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Chapter 1

This is the fifth story in The Journey of Graves. Special thanks go to MrBackpack, my spectacular editor, who did so much to help me craft this story.

The series begins with the first story: When the Man Comes Around.

IMPORTANT: If you haven't read the series, please head back to the beginning and check it out. While each story stands on its own, the character and relationship developments will build on each other as the series progresses.

And so, the saga continues...

Untangling the Knot

By: GentlemanJ

Chapter 1

Present:

Graves dove headfirst into the narrow, canyon-side crevice and, ignoring his pounding heart, held his breath in a desperate attempt to erase his presence. Blinking away a mixture of sweat and rainwater, the marshal tightened the grip on his spell gun and waited, straining his senses to pick up some trace of his pursuer.

He couldn’t see. He couldn’t hear. The torrential rainstorm pouring down all around him robbed the raven-haired soldier of vision as all other sounds were overwhelmed by the crash of cascading water. Worse, the beast was playing smart. Where many other creatures would have simply roared and charged, his pursuer was using the environment. It hid under the cover of the elements and carefully stalked its prey, steadily getting closer and closer with each passing second; it hunted for its dinner, and the marshal was the main course.

But Graves could still smell, and a brief, stinking whiff of brimstone gave him just enough warning. Leaping to one side, the young marshal barely escaped as his hiding spot exploded into a roaring mix of fire and shrapnel.

Ignoring the searing chemical flames and stone fragments whizzing past like angry hornets, Graves spun around to face the beast. In one smooth motion, he brought his rifle to bear and fired, a crackling bolt of arcane lightning bursting forth. Not stopping to watch, the marshal landed and began running again, smiling grimly as he heard the creature roar in agony; the shot had found its mark.

However, his elation was cut short as Graves felt his stomach clench like dragon claws around a jewel. Ducking behind another pile of rocks, the young man pressed a hand hard against a stomach that felt like it was digesting razorblades. It didn’t help much.

Can’t keep this up for long,” he thought, panting as he fought for control over his body. “Got to finish it quickly, or else…” Well, he’d rather not think about that just yet.

Another roar echoed through the canyon and Graves felt himself grin just a little. Smart as it was, the monster was getting angry again. That was good. Angry meant it’d be easier to take down. Angry meant he might actually survive.

Dashing from cover, Graves fired again and was once more rewarded by a furious cry of pain. Emboldened by the sound, the marshal shoved all thoughts of exhaustion to the furthest corners of his mind and continued his assault. Now using the storm to his advantage, he darted from one hiding spot to the next, confusing and disorienting the beast as he kept up a relentless barrage of magical lighting.

Throwing himself behind a nearby rock outcropping, Graves gasped as he forced magic into his spell gun, cramming it with as much energy as his wearied body could muster.

Just a little more,” he thought, praying for all he was worth that he could hold out for just a few more minutes. The beast was already seriously injured; one good shot, one well placed blast, and it should go down like a house of cards. But one shot was all he’d have. The pain from his stomach was already spreading to the rest of his body. It would only grow more intense and very soon, would shut him down completely.

“Just a little more,” he whispered as the beast rampaged, his rifle only moments from reaching the charge he needed. “Come on; just give me a few more seconds...”

But fate is rarely that kind. The beast roared in triumph as it spotted the marshal and, much to the marshal’s surprise, charged headfirst to crash through the stony barrier. Diving out of the way, Graves narrowly managed to avoid being crushed, but instead caught a heavy blow to the side from one of the monster’s massive legs. Ribs cracking with a wet snap, the blow drove all air from his lungs and sent him sprawling to the muddy ground.

The great beast turned on him, eyes glinting malevolently as Graves rolled onto his back, still struggling for breath as he unsteadily raised his rifle. Except, it wasn’t there. Perhaps ten feet away, his spell gun lay on the ground, rain splattering against its glowing surface that slowly began to grow dull. The charge was fading. If he didn’t get his rifle back in time, all the energy he’d already stored would dissipate, and any chance he had of escape with it.

But that distance might as well have been ten miles. Arrogantly, the creature sauntered over, coolly keeping an eye on Graves and the fallen spell gun. It wasn’t stupid: it had dealt with humans before, and it knew that without weapons, they were nothing more than tasty morsels. This one had proven particularly troublesome, but even he was powerless without his tool.

Thus, with a low, satisfied growl, the salivating beast advanced, ready to devour its hard-earned meal.

*****

Earlier that Day:

“Hey, G! How’s it hanging?”

From her overhead perch on a low-hanging cloud, Rainbow Dash saw the marshal passing by underneath, apparently coming back from some business in the Everfree Forest. She’d been planning on catching a little shut-eye, but since Graves was here, she figured that could wait a bit and called out her greeting to a fellow cool person. The marshal, however, didn’t even look up and simply kept walking.

Now this didn’t sit well with the young flier. Here she was, the most awesome person in Ponyville, sacrificing valuable nap time to chat with the marshal, and he just kept walking? That just wasn’t gonna cut it.

“So what you been up to, G?” she asked as she drifted down to float alongside him (maybe he hadn’t heard and getting closer would help). “Haven’t seen you in a while: been busy chasing down all sorts of creepy monsters and stuff?”

Once again, Graves didn’t respond and simply kept walking, blowing off the coolest person in Ponyville for a second time.

Multicolored hair bristling, Rainbow Dash flew in front of the young man and planted herself squarely on the ground, arms crossed as she looked up at him with challenge in her eyes.

“Okay, G, what gives?” she demanded. “I know you’re about as chatty as Big Mac most of the time, but how come you’re just ignoring me all of a sudden? What’s your problem?”

Graves gave a start, as if only just now realizing somebody was talking to him. Giving his head a little shake, he looked down and saw Rainbow Dash standing in front of him, arms crossed over her cyan sports top and looking distinctly displeased to boot.

“I’m sorry, what?” he asked dully.

“How come you’re ignoring me?” the young flier repeated in a huff. She was going to have to dock some serious cool points from him if he kept this up.

“Did I?” he asked again. “Sorry about that; I didn’t notice.”

Rainbow Dash was about to rip into him yet again, but something about the marshal’s reaction made her stop. She looked at him again, a bit more carefully this time, though the way she squinted so intently probably made her look more angry than inquisitive.

“Is… there a problem?” he asked hesitantly.

“You feeling okay, G?” Rainbow Dash asked, her tone a little less heated than before. “You seem a bit… off.”

Never let it be said that the young flier was the most sensitive of girls; after all, her idea of good advice was, “Just be cooler; like me.” Still, even she could see that something was amiss with Graves. She couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was, but something just wasn’t right.

“Nothing worth mentioning,” he shrugged. “I’m fine.”

“You sure?” Rainbow Dash asked a touch skeptically. “'Cause if there is, you could… you know, talk about it or something. Uh, guys do talk about things, right?” It wasn’t the most eloquent of inquiries, but the straightforward honesty of the question brought a slight smile to the marshal’s lips, if not his eyes.

“Thanks," he said, his gaze a dull, flat grey like overcast skies, “but there’s nothing to talk about. Have a good morning.” And with that, Graves stepped around the rainbow haired girl and continued walking.

“… Okay, what was that all about?”

**********