"Oh congratulations! It's so exciting!" Posey gushed. Firefly nodded and repeated her thanks. "You know what this means don't you? You're an official assassin now, so many people try and fail to join, oh but not you, you persevered." Posey looked absolutely delighted at Firefly's achievement, more happy than Firefly even.
"Well, I had a good teacher." Firefly said, looking over at Applejack.
"Heh, you did, didn't you." Applejack said, taking another swig of her drink.
"Yes, we're all very happy for you dear." Glory added, levitating her cup and taking a much more graceful sip. The four ponies were seated at a table in Applejack's thieves’ guild, which was actually a pub, only to divert attention. Over Firefly's weeks in Lunagrad, the four ponies had become very good friends. Glory and Applejack formed a sort of friendly rivalry, but got along pretty well regardless. "Still," Glory continued. “you should be ready to leave by tomorrow, Master Steelwing no doubt has an assignment for you, and we may not see you for a long time afterward."
"Aw, it can’t be too bad. Heck, I'll be back before you know it, not like I have anywhere else to go." Firefly joked. Still, Posey's face and mood did seem to drop at the realization. They celebrated Firefly's induction, but this was at its core a going-away party.
"Still, we wish you luck." Glory said, lifting her glass.
"No matter where you go." Applejack added, raising her glass too.
"And remember we'll always be here for you." Posey said, joining in the cheers. Firefly smiled at the bittersweet gesture.
"...thanks guys." She said, completing the collective with her glass. They toasted, and spent the night laughing and drinking. Four ponies, the best of friends, the very image of a harmonious friendship.
The night passed, and the next morning Firefly was called in to see Steelwing as expected. Coincidentally, so was Applejack. The two arrived at the fortress and walked up to the head room, to meet with their master. Steelwing was as always, staring out the window when the two came in. This time when he turned, he gave both ponies the same amount of attention, instead of seeing Firefly as just a peasant.
"Welcome to both of you. I have two assignments that I wish you both to complete. One theft, the other assassination."
"They'll be done." Applejack said
"Yeah, we can handle them." Firefly added.
"Good." Steelwing nodded. "Applejack, since Firefly has completed her training, I trust you are once again available for assignments?"
"Yessir, that is correct." Applejack responded.
"Then you shall go to Canterlot. I'm allowing you another chance to kill Gilded Sword. Firefly, you will go to Fillydelphia and bring me back some documents I need. The Assassin’s Bureau there should help you when you arrive." Steelwing turned, as if to be done with them. But Firefly wasn’t done.
"Wait, what?" Firefly said. "Hey, I'm supposed to kill Gilded Sword; that's my mission!"
"An assassination mission is too dangerous for a novice; your first mission will be theft." Steelwing dismissed the issue.
"No way!" Firefly said angrily. Steelwing turned, annoyed.
"It was Applejack's mission that I assigned to her, you have no claim to it."
"Killing him was the reason I joined in the first place, I have to do it!" Firefly yelled. Steelwing's eyes narrowed.
"I'll grant you the chance to take back that statement child, we allowed you into our brotherhood because you promised it loyalty. If it is our will for you to take Gilded Sword's life, then so be it, but if the brotherhood calls for you to never lay your blade upon another living being then you will obey." He growled. Firefly couldn’t believe it, this was not fair! She was willing to follow the Assassins, that was not the problem, but in return she asked only one thing: the opportunity to kill her family’s murderer. And here was her chance, after all she’d been through, being taken away from her.
“I…” Firefly began. “I…can’t believe this!” She was seething with rage. “I’ve been spending weeks here, training and preparing! I can do this, I have to do this! He killed-“
“Firefly!” Applejack said, stopping the pegasus before she continued on her tirade. Steelwing had a look in his eyes that neither Firefly nor Applejack had seen before; a look of hatred, of pure anger. His scar seemed to burn. But suddenly, he regained his composure. His muscles loosened, his eyes lost their fiery glow. His entire posture changed to one of relaxation than one of pent up anger. He turned around, and faced the window once again.
“Your assignments are final.” He said calmly. “Now go.”
“What?!” Firefly yelled. “No! I’m not-”
“Go now.” Steelwing repeated. “And bring glory to the brotherhood.” Steelwing was finished with them. He'd shut his mind out.
"But..." Firefly said in a mixture of confusion and anger. Now this old mule was ignoring her completely! Didn't he even care what she was saying?
"...ugh!" Firefly grunted in frustration and stormed away, leaving her lost cause behind her.
"Firefly! Wait!" Applejack ran after her.
"It's just not fair!" Firefly shouted outside the Lunagrad Fortress. Applejack was doing her best to comfort her, but was mostly just trying to calm her down. Firefly had passed logic and reason behind. The impact of such an injustice put her into a state of pure disarray, she didn’t care what was happening she just wanted something, and was willing to yell and kick and scream until she got it.
"He can't do that! I have to do this!"
"Look, Master Steelwing has his-"
"My dad died giving me this blade, I want to use it to pay back!"
"Ah know sugarcube, it's just-"
"How could you know?" Firefly yelled. "How could you have any idea what it’s like to have your parents taken from you?" Applejack's face turned grim. She lifted her hood over her face, as if to hide under it. Firefly noticed the change, and let up a bit.
"...ah've been there Firefly." Applejack said, suddenly quieter. "Y'ever wonder why ah became a theif? Ah had to tah be able tah eat." Firefly began seeing the truth behind Applejack's history.
"Your parents were..."
"Murdered." Applejack finished. "Not only that, mah big brother and little sister too. She was just a lil' filly. By Celestia, you shoulda seen the look on her face when..." Applejack trailed off. Firefly thought she saw a tear escape the dark void that was Applejack's face. "Ah joined the assassins, but ah didn't get to kill the pony who'd wronged me. But you know what? It didn't matter. Ah had a new family, Posey, Glory, all these other ponies, they're mah family now." Applejack turned to Firefly, despite her eyes still being a bit watery, she was smiling. "That includes you too Firefly. You're part of this family now. And as a part of the family, you jus gotta trust in Master Steelwing sometimes. He's been around a long time, and he knows what he's doin." Firefly was utterly speechless. She didn't think she and Applejack could have such similar origins. She'd snapped out of her rage and realized how foolish she looked throughout the whole thing. Still, Applejack's story didn't calm her thirst for the Unicorn's blood. He had to pay, and it would be so much sweeter if she herself could deliver his punishment.
Applejack seemed to read this on her face. She wiped her eyes and sighed. "Look, tell ya what." she said. "I know it must feel pretty important to yah, and ah really don't have as much motivation for the mission as you do. So maybe tomorrow, while we're walking down the path, we take a wrong turn. I accidently end up in Fillydelphia and you in Canterlot. Might as well do the job while you're there, right? No sense in turnin around all that way." Firefly smiled.
"...Thank you Applejack." she said, and pulled her in for a hug. Applejack hesitated, but returned the embrace.
"Jus don't get used to it." She said, pulling away. "Yer gonna have to deal with most of the missions he give's ya, and succeed or not, he’s gonna give us both hell when we get back."
"Yeah, but I'll take that consequence." Firefly replied. "Now come'on, we should get going."
"Oh, we should stop by Posey's first, Ah got a gift fer yer first mission." Applejack said.
"...A gift?" Firefly and Dash thought in unison. "What is it?" Dash asked Luna. From the sound of a quill scribbling, it sounded like Luna was filling out the missing parts of Applejack's biography, but she stopped in time to answer.
"Oh, I don't know for sure. However I think I have a pretty good idea of what it might be." She said with what sounded like a smile.
"Which is...?" Dash asked.
"If I told you, it would ruin the surprise." Luna replied smugly.
Applejack and Firefly made their way to Posey's residence.
"Now, I go in first." Applejack said. Pushing Firefly out of the way before entering. Firefly rolled her eyes. "Hey! Posey!" Applejack called out into the cottage. "Do ya have it?"
"Oh yes, it's right on the table!" Firefly heard Posey yell from deep within the building. Applejack entered, and allowed Firefly to pass inside the building as well. On the table was a long sword, a short dagger, and some white robes.
"Had 'em tailored ta my size, hope they fit." Applejack said. Firefly took the robes and tried to put them on over her shirt and vest. They were much more complicated than they looked. "Heh maybe you wanna head to yer room and put those on proper?" Firefly nodded and went for her quarters.
Minutes later, she returned. Posey and Applejack were now conversing in the main room. Both looked at Firefly in awe when she came in. Her clothes were mostly stark white, and covered most of her body. She had a leather spaulder on one shoulder that had five small pockets, perhaps for throwing knives, but they were empty. The same shoulder had a short cape attached to it that draped over her left hoof. The white cloth flowed back to the end of her flank, covering her whole back side. More leather protected her back, and openings in the cloth allowed her wings to rest outside her clothes. The cloth's folds were dyed red, and gave the entire piece a look as if she were bleeding. Short ribbons also attached themselves to the outfit at the waist. At the back of her flank, where her cutie mark would be, a red assassin insignia was stitched beautifully into the fabric. A sword sheathe also hug at her side, as well as a smaller sheathe for her dagger. All this lead to the white hood that shrouded her eyes in darkness, leaving only part of her face visible.
The clothes gave her a very intimidating appearance, but she pulled back her hood to expose her smiling, gentle face.
"So how do I look?" She asked her friends.
"...wow!" Applejack said. "Almost wasn't sure it was you!"
"Gosh Firefly, you look pretty different in that hood." Posey added. "No one would ever recognize you unless you took it off."
"You think so?" Firefly said. She personally thought it was very extravagant, too much to blend in, but it was also very comfortable, and quite easy to maneuver in despite its intricacy.
"Heh, don't worry." Applejack said. "Ah had Glory look it over, you'll fit right in over at Canterlot." She reached for the sword on the table and handed it to Firefly to sheathe. "Since you lost your ol' one in Canterlot, ah got ya a new sword. Strait from Horsyria, the finest there is." Firefly swung it experimentally. It was quite light, and very sturdy. She could tell it was quality crafting. Applejack handed her the dagger. "I'd use this for rooftop fights, much less cumbersome than a sword." Firefly slid the dagger into its sheathe and shook a bit. Both weapons hung loosely, but stayed in place and didn't shake too much. Her medicines hung in a pouch at her side. With her back padding, spaulder, and foreleg brace, Firefly felt ready to go.
"Thank you both so much. This will really help me out." Firefly said gratefully.
"Oh, I didn't do anything. This was all Applejack's doing." Posey said with a hint of regret. "I wish I had though, I feel so horrible."
"Well maybe ya can still help her out!" Applejack replied with a smirk. "What about yer 'special product'?" Instantly Posey's face went from sadness to joy.
"Oh of course! She could definitely use those!" she giggled with happiness.
"Ah'm sure you've heard about Posey's secret hobby, right Firefly?" Applejack said, turning to Firefly. Firefly nodded.
"Right, you told me you had a 'special service' a long time ago, what is it, special medicine?" Firefly asked.
"Oh goodness no, if I had a more effective medicine, the last thing I would do is keep it a secret." Posey replied shaking her head.
"Then what?" Firefly asked with curiosity. A dark look flashed over Posey's eyes. For a brief moment, she bore the face of a pony with bloodlust, the want to kill, nothing like the Posey Firefly knew.
"...Explosives...." Posey said slowly.
"...wow." was all Firefly could mutter at the sight of Posey's basement. Tables were along the walls, each scattered with various plates filled with different powders, and parchments with formulas and reactions on them. A few spots around the room were scorched black, and all the lighting came from four jars at each corner of the room, each holding a glowing ball of light.
"It's too dangerous to have candles down here." Posey explained. "Too much gunpowder, so I asked Glory, Sawyer and some other unicorns to make me a few light spells. I have to keep them in jars or else they'll escape." She moved to a table and grabbed two silver balls, and handed them both to Firefly. "I don't have enough saltpeter for really explosive bombs, but I have just enough for three of these smoke bombs. Just throw them to the ground, and they’ll spray out a misty fog you can use to escape." She said, then turned back to her table, and funneled some powder into another silver ball. Meanwhile, Firefly turned the balls over in her hooves. This was what Applejack had used to escape Canterlot; useful indeed.
"You know Posey..." Firefly said, finally asking the question she'd been wanting to since the three descended. "I never really took you for a pony who would be into this sort of stuff."
"Oh Firefly, you can’t always trust your eyes." She said with an innocent smile.
"But...why? How?" She asked.
"Oh, it's quite a long story. Growing up as a filly, I lived in a very rural area. I loved to garden, it's my special talent you know, and I always kept a stock of fresh fruits and vegetables that were home grown. But I lived very far away from civilization you see, and food was scarce, so wandering ponies and run-away bandits would often steal from my garden. Not only did they take much more than they needed, they carelessly trampled over my other plants to get to their prizes. All my hard work was being destroyed every night." An angered look crossed her face. "I tried the only thing I was good at, mixing herbs. But unfortunately, I could come up with anything that could help, so I moved on to mixing other things, like minerals. I soon found that mixing rocks was also very boring, except for a certain kind; Sulfur." Her angered look became look of menacing joy. "I discovered a particularly safe explosive mixture, a flash bomb, nothing more. But when attached to a trip wire, it did its job effectively. Most intruders were scared away, and those that didn't flee were exposed to me, and I was alerted to their presence." She regained her innocent looking smile. "I'm sure that if I hadn't had gotten a cutie mark for gardening first, explosives would most definitely have been my talent." The story shocked Firefly. She was still having trouble imagining Posey in that light, and the more she saw it, the more she wanted to go upstairs, curls up in bed, and forget she was ever like that. If Posey was like this, what secrets could Applejack be holding, or Glory? She almost didn’t want to find out.
Sundown in Lunagrad was a very stunning sight. The town was bathed in orange and purple light as the sun began to fade behind the horizon. Firefly, in her new assassin robes with her weapons by her side and her training in mind, stood with Applejack at a crossroads. It was not very far from Lunagrad, the town still visible, but the paths went in very different directions, one to the south and one to the west. A sign hung above them all, labeling different towns and their directions. One read "CANTERLOT", while another read "FILLYDELPHIA". The signs pointed in almost opposite directions.
"Whelp.” Applejack said. "I guess this is where we part ways."
"Yeah...I guess...." Firefly replied solemnly.
"Aw don’t be so glum." Applejack replied. "We'll be rootin for ya all the way, even if we can’t be there with ya" She held up her hoof, showing off her burned-in assassin insignia. "Remember, yer family now. Ah mean it when ah say that, and truth is, as long as ya have that there symbol burned into yer hoof, you’ll never be alone." Firefly smiled, it was good to know she had such good friends.
Glory taught her, Posey nurtured her, and Applejack comforted her; she didn’t need anything else in the world other than their friendship. She held up her own burned hoof, and bumped hooves with Applejack, their burned skin touching and meeting at the symbol of their brotherhood. Without another word, Applejack turned and walked away, down the road to Fillydelphia. Firefly watched her all the way, until she was out of sight down the long road.
"...Goodbye." She finally said. She didn’t want Applejack to hear it, because she knew she’d see her again, but at the same time, part of Firefly wanted to acknowledge that they were parting, as if she would worry about Applejack if they did not finalize the departure.
Firefly herself turned around and began her trek to Canterlot. Now prepared to finish what she had started. Trained in stealth, equipped for combat, full of never ending energy to complete the task: at that moment, Firefly was the model image of an Assassin, a Star of the Moon. Working to get revenge on a murderous noble, but in the process, protecting the very freedom of ponykind.
Dash watched her ancestor move; her stance was more confident, her stride more courageous. She saw in her a pony of power, of pride, a pony she wanted to be more like. And yet, this pony was above all an assassin. A killer. The steel she carried was meant to cut the flesh of ponies. Dash simply could not overlook the detail, even after fighting bandits and guards. She knew her friends were in trouble, and that this pony was the only type that could save them.
But she still did not want this. She did not want to be an assassin.