with light yellow eyes, and Quick Fix, a chestnut brown unicorn with aquamarine eyes and a matching mane plopped into seats next to the humans on either side of the table while Myst took her place with Sparks. Soon after, the bartender rolled up with the drink orders, martinis for the girls and a whiskey for Sparks. The bartender asked if Mayfield or Jackson wanted anything else, but they just waved him off and paid their tab.
While Myst and Sparks started talking about what they'd do when he got back later, the other two mares got to chatting with Jackson and Mayfield. The two bipeds were uncomfortable, never having actually interacted socially so casually before in the country, but they weren't about to just cut and run.
Lily turned cheerily to Mayfield, "So, where you from?"
Mayfield responded flatly, "Britain."
"Britain? Where's that at, I don't think I've heard of it before."
"It's an island, far across the. . . Well, it's very far from here."
"Ha ha, you know, you sound like you're from Buckingham."
Mayfield blanched, "Buckingham? You have that here?"
"Well, yeah. It's a country across the sea, near where the griffons live!"
"Griffons?" Mayfield said with a half-cocked eyebrow.
Across the way, Jackson was having a little more in-depth conversation, "Quick Fix, right? That's a pretty interesting name, how'd you get it?" He asked the unicorn.
"Oh, my parents gave it to me when I was born, you can call me Q, though.. Turned out to be a little prophetic, I have kind of a knock for fixing things, just like them, only I was a bit quicker at it." She laughed nervously. "It's a great career path, but fixing wagons and water pumps can only get so interesting. I wanted to work on more complicated things, a lot more complicated things and I heard becoming a Nightmare was the best way to do it."
"Yeah, it's what all the mares that graduated from the flight program call themselves. Sounds like a cool way to go to me. What about you, what do you do?"
"Uhhh. . . Nothing much really. I just kinda, help keep the peace, I guess." Jackson replied awkwardly.
"Oh, non-sense. Myst totally told us about how you guys kick flank."
"Well, I don't know about all that, we just do work."
"Don't be so modest," Sparks cut in, "I've seen the reports, you guys pulled off some top quality Ops."
"Cool." Jackson said, reaching for the pitcher to top himself off. However, he found it to be completely empty. "Hey, Topher. You drink the rest already?"
"I was thirsty." He shrugged.
"I got it." Myst offered, getting up to go place another order.
"So, what do you guys like to do here with your time off?" Sparks asked the two humans.
"Normal stuff." Jackson responded. "You know, just keeping in shape, readin'."
"C'mon, you gotta do more than that. The last time a human was here, we damn near demolished the town with the crazy stuff we did."
"We/" Mayfield queried.
"Yeah, but mostly it was him and Flash." Sparks said taking on a slightly somber tone. "He never really used to be such a stick in the mud, but, this job changes ponies in unexpected ways, I guess. By the way, you haven't. . . heard anything about our former friend, have you?" He asked them.
Jackson's thoughts slipped to the crumpled piece of paper now residing in his pocket, "No, can't say I have." He lied.
Myst returned then with another pitcher, Sparks topped off his mug and took a gulp, "Ah, well. How about a toast then?" He suggested, moving his drink high into the air.
Both Mayfield and Jackson put theirs up as well, "Sounds good." Jackson said. The girls joined in too, placing their glasses among those of the boys'.
"To old friends." Sparks said, the rest of the group joined in his toast and took a swig of their beverages. "Now, I'm gonna have some fun here before I go back, how about some good old fashioned drinking, you guys think you can keep up?"
"That a challenge?" Mayfield scoffed, "You best watch that tone, you're talking to a rugby champ!"
"Yeah, I seen him drink, too. This cockney sonofabitch'll give you a run for your money." Jackson chuckled.
Mayfield was taken aback, "Cockney!? I am not cockney, you Wankee bastard!" He protested.
"What's cockney?" Lily asked innocently.
"Cockney, my fair lady, is a condition where you so hate the English language that you dedicate your life to murdering it through speech. Much like the Americans these days!" He added with a grin at Jackson
Jackson returned the expression, "Alright, I'll give you that. But I ain't lettin' that Wankee comment go. How about we go shot for shot and see how eloquent you are then?"
"Three sheets, m'boy, three sheets. Mr. Sparks, what's the strongest liquor you Equestrians got?"
The unicorn began to laugh, "Now this is more like it!"
Jackson walked down the deserted street, his head pleasantly floating in the clouds. They had downed about two whole bottles of what he was sure was at least something somewhere between 151 and grain alcohol. The girls and Sparks had even helped out in making them disappear, though not as much as the two humans had.
As it were, both he and Mayfield were staggering down the street, doing their best to find the way back to Myst's two marefriends' homes. She had taken off with Sparks minutes earlier and suggested that he and Mayfield help them get back safely, as they seemed to be holding their liquor better than the two mares, who were having difficulty finding their way out the bar. Jackson walked with Quick Fix while Mayfield was alongside Lily, attempting to keep her from falling over.
"O-o *hic* ok, my house is just down th' road 'ere." Quick Fix slurred. "Lily can stay wit' me tonight, her place is *hic* further away. Lily? Lily, you ok stayin' at m' place? Lily?"
Lily had fallen back a bit, struggling to stand before suddenly collapsing to the ground, "Mmmm, my legs don't work!" She complained. "Hey To —Urp— Tophe- Topher, can you carry me?"
Mayfield was reluctant, but he obliged anyway, he didn't want to be rude, "Alright, but if you need t' up chuck, tell me. I kinda like these clothes." He said, crouching down and hunching over. "Ge' on with it then, up y' go."
"Mhm, my funny talking knight in armor!" She said as she crawled up onto his back and put her forelegs around his neck as he stood up, "Woo, it's tall up here! And your muscles feel good too..."
"Oi, no funny ideas now." Mayfield said hazily. She just giggled.
Jackson looked at Quick Fix with concern, "You good, right Q?"
"Yea, no, I'm fine. I jus' wanna get to bed. Wha' about you two, don't ya live pretty far from here? You can stay downstairs if ya like, I got room." She offered.
"Nah, we're fine, but thanks. We've had to do worse hikes." Jackson declined as they neared the house.
"You sure?" He nodded. "Well *hic* ok then."
In the back, Lily began heaving, her head over Mayfield's shoulder, "Oh, no. No no no! Hold 't in, we're almost there!" He pleaded.
"I'm tryin'a- I'm. . . Ohhh~" Lily groaned. Suddenly, she puked, vomiting all down the front of Mayfield's shirt.
"Ah, sod it all!" He muttered under his breath.
"Oh no!" Lily said with remorse, "I ruined you shirt! Sorry~"
"Ugh, bugger this. It's fine, let's just get you 'ome." Mayfield assured picking up the pace.
Jackson and Quick Fix reached the house and the unicorn stumbled up the short steps to the door. Drunkenly, she pressed the tip of her horn against the lock, producing a faint click before the door swung open. Mayfield hurried inside and gently placed the now dozing mare on his back on the sofa cushions before walking back out the door.
Jackson still stood with Quick Fix at the entrance, "You still sure you don't wanna come in?" She asked again.
"Yes, Q, I'm sure. Don't worry, we'll be fine gettin' back." He said assertively.
"All right *hic* then~" she replied in half singsong, entering her home. "I can see what RD liked, walk y' home and gentlecoltly enough not to come in. At least on the first one." She commented to no one in particular.
"What?" Jackson called, only hearing half of what she said.
"Nothing~" she replied and shut the door.
Jackson laughed quietly to himself, wondering what exactly she had meant and lumbered down the short steps, he felt like he was back in Brooklyn almost, before he'd joined. As he walked away back down the street, Mayfield fell into step next to him, trying to wipe as much vomit off his shirt as he could before finally giving up and taking the whole thing off. Fortunately, it wasn't all too cold out.
"At least it looks like you had fun." Jackson consoled with a chuckle.
"Jog off!" Mayfield shot back. "You don't have grassy puke all over your front!"
Jackson just chuckled some more and together they staggered on back home.