“Hey, Twilight?” Spike asked.
“You gonna do somethin’?”
They had been standing outside the telegraph office for quite a while now, Twilight staring up at the sign that proclaimed the ability to send messages in an instant. It was a new technology – sending words by wire – a concept frightening to some and wholly discardable to others.
Twilight furrowed her brow. “These newfangled things.”
“It’s pretty interesting, though, isn’t it?” Spike shrugged. “Being able to send a letter all the way to Cantermore in nothin’ more than a flash.”
“Never saw the point before, and I don’t see the point now.” Twilight swept away, continuing down the street.
“Well… what about t’ Mayor Celeste? You know, like for regular updates or somethin’? Keeping her apprised of the sit-tu-a-tion?”
The two continued walking, reaching a busy intersection.
“Naw. That’s stupid,” she said finally, turning to the left.
“Hey, all I’m sayin’ is that it’s nice to keep in touch with yer friends once in a while, y’know?” Spike shrugged. “I mean, even though Celeste ain’t really yer friend, and–”
“We’re here.” Twilight cut Spike off, pushing forward.
The crowd had been growing steadily as they travelled from their part of town to the market quarter; there was a lot more to do down shop row.
A great manner of better-dressed, well-conversed ponies milled the area, patronizing a collection of shops and establishments that had a great deal more thought put into them than just ‘four walls and maybe some chairs’.
By no means was it Cantermore, but it was a good facsimile thereof. There was a bit of life to it that Twilight found wholly familiar.
The two partners came to a stop in front of a large building, one of the biggest in the whole town. It was a castle amongst huts, a glorious two-storied construct that sold everything you could ask for, from supplies and housekeeping items to fresh produce and tinned perishables.
It was emblazoned with a huge sign proclaiming the proprietor and name of the shop: one ‘Big Mac’ and his Emporium.
Spike couldn’t get a clear look at the entire facade through the trickle of ponies going in and out.
“Whoa.” He turned to Twilight. “Why ain’t we come here before? I could spend hours in this place.”
“Because you could spend hours in this place.” Twilight scrunched her mouth, walking in.
Inside, the store was even more lavish. Great big electric bulbs lit up barrels stuffed full of fruit, assorted nails and peripherals filled wooden bins all stacked up neatly against the wall, and signs pointed the way clearly to other departments. Adequate space was given to walk, and there was even a fresh juice bar tucked away near a rest area.
“Wow, Twi.” Spike looked around.
Twilight found herself looking around as well, not so much at the emporium’s grand offerings, but rather for something in particular. Her gaze latched onto a small house-within-a-house on the second floor, and she proceeded to the stairs with all haste.
“Manager’s office,” she explained, stringing Spike away from all the colours.
With difficulty from many points of distraction, they eventually made it up the stairs, and they stood in front of the large door separating them from the proprietor.
The door opened before Twilight could knock.
Standing behind it was a stallion of immense proportion. A coal black mane covered a red coat, giving him an air of sobriety, and his little vest with all the pockets thrust him into the realm of officiation.
He looked upon his guests with a gaze that betrayed no other purpose than that he was, in fact, giving them some sort of regard. It was an expression that lacked of all other expression, in the same way that white was a colour while simultaneously being absent of all other shades.
When he spoke, he took a deep breath, and enunciated slowly with a low voice that had the texture of pudding being strained through a chinois.
“Can I help you?” he asked over his giant mustache.
He was recognizable from his poster in appearance only; whoever drew it had politely given him some sort of character.
“Mister Elijah C.B. MacIntyre?” Twilight asked.
The stallion stared at her for a moment.
“Yes. Yes I am,” he said, slowly, with just the right amount of effort required to speak. “You may call me Big Mac. Do not call me anything else. What do you want, Sheriff?”
“You already know who I am?” Twilight asked.
“That is a badge, is it not?” Big Mac said, glancing down briefly at Twilight’s chest.
“Yes. That’s right. I’m Sheriff Constance S. Twilight,” she introduced herself. “May we speak in your office?”
The hulking figure retreated, pulling back behind his desk where he stood, statuesque, waiting for Twilight to continue.
It wasn’t very difficult to notice the things on his desk, of which there were only three – a single piece of paper with numbers on it and two picture frames. In contrast, the rest of the office was quite homely and well decorated. Spike found himself on the couch in no time at all.
“Please, have a seat,” Mac said to the seated dragon.
“Uh... “ Twilight muttered, pulling out a piece of parchment. “I don’t want to waste your time, Big Mac. I’m here on official business from Mayor Celeste.”
“Alright. I won’t waste your time either,” Mac said, glancing at the paper. “I know what that is, and I don’t have the piece any more.”
“You don’t?” Twilight raised an eyebrow.
“No. But we are presented with an opportunity. Let me explain.”
“About three months ago,” Big Mac continued, “my shop was raided by a gang. They stole a great many things, including the piece that you require. I would very much like to kill them. If you help me, you will get your piece back, and I will have my revenge.”
Twilight raised her other eyebrow.
“Just being honest, Sheriff,” Mac said.
“You want ‘em dead? For robbing you?” Twilight asked.
“No.” Big Mac swivelled the larger of the two picture frames on his desk towards Twilight. “This is my family. My wife, Applejack, and one of my daughters, Babs. They currently live in Cantermore.”
Mac swivelled the other frame around. All it contained was a single pressed flower.
“This is my other daughter, Apple Bloom, who was shot during the raid. She attempted to stop the bandits, and they punished her for it. She was thirteen.”
“Why a flower?” Twilight asked, staring at the frame.
“Best I could do, given the circumstances.”
“Ah.” Twilight smacked her lips. “It’s good to see you coping with the loss, at least.”
“What are you talking about?” Big Mac said calmly. “I’m on the verge of tears.”
“Uh… so you said this all went down three months ago?” Twilight continued, pressing away from the awkwardness.
“Why didn’t you ask the old sheriff for help?”
“And the sheriff…”
“He ran, New Sheriff.”
Twilight took in a breath. There was something quite frightening about the candid nature of this pony. It was refreshing, in the same way a bucket of cold water was to the face of one in deep sleep.
“I can’t do this by myself, Sheriff,” Mac said. “I can’t hold a gun, and it’s one against three. Help me kill them and you’d be doing the entire town a favour. I guarantee you that you’ll get your piece of Harmony as well. I’d also very much like to be able to live with the remainder of my family in peace again, if you’d permit me to be selfish.”
“Well, I don’t wanna have to shoot no one unless I need to.”
“You’ll need to, Sheriff.”
Twilight nodded, thinking to herself. Her gaze jumped from Big Mac’s dispassionate face to the weird framed flower to Spike who had fallen asleep on the plush sofa.
She rolled her tongue around in her mouth, shifting her jaw.
“Alright,” she agreed. “Tell me more.”
Dust and Harmony
Chapter Three :: God’s Gonna Cut You Down
“Sheriff! Good to see you again!” Moonshine called out, rushing from the heated forge to the front of the shop. She was covered in oil and soot, her apron stained with the results of industry and hard work.
Twilight marched to the counter and slapped a stack of papers down.
“Afternoon, Dash. You seem spirited.” Twilight said.
Spike waved from the background.
“Yeah, been good. Things is movin’.” Dash nodded. “So, what’s this?”
“I just been contracted.” Twilight spread the three posters out. “Looks like one of the pieces of Harmony’s in the hooves of these three. Recognize ‘em?”
It only took a single look, and Moonshine’s demeanour turned as grey as her mane. “Y-yeah. Ain’t anypony ‘round here who wouldn’t. Rover, Fido and Spot. The Diamond Dog gang.”
Three unicorns lay flat on the surface of the glass, each with a surly look and angry eyes. They were mere artist’s depictions, much like every other poster around those parts, but these had the work put in. Whoever drew them had wanted to make sure they were recognizable on sight.
“I’m gonna go take care of ‘em,” Twilight said.
“The next piece we need was stolen by ‘em from Big Mac. I’m meanin’ t’ get it back.”
“Big Mac?” Dash sputtered. “Wait. He was one of the holders of Harmony?”
“Yeah. What about?”
“I see… I see ‘im nearly once a week. I had no idea, and…” Dash shook her head.
“That’s the point, ain’t it?”
“Well… alright. But why are you tellin’ me this, Sheriff? Ain’t it supposed to be a secret?”
“Because I need you to do somethin’ for me.” Twilight tilted her head. “See, these here Dogs, they done kilt his daughter a couple’a months back. He’s comin’ along.”
“Ah… yeah.” Dash lowered her head. “I remember that. Was a sad day for everyone. Big Mac’s a… pillar of this here town, Sheriff. But this rightly makes some sense. Big Mac was always the kind of guy who’d clean up after hisself.”
“So that’s where you come in, Dash.”
“M-me? I-I… I don’t think I’d be too good…”
“Calm yer saddles, Dash. All I need you to do is help make somethin’ for me. You can do that, right? Make stuff?”
Dash had to look towards her blazing furnace. “Y-yeah. That I can do, Sheriff.”
“Right. Mac needs a weapon. Something big. Something powerful. He’s an earth pony, so you’re gonna want’a… make something that fits.”
“But you’re goin’ up against three unicorns, Sheriff. He’s just an earthie, like you said. He’s gonna be–”
“He wants to come along. Unfinished business. You know how it is.”
“Y-yeah. I guess so. What d’ya have in mind?”
“Well, he’s got an old set of spurs that ain’t gonna be much use. I dunno, Dash. He’s big and then some. Maybe put that to use, huh? He’ll be shit across range. Maybe I can rustle him up some armour too.”
“Yeah. I getcha. Maybe some kinda… power spurs or somethin’?” Dash rubbed some soot off her hooves onto her apron.
“I have no idea what the hell that is, but you do what you gotta do.”
“Well, it’s basically a shea–”
“Yeah, save it. I’m expectin’ you to be able to do this justice, y’hear? Of course, I’ll pay for your… kind services.”
“That… that ain’t the problem, Sheriff. When do you need this by?”
“We gallop tomorrow.”
“Okay.” Dash breathed out, staring at the posters.
Twilight cocked her head to one side, looking down at the blacksmith along the length of her nose. “Somethin’ eatin’ ya, Dash?”
Twilight waited patiently as the pegasus chewed her lip. It was clear she was in thought. Sometimes it was best to let people think.
Finally, Dash lifted her head. “Sheriff? You ever… kill someone before?”
The question was expected. Yet every time Twilight was asked, she found that all her carefully prepared answers would spiral away, forcing her to take a few moments herself before she was able to respond.
“Yeah. Couple times.”
“I… ah… yeah.”
“Couple situations,” Twilight continued. “Bad situations. Bad ponies.”
“I didn’t think you had a problem with it, Dash. You make guns, after all.”
“Oh, I… I don’t got a problem,” Dash responded, with a bit more vigor. “I just don’t… think about it all that much, you know?”
“Yeah. I try not to, myself.”
“And I ain’t never used a gun myself, neither,” Dash said, although it was more of something that had to be said than any kind of revelation.
“Figured,” Twilight replied.
“I killed a dog once,” Spike said, running a finger down a dusty shelf.
Twilight gave him an eyebrow.
“What? It tried to eat me.” Spike shrugged. “Ended up my blood melted his face off. So I guess technically it weren’t really my fault.”
“I don’t know what to feel right now, Sheriff,” Dash said.
“Yeah. Me neither.” Twilight clenched her jaw. “But best I can, I’d rather not have to take a life. It don’t always sit right. But sometimes, when yer in that perfect situation…”
“I understand, Sheriff.”
Dash drummed her hoof on her counter, still staring at the posters.
“You’d be doin’ us a favour, Sheriff,” Dash said, prodding at the closest mugshot.
“If these three were… gone.”
“Yeah. They pull through town once every couple months, maybe. Ain’t the first time. They cause big problems. Previous Sheriff had his hooves full with ‘em. But he… he was yellow.”
“I don’t… I don’t think Mac told you the full story.” Dash coughed, choking on the sudden dryness in her throat. “They didn’t shoot down his daughter there and then. They dragged her off with ‘em as they galloped out.”
Twilight’s ear twitched. “Well, maybe if that’s the case, she might still–”
“No,” Dash cut her off, shaking her head, eyes on fire.
Twilight simply decayed into a rhythmic nod.
“I… I can’t believe I’m askin’ for this, but…” Dash stammered.
“Hey,” Twilight said. “You ain’t askin’ for murder. Yer askin’ for justice. And sure, I gotta respect the law, but… you never know what’s gonna happen out there.”
“Still though. Is it right to wish death upon someone else?”
“It’s never right.” Twilight said. “But we do it anyway.”
“I’ll, uh…” Dash’s eyes twitched toward the furnace, “...do my best with the weapon.”
“I believe ya,” Twilight said.
There was, then, that unmistakable, imperceptible feeling that Twilight got once in a while – the kind that made her hair stand on end and her senses buzz.
She flicked out her pistol, turning her entire body in a single rapid movement, shoving her gun right on the end of a nose.
Spike clawed at the holster by his side, while Dash stepped left to see who it was.
“Hold, Spike,” Twilight said, her glare softening and her pistol returning to its home.
“Why, hello… there,” the strange brown stallion said, a smile creeping across his face.
“Oh, Mr. Brown,” Dash said. “I didn’t notice ya come in.”
“Ah, Bagtail. The pianist,” Twilight said. “I’m sorry about the, uh…”
“She does that,” Spike and Dash said, together.
Twilight pursed her lips. “Right.”
“No… problem, Miss Sheriff. None at… all,” Bagtail said in his odd pattern. “But why… might I ask, are you… so jumpy?”
“I didn’t hear you come in neither. Seems like none of us did.”
“Ah, then… it is me who should… apologize,” Bagtail bowed, still grinning. “People tell me that… I have a tendency to simply… appear out of nowhere.”
“Is there anythin’ I can do ya for?” Dash asked.
“Just… looking for some nails, Miss Blacksmith. Couple of… loose floorboards at the hole.”
“Two cent bag’ll do ya?”
“That’ll do… just fine, Miss Blacksmith.”
It was then that Twilight managed to get a better look at Bagtail Brown’s cutie mark, which was far from what she expected. it was that of a possum. A small critter. But not just a critter, but one that had long been dead and was inflated from rot.
The strangest thing about it was how it was laid out top to bottom rather than lengthways, with its tail dangling downward and its mangled, fuzzy corpse ballooning out on top.
It was oddly hypnotizing.
“Miss Sheriff?” Bagtail called again.
Twilight blinked twice, shaking her head. “Wha–?”
“I asked… you if you had business with… the Diamond Dog… gang.”
“Oh, right. Yeah. Turns out I do,” Twilight said, returning to the conversation.
“Then… I would advise caution. They are not… to be trifled with.”
“So I hear.”
“We wouldn’t want… anything bad to happen… to you, Miss Sheriff.”
“Don’t worry,” Twilight nodded. “I’ll be back to the hole before you know it. Keep a glass warm for me.”
Twilight stared out into the desert, squinting against the wind. She stood at the official exit to the town, though in truth it was nothing more than a point in the dirt where the street ended, and a different kind of dirt began.
It was still dirt, but it wasn’t theirs.
A small crowd had gathered behind Twilight as the wind blew through her mane. People talked. They came to see the foolish Sheriff and her weird foreign not-deputy ride off to their doom. And it seemed that they would be dragging Big Mac along with them.
Things were different, and people liked to stop and stare at different.
Twilight and Big Mac ignored the gawking faces and the random calls of vastly different tones.
Some predicted their death.
Some expressed general support.
Most gave their consent for her to put the Dogs out of their misery.
They were ignored.
“She’s late,” Twilight said, looking up from the meticulously drawn map, courtesy of MacIntyre Industries. She folded it up and passed it to Spike, who placed it in a handy little sack.
“Good things take time,” Big Mac replied. “I’ve been waiting plenty for this opportunity.”
“If you don’t mind me sayin’,” Twilight stared out into the desert sands, lit by the noon sun, “you got yerself an education, don’t ya?”
“You talk all fancy, and know math.”
“Why ain’t you in Cantermore?”
“The people need someone, Miss Sheriff. Everyone – pony, dragon or gryphon. We all need help sometimes. I offer fair prices and ease of convenience. I want to see this town bustle, Sheriff.”
“Your wife Applejack was born here, weren’t she?”
Big Mac’s mustache twitched. “Very good, Sheriff. You seem educated yourself.”
“Celeste’s taught me a lot.”
A few ponies behind them staggered sideways as a rough, iron-blue hoof shoved through.
“Hey!” Dash called, squeezing between two uncooperative stallions. “Move it! Hey!”
“Hey, let her through,” Twilight demanded.
Dash rushed up, pushing past the belligerent peanut gallery, dragging a large burlap sack behind her. “Sorry, Twilight. Sorry I’m late. Just had to make sure everything worked okay.”
“What… is that?” Twilight pointed at the sack. It was just about big enough to squeeze in a small foal.
“The… the weapon!”
“Might I?” Twilight gestured.
“Sure, go ahead. The idea came to me when I was sellin’ Bagtail the nails, right?” Dash explained hurriedly, while Twilight peeked into the bag. “Took me all night to work out the parts, but I managed to get it done, and–”
“I asked you to build a weapon,” Twilight said, withdrawing.
“Uh… yeah? That’s…” Dash began to look worried.
“I don’t even know what to call that.”
“It’s… it’s a weapon, Sher–”
“Is that steamworks?”
“Well, it would be, but lookin’ how strong Mr. Big Mac is, I was able to switch it up t’ a simple hinge and levered syst–”
“Alright.” Twilight flicked her eyebrows up. “Mac, you can get it on, and we’ll ge–”
“Ah… no,” Dash cut in, jumping in between Twilight and the bag. “Uh… see. It’s a mite difficult to gallop in those. You’re gonna have t’ put it on when ya get there.”
Twilight sighed. “Fine. Mac, you mind? Let’s get o–”
“Ah…” Dash murmured again.
“It’s a mite difficult to put on, if ya don’t know where all the bits go… so…”
“We ain’t got time for you t’ teach us, Dash!”
“No. I’m… I’m comin’ with ya,” Dash said.
That made Twilight draw up short. “Really.”
“Yeah. I made up m’mind.”
“Weren’t you a bit…”
“Don’t matter. I said… I said I weren’t gonna let innocent ponies die no more. So… I’m gonna help whatever I can, Sheriff Twilight.”
Twilight bobbed her head, her jaw tightening in respect. “That’s good, Moonshine. That’s good.”
“Yeah. I’m hopin’ it is.”
“Let’s ride, then. Their hideout’s a couple miles up North, a cave next to an old oak tree and a dried up pond.”
“You know where they are already?” Dash asked, surprised.
“It was the last gift my daughter gave me when they returned her,” Big Mac said, slowly. “Let’s not let it go to waste.”
The ridge pulled into view, brown and craggy, covered with a layer of clay. It was as if there were a great eldritch serpent asleep beneath the earth, only its winding, thorny spines visible while it lay dormant.
The group galloped at speed; they had been running nearly non-stop since they left the town. Twilight and Big Mac seemed to effortlessly continue onward without need for relief even with their cargo – A great big sack for the stallion and a small little dragon riding sidesaddle for Constance.
Dragons were remarkably stubbly creatures, not well known for their ability to run fast for long distances at a time, and so Twilight was only slightly annoyed at the prospect of having to give him a lift.
Moonshine, on the other hand, trailed behind, her tongue hanging out of her mouth as she struggled to keep up. Only with the assistance of a great many beats of her wings could she catch up and even surpass her company’s speed, but that took extra energy – something she needed to conserve at the moment.
But relief was in sight.
The only tree that bordered the base of the ridge was a crooked, wretched specimen. It was as dead as the countless rocks and boulders that surrounded it in all directions, its only source of sustenance lost to the sun years ago.
Twilight stopped at first sight, pulling closer to the ground and motioning for her companions to follow suit. Spike, too, dismounted and dropped to all fours.
“We go along the ridge,” Twilight pointed. “If there’s lookouts, we can use them rocks to hide behind.”
The simple mix of geographical elements and gravity meant the larger of the boulders were the ones found closer to the sharp incline up the ridge.
Being careful not to kick up clouds, the four inched around and made their way through the dirty air until they were close enough for Twilight to call for them to stop.
It was in the shade of a particularly large boulder that they finally dusted themselves off and Dash could spread her wings to cool off.
Big Mac stood there, wiggling the pebbles out of his mustache.
“Right,” Twilight said, when they had all finally arranged themselves. “Let’s have a look.”
The trick was to move slowly. Most would assume a quick dart in-and-out of cover was the tactic of choice, but the opposite was true. In a world where nothing moved and even the shadows refused to dance, it was those quick movements that caught the most attention. Blending in and using the sun was key to staying undetected.
Twilight pulled back.
At the edge of the dried-up pond was a single pony sitting on a crate under what little shade the tree provided. To his back was a door, heavily laden with wood. It was smaller than regular doors, but thicker, and was painted to look like part of the cliff.
“There’s one there. Large fella,” Twilight said. “Looks like this is the place. They must rotate lookouts. I think that one’s the one they call Fido. He’s got a coal-blue coat. Yellow mane.”
“That’s the one,” Mac confirmed.
“Cutie Mark’s some kind… of… round thing.”
“It’s a collar,” Big Mac said. “He’s the one.”
“He’s got a bottle.”
“One of mine.” Big Mac nodded.
“Alright, now to think of a plan,” Twilight said.
Dash almost fell over herself. “Wait, what?”
The three other heads within range turned to face her.
“What’s th’ matter?” Twilight asked.
“You don’t have a plan?” Dash exclaimed.
“Hey, lower your voice,” Twilight growled. “And no. No we don’t. We didn’t have much t’ go on, did we? And it’s only been less than a day.”
“But… but you came into the shop and… asked for stuff… and…”
“That was called being prepared, Moonshine. Being prepared and havin’ a plan are two different things, now, ain’t they?”
“Then… what have y’all been doin’ the whole day yesterday?”
“Drinkin’ coffee.” Twilight shrugged.
“In my shop, as usual,” Big Mac chimed in.
“I was asleep most of the time,” added Spike. “Boy, I had the weirdest dream. There were all these featherless gryphons and they started–”
Twilight nudged Spike roughly in the side.
“Holy shit, we’re all gonna die,” Dash muttered, her eyes draining of colour. “We’re all gonna die so hard.”
“We ain’t gonna die, Dash!” Twilight frowned. “I’ll think of something, alright?”
Spike nodded. “Yeah, she’ll think of something. Don’t you worry! Twi’s a real smart biscuit.”
“A what?” Big Mac interrupted.
“A smart biscuit!” Spike repeated.
“Why would comparing her to a breakfast food be considered a complimentary show of intelligence?” Mac drawled.
“Uh, guys?” Dash squeaked.
“I don’t know!” Spike threw his hands up in the air. “I don’t know anything!”
“It’s just a sayin’,” Twilight ran her tongue over her teeth.
“But sayings usually have a logical source. What makes biscuits smart?” Big Mac pressed. “As compared to, say, a hot cake, or an ear of corn?”
“Oh, Dust take us,” Dash clammered, ducking down and curling up against the boulder. She pressed her back against it, plugging her hooves against her head.
This was a bad idea. This was such a terrible, frightful situation. It was a mistake coming out here. She should be back at her forge – no, her alley of safety and warm trash – where nothing could ever hurt you and you could spend the nights curled up against some other drunk wastrel, because the worst thing that could happen would be that your alley-partner threw up on you, and then you were done with your weekly shower.
“Hey, Dash!” Something kicked her.
“Whu!” Dash pulled her hooves off her ears.
“We figured it out.” Twilight stood tall above her.
“A plan, dingleberry! Get up.”
Dash scrambled back to her hooves, swallowing heavily. Her nervous eyes darted from character to character, each of them rock solid except for the dragon, whose confidence seemed to come from obliviousness rather than anything else.
“Okay. So, here’s the plan,” Twilight said.
“Uh huh?” Dash muttered, mouth hanging open.
“We’re gonna walk up to him.”
“And then kick him in the face until he can’t walk no more.”
“And then what? We go in and find the other two yahoos.”
“Wait, that’s it?” Dash cried. “That’s the whole plan?”
“Yeah. Keep it simple, right?” Twilight turned to her side.
“I like simple,” Mac said.
Twilight turned back and shrugged.
“But… but he’s gonna shoot us on sight! There’s no way he’s gonna think four of us barrellin’ down on ‘em’s any good!”
“Right on th’ money,” Twilight said, adjusting her lapel. “So what’s that mean, then?”
“W-well, why can’t we just shoot ‘im from here?”
“Noisy. Best not to alert the other two if we don’t hafta.”
Dash rubbed her hoof in the cracked, dry mud. “Then… we send one pony, right? Could spin a yarn? So’s he thinks we just lost or somethin’?”
“Very good. Who’s it gonna be?”
“See, Mac here can’t do it. They’d recognize ‘im.” Twilight took over. “And little Spike here’d be too weird. Ain’t ever gonna be a single lone dragon just walkin’ around so far from town.”
“So… you, then.” Dash said.
Spike perked up, “nah, she’s too… angry-lookin’. They’d peg her for someone dangerous in an instant.”
“That I am.” Twilight grinned. “And I ain’t too good with the fancy talkin’ neither.”
“No. No. Oh no. No way,” Dash stuttered. “Nuh uh. Ain’t no way, no how. You gotta be rustlin’ my cattle.”
“Well, you’re a pretty girl. You ain’t a unicorn and you got no spurs on, so you’re gonna be as soft as butter to ‘em,” Twilight explained. “Basically, you’re exactly the kinda pony they ain’t likely t’ shoot on sight.”
Dash’s leg was twitching so much that a small, localized cloud of dust started to obscure her hoof. “No. No! They’re gonna… they’re gonna shoot me so dead, Sheriff. I’ll be so dead!”
“You ever cross paths with ‘em before?”
“Well… no, but…”
“Then ya gonna be just fine.” Twilight said, still grinning. She was enjoying some aspect of this. “All you gotta do is walk up to him, alright?”
“But I… I ain’t gonna be able to knock him out, I don’t think. I left my hammer back at the shop, and…”
“Nah, you don’t worry about that neither. I got an idea for that too. You see that rock over there?” Twilight pointed.
“Yeah?” Dash took a quick look.
“I’m gonna make my way there while you’re… entertainin’ the nice gentleman.”
“O-okay. But why?”
“Because then I’ll be close enough.”
“Close enough for what?”
With a burst of magic, Twilight pulled her gun out of her holster. “To reach him.”
“H-hey, ‘scuse me!” the pegasus called out nervously, stumbling forward out of the desert.
The first thing the unicorn did was look around, then he stood up off his crate, dropped his bottle, looked around some more, and then stared at the Pegasus in front of him through tiny yellow pin-prick eyes encrusted with off-white gunk.
“The shit?” he spat out a thick, wet black gob of whatever and drew his pistol, hovering it a meter in front of him. “Who in the Dust are ya?”
“Oh! Oh! Oh sh–” Dash coughed, throwing up her wings. “Don’t shoot! I’m lost, sir!”
“Lost? Out here?” Fido growled, curling his mangled lip up over yellowing teeth. His high brow was covered with scabs where flies would land and go about their business. When he coughed, flecks of spittle showered the area in front of him. “Wings where I can see ‘em!”
Dash stretched her wings out as far as they would go, only a scant bit more than they were already.
Fido began his approach. “Ya shouldn’t be ‘round here, girly.”
“Y-yes. I reckon so. So if you’d tell me how t’ get back to Cantermore…”
“Cantermore?” Fido bucked out laughing. “How far off th’ train did you fall, girly?”
He raised a pock-marked knee, giving a sweeping motion toward himself.
“C-come closer, girly. Let’s… let’s have a good look at you…” he said, slurping up a bit of moisture that remained at the tip of his tongue. “Ain’t you nice?”
“W-well, thank you, but…” Dash stammered, almost taking a step back in reaction.
“Tell you whut,” Fido took another quick look around, just in case. “Why don’tcha stay here with me? I’ll… take care’a ya.”
The unicorn ran a cracked tongue over cracked lips.
Dash shuddered. She didn’t have to pretend. She closed her eyes, took a breath, and took a step forward.
“What’s your name, girly?” Fido asked, walking up to her cautiously.
“W-wait. Stop.” Dash called out when he was a mere two steps away, close enough that she could smell the undigested food on his breath and see the results of it wedged in his teeth. “Don’t hurt me. Please.”
“Aww… I ain’t gonna hurt ya. In fact, I’m gonna make you feel… real welcome.”
Dash closed her eyes again, shuddering, as a hot breath wafted up against the side of her ear. She had been in terrible places before, but the stench coming off him at this distance was nigh unbearable.
Every fiber in her body tried to persuade her to turn and run, to get away, far away. Every logical part of her brain told her that this was bound to end badly for her, and only for her.
But she stayed rooted.
She waited as he drew his head alongside hers, sniffing at her skin, drool swelling out the side of his ravenous mouth, his movements likened to an undulating slug attempting to crawl over a ledge.
She waited as he moved down the length of her neck and reached her wing, travelling along the edges, lightly pulling back and forth against a stray feather or two, plunging his face into fluffy, angelic down.
She waited as he closed his eyes for just one moment.
The barrel of a gun, writhing like a snake, flew out from between the feathers on Dash’s outstretched wing. It struck forward, viciously biting the stallion in the eye.
“Argh!” He staggered back, hoof flying to his face. For a moment, his pistol wavered, but it steadied itself as the unicorn regained his footing.
“Again! Twilight!” Dash yelled, folding her wings up, a second pistol joining the first as the curtains came down and the pegasus writhed out of the way.
The two pistols turned, their handles coming down hard toward Fido’s head. But the leg that he had raised to his face warded off the blows, and a short stagger back was all that remained of the continued assault.
“You bitch!” he yelled, spit flying, blood dripping off his chin. He levelled his gun again, pointing it at the girl who was now frantically digging through the dirt to get away.
“Twili–” Dash cried out, as she took to run as fast as she could manage.
The echoes of a shot reverberated off the range, bouncing back and forth amongst rock walls and stone cliffs until it ended with a distant ping somewhere far off in the distance.
The unicorn hit the ground, blood mixing with saliva, his weapon falling lifelessly next to him.
“Twilight!” Twilight!” Dash yelled over and over, looking behind her own shoulder to see the still body that now lay there. “Twilight!”
“Shit!” Twilight called back, appearing from behind her appointed rock. “Get back here, Dash! Quick!”
From the corner of her eye, Twilight saw the door move. It was just a small shift forward and back. Someone had opened the door and closed it soon after.
“Damnit!” Twilight cried out, peeling out from behind cover. She flew at Dash, galloping forward and launching herself at her with front legs outstretched.
Three seconds. They had three seconds.
Using her entire weight, she pulled, yanking on Dash’s body and thrusting her in the general direction of her other companions.
“Run!” she roared.
There was no time to turn. She’d have to rush ahead to the rocks past the corpse.
The door opened again, creaking, as Twilight dove headfirst behind a stone.
With the crack of pistol-fire, dents formed in the ground immediately to her right as small swirls of dirt were kicked up into the air. Flecks of shrapnel caused Twilight to wince when they struck her in the leg, but it was a far better alternative to being hit by a bullet itself.
Further along, she caught sight of Dash disappearing behind a rock of her own, pulled into safety by a pair of extremely strong hooves.
Twilight gave herself a moment to breathe a small sigh of relief.
Things had not gone quite as she had planned.
“Damned thick skull!” Twilight growled at the dead pony, pulling her pistols back across the ground.
Over on the other side, the obliviously brave Spike was already crawling along one side of a flat, smooth boulder like a lizard – which he was – easily traversing its surface with his claws. In his mouth he gripped one of his tiny little pistols.
“Damnit,” Twilight cursed again, looking down, counting the shots. She hoped Spike was doing the same.
After the twelfth burst of sound, Twilight and Spike both popped out, pointing their guns at the door.
It was closed.
Twilight glanced over at Spike and gave a little nod, getting one in return.
The little dragon disappeared back behind the boulder.
Twilight sunk back down.
A moment that felt like a lifetime passed, as Twilight kept her head low, and a few crying birds flew off into the afternoon sky.
Finally, a voice pulled out from behind a wall.
It was high-pitched, scratchy, and badly accented, like a violin gone terribly wrong.
“Bayg Mayc!” It cried, the voice echoing over the clearing. “Ah know yer theya!”
Twilight kept silent. She couldn’t see the other three from where she was. She could only imagine what was going on over there.
“Bayg Mayc!” the voice yelled again, harsher, more screechy. “You dun kayled Fidah!”
“You killed my daughter!” Another voice floated up.
Twilight breathed heavier, a pounding filling her head as the blood welled up.
“Yer come far our hayeds!”
Twilight sucked in a deep breath that didn’t seem enough. “Surrender yourselves!” she screamed.
“Oh, who’s thayt, nah?”
“This is Sheriff Constance S. Twilight! You are under arrest! Come peacefully and I assure you full trial in a court of law!”
A low cackling rose up from the door, a high-pitched whine, a motor stuck on a towel. It wheezed out its own exuberance before stopping to speak again.
“Thay ain’t no law hayea, Sher’f! Or did th’ old sher’f ferget ta tell ya?”
Again, that wheezing, strung-up laughter escaped the hideout.
“I don’t wanna have ta kill you!” Twilight yelled.
The air drew silence.
A moment passed.
“Awh, but, Sher’f, maybes you don’t, but Mayc thaya will. You gonna be oh-kay with thayet?”
“That all depends on how this plays out, don’t it?”
“Good, Sher’f! Ah just wanned t’ be sure!”
The door flew open again. Twilight could hear it, maybe even feel the wind rush by if she were embellishing the story to the bar later. Another round of bullets – seven – ricocheted off the rocks. It stopped after that, on a very odd number.
Twilight frowned, poking her head out again.
“Damn it!” she yelled. “Spike! They’re makin’ for it!”
One, a medium-built pony, darted off to the left along the wall, ducking behind the same rocks that kept Twilight and company safe earlier. As he disappeared amongst the small hills, all sign of activity was lost.
The other ran past her on the opposite side of the tree, racing away.
Small and lithe, he ran with a strange quickness, bouncing about the rocks and coming riskily close to where Twilight was.
Spinning, Twilight rolled off and gave chase, only hoping something similar was occurring on the other end.
Twilight stopped when he did, his light-brown hooves coming to rest in front of a box.
They had run to a place where the rocks started to clear, and nothing larger than the size of a breadbox could be found dotting the landscape.
But there was a box.
In Twilight’s experience, there were only a few reasons why a runner would stop in mid-chase.
There were even fewer for him to turn around and smile.
Twilight locked her ankles to the ground. Attacking was foolish. Running was unflattering.
Let it play out.
Twilight drew her pistols.
“So, which one is ya?” Twilight asked, legs spread out, ready to jump in any direction.
“I’d be Spot,” the unicorn replied, with an oddly charismatic voice.
“You would, huh?” Twilight held her ground as Spot started to rummage through the box, magically shifting things around, a cascading, tinkling noise causing the box to sing like a bird. “Whatcha got there, Spot?”
“Oh, this?” Spot said, tilting his head. “Perhaps if I explained what my role in the group is…”
“Yeah, maybe you should.”
“But first, perhaps you could introduce yourself?” Spot asked, rummaging more.
“Sheriff Constance S. Twilight.”
“Ah yes, yes,” Spot continued to babble on, head kept low. “I remember now. You were there earlier, weren’t you?”
Twilight took a step forward, scuffing the rocks.
Immediately, a rival pistol hung itself in the air, Spot clicking his tongue as he rose it off the ground.
“Ah, ah, ah,” Spot waggled his hoof. “I believe you understand that you are at a disadvantage here.”
“Am I?” Twilight rolled her tongue around her mouth.
“Yes. Now, as you said earlier, you’d rather not kill unless you had to.”
“I’d rather not.”
“And I’d have no problems killing you if I were forced to as well,” Spot straightened upward, cricking his back.
“You would have already if you were going to.” Twilight narrowed her eyes. “Same for you, same for me.”
“Ah, yes. Very good. Very clever. So we are at a draw. Unlike my rather uncouth partners, I, myself, do not rather enjoy in the taking of lives. It’s not very gentlemanly, is it?”
“No. It ain’t.”
“So where do we go from here? Where, oh where, oh where?” the unicorn continued in a sing-song voice.
“I’m sure you’ve got some idea.” Twilight grunted.
“Yes. I do. Which brings me to the point of what this box is, and why you will throw your pistols over to me.”
Twilight’s mental grip strengthened, her pistols hovering one step closer.
“Shall I demonstrate?” Spot asked, smiling handsomely.
A vial hovered up, a small glass-like pill of unknown origin, a strange brown liquid sloshing within. It orbited the stallion’s head, as he stared into Twilight’s eyes.
Suddenly, it zipped off to the side, hitting a wall of rock.
With a thunderous roar, a blast sent a wave of force rippling through the air as small bits of stone came loose and fell tumbling to the ground swathed in a blanket of smoke and ash.
Twilight staggered to the side, a slight heat hitting her in the face, as she instinctively lifted a leg to protect her head.
“Have you heard of the term… gearhead?” Spot asked.
Twilight lowered her leg.
There was a strange look to her, one that she struggled to control.
“Yes. I’ve heard.” Twilight said, just as slow as her movements.
“Then you should understand. All you’ve heard about us is true.”
Spot cocked his head to the burnt-up wall.
“That was just one of these vials. There are over two hundred in this box, and I can trigger them whenever I want, however I want. If all were to go off at the same time, you can trust that neither of us will be walking away.”
“I see,” Twilight said. “So I think I get yer play. Mind if I take a stab? See if I got it right?”
“Please! Please do,” Spot delighted. “I’d like to see if you understand your position.”
“You’re gonna walk.”
“If I move from this spot, you’re gonna blow up that entire batch of whatever the heck those things are, and I’m gonna die.”
“Same goes if I shoot ya.”
“Yes again! Oh, this is so much fun. You are remarkably sharp, Sheriff! I must say, this is quite refreshing.”
“And if you get to far away enough that your dirty gearhead magic can’t blow these boxes up, then I’ll be off the hook too.”
“Absolutely. So you see, both of us win if you just let me go.” Spot smiled.
“I see.” Twilight replied.
“And that’s how it’s going to happen. Very simple, yes? But first, throw me your guns. Please.” Spot said.
“Yes. Throw them over.” Spot smiled.
She tilted them upwards, and as a matter of course, emptied twelve rounds to the ground, where they scattered like terrified mice.
The guns flew over gently soon after, and she could feel the tug of his magic wrenching the pistols out of her grasp, letting them hit the floor in front of him.
“Hm. Thank you kindly,” Spot said. “Now, let’s not stand on ceremony. I shall be off. Mayhaps we shall meet again in the future.”
“No… wait.” Twilight said, tilting her head down.
Something was wrong.
Something was just ever so slightly off.
All the pieces were in play, but there was an extra piece that tugged and nagged at the back of Twilight’s head.
“Excuse me?” Spot said. “I don’t think you’re in any position to–”
“No, hush up,” Twilight said, thinking furiously.
“I beg your par–”
It was so sudden that Spot jumped back slightly with a sour frown, as if he had bitten into a lemon custard that had gone off.
“Here’s an interestin’ one for ya, Spot.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You reckon yerself pretty smart, don’tcha?”
“Now, listen, I’m leaving now, and you shoul–”
“You ain’t goin’ nowhere,” Twilight snapped, stepping forward.
“No, you listen, you little shit!” Twilight screamed with a frantic joy. “You made one mistake. One… stupid mistake. You wanna… take a stab at what that might be?”
“I… What are you talking about?”
“You asked for too much!”
“Oh?” Spot said, his breath turning ragged.
“Yeah,” Twilight said, her eyes lighting up. “Let’s walk this through.”
“I’ll shoot you.”
Twilight took a step forward.
“I said I’ll shoot you!” Spot repeated, a bit more direly. “Stop there! Stop!”
“Why… would you ask for my guns?”
“What do you mean, why? Because you might shoot me running away!”
“Yes, but that’d mean I’d blow myself up, right?”
“You could always jump away first–”
“But then you’d blow me up, right?”
“So why did you want my guns, Spot?” Twilight tilted her head like a curious child. “What reason did you need to take that lil’ ol’ precaution for? And you just let ‘em… sit there in front of ya?”
Their eyes dragged down to where her pistols lay.
“That’s what you wanted all along, weren’t it?” Twilight smirked. “You wanted my guns.”
“Now, that is just…”
“You wanted my guns, but you didn’t think I’d empty ‘em first. So it’s plan B. It’s the actual bluff you made. And yes, I now know it’s a bluff.”
“Sheriff, I will kill us both–”
“Shut up! You ain’t killin’ no one!”
Spot stared, he stared with furious anger and furious eyes, but yet, he did not make a single move. It was not the best idea to move while the field was shifting.
“There’s only one reason why you wanted my pistols, Spot!” Twilight held up a hoof. “One! And it’s simple. You were going to shoot me with them. You intended to kill me all along. And that’s because you’re out of ammo. Ain’t you?”
“I… I’ll shoot you.”
“Then do it already!”
“Fine!” Spot spat, with a venom, his eyelid twitching. “Yes, you stupid whore, I wanted to shoot you! So you worked that out. Well, shall I throw a party for you?”
“You may as well.”
“Oh, you be quiet. You’re forgetting one thing,” Spot said drawing out another glass vial from the box, hovering it next to his head. “I still have the upper hoof, here.”
“Naw, you don’t,” Twilight scrunched up her face and snorted derisively, scratching her neck.
“W-what? I’ll blow you up! I’ll blow you up until they won’t even be able to recognize the parts!”
“Naw, you can’t.”
“What do you mean I can’t?”
“You just wasted your last good one on that wall there,” Twilight jerked her leg. “Stupid show of force, if you ask me. But you know what I reckon? I reckon that’s all they are. Little balls of light an’ fire. Otherwise, you'd’ve blown me up from the get.”
Twilight took yet another step closer, twirling her hoof around in the air. She was still angry, but it was the sort of anger that reduced beneath the skin, the sort that no longer needed to be seen to be felt.
“All that jibber-jabber at the start? You was just wastin’ time. You were lookin’ for the one last good bomb there in that box. The rest are empty, ain’t they? That one next to your head. It’s empty, ain’t it?”
Spot’s eyes darted towards it, past the drop of sweat falling from his brow.
“And finally, let me tie a nice little bow on top of all of this for ya.”
Twilight licked her lips.
“You say I maybe don’t know ‘bout gearheads. But I reckon it’s you who don’t know ‘bout no gearheads. You, Spot, sure ain’t one, and I know this to be a stone, cold truth.”
Spot swallowed, clearing his dry throat before speaking. “How… do you know I ain’t a gearhead?”
A light caught Spot’s eye to the side, as he saw the empty vial glow with a strange white light. It ebbed from nothing to a grand pulse in the barest of a second, and he had only time to flick his eyes forward for the last time when he heard that voice speak for the last time.
“You figure it out,” Twilight said.
Dash looked back over her shoulder at the explosion that rocked the horizon in the far distance. It was the second one in so many number of minutes, but this one had been a lot louder than the first.
“Dyeh heaya thayt?” Rover said. “Thayt’s yer frayend dyin’.”
Big Mac stared over his mustache, eyes lazily surveying the situation.
The three of them had chased the final Dog to another cave. But it appeared that Rover, like Spot before him, had decided to stop running.
Rover’s nose wrinkled. He had a dark grey coat and glowing green eyes, the kind that could be seen shining out of the darkness of a dangerous alleyway. He also sported a red vest that was stained with all sorts of fluids and other streaks. None of them looked like they were the result of a simple spill of drink or food.
The unicorn scratched roughly at his cheek, glancing up toward the sun with his mouth open.
“Heyyyy Mayc… we done playin’ heaya?” he drawled. “Ah gots thiiiings t’ do.”
He turned, backing into the mouth of the cave.
“Lisssen. Ay’m feylin’ mite gen’rus today, so ay’m gon’ let yer off.” He gave a little wave, smiling with his crooked teeth, and disappeared under cover of the shadows.
Big Mac stood there for a moment more, before turning on his heels and retreating to the rock that Dash and Spike stood behind.
“It appears he has retreated to a second location,” Big Mac said.
“W-what now?” Dash asked.
“Well, it’s likely he came here ‘cause this is where they stow their ammo,” Spike reasoned. “They could’a continued blastin’ us back there, but they ran. We musta caught ‘em unawares.”
The little dragon loosened the clasp on his holster, but a large red hoof swung down to stop him.
“Nope,” Big Mac said, his hulking figure cut out in black against the sun. “He’s mine.”
“Really?” Spike said. “I mean… I am the deputy. It’s my job t…”
“Mine,” Big Mac reasserted.
“Okay, then. Well. At least there’s that, right?” Spike pointed to the sack that Dash was clutching.
“Oh right!” Dash yanked the neck of the bag open, emptying its contents to the floor in a big twisted heap of metal and leather straps.
Working quickly, Dash fitted the mechanism. It was far more complicated than it looked, relying on levers and systems and extensions. Straps hung over Mac’s waist and tied a pair of frames around his rear legs. The rest was an elaborate device that hovered in place behind his shins, held there by more straps and metal rods.
“What in the heck is that?” Spike asked.
“Shotgun spurs,” Dash said proudly, smiling, tightening a final bolt. “See, when Big Mac kicks his legs out backward, these things here swing down and shoot off along his leg, straight out wherever he kicks, right? And these gears here make sure that when he steps down, it goes back up, so he don’t step on it while walkin’.”
“I… see.” Spike muttered.
Mac bent backwards to look at the two giant gauntlets he had on. He nodded in mute appreciation.
“Now, these go on th’ back,” Dash said, giving the bag one final shake.
Two large cannonballs fell out and pierced the ground. They pierced the ground because they were each covered on one side with a generous helping of nails welded onto their surfaces – giant metal porcupines with at least thirty thin steel quills apiece.
“Uh…” Spike mumbled.
Dash stuck them into leather holsters at the back of the leg-gauntlets, tightening them up and bolting them into place.
“There,” she said, stepping away to take a final look.
“I thought you hated killin’,” Spike muttered.
“Yeah, but… this seems like it’ll solve a lot of problems, though, won’t it?” Dash said. “And that’s what Twilight asked for.”
Big Mac nodded again. He liked solving problems.
If spurs jangled while one walked, this sounded like an organ being thrown into an industrial grinder.
Big Mac took a few steps forward and back, testing its range of movement.
“I see what you meant about running in these,” Big Mac said.
“Yeah… it’s all a bit cummersom’,” Dash ducked her head down. “But it’ll give you a fair fightin’ chance, I dare say.”
“What’s that thing left over?” Spike asked, pointing to a simple set of metal plates joined by two flexible leather bands.
“Oh! Right. Help me get it on.”
They draped the plates over Mac’s back, where they fell over and shielded his sides along with some of the mechanism.
“Just some armour,” Dash said. “Just in case. Best I could do with th’ time I had.”
“This’ll do,” Mac said.
And with that, he tromped to the mouth of the cave, leaving heavy hoofprints in the dirt, stopping short just before entering.
“Rover!” he bellowed out. “My name is Elijah C B MacIntyre! You killed my daughter! I'm returnin' the favour!”
And with that, he too, disappeared into the darkness.
Dash threw herself down, hoof swaddling the now-empty sack, her tired eyelids finally giving way and shutting out the piercing light.
“So, that’s it then,” she said.
“Hmm?” Spike hummed back.
Dash prised a single eye open. The Dragon was sitting across from here on a small rock, playing with his pistols.
“I’m too tired t’ go on, Deputy,” she groaned. “That’s it for me.”
“Call me ‘Spike’,” Spike said, cheerfully. “And don’t worry. We’ll carry you back if ya need.”
“Wh– whatcha mean?”
“What do you mean?”
“This is it, ain’t it? Last stand? Twilight’s gone, Mac’s just walked his last… we’re next, and I ain’t got the energy left ta run, Spike.”
Dash was cut off by the ghostly echo of two gunshots that came from deep within the cave, muffled by stone and pockets of air.
Both of them turned to look before turning back.
“That settles it,” Dash muttered.
“What are you talking about? Twilight’ll be here soon,” Spike said, twirling his gun around.
“You actually figure that?” Dash asked, weakly.
“Yeah, sure. Why not?” Spike looked over.
“Plan’s already gone all the way to shit and back, hadn’t it? From the beginnin’? Everythin’s all wrong now.”
“Aw, that? Naw. Stuff like that happens all the time. Gotta keep thinkin’. Gotta be quick. The only plan that’ll fail is the plan you keep to strictly.”
“Yeah? Well. In my line of work, if you don’t stick to no plan, everythin’ falls apart.”
“Yeah. I get it. The things you make, they all gotta work accordin’ly, right? Not quite the same with real life, though, where all the bits and parts and stuff can go all over and do what they want. Gotta be ready for whichever way the wind blows.” Spike grinned.
“How are you so… cheerful ‘bout all this?”
“I dunno,” Spike said, holstering his gun and crossing his legs. He swung his arms over them, leaning forward and giving it some thought. “I don’t think Twilight’s gonna have any problems. I know her well ‘nuff. I think she’s the one gon’ walk away. So if anythin’ were t’ happen with Mac, Dust forbid, you can be sure Twi’ll fix things right up.”
“You know her long?”
“You could say that, I s’pose. Kind of a long story, really. But we’ve known each other for a couple years now.”
“You guys seem real close.” Dash coughed.
“I like t’ think so.” Spike looked upward, at the sky. “She’ll never say, but each other’s all we got, I think.”
“What about family?”
“Nope,” Spike shrugged. “She ain’t got none. At least, none she knows about. She told me she left the orphanage when she was old enough and went straight into law.”
“What about you?” Dash asked. “Back in Dragan?”
“Huh.” Spike bounced up in his seat.
“You actually know the name.”
“Yeah. In fact, you seem t’ know a lot ‘bout dragon stuff,” Spike observed.
“Oh, yeah.” Dash nodded. “I weren’t born here, y’know.”
“Ever hear of a place called Gaslight?”
“Sure, I do.”
“Yeah. Moved t’ Cantermore when I was fifteen. Moved here two years after. Been here ever since.”
“Didn’t like the city?”
“Yeah. Too big. Too noisy.”
“I’m okay with big cities m’self,” Spike shrugged.
“Well, ‘course you are. You’re from Dragan, after all.”
“Now what are you meanin’ by that?” Spike asked, eyebrow raising.
“Oh, no no!” Dash held her hoof up. “Naw, I ain’t… I ain’t mean it like that. I just mean the Dragonese way’s more-to-do with family an’ all. I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout the numbers.”
“Oh. Oh yeah. That’s true.” Spike flicked his head at Dash. “You still ain’t explain how you get to know ‘bout us so much.”
“I know… someone. Lives by the coast. We exchange letters sometimes.”
“Or used to. I stopped a little while back.”
“So yeah,” Dash shifted her weight around. “What brings you all the way out here yerself?”
“Yeah,” Spike fiddled with his hands. “Lissen. Yer nice enough that I don’t wanna lie. I had reasons, is all. Nothin’ bad. Don’t worry.”
A cold wind blew across the sun.
“Reasons, huh?” Dash repeated to herself.
Another two shots rang out from within the opening in the rock face, like thunder at the end of the plains. It was followed by a high-pitched scream.
“Looks like they’re still kickin’,” Spike said.
Dash watched a tumbleweed roll by.
“What’s on yer mind?” Spike asked, suddenly.
“Come on, then.”
“Things change,” muttered Dash.
“You thinkin’ about things changin’?”
“When did I get this way?” Dash mused. “I used to be that other girl. I was raised up to be strong, y’know? Every member of my family was born t’ be that way. All my brothers and sisters, we all left for distant towns to scratch out a livin’. I was always good with tools, so I decide to become a smith. And then…”
“They can change back, you know.”
Dash looked over to Spike. He had stopped smiling.
“I suppose you’re right, Spike.”
Five more shots rang out in quick succession, closer to them than they had ever been.
The two of them raised their eyebrows at the sound.
“So… tell me somethin’,” Dash asked, brushing it off.
“I’m just curious here, but.. ah… what’s yer full name?”
“‘Furious Spike’ would be the direct translation. And yeah, I know it sounds right dumb in Equestrian. So I just go by Spike.”
“House Ling,” Spike said.
“House Ling?” Dash repeated.
“Yeah. What’s it to ya?”
“Nothin’. Just… seems fam–”
Spike and Dash both jumped to their legs when a shuffling interrupted them.
“Twilight!” Dash exclaimed, rushing forward. “You’re alive!”
“Told ya,” Spike said. “Heya, Twi.”
“Spike. Dash.” Twilight gave each a nod in succession.
“What happened back there? We heard explosions.” Spike jerked a thumb back in the direction of the other battle.
“Yeah. His head blew up.” Twilight spat on the ground. “What’s goin’ on over here?”
“Just waitin’ it out,” Spike said. “Mac wanted to take care of things himself, so I figured it was in his right.”
“Good call.” Twilight nodded, turning to Dash. “So, hey.”
“Y-yeah!” Dash replied.
“Listen. Back there? What you did was real brave. Okay? Just wanted ya t’ know that.”
“Oh. Ah, no problem, Twilight. Glad to be of ser–”
“Thank you,” Twilight said.
Dash smiled. It was a guilty smile, but she did so anyway. It was thanks undeserved. You don’t thank the birds for flying, she reckoned. She shouldn’t be thanked for doing what she had to.
But still, it felt warm, like a mug of coffee on a December morn.
The three of them were abruptly pulled to attention when the sound of stomping came floating over from the other side of the boulder.
Carefully, slowly, they each peeked out the side.
Walking with an uneven gait, covered with streaks of blood and other strange stains, came Big Mac, limping his way out of the cave.
One of the straps on his armor had broken, leaving a panel to sway in the wind like a broken barn door. The others had done their job, however, and the dents scattered across their collective faces had been proof of their utility.
Dragging behind him, still attached to one of the spiked cannonballs, was an unidentifiable hunk of meat. There was a glint of bone, but not much else that suggested what part of the body it might have once been attached to.
Like a snail, it trailed a streak of damp, oozing red as Big Mac staggered back toward the rest of the group, a bullet wound in his upper right thigh giving him reason for his uneven walk.
The only thing that returned unscathed was Big Mac’s luxuriously bushy mustache, not a single hair out of place.
Big Mac pulled to a stop in front of the others as he gave them all his silent regard.
“I killed him,” he said. “He’s dead.”
“What a day, huh?” Spike remarked, cheerfully.
Things felt better back in that little hovel they called a home.
Twilight held up the piece of Harmony to a lamp, getting a better look. It was a barrel – an odd one to say the least, with a hexagonal bore. It was clearly meant to fire very specific bullets.
The piece was found in one of the Diamond Dog’s stores in a small locked box alongside other valuables that they had stolen from Big Mac all those months ago, and was given immediately to Twilight for safekeeping, as part of the arrangement.
Big Mac even threw in a free bag of his finest coffee grounds as an extra thank-you for helping him achieve vengeance for the abuse and murder of his child.
It seemed fair.
“Hm,” she said, floating it into a bag and throwing the bag around Dash’s neck. “Take care of that for us, and have a good night.”
“Got it. And Twilight?” Dash asked.
“Next time you get a hankerin’ t’ go out and kill yourself some outlaws, remind me not to go.”
“Go get some rest, Dash,” Twilight said.
“Night, Twilight.” Dash ducked out.
“See ya!” Spike waved.
Twilight walked back to her desk. She yanked the poster of Mac off the wall and threw it back into the briefcase from whence it had originally come.
“Two down,” she said, looking over the others. “Who’s next?”
“Let’s go after Rarity Burke, Twi,” Spike grinned.
“Maybe. But you know what, I’m kinda worn from all this fightin’. What say we go for somethin’ a bit more fun next?”
“Who’d ya have in mind?”
Twilight tapped a poster of a mare, one wearing a huge grin and an even larger dress. “Pinkamena Diane Pie. Mama Hen of the local bordello.”
“What’s a bordello?”
“She’s in charge of the whorehouse.”
“What’s a whorehouse?”
“A house of whores, Spike, what’s it sound like?” Twilight scrunched up her face.
“What’s a whore?”
“It’s… They... Shut up.” Twilight rolled her eyes.
“Nearly got you, though.” Spike grinned, pointing his fingers at her.
“I need a bath,” Twilight scratched at the dried mud on her face. “Tell you what.”
“Let’s go take a bath.”
“Good idea, Twi.”
“Inn should have a couple bathin’ rooms.”
“And then, after that, the whores!” Spike chortled gleefully, popping out the door and scampering into the night.
Twilight stopped just before she left, running her eyes across the room.
It was truly a nice place. It wasn’t as familiar as her home back in Cantermore, but there was something different about it here. There was a life to it, an energy that came from a place that she couldn’t quite understand.
She felt an odd sense of satisfaction, returning here safely at the end of a job well done.
It was a feeling she never had working alone back in the big city.
Twilight looked at the floor, feeling quite confused as to why she was doing so, before a voice called softly to her from behind.
“Hey. Ready to go?” Spike asked.
“Yeah, I am.”
It would be sad when it all ended, Twilight thought, as she slammed the door shut.
The office plunged into darkness.
CHAPTER THREE - END