• Published 18th Apr 2014
  • 2,834 Views, 216 Comments

Dust and Harmony - KitsuneRisu



The notorious outlaw Raven Lune is back! In a bid to defend her fair city, Mayor Celeste sends her best deputy to the burg of Ponyton to find the hidden pieces of a weapon that can stop her - a gun called Harmony.

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Animal

“Oh shit.”

Moonshine ran as fast as her legs could carry her, propelled forward by bursts of speed from impatient wings. “Oh crap, oh badger poop!”

An assortment of various shits followed her home, as she rammed through the door and rushed to her safe.

“Rhino dander!” she cried, running her hoof over the dials. “Mole excrete!”

Then she stopped.

Her eyes glazed over.

In her mind was a single thought. One single, solitary thought.

Twilight was going to shoot her. For real.

“Argh!” she slapped herself across the face. “No! No! No!”

No, don’t be silly. Of course Twilight wouldn’t shoot you. That’s just crazy talk. Nope, she’ll make Spike shoot you while she watches, and then later have Angel put you back together so that she can have you shot again and–

“Argh!” Dash yelled one more time, smacking her forehead into the safe. “No! Argh!”

No. That’s right. Calm down. Let the cooling metal of the safe caress your face. Mmm. That’s better. Now then. Left, right, left, in the prescribed numbers, and… open!

The safe popped, and Dash flung the door aside. Papers and boxes and other random things were strewn about the interior, including a small cardboard tray-thing that used to hold the pieces of Harmony.

No longer, though. No longer.

She pushed it aside to make way for her goal.

The box.

It was rather large, taking up most of the safe. Across the side was a label that had been torn on transit. The only thing left of it was:

With Love. I hop—

you finally f––

your p–– ––– ––

a–––– –– –––

Your si–––– ––––––––

Dash struggled it out of the safe, yanking off the lid and looking within. It hadn’t been touched in a long while.

Dash prayed that it would still work.

~ ~ ~

“Whoa, whoa!” she yelled, as she struggled out the door with the gear. Strapped to her back was a huge fan encased in some sort of metallic barrel. Gears and levers poked out, along with chutes and valves of all sorts. It was a steamworks device, but there was no time at all to charge it.

Luckily, the device had a manual mode.

She remembered when she was given the gift by someone far older and wiser than she was at the time, and she remembered scoffing at the inclusion of a manual system.

It’s a steamworks machine, she had said. What would be the point?

And then she was given a pat on the head and was laughed at in a condescending yet loving manner. She’d get it one day, she was told.

Dash frowned, rolling her eyes at the memory.

Two struts stuck out from either side of the barrel, like little cranes, each with a cradle attached to the end of ropes which dangled through an intricate pulley system. Dash’s wings rested in those cradles now, as she stepped onto the other half of the set that made the gear complete.

Beneath her hooves was a board with two large wheels connected to its front and rear ends. A handlebar was attached to the front to make it easy to steer. The thing was wobbly – made for someone much younger than she was now – but it somehow managed to hold her weight.

She remembered what she had called it many years ago. The board was ‘The Thing With Wheels On’, and the backpack unit was bestowed with the honourable title of ‘The Huge Giant Fan’. Together they made ‘The Really Fast Wheely-Gear’.

She was only a kid.

Wrapped tightly around one of her rear legs was a small bag of everythings, a word she used to refer to the tools and items that would always come in handy no matter what the circumstance. She always kept the bag close by just in case of emergencies.

Dash stared off into the edge of town.

There was no sign of the flying pegasus now. But she had a direction, and if she went fast enough, Dash could catch up – the desert was a place where hiding in the sky was only possible because no one ever bothered to look up. Otherwise, the lack of clouds, trees, or anything made it extremely simple to spot someone way up there once one cleared the buildings.

And so Dash, without a second’s wait, pushed off on The Thing With Wheels On, trundling forward as she kicked off with her hind leg.

The machine on her back groaned as it spat out dirt and dust, awakening after years of rest.

And finally, the gears started spinning again, almost as smoothly as the day Dash received it, and an intricate set of spokes and wheels within meant that Dash didn’t have to pull much to cause the fan to rotate at an incredible speed.

The fan began to turn.

And Dash began to ride.

The Thing’s large wheels had no problem skipping off stones and rubble, and its streamlined nature meant it could traverse uneven terrain with little loss in speed: truly the work of a master.

Her wings were beginning to ache with the constant pulling of the strings needed to keep the fan running, but there were a plethora of emotions swirling in her chest and in her mind that fueled her to press on, chief among these a burning anger to find whomever took the gun.

There was also anger at herself, of course, an anger that she had let this happen in the first place, but that soon gave way to the more primitive fear and guilt.

After all, she simply did not want to let Twilight down.

Not again.

Not this time.

There was no time to go running around searching for Twilight. There was no time to sit back and wait for things to pan out.

No.

She had to do the one thing that, above all else, her hero had shown her to be necessary in order to make a change. She had to take action, take responsibility and oh crap what if the thief was dangerous and what if she was going to get shot what was she even doing oh dust, oh shit, oh

Dash quickly shook her head free from the words that used to grip her, determined to see this through.

Her brow furrowed as she followed the speck that had finally appeared on the horizon. It was a small black blot that contrasted against the setting sun. It would have been hard to see were it not for her trusty goggles, something that the mystery culprit also wore.

And that brought Dash to the subject of the thief, and the one single determination she made.

Pegasi do not fly.

No. They don’t. No matter how much she had hoped as a child, no matter how much she dreamed. It was wishful thinking on the part of the young pegasus, but forever would their kind be taunted by the mocking laughter of their crippled wings.

And clearly, this wasn’t magic either. There was that one time that she had a drunken bet with another unicorn (also drunk) to see if he could lift himself with his magic (lost the bet) and you can be sure it all ended pretty badly for everyone involved (don’t ask about it).

Therefore the situation was clear, now that she had the time to consider it.

It was steamworks gear, but a gear that definitely had never been conceived before. Never in her life had she heard of a gear that could aid in flight, and that in and of itself was almost as much of an improbability to her as the thief actually flying.

But that avenue was still within the realm of possibility.

Speculation entered her mind, filling it as she considered a wealth of knowledge and experience and stories. She theorized about the device, theorized about the thief, and theorized about what it all meant. There was nothing much else to do.

She could focus surprisingly well, moving fast out there in the wilderness. It was something she had forgotten the feeling of. And now with this opportunity, she recollected how, as a child, she had loved using this gear. But somehow, over the years, she had stopped yearning to move both in speed and within herself, and life wrote the rest of the story.

It was nice, once again, to be able to soar along the ground. It brought a lightness to her senses and clarity to her faculties. She found herself able to think better and quicker, and things just went at a calmer pace.

It wasn’t so bad.

She was approaching the flying figure at a good clip, and by her judgements, it would take only a few minutes more until she was within rock-throwing range. Not only that, but the figure seemed to be slowing down. Its silhouette was large enough now that Dash could make out its fluttering cape. And as if to confirm her suspicions, she definitely noticed a blurring of air coming from beneath the character as it flew.

Dash squinted, peering closer at the figure.

And then, the echoes of a loud, sharp noise bounced throughout the plains, like an explosion thundering down a canyon. It was loud enough that it reached Dash like a phantom dying with the winds.

Widening her eyes, Dash pulled harder as she carried herself ever forward. Something had happened that was not supposed to happen.

A thin stream of white smoke started to rise from the figure, like a little trickle of water flowing against gravity, streaking across the magnificent red and orange landscape of Central Equestria.

“Whoa,” Dash mouthed to herself.

The figure started to drop.

Dash could see it twisting, turning, flailing as it lost altitude at an alarming rate. Every so often, the figure would shudder back upward in fits and starts, but ultimately, it kept heading back to the ground where it rightfully belonged.

And finally, like a magnificent comet, it streaked down at an angle and crashed straight into the red-stained rocks. A great cloud rose in its place, marking where it had made its final stop. Dash swung the handlebars, changing her direction to the landing zone.


Dust and Harmony

Chapter Seven :: Animal


A smouldering crater had been left in the ground where the thief landed, and a few meters away was a figure all twisted up in a heap – a mangled, tangled mess of metal and springs and bars and pipe, all covered by a thick black cloak.

Pieces of metal distributed themselves in an outward arc from the landing point, and the gear on the back of the figure was making a horrible whirring noise under its blanket, like a fan sputtering and choking at the very end of its life. It kicked up a wind from beneath, causing the cloak to flutter as if dancing in a phantom wind.

It was one mystery solved, at least – that the thief’s flight was definitively aided by some sort of mechanism. But it once again brought up a whole slew of other questions that were probably not going to be answered as easily.

Moonshine Dash brushed it from her mind for the time being, approaching the wreckage with caution. Keeping her eyes on it, she let her scooter drop down upon its side before she struggled out of the engine, depositing it unceremoniously on the ground beside the wheels.

Her little bag of everythings still remained attached to her leg, thanks to a sturdy buckle and the magic of cured elk leather. She reached within, rummaging around for something that could help with this situation.

Damnit, she thought.

She withdrew a spanner from her bag, gripping it tightly in her feathers.

All the while, nothing gave any signal of life save for the waving of the cloak and the coughing of the gear. But still, she approached with due caution, stepping lightly and dancing around debris.

Dash’s heart beat in her ears as she got ever closer, echoing like she had one shot of Old Berry’s Fire Punch too many.

She stopped a few meters away.

“H-hey!” She called, only for her words to disappear into the plains.

Dash wiped her forehead.

“I… I have a gun! I have two guns!” she threatened, wing holding up the spanner.

The pile refused to respond.

She pushed closer to the wreck, hovering over it, breath as ragged as cheese being fed into a cow-powered blender.

“I’ll… I’m gonna… don’t you try to get the drop on me! I’m… I’m a fearsome cowboy!” she whispered violently.

A black cloth fluttered menacingly back

“Y-you know Twilight? Constance Twilight? Yeah! I’m… I’m her friend! So don’t you dare mess with me!”

Dash reached forward, prodding the heap with the spanner.

“Y-you dead?” she asked. “Don’t answer if you’re dead.”

That was when she saw the streak.

A trail of red, the sordid crimson, was timidly peeking out from underneath the blanket, like a ferret being coaxed out of a hole. It moved as if scared to be out from the sun, but flowed nevertheless, around pebbles and twigs, staining the ground a muddy brown.

“Oh shit,” Dash mumbled, biting her lower lip.

She reached out with a hoof, hovering it above the figure for a moment or two.

She gave herself a deep breath.

With a sweep, she yanked the cloak off and threw it aside.

And then she threw her eyes wide, all the air in her lungs forced out in a single gasp.

There, in a small puddle of blood-soaked dirt, lay a young earth colt, no older than eleven or twelve at best. His shorn mane of ochre didn’t obscure his face, which was pressed down in the ground by a large metal dome that had slid up over his shoulders. He was breathing, albeit shallowly, and his eyes remained shut although his mouth hung slightly open. His green-coated chest heaved not to any specific pattern, and a fresh trickle of blood had mixed with the soil and formed a sort of paste below his lip.

The dome on his back was a large, dented device that looked like an up-turned bowl with a lattice punched into it. It was a mesh of metal that covered a mess of broken tubes and pipes and moving parts, and it was hard for Dash to imagine what it might have looked like before the accident. A couple of rubber tubes led from the back unit to a pair of boxes on the child’s chest, within which two fans were encased, one of which was broken quite severely, leading to extensive collateral damage.

A fan blade had found itself lodged in the child’s left thigh, and like a leaky engine, it sputtered its red oil all over the ground.

“Oh shit,” Dash coughed out, dropping her spanner. “Kid! Kid, are you okay?”

She held her wings out, looking all over the device for something to do. Fervently, and in a panic, she found a buckle on the side of the machine that kept it strapped on, and she undid it with all due haste.

With the child free, she pushed the machine over, where it rolled off like a shell and finally sputtered its last breath. She reached down with both wings and both legs to pull the child away.

She froze.

There, tied around the child’s waist with a bit of rope was a small sack that looked like it didn’t quite belong. Dash’s eyes darted from the kid to the sack as she finally reached out and snagged it away.

She quickly peered in.

With a gulp, she closed the sack up again and tied it around her leg, next to her bag of supplies. And with that done, she rushed and fumbled back to the child, grabbing him under the forelegs and pulling him up into her chest.

Dash dragged him, shuffling on her back and kicking through the scrub as she pulled the child away to flat and clear ground.

She felt a warmth on her legs as the child’s blood trickled down onto it.

Huffing, her breath straining out of her throat, she lay the child down on his back as she pulled out from underneath him and stood up, staring around at her surroundings before looking back to the kid.

She ran her hooves through her mane, squashing her eyes shut and hissing through her teeth. Grabbing the nearby cloak, she threw it to the child before rolling a sizable rock over, moving it into position near the child’s hind legs.

Dash dropped to her knees, focusing on the child’s thigh.

The wound was bad. At least, from what she could tell. She was no doctor, and she had no idea what ‘bad’ truly was, but she wouldn’t have been okay with having it herself, and that was a pretty sufficient gauge of whether an injury was good or not.

The wound was at least five centimeters across, but it was very thin, if that was any consolation. It seemed that the fan blade had been made out of a rather light metal, which meant that it had the potential to be razor-sharp.

Dash had no idea how deep it went, but anything that pierced the skin was deep enough already.

She breathed in, taking in some life-affirming oxygen, before reaching down and holding the child’s thigh in place. She swept down with her wings shortly after, looking at the kid’s semi-conscious face with a look of guilt.

“Sorry, kid. Hold on, okay?” she said, her wings wrapping around the shard of metal.

And then she pulled.

“Thank you kindly, Matron,” Twilight grunted with a frown.

“Of course. Anything for you, my dear!” Matron Cheerilee replied. “You helped this town out more than I could ever say, and you brought the girls here a lot of closure. Anytime you need a room for your… business, just come see me!”

The matron winked.

Twilight scowled.

Twilight and her friends stood in the middle of a smaller suite back at the hen house, a place they decided to go because despite what Twilight had threatened, the desert was a pretty stupid place to hold a conversation. All they needed was privacy, and Twilight just happened to know of somewhere with slightly thicker walls and people who knew how to keep their mouths shut.

The odd noises that drifted in and out of the corridor when the doors opened were only a minor inconvenience.

“Stay as long as you wish!” Cheerilee said in a manner befitting her namesake, turning to wink at Angel. “She’s a keeper.”

“Oh, yes, I do hope so,” Angel grinned.

“No! Stop that! I… hnnng” Twilight grunted like a mastodon, leg raised in threat against those who would accuse her of being in a relationship. “Stop that. I told you, we’re just havin’ a private discussion, and I don’t know anywhere else that ain’t burned down!”

“No doubt from the fires of your loins, honey!” Cheerilee nudged Twilight in the ribs.

The sheriff’s brow began to twitch. “Please. If you would not mind, I’d quite like to conduct some business now, Matron Cheerilee.”

“Ooh, of course. Have fun! And, dear, call me Mama!”

“No.” Twilight said, shoving Cheerilee out the door. “I will not.”

“Um… I’ll go too,” Spike said. “I have… um… girls to look at.”

“Yeah. Yeah. Get out of here.” Twilight said, as Spike crept out and closed the door behind him.

“And me?” Angel asked innocently, pointing to her own grinning mug. “Shall I go look at the girls too?”

“No. You stay.” Twilight stated, firm but polite. “The reason why I brought you here is we got things to discuss.”

“Ooh, just the two of us!” Angel giggled, walking over to the bed. “Shall we get comfortable?”

Twilight stood her ground, smacking her lips.

“I only meant ‘sit down’, of course,” Angel said, smiling. “I often find that physical comfort aids in providing a more conducive atmosphere for verbal exchange.”

“Wanna try that in plain, Angel?”

“Sitting down makes people talk better.” Angel nodded.

“I think we’d best stand.”

Angel’s eyes darted to the side as she gave it some thought. “Mm. Of course we will. What did you want to talk about, Sheriff?”

“Well, I’ll be... frank.” Twilight rubbed the back of her neck. “I didn’t expect you to still come around. I didn’t expect ya to keep showin’ up day after day. I most certainly didn’t expect Spike to take you gallivantin’ around and I did not expect…”

“The piece of Harmony.”

“Yeah.” Twilight cleared her throat. “I mean, technically, you didn’t get it. But you may as well have. And Spike was… ah… observing ya all the way, I’ll be upfront about that.”

“Oh, no doubt, Sheriff. I wouldn’t be satisfied if he wasn’t.” Angel beamed.

“And you’re still here.”

“Only because you invited me, Sheriff.”

Twilight decided to respond to the comment with a meditative ponderance, as she shuffled from hoof to hoof.

“So, here’s the thing. I am a very… suspicious pony by nature. I can’t just have others join my posse whenever they so like. Especially not when I have a feelin’.”

“A feeling?”

“Yeah. Now. I ain’t mean no disrespect, Miss Angel, but…”

“You have a feeling about me,” Angel said, her ear bouncing back and forth on the word.

“Yeah. It’s… somethin’. Somethin’ that come straight from here,” Twilight pointed to her belly. “Tellin’ me that… somethin’ ain’t quite whole. Somethin’ ain’t quite complete.”

“Perhaps it is your aversion to doctors,” Angel suggested. “But I’m sure we spoke about this back at the clinic.”

Twilight bobbed her head up and down. “Indeed we did. Indeed we did.”

“Then… what else may we discuss? I would love very much if you were comfortable with me.” Angel offered with a tilt of her head and a grin.

“Huh.” Twilight ran her tongue across her bottom lip.

“Y-yes?”

“Why do you say it like that?” Twilight stared at the carpet.

“Say… what like what?”

“‘I would love very much if you were comfortable with me’, you said. Not… if I could find you of use, or if I could understand what you want.”

“I… I don’t understand.” Angel’s ear twitched again, ticking away with the seconds. Her smile looked like it were slipping off, like it were on a mannequin that constantly needed readjusting.

“See, Spike told me a little bit about your New Science stuff. Strange, but it sounds a bit like some of the things I’m used to seein’ down at the office. When you boil it down, it’s really just about lookin’ at things which others don’t normally look at.”

Angel lowered her head a little.

“For example, Spike is real good at noticin’ things. Details. Little objects. His mind puts things together real quick-like. That’s how he gamed the system way back when. Long story, but I know how smart he really is. And from what he tells me about you, you seem to know how to… understand how people move. How their minds work, like you can read ‘em or somethin’.

“You can tell what people are gonna do, and how to stop them from doin’ it. Yeah. You were real clever back at the doctor’s. Sure knew what to say to set me at ease, that’s for certain. How long after you laid eyes on me did you figure me out? Instantly? Couple minutes? I wonder, really.”

Twilight started to circle the other pony, who was remaining rather still, save for a few body parts here and there that wouldn’t behave.

“But me,” Twilight went on. “Let me tell you what I’m good at, Miss Angel. Let me tell you what I can do.”

Twilight stopped just beside the little pony, leaning close to her ear – that particular one that had been jumping all over the room since the party started.

“I figure stuff out,” Twilight said in a low growl.

“But I’ve done nothing wrong.” Angel adjusted her collar.

“Well, that means nothing to me, Miss Angel!” Twilight pulled back, taking in a good look at the girl. “See, an innocent person and a guilty person both are inclined to say the same thing, hm? But it’s what you said before that was most tellin’. Now, let me explain. Tell me again why you want to join up with me so bad.”

“Well!” Angel said, straightening her back and shuffling around her black cloak. “As… as I said before. I believe this to be an ample opportunity for me. I think very much that you will provide me the avenue to field research of all kinds.”

“See, now, but earlier, and I’ll repeat again for your own benefit, Miss Angel, you did say that you wished very much for me to be comfortable with you. Do you understand the difference?”

“I… I see not…”

“Then!” Twilight proclaimed, sticking a hoof in the air as she made her way around the carpet again in a sort of parade of bravado. “Let me further e-lu-ci-date you, Miss Angel! Your intentions, as you explain to me, are for your own sake. You wish to learn! You wish to grow! You wish to use me in order to further your agendas!”

Twilight came to a stop.

“And how very, very selfish!”

Angel raised her head to protest.

“And how very pony of you!” Twilight continued, turning her head to stare Angel in the eye. “But were that true, Miss Angel! Were that the truth, I would be inclined to believe you! But that is not what your wish is, Miss Angel. Your wish was not to have me understand the logic of it and appeal to your benefit! No! Your wish is for me to be able to accept you, as a pony, as a person, as a character, as someone who wants to be a part of my very life in some way or other, isn’t that right?”

“Ah… well… you see,” Angel stammered.

“What I see is someone’s story slowly falling apart, Miss Angel.”

“No, you… surely, you misunderstand.” Angel tried to smile, her pink fringe falling over her face. “You must believe me—”

“Why do you want me to trust you so badly, Miss Angel?” Twilight demanded, her voice trickling with fire. “Why do you want me to believe you? What is your agenda?”

“I have none, Miss Sheriff. I assure you.”

“Are you trying to trick me? Is that it? Are you trying to work your way into my group for nefarious purposes?”

“No! I would not do that!” Angel raised her voice.

There.

The crack.

Everyone had one. Everyone had something that would tear them apart and let the anger flow out. Anger was good. Anger told the truth. Anger was something that could not easily be controlled. Anger was Twilight’s friend, and Twilight was okay with Anger because Twilight had the guns and the horn that could make things turn to small puddles of meat.

And Twilight was very good at making people angry.

“You a bad egg, Angel?”

“No, I have… I mean, we should start from the beginning, yes? And…” Angel squeezed her eyes shut, jaw clenched.

“And what? Give you time to spin a new one? Miss Angel, I am quite accustomed to you and your kin’s ways. Do not think you can work me so easily, Miss Angel!”

“M-my kin? What…”

“Do you know who speaks like you? What kind of person talks and acts like you?”

“I do—”

Criminals, Miss Angel!” Twilight drove her hoof sharply into the floor. The floor was quite used to it, and responded with a well-bodied thud. “Criminals!”

That’s enough!” Angel sputtered, turning on her heels, droplets of water appearing at the edges of her eyes, her face shining red. All traces of her past carefree joy were gone, replaced by a timid, quivering ball akin to a rabbit set upon by wolves.“I am not a criminal! I am not! I am a doctor! A doctor! I have spent all my life resisting! Do you know how hard it has been for me to…”

Angel choked, forcing herself to stop in mid-sentence. She hissed a breath into her lungs, shaking her fury out of her eyes.

Adjusting the neck on her cloak, she cleared her throat, closing her eyes with indignity.

“V-very well, Miss Sheriff. I get the message. I am sorry for wasting your time, but I see how it is. I shall take my leave and not bother you again.” Angel stepped for the door.

“But why?” Twilight asked, stepping to block it. “We’re finally getting somewhere.”

The child coughed.

It was the first signs of him stirring since she removed the shard of propellor, the act of which had brought sounds that Dash had spent the past hour trying to push out of her head.

She found herself keeping busy in the meantime with the child’s machine, and had been tinkering with it just before he stirred to life. She dropped the large bowl-shaped unit to the ground and looked toward the kid, who jerked up and started coughing wildly.

Dash rushed over.

“Hey, hey!” she said, pushing him back down. “Take it easy. You had an accident, okay? Kid?”

The child didn’t fight back, instead throwing his leg over his eyes as he squeezed a few tears out, grimacing. He hit his head against the ground as he thrashed, and the only noise that escaped his mouth were a few scant moans of pain.

Dash held him down.

“Kid! Kid! Please! Calm down, okay? You were injured. You gotta calm down!”

The child gritted his teeth, pulling his head backwards as his body stiffened. He wheezed a few times as his mind started to get accustomed to the situation.

Eventually, he settled for heavy breathing and the odd twitch here and there, and Dash slowly removed her hooves from his shoulders.

“Okay. Good. Try not to move your leg,” she said gently. “I don’t know if you remember or not, but you had a thing stuck in it. I ain’t no doctor, but I did what I could. It stopped bleeding a while back, but it’s best if you don’t move it around too much.”

She saw the child peek out from under his hoof, down towards his lower half.

There he saw his leg elevated upon a small boulder, a small strip of black cloth tightly wound around where the cut was.

He decided to retreat back under his hoof.

“Hey, here. Take this,” Dash said, pushing a small metal cylinder to his face with caps on either end.

The child, face twisted in a bed of perspiration, peeked at it.

Dash unscrewed one end, keeping it upright, thrusting it into the child’s face.

“Go on,” she said. “It’s water. Drink. Drink it all.”

The scent of moisture hit the child like a bullet, and he gripped the pipe tightly, upending the entire volume of liquid down his throat. Some streaked down the sides of his face, washing off a little of the blood.

When done, he stared down into the pit of the vessel, his jaw squared, before he turned slowly to Dash.

He held the pipe out.

Dash took it.

The child’s eyes began to roam, as if he didn’t quite know what to focus on. They darted left and right, up and down, avoiding nothing but two things – his leg and his benefactor.

He only finally swung around to look her in the eye with a confused, mixed expression when she leaned closer to ask a question.

“Hey, kid. You doin’ better?”

He looked down, and then closed his eyes, turning his head back to face the sky.

Dash nodded to herself, stepping backward. “Okay. Okay. No fuss, now. You talk when you’re good and ready.”

She breathed easier now, knowing that the young fellow seemed to be doing alright. She allowed her mind to turn to other things, like the puzzle of the flying gear and the question of how she was going to get back to Ponyton with the child in tow.

Leaving him there was not an option. With the sun rapidly setting, by the time she got back and found help the trails would be blanketed in dusk, and the plainswolves could smell blood over many miles.

She could carry the child, or perhaps fashion some kind of sled out of the flying kit, but moving him was risky all by herself, especially when she didn’t know what she was doing.

And of course, she didn’t want to think of the most pressing reason for why she couldn’t go back.

She had no idea where Ponyton was.

The desert stretched out into vast emptiness all around, with Full Moon Bluff somewhere along one side. That gave a rather rough idea of the general direction of Ponyton, but as any traveller would tell you, a little bit off and you could bypass it by miles.

Waiting seemed like the only choice at the moment. She had the tools to signal her friends, but it was far too early for that.

Dash watched as the sun crossed the horizon.

Still too early.

Smacking her lips, she turned back toward the gear that the child was wearing, plopping herself down on a nearby log to take another long look at it.

The thing was quite a feat of engineering, but by all logic, it should not have been able to work. One of the problems was, of course, having the fans turn fast enough to be able to counter the forces of gravity. There was no engine built that could achieve that rotation speed – steam and pressure was well and good, but such a device would have to be huge and clunky, far bigger than the thing that Dash was holding in her hooves.

It, in fact, weighed next to nothing – and yet it was still able to help the child achieve some sort of flight despite this.

The next thing Dash had noticed was there were no intake feeds on the entire device. Everything was enclosed, like a bubble, with pipes that were used to connect to the two fan boxes that lay off in the distance somewhere. There seemed to be no way to fuel it, and it was far too small to be an effective engine.

The design was eerily familiar.

Dash found herself feeling the weight of the gun that hung off her thigh.

“Huh…” she muttered, turning the device over.

There was no maker’s stamp anywhere. There was only one thing etched into the side crudely, as if it were done with a piece of rock.

Tactical AeroNautical Kit, it read in sloppy hoofwriting.

Dash lowered the machine, repeating the name under her breath as she stared out into the sands.

“Who made you?” she whispered.

“H-hey,” a voice shook Dash out of her daze. “Lady?”

The child’s voice was rough and scratchy, but still a little bit high-pitched for a colt. It sounded like the years had not been kind to his throat, and his sandpapery voice was made even worse by the condition he was in.

“Kid?” Dash responded, placing the Kit to the side and standing up. “Kid, you okay?”

She rushed to his side, staring down at him.

He stared back up, innocent face that winced once every so often. But he seemed to have calmed considerably, and was now putting up a brave front as was demanded of him by the way of the plains. “Did you do this, Lady?”

He motioned down toward his leg.

“Yeah,” Dash confirmed. “You had a bad accident. I did what I could, but we really need to get ya to the doctor’s.”

“Doctor? That’s… a medicine pony, right?” the boy asked, voice weak.

“Yeah. That’s right,” Dash replied, noting his odd need to confirm that. “I know a doctor who can help patch your wound right up. But… we’re kinda stuck out here. Don’t suppose you know where we are, do ya?”

The kid barely turned his head, his eyes snaking left and right. In the warm red glow of the setting sun, the whole plains of Dust had lit up like a hazy red field, and everything looked the same in all directions.

The child shook his head.

“Yeah. Didn’t think so. Where were you headed, anyway, running out all the way into the desert like this?”

“H-ome,” the kid pointed randomly to his left. “I gotta get home.”

“Home?”

“Out there. I live out there.” the kid continued to point.

“Huh,” Dash stared out into the sun. “Well, that… that ain’t a choice right now. We gotta get ya patched up first. There’s no way you’re walkin’ out into the desert the way you are.”

“But I gotta… I gotta get home,” the kid insisted, groaning. “It’s real important!”

“I… I’m sure it is, kid. But still, you can’t. Not yet. Okay? Your leg’s in pretty bad shape. If you open it up tryin’ to walk, you might damn well bleed to death, or the wolves will get ya. So, I tell you what, I’ll take care of ya until we can get you back home, okay?”

The kid tilted his head to the side, staring up at Dash. “You’ll… take care of me?”

“Yeah. I’ll take care of ya.”

“Um…”

Dash crooked her neck.

“Lady?” the child asked. “Who… are you?”

Dash opened her mouth to reply, but found no words coming out.

“I-I mean, thank ye kindly for this,” the boy continued, “and for th’ water. But… um… why are you out here? Are you a wanderer too?”

“N-no, I’m not a wanderer,” Dash said, holding her hoof up. She lowered herself to the ground next to the child, placing her rear in the dirt. “I… um… this is kinda odd.”

“W-what is, Lady?” the child asked, suddenly looking nervous.

“Well. I’m, ah… from Ponyton.”

The child froze up at the mention of the name, his face growing white as he folded his hooves across his chest.

“Uh… yeah,” Dash continued awkwardly. “The thing you stole… that was sorta… it’s mine.”

“Oh,” the child whispered.

“Um… look,” Dash said. “It ain’t good t’ steal. I’m sure you know that. But I also think maybe you had a reason. So… I ain’t mad or nothin’, okay? But I sure am interested in what your reason was.”

The child remained silent for a while, his breaths picking up as he kept still on the ground.

Dash watched his expression shift, his eyes narrowing and the edges of his mouth turning down, but he didn’t look at all angry, as she might have expected from a child being cornered. He merely seemed sad.

“Um… Lady,” he asked at last. “Are you the owner of the gun?”

“I’m the maker of the gun. I’m the blacksmith.”

“Oh.”

The child remained silent once more.

Dash gave him the time.

“I-I didn’t have a choice!” he blurted out suddenly, his lines tripping over the lump in his throat, a desperation burning in his eyes. “I ha… I had to do it, and I had no money! I’m real sorry, Lady, but I have to get the gun back to my friends!”

“Kids shouldn’t be playin’ with guns,” Dash commented, raising an eyebrow.

“N-no, it’s important!”

“Okay. Are you in some kinda trouble? If you needed a gun, we can hel—”

“No! We need that gun! We need Harmony!” the kid pointed to the bag hanging from Dash’s leg.

Dash looked down at it and looked back up.

“Kid?” she asked, a little slower, lowering her voice. “Where did you hear that name?”

“It was written on the plans,” the child explained frantically. “That’s the right gun, right? That’s Harmony?”

“What plans?” Dash felt a trickle of sweat bead up against her brow. Suddenly she felt a little bit more uncomfortable than she had just moments before. “Kid… listen. Stop for a moment. This is really important, okay? I need to hear your story from the start. I got a lotta questions I need to ask ya, about this gun, about who you are, and about that flying machine back there. Now. Can you help me answer those questions?”

The child bit his lower lip, chewing on it as he thought frantically. “I… um…”

“Listen. I ain’t a bad guy, okay?” Dash said. “But this gun… it’s special. No one is supposed to know ‘bout it, and it’s real dangerous. Kid like you shouldn’t be caught up in it. Now, whatever it is, we can figure it out, and we’ll try to find some way t’ help you out. But before we can do that, we gotta know the story first.”

“W-who’s ‘we’?” the kid asked.

“My friends, back in Ponyton. One of them’s the sheriff. Okay? Law-maker. She helps keep bad guys away and protects others. We can help.”

“Y-you promise?” the child asked.

Dash didn’t think for longer than a second before giving her answer. “Yes. Of course. I promise. You’ll be fine, kid. I’m tryin’ to help you get back safe, aren’t I?”

The kid started to nod, erratically, his head juddering up and down. “O-okay. I… Please. Please. I’m real sorry for stealin’ from you, Lady, but my… my family’s in trouble.”

“Okay. What kind of trouble?”

“Um… we… we live in a camp there near that big rock thing.” The child pointed towards the bluffs in the far distance. “And we’ve been livin’ there for maybe about a year and a six moons now.”

“A camp?”

“Y-yeah. There’s… four of us. All of us are kids. I’m the oldest there, ‘cept for Mama.”

“Mama.”

“Yeah. Mama takes care of us. She gets food and water for us and makes toys for us. She learns us how to talk good and teaches us numbers. She says numbers is real important.”

“Yeah. She makes toys, huh?”

“Yeah. Like the flying kit,” the child pointed at the wreckage. “She made that. She’s also makes little metal ponies that walk by themselves when you turn a key, and other really neat things like carts and stuff.”

“Out of metal? Where’s she gonna get metal all the way in the middle of the desert?”

“O-oh, she tells us where to get ‘em. She has us go to mines and stuff, abandoned ones, and she tells us to pull back a bunch of metal thingies. And then she uses them to make stuff.”

“How?”

“Oh, uh… actually, we’re not supposed to see. She has a cave with stuff in it. Big metal blocks and um… a really hot thing that has fire. She uses it to melt the metal. But she says it’s really dangerous, so we’re not allowed into the cave.”

“Where is she getting coal from?” Dash asked to herself.

“Coal?”

“Huh? Oh, sorry,” Dash said. “Um… black rocks. Do you ever get her black rocks that are kinda powdery and makes your hooves all dusty and black?”

The child looked confused.

“Yeah,” Dash said, looking back at the flying kit. “Thought so.”

“Um…” the child muttered.

“So, she’s a blacksmith, huh?” Dash quickly steered the conversation back. “That’s… actually what I do, too.”

“R-really?” the child’s eyes brightened a bit. “Do… do you also make toys?”

“Well…” Dash thought back to the last thing she made, which happened to be a weapon of destruction for the town’s chief tradespony. “Yeah, sure, I make toys.”

“That’s… great, Lady!” the child continued, his enthusiasm rising. “Maybe… maybe you can meet some time. She needs to make friends, I think. But she’s always alone.”

“Well, uh… why do you guys live out there? Why don’t you get to a town or something?”

“Um… Mama… she don’t like towns. She’s always saying that she can’t go to them ‘cause it’s dangerous for her, but she ain’t never said why.”

“Yeah.” Dash started drumming her hooves on the floor, her leg twitching. “Yeah.”

“So we made a camp out there. Me, and my brothers and sisters, and Mama. We got a nice small hut and a yard and everythin’. It’s nice.”

“It sure sounds like,” Dash said, her head growing heavy. But she had to push on. She had to continue talking, no matter where it led. “So… how did you meet your Mama?”

“Well, all of us kids… we lost… we lost our real families,” the kid said, his voice growing softer. “A long time ago. And all I remember was being in a cart. We were goin’... somewhere. A big place, they said it was, where we’d be part of a house of other kids who had lost their mamas and papas. But there… there was an accident.”

“An accident?”

“Yeah. The cart came across some bad ponies who said they wanted to take us. But the cart drivers fought back. Um…”

Dash shook her head. “How many survived?”

“N-none. One of the drivers was shot bad but he didn’t die right away. We tried to help. But… we were just kids.”

“Listen,” Dash said sternly. “That’s a damn shame. I’m real sorry that happened, kid.”

“It’s okay,” he said wistfully. “I don’t remember it real well. But I do remember we ran into Mama the next day.”

“The next day?”

“Yeah, she just shows up with a bandanna around her face and takes all of us. She said she had this place nearby where she had a cave, and she took us and started takin’ care of us. And that’s how it’s been.”

“Right.” Dash rubbed a hoof across her eyes.

“So she became our mama. And the other kids are my brothers and sisters now. We take care of each other.”

“That’s… a real good thing to do, kid. It’s real good,” Dash murmured earnestly. “Gotta take care of family.”

“And… and that’s why I gotta have the gun, Lady.”

“Right. The gun. Okay. Tell me why.” Dash shifted where she sat, sitting up straighter to focus on the story.

The kid nodded again, his eyelids fluttering as he too, shifted where he lay.

“Uehgh,” he interjected. “Ugh.”

“Try to keep still, okay?” Dash said, looking down to make sure he wasn’t bleeding again.

“Y-yeah. Um… so. So a few days ago, Mama gets a visit from two ponies at night. But she never get visitors. She said she don’t like ‘em and she don’t need ‘em, so it was a bit weird. Mama got real scared when she saw ‘em, and she went to have a talk with them in the desert, far away from the camp. She told us to stay there no matter what, so we stayed and waited for her.

“She was out there a long time, and when she finally came back she was real angry. She came back alone and she went to her cave and told us not to talk to her because she had some thinkin’ to do. And she stayed in there for the whole night until mornin’, and she didn’t even come and eat her dinner or nothin’, and we were all worried.

“When she finally come out, she says to us all, she says that she needed to go to Ponyton to the south for a while. And of course we were all surprised at that because she never wanted to go to any town before, but she said that she had no more time and that she had to go. But she didn’t wanna say anythin’ to us, even though we begged and pleaded.

“She told us that we should high-tail it to to Riversby, and we should all find a home there. She said that she taught us good with numbers and words, and we’d be able to get a job no problem and earn money and get a good and proper life. She was real sad, Lady. I ain’t never seen her so sad before. Then she said she was being selfish and that she had to let us go.”

The child, crestfallen, looked down at his own chest, taking a few breaths before he went on.

“But… we didn’t want her to go. We liked our family. We like her and we want to stay with her. So… I went into her cave, when she was out gettin’ cactus juice for us. I went into her cave and I looked around. She had a big old drawing of a gun on her table. And she never puts things on her table, there. So I figure this was about this gun. She needed it, maybe. I thought maybe if I got it for her, she wouldn’t have t’ go to town, and nothin’ bad would happen.”

Dash rocked back and forth. “So, you’re gettin’ it for her, huh?”

“Y-yeah. So I took one of her toys. She said it never worked for her, but it always worked for us kids. We used to play around with it when she was out. And from the sky I could see Ponyton, and I left immediately. That was a day ago, Lady.”

Moonshine smacked her dry lips. A part of her wished she had kept some of that water for herself. But regardless, the picture had taken a strange sort of shape, and the story had become somewhat clear.

Everything had been sliding neatly into place like a well-crafted set of gears, and it was almost undeniable where it was all leading to. And yet, Dash had to ask. She had to make sure it was confirmed, because if not, it was merely a thought that cascaded and bounced around inside of her head, hurting her eyes and filling her thoughts with noise.

She stared at the implications like they were the barrel of a gun, training down on her, hammer cocked, about to be set off at any moment.

“So… I need the gun,” the child repeated. “Please. Then we won’t have to go away from Mama. We don’t want anything bad to happen to Mama, okay?”

Dash didn’t answer.

“You promised you’d help, Lady! So please, can I have the gun? Maybe you can come with me and we can talk to Mama.”

Dash’s breath quickened, as the tightness around her temples squeezed in harder.

“Please, Lady? Do… do you know why Mama needs the gun so bad?”

Dash squeezed her eyes shut.

“Kid,” she said.

“Yeah?”

“Listen. Can you answer me just one last thing?”

“Um… yeah, okay.”

“It’s about yer mama’s name.”

“What about it?”

“Is her name…” Dash swallowed. “... is her name Raven Lune?”

“Yeah! You know her?”

Dash opened her eyes. “Yeah. I do.”

“I’m sorry I had to do that,” Twilight said. “But we needed to get to this point. Do you understand?”

It had been a few minutes since Angel’s outburst, but she had calmed somewhat after resting on the bed. After all, it did help with talking.

Twilight remained standing in the corner, where she could be out of the way both literally and in statement.

Angel nodded, her eyes red. She had resisted an outward display of emotions, like the good strong pony she was, and remained stoic through the provocation.

“The truth is hard,” Twilight said. “But we ain’t gonna get nowhere unless you come out with it. If you want me to accept you then I gotta know what it is I’m acceptin’.”

Getting the truth out of a perp was a simple deal for Twilight; she had done it many times before, back at the station in Cantermore. There were many methods she had under her employ – pushing buttons just being one of them. There was a stone-cold formality she had about it, which didn’t waver no matter who it was she was talking to.

Twilight tapped her hoof before scratching the back of her neck.

“Right.” Twilight softened her voice. “So lemme try to talk it out. There’s clearly somethin’ affectin’ ya about this whole criminal deal. You sure don’t like it at all. But the funny thing is, you sure sometimes act like someone aligned to doin’ bad. You speak happy about bad things, and you have all those… animals. But yet, you’re a doctor. That’s what I can’t get straight in my head.

“And these kinds of characters have a way about them. They have a way of bein’ all unassumin’ and innocent-like until it’s too late. In fact, just last week I had a run-in with someone who did just that. And I’m sure you’re familiar with what happened.”

Angel’s eyes flicked up towards Twilight’s horn by reflex.

“Yeah.” Twilight murmured, watching Angel’s face intently. “And I’m gonna be honest. I smell a strange bloodlust from ya. You the kind of pony who won’t have any problems killin’ another. That I can tell ya plain. I believe that if you wanted to take a knife and shove it down my throat you wouldn’t even bat an eye. Sound about right?”

Angel looked away, her face burning hotter than before.

“But at the same time… somethin’ deep down inside me, and damned if I know where I’m gettin’ this from, but I don’t feel that you’ve ever soiled your hooves before. You ain’t like me. You ain’t never shot a stallion dead, or had to kick a mare in the face. No. You’re proud of what you ain’t. You wouldn’t get so angry at being called a criminal otherwise. And of course, there’s this last thing.”

Twilight stepped closer to her.

“When I was in that doctor’s office the other day, and you had me strapped down, and you could have done anything you wanted to me…” Twilight reflected. “Well, I’m still alive. And better than ever. You are as you say, a doctor. I ain’t denyin’ that. But I can’t shake this feelin’ I have.”

Twilight fell silent. All there was left was musings and ponderances. All that was left was the truth, and that was something only Angel could give up herself.

Finally, Angel smacked her lips. They were dry and crusty, like an old bowl of biscuits left out too long. She let out a long breath through her nose, letting her shoulders drop as she kept her eyes shut to stare at the dreams behind her eyelids.

“Miss Sheriff,” she said, ragged voice cracking. “I am not a criminal and I am not a murderer. I am not any of these things and I hope you believe me.”

Angel opened her eyes, giving herself a curt nod.

“But is there any reason for me to continue?” she asked. “We will end up in the same place at the end of it.”

“Tell it anyway.” Twilight muttered.

“I shall save you the time and—”

Tell me.” Twilight growled.

Angel shut her mouth, chasing the dryness in her throat. Her ear twitched, as it considered her actions. With resignation, both ears dropped, and she began to speak.

“Yes. It is as you say. There is something… different about me. But it is a long story.”

“It’s been a short day,” Twilight grunted.

Angel sighed.

She looked to the ceiling, rubbing the side of her leg with a hoof, as if a chill had struck her from the rear.

The weight of her choices was apparent in her movements and her face, which for once lacked the very smiles that gave her character – that same character that protected the truth.

But that truth was about to emerge.

Angel spoke wistfully.

“I grew up in the city of Heartshall as a child to quite well-to-do parents who gave me a proper education and a proper upbringing. Their generosity afforded me comfort, and their love afforded me stability. Of course, it didn’t take long before I found out that I had a particular set of… interests. And if you asked me, I wouldn’t be able to explain why I have them, but I have some… guesses.

“I believe, much like many others, I love nature. I love the harmonious balance, and I love the ways of the world. From plants to animals to birds and bees and fish, I love them all. But while others simply appreciate the beauty of things on the outside, I find fascination with everything… deeper down. Are blood and organs not also part of nature? A multitude of parts, just like a machine, working together to form a whole. Is it not wonderful understanding how things work? And beyond that, with everything that is alive, there is also the inevitability of death. Machines break. Living things, too. But unlike a machine, what is broken can never be fully repaired. And that is something truly beautiful. It is an opinion that few others share.

“There was a day when I was… eight, I believe, when I came across a dead bird along the road. It had been eaten by a snake, but the snake must have choked, for it had also died with the bird still halfway down its neck. That death captured the very moments of the snake attempting to eat, and in that there was a sort of delicious irony. It had died attempting to live, and if that is not the art of nature, then what is?”

Angel’s eyes began to fog as they drifted upward, and she began rocking back and forth on the bed.

“As I grew older, I soon understood why my parents had started to keep me at home. I understood why they had thrown away all the dead animals and insects that I kept in my room. I understood why others had spoken about me with hushed whispers, and that was when I began to learn how to pretend. I had to learn how to pretend I was something I was not in order to get along with the people who wanted me to be like them.

“But my interests spread. As I continued to age, I felt the itch in my mind grow more and more. It had come to be that blood and pain and death were mere reminders of how wonderful nature truly is, and it… it excites me, Miss Sheriff. It excites me and makes my heart race. And there were many times when I felt the need to strike another down just to see… just to see what would happen. I have dreamt of times when I would cause the last breath of a pony, or I would drain the fluids from another just to see it occur before my eyes. Times when I felt I need to observe another drowning in their own blood due to a gunshot, or watch as an eyeball falls out due to a fractured ocular socket.

“Sometimes I even wonder what would happen if I, myself, were put in those situations. How it must feel… how the mind must race… It is something I have never experienced. But something that I want to. I wonder how it must feel like to die.”

Angel licked her lips, shuddering.

“And I know this is not… normal, Miss Sheriff. I know very well what kind of pony I truly am! But these thoughts, and these feelings, they are there. They are there and… on days, I feel the need to indulge these thoughts.”

“Then why haven’t you?” Twilight asked, eyebrows slanting down. “Why haven’t you killed?”

“Because it would be wrong,” Angel responded, looking into Twilight’s face with a sad. melancholic smile, which had snuck back in while no one was looking. “It would be wrong.”

Twilight grunted, narrowing her eyes.

Angel continued. “One day, in the spring, nearly nine years ago, I came across a stallion who had been stabbed by a mugger, and was lying in the street, his life slowly leaking out into the sand. The Dust was calling for him, and he pleaded to me, a young mare, to save his life. He… was a doctor, he told me, and if I followed his instructions, he would be able to guide me to save him.

“I am not certain what possessed me at the time, for I was enraptured by his condition, but I lay down my bookbag, and I helped. He told me that it would be a messy, sordid affair. He told me what I was seeing, and he told me not to worry. But I didn’t worry a bit. The blood on my hooves and on my face was like a shower from the skies. The warmth that spread over my legs and his gasps of pain were like a symphony played while taking a relaxing bath.

“I had to dress his wound and stitch him up, as a young child, piercing his flesh with a hooked needle in a vile rebellion against fate – disfiguring the body in order to prevent further harm. Again, it was poetic. It was such beauty. And when it was over, the doctor was saved, and he told me that I would make a great doctor myself, for my hoof was steady and my heart was pure and my magic guided the needle straight.”

Twilight nodded. “Doctor McShy.”

“I have been his apprentice ever since.” Angel smiled. “And he showed me a world where I could enjoy what I loved and save others in the process. And I have been living as such ever since. I had hoped that by doing enough good and saving enough people, even a creature such as I would be spared the fires of Tartarus when I finally leave this mortal plane.

“And once in a while, I play with my little animals, for they take away some of the urges that come on those lonely nights. All in the name of science, of course. Eventually, my interests in medicine and science grew. And I shan’t lie, miss Sheriff. The New Sciences have dark sides to it, which is what allured me to them. But I stay away from the darker aspects. I do not need to draw myself further into them, for I am black in heart without the need for further temptation.”

“You’ve been hidin’ this?” Twilight asked.

“Ever since I was young, yes. Only my parents know, and kept me away from public scrutiny through their influence. Doctor McShy probably suspects, if I might hazard a guess, but you… are the only one I have ever told this story to.” Angel said.

“Really.”

“Yes.”

“And that brings me to the final question. Why me?” Twilight flicked her head.

“When I first saw you. When I first heard of your deeds, I thought I realised something. I thought I recognized something. There was another one out there who had a love for death, who thought differently than the others and was putting it to use rather than abusing it for evil. I have seen the results of your work, Miss Sheriff. They are not the results of someone who wavers with their decision to kill.”

Twilight shifted her jaw.

“I thought… I thought that I had finally found someone… like me. Someone who could understand and… But…” Angel sighed again. “As the days wore on, I came to realise that this was both true and untrue. You do not… share my problems. You are simply determined in what you believe in. It is a noble pursuit, but perhaps I have been… overzealous in my search.”

Angel picked herself off the bed, rising like her moniker – an angel of white swathed in a cloak of pure black. “I do not know what possessed me to carry on this far. I should have stopped when I first realised, and I will not continue this mistake any further. And now you know who I am – just an animal wearing pony skin, pretending to be what she is not. It was foolish of me to assume that things could be otherwise.”

“And this is where we part ways,” Angel said with a heavy breath, throat tightened around her despair. “I am… glad you allowed me to tell my story. It feels oddly refreshing! It feels like a great weight has been lifted off my chest, but with this admission I have sealed the door. I suppose this is for the best!”

Angel chuckled morosely, as she stepped lightly for the exit, giving Twilight a nod.

Twilight had her head bowed as she pressed up against the wall, her hat covering her face.

Angel’s ear twitched one final time, as she reached for the doorknob, a single tear running down her face. “I’m sorry, Sheriff. But I thank you all the same. If you have any need for medical assistance, I will be sure to—”

“Shut up.”

The voice rang out, sharp and deep, like a knife to the throat.

“I… pardon?” Angel said.

Shut up!” Twilight yelled, pushing her hat out of her face and pulling herself up to full height. “You know what I hate? I hate when people don’t give me no respect!”

“H-have I been rude? I’m sor—”

“Yeah! You tell me this long-ass story and then make to leave without even lettin’ me say my piece? You lookin’ t’ waste my time?” Twilight spat. “Now, let me tell you somethin’!”

Something boiled in Twilight’s chest. It was an anger, something she couldn’t quite understand herself.

Angel’s hoof froze inches away from the door.

“I don’t give two hoots about what you make yourself out to be, lady,” Twilight rattled, her brain stepping aside for something else to take over. “Let me tell you how this world really works. Every damn pony and dragon and gryphon and whatever shit asshole out there has a secret. They have stupid little enjoyments, they have their silly little hobbies. And others might not take too kindly to them. But you know what the only thing that matters is?”

Twilight stepped forward. “One. You don’t hurt others. Two. You don’t hurt yourself. That’s all there is. That’s all there ever will be. So let me tell you, before you think so lowly of yourself to be walkin’ off, I don’t give a shit about your past. I don’t give a shit about your life. What I do give a shit about is that you’ve been doin’ good and you’ve not been doin’ bad. Do you get me, Angel?”

“B-but…”

Twilight let a hoof fly up to her face as she rubbed away the fog that had suddenly taken over. It was an unwelcome and unbecoming feeling. Never did she let her emotions cloud the mind, but here, for this animal, did she suddenly get filled with a fury that came from a place she had fought very hard to keep caged.

She took a deep breath, calming herself and looking back at the shocked Angel.

“Things ain’t so damn black and white,” Twilight said, morosely, glancing at herself in the beside mirror and watching her reflection speak back. “The difference between bad and good ain’t never that clear. People are always gonna be afraid of others for things that they don’t understand. And that’s rightly a good thing. It’s what keeps people alive, Miss Angel. When you hear some lakes got crocodiles in ‘em, you avoid all lakes just in case. But that don’t mean that every lake is bad just ‘cause of some.”

Twilight huffed a blast of hot air through her nostrils.

“You are what you are, Miss Angel. You like what you like. Bottom line is you ain’t a bad pony and that’s what really matters.”

Angel struggled to swallow the lump in her throat, finally forcing it down, her eyes turning red once more. “B-but… you don’t understand. I’m an animal…”

Twilight hissed, her face scrunched up into madness.

She flicked her head up to the ceiling, her metal-capped horn glinting in the light of the decorated lamp that hung from above.

A magnificent glow of pure white enveloped the naked bulb, as it started to fill with a strange silver mist that acted like water but wisped like gas.

With a rumble, a shake, and a shudder, the bulb exploded with a flash of white and a small fireball that charred the ceiling.

The fixtures rattled and Angel was left with squared teeth and dry eyes as she fell backward onto her rump.

“Yeah, we’re all animals, Angel,” Twilight muttered, looking away.

“Y-you’re a g-g-gearh….” Angel wheezed.

“Yeah. And only the ones in my crew know about it.”

“Your… crew…” Angel raised a leg.

“Yeah.” Twilight nodded. “Yeah. That’s right. You know what? Yeah! Fine! You’re part of this now. Too late for take-backs. Too late for anythin’!”

“I… I can join?”

“But you better be ready for this. This ain’t a walk in the park, we square? You will be our medical professional. And you will keep in line. I’ll make sure of that. You better believe I ain’t gonna have a problem shooting you if you ever step out.”

Angel burst out with a cough that couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a laugh or a whimper of sadness. But either way, more tears started to streak down her cheek as her mouth curled up into a manic grin.

“I’m trustin’ you. Don’t make me out for a fool.” Twilight said.

Angel hiccuped. “O-of course not! I’d… thank you, Miss Sheriff! Thank you!”

“And don’t… don’t even think of changin’,” Twilight added, speaking furiously as she felt a heat rise to her cheeks. “You ain’t got nothin’ to be shamed of, you hear me?”

The doctor started to giggle uncontrollably, through the thickness of her tears, as she shivered and wobbled on the floor.

There was a loud bang as the door flew open, and Cheerilee threw herself into the room all of a sudden, looking rapidly from the ceiling to the quivering mass on the ground near her hooves.

“Matron?” Twilight said, raising an eyebrow.

“I… I heard an awful noise, like one of my crock pots exploding! Is everythin’ alright in here?” Cheerilee asked, concerned.

“Oh. Yes, ma’am. Sorry about that. I think the bulb overheated. I’ll pay for it.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Cheerilee said, her eyes sneaking a peek at Angel, who was still both simultaneously laughing and crying. “Just wanted to make sure everythin’ was okay!”

“Everything’s fine, ma’am,” Twilight said.

“Thank goodness. I’ll be out of your mane! But uh… maybe a little advice?”

“Ma’am?”

“I don’t know what you did to her,” Cheerilee said, nodding at Angel, “but that is no way to get into a girl’s knickers.”

“Haha, yeah!” The child laughed, despite his injuries. It seemed he had reached that point where the pain was now an accepted constant, and it no longer interfered with his ability to enjoy what remained. “And then what?”

“And he was right there in front of me, right? And he smelled real bad.”

“How bad?”

Real bad! Like trash!”

“That’s disgusting, lady!”

“Yeah, he was pretty disgusting. Had drool and spit and piss all down his front. And he tries t’ take a bite out of me, he did, but I had my wings up, like this.”

Dash pulled her wings out, extending them while she struck a heroic pose.

The child nodded in complete agreement.

“And Twilight’s guns, they were behind my wings, right? So that stupid jug never saw ‘em. And Twilight, why, she just smacks him in the face with the barrel. Right in the eye, like pow!”

“Then what?”

“Then uh…”

“Yeah?”

“He tried to shoot me, so we had to shoot him first.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

The kid’s eyes snaked to the side.

Dash scratched her head.

“Maybe I should’a told a different story, huh.”

“Naw, it’s okay,” the child said. “Mama says sometimes people get hurt. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do to be safe. He was gonna hurt you, right?”

“He was gonna do somethin’.”

“Then I reckon it was right that you shot the dirty snake,” the kid said. “Bad people need to be shot.”

“Well, uh… not all the time. You know what a jail is, kid?”

“Jail? Yeah. The old lock-up! The calaboose!”

Dash nodded. “That’s right. Smart kid. See, sometimes if they come quiet, we chuck ‘em in jail instead. Make ‘em pay for their actions.”

“Is that good?”

“Well, I guess so.”

“So why’s there hangin’s, then?” the child cocked his head.

“Well… sometimes the things a fella does is so bad that… we don’t ever want ‘em to do it again. Sometimes there are things we can’t forgive. Like if ya take someone else’s life, or if ya steal a whole load of gold. Pony with a heart that black will always have a black heart. So… sometimes it’s better t’ make sure those black hearts don’t get another chance.”

“Oh, I get it,” the child said. “That’s real simple!”

“Yeah,” Dash chuckled lightly.

If only it were.

Dash watched the sun as it crawled across the thin line where the ground met eternity. Slowly, inch by inch, it sent its blurry waves across the desert, making it shimmer and sparkle, leaving a trail of stars in its wake that slowly rose to fill the void it left behind.

Dash blinked a few times, emptying her mind. It wouldn’t be long before she could send a signal and leave this mess behind.

“Hey, lady?” the child asked, staring up at the sky.

“Yeah, kid?”

“Do you got family?”

Dash thought about the question.

It wasn’t a particularly difficult question to answer, but it felt heavy, somehow. It felt like it was more than a simple case of curiousity.

“Yeah. I got a younger brother. Two older sisters. And my Maw and Paw.”

“They all back at Ponyton?”

“Nope. Just me.”

“Didja run away?”

Dash had to pause once more.

“No. But we all… left. See, my da’s a steamworker, just like I am. And all my brothers and sisters, too. My maw’s a baker, though. She can make a damn fine cactus pie. I’m from a town called Gaslight, way, way to the West. Real far away.”

“So why’d you leave?” The child sounded almost scared to ask.

“Well… it’s just a thing people do. All my siblings as well, we all left when it came time to leave. We all went to different towns, too. Different cities, all over Equestria. We all have to take what our daddy taught us and make a name for ourselves.”

“Is that how it’s done in th’ towns?”

“For some people, yeah,” Dash looked down at the kid. “For me.”

“I see,” the child said sadly.

Dash didn’t have a response. She stared coldly away.

“That’s a shame, lady,” the child continued.

“You think so?”

“Yeah. If I had a maw and paw, I’d stay with ‘em forever.”

Dash nodded.

A cricket chirped, upset by the sudden silence.

“What about… Lune?” Dash asked, quietly, impassionately.

“She ain’t my real maw. I mean, she take care of us and all, and we call her that, but she’s… leaving. We’re gonna be alone.”

“Maybe the city ain’t that bad of an idea, kid,” Dash commented. “Riversby is a pretty nice place.”

“Yeah, I guess. But who’s gonna help us and all?”

“I… I dunno, kid. I’m sorry. I dunno.”

“And… and if Mama really had to go, why didn’t she ask us to go to Ponyton, where she’s going? Why don’t she wanna help us?” The child continued, voice getting more frantic.

Dash looked toward the child. Lines of worry crossed his forehead.

“And why now? She ain’t finished teaching us numbers yet! And why’s she gotta go to Ponyton anyway? Why does she want that gun, Lady? Why?”

The child, fretted with strife, pushed a pair of drops from the corners of his eyes as he shuddered and shook, dipping his head back as if he hadn’t the energy to keep it up any longer.

There were a lot of questions that he asked that Dash hadn’t the answers for. She ran a hoof over her mane, pushing it back, drilling her scalp with her leg as it reached the crown of her head.

“Look, kid, I—”

“Lady, please, you gotta help me!” the boy pleaded. “Tell me what the gun is for, please? You promised you’d help me work it out, right?”

“Yeah. I did.”

“So tell me! Please! What’s the gun? Maybe if you told me, I’d know why she wants it!”

“I… I don’t know what to tell you, kid, that I haven’t already. It’s really just a gun. It’s a special gun ‘cause it’s a bit more powerful than others, and there’s a special trick to shootin’ it, but… it ain’t anything that a regular gun can’t do! Is your mama… is she tryin’ t’ fight somethin’?”

“Naw, we ain’t got no trouble out there! And we got guns! Mama’s got guns, anyway. We ain’t ever had no trouble until them visitors came two days ago, and then Mama just suddenly tells us everything’s gotta change and…” The child sniffed. “... I don’t know what to do and everyone’s countin’ on me, Lady, b-back at the camp, and I gotta do somethin’! I gotta do somethin’!”

The child shuddered over his breath, sucking in air to keep his emotions steady, throwing a hoof over his face.

Dash felt a welling pain shoot up through her abdomen, causing her stomach to clench. Her vision started to dull slightly, until she remembered to breathe again.

“Kid. Okay. Look,” she said, slowly, unsteadily. “I don’t know… why your mama wants to come to Ponyton. I don’t… know.”

Dash cleared her throat.

“But if she’s really lookin’ for this gun, then she’s probably gonna come… look… for me. I’m the one put the gun together, so… if you managed to find me…”

“You’ll… you’ll meet her?” The child perked up.

“Yeah I’m… probably gonna run into her sooner or later.” Dash told the truth.

“Then… then, can you talk to her for me? Can you bring her to the doctor’s? I… I need to see her!”

“I don’t know… if she’ll listen.”

“She will!” The child insisted. “If you tell her, I’m sure she will!”

“I’ll do what I can, Kid,” Dash said, shutting her eyes.

“Yeah! Then…” the kid started thinking furiously, “... then we can sort things out! We can find out why she’s so scared of towns and we can solve all this! She’s… oh… she’s probably gonna be really mad at me, huh.”

“Mad?”

“Yeah. I… left without telling her, and I stole her flying thing, and then I got hurt and she probably has no idea where I am. I bet the other kids will tell her though, but she’ll be mad that I left. She’ll probably be super mad when she gets to Ponyton.”

“Ohh… well… that’s…”

“And I busted her machine, too!” the child lamented, throwing his hooves over his head. “She’s gonna be so mad! I don’t even know why it broke! It worked real well on the way over here!”

“Well, I think maybe I know,” Dash said, if that were any consolation.

“Really?”

“Yeah. I think it was the cloak. Remember you had a cloak on?”

“Of course, lady! I didn’t want anyone to see it while I was in Ponyton.”

“Yeah, smart. Actually really smart. But… when you covered it, you covered its exhaust. All those holes in the top there? Those are to let hot air out. So when you covered it, the hot air had no place t’ go, and it made the machine too hot to run.”

“Actually, yeah, it was gettin’ kinda hot on my back. I thought it was just the sun, though.”

“The sun didn’t help,” Dash tried to joke.

“I get it now. Man, I’m dumb.” The child sighed.

“I dunno. I don’t think so,” Dash said.

“No?”

“How’d you even find me, anyway? No one knew where to find the gun. No one knew about it.”

“Oh… um… see, in the pictures Mama had? The gun was in small pieces, so I thought it’s probably gonna be in pieces here too. So I checked all the big places in town what puts things together, and it was hard for a while but I saw your building that has stuff in it like Mama has in her cave. So I figured maybe someone who made things was in there, but I didn’t think it would be the same thing that Mama did.”

“Great,” Dash sighed. “Just great.”

“And the thing was just sittin’ on the table, too. I thought I got real lucky. But I didn’t! I ended up crashin’, and hurt real bad! Man, I’m dumb!”

“Well… maybe you are lucky, kid.”

“Whatcha mean, Lady?”

“Well… if it were anyone else, then maybe they’d not find ya. If it was someone else’s gun you stole, your flyin’ kit woulda still crashed, right?”

“Well… yeah, I guess.”

“And maybe they didn’t wanna catch you, or maybe they didn’t see ya, and no one would’ve been able to keep up.”

“But I saw ya, and I chased ya, and I found ya, too, and… well, you’re lucky, kid.” Dash gave him a soft smile.

“Well… I guess if you say it that way…” The child gave the barest of smiles.

Dash still felt miserable.

“Hey, lady?”

“Yeah?”

“Look, you’re a nice lady, okay? You’re a nice lady who fights bad people and helps kids. So… so you gotta promise me, lady. You gotta promise me.”

“Promise you what?”

“I’ll go with you to Ponyton, okay? But then when Mama comes, please. Please talk to her. I don’t want anything bad to happen to her, okay? They’re my family. Mama’s scared of somethin’, and I don’t know what it is, and I guess I wasn’t able to stop it, but you know what, lady?”

“What’s that?”

“Mama always talks about fate a lot, lady. You know what’s fate?”

“Yeah, I know,” Dash whispered.

“Yeah, and like… like you said, I got real lucky. Maybe… maybe this is fate! Maybe… you can help Mama. Maybe this was all supposed to happen, and you’re the one who helps! So can you talk to her?”

“Because if she leaves then… then the others will all be left alone at camp, and I’ll be in Ponyton too, so if something happens to Mama, then the other kids are gonna be alone until I can go back, so…”

Dash looked away, her chest turning frigid. A chill picked up through her blood even though it was a sweltering night.

“I just don’t wanna lose my family, lady.”

Dash grit her teeth.

“Promise me you’re gonna help.”

Dash shook her head to the side.

“Please?”

Moonshine Dash, the blacksmith of Ponyton, loyal follower of Sheriff Twilight and keeper of Harmony turned slowly to the child, tongue as dry as sandpaper and eyes as bloodshot as the october moon.

“I promise,” she croaked.

The ride home was in silence.

The child had fallen asleep sometime between the hours, and when it was dark enough, Dash had sent up a signal – a burning flare that exploded in the night sky and called all within miles to its attention.

It was luck that she had one.

It was luck that Twilight saw it.

It was luck that she came in a hurry with necessary equipment thanks to some forethought on the part of Spike, securing the child and dragging him off together with Dash.

Or perhaps it was fate.

It was hard to tell.

Dash ran, dried out and exhausted, silent all the way, pulling the child alongside her friends – companions who had, for the past few weeks, been working with her under a single goal.

The child, too, remained silent in his make-shift sled.

He was carted off to the Doctor’s as soon as they had reached Ponyton soil, and Dash retired back to her blacksmith’s without another word, where she threw Harmony onto her bench and started working with a strange fury.

In silence she worked, and in silence she paced, rushing back and forth along the shop floor to pick up a tool that she needed for that one particular piece. Her focus and memory served her well, and the gun came together bit by bit; it was a deadly puzzle put in the hooves of someone who already knew the solution.

The mechanisms within were a lot more complex than a regular pistol, and took up far more space. The casing was slightly larger than normal as well, and everything had its place – as intricate as the work was, each moving part was kept behind a shield of lead, hidden away in protective housing. It was truly the design of a master, way beyond the skill of any regular pony.

Dash now knew why.

Her feathers worked deftly, delicately, sliding pins into frames, attaching springs to hooks. There was a rod that needed persuading, and she turned to fetch a tool, taking but one step before someone got in her way.

Moonshine looked down, her nose crinkling.

Spike stared up, grinning, ball-peen hammer in his grasp.

Dash stared at the hammer for a while, her brain simply not registering what it was or how it got into the hands of a grubby dragon. Pulling her head back, she took a glance around the shop, also realising that Twilight wasn’t around.

“Told her to take a walk,” Spike said, waving the hammer in Dash’s face. “Figured you need the space. To work.”

“Oh. Um… thanks,” Dash replied, taking the hammer in her wing.

She stared at Spike for a while, then turned abruptly, moving swiftly back to her workbench.

“What happened out there?” Spike asked, his voice trickling in from somewhere on the left.

Dash banged away at the gun.

“Who’s the kid, Dash?” Spike continued.

The blacksmith buried herself in her smithing, focusing extra hard on the pistol.

“You came back with the crazy eyes, you know?” Spike said, his voice suddenly turning an alarming shade of serious. “You’re gonna have to talk about it.”

Dash smacked the hammer down on the table, leaning forward to prop her sweat-laden forehead in her hoof. “I don’t want to talk about it, okay?”

“Well, the story of the kid’ll have to come out sooner or later. You got the choice now t’ talk to me before Twilight finds out the hard way. And you know she’s gonna find out. And I’m pretty sure you’d rather talk to me than her, so…”

Dash made a noise like a deflating balloon, grabbing the hammer once more to make sure a few parts on the gun kept in place.

The gun was good. The gun listened to her. The gun was something she could control.

“Dash, who’s the kid?”

Dash shook her head exasperatedly. “I just… I don’t know if I wanna tell you.”

“Then how about you tell me instead?”

The voice shot through Dash’s brain, kicking it into sobriety. It was a kind, gentle voice, yet one that demanded attention and business.

Instantly, Dash patted herself down, rubbing the oil stains off her hooves and onto her apron.

“Hello, Moonshine.” Mayor Celeste smiled at her, as she closed the door to the smithy’s. “It’s been a while.”

“Mayor,” Dash muttered, almost in disbelief. “What… are you…”

“And hello to you too, Spike.” Celeste nodded in his direction.

Spike stood up straight, as confused as the next pony, nodding back a quick hello.

The winds had done her a disservice; her sky-blue mane now in slight disarray from the normal silken bobs that would have wound their way across her shoulders. But her top hat kept it in relative check, and her black trenchcoat protected the rest of her from the howling night.

“I couldn’t help but overhear,” Celeste continued, walking up to the counter to stare down at the nearly-completed gun. “You hear a lot, once you get used to it. Once you start knowing how to listen. So tell me, please. Is there anything important that your friends should know about?”

Celeste turned upward, staring Dash straight in the eye. There was a twinkle about it, one that lingered in her smile and on her voice.

“And before you get the wrong idea, I wouldn’t want you to say anything that you’re not comfortable with. So, I’m inviting you to merely share what we need and keep the rest to yourself. That’s fair, isn’t it? And of course, we will be glad to help you ease into it with any questions of your own that you might have. Isn’t that right, Spike?”

“Huh?” Spike blurped.

“So, please,” Celeste tilted her head. “Start wherever you need to.”

There was something in her words; there was a certain way she said things and how she carried herself that made the world want to turn for her. It was in the way she so easily offered her shoulders to carry others on that made things easy to say, as if she were coaxing out words with temptations of a gilded cart.

“Mayor, I…” Dash blurted out. “Why are you here?”

“She’s coming,” Celeste said plainly. “She’s coming soon. I am here to pick up the gun.”

“Lune is?” Spike asked, catching up.

“Yes.”

“Uh… how do you… know this?” Spike gently prodded.

“Simple. Ever since I sent Twilight here, I’d been sending scouts out of my own to the desert to report back on Lune’s activities. They were never able to pinpoint her exact location. But two days ago, a scouting party went out and… never returned. I have to assume that Lune now knows that we are aware of her activities, and she will no longer be patient. She will strike before we have the chance to, and that is why,” Celeste playfully shook her head about, “she is coming.”

“Then… why not rush out to meet her in the desert?”

“Because out of the entire town, only one pony can stop her. And if she goes gallivanting about in the desert, Lune will simply find her way to town and destroy everything. It is best to stay here, in Ponyton, where we know she will come to first. At least then, we will have a fair chance of stopping her.”

“Miss Celeste?” Spike asked. “Can I ask a forward question?”

“You may ask whatever you wish,” Celeste replied gently.

“Ain’t it… a bit unfair for Twilight?”

“Unfair?” Celeste raised her eyebrow.

“I mean… we all had no idea what your plan was. With all due respect, Miss Mayor, but Twilight… I ain’t sure she’s ready to go up against Lune. Especially when you said nothin’ about it none.”

“Go up against her? Who… ever said anything of the sort?” Celeste asked, blinking.

“We know about the gun, Miss Celeste,” Spike continued. “And we know you chose her to come here for her special skills. I just think you could’ve given us a bit of time to prepare.”

“Oh,” Celeste drew back, a frown of confusion appearing. “Oh. Is that what you thought I was doing?”

“Well… it… um…”

“No, Spike, it’s me. I’m the only one who could go up against Lune. That’s why I’m here.” Celeste stated plainly, blinking all the way. “I would never throw my sheriff straight into harm’s way. I sent her here to help me put together Harmony, because I needed to get things ready on my own. What do you take me for?”

“Oh.” Spike looked off to the side. “I… well, I sure feel kinda dumb.”

“Well, normally I’d let things like that go, but this time I’m going to let you continue feeling that way, Spike.” A small grin crept onto Celeste’s face. “No, do not feel like I would have done anything to harm any of you. It is my responsibility to take care of Lune, and anyone who wishes to help will do so by their own volition, and not because I’ve done anything other than ask. Besides, Twilight could not fire that gun. She’s not… strong enough.”

Spike raised an eyebrow.

Celeste cocked her head to the side. “But good job on figuring things out! I suppose that means you all are aware now that I too, am one of those ponies that the public labels as a ‘gearhead’?”

“We… had a suspicion,” Spike admitted. “Well, it’s all but confirmed now, ain’t it?”

“Yes. It is. Of course, I would ask that this information be kept private, but seeing how no one here has been calling for my hanging, I assume that’s how it has been already. Good job. And I see that Harmony is nearly done.”

Eyes fell back to Dash, who swallowed for the first time since Celeste had entered her building.

“O-oh, yeah.” Dash murmured. “Nearly.”

“I knew I could trust you.”

“Y-yeah,” Dash said softly.

“So, what’s bothering you?” Celeste asked.

Dash scuffed her hoof on the floor, twiddling a piece of Harmony in her wing.

“Miss Mayor?” Dash asked.

“‘Celeste’, I told you. We’ve known each other for years, Dash.”

“Celeste. I… I need to ask.”

“Go ahead.”

“Who is Lune?”

“What do you mean?” Celeste tilted her head one side.

“I mean… who is she? I mean, we all know what she did, but… what do you know about her?”

Celeste flicked her eyes downward, nodding to herself before picking them back up, her lips pursed in straight severity. “I know too much. How much do you want to know?”

“I think I know too much too.”

“Then you know how hard this is for everyone?”

“Maybe.”

“Maybe.” Celeste repeated.

Spike scratched his head.

“Is she bad?” Dash asked. “Is she blackhearted?”

“That’s a question, ain’t it?”

“What do you reckon, Celeste?”

“Well,” Celeste cleared her throat. “I can only tell you the facts. The rest is for you to reckon yourself. Do you still want to hear this story?”

“Yes.”

“Ten years ago. Ten years ago it began. It was the same time I was tryin’ to get Cantermore started. Back then, place was just like Ponyton is now. But it was a lawless, uncivilized place. I worked hard to get things on track. Rallied the townsfolk myself, and built up as the first mayor.

“At the same time, there was an outlaw by the name of Lune. She held up stagecoaches carrying bullion using a special kind of magic that weren’t too common at the time. At least, it weren’t commonly used. Made a name for herself because she left none alive. Of course, I dedicated myself to stopping her. It was bad for the town, and bad for the people. She’s been responsible for too many innocent lives.

“Eventually, things go quiet. Then, two years ago, Lune comes to Cantermore. She’s got this huge… drillin’ machine. And she can run it however she wants thanks to her magic. She tried to drill under the city to get to the bank. Was lookin’ to steal all of the town’s gold and money. Probably as a bid of revenge on me, always tryin’ to get her. But this time, she gets caught. And the rest, I think, you know.”

Celeste finished her story, a touch of dullness shading her eyes. The story seemed more than merely a story.

“Why didn’t she hang?” Spike asked.

“I… wanted to give her a chance,” Celeste sighed. “I wanted to let her live in peace out in the desert. Spread it around to shoot her on sight if she ever entered any town. This way, she’d have no reason to steal gold if she ain’t got any place to spend it. I let sentimentality get in the way of logic. And that is my mistake to bear.”

“Sentimentality?”

“Yes.” Celeste looked out the window. “Lune is my sister.”

The floorboards creaked, as Dash shifted weight.

Spike lowered his hands to his side, rubbing his thighs uncomfortably.

“It’s not so bad,” Celeste said, “once you get used to it.”

“She’s your sister?” Dash echoed.

“Yes.”

“How… how do you live with that?”

“Just so.” There was a faraway look in Celeste’s eyes.

“I mean… don’t you know what’s gonna happen when you two meet?” Dash blurted out, voice raising.

“Yes. Probably one of us is going to end up dead.” Celeste said, voice unwavering in the slightest.

“And you’re okay with that? How are you okay with that?” Dash yelled.

Celeste raised an eyebrow. “Because I have to be. My sister is… she is my sister. But there are things she has done that I cannot forgive. I have spent many nights wondering what to do for all these ten years past, and even now I sometimes question my actions.”

Dash exhaled, her mind swimming.

“But there is something I do know,” Celeste continued. “I have made my choice with what to do, and I can’t go back. This is why I also leave the choice up to you, and why I am nothing but honest with this information. The truth may hurt, but it is ultimately necessary, because only the truth can guide one away from hardships. And I know the truth about Lune. And therefore I know what to do with her.”

Celeste sighed deeply, taking off her hat, which she threw onto the countertop, allowing her mane to breathe freely.

“Lune will be coming back. Soon. And when she does, people will die. She will not be kind. She will not be gentle. She will not have mercy. I have no reservations in my stand against her. If she shows up here in Ponyton, this is where she will die. I am hoping for everyone’s support.

“And of course, I do wish to aid in any… misgivings. If there is anything at all that’s giving you cause to doubt this course of action, I want to help.”

She held her head up high, much higher than Dash could, and spoke with both authority and conscientiousness.

Dash peered out of her cloud.

“Dash? What can we do to help?”

“Well,” Dash said slowly, “There are these kids.”

The child lay on a bed, his leg sewn and bandaged up nicely. A small blot of crimson stained the cloth where it seeped through, and a small metal tray beside him carried a multitude of blood-soaked cotton balls.

Besides this, he was well, and was given food and water by Angel, who had been looking after him since he arrived.

At Dash’s arrival, she excused herself from the room, carrying out a legful of stained cotton swabs with her, smiling at Dash and telling her that the child had been nothing but silent, even throughout the procedure.

He was very brave, Angel reckoned.

But the child perked up when Dash entered the room, in a sort of subdued excitement, happy to see the nice lady again but at the same time wishing he wasn’t.

Dash clutched a piece of paper to her chest as she approached the child’s bed.

“Hey kid,” she said, trying to give her best reassuring smile.

“Hey, lady.”

“How you holdin’ up?”

“Yeah, I’m okay. The doctor girl put a needle and thread in me, like I was a torn up hat.”

“Yeah, that’s how it’s done. Did it hurt much?”

“Naw.”

“Good.”

Dash shuffled closer, pulling up a chair beside the child.

“Hey,” the child asked. “Are doctors always so weird? This is the first time I’ve ever met one before, but she was all kinds of shifty.”

“Naw,” Dash replied, eyes snaking to the door. “That’s just her. But she got you patched up, huh? You’re gonna be okay. How long before you can walk again?”

“She said a week. Maybe two.”

“Yeah. Figured.”

There was the sound of dripping coming from somewhere inside the room.

“So… uh…”

“Yeah?” Dash perked her ears up.

“Hey so… is everything gonna be alright?”

Moonshine stared blankly at the far wall. “Yeah. I got… something I need to talk to you about, kid.”

The drips continued.

“What did she do?” the child asked, a tinge of sadness on his voice. But besides that, there was not much else.

Dash turned away. “How did you know?”

“I knew. I knew for a while. I just… I guess, Mama’s been taking care of us so long that, you know. She’s nice. She really is. But… there’s only one kind of thing that ends up in the desert. It’s all the stuff other people don’t want. We’re not wanted. Mama’s not wanted. I just never asked why.”

“Well,” Dash said sullenly. “I don’t know why she was takin’ care of you guys. I really don’t. But I gotta… ah… I gotta say sorry, kid.”

“For what?”

“For lyin’.”

“Did you lie to me, lady?”

“Yeah. I said I’d help you take care stuff when your Mama came. And I don’t think I can do that. Like you said. Your mama ain’t really wanted. I’m sorry, kid. But I’m one of the few who don’t want your mama around.”

Rather than bursting out into anger or sadness, the child remained strangely still, merely asking a simple question.

“Why?”

“She’s done some things that made some other people real upset. Now, she’s done right by you, but that don’t mean she done right by others. So, I can’t help you. I’m afraid that… she’s got a good reason to be afraid of the gun.”

The child remained silent again.

“You gonna shoot her?” the child asked finally.

“We’re hopin’ not to. To be honest, we ain’t got no idea what she’s gonna do when she comes. But if we shoot her it’s only gonna be for one reason – she’s gonna try to hurt other people first.”

The child nodded. “Yeah.”

“So, I’m sorry for lying. But I’ve come with the truth now. I’ve met with some people who can take care of you. In fact, right now, we got people goin’ t’ help pick up your brothers and sisters, and we’re gonna bring ‘em right to you. And once that happens, then you gotta make a choice, okay? I can’t tell you what to do, but I can tell you enough for you to figure things out for your own.

“First thing tomorrow, we’re gonna have you moved to Cantermore. That’s a big city, with people who can take care of you better. Give you food and water and take care of your brothers and sisters, too. It’s gonna be too dangerous here, so you gotta move.

“And once things are over, then you’re gonna have to choose. I told the people in charge not to force you to do anythin’ you don’t wanna. If you wanna leave, and go back to the desert, that’s your choice. if you wanna stay and make a new life in Cantermore, that’s your choice. These people’ll help you out.

“But either way, things ain’t gonna go back to normal. Things ain’t gonna be the same. Lune made her choices. We did too. Everything we do affects somethin’ else, just like the wind carries the dust around. And I’m real sorry this happened, kid, but that’s just how things are.”

The child sputtered out. “Why me?”

“You’re gonna be in charge soon, kid. You’re gonna be the next leader of your family. Everyone has to have someone to look up to, to be in charge. Lune’s decided to leave. You’re next in line. That’s just the cards that fate’s dealt ya. You remember fate, don’t you?”

“This is… my fate?” the child asked, eyebrows drooping.

“You know, I never believed in fate, though.” Dash cast her eyes down. “I just think that life is just a bunch of things happening. Dust knows a lot’s happened to me over these past few weeks. And in the end, fate’s just about being given chances. It’s up to us to choose to take them or not.”

Dash placed the paper she was carrying face-down on the child’s bedside table.

“Now,” Dash said, “you got one last choice. If you wanna know the truth about your mama, it’s all there. It’s up to you if you wanna read it or not. It’s your choice. Nothing you do from here out is gonna be wrong. We just gotta do what we feel is right.”

The pegasus stood back up, straightening her vest, turning for the door.

“Just believe me with one last thing. I know I ain’t been the most truthful, but everything’s gonna change the moment you look at that paper. And again, if you decide it ain’t worth it and you don’t wanna see anything and you wanna take your family and run, no one’s gonna stop you. I got assurances on that.”

Dash stepped to the doorway, pausing for a moment as she stepped out.

“I’m… really sorry, kid. I really, really am. And no matter what, I wish you the best.”

She nodded, and was gone.

The child stared, silently, at the piece of yellowed, crinkled paper on his bedstand.

His eyes blinked once, finally letting loose two streams that fell down his cheeks.

He didn’t sob, nor choke, nor sniff, but merely stared through blurred lenses at the scrap on the table.

Outside, a bolt of lightning streaked across the skies.

~

Moonshine Dash stared at the wanted poster, one of many that were stuck up on public buildings here and there. The most faded, and yet most prominent was the one decrying the activities of one Raven Lune, highwaymare.

She stared into her face just as a flash of thunderous light cast her features into coloured life.

Dark and brooding, with a scar running down her right eye, the midnight-blue Raven Lune stared back with an intense fury past a pitch-black mane. It was one of the few posters that was done in colour. No expense was spared.

At the bottom of the poster, its letters read clearly:

REWARD

$12,750 in gold coin

Will be paid upon the PROOF OF DEATH of

RAVEN LUNE

For the murder of 13 innocent lives

and the robberies of the Gold Express on three occasions

and the attempted robbery of the Cantermore National Bank

BY ORDER OF CLEARWATER CELESTE. MAYOR, CANTERMORE

Dash stared at it, furrowed her brow, and took back off down the street.

She knew what she had to do.

A figure roamed the wastelands, wrapped up in an ethereal glow. The pony that slowly made her way across the rocks was encased in a shell that beamed a brilliant white from every crack and every fissure, a dreamlike wraith that shone with the intensity of the moon.

Metal hit the dirt so hard that it left an imprint – hoof-shaped impressions were left where she stepped. And she lumbered on with labour, each movement slow and steady, each movement releasing a puff of white-laced steam into the night sky.

She looked to the clouds.

A rainbow flare shot up some moments ago, at least six hours away from where she was by her top speed.

She would make it to Ponyton by evening next.

Lune smiled, staring out at the wastes with her one good eye.

She had been waiting for two years.

A simple day was nothing more.

Nightmare was ready.

CHAPTER SEVEN : END

Author's Note:

~

Here we go again

We play pretend

You're just a cannibal

And I'm afraid I won't get out alive

~


With assistance from Crack Javelin
Grand Moff Brain: HerpyDerpy
Preread by TheMaskedFerret
Edited by Meridian Prime & Dinoguy1000

And thanks to you, for reading.

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