As far as setbacks went, Blondie had faced far worse in her colourful past. Even as the train caboose ground to the desert, leaving her all but stranded in the middle of the rocky wastelands, the nameless pony did not allow the situation to crack her stone-cold facade. That wasn’t to say she wasn’t angry; she was far from it, in fact. Alas, the only other living being in the immediate vicinity was still unconscious, forcing Blondie to bottle her rage. The mare was uncertain what part of the betrayal angered her the most: the fact that she had been back-stabbed after having gone to such lengths to protect Daring; or the fact that Daring had done exactly what she had been planning to do as well. She had underestimated the pegasus, and it was all because she had let her guard down. An amateur mistake that could have gotten her killed were Daring Do an actual threat. But while internally her tempers churned like a boiling ocean, she did not allow it to surface. Like a well-developed poker face, the pony knew that a calm composure was just as vital in a dangerous situation as the revolver by your side.
Speaking of revolvers, the offset weight in her belt reminded her that she had yet to retrieve the fallen weapon. Yet when she searched the caboose floor, there was no sign of it. She even checked under the minotaur just to make sure.
“Daring!” The realization managed to leave a crack in the stony facade as her teeth groaned under the sudden pressure. “Great, why are the cute ones always such a pain,” she murmured to herself once she managed to beat down the surge of violent impulses. Now she had another reason to track down that back-stabbing pegasus. Nopony messed with her gun! While she wasn’t about to let a missing gun derail her from the mission, it did pose a minor obstacle for her, but that was assuming she could even catch up to Daring and the rest before the trail went cold.
If she were to have any hope of catching her quarry, the nameless mare needed to know where the train would ultimately go. She began sifting through a nearby work desk, hoping to find papers of some kind that might indicate the trains route and schedule. Personal telegrams...work schedules...cargo manifest...an old newspaper...but no sign of a train schedule.
“Wait, the cargo manifest.” Something on the otherwise unassuming scrap of paper had caught the pony’s eyes. In large, bold font across the top of the missive were the words, ‘Warning: fragile cargo. Transport at reduced speed.’
There was her ticket! Daring and the others might have a considerable lead on her, but Blondie knew the lay of the land and the route of the train. More importantly, she knew the long, winding path around the upcoming foothills, combined with the fragile cargo, would slow the train considerably. It was a long-shot, but if the mare made good time she could cut through those foothills and get ahead of the train before it reached the plains and sped back up.
She took a quick inventory of what she had on her person: rifle, ammunition, tin of matches, a few sticks of dynamite, an iron stoker, and a half-empty waterskin. It wasn’t the best equipment to hijack a train with, but a general went to war with the army they had. Whatever her plan was going to be, she knew that she would have to think of it while en route. Since every second she stood around was added distance between her and the amulet, the pony sprinted off into the distance. There was no way she was going to let her reputation be tarnished by some egghead archaeologist.
It was perhaps both a boon and a bane to Daring Do that the train was carrying freight cargo rather than passengers. With no other ponies on board other than the ones she was stalking, she didn’t have to worry about any random bystander inadvertently giving away her position or getting in her way. However, it also robbed her of a valuable source of camouflage. It forced the pegasus to creep slowly through each train cart, as the stacked crates and low-light provided ample sources for potential ambushes.
Daring had to admit that she was a bit out of her element. Her treasure hunts were often confined to ancient ruins, not trains. And at most, she had only to deal with Ahuitzotl and his unnecessarily slow-moving traps in terms of opposition. A goat outlaw posed a unique challenge to the pegasus as it was difficult to outwit bullets. At least she had possessed enough foresight to snatch the nameless mare’s revolver before ditching her.
The first few train cars were devoid of life, pony or otherwise. There were stacks of crates that had been painstakingly secured to the walls and floors but little else. As the train swayed, she could hear the clatter of glass from inside the crates. Whatever cargo was being carried, it must have been fragile. The clattering glass would mask her hoofsteps, but at the same time the ambient noise could make it harder for her to hear anyone approaching. With virtually no light source, Daring was thankful that the rattling glass also gave her an idea of where the obstacles were. And to her fortune, when she heard a very loud clatter followed by some distasteful profanities coming from the train car ahead, the pegasus had the advanced warning she needed to take cover.
By the time the car door slid open and a kerosene lantern bathed the interior with light, Daring Do was already out of sight. Bracing herself against two parallel struts that ran across the roof, the pegasus did not even dare to breathe as a pair of ornary-looking goats strolled through the door.
“Don’t you think the boss is being a bit antsy about this?” one of the goats remarked.
“You’d have yer knickers in a wad too if you knew who we’s dealing wit’,” the other answered in slow, plodding English, as if the entirety of his formal education could be surmised on the back of a cereal box. “You saw what she did to Ox ‘Ead’s face. I tells you, he was one cheesed off minotaur.”
Daring’s heart rate accelerated when the pair stopped directly below. “Don’t look up. Don’t look up. Don’t look up,” she prayed over and over. The air held within her lungs began to burn and her limbs began to twitch; she strained every ounce of willpower she had into holding her posture. Each second seemed to be dragged through molasses, but eventually the goats continued on their way.
“I once heard she once took out a half-dozen ponies without firing a single bullet.”
“Dat dun sound mathemagically possible...”
Only when the door to the previous car slid shut did Daring allow herself a chance to breath. There was no time for resting, however, as it wouldn’t take long for the two goats to discover their train was short one one minotaur. And as the tactic had worked so well for disposing of nameless mares, Daring figured decoupling a few more train cars wouldn’t hurt.
“Too easy,” she snickered after cutting two more opponents loose. “Daring Do: two. Goats: zero.”
Daring didn’t waste any time basking in her own victory before moving on. With two more gone, she knew that time would be working against her. She would probably only have a few minutes before whoever sent those two yokels would notice their absence as well, ruining any chance of catching Billy the Kid unaware. However, it sounded as though they were already expecting the nameless mare to show up. If the mere possibility of Blondie's presence was causing so much concern, it made Daring wonder if double-crossing the mare was the wisest plan. But with any luck, Daring would have the amulet and be halfway to Canterlot before that hoove-dragging pony caught up to the train.
Cautiously sliding the next door open, the first thing to catch the pegasus' attention was the ambiant moonlight illuminating the car's interior. Daring was quick to pinpoint the source - a pony had slid open the car's main door in order to relieve himself. Though distasteful, it did provide her with the distraction she needed to move through the train car without notice. And since Daring did not want anypony sneaking up behind her later, she also used the opportunity to rid herself of yet another potential obstacle. She bided her time behind another stack of glass-containing crates, allowing the oblivious colt to finish his business as she didn’t want to get hit with any accidental spray should things not go as planned. Once she heard the colt’s sigh of relief, the pegasus charged across the train car and shoved the pony out the side door. Thankfully, his cries of distress dispersed into the night air as the train sped away.
“Flawless victory,” Darin self-congratulated...until she noticed a fresh spatter of tiny stains across her shirt. “Ugh...gross...”
Not allowing a bit of urine to stain her victory, Daring shut the side door and continued on her way. She could hardly believe how easy it had been to take out three members of Billy’s gang already without alerting anypony to her presence. A part of her wondered why Blondie had thought that she would only have gotten in the way. At this rate, Daring would have the amulet and an outlaw in the bag by day’s end. It was almost enough to make Daring wish that the nameless mare was present just so she could see the look on her face as Daring did all the work.
As before, the archaeologist deftly slid the door open, making sure to check peer through the narrow opening before opening the door entirely. What she saw drew her breath away, and only the rattling of the bottle-containing crates kept her sharp inhalation from giving her position away. Sitting at the far end of the car atop a small table, shimmering in the glow of a nearby lantern, was the Amulet of the Equilla.
It’s flawless gold surface, sculpted into the motif of Princess Celestia, made the candlelight dance across the walls, and the emerald jewel core glistened like a star. It was far more radiant than she had ever imagined, and only a few feet separated her from her prize. However, she lessons she had learned exploring ancient ruins applied even to modern train cars, and the first thing that crossed her mind was the realization that this was too easy. It couldn’t have been more obvious a trap if they had advertised it with a fireworks display.
Daring took a moment to analyze the situation; there was limited cover in the next train car so there were only so many places for an ambush to spring from. If her adversaries were as smart as the three she had already dealt with, it was easy to deduce where they would be hiding.
“It’s showtime,” Daring thought with a playful smirk. After taking a few steps back for a running start, she leapt headlong into the next train car. As expected, the goat pressed against the wall next to the door was caught off-guard by the pegasus’ speedy entrance. His reaction time proved too slow and by the time he squeezed the trigger on his revolver, Daring was well past him. The only thing that had been in any danger from him was the floor. As the goat tried to track the pegasus through the darkness, Daring sprang into the air with the aid of her wings. Not only did it keep the revolver from getting a fix on her, but she also narrowly dodged an oncoming shovel that was swung by another goat. The metal spade came so close that she felt a fraction of its force as it grazed through her tail. But close only counted with horseshoes and hoof grenades, and the archaeologist surged forward. Catching a flicker of movement in the shadows ahead of her, Daring dove into a headlong slide just as a pony came charging in for a crash tackle. Her slide-tackle took the pony out at the legs, sending him hurtling into the goats behind her.
Deciding to save the quips about her opponents being too slow for after she was safely away, Daring hurried over to her goal. She snatched up the amulet and stashed it away inside her helmet along with the other relic. But then the top of the barrel suddenly popped open and the last thing Daring saw was a goat’s head coming straight for her.
“Ugh...that’s twice now...” Daring Do groaned weakly as her senses gradually returned to her. Her head was still throbbing, but once the cobwebs had been cleared out, she was able to make sense of her surroundings again. Judging by the change of scenery from a dark cargo car into a well-lit passenger cabin, it was safe to assume that her captors had moved her further up the train. A rope strung from the ceiling bound her wings and fore hooves; it was a situation she was not unfamiliar with, but the substitution of slow-moving death traps with large caliber firearms left her uneasy.
“Ah, she’s finally awake,” a coarse, gravel-like voice spoke. Standing before the suspended pegasus was the most inhospitable-looking goat she had laid eyes upon. As he didn’t resemble either of the goats she had dodged in the train cart, it was a safe bet that he was the one that sprung out of the barrel and knocked her flat. He was an ugly thing even by goat standards with beady eyes; matted, unkempt hair that hadn’t seen soap in well over a fortnight; and a face that was marred by several jagged scars.
“Geez, and I thought the minotaur was ugly,” Daring quipped after the goat came into focus. Unfortunately, the goat appeared to have a low tolerance for snark as Daring was given a sharp kick to the ribs for her troubles. She decided that she would save the witty banter for after she was free when it would be a bit safer. Checking her surroundings in earnest, Daring noted a few windows that she could potentially escape through, as well as her helmet and the amulets sitting on a nearby table. If she could escape from her bindings, snatching the amulets and jumping out the window would be a cinch. The three disgruntled goats and pony, however, was going to make any escape tricky. For the moment, Daring just bided her time. “You must be Billy the Kid.”
“You presume correctly, chica, but it does still leave the question as to who are you,” the goat replied, his hoof stroking the tuft of fur upon his chin in contemplation.
“My name is Daring Do...and you have something that belongs to me,” Daring stated in the most menacing tone she could muster while tied up.
“You mean those trinkets?” Billy replied with a trifling chuckle. “Well, perhaps when I am finished with them I might be willing to sell them to you.”
“You will? Just like that?” The goat’s remarks caught Daring by surprise. Most of the thieves she dealt with weren’t nearly as negotiable. If spending a bit of money was enough to secure the artifacts then that was what Daring would do. It wouldn’t have been the first time she had purchased a priceless relic from a local with no clue of its true worth. “Wait, what do you mean by ‘finished with them’?”
“Ahh...chica, you must understand that there are only two things worth having in these parts - money and power. And right now, these shiny baubles give me the power I need.”
The power he needed? Daring didn’t know for certain if there was any truth to the legends of magical properties in the amulets, but if it did have that kind of power then it didn’t explain why he would be willing to part with it. Deciding to feign ignorance, Daring pressed for more information and asked, “And what power would that be?”
“The power to bring that damnable blond mare to right where I want her!” The archaeologist was struck speechless by the revelation and the realization of the banality of this ordeal. All of this fuss and effort over that nameless pony? It couldn’t have been that simple; it was just too stupid to be that simple! But as it turned out, that was exactly what it was all about. “Now I have but one more question for you, Daring - where is she? Where is that blond-maned pony?”
“All of this...for her?” Daring deadpanned. It was hard not to be outraged, but the ropes and firearms were convenient reminders to keep her temper from flaring. “Isn’t this a bit much just for one pony?”
“One pony?” Billy snapped with a visible twitching above his scarred eye. “You see these scars, chica? This is what that little meddling wench of a pony did to me! Five years ago, I was halfway through the greatest train robbery this land has ever seen and then...she showed up and ruined everything! Messed up my perfect plans, and made my entire crew look like a pack of kids! I will not rest until that mare is bleached bones in the desert!”
Daring wasn’t sure which to do - express disappointment at this pettiness, or simply laugh at the sheer stupidity. Eventually, she decided to opt for the former since laughing at an armed goat was rarely a good idea. “All this for one botched robbery? You really need to learn how to let go.”
“It was not just one robbery!” Billy snapped back. Clearly Daring was hitting a sensitive spot with the goat as he had gone from calm to irate in a split-second. “It was five months of planning, hundreds of bits of bribes, and bringing together the biggest, most feared gang of goats the world had ever seen!”
“And you lost to one mare? Wow...you must be really bad.”
“Silence! I will not be ridiculed by some wretched little pegasus!” Daring was beginning to have second-thoughts about her choice of words as the gun in her face was being held by an increasingly agitated goat. “That pony will come for the amulets, and when she gets here, me and my boys will be ready and waiting.” To emphasize the point, he spun Daring about-face, allowing her to see the dozen or so ponies and goats standing at the other end of the car. “So I will ask you this only once - where is the blond pony?”
Daring couldn’t help but smirk when she gave her answer. “Gone.”
“What do you mean by gone?”
“I ditched her along with the minotaur a few miles back,” she boasted. “It’ll probably take her a few days just to catch up to you. And that’s assuming you stop everything and stay put, or that she even continues given the huge lead you’ve got now. Guess I threw a big ol’ wrench into your elaborate revenge fantasy, huh?”
Now Daring wasn’t sure whether this would present an opportunity to break free or simply earn her a new orifice in her head, but her namesake didn’t come from safe, cautious plans. At first the goat just stared blankly at Daring, as if his brain refused to recognize the implications. There was still the twitching eye, however, so Daring knew he hadn’t gone completely catatonic. She was expecting him to snap at any second, but rather than flying into a fit of rage, Billy’s expression fell into calmness. It was as if his rage had come full circle and cancelled itself out.
“Guess there’s no point keeping you around.” Once again, Daring found herself staring down the barrel of a gun, but this time she was ready for it. All she needed to do was kick her hind legs up and knock the gun out of his hooves. Billy was making the classic ‘sticking the within striking distance’ mistake, and Daring was just about to capitalize on it when the unexpected occurred. It happened so fast - a crackle of breaking glass, the pang of metal on metal, and a goat’s distressed yelp - that it took Daring a moment to realize that something had just shot the revolver out of Billy’s hoof.
“What in the-?”
“It’s her!” Billy sneered as all eyes fell onto the broken window.
Standing in the foothills, rifle in hoof, was the nameless mare. Ejecting the spent cartridge, the mare tracked the passing train and loosed a volley of shots. Every goat and pony hit the floor as the bullets punched through the walls and windows, several of which narrowly missed Billy, and one even severed the rope holding up Daring.
“Get her! Shoot back, you idiots!” Billy shouted as he kicked and shoved the frightened gang members over to the windows. So focused were they on the new threat, none of the goats or ponies even noticed that Daring had fallen to the floor and was wriggling free from her ropes. If Blondie could keep the goats occupied, Daring could slip out with the amulet.
Outside, Blondie used the foothills for cover as the goats in the train returned fire. A straight-up firefight with a train was doomed to failure as she’d tire herself out just trying to keep pace. She had hoped she could have taken out Billy in her first shot, but even with her superb marksmanship, hitting your target on a moving train through a window was a one-in-a-million shot. With the goats putting enough bullets into the hills to turn it into a lead mine, Blondie held her position and allowed the train to pull away a bit before slipping in behind it and giving chase. Out of their line of sight, the mare was able to board the train from the rear.
“Where did she go?” Billy demanded as he cautiously gazed out a window. “She’s out there somewhere...she wouldn’t give up that quickly. Quick, somebody check the rear!” The goat’s paranoia proved correct, however, as gunshots began to ring out from a couple cars back. Seizing the opportunity, Billy began shoving his lackeys towards the rear of the train. “Go! Get her!” he bellowed, eventually ushering all but two other goats from the train car.
Unfortunately, with only three other occupants in the car, they were quick to notice Daring attempting to escape from her ropes. She was almost free from them too, but Billy put a halt to her escape attempt with the familiar gaze of a forty-four caliber barrel. Any sigh of frustration from the pegasus was subsequently drowned out by the thunderstorm of gunfire that erupted from the other cars. It sounded reminiscent of a warzone with many guns firing off at once it was impossible to make out the individual shots. There was even the occasional bang from some kind of explosion that shook the whole train. But what was more unsettling than the sheer volume of gunfire was how suddenly it fell silent. It was as if somepony just came along and hit an ‘off’ switch, leaving only the churning of the locomotive in the background.
“I think your plan has come across a critical flaw,” Daring commented while straining to keep a smug grin off her face. It had taken a moment but Daring recognized what had gone wrong. Billy had counted on weight of numbers to win out, but in the narrow confines of the train, where only a few ponies could advance or fire at any given time, those numbers counted for nothing. Daring had to admit that she was a bit impressed.
“G...g-go check it out,” Billy stammered as he nudged one of the remaining goats forward.
Given that the only thing more terrifying than what loomed outside was what stood behind him, the volunteered goat crept up to the door and slid it open. However, nobody could see anything in the other car due to the lack of windows and ambient lighting. As the goat stepped forward, just as he was standing the gap between cars, something suddenly reached down and grabbed the goat. He only managed to let out a panicked scream before he was pulled up and out of sight. Once again, a pervasive silence overtook the train, which now only held two frightened goats and a pegasus.
“That’s it! I’m out of here!” the other goat announced as he raced over to the window.
“Get away from the windows, you idiot!” Billy tried to warn him. But when the other goat opened the window in order to jump out, instead in came the nameless mare...hooves first. The goat took both hooves to the face, knocking the daylights out of him along with several teeth. In a move of desperation, Billy dragged the rope-bound pegasus in front of him and pressed the gun against her temple. But when the nameless mare landed, instead of drawing a gun of some kind, she whipped out a lit stick of dynamite. “One step and the pony gets it!” Billy shouted. His attempt at bravado was betrayed by the wavering in his voice and the tension in his posture.
“Give me the amulet or Ah’m blowing all of us into smithereens!”
“What are you doing? This is nuts!” Daring shouted when she realized that Blondie was going with a suicidal ‘all or nothing’ strategy.
“Nuts? This ain’t nuts,” the mare quipped, “now forgetting which fuses were the fast-burning or the slow-burning...that’s nuts!” And with the way that the lunatic mare was holding the dynamite, neither Daring nor Billy could see the end of the fuse. “Bet you’re wondering right now if you can shoot me and still get away before this explodes. Time to ask yourself a question, Billy, ‘Do Ah feel lucky?’ Well? Do ya?”
The nameless mare had a crazed look in her eye; the kind that made Daring realize that she fully intended to blow the entire train apart if Billy didn’t surrender. Now the archaeologist was as keen for a bold and daring plan as her name would suggest, but this bordered sheer lunacy. Whatever grudge existed between the two, Daring was not about to get blown up because of it. With the mare and goat were preoccupied with their staring contest, Daring took the opportunity to headbutt the gun aimed at her.
However, with the situation tenser than a piano chord, when Daring knocked the revolver aside, Billy flinched and the gun went off. Now nobody was hit by the stray bullet but it clip the stick of dynamite Blonde was holding. While the shock didn’t set off the high explosive, it did knock the stick out of the mare’s hoof and sent it flying to the far side of the train car...where it was plain to see that the fuse was almost at its end.
“Oh, you stupid pega-”
Blondie never got a chance to finish the sentence, as the resultant blast from the dynamite threw the occupants to the floor and almost split the train in two with only the steel undercarriage keeping the train as a whole. With a few coughs and a pained groan, the nameless mare slowly pried her eyes back open. Her ears were still ringing, her mind was a haze, and her insides felt as though they had just been trampled over, but she was still breathing; and if she was still breathing, she intended to keep fighting.
“Whe...where is he?” she murmured as she struggled just to get her head off the floor. Though her eyes refused to focus, she saw something that looked vaguely like a goat limping to the next train car. “Get...get back here,” she called out. A futile attempt, however, as her lungs felt as pulverized as the rest of her body, which made volume a painful prospect. Refusing to yield, the nameless pony searched for a weapon, and eventually found her revolver on the floor just a few feet ahead of her. Cursing a string of unlady-like profanities under her breath, the mare dragged herself across the splinter-strewn floor. Even the slightest movement sent pains through but her determination was as etched onto her face as the fresh cut above her brow.
When she finally did grab hold of her gun, it was like slipping on an old pair of shoes. Her head might have been spinning but the familiar grip and weight of her revolver would be enough for her. “Okay...hold still...” Blondie muttered as she tried to steady her aim. Even with the aid of her other hoof, the gun was drifting wildly from side to side. The first shot fell short, impacting the floorboards only a few feet from the earth pony; the second and third shots went wide into the doorframe; the fourth somehow managed to hit a hanging lantern in the next car; and the fifth shot just narrowly grazed through the goat’s hair. With each shot falling closer to her mark, she knew she had him on her next.
But as the mare steadied her aim one last time, a flash of movement out of the corner of her eye drew her attention away. It was the goat that she had knocked senseless upon entering the train; and he was back on his feet with a knife between his teeth. However, Blondie was not the focus of his attention, as he was instead fixated on the still-unconscious pegasus. If she ignored Daring, the nameless mare figured she could take down Billy and still have enough fight left in her to deal with the other goat. She was on her last bullet - this was only remaining opportunity.
“Buck!” Blondie cursed under her breath as she swung her revolver over to the other goat. A quick shot to the leg toppled the goat over, removing him as a future threat. In a fruitless attempt, Blondie took aim at Billy once more, hoping that in her daze she had lost count and only fired off five rounds, but each pull of the trigger gave only an empty, disparaging ‘clack.’ With no ammunition, Blondie could only watch as Billy disconnected the train car and gradually began to pull away into the distance.
“Stupid...pegasus...” she murmured before giving into her exhaustion and easing her head to the floor.
“If I had known there was a barnhouse dance going on tonight, I would have suggest going there straight away,” Spitfire said with equal parts mirth and humility. Night had long since fallen over Ponyville and the pair were taking a scenic walk back to the Sweet Apple Acres farmhouse. Both ponies had wide grins across their faces, a bounce in their step, and laughter trailing behind them.
“Well once you said you were a country pony, Ah reckoned it would be just what you needed,” Applejack replied. She was trying her best not to sound too boastful but it was hard not to considering how well things had gone. “Ah figured the ol’ saying would hold true - you can take the filly out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the filly.”
“Amen to that,” the pegasus wholeheartedly agreed. Her attention was briefly drawn away from the other mare when a few loose strands of straw suddenly fell into her view and she was forced to swat them away. “Sorry about the mess by the way,” she added, referring to the vast amount of straw that still clung to her ointment-coated frame. “I warned you that I danced on four left hooves.”
The image of the aerobatic pegasus slipping on some split ice cubes and tumbling headlong into a bale of hay was still fresh on Applejack’s mind, and she couldn’t help but laugh as the conversation brought the image back to her mind. “Well there wasn’t nuttin’ that you could’ve done. That bale of hay came at you from outta nowhere,” she teased.
Despite the embarrassment, Spitfire was still in high spirits and was able to laugh alongside Applejack. Though she tried to keep her eyes ahead, the pegasus found herself sneaking glances back to the mare beside her. “That’s something I’ve always missed about Trottingham; everyone is so much...colder in Canterlot. And you’d never find a barnhouse dance in Cloudsdale. I had almost forgotten how much fun they could be.”
The pair remained silent for the remainder of their walk, taking a longer route through the orchard and even stopping briefly to gaze up at the stars. Technically, only Applejack stared up at the stars as Spitfire’s attention was focused on a heavenly body much closer to her. And while the atmosphere provided an ideal situation for the romantically-minded pegasus, she reminded herself that life was not a romance novel and that she needed to pace herself.
“Well, here we are,” Applejack said when the pair finally arrived at the front steps of the Apple family’s homestead. “It was mighty kind of you to walk me back.”
“It was no trouble,” Spitfire insisted. Were this a normal date, Spitfire would’ve taken the moment to reflect on the event of the nights and judge whether or not it was safe to try and take things a step further. But the night had yielded mixed results, especially as a result of her own missteps. Eventually, she decided not to push her luck, which had already been strained that night. “Listen, Applejack, despite my...uh, near-catastrophic failings, I had a lot of fun tonight. And I really do owe it all to you.”
“Aw shucks, now you got me all a-flustered.” A little blushing did little to dissuade the pegasus, and if anything it only gave her more confidence. “Besides, Ah should thank you. If it hadn’t been for you, Ah would’ve been tending an apple cart all day.”
“Well be sure to thank Dash as well. If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t have been at the auction at all,” Spitfire added as she felt confident enough to admit that attending the auction hadn’t been her idea originally. “Maybe next time I’m in Ponyville, we could have lunch together.”
“That sounds like a swell idea,” Applejack agreed. “But next time, Ah’m buying.”
“No argument here,” Spitfire replied with a chuckle. After spending a thousand bits on one date, there was a good chance her accountant was going to have her flank on a spit. Spitfire figured she would just cut back on the lattes and cook for herself for a few couple of weeks to offset the cost. An uneasy silence fell between the two - Spitfire didn’t want to leave just yet but knew there was little else she could say or do at this point. “Oh hay, just go for it,” she finally chastised. The pegasus quickly leaned in and planted a light peck upon the mare’s cheek. “G’night Applejack.”
Applejack only managed a sheepish, bashful smile in response and a silent wave goodbye as her words wound up lodged in her throat. Thankfully, the pegasus’ departure spared Applejack any need to find those words and she was allowed to retire to her home in peace. Despite the late hour, she discovered that Applebloom was still awake, reading a book by the fireplace. Applejack arrival was immediately noticed by the younger sibling, who flashed a knowing smile.
“So how was it?” she asked all too eagerly.
“Fun,” Applejack replied, intentionally remaining vague to avoid giving the filly a sense of accomplishment, “but don’t think that ain’t getting you out of trouble for that little stunt you pulled.”
“Oh really?” the sibling remarked in an playfully questioning tone. “Because I was just reading this here book and it’s really confusing.” It didn’t take a detective to realize which book in particular Applebloom was referring to. “How about you forget what happened this afternoon, and I don’t ask Big Macintosh what a ‘love sausage’ is.”
“Clever girl,” Applejack thought as she glared harshly at her sister. Yet even with her most damning ‘angry big sister’ glare, the filly held her ground. “Give me back mah book and you’ve got a deal.”