• Published 2nd Jan 2013
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Slipping Through A Sideways Door - hornethead



A man accidently follows his friend, who was believed to be dead, to a strange and colorful land mired in conflict.

  • ...
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The Demon Of Everfree

Chapter 18: The Demon Of Everfree

The briefing room was dark, as it always was. A windowless tomb in the palace that didn't exist, just like the discussions that took place within it. Luna took her place at the far side of the table. Commander Sparks was at the opposite again and Howitzer stood in his customary position.

This time it was the shadowy pegasus that had the folder full of goodies, currently he had the contents spread out, explaining them all, ". . . so as you can see, not only are they still producing the energy grenades we've faced before, they are also now manufacturing their own firearms."

"About the 'grenades,'" Luna asked, "do you suspect they still possess the capacity to create the city killers discovered in the last war?"

"It's always a possibility, your Highness. We already have the chief armorer working with our most skilled enchanters on developing body armor capable of withstanding the destructive magical effects of the weapon." Sparks reported.

"Good. What about the firearms then, I was under the impression that only we had the skills to recover and maintain these terrible weapons."

Howitzer offered an explanation, "Well you see, like you said, we recover the weapons and other objects from where they have crossed into our world from some violent force. And, yes, we can improve and maintain their overall condition. Through this we discovered that some of these weapons are actually extremely simple and easily replicated with enough skill and readily available tools and materials. Honestly, it was only a matter of time."

"I see. In that case, we must make it our priority to discover the location of manufacture. Outstanding work on your collection of intelligence, Agent Howitzer."

"All in a days work, your Majesty."

"You both may go. I will summon you when I have need."

Luna then exited the room through the back door, leaving the two stallions together. Howitzer packed up his papers and walked out the door, joined by Sparks. Once out of the room, they made quick time to Sparks' office and shut the door.

"So, what do you think we should do?" Sparks asked the shady pegasus.

"I'm going to go through my criminal contacts. The weapons are getting moved around somehow, and for them to go unnoticed until we track down cache locations means some of our own citizens may be involved."

"A crying shame. I can spare three teams for the raid once you find out where these things are coming from."

"Thanks, I think we'll need 'em. There's something else I also want though." Howitzer said, "I want the humans in on the raid."

"I think we can manage that," Sparks told him, "but why do you want the humans?"

"I want them because they're pretty much the best experts we have for the situation. It is their own technology after all."

Sparks pondered for a minute before offering an answer, "I'll see what I can do, but no promises."

"Agreed."

===================================================



It was raining, hard. Jackson trudged through the cold onslaught with determination. He had hoped that when it started raining in town as it was forecast, it would stay in town. But it seemed the forest played by its own rules. He noticed that none of the pegasi touched anything in the sky over the forest. Even here, mother nature took care of herself. At the very least, it would help conceal his movements.

He'd left alone, early in the morning hours, slipping out the door before anyone knew he was up. He was wearing the RSTG uniform he'd been given, the only low visibility clothing he owned right then. He'd also brought his M9, its weight in its holster on his thigh a comforting feeling. He hoped he would not have to use it, he only had two reloads.

Hurdling over fallen trees and splashing through mud, the large man moved as fast as he could without falling. Every once in a while, he would find a relatively dry area where the thick canopy of trees shielded the earth from the rain and stop to check a map he had. After his encounter with Ms. Dash the day before, Jackson had gone back to the library and checked out a book that detailed the history of the local area.

There had been a map inside and while skimming the pages, he'd marked off points of interest on the small map before tearing it out of the book. He felt kind of bad about damaging the book, but he would find a way to make up for it when he returned. Right now, he was focused on his goal.

On the map, there were three locations of interest he had marked. One was a hollow glade, legend in the book spoke of a settlement that used to stand there. Then there was a tall waterfall past the bog. The third he found interested him most of all. It was a large and ancient castle built over a thousand years ago and housed 'The Royal Pony Sisters.' It had long been abandoned, reclaimed by nature. If there ever was a place for a demon to reside, he thought that would be it.

Jackson folded the map into a plastic bag and slipped it carefully back into his pocket. The ruins of the castle was a long ways off, it might take him all day. Confidently, he started off again, going in what he was sure was the direction of the castle. As he went, he started getting a strange feeling, like that of being watched. It bothered him incessantly, causing him to stop and look around for his stalker.

Jackson scanned the sky, knowing that pegasi could hide in the clouds, but if it was the mare from before, she would already have confronted him. The foliage around him gave no answer. It hid all things in the deluge of rain, the bushes rustled and the trees swayed, movement from anything would be next to impossible to detect.

Because of this, Jackson kept his guard up at all times, wary of what might be around the next bend. He kept his holster open, ready to quick draw his sidearm should he need to. The book had also spoken of dangerous beasts that roamed the wilds of Everfree, many of which he thought only existed in myth. It seemed that his own world had much more in common with this one than he'd known.

Suddenly, the snap of a branch off to his left caught his attention. Jackson's hand automatically flew to his pistol, but he didn't draw it yet. It could be anything, even an animal. But then he heard the crunch of a boot on gravel and he knew he was not alone. Jackson found a stand of trees to put his back to and pulled out his sidearm, keeping it pointed at the ground.

For a few tense moments, he just stood there, ready, scanning the area for threats. The knock of a rock on wood caught his attention, his head snapped in the sound's direction. "Aye-up." Came a familiar voice from the opposite direction. Jackson spun around and snapped up his weapon.

"Whoa whoa, no need for that, mate!" Mayfield said, holding his hands up in front of him. On his face, he wore a cocky smile, "Fancy yourself a nature walk, do ya? Well why didn't ya invite me?" He said with mock sadness.

Jackson holstered his gun, "The hell you doin' out here, man? I almost shot you!"

"Could ask the same of you. What're you gettin' on about, sneakin' away like that in the wee hours of the morning?"

"It's complicated."

"Complicated my arse. You're looking for something, or someone. I can help. As you can see, I'm all decked out in nice camouflage and I even brought my own toy!" He announced, spinning his own pistol around before sliding it into a holster he also wore. "About the camouflage, who're you trying to hide from, can't be us. Me an' Flash, you know we can track you."

"I had a run in with a pegasus mare yesterday she warned me against doing exactly this. She didn't seem the type to issue idle threats." Jackson told him.

"Fair enough. Let's get on with it then. Where are we going?"

With the new member of his party, Jackson continued on. While they walked, he explained to Mayfield where they were headed and showed him the map which the Englishman studied for a moment before returning it. For hours they marched, trying to make good time through the storm. Sometime later, the rain let up, allowing sparse rays of sunlight to punch through the thick cloud layers.

At one point, they came to a rickety looking wooden bridge that spanned a large gorge. It was a long way down and the bridge was old, but on the other side, they could see tall ramparts rising above the trees. They hastily made their way across, boards creaking beneath their feet. Before they continued, Jackson took a long look down the edge of the cliff. Hopefully, the bridge would hold so they could get back. Otherwise, it was going to be a few days.

The trees in this part of the forest sat ancient and wise, old with the eons of the forest's life. Dark hollows and hideaways held whispering secrets, it was a strange and terrible place. Even so, they dove deeper into the wood, closing on their goal. Soon enough, lumps of stone and mortar could be spotted poking up through the tall grass and ensconced in bushes that had grown around and over ruins.

Not much further, larger pieces made themselves know, leading the two humans to the grand majesty of the dilapidate ruin. The castle itself was larger than it appeared from a distance. Monolithic columns and vaulted ceilings made up the place. Cautiously, the two men entered.

Along the aged walls, elegant carvings were set into the stone itself. They did not stop to admire them, though, that was not what they were there for. Jackson and Mayfield searched every room and chamber they came to, ensuring each one was empty before moving on.

Then they came to a humongous chamber, a great hall, gargantuan in size. As the walked into it, they noticed the floor was strewn with skeletons, ones that looked as if they'd gone undisturbed for years. Jackson went and examined them, meanwhile, Mayfield moved on to check the adjoining rooms.

As Jackson knelt by the bones, he noticed that almost all of them, which appeared to belong to Lotkin, had been killed by a large blade. The notches in the bones gave that much away. One was different, however. He walked over to it and saw the shoulder and hip bones were shattered, as if it had fallen from a great height. He looked up and saw that there was a stone ledge that ran the circumference of the room, wide enough for one to stand upon.

Jackson looked closer and noted what he deduced was the cause of death. A neat hole was bored into the side of its skull. On the other side was what was clearly the exit wound, fragments and flakes of bone blasted away like the shell of an egg. Jackson inserted a finger into the entry wound, measuring it. It was caused by a .45 caliber round and he think he knew where it came from.

"Hey, this place is a graveyard, nothing here." Mayfield informed him as he jogged back up. "It also gives me the creeps, let's get the fuck outta here."

"Yeah, let's go. I think I found a clue though."

"What, the bone collection?" Jackson just pointed out the bullet hole. "Oh, nice shot."

"These skeletons are old, maybe four to five years." Jackson said

"Your mate?"

Their conversation was interrupted by a shifting of rubble somewhere in the building, "All right, we're gone," Mayfield decided, "place could come down anytime."

Jackson agreed and together they left. The sound of moving stone didn't stop though and the building wasn't showing any signs of collapse. In fact, the source of the disturbance seemed to be shifting. Expecting bad news, they both drew their weapons and ran outside as fast as they could looking for targets.

Then it got quiet. Uncomfortably quiet. Jackson and Mayfield went back to back, sidearms up and safeties off. Then a sudden roar pierced the air, sending chills down both their spines. They snapped to, just in time, as a giant monstrosity lumbered from one side of the ruins.

It looked like an oversized lion, only instead of just teeth and claws, this one had bat wings and a scorpion tail, "The fuck is that thing!" Mayfield shouted.

Jackson remembered reading about something like it in the book, "I think it's called a manticor!"

"You think!?"

The beast started coming at them, great claws raised over its head.

"Well, I know it's not friendly, waste it!"

In tandem, they both opened fire, peppering the monster with rounds. It halted for a second, contemplating what had just happened. Then resumed its attack like nothing had touched it, only now it had an attitude, bellowing all the way.

"Oh, fuck my arse, we only pissed it off!"

"So what now?"

"Leg it you dim bastard!"

Both men took off, running in opposite directions with the beast hot on their heels. It considered which one it wanted to chase, eventually settling on Mayfield. He saw it coming for him and doubled his efforts, sprinting for a copse of trees. But the beast was quicker than it looked and caught up hit him, swiping with its great paws. Mayfield dodged them with inches to spare, feeling the wash of air as they passed close by.

Jackson picked up a rock and lobbed it at the creatures head, it hit dead center on the side of its skull, further enraging it. The manticore shifted its attention from Mayfield to the bald black man, maw open with a growl, revealing sharp flesh shredding fangs. Jackson picked up a thick branch, as if the piece of wood would somehow protect him from such a large animal.

The manticore slashed at him and he raised the branch to block. The beast's paw smashed into it, shattering it to pieces and sending Jackson flying through the air until he impacted a tree and crumpled to the ground. He shakily got up, vision blurry, a great shape bearing down on him.

Mayfield was now tossing rocks and whatever other debris he could grab, each one smacking into the manticore's back, but it ignored him, intent as it was on delivering the final blow to its prey. It raised its tail, preparing to strike. Jackson saw this and rolled away, the stinger of the scorpion tail thunking into the tree trunk where he had been just a split second before.

The stinger stuck there, embedded in the wood. The manticore howled with rage. Jackson looked for a way out, but he seemed to have gotten himself trapped. To his back and on either side were the bare walls of the ruin. To the front, only the fury of the manticore. Jackson drew his pistol again, determined to go down fighting, even if it was futile in the end.

He never got a chance at having his last stand. From one of the trees, a figure cloaked in dark clothing, face obscured by a balaclava, launched itself, arcing through the air. It twisted and landed heavily on the manticore's back. With a powerful grip, it grabbed a fistful of the beast's mane and with the other formed a fist. Then it began mercilessly pounding the side of the manticore's head.

Furiously, the manticore snarled, viciously ripping its stinger from the tree trunk with an explosion of wooden shards. It tried to reach up and grab its attacker, but its arms could not reach there. In a desperate move, it positioned its stinger, poised to strike. Then it thrust forward. The figure on its back jumped away, flipping through the air and rolling safely on the ground. The stinger continued unabated, too late to stop now, it pierced the hide of the manticore, at the base of the back of its neck.

The beast swayed back and forth, a sick gurgling noise bubbling out of its throat. Finally, the manticore slumped to the ground, the impact of its body causing the ground to shake a bit. The figure stood motionlessly, staring at the corpse as if it regretted what had just happened. Then it turned its head to Jackson.

Jackson raised his weapon, unsure if it was friend or foe. But then he saw the eyes. Fierce, piercing, determined, he recognized those eyes. Slowly, he lowered his pistol, though he still held it in one hand. Tentatively, he began to approach the figure, who he was sure was a man. then Mayfield ran up, shouting, asking if Jackson was ok. The figure suddenly turned and fled, sprinting off into the foliage to the south.

Jackson wasn't about to let him get away though and although he was sure he might have injured his leg, he gave chase. Mayfield caught up, clearly concerned and equally confused as to just what had happened.

"Mate, you all right? That was a nasty blow from that thing!"

"I'm fine, just some bruises!" Jackson shouted as he ran, "We need to catch that guy before he gets away!"

Mayfield instantly switched gears, tearing off in pursuit alongside Jackson. The man was fast, easily gliding over obstacles and sliding around corners, but he was no demon, even if he did look the part. For almost two miles, Jackson and Mayfield chased their quarry, until they came to a cliff that was part of the gorge further north.

"Ha! Wanker's got no where to go now!" Mayfield said triumphantly.

However, the man didn't slow down. Instead, he seemed to be speeding up. Jackson was almost afraid he intended to jump to his death, but the the man grasped something at his sides with both hands and yanked downwards. When he reached the edge, he launched himself with an extra hard push, dropping below the ridge of rock.

Jackson and Mayfield rushed to edge as well, intent on seeing the fate of the man. They were extremely surprised when they looked down and saw the mysterious figure gliding swiftly away to the south on a pair of wings that had appeared at his sides.

"Crafty fucker's got a wingsuit!" Mayfield shouted with disbelief. "So what are we gonna do now?" He asked, turning to Jackson.

Jackson watched the man glide down along the cliff's wall. He was losing altitude, fast. Soon he would have to deploy a parachute and float to the ground or risk pancaking into the earth. Next he studied the cliff itself and noted that further on, it sloped downward in the direction the man had gone.

"We're gonna go get him. C'mon, he's got to land soon. We'll track him and find his hiding spot." Jackson said with conviction.

Mayfield sighed, "Very well then. I said I'd go with you on this, I'll not back down now. Lead the bloody way."

Together they ran along the cliff edge, following a game trail they discovered. It didn't take long for the ground to slope down and join together. When it did, the two men found themselves at a bog. The ground was soft and muddy and the smell of decaying plants wafted through the air.

Jackson and Mayfield pushed on, slogging through it all. Their feet would often sink mud going halfway up their calves, producing a wet squelch with each step, but as they got further in, they could pick their way across solid masses of grass and tree roots. Every so often, they would spot a partial boot print, letting them know they were still on the right path.

Sometime later, a faint roar could be heard, though not of any beast made of flesh. It was steady, never once ceasing or changing in pitch or tone. The only thing that changed was the volume of sound which increased steadily with each step. Jackson knew what it was, they had been traveling south the whole time. He didn't have to look at the map again to know that he was nearing the waterfall that dumped into the Ghastly Gorge.

The ground steadily became more substantial, wet marshland giving way to solid earth. The air also seemed to be fresher. The soupy water of the bog hit a border of soil. On the other side was a small river. Some of the river water found its way into the bog water, but mostly they remained separate.

Seeing an opportunity to escape the depressing scene of the swap, Jackson and Mayfield crossed over to the river, walking quickly along its bank. The ground that ran by the water started widening, allowing them both to walk comfortably side by side. The roar of the falls was louder now, just around a bend and past some more trees. As they edged around the bend, a surprising sight came into view.

A house, two stories tall, but modest in size sat only a short distance away from the falls. A water wheel was half submerged into the river itself, turning a drive shaft that ran into a shed close to the trees. In the back yard of the house, was a quaint vegetable garden, many of the plants already bearing delectable morsels. On the side of the house facing them, a platform was built in, running around the other side until it went out over the cliff edge and became a large balcony.

"So it really is you. . . Funny, I thought I was going crazy for a second."

"Shit!" Mayfield shouted in surprise, snapping his pistol up and aiming at the man from before, who had materialized next to them out of thin air.

The man didn't move, completely unfazed by lethal mechanism now pointed squarely at his forehead. Jackson slowly reached forward and put a hand on top of Mayfield's weapon, pushing it gently down. Then he cautiously approached the man.

"Is. . . Is it, it it you?" He asked hopefully.

With an easy movement, the man reached up and pulled one side of the balaclava open, fully exposing the features of his face. His eyes were mostly blue, with a thin star burst of yellow and green ringing the pupil. Strands of messy dirty blonde hair fell over them, matching the dark scruff of two week old facial hair that covered his jaw. The only difference Jackson could see was a few new scars that now graced his features. One ran in a thin line from his right temple to just below his right eye, on the top of his left cheek was a shorter, but wider gouge that ran horizontally.

"Hey Jackson," James said, "long time, no see."

Jackson was overcome with a wide range of emotions going from confusion to elation to a little bit of anger. With heavy steps he walked up to James, his face blank and devoid of the roiling sensations within. Then he drew back his fist and slugged his long lost friend hard across the jaw.

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