A few minutes prior:
Though Twilight left her friends full of confidence, the feeling slowly gave way to apprehension as she approached the marshals. At first, she’d thought that Rarity was being her usual self: precise on the details, but given to being overly critical. However, now that she had a closer look at the marshals, she was afraid that Rarity may not have been critical enough.
The marshals now were nothing like how they’d appeared earlier, sitting tall on their horses in their crimson cloaks and sparkling steel. Right now, they slouched, put their feet up on the table, laughed raucously with the occasional punctuation of belching, and drank far more than she thought was appropriate. Nevertheless, she still felt that as sworn marshals and fellow citizens of Equestria, they should be willing to listen to reason.
“Um, excuse me…” she called out, her voice made softer by nerves.
“Hey, lizard boy!” one of the marshals yelled. “Where’s my refill?”
“Coming!” Spike called out, as he rushed over, carrying a tray full of precariously balanced mugs.
“Excuse me,” Twilight called out, “Mr. Marshal? Sir?”
“What do you want?” the leader of the group said in a voice that was somewhat less than welcoming. Turning to face her, Twilight couldn’t help but flinch at the way he looked now. For one, he was no longer smiling, and coupled with the bright red blotches creeping into his face and the decidedly glassy look in his eyes, it was clear that this was not a person in the soundest state of mind. Still, Twilight had a mission, and so she swallowed her apprehension and pressed on.
“Good afternoon, sirs,” she began. “My name is Twilight Sparkle, and I happened to notice that your horses still have their armor on.”
“So?” the leader asked, almost snapping at her and looking down his nose disdainfully.
“Well, it’s getting pretty warm, and I bet those horses are pretty uncomfortable with all that extra weight on. So, I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind taking them off?” She finished, smiling at them weakly: maybe it would help.
The leader of the group seemed to be mulling it over, his eyes going out of focus as he swirled the remaining contents of his cup. Finally, he spoke.
“Hurry up and get me a refill,” he slurred, completely ignoring her request. “And make sure it's the good stuff; I've had enough of this cheap swill to last me a lifetime.” And to Twilight's great surprise, the man threw - actually threw - his cup at her. Striking her square in the chest, the dredges of beer splashed out, stained the front of her sweater vest before the mug clattered to the floor.
Though his companions broke out into another peel of raucous laughter at the sight, Twilight was significantly less amused. Brow rising in a mix of surprise and indignation, she stared at the group in stunned disbelief. First he'd flat out ignored her request, then, he'd insulted Ponyville's generous hospitality, and now he was actually throwing things? There was rude, there was unacceptable, and then there was this.
“Sorry for the hold up,” came a small voice from behind. Looking over her shoulder, Twilight saw Spike hustling over with a large tray of drinks balanced precariously on his pointy head. "I got everything you guys asked for right here."
"Now that's more like it!" the unshaven soldier chortled as he seized up a cup and raised it to his mouth. However, just before he could start drinking, the mug vanished from his hand in a purple flash.
"Hey, what gives?" he called out, his bleary eyes staring at his empty hand in confusion.
"I think you've had enough for one day," Twilight Sparkle called out. Looking up at her, the soldier found the mug firmly gripped in her left hand and a wand even more firmly gripped in her right.
"... And just what do you think you're doing, girlie?" the leader of the group asked, his voice dropping low as a dangerous glint appeared in his eye.
"I'm..." she paused to swallow the lump in her throat, trying to hide the act by setting down the mug. "I'm just saying I think you all have had enough."
Though her words came out clearly, the young lady quivered on the inside. She'd seen that look before, in wild animals like the hydra as they contemplated whether to try and eat you, and it was not a look she relished facing yet again. But she'd also done enough reading on the subject of intoxication to know that if she didn't do something now, then these out of control soldier might start to get really out of hand. She had to do something before it came to that.
"So," the big man drawled, his tone now surprisingly level, daresay even calm. "You think we've had too much to drink and you're trying to cut us off, is that it?"
"Well... yeah," Twilight nodded, a thrill of hope rising inside as she relaxed her grip on her wand. Maybe these guys were more reasonable than she'd thought. I mean, it sounded like the leader was honestly considering what she'd said, and if he stopped, then maybe the others would-
She never even saw him move. Darting forward like a viper, the marshal's hand seized her wrist and gave it a sharp twist. Crying out in pain, Twilight dropped her wand with a clatter to the floor as the marshal pulled her close.
“Now you listen here, you little brat,” the marshal growled, noxious alcohol fumes coming out with his almost feral tone. “If I wanted your stupid opinion, I would have asked for it. I'm a goddamn marshal, and the last thing I need is some snot-nosed twerp telling me what to do." To drive the point home, he gave her wrist another slow, painful twist.
“Hey, stop that! You’re hurting her!” Spike called out, tossing the tray aside as he rushed over and grabbed onto the big man’s hand. He tried to pry the leader’s fingers off, but was shaken off as if he were a fly. Undeterred, the Salamander child jumped up and tried again, but this time, the marshal wasn’t so nice. With a look of pure disdain, he grabbed Spike by the head and forcibly shoved him away, sending him crashing into a nearby table.
“Stop it!” Twilight cried out, trying to wrench free of the vice-like grip. “You’re a marshal! Why are you doing this?”
“Why?” The big man sneered at the question. “Because I've earned it, that’s why.”
Twilight gaped, completely speechless.
“Let’s get something straight here,” the big man said, looking down at her as he wrenched her arm painfully yet again. “We marshals risk our lives every day so that you stupid civies can go about your cushy little lives. So when we show up, you all better show a little appreciation; you get us what we want, when we want it, and you show us some goddamn respect. That means keeping your trap shut and not mouthing off to your betters. Got it?” To Twilight’s horror, she realized that not only were the other marshals not doing anything to stop him, they were actually smiling in grim approval.
All off a sudden, the marshal’s beard exploded in a burst of emerald fire. Crying out in surprise, the big man let go of Twilight to frantically beat out the flames. That’s when Spike struck.
Seeing that Twilight was now free, Spike rushed from the side and jumped onto the big man’s back, latching himself onto the marshal’s head. Then, breathing in deeply, he exhaled another plume of green fire straight onto the top of his head, setting his hair ablaze as well.
“Run, Twilight!” Spike called out as he hung on for dear life, “Get out of–”
From where Twilight had fallen, she had a clear view of what happened next. Reaching back, the leader of the marshals grabbed Spike by the neck and forcibly pulled him off, oblivious to the claws raking his cheeks as the little boy resisted. Once off, the big man held Spike dangling in front and stared at the boy with murderous intent.
“That was a big mistake, lizard boy,” the marshal said as he drew back his other arm and punched Spike straight across the jaw. The little boy instantly went limp and the big man dropped him to the floor in a crumpled heap. Spike wasn't moving.
That’s when Twilight screamed.
For a moment, the people surrounding the group froze, unsure of what to do. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to help; it’s that they were so shocked they didn’t know what to do. Things like this never happened in Ponyville.
The big marshal gently touched his face, his fingers coming back red where the Salamander child’s claws had drawn blood. At first, he simply stared at it, as if not sure how he should react. But the moment of indecision passed, and without a second thought, the marshal leader pulled forth his spell gun and pointed its gleaming silver barrel directly at Spike.
“Stop!” Twilight cried out, jumping in front of the barrel to cover the unconscious boy. “You can’t do this!”
“Can’t I?” the big man asked, the calm of his voice barely concealing a seething mass of fury underneath. “As a marshal, I have every right to respond to threats with deadly force. And since your friend just attacked me…”
“Please, he was just trying to help me,” Twilight pleaded, her eyes starting to well up in tears.
“Well, in that case, maybe I should start with you,” he said, switching his aim to her.
“Twilight!” Rainbow Dash called out as the five girls rushed over. Seeing Twilight crying, Spike unconscious, and a man pointing a gun at them, it took less than an instant for them to figure out that things were getting very out of hand.
“You… what did you do to them?!” Rainbow Dash shouted furiously as took a step towards the marshals. Others in the crowd joined in. They may have been startled earlier, but these were Ponyville folk: you did not just threaten friends of theirs and get away with it. The marshals, however, simply chuckled.
“That would be a bad move, girlie,” the one with the large gut said. “You ever seen what a spell gun can do?”
“I ain’t scared of you, or your pea shooter,” Rainbow Dash yelled, rune wing frame flaring to life as she rushed forwards, but Applejack grabbed her before she could take two steps.
“Whoa there, nelly,” she whispered to her struggling friend. “I know how yah feel, but rushin’ in and gettin’ yerself killed ain’t gonna help the situation.”
“Smart move, cowgirl,” the unshaven marshal cackled. “After all, only morons aren’t scared of spell guns. But since it seems like you’ve never seen one before, I’ll give you a special preview. Watch.”
Pointing his rifle at the ground, the silver weapon began to hum and glow with a faint crimson light. With almost casual ease, marshal pulled the trigger and shot forth a blazing line of fire that struck the pavement and erupted into a roaring pillar of flame twice the height of even the tallest man. Rainbow Dash and the rest of the crowds could only gape, a stunned silence washing over the town at the overwhelming display of power.
“You see?” the gaunt-faced marshal snickered, the crowds shrinking back as all four remaining marshals pointed their guns at the crowd. “We’re given the power to exterminate trouble with these guns. And since we have these,” he continued, showing his badge to the speechless crowd, “we have the right to decide what trouble is."
“Please, gentlemen, let’s be reasonable,” Rarity said as she took a small step forward, a sickly smile stretched over her face. Even now, despite the fear they all felt, she was trying to use her natural charm to diffuse the situation. “There’s no need for violence, now is there? I’m sure Spike will be more than willing to apologize after he wakes up, and after that, there will be no more trouble from any of us. How about it? I’m sure you fine marshals could show a little mercy towards a foolish little boy’s actions?”
For a moment, it seemed like the marshals were actually considering it. But all hopes for peace were dashed as the five men began to chuckle.
“Sorry, girlie,” the leader said with a smirk. “But I think this town doesn’t have enough respect for the marshals. So you all sit back while I teach this brat and her pet some manners.” Turning his back to them, he once again pointed his gun towards the pair.
“Oh don’t worry,” he sneered at Twilight, “I won’t end you right here. A little scar on that pretty face should be enough of a lesson. Now hold still,” he said, leisurely taking aim at her face. “I wouldn’t want to accidentally put an eye out, now would I?”
Twilight did her best to hide Spike behind her as she squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for the inevitable blow to fall. The marshal’s spell gun began humming as the same crimson glow appeared. His finger tightened on the trigger…
A booming voice echoed through the crowd just before a deafening clap of thunder roared. The townspeople screamed and ran for cover, instinctively following the firm command as a brilliant flash of light lit up the inside of the pavilion. A cry of pain rang out of from the tent.
“Twilight!” the five girls called out, heads covered and huddled on the ground, unable to see or hear anything, but unwilling to run and abandon their friend.
Soon, the light receded and the thunderous did faded, and the five girls looked up anxiously to see what had happened to the sixth.