• Published 3rd May 2013
  • 12,626 Views, 945 Comments

The Dusk Guard Saga: Rise - Viking ZX

Steel Song is a lot of things. Earth pony. Uncle. Professional bodyguard. Retired. So when he receives a mysterious package from Princess Luna, he's understandably apprehensive. Things are never as they seem in Equestria...

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Assembly - Chapter 10

Chapter 10

“Mornin’ Deputy,” Silverstar said as he stepped into the small, one-room Sheriff’s station. The deputy in question, a relaxed beige colored pony named Valor, was sitting behind office’s lone desk, casually polishing a deputy’s badge with one slightly darkened cloth. The badge itself was already polished to a golden sheen, but the young colt kept rubbing the cloth back and forth across it, likely more to stave off boredom and give his hooves something to do than anything else.

“Mornin’ Sheriff,” the young colt said without looking up. “Got some coffee oer’ in the pot.”

“Black?” Silverstar asked, hanging his gun belt on a hook by the door. He almost never had to use the thing, but his station demanded that he have it, and it wouldn’t do to one day need it and not have it there.

“Yup,” Valor said, still polishing the badge between his hooves. “Just the way you like it.”

“Mm-hmm,” Silverstar said, stepping across the small room to where a lone coffee pot sat warming on a pot-bellied stove. He took a small cup from a nearby shelf and, taking the handle of the pot in his jaws, carefully poured himself a cup of the thick, heavy drink. “Woo-eee!” he said as the bitter scent hit his nostrils. “That’s a powerful cup!”

“Yup,” Valor said. “Take it from me, you might have ta’ beat it back into its cup with yer spoon.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Silverstar said as he set the pot back down and slid one hoof through the mug's handle. “So,” he said, turning to look back his earnest young deputy. “The boys give you any trouble last night?”

Valor shook his head. “Nope, nothing much.” He put a hoof in front of his muzzle and yawned loudly. “They got a little wily about eleven, but it was just for show. They calmed down a little while later.”

“Hey!” came a rough voice from the back of the small station. “Why doncha just ask us?”

“Yeah!” Another voice cut in, this one slightly higher. “We’re livin’ breathin’ ponies! Why can’t ya’ ask us?”

Sheriff Silverstar took a swig of his coffee and almost grimaced as the hot and bitter fluid rolled across his tongue. Cup nothing, he’d need that spoon to keep it from jumping out of his throat! “Because you’re a bunch of malcontents,” he said as soon as he’d managed to swallow the ferocious mixture down. “You’re criminals, and I’m not certain I could trust you folk to give me an honest answer.”

He strode past the desk and into the stations back room. Thick steel bars split the room in front of him, running floor to ceiling as they divided the room into two reasonably sized cells. When he’d first agreed to be the sheriff of Appleloosa, Silverstar had voiced a question over the need for two cells. It was Equestria after all, and crime was a rarity. But a few more seasoned heads had pointed out the usefulness of always having a spare, and well, now he’d found a use for both of them.

“Now that’s just hurtful, that is,” the first voice said again. It belonged to a heavy-set earth pony that was sitting in one of the cells. He was a deep green color, with a black mane and beard that probably would have been much more light-absorbent if they hadn’t been so heavily encrusted with dirt. Of course the dirt wasn’t the only defining feature about the pony: His coat was scraggly and ill-kept, whole patches of it faded. In fact, most of his appearance, right down to the bandanna cutie mark on his side, generally hinted at a pony who wasn’t quite concerned with what others thought of him.

“Keep it down,” Silverstar said, tapping his cup on the thick bars to the cell. “You’re not going to get any sympathy from me, Reed.” He still thought the pony's name didn’t quite fit. Reeds were tall, springy things, while the pony sitting in the cell in front of him was anything but thin or springy. Spongy maybe.

"Well, what about us than?” the second pony spoke again, this time in an accent more familiar to the Appleloosan sheriff. “When are we getting out of here? We know the laws, we havin’ even had trial yet and it’s been almost two whole weeks. Two weeks, stuck in this ‘ere cage with the rest of these louts!” The tall, thin unicorn moved right up against the bars, nearly tapping the magic-suppressing lock Silverstar had put on his horn against the bars. “I haven’t felt magic this whole time. It ain’t right!”

“Ain’t right?” Silverstar said with a raised voice. “Ain’t right?” he raised his voice again, drowning out the voices of the cells other two occupants, both of whom were now clamoring to be heard along with Ringo Shot. “Ain’t right?” he bellowed a third time, silencing the group. ‘Ain’t right is a funny term for you to be using, seeing as how your little crew here was threatening ordinary, law-abiding citizens of Equestria in an effort to line your own pockets.” He paused for a moment, taking another swig of the powerful coffee. He fought to keep a neutral expression on his face as the coffee went down. Sun above, it felt like it was eating through his throat!

“Robbery ain’t right. Theft ain’t right. Stealing ain’t right, any foal could tell you that,” he said, walking back and forth in front of the cell. “So, until Judge Spurs is ready to hear your case, you all will just have to sit here nice and quiet-like, you know, like your friend over here.” He motioned with the coffee cup at the other cell's lone occupant. “He’s no trouble at all, for reasons ah’ can’t say I fathom, considering the amount of trouble he’s in along with the rest of you.”

“He ain’t a friend of ours,” one member of the incarcerated group said, giving the nearly empty cell a dark look. “Friends don’t surrender the moment the guard catches up with them.” All he got from the lone pony was a resigned shrug in return, almost as if he didn’t care.

Silverstar wasn’t quite sure what to make of the lone unicorn. He was young, much younger than the tired and battered band of ruffians that had associated themselves with Reed. Where they were surly and aggressive, quick to pronounce mistreatment or unfairness, he simply sat in his cell, exercising periodically, but otherwise staying silent. Silverstar figured that the youth must have had some sort of magical deficiency, as despite eyewitnesses to the attempted train robbery claiming that the purple unicorn had been using his magic, neither he nor his deputies had seen so much as a spark since they’d corralled him. Which was a bit of good luck, as he figured it, because they’d only had the one horn lock, and Reed’s partner would have surely used his magic if he’d been given the chance.

He emptied the last of his coffee—uttering a silent prayer that it wouldn’t haunt him in some unmentionable way later—and took another look at the lone unicorn sitting behind the bars of the right cell. He wasn’t quite sure how he’d fallen in with Reed’s gang, but he’d fallen out just as fast. Originally the five gang members had been split between the cells, three in the left and two—one with the young unicorn—on the right. The whole gang had been howling threats at the lone unicorn, but he’d figured it was just the usual rabble-rousing until he’d turned his back and the earth pony gang member had tried … something, he still wasn’t quite sure what. He’d seen the aftermath however, and for that matter so had the Doc. Broken jaw, missing teeth, a nice clean cut right above the eye. The earth pony had been madder’ than a buffalo sittin’ on a cactus when he’d woken up, but Silverstar had noted that his aggressive taunts had since been made from the far side of the cell, rather than from within reach.

In fact, everything about the unicorn colt was a bit of a mystery to him. Silverstar walked back to the front of the station, rolling the now empty coffee cup across one hoof. He was young, didn’t fit in with the rest of the Reed gang. In fact, he had a sneaky suspicion that the young colt was some sort of Canterlot royalty that had run away from home and had fallen in with a bad crowd, although that didn’t explain how he’d managed to so quickly fight off another member of the gang when his back had been turned. The whole gang would have been tried and sentenced to hard labor already, excepting for the fact that not a day after their capture a letter had arrived from Canterlot bearing the royal seal of Princess Celestia herself, requesting that Judge Spurs delay the trial and keep tabs on the young unicorn until a representative arrived to take him in hoof.

Silverstar rolled his eyes at nopony in particular as he poured himself another cup of the stiff, black coffee. Any day now, some royal prancy noble or somesuch would probably show up to collect the wayward boy, having pulled all sorts of noble strings to keep him out of trouble. “Phew!” Silverstar said, spitting a bit of the thick coffee residue into a nearby spittoon as much to clear his throat as to put verbal disappointment to the idea of some noble’s son getting a light punishment because of his family. They’d all made poor choices at some point, he reflected, but you had to learn from the poor results that followed or you’d never get anywhere.

“Well, you might as well go on home and get some rest,” he said to Valor, topping off his coffee cup before turning for the desk. What’s the unicorn’s real name? he wondered. It couldn’t have been the name he’d given. Nova Beam. What kind of name was that for a pony? Sure, it fit the unicorn's coloring, with that purple coat of his, but it sounded just a mite ridiculous.

“Alright sir,” Valor said, dropping his front hooves to the floor and making his way around the desk. He stopped by the door and grabbed his signature bowler hat, flipping it over and onto his ears in a well practiced motion that Silverstar had seen almost daily since he’d deputized the colt. “Should I be back by noon?” he asked, visibly fighting a yawn.

“Naw, you go getcher rest,” Silverstar said with a off wave of his hoof as he sat down at the desk. “I’ll do the noon rounds myself, I doubt this group of yayhoos is going anywhere.” He took another swig from his coffee. “Oh, and boy?” The colt stopped in mid-step, door held open.

“Yes sir?”

“Good coffee.”

* * *

It was noon when Silverstar walked out of the office, the sun high overhead and beating down with a sweltering summer heat that gave the entire town a faint haze. He paused under the station's overhang, once again grateful for the ten-gallon hat on his head with it’s wide, shade-casting brim. The summer truly had been a scorcher for the southern desert, and more than ever the local farm ponies had been making extensive use of the town's water supply, even manually operating the deep well pumps when the wind died out to keep the lifeblood crops of the town from withering.

As sheriff, Silverstar had a number of duties he performed each day, his favorite of which was making the rounds. A sheriff who stayed off the streets was a sheriff who didn’t care for the ponies under his protection in his own opinion, and he cared about the ponies of Appleloosa. They were family. Of course, with a jail full of malcontents to keep track of, he’d been forced to spend much more time in the station then he’d wanted to, and it was driving him mad. He didn’t want to be sitting babysitting a bunch of crooks. He wanted to be out talking with the ponies in his community. Chatting with Joe the grocer, giving little Cornsilk a bit when her mother wasn’t looking so she could buy some candy.

Still, he thought as he stepped out from under the overhang and into the sweltering heat of main street. It does help me stay a bit cooler. Already he could feel the leather of his vest rapidly heating under the burning sight of the sun. The miscreants had been silent all morning, and he was confident he could slip out for a brief moment just to make one quick round and see how the town was doing.

He made his way down the main, tipping his hat or greeting the occasional pony that was braving the heat. From the look of things it was a quiet day, most ponies were probably hard at work at the Apple Orchards or one of the other large farm plots around the area. Well, somewhat hard at work, he thought as he noticed the rapidly spinning windmill blades that dotted the horizon past the buildings. Most of the work looked to be being done by the wind today.

He turned off of the main and made his way towards the town’s rail station. Behind him, there was a faint tock, as the town clock tower ticked another minute from the day. From outside the town, as if in answer to the clocks timekeeping came a shrill whistle. The afternoon train, running a few minutes late from the sound of it. Appleloosa only got one train per day, usually at noon unless some local wildlife had to be cleared from the tracks. Once a week the train would continue on, heading for the more Southern Badlands, but most of the time it simply made use of Appleloosa’s small station to change direction, heading back North with a heavy load Apples and other exports.

Silverstar smiled as he heard the hiss of steam releasing. The very same gang that was sitting in his cells right now had attempted to rob one of those trains, one that they thought was carrying a shipment of precious metals. Of course, as with everything else about the gang, their intelligence wasn’t exactly impressive, and when Silverstar’s posse had arrested them the gang’s leader had been in the process of burrowing into a car-full of apples looking for hidden gold, entirely still convinced that there was a lockbox full of bits, gems and gold buried somewhere in a pile of Braeburns.

He chuckled to himself as he remembered the shocked look on the stallions face when he’d turned around and seen Silverstar standing there with his posse, the rest of his gang already hogtied. Their watch, the unicorn kid, hadn’t been much of a lookout. In fact, he’d spent more time watching the gang then he had the scenery. Maybe, Silverstar thought, if they’d put someone a bit more competent on watch the day would have gone a bit differently. But he wasn’t about to shake a rear hoof at good fortune like a city-boy being out of his element.

He quickened his pace as he approached the Appleloosa Central station. It wasn’t much, given the small size of their town, just a simple one room ticket station and an open-air pavilion for any travelers to wait under. A few hoof-carved wooden benches sat along one wooden wall, while a large sign on the far side of the covering welcomed newcomers. The platform itself wasn’t that large, as only passengers and special cargo disembarked at the central station. Most of the heavy shipping and import-export business took place at the Southern Rail Yard.

As it was, the small rail platform looked fairly packed, ponies of every type and color milling about, some with heavy saddlebags on their backs, others pushing or pulling carts of bags, and even a lone blue glow that signified a Unicorn’s magic. He stepped up the wide steps onto the platform, hooves making dull thumps against the heavy wood, and did his best to look like a sheriff should. Relaxed. Calm. Just running his eyes over the crowd, looking for any suspicious troublemakers, but not expecting it. Here a pastel green filly was following her parents, small wings flapping with excitement, while there a large buffalo tried to politely excuse himself past a pair of mares completely caught up in their own conversation.

“Howdy Silver!” The voice belonged to Barrel Ring, a short orange-coated earth pony stallion.

“Howdy Barrel,” Silverstar said, looking down at the pony. “How was Tall Tale City?”

Barrel Ring gave him a wide smile, revealing a pair of slightly crooked teeth. “Not bad, think I might have an interested buyer for a few more carvings. I’ll have to go see what sort of spare branches the Apple’s have laying around I can make use of.”

“Well, good luck,” Silverstar said, giving the stallion a nod. Barrel Ring was technically the town cooper, building and repairing water barrels and casks for the town, but his talent truly lay woodcarving. Once he’d found that having a hoof-carved sculpture, rather than one made by Unicorn magic, could be a selling point, he’d found himself with a nice little cash flow.

Silverstar turned his attention back to the platform. The buffalo was still trying to politely make his way past the two innocently chatting mares, while the pastel green filly had been grounded by her father with a heavy saddlebag. Her wings were still fluttering away with excitement, despite the fact that she hadn’t made any headway into the air. The platform was starting to clear now, as most ponies made their way either into the small ticket station or collected their bags and headed off through Appleloosa.

Then on the far end of the platform the crowd parted, separating around a trio of ponies that had just stepped out of the train car. Silverstar tensed slightly, wondering if there was going to be trouble, but the feeling in his gut said no. Although that might have been the coffee mixing his signals, so he couldn’t be completely sure. These ponies certainly looked like they could cause trouble.

The one in the lead was a massive earth pony with an olive green coat and a short-cropped silvery-grey mane. It was easy to see why the crowd had parted around him, not only was he large, but his expression was ... if not stern it certainly wasn’t smiling. More determined than anything else. But his size … The closest thing Silverstar would have compared it to outside of a small buffalo was the Apple family relative that had come by several years earlier to help out with the harvest, a big red bruiser from Ponyville that had seemed to be made of nothing but muscle. This stallion had the same look, a look that said if he willed it he could break stone underneath his hooves. Silverstar began to hope that he wasn’t there to cause trouble.

His two companions looked no less capable either. One of them was a dust colored pegasus with a long straw colored mane that ran down to his shoulders. He even had a Stetson hat pulled over his head, although it sat at a slight angle. This one had a friendly looking smile on his face, one that eased a bit of the tension Silverstar's stomach. If not for the unfamiliar face, he could have been a resident of the small town. The last member of the trio however, was drawing more looks from the audience than the first two combined.

He was a young zebra, and he seemed completely unconcerned by the surprised looks and even flat-out stares he was getting from some of the ponies around him. His mane was styled in a straight, short mohawk, and on his back he had a small set of saddlebags and what looked like a staff made from some wood Silverstar didn’t recognize. He didn’t walk like the other two either, Silverstar noticed as the trio made a straight line for him. The lead stallion was striding with the military precision of a Royal Guard, while the pegasus was sauntering well enough that he would have fit in on any street in Dodge Junction, while the zebra … well, he almost seemed to flow from step to step.

The lead pony stopped a few feet from him and Silverstar took the brief moment before he said anything to make a few quick observations. His estimates about the pony’s size had been correct: His own eyes, straight ahead, only came up to about the stallion's jaw. His estimates about the pony’s age however, had been way off. The grey in his mane wasn’t the coloration, it was actually graying, and Silverstar could see wrinkles of age around the stallion's eyes. He had the body of a stallion twenty or thirty years younger, but he was certainly much older than that.

“Sheriff Silverstar?” the pony asked, extending a hoof. His voice was deep and slightly gruff, but there was a friendly edge too, and Silverstar extended his own hoof, noticing that by this point about half the platform was covertly watching the exchange. “Captain Steel Song,” the large pony said, giving his hoof a good shake. Guard. Silverstar thought as he felt the heavy motion of the stallion's foreleg. That explains the expression on his face.

“Welcome to Appleloosa, Captain Song,” he said, returning the shake. “Pleasure to meetcha.”

“Pleasure’s all mine,” the Captain said, releasing his hoof and motioning towards the ponies on either side of him. “This is First Lieutenant Hunter,” he said, nodding his head at the Pegasus pony next to him. “And this is Specialist Sabra.” He gave the same motion to the Zebra.

“A howdy to both of you,” Silverstar said, giving them both a friendly nod as they were introduced. “So, what can I do you for?” he asked, looking back to the Captain. “You wouldn’t happen to be here to collect that unicorn boy we’ve got locked up over in the station would ya? Cause I’d sure as applesauce like to get him off my hooves.”

An expression of slight surprise flitted across the Captains face. “As a matter of fact we are. How’d you know?”

Silverstar smiled. “Well how else would I know? We got word from Canterlot that someone would be coming to pick him up about a week and a half ago, been waiting on you ever since.” He watched as the captain's look switched from surprise to faint amusement, a faint mumble reaching his ears. “What was that, captain?” he asked.

Captain Song shook his head. “Nothing, just expressing my amusement at someone’s ... foresight. So,” he said, nodding at him. “You’ve been anxious to get him off your hooves? Has he been any trouble?”

Silverstar shook his head and let a faint chuckle slip through his teeth. “Naw, the boy's been fine,” he said, stepping aside as the eager young pegasus filly he’d spotted earlier sped past off the platform, her father chasing after her. “Aside from some trouble with his team in the early days, I mean. I think they rightly blame him for letting them get caught. No, it’s just that Judge Spurs didn’t want to commit a sentence until he knew whether or not he was getting all five of them.”

“Well then,” the captain said with a nod. “We’ll solve that problem for you right now. If you could lead us to your office.” The burly stallion began to move forward.

“Now hold on,” Silverstar said, holding a hoof out in front of the captain and bringing him to a stop. “It’s not that I don’t trust you, but I would like to see some proof of who you are before I simply take you right in and let the kid go.”

The captain looked at him for a second and Silverstar was once again reminded how much larger this stallion was than him. Not to mention the presence of the two ponies on either side of him. “Right.” There was a rasp of cloth on cloth as the captain turned his head and began digging through his saddlebags. He emerged with a single official looking document gripped in his teeth, which he dropped into one hoof and passed to Silverstar.

As he looked over the document, Silverstar let out a low whistle. “Shoot, you boys must be bigger ‘an I thought,” he said. The document was short and simple, stating that it’s bearer was to be given custody of the unicorn sitting back in the station. The part that caught Silverstar’s eyes was at the end of the document, where two large seals had been affixed, both glittering slightly, a testament to their magical nature. One was a crescent slash of orange, almost a full circle, with irregular triangles coming off of it, instantly recognizable to any resident of Equestria as the personal mark of Princess Celestia. The other was no less striking, a cloud of midnight blue that seemed impervious to the bright sunlight shining overhead, its magically shifting surface broken only by a white crescent slash. It was a seal that only recently had begun circulating alongside its sibling. The personal seal of Princess Luna, regent of the night.

“Well day-ang,” Silverstar said, looking over the document once more before handing it back to Captain Song. “That boy must be a bigger deal than I thought. Who’s he related to that’s got enough pull to get the ear of both the Princesses?” He could feel his heart pounding in his chest. They were a simple farming community on the outskirts. What if this ‘Nova Beam’ was actually some distant relative of the Canterlot Royal family? Maybe that was why he was so quiet, he’d just been waiting for the inevitable rescue, and then he’d have all kinds of ways to find revenge on Silverstar for locking him up, A rich noble didn’t need to do much, a few bits here, a few bits there and bam! No more job for the pony on the bad end of the stick.

“Related to?” the pegasus to the captain’s right said. Hunter, that was his name. “No one as far as we know.”

“Hunter is correct,” the captain said, motioning with one hoof. It took Silverstar a moment to remember that he had asked him to lead the way to the station and he turned and left the platform, the strange trio close behind him. “He’s not related to anypony as far as we know.”

“Huh,” Silverstar said as they turned onto main and were greeted with a gust of hot, dusty air. Sand from the desert bounced off his coat and leather vest, and Silverstar tilted his head down until the gust had passed, blocking the worst of the sand with his hat. Once the gust was gone he could make out the sign at the far end of the street that signified his station. He pointed, but the trio behind him had already spotted it and were walking past him. He took a few hurried steps to catch up.

“So, is Nova Beam really the kid's name?” he asked as he came alongside the captain.

The captain nodded. “Yes, why?”

“Well,” Silverstar said. “It seemed like an odd name, no way to be sure it was his real name. He wasn’t carrying any proof of it.”

“He wouldn’t have, from what I understand,” the captain said. An oddly cryptic remark, Silverstar thought, but then clearly this stallion knew who the kid was.

“Well, then, I guess that’s cleared up,” Silverstar said as they made their way up the steps of the station. The door opened with its familiar rasp, and Silverstar was glad to see that everything was still in its proper place. From across the office the lone phonograph he’d wound up before he’d left was still going, playing an odd, sort of twangey song that Valor had picked up. “Cells are in the back,” he said as the trio followed him in, hoofsteps echoing in the stations small space. Silverstar grabbed the keys from his desk and lead the way into the back.

“We-eell!” Reed said, his face lighting up as he saw the Sheriff enter the room, key’s held in his mouth. “What’s this boys, are we finally getting—” The criminal's face fell as he spied the three following Silverstar into the room. “Hey,” he said with a look of suspicion. “That ain’t Judge Spurs.”

“Right you are, Reed. Sharp as always,” Silverstar said as he watched the scruffy stallion's face fall. “But don’t worry, it won’t be long now. These gentlecolts are just here for your friend here.” He motioned at the sister cell’s lone occupant and was surprised to see that for once the kid was showing signs of life, looking at the captain and his entourage, his expression unreadable.

“Fink ain’t our friend,” Reed muttered, sinking back on his haunches. “Didn’t even do his job right.” Silverstar ignored him.

“Well,” the captain said, walking right up to the bars and looking Nova right in the eyes. “So you’re Nova Beam.” There was no response from behind the bars. “No horn lock?” he asked, eyes spotting the purple horn protruding from behind a dirty red mane.

“Didn’t see the point,” Silverstar responded as he stepped up next to the Captain and slid the lock into the cell door. “He hasn’t used a bit of magic since I put him in here. In fact, aside from a brief rumble with one of the other gang members he’s barely even talked.” There was a click as the lock popped loose and Silverstar slid the cell door open with one hoof. “I didn’t see the need.”

The captain smiled, the first time Silverstar had seen another expression other than the indifferent sternness of a Guard cross his muzzle. “Seems somepony was right about you,” he said, looking right at Nova.

“Seems strange,” Nova said. There was just a hint of challenge to his voice, as if he was daring someone to call him out. “I can’t think of many who would take the time to get to know me, you know, past the point where they’d call the Guard out.”

“That happen often?” the captain asked.

“More than you’d think,” Nova said with a snort. “Ponies these days.”

“I don’t quite think you’re old enough to be reminiscing about the good old days,” the captain said, his expression still unreadable.

Nova laughed. “No, that’d be more your job wouldn’t it now gramps?”

“Well,” Captain Song said as he turned to look at Sheriff Silverstar. “I can see why he’s got his own cell.”

“Whelp's got a mouth on him,” Silverstar said, feeling his temper rise. “Suddenly I’m glad he kept it shut all this time.”

“Whelp?” Nova said, looking right at him. “Whelp?” He scoffed and gave Silverstar a mocking smile. “I’m what? Fifteen years younger than you, Sheriff? Tops.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Captain Song said, although Silverstar saw the look in his eyes as he turned back towards Nova. “Nova Beam,” the stallion said, taking a few more steps into the cell. “I’m Captain Steel Song of the Dusk Guard.”

“Here to drag me away to Canterlot so I can do penance for my crimes?” Nova asked, casting one hoof to his forehead in mock despair. “Come to cart me off to my trial?” He threw both his hooves out in front of him. “Front hooves first then. Easy on the left, it’s a little sensitive.”

Captain Song stared at him for a moment, and Silverstar could see the muscles in his shoulders tensing. For a moment he was tempted to just close the door and deny the foolish unicorn any escape route from the firestorm of wrath that could erupt. But to his surprise, the captain’s shoulders relaxed and he shook his head. “You’ve got some guts, although you might want to rethink your words.”

“Hey, I’ve always said I’d come quietly the day I got caught,” Nova said, his hooves still held out in front of him. “Turns out though, what I really meant was I wouldn’t fight it. I hope you and your boys are good for conversation on this trip, because I think I’d rather go calmly then quietly.” He looked over towards the neighboring cell. “That and it’s been two weeks since I’ve had anyone capable of an intelligent conversation to talk to.”

“The fool speaks, the wise man listens,” came a rhythmic voice from behind Silverstar. He turned his head and saw that it was the zebra, Sabra, who had spoken. When nothing else was offered, he turned back to see that Nova was staring at the zebra with one eyebrow raised.

“Uh-huh,” he said at last, before looking over at the other member of the group. “And what about you?” he asked the tan pegasus. “Are you a bit more talkative than your buddy over there?” The pegasus tilted his hat back with one hoof.

“Well, normally I am,” he said, his voice calm and cool as a cucumber. “But right now I’m doing some heavy thinking.”

“Oh really?” Nova asked, tilting his head. “What on?”

“On how to fashion a gag,” Hunter said with a grin. “I figure at this rate, it might be worth a medal.”

“Oooh!” Nova said as his face put on an expression of mock pain. He turned back toward the captain, who had been staring impassively at him the whole time. “How about you big guy? What are you thinking about?” Silverstar took an involuntary step backwards. No wonder the rest of the gang hadn’t gotten along with the kid, he had a mouth that was busily trying to dig a grave.

“I’m thinking that in a moment you’re going to be very quiet,” the captain said. Silverstar had to give the old stallion some credit, he sounded just as calm as he’d been when he’d first introduced himself on the platform.

“Oh really?” Nova said with a toss of his dirty red mane. “And what are you going to do that makes me quiet?”

“Oh I’ve got a little bit of information for you that’ll quiet you down.”

“It’s not ‘I am your father’ is it?” Nova said, an amused look on his face. “Because that’s been done.”

“Close,” Captain Song said. “Try ‘I am your warden’ instead.”

Nova’s eyes grew wide as an expression of shock washed across his face. He looked as if he’d just been dunked in ice water. He blinked a few times, shock giving way to a look that Silverstar had seen on many young fillies and colts, a look they got when they’d been caught with their hoof in the cookie jar. A look that declared their understanding of how deep a hole they’d dug. Even Reed’s gang in the opposite cell had gone silent.

“You’re—my warden?” Nova finally stammered. “But wait, hang on, I thought you said that you were a captain in the Guard, how can you be a warden?”

The captain smiled, a wide grin that looked like the grin a cat would get when a mouse realized that it had no escape. “I’m Captain of the Dusk Guard,” he said, reaching into his saddlebags and pulling out a small scroll. “And you, Nova Beam, are hereby sentenced to serve in the Dusk Guard under my command. Your pay will be collected by the Guard and be used to make restitution for the various thefts you stand convicted of. Until then, you’ll be serving as a member of the Dusk Guard under my command, putting your talents to good use and hopefully learning a few new ones.” He handed the scroll to the astonished Nova. “Understood?”

Nova looked down at the scroll for a moment, silent. His eyes twitched back and forth as he read through the text, then when he reached the end of the document he looked back at Captain Song. Gone was the amused look of nonchalance he’d carried before, replaced by apprehension. “Horseapples,” he said, looking directly at the Captain. “I’m going to pay for that ‘gramps’ comment aren’t I?”

“That depends,” the Captain said, a hint of smugness in his voice. “Do you like running?”

“Not particularly no, although sometimes I do a lot of it.” Nova said.

“Well then yes, you’re going to regret that comment. And—I would imagine—quite a few others.”

‘Right,” Nova looked back down at the document and then handed it to back to the captain. “So then...” he looked around nervously at the other two ponies that had come with the stallion. “Are you guys going to lock me up for the trip then?”

“I don’t think we need to,” Captain Song said.

“Might still use a gag though,” the pegasus said with a smile. “Depends on how many miles of running you rack up I guess.”

“Regardless,” Captain Song said, looking back at Nova. “I don’t think we need to restrain you, do we?”

Nova looked at him for a moment. For the briefest moment, a hint of insolence came onto his face, then he deflated. “No,” he said quietly. “No, you don’t. I’m not about to go back on my word.”

“Your word?” Silverstar said, looking at the young criminal. “You’re a thief boy, at least you were when I caught you. What good is your word?”

Nova shot him an annoyed look. “I might be a thief, but I’ve got my standards. I only ever stole from those who could afford it, and I always said if I could get caught I’d take my punishment just as willingly as anything else."

“But you’re a thief, boy. You steal! What good is your word? What makes you think—?”

“He could have broken out of here at any time, Sheriff.” The loud voice cut him off, and he turned to see that the pegasus had addressed him. “He’s a lot more truthful than you think. Plus,” he said, with a nod at Nova. “You said it yourself, he never once used his magic. What did you think that cutie mark on his side was for?”

Silverstar looked back towards Nova as the unicorn turned his side towards him, displaying the small mark emblazoned on his flank. He’d seen it before, after all when they’d locked him up the cutie mark had been one of the identifying traits they’d recorded. But he’d never really thought about what it signified. Now that it was pointed out to him though... No. He shook his head. He still couldn’t see what the mark had to do with anything. Sure, with the twin crescent shapes, the one with its jagged outward edges, the smaller, blue one nestled inside of it, it bore a startling resemblance to the royal seals he’d seen earlier on Captain Song’s papers, but what did that have to do with his work?

“My cutie mark isn’t for thieving,” Nova Beam said upon seeing the shake of his head. “It’s for something else entirely. I may be a thief, but that doesn’t mean I’m not honest.”

Silverstar stared at the youth for a moment before responding. “Fine. You say you don’t need to lock him up, that’s yer’ call. If he escapes on the way to Canterlot, it’s on yer’ own head.” He turned and headed back towards the front of the station. “Ah’ve got some paperwork for you to sign, captain, before you take leave with your prisoner.”

He sat down at his desk and moments later Captain Song circled around it, coming to halt opposite him. “I understand your concern sheriff, but Nova isn’t going anywhere.”

“And ye’re sure of that?” Silverstar asked. “I mean no disrespect, Captain Song, but we caught that boy out wit’ the Reed gang, who as y’ may have noticed aren’t exactly an exemplary sort.”

“Did you ever consider,” Captain Song said, leaning across the desk and lowering his voice. “That he wanted to be caught?” Silverstar stared at the stallion for a moment. The boy had botched things pretty thoroughly for the gang. “Nova Beam has been running from the law since he was a young colt,” the Captain continued. “You caught him. He’s been dodging nets for so long the Royal Guard has had a lookout for him for the last five years. He’s good. Very good. And yet you caught him, along with a whole band of criminals who from the sound of it are about as good at thievery as an earth pony is at weather control. Doesn’t that seem a bit odd to you?”

“Well, now that you put it that way … Yeah. Yeah it does.” Silverstar said. “How come I’ve never heard of him before now?”

“Because this is the first time he’s been South, as far as we know.” Captain Song said. “Until about four years ago he was only known in big cities. Manehatten, Las Pegasus, Tall Tale, Baltimare, Canterlot, the like. Then four years ago he just up and vanished after a particularly grandiose theft, and now he turns up out here, in your cell.”

“You’re right,” Silverstar said, nodding his head. “That is odd.” He twisted slightly, looking back at the cells where Nova sat idly rubbing one hoof up and down the other, staring at the two ponies that had come with the Captain as if unsure whether or not he should open his mouth. “I still think it’s suspicious but ...” He racked his brain, looking for something, some flaw that he could find, but he drew a blank. “But ah can’t think of any solid reason to dispute your argument. You clearly know more about ‘im then ah’ do. Still ...” He took one more quick look back. “I wouldn’t trust him.”

A shrill, distant whistle cut through the air as the noon train, now turned around, its cargo cars full of fruits and other exports, signaled its arrival to the station. The captain looked up in surprise at the clock. “One already?” The stallion shook his head, sending small quivers of motion up his short-cropped mane. “This took a bit longer than I thought,” he said, turning his attention back towards Silverstar. “Anyway, thanks for the concern, but I think we’ll be fine.”

“Suit yourself.” Silverstar pulled the drawer open and ducked his head, picking a file out of the drawer with his teeth. “Not going t’ push th’ point,” he said, his speech muffled by the file. He dropped it across the desk, pushing the drawer shut with his free hoof. “This ‘ere’s the boys file,” he said, flipping it open and motioning to a jar of pens that sat on end of his desk. “Just sign here and leave me with the release you brought and the kid's all yours.” The captain nodded, plucking one of the proffered pens in his teeth and carefully signing his name. Silverstar opened an ink pad, and a few seconds later a hoofprint was added next to the signature.

“Alright,” the captain said, wiping the excess ink from his hoof with a small cloth. “Let me give you this.” His head ducked towards his saddlebags and he came back with the Sheriff's copy of the transfer document, which he dropped onto the desk. “And that’s everything taken care of.”

“Alright,” Silverstar said, sliding the release into the file and flipping it shut. “Kids all yours, Captain Song.”

“My thanks,” the captain said, looking towards the cells and giving a nod. “Alright, Nova’s ours now.” He turned back towards Silverstar. “ Sheriff, it’s been a pleasure,” he said, giving Silverstar’s hoof a firm shake. The group began to filter out through the door, hooves rapping against the hardwood floor. One by one they filed through the door, his late prisoner taking up the rear of the group. As Nova passed his desk, Silverstar gave him one last solid look, one that he hoped sent a message about not causing trouble before he left town.

To his surprise, Nova slowed and leaned his head slightly towards the table. “You might want to consider moving those keys tonight, sheriff,” he said, his voice low. “Just a heads up.” Then he was gone, caught up with the rest of his group and out the door. The office was suddenly silent save for faint low voices from the rear cells and the echoing bang of the station door as it slammed shut. Silverstar let out a sigh that whispered through the now empty front office. Part of the sigh was relief. Now that Nova was gone, he and Judge Spurs could handle the rest of the group with ease. But another part of it was in anticipation of more problems to come. Transport, detainment, paperwork ... He let out another sigh. If he got a message to Judge Spurs before dinner, the sentencing hearing could probably be held as early as tomorrow morning, but then of course he’d need to have all the files ready ...

Mind working, Sheriff Silverstar got down to the least favorite part of his job, pulling out papers and filling them out, completely forgetting the advice that Nova had given him a few moments earlier.

Author's Note:

For those curious, both Reed's and his unicorn partner, Ringo, are very loosely based off of two real world criminals, Jim Reed and Johnny Ringo. And I do mean loosely based.

In other news, with Nova we now have our team! And the final character theme! This one I was sure of before I even began writing the story. Nova was always a bit of a sardonic, sarcastic punk, and Cage the Elephant gave him the perfect tune to start his time off with the rest of the Dusk Guard on the wrong hoof.

Speaking of starting off, we've now met all six members of the Dusk Guard! Where will things go from here? Well, if you read the last chapter, you might have an idea.

There will at least be a few broken windows by the end of this fic. I promise. The action is coming.