Dash slowly opened her eyes. The light of the morning came flooding in through the windows, and she sleepily got up in her bed. For a moment, the thought once again crossed her mind that the entire business of Templars and Assassins had been an odd dream, but those thoughts were dispelled when she saw her hoof was still pink, or rather, Firefly's hoof was still pink. She looked around the room; it was wood, seemed to be on the ground floor, and was quite small. It had a small table and fireplace in the same room, along with two chairs and her bed with a small table beside it. An entire living space, cramped into a small room, Dash deducted that this was some sort of small guest house.
"Oh, you're awake!" said a voice from the edge of the room. Dash opened her eyes fully in surprise; she hadn't seen the earth pony standing there. Once she stepped closer, Dash saw she had a kind face. Her full pink mane took up most of the left side of her head, and she seemed to hide behind it. She wore a flowing white dress and had six pink tulips on her flank as a cutie mark.
"Who...are you? Where am I?" Dash asked, rubbing the back of her head where a bandage was wrapped.
"You're in my guest house." said the kind looking pony. "My name is Posey, nice to meet you." she said, with a little dip in her stance.
"Posey." said Luna, beginning her analysis. "A yellow earth pony, she had a talent for growing flowers. She also had a passion for healing ponies and was an experienced medic, using her green hoof to grow herbs for her natural remedies. She was rumored to have another hobby though, a very dangerous one that she only did for her closest of friends. Her family tree can be traced down to your friend Fluttershy." Once again Dash was faced with the ancestor of her good friend, almost as if by fate. Maybe she'd meet more of her friends’ ancestors?
"Ugh, how did I get here, and why does my head hurt so much?" Dash asked, the pain now becoming more evident.
"One of my friends brought you in, apparently you took a pretty nasty bump to the head while jumping into a hay bale." she said, snickering a little.
"Hey, where is that pony?" Dash asked about her rescuer. "I never got to thank him for saving me back there."
"And what makes you so sure it's a 'he'?" said another voice, entering the room. It was the brown hooded pony from before. Pulling down the hood, he revealed his face to Dash. By the elongated eyelashes and snout shape, plus the long blond mane pulled together at the end with a blue bow, Dash could tell that her hero was not in fact a 'he'. This was the head of a mare. "And ah guess you can thank me now." she finished.
"Uh, yeah. Thanks...what was your name again?" Dash asked. The pony just shrugged.
"Ah've been called a lot of things, but most of 'em boil down ta 'no good dirty thief'." she said. "Some folks up north called me Il Volpe though."
"...'The Fox'?" Dash said, recognizing her father's native tongue and translating it.
"Is that what that means?" She said, as if it was the first time she'd bothered with the name's meaning. "Anyway, the name's Applejack, but ah never caught yer name pardner." she said.
"Firefly." Dash said simply.
"Mighty nice ta meet ya Firefly." she replied. Luna turned pages looking for information.
"Let’s see, it's kind of hard to find info on her, I guess they didn’t call her “The Fox” for nothing. She stopped after a few seconds of searching. "Aha!" she said with delight. "Il Volpe, or her real name; Applejack. She shares both her name and her family tree with the Applejack you know. There’s not much in the book after that, other than the fact that she was a master thief, and that not much is known about her." Luna finished. Once again, Dash was faced with the past ancestor of her friend in the present. At this point, she was just waiting for Pinkie Pie to appear out of nowhere.
Dash stepped wearily out of bed, she was a bit dizzy, and her head still throbbed in pain with every heartbeat, but she was alright none the less.
"Oh, do be careful." Posey said, moving to Dash's side to help her stand. "We wouldn't want you to get hurt again, now would we?" she said like a mother to a child. It was nice to rest after the last two days, but she still had work to do, the unicorn lived.
"I have to find him again..." Dash said, moving for the door, Applejack stopped her at Posey's silent request.
"Whoa there lil filly, find who?" she said.
"Gilded Sword..." Dash replied. "I have to kill him."
"You mean he's still alive?" Posey said with a gasp. She looked to Applejack worriedly. "Oh dear, if the master hears of this..."
"Applejack?" said a blue pony, walking in the door. "There you are! The master wishes to see you, I'd hurry too, he seems angry." he then left just as quickly as he'd come.
"Aw, horse-apples." Applejack cursed, not looking too happy about needing to see this mysterious master. "Oh well, c'mon kid." Apple said waving for Dash to join her. "I'll show ya around the city, give ya a tour of the Assassin HQ."
"An Assassin HQ? Here in Canterlot?" Dash asked, moving for the exit. Applejack snickered as they left.
"Kid, we left Canterlot days ago." She moved to give Dash a view of the world outside the front door. It was a different city, much more wooden and blue in comparison to Canterlot's stony golds. A river ran through the town, and some buildings had boat docks and back entrances. It was much smaller and more rural, much more like Hoofington, Firefly's home. "Welcome to Lunagrad kid." Applejack finished. Posey pocked her head out the door to yell.
"Okay, bye! Please try to be careful Firefly! Remember you’re still injured!" she said, waving. Dah waved back, sensing the same caring and compassion she'd come to expect from Fluttershy, even if Posey seemed more outgoing, and more of a plant lover than an animal lover.
After a short walk, they reached what Applejack had referred to as "Assassin HQ". A huge fortress, built upon a mountain within the humble city of Lunagrad. Banners and flags decorated it, red and white, bearing a triangle with a curved bottom, the symbol of the Assassins. Walking up the steps was a long task, but Dash didn't notice the exercise, still in awe of the castle all the while.
The study of the fortress was the very top room. It was filled with books and tables and torches, and other furniture. It looked like a very well kept place of planning and learning. Looking out the window at the back of the room was a black-hooded pegasus; Dash could see his tail was a steel gray, as were his wings, but nothing more.
"Um, Master Steelwing?" Applejack said upon entering the room.
"Applejack." The pegasus' deep and elderly voice said. "When you left for Canterlot, did I not instruct you to take the life of Gilded Sword?" His tone sounded serious.
"Well, uh, yes, but-"
"And did you also," he continued. "ask that Glory and Breaker accompany you on the mission to give you back up, even though it was classed as a one-pony assignment."
"Yes, and ah meant to-"
"And did I not..." he interrupted again. "allow this, if only to ensure that this mission be a complete success?"
"...yes" she said weakly.
"Then why..." his tone rose to anger. He turned around to face them. “does the Templar still live?" Dash almost stepped back at the sight of the pegasus in front of her. His long robes covered most of his body, but the fronts of his hooves were exposed, as was his face. He was nearly monochrome; his mane and fur a light grey. He had a scruffy beard that was white with aging, and his eyes were wrinkled underneath from hours of sleep deprivation, and simple old age. Worst of all, his eyes were a blood red, except his left eye, which was clouded over grey and bore a scar across the left side of his face. Dash assumed he was blind out of that eye. He was quite simply the most frightening pony Dash had ever seen.
Luckily, it seemed his anger was directed at Applejack.
"Well uh, Ah tried to get 'em, Ah really did." Applejack stammered. "but before ah could, Firefly here called 'em out in the square. The guards thought she was an assassin, ah couldn't just watch 'em slice a poor pony to bits, 'specially when she didn't do nothin." Steelwing seemed unimpressed by the story. He gave a sideways glance at Dash, but paid her no further mind.
"Do you remember the second tenet of the asasiyun brotherhood Applejack? 'hide in plain sight'." Steelwing said not giving her a chance to answer. "It is not only a good tactic, but at its core, the definition of an assassin. We do our work from the shadows, not in the spotlight. When we announce ourselves to our enemies we are no longer assassins, but brute warriors without strategy." his face still showed no emotion, if anything, maybe disappointment, but even that was hard to see.
"With all due respect Master..." Applejack retorted. "There’s also the first tenet, 'stay your blade from the flesh of innocents', an Firefly was just that; innocent."
"Yes, stay your blade, not the enemy's. Your work comes first, you cannot save every little peasant that the Flames chose to prey on. The overall safety of ponykind must come first." he said, ignoring Firefly's presence.
"Hey!" Dash said, her natural aggressiveness surpassing her fear for Steelwing's appearance. "I'm not just some peasant!"
"Please, spare me the lecture." Steelwing said, unimpressed. "I have seen you many times, you, the heroic peasant who thinks they can defeat the Flames. You cannot fight them alone."
"I can take on anyone of those guys!" Dash said. "What makes you so sure I can't do anything?"
"You know nothing of our brotherhood child." Steelwing said, annoyance invading his tone. "And you have no business fighting the Flames, nor do you have the proper means."
"Yes I do!" Dash yelled, rage already consuming her voice. "That unicorn bastardo killed my family!" she shouted, her anger pulling her into her father's dialect unintentionally. "And I do have the means," Dash rose her hoof to the ceiling. "I have this!" She exposed the hidden blade, surprising Applejack, the other ponies in the room, and even managing a shocked face from Steelwing.
"Where...did you get that?" Steelwing said, returning to his neutral state. His eyes stayed fixated on the blade though, even his blind one seemed to gravitate to it.
"My father gave it to me." Dash said, wincing at the painful memory. "...as he died."
"Hol' on there. What did ya say yer pa's name was?" Applejack interjected, a thought brewing in her mind.
"Nightingale, why?" Dash asked. A sly smirk crossed Applejack's face. She glowed with confidence as she turned to her master.
"And you didn't want me ta protect the daughter of the great assassin Nightingale?" Dash grew more confused, but Steelwing's face once again fell prey to an emotion; sorrow, for a slight moment.
"So...Nightingale has been killed...." he said quietly, ignoring the fact that Firefly was Nightingale's daughter.
"And he gave it to ya as he died?" Applejack said. Dash winced further, forced to remember more, but responded.
"Yes, he made me hold it in my hooves with his last breaths."
"Well, ya know what that means." Applejack said to Steelwing. "Ya gotta let her join."
"Join?" Dash asked, still very much confused by all this. Applejack just turned and gave her a smile.
"Welcome to the Assassin Brotherhood Firefly."
"Absolutely not." Steelwing replied. "The fact that she holds a hidden blade does not make her an assassin."
"She was usin it ta kill a Templar, a target you've already marked for death." Applejack retorted.
"And she failed to do so properly, announcing herself like a fool and drawing the attention of the guards."
"She just needs a little guidin, someone ta show 'er the right way." Steelwing put the idea in his mind for a moment, his eyes passing over Dash as he passed the thought over in his head. It felt as though he was looking into Dash's soul, finding her weaknesses and faults so he could exploit them.
"...Alright..." Steelwing agreed. "She may join the ranks of the assassins as a novice. I trust that you can give her proper training Applejack?"
"Yesir." Applejack said eagerly.
"Then she may begin training, once she completes it she can be fully inducted and officially join the brotherhood. But, I must warn you." Steelwing turned to look Dash in the face. His stare alone dropped her to a lower stance, making her feel less. "This is a dangerous path that you cannot return from. If you chose to join our ranks you must pledge undying loyalty to us, and all that we stand for. Are you sure you want to do this child?" Dash was still not fully sure what this entitled; being an assassin. Would killing become a normal occurrence? Would she ever return to Hoofington? Would she ever feel free again? There were so many uncertainties, but they could help her. They could supply her with the means to exact her vengeance on Gilded Sword, and after that, it didn't matter what happened. Her old life was already ruined, what happened now was her new life, so why not live the life of an assassin. She took a leap of faith.
"...Yes." She said. "I do."
"...so...all along, my father was never really an astronomer?" Dash asked quietly. She and Applejack had returned to Poesy after their meeting with the Grand Master. Firefly didn't have any money for the inns in Lunagrad, so Posey graciously offered to let Firefly sleep in her guest house again. Applejack had left afterward, off to check on her thieves she said.
"Oh don't sound so glum. I'm sure he actually was for a while. Once he married your mother and had you, he always seemed very intent on leaving the assassins." Posey responded, comforting Firefly.
"It's just...hard you know?" Dash said. "I always thought my dad was gentle, that he couldn't hurt a parasprite. To think he was secretly some assassin pony..." Dash hesitated. "...it makes me wonder what else he could have been lying to me about." Posey once again gave a comforting smile, but it didn't appear to help. "And my mom...the last time we ever talked, we fought. I told her I didn't need her and that she was holding me back." Dash began to water at the eyes. "...she must've died hating me."
"Oh don't say that." Posey said. "I'm sure your mother loved you still. A mother's love is unending." Posey's words finally piercing through, Dash did begin to feel better.
"...thanks for this Posey." Dash said. "for helping me get better, for giving me a place to sleep, for helping me get through this." Dash had been riding the adrenaline fuel that came with her parent's death for the last few days. She'd been so focused on killing Gilded Sword, but now that she couldn't focus on it, the gravity of her parent’s deaths finally set in. Where would she go? What would she do? She couldn't stay with Posey forever, taking advantage of her generosity for free food and housing. She didn't know if being an assassin would provide her with a bed and food and love. Three things she desperately needed and was so used to having.
"I wish there was some way to pay you back, I don't have anything to give though." Dash said.
"Don't you worry about that, I don't do this for money like some other ponies, I have a heart, and enjoy sleeping with a clear conscience at night thank you very much. I do this all out of the kindness of my heart, nothing more." It was an inspiring motive, and Dash saw that Posey was sincere, a light sparkle in her eyes that came at the word "kindness". "Now then, you should rest. Your head is still weak, and you're going to need energy for tomorrow’s training. Congratulations for making it in by the way, it’s not often that we get new recruits."
"Yeah, thanks." Dash said, getting settled into her bed. Posey left for the door. "Hey Posey" Dash said before she left. "You said 'we'. Are you an assassin too?" Posey didn't turn around.
"Oh, not really, I'm mostly a medic, but I do support the assassins with a certain service."
"And what's that?" Dash asked. Posey still stood there. She didn't move, she just stood still, as if she was contemplating how to respond. Eventually she turned around and gave Dash a warm smile like she usually did.
"Oh, I'm sure you'll find out one day."