From the white void, a city arose and stabilized in a matter of moments. Luna had explained to Dash that the end of Firefly’s adventures in Canterlot had marked the end of a section in Dash’s genetically archived ancestral memory sequences, refereed to more conveniently as a “memory sequence”. This meant the Animus now had to begin processing another large memory block, and thus needed to recalibrate its visual and sensory outputs. Thus, as soon as Firefly had finished her last sentence, the Animus’s world decompiled in its usual destructive and violent fashion. After a few moments, Dash found herself in a familiar position, hovering above an old Equestrian town as it seemed to explode backwards; pieces of wood and building material flying from various directions into sturdy structures. Roads grew from the floor, city blocks formed from the raw ether surrounding them, entire landscapes molded themselves from the blank, unedited ground. As the construction finished its final adjustments, a header in the top right of Dash’s field of vision established her current setting:
Trottingham. Year 11 OE.
Firefly was walking along with a relaxed pace. She was keeping little about her secret in the new town: her hood was down, exposing her bright face and making her identity quite public, and yet her flank still bore the mark of The Brotherhood of the Moon, the red assassin insignia standing out with sharp contrast to her white garments and brown pockets and weapon sheathes. In this new environment, she had no reputation, and intended to enjoy her short moments of anonymity before the local law enforcement began the inevitable spread of her bounty. As of now, she was nopony, and knew well that she should be grateful now that her status remained that way.
Her eyes were filled with wonder as she explored her new environment; the city’s expansive landmarks and marvels gave her both a sense of amazement for their beauty and frequency, as well as a dire feeling of hopelessness for her quest. The final words of the late Golden Shield, though extremely helpful and inspiring, were quite nonspecific when Firefly began to contemplate her next moves. He had given her a city, and considering that her range of search before she learned this fact encompassed the entire known world, this had narrowed her choices down by an incredible amount. But still, Trottingham was a quite large commercial center for Equestria and neighboring countries, and finding an artifact that she knew only by a name would prove extremely difficult.
Trottingham would take Firefly some getting used to, as it was quite different from Canterlot or Hoofington. The city itself was a very large town, however its buildings did not tend to raise very high, save for a few exceptions found few and far between. It had been established on a generally flat area of land, and was surrounded by plains and small lakes along its outer edges. The architecture was very cubical, made up of mostly strait lines and 90 degree angles, allowing the city to be split up into conveniently simple city blocks
Luna decided to establish some knowledge of their new setting, and began to dictate facts about Trottingham from one of her books. Like Canterlot, Trottingham was split into sections based around its social classes, but unlike the Equestrian capital, the areas specified by the gerrymandering did not form rings like they did in the richer city, partly due to Trottingham’s asymmetrical shape. The western half of the city was known as the market district; as it largely composed of outdoor markets and bazaars where various vendors from all over the globe would come to buy, sell, and trade their products. The northern section was the imperial district, where most of the government and political buildings were located. Not completely unrelated, this area was also where most of the wealthier and high-class citizens of Trottingham resided. The last district was to the south: the residential district. It was referred to as such only because the housing industry was probably the most successful one in the area. In reality the southern district served only contain what the other two districts would not; namely the city’s poverty. The area held the slums and back-alleys that simply would not fit anywhere else in the city. If Dash had to make a guess, she’d say the local assassin guild headquarters was also most likely located there.
Moving her attention back to the past, Dash focused back on Firefly, who was still pacing through a vendor’s market on Trottingham’s Mane Street. All types of shops lined the road, and a particular one seemed to catch the young assassin’s eye. She saw something shine at the edges of her sight, and turned to see a rather decorative sword hanging on display along the side wall of a blacksmith’s shop. The hilt of the blade was wrapped in ribbons of solid gold; the delicately beautiful metal strips twisting around each other in a gracefully complicated pattern to converge at the sword’s hold. Shining rubies embedded in the soft metal twinkled in the light, and thin lines were engraved all along the hilt and the length of the blade, carving intricate patterns into the weapon and giving it an awe inspiring glow that instilled amazement to any and all onlookers gazing at the sword.
“Ah, I see ya’ve taken an interest in that Celestial Captain’s Saber, have ya lass?” A gruff voice suddenly broke Firefly’s trance. The smith had made his way over to her from his anvil, and was admiring the sword with her. “A fine choice of weapon indeed! This here blade’s the very same used by the Generals and Admirals of Princess Celestia’s royal guard. Only the highest and most prestigious officers in Her Majesty’s forces have the honor of wieldin’ a blade such as this one, and the one I have here is in pristine condition. What do ya say, eh? Only 5,300 bits and this magnificent piece of metalworking is yours!”
Firefly dejectedly opened up her coin purse and accounted its contents. Over the course of her adventures, she’d accumulated a modest amount of 55 bits, nowhere near the price of the luxurious captain’s sword. Still, she still had the Horsyrian sword that Applejack gave her, and based upon prior experience, it made up for what it lacked in beauty with hard reliability and deadly fighting power. She gave the Blacksmith a regretful smile.
“As much as I would love to, I just don’t have that kind of money to spend.” She said.
The smith let out a defeated sigh through his jolly expression.
“Ah, I expected that response.” He said. “Seems these days the only thing people can afford is talk of riches they don’t have.”
“Oh really?” Firefly responded curiously. “Like what?”
“Well, there has been a rumor going around about Trottingham tower lately,” the smith said, leaning over the counter to talk with a more hushed tone. “A buncha guards have been searchin’ all about the place lately, some ponies are sayin’ that they’re looking for treasure.”
Firefly paid careful attention, this rumor was beginning to sound a lot like clue, and even if it wasn’t, a little more money in her pocket couldn’t possibly be a bad thing.
“According to the rumor, when the old dying architect Quillwind designed the tower, he built a hidden chamber in the top and hid all his money and other riches there, since he had no family to give it to. And, hidden among all the lost inheritance there, he also stored a very rare artifact that was one of a kind. Some sort of extremely valuable relic, locked away for anyone clever enough to find it. Still, those guards have been up there for weeks, and still no sign of any hidden treasure to be found.”
It seemed Celestia and Luna had smiled on Firefly once again. Her luck had brought her to the location of some hidden treasure, which, at this point, Firefly had no doubt was surely the Globe of Elation that Gilded Sword was searching for so desperately.
“If ya ask me,” the blacksmith continued, “Either those guards have their heads halfway up their flanks, or that hidden treasure rumor is a load of rotten apples.”
“Where did you say this was again?” Firefly asked. The smith donned a look of annoyance at the mare’s faith in the gossip, but reluctantly pointed a hoof at the humongous clock tower that overshadowed Trottingham.
“It’s said to be in the very top of Trottingham Tower, but like I said, it sounds like a buncha…” To the blacksmiths dismay, the pink mare who’d been in front of him a moment ago was now bolting her way down Mane Street toward the city’s colossal clock tower, a feeling of victory visible in her gallop. He let out another sigh and turned back to his anvil.
With a grunt of effort, Firefly pulled herself up onto the windowsill and balanced. climbing Trottingham tower had been both tedious and time-consuming; the building was extremely tall itself, and it's deeper maroon brick color meant she had to clear the streets before she could begin climbing it, lest she be spotted halfway up the tower. However, she had finally made it up, and could now enjoy a nice and long needed rest. Climbing was next to walking in simplicity for her of course, but to be honest, her hooves were killing her right now.
She snuck around the rafters of the room she was in. The window had opened up to the open air above the floor, which was conveniently a jump away from the wooden supports the crisscrossed the ceiling area of the room. She suspected this to be one of the higher chambers of the clock tower, maybe even the room below the hidden-attic itself. Her theory was soon supported further by the sight of three Templar guards searching various parts of the room below.
"Bloddy 'ell, there's nothin' up 'ere but a buncha dust clouds." on guard complained out loud. "How much longer do we 'ave to waste up 'ere?"
"I dunno, until the cows start rising up again, captain said don't come back until we've found some secret door or something." The second guard did not look any more enthusiastic than the first about his assignment.
"Ah shove it, We've been fumblin' around in this old place for hours now! I'm goin' to the pub." The third guard headed for the exit.
"Captain won't be pleased if he knows we left early." the second guard said.
"Right now I couldn't give half a care to whether the Captain's pleased. The fat bastard can take his orders and shove 'em up his backside...I need a drink...." With his fit of alcoholic rage settling down, the guard left the room. After a short silence, the two other guards shrugged and followed suit. The room was now empty, which meant Firefly could come down and take a look around for herself.
The dusty room appeared to have been a storage area long ago; it was filled with crates covered over by both white linen sheets and a much thicker blanket of age-old dust. The room had one entrance and exit, with nothing else covering the four walls besides brick. To any normal pony, the room was obviously a dead end, but not to this pony.
A bit of concentration transformed the world inside the animus into a shining neon on a deep blue backdrop. Dash recognized the spell's novelty Luna had called "Eagle Vision", with had highlighted the room in glowing white outlines. The only strange thing about the heightened state of perception was the fact that Dash didn't initiate it, but she quickly forgot the detail in favor of one with far more presence.
On the back wall of the clock tower, one brick stood out from the rest of the wall. This particular brick was outlined by a glowing gold light, and shone more brilliantly than the surrounding ones. Firefly walked over to get a closer look at the brick, and now noticed a strange insignia etched into the stone. It was a sort of curved "A" shape, with a dot in the center. Recognizing the symbol as a crude rendition of the Assassin insignia, Firefly switcher her vision back to normal and pushed the brick into the wall a bit.
To her surprise, the brick moved in quite a lot, and triggered a line of loud noises behind the walls, the sound of stone moving against stone. Soon after, a section of the wall moved inward and pulled into the sides, revealing a hidden staircase to a floor above this one.
The hidden passage seemed like something out of a storybook, but none the less, the assassin ascended he steps and entered the next room.
When Firefly stepped through the old, cob-web ridden doorway, she found a surprisingly bright room. The circular chamber had a glow coming through it from a thin fabric sheet that acted as the walls of the room. From the loud grinding and clanking sounds that filled the area, Firefly could assume that this light came in through the fogged glass of the tower's clock face, meaning she was in the very top of Trottingham tower. How the building could house this room and still function as a time-keeping device was beyond her. In the center of the room was a large stone casket, adorned with a golden assassin insignia and an ivory skull in it's center. The rest of the tomb was littered with various pots and jugs, all shining with value and rarity. A few chests were also among the burial gifts, but suspiciously enough, they were already opened and totally empty.
"SUPRISE!" shouted a voice from behind Firefly. She quickly ducked to the side to see a golden maned pegasus drive a dagger into the area she was just standing. Without a second thought, the assailant made a second swipe for her, only to be meet with nothing but air once again as Firefly jumped backwards. The pegasus stabbed at her, but Firefly battered away her hand with her brace and launched a kick of her own. Her foot struck, but did little damage to the surprise attacker. With one final burst of energy, the attacker swung the dagger at Firefly with al her might. However, instinct took action, and Firefly reached up to grab her hoof as it came towards her. With her free hoof, she elbowed the attacker in the snout, punched her in the wrist to make her drop the weapon, and flipped the pony over her shoulder and onto the floor. Before the disoriented attacker could get up, Firefly was on top of her, her hoof poised to thrust 6 inches of sharpened steel into the white pegasus' throat.
The assailant closed one eye and braced for death, but suddenly relaxed, as if she recognized something. As realization struck her, her face became even more distressed than before.
"W-Wait! You're an assassin!" she said, regarding the hidden blade.
"Yeah, and?" Firefly demanded, her patience growing dangerously thin.
"No, you don't get it, I'm an assassin too!" she said franticly. "We're on the same side!"
"Prove it!" Firefly shouted.
The pegasus struggled under Firefly's weight for a moment, and pulled her left foreleg free. She proceeded to shove her hoof in Firefly's face, too close to even inspect it.
"...What?" Firefly asked.
"Look at the mark!" she responded quickly.
Pulling the white pony's appendage away from her face, Firefly now saw that the bottom of the hoof had a deep grey scar in the shape of an assassin insignia, just like the scar Firefly had been branded with when she was inducted into the order.
With a tinge of guilt, the pink pegasus lifted herself off of her fellow assassin and offered help getting up to her near-victim. The golden haired assassin brushed her light armor a bit, and re-adjusted her weapon holisters.
"Right," Firefly said, picking up the dagger and handing it to her companion. "Sorry about almost killing you then." Her ears lowered simply at the mention of almost killing one of her own. The other assassin however, seemed to have instantly forgiven her for the attack, and overcome the fear of being moments away from death. She was now acting friendly, and even smiling.
"Oh, don't worry about that!" she said happily, taking the dagger back from Firefly and sheathing it. "After all, you were just defending yourself! It's me who should be sorry for almost stabbing you in the back."
The peppy tone of the pegasus as she described the act of murder should have been disturbing, the pony seemed to radiate joy for some reason, and Firefly took no notice.
"Anyway, my name's Surprise!" the joyful pony said. "What's your name? You're new here, aren't you? Of course you are, because I know all the assassins in Trottingham, especially all the pega-"
"Firefly!" the pink pegasus shouted quickly, cutting the tangent short. "My name's Firefly!"
"Well welcome to Trottingham Firefly!" Surprise replied, jumping happily in place. "I'll have to show you around, maybe have a tour! Oh! And we need to throw you a welcome party at the League, oh I know so many ponies who will love to meet you!"
Firefly began to tune out the incessant flow of glee that came from the white pegasus' mouth as she gushed about how much fun they would have and all the things she needed to show and tell her. It might have been annoying to some, but Firefly found the strange pony's cheer to be contagious; it had only been a few moments, but in the time she'd known the pony, her overall mood had been lifted substantially.
"...with oatmeal! Can you believe it?" Surprise finished rambling. Out of context, her statement made little sense, but something told Firefly that even if she was listening, she still would understand.
"Right, well it's nice to meet you Surprise." Firefly said, her determination returning. "Now, I should get back to business, I'm looking for something important in here, but everything looks empty." Her goal had been lost in the momentary conflict and accompanying apologies, but she now put her priorities in order.
"Oh you mean 'The Treasure of Trottingham Tower'?" Surprise asked.
"Yeah, actually I am." Firefly replied. "Do you know where it is?"
"Uh-huh!" Surprise affirmed.
"Great! Can you show it to me?"
Firefly's excitement died with the unexpected response.
"You can't?" she asked.
"Nuh-uh!" Surprise said simply.
"Because I made it up!" She said, her expression still joyful despite the gravity of her revelation.
"I made it all up! There is no treasure here, at least, not anymore." Surprise explained. "This is an assassin tomb I found and looted a long time ago. When I heard the Templars were searching for something important around Trottingham, I wanted to know what! So I spread a rumor that the treasure was in Trottingham Tower, and then waited out in here for a Templar to come looking for it! That's why I tried to stab you, I thought you were one of the bad guys, of course I should've known they'd be too stupid to find the door into here!"
"So...the treasure isn't here in the tower?"
"Nope! It was all a big prank!" Surprise said with glee.
Firefly's heart faltered at the news. It seemed that the trail had gone cold again; she was left once more with a huge city to look around in, and little time to do so. Surprise noticed Firefly's decline in mood and jumped a bit closer to the hooded pegasus to try and cheer her up.
"Aww, don't look so down in the dumps!" she cheered. "I'm sure we can find whatever you were looking for before the Templars do. Oh! I know! Let's go meet the other assassins in the city and organize a search group, no, a search PARTY!" the idea of meeting other assassins in the city appealed to Dash. At the very least it would organize her sleeping arrangements.
"Okay," she replied. "Lead the way."
The white pony leapt with glee and pranced away down the stairs and into the shadows. A peculiar ally indeed, but a comforting one nevertheless. A friend was a friend after all. Firefly followed her down the stair case and out of Quillwind's tomb.
"So what did you say before about other assassins?" Firefly asked. "Is there a bureau around here?"
It was mid-day in Trottingham as the two pegasai walked down the road. It seemed as though Surprise had kept a decent standing with the law somehow, the two didn't need to resort to taking the rooftops, and instead walked in plain sight out in the road for all to see. Most of the city patrol still shot them both a nasty look when they passed by, and were stared at as if the police force was scrutinizing them just to find an excuse to make an arrest, but for the most part the pair could traverse the city in a civilized manner without being seen as criminals.
"Bureau? We haven't had one of those things in forever! I mean hello! Wakey wakey! Welcome to the future Firefly!" Surprise emphasized her point by trying to snap her hooves in front of Firefly's face to wake her up. She soon found it hard to snap without fingers however, and decided to just wave them instead. "We don't want to be that blatant nowadays. We've managed to keep ourselves on good terms with Lady Law, but the Templars still have it out for us. Just calling ourselves "Assassins" would he enough for them to try and throw us all in the prisons!" Her excited mannerisms attracted attention, but still, no authorities approached the two as they casually walked along.
"No, we have to split up a bit." Surprise continued. "Right now there are three assassin faction bases in the city; the thieves' guild, the courtesan house, and my absolute favorite-est, the mercenary base! In fact, that's where we're going right now!" It appeared that Firefly was wrong in her earlier assumption; that the assassin central place of operations was near the needy. Dash could still guess that the other two bases were there, but she noticed that Surprise was leading Firefly toward Trottingham's imperial district.
“Let’s see here…aha!” Luna said. “Surprise; veteran mercenary of Trottingham. She was known all around for her unusually happy and sometimes random attitude and composure. She thought of each assassin mission and kill as one big, fun, party game, and rarely displayed any emotion other than blissful joy. Ironically, her gleeful compose made it easy for her to blend in, as few would suspect such a cheerful party animal to turn a dagger on them while they had their backs turned. However, behind her cute face and child-like actions, she was a talented and skillful killer, and knew just how to manipulate her composure to get behind her targets for an assassination.”
So here she was, Dash though. Pinkie Pie’s ancestor, the last of her six friends to appear in her past, but present none the less. Dash didn’t even need Luna to ascertain this fact (though she did take note that the princess of the night chose to exclude that one particular detail in her analysis). This could not have been a coincidence, she might have believed that her other few encounters had been, but now that every last one of her best friends was revealed to be a major part of Firefly’s life, Dash could not help but wonder once again what it was that Luna was hiding form her.
"Uh-oh" Firefly uttered. Ahead of them, the path went up a flight of clean limestone steps and stopped in front of a tight blockade of guards. She watched as a pony carrying bags of produce was stopped by the guards, told to present papers of identification, and allowed through only after levitating a formal looking scroll out of his saddlebags and displaying it in front of the guard stopping him. "I'm guessing that's where Templar country begins"
"Oh, don't worry about that." Surprise waved Firefly's worries away with her left hoof. "We deal with this sort of thing all the time. Watch and learn." With a sly look, Surprise approached a roughed up group of pegasai with heavy looking broadswords, battle axes, and war maces. The group look quite suspicious hanging around on a random street corner, but Surprise approached them fearlessly none the less. One of them gave a disgruntled frown as he saw her approach.
“Get lost snowflake.” He greeted her.
“Hi Bruise!” She ignored his insult. “I need you do me and my friend a favor,” She pointed over at the guard blockade. “Just go ahead and get those guards to run from their posts, okay?”
“Right, as usual.” He said reluctantly. “Can you feed the job though?” Surprise tossed him a few coins, all of which he caught with surprising accuracy. “Whatever, just try to stay out of trouble. Come on boys!” He waved his friends over and approached the guards. Firefly watched the scene unfold.
“Ey white-coats!” he shouted over at the bleached unicorn guards. “Lose your man-hood around here, or are ya just wearing the necklace to feel pretty?” Bruise said, referring to the overly ornate plating on the guards’ chest plates. A few snickers from his friends were added in for good measure, and sure enough, he caught the guards’ attention. The group began to brandish their weapons higher, showing them off in front of the police force. The guard in the middle responded with an unamused frown.
“You’re causing a public disturbance.” The guard replied formally, as if reading from a script of things for him to say to all the local ruffians when they caused trouble. “Cease immediately before you force the Trottingham guard to get involved.” The mercenaries laughed heartily.
“Oh, right, of course!” he said between chuckles. “Wouldn’t want to involve you lot, no. You might scratch your precious gold helmets!” At this point, the central guard needed to be restrained by his accompanying guards. He fumed at the group; obviously he’d had his fair share of verbal abuse from the poorer ponies before, and was frankly fed up with that kind of treatment.
“You dirty street rat! I’ll rip those wings right off your back!” He shouted angrily.
“Oh dear, wouldn’t want that now would we?” Bruise replied sarcastically. “I hear bloodstains are very hard out get out of one’s silky white coat!” At this, the guard, summoned a sudden rush of power, and broke free of the grasp of his fellow guards. The group of pegasi rain away at full gallop, bellowing fits of laughter as the enraged unicorn chased them like a bull. The other guards, followed in pursuit of their comrade, lest he do something he might later regret to some innocent civilian along the way.
And just like that, the entrance to the imperial district was left open and unguarded.
“Whoa.” Was all Firefly could reply with.
“Nice trick huh?” Surprise said. “It’s a useful move to know around here, considering the League is located in the fancy-pantsy section of the city.”
“This ‘League’ you keep mentioning,” Firefly asked. “Is this the mercenary base?”
“Oh yeah! It’s where I spend most of my time, and the largest assassin branch in the city; the Leagues of Pegasisters!” Surprise answered happily.
“Pegasisters?” Firefly said with a confused tone.
“Well, it’s actually called the ‘Leagues of Pegasi’, but I think ‘Pegasisters’ sounds so much more fun! Don’t you?”
Firefly’s only response was a resentful smile.
“Yeah, the League goes waaaaay back, back even to the time when Trottingham was known as Pegasopolis! All the peagasi lived in the clouds above here, and had to do whatever the stuffy old unicorns told them to do from their old castle.” Surprise looked up at the sky above them. “This city was actually exactly under where Pegasopolis was, but the unicorns still thought they owned the land because it was on the ground and not in the clouds. Ever since then, it's always been the League of Pegasi versus the Templar faction." Surprise let out a sigh. "I was born here, and it's always been like that, from day one to right now."
Firefly tool a few moments to take in the story. Another example of Templar cruelty, even in a time so long ago. By this point, it didn't surprise her.
"Anyway, enough of that!" Surprise said happily. "Here we are! Welcome to the League of Pegasai!" She gestured toward the large building in front of them. It was wider that most of the other buildings, and the outside was built of a polished green stone. Columns supported numerous balconies, and all the windows were open wide. Occasionally, a pegasus would fly in or out of the windows, in too much of a hurry to use the door.
"This is your base?" Firefly said.
"Yep!" Surprise responded. "And everyone in it is on our side too. Don't worry Firefly, we'll help you find whatever you’re looking for before those Templars do, I promise!"
"Surprise," she said, throwing her foreleg around the other pegasus' neck. "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."