• Published 10th May 2019
  • 171 Views, 45 Comments

Homecoming - Antiquarian



The Great War sent thousands into battle. Rarity stayed, and she can't help but feel guilty. Now Applejack has a favor to ask: help a stallion from her unit re-adjust to civilian life. Rarity intends to do just that, and maybe square the debt.

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A Day at the Range

The whistling of the tea kettle wakes me. It’s muted by a layer of blankets, earplugs, a heavy door, and two flights of stairs, and still it wakes me. I used to be such a heavy sleeper. Sighing, I pull myself out of bed, stretching the kinks out of my legs and setting the sleeping mask on my nightstand.

And it is my nightstand. That still takes some getting used to after spending a considerable part of the Great War living in a castle. Not that the castle wasn’t lovely, and having a permanent serving staff laid on certainly had its advantages. But, for all my comments over the years on the grandeur of royal living, I have come to appreciate the simple beauty of my little boutique.

Humming to myself, I head to the washroom and perform my morning ablutions. No doubt certain friends of mine would poke fun at the length of the process, especially given what our day’s activity shall be, but a lady does have standards, after all. Throughout the war I maintained my habits. Maintaining the sense that life marches onward in spite of conflict is essential to civilian morale. There’s no reason to break the habit now just because my friends spent years away from home, crawling through mud and blood in a desperate slog against a vicious foe to—

A pounding on the door elicits an unladylike yelp from me. “Rarity, did you fall asleep in there?”

Hmph. The nerve of some ponies. I cast a quick glance in the mirror to ensure that my appearance is satisfactory before snapping the door open with my magic. “Sweetie Belle, honestly, must you frighten me so?”

The young mare cocks an eyebrow, not seeming impressed by elder-sister-outburst. I must be losing my touch. The fact that she’s almost as tall as I am now probably doesn’t help. “You were taking way longer than usual,” she replies. “I didn’t want your breakfast to get cold.”

I try to drum up some hostility against her, but find it to be a losing battle. I smile and nuzzle her side. “Yes, well, I suppose that would be a shame, especially given what a fine cook you’ve turned out to be.”

Grinning at the praise, Sweetie Belle wastes no time leading me downstairs. We pass by my Inspiration Room on the way to the dining room. It’s filled mostly with wedding dresses, and I can’t help but chuckle as I walk past. Over a year since the war ended, and still no end to the abundance of marriages. Sweetie glances back at my amusement. “What’s so funny?”

“Just reflecting on the nature of romance and business,” I reply.

The breakfast really is good. I had better tasting food at the castle, of course, but that’s because the chef, an earth pony rather bluntly named Chef, was a professional cook. Sweetie’s meal has the virtue of being a labor of love from an amateur who’s overcome, shall I say, an inauspicious beginning. To put it another way, she’s certainly come a long way from inexplicably transforming toast into bubbling tar.

“What are you and your friends up to today?” I ask.

“Well, nothing until the afternoon. I’ve still got to finish the bookkeeping.”

I give her a reproving look. “Sweetie, darling, it’s our day off. Enjoy the time out with your friends! I don’t expect you to work overtime!”

There’s that cocked eyebrow again. “You worked overtime the whole war. Managing the stores, the farm, the animals, the castle, not to mention—"

I put a hoof to her mouth, forestalling further elaboration. “Sweetie, darling, those were unique circumstances. And, now that I’m not so overworked, don’t you think I appreciate the days off?” I chortle and resume eating. “You ought to make the most of your times of levity darling.” While you’re still young enough to do so.

She picks at her food, looking guilty. “I know, I know, it’s just…I feel bad leaving you with so much to do now that I’m so busy most days with jay-rot.”

Jayot … jay-rot … for a moment I begin to be concerned that there’s an unfortunately named young stallion that my sister has become interested in without telling me before I remember that she’s probably just referring to the Junior ROTC program with the abbreviated speech so regrettably common amongst today’s youth. “You have your own life to live, darling. And while I adore how helpful you are around the shop, I can manage without you working as much as you used to. Besides, you’re practically an adult, and I shall likely have to manage without you entirely soon.” I bat my eyelashes. “Especially if you meet a fine young military stallion.”

Sweetie Belle snorts. “Fat chance of that anytime soon. Honestly, it feels like half the boys in my class have gotten denser since hitting puberty.” She wordlessly offers me the last egg. I shake my head and she happily takes it herself. JROTC is hungry work, after all.

“All the same, you should take the time to enjoy yourself. After all, I plan on spending my day off rather frivolously.”

She chuckles at that. “I wouldn’t let the others hear you call a day out shooting ‘frivolous.’ They might be offended.” She glances over at the oaken case lying on the counter. “I think they’ll like your little surprise though.”

“I should certainly hope so. It took considerable effort to procure that antique.”

“Well, I’m sure they’ll love it all the same.” She glances up at the clock and gives that mischievous little smile that I oh so hate seeing. “Maybe they’ll even love it enough to forgive you for being fifteen minutes late.”

I swear; you’d think that young mare likes seeing me dashing about in a tizzy. I deny her assertion that I “shrieked” in dismay when I saw the time. However, I would be lying if I claimed that I did not beat a rather hasty retreat from the dining room, pausing only to grab sunhat, sunglasses, and the aforementioned case, shooting a disapproving glance over my shoulder as I left. Rolling on the floor laughing at one’s sister’s misfortune is most unbecoming, Sweetie Belle.

What begins as a sprint though town swiftly slows to a brisk trot. Late or not, I’d prefer not to arrive icky with sweat. I can’t help but take in the sights and sounds of the village around me. Or perhaps it would be more proper to call it a true town, or even a small city. Having served as a muster-point for troops before sending them on to various theaters of war, Ponyville has grown from the tiny hamlet I was raised in into something more suited to the hub it has become. The town has more than doubled in size, expanding to include more shops, more stores, and more housing. Soldiers are a frequent sight on the streets these days. Most are cadets from the Ponyville Martial Academy, resplendent in their dark green dress uniforms, complete with jaunty berets. This in itself is a departure from the pre-war days, and not just because the uniforms have undergone significant changes; simply put, there was never a need to have a military presence in a little town like ours before. During the war, though, our military expanded tenfold, and it wasn’t exactly small to begin with. Between the increased need for security on the borders, the occupation force, and the grim reality that other kingdoms are modernizing their arsenals, we need warfighters in a way that we haven’t for centuries. These young cadets, most of them only a year or two older than dear Sweetie Belle, represent that need.

Of course, the actual armed soldiers represent it even more closely. That’s another thing that would have been inconceivable to pre-war minds: rifle-toting ponies in olive-drab uniforms, wearing armored chest-plates and wide-brimmed Brodie helmets. Shining Armor made the importance of such increased security for critical towns like Ponyville abundantly clear after that … tragic day seven years ago.

Two of the soldiers dip their helmets to me as they walk past, and I acknowledge their pleasantry with a smile and a nod, but I don’t slow my pace. I suppose the attention of two fit young military stallions ought to set my heart a-patter, but I have other matters on my mind at the moment.

Like worrying about my tardiness. “Oh, I do so hope the others don’t tease me terribly for being late,” I hiss to myself. “That Sweetie Belle! I sincerely hope that she simply didn’t notice the time, because if she deliberately failed to mention it then I will be having a rather stern talk with her about the value of punctuality, which she ought to already know, what with her being in Junior ROTC and all, and—"

“Hiya, Rarity!” greets Pinkie from directly beside me.

I maintain that I did not shriek at the top of my lungs in a most unladylike manner.

Once I regain my composure, and some modicum of a steady heartbeat, I address my dear friend in a calm and reserved manner. “Pinkie Pie, you scared the daylights out of me!” More or less.

Pinkie giggles and twists her neck to look at me upside-down, somehow not spilling the beret from her physics-defying mane in the process. “Sorry, Rarity! I just didn’t want you to be seen talking to yourself.” She looks around furtively, as though spies might be listening, then leans into my ear, putting a hoof up to shield her mouth as she whispers, “Ponies might think you’re crazy!”

A little over a decade ago, her behavior would have struck me as odd. As it stands now, I barely blink. “Well, thank you for your consideration, darling.”

“Anytime, Rarity!” she gushes.

We resume walking to our destination and I try to ignore all the ponies who I catch in the process of pretending they weren’t staring at my little, ahem, outburst a moment ago. We probably look to be quite the odd couple. Well, more of an odd couple than in the old days, I should clarify. It’s not just the difference of coats and manes anymore. These days Pinkie is sporting some rather impressive scars, to say nothing of her black-green beret and vest, the latter of which was once a combat engineer’s jacket before she tore the sleeves off. The case on my back is scarcely larger than a breadbox, while the rifle case slung over her back is longer than she is. There are a few other minor differences as well, like her battle-toned musculature, the combat knife she still habitually straps to her back hoof, and the fact that she’s actually walking rather than bouncing like she always used to.

Oh, and she’s pregnant. That’s different too.

Honestly, the lack of bounce in her step probably has more to do with not wanting to upset the foals she’s carrying than any lingering effects of the war, as one might have suspected.

“Well, darling, I must say that I’m relieved not to be the only pony running late today. At least I shan’t have to bear Rainbow’s and Applejack’s attempts at comedy alone.”

“Happy to help, Rarity,” she smiles. “Though I wouldn’t have been late at all if Bud wasn’t so fussy!” she adds with a scowl.

“Fussy?”

“Yeah,” grumbles Pinkie, letting her head dip. “These days it’s always, ‘let me get that for you, honey!’ ‘Don’t try to lift that by yourself, sugarplum!’ ‘Why on Celestia’s green earth would you need to take all of your guns, Pinkie, and how have the MPs not confiscated your horde of contraband weapons anyway?’” She snorts. “As if the MPs could even find my tunnel network to begin with. And today was just silly. All I wanted was to bring three of my long-guns today, and Bud was all over me about ‘not exerting myself.’ He wouldn’t even let me leave until I agreed to only take the one.” She glances at me. “Crazy, right?”

Bud must be the incarnation of the Element of Patience to keep up with Pinkie’s inability to dial back her eccentricities even when conspicuously pregnant. “Well, darling, I’m sure that he just couldn’t bear to let such a beautiful young mare out of his sight.”

Somehow, even the wicked scar across Pinkie’s muzzle, courtesy of a griffon saber, doesn’t manage to dampen the glow of her blushing smile one iota. “Aw, shucks, Rarity,” she giggles. “You always say the nicest things.”

I smile. “Tis only what friends are for, Pinkie dear.”

Our walk eventually winds its way out of town to the entrance of the Bronze Bayonet Memorial Shooting Range, a massive acreage at the edge of Ponyville surrounded by a rather unassuming white wall. Three ponies wait for us at the gate.

Rainbow Dash is flying, as usual, in part from habit and in part of avoid putting too much strain on her one remaining back leg. She’s wearing a wool-lined flight jacket blazing with an appropriate rainbow of combat ribbons and has two rifle cases leaning against the gate house.

Applejack stands next to her, wearing one of her trademark stetsons, with the absence of any sergeant’s chevrons stitched into it marking it as one of the ones she left at home for the war. Her rounded dog tags hang loose from the open front of her ‘lucky jacket.’ The rumpled green combat jacket has seen better days. Faded, pitted, weathered, and starting to fray at the edges, it’s in need of restoration. But Applejack won’t hear of it. “Not to Lucky,” she’d say if I asked. “He’s untouchable.” She has at least three rifle cases slung on her back, plus a duffel bag of ammunition and Celestia-knows-what-else at her feet.

Fluttershy is sitting to the side, watching a butterfly. She’s not wearing anything resembling a uniform, though her hair is still done up in the conservative bun that she adopted at the start of the war. At her side rests her medical kit, an olive drab bag with a red cross on a white field stamped on the side. It’s the same bag she carried in the war, but by some miracle she’s restored it to be nigh-immaculate, to the point that, if I didn’t know better, I’d think she hadn’t seen any action at all. Unlike the others, she carries no weapons.

Catching sight of us from some ways off, Rainbow throws her hooves up in the air in frustration at our sedate pace. “What are you two, a couple of snails? Get a move on! We’re burning daylight here!”

Fluttershy lets the butterfly land on her hoof. “Oh, it’s okay. I don’t really mind.”

Chuckling cheerfully, Applejack swipes at Rainbow’s tail with her hoof. “Don’t listen to the Tripod. Air Corps made ‘er even more impatient than she already was.”

I must admit, I still flinch whenever I hear anypony call Rainbow ‘Tripod.’ Not that the pegasus seems to mind.

Pfff!” snorts Rainbow. “Is that jealousy I hear, ground-pounder? Can’t handle our superior awesomeness?”

“Superior arrogance is more like it,” grins Applejack. “Ya’ll sky-jockeys wouldn’t know a proper battle plan if’n it bit ya in the flank.”

“Mindless grunt!”

“Feather-brain!”

“Jarhead!”

The two dissolve into an (apparently) good-natured bout of one-up-ponyship between their respective Branches, enabling Pinkie and I to close the distance. The five of us eventually gather at the entrance. Ignoring the bickering, I take stock of our little gathering. It’s impossible not to notice the absence of one of our closest friends. No matter how accustomed I am to it, and I still feel my heart sink just a little.

Fluttershy notices my mood and trots over. “Is something wrong, Rarity?”

“Nothing dear,” I reply with a sad sigh. “I’m just lamenting Twilight’s absence.”

Rainbow interrupts her bickering to fly over. “What do you mean?” she asks. “Twilight’s just inside.”

“Oh, she is?” I exclaim happily. “Capital! I was worried that she’d been feeling under the weather again. It’s so dreadfully often that she’s cooped up inside.”

“Naw, she’s here. Spike wheeled her in and set her up early. She’s already taken over one of the shooter’s tables to spread out all her notes on force, trajectory, an’ whatnot. You know how she is.”

I chuckle. “Yes, I do know how she is.” Quite well, in fact. Being her caretaker for so many years, I feel that in some ways I know her better than anypony, except perhaps Spike. “Well,” I say, trotting through the gates. “Best not keep her waiting any longer then.”


Three dozen pony-shaped dummies composed of straw and skinned with burlap charge across the rolling field in a staggered line, resembling a still frame reproduction of the last great charge of the Scarecrow Brigade.

At least, that’s what Pinkie Pie thinks it resembles.

There’s a sharp crack and the head of one of the rearmost dummies explodes in a haze of straw and dust, reducing the bold dummy brigade’s numbers from thirty-six to thirty-five.

Rainbow Dash ejects the spent casing from the heavy rifle with a precise flick of her forehoof. “Hot dang, AJ, that’s got a satisfying kick to it!” she exclaims, lying prone on the shooter’s table. “No wonder you dirt-suckers worship this thing!”

Applejack smiles around a chaw of tobacco. Filthy habit. “Glad ta see ya can appreciate the finer things in life, RD.” She gives her friend a playful swat across her hindquarters. “Even if yer scrawny flank couldn’t handle this puppy out there in the Slog.”

The pegasus arches an eloquent eyebrow and rolls to her side, glaring at the farmpony. “Well excuse me if the kick from a Sharps long-gun is a little much to handle while airborne, AJ, but you try firing a .45-70 round while pulling out of a 5000 foot dive at 2300 miles per hour!”

Chuckling, Applejack hefts her smaller Spader Rifle. “Yeah, well, be thankful you got issued somethin’ with a higher rate o’ fire earlier in tha war. I didn’t get ta use one o’ these puppies till we’d near put the Buzzards on the run.” She rises to her hind legs for a standing shot and takes aim at one of the closer dummies. Taking a breath to steady her aim, she opens fire, working the guns’s lever-action in a controlled frenzy to put all five shots through her victim’s center of mass. The smaller caliber rounds don’t have quite the same explosive effect of the heavier Sharps Rifle, but the precision fire still shreds the dummy’s chest. With an almost loving sigh, Applejack settles back into a sitting position, fondling the weapon. “Now ain’t that a pretty sound yer makin,’ gorgeous?” she exclaims, grinning like a filly.

I chuckle and adjust my hat to block the heat of the sun. “Take care, Applejack. If Arinze hears you talking about your firearm in such a manner, he may become jealous.”

“Yeah!” exclaims Pinkie Pie, looking up from cleaning a Needle Rifle that she’d ‘borrowed’ from a Dominion soldier. “Poor zebra! Imagine finding out his wife’s cheating on him with a banged-up lever-action!”

Even Fluttershy laughs at that. Applejack shoots Pinkie Pie a sour look before she, too, starts laughing. “Well, as far as homewreckers go, at least this’un don’t jam often.”

Rainbow Dash snorts. “If that’s how you feel about it, I think we’ll need to host an intervention and get you some marriage counselling. How about it, Twilight? You up for doing some marriage counselling?”

Twilight looks up from her research notes and gives a dry smile. “I think you or Pinkie are technically more qualified than I am for that at the moment,” she remarks. Her voice sounds stronger today, with almost none of its usual waver. Not bad for a wheelchair-bound mare with only one functioning lung, I suppose.

“Oh, I’m sure you could do something, Twilight,” encourages Fluttershy, who had appeared beside our friend with a medical satchel to help the alicorn take her various pills and potions. “After all, friendship is the foundation of a successful marriage.”

“Indeed,” I agree, taking advantage of the pause in shooting to make inquiries of my friends. “Speaking of which, Twilight,” my voice turns coy, “how are you and Big MacIntosh doing?”

Twilight turns bright red and becomes quite fascinated with the calculations on her research papers. “We’re fine,” she answers flatly. “Now, Rainbow Dash, as compared to the kick of the Spader, how would you characterize the experience of firing the Sharps…” she trails off as the snickering of the other mares (sans Fluttershy) cuts her off. Flushing even redder than before she buries her snout in her notes.

Fluttershy shoots me an arch look. I return it innocently over a sip of tea. Can’t blame a lady for wanting a little information about one of her best friend’s love lives. Especially when I helped her write most of those wartime letters.

Applejack appears to take mercy on Twilight. “Say, Twi, if’n yer so keen ta learn about the kick, ain’t no better teacher than experience.”

Twilight blinks at that. “I- I couldn’t. I shouldn’t.”

“Why not, darling?” I ask. “I know a heavier gun like the Sharps isn’t your preference, but it’s not as though you haven’t shot before.”

“No, it’s not that,” she interrupts. “I actually did fire first generation Sharps Rifles when they were introduced after Tirek, but since then I’ve only read about it.”

“Well, you only read about running marathons and you still beat the horseshoes off of AJ and Dashie!” chirps Pinkie as she slides the bolt back into place on the Needle Rifle. Both athletes glare.

Twilight bites her lip, then mumbles, “Well, I suppose it couldn’t hurt.” She glances at our resident medical expert for confirmation, “Or… could it?”

Fluttershy shakes her head. “It won’t hurt. You can shoot it. You know… if you want to.”

“See? Even the Angel of Angriff says it’s okay,” declares Rainbow. “So get your flank over here!”

“Well… okay,” acquiesces Twilight. She wheels over to the shooters bench. Rainbow vacates the spot for her and sets the barrel of the Sharps up on a sandbag for stability, placing a box of ammunition within easy reach. Twilight’s horn lights up and she levitates five bullets out of the box, loading one into the chamber.

Rainbow, still hovering at Twilight’s right, points out at the distant targets. “Now, you’re going to want to control your breathing and—"

BANG!

The crack of the rifle cuts Dash off mid-word and the chest of a distant dummy is reduced to dust. With one hoof she ejects the shell casing, loading the next with her magic. Another shot and another dummy’s head explodes.

Eject.

Reload.

BANG!

Hit.

Repeat.

Five shots end in five clean hits, any one of which would have been fatal had it landed on an actual pony. The echo of the last shot rolls over the hills, uninterrupted by dialogue as the five of us turn to stare at the alicorn, who lets out a long breath as she sits back in her wheelchair, a satisfied smirk on her face. “You’re right. That is much better than just taking notes. Good suggestion, Applejack.”

Everypony else is quiet for a moment; then Dash says what’s doubtless on all our minds. “Hot dang, Twi. You woulda made for one heck of a sniper!”

Twilight emits a cackle. “Yes, because hauling a wheelchair-bound sniper around a battlefield wouldn’t have caused any logistical problems. I can’t even begin to count the number of ways that could have gone wrong.”

“Startin’ with the fact that Shining Armor would kill us for letting ya,” chuckles Applejack.

“If Spike didn’t get to us first,” adds Pinkie.

“All the same, that was really good shooting, Twilight,” smiles Fluttershy. “You looked like you were having so much fun, I was almost a little bit jealous.”

Rainbow Dash opens her mouth as if to invite Fluttershy to experience it herself, but closes it so fast that I almost don’t notice. A few years ago, she would have suggested it without hesitation (and likely without tact), but we all know better than to ask Fluttershy to fire a gun. Better to just be thankful that she enjoys the range with us and leave it at that.

“How about you, Rares?” asks Applejack, turning her attention to me. “You gonna shoot or what?”

I smirk and set aside my tea. “In due time, I assure you. First I have to show you what I brought.” With a spark of magic I draw my case over. Five mares direct their attention to me. Rather than simply open the case, I decide to play it up a little. To simply reveal the surprise with no panache would simply not be proper. “Now, all of you have your own prized and exotic weapons to bring, often procured from,” I glance at Pinkie, “…less than willing sources, but I believe that I have found an article of war which shall put them all to shame.”

“Ooh! Ooh!” exclaims Pinkie. “What is it? What is it? Is it a raygun? A laserbeam? A magic projector—"

This,” I cut her off, “is among the most difficult military articles to procure without a king’s ransom and is, fittingly enough, something of a rarity.” I giggle at my own joke. I’m not above that. “It is,” I click open the case and twirl it around with a flourish to display the contents, “an original, mint condition Gilded Peacemaker.”

Oooooh,” chorus the girls. Even Fluttershy is impressed. I don’t blame her. The Peacemakers were the first black powder pistol ever issued to officers of the Equestrian military, and the Gilded variety were issued only to officers of the highest caliber. Few were ever made, and fewer still remain.

“H-how?!” stammers Dash. “I thought all the Gildies were either owned by some rich guy or destroyed!”

“All but one!” I sing as I levitate the venerable sidearm out of it’s velvet case. “And, let me tell you, tracking this little beauty down was not easy. You wouldn’t believe the lengths to which I had to go to procure it.”

Applejack approaches, holding out a hoof to touch it, and then pulls back as though afraid to sully it. “May Ah?

“Of course, darling.”

One by one they take the firearm and pass it around, oohing and awing appropriately at the inlay, the scrollwork, and, yes, the rarity of the item. Fluttershy is the last to look at it. “It really is beautiful,” she admits. “Almost seems odd that it’s something to shoot creatures with.”

Well, when you put it like that…

“But we’re still gonna shoot it, right?” demands Rainbow anxiously.

I roll my eyes. “Well, I didn’t just bring it to look at.”

“Well, if’n we’re shootin’ the granddaddy o’ service pistols,” Applejack gives a wolfish grin and produces her Colt .45 Revolver from beneath her jacket. “Ah think we should have a comparison with his heir.”

Twilight moves one of the targets closer with her magic under Fluttershy’s watchful eye while I load the Peacemaker. It’s a rather laborious process, and one which makes me thankful for my magic. Black powder and a white coat don’t mix. Applejack goes first. Having cast off her jacket in the heat of the day, she moves up to the firing line and sights up on the dummy. “We doin’ one shot or the whole shebang?”

“Just one shot should suffice,” I reply, setting aside my sunglasses and bonnet. “Unless you want to wait five minutes while I reload each time.”

“Fair.” Her tongue sticks out as she steadies her breathing. I can’t suppress a twitch at the loud bark of the Colt. Rifles don’t bother me, but, every once in a while, the sound of a pistol reminds me of Hoofenberg. I glance at Twilight. She seems unfazed. But then, she doesn’t remember most of that day. A fortunate turn of events, to be sure.

Applejack waves her hoof in front of my eyes. “Hm?” I ask.

“Ah said yer up, Rares,” she repeats.

“Oh. My apologies.”

She cocks an eyebrow. “You okay?”

“Why of course I am, darling,” I chuckle, hoping it doesn’t sound forced. “I was just…” I look to the target for inspiration, “intimidated by the precision of your shot.”

“Uh huh,” she replies, not sounding convinced. All the same, she doesn’t press me about it. “Well, ya’d best start shootin’ before Rainbow up and yanks it from ya.”

“Oh, like you don’t want to shoot it too, AJ!”

Tuning them out, I sight up on the target. I must admit, shooting is more enjoyable than I thought it would be and I’ve turned out to be a fair hoof at it, but I’m under no illusions that I’ll beat Applejack with anything short of a miracle. All the same, I shan’t give it anything less than my best. I take aim, steady my breathing, squeeze the trigger with the inside of my joint…

…and gag on the smoke while shaking my head to clear the ringing from my ears. “My word!” I wheeze, my eyes watering as I release the grip and levitate the offending weapon over to Applejack. “That makes quite a racket, doesn’t it?”

“Hehe! She sure does,” grins Applejack, who seems unaffected by the noise. “Bit of a smoker too, looks like.”

“Maybe it’s a navy pistol,” suggests Rainbow.

“No, silly! That’s smoking and drinking,” corrects Pinkie Pie.

Fluttershy offers me a glass of water, which I take with gusto. “Wherever it came from,” I manage after the coughing stops, “I would be willing to bet they were happy to see it go. Honestly, Applejack, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think I prefer your plain old revolver to that gilded thing. It may look pretty, but choking on smoke from a single volley hardly brings any refinement to war.”

The comment gets a chuckle, but it dies out pretty quickly at the sound of Pinkie’s more… bitter laughter. I turn slowly to see her polishing the Needle Rifle with a humorless grin on her face. “Oh, Rarity. It’s cute that you think there’s refinement in war.” She says it sweetly, but there’s a bite to her words that makes the sweetness sickening. “No matter how fancy the weapons, how efficient the tech, how brilliant the ways we conceive for keeping the enemy at a distance, war always comes down to two critters fighting in a muddy ditch over a bucking knife.”

A cold silence settles on the range, broken only by the soft rasp of Twilight’s breath.

Then Pinkie looks up with her trademark smile and exclaims, “But, hey, I got my hubby out of it, and now I’ve got four little buns in the oven! So I’d say it worked out pretty well!” She brandishes the rifled. “Now enough chit-chat! More shooting! Here, Twilight, try this Needle Rifle! It’s super-duper!”

And with that she carries on as though nothing else happened.

The other veterans slide back into the routine of the range without much bother. Even Fluttershy doesn’t seem that fazed. As for Twilight, she’s two busy having the modified Needle Rifle planted in her hooves to show shock.

Which leaves me alone to look on and see how much has changed.

Author's Note:

Equestrian history took a dramatically different turn in this AU right around the time Tirek nearly won. As such, I will be providing some contextual vignettes in the Author's Notes. If there are particular questions you have about this world, please ask, and you may well see a future vignette giving the relevant lore.

***

For decades, Equestrian firearms had been largely neglected by both the military and the civilian market. Muzzle-loading muskets had existed for over a century, but never reached the point of being standard-issue amongst the military or even a popular civilian home defense weapon. The musket’s slow rate of fire, cumbersome nature, and inaccuracy led to most preferring the crossbow. Even the coming of the rifled firearms (and the corresponding spike in accuracy) and the higher damage output of the weapons relative to crossbows were not enough to offset the general antipathy towards the technology. As such, Equestrian small arms saw little use outside the borders, where the stopping power of guns was prized by independent ranchers and Equestrian Rangers for use against monsters.

That all changed when Tirek nearly conquered Equestria. With memories of having their magic forcibly stripped away fresh in their minds, it was suddenly much easier to justify the development of weapons which had the stopping power of magical blasts but didn’t require a mage to use. Public sentiment on the matter of firearms had shifted enough that Secretary of War Hard Contact and Prime Minister Duke Golden Crown (known to his friends and detractors alike as ‘Fancy Pants’) were able to attach the Equestrian Small Arms Development Program to the bluntly-named EUP Guard Modernization Act. However, the margin for passing the Act had been so narrow that compromises had to be made, and the Program received little funding. Recognizing the importance of the Program, especially in light of worrying rise of the Unified Griffon Dominion, the reigning princesses of the Equestrian-Imperial Commonwealth quietly paid for the Program themselves.

Sharp Wit’s famous Sharps Rifle (and its smaller cousin the Sharps Carbine) was the first mainstay rifle issued to Equestrian and Imperial troops. While this breech-loader had a slower rate of fire than the average battle caster, it was more reliable over the course of a pitched battle and could be used by all three pony races. The power of the weapon was sufficient to overcome the magical shields of even great combat mages like Shining Armor given enough time and numbers, and it was functional over longer distances than most offensive magic. Accurate, powerful, and reliable, the breech-loading rifle would be the backbone of the Equestrian Armed Forces for the first half of the Great War. Even as it was gradually replaced by more modern lever-action Spader and Turner Rifles, the Sharps was a common sight on the battlefield, and it remains the preferred weapon of sharpshooters even to this day.

—Excerpt from Called Shot’s Arsenals Abridged: The Weapons of the Great War, Second Edition

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