Chapter 48: Brotherhood
Weaving his way through the field of bodies, Jackson sprinted down the canyon, looking for any conceivable way he could climb to the top of the wall. He had left his team behind at their protest, but he wasn't paying attention. He'd seen his brother and all he cared about was reaching him at the moment.
Spotting a tight looking vertical crevice in the wall, Jackson wheeled around and dashed in. He placed a hand and foot on one side, the others opposite, and began to shimmy his way up. The crevice halted just a few feet from the top, opening up onto the top of the wall. Jackson braced himself and lunged for one of the edges. He landed hard on his belly, forcing the air out of his lungs with a grunt. Only half his body had made it though, and with his legs still dangling in the crevice, their weight began to drag him back down.
His fingers scrabbled for purchase in the sandy soil, but all he managed to do was leave panicked claw marks in the dirt. He readied himself for a last ditch effort to launch himself off the wall and try to catch himself in the crevice again when a hand reached down and forcefully grabbed a hold of his wrist. Before he knew it, Jackson was abruptly yanked up to the top of the wall and tossed onto the flat ground with an 'oomph'.
Jackson got up with a sore groan and started to brush himself off, intending to thank his rescuer. He froze. James was there, standing tall in the moonlight, though he seemed to be favoring one side of his body. And he was looking Jackson straight in the eyes with an accusing glare.
"Kaughn! I'm so glad I found you man, we—"
"Why are you here?" James replied in a low tone that belied anger.
Jackson himself started to get heated at the sound of the question, "Why am I here? Are you serious, I'm here for you! The hell did you think you were doing, breaking into shit and stealing unstable technology? Hijacking an airship and flying out here on some kind of fucked up suicide mission, huh?"
"Suicide mission!?" James spat angrily. "It didn't have to be a fucking suicide mission! What the hell did you think I was trying to do, run in there guns blazing and blow myself up like a fucking mad bomber!? It's called sabotage, subversion and generally fucking up their day, asshole!"
Jackson was really starting to get furious now, "Really, Kaughn? Really!? You just crashed the airship into the side of a hill, trekked all this distance with a potentially insanely powerful explosive into the very home of these Renegade motherfuckers and don't call that a suicide mission? How were you gonna get back, Kaughn? Tell me that, how were you gonna get back?"
"I don't care, ok!?" James shouted back, dropping the trunk and squaring his shoulders off. He took a step closer to Jackson, who had likewise placed his Mk 43 on the ground. "None of you were supposed to be out here, you weren't supposed to follow me! I don't care how or when I'm going to get back! I needed to be alone, to isolate myself."
"Why, man?" Jackson asked pleadingly, slumping his shoulders, "Why do you need to separate yourself from the people that are making you happy? I saw you back there, at that house. You were doin' good!"
"And the shit you been seeing in the last few weeks, huh? How was that doing? I dangerous, Jackson. Even to- no, especially to you guys. How could I live with myself if I lost it and hurt one of my friends?"
"How would they feel if you just up and disappeared, think about that?" Jackson countered. "Your friends here love you. Man, I love you, you're my brother! All the bullshit we went through, you think that doesn't count? We're here for you, man. Let us help."
"Yeah!" James laughed humorlessly, "Help me how exactly? You heard what they said. There is something wrong with me and even they aren't sure what it is. There's only two options for me. Lock me up, or send me somewhere I can't hurt anybody."
Jackson let out a sigh, "You're being overly dramatic here, too selfish. What would she think, brother? What would Dash think about you running off and disappearing without her?"
"She wouldn't have to worry about attacks. She wouldn't have to worry about her friends' safety. She'd be happier." James reasoned.
"You sure about that?" Jackson keyed his mic, "Aria, do me a favor and put her on. I got him." He then undid the clasp from around his neck and tossed the piece of equipment to James.
James snatched it out of the air with a befuddled look on his face. It promptly changed to that of cold dread as he heard the tinny voice of Dash escape from the small earpiece, "Is it really him? James? Are you there? Do you know how far I flew to find your sorry flank? James? Answer me!"
"See? Even after I told her no a thousand time, she-"
"Why did you bring her?" James said quietly, voice shaking in barely controlled rage. He was no longer looking at Jackson like he would a friend, but rather as something that had tried to do him harm.
"I didn't." Jackson repudiated in an effort to calm his friend down. "I told her not to come countless times. You know how she is, she just flew along anyway."
"That wasn't enough!" James threw the radio into the dirt at Jackson's feet. "However she figured it out, you shouldn't have let her come! You should have had Twilight and AJ or one of the princesses to hold her back!"
"You're right, I fucked up." Jackson offered and took another step forward, reaching out with one hand. He was almost there. "I should have tried harder, that's my bad. Let's say you come back down with me, we'll hash things out. It'll—"
The movement was so fast and unexpected that Jackson almost didn't catch it in time. He threw his arm up and smacked James' fist away before it could connect with his left jaw. James would not be so easily deterred. He followed up with a left hook, but then feinted and kicked Jackson hard in the knee.
As Jackson went down, he clasped both hands together and caught knee James was sending directly for his nose. Jackson slid back out of range and forced himself back up, just in time as James came running in with a fist aimed at his temple. Jackson dodged it, ducking left, the right as a leg blurred over his head.
"Kaughn! KAUGHN! Cut it out!" Jackson pleaded angrily as he blocked another attack. "I'm not your enemy!" But James wasn't listening. In fact, he didn't even seem to be aware of what he was doing. He seemed to have slipped into a trance, something else was in control now. "DAMMIT, KAUGHN!" Jackson bellowed as he caught a kick to his stomach, grabbed James' leg and threw him bodily into the dirt.
As James hit the ground, he adjusted and came back up in a roll, but with an addition. Jackson blanched and reflexively took a few steps back as James' knife was produced from its sheath. The edge of the steel glinted menacingly in the softly spun moon beams, as much so as its wielder's own eyes.
"James..." Jackson said with sadness and doubt in his voice as if he couldn't believe what he was seeing.
James stared his friend down for a moment then blinked like an owl. He shook his head as though he'd just eaten something particularly unsavory and squeezed his eyes shut. After another vigorous shake, he pressed a palm to his forehead and lifted his eyes up. Jackson was watching him intently, wondering what he was going to do next.
James raised his knife and Jackson flinched, anticipating the stinging blade. But he watched, dumbfounded as the knife instead sunk itself into the sand, also severing the mic from his radio. "Shit." Jackson cursed as he looked up again and saw that James had scooped up the trunk he was carrying and was now running at a furious clip towards the mountain. "Oh no you don't!"
Jackson took off after his friend, intent on catching James before he got away. James was already a good distance away and Jackson knew he didn't have the speed to run him down. But while James was an excellent sprinter, Jackson took the cake when it came to distance running. He may not be faster, but his stamina was exemplary.
He could already see James start to slow up ahead. Sumner began to dive bomb the runner, but Jackson waved the pegasus off, this was something he had to do. As he caught up, he could hear James' labored breaths, but the heavily laden warrior was still keeping a good pace. Jackson felt his own legs grow lead weights as they began powering up a hill. They kept at this for a good ten to fifteen minutes, with Jackson managing to get within an arm's length of his friend.
James faltered as his foot twisted on a loose rock and Jackson seized the opportunity. With a desperate lunge, he wrapped a meaty biceps around James' neck and his legs around his torso and dragged him down to the ground. The trunk went tumbling a few yards down the slope before tilting to a lazy stop.
James struggled in Jackson's grip, attempting to flip the both of them over to gain leverage and slip out of the hold, but Jackson had height and weight on him. "You don't know what you're doing!" James gurgled, "I have to do this!"
"You don't have to do shit!" Jackson countered. "Now shut the fuck up and go to sleep! We're taking you home."
"No!" James shouted with defiance in his voice and began his struggle anew.
Jackson clamped down even harder, straining to drive his friend unconscious. But then several highly improbable things happened to Jackson at once. First, he felt a painful grip unlike any other on his forearm as James slowly began to pry Jackson's arm from around his throat. James then twisted and with a powerful kick, dislodged himself from Jackson's grasp, rolling upright.
He panted for air his breath coming in ragged gasps. "I told you I have to do this, I can't let anything stop me." He choked out in a hoarse voice.
Jackson picked himself up in disbelief. Never in many years had James ever been able to get out of one of his holds. He stared dumbly at the bloody gouges in his forearm. That was anew thing as well. James tracked Jackson's eyes and found himself looking at his own fingers, now smeared with the lifeblood of his friend and brother.
"I'm sorry." Was all James could manage to say in a shocked tone of voice.
Without looking up, he strode past Jackson and gathered the trunk, hoisting it onto his back. Jackson didn't move to stop him. The last sound that was shared between the two was the crunch of boots over the uneven ground as James silently walked away.
"That right there is a strange piece of work." Cray commented as he fussed over Jackson's arm.
He was now sitting in the back of Daisy with his legs dangling out the door while Cray worked on his wounds. Flash and Iron were likewise resting nearby, their injuries having already been dealt with in Jackson's absence. The entire team was in a somewhat somber mood, their objective having been failed. The only thing that had been improved was the location as Mayfield had pulled the vehicle up out of the stench of the canyon below and maneuvered it up onto one of the flat canyon walls.
"I still don't understand why you let him go." Mayfield said. "You had him. I mean, you literally had him. Right. There." he knife-handed towards the low hill Jackson had chased James up.
"I can't really explain it myself." Jackson said numbly. "He really is different. It was like the Kaughn I knew was there, but he wasn't."
"Nothing a little slap-around wouldn't have fixed."
"I say you did what you could." Flash put in. "It really might be time to let him go." He sighed broken heartedly. "It's just that much more painful, getting to see him alive again. And now, he's off again on his own adventure."
"Uh, sorry to poke the mood," Aria broke in softly through Daisy's comm unit, "but dawn'll be along soon and and Miss Dash is really starting to become a hoof-full. Flare's having a hard enough time keeping her onboard. We really need to get going soon."
Without warning, Jackson hopped out onto the rough dirt, much to Cray's annoyance as he hadn't yet finished the stitching on his arm. "No. We're still gonna accomplish this." Determination booming in every step, he marched around to the front passenger door and grabbed the mic, "Aria, it's Jackson. Tell Dash to hang tight, we'll have Kaughn in custody shortly." After his proclamation, he returned to the back and started gathering his gear.
Mayfield leaned down from the roof where he was sitting, "I'm not usually one to play mum, but I don't think you should be making false promises..."
"It wasn't." Jackson said pointedly. "I'm going in there. That's what brotherhood's about, sticking by your brother even when he doesn't want you to." He paused in his preparations and looked at all the members of the team assembled around him. "Anybody wanna back out and go, I won't hold it against you."
None of them elected to take him up on the offer. However, further in the vehicle, Flash let out a long and tired sigh and got out, "Well, seeing as you're intent on getting us all killed, we might as well go all out." He said, circling around to Jackson's side. "Chief, if you would please?" He gestured to the equipment Jackson had piled on the floor of the aft compartment.
Cocking an inquisitive eyebrow at the flightless pegasus, Jackson removed his gear and cleared the floor. From under his armor, Flash produced a strange flat key which he used to pry open a flap in the floor by one of the wheel wells. With a dexterous twist, he inserted the key into a small key hole that had been hiding there and gave it a quick three-quarter turn.
There was a grind, then a snap, followed by several rapid clicks as the key released whatever invisible locks had been hidden in the floor. Then, to much of the rest of the team's amazement, a concealed compartment revealed itself to all with a pop. Flash leaned inside and extracted a short sword protected be a plain-old scabbard. He cradled it in his forelegs as if it were a priceless and delicate artifact.
While the scabbard was plain and undistinguished, the handle and hilt were far from ordinary. The azure glass-like hilt wrapped in fine wire nodded towards only one possibility. Flash winced as he noticed the astonished stares he was receiving from those who had been present during the event of its creation, "It's not like I stole it. It seems Princess Celestia's clairvoyant perception is sharper than any of us will ever know."
"So what if she let you take it?" Mayfield pointed. "Who's gonna use it? We all know how that went last time."
The Englishman was right. None of them dared touch it for fear that the results of the last time one of them had would be repeated. The event was still fresh in their minds.
"She didn't say." Flash revealed. "She just ordered me to take it and to keep it hidden until I deemed it was necessary the retrieve it."
"So much for 'perception'." Mayfield scoffed.
"I'll do it." Jackson shrugged. All heads snapped to him as the last syllable dropped from his lips.
"I don't think that's wise." Cray put in. "No offense to you humans, but I heard about what happened in there. Statistically, it could happen again."
"If by statistically, you mean, fifty-fifty since only one of us have ever touched it, you'd be correct!" Jackson shot back hotly. "I'm not sure how you even know, given that all of us there were forbidden to even mention it." Jackson's eyes shot around the group as he finished the last sentence. Then his gaze swiveled up to Mayfield who had a telling grin on his face. Jackson let out a huff and shook his head.
"Listen." Jackson continued with a much softer tone. "This is not up for debate at the moment. We're running out of time." He paused and shifted his eyes around the group to let that sink in. "We'll try this here, right now. It doesn't work, oh-fucking-well. Maybe it'll work for one of you and we'll keep whoever that is covered. Deal?"
None of them responded or otherwise objected. "All right, but I'm standing far back, if you don't mind." Flash added as he placed the sword down gently on the floor of Daisy's backside.
As the rest of the team shuffled away, giving Jackson a wide berth, he leaned over and wrapped one think hand around the middle of the scabbard. Cautiously, he inched the other towards the handle like it was a venomous snake, poised to strike. Jackson's hand drifted ever closer, face scrunched in concentration. Now was the moment of truth. Would the sword accept him, or viciously cast him away like it did his brother?
He jumped and leapt back, swearing profusely as a hand unexpectedly clasped his shoulder. "Whoa, little jumpy there!" Mayfield chuckled at his friend's discomfort.
"The fuck you think!" Jackson shouted back crossly at Mayfield who was now standing by the vehicle's rear, his heart was still hammering in his chest. "The hell you do that for?"
"Sorry, mate. Just had a thought."
"Well, suppose that it reacted the same way with you as it did with Mr. Kaughn."
"So I've noticed that, nutty as he's become, our dear friend seems to have acquired some traits that make him just a tad bit more durable than us mere mortals."
"What's your point?" Jackson put shortly, wanting to speed Mayfield's explanation up as much as possible and move on.
"What if you ended up charred chicken? Wouldn't do too good if we went and got him and he found out you went poof and keeled over? All I'm saying, is maybe I should test it first."
"Oh so noble, just like a knight of the round table, huh?" Jackson shook his head.
"M'lady..." Mayfield bowed mockingly.
"Still, I don't want you to take that risk."
"I don't have much to lose at this point and it's happening anyway, so eat your meat and have your pudding."
"No, wait-!" Jackson ordered as Mayfield stepped forward and grasped the handle.
It was too late. The Englishman went rigid as the pulled the sword from the scabbard and its elemental energies ran through him. Jackson took a few cautious steps back, arms up incase something unexpected should happen. Something did.
Pink and white flashed within the deepest heart of the sword's structure before dulling down to a low glow. Mayfield relaxed almost explosively, spewing out a breath he had been holding for far too long. "Now, that was the dog's bollocks!" He whooped. He thrust the sword in Jackson's face, "You gotta try this, Jack-o, it was fuckin' amazing!" The rest of the group stared at the man as if he had completely lost his mind. "What?" He returned the same dumb faced stare to all of them.
"That was... interesting?" Cray squinted his eyes and scratched his chin with a hoof.
Rolling his eyes, Mayfield proffered the sword to Jackson again, "Here, mate. Promise you. Won't do no harm."
Jackson glanced at Flash who nodded a few times approvingly, watching expectantly with wide eyes. With a shrug and a deep breath, Jackson reached forward, highly anticipant of what would happen next. Gingerly, he extended his arm and removed the twinkling sword from Mayfield's grip.
Jackson's arm seized as lightning raced up the appendage and spread throughout his body, right down to his toes. He felt as something like a swarm of enraged hornets invaded his head and bounced and buzzed all through his mind. Orange and yellow lights strobed about his vision and his tongue felt as if it was encased in copper. The energy made one last circuit through his body then abruptly withdrew back to its source.
Jackson gasped as his eyes flew open after what felt like hours, but a quick glance at his watch told him it had been merely seconds. He looked at the sword and saw it had resumed its usual muted appearance. He didn't know if anything had changed, but he hadn't necessarily felt any pain, nor had there been an aggressive discharge of rejection. He took it as a good sign. Jackson glanced all around, curious about his team's reaction.
They still just stood there expectantly, waiting for him to say something. However, Sylver was the one to break the silence, "Looks good to me, what now?"
Jackson felt sluggish after the ordeal, but he shook himself out of it and slid the sword back into its scabbard, strapping it to his side. "Now, I guess it's time to bust heads." Jackson didn't know what else to say and grabbed his weapon. "Who wants to give these fuckers what they asked for?"