• Published 22nd Apr 2013
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Severed Roots - Bad_Seed_72



Third installment in the "Tangled Roots" timeline. When our heroes of the West and our villains in the East clash at last, who will be left standing?

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Thief In The Night

Thief In The Night

It was not the blaze of the boomtown sun that awoke Babs Seed from her peaceful dreams. Nor was it the sound of her father sawing an entire forest of logs in the adjacent hotel room. No, it was the SMACK! of pegasus flesh careening into a stubborn glass window that jarred her from her sleep sometime around high noon.

Groaning, Babs rubbed her eyes and glanced across the room to the window. A grey pegasus mare was pressed flat against the glass, her pupils spinning within their sockets. “Aww, horseapples, not again!” Babs groaned, face-hoofing.

Apple Bloom rolled over and smacked her lips sleepily. “That’s Derpy, ain’t it?”

“Mmhmm.” Tossing the sheets aside, Babs rose from the bed and trotted over to the window. Carefully, she unlocked one side of the double-pane glass, swinging it outwards. “Youze alright, Derpy?”

Derpy shook her muzzle a few times and pried herself from the strong glass (not even a crack in the pane), her wings flapping steadily. Hovering in the air, she happily nodded and retrieved a scroll from her mailbag. “I’m alright, Babs! I’ve got another letter for yoooou!”

Nothin’ fazes her. Thank Celestia she’s the one deliverin’ out heeya. Most days, I thank Celestia, anyway. Except fo’ dat one time she dropped AJ’s letta back ta us in dat cactus. Accepting the parchment, Babs grinned and thanked the vigilant mailmare. “Be careful next time, alright? There is a front entrance ta the inn, youze know.”

“I know! But that letter’s marked urgent!" Derpy reasoned, saluting nopony in particular. She kicked her hindhooves and with a mighty flap of her wings, shot off into the clear blue. There were more deliveries to be made and not a minute to spare.

Apple Bloom yawned and reckoned five hours of sleep was enough. Shaking Sandmare's dust from her eyelids, she joined Babs at the windowsill, mumbling, “Ah swear, one o’ these days that poor mare’s gonna get a concussion… again.”

“I think dat might fix what’s wrong wit’ her.”

“Babs!” Apple Bloom smacked the witty mare on the shoulder.

“What?” Babs asked innocently, smirking. “Everypony needs a good knock ta the head now an’ then.”

Apple Bloom rolled her eyes and swiped the letter from her marefriend. “Ah’m not forgettin’ that one.”

“Usin’ ma own words against me? Now, dat’s no fair.”

“Ah make the rules, remember, sugarcube?” Apple Bloom teased as she unrolled the scroll. She sat on the corner of the bed, her eyes lighting up immediately. “It’s from Scoots! Ah’ve been hopin’ she’d write us back soon!”

Sitting beside her, Babs's muzzle soon matched her counterpart’s in glee. “I was gettin’ worried fo’ a bit there. Gonna have ta give dat filly some grief next time I see her. She don’t write enough.”

“Ah’m sure she says the same ‘bout us.” Apple Bloom ran a forehoof over the surface of the letter, her smile growing wider by the second. “An’ it looks like you’ll have that chance soon, Babsy.”

“What youze mean?”

Passing the parchment to her, Apple Bloom grinned and rose from the bed. “Jus’ look fer yerself,” she called, opening the door and heading into the hallway. “Ah’ll be back in a few. Gonna go get breakfast.”

“Bring me back summat!” Babs yelled after her. She locked the door behind her mare and returned to the letter. There, in clumsy hoof-writing, Scootaloo simply stated:

“Dear Babs and Bloom—

Hope you two have enough Applejack Daniel’s for a Wonderbolt, a singing sensation, and their special someponies! Sweetie and I both are gonna be on a break soon, so prepare yourselves. I don’t know about Sweetie Belle, but after flying into that wasteland of yours, I’m gonna be as thirsty as a… Well, you know.

See you soon!

~Scoots

P.S. Glad to hear things back home in Ponyville are going good. You two are simply awesome, you know that?”

Running a mental inventory, Babs chuckled and turned over the scroll. After obtaining a quill and inkpot, she scrawled on the other side, “Get your flanks over here, and quick. Got a delivery of fresh cider tomorrow with your name all over it, you crazy flier. Babs."

Once finished, she thrust the window open, hanging her forehooves over the side. Now, when’s dat crazy pegasus gonna be comin’ back? Maybe iffa I leave some muffins on dis windowsill…

~

CRACK!

A clash of relentless hindhooves burst the cactus wide open near its prayerful limbs. Three ripe fig cactus fruit, now freed, tumbled to the ground. The wind teased the sands, tickling the mare's nostrils and eliciting the occasional sneeze. The sun set the desert afire to a lesser intensity in the aftermath of winter. While winter had faded in the plains and would soon be fully forgotten in the blaze, spring would, in a few weeks, be in full bloom throughout Equestria.

Gathering the fruit, Apple Bloom recalled the beauty that was Ponyville in spring. The apples had awakened from their dormancy and would soon be ripe. The next shipment of Apple Family cider would be fresh from the trees. Drooling at the mere thought, she clutched her prizes close to her chest and hummed to herself.

The seasons, they were a-changing. And time with it. But there was nowhere else in the entirety of The All itself she wanted to be than here in nopony’s land, with her mare and, now, the one stallion she'd never thought she'd meet. Surpassing the insurmountable hurdle that was a fillyfriend's father had never been a worry for her. There had been Libra's skepticism, but that seemed to have finally waned. Apple Bloom thought there was no more opposition after her aunt's acceptance.

After all, Bernie Madhoof may as well have been a ghost.

When she’d carried their breakfast about halfway back to the circle of buildings that ponies of stronger bonds may have designated as “town,” she was met near the middle by a grizzled muzzle. “Good mornin’, kiddo! O’, should I say, afternoon."

“Howdy, Turner!” Apple Bloom trotted up to him, offering a piece of fruit to the stallion. “Want some breakfast?”

He sniffed at the offering. “Fig cactus? Horseapples, I haven’t had any o’ dat since I made a wrong turn at Dodge City. Spent almost three weeks in dat desert. Lived off these things an’ a few cans o’ beans.”

“Oh. So… um… ya don’t want any, then?”

“Entirely the opposite! Love 'em,” he said as he accepted the morsel. The stallion scarfed it down instantaneously and patted his stomach. “Thanks, Bloom.”

“Wow. Ah never thought Ah’d find somepony who eats faster than me!” She laughed and sat on her haunches beside him, digging into one of the figs. “So,” she began between bites, “how long are ya gonna stick ‘round, Turner?”

He shrugged and plopped down on his haunches, stretching his forehooves. “I dunno, kiddo. Youze don’t mind iffa I call youze dat, by the way, right?” At her negation, he smiled. “Ah, good. Hate ta offend youze. Anyway, I was originally jus’ gonna pass on through until I found a minin’ claim ta jump onta, but—“

“Ya know, Ah bet Babsy an’ Ah could—“

“Babsy?”

Apple Bloom flattened her ears and blushed slightly. “Uh, don’t tell her Ah called her that name in front o’ ya. She’ll get all embarrassed.”

“Haha! Isn’t dat mo’ o’ a reason ta say summat?” Turner whooped, nudging her on the shoulder. She joined his laughter and half-shrugged, half-nodded. “Alright, kiddo, I won’t say nothin’. Heh. Anyway, youze know summat ‘bout minin’ ‘round heeya?”

“Much mo’ than that.” Rising off the ground, the mare brushed sand from her hooves and flanks. “’Member when Ah said we have lotsa stories ta tell?” He nodded. “Well, that’s one o’ ‘em. We’re gonna be openin’ the bar up at sundown like always… Come by fer a free drink an’ some o’ that story, won’t ya?”

Turner grinned and rose to his hooves beside her. “Wouldn’t miss it fo’ anythin’.”

~

“No, no, sir, we don’t have any vodka wit’ gold flakes in it. Nope, nay, an’ eenope.” Babs continued cleaning a beer mug and rolled her eyes at the repeated request. Gesturing with a forehoof to the stocked shelves behind her, she shot back, “We’ve got cider, whiskey, vodka without precious metals, rum, an’ gin. Plus beer an’ wine. Jus’ pick summat.”

“I was told this was the finest establishment this far southwest,” grumbled the unicorn stallion at the bar, crossing his forehooves. “How dare you not carry Goldslick Vodka?”

“Look, eitha pick summat o’ get outta heeya!” Babs barked, pointing towards the double saloon doors. “What else are youze gonna drink, anyhow? Cactus water?”

With a flick of his snout and a harrumph, the haughty unicorn left his seat and stomped out the door. His bits still jingled within his wallet, unspent and unworthy. His patronage would not be missed. Tonight, their bar was filled to the brim with vagrants, vagabonds, and visitors alike. Pinkie Pie had returned as promised, occupying the piano in the corner and adding to the overall chaotic atmosphere.

The sun had barely snuck below the void in the deep, and already Babs Seed had put her forehooves to good use, throwing out one vicious drunk and breaking up a tussle between two harmless ones. Well, mostly harmless. Alcohol, she had learned over these six months, mimicked the spirit of Chaos itself in one very alarming way: it could transform the harmonious into the discordant, revealing the monsters hidden within.

Apple Bloom busied herself with drink orders and kept an eye out for Turner. The remainder of the day between breakfast and business had been a mostly uneventful one. The stallion seemingly disappeared after their parting of ways, but it didn’t worry either mare. A nomad, after all, is one who is only comfortable when experiencing velocity.

For the two mares behind the bar counter, there was no greater velocity than keeping order in a lawless land, with only their hooves and wits about them.

“’Ey! Pinkie! Can youze play summat otha than dat sharin' song fo’ pony’s sake? I’m gonna go crazy iffa I hear dat one mo’ time!” Babs shouted over the roar of clinking glasses and excited exchanges. She mustered a slight grin and caught eyes with Pinkie, clarifying, “It’s a good song! I jus’… I need summat mo’… fittin’ fo’ the bar!”

“Fitting? What do you mean? I don’t see anypony getting dressed!” Pinkie tugged at the collar of her saloon outfit. “Speaking of clothes, can I take this off? Pretty-pretty-please?”

“Pinkie, Ah don’t even know where ya got that!” Apple Bloom giggled, shaking her head. “Ya can take it off whenever ya like… Jus’, please, play somethin’ else fer everypony!”

Ripping off the “saloon-mare’s” getup in less than a millisecond, Pinkie Pie clapped her forehooves together and hopped excitedly on alternating hindhooves. “Ooh, alrighty! What should I play? What should I play? What should I play?”

“How ‘bout Ah play somethin’ fer y’all?” a baritone at the door answered.

Babs and Apple Bloom snapped their necks towards the voice. Immediately, they grinned wildly. Babs slammed the mug in her forehooves down on the counter and jumped over the bar. Rushing to the stallion, she exclaimed, “Soapy!”

“Well, howdy, Babs!” He extended a forehoof to the mare, who eagerly returned the greeting, grasping his hoof tightly.

Dyea stood beside the weathered stallion, her eyes wide with awe. “Wow… so the stories were true. There really was an amazing oasis out here in the badlands.”

“Youze found youze place! Come on! A drink fo’ youze both on the house,” Babs urged, leading them through the crowd. She retrieved two spare stools from the back and set them in front of the counter for her honored guests. A third stool waited patiently for another who was yet to arrive.

Pinkie Pie, watching the exchange, shrugged after a moment and took her place at the piano, beginning with a few opening chords of a new song.

Apple Bloom trotted over and shook hooves with Dyea and Soapy. “Ah’m mighty glad ta see y’all! How’s minin’ been?”

Setting down two glasses of Equestria’s finest whiskey in front of them, Babs Seed added excitedly, “Yea! Find anymo’ gold out there?”

“Gold? Pfft,” Dyea scoffed, waving a forehoof. “Silver’s where all the demand is now. That, and I think that haul you two helped bring in was the last in those veins for a while. That’s what brought us here. Silver."

"I see. 'Ey, where's Allspice?" Babs asked.

Dyea shrugged. "Not quite sure where she is now. After a few more unsuccessful claims, she packed up and went with another mining crew. I'm sure she's alright, though," she said, smiling slightly. "She's a tough ol' mare. Right, Soapy?"

The stallion tipped the glass back and drained it in one long gulp.

Dyea nudged him in the chest. “Right, Soapy?”

Setting the glass down, he turned to the mare and muttered, “R-right w-what?”

“Oh, horseapples!” Face-hoofing, she groaned, “Were you even listening to anything I said?”

“’Course Ah was! … Er, what was the question ‘gain?”

With an unspoken agreement and some shared, awkward chuckles, the bartenders busied themselves in other tasks for a few moments. “We’re gonna, uh, leave y’all alone fer a bit,” Apple Bloom muttered, following Babs into the stockroom behind the bar.

Grabbing a fresh bottle of Applejack Daniel’s from a box, Babs mumbled, “Dey act jus’ like a married couple, dem two. I should’ve known.”

“You didn’t?” Apple Bloom asked, confused. “Ah thought everypony knew.”

“Hmm. Guess not. Explains a lot, though.” Babs's left ear pricked. “Sounds like we got some more customers, Bloom. Sure is busy ta-night.”

“Ah know. Ain’t it great?” Following her partner back behind the counter, Apple Bloom said, “Applejack will have ta send us a new delivery within a week o’ so, Ah reckon, the way everythin’s sellin’!”

When they emerged, two additional figures filed into the packed bar. One was Turner, shaking sand from his mane and walking up to take the final stool at the counter beside the two feuding miners. The other was clad in black from muzzle to tail, the cowl of the cloak obscuring the newcomer’s face.

Despite the gradual cooling of the desert plains, Babs Seed suspected the robe had been donned for a more sinister purpose. A pit of ice blossomed in her belly, freezing her nerves from torso upwards. She paused, placing her forehooves on the counter and watching the figure trot through the crowd. Black. All black. Like dat pony in the Appleloosa saloon. No. Like both o’ ‘em, wasn’t it?

“Sorry I was late, Babs, Bloom.” Turner leaned over the bar and took a deep breath. “I went far south as I could, but didn’t find nothin’ ‘bout no minin’ claims—“

“Minin’?” Ending his half of the argument, Soapy turned to face him. “Why, if minin’s what yer lookin’ fer, stranger, Ah should have a job fer ya soon! Silver minin’! Ma name’s Skagway, but..." He hiccuped, his muzzle flushed with whiskey as he finished, "You can call me ‘Soapy’!”

Turner laughed and made his acquaintance. “Nice ta meet youze, Soapy. Bloom, does he have anythin’ ta do wit’ youze minin’ ventures?”

Apple Bloom said, “Sure does! He even made Babs’ earring fer her! Right, Babs?”

“Uh-huh…” Tracking every movement of the cloaked figure, Babs Seed barely registered the conversation brewing in front of her, father and ex-employer exchanging excited tales of fortune and hardship. Noticing this, Apple Bloom stared in the direction of Babs’s gaze. Her own pupils dilated and locked onto the stranger, watching as it weaved through the overflowing establishment and took a seat in the corner.

“’Cuse me fo’ a moment,” Babs said as she slicked out from behind the bar. Apple Bloom clenched her forehooves and leaned up against the counter, watching intently for any sign of sudden movement from the mysterious customer.

Heart fluttering with each step, Babs Seed made her way to the far corner of her bar. Pinkie Pie was flooding the atmosphere with such a haphazard tune that some of the patrons were beginning to protest, calling for somepony who wasn’t tone-deaf to take a seat at the instrument. At this, Soapy jumped from his stool to his hooves and trotted over, pushing the pink mare aside. Babs ignored the resulting ruckus, counting her movements until she reached the figure in black.

“Can I help youze?” She spoke from the top of her lungs, injecting obvious venom into her words. Oh, Celestia help youze, iffa youze reach inside dat cloak o’ youze, I’ll buck youze teeth in so fast it’ll make youze head spin.

No discernible coat color was visible behind the darkness of the cowl. Nor were the stranger’s hooves outstretched enough to tell. From beneath the cloak came a monotonous reply. “Yes. I would like some orange gin, please.”

The words carried no rhythm or rhyme, belonging to both and neither gender in the same instance.

What the…?

Tapping her intact ear, Babs repeated, “Orange gin?” Shaking her muzzle, she chuckled, “I’m sorry, youze must not be from ‘round heeya. Nopony out heeya drinks orange-flavored anythin’. Not fo' desert ponies. Only a special kind o’ apple can survive in the desert—an’ those are in Appleloosa. Everythin’ heeya is imported.”

“I see,” muttered the stranger. Bringing its forehooves together, the cloaked figure posed a second question. “Can you then tell me where I can find any?”

Again, Babs said, “I’m sorry. I can’t help youze wit’ dat. Far east o’ heeya is all I can think o’. But I’m gonna have ta ask youze ta leave. Youze is scarin’ the otha customas wit’ youze getup,” she lied, standing firm.

To her surprise, the mysterious pony dismounted from the stool and made a decent pace for the exit. Just as it reached the double saloon doors, it glanced towards Babs Seed once more, countenance concealed and offering no clues to the identity of its possessor.

To her relief, it took to its hooves, galloping into the desert night.

Composing herself with a quick, calculated breath, Babs rejoined the land of the real and caught a circle of commotion from the corner of her emerald iris. There, surrounded by a gaggle of intoxicated mares and stallions, Soapy hammered out a joyous tune on the piano. Slurring his words, he began to sing, his eyes fixated on Dyea:

Babs groaned. “Oh, fo’ the love o’—“

A soothing voice exhaled hotly into her left ear, “Ya alright, sugarcube?”

“Huh?” Blinking, Babs found Apple Bloom’s eyes staring straight into hers. “O-oh. U-uh, yeah, I’m f-fine.”

“Good.” Nuzzling her cheek, Apple Bloom said, “Ah was watchin’ ya talk ta that strange pony over there. Don’t worry. Ah’ve got yer back.”

Wrapping a forehoof around her torso, Babs giggled and replied, “I know. Heh.”

Diverting attention from the heat on her muzzle, Babs nudged in the direction of the piano and its howling pianist—who, by all accounts, was too drunk to carry a tune in his Stetson. “Uh, so, I guess he’s singin’ fo’ Dyea, huh?”

“He’s singin’ fer everypony. Don’t ya see how happy they all are?”

Indeed, the entire bar—from wary poker players, to weathered miners, to one giddy pink mare—joined in the rendition, their eyes seeking and finding would-be lovers, their voices serenading those long lost or far away. Even Turner, who perched on his stool from afar, seemed to enjoy the music, drumming a hoof on the counter in time with the chorus.

“Yeah. I guess dey are.”

“Are you?” Apple Bloom asked.

Pushing the mysterious figure in black to the back of her mind, Babs Seed answered in the affirmative. “Mo’ than anythin’.”

An enormous grin on his muzzle, Turner watched daughter and her mare dance in time and step with the others, the boomtown’s bar filled from wall to wall with more spirit than could be contained within glass. In the shadows of his hazy, buzzing consciousness, it was not Babs Seed and Apple Bloom sashaying to Soapy braying “Darlin’ Companion.”

It was he and Libra Scales, almost twenty years ago.

Turner smiled.

~

He waited. Curling his body into a ball behind two catci, the stallion waited, squeezing his eyelids securely shut and covering his muzzle when the winds came with a vengeance. He reasoned he must have fallen asleep at some point. When his eyes snapped open, the moon had already begun its descent. Judging from the position of the parish lantern, it was about 0300.

Perfect.

Shaking sand from his hooves and cloak, he galloped towards the bar once more, taking the long road. He twisted and turned behind rows of cacti and the few nearby buildings. Once he’d reached the bar, he sidled along the back wall near the stockroom. The wood was cool and calming under his forehooves, not one splinter to be found. Truly, this bar was a work of art.

How unfortunate.

He counted his breaths, watching them become telltale steam in the night. At any moment, he expected that monstrous mare to pounce on him. He praised his steel resolve. Earlier, he’d gathered every ounce of courage within him to stay strong in her glare. He was a stallion, and should’ve feared no mare.

No, he was far more than just a stallion, and had no reason to fear anypony but one.

Maybe two.

A minute or hour passed. He wasn’t sure. Once satisfied that he was truly and utterly alone, he trotted hastily to the back door. He tried the doorknob. Locked. Of course. No matter and no trouble.

Fishing a set of lock-picks from a pocket inside his cloak, he tried several within the tumbler. The lock was sturdy but unremarkable. After a few miscalculations, he located a pick that mimicked the key enough to release the strike. Slowly, he opened the door, leaving it wide enough to slip inside before shutting it again. He thanked his dark gods that the door did not creak.

Not a single lantern or candle burned within. He paused, pricking his ears. Nothing. He was alone. Truly and utterly alone.

Good.

His task was simple enough. There was no way he could buck this one up. There was no way he would fall by the wayside in the wasteland like the others before him. No. He would succeed, and please his Don and, subsequently, his Master.

In the stockroom were a few bottles of Applejack Daniel’s, a few bottles of hard cider, a few bottles of apple juice, one bottle of rum, and a half-gallon of vodka.

“Dey gettin’ low. Good thing I came when I did,” he mumbled. Snatching a bottle of the whiskey, the stallion tucked it beneath his cloak and trotted cautiously towards the door.

He took one last, long look at the bar before departing. Pity. It was a grand construction, elegant in its simplicity. In another life, he would’ve loved to join in the gambling and the singing, the drinking and the banter.

But in this one, it was not meant to be.

Using the same faux key, the stallion locked the door upon his exit, checking the doorknob to ensure it was secure. Nopony would be the wiser. One bottle of whiskey could easily be dismissed as a mistake of inventory or a forgotten transaction. Nopony would notice.

And, truth be told, he had no thirst for whiskey. He was more of a gin stallion anyway. The label on the bottle was what mattered. The proof.

With a final sweep of the sands, Turn Key galloped into the night, heading north first. He vowed to make it to Appleloosa and the train station before the sandstorm came. The night taunted him, threatened him, wished to bury him.