• 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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On The Hunting Path

Chapter 46: On The Hunting Path

Jackson scanned the glowing green ground below him. He was on the upper deck of the airship, using a ghetto-rigged pair of binoculars Cray had put together that integrated components from their NODs, allowing him to see great distances at night. He had been searching for hours now and still not come up with anything. Redflare, Kai and Dash took to the sky, expanding their search area, but similarly came up empty.

Jackson rut his optics down and rubbed his arms, scolding himself for not bringing a jacket or something, just like his mother would do. It was cold up there. Not just in the sky, but on the ground, given how far north they'd traveled, to a place no one barely even knew about. It was a desert, that was given. Nothing, but cold rocks and dirt as far as the eye could see, not even snow.

A bright bouncing light caught his eye far below. It was Flash and his team, driving wildly across the ground below. They looked like they were hauling ass toward something. Curious, Jackson decided to call in, activating his radio. "Hey, Flash, you guy seem a little excited down there, wanna clue me in?"

The response took a minute, but finally the pegasus came in over the channel, the high whine of the engine coloring the background, "Sumner says he saw what could be an impact crater on a ridge up ahead. We're moving in to check it out."

"Copy that. Be careful down there and keep your head on a swivel. We're still not sure what's out here."

"Loud and clear."

Jackson radioed down to the cockpit and informed Aria of the situation. Skillfully, she angled the airship in the direction of Daisy's intended path. When Redflare queried about the ship's change in direction, Jackson decided to clue the rest of the team in too. In minutes, all of the were heading for the site.

Aria dropped to a low circle over the site as flash and his team pulled up the slope, beams from the headlights swinging over the crater. Even from the distance of his perch, Jackson could see that it was relatively recent. He called Mayfield up to the top deck, a second pair of experienced eyes couldn't hurt and the man was a sniper by trade, giving him an edge.

"Well, if that isn't a pretty sight." Mayfield commented as he surveyed the impact zone.

"Yeah, any thoughts?"

Mayfield looked over the area carefully, "I can't be too sure without hitting the dirt myself, but it looks like it had some direction to it. See how it's a bit longer going one way than the other?" He pointed out.

"Yeah, you're kinda right." Jackson hit his mic, "Flash, do me a favor and have Sylver point the lights down slope, towards the ravine. Keep going till you hit something or reach the other side."

"Sure thing." The pegasus replied.

They watched from above as the armored car backed up and turned around, now pointing down slope at an angle. For a while the dirt was mostly unmarred, but after a time, huge scrapes and gouges in the dry soil appeared. They followed them down into the ravine and Jackson realized they were patterned in a mostly straight line.

Then the beams from the headlights reached bottom and the source of the excavations was revealed. Mayfield let out a low whistle, "Would you look at that! Poor bastard, hoped he got out all right."

Jackson didn't like the looks of the wreck. It was obviously one of their airships, he could tell from the shredded buoyancy bladder tangled up in it. He needed to get a closer look. "Aria—"

"Yeah, I see it!" Her voice was hot with anger. "That's the second time he's crashed it! I was able to salvage my ship last time, but this..."

Aria began a slow decent into the ravine, aiming for a marginally flat area nearby. Jackson and Mayfield both rushed to the hatch and slid down the ladder into the cabin where the rest of the team was waiting. They were all gathered around the side door, trying to get a good look at the now derelict ship being illuminated by Daisy's lamps.

As soon as Aria touched down, Jackson hopped out and started for the wreck. His team followed close behind, scanning the area for threats. He noticed Swift Paws sniffing around and starting to peel off from the group and knew she was scenting the air for the man they were chasing. He ordered her to take Iron with her, just in case they ran into something unpleasant.

Flash was already on the scene with Sylver and Sumner, pawing through the debris. Jackson ran in to help them and together they managed to remove a section of the bulkhead, creating an access point to the interior, or what was left of it. He dropped in and steadied himself carefully as the hulk creaked and threatened to roll over.

Mayfield appeared at the access point and Jackson motioned for him to drop a light down. There was a crack and a flare of dim green glow as Mayfield activated a chem light and tossed it in. Jackson caught it and began running the light over the interior surfaces.

He cautiously searched the inside, looking for any sign of his brother. The cockpit proved to be inaccessible, having been smashed in on impact. The engine compartment also proved fruitless, though he was glad he didn't find any blood or other sign his friend had been seriously injured. He thought for a moment that his quarry must have escaped the crash.

Jackson paused as his radio crackled in his ear, "Chief." It was Swift.

"Go." He replied.

"We are on the southern ridge. We have found remains of a parachute." She reported in her husky tone.

Jackson's heart leapt, "Anything else?"

"Yes..." she replied somewhat warily, "There is blood. It does not seem as if there is enough for him to have lost too much, but enough to say that he could be seriously hurt." Jackson's heart plummeted into his stomach like a stone into a deep pool. "There is however good news. There is also a blood trail. I shall follow it immediately."

"No, stay there." Jackson ordered, he was already climbing out of the wreck. "We'll regroup on your position and move from there."

Mayfield offered a hand and Jackson used it to pull himself up and out on to the dry sandy soil. He looked around at his team, preparing to give orders, but he stopped as Dash fluttered down onto the dirt. "Did you find him?" She asked him hopefully.

"Not yet, but we know he's here. Swift found a trail and we're going to follow it."

Her face flushed with determination, "All right! Point me in its direction and—"

"No." He cut her off. "You remember our deal?" He turned to Aria, who was now going over the wreck of her old ship with a mixture of anger and sadness. "Aria, I know this isn't easy for you, but we have to leave it here. I need you to get back in the sky, take Dash with you."

Aria huffed, "Fine. I'll come back for her later." She grumbled.

As Aria headed over to her temporary replacement for the Clipper with Rainbow Dash, Jackson bent over to Redflare and lowered his tone so the colorful pegasus wouldn't hear, "Go get onboard with them, watch Dash closely. Keep her on the ship restrain her if you have to."

"Aw man, do I really have to?" He complained. Jackson shot him a hard look and the scarlet pegasus complied, heading off for the airship, though he mumbled something about 'babysitting' on the way.

Flash was already manning Daisy up with his team, having heard the exchange of information over the radio. Jackson ordered the rest of his to mount up on the vehicle where there was space as he jumped on the roof and grabbed onto something to keep steady. Then together, on the heavy armored car, they set off for the start of the hunt.

As the vehicle bucked and bounced over the rough terrain, Jackson couldn't help but to dwell on what he had heard from his scout. He was happy that James was alive, but not so much optimistic with the fact that he was mobile, especially if he was hurt. It made it all that much more important that they find him soon. He could only imagine what kind of danger James was hurling himself into.

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The small mountain loomed above, partially blocking out the soft glow of the moon. James gazed up at it from its foothills, knowing that this was the place. The evidence of activity he'd found around it told him so, though he had yet to run into any of his prey. Here was the apparent source of all his troubles here, the disruption of his peace.

Whatever this thing was that hailed from parts unknown had seen it fit to ensure James had no chance to live his life as he wanted, with those he loved by his side. It was going so well in that forest, a true home away from his own world. He thought of the night that had started his malefic journey and his mind's decent into darker things and then of the words of the prince that had tried to usurp the throne in his own foolish way.

This is where they had come from, the ones that had been sent to destroy him and threaten the only person to ever stay by him in his darkness and calm his soul, even if she was of another world. And this, he thought, was where they would learn how disastrous they're mistake had been, missing their opportunity to kill him and instead attacking his friends. It was a mistake they wouldn't even have the chance to regret. He would make sure of that.

Glancing down, he checked his weapons for the third time since he came to the mountain. He had affixed the suppressor and a sight he salvaged from the drop-bag, the one he'd taken off the M110. It barely fit on the picatinny rail, it having been designed for much smaller apertures, but it would do the job just as well. Next he un holstered the pistol the young mare from Ponyville had built for him and he admired the three stripes of color that ran down the slide, it reminded him of Dash and having her on his mind steeled his resolve. She would live in safety, even if he couldn't. He checked that the modified suppressor on the end of its barrel was secure before racking the slide and chambering a round.

The next things he checked were his ammo pouches and the revolver he had tucked into the webbing of his tac vest. He wished he could have returned the weapon to its original owner, but it would have to help him with his gruesome task. Lastly, he adjusted the straps to the small trunk that concealed his special cargo so it would better ride his shoulders and avoid agitating his side and his leg. His other injuries had since begun their strange healing process, but those two were still causing him some problems.

Assured he was ready, James put a foot forward and began the next step down the path that had been set by a dark side of his heart. He just hoped that his brother, who had incredibly arrived by his side against all odds in this dark time could forgive him. Unless he could find a way back to their world, Jackson was making this one his new home and he deserved to have the same peace James had found here.

His attention was caught as he noticed a small dust cloud puff to life in the distance ahead of him. He smiled slightly as he knew what it signified. With a deft pull of his hand, he charged the lever on his rifle with a satisfying clack. It was time for the games to begin.

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Daisy rolled to a stop. Off in the distance, Swift Paws was gesturing for them to come over. Jackson leapt off his perch on the roof of the car and started towards her, Mayfield following inn step to his rear. As he ran up, he noticed she was paying close attention to the ground before her.

"What's up, did you find something?" He asked impatiently as she rose from where she was sniffing the dirt.

"The blood trail ends, yet his paws still mark the ground."

"That's good, he must've bandaged himself up." Jackson said in a lighter tone.

"Or those weird abilities of his." Mayfield put in. "Don't remember seeing any wrappings or left-overs on the way here. Did he always heal so fast?"

"He did better than the others." Jackson deadpanned. "But nothing like this, this is unnatural. You remember what he looked like when we found him at the Palace."

"Yeah, like he ran himself through a fucking grinder. Pretty accurate analogy if you figure what we found in the corridors. Think it has something to do with his special 'condition' the Princesses were on about?"

"It's not a 'condition'!" Jackson quietly shot back. "I don't care what they said, the old Kaughn is still in there."

"I'd say the new Kaughn begs to differ."

Jackson ignored Mayfield's remarks. It didn't help him to think of what his brother might have become. The old James he knew abhorred use of force for the most part. He was always trying to talk a situation down or use a non-lethal alternative. It was only when he was given no choice, or it was explicitly stated in his orders did he elect to issue a lethal attack on anyone or anything. His friend's behavior was strange and he was sure if he asked Miss Dash, she'd confirm that his change in style was a fairly recent phenomenon.

Jackson was sure that his brother had merely fallen off the proverbial mental wagon and just needed to be helped back on. It was something he'd seen often in others sharing their line of work. Still, a small nodule of doubt gnawed at him. Pushing such unpleasant thoughts from his mind, he turned to Swift, "Which way'd he go?"

Rather than tell him directly, she merely lifted one claw from her fearsome appendage and indicated direction. Jackson followed it and saw an ominous piling of rock and dirt off in the distance. The look of the mountain didn't sit right with him. It was like an unwelcome protuberance in an otherwise unremarkable land of small rises and ravines.

"Right. Swift, continue to lead the way." Keying his mic, Jackson called to those patrolling the sky, "Kai, I want you on overwatch for swift, make sure nothing tries to sneak up on her. Sumner, you got our six." He received two curt replies from the two winged warriors circling high above them.

Jackson started off at a slow jog back to Daisy, Mayfield joined up right beside him with a curious expression, "What do you think you're gonna do when we find him? I do recall a certain threat involving bullets and knees a while back. Not sure that'll go over well with him."

"Hopefully it won't come to that. I was mostly joking, you know."

"Yes, but do you think given his current state of mind, it might be what it takes?"

"I might get Aria to put Dash on the horn. From what I heard, she was pretty successful keeping him in check over the years. Which is surprising considering what I've heard about her."

"Manipulative little shit, aren't you? But she is a fiery little filly, ain't she?"

"Whatever it takes."

When they reached the armored car, Jackson ordered the back hatch opened up. In it was several kit bags that contained all their primary weapons. As they were nearing what seemed to be the epicenter of all this, Jackson thought it prudent that they all properly arm up.

Those that fought mostly with blades, being unable to adequately operate the human tech with their given anatomy already had their weapons of choice on their person. For the most part, it was only Jackson, Mayfield, Cray and Sylver who had the requisite skills and dexterity to handle the firearms. Sylver carefully slid the huge Barrett he favored out of it's case while Jackson hefted the comfortably familiar weight of his faithful Mk 43 in his hands.

Cray kept his small submachine gun and hopped back into his seat. Mayfield had opted to stow his own rifle in a rack in the back. "I call the fifty!" He cheerfully cried as he jumped up onto the roof with a few steps and situated himself snugly in the open hatch behind the large caliber weapon.

"Try not to hit our scout if shit goes down." Jackson advised as he climbed onto the roof himself and braced into a good firing position that allowed him to still keep a secure hold on the vehicle.

"Pfft, me?" Mayfield glanced back coyly. "It's almost as if you didn't remember I'm a bloody flippin' sharpshooter. Not to mention a proud member of Her Royal Majesty's Special Air Service, the best there is around."

"Just being careful is all, Your Royal Highness." Jackson playfully shot back.

"Thou shalt not take the Queen's name in vain!" Mayfield retorted.

Sylver climbed in through the back hatch and shut the doors to ensure he could deploy more efficiently with his bulky weapon should the need arise. Seeing that everyone was in place and ready to go, Jackson pounded on the roof, signaling to Flash to start driving after their scout. The vehicle lurched forward, chasing after the hound that was already galloping far ahead on the trail of the scent.

Jackson didn't know what awaited them at that mountain in the distance apart from what little information they'd been told. All he knew was that he ultimately wished to avoid it. And he hoped he could reach his brother before he could destroy himself in it.

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