The building was placed strategically, a stand-alone little hovel that stood near one end of the main row. From the windows, one had an unobstructed view of the entire street. The sheriff’s office belonged to a cluster of other buildings of public facility, such as the bank, the assayer’s, and the cleanest outhouses in all of Ponyton.
It was a marriage of wood and reinforced brick, and the door swung open with little effort on Spike’s part. It hadn’t been opened in a while, and a small storm of dust was whipped up as he and his boss entered the main room.
Spike dropped the suitcase, kicking up another cloud.
“Nice place,” he said.
“Yeah,” Sheriff Constance S. Twilight replied.
“Could do with a clean-up.”
Spike panned over the office space.
There were two desks. One for him, the other for the boss. Both were tucked away in the corner, far from the door. Old, yellowing posters lined the wooden slats behind one of the desks, and continued down to the right were a plentitude of crates, boxes, and filing cabinets, standing lonely and unused. Along the other side were basic amenities – an old, rusty basin, a mirror, a small stove, and a wardrobe, no doubt empty as well.
The main feature was through a small corridor across from where they stood. Five jail cells of various sizes brooded behind iron bars and thick walls, barred doors hanging open like the jaws of many beasts lain sideways.
In one of the cells was a collection of broken furniture, a musty display of mangled chair legs and splintered tables.
“Don’t think this place smells too good, Boss.”
“We should get some lanterns up.”
“We’ll take half a day. We don’t need to make this place a home. We’re here to get somethin’ done. Won’t take us long.”
“You sure about that, Boss?”
“Yeah.” Twilight walked forward, leaving prints in the dust. Hers were the only ones. She moseyed to one of the desks and started wrenching drawers open. “We do our job and get out. Basics. We’ll need paper. Quills. Hooks.”
Twilight swung her head around, eyes crawling over every inch of the building.
“Broom. Eight locks and keys. Hammer and nails. Blankets.”
“Where we gonna sleep, Boss?”
Spike shrugged. “Just like old times, eh?”
“Yeah.” Twilight rubbed her forehead, letting her mind wander. “Buckets. Water barrel.”
“Wanna write this down for me, Boss?” Spike gave her a wry smile. “I mean, I’d do it myself, but… you know. Can’t read.”
The sheriff trotted to the jails, passing Spike going in the other direction. She faced the main gate separating the hallway of cells from the rest of the building, a big heavy chunk of steel whose only purpose was to provide an extra layer of security.
Behind her, she could hear Spike busying himself with the suitcase.
The jail cell door was set aglow with a burst of purple magic, as Twilight pulled back, twisting her neck. She threw her weight into it, turning her body as she struggled to pull the door shut.
The door shifted slightly.
Twilight huffed out, releasing the door.
“Too heavy for ya?” Spike called out from behind.
Twilight looked over her shoulder at the little dragon neatly laying everything out on the desk in orderly stacks.
She turned back again, placing a hoof on the door this time. With a little effort, the groan of janky hinges, and the grumble of rust, the door swung back and forth. It was still solid enough to do its job, and that’s all Twilight needed.
“I thought it was the other way around,” Spike said.
“What’s that?” Twilight called back, walking down the corridor.
“I thought it was the other way around. Magic and muscle, that is,” Spike called out.
“Yeah?” Twilight’s voice drifted around the corner. “Ain’t like that!”
“Well, there's always talk, you know? They say it's like an extra hand you got there. An extra ghost hand what can hold you down or strangle ya in your sleep.”
Twilight reappeared in the main room, shifting her jaw. She quirked an eyebrow at Spike.
“Ain’t like that,” she repeated.
“How strong is magic anyway?”
“Depends on how much you practice. It’s like anythin’ else. You wanna get strong you work out, right? Same for magic.”
“What about yours, then?” Spike looked up from the posters he had laid out side-by-side on a crate.
“Enough to pull a trigger.” Twilight walked over.
The two of them looked at the five faces, an interesting gallery of characters staring back. Three mares, two stallions. Each of them sported a name and their last known line of work. Twilight shifted the picture of the pony with streaks in her hair towards them.
“Pegasus,” Twilight muttered.
“I always thought, ya know?”
“What’s that, Boss?”
“Out of all us ponies. I always figured the earthies were the ones best off.”
“Really? How you figure?”
Twilight sighed. “Well. Us unicorns and pegasi got things extra. We’re like… we got these things what don’t do much else. I mean, what’s the use of havin’ a third weak arm or wings if you can’t fly?”
“I dunno, Boss. How’s that worse? More of anythin’s always a good thing, right?”
“How’s about things like pain? More a’ that good?”
“See, earthies are… they’re normal. They’re stronger. They don’t need magic or wings to do the same stuff.”
“Yeah but pegasi can run real fast with the aid of them wings, Twi.”
“Can’t outrun a bullet.”
“Still something better, ain’t it?”
“I dunno, Spike. I don’t like the differences.” Twilight sighed once more. “Don’t see why everyone’s gotta be special.”
“Uh… are they special?” Spike shrugged. “You just talkin’ about regular unicorns and pegasi, ain’t ya?”
“Huh?” Twilight turned her eyes aside, looking at Spike. There was a quizzical look on his face, like a child trying to figure out where he left his toys.
“Oh. Yeah. Right. Ain’t nothin’ special. Don’t mind me none.” Twilight nodded.
“What?” Twilight muttered.
The little dragon kept grinning.
“What?” Twilight asked again, pronouncing it clearly this time.
“I like this.” Spike tossed his fingers back and forth between Twilight and himself.
“Talking.” He smirked with a mixture of curiosity and discovery. “We ain’t never done this before. You there sharin’ about ya thoughts and all that.”
Twilight rolled her eyes.
“It’s nice, Boss. You’s a nice pony,” he said jovially.
“Shut up. Let’s get to work. I want this place cleaned out in half a day. Get rid of that whatever the heck it is in the jail cell. Chop it up for firewood or whatever. Priorities is to get the stove runnin’. I’m gonna go out and get supplies.”
“Yes Ma’am.” Spike saluted.
“And then when we’re done, we spend some time casing the town. We find this… Moonshine Dash,” she pointed to the poster, “and we’ll be done by this evening. In and out. She’s the town blacksmith. Upstandin’ folk. We won’t have no problems with her, I’m expectin’.”
“Couple hours at most.” Twilight nodded.
Dust and Harmony
Chapter Two :: Landslide
Two Days Later
“Hey! Hey! Okay! Okay! You… I’mma… hey.” The pegasus hiccupped. “Y-y’all gotta… right, these…”
“Get in.” Twilight growled.
Moonshine Dash stood in front of Sheriff Constance, if ‘standing’ meant ‘doing one’s best impression of a jellyfish’. She wavered back and forth, and the bags on her face were so heavy that they seemed to be the only thing keeping her eyes from falling off. Her mane was a mess and her tail fared no better. They were short, presumably self-cut, and resembled a vicious tumbleweed.
“Right. But…” Moonshine slurred, holding up a hoof as she staggered into a pair of metal bars. “W-where do I put my bottle…”
“You don’t got a bottle. Now get in before I kick you.”
“Alright! Al… muh.” Moonshine stumbled in and landed on a plank of wood built into the wall, wings all in a tangle and hooves not faring much better. “Oh spirits, ish wood.”
Twilight watched as the pegasus rubbed her face up and down the length of the seat.
“Oooough, this is… this is wood, Sheriff. This wood.” Moonshine pointed downwards.
A padlock sealed her into the cell with a click.
“She is… really drunk, Boss.” Spike pocketed the key.
“Yeah.” Twilight shifted her jaw. “Queerly so.”
“How d’ya figure?” Spike asked, stepping back to watch the character contort itself along the floor.
Slipping around as if the ground were made of ice, the pale blue Pegasus with the grey, white and black mane blurted out a few unintelligible noises before reducing herself to a pathetic heap underneath the bench.
Twilight watched as well, narrowing her eyes and tilting her head. “Moonshine. Hey.”
“Wuzzat, Sheriff?” she responded.
“You know what this is?” Twilight held up a piece of parchment to the bars of the cell.
Moonshine squinted at it for a while, eyes shifting left and right before they tore away and followed the rest of her head back to the ground.
“Well?” Twilight asked.
“Dunno, She… Sheriff. Don’t read.” Dash responded.
“Yeah, Sheriff. Sorry. Just… just a simple pony here.”
“You’re the town blacksmith, right?”
“Supposin’.” Moonshine coughed.
“This is pointless.” Twilight turned to Spike. “Let’s have her sleep it off. We’ll talk more tomorrow.”
Stepping out of the corridor, Twilight and Spike made sure all necessary doors were locked before retreating to the far end of the room.
The place was cleaner now. Habitable. It had taken them quite a while to clear it out, but the result of their hard work was a cosy little place with a small pot of coffee warming up on the stove and two bedrolls where the crates used to be.
But that had only taken up half of their time – the other half was spent finding out that the townsfolk were a suspicious and unruly bunch, and didn’t take kindly to the new Sheriff. What, perhaps, was even more disconcerting was that no one wanted to talk about what happened to the old one.
Fringe towns tended to have their own law, and didn’t respect the style of policing found in bigger cities. But Ponyton was a place in between; the town was split between wanting to live the full frontier life and realising it needed rules to grow.
Twilight found that this translated to ponies always greeting you as you walked by, but making sure their spurs jangled loudly enough for you to hear that they had them on.
Finding Moonshine had mostly been an exercise in bribery and currying favour, and much less about blind faith in a pony of power.
Twilight sighed yet again. She had been sighing a lot since she arrived.
“Guess we go find someone else while she’s still blue, huh?” She threw the parchment onto her desk and looked up at the posters, which were now nicely pinned to the wall. “Could go for the doctor. Might be a bit less troublesome, I reckon.”
“Uh… maybe…” Spike mumbled.
“Yeah? You wanna go for Ms. Rarity?”
“Naw. That ain’t it. Maybe later, yeah? But um… about Moonshine in there…”
“What about her?”
“I just had a thought.” Spike shrugged. “Small thing. Don’t wanna bother none, but…”
“Spit it out, kid.”
“Uh… I reckon she’s been tellin’ yarns, Twi.”
Twilight stretched out her back, standing up a little straighter. “How you figure?”
“I think she can read.”
“You mean after she just said she can’t?”
“Mayor Celeste’s letter, Twi.”
“I was watchin’ her when she took a look at it. Her eyes. They was movin’.”
“Well, I can’t read for genuine. And when I see them scratch I just look away. I don’t try t’ read it. I don’t take that long neither, ‘cause I know words is words and I know there ain’t no point to follow them down the page.”
Twilight quirked an eyebrow.
“And I been… well. I know when peoples is lyin’. I just got this gut feelin’, Boss.”
“Yeah.” Twilight licked her lips. “You know what? Somethin’s botherin’ me too. When we pulled her in she were already sleepin’ it off in a barrel, right?”
“Yeah,” Spike reaffirmed.
“So why’s she actin’ like she’s freshly drunk?”
Spike scratched his head.
“But the question is,” Twilight continued, “why is she pretendin’?”
“And how we gonna catch her? I mean, she ain’t gonna just admit if we bear down on her. Us characters what got a story will stick to it.”
Twilight bobbed her head, thinking, as she looked around half in thought.
“Alright,” she said after a while, sliding a few scraps of paper toward her. “I got an idea.”
The little dragon dragged a stool into the corridor, throwing it roughly in front of Dash’s cell. He settled himself into it, leaning back against the wall and pouring himself a mug of sticky, brown liquid from a pot he had also strung along. A deep, acrid smell like burning chestnuts floated up into the air.
Dash wrinkled her nose.
From outside, the door slammed, echoing down the chambers.
“Well. Just you an’ me now,” Spike said, kicking back and blowing on his drink. “How you doin’?”
“I… am not… bluh.” Dash slurred. Her raspy voice sounded like sandpaper being drawn over shards of broken glass. It was oddly pleasant in that cheesegrater-like sort of way.
“I didn’t say you was.”
Dash remained silent, curled up in a ball.
Spike leaned closer, staring at her flank. A mason jar adorned it, a bolt of yellow lightning held within.
“Hey, that’s a nice cutie mark you got there.”
“Us dragons, we don’t got cutie marks.”
A wing flopped over.
“You know what we got instead?”
“Scale markings. No two is the same.”
“Ain’t too chatty, are ya?”
“Try’n’a sleep,” Dash grumbled back.
“You ain’t even listenin’ to me, are ya?” Spike continued. “I could say whatever an’ you’re too under the sun to even know, ain’t ya?”
“Damnit. I should be out there. But here I am stuck on babysittin’. You know what? Ain’t even that much ‘cause at least babies move around and do things.”
The figure of Dash didn’t move.
“Hey.” Spike got up and pushed his head towards the bars, setting his mug down on the floor. “Hey, tell you what. Can you keep a secret?”
Dash started snoring, but stopped after the third inhalation.
“I’m gonna take a walk around for a couple hours, deal? And if Sheriff Twilight asks, I was here this whole time, alright?”
Spike stood there for a few moments, watching as the pony did absolutely nothing. Finally, he flung his hands downward in a gesture of dismissal.
“Aw, whatever. Damned drunks. You just sleep it off.”
With a huff, Spike swept out of the corridor and into the main room, taking final stock. There were those little pieces of paper on the wall where the keys were that Twilight said not to touch.
Looking back, he almost thought he heard Dash stir as he stepped out the front door and into the late afternoon heat.
The door opened slightly.
A cautious look was enough to encourage Dash to open the door completely and step through, turning back to close it as quietly as she could. She carried herself on silent hooves, stepping with enough finesse to dance around a den of sleeping lions without fear.
Her eyes were focused, albeit tired, for there were some things that she couldn’t hide, but at the least, she had not let it hinder.
She placed the key to the front door on the doorstep before standing up, ruffling her wings, and turning around.
“Howdy,” Sheriff Twilight greeted, shoving her gun into Dash’s face, eyes twinkling.
“Whoa!” Dash jumped back, crashing into the door. It rattled in place.
Constance pulled out a pocket watch, glanced at it, and slipped it back into her jacket pocket. “Twenty-two minutes. Impressive. And how many of those minutes was just waiting to make sure the halls was clear?”
Dash clenched her teeth together as her eyebrows dropped back. “Oh hey… gee. Would ya look at that. I’m sober now, apparently, and I really ought to be on my w-way, sooooo…”
Twilight pressed the gun against Dash’s cheek.
Dash squeaked and shut her eyes, turning away from the sensation of cold steel against her face.
“P-please…” she begged.
“I got an idea.” Twilight said.
“Y-yeah?” Dash squirmed.
“Why don’t we turn around, go back in, and let’s… assess the situation, hm?”
“That sounds like a very good idea, Miss Sheriff, Ma’am.” Dash said, fumbling with the door behind her.
The door creaked open as Twilight marched her captive back in, Spike tottering in after them and standing sentry at the gates.
“Keep your wings down.” Twilight commanded. “Don’t try nothing. That dragon there might look small but he’ll be glad to make sure your next run will be your last. Got it?”
“A-absolutely very clear, Ma’am,” Dash said with a shaky voice, as she walked to the corner to behave.
“Well done. I must say, you nearly got me. It was Spike here figured you could read, you know?”
“Shut it. You sure can, Miss Dash.” Twilight walked over to the keys hanging up on the wall. There was only one key missing; the one clearly labeled ‘front door’.
“This is a m-mistake. I can explain. Please,” Dash pleaded.
Twilight moved in silence to the jail cell, ducking her head through the doors to look at the scene within. The mug that Spike had left had been torn up. It would have been easy, it being made out of soft tin. A few scraps of metal were left in the corner, a couple were hammered flat, and others were rolled up into twigs. They littered the ground around the padlock that was currently on the ground under the cell door it was supposed to be holding shut.
Twilight pulled back out, stepped up to Dash and stared her straight in her eyes – those eyes that had started to twitch and could only focus on the pistol in Twilight’s magic grasp.
“Hey. Have a seat.” Twilight pointed to a chair wedged behind a table. There were two chairs on the other side.
“N-now, we can just…”
“Have a seat.” The gun plugged itself on the end of Dash’s nose.
“O-okay! I’ll go! I’ll go! Don’t shoot me!” Dash cringed, throwing herself into the corner.
“Oh, don’t worry,” Spike said. “She does that.”
Twilight narrowed her eyes and lowered herself into the seat across from Dash. “Now, let’s get formalities outta the way. What’s your name?”
The dull blue pegasus let out a hard sigh and faced the table.
“My name is Moonshine. Moonshine Dash.”
Her grayscale mane shimmered under the lights with a rainbow sheen, like colours off an oil slick. She wore haunted eyes, the kind found on those with troubled minds.
Twilight recognized the look.
“Alright, Miss Dash. My name is Sheriff Constance S. Twilight. My assistant there is Spike. I come from Cantermore by request of Mayor Clearwater Celeste. I understand that you are familiar with her.”
Twilight continued. “You are the town’s blacksmith, am I correct?”
“Used t’ be.”
“I hear tell of your skill at making the best and fastest guns these parts.”
“I… uh…” Dash shook her head. “No. That ain’t me.”
“Right,” Twilight went on. “Now. Do you know why I’m here?”
Dash let her eyelids flutter shut.
“Just get it over with. I’m the one you’re lookin’ for. Alright? Don’t make it harder.” Dash muttered.
Twilight looked to Spike.
“Alright then,” Twilight said. “Where is it?”
Dash looked up. “What?”
“Where is it? Let’s get this over with.” Twilight tapped the table.
“What ‘it’? The piece? You talkin’ about the piece?”
“Yeah. What are you talkin’ about?”
Dash sat up a little straighter. “Uh… ain’t you here to kill me?”
“No?” Twilight quirked an eyebrow.
“Torture me? O-or… stuff like that?”
Dash started to breathe again. She rubbed at her face with a shaky hoof.
“Is this what that whole hoo-ha was about?” Twilight asked.
“I thought…” Dash scratched her neck. “Hey… uh… can I see… that letter again?”
Twilight slid it forward.
Dash pored over it, and it took her only a few moments before she slid it back.
“I see.” Dash muttered. “Okay. I’ll bring ya to the piece.”
“Didn’t you read this back in the cell?”
“I… sorta did. I caught a couple words. And I thought… Sorry Sheriff. My mind. It runs, sometimes. I panic easily. I’m really sorry for all the fuss. So let me take you to the piece and we’ll be done with it.”
“So what were you gonna do if you managed to get away?”
“Skip town, probably.”
Twilight thought for a while, sizing up the pony in front of her.
“Alright,” Twilight finally said, getting up. “Take me.”
Spike pushed forward. “That’s it?”
“Yeah, Spike. Miss Dash here has been very forthcoming with her information, hasn’t she?” Twilight spoke with a tone of deliberation. “And we don’t want to trouble her.”
“Alright, Boss. If you say so.”
“So,” Twilight held out a hoof.
Dash made her way to the door. “Follow me. I left it at home.”
Twilight and Spike both had to tilt their heads to read the sign that hung off one hook in front of the building.
Blacksmith ~ Steamworks ~ Repairs
It squeaked in the breeze on its remaining hinge. It had a little picture of a horseshoe on it as well.
Dash pushed into her shop without stopping, leaving her guests out front, but they joined soon after when a late afternoon breeze swept by, carrying a chill. Twilight entered just in time to see Dash pull behind a workbench, toward a dusty corner of the building.
Spike snaked his way around wooden benches, tables, empty display cases, and boxes of assorted junk to the great sleeping furnace in the corner. It was a huge beast with metal teeth and a chimney sturdy, but it was filled with so much dust that one could have forged a new pair of horseshoes in it without having to add coal.
The evening sun filtered through slits in the wall, casting light upon the sleeping tools.
Dash busied herself with brushing cobwebs off a large metal box that sat behind one of the seven anvils that littered the room. She knelt down, turning knobs furiously before wrenching the safe open.
Twilight sauntered up to the main counter to meet Dash returning from the other direction.
The pegasus slapped an empty frame down on the countertop, rattling the glass.
Twilight picked it up, looking it over. It was a magnificent specimen, a gun larger than a regular revolver, but with similar shape. However, it had been stripped of its parts, like a gutted mongoose, and hung unceremoniously in Twilight’s magic with its innards hollowed out.
All it was was a skin. Well made, and well weighted, but not much more than an outline with a strange-looking weight at the end.
Spike grabbed at it as he brought up the rear.
“Hey, wanna know an interesting little nugget?” He asked, snatching the pistol frame up.
“Careful with that,” Twilight growled a warning.
“Know what this is for?” Spike pointed to the grip.
“Counterweight,” Twilight said.
“Nah, that’s just for us,” Dash cut in solemnly. “You mean to be talkin’ about dragon guns, ain’t ya?”
“Oh, you know?” Spike grinned.
“Well yeah, course I do.” Dash continued, speaking rapidly. “Guns are dragon inventions. That there’s the thing they hold in their weird little hands. They use those finger claw things they got to fire the trigger. That’s why they’re made that way. Turns out it’s pretty easy for Unicorn magic to use, too. But we add weight to the grip so’s the gun don’t fly out of your magic when fired.”
“I am surprised, Miss,” Spike said with pride, “that you know this little fact.”
“Well, what self-respectin’ smith w–” Dash cut herself off.
She smacked her lips, looking down to the table.
“Well. I just know that one fact. There’s the casing.” Dash pointed to the piece of metal. “Anythin’ else I can help you with, Sheriff?”
“Yeah. You just left this piece here for all these years and no one gave you grief?”
“Safe,” Dash gestured to the side of the box. “Safe’s… safe.”
“No one’s gonna be able to cart it away. Thing’s a couple tons. Unpickable, too. Ain’t no one gonna get in even with dynamite.”
“You seem sure about that.”
“Damn straight, I’m sure. I built the damn…”
The pegasus trailed off again, once again sucking on her lip to force herself to stop talking.
“Hm. And tell me somethin’ else, if you would?”
Twilight leaned in, lowering her voice. “The lock you picked at the station. You knew your way around it pretty well. You make those too?”
“Yeah.” Dash sighed heavily. “My design.”
Twilight pulled back and looked around, through the dancing wisps of dirt that appeared in those beams of light. “Been a while since you done any smithin’, hadn’t it?”
“Yeah. Could say that.”
“You sleep here?”
“Sometimes. Other times behind the waterin’ hole. You know. Where you found me.”
“Enjoy your drink?”
“I guess so.” Dash frowned, sucking in air through her teeth. “Listen. If there ain’t nothin’ else…”
“What do you do nowadays if you ain’t smithin’?”
“I help out with small things around the place, alright? Hammerin’ and junk. Now iff’n you don’t mind me askin’, what’s all this to ya? You got what you came for. Why you shakin’ me down?”
Twilight turned back to stare Dash in the eye, who turned away almost instantly to look at the wall.
“I’m just curious, Miss Dash. I’m a curious mare by nature. If these here questions ain’t hurtin’, then maybe you could oblige me.”
“I don’t like talking about myself, Sheriff.”
“Fine. Be that as it may, I still wanna know about ya.”
“Why, Sheriff?” Dash raised her voice.
“I wanna know this pony. The one that Mayor Celeste trusted all those years ago. The one that she found straight and true to entrust a piece of the gun to. The one Mayor Celeste told me was good people, not someone I expected to find roostered in an alleyway.”
Dash responded, voice solemnly quiet. “Things happen, Sheriff. Things change. Ain’t none of your concern. Now what is it you really want? You ain’t dancin’ around for ‘musement. With respect, Sheriff.”
“Fine.” Twilight declared. “You’re smart. That much is clear. Let me stop… dancin’.”
“Would be appreciated.”
“Yes, Ma’am. As an arrow.”
“Can I trust you as Celeste trusts you?”
There was a pause. A slight one, but a pause nonetheless.
“Yeah. Yeah. You can.” Dash bit her lip.
“Then I want you to do me and Mayor Celeste a favour.”
“Take this piece,” Twilight tapped the counter, “back to your safe and lock it up real tight. Pretend we ain’t never had this conversation. Once I get the other parts, I’ll bring ‘em back here for you to stick in the safe too.”
“I can pay you. A dollar for expenses. Rental fee.”
Dash rolled her tongue around her mouth. “That’s… generous.”
“Friends, right?” Twilight glared. “We’re gonna need you to put the gun back together again anyway. I’m sure you still know how to fix up a gun proper. We don’t have a safe at the station, so we might as well keep it here.”
Twilight could hear Spike shift his weight. She chose to ignore it.
Dash shook her head a few times, clearing the cobwebs, letting the idea rush past too quickly for her to analyze it.
“Okay. Fine. Fine. Whatever.” Dash said finally. “A dollar. I’ll do it.”
“Thank you kindly, Miss Dash,” Twilight softened her voice and backed away. “We do appreciate it. I hope to see you soon. And I do hope you’ll be around. This is important. Very important. Lives are at stake here. I don’t know how much Celeste told you, but… this is something that might affect a lot of people down the line.”
Dash exhaled sharply.
“So, what I’m sayin’ is that we trust you,” Twilight concluded, turning. “See you soon, Miss Dash. Keep your head clear.”
Step by step, they made for the door. Walking through the dust and the dirt, hearing a metal door clang shut behind them as they left.
The sun had begun to fall past the horizon, sending blazing reds across the dunes. The cold picked up as a distant bird called out for companionship.
They started walking back to the office for the night.
“Hey, Boss?” Spike asked.
“Yeah, to answer your question, I do trust her. I have to, don’t I?”
“Surely you remember she’s hidin’ somethin’.” Spike threw his arms out sideways.
“That’s her business t’ tell. Don’t know if that means we can or can’t believe in her. At the least, she never let slip about the gun for two whole years, far as we know. Heck, even fearin’ for her life she never got rid of the damn thing. Seems like she’s straight enough.”
“Wouldja still trust her if Celeste hadn’t?”
Twilight had to take a moment to think. “Now, that there is a difficult question, Spike.”
“But whatd’ya reckon?”
“I reckon I didn’t ask enough questions.”
“Yeah. Just enough to know what I need to.”
“But… don’t it worry you some?”
“I mean… we both surely was thinkin’ the same thing. She don’t like talkin’ ‘bout herself, as she said. She done a lot of stuff around here. But it feels like she threw it all away. Don’t that make ya scratch your head?”
“Ain’t my business.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean it ain’t my concern. What do I care ‘bout her personal life? As long as we got what we need – what we’re here for. Thinkin’s best left to other ponies who have the time for all that.”
Spike stopped walking.
Twilight slowed to a stop and turned around to face the dragon.
“So.” Spike licked his lips. “Ya just say what you need to get things done?”
“Well, yeah. That’s work, Spi– Oh.” Twilight rolled her eyes. “What, you think I’m just usin’ you? You think I just spinned for your sake?”
“I don’t know what to think, Sheriff.”
“Because I ain’t asked enough questions yet.”
Spike and Twilight jerked their heads toward the sudden cacophony of a door banging open, as the blacksmith came rushing toward them, breath run ragged.
Her expression was caught between pain, irritation and frustration, all of them bubbling beneath the surface.
“Miss Dash?” Twilight asked, surprised. “Did we forget something?”
“No, look,” Dash clambered. “I… I need to tell you somethin’. ‘Kay? Please. I’m sorry. Just…”
“Whoa there. Alright. Lissen. Let’s get to the hole. Alright? You can calm your nerves and tell us what you need to.”
Dash nodded, blinking away at the sun.
When the gang entered, it was to the same crowd as earlier that day. It was the kind of clientele who didn’t really have anywhere else to go. The sounds of jovial cavorting died down as they entered, but picked right back up again when they saw the newcomers were with a familiar face.
Dash gave her best smile to the crowd.
“Hey! New Sheriff!” a faceless voice echoed out from the crowd. “Thanks for the round!”
Twilight tipped her hat politely in return.
“Hey, Sheriff!” came another voice. “Looks like you found her, huh!”
The comment was followed by an over-enthusiastic bubble of laughter.
“Yeah!” Twilight called back out. “I’m just havin’ her show me around the best spots in town. Don’t let me put a blanket on things. Y’all just go right ahead and enjoy y’selves”
“You gonna buy us another round, Sheriff?” Another voice.
“We’ll see, huh? See where the night takes me. ‘Cause I’m here to have fun!”
Another eruption of laughter and murmurs came boiling out – but it was a good sort this time, one less of whispers of bad things and more the spreading of words like ‘she’s alright’ or ‘what a pushover’, the kind of talk that got her to be left alone.
She led her group to a table at the back, next to the bar, next to the piano player, in a place no one ventured and a direction no one looked.
Twilight stepped up to the unicorn in a half-vest and white shirt. “Hey.”
“New... Sheriff,” the pianist said without misplacing a key. “You... been busy.”
The shaggy-maned unicorn all in brown had an oddly warbling voice. It might have been because of the piano, but his statements came as if he were asking a question to himself, and his patter had odd wavers and oscillations in them like a broken song.
“Constance. Constance Twilight.”
“Name’s… Bagtail Brown. What can I do ya… for?”
“Well. I wantcha to play loud. And keep goin’. I wanna make sure everyone here has a good time.”
“I always… make sure everyone’s at their… happiest, Sheriff.”
“Just Constance. I’m off duty.” Twilight smiled. “Please just do me this favour.”
“Sure thing, Constance. I’ll whip up… a storm.”
“Thankin’ ya kindly.” Twilight dropped three cents into the tip jar.
“Pleasure, ma’am!” the pianist elated, and immediately picked up the pace.
Twilight dropped back into her seat and spoke under the cover of lighting-fast ragtime.
“Alright, Miss Dash. You doing better?”
“Yeah. Yeah. I’m fine. Thank you, Sheriff.”
“Miss Constance.” Dash fidgeted in her seat. “Listen. Look.”
“Take yer time. Spike, would you at all mind fetching us a round?”
“Sure thing, Twi.” Spike hopped off his stool and sauntered away.
“Alright,” Twilight continued. “What’s eatin’ ya?”
Dash chewed her lip. “I… I have to admit somethin’.”
“The gun don’t work, ma’am.”
Twilight’s eye widened. Just the one. This was a surprising bit of news, but only warranted a single eye’s worth of shock.
“The gun… it doesn’t work.”
“I think you better explain from the start, Miss Dash.”
“Okay. This is what I know about the gun. When Celeste came down here and commissioned it from me, she said… oh, what was it… that it was a special weapon for a special reason. Don’t know for what, though.”
“Yeah. It’s for… somethin’.”
“Right. She gave me these fancy bullets and stuff and told me to shape ‘em special. So before she leaves, she lays on my table these plans. These big, amazing plans for a gun that were more like a cannon. It weren’t anythin’ like I ever saw before. It had all these inner chambers and stuff that weren’t found on a real gun, and it didn’t have no hammer neither.”
Dash rapped a hoof on the table.
“I shoulda said somethin’ then and there, but I didn’t. I figured… she knew what she was doin’. I figured she had some sorta plan. So I just went ahead and forged it just as she said. But… ah… I had to make sure. So I brought it out to the desert and…”
The pegasus sighed, rolling her tongue around in her mouth.
“It didn’t work. The gun just wouldn’t fire. Now, I figured… there was somethin’ up with them chambers. So I tried fillin’ it with powder or whatnot, but nothin’ I did would make it punch paper.
“Day comes when Celeste rolls back into town to pick it up. She takes a look at it and she’s real happy. She says I did a great job. Give me… give me the money for it. Two hundred dollars. I ain’t never seen that much money in one place at one time. I… take the money. She gives me a piece of it to keep. Tells me one day… one day she’ll come back.
“I… I shoulda said something then. But I didn’t. I just clammed up and took the money and…”
Dash looked to the ceiling.
“You sure it didn’t work? Maybe there was somethin’.” Constance asked.
“No. I… I… I couldn’t let it rest. But I couldn’t say nothin’ to Celeste after. I mean, I took her money and let her walk away with that, with me knowin’ well from the start that it weren’t no good. So I did what I guess I could. I made another gun. Same kind. Tweaked it a little to try to make it work better.
“I added a proper system, too. Tried to, at least. Figured maybe there was missin’ parts. I tried, Sheriff. I tried!”
Dash’s hooves came down hard upon the table.
“How… many times did you try?” Constance asked.
“Seventeen. I made seventeen other guns. They all didn’t work. I melted them all down. And then you know what I did?”
“You spent the money?”
“I spent the money. As if it were… as if it were mine to use. That money didn’t rightly belong to me.” Dash sagged down into her chair.
“I’m beginning to see what happened,” Twilight said.
“You know what the worst part was?”
“I asked her. When she gave me the piece to keep. I asked her why. And she says, just like you did, she says… just because she trusts me. That’s all.”
“Is that why you’re here spillin’?”
“Listen, Sheriff. I gotta come clean. It’s been… I ain’t ever forget that day. Every day past made it harder. How was I supposed t’ spill after a month? Two months? I just… And then you come here… and… I just gotta let you know. Ain’t not gonna be no blood on my hooves, Sheriff. That gun don’t work. Don’t know what you intend t’ do with it, but it ain’t gonna work.”
Twilight flicked her eyes up, deep in thought.
“So let me get this straight,” she began, a tinge of annoyance coating her words.” You thought drownin’ yerself in whiskey was gonna make things right.”
“Sheriff, didn’t you hear what I said? The gun don’t work!”
“I don’t care ‘bout that!”
Dash clammed up, her face scrunching.
“Look at yerself!” Twilight waved a hoof at her. “Look at what you become.”
“Why does that matter?” Dash spat.
“Because one thing I can’t stand t’ see is… is this! Wallowin’ in grief like some piglet!”
“Y-you think it was easy? You tryin’ ta judge me?”
“Yeah, you doin’ a good job of it yerself, ain’t ya?”
Dash kicked away, standing up. “Listen. I don’t need none’a this. I come to you bearing truths and you wanna paint me as the villain? Fine. You can take your damn–”
“Now, hold up there.” Twilight growled. “who said anythin’ about you bein’ a villain?”
“What do you call this, then?” Dash shot back.
“You wanna know what I see?” Twilight said, cocking her head. “I don’t see no villain. I see some pony who made a mistake, Miss Dash. A sun-damned mistake. And she been punishin’ herself for two years for it. You so wrapped up in it that you thought I was sent here t’ kill you, Miss Dash! Now, do you reckon that was what you thought or what you wanted?”
“What do you know? What do you know what I been through?”
“When we was talkin’ back at your shop, Miss Dash, you kept on cuttin’ yourself off everytime you had anythin’ t’ say about yourself. You know what that tells me? You are your own enemy. You ain’t willin’ t’ go on because of this one thing you did.”
“So what are you sayin’? That I should just forget it? I know I did a bad thing, Sheriff! I know I done wrong! I built a gun that don’t fire and I just as good as stole money from the Mayor. And now yer tellin’ me that there’s lives on the line? How am I s’possed to just go on?”
A furious undercurrent bubbled to the surface. It pushed through, welling up and moistening the edges of Dash’s eyes.
“Miss Moonshine.” Twilight lowered her voice to the ground, like a tiger stalking prey. “I am only gonna say this once. What you did ain’t as important as the fact that you know that you did wrong. You just said it yourself. That’s why you been guilty these past two years, ain’t it?
“Now, as for why you didn’t tell Celeste way back when, be it due to a case of nerves, or some stupid thought flow through your head, it don’t matter much no more. Point is, as much as you punished yourself for it, you was gonna do one of two things eventually. You was gonna go tell Celeste, or you was gonna bury yourself. The only wrong you did was that you chose the second.”
Dash rubbed her forehead, sinking back into her chair. “I don’t understand why you expect me t’ take this so lightly.”
“The world ain’t painted in black and white, Moonshine. Lemme colour this another way. You thought you was keepin’ silent when you shoulda said somethin’, right?”
“Yeah.” Dash sighed.
“But you said Celeste, she done took a look at your work and said it was perfect, right?”
“What if she were right?”
“But I chec–”
“No. What if she were right? Then all this time you’d been banging on about nothin’.”
“That still ain’t true! I shoulda still said somethin’!”
“No, Moonshine. There ain’t no reason to.”
“You wanna tell me why not?”
“Because of… trust.” Twilight wrinkled her forehead.
“Trust.” Dash repeated.
“Trust.” Twilight confirmed.
Dash stopped talking.
“The only reason why you suspect her is because you don’t believe her. Well, I do, and I find no reason to doubt she didn’t know exactly what she was doin’. She took a pile of sticks and built a city out of it. She don’t do things lightly, and for the two years that I worked for her, she ain’t never given me pause to think her judgement weren’t all there.”
Dash’s eyes began to roam.
“You ain’t done nothin’ wrong,” Twilight continued. “You think you shoulda’ said something. That’s civic duty and I commend ya for that. But I think there weren’t nothin’ to be concerned about in the first place, and you been punishin’ yourself for a crime you ain’t never committed.”
“I just… look. I just feel…”
“I know how you feel, Moonshine. I been in those places before. I been down those streets. It ain’t easy. We all got our shames and our secrets. I got my own things to be ‘shamed of. But guilt, it kills. And guilt don’t care if it’s founded or not.”
“Tell me something, Sheriff.”
“You really believe the gun works?”
“I rightly do. Celeste sent me here personally to rebuild it. She had two years to think about if it’d work or no.”
Dash buried her face in her hooves again.
“Moonshine,” Twilight said. “Trust me. Trust her. Just like how we’re trustin’ you. We both can see you’re an upstandin’ sort. I hate to see a good pony go down on account’a nothin’.”
Twilight scratched at the table, as she leaned back in her seat.
“And let me tell you somethin’. If you really wanna make up for it, get rid of how you feel, then clean yourself up. Get your head out of the barrel and start workin’ again, because you used to be someone worth a lick, but as you are now you’re as useless as a broken nail and that’s the honest truth. You wanna get better?”
Dash didn’t respond.
“I’m done,” Twilight eventually said. “I’ll stop by tomorrow to pick up the piece from you. I’ll keep it somewhere else. I ain’t gonna be the one drag you down even further. Get outta here. I ain’t got nothin’ left.”
Twilight looked away.
Slowly, Dash shuffled upwards, pulling her face away from Twilight as quickly as she could. With a shiver of her wings, she left the bar, stepping with haste and keeping her head down to her chest.
Twilight didn’t bother to watch her leave.
There was a clink of glass as three mugs were lowered onto the table; two filled with a foamy amber liquid and one with a thick white cream.
Twilight eyed the odd one out stoically.
“What?” Spike said. “I don’t like beer. Anyway, I held back. Figured you didn’t need me to drop in.”
“Good call.” Twilight returned to staring at the room, as if it had offended her personally.
Twilight turned to look at Spike. She looked tired. Drained. “Just said what was needed.”
“Yeah. Said what I had to to get what I want.”
The two sat in silence for a while, Spike sipping nonchalantly at his milk while the fervent piano music continued to pierce the air.
“You know, I think I understand you, Constance S. Twilight.” Spike said, lowering his mug.
“How’d you figure? You ain’t asked any more questions yet.”
“Don’t think I need to,” Spike replied.
Twilight sat up with a jolt to the sound of knocking on the door of the station. She scrambled out of her bedroll, leaving Spike snoring in his. Rubbing her eyes, she walked through the darkness to meet her guest.
The door creaked open.
Twilight stuck her head out of the Station, past Moonshine’s chest, and took a look at the sun. It was barely rising.
“Shit. What time is it?”
“Five thirty,” Dash replied. “Can I come in?”
“Yeah. Whatever.” Twilight stepped backwards. “Land’s sake. You look like an outhouse with hair. Did you sleep on the road again last night?”
“No,” Dash said, stepping in. “Don’t be mindin’ my appearance none. I didn’t catch much sleep last night.”
“What were you doin’?” Twilight coughed, walking to the stove and fumbling with the coffee. It was cold and around the consistency of butter by this point, but still drinkable.
“Making you these.” Dash dropped a bag to the ground with a thunk.
Twilight kicked it open and pulled out the contents.
“Yeah. Weighted for dragons. Your assistant’s probably usin’ unicorn guns, right? Ain’t too good. I modified some old guns last night for him. They’ll fit his size, too.”
“He’s got tiny hands.”
Twilight looked up, brain snapping to wakefulness. She put on her regular expression again, one of disdain and general disinterest. “And why did you do this?”
“I don’t know why, Constance.” Dash said with a strange new energy. “I just know that maybe I been lookin’ the wrong direction. I fired up the furnace last night for the first time in many moons. Many, many moons. Felt… felt familiar.”
“And I decided… maybe I did wrong. Maybe I didn’t. But thank the sun that no one got hurt yet. And I intend to keep it that way.”
She turned to lock her gaze to Twilight’s.
“Let me get one thing clear. I’m certain that gun of yours ain’t workin’. I stand by that. By everything that I am. It ain’t that I don’t trust Mayor Celeste none. But this is just… what I know.”
Twilight nodded again.
“But I ain’t gonna sit around and let innocent ponies die ‘cause of something I built. So–”
“Yeah,” Constance cut in. “I get it.”
“Right… Right. So… if you need anythin’.”
“Hold onto the pieces for me. One dollar, as agreed. And I insist.” Twilight pre-empted Dash’s oncoming words of objection with a hoof. “No doubt we’re gonna need a lot of help around here. I trust I can depend on your aid and discretion?”
“This time, I’ll make sure of it.” Dash said.
“Well. I have work to do. I have to fix my sign, buy provisions.”
“Comb your mane.”
“Yes. Yes. I’ll clean myself up.” Dash nodded furiously, pushing out the door.
“Thank you for the guns,” Twilight called after.
Dash stopped in the doorway and turned over her shoulder.
“Thank you for the faith,” she said, ducking out.
Twilight sipped her mud.
She stood in the middle of the morning, letting the calls of the whippoorwills mark the birth of the dawn.
A deep breath filled her lungs with dust and smoke – the smells and life of the town. Smacking her lips, Twilight turned back toward the bedrolls.
“She’s gotta make up for it herself,” Twilight said aloud. “Her own way.”
“How’d you know I was awake?” Spike called out from the other side of the room.
“Gettin’ to learn that you fade into the background real nice.” Twilight walked over. “Learn that your ears are sharp.”
Spike sat up, groaning. “What time is it?”
Spike dropped his body back onto the bed. “But I don’t get somethin’, Twi.”
“You gonna make that a thing?”
“I mean, it was just a misunderstandin’ was all. She actually tore herself up so much because of that? Small thing, weren’t it?” Spike carried on.
“She’s got a good heart, Spike.”
“Yeah, but still.”
“Guilt’s a funny thing. This matter ain’t about there bein’ a crime. This was about who had to suffer for it. She figured that her action meant that there was gonna be others who had to suffer for what she did. She felt it right that she suffered in kind.”
“You sound like you know a lot about this.”
“Maybe I do.”
The sun streamed in through the window as the world woke up.
“So,” Spike said.
“She gonna be okay?”
“What, after one day? No.” Twilight snorted. “Girl’s got a lot on her mind. All I did was try t’ set her down a different path. But she still gotta live with her demons.”
“You gonna trust her not to slip?”
“Yeah. the ones with a sense of morality – they have a habit of, ah… stayin’ loyal. For good or bad is another question, but… yeah. They stand by their convictions.”
“Yeah. I can understand. I guess.”
“Well, maybe one day Moonshine’s gonna find a way to forgive herself.”
“That’d be nice.”
“It’s up to her.” Twilight shrugged.
“And you.” Spike stuck up a claw.
“Yeah, you’re gonna help her, ain’t you? You’re her friend now.” Spike sat up again, smirking.
“She’s a pony who’s providin’ us a service, Spike.” Twilight’s face darkened. “This was all in the interest of mutual benef–”
“Really. So all of that in about her improvin’ her life, you didn’t say that just ‘cause you felt bad?”
“Well… That’s ta say… That ain’t the reason why I bore her down, and–”
“Aw, that’s cute. And you say you ain’t got no concern. You scared of gettin’ close or somethin’?
“Now look. I ain’t got no time for friends.”
“If you say so.”
“Sure thing, Twi.” Spike smiled.
“Quit callin’ me that!”
“Hey, who we gonna go after next?” Spike scrambled up and moved to the posters.
“You’re a damn idiot,” Twilight grumbled, joining him.
“What’d you figure?”
“Well, we need t’ buy some food. I’m runnin’ out of coffee, and we need to get stocked up on perishables. Lucky we got a trader in town, and he happens t’ be holdin’ a piece of Harmony.”
Twilight tapped a drawing of a big, stocky stallion. A handsome, yet calming fellow, by the looks of things; a stallion firm and strong and gentle in the eyes.
“Elijah C.B. MacIntyre. Ready to go?”
“Ready when you are, Twi,” Spike said with a grin.
CHAPTER TWO - END