Dust and Harmony

by KitsuneRisu

First published

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.

Deputy Constance S. Twilight had all the qualities of a great lawpony: she was brave, convicted, honorable... and terribly terribly alone.

But to save the town of Ponyton against the world's deadliest bandit, it's not enough to be fast on the draw. To save the world, she'll have to master harmony.

The strongest gun of them all.

Dust and Harmony is a familiar story re-imagined in a western world called Dust.

Ain't No Sunshine

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Dust swept off the roofs like water during a storm; the very air seemed to be made of nothing less than sand and swirling heat, all of which stung the eyes and made the lungs cry out for relief.

In the middle of the harsh buzz of midday a chime rang out, the jingling of spurs that sounded with each step of her two hind legs. Every pony worth their salt had spurs. Sometimes the only thing standing between life and death was five centimeters of steel buried in someone’s chest, and you could bet that she could kick like a gun.

Usually a pony would get them custom made in a shape they liked, in a way they liked.

Sheriff Twilight’s looked like the six-toothed gear that adorned her flank, each straight edge filed down to a razor thinness.

The room didn’t die down as she pushed her way into the bar, the swinging doors creaking on their hinges. No. She knew that whatever the conversation was before, it was now all about her, and it came in full force.

A few of them sported smiles in there. A few frowned.

Twilight took off her Stetson, standing at the entrance, surveying the scene. She let her leather coat – the one made of buffalo hide – hang open. It was as black as night, with a single star peeking out from behind its tough, wrinkled folds. It wasn’t the smartest thing to wear in this heat, but it made a statement. It was a show of force. It told the room that she wasn’t somepony to be trifled with. And it was the star, her sheriff’s badge, that told the room that it was legal for her to shoot anyone she wanted.

That was just the way it was there.

She moved as a mare got up to leave, a wide-brimmed sun hat covering her face. A leg shot out and blocked her with a start, and the mare shuddered to a halt in front of the lawgiver.

And that was when conversation died down.

Twilight leaned closer to the mare, breathlessly, eyes narrowing. With the tip of her horn, she pushed the brim of her hat out of the way.

“Deputy?” she asked.

A dragon, small in stature but covered with scars and chipped scales, edged under the swinging doors, a bunch of scrolls in his hand. He scanned one of them before looking up at the mare that Twilight had stopped.

“Let’s see the mane, boss,” the dragon called back.

Twilight flicked her horn. The hat flew off. The dragon shook his head.

A small moment passed as the dusty unicorn’s face turned upward into a morose smile.

“Sorry to bother, ma’am,” she said, stepping out of the way. “Best be on your way, now.”

The mare rushed off, not having said a single word.

“Hey, new girl!” a voice came flying from the midst of the crowd.

It came from somewhere to the left, amongst the tables and half-empty mugs of wheat juice, but everypony in the joint had done the same thing almost as if by instinct. They all now were standing facing their tables, hats turned down just so to obscure their faces.

Whoever was speaking didn’t want to be identified, and Twilight made no effort to try. She found that those who wanted to be anonymous tended to talk more if you let them be that way.

“Yeah?” Twilight responded, shouting out to the room in general.

“You lookin’ for Moonshine? If you gotta see the mane you gotta be lookin’ for Moonshine.”

“Yeah. Would any of you fine gentlestallions care to tell me where in this establishment I may find her?”

The crowd laughed. Altogether, this time. All at once.

Let them laugh, Twilight. They get their kicks out of feeling like they got one up on the law. It was only when they chose to exercise that belief that it was time to start shootin’.

“She ain’t in this building!” another voice rang out as the laughter stopped, from somewhere to the right, this time.

“Yeah?” Twilight responded.

“Yeah! She’s out back, where she always is!”

Another round of chuckles rose up through the crowd. This time, it was directed more at the pony known as Moonshine. Twilight jerked her head through the laughs toward the door in the rear that headed into the back alley.

Slowly, she walked.

Step by step, through the tables, she wove her way, all of the patrons still staying silent and hidden, like gophers burrowed away from a stalking coyote.

She stopped just before leaving, beside the bar, regarding the mustachioed stallion behind the counter who was busy polishing a glass with a rag that looked like it was making the cup dirtier rather than the opposite.

“Gentlestallions and fair mares,” she announced, slapping a dollar bill on the counter. “A thanks for your cooperation. Barkeep, buy them a round. And you can keep the change.”

The bartender’s eyes widened as he dropped the glass hastily onto the counter, scrabbling for the note. A whole dollar! He stared at it, making sure it was real. But by the time he looked back up, the sheriff was already half-gone through the doors.

The bartender’s eyes darted to the little dragon that followed behind.

The dragon winked at him, firing his fingers at him like pistols with a click of the tongue.

“C-come again!” the bartender called.

“Really. You spend one whole dollar on those guys, and we don’t even got blankets back at the station?” Spike asked, as they scanned the back alleyway.

It was a cool, shaded place, stuck between the rear of the tavern and some other building that advertised textiles. It was narrow enough that no one bothered to look down it, but homely enough for a pony to lie there in a puddle of vomit for a while after a particularly bad day at work if he or she so chose.

It was currently inhabited by a single heap of flesh, one leg hanging into a bin for rubbish.

The pair walked over slowly.

“Do dragons even need blankets? Do you even feel hot or cold?”

Oh, what a question!” Spike yelled out. “See, that is the kind of racism I come to expect from you!”

“And how else am I supposed to find out?” Twlight asked, bemused.

“I dunno… eh… read a book? You’re one of the few around here that knows how.”

“So everythin' about Dragon can just be put down in a single book and that's that? Don't you find that just a mite narrow?”

“Well… if you wanna put it that way.”

“Besides, books is overrated. Ain’t nothing good found in books and there ain’t never will be.” Twilight scoffed.

“You know what, Twi? I betcha one day in the future, there’s gonna be thousands of books. More’n a thousand!" Spike stuck his finger up in the air.

"Really, now?"

"Yeah! All over! Different types!"

"What do you mean, 'types'? There ain't no types of books. They're just books." Twilight tilted her head.

"No, I mean, some for learnin’, some just for fun..." Spike frowned. "Maybe some even with, like, pictures on ‘em! So that the ones who can’t read too good still can hold them pieces of paper, see, an’ still feel important.”

“Never gonna happen.” Twilight frowned, turning her attention to the figure that lay up against the wall. “Hey.”

“I don’t even gotta look, Twi. That’s her.”

There were bands of grey that ran down her short, spiky mane. Each band was a different shade between black and white, but when the light caught it just right, you could see a strange coloured sheen reflecting off them. A trick of the light, surely, or maybe it was something else, but it seemed to glimmer the echoes of the rainbow from behind its dull, monochromatic exterior.

Twilight kicked her.

The mare jolted awake, her eyes flying half-open. She hadn’t the wherewithal to open them all the way.

“Whuh,” she said, drawing her leg out from the barrel of rubbish and rubbing her face with a banana peel. “Whusheezehs?”

Twilight simply stood there, her badge waving back and forth slightly as the momentum of her swaying body took her coat.

The mare squinted at the the glistening icon of office, leaning forward, as she rattled off a cough or two. Unsteadily, she stretched her jaw, moving her mouth around before she started to speak.

“Whaddaya want, dog?” she asked, nicely, spitting at the ground next to the barrel.

“Miss Moonshine Dash?” Twilight asked, as Spike pulled out a pistol and let it hang casually by his side. “Come with us.”

Dust and Harmony

Chapter One :: Ain't No Sunshine

Three Days Earlier

Deputy Twilight tore her eyes off the old telescope. It was worn, didn’t magnify much, but it did what it had to. It just barely caught those tiny balls of light out in the horizon, in the distance, in the direction of Full Moon Bluff.

She blinked, scratching her head. In the day they couldn’t be seen. But at night…

Talking to Sheriff Mare had produced little result. Mare was the kind of pony who didn’t care about things outside of immediate danger. She had no vision of the future. Always let things creep up on her and bite her before she was prepared. That was the wrong way to go about things, Twilight reckoned, especially in this new age, and so she brought it up with the mayor herself.

She sat, now, in the waiting room of the town hall, for a few precious minutes of meeting time with the incessantly busy Miss Celeste, the ruler and literal owner of the fine city of Cantermore.

It had grown over the past thirty years to a sprawling capital-to-be, and there were a lot of things that she had to take care of. She certainly had no time for a silly deputy who didn’t even follow the right chain of authority.

It was risky, going past the Sheriff, but this had to be done.

Twilight clutched her telescope a little tighter. She had no idea why she brought it along.

“Deputy?” the receptionist asked, suddenly, jolting Twilight back into attention. “You can go in now.”

“Thank you kindly,” Twilight replied, nodding on the way through.

Huge wooden doors, carved with dancing ponies, marked the path into Celeste’s chambers. Various books lined a wall of shelves, at which Twilight turned her nose up, a few busts of Celeste’s predecessors flanked her large mahogany desk, and a writing table was placed very neatly on the other end of the room near the carpet.

It was one of those kinds of carpet that you hung on the wall instead of the floor.

Twilight never understood that.

“Constance S. Twilight,” Celeste said, standing up as she entered. “Come in. Come in.”

At full height, Mayor Celeste was nearly a head and a half taller than Twilight. She claimed it came from the stock of her ancestors, the ones who found this land and set stake on it all those years before.

She wore a suit, a nice blue one, tailor-made to fit, and her horn was a little bit longer and more pointy than other unicorns’. But other than that, she was a regular unicorn, just like Twilight.

“Please, take a seat.” Celeste gestured to one of the two tufts of straw that lay in front of her desk.

Twilight politely took off her hat and swung it onto the stand next to the door, moving forward with as much respect as she could and throwing herself into the left bale.

“Now, Miss Constance. Polly outside tells me you have somethin’ important to talk about. Is that so?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Somethin’ that couldn’t be discussed with Sheriff Mare?”

“It is… not something that I believe she is prepared to handle, ma’am.”

“Now.” Celeste smiled, leaning over her desk, “what is that supposed to mean?”


The larger unicorn swung away from her desk, walking over to a side table that held a multitude of pots and cups and fine china, the sort that wasn’t easy to come by around those parts.

“Now, I could interpret that in many ways, Miss Constance. Do you want some tea?” Celeste said, picking up a pot with a burst of magic. “This stuff. Now, this stuff comes in all the way from the East. Comes along with the express. It’s two dollars for a small packet, you know? Ain’t cheap. Harder even to prepare it. Tea is such a… silly drink. Gotta boil water first… gotta time it right… but sun bless if I don’t just love me a cup.”

Celeste nodded to the tea set, as if she were talking to it rather than Twilight.

“Now, do you want some tea?”

“Uh… I…” Twilight muttered.

“Miss Constance. I’d like to tell you something,” Celeste interrupted suddenly.

“Uh… yes, ma’am.”

“There’s two things I hate, Miss Constance,” she said, the sounds of tinkling china coming from behind her. Twilight couldn’t see what she was up to – her body was blocking the tea-making process.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“One is when ponies waste my time. The other is when ponies waste their own time. Now, if you don’t like tea, just right out and say it. That way, I don’t spend entire cents on a cup that ain’t gonna be fully enjoyed, and you don’t have to pretend to like something you don’t, and we don’t gotta do this big old dance of politeness.”

A few plops sounded out. Sugar, probably, for the tea. Two plops. Two lumps.

“We’re doin’ business here, Miss Constance, and if I reckoned you had nothin’ to say in the first place, I wouldn’t have agreed to see ya. And you didn’t come all this way just to say ‘uh’ and ‘yes, ma’am’. I got Polly outside to do that for you.”

“Sheriff Mare won’t listen, ma’am. I’ve already tried to give her the facts, but she says there ain’t nothing to be done until things are to be done. I don’t mean to go over her head, but I don’t share in her methods on how things oughta work,” Twilight blurted out.

Her face suddenly became very hot.

“You meanin’ to tell me that Sheriff Mare is… not suited for her job?” Celeste asked, walking back to her table with a steaming hot cup of tea.

“No, ma’am. She’s good for what she does. But she takes care of the problems just in front of her face. I feel that if you can… guess what ponies are up to, you can take care of problems before they even begin.”

“Now, that’s a radical way of thinkin’, Constance.”

“Be that as it may, ma’am, but I’ve been seeing things in the distance at night. W-with this.” Twilight held up her old, busted telescope.

“You need fundin’ or something?”

“No, ma’am! I’ve been seeing lights at night, ma’am.”


“In the desert.”

“Constance, there’s plenty of settlers out there in the des—”

“At Full Moon Bluff!”

Celeste stopped jabbing, instead taking the silence to take a sip of tea.

“Go on,” was the only thing she said, a bit more serious in tone.

“For the past week, ma’am, I’ve been seein’ lights out there on that bluff. Just small sparks in the distance. Almost nothin’, but I ain’t mistaken. I see ‘em on really clear nights. I think somethin’s comin’, and I think we both know who that is.”

Celeste tapped her hoof on the table.

“It has been… two years, now? Celeste remarked. “You believe she’s stayed there all that time?”

“Just before you carted her off, ma’am, she swore revenge, you remember? She shouted to the hills and back how she’d come back and this time not for the money in the bank. This time for your head and for the entire town.”

“But we have orders to shoot her on sight,” Celeste said, tilting her head. “I make sure all the local deputies know this. You know this.”

“Yes, I do, but that’s why I got so worried, ma’am.”

“Explain.” Celeste cupped her hooves across her face. Celeste’s request seemed to be more for the sake of it than anything else.

“‘Cause she knows, ma’am. She knows she’ll be shot on sight. If she’s up to somethin’, you can be sure she’s gonna be prepared. Now, maybe these lights ain’t nothin’, but I’ve been keepin’ my ear to the ground too, and a lot of rumors from travellers comin’ in from that direction say about noises… and animals actin’ weird… and a whole load of other stuff.

“Now, I ain’t one to pay too much attention to rumours, but them rumours gotta start from somethin’. I think she’s meanin’ to come back, and I think she’s preparin’ somethin’ big,” Twilight declared.

Celeste closed her eyes, letting her eyelids flutter rather than fall. She took in a soft breath as she digested the news.

“Right then. No time to lose. I’ve made my decision.” Celeste hammered the table, a look of resolution in her eyes.

“Ma’am? What’s… going on?”

“Do you know why I made you deputy?” Celeste asked.

“Uh… no, ma’am. Does this have anything to d—”

Celeste held a hoof up. Twilight immediately shut up.

“When you first rode into town, the stories rose nearly immediately. Do you remember? Now, I hate to use the term, but… words like ‘gearhead’ floated around.”

Twilight sighed, looking toward the hardwood floor. She remembered clearly.

“Back then no one would give you the time of day. It was a misunderstood thing. You were a misunderstood mare. But I saw you, and I said to myself, I’m gonna give this mare a chance.”

Twilight nodded.

“And now here you are. Rumours all squashed. Trusted by all. One of my best deputies, and one with a very interesting head on her shoulders with some very radical thoughts.”

“Thank you, ma’am. But maybe it ain't so much radical thinkin' than just I figgu—”

“Be quiet. I weren’t askin’ ya! But what I’m going to do is give you another chance. Just like last time. And this time, I expect I won’t be let down just like I weren’t let down for the past few years of your service. You get me?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Now, I’m gonna tell you something that is just to remain between us, you hear? No one else ought to know this. But this is what I’m gonna have you do. And darn if you ain’t just perfect for the role.”


“Do you know where Ponyton is?”

“Yes, ma’am. Little burg off’a Cantermore. Quite a bloomin’ town, too, so I hear.”

“I set that place up to expand, for one, but I find it a very curious place, because if she’s gonna come back, then she’ll have to go through Ponyton first, or take care of it anyway. She ain’t too stupid. If she comes attack Cantermore direct, forces from Ponyton can sweep in and get her from behind. She’ll head there first, clear the place out, and then move on Cantermore in a straight line.”

“Sounds like you’ve been giving this some thought, too.”

“It’s my job to think about everything. I’d been expecting this for a while. I just wanted to make sure that you came to the same conclusion as I did. And guess what? You’re the only one. So you get the responsibility of a little mission.”

“And what would that be, ma’am?”

“Come first light, you’re to take the train out to Ponyton, where you’re gonna be the new Sheriff. Ain’t been a sheriff there for a few months now. Maybe that’s why she’s aimin’ to strike. I’ll set you up with the papers, badge, money, everything. Come see me tomorrow before you leave.”

“Just like… just like that?”

“Just like that. Like I said. I hate wasting time.”

“I’m… gonna be sheriff?”

“Yeah, congratulations. Now here’s the bit I want you to keep all hush-hush, you hear me? Hey!”

Twilight blinked, refocusing on Celeste. It’d been done, just like that, in a second. She had been promoted. She rolled the thought around in her head.

“Pay attention, sheriff! Not off to a good start, are you?”

“Sorry, ma’am!” Twilight barked.

“Two years ago, in anticipation of her return, I commissioned a weapon.”

“A weapon?”

“A gun. Not just any gun, mind you. A special one. One that can tear the hide off an ursa at a hundred paces. A gun that can crack an entire tree in half with just two rounds. Maybe I oughta call it a cannon or somethin’, but it’s pretty much in the shape of a gun, so whatever.

“When I had it built, I reckoned it was far too dangerous to just be keepin’ around with me at all times. I didn’t want the public to know that we had something like that just lyin’ here in my hooves as well. So I broke it into five pieces and gave it to five ponies in Ponyton. Now, I trust these ponies. Come tomorrow, I’ll give you a list and some prints of all of them. I also made sure they don’t know who one another is, just in case of thieves or informants or whatnot. I’ll give you a special document. All you gotta do is go there, get all the parts, put the weapon back together and wait.”

“Wait?” Twilight asked.

“Yeah. Wait. Do what you gotta do. Hopefully it ain’t gonna come to that you need to use it, because… well. Just because. But just in case, I wanna make sure that gun’s around handy.”

“No problem, ma’am. Should be easy. Won’t take me more than a day.”

“A day?” Celeste raised her eyebrow. “Listen, it’s good to be so enthused about all of this, but… it’s been two years. Things change. I don’t keep contact with ‘em down there as much as I would like to. Just be ready for anything.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Right, that’s done. Now get out of my office. I got work to do. And remember to come visit me here on dawnbreak. I’ll have Polly let you in. And keep this whole ‘Lune’s returning’ thing downwind, got it? Don’t need panic in the city just yet.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Twilight shuffled, backing out the door, pulling her hat on and swinging the huge wooden doors open.

“Oh, and…” Celeste called out from behind.

“Yes, ma’am?”

“Find a deputy of your own. Someone you can trust. Someone who can keep his or her mouth shut, too. Got it?”

“Yes, ma’am!” Twilight yelled chipperly, closing the doors behind her.

She left, breathless, into the main waiting foyer, the whole meeting swimming through her mind.

“You okay there, hon?” Polly the receptionist asked, looking up from her papers at the wheezing figure.

“I…” Twilight gasped back, chest inflating with pride. “I’m a sheriff!”


The scream echoed out through the dirty streets where cobblestones had begun to creep. These were some of the areas in Cantermore that were going through a bit of ‘refurbishment’ and ‘modernization’, what with a proper drainage system and actual paved roads and everything.

But that would take time, and right now all there was were a bunch of workers laying down tiles from one end of the street to the other.

But nibblers tended to stick to the back streets like rats. For a thief to work on one of these roads, in the middle of day, meant that he was rather stupid indeed, or that something curious was going on.

Twilight frowned.

And the timing.

The timing was so perfect that it defied chance.

One of the reasons why Twilight came to a conclusion so fast was that this had happened before.

“Miss. Calm down,” Twilight said, walking up to the screaming lady.

She was wearing a bonnet and shawl combo, definitely one of the richer ladies of the city. Probably had a ‘handbag’, too, rather than keeping her money in a neck bag like she ought to. Those new handbag things were magnets for snatchers.

“Can you describe the thief for me?” Twilight asked, staring down a darkened alleyway.

“Oooohhhhh!” The lady wailed. “Ooooooooohhhhhhh!”



She had started fanning herself with a thing with lace on the end and embroidery along the sides. Did fans have to be that elaborate?

“Lady! Okay. Just nod or shake your head, got me? Was the one who stole your handbag a dragon?”

“Oooooooohhhh!” the lady cried, doing neither. “A dragon! It was one of those nasty little dragons! Came out of the gutter, it did, and saw upon to take my belongings! Please, officer! You must get my things back! Why do you even allow dragons up in our town, anyway? They should be all back East with the rest of their ilk!”

Hey!” Twilight glared, sticking her hoof out at the lady.

The lady stopped, her fanning slowing to a twitch.

“Stay here,” Twilight continued. There wasn’t any point in arguing about things that were simply too ‘radical’. “I’ll get your things back.”

The deputy darted down the alleyway, snaking through the barrels and the pipes until she came to rest in the middle of it, a place cut in half by the shade of the building. Sun poured down on one side, and almost on a razor’s edge was it cut off, leaving her side of the alley in shadow.

She stayed where it was cooler.

“Okay, Spike. Come on. We do this every time. You ain’t going to make me have to chase you, are ya?”

Silence. But it was silence by choice.

Spike, you get your hide out here right now! I ain’t runnin’ in this heat! I’m almost inclined to turn a blind eye to you this one time!”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” a dragon said, popping out from behind one of the many rain barrels in the alley. He lifted his hands to the sky, one of them clutching the strap of a fine ladies’ purse. Cracks ran down the spines on his back, and a thick layer of dust coated his worn-out scales. He sported a rather youthful look, but Twilight knew that he’d been around, and been around for a long time.

Those were dragons for you – you could never really tell how old one was just by looking.

“Come on, baby, we can be reasonable, alright?” Spike pleaded.

“Why do you always gotta make a chase of it, Spike?”

“Because it’s one week for the snatch and one week for resist, baby! Come on!”

“Why are you calling me ‘baby’, now?”

“I dunno,” Spike shrugged. “You got a law against that? Maybe it’ll get me another week in the hole.”

“It’ll get you a bullet in your leg.”

“Alright, Deputy. Tell you what. Why don’t we say you chased me around, and I’ll say you chased me around, and you book me for two weeks and we don’t have to go out into the hot sun.”

“It’s ‘sheriff’, actually,” Twilight said.

“Oh, really?” Spike’s eyes widened, a smile cutting across. “Ey! You been waitin’ for that for so long! Congratulations! So that’s why you were in the Mayor’s office, yeah?”

Of course he had been watching. Like she thought. Timing was too perfect.

“Spike, return the handbag,” she cut him off.

“You know what I find weird, Deputy?”

Twilight sighed. “What?”

“You ponies don’t at all mind that these things are our invention. They’re called handbags, ya? Hands? You see these?” Spike pointed to the thing on his other arm. “These are called hands, right? But I hear miss lady out there in the streets goin’ ‘ohhh ohhh these horrible little dragons, why they up here in our town and taking all our freedoms’, and she’s using something that we gave to your fine com-moo-nity.”

“What’s your point?”

“I find it ironic, thas’ all.”

Twilight shook her head, brushing aside all the verbosity. If there were two things that Spike was known for, it was wearing a pony down with a lot of flannel-mouthed banter, and being arrested. But the funny thing was, he was only ever arrested because he wanted to be.

Furious Spike Ling was a vagrant – a traveller from the far East dragon homelands where names were funny – who wound up in Cantermore when he left his large extended family. Spike had always claimed it was due to an unfortunate circumstance with too much firewater. Or at least, that was one of the stories he had. Other times he said he was a spy for the dragons, and other times he claimed that he came here to seek his fortune in the burgeoning gold trade.

Whichever it was, Twilight had suspicions that he was kicked out for talking too much.

But he lived the streets, and jail was one step up from dirt and pebbles. A roof and food were two welcome things he wanted once in a while, so he worked the law just enough to be able to take a little ‘holiday’ every now and then.

“... and I bet. I bet to anything that the design on that fan she’s usin’ right now is Dragonese as well. I bet if she knew that most of the things she’s usin’ were from our part of these lands, she’d go comp—”

“Alright! Shut up!” Twilight yelled. “I get it, alright?”

“So… you gonna cut a deal?”

“Yeah…” Twilight nodded, an idea floating up into her head. “Yeah. You know what? I think I will. Gimmie the bag and wait here. I’m gonna return it, and then take you in for booking. How’s that sound?”

“Sounds great, baby. One or tw—”

Two weeks! Now shuddup and stay put!”

“Gotcha!” Spike clicked his tongue, finger-gunning Twilight. “Staying right here.”

It didn’t take long for the officer to return the bag and come parading back through the alley, while Spike spent the time whistling a soft tune.

“Ey, you’re back, bab— Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hey!” Spike cried out suddenly, backing up a few steps and falling over onto his tail. “Whoa! I’m sorry about the ‘baby’ thing, alright? I won’t do it again, I promise! Yo, you don’t have to do that, sheriff! Really!”

Twilight floated her two pistols closer to his face. They were in typical ready stance – levitated by each side of her chest, ready to discharge at any time.

“Get up,” she commanded.

“No, come on. Please! I… okay. I’m gonna stop. Okay? I am going to stop all this… and… and I’m gonna be nice… and…”

“I said get up!”

Still holding his arms out, his hands gently bobbing as if trying to placate a screaming child, Spike wobbled to his tiny little feet, face suddenly taking on a degree of seriousness.

“Okay. What is this about?” Spike asked, softly. “I get it. No games. This is business, right?”



“I’ll tell you. Now.” Twilight flicked her head to the other end of the alley. “Walk. Take a left at the end. You run, I shoot. Got it?”

“Understood,” Spike said, darkly.

Spike rushed in. Somehow, being in an enclosed space made it easier for him to move, and he darted behind the only table in the room for shelter.

The place was sparse, even by sparse standards. A mirror hung above a small sink, and a jug of water lay nearby in case anything needed a wash. There was the table of safety in the middle of the creaky, wooden floor, and a bed that could have just been a mattress on the other side of the room.

A cupboard and hatstand completed the look. There wasn’t even a spitoon.

“This is—”

“Your place,” Spike finished for her. “Yeah. I know.”

“You know where I live?” Twilight asked.

“Yeah, of course I do. Come on,” Spike responded, as if this ought not to be surprising. “It’s a beautiful place. Real homely.”

Twilight lowered her guns.

“Right, so, now what? You murder me?” Spike asked, a genuine question.

“No. I just wanna talk. Guns weren’t loaded.” Twilight fired them off one after the other. The only thing that came out of them were two dull clicks.

Spike’s mouth hung open. “You… what… How did you… Now…”

“I’m sorry,” Twilight said, holding her head up. She was sorry, but wasn’t ashamed.

“Do you even know proper pistol etiquette?” Spike demanded, angry. “You had me for my life, there, Constance! Why would you even do such a thing?”

“I needed to talk.” Twilight shrugged.

“And you couldn't have asked me?”

“You’d have run,” Twilight stated plainly.

“Well, maybe I would have,” Spike said. “But that still ain’t no reason to shove an unloaded pistol in my face! That’s… that’s downright tricky, that is!”

“Well, I do expect you to know what’s tricky and what ain’t, Spike.”

“And what is that supposed to mean?” Spike went on, little arms flailing, spittle dancing through the air like a fountain.

“Spike, sit down. I’d like to offer you a beverage, but…”

“Very funny. What makes you think I’m gonna just stand right here and talk after all of what happened?”

“If you wanna leave, go ahead. I ain’t gonna stop you.” Twilight went on, walking slowly to the table and taking a seat herself. “But you probably wanna know why I did all that to drag you here, don’t ya? And you ain’t gonna stay mad at me. You know there weren’t no danger. Only tricks. And you know all’s fair in tricks. That’s from your side of the line, ain’t it?”

Spike calmed down a little.

“So, go on. Take a seat. I’m sure you wanna know what’s eatin’ me.”

Spike raised an eyebrow. “You sure know me well, Sheriff Twilight. It really is ‘sheriff’ now, is it? That weren’t a spin?”

“Naw. It weren’t.”

Spike sat down.

A few moments passed as the floorboards creaked above. Habitually, the two of them made no noise until the pony moved away.

“Right then. What’s all this about?” Spike asked, drumming his claws on the table.

“It’s about what you just said, really. I know you. You know me.”

“Well, we’ve been dancin’ a pretty long time, lady.”

“That we have. And times… times are different. Times are strange.”

“What kind’a song are ya weavin’, lady?”

Twilight took in a deep breath. “Listen. I wanna come candid. Let me make the first step. So listen closely, ‘cause what I have to say right now ain’t somethin’ that comes easy.”

Spike nodded.

“But I’m gonna have to play fair, and I’m gonna give you a choice. The things that I’m gonna say to ya… well. It’s the kind of stuff that… if I do tell ya, and you don’t play nice, then you’re gonna go to jail but on a much more permanent basis. You know what I mean?”


“So… now’s the time you either stay or leave. I really ain’t gonna stop you if you wanna go. But if you do decide to leave, I’d be careful about who you talk to. I ain’t got you pegged as a little squealer, but you might wind up with a lot worse than jail for life.”

“So this is the actual threat, then.”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

“At least it’s politer.” Spike tilted his head to the side. “Before I make my decision, can I ask somethin’?”


“Why me?”

Twilight pursed her lips. This was that one question in every serious conversation that was hard to answer. There was always at least one. The deeper conversations had two or three, but there was always at least one.

Things were too serious, now, for her to care about image or face or other graces like that. She was just going to have to bring out the truth, as much as it gutted her to admit.

“Because I know you well, Spike.”

“That’s it?”

“No. Just… wait.” Twilight held up a hoof, rubbing her forehead.

“That personal, huh?”

The unicorn smacked her lips in reply. “I know you want a job. I know you want a respectable job. I know you got no home because you got no money, and I know you got no money because no one here in this town’ll pay a dragon whelp t’ do work. Am I on the nose so far?”

“Yeah,” Spike said, his own eyes narrowing. That was the long and short of life.

“So you do what you do. You ain’t stupid, playing the system. Makin’ Mayor Celeste pay for your food and board. I know you got a head on your shoulders. I know you ain’t slow in the legs, neither. I know you ain’t a bad soul deep down. You ain’t ever actually stolen nothin’ before. You ain’t ever done anything besides work the system. And that ain’t considered stealin’, if we’re the ones settin’ the rules. All you do is follow the rules, am I right?”

“Glad you see things my way.”

“Not sure how you can stand it, though. Livin’ in a hole for weeks on end. Never even gettin’ to see the sun.”

“Oh, you know. Us dragons are kinda used to living out in small holes for long periods of time.”

“Well, I can see why this arrangement is beneficial to ya. But… it’s been a year of this, in and out and in and out, and… over that time, we’ve had some interesting conversations, haven’t we?”


“And we’ve had some understandin’s and misunderstandin’s and all sorts’a stuff.”


“I… know you better than some of the deputies I work with, Spike. Over this year, you’re the only one I actually… spent time with.”

“Excuse me?”

“You’re the only one I know outside of work, Spike. I ain’t got no time for that hobnobbin’ stuff. You’re the only guy I know.”

“But what about your other deputies and all that?”

“We don’t really talk. We just work together. I work a lot. More than the others. Leaves me no time for other things. And I can’t drain the resources of this town. I’d rather work with someone I know well and truly proper. If it’s about trust, I trust everyone about the same, so that ain’t an issue.”

“So, let me get this straight. I, Furious Spike Ling, am your only friend?” Spike clarified, sticking a claw out.

Twilight bobbled her head around, staring off into the distance.

She waited for the laugh.

The laugh never came.

“Yeah, you know what? Same for me with you,” Spike said, with a bit less energy than he normally had.

The discomfort hit them like a wave. Both of them staring off asunder, both of them hearing each other swallow loudly.

Twilight broke the silence.

“So, that’s why I’m askin’ ya.”

Spike nodded a little to himself. “I get it. So what’s the job?”

“You’re acceptin’?”

“Yeah, why not. It’s a good job, I hope?”

“My assistant.”

“Your assistant?”


“That’s deputy, ain’t it?”

“No. Assistant.” Twilight slanted her brow.

“Yeah, and the assistant to the sheriff is deputy. So you need a deputy.”

“No. Assistant!”

“I would be glad and honoured,” Spike said, tilting his head in a mock respectfulness, “to be your deputy, Miss Sheriff Constance S. Twilight.”

“Can I tell you the job?” Twilight asked through clenched teeth.


“You hear of Raven Lune?”


“You know what happened, right?”

“I think so. Pretty big name ‘round these parts long time ago. Highwaymare, weren’t she? Then one day about two years ago she gets the hankerin’ for a bigger job.”

“The bank job.” Twilight nodded.

“Yeah. First Security Bank of Cantermore. Got shown ‘mercy’ by Mayor Celeste, and got sent out to the desert near Full Moon Bluff.”

“She’s coming back,” Twilight said, not beating around the topic.

“Wait. What?”

“Well, it’s a suspicion,” Twilight quickly clarified, “but we think she’s comin’ back and we think she’s comin’ back prepared. I don’t think we should make a fuss, so I ain’t tellin’ nopony else just yet.”

“Wait…” Spike said, rubbing his chin. “Raven Lune… weren’t she the gearhead?”

“Yeah,” Twilight muttered.

“Yeah… yeah!” Spike went on, recalling the details. “She done rode that weird drillin’ machine right under the bank. That’s how she did it! No steam, no nothin’. No one saw it comin’.”

“Yeah,” Twilight repeated.

“Aw, she gonna cause all kinds’a trouble, ain’t she? Why’d Celeste cut the rope back then?”

“Listen. That’s all in the past. Ain’t our business.” Twilight looked away. “The point is, Mayor Celeste wants me to take an assistant to—”


An assistant to Ponyton and look for something she reckons can stop Lune dead in her tracks.”

“Now, that ain’t a figure of speech now, ain’t it?”


Spike leaned back, folding his arms, a smirk across his face. “So, that’s it, then, huh?”


“Looks like we got thrown together by fate, Miss Twilight.”

“I don’t believe in such shingle.”

“Then what do you believe in?”

“I believe in using my resources the best I can.”

“And look who your resources just happen to be.” Spike jerked his thumbs toward himself.

Twilight had nothing to say.

“Well then. I accept, Miss Twilight. You just done invited me to be a hero. This is exactly what this lil’ old dragon needs.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I mean it’s an opportunity, Miss Twilight, one that I would be more than happy to embark on with you. Imagine that. The first dragon deputy in Cantermore.”

“You ain’t gonna drop that, are ya?”


“Fine. Fine. I’ll talk to the Mayor. See what I can do. I’m already pushing it by asking a known criminal. I sure hope Celeste chalks this one up to more ‘radical thinking’.”

“That’s all I’m asking for, Boss.”

“You gonna start callin’ me ‘boss’ now?”


“Fine, then. Let’s make this official,” Twilight said, grunting, extracting a small knife from within the folds of her coat.

“Whoooaa!” Spike yelled out. “Hey! Stop pullin’ weapons on me!”

“Pipe down,” Twilight chided. “Now, I ain’t got nothin’ but your word, and you ain’t got nothin’ but mine. But trust is somethin’ that’s gotta be earned both ways. So let’s…”

She drew the knife across her hoof, scratching blood out of her flesh.

“... do this right.”

She held her hoof out toward Spike.

“Uh… you… might not want me to do that,” Spike said, cringing.

“Why not?” Twilight frowned.

“Dragon blood is…. Let’s just say that it stings more than a bottle’a Cactus Jack poured into your eyes.”

“So I cut myself for nothin’?”

“Appreciate the sentiment, though,” Spike replied with a smile.

The night flew over a pair that did not sleep well. But that did not matter to the rest of the world. The world exploded in fury at dawnbreak as ponies went about their morning trade and certain deals were made.

Hooves were shook, details given.

Twilight left city hall with a briefcase in tow.

And soon they were on their way.

The train there would take a few hours – more than enough time for them to take a short breath before the coming task ahead.

But it wouldn’t be difficult, right?


Mayor Celeste reminded Twilight once again about the nature of the job, and reminded her how she was a trusted choice. It was the regular things – all the kinds of things that were said to instill confidence. She said she had implicit trust in her judgement, and after a short personal talk with her choice of assistant, she even gave Spike the go-ahead for deputization.

Things moved fast when it came to Mayor Celeste.

But a storm loomed on the horizon.

Maybe it wouldn’t be as simple as Twilight reckoned.

“Hey, Boss?” Spike asked.

“Yeah,” she responded, still staring out at the flat grey terrain of the distant mountains.

“You… ah… pretty silent over there. Did everythin’ go over easy with the Mayor?”


Spike drummed his claws on the seat. He was unused to this kind of luxury. They had a room on the train all to their very own, with plush velvet seats and actual windows! They had windows!

This was like… super-jail!

“Hey, Boss. What’s on your mind?”

“None of your business,” Twilight snapped.

“It is my business, boss.”

Twilight turned, shifted in seat, and faced down the little dragon head-on. “You tryin’ to give me lip?”

“No, ma’am. But this is about that trust stuff you was talkin’ about yesterday. You don’t really talk about yourself much, and this is a good time to start.”

Twilight smacked her lips. “Celeste tell you to say that?”

“Well… a little bit her and a little bit me. I mean, to be honest, it would be kinda nice to be able to have a heart to heart that ain’t through the bars of a cell door, ya get me?”

Twilight looked away, back out the window. The barren rocks flew by, only accompanied by a single cactus and a whole lot of nothing much else. “Fine.”

“So why are you in a mood?”

“Just reservations is all,” Twilight said, rolling her hoof around. “The Mayor was awfully happy to see my demands. Things went too smoothly. And I hate when things go too smoothly.”

“I’m pretty fond of it myself,” Spike said. “But then again, we work pretty differently, don’t we?”

“I’m hopin’ to put some of that to use, Spike. You ain’t just along for a cart ride, you hear?”

“Course not, Boss! So why is things goin’ well a bad thing?”

“Because when things go well, there’s worse things a-comin’. Sometimes… a pony will make one thing look good just to make sure you don’t see the other bad things.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well. Let’s say we’re playin’ a deal of poker. You’ve been winnin’. A lot. In fact, I seem to be foldin’ a lot of times. You’d say that were good, wouldn’t ya?”

“Well… sure. I mean, why not?”

“Because what I’m doin’ is while you’re off throwin’ your little arms up in celebration, I’ve been sneaking money from your pile to mine.”

“Oh, I get it. Distractions.” Spike started nodding furiously. “Man, I’m learning so much.”

“You don’t gotta make a run of me.”

“Naw! I meant it! I ain’t really never had no education growin’ up. Just dragon stuff.”

“Then how’d you figure out how to mess with the system?”

“I dunno.” Spike shrugged. “I really just figured it out after a while. Decided to try it. It worked. It kept workin’. But I can’t figure everythin’ out for myself, so I’m glad I got someone to tell me stuff.”

Twilight huffed. Whether it was meant to be one of acceptance or rejection wasn’t too clear.

“So, whaddaya think’s goin’ on?” Spike asked.

“Don’t know. I just feel that this ain’t gonna be as easy as I think. In fact, Mayor Celeste did tell me that… things change. Figure she knows somethin’.”

“Don’t she always know somethin’?”


“So, let me change the topic to something a little less dumpish.”

“Go on.”

“Why don’t we put on our badges?” Spike smiled, rubbing his hands together.

“And who said we got any?”

“There’s a lot of things you gonna need to know about dragons, boss.” Spike winked. “We can smell gold. And there’s two bits of gold in that there briefcase. It ain’t much, but they’re there. So I’m thinkin, probably somethin’ gold-plated, right? Also you smelt of gold about you yesterday and today you ain’t got none. Means you took your old badge off. Replacement’s in the case, huh?”

“You sure you didn’t get no education?” Twilight asked half in jest.

“Hey, you keep sayin’ things like that…” Spike went on, wagging his finger.

A moment passed.

“Well? And what?” Twilight asked.

“What? And nothing. I just meant you should keep sayin’ things like that.”


“Can I have my badge now, Boss?”

“Go on.”

Spike pulled the briefcase up to his lap. The whole thing nearly covered his body like a blanket, and popping it open, the lid nearly obscured his whole face. All that was left was a small chipped spine bobbing up and down behind the leather.

“Oh, we got stuff for days here, Twilight! Look at all this junk. Badges… Hey. Here’s yours.”

A small gold-plated hunk of metal stamped with Celeste’s seal came arcing its way over the top of the case. Twilight snatched it with a bit of magic, flying it to the inside lapel of her coat.

And that was done, wasn’t it? That was the seal that made this all… move on.

Twilight imagined that she’d be more excited about it like she was the day before. She wasn’t.

“Look at all this… hey. What’s this about?” A gun rose up behind the brown wall.

“It’s yours,” Twilight explained. “Had it commissioned to you.”

“Really? Really. A gun. I get… a gun?”

“Yeah, but no ammo until I teach you how to use it and clean it right.”

“Oh, no problem, Boss! Gee. A gun. I really hope I get to threaten to shoot a pony in order to make ‘im come back with me to my house to offer ‘em a job.”

“Shut up, Spike.”

“Wiiiiillll do, Boss. And look at all these papers here! Buncha prints, too. Oooh, who’s this?”

Spike held up a faded, yellowed picture of a young mare in a large, flowery hat. Her mane flowed down the side of her face like honey dripping off bark, and she had a soft, pleasant and warm smile to her.

“Can’t you read? Her name’s right there under the picture.”

“Nope!” Spike chimed out.

“Wait, you can’t?”

“Nope. Never learned,” Spike said, studying the poster.

“Oh. Beggin’ your pardon. I assumed since… you seem to be able to speak Equestrian without any trouble…”

“Well, there’s a whole different bag of nuts, Boss,” Spike said. He didn’t sound at all offended. “I gots ta’ talk every day. I don’t need to read every day. I been in Cantermore nearly three years now, and I already knew a bit of the language from back in the dragon lands. After all, we have to trade and stuff. We helped with your railroad. We best know Equestrian.”

“So why not learn how to read and write?”

“Well, you can just add that to the list of the things you’re gonna have to teach me, huh. Or, you know. You can always learn Dragonese.”

“I’ve seen that before. Seems a bit harder. I mean, you guys got like, what, a hundred million letters? And each of ‘em looks like they got fifteen billion strokes each. Must take you ages to write anythin’.”

“Well, it ain’t exactly like that. But I tell you whut. I’ll teach you about it one day, huh? But for now, we got more important things.”


Spike flipped the picture back up from behind his shield. “Who’s the bird?”

Twilight was glad Spike couldn’t see her rolling her eyes. “Rarity Burke. She’s a habidasherer.”

“A whut?”

“Makes hats and dresses and stuff.”

“Oh right. Hubbadusherer. Got it. She’s purdy. You reckon she knows she’s purdy?”


“We got a couple stallions in here too. This one here looks like a biscuit roller.”

“Look, would you leave those alone? I already know who we’re gonna look for first.” Twilight exclaimed.

“What, already? Ain’t we gonna take a couple days to… you know. Settle in?” Spike asked, lowering the lid of the case just enough to look at Twilight while discussing this important step in their acclimatizing process.

“No. We ain’t got the luxury of time. We best hurry. And I already asked Celeste who we oughta hit first. She reckons we go after the smith. She’s the one who built the weapon in the first place. She’s the one who’s gonna help us put it back together.”

“And that would be…”

“Moonshine Dash. Makes the fastest guns in the west, they say. A miracle worker.”

“That ain’t her real name, is it?”

“It’s the one she goes by.”

“Which one is she?” Spike sorted through the pictures, back behind his wall.

“Uh… stripes in her mane.”

“The one who looks a bit riled up?”


“Shouldn’t be hard to find her.”


The car jerked forward, throwing Spike back against the seat and causing the case to slam shut.

Twilight braced herself for a moment, but as the train returned to smooth movement, she pulled herself to the window. She counted out under her breath, fixing her eyes on a distant object.

Spike watched, putting the briefcase back down to the floor.

“... nine ... ten. We’ve slowed,” Twilight said. “We’re slowing even more. Train’s stoppin’.”

Spike made a little noise of a bemused hum.

“Engine must be dead. This is just perfect. Of all the trips in the world, why did it have to go belly-up on this one?”

The unicorn jumped to her hooves, throwing the door open.


“Stay here, Spike, and protect the case. Use the gun if you need to. Wave it around or something. I’m gonna go sort things out.”

“Gotcha, Boss.”

The slowing of the train got more and more pronounced the further Twilight walked down the cars of the train. Under its own momentum, it would move for a good half a minute more, perhaps, but no more than two.

Was the timing even important?

Details were what made up this world. It was important to pay attention to them.

It was important to Twilight.

That’s why she took notice of the train crew rushing past her in the other direction.

That’s why she took notice that the tufts of smoke coming from the front of the train stopped billowing before the trained stopped.

The panic told her that it wasn’t scheduled. It wasn’t something they planned. It must have been an accident. Lack of smoke suggested what the problem was.

The engine room.

She stood outside the engine room, tossing open her coat to gain entry.

Putting the badge on had come in use.



They were out of coal. No coal meant no steam, and no steam meant that the train wouldn’t run. They could get a courier out to send for some, but that’d take up to a day, maybe. A day that they just didn’t have. All around her, angry ponies yelled at other ponies just to find out who was to blame for all this.



She told them to step outside. She had no time to wait, she said. She’d bring them to Ponyton, and they’d be free to take it from there. They’d be able to refuel once they hit the station. So all they needed was to get there in the first place.

Take a breath.

Close your eyes.

She said that she was carrying samples of a new kind of fuel in her coat, one that wouldn’t overheat the engine and one that was so small as to be as portable as it was. But she wasn’t allowed to show it to the public. This presented her with an opportunity to test it, she said. The train drivers didn’t have a choice but to let her proceed. It was a lie she’d delivered many times before.

Do not panic.

It’s a gift. Not a curse.

The drivers were shuffled out, even though they hadn’t the foggiest idea of what was going on. They stopped and stared as a great silence fell upon the room, and nothing happened for the most terse of moments.

And touch!

A flash of light streaked out from behind the cracks of the door, and the train shuddered once more. It jerked forward, and the low rumblings of a working engine filled the empty air.

Twilight opened the door again and trotted out.

She nodded politely, and returned to her cabin, the train chugging onward to its destination.

The drivers all gathered around the engine. It was running for reasons unfound. The whispers started.

They always did.

And they would go on about the new sheriff in town.

He was just a faceless stallion in uniform. A worker on the train. A pony sent there to carry out a specific task. He tended the engine until it stopped and watched as it came to life again with nothing more than a unicorn and a flash of light.

He had watched this all.

Just as she asked.

He’d made sure the train was only stocked with a half-load of coal.

Just as she asked.

And he had written the activities and words of Sheriff Twilight down carefully in great detail on a single sheet of paper.

Slipping it into an envelope, he sealed it in haste, quickly flipping it over and scrawling on the top.

“To Mayor Celeste”, he wrote, sliding the letter into his jacket pocket. He’d be sending it by courier as soon as possible.

This was exactly what she had asked him to do.



View Online

The building was placed strategically, a stand-alone little hovel that stood near one end of the main row. From the windows, one had an unobstructed view of the entire street. The sheriff’s office belonged to a cluster of other buildings of public facility, such as the bank, the assayer’s, and the cleanest outhouses in all of Ponyton.

It was a marriage of wood and reinforced brick, and the door swung open with little effort on Spike’s part. It hadn’t been opened in a while, and a small storm of dust was whipped up as he and his boss entered the main room.

Spike dropped the suitcase, kicking up another cloud.

“Nice place,” he said.

“Yeah,” Sheriff Constance S. Twilight replied.

“Could do with a clean-up.”

“You offerin’?”

Spike panned over the office space.

There were two desks. One for him, the other for the boss. Both were tucked away in the corner, far from the door. Old, yellowing posters lined the wooden slats behind one of the desks, and continued down to the right were a plentitude of crates, boxes, and filing cabinets, standing lonely and unused. Along the other side were basic amenities – an old, rusty basin, a mirror, a small stove, and a wardrobe, no doubt empty as well.

The main feature was through a small corridor across from where they stood. Five jail cells of various sizes brooded behind iron bars and thick walls, barred doors hanging open like the jaws of many beasts lain sideways.

In one of the cells was a collection of broken furniture, a musty display of mangled chair legs and splintered tables.

“Don’t think this place smells too good, Boss.”

“It’ll do.”

“We should get some lanterns up.”

“We’ll take half a day. We don’t need to make this place a home. We’re here to get somethin’ done. Won’t take us long.”

“You sure about that, Boss?”

“Yeah.” Twilight walked forward, leaving prints in the dust. Hers were the only ones. She moseyed to one of the desks and started wrenching drawers open. “We do our job and get out. Basics. We’ll need paper. Quills. Hooks.”

Twilight swung her head around, eyes crawling over every inch of the building.

“Broom. Eight locks and keys. Hammer and nails. Blankets.”

“Where we gonna sleep, Boss?”


Spike shrugged. “Just like old times, eh?”

“Yeah.” Twilight rubbed her forehead, letting her mind wander. “Buckets. Water barrel.”

“Wanna write this down for me, Boss?” Spike gave her a wry smile. “I mean, I’d do it myself, but… you know. Can’t read.”

“You’ll remember.”

The sheriff trotted to the jails, passing Spike going in the other direction. She faced the main gate separating the hallway of cells from the rest of the building, a big heavy chunk of steel whose only purpose was to provide an extra layer of security.

Behind her, she could hear Spike busying himself with the suitcase.

The jail cell door was set aglow with a burst of purple magic, as Twilight pulled back, twisting her neck. She threw her weight into it, turning her body as she struggled to pull the door shut.

The door shifted slightly.

Twilight huffed out, releasing the door.

“Too heavy for ya?” Spike called out from behind.

Twilight looked over her shoulder at the little dragon neatly laying everything out on the desk in orderly stacks.

She turned back again, placing a hoof on the door this time. With a little effort, the groan of janky hinges, and the grumble of rust, the door swung back and forth. It was still solid enough to do its job, and that’s all Twilight needed.

“I thought it was the other way around,” Spike said.

“What’s that?” Twilight called back, walking down the corridor.

“I thought it was the other way around. Magic and muscle, that is,” Spike called out.

“Yeah?” Twilight’s voice drifted around the corner. “Ain’t like that!”

“Well, there's always talk, you know? They say it's like an extra hand you got there. An extra ghost hand what can hold you down or strangle ya in your sleep.”

Twilight reappeared in the main room, shifting her jaw. She quirked an eyebrow at Spike.

“Ain’t like that,” she repeated.

“How strong is magic anyway?”

“Depends on how much you practice. It’s like anythin’ else. You wanna get strong you work out, right? Same for magic.”

“What about yours, then?” Spike looked up from the posters he had laid out side-by-side on a crate.

“Enough to pull a trigger.” Twilight walked over.

“Fair ‘nuff.”

The two of them looked at the five faces, an interesting gallery of characters staring back. Three mares, two stallions. Each of them sported a name and their last known line of work. Twilight shifted the picture of the pony with streaks in her hair towards them.

“Pegasus,” Twilight muttered.


“I always thought, ya know?”

“What’s that, Boss?”

“Out of all us ponies. I always figured the earthies were the ones best off.”

“Really? How you figure?”

Twilight sighed. “Well. Us unicorns and pegasi got things extra. We’re like… we got these things what don’t do much else. I mean, what’s the use of havin’ a third weak arm or wings if you can’t fly?”

“I dunno, Boss. How’s that worse? More of anythin’s always a good thing, right?”

“How’s about things like pain? More a’ that good?”


“See, earthies are… they’re normal. They’re stronger. They don’t need magic or wings to do the same stuff.”

“Yeah but pegasi can run real fast with the aid of them wings, Twi.”

“Can’t outrun a bullet.”

“Still something better, ain’t it?”

“I dunno, Spike. I don’t like the differences.” Twilight sighed once more. “Don’t see why everyone’s gotta be special.”

“Uh… are they special?” Spike shrugged. “You just talkin’ about regular unicorns and pegasi, ain’t ya?”

“Huh?” Twilight turned her eyes aside, looking at Spike. There was a quizzical look on his face, like a child trying to figure out where he left his toys.

“Oh. Yeah. Right. Ain’t nothin’ special. Don’t mind me none.” Twilight nodded.

Spike grinned.

“What?” Twilight muttered.

The little dragon kept grinning.

What?” Twilight asked again, pronouncing it clearly this time.

“I like this.” Spike tossed his fingers back and forth between Twilight and himself.

“This… what?”

“Talking.” He smirked with a mixture of curiosity and discovery. “We ain’t never done this before. You there sharin’ about ya thoughts and all that.”

Twilight rolled her eyes.

“It’s nice, Boss. You’s a nice pony,” he said jovially.

“Shut up. Let’s get to work. I want this place cleaned out in half a day. Get rid of that whatever the heck it is in the jail cell. Chop it up for firewood or whatever. Priorities is to get the stove runnin’. I’m gonna go out and get supplies.”

“Yes Ma’am.” Spike saluted.

“And then when we’re done, we spend some time casing the town. We find this… Moonshine Dash,” she pointed to the poster, “and we’ll be done by this evening. In and out. She’s the town blacksmith. Upstandin’ folk. We won’t have no problems with her, I’m expectin’.”

“By today?”

“Couple hours at most.” Twilight nodded.

Dust and Harmony

Chapter Two :: Landslide

Two Days Later

“Hey! Hey! Okay! Okay! You… I’mma… hey.” The pegasus hiccupped. “Y-y’all gotta… right, these…”

“Get in.” Twilight growled.

Moonshine Dash stood in front of Sheriff Constance, if ‘standing’ meant ‘doing one’s best impression of a jellyfish’. She wavered back and forth, and the bags on her face were so heavy that they seemed to be the only thing keeping her eyes from falling off. Her mane was a mess and her tail fared no better. They were short, presumably self-cut, and resembled a vicious tumbleweed.

“Right. But…” Moonshine slurred, holding up a hoof as she staggered into a pair of metal bars. “W-where do I put my bottle…”

“You don’t got a bottle. Now get in before I kick you.”

“Alright! Al… muh.” Moonshine stumbled in and landed on a plank of wood built into the wall, wings all in a tangle and hooves not faring much better. “Oh spirits, ish wood.”

Twilight watched as the pegasus rubbed her face up and down the length of the seat.

“Oooough, this is… this is wood, Sheriff. This wood.” Moonshine pointed downwards.

A padlock sealed her into the cell with a click.

“She is… really drunk, Boss.” Spike pocketed the key.

“Yeah.” Twilight shifted her jaw. “Queerly so.”

“How d’ya figure?” Spike asked, stepping back to watch the character contort itself along the floor.

Slipping around as if the ground were made of ice, the pale blue Pegasus with the grey, white and black mane blurted out a few unintelligible noises before reducing herself to a pathetic heap underneath the bench.

Twilight watched as well, narrowing her eyes and tilting her head. “Moonshine. Hey.”

“Wuzzat, Sheriff?” she responded.

“You know what this is?” Twilight held up a piece of parchment to the bars of the cell.

Moonshine squinted at it for a while, eyes shifting left and right before they tore away and followed the rest of her head back to the ground.

“Well?” Twilight asked.

“Dunno, She… Sheriff. Don’t read.” Dash responded.


“Yeah, Sheriff. Sorry. Just… just a simple pony here.”

“You’re the town blacksmith, right?”

“Supposin’.” Moonshine coughed.

“This is pointless.” Twilight turned to Spike. “Let’s have her sleep it off. We’ll talk more tomorrow.”

Stepping out of the corridor, Twilight and Spike made sure all necessary doors were locked before retreating to the far end of the room.

The place was cleaner now. Habitable. It had taken them quite a while to clear it out, but the result of their hard work was a cosy little place with a small pot of coffee warming up on the stove and two bedrolls where the crates used to be.

But that had only taken up half of their time – the other half was spent finding out that the townsfolk were a suspicious and unruly bunch, and didn’t take kindly to the new Sheriff. What, perhaps, was even more disconcerting was that no one wanted to talk about what happened to the old one.

Fringe towns tended to have their own law, and didn’t respect the style of policing found in bigger cities. But Ponyton was a place in between; the town was split between wanting to live the full frontier life and realising it needed rules to grow.

Twilight found that this translated to ponies always greeting you as you walked by, but making sure their spurs jangled loudly enough for you to hear that they had them on.

Finding Moonshine had mostly been an exercise in bribery and currying favour, and much less about blind faith in a pony of power.

Twilight sighed yet again. She had been sighing a lot since she arrived.

“Guess we go find someone else while she’s still blue, huh?” She threw the parchment onto her desk and looked up at the posters, which were now nicely pinned to the wall. “Could go for the doctor. Might be a bit less troublesome, I reckon.”

“Uh… maybe…” Spike mumbled.

“Yeah? You wanna go for Ms. Rarity?”

“Naw. That ain’t it. Maybe later, yeah? But um… about Moonshine in there…”

“What about her?”

“I just had a thought.” Spike shrugged. “Small thing. Don’t wanna bother none, but…”

“Spit it out, kid.”

“Uh… I reckon she’s been tellin’ yarns, Twi.”

Twilight stretched out her back, standing up a little straighter. “How you figure?”

“I think she can read.”

“You mean after she just said she can’t?”

“Mayor Celeste’s letter, Twi.”


“I was watchin’ her when she took a look at it. Her eyes. They was movin’.”


“Well, I can’t read for genuine. And when I see them scratch I just look away. I don’t try t’ read it. I don’t take that long neither, ‘cause I know words is words and I know there ain’t no point to follow them down the page.”

Twilight quirked an eyebrow.

“And I been… well. I know when peoples is lyin’. I just got this gut feelin’, Boss.”

“Yeah.” Twilight licked her lips. “You know what? Somethin’s botherin’ me too. When we pulled her in she were already sleepin’ it off in a barrel, right?”

“Yeah,” Spike reaffirmed.

“So why’s she actin’ like she’s freshly drunk?”

Spike scratched his head.

“But the question is,” Twilight continued, “why is she pretendin’?”

“And how we gonna catch her? I mean, she ain’t gonna just admit if we bear down on her. Us characters what got a story will stick to it.”

Twilight bobbed her head, thinking, as she looked around half in thought.

“Alright,” she said after a while, sliding a few scraps of paper toward her. “I got an idea.”

The little dragon dragged a stool into the corridor, throwing it roughly in front of Dash’s cell. He settled himself into it, leaning back against the wall and pouring himself a mug of sticky, brown liquid from a pot he had also strung along. A deep, acrid smell like burning chestnuts floated up into the air.

Dash wrinkled her nose.

From outside, the door slammed, echoing down the chambers.

“Well. Just you an’ me now,” Spike said, kicking back and blowing on his drink. “How you doin’?”

“I… am not… bluh.” Dash slurred. Her raspy voice sounded like sandpaper being drawn over shards of broken glass. It was oddly pleasant in that cheesegrater-like sort of way.

“I didn’t say you was.”

Dash remained silent, curled up in a ball.

Spike leaned closer, staring at her flank. A mason jar adorned it, a bolt of yellow lightning held within.

“Hey, that’s a nice cutie mark you got there.”

Dash twitched.

“Us dragons, we don’t got cutie marks.”

A wing flopped over.

“You know what we got instead?”

A hiccup.

“Scale markings. No two is the same.”

A burp.

“Ain’t too chatty, are ya?”

“Try’n’a sleep,” Dash grumbled back.

“You ain’t even listenin’ to me, are ya?” Spike continued. “I could say whatever an’ you’re too under the sun to even know, ain’t ya?”

Dash snorked.

“Damnit. I should be out there. But here I am stuck on babysittin’. You know what? Ain’t even that much ‘cause at least babies move around and do things.”

The figure of Dash didn’t move.

“Hey.” Spike got up and pushed his head towards the bars, setting his mug down on the floor. “Hey, tell you what. Can you keep a secret?”

Dash started snoring, but stopped after the third inhalation.

“I’m gonna take a walk around for a couple hours, deal? And if Sheriff Twilight asks, I was here this whole time, alright?”

Spike stood there for a few moments, watching as the pony did absolutely nothing. Finally, he flung his hands downward in a gesture of dismissal.

“Aw, whatever. Damned drunks. You just sleep it off.”

With a huff, Spike swept out of the corridor and into the main room, taking final stock. There were those little pieces of paper on the wall where the keys were that Twilight said not to touch.

Looking back, he almost thought he heard Dash stir as he stepped out the front door and into the late afternoon heat.


The door opened slightly.

A cautious look was enough to encourage Dash to open the door completely and step through, turning back to close it as quietly as she could. She carried herself on silent hooves, stepping with enough finesse to dance around a den of sleeping lions without fear.

Her eyes were focused, albeit tired, for there were some things that she couldn’t hide, but at the least, she had not let it hinder.

She placed the key to the front door on the doorstep before standing up, ruffling her wings, and turning around.

“Howdy,” Sheriff Twilight greeted, shoving her gun into Dash’s face, eyes twinkling.

Whoa!” Dash jumped back, crashing into the door. It rattled in place.

Constance pulled out a pocket watch, glanced at it, and slipped it back into her jacket pocket. “Twenty-two minutes. Impressive. And how many of those minutes was just waiting to make sure the halls was clear?”

Dash clenched her teeth together as her eyebrows dropped back. “Oh hey… gee. Would ya look at that. I’m sober now, apparently, and I really ought to be on my w-way, sooooo…”

Twilight pressed the gun against Dash’s cheek.

Dash squeaked and shut her eyes, turning away from the sensation of cold steel against her face.

“P-please…” she begged.

“I got an idea.” Twilight said.

“Y-yeah?” Dash squirmed.

“Why don’t we turn around, go back in, and let’s… assess the situation, hm?”

“That sounds like a very good idea, Miss Sheriff, Ma’am.” Dash said, fumbling with the door behind her.

The door creaked open as Twilight marched her captive back in, Spike tottering in after them and standing sentry at the gates.

“Keep your wings down.” Twilight commanded. “Don’t try nothing. That dragon there might look small but he’ll be glad to make sure your next run will be your last. Got it?”

“A-absolutely very clear, Ma’am,” Dash said with a shaky voice, as she walked to the corner to behave.

“Well done. I must say, you nearly got me. It was Spike here figured you could read, you know?”

“I-I can’t…”

Shut it. You sure can, Miss Dash.” Twilight walked over to the keys hanging up on the wall. There was only one key missing; the one clearly labeled ‘front door’.

“This is a m-mistake. I can explain. Please,” Dash pleaded.

Twilight moved in silence to the jail cell, ducking her head through the doors to look at the scene within. The mug that Spike had left had been torn up. It would have been easy, it being made out of soft tin. A few scraps of metal were left in the corner, a couple were hammered flat, and others were rolled up into twigs. They littered the ground around the padlock that was currently on the ground under the cell door it was supposed to be holding shut.

Twilight pulled back out, stepped up to Dash and stared her straight in her eyes – those eyes that had started to twitch and could only focus on the pistol in Twilight’s magic grasp.

“Hey. Have a seat.” Twilight pointed to a chair wedged behind a table. There were two chairs on the other side.

“N-now, we can just…”

Have a seat.” The gun plugged itself on the end of Dash’s nose.

“O-okay! I’ll go! I’ll go! Don’t shoot me!” Dash cringed, throwing herself into the corner.

“Oh, don’t worry,” Spike said. “She does that.”

Twilight narrowed her eyes and lowered herself into the seat across from Dash. “Now, let’s get formalities outta the way. What’s your name?”

The dull blue pegasus let out a hard sigh and faced the table.

“My name is Moonshine. Moonshine Dash.”

Her grayscale mane shimmered under the lights with a rainbow sheen, like colours off an oil slick. She wore haunted eyes, the kind found on those with troubled minds.

Twilight recognized the look.

“Alright, Miss Dash. My name is Sheriff Constance S. Twilight. My assistant there is Spike. I come from Cantermore by request of Mayor Clearwater Celeste. I understand that you are familiar with her.”

Dash nodded.

Twilight continued. “You are the town’s blacksmith, am I correct?”

“Used t’ be.”

“I hear tell of your skill at making the best and fastest guns these parts.”

“I… uh…” Dash shook her head. “No. That ain’t me.”

“Right,” Twilight went on. “Now. Do you know why I’m here?”

Dash let her eyelids flutter shut.

“Miss Dash?”

“Just get it over with. I’m the one you’re lookin’ for. Alright? Don’t make it harder.” Dash muttered.

Twilight looked to Spike.

“Alright then,” Twilight said. “Where is it?”

Dash looked up. “What?”

“Where is it? Let’s get this over with.” Twilight tapped the table.

“What ‘it’? The piece? You talkin’ about the piece?”

“Yeah. What are you talkin’ about?”

Dash sat up a little straighter. “Uh… ain’t you here to kill me?”

“No?” Twilight quirked an eyebrow.

“Torture me? O-or… stuff like that?”

“Not yet.”

Dash started to breathe again. She rubbed at her face with a shaky hoof.

“Is this what that whole hoo-ha was about?” Twilight asked.

“I thought…” Dash scratched her neck. “Hey… uh… can I see… that letter again?”

Twilight slid it forward.

Dash pored over it, and it took her only a few moments before she slid it back.

“I see.” Dash muttered. “Okay. I’ll bring ya to the piece.”

“Didn’t you read this back in the cell?”

“I… sorta did. I caught a couple words. And I thought… Sorry Sheriff. My mind. It runs, sometimes. I panic easily. I’m really sorry for all the fuss. So let me take you to the piece and we’ll be done with it.”

“So what were you gonna do if you managed to get away?”

“Skip town, probably.”

Twilight thought for a while, sizing up the pony in front of her.

“Alright,” Twilight finally said, getting up. “Take me.”

Spike pushed forward. “That’s it?”

“Yeah, Spike. Miss Dash here has been very forthcoming with her information, hasn’t she?” Twilight spoke with a tone of deliberation. “And we don’t want to trouble her.”

“Alright, Boss. If you say so.”

“So,” Twilight held out a hoof.

Dash made her way to the door. “Follow me. I left it at home.”

Twilight and Spike both had to tilt their heads to read the sign that hung off one hook in front of the building.

Moonshine Dash


Blacksmith ~ Steamworks ~ Repairs

It squeaked in the breeze on its remaining hinge. It had a little picture of a horseshoe on it as well.

Dash pushed into her shop without stopping, leaving her guests out front, but they joined soon after when a late afternoon breeze swept by, carrying a chill. Twilight entered just in time to see Dash pull behind a workbench, toward a dusty corner of the building.

Spike snaked his way around wooden benches, tables, empty display cases, and boxes of assorted junk to the great sleeping furnace in the corner. It was a huge beast with metal teeth and a chimney sturdy, but it was filled with so much dust that one could have forged a new pair of horseshoes in it without having to add coal.

The evening sun filtered through slits in the wall, casting light upon the sleeping tools.

Dash busied herself with brushing cobwebs off a large metal box that sat behind one of the seven anvils that littered the room. She knelt down, turning knobs furiously before wrenching the safe open.

Twilight sauntered up to the main counter to meet Dash returning from the other direction.

The pegasus slapped an empty frame down on the countertop, rattling the glass.

Twilight picked it up, looking it over. It was a magnificent specimen, a gun larger than a regular revolver, but with similar shape. However, it had been stripped of its parts, like a gutted mongoose, and hung unceremoniously in Twilight’s magic with its innards hollowed out.

All it was was a skin. Well made, and well weighted, but not much more than an outline with a strange-looking weight at the end.

Spike grabbed at it as he brought up the rear.

“Hey, wanna know an interesting little nugget?” He asked, snatching the pistol frame up.

“Careful with that,” Twilight growled a warning.

“Know what this is for?” Spike pointed to the grip.

“Counterweight,” Twilight said.

“Nah, that’s just for us,” Dash cut in solemnly. “You mean to be talkin’ about dragon guns, ain’t ya?”

“Oh, you know?” Spike grinned.

“Well yeah, course I do.” Dash continued, speaking rapidly. “Guns are dragon inventions. That there’s the thing they hold in their weird little hands. They use those finger claw things they got to fire the trigger. That’s why they’re made that way. Turns out it’s pretty easy for Unicorn magic to use, too. But we add weight to the grip so’s the gun don’t fly out of your magic when fired.”

“I am surprised, Miss,” Spike said with pride, “that you know this little fact.”

“Well, what self-respectin’ smith w–” Dash cut herself off.

She smacked her lips, looking down to the table.

“Well. I just know that one fact. There’s the casing.” Dash pointed to the piece of metal. “Anythin’ else I can help you with, Sheriff?”

“Yeah. You just left this piece here for all these years and no one gave you grief?”

“Safe,” Dash gestured to the side of the box. “Safe’s… safe.”

“Looks heavy.”

“No one’s gonna be able to cart it away. Thing’s a couple tons. Unpickable, too. Ain’t no one gonna get in even with dynamite.”

“You seem sure about that.”

“Damn straight, I’m sure. I built the damn…”

The pegasus trailed off again, once again sucking on her lip to force herself to stop talking.

“Hm. And tell me somethin’ else, if you would?”


Twilight leaned in, lowering her voice. “The lock you picked at the station. You knew your way around it pretty well. You make those too?”

“Yeah.” Dash sighed heavily. “My design.”

Twilight pulled back and looked around, through the dancing wisps of dirt that appeared in those beams of light. “Been a while since you done any smithin’, hadn’t it?”

“Yeah. Could say that.”

“You sleep here?”

“Sometimes. Other times behind the waterin’ hole. You know. Where you found me.”

“Enjoy your drink?”

“I guess so.” Dash frowned, sucking in air through her teeth. “Listen. If there ain’t nothin’ else…”

“What do you do nowadays if you ain’t smithin’?”

“I help out with small things around the place, alright? Hammerin’ and junk. Now iff’n you don’t mind me askin’, what’s all this to ya? You got what you came for. Why you shakin’ me down?”

Twilight turned back to stare Dash in the eye, who turned away almost instantly to look at the wall.

“I’m just curious, Miss Dash. I’m a curious mare by nature. If these here questions ain’t hurtin’, then maybe you could oblige me.”

“I don’t like talking about myself, Sheriff.”

“Fine. Be that as it may, I still wanna know about ya.”

Why, Sheriff?” Dash raised her voice.

“I wanna know this pony. The one that Mayor Celeste trusted all those years ago. The one that she found straight and true to entrust a piece of the gun to. The one Mayor Celeste told me was good people, not someone I expected to find roostered in an alleyway.”

Dash responded, voice solemnly quiet. “Things happen, Sheriff. Things change. Ain’t none of your concern. Now what is it you really want? You ain’t dancin’ around for ‘musement. With respect, Sheriff.”

“Fine.” Twilight declared. “You’re smart. That much is clear. Let me stop… dancin’.”

“Would be appreciated.”

“You straight?”

“Yes, Ma’am. As an arrow.”

“Can I trust you as Celeste trusts you?”

There was a pause. A slight one, but a pause nonetheless.

“Yeah. Yeah. You can.” Dash bit her lip.

“Then I want you to do me and Mayor Celeste a favour.”


“Take this piece,” Twilight tapped the counter, “back to your safe and lock it up real tight. Pretend we ain’t never had this conversation. Once I get the other parts, I’ll bring ‘em back here for you to stick in the safe too.”


“I can pay you. A dollar for expenses. Rental fee.”

Dash rolled her tongue around her mouth. “That’s… generous.”

“Friends, right?” Twilight glared. “We’re gonna need you to put the gun back together again anyway. I’m sure you still know how to fix up a gun proper. We don’t have a safe at the station, so we might as well keep it here.”

Twilight could hear Spike shift his weight. She chose to ignore it.

Dash shook her head a few times, clearing the cobwebs, letting the idea rush past too quickly for her to analyze it.

“Okay. Fine. Fine. Whatever.” Dash said finally. “A dollar. I’ll do it.”

“Thank you kindly, Miss Dash,” Twilight softened her voice and backed away. “We do appreciate it. I hope to see you soon. And I do hope you’ll be around. This is important. Very important. Lives are at stake here. I don’t know how much Celeste told you, but… this is something that might affect a lot of people down the line.”

Dash exhaled sharply.

“So, what I’m sayin’ is that we trust you,” Twilight concluded, turning. “See you soon, Miss Dash. Keep your head clear.”

Step by step, they made for the door. Walking through the dust and the dirt, hearing a metal door clang shut behind them as they left.

The sun had begun to fall past the horizon, sending blazing reds across the dunes. The cold picked up as a distant bird called out for companionship.

They started walking back to the office for the night.

“Hey, Boss?” Spike asked.

“Yeah, to answer your question, I do trust her. I have to, don’t I?”

“Surely you remember she’s hidin’ somethin’.” Spike threw his arms out sideways.

“That’s her business t’ tell. Don’t know if that means we can or can’t believe in her. At the least, she never let slip about the gun for two whole years, far as we know. Heck, even fearin’ for her life she never got rid of the damn thing. Seems like she’s straight enough.”

“Wouldja still trust her if Celeste hadn’t?”

Twilight had to take a moment to think. “Now, that there is a difficult question, Spike.”

“But whatd’ya reckon?”

“I reckon I didn’t ask enough questions.”

“Questions, huh?”

“Yeah. Just enough to know what I need to.”

“But… don’t it worry you some?”

“What of?”

“I mean… we both surely was thinkin’ the same thing. She don’t like talkin’ ‘bout herself, as she said. She done a lot of stuff around here. But it feels like she threw it all away. Don’t that make ya scratch your head?”

“Ain’t my business.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean it ain’t my concern. What do I care ‘bout her personal life? As long as we got what we need – what we’re here for. Thinkin’s best left to other ponies who have the time for all that.”

Spike stopped walking.

Twilight slowed to a stop and turned around to face the dragon.

“So.” Spike licked his lips. “Ya just say what you need to get things done?”

“Well, yeah. That’s work, Spi– Oh.” Twilight rolled her eyes. “What, you think I’m just usin’ you? You think I just spinned for your sake?”

“I don’t know what to think, Sheriff.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because I ain’t asked enough questions yet.”

Spike and Twilight jerked their heads toward the sudden cacophony of a door banging open, as the blacksmith came rushing toward them, breath run ragged.

Her expression was caught between pain, irritation and frustration, all of them bubbling beneath the surface.

“Miss Dash?” Twilight asked, surprised. “Did we forget something?”

“No, look,” Dash clambered. “I… I need to tell you somethin’. ‘Kay? Please. I’m sorry. Just…”

“Whoa there. Alright. Lissen. Let’s get to the hole. Alright? You can calm your nerves and tell us what you need to.”

Dash nodded, blinking away at the sun.

When the gang entered, it was to the same crowd as earlier that day. It was the kind of clientele who didn’t really have anywhere else to go. The sounds of jovial cavorting died down as they entered, but picked right back up again when they saw the newcomers were with a familiar face.

Dash gave her best smile to the crowd.

“Hey! New Sheriff!” a faceless voice echoed out from the crowd. “Thanks for the round!”

Twilight tipped her hat politely in return.

“Hey, Sheriff!” came another voice. “Looks like you found her, huh!”

The comment was followed by an over-enthusiastic bubble of laughter.

“Yeah!” Twilight called back out. “I’m just havin’ her show me around the best spots in town. Don’t let me put a blanket on things. Y’all just go right ahead and enjoy y’selves”

“You gonna buy us another round, Sheriff?” Another voice.

“We’ll see, huh? See where the night takes me. ‘Cause I’m here to have fun!”

Another eruption of laughter and murmurs came boiling out – but it was a good sort this time, one less of whispers of bad things and more the spreading of words like ‘she’s alright’ or ‘what a pushover’, the kind of talk that got her to be left alone.

She led her group to a table at the back, next to the bar, next to the piano player, in a place no one ventured and a direction no one looked.

Twilight stepped up to the unicorn in a half-vest and white shirt. “Hey.”

“New... Sheriff,” the pianist said without misplacing a key. “You... been busy.”

The shaggy-maned unicorn all in brown had an oddly warbling voice. It might have been because of the piano, but his statements came as if he were asking a question to himself, and his patter had odd wavers and oscillations in them like a broken song.

“Constance. Constance Twilight.”

“Name’s… Bagtail Brown. What can I do ya… for?”

“Well. I wantcha to play loud. And keep goin’. I wanna make sure everyone here has a good time.”

“I always… make sure everyone’s at their… happiest, Sheriff.”

“Just Constance. I’m off duty.” Twilight smiled. “Please just do me this favour.”

“Sure thing, Constance. I’ll whip up… a storm.”

“Thankin’ ya kindly.” Twilight dropped three cents into the tip jar.

“Pleasure, ma’am!” the pianist elated, and immediately picked up the pace.

Twilight dropped back into her seat and spoke under the cover of lighting-fast ragtime.

“Alright, Miss Dash. You doing better?”

“Yeah. Yeah. I’m fine. Thank you, Sheriff.”


“Miss Constance.” Dash fidgeted in her seat. “Listen. Look.”

“Take yer time. Spike, would you at all mind fetching us a round?”

“Sure thing, Twi.” Spike hopped off his stool and sauntered away.

“Alright,” Twilight continued. “What’s eatin’ ya?”

Dash chewed her lip. “I… I have to admit somethin’.”


“The gun don’t work, ma’am.”

Twilight’s eye widened. Just the one. This was a surprising bit of news, but only warranted a single eye’s worth of shock.


“The gun… it doesn’t work.”

“I think you better explain from the start, Miss Dash.”

“Okay. This is what I know about the gun. When Celeste came down here and commissioned it from me, she said… oh, what was it… that it was a special weapon for a special reason. Don’t know for what, though.”

“Yeah. It’s for… somethin’.”

“Right. She gave me these fancy bullets and stuff and told me to shape ‘em special. So before she leaves, she lays on my table these plans. These big, amazing plans for a gun that were more like a cannon. It weren’t anythin’ like I ever saw before. It had all these inner chambers and stuff that weren’t found on a real gun, and it didn’t have no hammer neither.”

Dash rapped a hoof on the table.

“I shoulda said somethin’ then and there, but I didn’t. I figured… she knew what she was doin’. I figured she had some sorta plan. So I just went ahead and forged it just as she said. But… ah… I had to make sure. So I brought it out to the desert and…”

The pegasus sighed, rolling her tongue around in her mouth.

“It didn’t work. The gun just wouldn’t fire. Now, I figured… there was somethin’ up with them chambers. So I tried fillin’ it with powder or whatnot, but nothin’ I did would make it punch paper.

“Day comes when Celeste rolls back into town to pick it up. She takes a look at it and she’s real happy. She says I did a great job. Give me… give me the money for it. Two hundred dollars. I ain’t never seen that much money in one place at one time. I… take the money. She gives me a piece of it to keep. Tells me one day… one day she’ll come back.

“I… I shoulda said something then. But I didn’t. I just clammed up and took the money and…”

Dash looked to the ceiling.

“You sure it didn’t work? Maybe there was somethin’.” Constance asked.

“No. I… I… I couldn’t let it rest. But I couldn’t say nothin’ to Celeste after. I mean, I took her money and let her walk away with that, with me knowin’ well from the start that it weren’t no good. So I did what I guess I could. I made another gun. Same kind. Tweaked it a little to try to make it work better.

“I added a proper system, too. Tried to, at least. Figured maybe there was missin’ parts. I tried, Sheriff. I tried!”

Dash’s hooves came down hard upon the table.

“How… many times did you try?” Constance asked.

“Seventeen. I made seventeen other guns. They all didn’t work. I melted them all down. And then you know what I did?”

“You spent the money?”

“I spent the money. As if it were… as if it were mine to use. That money didn’t rightly belong to me.” Dash sagged down into her chair.

“I’m beginning to see what happened,” Twilight said.

“You know what the worst part was?”


“I asked her. When she gave me the piece to keep. I asked her why. And she says, just like you did, she says… just because she trusts me. That’s all.”

“Is that why you’re here spillin’?”

“Listen, Sheriff. I gotta come clean. It’s been… I ain’t ever forget that day. Every day past made it harder. How was I supposed t’ spill after a month? Two months? I just… And then you come here… and… I just gotta let you know. Ain’t not gonna be no blood on my hooves, Sheriff. That gun don’t work. Don’t know what you intend t’ do with it, but it ain’t gonna work.”

Twilight flicked her eyes up, deep in thought.

“So let me get this straight,” she began, a tinge of annoyance coating her words.” You thought drownin’ yerself in whiskey was gonna make things right.”

“Sheriff, didn’t you hear what I said? The gun don’t work!”

“I don’t care ‘bout that!”

Dash clammed up, her face scrunching.

“Look at yerself!” Twilight waved a hoof at her. “Look at what you become.”

“Why does that matter?” Dash spat.

“Because one thing I can’t stand t’ see is… is this! Wallowin’ in grief like some piglet!”

“Y-you think it was easy? You tryin’ ta judge me?”

“Yeah, you doin’ a good job of it yerself, ain’t ya?”

Dash kicked away, standing up. “Listen. I don’t need none’a this. I come to you bearing truths and you wanna paint me as the villain? Fine. You can take your damn–”

“Now, hold up there.” Twilight growled. “who said anythin’ about you bein’ a villain?”

“What do you call this, then?” Dash shot back.

“You wanna know what I see?” Twilight said, cocking her head. “I don’t see no villain. I see some pony who made a mistake, Miss Dash. A sun-damned mistake. And she been punishin’ herself for two years for it. You so wrapped up in it that you thought I was sent here t’ kill you, Miss Dash! Now, do you reckon that was what you thought or what you wanted?”

“What do you know? What do you know what I been through?”

“When we was talkin’ back at your shop, Miss Dash, you kept on cuttin’ yourself off everytime you had anythin’ t’ say about yourself. You know what that tells me? You are your own enemy. You ain’t willin’ t’ go on because of this one thing you did.”

“So what are you sayin’? That I should just forget it? I know I did a bad thing, Sheriff! I know I done wrong! I built a gun that don’t fire and I just as good as stole money from the Mayor. And now yer tellin’ me that there’s lives on the line? How am I s’possed to just go on?”

A furious undercurrent bubbled to the surface. It pushed through, welling up and moistening the edges of Dash’s eyes.

“Miss Moonshine.” Twilight lowered her voice to the ground, like a tiger stalking prey. “I am only gonna say this once. What you did ain’t as important as the fact that you know that you did wrong. You just said it yourself. That’s why you been guilty these past two years, ain’t it?

“Now, as for why you didn’t tell Celeste way back when, be it due to a case of nerves, or some stupid thought flow through your head, it don’t matter much no more. Point is, as much as you punished yourself for it, you was gonna do one of two things eventually. You was gonna go tell Celeste, or you was gonna bury yourself. The only wrong you did was that you chose the second.”

Dash rubbed her forehead, sinking back into her chair. “I don’t understand why you expect me t’ take this so lightly.”

“The world ain’t painted in black and white, Moonshine. Lemme colour this another way. You thought you was keepin’ silent when you shoulda said somethin’, right?”

“Yeah.” Dash sighed.

“But you said Celeste, she done took a look at your work and said it was perfect, right?”

“Yeah. So?”

“What if she were right?”

“But I chec–”

“No. What if she were right? Then all this time you’d been banging on about nothin’.”

“That still ain’t true! I shoulda still said somethin’!”

“No, Moonshine. There ain’t no reason to.”

“You wanna tell me why not?”

“Because of… trust.” Twilight wrinkled her forehead.

“Trust.” Dash repeated.

“Trust.” Twilight confirmed.

Dash stopped talking.

“The only reason why you suspect her is because you don’t believe her. Well, I do, and I find no reason to doubt she didn’t know exactly what she was doin’. She took a pile of sticks and built a city out of it. She don’t do things lightly, and for the two years that I worked for her, she ain’t never given me pause to think her judgement weren’t all there.”

Dash’s eyes began to roam.

“You ain’t done nothin’ wrong,” Twilight continued. “You think you shoulda’ said something. That’s civic duty and I commend ya for that. But I think there weren’t nothin’ to be concerned about in the first place, and you been punishin’ yourself for a crime you ain’t never committed.”

“I just… look. I just feel…”

“I know how you feel, Moonshine. I been in those places before. I been down those streets. It ain’t easy. We all got our shames and our secrets. I got my own things to be ‘shamed of. But guilt, it kills. And guilt don’t care if it’s founded or not.”

“Tell me something, Sheriff.”


“You really believe the gun works?”

“I rightly do. Celeste sent me here personally to rebuild it. She had two years to think about if it’d work or no.”

Dash buried her face in her hooves again.

“Moonshine,” Twilight said. “Trust me. Trust her. Just like how we’re trustin’ you. We both can see you’re an upstandin’ sort. I hate to see a good pony go down on account’a nothin’.”

Twilight scratched at the table, as she leaned back in her seat.

“And let me tell you somethin’. If you really wanna make up for it, get rid of how you feel, then clean yourself up. Get your head out of the barrel and start workin’ again, because you used to be someone worth a lick, but as you are now you’re as useless as a broken nail and that’s the honest truth. You wanna get better?”

Dash didn’t respond.

“I’m done,” Twilight eventually said. “I’ll stop by tomorrow to pick up the piece from you. I’ll keep it somewhere else. I ain’t gonna be the one drag you down even further. Get outta here. I ain’t got nothin’ left.”

Twilight looked away.

Slowly, Dash shuffled upwards, pulling her face away from Twilight as quickly as she could. With a shiver of her wings, she left the bar, stepping with haste and keeping her head down to her chest.

Twilight didn’t bother to watch her leave.

There was a clink of glass as three mugs were lowered onto the table; two filled with a foamy amber liquid and one with a thick white cream.

Twilight eyed the odd one out stoically.

“What?” Spike said. “I don’t like beer. Anyway, I held back. Figured you didn’t need me to drop in.”

“Good call.” Twilight returned to staring at the room, as if it had offended her personally.



“All that?”

“What about?”

“Trust, huh?”

Twilight turned to look at Spike. She looked tired. Drained. “Just said what was needed.”


“Yeah. Said what I had to to get what I want.”

“I see.”

The two sat in silence for a while, Spike sipping nonchalantly at his milk while the fervent piano music continued to pierce the air.

“You know, I think I understand you, Constance S. Twilight.” Spike said, lowering his mug.

“How’d you figure? You ain’t asked any more questions yet.”

“Don’t think I need to,” Spike replied.

Twilight sat up with a jolt to the sound of knocking on the door of the station. She scrambled out of her bedroll, leaving Spike snoring in his. Rubbing her eyes, she walked through the darkness to meet her guest.

The door creaked open.

Twilight stuck her head out of the Station, past Moonshine’s chest, and took a look at the sun. It was barely rising.

“Shit. What time is it?”

“Five thirty,” Dash replied. “Can I come in?”

“Yeah. Whatever.” Twilight stepped backwards. “Land’s sake. You look like an outhouse with hair. Did you sleep on the road again last night?”

“No,” Dash said, stepping in. “Don’t be mindin’ my appearance none. I didn’t catch much sleep last night.”

“What were you doin’?” Twilight coughed, walking to the stove and fumbling with the coffee. It was cold and around the consistency of butter by this point, but still drinkable.

“Making you these.” Dash dropped a bag to the ground with a thunk.

Twilight kicked it open and pulled out the contents.


“Yeah. Weighted for dragons. Your assistant’s probably usin’ unicorn guns, right? Ain’t too good. I modified some old guns last night for him. They’ll fit his size, too.”

“They’re tiny.”

“He’s got tiny hands.”

Twilight looked up, brain snapping to wakefulness. She put on her regular expression again, one of disdain and general disinterest. “And why did you do this?”

“I don’t know why, Constance.” Dash said with a strange new energy. “I just know that maybe I been lookin’ the wrong direction. I fired up the furnace last night for the first time in many moons. Many, many moons. Felt… felt familiar.”

Twilight nodded.

“And I decided… maybe I did wrong. Maybe I didn’t. But thank the sun that no one got hurt yet. And I intend to keep it that way.”

She turned to lock her gaze to Twilight’s.

“Let me get one thing clear. I’m certain that gun of yours ain’t workin’. I stand by that. By everything that I am. It ain’t that I don’t trust Mayor Celeste none. But this is just… what I know.”

Twilight nodded again.

“But I ain’t gonna sit around and let innocent ponies die ‘cause of something I built. So–”

“Yeah,” Constance cut in. “I get it.”

“Right… Right. So… if you need anythin’.”

“Hold onto the pieces for me. One dollar, as agreed. And I insist.” Twilight pre-empted Dash’s oncoming words of objection with a hoof. “No doubt we’re gonna need a lot of help around here. I trust I can depend on your aid and discretion?”

“This time, I’ll make sure of it.” Dash said.


“Well. I have work to do. I have to fix my sign, buy provisions.”

“Comb your mane.”

“Yes. Yes. I’ll clean myself up.” Dash nodded furiously, pushing out the door.

“Thank you for the guns,” Twilight called after.

Dash stopped in the doorway and turned over her shoulder.

“Thank you for the faith,” she said, ducking out.

Twilight sipped her mud.

She stood in the middle of the morning, letting the calls of the whippoorwills mark the birth of the dawn.

A deep breath filled her lungs with dust and smoke – the smells and life of the town. Smacking her lips, Twilight turned back toward the bedrolls.

“She’s gotta make up for it herself,” Twilight said aloud. “Her own way.”

“How’d you know I was awake?” Spike called out from the other side of the room.

“Gettin’ to learn that you fade into the background real nice.” Twilight walked over. “Learn that your ears are sharp.”

Spike sat up, groaning. “What time is it?”

“Five thirty.”

Spike dropped his body back onto the bed. “But I don’t get somethin’, Twi.”

“You gonna make that a thing?”



“I mean, it was just a misunderstandin’ was all. She actually tore herself up so much because of that? Small thing, weren’t it?” Spike carried on.

“She’s got a good heart, Spike.”

“Yeah, but still.”

“Guilt’s a funny thing. This matter ain’t about there bein’ a crime. This was about who had to suffer for it. She figured that her action meant that there was gonna be others who had to suffer for what she did. She felt it right that she suffered in kind.”

“You sound like you know a lot about this.”

“Maybe I do.”

The sun streamed in through the window as the world woke up.

“So,” Spike said.


“She gonna be okay?”

“What, after one day? No.” Twilight snorted. “Girl’s got a lot on her mind. All I did was try t’ set her down a different path. But she still gotta live with her demons.”

“You gonna trust her not to slip?”

“Yeah. the ones with a sense of morality – they have a habit of, ah… stayin’ loyal. For good or bad is another question, but… yeah. They stand by their convictions.”

“Yeah. I can understand. I guess.”

“Well, maybe one day Moonshine’s gonna find a way to forgive herself.”

“That’d be nice.”

“It’s up to her.” Twilight shrugged.

“And you.” Spike stuck up a claw.


“Yeah, you’re gonna help her, ain’t you? You’re her friend now.” Spike sat up again, smirking.

“She’s a pony who’s providin’ us a service, Spike.” Twilight’s face darkened. “This was all in the interest of mutual benef–”

“Really. So all of that in about her improvin’ her life, you didn’t say that just ‘cause you felt bad?”

“Well… That’s ta say… That ain’t the reason why I bore her down, and–”

“Aw, that’s cute. And you say you ain’t got no concern. You scared of gettin’ close or somethin’?

“Now look. I ain’t got no time for friends.”

“If you say so.”

“Quit smilin’!”

“Sure thing, Twi.” Spike smiled.

“Quit callin’ me that!”

“Hey, who we gonna go after next?” Spike scrambled up and moved to the posters.

“You’re a damn idiot,” Twilight grumbled, joining him.

“What’d you figure?”

“Well, we need t’ buy some food. I’m runnin’ out of coffee, and we need to get stocked up on perishables. Lucky we got a trader in town, and he happens t’ be holdin’ a piece of Harmony.”

Twilight tapped a drawing of a big, stocky stallion. A handsome, yet calming fellow, by the looks of things; a stallion firm and strong and gentle in the eyes.

“Elijah C.B. MacIntyre. Ready to go?”

“Ready when you are, Twi,” Spike said with a grin.


God's Gonna Cut You Down

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“Hey, Twilight?” Spike asked.


“You gonna do somethin’?”

They had been standing outside the telegraph office for quite a while now, Twilight staring up at the sign that proclaimed the ability to send messages in an instant. It was a new technology – sending words by wire – a concept frightening to some and wholly discardable to others.

Twilight furrowed her brow. “These newfangled things.”

“It’s pretty interesting, though, isn’t it?” Spike shrugged. “Being able to send a letter all the way to Cantermore in nothin’ more than a flash.”

“Never saw the point before, and I don’t see the point now.” Twilight swept away, continuing down the street.

“Well… what about t’ Mayor Celeste? You know, like for regular updates or somethin’? Keeping her apprised of the sit-tu-a-tion?”

The two continued walking, reaching a busy intersection.

“Naw. That’s stupid,” she said finally, turning to the left.

“Hey, all I’m sayin’ is that it’s nice to keep in touch with yer friends once in a while, y’know?” Spike shrugged. “I mean, even though Celeste ain’t really yer friend, and–”

“We’re here.” Twilight cut Spike off, pushing forward.

The crowd had been growing steadily as they travelled from their part of town to the market quarter; there was a lot more to do down shop row.

A great manner of better-dressed, well-conversed ponies milled the area, patronizing a collection of shops and establishments that had a great deal more thought put into them than just ‘four walls and maybe some chairs’.

By no means was it Cantermore, but it was a good facsimile thereof. There was a bit of life to it that Twilight found wholly familiar.

The two partners came to a stop in front of a large building, one of the biggest in the whole town. It was a castle amongst huts, a glorious two-storied construct that sold everything you could ask for, from supplies and housekeeping items to fresh produce and tinned perishables.

It was emblazoned with a huge sign proclaiming the proprietor and name of the shop: one ‘Big Mac’ and his Emporium.

Spike couldn’t get a clear look at the entire facade through the trickle of ponies going in and out.

“Whoa.” He turned to Twilight. “Why ain’t we come here before? I could spend hours in this place.”

“Because you could spend hours in this place.” Twilight scrunched her mouth, walking in.

Inside, the store was even more lavish. Great big electric bulbs lit up barrels stuffed full of fruit, assorted nails and peripherals filled wooden bins all stacked up neatly against the wall, and signs pointed the way clearly to other departments. Adequate space was given to walk, and there was even a fresh juice bar tucked away near a rest area.

“Wow, Twi.” Spike looked around.

Twilight found herself looking around as well, not so much at the emporium’s grand offerings, but rather for something in particular. Her gaze latched onto a small house-within-a-house on the second floor, and she proceeded to the stairs with all haste.

“Manager’s office,” she explained, stringing Spike away from all the colours.

With difficulty from many points of distraction, they eventually made it up the stairs, and they stood in front of the large door separating them from the proprietor.

The door opened before Twilight could knock.

Standing behind it was a stallion of immense proportion. A coal black mane covered a red coat, giving him an air of sobriety, and his little vest with all the pockets thrust him into the realm of officiation.

He looked upon his guests with a gaze that betrayed no other purpose than that he was, in fact, giving them some sort of regard. It was an expression that lacked of all other expression, in the same way that white was a colour while simultaneously being absent of all other shades.

When he spoke, he took a deep breath, and enunciated slowly with a low voice that had the texture of pudding being strained through a chinois.

“Can I help you?” he asked over his giant mustache.

He was recognizable from his poster in appearance only; whoever drew it had politely given him some sort of character.

“Mister Elijah C.B. MacIntyre?” Twilight asked.

The stallion stared at her for a moment.

“Yes. Yes I am,” he said, slowly, with just the right amount of effort required to speak. “You may call me Big Mac. Do not call me anything else. What do you want, Sheriff?”

“You already know who I am?” Twilight asked.

“That is a badge, is it not?” Big Mac said, glancing down briefly at Twilight’s chest.

“Yes. That’s right. I’m Sheriff Constance S. Twilight,” she introduced herself. “May we speak in your office?”

“I suppose.”

The hulking figure retreated, pulling back behind his desk where he stood, statuesque, waiting for Twilight to continue.

It wasn’t very difficult to notice the things on his desk, of which there were only three – a single piece of paper with numbers on it and two picture frames. In contrast, the rest of the office was quite homely and well decorated. Spike found himself on the couch in no time at all.

“Please, have a seat,” Mac said to the seated dragon.

“Uh... “ Twilight muttered, pulling out a piece of parchment. “I don’t want to waste your time, Big Mac. I’m here on official business from Mayor Celeste.”

“Alright. I won’t waste your time either,” Mac said, glancing at the paper. “I know what that is, and I don’t have the piece any more.”

“You don’t?” Twilight raised an eyebrow.

“No. But we are presented with an opportunity. Let me explain.”

Twilight nodded.

“About three months ago,” Big Mac continued, “my shop was raided by a gang. They stole a great many things, including the piece that you require. I would very much like to kill them. If you help me, you will get your piece back, and I will have my revenge.”

Twilight raised her other eyebrow.

“Just being honest, Sheriff,” Mac said.

“You want ‘em dead? For robbing you?” Twilight asked.

“No.” Big Mac swivelled the larger of the two picture frames on his desk towards Twilight. “This is my family. My wife, Applejack, and one of my daughters, Babs. They currently live in Cantermore.”

Mac swivelled the other frame around. All it contained was a single pressed flower.

“This is my other daughter, Apple Bloom, who was shot during the raid. She attempted to stop the bandits, and they punished her for it. She was thirteen.”

“Why a flower?” Twilight asked, staring at the frame.

“Best I could do, given the circumstances.”

“Ah.” Twilight smacked her lips. “It’s good to see you coping with the loss, at least.”

“What are you talking about?” Big Mac said calmly. “I’m on the verge of tears.”

Twilight blinked.

“Uh… so you said this all went down three months ago?” Twilight continued, pressing away from the awkwardness.

“That’s right.”

“Why didn’t you ask the old sheriff for help?”

“I did.”

“And the sheriff…”

“He ran, New Sheriff.”

Twilight took in a breath. There was something quite frightening about the candid nature of this pony. It was refreshing, in the same way a bucket of cold water was to the face of one in deep sleep.

“I can’t do this by myself, Sheriff,” Mac said. “I can’t hold a gun, and it’s one against three. Help me kill them and you’d be doing the entire town a favour. I guarantee you that you’ll get your piece of Harmony as well. I’d also very much like to be able to live with the remainder of my family in peace again, if you’d permit me to be selfish.”

“Well, I don’t wanna have to shoot no one unless I need to.”

“You’ll need to, Sheriff.”

Twilight nodded, thinking to herself. Her gaze jumped from Big Mac’s dispassionate face to the weird framed flower to Spike who had fallen asleep on the plush sofa.

She rolled her tongue around in her mouth, shifting her jaw.

“Alright,” she agreed. “Tell me more.”

Dust and Harmony

Chapter Three :: God’s Gonna Cut You Down

“Sheriff! Good to see you again!” Moonshine called out, rushing from the heated forge to the front of the shop. She was covered in oil and soot, her apron stained with the results of industry and hard work.

Twilight marched to the counter and slapped a stack of papers down.

“Afternoon, Dash. You seem spirited.” Twilight said.

Spike waved from the background.

“Yeah, been good. Things is movin’.” Dash nodded. “So, what’s this?”

“I just been contracted.” Twilight spread the three posters out. “Looks like one of the pieces of Harmony’s in the hooves of these three. Recognize ‘em?”

It only took a single look, and Moonshine’s demeanour turned as grey as her mane. “Y-yeah. Ain’t anypony ‘round here who wouldn’t. Rover, Fido and Spot. The Diamond Dog gang.”

Three unicorns lay flat on the surface of the glass, each with a surly look and angry eyes. They were mere artist’s depictions, much like every other poster around those parts, but these had the work put in. Whoever drew them had wanted to make sure they were recognizable on sight.

“I’m gonna go take care of ‘em,” Twilight said.

“Wait, what?”

“The next piece we need was stolen by ‘em from Big Mac. I’m meanin’ t’ get it back.”

Big Mac?” Dash sputtered. “Wait. He was one of the holders of Harmony?”

“Yeah. What about?”

“I see… I see ‘im nearly once a week. I had no idea, and…” Dash shook her head.

“That’s the point, ain’t it?”

“Well… alright. But why are you tellin’ me this, Sheriff? Ain’t it supposed to be a secret?”

“Because I need you to do somethin’ for me.” Twilight tilted her head. “See, these here Dogs, they done kilt his daughter a couple’a months back. He’s comin’ along.”

“Ah… yeah.” Dash lowered her head. “I remember that. Was a sad day for everyone. Big Mac’s a… pillar of this here town, Sheriff. But this rightly makes some sense. Big Mac was always the kind of guy who’d clean up after hisself.”

“So that’s where you come in, Dash.”

“M-me? I-I… I don’t think I’d be too good…”

“Calm yer saddles, Dash. All I need you to do is help make somethin’ for me. You can do that, right? Make stuff?”

Dash had to look towards her blazing furnace. “Y-yeah. That I can do, Sheriff.”

“Right. Mac needs a weapon. Something big. Something powerful. He’s an earth pony, so you’re gonna want’a… make something that fits.”

“But you’re goin’ up against three unicorns, Sheriff. He’s just an earthie, like you said. He’s gonna be–”

“He wants to come along. Unfinished business. You know how it is.”

“Y-yeah. I guess so. What d’ya have in mind?”

“Well, he’s got an old set of spurs that ain’t gonna be much use. I dunno, Dash. He’s big and then some. Maybe put that to use, huh? He’ll be shit across range. Maybe I can rustle him up some armour too.”

“Yeah. I getcha. Maybe some kinda… power spurs or somethin’?” Dash rubbed some soot off her hooves onto her apron.

“I have no idea what the hell that is, but you do what you gotta do.”

“Well, it’s basically a shea–”

“Yeah, save it. I’m expectin’ you to be able to do this justice, y’hear? Of course, I’ll pay for your… kind services.”

“That… that ain’t the problem, Sheriff. When do you need this by?”

“We gallop tomorrow.”

“Okay.” Dash breathed out, staring at the posters.

Twilight cocked her head to one side, looking down at the blacksmith along the length of her nose. “Somethin’ eatin’ ya, Dash?”

Twilight waited patiently as the pegasus chewed her lip. It was clear she was in thought. Sometimes it was best to let people think.

Finally, Dash lifted her head. “Sheriff? You ever… kill someone before?”

The question was expected. Yet every time Twilight was asked, she found that all her carefully prepared answers would spiral away, forcing her to take a few moments herself before she was able to respond.

“Yeah. Couple times.”

“I… ah… yeah.”

“Couple situations,” Twilight continued. “Bad situations. Bad ponies.”


“I didn’t think you had a problem with it, Dash. You make guns, after all.”

“Oh, I… I don’t got a problem,” Dash responded, with a bit more vigor. “I just don’t… think about it all that much, you know?”

“Yeah. I try not to, myself.”

“And I ain’t never used a gun myself, neither,” Dash said, although it was more of something that had to be said than any kind of revelation.

“Figured,” Twilight replied.

“I killed a dog once,” Spike said, running a finger down a dusty shelf.

Twilight gave him an eyebrow.

“What? It tried to eat me.” Spike shrugged. “Ended up my blood melted his face off. So I guess technically it weren’t really my fault.”

“I don’t know what to feel right now, Sheriff,” Dash said.

“Yeah. Me neither.” Twilight clenched her jaw. “But best I can, I’d rather not have to take a life. It don’t always sit right. But sometimes, when yer in that perfect situation…”

“I understand, Sheriff.”

Dash drummed her hoof on her counter, still staring at the posters.

“You’d be doin’ us a favour, Sheriff,” Dash said, prodding at the closest mugshot.

“‘Bout what?”

“If these three were… gone.”


“Yeah. They pull through town once every couple months, maybe. Ain’t the first time. They cause big problems. Previous Sheriff had his hooves full with ‘em. But he… he was yellow.”

“I heard.”

“I don’t… I don’t think Mac told you the full story.” Dash coughed, choking on the sudden dryness in her throat. “They didn’t shoot down his daughter there and then. They dragged her off with ‘em as they galloped out.”

Twilight’s ear twitched. “Well, maybe if that’s the case, she might still–”

“No,” Dash cut her off, shaking her head, eyes on fire.

Twilight simply decayed into a rhythmic nod.

“I… I can’t believe I’m askin’ for this, but…” Dash stammered.

“Hey,” Twilight said. “You ain’t askin’ for murder. Yer askin’ for justice. And sure, I gotta respect the law, but… you never know what’s gonna happen out there.”

“Still though. Is it right to wish death upon someone else?”

“It’s never right.” Twilight said. “But we do it anyway.”

“I’ll, uh…” Dash’s eyes twitched toward the furnace, “...do my best with the weapon.”

“I believe ya,” Twilight said.

There was, then, that unmistakable, imperceptible feeling that Twilight got once in a while – the kind that made her hair stand on end and her senses buzz.

She flicked out her pistol, turning her entire body in a single rapid movement, shoving her gun right on the end of a nose.

Spike clawed at the holster by his side, while Dash stepped left to see who it was.

“Hold, Spike,” Twilight said, her glare softening and her pistol returning to its home.

“Why, hello… there,” the strange brown stallion said, a smile creeping across his face.

“Oh, Mr. Brown,” Dash said. “I didn’t notice ya come in.”

“Ah, Bagtail. The pianist,” Twilight said. “I’m sorry about the, uh…”

“She does that,” Spike and Dash said, together.

Twilight pursed her lips. “Right.”

“No… problem, Miss Sheriff. None at… all,” Bagtail said in his odd pattern. “But why… might I ask, are you… so jumpy?”

“I didn’t hear you come in neither. Seems like none of us did.”

“Ah, then… it is me who should… apologize,” Bagtail bowed, still grinning. “People tell me that… I have a tendency to simply… appear out of nowhere.”

“Is there anythin’ I can do ya for?” Dash asked.

“Just… looking for some nails, Miss Blacksmith. Couple of… loose floorboards at the hole.”

“Two cent bag’ll do ya?”

“That’ll do… just fine, Miss Blacksmith.”

It was then that Twilight managed to get a better look at Bagtail Brown’s cutie mark, which was far from what she expected. it was that of a possum. A small critter. But not just a critter, but one that had long been dead and was inflated from rot.

The strangest thing about it was how it was laid out top to bottom rather than lengthways, with its tail dangling downward and its mangled, fuzzy corpse ballooning out on top.

It was oddly hypnotizing.

“Miss Sheriff?” Bagtail called again.

Twilight blinked twice, shaking her head. “Wha–?”

“I asked… you if you had business with… the Diamond Dog… gang.”

“Oh, right. Yeah. Turns out I do,” Twilight said, returning to the conversation.

“Then… I would advise caution. They are not… to be trifled with.”

“So I hear.”

“We wouldn’t want… anything bad to happen… to you, Miss Sheriff.”

“Don’t worry,” Twilight nodded. “I’ll be back to the hole before you know it. Keep a glass warm for me.”

Bagtail smiled.

Twilight stared out into the desert, squinting against the wind. She stood at the official exit to the town, though in truth it was nothing more than a point in the dirt where the street ended, and a different kind of dirt began.

It was still dirt, but it wasn’t theirs.

A small crowd had gathered behind Twilight as the wind blew through her mane. People talked. They came to see the foolish Sheriff and her weird foreign not-deputy ride off to their doom. And it seemed that they would be dragging Big Mac along with them.

Things were different, and people liked to stop and stare at different.

Twilight and Big Mac ignored the gawking faces and the random calls of vastly different tones.

Some predicted their death.

Some expressed general support.

Most gave their consent for her to put the Dogs out of their misery.

They were ignored.

“She’s late,” Twilight said, looking up from the meticulously drawn map, courtesy of MacIntyre Industries. She folded it up and passed it to Spike, who placed it in a handy little sack.

“Good things take time,” Big Mac replied. “I’ve been waiting plenty for this opportunity.”

“If you don’t mind me sayin’,” Twilight stared out into the desert sands, lit by the noon sun, “you got yerself an education, don’t ya?”


“You talk all fancy, and know math.”


“Why ain’t you in Cantermore?”

“The people need someone, Miss Sheriff. Everyone – pony, dragon or gryphon. We all need help sometimes. I offer fair prices and ease of convenience. I want to see this town bustle, Sheriff.”

“Your wife Applejack was born here, weren’t she?”

Big Mac’s mustache twitched. “Very good, Sheriff. You seem educated yourself.”

“Celeste’s taught me a lot.”


A few ponies behind them staggered sideways as a rough, iron-blue hoof shoved through.

“Hey!” Dash called, squeezing between two uncooperative stallions. “Move it! Hey!”

“Hey, let her through,” Twilight demanded.

Dash rushed up, pushing past the belligerent peanut gallery, dragging a large burlap sack behind her. “Sorry, Twilight. Sorry I’m late. Just had to make sure everything worked okay.”

“What… is that?” Twilight pointed at the sack. It was just about big enough to squeeze in a small foal.

“The… the weapon!”

“Might I?” Twilight gestured.

“Sure, go ahead. The idea came to me when I was sellin’ Bagtail the nails, right?” Dash explained hurriedly, while Twilight peeked into the bag. “Took me all night to work out the parts, but I managed to get it done, and–”

“I asked you to build a weapon,” Twilight said, withdrawing.

“Uh… yeah? That’s…” Dash began to look worried.

“I don’t even know what to call that.”

“It’s… it’s a weapon, Sher–”

“Is that steamworks?”

“Well, it would be, but lookin’ how strong Mr. Big Mac is, I was able to switch it up t’ a simple hinge and levered syst–”

“Alright.” Twilight flicked her eyebrows up. “Mac, you can get it on, and we’ll ge–”

“Ah… no,” Dash cut in, jumping in between Twilight and the bag. “Uh… see. It’s a mite difficult to gallop in those. You’re gonna have t’ put it on when ya get there.”

Twilight sighed. “Fine. Mac, you mind? Let’s get o–”

“Ah…” Dash murmured again.


“It’s a mite difficult to put on, if ya don’t know where all the bits go… so…”

“We ain’t got time for you t’ teach us, Dash!”

“No. I’m… I’m comin’ with ya,” Dash said.

That made Twilight draw up short. “Really.”

“Yeah. I made up m’mind.”

“Weren’t you a bit…”

“Don’t matter. I said… I said I weren’t gonna let innocent ponies die no more. So… I’m gonna help whatever I can, Sheriff Twilight.”

Twilight bobbed her head, her jaw tightening in respect. “That’s good, Moonshine. That’s good.”

“Yeah. I’m hopin’ it is.”

“Let’s ride, then. Their hideout’s a couple miles up North, a cave next to an old oak tree and a dried up pond.”

“You know where they are already?” Dash asked, surprised.

“It was the last gift my daughter gave me when they returned her,” Big Mac said, slowly. “Let’s not let it go to waste.”


The ridge pulled into view, brown and craggy, covered with a layer of clay. It was as if there were a great eldritch serpent asleep beneath the earth, only its winding, thorny spines visible while it lay dormant.

The group galloped at speed; they had been running nearly non-stop since they left the town. Twilight and Big Mac seemed to effortlessly continue onward without need for relief even with their cargo – A great big sack for the stallion and a small little dragon riding sidesaddle for Constance.

Dragons were remarkably stubbly creatures, not well known for their ability to run fast for long distances at a time, and so Twilight was only slightly annoyed at the prospect of having to give him a lift.

Moonshine, on the other hand, trailed behind, her tongue hanging out of her mouth as she struggled to keep up. Only with the assistance of a great many beats of her wings could she catch up and even surpass her company’s speed, but that took extra energy – something she needed to conserve at the moment.

But relief was in sight.

The only tree that bordered the base of the ridge was a crooked, wretched specimen. It was as dead as the countless rocks and boulders that surrounded it in all directions, its only source of sustenance lost to the sun years ago.

Twilight stopped at first sight, pulling closer to the ground and motioning for her companions to follow suit. Spike, too, dismounted and dropped to all fours.

“We go along the ridge,” Twilight pointed. “If there’s lookouts, we can use them rocks to hide behind.”

The simple mix of geographical elements and gravity meant the larger of the boulders were the ones found closer to the sharp incline up the ridge.

Being careful not to kick up clouds, the four inched around and made their way through the dirty air until they were close enough for Twilight to call for them to stop.

It was in the shade of a particularly large boulder that they finally dusted themselves off and Dash could spread her wings to cool off.

Big Mac stood there, wiggling the pebbles out of his mustache.

“Right,” Twilight said, when they had all finally arranged themselves. “Let’s have a look.”

The trick was to move slowly. Most would assume a quick dart in-and-out of cover was the tactic of choice, but the opposite was true. In a world where nothing moved and even the shadows refused to dance, it was those quick movements that caught the most attention. Blending in and using the sun was key to staying undetected.

Twilight pulled back.

At the edge of the dried-up pond was a single pony sitting on a crate under what little shade the tree provided. To his back was a door, heavily laden with wood. It was smaller than regular doors, but thicker, and was painted to look like part of the cliff.

“There’s one there. Large fella,” Twilight said. “Looks like this is the place. They must rotate lookouts. I think that one’s the one they call Fido. He’s got a coal-blue coat. Yellow mane.”

“That’s the one,” Mac confirmed.

“Cutie Mark’s some kind… of… round thing.”

“It’s a collar,” Big Mac said. “He’s the one.”

“He’s got a bottle.”

“One of mine.” Big Mac nodded.

“Alright, now to think of a plan,” Twilight said.

Dash almost fell over herself. “Wait, what?”

The three other heads within range turned to face her.

“What’s th’ matter?” Twilight asked.

“You don’t have a plan?” Dash exclaimed.

“Hey, lower your voice,” Twilight growled. “And no. No we don’t. We didn’t have much t’ go on, did we? And it’s only been less than a day.”

“But… but you came into the shop and… asked for stuff… and…”

“That was called being prepared, Moonshine. Being prepared and havin’ a plan are two different things, now, ain’t they?”

“Then… what have y’all been doin’ the whole day yesterday?”

“Drinkin’ coffee.” Twilight shrugged.

“In my shop, as usual,” Big Mac chimed in.

“I was asleep most of the time,” added Spike. “Boy, I had the weirdest dream. There were all these featherless gryphons and they started–”

Twilight nudged Spike roughly in the side.

“Holy shit, we’re all gonna die,” Dash muttered, her eyes draining of colour. “We’re all gonna die so hard.”

“We ain’t gonna die, Dash!” Twilight frowned. “I’ll think of something, alright?”

Spike nodded. “Yeah, she’ll think of something. Don’t you worry! Twi’s a real smart biscuit.”

“A what?” Big Mac interrupted.

“A smart biscuit!” Spike repeated.

“Why would comparing her to a breakfast food be considered a complimentary show of intelligence?” Mac drawled.

“Uh, guys?” Dash squeaked.

I don’t know!” Spike threw his hands up in the air. “I don’t know anything!”

“It’s just a sayin’,” Twilight ran her tongue over her teeth.

“But sayings usually have a logical source. What makes biscuits smart?” Big Mac pressed. “As compared to, say, a hot cake, or an ear of corn?”

“Oh, Dust take us,” Dash clammered, ducking down and curling up against the boulder. She pressed her back against it, plugging her hooves against her head.

This was a bad idea. This was such a terrible, frightful situation. It was a mistake coming out here. She should be back at her forge – no, her alley of safety and warm trash – where nothing could ever hurt you and you could spend the nights curled up against some other drunk wastrel, because the worst thing that could happen would be that your alley-partner threw up on you, and then you were done with your weekly shower.

“Hey, Dash!” Something kicked her.

“Whu!” Dash pulled her hooves off her ears.

“We figured it out.” Twilight stood tall above her.


“A plan, dingleberry! Get up.”

Dash scrambled back to her hooves, swallowing heavily. Her nervous eyes darted from character to character, each of them rock solid except for the dragon, whose confidence seemed to come from obliviousness rather than anything else.

“Okay. So, here’s the plan,” Twilight said.

“Uh huh?” Dash muttered, mouth hanging open.

“We’re gonna walk up to him.”

“Uh… huh.”

“And then kick him in the face until he can’t walk no more.”

“And then?”

“And then what? We go in and find the other two yahoos.”

“Wait, that’s it?” Dash cried. “That’s the whole plan?”

“Yeah. Keep it simple, right?” Twilight turned to her side.

“I like simple,” Mac said.

Twilight turned back and shrugged.

“But… but he’s gonna shoot us on sight! There’s no way he’s gonna think four of us barrellin’ down on ‘em’s any good!”

“Right on th’ money,” Twilight said, adjusting her lapel. “So what’s that mean, then?”

“W-well, why can’t we just shoot ‘im from here?”

“Noisy. Best not to alert the other two if we don’t hafta.”

Dash rubbed her hoof in the cracked, dry mud. “Then… we send one pony, right? Could spin a yarn? So’s he thinks we just lost or somethin’?”

“Very good. Who’s it gonna be?”


“See, Mac here can’t do it. They’d recognize ‘im.” Twilight took over. “And little Spike here’d be too weird. Ain’t ever gonna be a single lone dragon just walkin’ around so far from town.”

“So… you, then.” Dash said.

Spike perked up, “nah, she’s too… angry-lookin’. They’d peg her for someone dangerous in an instant.”

“That I am.” Twilight grinned. “And I ain’t too good with the fancy talkin’ neither.”

“No. No. Oh no. No way,” Dash stuttered. “Nuh uh. Ain’t no way, no how. You gotta be rustlin’ my cattle.”

“Well, you’re a pretty girl. You ain’t a unicorn and you got no spurs on, so you’re gonna be as soft as butter to ‘em,” Twilight explained. “Basically, you’re exactly the kinda pony they ain’t likely t’ shoot on sight.”

Dash’s leg was twitching so much that a small, localized cloud of dust started to obscure her hoof. “No. No! They’re gonna… they’re gonna shoot me so dead, Sheriff. I’ll be so dead!”

“You ever cross paths with ‘em before?”

“Well… no, but…”

“Then ya gonna be just fine.” Twilight said, still grinning. She was enjoying some aspect of this. “All you gotta do is walk up to him, alright?”

“But I… I ain’t gonna be able to knock him out, I don’t think. I left my hammer back at the shop, and…”

“Nah, you don’t worry about that neither. I got an idea for that too. You see that rock over there?” Twilight pointed.

“Yeah?” Dash took a quick look.

“I’m gonna make my way there while you’re… entertainin’ the nice gentleman.”

“O-okay. But why?”

“Because then I’ll be close enough.”

“Close enough for what?”

With a burst of magic, Twilight pulled her gun out of her holster. “To reach him.”


“H-hey, ‘scuse me!” the pegasus called out nervously, stumbling forward out of the desert.

The first thing the unicorn did was look around, then he stood up off his crate, dropped his bottle, looked around some more, and then stared at the Pegasus in front of him through tiny yellow pin-prick eyes encrusted with off-white gunk.

“The shit?” he spat out a thick, wet black gob of whatever and drew his pistol, hovering it a meter in front of him. “Who in the Dust are ya?”

“Oh! Oh! Oh sh–” Dash coughed, throwing up her wings. “Don’t shoot! I’m lost, sir!”

“Lost? Out here?” Fido growled, curling his mangled lip up over yellowing teeth. His high brow was covered with scabs where flies would land and go about their business. When he coughed, flecks of spittle showered the area in front of him. “Wings where I can see ‘em!”

Dash stretched her wings out as far as they would go, only a scant bit more than they were already.

Fido began his approach. “Ya shouldn’t be ‘round here, girly.”

“Y-yes. I reckon so. So if you’d tell me how t’ get back to Cantermore…”

Cantermore?” Fido bucked out laughing. “How far off th’ train did you fall, girly?”

He raised a pock-marked knee, giving a sweeping motion toward himself.

“C-come closer, girly. Let’s… let’s have a good look at you…” he said, slurping up a bit of moisture that remained at the tip of his tongue. “Ain’t you nice?”

“W-well, thank you, but…” Dash stammered, almost taking a step back in reaction.

“Tell you whut,” Fido took another quick look around, just in case. “Why don’tcha stay here with me? I’ll… take care’a ya.”

The unicorn ran a cracked tongue over cracked lips.

Dash shuddered. She didn’t have to pretend. She closed her eyes, took a breath, and took a step forward.

“What’s your name, girly?” Fido asked, walking up to her cautiously.

“W-wait. Stop.” Dash called out when he was a mere two steps away, close enough that she could smell the undigested food on his breath and see the results of it wedged in his teeth. “Don’t hurt me. Please.”

“Aww… I ain’t gonna hurt ya. In fact, I’m gonna make you feel… real welcome.”

Dash closed her eyes again, shuddering, as a hot breath wafted up against the side of her ear. She had been in terrible places before, but the stench coming off him at this distance was nigh unbearable.

Every fiber in her body tried to persuade her to turn and run, to get away, far away. Every logical part of her brain told her that this was bound to end badly for her, and only for her.

But she stayed rooted.



She waited.

She waited as he drew his head alongside hers, sniffing at her skin, drool swelling out the side of his ravenous mouth, his movements likened to an undulating slug attempting to crawl over a ledge.

She waited as he moved down the length of her neck and reached her wing, travelling along the edges, lightly pulling back and forth against a stray feather or two, plunging his face into fluffy, angelic down.

She waited as he closed his eyes for just one moment.

The barrel of a gun, writhing like a snake, flew out from between the feathers on Dash’s outstretched wing. It struck forward, viciously biting the stallion in the eye.

Argh!” He staggered back, hoof flying to his face. For a moment, his pistol wavered, but it steadied itself as the unicorn regained his footing.

“Again! Twilight!” Dash yelled, folding her wings up, a second pistol joining the first as the curtains came down and the pegasus writhed out of the way.

The two pistols turned, their handles coming down hard toward Fido’s head. But the leg that he had raised to his face warded off the blows, and a short stagger back was all that remained of the continued assault.

“You bitch!” he yelled, spit flying, blood dripping off his chin. He levelled his gun again, pointing it at the girl who was now frantically digging through the dirt to get away.

“Twili–” Dash cried out, as she took to run as fast as she could manage.

The echoes of a shot reverberated off the range, bouncing back and forth amongst rock walls and stone cliffs until it ended with a distant ping somewhere far off in the distance.

The unicorn hit the ground, blood mixing with saliva, his weapon falling lifelessly next to him.

“Twilight!” Twilight!” Dash yelled over and over, looking behind her own shoulder to see the still body that now lay there. “Twilight!”

“Shit!” Twilight called back, appearing from behind her appointed rock. “Get back here, Dash! Quick!”

From the corner of her eye, Twilight saw the door move. It was just a small shift forward and back. Someone had opened the door and closed it soon after.

“Damnit!” Twilight cried out, peeling out from behind cover. She flew at Dash, galloping forward and launching herself at her with front legs outstretched.

Three seconds. They had three seconds.

Using her entire weight, she pulled, yanking on Dash’s body and thrusting her in the general direction of her other companions.

Run!” she roared.

Two seconds.

There was no time to turn. She’d have to rush ahead to the rocks past the corpse.

One second.

The door opened again, creaking, as Twilight dove headfirst behind a stone.

With the crack of pistol-fire, dents formed in the ground immediately to her right as small swirls of dirt were kicked up into the air. Flecks of shrapnel caused Twilight to wince when they struck her in the leg, but it was a far better alternative to being hit by a bullet itself.

Further along, she caught sight of Dash disappearing behind a rock of her own, pulled into safety by a pair of extremely strong hooves.

Twilight gave herself a moment to breathe a small sigh of relief.

Things had not gone quite as she had planned.

“Damned thick skull!” Twilight growled at the dead pony, pulling her pistols back across the ground.

Over on the other side, the obliviously brave Spike was already crawling along one side of a flat, smooth boulder like a lizard – which he was – easily traversing its surface with his claws. In his mouth he gripped one of his tiny little pistols.

“Damnit,” Twilight cursed again, looking down, counting the shots. She hoped Spike was doing the same.

After the twelfth burst of sound, Twilight and Spike both popped out, pointing their guns at the door.

It was closed.

Twilight glanced over at Spike and gave a little nod, getting one in return.

The little dragon disappeared back behind the boulder.

Twilight sunk back down.

A moment that felt like a lifetime passed, as Twilight kept her head low, and a few crying birds flew off into the afternoon sky.

Finally, a voice pulled out from behind a wall.

It was high-pitched, scratchy, and badly accented, like a violin gone terribly wrong.

Bayg Mayc!” It cried, the voice echoing over the clearing. “Ah know yer theya!”

Twilight kept silent. She couldn’t see the other three from where she was. She could only imagine what was going on over there.

Bayg Mayc!” the voice yelled again, harsher, more screechy. “You dun kayled Fidah!”

“You killed my daughter!” Another voice floated up.

Twilight breathed heavier, a pounding filling her head as the blood welled up.

Yer come far our hayeds!”

Twilight sucked in a deep breath that didn’t seem enough. “Surrender yourselves!” she screamed.

Oh, who’s thayt, nah?”

“This is Sheriff Constance S. Twilight! You are under arrest! Come peacefully and I assure you full trial in a court of law!”

Law? Law?

A low cackling rose up from the door, a high-pitched whine, a motor stuck on a towel. It wheezed out its own exuberance before stopping to speak again.

Thay ain’t no law hayea, Sher’f! Or did th’ old sher’f ferget ta tell ya?”

Again, that wheezing, strung-up laughter escaped the hideout.

“I don’t wanna have ta kill you!” Twilight yelled.

The air drew silence.

A moment passed.

Awh, but, Sher’f, maybes you don’t, but Mayc thaya will. You gonna be oh-kay with thayet?”

“That all depends on how this plays out, don’t it?”

Good, Sher’f! Ah just wanned t’ be sure!”

The door flew open again. Twilight could hear it, maybe even feel the wind rush by if she were embellishing the story to the bar later. Another round of bullets – seven – ricocheted off the rocks. It stopped after that, on a very odd number.

Twilight frowned, poking her head out again.

“Damn it!” she yelled. “Spike! They’re makin’ for it!”

One, a medium-built pony, darted off to the left along the wall, ducking behind the same rocks that kept Twilight and company safe earlier. As he disappeared amongst the small hills, all sign of activity was lost.

The other ran past her on the opposite side of the tree, racing away.

Small and lithe, he ran with a strange quickness, bouncing about the rocks and coming riskily close to where Twilight was.

Spinning, Twilight rolled off and gave chase, only hoping something similar was occurring on the other end.


Twilight stopped when he did, his light-brown hooves coming to rest in front of a box.

They had run to a place where the rocks started to clear, and nothing larger than the size of a breadbox could be found dotting the landscape.

But there was a box.

In Twilight’s experience, there were only a few reasons why a runner would stop in mid-chase.

There were even fewer for him to turn around and smile.

Twilight locked her ankles to the ground. Attacking was foolish. Running was unflattering.

Let it play out.

Twilight drew her pistols.

“So, which one is ya?” Twilight asked, legs spread out, ready to jump in any direction.

“I’d be Spot,” the unicorn replied, with an oddly charismatic voice.

“You would, huh?” Twilight held her ground as Spot started to rummage through the box, magically shifting things around, a cascading, tinkling noise causing the box to sing like a bird. “Whatcha got there, Spot?”

“Oh, this?” Spot said, tilting his head. “Perhaps if I explained what my role in the group is…”

“Yeah, maybe you should.”

“But first, perhaps you could introduce yourself?” Spot asked, rummaging more.

“Sheriff Constance S. Twilight.”

“Ah yes, yes,” Spot continued to babble on, head kept low. “I remember now. You were there earlier, weren’t you?”

Twilight took a step forward, scuffing the rocks.

Immediately, a rival pistol hung itself in the air, Spot clicking his tongue as he rose it off the ground.

“Ah, ah, ah,” Spot waggled his hoof. “I believe you understand that you are at a disadvantage here.”

“Am I?” Twilight rolled her tongue around her mouth.

“Yes. Now, as you said earlier, you’d rather not kill unless you had to.”

“I’d rather not.”

“And I’d have no problems killing you if I were forced to as well,” Spot straightened upward, cricking his back.

“You would have already if you were going to.” Twilight narrowed her eyes. “Same for you, same for me.”

“Ah, yes. Very good. Very clever. So we are at a draw. Unlike my rather uncouth partners, I, myself, do not rather enjoy in the taking of lives. It’s not very gentlemanly, is it?”

“No. It ain’t.”

“So where do we go from here? Where, oh where, oh where?” the unicorn continued in a sing-song voice.

“I’m sure you’ve got some idea.” Twilight grunted.

“Yes. I do. Which brings me to the point of what this box is, and why you will throw your pistols over to me.”

Twilight’s mental grip strengthened, her pistols hovering one step closer.

“Shall I demonstrate?” Spot asked, smiling handsomely.

A vial hovered up, a small glass-like pill of unknown origin, a strange brown liquid sloshing within. It orbited the stallion’s head, as he stared into Twilight’s eyes.

Suddenly, it zipped off to the side, hitting a wall of rock.

With a thunderous roar, a blast sent a wave of force rippling through the air as small bits of stone came loose and fell tumbling to the ground swathed in a blanket of smoke and ash.

Twilight staggered to the side, a slight heat hitting her in the face, as she instinctively lifted a leg to protect her head.

“Have you heard of the term… gearhead?” Spot asked.

Twilight lowered her leg.


There was a strange look to her, one that she struggled to control.

“Yes. I’ve heard.” Twilight said, just as slow as her movements.

“Then you should understand. All you’ve heard about us is true.”

Spot cocked his head to the burnt-up wall.

“That was just one of these vials. There are over two hundred in this box, and I can trigger them whenever I want, however I want. If all were to go off at the same time, you can trust that neither of us will be walking away.”

“I see,” Twilight said. “So I think I get yer play. Mind if I take a stab? See if I got it right?”

“Please! Please do,” Spot delighted. “I’d like to see if you understand your position.”

“You’re gonna walk.”


“If I move from this spot, you’re gonna blow up that entire batch of whatever the heck those things are, and I’m gonna die.”


“Same goes if I shoot ya.”

“Yes again! Oh, this is so much fun. You are remarkably sharp, Sheriff! I must say, this is quite refreshing.”

“And if you get to far away enough that your dirty gearhead magic can’t blow these boxes up, then I’ll be off the hook too.”

“Absolutely. So you see, both of us win if you just let me go.” Spot smiled.

“I see.” Twilight replied.

“And that’s how it’s going to happen. Very simple, yes? But first, throw me your guns. Please.” Spot said.

“My guns?”

“Yes. Throw them over.” Spot smiled.


She tilted them upwards, and as a matter of course, emptied twelve rounds to the ground, where they scattered like terrified mice.

The guns flew over gently soon after, and she could feel the tug of his magic wrenching the pistols out of her grasp, letting them hit the floor in front of him.

“Hm. Thank you kindly,” Spot said. “Now, let’s not stand on ceremony. I shall be off. Mayhaps we shall meet again in the future.”

“No… wait.” Twilight said, tilting her head down.

Something was wrong.

Something was just ever so slightly off.

All the pieces were in play, but there was an extra piece that tugged and nagged at the back of Twilight’s head.

“Excuse me?” Spot said. “I don’t think you’re in any position to–”

“No, hush up,” Twilight said, thinking furiously.

“I beg your par–”

Twilight smiled.

It was so sudden that Spot jumped back slightly with a sour frown, as if he had bitten into a lemon custard that had gone off.

“Here’s an interestin’ one for ya, Spot.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You reckon yerself pretty smart, don’tcha?”

“Now, listen, I’m leaving now, and you shoul–”

“You ain’t goin’ nowhere,” Twilight snapped, stepping forward.


“No, you listen, you little shit!” Twilight screamed with a frantic joy. “You made one mistake. One… stupid mistake. You wanna… take a stab at what that might be?”

“I… What are you talking about?”

“You asked for too much!”

“Oh?” Spot said, his breath turning ragged.

“Yeah,” Twilight said, her eyes lighting up. “Let’s walk this through.”

“I’ll shoot you.”

Twilight took a step forward.

“I said I’ll shoot you!” Spot repeated, a bit more direly. “Stop there! Stop!”

“Why… would you ask for my guns?”

“What do you mean, why? Because you might shoot me running away!”

“Yes, but that’d mean I’d blow myself up, right?”

“You could always jump away first–”

“But then you’d blow me up, right?”


“So why did you want my guns, Spot?” Twilight tilted her head like a curious child. “What reason did you need to take that lil’ ol’ precaution for? And you just let ‘em… sit there in front of ya?”

Their eyes dragged down to where her pistols lay.

“That’s what you wanted all along, weren’t it?” Twilight smirked. “You wanted my guns.”

“Now, that is just…”

“You wanted my guns, but you didn’t think I’d empty ‘em first. So it’s plan B. It’s the actual bluff you made. And yes, I now know it’s a bluff.”

“Sheriff, I will kill us both–”

“Shut up! You ain’t killin’ no one!”

Spot stared, he stared with furious anger and furious eyes, but yet, he did not make a single move. It was not the best idea to move while the field was shifting.

“There’s only one reason why you wanted my pistols, Spot!” Twilight held up a hoof. “One! And it’s simple. You were going to shoot me with them. You intended to kill me all along. And that’s because you’re out of ammo. Ain’t you?”

“I… I’ll shoot you.”

“Then do it already!”

Fine!” Spot spat, with a venom, his eyelid twitching. “Yes, you stupid whore, I wanted to shoot you! So you worked that out. Well, shall I throw a party for you?”

“You may as well.”

“Oh, you be quiet. You’re forgetting one thing,” Spot said drawing out another glass vial from the box, hovering it next to his head. “I still have the upper hoof, here.”

“Naw, you don’t,” Twilight scrunched up her face and snorted derisively, scratching her neck.

“W-what? I’ll blow you up! I’ll blow you up until they won’t even be able to recognize the parts!”

“Naw, you can’t.”

“What do you mean I can’t?”

“You just wasted your last good one on that wall there,” Twilight jerked her leg. “Stupid show of force, if you ask me. But you know what I reckon? I reckon that’s all they are. Little balls of light an’ fire. Otherwise, you'd’ve blown me up from the get.”

Twilight took yet another step closer, twirling her hoof around in the air. She was still angry, but it was the sort of anger that reduced beneath the skin, the sort that no longer needed to be seen to be felt.

“All that jibber-jabber at the start? You was just wastin’ time. You were lookin’ for the one last good bomb there in that box. The rest are empty, ain’t they? That one next to your head. It’s empty, ain’t it?”

Spot’s eyes darted towards it, past the drop of sweat falling from his brow.

“And finally, let me tie a nice little bow on top of all of this for ya.”

Twilight licked her lips.

“You say I maybe don’t know ‘bout gearheads. But I reckon it’s you who don’t know ‘bout no gearheads. You, Spot, sure ain’t one, and I know this to be a stone, cold truth.”

Spot swallowed, clearing his dry throat before speaking. “How… do you know I ain’t a gearhead?”

Twilight winked.

A light caught Spot’s eye to the side, as he saw the empty vial glow with a strange white light. It ebbed from nothing to a grand pulse in the barest of a second, and he had only time to flick his eyes forward for the last time when he heard that voice speak for the last time.

You figure it out,” Twilight said.

Dash looked back over her shoulder at the explosion that rocked the horizon in the far distance. It was the second one in so many number of minutes, but this one had been a lot louder than the first.

“Dyeh heaya thayt?” Rover said. “Thayt’s yer frayend dyin’.”

Big Mac stared over his mustache, eyes lazily surveying the situation.

He sniffed.

The three of them had chased the final Dog to another cave. But it appeared that Rover, like Spot before him, had decided to stop running.

Rover’s nose wrinkled. He had a dark grey coat and glowing green eyes, the kind that could be seen shining out of the darkness of a dangerous alleyway. He also sported a red vest that was stained with all sorts of fluids and other streaks. None of them looked like they were the result of a simple spill of drink or food.

The unicorn scratched roughly at his cheek, glancing up toward the sun with his mouth open.

“Heyyyy Mayc… we done playin’ heaya?” he drawled. “Ah gots thiiiings t’ do.”

He turned, backing into the mouth of the cave.

“Lisssen. Ay’m feylin’ mite gen’rus today, so ay’m gon’ let yer off.” He gave a little wave, smiling with his crooked teeth, and disappeared under cover of the shadows.

Big Mac stood there for a moment more, before turning on his heels and retreating to the rock that Dash and Spike stood behind.

“It appears he has retreated to a second location,” Big Mac said.

“W-what now?” Dash asked.

“Well, it’s likely he came here ‘cause this is where they stow their ammo,” Spike reasoned. “They could’a continued blastin’ us back there, but they ran. We musta caught ‘em unawares.”

The little dragon loosened the clasp on his holster, but a large red hoof swung down to stop him.

“Nope,” Big Mac said, his hulking figure cut out in black against the sun. “He’s mine.”

“Really?” Spike said. “I mean… I am the deputy. It’s my job t…”

“Mine,” Big Mac reasserted.

“Okay, then. Well. At least there’s that, right?” Spike pointed to the sack that Dash was clutching.

“Oh right!” Dash yanked the neck of the bag open, emptying its contents to the floor in a big twisted heap of metal and leather straps.

Working quickly, Dash fitted the mechanism. It was far more complicated than it looked, relying on levers and systems and extensions. Straps hung over Mac’s waist and tied a pair of frames around his rear legs. The rest was an elaborate device that hovered in place behind his shins, held there by more straps and metal rods.

“What in the heck is that?” Spike asked.

“Shotgun spurs,” Dash said proudly, smiling, tightening a final bolt. “See, when Big Mac kicks his legs out backward, these things here swing down and shoot off along his leg, straight out wherever he kicks, right? And these gears here make sure that when he steps down, it goes back up, so he don’t step on it while walkin’.”

“I… see.” Spike muttered.

Mac bent backwards to look at the two giant gauntlets he had on. He nodded in mute appreciation.

“Now, these go on th’ back,” Dash said, giving the bag one final shake.

Two large cannonballs fell out and pierced the ground. They pierced the ground because they were each covered on one side with a generous helping of nails welded onto their surfaces – giant metal porcupines with at least thirty thin steel quills apiece.

“Uh…” Spike mumbled.

Dash stuck them into leather holsters at the back of the leg-gauntlets, tightening them up and bolting them into place.

“There,” she said, stepping away to take a final look.

“I thought you hated killin’,” Spike muttered.

“Yeah, but… this seems like it’ll solve a lot of problems, though, won’t it?” Dash said. “And that’s what Twilight asked for.”

Big Mac nodded again. He liked solving problems.

If spurs jangled while one walked, this sounded like an organ being thrown into an industrial grinder.

Big Mac took a few steps forward and back, testing its range of movement.

“I see what you meant about running in these,” Big Mac said.

“Yeah… it’s all a bit cummersom’,” Dash ducked her head down. “But it’ll give you a fair fightin’ chance, I dare say.”

“What’s that thing left over?” Spike asked, pointing to a simple set of metal plates joined by two flexible leather bands.

“Oh! Right. Help me get it on.”

They draped the plates over Mac’s back, where they fell over and shielded his sides along with some of the mechanism.

“Just some armour,” Dash said. “Just in case. Best I could do with th’ time I had.”

“This’ll do,” Mac said.

And with that, he tromped to the mouth of the cave, leaving heavy hoofprints in the dirt, stopping short just before entering.

“Rover!” he bellowed out. “My name is Elijah C B MacIntyre! You killed my daughter! I'm returnin' the favour!”

And with that, he too, disappeared into the darkness.

Dash threw herself down, hoof swaddling the now-empty sack, her tired eyelids finally giving way and shutting out the piercing light.

“So, that’s it then,” she said.

“Hmm?” Spike hummed back.

Dash prised a single eye open. The Dragon was sitting across from here on a small rock, playing with his pistols.

“I’m too tired t’ go on, Deputy,” she groaned. “That’s it for me.”

“Call me ‘Spike’,” Spike said, cheerfully. “And don’t worry. We’ll carry you back if ya need.”

“Wh– whatcha mean?”

“What do you mean?”

“This is it, ain’t it? Last stand? Twilight’s gone, Mac’s just walked his last… we’re next, and I ain’t got the energy left ta run, Spike.”

Dash was cut off by the ghostly echo of two gunshots that came from deep within the cave, muffled by stone and pockets of air.

Both of them turned to look before turning back.

“That settles it,” Dash muttered.

“What are you talking about? Twilight’ll be here soon,” Spike said, twirling his gun around.

“You actually figure that?” Dash asked, weakly.

“Yeah, sure. Why not?” Spike looked over.

“Plan’s already gone all the way to shit and back, hadn’t it? From the beginnin’? Everythin’s all wrong now.”

“Aw, that? Naw. Stuff like that happens all the time. Gotta keep thinkin’. Gotta be quick. The only plan that’ll fail is the plan you keep to strictly.”

“Yeah? Well. In my line of work, if you don’t stick to no plan, everythin’ falls apart.”

“Yeah. I get it. The things you make, they all gotta work accordin’ly, right? Not quite the same with real life, though, where all the bits and parts and stuff can go all over and do what they want. Gotta be ready for whichever way the wind blows.” Spike grinned.

“How are you so… cheerful ‘bout all this?”

“I dunno,” Spike said, holstering his gun and crossing his legs. He swung his arms over them, leaning forward and giving it some thought. “I don’t think Twilight’s gonna have any problems. I know her well ‘nuff. I think she’s the one gon’ walk away. So if anythin’ were t’ happen with Mac, Dust forbid, you can be sure Twi’ll fix things right up.”

“You know her long?”

“You could say that, I s’pose. Kind of a long story, really. But we’ve known each other for a couple years now.”

“You guys seem real close.” Dash coughed.

“I like t’ think so.” Spike looked upward, at the sky. “She’ll never say, but each other’s all we got, I think.”

“What about family?”

“Nope,” Spike shrugged. “She ain’t got none. At least, none she knows about. She told me she left the orphanage when she was old enough and went straight into law.”

“What about you?” Dash asked. “Back in Dragan?”

“Huh.” Spike bounced up in his seat.


“You actually know the name.”


“Yeah. In fact, you seem t’ know a lot ‘bout dragon stuff,” Spike observed.

“Oh, yeah.” Dash nodded. “I weren’t born here, y’know.”


“Ever hear of a place called Gaslight?”

“Sure, I do.”

“Yeah. Moved t’ Cantermore when I was fifteen. Moved here two years after. Been here ever since.”

“Didn’t like the city?”

“Yeah. Too big. Too noisy.”

“I’m okay with big cities m’self,” Spike shrugged.

“Well, ‘course you are. You’re from Dragan, after all.”

“Now what are you meanin’ by that?” Spike asked, eyebrow raising.

“Oh, no no!” Dash held her hoof up. “Naw, I ain’t… I ain’t mean it like that. I just mean the Dragonese way’s more-to-do with family an’ all. I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout the numbers.”

“Oh. Oh yeah. That’s true.” Spike flicked his head at Dash. “You still ain’t explain how you get to know ‘bout us so much.”

“I know… someone. Lives by the coast. We exchange letters sometimes.”

“I see.”

“Or used to. I stopped a little while back.”


“So yeah,” Dash shifted her weight around. “What brings you all the way out here yerself?”



“Yeah,” Spike fiddled with his hands. “Lissen. Yer nice enough that I don’t wanna lie. I had reasons, is all. Nothin’ bad. Don’t worry.”

“Fair ‘nuff.”

A cold wind blew across the sun.

“Reasons, huh?” Dash repeated to herself.

Another two shots rang out from within the opening in the rock face, like thunder at the end of the plains. It was followed by a high-pitched scream.

“Looks like they’re still kickin’,” Spike said.


Dash watched a tumbleweed roll by.

“What’s on yer mind?” Spike asked, suddenly.


“Come on, then.”

“Things change,” muttered Dash.

“You thinkin’ about things changin’?”

“When did I get this way?” Dash mused. “I used to be that other girl. I was raised up to be strong, y’know? Every member of my family was born t’ be that way. All my brothers and sisters, we all left for distant towns to scratch out a livin’. I was always good with tools, so I decide to become a smith. And then…”

“Things changed?”

“They did.”

“They can change back, you know.”

Dash looked over to Spike. He had stopped smiling.

“I suppose you’re right, Spike.”

Five more shots rang out in quick succession, closer to them than they had ever been.

The two of them raised their eyebrows at the sound.

“So… tell me somethin’,” Dash asked, brushing it off.

“Whatcha need?”

“I’m just curious here, but.. ah… what’s yer full name?”

“‘Furious Spike’ would be the direct translation. And yeah, I know it sounds right dumb in Equestrian. So I just go by Spike.”

“What house?”

“House Ling,” Spike said.

“House Ling?” Dash repeated.

“Yeah. What’s it to ya?”

“Nothin’. Just… seems fam–”

Spike and Dash both jumped to their legs when a shuffling interrupted them.

“Twilight!” Dash exclaimed, rushing forward. “You’re alive!”

“Told ya,” Spike said. “Heya, Twi.”

“Spike. Dash.” Twilight gave each a nod in succession.

“What happened back there? We heard explosions.” Spike jerked a thumb back in the direction of the other battle.

“Yeah. His head blew up.” Twilight spat on the ground. “What’s goin’ on over here?”

“Just waitin’ it out,” Spike said. “Mac wanted to take care of things himself, so I figured it was in his right.”

“Good call.” Twilight nodded, turning to Dash. “So, hey.”

“Y-yeah!” Dash replied.

“Listen. Back there? What you did was real brave. Okay? Just wanted ya t’ know that.”

“Oh. Ah, no problem, Twilight. Glad to be of ser–”

“Thank you,” Twilight said.

Dash smiled. It was a guilty smile, but she did so anyway. It was thanks undeserved. You don’t thank the birds for flying, she reckoned. She shouldn’t be thanked for doing what she had to.

But still, it felt warm, like a mug of coffee on a December morn.

The three of them were abruptly pulled to attention when the sound of stomping came floating over from the other side of the boulder.

Carefully, slowly, they each peeked out the side.

Walking with an uneven gait, covered with streaks of blood and other strange stains, came Big Mac, limping his way out of the cave.

One of the straps on his armor had broken, leaving a panel to sway in the wind like a broken barn door. The others had done their job, however, and the dents scattered across their collective faces had been proof of their utility.

Dragging behind him, still attached to one of the spiked cannonballs, was an unidentifiable hunk of meat. There was a glint of bone, but not much else that suggested what part of the body it might have once been attached to.

Like a snail, it trailed a streak of damp, oozing red as Big Mac staggered back toward the rest of the group, a bullet wound in his upper right thigh giving him reason for his uneven walk.

The only thing that returned unscathed was Big Mac’s luxuriously bushy mustache, not a single hair out of place.

Big Mac pulled to a stop in front of the others as he gave them all his silent regard.

“I killed him,” he said. “He’s dead.”

“What a day, huh?” Spike remarked, cheerfully.

Things felt better back in that little hovel they called a home.

Twilight held up the piece of Harmony to a lamp, getting a better look. It was a barrel – an odd one to say the least, with a hexagonal bore. It was clearly meant to fire very specific bullets.

The piece was found in one of the Diamond Dog’s stores in a small locked box alongside other valuables that they had stolen from Big Mac all those months ago, and was given immediately to Twilight for safekeeping, as part of the arrangement.

Big Mac even threw in a free bag of his finest coffee grounds as an extra thank-you for helping him achieve vengeance for the abuse and murder of his child.

It seemed fair.

“Hm,” she said, floating it into a bag and throwing the bag around Dash’s neck. “Take care of that for us, and have a good night.”

“Got it. And Twilight?” Dash asked.


“Next time you get a hankerin’ t’ go out and kill yourself some outlaws, remind me not to go.”

“Go get some rest, Dash,” Twilight said.

“Night, Twilight.” Dash ducked out.

“See ya!” Spike waved.

Twilight walked back to her desk. She yanked the poster of Mac off the wall and threw it back into the briefcase from whence it had originally come.

“Two down,” she said, looking over the others. “Who’s next?”

“Let’s go after Rarity Burke, Twi,” Spike grinned.

“Maybe. But you know what, I’m kinda worn from all this fightin’. What say we go for somethin’ a bit more fun next?”

“Who’d ya have in mind?”

Twilight tapped a poster of a mare, one wearing a huge grin and an even larger dress. “Pinkamena Diane Pie. Mama Hen of the local bordello.”

“What’s a bordello?”

“She’s in charge of the whorehouse.”

“What’s a whorehouse?”

“A house of whores, Spike, what’s it sound like?” Twilight scrunched up her face.

“What’s a whore?”

“It’s… They... Shut up.” Twilight rolled her eyes.

“Nearly got you, though.” Spike grinned, pointing his fingers at her.

“I need a bath,” Twilight scratched at the dried mud on her face. “Tell you what.”


“Let’s go take a bath.”

“Good idea, Twi.”

“Inn should have a couple bathin’ rooms.”

“And then, after that, the whores!” Spike chortled gleefully, popping out the door and scampering into the night.

Twilight stopped just before she left, running her eyes across the room.

It was truly a nice place. It wasn’t as familiar as her home back in Cantermore, but there was something different about it here. There was a life to it, an energy that came from a place that she couldn’t quite understand.

She felt an odd sense of satisfaction, returning here safely at the end of a job well done.

It was a feeling she never had working alone back in the big city.

Twilight looked at the floor, feeling quite confused as to why she was doing so, before a voice called softly to her from behind.

“Hey. Ready to go?” Spike asked.

“Yeah, I am.”

It would be sad when it all ended, Twilight thought, as she slammed the door shut.

The office plunged into darkness.


Send In The Clowns

View Online

The silver bottle, nestled in a brown paper wrapped with hoof-written script, sat on Twilight’s desk. Within, a strange liquid sloshed, a yellowish slick that refused to stick to the sides of the bottle and reflected light with a metallic sheen.








Twilight placed it gently back on the table, clearing her throat. “And what is it for?”

The worried-looking mare standing at the other side of the table twirled her hoof in mid-air.

Twilight rotated the bottle.


Directions for Use: For any problem, any time!


The sheriff smacked her lips, pursing them into a look of contempt.

“It killed my crops,” the pony complained, harumphing from behind her lace headdress.

“Yes… Miss…”

“Elizabathory Charlese Topp,” she said. “Arborist.”

Twilight stood up. “Miss Topp, your complaint has been registered. If’n you please, I’d like to go take care of this situation.”

“Well, thank you, Miss Sheriff,” the mare gave her her best look of approval. “I rightly appreciate that. These two should not get away with such flagrant deceit!”

“I’ll do what I can, Miss,” Twilight said.


“Do we really have the time t’ do this, Twilight?” Spike asked, as they trotted at a brisk pace down the dirty streets. “I mean, it ain’t bad that we’re helpin’ and all, but…”

“Still our job, I s’ppose,” Twilight grumbled, scrunching up her mouth. “Wouldn’t do right to turn ‘em down.”

“But we’ve kinda been puttin’ off Harmony. Is that okay?”

“I ain’t the sort to say no to a person in need, Spike. But you’re right. We better get a-movin’.”

“Guess you shouldn’t’a rode in claimin’ you were takin’ over as the new Sheriff proper, huh.”

“Probably. But still.” Twilight slowed to a stop, staring straight ahead. “The authority helps.”

Directly in front of them was a cart, one covered from roof to wheel in shelves and bottles, much like a travelling sales-stand, except far larger than it had to be. She noted on closer examination, as she made her way through the crowd, that it seemed to also double as a sort of storage wagon or mobile home of some sort, judging by the small door at one end that was currently locked tight.

Across the reds and blues and striped shades pulled out, grand words were painted roughly, proclaiming the owners of this little walking potion shop.

“The Flammery Brothers,” Twilight said, leaning toward Spike.

“Diiiiid someone call?” A voice, sharp and angular, well rehearsed in the art of delivery, and full of a strange electric charge was soon joined by a figure in a pinstripe suit. The unicorn twirled a crooked cane about his body, both as a way of drawing the eye and keeping the space around him spacious.

Everyone turned when he moved through the crowd, and all gave him berth.

“And a good afternoon to you, my dear!” he dictated. “My name is Theodore Flim Flammery, of the Famous Flammery Brothers, and I come to you today to bring you my trove of amazing medicines, captivating cure-alls, and tantalizing tonics! If you have any sort of ailment, then we have just the solution for you! All one hundred percent natural, of course, and organically grown!”

He did a little dance, much to the delight of the crowd, as he made his way closer to Constance S. Twilight, who was currently attempting to find something in her teeth because it calmed her.

“You, my dear, at a single glance, appear to be a mare of great wisdom and great intelligence. Am I right? Am I wrong? Ladies and gentlemen!” He turned over his shoulder, talking to the rest of the crowd. “Who is this fine lady standing before me?”

“The sheriff!” a voice yelled.

“She done good!” another called out.

“Ahhh, the sheriff,” Flim said, hushing his voice and prodding Twilight in the chest with his cane. “And what brings you here today? No doubt you require something to help with the pain of wounds, perhaps, or a strange salve that can make you work faster? Perhaps you require something to keep you awake on those long nights, or something to help you decide right from wrong. I have a potion for it all.”

Twilight’s eyebrow twitched. Something in her head, behind her eye, started to poke her in the brain. The sensation spread, as it crawled across her entire mind, claws digging in and scratching at her sensibilities.

She lowered her head to the ground, letting her hat obscure her expression.

“Sheriff?” Flim asked.

Twilight looked back up, smiling peacefully.

Flim jerked his head back.

“Thankin’ ya kindly,” Twilight said, pushing the staff away. “But I already have them.”

“You do?”

“Yes,” Twilight nodded, her head flipping up and down unevenly. “But you see, I call ‘em by different things. What makes me work faster’s called responsibility. What keeps me up at night is called tenacity. What helps me decide right from wrong is called morals. And what makes me ignore pain is called not being a little pansy-ass pansy.”

“Ah, well. But we still have…” Flim turned, pointing a hoof toward his stock.

“Flim, was it? Flim.” Twilight chuckled. “Please bring me a bottle of that magical elixir that you say can help with pain.”

“Of course! Of course!” Flim smiled brightly, cartwheeling over a small green bottle. “One hundred per-cent dillyblossom nectar and adderroot extract! It was a secret recipe by the dr–”

Flim coughed suddenly, as he turned away from Spike.

“– by the gryphons, and came to my knowledge through trade with the far East!”

“I see.” Twilight nodded. “And how good is this… potion?”

“It numbs all pain instantly! No matter the wound! No matter the size! No matter what, you’ll always be–”

The crowd suddenly turned silent.

Flim started to back up, as he dropped his cane, his bottles causing a merry tinkling sound as he crashed into them.

“W-what are you doing, ma’am?”

Twilight reapplied pressure to his cheek with her pistol.

“You have two choices,” she said, voice low, her smile so far gone that it almost never existed in the first place. “One. You tell all these kind folk here the truth that you and I both know you for.”

“A-and the other?”

“I show all these kind folk here the truth that you and I both know you for.”

“Y-you wouldn’t kill me! I’m just… I’m just trying to scratch out a living!”

“Oh, really?” Twilight turned over her shoulder. “Ladies and Gentlemen! Would this fine lady standing before you kill this stallion of questionable intent?”

The crowd remained quiet.

Someone coughed, and a little voice squeaked up from the depths of strangers.

Yeah, probably, it said.

Twilight turned back to Flim.

“You wouldn’t kill me!” Flim shrieked, his voice getting higher and higher with each frantic yelp.

“Nah. Yer right. I could, but that’s not what I’m here for. I told ya what I want. And I’m gonna get it either way. So mebbe this’ll sting a little. But it’s alright. You have this, now, don’t ya?” Twilight tinked her horn against the floating bottle of pain-away.

Flim swallowed heavily, his eyes flicking down toward the gun, and then back toward Twilight.


The cart trundled off into the distance, following the sun. Twilight stood at the exit-line, watching him go.

She sighed.

Spike stepped up beside her, also watching the horizon, clearing his throat.

“Would that I could, Spike,” Twilight said suddenly.

Spike shut his mouth and lowered his finger, his question answered before it even came to be.

“But I can’t protect everyone,” Twilight continued. “Others’ll have to learn how to figure stuff out for themselves. I can’t follow him everywhere he goes.”

“No one asked ya to.”

“I guess so,” Twilight turned away, looking back into town. “I guess so.”

“Where do you think his brother is?” Spike asked as they started pacing, entertainment quarter their final destination.

“Part of the scam, I’d reckon. People trust families. Any hint of a family.”

“How’d you know he was a fraud, anyways?”

“‘Cause he was selling stuff that was… too good.”

Too good?”

“Yeah. Too good, too easy. The world ain’t easy. The world ain’t good. When things seem good and easy, there’s usually something bad behind it.”

“I’m sure that ain’t for all cases, Twi.”

“Only the ones that matter, Spike,” Twilight said, turning a corner.

Dust and Harmony

Chapter Four :: Send in the Clowns

“What do you mean, she’s gone?” Twilight asked, rattling the table with a disbelieving hoof.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, my dear,” the other mare in the room said, putting on her best smile. She was someone trained in the art of smiling when things got a bit rough, but there were still hints of disappointment and sadness trying to crack through. “It was a year ago. She eloped with one of our workers.”

Eloped, Twilight mouthed, slumping back in her chair.

“That’s right,” the mare continued. “Ran off in the middle of night, after house closed up. No one heard or saw her go.”

She sat with a hot cup of coffee in the back room of the hen house, while Spike generously offered to case the main floor, just in case of ‘you-know-whatevers’, as he succinctly put it.

“How do you know she eloped?” Twilight asked.

“She left a letter.”

Twilight shook her head, rubbing her temple.

Even getting to this point had been difficult enough – none of the working mares wanted to talk to her when she first entered, and most were already talking to someone else. There were a different set of rules here, as if the hen house was its own little microcosm, and Twilight’s angry yelling did not attract any attention whatsoever save for the matron, with whom she was having a nice civil conversation at the current.

The matron was gorgeous, just like the house itself. She was just as gilded in gold as the bannisters were, and the fine filigree that wound its way around the woodwork and up the walls were mirrored in the matron’s cutie mark, beautiful swirls of yellow against a lavender and lilac frame.

“So, Miss Cheerilee,” Twilight continued, “what’s the story?”

“Oooh, she was just fine. Just fine. Looked after the girls. Made sure trouble never found their way into the house. Everyone respected her, Sheriff. Myself included. Way back when, when I first started here, I was just a fresh-faced little filly come off the streets. I didn’t even know how to string two words together, but Miss Pie, she took me in and got me an education and showed me how to work.

“And when she left a year ago, all us girls were in tears. We had no idea why she decided to go. But I guess love works in strange ways. And it was strange in on itself, because… why. She always told us never to fall in love with the clientele. We had to be professional, after all.”

“Of course,” Twilight said.

“But I guess she didn’t realise that it wouldn’t be a client she fell in love with.”

“Who did she fall in love with?”

Cheerilee sniffed. “She was a youngling here. One of the newer girls. But Pinkie, she always had an eye for such things. Girl was separated from her family. But she was so young. Barely twenty. So Pinkie said she’d put her up here until she was old enough to go lookin’ for her.”

“What was her name?”

“I’m sorry. We keep our real names secret. Only the matrons know everyone’s real names. But her name here in the house was Pumpkin.”

“And was ‘Pinkie Pie’ her real name?”

“No. And out of respect, Sheriff, even though she might be gone, it’s a tradition. You understand.”

“Of course I do. I weren’t about to ask.”

“You’re a kind soul, Sheriff.”

Twilight nodded, her expression softening. Her eyes roamed around the cluttered office instinctually.

“So Pinkie and Pumpkin both left on the same day.”

“Yes, Sheriff.”

“It’s… very important that I find her. There’s something she has that I need. Do you have any idea where she gone?”

“No. But I don’t think it matters. She left everything behind. Both she and Pumpkin. In fact, in the letter, she asked me to take care of their things until she returned.”

“Until she returns?”

“Yes. It was clearly written. I am to wait for her. But it’s been a year now, and I fear she may not be comin’ back at all.”

“Well. I can’t say.” Twilight shifted in her seat. “But maybe she’ll…”

“Oh, thank you for caring, Sheriff, but really,” Cheerilee beamed, “it’s our job to care for you.”

Twilight cleared her throat, holding up her hoof politely.

“Mindin’ if I see this letter?”

“Of course,” Cheerilee said, moving to her desk.

Thoughts rolled around in Twilight’s head. They didn’t particularly lead anywhere, but they were, unmistakably, thoughts. They were there to fill the otherwise uncomfortable spaces and nothing else.

“Here, sheriff.”

Twilight pored over the neat, hoof-written letter. It said as much as Cheerilee revealed – that she would be leaving with Pumpkin, and that they should take care of her belongings while she was gone.

It was signed with a big heart and two interlocking ‘P’s.

Twilight set down the letter, and rolled her tongue around her mouth for a moment, deliberating.

“Matron, I hate to ask this of you, but I am on a job of utmost importance. With all respect to Matron Pinkie, I have a letter from Mayor Celeste herself, and I–”

Cheerilee held up a hoof.

“Say no more,” she told Twilight. “I will take you to her quarters myself. We have preserved it as it was on the day she left. But you have to agree to allow me to be present. I will ask no more questions than is necessary, I assure you.”

“That’s very… open of you,” Twilight said, raising an eyebrow.

“Openness is part of the job.” Cheerilee shrugged.


Past corridors and rooms and lavish domains they walked, tasseled lampshades casting frilly shadows over the velvet carpets. The place was as opulent as they came, each room having its own wash-stand and four-poster bed, as discerned from the few quick glances that Twilight took.

Spike took a few better looks as he walked by, marvelling at the sights – and some sounds – of the den of odd curiosities. But it was fine, as Twilight was told, for the ones who had their doors open usually wanted them open in the first place.

But still, Twilight attempted to keep to herself as much as she could, for her own sake more than anything else.

At the end of the hall was a sharp turn, and an immediate change where the carpets ended and the wallpaper stopped, leading into a simple wood-planked floor and whitewashed walls.

Grey doors lined up like little soldiers all in a row, and everything there was silent and smelt of bleach.

They reached a door at the far end, where a little window was, and to the right was the door that Cheerilee opened with a key.

The room was remarkably bare.

It was clean, maintained, and dust-free, but there was absolutely nothing save for a small mirror, a pathetic bed, and the space of one and a half closets put together. The walls were coated in the thinnest of scratched-out white paint, and it seemed to be one of the few things unmaintained in the whole building.

It was smaller than Twilight’s old lodgings in Cantermore, even, and it made it very clear why Cheerilee was so certain that Pinkie had left all her belongings behind.

“This is her room?” Twilight had to ask.

“All our rooms are like this, Sheriff,” was the explanation. “We live not in avarice.”

“But all those rooms back there…”

“Are for the clients, of course.”

Twilight stepped in and looked around, stunned, hoping to find something – anything – to make the room a bit more forthcoming with information.

There was a small locker under the bed.

“That was a box of her personal belongings,” Cheerilee said. “The only things that mattered to her.”

Twilight placed it on the mattress, throwing it open.

Within was a collection of assorted knick-knacks and scattered bric-a-brac, the sort of stuff that one might find on the floor.

An old fading photo here, a broken toy there, a flower that had long since wilted to dust in that corner...

“All she cared about was making others happy.” Cheerilee sniffed, holding a hoof up to her face. “She had nothing of her own. Only memories of the best times. Every item in there holds a story, Sheriff. And I can tell you every one of those stories save for a few. But I assure you I know everything in that box, and I can at least tell you why she owned every one of ‘em, barrin’ details. I do not think any one of those things is the thing you are looking for.”

Twilight gently stirred through the collection.

Finally, she closed the box with a sigh and returned it to its spot under the bed.

“I don’t suppose there’s any hidden compartments here in this room, or anywhere Pinkie might have kept something of extreme importance, would she?”

“I don’t think so, Sheriff. You can look, by all means. All the money’s kept in the safe downstairs, and there ain’t nothin’ in there except money and a few things some customers have us hold. We ain’t never had a situation before in all these years.”

Twilight let out a puff of hot air.

“Tell me, please,” she said, a frown appearing. “Have you see anything like… a bag or a case of metal things?”


“Well… sorta like… metal things. Six-sided… long things. Metal.”

“That… doesn’t sound like anything I’ve ever seen before. And I’d probably remember if I had.”

Twilight tisked in frustration.

“Alright. Spike. Help me search the room. We’re lookin’ for loose boards. Squirrel holes. Anythin’. Ain’t certain it’ll be here, but we gotta try.”

Cheerilee stood, patiently, watching, as over the next few minutes, the Sheriff and her assistant scoured the room from top to bottom.

They were thorough, but respectful, and ended up with nothing to speak of for their troubles.

Spike frowned, pushing the bed frame back into place.

“Nothing here, Twi,” he called over.

Twilight turned over from her examination of the far corner, rubbing her eyes as she slumped down, huffing into the air as she leaned back against the fading whitewash.

“Hey, come on, Twi,” Spike said, laying a hand on her shoulder once he walked over. “We’ll go look around some more, alright? It’s gotta be here somewhere.”

“It could be anywhere,” Twilight shot out. “What if it ain’t even here? What if she took it? Or if someone else made off with it?”

Spike himself froze in place as he gave the situation his due consideration.

“Well, what now?” he asked eventually. “Do we go back to the mayor?”

“If only we could ask her. If we could find her…”

“Sheriff,” Cheerilee said, softly, through the door frame, the lights from the hallway dancing against her face. “This isn’t something that I normally would do. But this seems… rather important.”

“Lives are at stake, Matron. A lot of lives.”

“Well, that there sounds mighty serious. I suppose… serious enough for me to tell you this one thing.”

“What?” Twilight perked up, pushing herself up against the wall.

“Pinkie had a client. One she saw quite often. And she did see him two nights before she left. We never managed ta get anythin’ out of him, and we rightly think he truly don’t know anything, but maybe you’ll have better luck. He was the last to see her in this town.”

“Who is he?” Twilight scrambled to her hooves, rushing to the door.

“He’s an odd little character. Plays piano at the watering hole. Name of Bagtail Brown.”

“Well, I’ll be,” Spike muttered.

“Son of a bitch,” Twilight whispered. “Ain’t that a kick in the ass?”

The tinkling of keys could be heard even before the swinging doors of the watering hole were in sight; it was the afternoon, and the afternoon was when all the building’s clientele were recovering from last night’s festivities. The rancorous choir, full of fight and spit, was now at rest, allowing the clean, unaided piano music to pierce the skies.

Pianists were paid to play, and so the piano continued throughout the day for anyone who cared to listen.

At the moment, that consisted of two tables silently playing poker, a couple of lonely drunks, a bespectacled gentleman reading a newspaper in the driest corner he could find, and the bartender, who was busy cleaning his glasses as usual.

Twilight very nearly smiled at the absence of a certain other figure, but then remembered that smiling for happiness was something other people did.

She made her way across the vacant floor, having a quick word with the bartender, and finally sliding up behind Bagtail to listen to a few bars.

He didn’t break for a second, nor did he turn, but spoke in and around the notes, not adhering to the rhythm in order to speak freely, in that odd way that he did.

“Sheriff Twilight. It is nice… to see you once more, especially in this… time of the afternoon. Any requests…?”

Twilight could almost feel him smiling with his back turned, sitting there in his black-and-white pianist’s outfit, one lapel sticking outward at an odd angle. Upon his rear legs were a slick pair of snake-skin boots, which struck the floor as he kept time.

“Brown.” Twilight tipped her hat whether he saw or not. “We gotta talk. I already cleared with the bartender. I can have ya for a while.”

“Oh… really?” Bagtail slurred, moving up a key, hitting the keys with an odd fanaticism. “And… how much are you going to tip… me for it?”

“What you say?” Twilight frowned.

The piano playing stopped abruptly in mid-transition; cut short suddenly before the tune was complete; leaving the song to fade away without a fair conclusion. Bagtail spun around, looking over his scruffy face through focused eyes.

“Just… kidding, Sheriff.” He smiled. “It’s a joke.”

“Well, I’m afraid I ain’t really in the mood right now, so if you don’t mind, I’d like to get this over with.”

“Has anyone told you… Sheriff…” Bagtail rose from his seat, his heavy boots cascading a deep beat on the floorboards. “That you are… quite remarkable?”

“Pardon me?”

“Yes, yes. Quite remarkable, my Sheriff. A pony… of great deeds and great name.”

Twilight glanced out of the side of her eyes to Spike, who gave her a little shrug in return.

“I heard about… the Diamond Dogs. Or what was… left of them, anyway,” Bagtail explained. “Glad to see you were… successful on your little… venture. You know, you’ve done us all here… a great service. You’ve given us all a… new chance at peace. And I think a lot of us are mighty… grateful that you did.”

“Well, I were just doin’ my job, was all,” Twilight muttered, letting her hunched shoulders drop.

“Not your job. Your sense of right and… wrong. People don’t appreciate you enough, Sheriff Twilight. People just let… your deeds slide under a carpet. But I just want to say… I’m glad you’re here to lead. To bring a little… order to our world.”

Bagtail nodded, his head jerking up and down like a pony struck with the palsy.

“And Dust knows we need more… order in our lives.” He licked his lips, grinning shakily, turning his head toward a table. “Shall we… talk?”

“Yeah. Let’s.” Twilight pushed toward a chair.

“So, what’s all this… about?”

“I’m here in town lookin’ for someone. And that someone ain’t around no more,” Twilight explained. “Way I hear it, you was the last person she talked to.”

Bagtail stuck his neck outward over the table, tilting his head at an awkward angle, as if he were a bird trying to peer around a branch overhead. His only response was a soft whisper of nothingness, like the escaping of air from a ruptured tank.

With a hoof, he brushed away a few muddy strands of hair from his face.

“Matron Pinkie,” he clarified.

Twilight nodded. “You were the last to see her before she skipped town.”

“Yes, I… was.”

“I’m gonna need ta know what you met her for, Mister Brown.”

“Well.” Bagtail shrugged, “what does… anyone see a little chicken for?”

“Oh ho ho ho,” Spike chuckled. “Ho!”

Twilight cleared her throat. “Right. Mind if I ask if you knew of Miss Pinkie’s intentions?”

Bagtail pursed his lips, creening his neck in the other direction. His eyes gazed upward, to the ceiling.

“I know nothin’,” he said.

Twilight scratched the back of her ear. “Mister Brown…”

“I... know nothin’,” he repeated.

“Listen. I ain’t tryin’ to make this hard. I like you, Brown. But I know you know somethin’.”

“Yeah.” He wiped his mouth. “I know you know.”

“Then why not just tell me?” Twilight leaned in closer.

Bagtail leaned back.

He took a long breath through his nose.

“Listen,” he said. “I got promises I need… to keep. I got friends I need… to protect. I think you’ll be the one who needs’ta explain why you need ta know things so much.”

Twilight smacked her lips.

“Alright,” she said. “That’s fair. I need to talk to her. I need ta ask her somethin’. Somethin’ that I reckon only she knows. I ain’t interested in draggin’ her back t’ town. I ain’t interested in tellin’ anyone where she is. I need t’ talk to her and that’s it.”

“I don’t know where… she is, but I can assure you she wouldn’t take kindly t’ being bothered,” Bagtail stated.

“Even just for a question?”

“She’s careful, Sheriff. I’m sure you… can understand that?”

“What’s got her so spooked, then?” Twilight raised an eyebrow.

“Everyone gets… into a spot of trouble once in a while…” Bagtail said softly. “Even the nicest… of people. Ain’t my story t’ tell. Maybe you can ask her yourself… if she comes back one day.”

“And when will that be, do you reckon?”

“Years. Months. Days.”

“I ain’t got time for this!” Twilight slammed the table, drawing eyes from a few poker players.

She looked over her shoulder, only continuing once she had glared the others back into submission. “Listen, I need to know. This is really important!”

“Well, I ain’t turnin’... my back on a friend.” Bagtail stared, dead-eyed. “I ain’t… ever gonna tell you where she is.”

Twilight’s horn twitched with anxiety, magical flickers running up and down its shaft.

“But…” Bagtail held up a hoof. “I am… willin’ ta help you out. If you can explain t’ me why this is all so important, I’ll do what I can. But it stops short of tellin’ ya where she is.”

Once again, Twilight stared off into the distance, considering the circumstances. Her jaw always felt itchy in such cases, she couldn’t help it, and only running her tongue over her teeth kept her thoughts in check.

A moment passed. Spike stared at the table. Bagtail sat there in focused silence.

Twilight tapped the table. “Fine.”

“Fine,” she repeated. “Fine.”

“We have… accord?” Bagtail asked.

“Yeah. Whatever. Listen. I need to trust that you keep this silent. What I’m about ta say – it ain’t no good if a lot of people know, hear?”

“I can… keep a secret. I promise.”

“I was sent here by Mayor Celeste to find a number of individuals. They have something that I’m lookin’ for. We need these things to defend against a… bandit.”

“A bandit?”

“Yeah. A pretty dangerous one.”

“You… you talkin’ Lune?”


Bagtail tilted his head back, his eyes rolling back into his skull before abruptly snapping back into place. “Well, that change… that change a whole lot, don’t it?”


“Lune… Lune is… coming back?”

“We think so.”

“And these things… you’re findin’...”

“Parts of a weapon.”

“I see.”

Bagtail’s body shook slightly, rhythmically, as the sound of a boot knocking against wood floated up from under the table.

“So, Matron Pinkie held one of these pieces. Or a whole mess of ‘em. We need to ask her where she put it. Now. I know you ain’t gonna tell me where she is. But mebbe you could go to her on my behalf–”

“That won’t be… necessary, Sheriff.”


“Tell me somethin’. How do… I know your story’s ain’t all gammon?”

“Spike. Show him.” Twilight turned to her partner.

The scroll was produced. It was read, and stowed.

“Well… then,” Bagtail smacked his lips. “I… think you’d better follow… me.”


He closed the door to his room, holding out a small leather bag that was drawn tight with a cord. By all accounts, it was a simple thing that wouldn’t be given a second look even by thieves; no self-respecting pony, dragon or gryphon would keep their money in something that shoddy.

“So, that’s it, is it?” Twilight asked.

“Yes. I always wondered what… they were. But she told me one… day someone’s gonna come askin’ for it. And I were t’ give it to… them.”

“Why did she give it to you?”

“I… wouldn’t know. I’ll have to… ask her, next time I see her. Maybe she knew whoever was… gonna come lookin’ for her would… find me?”

Twilight leaned against the wall.

Spike turned to her. “Hey, at least we got the piece, right?”

“I suppose so. Anyway. Thankin’ ya kindly, Mister Brown, but we’ll be takin’ this off ya now.”

She reached out, grabbing it with her horn, but felt a resistance when she tried to pull it away.

“One… moment,” Bagtail said. “Before I give them to… you.”

“What?” Twilight glowered.

“Please. I… want to help. I realise… things have been quite difficult… and I can’t imagine that… I have made that better in… any way. So, if I can ever… help you in the future, all you have to do is… ask.”

And with that, Bagtail released his own magic, letting the bag fly towards Twilight with a sudden burst of speed.

Steadying it, she flew it into Spike’s little bag.

“I’ll keep that in mind, Mister Brown.”

“No. Really. I can be… quite resourceful, you’ll find. I hear… a lot. I see… everything. People don’t pay me… any heed. And I have good relations with the rest… of the townfolk. And I think I can help you.” He tapped the side of his head twice.


“For example, the townsfolk are… more liable to talk to me than old… Moonshine. I have it in better than… an old drunk. She is helping you out, am… I right?”

“Yeah. And how you figured that out?” Twilight stood up a little straighter.

“You were sitting near me at the bar that night… remember? And she stops comin’ into the hole a few days after you… ride into town? Ain’t seem like a coincidence. I can guess she… was one of the others that held a piece of this… weapon too, right?”

“Keep talkin’.”

“And I’m… going to guess that you will be going to her shop… right after this. Seein’ how you need to keep those thingies… somewhere, and the Sheriff’s office don’t got no safe.”

“And how do you know the Sheriff’s office don’t have a safe?”

“I might have been in there… once or twice before, Sheriff.”

“Should I ask why?” Twilight pointed a hoof at Bagtail’s chest.

“Barkeep has me… drag in some of the rowdy ones sometimes. Ones that cause… too much trouble. That was a while ago, of course, before… the old Sheriff turned tail.”

“You know,” Twilight retracted her hoof to her chin, “I was kinda curious about that. Why are you just a piano player, anyway?”

Bagtail shrugged, his eyes narrowing slightly. “What I like t’ do, there ain’t a job for it yet.”

“Have you ever thought about being part of enforcement?”

“Hah,” Bagtail said. “No. Look… at me. How I… talk. I know… my limitations, Sheriff. I am… queer. That’s what people think. Ain’t a thing, but… I wouldn’t make for a good deputy.”

“Well.” Twilight flicked her head. “We’ll keep in touch.”

She turned, nodded to Spike, as the two of them made their way down the corridor, headed back to the bar proper.

“Goodbye… Sheriff,” Bagtail called after. “Hope the rest of your… tasks are as easy as the ones… you’ve already done.”

Twilight stopped.

Her head dipped.

Then tilted up toward the ceiling.

All of a sudden, she turned, at the top of the stairs, staring back at the poor sodden stallion who stood there.

“You know what?” She grumbled. “Come to the Sheriff’s office in an hour.”

“Comin’!” Dash called out, lifting the goggles off her face. Rudimentary, but effective, they were nothing more than four panes of glass, with sheets of cloth pressed between, bolted together in metallic clasps and hung over her eyes.

A bucket of water exploded into steam as she dropped her tongs into it, and she rushed, apron and all, to the front of the shop.

“Hey! Twilight!” she called cheerfully. “Spike!”

“Hi, Moonshine,” Twilight returned the greeting.

“Hey.” Spike waved.

“Great to see you!” Dash continued. “You know, I heard about that whole business the other day with the Diamond Dogs. That sure was rough stuff, huh?”

“What are you talkin’ about, Dash? You were there.” Twilight flattened her expression.

“Yeah… I know,” Dash mumbled. “I was just tryin’ ta see what it’d be like if I weren’t.”

“And how’s that workin’ out for ya?”

“Anyway,” Dash dusted her hooves off on her sides, “how you guys doin’? Ain’t seen ya for a while. How goes the search?”

Twilight dropped the bag on the table with a clunk.

“Oh, hey. The ammo?” Dash spilled them out onto the counter. “Ammo.”

“Yeah, we been… busy with other things. This town of yours has a lot of problems.”

“These are funny,” Dash said, reminiscing. “They ain’t got no caps. No casing. Just… Mayor Celeste told me, just make ‘em as tough as possible. So they’re just like… little rocks. Might as well be, really.”



“So how are they fired, then?”

“That’s why I said this gun don’t work, Twilight.”

“Hm,” Twilight grimaced.

“Anyway, I’ll put ‘em with the others. They’re all still safe.”

“Thankin’ ya kindly, Dash.”

“So, tell me. What’s been goin’ on?” Dash asked as she moved over to the metal box in the corner.

“I saw a whole bunch of whores!” Spike chortled gleefully.

“Uh…” Dash muttered.

“The bullets were with Matron Pinkie of the Hen House,” Twilight translated.

“Matron Pinkie? Didn’t she…”


“So how…”

“Long story short,” Twilight leaned up against the counter, “the piece was with Bagtail Brown.”

“The pianist? That Bagtail?”

“There’s more’n one? Turns out she gave it to him before she left, for safekeepin’. Once we got that all out of th’ way, he handed it over, no fuss.”

“Well, that could’a been a lot more problematic,” Dash said. “Lucky things went so easy.”

“Yeah… easy.” Twilight frowned.

“So… ah… who’s next?” Dash returned to the counter.

“We got two le–”

“Rarity Burke,” Spike interrupted with a declaration. “The hubbadusherer.”

“Wait, she’s one?” Dash exclaimed.

“Yeah.” Twilight eyeballed Spike with the best of her ability. “What about?”

“Oh… I… uh… I don’t get along with her too well. We got… different… points of view,” Dash uttered. “Who’s the last one?”

“Doctor. Doctor Shy something.”

“Doctor Roderick McShy?” Dash clarified.

“Yeah, them’s the one.”

“Well, that one I can understand. But Rarity Burke? I mean… whoa. Couldn’t have…”

“What’s so bad about her?” Spike spoke up. “She looks real purdy in her pictures.”

“Yeah, I suppose. That’s the problem, ain’t it?” Dash said. “Anyway, look. I ain’t gonna raise sand with y’all over her, right? So all I can do is hope that your dealings with her are gonna be… smooth.”

“We’ll keep that in mind. I guess we could always go after th’ doctor first. I’m kinda surprised we ain’t needed his services yet.” Twilight commented.

“Aw, come on, Twilight!” Spike grunted. “Every time!”

“Hey, listen,” Twilight said, turning to face Dash head-on, a sign that Dash had come to understand meant serious dealings. “I need to ask you for your opinion.”

“‘Bout what?”

“Bagtail. Can we trust ‘im?”

“Well, he’s been… around since forever, Sheriff. He’s been playin’ piano for forever. He seems pretty happy, doin’ what he do.”

“Ain’t what I asked ya.”

“Right. I reckon… I don’t know enough about him t’ really say. Kinda bad of me t’ speak of it such, but I ain’t ever given him a right look twice. He ain’t the kind of guy you really pay attention to, y’know?”

“I’m seeing that.”

“So… I ain’t got an opinion one way or another. He’s kinda just there and that’s it.”

“Sounds pretty useful. What’s with the way he talks?”

“No idea. Rumour has it he’s got a split tongue in an accident with a knife.”

“Naw. I got a good look at it. He got a regular tongue like everyone else.”

“Then you already know more than me, Twilight.” Dash shrugged. “Sorry I ain’t more help.”

“Well, I’m gonna talk to him in a bit. Check up on him. Guessin’ he could help. Since you don’t like this Rarity pony, mayhaps he can be of use there, huh?”

“Sure, Twilight. If you reckon he’s good, he’s good.” Dash nodded.

“I better get back.” Twilight said, turning.

“Oh hey!” Dash called out. “Ah… you wanna… get some grub later?”


“Yeah. You know. Food.”

“Do I wanna get some food?” Twilight repeated.

“She’s asking you out for dinner, Twi,” Spike said.

“Oh. Oh. Right,” Twilight said, shifting her jaw. “Uh… I guess so. Right. I gotta eat. Right? And Spike, too? He eats too, right?”

“‘Course.” Dash replied.

“She means ‘yes’,” Spike told Dash.

“Uh… yeah. Come down later, I guess. The office.” Twilight grunted.

“Hey, I’m gonna stay behind, alright?” Spike said, turning to Dash. “Those guns you made for me? They’re real nice. But there’s a bit of a rattle in the grip and I was wonderin’...”

“Yeah! No problem!” Dash said, flipping them over as soon as Spike put them on the table.

“Well… alright then.” Twilight coughed a little, turning back and stepping out of the door.

The last thing she heard was laughter and a few words being said not to worry about something as the door slammed shut.

She swallowed hard, blinking, straightening her vest out for reasons she couldn’t fathom herself.

And then she began to walk, headed for home.

It was fifteen minutes before Bagtail arrived. The sun had begun to set, and a chill swept through the house, prompting Twilight to light a few lanterns and keep the stove ready.

She stood, alone in the office, staring at the faces on the wall.

It hadn’t been that long since she was standing by herself. She had only met Spike a few weeks before. But there was a distance now, a distance that she could actually feel now that she had some perspective.

Fifteen minutes.

The dust on the floor stirred, a phantom wind picking up the grains with a mischievous intent.

Fifteen minutes.

Why was she counting the time? What had she been pulling out her pocket watch over and over, merely to stare at the seconds ticking by? The watch always returned to her vest just the same, and withdrawn just the same, multiple times in the span of a single minute, and many more across those fifteen dreadful minutes.

Twilight found herself swallowing at air.

The door creaked open, a silhouette appearing, the sun sparkling red behind, as a pair of heavy boots thundered across the floor.


“Thanks for comin’, Mister Brown.” Twilight swung away from her desk, lighting a final lantern to warm the corners.

“Thank… you for invitin’ me here,” Brown said, his smile creaking upward. “How can I help… ya?”

“Couple’a things. Noticin’ you’re carryin’.”

“These?” Bagtail looked down toward his chest. A brown belt strapped across his midriff was home to a pair of holsters. They were noticeably filled.

“Mind if ya hang ‘em up by the door?” Twilight pointed. “Coat rack.”

“Of… course. Of course,” Bagtail nodded, undoing the entire thing and stringing it along a couple of wooden pegs normally meant for hats. “I… understand.”


“Of course.”

Twilight took a step toward the middle of the room. “So, I oughta be fair. I haven’t quite decided if I’m’a use you yet. But you know a lot about these here comin’s and goin’s and that’s what I had you in for.”

Brown started a pace, walking around the office with slow, deliberate steps. His eyes didn’t follow whom he was speaking to. They roamed. They discovered. “Anything I can… do to help, as I mentioned. It would be my… pleasure.”

Twilight continued past the center of the room, stopping a few steps away from the coat rack.

She stared at the guns, hanging like fruit from a tree.

“You’re accommodatin’,” Twilight said.

“Yes, ma’am. My daddy learned me good.”

Bagtail was almost at the opposite end of the station now; where Twilight had begun. He ran his eyes across the walls, across the posters, across the briefcase on the table. He turned to look at Twilight.

“Real accommodatin’,” Twilight repeated, continuing to stare at the set of pistols.

“I… thank you again. But surely… this is not what you had me in… for?”

“No.” Twilight chuckled over an acidic tone. “No.”

Bagtail had stopped moving. Twilight could hear the lack of his boots tromping about.

She continued. “I’m gonna have ta ask ya for your forgiveness, Mister Brown. But a pony as accommodatin’ as you oughta understand why I gotta ask a buncha questions.”

“Ask… away.”

“Today went strange. And I don’t know why. I wanna know why. This is what I had you in for, Brown. I wanna know why today went strange.”

“Well, I have… no idea what you’re talkin’ about, Sheriff. I’d think today went… pretty well for you.”

“That bothers me, Brown. Things never go well.”

“You against… things swingin’ in your favour?”

“’Course not.” Twilight reached out with her horn, grabbing Bagtail’s guns and hoisting them off the rack. “What I’m against is things goin’ too smoothly.”

“Ain’t that the same…thing?”

“Naw,” Twilight said, carrying the guns to the front door. “See, when things look real bad, you feel like there’s gotta be a struggle. You gotta fight for what you need. Ain’t no such thing in this world as stuff just falls into yer saddlebags from the skies.”

She nudged the door open with a hoof, staring out into the deep crimson haze of mid-sunset, when the sun lit up the desert and cast it in a bloody film.

“For instance, how agreeable you are. How nice you are.”

“Those are not… crimes, surely?”

“How you’re lettin’ me throw your guns out th’ door without a single word of d–”

A second apart was the time between realisation and reaction.

In fact, Twilight’s mind clicked as the final gear slid calmly into place, without any fanfare and without any glorification. Those were the most dangerous of realisations, because they meant the whole clockwork would start running whether you were ready or not, and the gears fell into place a second too late.

A shot rang out, blindingly painful, screeching through Twilight’s ears and sending a shock into her heart, freezing it for the time it took for her to catch up with what she should have known long ago.

The holster of guns slumped to the ground, hitting the floor with complete inconsequentiality.

The magical aura cast around it started to flicker and fade.

A thin stream of blood flowed down Twilight’s forehead.

Her breathing quickened, she fumbled, in a blank, echo-laden void of her own mind, her hoof moving upward to her horn, pulling away with the feeling of an uncomforting warmth and a sharp tip.

Her body, struggling to regain control of the complete numbness that spread from the end of her horn throughout the rest of her head, turned, in slow, uneven twitches, to face the stallion that stood at the other side of the room.

It took Twilight everything she had in her power just to concentrate on breathing.

Bagtail lowered his gun – a tiny derringer, a gun that could only fire once, but was small enough to be concealed in an article of clothing, like a boot.

“Feels strange, don’t… it?” he smiled, stepping forward in a dance. “Feels… different. I remember the last time I banged my… horn against a doorway. Hurt like a… mother. Couldn’t move for… couple minutes.”

He stepped toward Twilight, her shivering, quaking form, pulling her own pistols from her holsters and brandishing them.

Bagtail smacked his lips, an expression of curiousity running across his face, like a child who found out the answer to a particularly difficult math problem but didn’t understand why the answers were such.

“So, while I have ya,” Bagtail retreated backward, training his guns on the Sheriff, who was now slouching over herself like a wind-up puppet that was slowly losing tension.

Her wincing was evidence of the pain now returning, of her body finally returning control.

“Y-you s-son o…”

“No. I ain’t. I ain’t. I really ain’t.”

Over shuddering breath, as a single tear squeezed out from Twilight’s eye, she forced the words through her teeth. “I k-knew i-it…”

“Did you? Did you really? But you played… so well into everything I did, Twilight. It was… barely a challenge.”

Twilight’s body fell heavily to the ground, her knees knocking the floor, tiny drops of blood scattering themselves around her from the fractured tip of her horn like a festival of roses.

“This is it? Really? I was… hoping for more. After all I… heard. After all I… saw. I wanted more.” The stallion almost looked sad. “But you were… so easy to play. It was like simply… clicking my heels together was enough… to make you dance for me.

“Ever since you… pulled into town. Givin’ up the entire… thing right there in the… bar. I heard it all. And I realised… you. You was the one I was… waitin’ for one whole year.”

“W-what do you want?” Twilight sputtered.

“I want the other… pieces of the weapon, Sheriff. I already know the rest are… in the safe, and I think it won’t be a problem… for me t’ convince Miss Moonshine t’ open up, once I go to her with the final two pieces, of course.”

“An...and ya think she won’t be checkin’ with me first?” Twilight growled.

“Probably… not. I mean… after all, you had to suddenly… go take care of somethin’ way out in th’ desert with your deputy, didn’t… ya?”

Twilight slowly pushed herself up on unsteady limbs, her mane falling over her face, matted to her skin.

“Say, I think I even know… where you went. You and your… dragon went out to the two Canyon Pines South of… Town, about fifteen minutes out at full… gallop.” Bagtail nodded. “You went there to meet old Pinkie Pie and that other whore.”

Twilight squeezed her eyes shut.

“Where… I… buried… them.”

A burning fury bit up from inside Twilight’s chest, a hot, rhythmic beat that reverberated through her torso and into her mind. It was like a pounding headache, each throbbing pulse causing her to get angrier and angrier.

“Why? Why?” she yelled, pushing herself up even further, stumbling as she finally got to her hooves.

“Was the… easiest way. Heard her a year ago… after… a session. Talkin’ about havin’ somethin’... important she needed to keep. Talkin’ to that… other whore. So’s I decided t’ take it. In case maybe it was worth… somethin’.”

“One year…” Twilight said to herself.

“Had her write a… note. Marched ‘em out to the desert. She… really liked that other whore. Did anything for… her.”

“You didn’t have to kill her!” Twilight spat out the blood that had trickled into her mouth.

“Didn’t… wanna. Only killed the other whore… make her talk. Said I was gonna kill all her… other little chicks. Told me everythin’. Didn’t tell me… who the others were. Didn’t know. She told me… take her life. Send her to the Dust for ‘twas a day she… didn’t have a good story t’ tell.”

“You’re a monster.”

“Oh,” Bagtail levelled the gun. “That’s a bit much, ain’t… it? I mean, I just maybe like to cause a bit… of mischief here and there. You law types… you have a word for that… don’t ya? For them who deal a tad of… ruckus once in a while?”

“You are far from social discord,” Twilight said, her eyes focusing.

“I beg to differ. I think that is… exactly what I am.”

Twilight spat once more. She drew inward, breathing, controlling. The situation was dire, but it needed a Twilight who could keep constant. It needed a Twilight who could think.

“I’ve been… behavin’ for a year, Sheriff. So… maybe you could… overlook this one thing here. Time off for… bein’ good?”

The guns – his original guns – were clearly empty. There was no need to take hers if they weren’t. But now was the best time to catch him off-guard. He had had his little bravado. He had his chance to rub things in.

“To be honest… I just want to see… what things’ll be like if the weapon weren’t there t’ stop Lune. Might be a right bit of… fun.”

She needed a weapon. Weapon. He had weapons. But she didn’t. Did she?

“Alright… enough… talking.”

Her horn.

She grit her teeth, squeezed them together, clenched her jaw and focused.

Sparks flew out, a white, silvery light, erupting from her tip like an overheated sparkler. The pain was excruciating.

“Hey! What… are you doing?” Bagtail frowned, raising the gun toward the Sheriff.

It fired off nothing but a loud click.

The other gun followed suit.

A smile started to return to Twilight’s face. “I… prepare… too, you bastard!”

“Stop!” Bagtail roared, throwing the empty pistols aside.

Twilight swivelled, turned, pushed past, and aimed at her desk.

With a furious scream, and a horrendous roar, glass shattered and wood warped, metal tangs twisted out of place and a huge ball of fire erupted from the lantern that had been resting on Twilight’s desk, all within the flash of a white light that engulfed the room a moment before the flames rained down.

Bagtail twisted and turned, his mane, clothes, boots, face and body all squirming in the dance of burning retribution, as the fires swept across the floor, consuming everything in its path.

A gurgling throe, the final calls of a character being eaten alive, escaped burning lips as the figure crashed around desks, lamps, cupboards, two charred limbs clawing out of the heat and smashing against a wall.

As the flames spread, Twilight shook her head back into the present, trying to ignore the pain, and fell back heavily against the door as it juddered open, allowing the mare to spill out into the streets.

In front of her was another figure, lit up brightly and fighting for attention with the bloody sun, as he fell, over and over again, against the hard dirt and unforgiving rock, the last licks of flame finally extinguishing themselves with his repeated attacks.

The crackle of wood and the stench of nidor was an overwhelming combination. The heat was still strong, and the commotion drew a large crowd that started running, and yelling, and there were just things that happened – all things to Twilight who couldn’t do much more but drag herself to the husk that lay still, but breathing, at her hooves.

A crag of reds and blacks coated a great portion of the stallion’s body, like the scales of some unearthly beast. The metal tangs of one of his boots had melted, fusing to his skin, giving him a single lizard-like leg. His mane was charred in places, patches of baldness covering his brown skin, and his eyes, they glowed deep red behind crusts of black, blood vessels having burst from within and colouring it with a mix of hatred and pain.

He stared, the only thing he could do.

“Y-you’re under arrest,” Twilight said, breathing heavily. “So go to hell.”

She turned, walking away, only stopping once she heard, beyond all possibilities she could fathom, that Bagtail was still able to speak.

“G-gear… head…” the shell croaked. “Y… you’re rui...ne….d. I will… tell… every… one…

Twilight’s shoulders tensed.

“Um…” came another voice. “Idiot.”

Twilight looked to her right.

“You know, you should have looked better,” Spike said, pursing his lips and breathing out a small wisp of flame from somewhere deep within his chest.

“H...heh. O...f cour...se.” The husk gave a semblance of a smile, and finally fell silent, eyelids closing as much as they could, as the pianist passed out.

“Twilight, we need a doctor.” Spike wasted no time.

“I’m fine,” she replied.


“I’m fine!” she yelled.

The flickering flames cast shadows that danced and scratched their way across Twilight’s face. A thrall of ponies had already formed a bucket-chain. But their business didn’t help the image reflected in Twilight’s eyes.

Most of the Sheriff’s office was embers. All there was left to do was to wait for the end.

Spike didn’t repeat himself, but rather, jerked a thumb at the remains of Bagtail with a certain sadness in his voice. “What do we do with him?”

“Get him a doctor.”


“He lives.”


“The Dust decided not to take him today. And it ain’t me to do the job of the world. We’re gonna ship him off t’ Cantermore. He will stand trial. I will send Mayor Celeste a telegraph myself. The law will be done.”

“Twilight…” Spike muttered, looking back over his shoulder. “Why?”

“Because he ain’t gonna ever tell me what to do again.”

Twilight hissed as she drew air into her lungs.

“Sorry,” Spike apologized, continuing to dab at the tip of Twilight’s horn with a cotton bud soaked in some weird brown liquid. “You really should go see a proper doctor about this.”

Twilight sat on an upturned bucket in the middle of the remnants of her Ponyton home. There was a point when the majority of the crowd just gave up and decided to watch. But now, they were dispersing. The flames drew ponies from far and wide to the location, including someone Twilight was rather thankful for.

“Doctor’d be best,” Big Mac agreed.

Behind him, what was left of Bagtail was being hefted up on a stretcher.

“You know what to do?” Twilight asked.

“Yeah. Don’t worry. I got a lot of rope. I’ll have him escorted to Cantermore on the midnight train.”

“Thanks, Big Mac.”

“Least I could do,” he rumbled.

“How’s the leg?” Twilight asked.

“Just fine.” The mustache shuffled. “All healed up.”

There wasn’t even a scar.

“Uh…” Spike murmured, pointing.

“Thanks again,” Twilight nodded.

“You take care of yourself, y’hear?” Mac replied, trundling towards his associated. He barked a few orders at them, and the whole lot made off into the night.

“Nice fella,” Twilight commented, as he went.

“If you say so, Twi. I can’t tell, honestly.” Spike continued cleaning the wound.

It wasn’t as bad as originally thought. The tip was completely taken off, leaving a jagged shard in its place. She found no deterioration in her magical skills, although it still ached a little to use her third arm.

She was left with an interesting story.


Whether kept in a box or worn like a crown that you couldn’t take off…

“Poor girl,” Twilight said.


“Pinkie. That bastard killed her a year ago.”


“Kinda wish I knew her. Feels like a right shame.”

“It’s always a shame, ain’t it?”

“Everything’s a shame.”

Twilight rubbed at her eyes.

“Fill me in?” Spike asked.

“I’ll tell ya later.”


Twilight turned upward, facing the dragon, who pulled back, holding bottle in one hand and stained cotton in the other.



“I… uh…”

“What’s up, Twi?”

“About that thing… uh… just now…”

“Yeah, no problem, Twi.”

A cold wind blew, as the night brought the song of crickets humming their songs.

“We… we can go see Rarity tomorrow,” Twilight offered.

“What? No way! We’re going to see the doctor. We’re gonna get you checked up!”


“Yeah, idiot.”

Twilight shifted her jaw around. At least that still worked.

Spike tapped the side of his head.

“Hey, Twilight?”


“Can I ask you a question?”


“Are you a gearhead?”

The bucket shifted in place.


“Oh. Alright. Let’s go get something to eat.”

The bucket shifted again.


“I’m hungry. Let’s go get something to eat.”

“I… okay.”


The unicorn lifted herself off the bucket.

The dragon put the bottle down.

Nothing had changed.

“Thank you, Spike,” Twilight whispered.

“What for?”

“Don’t know.”

Two shadows shuffled off, stepping over rubble and cinders and piles of ash. They’d worry about it tomorrow. There were other things to think about now.

“Hey, wasn’t… Dash supposed to join us for eatin’?” Twilight asked as they walked away.

“Yeah. Don’t know what happened to her. She left before I did, in fact. Should’a got to you before I did.”


Moonshine huffed, frozen, face pressed up against a window.

Her wing twitched. Her mind twitched. The scene in front of her was something that she needed to act on.


“Come on…” Dash pleaded, willing her hoof to move. “Gotta…”

The blood… that horrible stallion… poisonous words slung everywhere… and she had nothing.

Not a single item to help with.

Not a single thing she could do but stare and hope and wish that the Dust would will her to do anything else.

She gasped, a large flash of bright, white light filling the entire room.

When she opened her eyes again, all she could see was the fire. All she could hear were those screams that either pleaded for death or attempted to deny it.

Her mind finally released her body at the threat of flames. And she turned, stumbling over herself, and she ran.

She ran, letting the night take her.


All Will Be Well

View Online

Constance S. Twilight snorted as she jolted awake, the scent of something odd offending her senses. It was the horrible combination of singed fat and burning carbon, two smells that you never want assaulting you together that early in the morning.

“Aw, shit,” came a voice from far across the room, accompanied by a loud metallic clank.

Twilight blinked her eyes, blurry overlay leaving her sight, as she sat up in bed and let her gaze focus on a grey-and-white mane bobbing behind a counter.

It rose again, and a fork was carried to one of two plates that rested on the countertop. It was dropped into the midst of a pair of crusty, black eggs, a small mound of shrivelled beans, and a crabby-looking corn muffin.

Moonshine breathed out.

Twilight smacked her lips, chasing away the dryness.

Dash remained still, staring silently into the plates, almost cautiously, as if she were looking at something very far away that was approaching at a worrying pace.

“Hey, you lose somethin’ in there?” Twilight asked, her scratchy voice made even rougher by the morn.

“Ah,” Dash said, without looking up. “Naw. I just… I just figgered t’ make you breakfast. Or something. Y’know.”

Her words petered out into a mumble, and she looked away to the side as Twilight approached.

“You cook these?” Twilight asked, peering at the plate. Even the steam rising from the charred food was black.

“Yeah,” Dash mumbled.

“You… got a stove here?” Twilight raised an eyebrow.

“I… got a forge.”

“And how hot does that forge get, you reckon?”

“Um… ‘bout… three thousand degrees?”

“And how many degrees does it take to cook an egg?” Twilight picked it up with a puff of magic, the entire flat piece not bending from its rigid posture.

“Ah, I’ll grab ya somethin’ from the mess house,” Dash quickly offered, eyebrows sloping backward.

“That’s… that’s okay.” Twilight pursed her lips into a look of criticism. “I’ll pick somethin’ up on the way to the doctor’s.”

“O-oh,” Dash muttered.

Twilight squinted. “Uh… you doin’ okay?”

“Y-yeah!” Dash stammered, smiling slightly. “W-why would ya say otherwise?”

“Well, not that I’m gonna complain about th’ hospitality…” Twilight tilted her head to the makeshift cot set up on the floor of the blacksmith’s main store area.

“Aw, it’s… it’s no problem! I mean, after all you done for me, it’s the least I could… do…”

“Well, thank ya, all the same.” Twilight nodded, pulling her hat off a coat rack as she walked to the door of the blacksmith’s.

She winced as she drew it over her head.

“You… gonna be alright?” Dash called out.

“I guess I’m gonna find out,” Twilight said as she left.

The door slammed shut.

A figure popped up from underneath a blanket on a bedroll, somewhere further down the room in a dusty corner.

“Hey. Mornin’.” Spike called, scrabbling to his feet and trotting over to the counter.

“Oh, mornin’, Spike. You were awake?”

“Oh yeah,” Spike said, with the clarity of someone who had been awake for quite a while, let alone in general. “Just waitin’.”

“For what?”

Spike leaned over the plate of charcoal, taking in a deep sniff. “Mmm-mmm. Well, if I were awake, then Twi’d just find a reason ta pull me to the doc’s with her. And then once we got there, she’d make me do a whole bunch of stuff to help her get out of it. And I kinda want her to see th’ doc, so…”

“Well… that makes sense, I guess.”

“You gonna eat that?” Spike gestured toward the plate.

Dash pushed it over.

“Right. So,” Spike continued, cracking his knuckles, “what is botherin’ ya?”

“Uh… w-what’s botheri– nothing. Nothin’s botherin’ me.” Dash ran her hooves up and down the countertop.

“Yeah. And I’m a cactus.” Spike crunched into the eggs, breaking off a large splintery piece that snapped in half like well-cooked glass.

“Nothin’!” Dash re-asserted.

“Alright.” Spike dropped the Egg back onto the plate. He sighed, rolling his eyes up, leaning onto the counter with an elbow. “You have been actin’ mighty nervous since we got here. I ain’t doubtin’ that you really offered us a place t’ stay here at your smithy out of the goodness of your heart, but I do question this right here.”

Spike flicked the edge of the plate with a hardy claw.

“Breakfast?” Dash said weakly.

“See, you ain’t ever cooked breakfast before in at least a couple years. I can tell because this is one of th’ finest Dragonese-style breakfasts I ever had since comin’ here, and over here in these parts they call this type of cuisine an accident.”

Spike looked around the room, taking a few re-affirmative glances.

“You ain’t got no tools to cook, so I’m assumin’ you went out t’ buy this fork some time this mornin’ while Twi and I were still asleep. And if you was out buyin’ a fork, and also them eggs and stuff, I ain’t understandin’ why you didn’t just buy some food that was already cooked.

“You wanted to cook yerself, and that, ta me, smells a bit more’n just plain old hospitality.” Spike tapped the side of his snout. “That smells like you’re plannin’ somethin’.”

Instantly, Dash held up her hoof, as she turned a light shade of forged steel. “S-sir! That accusation–”

“Now,” Spike shook his head, “that ain’t ta say you’re plannin’ somethin’ bad. Sometimes plans can be for defense as well. Judgin’ how we’re both still alive, you weren’t tryin’ ta attack us. So question is – what are ya tryin’ ta defend against?”

“W-w…” Dash sputtered, unable to get the entire sentence out.

“We ain’t the enemy here. But I am Twi’s friend. I got a duty. You understand. But you’re my friend too. So I’d prefer we settle this all civil like,” Spike concluded.

“H… How do you know all that?” Dash shook her head. “I mean… you…”

“Hey, how about we don’t worry about what I know or don’t know, and we worry about Twi for now?” Spike smiled.

“Who are you?” Dash spouted out.

“Furious Spike of House Ling. Dragon. Hungry.” Spike threw the remainder of the shards of egg into his mouth, crunching down on it.

Dash blinked. Once again, the faint memory of that name swept back in, but disappeared back into the fog, floating away on a strange errant breeze.

“Really,” Spike said, with a bit more force, like a foghorn calling Dash back to shore. “Don’t worry about me. I got a free day with you what with Twi bein’ at the doc’s. So all’s I wanna do is get ta know you a bit better. So, let’s sit down and have us a little powwow.”

Dash swallowed heavily – the only response she could give.

Dust and Harmony

Chapter Five :: All Will Be Well

The walk up to the doctor’s office was along a path that stuck out of a main street at an odd angle, a winding road that cut through overgrown shrubbery bordered by strange purple flowers and trees that leaned over the twisting way, like guardians with outstretched limbs.

It sat on a patch of soil that allowed the slight growth of some vegetation; it was a stark difference from the barren reds and browns that made up the rest of Ponyton. But if anything could be said about it, the building’s attempts at communing with nature simply made it more curiously different in how set apart it was.

By all other accounts it was a perfectly normal-looking place, a fairly large building by comparison, and one that would have made for very comfortable living arrangements were it a home.

The first thing that Twilight noticed was how far away the other pedestrians were keeping from the path in general.

The second thing she noticed – and it was a conscious realisation that this should not have been the second thing she noticed – were all the coffins that were stacked up neatly at various points in the garden like grocery crates at Big Mac’s Emporium.

She made the walk down the path as brief as she could.

The door opened to the tinkle of three separate bells, together playing a harmonic chord that sounded almost merry in its singing, as Twilight pushed her way past the black lace that hung over the doorframe and over a rather upsetting doormat that simply read: ‘WELCOME HOME’ in big, facetious letters.

The dry, grey parlor opened up to her – a room that bore no character of its own, but instead took on the life of the crowd. And today, there was none. There were no figures in seats that led up the passageway to the coffin at the end. There were no grieving characters that milled about in their whites and blacks and shawls, no one to cry over the ones taken back to the Dust.

Twilight walked, with a strange caution, to the front of the room, following the shambling red carpet that wound its way to the casket sitting atop a small marble altar.

She couldn’t quite figure why, but she felt an urge to look closer.

She held within her a great sense of trepidation, mixed in with a healthy dose of morbid curiosity. She was never a fan of those in the medical profession. It wasn’t that she had no respect for the craft, but rather a combination of associative feelings and the tendency for doctors to be unimaginably creepy towards her.

It was probably something in all those odd fluids they had around the place.

She shuddered as she leaned over the smooth, polished wood of the coffin, almost shiny enough that she could see her face reflected in it, a pale shadow staring back.

The lid of the casket flew open.

Huaraggggh!” Twilight screamed, stumbling backward, and pulling out her pistols, which jittered and jumbled in her magic.

A face popped out of the box.

It was a dour one. One with wrinkles along the eyes and a flare of brown hair falling like a dead willow over a muddy, yellow coat. The unicorn peered down the length of his nose at the sheriff, who was now on the floor, scrabbling for the guns that she had dropped.

“Can I help you?” he asked with a wizened, creaky voice that made him sound like someone was choking him as he spoke.

Twilight froze in place like a child caught with one hoof in the cookie jar. Her leg hovered over one of her pistols as she turned upward to face the speaker.

There were just too many questions.

“I-is this the doctor’s?” Twilight asked meekly, finally deciding on the best way forward. “I was just…”

The stallion in the casket flipped open the bottom half of the lid, throwing himself out with a great billowing of a black cloak, before reaching behind and drawing out a huge black hat from within the box. He took his time to dust himself off, before once again giving Twilight his regard.

“This is the undertaker’s. I am doctor Roderick McShy. What do you need?” the stallion asked.

“Ah… uh. Well,” Twilight picked herself off the ground. “I need t’ speak with you about somethin’, doctor.”

“Yes, most folk who come to see a doctor usually have something to say. The ones who don’t are dead.”

“N-no. I mean. You have something I’m lookin’ for. Can we talk in private?” Twilight frowned. Her eyes couldn’t help but dart back to the open casket.

Doctor McShy smacked his lips, giving Twilight a closer examination.

“What happened to yer horn, there?” he asked, flicking his head towards it.

“Uh… gunshot wound. Last night.”

“Ah, yes. That must make you Sheriff Twilight.”

“That I am.”

“Yes. I had an… unfortunate fellow in last night. Badly burned. Your handiwork, if his screaming your name over and over was anything to go by. You’ve made yourself an enemy, my dear.”

“Yeah, benefit of th’ job. So, anyway. We need to–”

“We need to see about your horn.” Doctor McShy swept past her, leaving her mouth hanging open, as he made his way to the center of the parlor.

“Uh…” Twilight murmured.

“Yes?” The doctor spun around.

“W...what were you doin’ in… in there? If I might ask.” Twilight pointed to the coffin.

“Looking for this.” Doctor McShy pulled out a small glass jar from within the depths of his coat, a green solution within slopping heavily against the stained, semi-frosted walls. There was something oddly bulbous inside, like a pink balloon with tentacles sticking out.

“Why was the lid closed?” Twilight frowned deeper.

“How do you expect me to find it in the light?” McShy shot back. “Now, are we going to get you some medical attention or not?”

Twilight breathed out, her eyes drying by the second. “Yes.”

“Please, wait here. My assistant will be with you shortly. I will need to prepare my tools.”

“Wait, tools?” Twilight took a step back. “Tools for what?”

“To prod and poke. And find out what’s the matter.”

“Now… wait a minute, doctor,” Twilight blurted out, rushing forward. “We ain’t needin’ no tools here! I just want to talk, is all! I ain’t here for no sawbones funny-stuff!”

“Oh, really?”


The only warning to be had was a slight twitch of the doctor’s eyes before the glass jar came hurtling in an arc towards Twilight, who instantly side-stepped and fired off a blast from her horn.

“Ow!” She cried, as the jar slipped through her grasp, landing on the floor and smashing open.

The tentacled blob from within quickly scurried away on odd pink appendages and ran into a hole in the wall.

Twilight squinted through her grimace. “W-what in the Dust?”

“Don’t worry. I’ll catch him again. But you, my dear, you certainly need some sawbones funny-stuff, as you put it. And after you’ve gotten the aid you need… we shall talk.”

Twilight sighed. She wished Spike were here. At least then she could use him as an excuse or something. He was always good with the excuses.

“Fine.” she gave up. “Fine. Let’s… just get this over with.”

“Good.” Doctor McShy squinted. “Now, let me fetch my assistant.”

He cleared his throat.

“Angel!” he called out. “Angel, could you come out here, please?”

He turned, smiling, to Twilight, dried, thin lips curling back over pearly teeth.

“Won’t be a moment. My assistant will help you with all that she can, and if needed, I will step in if… tools are required. But she is perfectly capable in the art of medicine on her own. She has been under my tutelage for three years, and you will be in very good care. My other patients tell me that she is very gentle and kind. And of course, noticing your… hesitance to receive medical help, I can assure you th–” McShy looked behind Twilight. “Ah, here she is now.”

Twilight turned to see a pristine white pegasus in a harshly contrasting black cloak step out from behind a curtain. She was as pure as chalk from head to hoof, a thin sheer of pink hair flowing down one side of her head. She looked at Twilight past a pair of bent, steel-framed glasses that seemed too small for practical use, and the smile on her face was both comforting and non-judgemental.

“Oh, hello there!” she called out with a silky-soft voice, like a cold pudding with caramel on top. “Oh, Doctor, I heard something break earlier, is everything…”

“Gasparde has escaped again,” Doctor McShy said, with a tinge of weariness.

“Oh, that’s terrible! We simply must find him! But ah… is this a patient?” The snowy pegasus tilted her head, her mane bobbing along like flowers in the wind.

“My dear,” Doctor McShy said to Twilight. “This is Doctor Angelique Binnes. Angel, please see to our friend here. She is a very important patient.”

“Oh! Oh! Of course! P-please!” Angel said, stepping aside and pulling open the curtain. “Come in! Come in!”

“She is the Sheriff that you’ve been hearing about,” McShy added, tilting his hat down with a knowing look.

“Oh. Ooooooohhh,” Angel expressed, her eyes growing wide. “Oh. Oh. Yes. Only the best. Of course! Please, Miss Constance. I will take the most absolute best care of you. I-I… please!”

All of a sudden, Twilight felt a little better. The girl was like a little mouse scampering over the floor in search for cheese. She seemed to be easily impressed, and the fact that it was Twilight herself whom she was impressed by made it all the more fear-allaying. Twilight nodded, letting her shoulders de-tense.

“Just step through here, to my room, and we’ll get you sorted out!” Angel chittered, gently ushering Twilight into a well-lit hall.

“So, ya heard’a me?” Twilight asked, as she was led down the hallway toward a room at the end.

“Oh, yes! I’ve heard of you. Amazing work with the Diamond Dog gang. Big Mac spoke very highly of you when he was here getting his leg patched up.”

“Really? I didn’t figure he was th’ kind to speak much.”

“Well, he did mention your name along with the fact that he was bringing his family back. And that’s the most he’s ever said about anyone, so that’s high praise!”

“I… see.”

“And last night’s case? Taking out a criminal like that was just… inspiring!”

“Well, thank you kin–”

“His scarring patterns were so beautiful! The way they spread across his body – it was like… he was a canvas and fire was your paint.”

“I’m sorry, whut was that?” Twilight asked, stopping as her mind ticked back over her line.

“Ah, here we go!”

Angel shoved Twilight through the door.

Twilight’s blood ran cold.

There were… things all over the place. Normally, Twilight could identify the purpose and the use of objects that she saw in day-to-day activities. But these items were lacking any sort of point that Twilight could grasp at, and thusly they remained as things.

As Twilight was persuaded to walk further into the room, she had no explanation for the series of stained machetes that lined the wall. She had no explanation for the small stand in the corner with candles and what appeared to be the heads of various desert animals. She had no explanation for all the jars – and what was it with doctors and jars, anyway – that lined the shelves, all of which carried juices of different colours and objects of various degrees of identifiability.

But by far, the most offensive thing was the large bookcase in the corner, stuffed to the brim with tomes of all sorts, reference textbooks and manuals on local flora and fauna.

Twilight shuddered, her breath running ragged.

“Just here, please,” Angel said, smiling, shuffling Twilight behind a pale sheer curtain and to a small, raised bed. “Make yourself comfortable.”

The bed had a small stuffed rabbit on it with a single horn grafted to the middle of its forehead.

“What in the Dust is that thing?” Twilight yelled, pointing at it.

“Oh, that’s a unilope,” Angel explained, shoving it roughly, whereupon it fell to the ground behind the bed with a thunk. “Um… please don’t worry about him.”

“What the heck is a unilope?” Twilight said, a high pitched squeaking replacing her regular voice.

“A… horrible… horrible mistake,” Angel said, as she looked down at her hooves in stark regret.

“So.” Spike carried a small mug over to Dash. Within, the swirling black void of freshly baked coffee found its home. It was the best he could do under the circumstances – the forge didn’t have a lighter setting.

Moonshine had been sitting by herself on a barrel, hunched over, swinging her legs back and forth, drawing little pictures in the dirt with the tip of her hoof.

Spike stood there, holding the mug of coffee, tilting his head at the sopping pegasus.

“O-oh, um…” Dash stammered, looking up at the beverage. “I ain’t too thi–”

Spike raised his eyebrow, taking a sip from his cup.

Dash dropped her head again. “Oh.”

“Right, now.” Spike leaned against the counter once again. “What’s your hash with Twilight?”

“I dunno. I’m just…” Dash kicked at her floorboards. “I mean, Twi… right?”


“Ya say you knew her for a couple years now?”

“Manner of speakin’.”

“So you guys must be… close, right?”

“Sure,” Spike said, casually.

“And you must… uh… know stuff, right?”



“You maybe wanna get to some kinda point, there?” Spike smiled as gently as he could, swirling his coffee around.

“Um… am I… am I gonna die?” Dash felt her veins chill after the question came out. Immediately she bit her lip, punishing herself for saying something so outrightly blatant.

Spike dropped his eyelids into a tired gaze, as he looked off to the side, bobbing his head up and down as he hummed a nameless song. He placed the mug of coffee down, using the same hand to tap himself on his temple a few times before waggling his finger at Dash.

“That all depends, don’t it? Do ya have any cause t’ believe that you’re gonna die?”

“I d-don’t know. Maybe…” Dash struggled, her face scrunching up in on itself like an old sock.

“Alright, look. I’m gonna dig in my spurs for this one conversation, so go right ahead and rustle me up somethin’ good. I’mma hear ya out. So let’s just cut to it.”

“I… I’m sorry, Spike. I’m just… I’m scared.”

“Scared’a what?”

Dash breathed out, sort of sighing, sort of buying time. “Have you ever heard of the term… gearhead?”

“Heard it floatin’ around,” Spike replied, words hissing smoothly from between his lips. “They somthin’ I should be worried of?”

“Well, Lune…”

“Yeah, heard she was one or somethin’.” Spike turned his palms upward. “What’s they all about?”

“Well, ah…” Dash scratched behind her ear, which was twtiching with discomfort. “We whisper about them here in these parts. They’re uh… said to be unicorns what have more magic’n the others.”

More magic?”

“Yeah. Ain’t nothin’ proven t’ how, but they can make machines run and lamps light and… they can do things with steam and the like.”

“Like make a train go?” Spike asked innocently.

“I… I guess so. I mean, not that we know how it works, really. Surely you got somethin’ like that back in Dragan? People with… special powers?”

“Well, not really.” Spike shrugged. “I mean, all dragons are kinda magical already, but in different ways. But you already know that, don’t ya?”

“Yeah. Yes. Guess so.”

“So why’s them gearheads so scary?”

“It’s part of th’ curse.”

“A curse, now?” Spike asked, rubbing his chin.

“Yeah. Gearhead magic hits ya in your thirteenth year. I mean, I ain’t know too much about unicorns, but that’s what rumours say. You get these strange new magics, and your heart shrivels. That’s what they say.”

“No kiddin’. Shrivelled heart.”

“Yeah. All of ‘em turn into somethin’ scary. Tongues of gold, minds of lightnin’. The only way we ever done know about if a unicorn’s a gearhead is when they let us know. But by that time, it’s already too late.”

“No way to tell otherwise, huh?”

“Well, as it goes, legend is that whenever they do their thing, there’s this bright light what burns like the sun itself. Hotter than any forge. More dazzlin’ than any lamp. And then after that, bad things happen. Really… bad things.”

“Sorta like maybe… somethin’ blows up?”


“Sorta like how the sheriff’s office sorta burned down last night, huh.”

Dash lingered on what she was about to say next, a sudden look of worry crossing her brow. Spike filled in.

“You were there last night, weren’t ya?” Spike gave her a look.

“I… uh…” Dash started rubbing her forehooves together.

Spike rubbed the back of his neck.

“So… how… how long have ya known Twilight?” Dash squeaked out.

Spike left her in silence as he leaned back, folding his arms across his chest, as he focused on something very important on the ceiling.

Dash’s shoulders fell even more. “Listen… I… I ain’t… I mean, I’m not sure what I…”

“Shush for a moment,” Spike held out a finger. “Lemmie think.”

“W-well… I… I don’t mean t’ be throwin’ around accusa–”

“Oh no, Twi’s a gearhead,” Spike said suddenly. “I’m thinking about other things.”

“Wait, what?” Dash yelled, albeit weakly.

“I’m thinking about how to get you t’ calm down once I said that,” Spike muttered.

“She… oh… oh shit,” Dash dropped her head to her hooves. “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.”

“Hey now,” Spike asked, as calm as the Ponyton air. “Why’re ya squawkin’ around like a chickabiddy?”

“Because she’s a gearhead! And… and you knew! Ya knew!”

“Actually, I kinda found out last night, too.”

“What? You… you saw…” Dash stammered, hoof out.

“Oh, naw. I arrived much later than you.”

“Then how…?”

“I asked her.”

“You what?”

“I asked her. I sorta figured stuff. So I asked her. And she said yes.”


“Alright.” Spike pushed himself off the counter. “I got what I need, so lemmie clear somethin’ up. I know about gearheads. I just wanted t’ see what everyone else thinks. You know, from a non-gearhead point of view. So, thanks for fillin’ me in.”


“Hey, Dash. Back with me.” Spike snapped his fingers in front of her face.

She jolted, the loud, sudden sound causing her mind to regain control over her rampant thoughts.

“Hi,” Spike said, his voice taking on the tone of seriousness. “Right. So. Here’s where we are. Twilight is a gearhead. However, gearheads don’t seem to have a good reputation. Seems to me like they were done bad by stories. Lots of ‘em. Lots of really mean ponies running around doin’ bad things. So, sure – can’t be helped that rumour slowly becomes fact.”

“What are ya tryin’ t’ say?”

“I’m glad I had the chance t’ talk to you first, is what I’m sayin’! Now, I ain’t mighty pleased with yer thinkin’, but I can’t rightly blame you neither. But if you told Twilight all this, I don’t think she’d be anythin’ but downright sad.”


“Yeah! Do you think she’s any different from the girl you met two weeks ago? You know, she actually likes ya. I said I known her two years, right? In all them two years, she never once made friends back at Cantermore. I ain’t never seen her talk to nobody, go out with nobody, or even give a smile to anyone she didn’t need ta. Now, given what I just told ya, why d’ya think that might be?”

“I… I don’t know, I mean…” Dash mumbled, wiping her brow.

“You know damn well.” Spike stated.

Dash looked down.

“And she ain’t never did nothin’ bad. But two weeks ago, when she come here, she start talkin’ to ya more than she ever done. She come here first thing when her home burns down. She trusts you, Dash. And she maybe don’t know it yet herself, but she consider you a friend.”

Dash swallowed heavily, her mind being torn into two halves, both sides fighting for the truth over what was known and felt. It was an ingrained feeling that fought against logic. It was knowledge fighting against logic.

“But she’s dangerous!” Dash argued, mostly due to the unreasonable urge to let her fears have a voice. “You saw what happened yesterday!”

“Well then, ain’t it good that she’s on our side? If she’s as evil as you consider, then why is she fightin’ so hard to save everyone in Ponyton?”


“You know, you can point a gun at a good guy or a bad guy, Dash. You yourself know this best of all, I think.”

“Y-yeah. I hope you’re right, Spike.”

“She ain’t gonna hurt ya, ya goat!” Spike clicked his tongue. “She ain’t no evil blackheart. She never hurt me, and she preferred to live hard just so she weren’t gonna hurt no one else. Now, I want ya to imagine for a moment that you would’a told her what you just told me. That you were scared again that she were gonna kill ya, just because of what she is more than who she is.”

Dash let her eyes flutter shut. She shook her head, leaning her face against the back of her hoof. “I just… you gotta understand, Spike.”

“Yeah, and I do. That’s why I ain’t gonna worry too much. Like I said, I was just happy you had a chance t’ talk to me first. This way, you can get it all out, and then you can talk to Twi later and both of ya can do whatever it is girls do when they make up. Like kiss or whatever.”

Dash’s head jerked up. “W-what?”

“Yeah! Kiss her! You wanna kiss her, don’t ya?” Spike shrugged.

“No! I never… what? I don’t…”

“Oh. Right.” Spike rubbed his chin again. “Sorry. Must’a been wrong about that.”

Dash stared, eyes wide, not a word escaping her lips.

“Please, Miss Twilight, you need to hold still,” Angel lilted, wing gently placed in the crook of Constance’s leg.

“But it’s going numb, Doc!” Twilight yelled.

“Yes, it’s supposed to feel that way. Now, just hang on a little more. There’s nothing to be worried about.”

A feather – a sensitive piece of natural equipment by its own right – was laid gently across a vein, Further up the leg was an odd bladder of some kind, made out of a strange, rubbery material that confused and bewildered Twilight. It was made in the shape of a ring, and was inflated around her limb to the point where everything started to tingle and all physical sensation ran away to better climes.

Angel, with her other wing – oddly more dexterous than Twilight had ever witnessed before in a pegasus – let out a squirt of air from the inflatable hoop.

“Mmm hmm,” Angel said.

More air was let out.

“Ah…” she muttered, checking the balloon.

Feeling started to return to Twilight’s leg, along with that familiar prickly pear sensation of when your body had just been strangled by lab equipment.

“Ohhhhhhh,” Angel concluded, releasing the final bursts of air from the thing and yanking it off Twilight’s leg. “Mmmm.”

“Uh… so….”

“Your blood pressure is extraordinarily high, Miss Twilight. That’s not a good sign.”

“Blood… what?”

“It’s the new science. Please, tell me,” Angel continued, not giving Twilight a word in edgewise, “did you get a good rest last night?”

“Well, I was shot in the head and my house burned down.”

“Mmm hmm.” Angel wrote something down on a sheet of paper. It was completely illegible. “And did you have anything to eat this morning?”

“No. I can’t digest charcoal.” Twilight frowned.

“Of course.” More scribbles. “And would you say that you have a stressful occupation?”

Angel looked up from her notes to beam at Twilight.

Twilight scowled back.

“So, very stressful.” Angel made a note of it.

“Doctor… I gotta ask…”

“Hm? Yes. You are at risk of many problems, including occlusion of your blood vessels and various other heart complications.”

“Heart complications?”

“You could have a sudden heart failure, or a stroke.”

Twilight threw her hoof up. “Now, wait a minute, I ain’t never had no stroke before. I ain’t that kind of girl–”

“Also, you could just drop dead!” Angel chuckled.


“Just like that!” The doctor snapped her hooves together.

“Just… dead?”

“Yes!” Angel bounced in her seat.

Twilight looked mildly concerned.

“So try not to be so stressed at work, okay?” Angel smiled. “It’s unhealthy.”

“I don’t understand… any of this,” Twilight said.

“It’s the new science. Now, please tell me what’s making you feel nervous.”

“Uh… look.” Twilight’s eyes darted left and right. Behind the thin white scrim of the curtains that segmented their little check-up area from the rest of the room, she could still see the oddly shaped grotesque silhouettes dancing behind – random items in the room lit up by the flames of candles – each shadow twisted into macabre shapes that all somehow looked like little stabbing gnomes the more Twilight thought about them.

“I really… have to talk to Doctor McShy, and…”

“Miss Twilight!” Angel gasped. “I am your doctor! So please, anything you say to Doctor Roderick, you can tell me! I will take care of you, I promise! I made a solemn oath never to hurt a single living soul except for the ones I have to kill out of mercy!”

“Uh…” Twilight rubbed at the side of her head. She hadn’t noticed how hot the room had become. “Okay. I’ll try to be… uh… less stressed. Can I go now?”

“Absolutely not! We have to see about your injuries! That’s why you’re here, aren’t you?”

“Well, not exactly, but…”

“Now. Horn injuries can be very… personal. And I understand this. But don’t you worry one little bit, because it’s my job to care for them. Now, please. Just bend over, and let me have a good look at it. I promise, I won’t bite.”

“I really weren’t afraid of you bit– whuagh!”

With surprising strength, or at least through the art of catching one unawares, Angel pulled Twilight towards her roughly by the shoulders, tilting her head downwards until Twilight’s broken horn was directly in front of her nose.

Right there, twinkling back up at her, was a shimmering haze, a sort of misty grey fog speckled with random blinks of rainbow-coloured lights, each pulsing faintly as they died away, all trapped within a core of bone that had now been splintered away. It toiled up over the edge, like a silent pot of boiling water, exploding into small bubbles of mist that left microscopic glitter to disappear into the air.

Angel’s expression tightened as she pulled away, allowing Twilight to return to composure.

“You’re quite lucky, miss Twilight,” Angel said, picking up her pencil. “The damage appears to be superficial at best. Your wick is fully intact, although I can see signs of trauma.”


“Yes. It’s suffered through a sudden shock of some kind. But, I think we both know where that’s from.” Angel smiled softly, genuinely.

“Bullet’ll do it, huh?” Twilight asked stoically.

“Don’t worry, though. Your horn will regain full functionality with time. The bone won’t grow back, but there are things we can do to help patch it up to keep your core safe. Tell me, are you experiencing any trouble with casting?”

“Uh… yeah. Sure.” Twilight coughed. “Bit of pain an’ all that. When I float things.”

“What’s your strength?”

“Uh… seven, last I checked. Been a while though.”

“Alright, no troubles.” Angel stood, sliding back a part of the curtain slightly.

Behind it was a rope and handle that was attached to a pulley system of sorts. The other end of the rope was tied to a large block weight, and the whole thing rested next to a vertical ruler with notches cut into it at decreasing distances apart as it went up the piece of wood.

“Please,” Angel gestured.

The object wasn’t something foreign to Twilight. It was that one thing that was a common sight specifically for unicorns, found from school to places of work.

Twilight reached out, past the veil between reality and mystical power, and grabbed hold of the handle with a miasmic glow. She pulled as hard as she could.

Twilight’s attempts to hide her pain and discomfort didn’t slip past Angel’s observant gaze.

The weight rose until it hovered around the five-point-five mark, at which it fell back to the ground with a crash.

Twilight hissed at the result.

“That’s a little under normal, but quite expected, considering the injury,” Angel observed, looking over at the fractured horn again. “You might have a little disc slip in there. Something’s off alignment. We’re going to have to try to re-adjust it to get rid of the pain.”

“Uh… what… whatcha gonna do, Doc?” The sheriff felt her heart quiver with the bad sort of apprehension.

“Don’t worry. Don’t worry at all, Miss Twilight.” Angel placed her hoof on top of Twilight’s reassuringly. “Everything will be fine. We’ll just straighten your wick, and all will be well. It might be a little uncomfortable, but nothing horrifically painful.”

“Are you sure?” Twilight murmured.

“Absolutely, Miss Twilight.”

“A-alright.” Twilight sighed, slouching. “Listen, I… don’t do too good with Doctors, alright? So… thank ya for bein’ kindly.”

“It’s my job, Miss Twilight.” Angel gave her hoof a little squeeze. “I’m here to heal. So I want you to be free of pain, sickness and injury.”

Twilight nodded.

Angel nodded, pulling her hoof away. “And definitely no blood fountains.”

“Blood f–” Twilight stammered, spitting all over the bed. “What in the Dust are blood fountains? Why would ya say that?”

“Because they won’t happen!” Angel smiled. “I just wanted you to know, in case you were thinking about it!”

“I wasn’t thinking about it until you said it!”

“Please, try to stay calm! It’s not good for your health to be this stressed!” Angel frowned, clicking her tongue.

Unnnnnnnnnggggggggghhhhh,” Dash moaned.

She had moved around quite a lot in the previous few minutes, jumping from her barrel to the corner, to staring at the forge and back again.

At the present, she was lying down on her back in the dirt, her wings spread out, her foreleg over her eyes, and she was emitting a low moan as if she were dying of the desert trots.

Spike had been very calm about it all, letting her wheeze and gripe and get it all out of her system – all her fears, her concerns, her anxieties, and one by one, he shot them down like a true partner of the people.

But right now, Spike wasn’t too sure if she was coming back from this. He was on his third mug of coffee-flavoured water, and she had been moaning for quite some time.

But even patience couldn’t last forever.

“Hey, listen, Moonshine,” he said. “Ya gotta snap outta it.”

The moaning stopped. Her mouth hung open like a flytrap.

“Moonshine,” Spike repeated. “Hey. It ain’t such a big thing. You can take it, huh? You’re a big girl.”

“Can I?” Dash groaned. “I dunno.”

“Yeah. You can. Get up, though. You’re makin’ yerself look miserly.”

“I wanna drink, Spike.” Her other hoof flopped out, unfurling from her body and falling to the ground beside her like a dead snake.

“No you don’t.”

“Don’t I?”

“No. You’re thinkin’ t’ run again, ain’t ya?”

Dash didn’t move.

“Maybe,” she finally croaked out.

“Yeah. Well, stop that. You can’t be runnin’ always. You made yerself a bad habit, there. Gotta un-make it.”

“Maybe,” she said again.

Spike took a drink.

“How d’ya know all that?” Dash asked, suddenly.

Spike raised an eyebrow. “Beggin’ yer pardon?”

“All… all them s–” Dash burst out into a few harsh coughs. “All them… stuff.”


“Yeah. Come on. You know ‘bout everythin’. But you never say nothin’. What’s that all about?”

“Huh.” Spike stared into his mug. He wasn’t expecting the conversation to turn so quickly into another topic. But at this point, it was something that she was probably using to distract herself, and it was something he could use.

“Okay, tell ya what.” Spike snapped his fingers again. “You get up off the ground, go brush yourself off, and I’ll tell you about it.”

“Ngggggh,” Dash groaned. “Don’t wanna.”

“Do it, you fool.”

“But it’s embarrassin’,” Dash whined.

“Get up, you idiot!” Spike growled.

Fine, fine!” Dash complained, pulling her leg off her face and sitting up. A whole new collection of odd animalistic noises poured forth from her mouth as she got up in a daze, rubbed the red out of her eyes and tottered to a basin in the corner with a bucket of fresh water drawn beside.

Spike shook his head at the child he had to contend with. “Right. So what do you want to know?”

Dash splashed water on her face, pulling back and giving her mane a shake. “You. I wanna know ‘bout you.”

“What’s there to know?”

“I seen ya actin’ around Twilight. And I see ya now. And I don’t know why you ain’t the same both ways.”

“What’s about me now that’s so different?” Spike asked.

“You smarter. Ain’t ya? Smarter than you wanna show.”

“Well, Twilight’s plenty smart too, right? Ain’t no need for me t’ be smart around her, she’s plenty smart for the both of us.”

“Naw. Naw. She’s smart but in a diff’rent way. There’s another word for that, I reckon. She’s smart like in… she knows tricks and things. But you. You’re smart smart. You’re smart like a book is smart. Like a teacher. Or rich folk.”

“If you say so, but what’s the problem?”

“Problem is you figure stuff out better’n Twilight, don’t ya? But you don’t like to do nothin’ but stand around and make jokes.”

“Maybe that’s what I like to do.” Spike shrugged.

“So, where’d ya learn how to do all that, anyway?”

“Do what?”

“Figure out big things from small things? You look at my breakfast and you can tell what I’m thinkin’?”

“Ah, well.” Spike scratched his forehead crest. “My dad, back in Dragan. He did sorta the same thing too. Guess it passed on or somethin’. But he’s the real smart one. I’m just his son.”

“Smart dad?”


“Of… House Ling?”

“Yeah?” Spike raised an eyebrow.

“I swear I heard that name afore.”

“Ya probably have,” Spike shrugged quickly. “Ain’t too uncommon. You know how there’s a billion of us with the same family name over there.”

“So, why’d you leave Dragan?”

“Well, that’s a question right there, ain’t it?” Spike laughed. “Let’s say I’m lookin’ for a new life.”

“A new life, huh?”

“Yeah. You left your family too, right? To do what you wanted? Same as all your brothers?”

“Yeah, that’s what I said.” Dash nodded in agreement.

“Same thing for me too, in a way.”

“But ain’t that different for Dragan families? Y’all like t’ stay together always, don’t ya?”

“Yes, I s’pose,” Spike shrugged. “But sometimes things change.”

“Yeah. They sure do,” Dash said, her lips turning downward again.

“Well,” Spike quickly stepped in. “I just wanted to get a life where I didn’t need ta think so much. Sometimes, if ya think of the wrong things, it can swing round and shoot ya in the leg. It’s always best to know when to stop.”

“That sounds… like a bit of a waste, though. If I could, I’d be thinkin’ of things all th’ time.”

“Well, not like that’s bad or nothin’. It’s about knowin’ how much t’ think.”

“And what about now? How much am I supposed to be thinkin’?”

“Just enough, I reckon. On one side, you’re scared of them gearheads. That ain’t a bad thing. Probably is what’s gonna keep ya alive. But on the other side, you know Twilight ain’t bad. She just happens to be a gearhead, too. You gotta just take the best from both sides and walk straight down the middle.”

Dash nodded, her eyelids dropping. “You’re right. Ain’t ya? Always right.”

“So later, all you gotta do is just talk t’ Twilight when she comes back. That’s all ya need to do. And things’ll work out, as long as you’re gonna stay calm and as long as you don’t judge her.”



The room dropped into a low mood as the forge gently glowed with drying embers. Spike walked over, tossing the remnants of his cup into the ash, sending a sickly sweet smell of burning beans through the blacksmith floor.

He stared into the twinkling lights, lost in a memory.

“Hey, Spike?” called out Dash from behind.

“Yeah?” he turned.

“I just wanted to say… I appreciate it,” Dash said as she stood awkwardly in the middle of the room.

“Yeah. No problem. Do me a favour, then.”


“Don’t need t’ be tellin’ no one ‘bout this talk. And of course, you’ll be keepin’ Twilight’s secret a secret.”

“Yeah. ‘Course.” Dash nodded earnestly.

“Good. Don’t want nothin’ ta change.”

“Hey, Spike. Uh… I got kind of a… weird question for ya.”


“How come you can’t read?”

Spike spun around fully, half-smirk appearing. “Should I know?”

“I mean, you ain’t dumb. Surely readin’ ain’t a problem for ya.”

“Well, like I said. I ain’t interested in stickin’ my neck out too much. So I just never learned, so that when it comes down t’ it, people won’t bother me so much.”

“Oh. But then why… why don’t ya just learn and pretend you can’t?”

“Well, let’s put it this way. Remember that day a couple weeks back that we caught ya and you were cuttin’ up shines?”

“Ah… yeah. I ain’t… gonna forget that.” Dash adjusted her jacket collar.

“Right. So, we rightly thought you were drunk. But I rightly saw you clearly readin’ that scroll before you claimed you didn’t know how. It’s like this – all lies are best closer to the truth. You have a lot more experience bein’ drunk than not knowin’ how t’ read.”

“All lies are best closer t’ the truth, huh?”

“Yeah,’ Spike said, turning back to the fires. “Yeah.”

“Release me! Release me now!” Twilight demanded, squirming against her bonds. But the leather straps cut into her legs and torso, and the metal clamp with the hole in it secured her head very firmly to the metal table.

Somehow, she had been convinced to do this a few moments ago, but it now seemed like an incredibly bad choice. Twilight was not too used to being tied down in compromising positions. And when Angel had started working, a whole wave of feelings and emotions suddenly hit Twilight, and the flood showed no signs of subsiding.

“Now, I know this is difficult, but please try to keep calm,” Angel said, strictly. “It’s for your own good.”

She sat at the head of the operating slab, staring through a convex glass piece that was mounted to a band that she wore around her head. In either hoof she held a pair of metal rods that the strange mists from Twilight’s horn were slowly gravitating toward, which left the insides of the horn somewhat clear for her wings to work on – wings that were deftly wrapped around a very specific set of tools meant for this very specific circumstance.

They were unlike anything that Twilight had ever seen before, with their weird pokey bits and their sharp edges. They looked like something on the business end of a ferocious animal, and Twilight hadn’t any idea what they could possibly be used for.

The curtain swung open suddenly, a tall, dark figure sweeping in.

Twilight’s eyes darted over to the figure.

“Ah! Doctor McShy!” she cried out. “Help!”

“Yes, yes. You’re getting help,” the doctor said impatiently. “Angelique, is everything okay here? I heard screaming.”

“Yes, Doctor,” Angel spoke while she continued to work, prodding at Twilight’s insides. “The patient is having an adverse reaction to her environment. Also, I am working on her wick.”

“Yes, yes. Very good. Please keep me updated,” he said, preparing to go.

“Wait!” Twilight cried. “Doctor! I need to talk to you! It’s about Harmony!”

Roderick stopped in mid-turn, his hoof lingering on the curtain. “Pardon?”

“Harmony! Ow! Watch it, you stupid creepmouse!” Twilight growled at Angel, whom ignored her. “I’m here to fetch the piece of Harmony from you!”

“Angelique, dear,” Roderick said, turning to her. “This conversation is not taking place. Do you understand?”

Angel didn’t respond, merely continuing to dig around in Twilight with a soft scraping motion.

“Doctor! Nyearrrerrggh!” Twilight squeaked like a small puppy. “Celeste sent me! I need to get that piece! Also, please let me go!”

“Lune’s returning?”


“Oh, dear. Oh very dear,” Roderick muttered, placing a hoof on his chin. “And do you have proof of your claim?”

“The – ngnggkk – letter… burned down in the fire yesterday, Doc! But you gotta believe me! Please!”

“As… much as I am inclined to believe you, what with your current… disposition,” Roderick said, “I am afraid I cannot do much without the official writ. Angel, please finish up. I must leave now.”

“No… wait! Doctor! Get me out of he–”

Doctor McShy disappeared behind the curtain, away to the rooms beyond.

“There there,” Angel said. “Shan’t be long. If you didn’t struggle, we’d have been done quite a while ago.”

“Do you know how this feels?”

“Oh, no. Not really, but I’ve had plenty of things put in me before, so I can imagine.”

“Let me go, or I swear, I’m going to shoot you in the wings, woman!” Twilight spat out, almost as if she couldn’t stop herself.

A voice floated up from above Twilight’s head. “Now, there’s no need for that, Miss Twilight. We are civil people here.”

“Civil? Don’t make me laugh. You’re a doctor.”

“And are doctors any worse than anyone else?”

Twilight stared at the ceiling, blinking the sweat out from her eyes. The words poured forth from her mouth like lava. “You are the worst kind of people!”

“Ah, that explains the anxiety.”

“Anxie-whatever! You and your fancy terms! That’s just the start of it!”

“And pray tell, what have doctors done that gets you all nervous-like?” The tone in Angel’s voice was unreadable.

“It’s all this freaky weird stuff!” Twilight cried out. “You’re weird and scary and you have sharp things and you’re weiiiird!”


“Like tyin’ up yer patients!” Twilight pulled sharply at her straps to no avail. “And stickin’ things in me, and makin’ my leg go numb!”

“Well, I’m sorry you think that way, Miss Twilight.”

“And what’s with all them animals? What’s with all these things all over the place? Why do ya keep smilin’ at me? Only ones who smile so much are the ones who’re gonna put a bullet in yer head!”

“That is an interesting way of seeing things, indeed,” Angel said calmly. “Just a bit more and we’ll be done.”

“See? That’s what ya keep sayin’, but I know that t’ be a lie! You ain’t even – whuh?”

“All done!” Angel chipperly sang, the sound of metal tools hitting a metal bowl ringing out from above Twilight’s head.

All at once, an odd sensation burbled up into Twilight’s mind. It was like the feeling she had with her arm earlier, except with her brain, as something missing started to come back.

“Wh-whuzeeee?” Twilight blabbered.

“You’ll feel slight disorientation for just a while, but you’ll be back with us in no time!” Angel stood up, walking around to the side and loosening Twilight’s bonds.

Mrephgehearh?” Twilight asked.

Angel pulled the metal vise off Twilight’s head, helping her struggle to a vertical position. “Feeling better?” Angel leaned over, smiling straight into Twilight’s confused mug.

“Wh...what jez…”

“I’m glad to say the operation was a success, Miss Twilight. Go on,” Angel nodded to the side at the strength-testing machine, “give it a go.”

Twilight moved on automatic, blankly grabbing the handle with her horn and giving it a quick tug.

“Seven. Back to normal,” Angel read out. “Good!”

“Uh… what just happened?” Twilight asked, as the memory of what she had been yelling about came back.

“Mmm. The wick is connected to your emotional center of your brain,” Angel explained. “I had to re-align it, and that meant that your emotions would be slightly unstable for the time that I was poking around in there.”

And finally, it landed. Twilight’s pupils shrank as she realised everything that happened; every tiny sordid word she uttered; all the little injustices that came forth from a part of her heart that only half-believed the words.

“Uh…” Twilight mumbled, face growing hot. “I… think I might have…”

“You said some very interesting things, Miss Twilight.” Angel went back to her desk, jotting a few more things down. “And since you seem to be one who finds value in the truth, I’ll admit right now that I did in fact, hear everything.”

“Ah. Oh. Um…”

Angel giggled. “I’m not offended, Miss Twilight. You’re not the first unicorn I’ve had to work on, you know.”

“But still, though. I don’t really know… why I said those things. I don’t… really believe…”

“Miss Twilight, we all have opinions. We all have beliefs and thoughts. Maybe that’s not something you think about all the time, but it might have just been something lurking around in your soul. So.” Angel put down her pencil. “Allow me to respond.”

Twilight looked at the desk, staring at the pencil.

“I know I might come across as odd to you. And perhaps to others. Us doctors have to surround ourselves with quite a lot of odd things. And I suppose it rubs off. Did you know that in medical school, we have an entire class on just how to talk to others without coming across as scary or rude? We have to be taught that.”

“But… did it work?” Twilight asked.

“And I guess I have some quirks. But still. At the end of the day, I still do what I have to do without letting other people bother me or get in my way. Which is why, sometimes, I have to tie a patient down for their own good. You protect people, don’t you?”


“Sometimes they don’t understand why you have to shoot someone, or why you do what you do, don’t they?”

Twilight looked to the side, her mane falling across her face.

“We’re not so different, I think. And if anything, I quite respect you a bit more in fact!”


“Yes, at least, you have strength of conviction. That’s really rare in our world. It’s a different kind of magic. You stand firm behind your beliefs, don’t you?”

“I don’t know ‘bout that.”

“Well, be that as it may – the only thing I hope is that your views are still open to change.” Angel winked. “Especially about us doctors.”

“I’m sorry, Doctor Binnes. I acted right shamefully,” Twilight said, holding her head up.

“Just call me Angel,” she replied, with a grin.


Twilight still couldn’t help but shudder at the casket at the front of the room as she was led back down the hallway, after being given a clean bill of health and a few other things she would need. The bill came to a meager seven dollars, a bargain compared to what Twilight was expecting.

She looked over her shoulder as Angel disappeared back into the hall, off to do paperwork or to lobotomize a desert critter or something.

Some thoughts were assumptions. Some were misinformation. But the thought that doctors were a bunch of creepy weirdos was most certainly founded, if not outright proven. Although that might not necessarily be a bad thing.

And there he was, standing like a statue, ready to meet her as she left the medical wing.

“And how did it go?” Doctor Roderick said, sliding up to Twilight.

“Jus’ about as good as it ought ta.”

“No complications?”

“None, thank ya.”

“Good, good.” Roderick beamed. “See, she does good work. What did I tell you?”

“Yeah. She does. She’s ah… nice.” Twilight nodded. “She… ah… has a thing for animals, don’t she?”

“Oh, yes. It’s her hobby. She loves stuffing them.”


“Sometimes she even waits for them to die first.”

“Greeeeeeat.” Twilight narrowed her eyes.

“And this is for you.” Roderick threw something, as he did before, a jar with liquid and a bunch of metallic objects swirling inside.

This time, Twilight caught it with no effort, and no pain.

Doctor McShy nodded at the improvement. “Look at that. Great work. Great.”

“What’s this?” Twilight asked. Yet another jar.

“It’s the trigger assembly,” Roderick explained. “For Harmony.”

Twilight raised an eyebrow. “But didn’t you say…”

“Well, yes. So I just made a trip to the telegraph office and asked Celeste directly.”

“Oh,” Twilight said. “Oh yeah. You could just… do that, couldn’t ya.”

“Yeeeeeeees. And I did!” Roderick exclaimed. “She’s very pleased with your progress so far. She also wanted me to tell you that she has that Bagtail chap locked up in her cells. He will be tried in the coming days and sentenced. She will require a full report from you to do so, however, and asks that you send her one as soon as you can.”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Fine. Writing. Whatever. Anyway, thank you for this.”

The pieces sloshed around in the green goop of the jar.

“I gotta go now. So thanks for everythin’. And give Angel my regards,” Twilight said.

“Oh, ‘Angel’, is it?” Roderick said with a look of mild astonishment.

“Uh… what about?”

“Doctor Angelique said to call her that?”

“Uh… yeah. Is there… a problem?”

“No, no! Not at all! Be on your way now, my dear. Be on your way,” Roderick chittered like an excitable mongoose. “Mmm, yes.”

Twilight didn’t bother responding, merely sufficing to frown to herself in deep thought before pushing back out into the great wild Ponyton commons.

It was already late afternoon as she left, but the permanent clouds hanging over the building that she walked away from made it feel like permanent dusk in that small localized area.

She shook her head as she walked back down the path to the blacksmith.


Creepy weirdos, one and all.

Spike was the only one to greet her as Twilight returned to the blacksmith’s. She eyed her surroundings as she pulled off her bags, dragging them tiredly across the floor.

“Where’s Moonshine?” she asked, upending her wares onto the countertop.

“Whoa, what’s this?” Spike said, picking up the jar.

“Gun part.”

“Pretty. And how are you doin’?” Spike asked.

“Good. They done fixed me up. Said t’ try to rest my horn for a day or two. Not use it unless necessary. The usual.”

“Sounds great,” Spike muttered, shifting through the other items like a magpie. “What’s all this other stuff?”

“Got this thing I need Dash t’ make for me. It’s a cap for my horn. Got the diagram right there.”

“And this?” Spike held up a book.

“Stupid doctor gave that to me. For I can learn ‘bout doctorin’.”

“What’s it say?” Spike ran his claw across the title.

Medicine and Deciding Who Should Live,” Twilight rattled off dryly.

“Right. I’mma borrow this, okay?”

“What… for? You don’t know how to read.”

“Not yet.”

“Uh… okay. So…”

“Dash is out back. She’s waitin’ for ya. She’s got somethin’ she wants to discuss.” Spike jerked his thumb toward the door that led to the back of the store.

A sour look fell over Twilight’s face.

“Yeah, don’t worry,” Spike quickly said. “Ain’t nothin’ bad. It is about what you reckon. But, listen. I already had a talk with her, and this is just… gettin’ stuff out. Alright? So lemmie give you a rundown of how this is gonna go, and then you can go out there and make peace.”

“Alright, Spike.” Twilight nodded.


Twilight found her pacing. Thinking to herself. Kicking a couple of branches that had fallen off a desert willow that found its way into her property.

Dash stopped as soon as Twilight showed herself, looking over at her as if she were a complete stranger.

Twilight returned the look with her own, her lips pursed into something more than worry and her eyes soft with expectations. But still, she kept her chest up high, ready to ride it down to the bitter end.

For a while neither of them spoke.

Twilight felt a claw poke her in the rear. But when she turned back, Spike had already half-disappeared back into the shop.

“Right,” she said. “Spike said you wanted t’ talk about somethin’.”

“Uh… yeah. I got somethin’ I need to come clean on.” Dash said, pulling her frame up as well, matching Twilight’s posture.

“Alright. I’m listenin’.”

“Have you ever thought of a group of people in one way, but then learned somethin’ new to change yer mind?”

“Yeah…” Twilight rolled her tongue around. “Funny, but somethin’ like that happened quite recently.”

Dash drew in a big breath through her nose. “Well. It ain’t easy. But… I’m tired of runnin’, Twilight. I’m tired of bein’ that girl. I can’t hardly call myself loyal if I ain’t gonna steer myself straight. So I’m here t’ say… I’m on your side.”

Twilight’s eyes flickered down. She knew what this was about, and she knew that this speech was more for Dash’s own sake rather than her own. But she never imagined that this conversation would ever take place. In her mind, every time she imagined it happening, it always went the other way.

“Yesterday, I was there at your house. I saw you fightin’ with Bagtail through the window. And I saw you use magic. And I ran. I ran instead of helpin’ ya. And I don’t… I don’t expect ya to forgive me for cowardice. But I want that… to be the last time I run,” Dash declared, frowning with intense concentration.

“So, I don’t care what happens after this, Twilight. I just wanna say… I’m gonna stop runnin’ from anything from now on. And I wanted to thank you, and I just wanted t’ say that you will always be–”

“Oh, fer Dust’s sake,” Twilight yelled, stopping Dash in mid-parlance. “I’m glad you ran, you idiot.”


“You’da gotten hurt. That guy was up to no good. And you… look at you. It’s a good thing you escaped while you did. What if you’d been caught up in the fire?”

Dash swallowed.

“Just… look,” Twilight said, her cheeks flushing furiously. “I ain’t no good with all this stuff, okay? So… let’s just leave it there.”

“So you… you don’t care that I ran?”

“I care more that you’re here ownin’ up to it.”

“And you don’t care that I know?”

“I care that you would still wanna talk to me after knowin’.” Twilight lowered her voice, her misplaced anger subsiding.

“Well, you… you ain’t like the others, right?”

“There’s a lot like me,” Twlight growled, looking around as a matter of habit, hushing up further. “But we ain’t so ready to blurt it out on account of a couple bad eggs ruinin’ the basket.”

“I’ll try to learn,” Dash nodded.

“Take yer time,” Twilight grumbled.

“But tell me, please,” Dash implored. “How does it work?”

Twilight glowered, as if Dash had just asked her if she could fart in her soup. She stepped forward, grabbing Dash by the neck, and drew her down into a small huddle.

“It’s fuel,” she whispered.


“Yes. All it is is that we can turn our magic into whatever it is that makes things go. Oil, electricity. I don’t know how it works, but anything that can use it to run will use it to run. The wrong thought is that we can start fires or whatever with it. That ain’t true. We can only keep a fire burnin’, but we don’t have the power to start something that ain’t started already.”

“Magic… fuel…” Dash parroted. “That’s… that’s a thing, ain’t it?”

“Yeah. So now you know. Not that scary, is it?” Twilight released Dash, throwing her back.

“But that means…” Dash mumbled. “Wait... “

“Now what?” Twilight frowned.

Any fuel? What about things like… gunpowder?”

“I guess. Something like that. Had to blow some idiot up recently. All it takes is a spark to catch it on fire.”

“And… what about pressure?” The gears in Dash’s head started whirring.


“Like… steamworks?”

“I made a train go, once. What about?”

“It works.” Dash gasped. “It works!”

“What? Wait.” Twilight paused. “What?”

“Twilight!” Dash yelled, grabbing her by the back and pushing her toward the door.


“No! Listen!” Dash cried, shoving Twilight back into the blacksmith’s hut.

“Calm down!” Twilight growled, as they spilled out onto the shop floor.

Spike turned to look at the commotion, pulling away from the book he had borrowed.

“The gun, Twilight! The gun! It works!” Dash cried, flying to the safe.

“The… gun? You’re talking about Harmony?”

“Don’t you get it?” Dash said, stopping after failing to open the safe in her excitement. She slumped over the door, putting her face to it like a mother cradling a child. “Twilight, the gun’s a gearhead weapon.”

“Wait. When did you figure this out?”

Just now! Why didn’t you see it before?” Dash yelled excitedly.

“Well, I dunno!” Twilight yelled back. “I don’t know how it works, do I? Are you sure about this?”

“It has… it’s gotta be. The way it’s made… the bullets have no gunpowder but have a hollow cavity in ‘em. The gun itself… it has no firing pin. No trigger. No need,” Dash rattled on, wobbling back to Twilight’s side. “But there’s a small chamber inside for… something. Pressure?

Dash turned to Twilight all of a sudden. “How much magic can you stuff in a small compartment?”

How… small?”

“Like… quarter of an egg?”

“Plenty. You can stuff a load of magic into a small thing. More’n air. The more you shove in, the bigger the boom. That’s what happened with the lantern back at the office.”

“Compressible!” Dash threw her legs up. “It’s compressible! That proves it!”

“You’re tellin’ me that this gun is meant to be fired by a gearhead?”

“And only a gearhead!”

“Dash, the gun was commissioned two years ago by Mayor Celeste…”

“To fight Lune! She knew! Only a gearhead can stop another gearhead!”

Twilight raised a hoof to her brow, massaging the space between her eyes. “Do you even understand what yer sayin’?”

“One of two things,” Spike cut in suddenly, face still in between pages. “Mayor Celeste is a gearhead herself.”

“Whoa there.” Dash said. “That’s… some claim.”

“Or it could be the other thing that’s even more worrisome.” Spike finished.

“The… other thing?” Dash asked. “What’s more worrisome than Mayor Celeste herself bein’ a gearhead?”

Twilight’s jaw shifted.

“Twilight, when were you promoted to deputy again?” Spike asked, calmly.

Twilight didn’t answer.

“‘Bout the time when that whole business with Lune started, weren’t it?” Spike said. “And weren’t it also the case that Mayor Celeste were the one who accepted you as a junior in the sheriff’s squad despite all them… rumours?”

“I don’t like this,” Twilight said.

“Or you know,” Spike peeked over the top of the book, “could just be that Celeste’s a gearhead herself. But it’s kinda funny how she so quickly sent you here, weren’t it?”

“What are you gettin’ at? I trust her,” Twilight said.

“Don’t mean nothin’. Nothin’s gotta change. Just means she ain’t playin’ her full hand, is all. Don’t mean that she’s hidin’ cards up her sleeve. Slight difference. You still gonna protect the town, ain’t ya? You still wanna make sure Lune don’t come killin’, don’t ya?”

“Of course.”

“I think the only thing that’s changed is that mebbie Celeste ain’t the one gonna fire the gun.”

“Wait,” Dash interrupted. “Does that mean she was intendin’ us t’ find out?”

“Can’t say,” Spike shrugged. “All I can say is that we did. And Twilight, you still got a duty. Do you intend t’ see it through?”

“Of course!” Twilight said.

“Then that’s that. Now if you don’t mind, I need ‘t finish this book here,” Spike patted the cover.

“Uh… you can read?” Dash asked.

“Gettin’ there. Figurin’ stuff out.”

“In… ten minutes?”

“Sure. I already know how t’ speak the words, and a phonetic system is far easier than what we got in Dragan. You guys only have 26 of them letter things. Do you even know how many characters Draganese has?”

“Um… that’s…” Dash muttered.

“Quiet, please, I’m trying to try to read.”

Twilight shook her head. There was a worrying shift in the wind. Something was changing again, and she felt it run down her spine.

Trouble was coming.

“Please, Doctor?” Angel begged, smiling and batting her eyes.

“Angelique, this might be a bit too dangerous. We’ve discussed this before.”

“But this isn’t like the others! She can protect me! And I’ll be there to patch her up! I do think she’ll need a lot of patching!”

“I… would agree with that,” Roderick said, sniffing. “But I do so worry for you. What if you get shot?”

“It’s called field experience for a reason, Doctor! I mean, you’ve worked out in the front lines before, with the caravans.”

“That was a long time ago, Angelique. A long time ago and a different stallion. I am very thankful now for my practice.”

“Please, Doctor. I’m ready. I want to see the world. You’ve taught me so much, but now it’s time for me to leave the nest and learn new things! Think of all the help I can bring to the people!”

“But why her? Of all people? I recommended that other nice young chap a few months ago, remember? The miner?”

“Oh, no, Doctor! That won’t do! Imagine me, stuck in a mine, sawing off legs every day due to silly rock accidents. No, I need variety. I need… a challenge!” Angel shook her hooves in front of her. “She’s been here only two weeks and already we’ve had one severe burning, one death by head shot, one death by being blown up to small pieces, and one who was just a small pile of mush.”

Angel shrugged. “Granted, that last one was Big Mac’s work, but it was enabled…”

“Angelique Binnes,” Roderick coughed. “Are you certain that this is all you are chasing after?”

“Whatever do you mean, Doctor?”

“I know you enjoy medical research. Some might say to an unhealthy degree. But perhaps there is something about this Twilight character whom you find… appealing?”

“Ah. Yes. Well.” Angel coughed as well, taking up a brave voice. “I believe she is brave, forward, and together. I believe that she will be able to teach me in ways that you could not. I believe she can teach me how to be a true woman.”

“Will you re-think your phrasing, my dear?” Roderick sighed. “You must watch that.”

“I mean… I think… I won’t get bored with her, Doctor. I think I quite like the danger. A little.” Angel smiled gently, a bit guiltily.

“Oh, Angel…”

“I will be back. I promise. Of course I will. It won’t be for too long.”

Doctor McShy waved his head around in defeat. “Fine. Fine. I can’t say no to you, silly bunny.”

“Oh, thank you!” Angel squealed. “Thank you! Take care of Gasparde for me!”

“But you’re going to have to convince her yourself, you hear?” he waggled his hoof. “I’m not getting involved with that.”

“No problem, Doctor,” Angel said, yanking a black cloak off a rack. “I’m sure she’ll be happy to have me.”


Twilight shivered in a phantom cold.

Trouble was coming.


Follow You Down

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It was bad enough that someone was messing around with a rather sensitive part of her face, but now she had someone else in her face, and all that meant was that the throbbing pain in her face doubled in intensity.

It was all about the face today.

“I… look,” Sheriff Constance S. Twilight muttered. “I told you to come back in a few days and...”

“Oh, it’s been a few days already!” Dr. Angelique Binnes replied.

One. It’s been one day. Weren’t even one full day! You came yesterday!”

Angel smiled, almost as if that were response enough.

Moonshine Dash brought a small metal piece up to Twilight’s head, who stared furiously at it.

“And anyway, I looked through this so-called official letter,” Twilight continued. And there ain’t no authority th–”

“No, no! See? The Doctor’s signature is right there at the bottom! ” Angel tapped the elegantly-letterheaded parchment. “I have his blessing.”

“No. What I mean is that the doctor doesn’t carry any authority with us and…”

“Hey!” Furious Spike Ling cried out, snatching the paper off the counter. “Can I try reading it now? I learned myself real good over this here week. Now’s a good time, right?”

“Hold still!” Dash growled, yanking Twilight’s head back toward her. “If I fit this wrong, it’s gonna be all funny. And you ain’t want a funny horn, now, do ya?”

The blacksmith was deep in concentration, lining up a filament that stuck out from the bottom of the metal cap that had to, had to, be set just right with the core. It was no time for patience to be lost.

“N-no,” Twilight responded, tilting her head slightly, taken back by Dash’s uncharacteristic gruffness. “I don’t want…”

Moonshine picked up a tiny hammer.

“Uh… you okay up there?” Twilight asked.

“Oh, she seems to be doing just fine! I’m glad to see you were able to follow the diagram!” Angel cut in.

“Oh… thank ya!” Dash smiled slightly at the sudden compliment. “The instructions were real easy t’ follow, and…”

“Hey, what’s this bit here?” Spike asked, thrusting the paper into Twilight’s face.

“‘Perpetuity’... it means ‘forever’,” Twilight said wearily.

“So she’s gonna be staying with us forever?” Spike asked, pointing to Angel.

“No! She ain’t! She’s just stayin’ with us fo–”

“So, I can stay?” Angel grinned.


“Sure you can!” Spike interrupted.

“I ain’t got no problems wit’ that,” Dash chimed in.

“Now wait just one cow-licking minu–”

“What’s this word, Twilight?”

“I assure you that I will put myself to good use. For example, I am very well versed in blood fountains and the Marmoset Screaming Plague.”

“Twilight, hold still!”

“Um, does this mean we have to pay her, or does this mean she’s paying us?”

“Which isn’t really a problem for ponies, since it actually only affects marmosets and causes them to scream uncontrollably. However, I am proficient in making them stop.”

Dash picked up a saw.

“Alright, enough!” Twilight screamed. “Shut up fer a minute!”

Everyone in the room froze.

Spike slowly lowered the letter back to the counter.

Dash lowered her saw.

Angel stared on in wide-eyed bemusement, her lips spread open slightly in a childish smile.

Twilight returned her pistols to her holsters.

“Alright,” she rumbled. “That’s enough. Everyone shut up! I had enough of this, I had enough of this stupid town, and I have had enough for a while. I’ll deal with it later. I’m taking the dust-sworn day off. Okay? Dash, you come with me, and get this stupid cap fixed to my head somewhere quiet. Spike? You go do whatever the hell and stay the hell out of trouble. And you…”

Angel grinned.

“... I’m leaving.” Twilight snapped, thrusting herself to the door. “Dash! Get your damn tools and follow me!”

“W-where are we going?” Dash hurriedly swept her random bits of metal into her saddlebag.

“I said!” Twilight yelled, stopping at the door to wait for Dash. “Somewhere quiet! I just want one quiet afternoon! Is that too much to ask?”

“I dunno, boss. And pegasi might fly one day,” Dash commented offhandedly as she threw her bag over her back.

Twilight gave Dash a glare that would have killed lesser folk and decided to stop waiting.

The winds settled in the room as Dash left shortly after.

“So…” Angel said, scuffing her front hoof along the dirty blacksmith floor.

“Guess it’s just us today, then.” Spike grinned.

“Just us, huh?”

“Yeah.” Spike nodded, moving to the table and setting the letter down.

“So… what do you guys do, exactly?” Angel’s right ear flicked back.

“You wanna serve as an attached medical personnel,” Spike tapped the letter, “but you don’t know what we do? Also, we’re the law. Shouldn’t ya already know?”

“Well, I mean, in general, sure. But like… I mean, daily. All the small things that we don’t hear about in the tavern. You know, the basic stuff.”

“That stuff’s real boring, honestly. A lot of paperwork that I have no more excuse not to do… patrolling…”

“Any chance I’ll get to see someone’s ear get sh–”

Orrrr…” Spike mumbled, holding a claw to his chin.

“Or?” Angel perked up.

Spike ran over to a small set of drawers in the corner, pulling them open and rummaging through. “So, you heard it yourself, right? Twilight said she was takin’ the day off?”

“That’s what she said.”

“And we can assume that means she doesn't want to be bothered?” Spike spoke into the shelving.

“That would be a proper assumption,” Angel agreed.

“But we still have a job to do, right?” Spike clutched something to his chest, his voice wavering a bit with excitement.

“Well, it’s your job. I shouldn’t be the one to say what you should or shouldn’t do within the scope of your job.”

“Then!” Spike turned around.

In his grasp was a small poster of a pony with a rather well-to-do look and a haughty air. The name, written in big, sprawling letters beneath, identified her as one Rarity Burke.

“Just us, today.” Spike grinned. “Oh, and welcome aboard.”

Dust and Harmony

Chapter Six :: Follow You Down

The pony, scarf tied around her head, thin-framed spectacles resting on the tip of her nose, turned at the sound of her door being opened and peered over the broom in her hooves; the bell above rang out cheerfully throughout the darkened shop floor.

Spike stepped in, followed closely by his new aide, all the while being gauged in silence by the mare with the broom.

She stepped back.

“G-get out!” she stammered, pointing the handle of the broom at the entrance behind Spike and Angel. “Out of here! Now!”

“Whoa! Hold on there, Miss Burke!” Spike held his arms up.

“How do you know my name?” she shrieked back. “We’re closed! Get out! Didn’t you see the sign? Don’t you know how to read?”

“Well, I do now,” Spike muttered.

Rarity blinked at the response.

“Get out!” she yelled again suddenly, swinging the broom towards them as an escalation of her intent.

“Now, Miss Burke, if you’d let me explain…”

“Explain nothin’! Leave me be, please!” Rarity pleaded.

There, indeed, was a ‘closed’ sign, but upon trying the door, they had found it to be open anyway. The rest of the shop reflected the sentiment – things didn’t seem to be ready yet, despite it being in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week.

Angel squinted her eyes through the darkness of the shop. She could make out a fancy, glass-set ceiling lamp swinging pointlessly from the ceiling, but otherwise, there was a surprising lack of decor for a clothing shop.

She blocked out the futile back-and-forth between Spike and the nice shop lady, trailing her gaze over to a life-sized mannequin lying on the floor that was flocked in a sun hat and a frilly dress. It was stuck with needles of all sizes and shapes, pins sticking out, ready to be used at any time. It was the only thing currently dressed up in the shop.

“Say,” Angel muttered. “Do you think it’d hurt if you did that to a real pony?”

Spike stopped whatever it was he was going to say and turned to his companion.

“Is… is that you, Doctor Binnes?” Rarity squeaked, fiddling with the glasses on her face with a small jolt of magic.

“Yes, it is Doctor Binnes,” Angel responded. “I mean, she is I. So therefore I am… her.”

“Oh! Oh!” Rarity ran over, flustered, keeping her broom pointed toward Spike. “Thank you for coming, but… I’m afraid we’re closed right now. Are you with this… gentleman?”

“Ah, yes. I am. He’s the new sheriff’s assistant, Mister Spike. He’s just here to ask a few questions, that’s all.”

“Thank ya for that.” Spike nodded.

“O-oh? Questions? Sheriff?” Rarity stumbled over the words, slowly lowering the broom back to where it belonged. “Oh, I see. W-well. You should have said sooner!”

“And thank you for that.” Spike rolled his eyes. “Yes, I’ve been trying to say; we come on the authority of Mayor Celeste. It’s regardin’ the piece of Harmony.”

“O-oh.” Rarity murmured.

“Yeah. So…”

“Well, I must ask for your official letter, then.”

“Oh, boy. Do I have a real good story for ya about that…”

“Should I take it that there is no… no letter?”

“You heard about the fire at the sheriff’s office the other day?”

Rarity nodded.


“Well. Then. Perhaps an official statement, and a proof of your station…”

“I… well… I’m not the sheriff, herself. Just Sheriff Twilight’s assistant.” Spike shrugged. “But I carry the authority of th–”

“Oh no. No, no, no. That just won’t do. That simply won’t do. We can’t… can’t do things out of order, you know. We… we have to make sure everything is done right. I’m afraid you’ll have to come back, Mister Spiky.”

“Just ‘Spike’. And we’re kinda pressed for time, Miss Burke…”

“N-no. I’m sorry. Please ask the sheriff to come back herself. If she has no letter, either, then it would be hard for me to release the piece. Please understand. I have been given a great responsibility, and…”

The room’s attention was captured when a door on the other side, set deep in the polished wooden panels, opened, and a small, fluffy head poked out. It was merely a silhouette in the darkness, but its outline was faintly reminiscent of a gumball clad in fairy sugar.

“Sis?” the head asked. “A-are you okay? I heard noises and…”

Get back in there!” Rarity yelled suddenly, swinging around and re-brandishing her broom. “Quickly!”

The face jerked back, remained still, and tilted downwards to the floor before retreating back behind the door with not another uttered noise.

Rarity, sighing, turned back and rubbed at the space just above the frame of her glasses before giving her final demand. “Listen. I can’t help you. I won’t help you. Please leave and come back with the necessary items. I’m sorry, Doctor, but I’m sure you understand the need to do things as they were meant to.”

“Hmm,” Angel hummed.

“Please,” Rarity asked again.

Angel’s response was to skip forward, stumbling over herself as she attempted to be cuter than she was, and ended up a few inches away from Rarity’s face. She gave her a good, long look.

“Um… so… How are you doing?” Angel asked.

Spike stood and watched.

“U-um… I’m fine?” Rarity shook her head slightly.

“Ah… Is your store closed right now?” Angel asked.

“Y-yes it is! Now, leave!”

“Is everything okay with you?”

“Yes! I’m fine! But I have no need to talk about…”

“Do you have the piece of Harmony?”

“I do! But I’m not going to give it to you! Now, will you please go?” Rarity grit her teeth.

“Alright, we’ll leave,” Angel said. “One last question. Please.”

Rarity sighed. “Fine. As long as you go straight after!”

“What’s eighteen minus four, minus three?”


“What’s eighteen minus four, minus three?” Angel asked again.

“W-what… uh…” Rarity muttered, “eleven?”

“Alright.” Angel pulled back, giving Rarity a cheerful smile. “Thank you. We’ll be on our way.”

The sun was just as blazing as it had been when they had entered. It was only then when Spike realised there were thick, heavy curtains drawn across the store’s windows.

They shuffled down the street, Angel whispering a few odd words to herself under her breath.

Spike couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow as they trotted away from the clothier's, cutting through the crowd expected of the market district.

“So… do you know that you’re a bit weird?” Spike asked.

“Oh. Yes.” Angel’s head bobbed. “A bit. Just a bit.”

“I guess we’ll come back tomorrow with Twilight, huh.”



“Well, I.. don’t really know Miss Burke that well,” Angel admitted. “But would I be right to say that there was something quite odd about our encounter?”

“Yeah. Well. It was kinda odd, I guess. I mean, some things kinda struck me as a bit funny-like, but she didn’t say nothin’ ‘bout it. I mean, Dash says she’s all sorts of weird. I don’t think Dash likes her too much. Maybe it’s on account of her strange inclinations or whut.” Spike shrugged.

“I think she’s hiding something.” Angel said. “If… I might be allowed to give my opinion.”

“Really, now? And you can give yer opinion jus’ fine, Miss Binnes.”

“Please. Just call me Angel. And yes. I guess I just wanted to ask her a couple of questions at the end back there. Hope I didn’t overstep my boundaries”

“You were askin’ her all kinds’a questions.”

“Yes. Yes. Of course. But… ah... what I was asking for was for her to tell the truth.”

“The truth, now.”

“Yes. I was just curious, really.”

Angel stopped walking, and brought a hoof up to her temple, tapping upon it as she furrowed her brow, before she continued speaking. “Mister Spike, I would like to ask you for your candid reply.”


“Please tell me what you honestly think. You do suspect something’s going on, right?”

Spike shrugged again. “I suppose you could say I did. But it’s in the sheriff’s code that we can’t get involved in nothin’ unless they ask us directly. So there ain’t no reason for me t’ push it.”

“I see. You’re archetypal of a non-confrontationalist.”


“Ah, pardon me.” Angel giggled. “But… what if I were to tell you that she did sort of ask, but just in an indirect way?”

“Yeah? Do tell.”

“Yes. But before I go on, I have to ask you if you think you’d be inclined to help her if you knew for sure that she was, in fact, in trouble, but she simply doesn’t want to ask for help.”

“And why wouldn’t she ask for help?”

“I don’t know yet. There could be many reasons. But if we can put the entire story together, perhaps we can find out in the end.”

“Angel, what are you proposin’?” Spike leaned to one side, shifting his weight.

“Very well. Let me begin by explaining what I saw, and the questions I asked. Simply put, there is a New Science that states that it is possible to tell if someone is lying or not from observing patterns in body function.”

“Well… ain’t that just about gut feelings? I mean, I can sorta tell when Dash is ly- I mean, when peoples is lyin’.”

“Yes. That’s actually it. But the New Science seeks to explain why. The theory is that people who can already ‘sense’ lies, as it were, simply are reading body movements and listening to voices and they know… you know, based on small changes, if someone is lying or not.” Angel’s hoof waved through the air as she elaborated. “It is simply the New Science that makes it more organized, and identifiable, and easier to read, as it were.”

“Uh… o...kay, I guess? I think I only understood maybe a half’a that, but…”

“I can turn your gut feelings into a reference guide.”

“Huh. Okay.”

“So basically, when I asked the math question at the end, that was to force Miss Burke to think. To use a part of her brain that would relieve distractions from anything else. A certain part of the brain lies. Other parts do math. Other parts imagine things. Other parts sense taste and balance.”

“That’s more ‘New Science’ stuff?”

“Yes, yes!” Angel clapped. “So exciting! So, by making one part of the brain work, we can establish what she looks like when she is definitely not lying. And by comparing that look to other looks, we can tell when she is.”

“And you can tell what she was lyin’ about?”

“Yes. And I can tell you with some certainty that she was lying when she said that she was fine, lying when she said that everything was okay, but she was telling the truth that her store was closed and that she had the piece of Harmony. She was certainly and truthfully not going to give it to us, however, and she really, really wanted us to leave. Also, she’s quite good at math.”

“Huh. You sure about this?”

“Well… in the end, it is still a… gut feeling. But one that I can use on people that I haven’t met before. I asked twice to be sure, and interspersed it amongst other questions. But I am quite sure that she is not fine.”

“So, do you reckon something happened?” Spike asked.

“I do not know, Mister Assistant. Perhaps it is now your turn to fill in the blanks.”

Spike looked up, drawing in a deep breath. “Alright. Fine. Fine. Well, for one, it’s midday and her shop is closed, but not locked. But all them lights were off and the curtains were drawn, so clearly she wanted us folks to think her shop was closed. But she was clearly workin’.”


“She was sweepin’ when we got in, right? At this time of day and not in the mornin’ means that she either couldn’t sweep in the mornin’, or a mess was made just before.”

“Uh huh.”

“And normally, a shop like this… they don’t take down stuff on display. But there was hardly anythin’ set out. And that one doll thingie you found with the pins stuck in…”

“It was pretty!”

“It weren’t on purpose, Angel.”

“Oh.” Angel’s expression dropped. “That’s a shame. I rather liked it.”

“That ain’t no way to sell somethin’. Means someone else did it. She got angry when her sister came out, too. Was mistrustin’ of me.”

“So something surely happened. But what?”

“Robbery,” Spike declared.

“You think so?”

“Yeah. Look at it this way. Rarity weren’t injured. Neither was her sister, or she wouldn’t be holin’ her up like that. You’re a doctor and she knew it. She wouldn’t have skipped on askin’ you for help if either of them was hurt.”


“But we do know that her sister was threatened in some way. That would explain her fear of her leavin’ the room back there and her distrust of me.”

“Unless she’s just like that.”

“Yeah. Could be. But that sister seemed a mite young, didn’t she?”

“Sounded young, yes!”

“Now, I reckon, chickabiddies of that age, they ain’t takin’ t’ duckin’ away without a fight, right? And yet, that little one tottered off without a whisper.” Spike scratched his chin. “Thinkin’ that t’ mean that however ya paint it, the little kid knew she weren’t supposed t’ be out there. And if it ain’t ‘cause this Rarity character was punishin’ her, then it was ‘cause she was protectin’ her.”

“Yes. I did notice a touch of fear when Miss Burke was yelling at her sister, almost as if she were both angry and scared of something at the same time.”

“So why would ya threaten someone and not hurt them? Because you want somethin’ else, right?”

“So they were robbed.”

“Right. Guns or spurs. But there was at least two of ‘em. Maybe more. Probably more.”

“How can you tell?”

“The doll thingie with the needles.”

“I rather liked it. Are you sure it wasn’t int–”

No.” Spike frowned. “Someone had the free time t’ do it. Which means someone was threatenin’ the sister, someone was grabbin’ the loot, and someone had buck all to do but stick needles into a doll for funstuffs. So probably three. Maybe two. But probably three.”

“That’s amazing, Mister Assistant! A fine piece of deductive reasoning!”

“Yeah. Nah.” Spike brushed it away. “So that’s my side.”

“Then, without a doubt, she was asking for help.” Angel nodded.

“Without words?”

“With her eyes,” Angel said, pointing to her own. “When I asked her if she was okay, she kept looking towards the rear left-hoof side of the room. But when I asked if she still had the piece of Harmony, her eyes went somewhere else. Now that I know something was stolen, I can understand those movements. Because it wasn’t, in fact, the piece of Harmony. When people think about things that are near them, they try to look for it to remind themselves that it’s there.”

“And this means…”

“Her eyes were telling me… ‘I’m not okay. There’s something missing’.”

“Maybe.” Spike sighed.

Angel nodded.

They both stood there for a while, the wind sweeping heat down the road.

“So, what do you intend to do?” Angel asked.

“I just think maybe Sheriff Twi’d be better for it.”

“Why? When we’ve already come this far on our own?” Angel asked, tilting her head.

Spike sighed again. “Meddlin’ ain’t… good.”

“But we’re not meddling, are we? We know what’s going on. The picture is quite clear. Wouldn’t following up on it be the responsible thing?”

“I would, but…”


“Ain’t good.”

“What isn’t good?” Angel asked.

Spike looked down again, inspecting every stone in the dirt with a strange concentration.

“Spike? I know it’s not my place to say, but I think sometimes it’s important to just do things that you know is right. If you know you’re not wrong, then whatever you do can’t be bad. Sometimes you have to make a patient scream in order to pull out the shards of glass stuck in his face.”

“That sort of thinkin’ didn’t work out for me so good in the past,” Spike muttered.

“Then… I’ll do it.” Angel stamped down, smiling to herself.

“Huh?” Spike raised his head slightly.

Angel looked straight on, a silken glow surrounding her as the sun haloed her form.

“This is all very fascinating! Imagine, I could be shot!” Angel ruffled her feathers.

“You know, that ain’t really a good thing, right?”

“Oh, it’ll be fine, I’m sure. Just teach me how to use a gun, and I’ll be fine!”

“I don’t think pegasi can use ‘em. Why do you wanna do this so badly, anyway?”

“Well, honestly, the reason I would like to be attached to Sheriff Twilight and you is for experience. I’m interested in the field application of the New Sciences, and I believe observing you at work will give me insights to certain concepts! Perhaps even a breakthrough of some kind!” Angel nodded gleefully. “Besides, being in precarious situations just means more chances to stick my hooves into other people’s bodies.”

“Pleasant.” Spike looked to the sky.

“I’m just surprised you aren’t as curious about this as I am, honestly.”

“Listen, Angel,” Spike frowned. “Curiosity ain’t the reason why we do things. If I’m gonna do it, it’s cause I want to help. And meddlin’ on the side of the law ain’t always the best thing.”

“So… why don’t you help as yourself, then?” Angel smiled.


“Yeah. Not as Spike the sheriff’s assistant, but as Spike the Dragon.”

“Huh. Well, I mean… still…”

“That way, I get what I want, you get what you want…”

“And what is it that I want, Miss Angel?”

“To help.”


“Yes. I can tell.”

“Using your New Science stuff?”

“No. Some things are just obvious.”

Spike narrowed his eyes.

Angel kept on smiling back.

“I guess… urgh! Fine!” Spike ruffled his spines with his hands. “Fine! Whatever! This is a bad idea. But okay. You follow my instructions all the way, got it? You don’t go and do stupid things that’ll get you hurted, and before you even ask, we ain’t gonna go back to talk to Rarity about this.”

“Oh! Yay!” Angel squealed. “Yay! We’re going to get shot at! Yay! But… shouldn’t we talk to Miss Burke?”

“No.” Spike glared, at the ground, his brow furrowed with the thoughts of things far away. “That’s what Twilight would do. But we’re doing this off the books. My father once told me that in any crime, the victim is the one who knows least of all ‘bout what’s goin’ on. So if we gonna do it, we gonna do it my way. The House Ling way.”

Angel nodded, listening intently.

“Besides, I really don’t think she’d be real happy to see us again, and I don’t think she’d be very accomodatin’, yeah?” Spike said.

“I don’t think so either.”

“Then it’s settled. We’ll do our best, and that’s all we can do.”

“Alright! So, where do we start?”

“The boring part,” Spike answered, pointing down the street to the row of shops across from Rarity’s.


They met again in the middle of the street, an hour after they had split up, just as prescribed, each clutching a notebook tightly in their relative grasps.

“How’d it go?” Spike asked.

“Well, I’m not entirely sure, really. I managed to get a lot of information, but I don’t know how good it is.”

“Alright. Don’t you worry about that. Firstly, accordin’ to what I found out, Rarity’s was robbed real early this mornin’, and there was three ponies drop by with masks and ponchos. It was dark, and nobody got a good description. Same for your side?”

“Yes,” Angel replied. “That sounds about right. No one I asked had a clear picture of the culprits, but they did say they saw three figures speeding away down the road.”

“Story’s the same, then. People heard a noise; probably them breakin’ down the door, which explains why Rarity’s shop ain’t locked. Probably her door’s busted. They looked out the window, saw some fancy doin’s, and a while later, three ponies in shadow go streakin’ off.”

“Yes, that’s what I was told as well.”

“Okay. That’s good. And you managed to get some names, too?”

“I did exactly as you instructed.”

“Alright,” Spike said, waving his notes around. “Here’s what I got, myself. Pardon th’ bad writin’. I’m new t’ that.”

“Probably not worse than mine is.” Angel giggled.

“So what we got is a list of all them people who these other shopkeepers seen comin’ by in the last couple days.”

“Might I ask why these names are necessary?”

“Well, iffn’ you wanna steal somethin’, you wanna make sure that the place you’re robbin’ has the thing you’re looking for, right?”

“Oh, I see! Yes! It’s like when you do an invasive procedure to find out what’s inside the colon before you cut them open!”



“Anyway…” Spike gave Angel a funny look. “It’s likely that Rarity’s was scouted afore the robbery. So we’re lookin’ for the scouts.”

“But there’s quite a lot of names. Are we intending to visit every single one of them?”

“‘Course not. That’d eat a day and a half. What we do is cross names off.”

Angel nodded.

“Now, I reckon you know the kind folk of this town better’n I do. So let’s do this. You got your list? Put it here.” Spike motioned to a rain barrel.

Both sets of names were placed down; hasted scribblings upon loose sheets of paper that Spike always had about his person.

“Right. So,” Spike said, pacing the ground. “Witnesses say that they seen three figures runnin’ away. But Rarity’s is a dress shop, right?”

“Hats, really.”

“Hats and dresses.”


“I reckon the haul must’ve been pretty big, right? From the looks of the shop, they stole a whole bunch of stuff, since there weren’t much left on the floor ‘cept for just the one dress.”


“But when I asked, no one saw no one runnin’ away carryin’ a big sack of nothin’, and no one saw no one runnin’ away with a bunch of hats or dresses in tow.”

“Oh… I’m sorry,” Angel said. “I didn’t ask that of the shopkeepers on my side.”

“Yeah, don’t worry ‘bout that.” Spike waved it away. “It just came to me while I was askin’ just now. I figured that it was a kinda weird robbery when I was thinkin’ of it. I mean, who goes in and steals a whole buncha dresses? If it was cloth they wanted, they would’ve robbed a tailor. If it was the hats and dresses themselves, it’d be way too difficult to use, because then you’d suddenly have a whole bunch’a ladies walkin’ around with the same clothes on.”

“So… what was the purpose of the robbery?”

“It was somethin’ else. What else do you know about the dresses?”

“Other than that they’re rather nice, nothing much.” Angel shrugged. “Hm…”


“Wait. You know, coincidentally, there was one lady I was questioning who was actually wearing a Rarity dress and hat. She was going on about how terrible it was because she really did like the clothing so much, and also how lovely the patterns were, and how–”


“Yes. Sorry! I think they’re just rather pretty. They’re very lacey, the hats have wide brims, and they all have matching clasps.”

Spike snapped his fingers. “Wait. Clasps?”

“Yes! Around the collar, and along the brim, there are some inlaid jewels set into frames and sewn in.”

“That’s it. The jewels. That’s the true goal. They were lookin’ t’ get some gems, right? But robbin’ a bank or a jeweler’s is pretty tough. Reckon it’s a lot easier to get them from a seamstress.”

“Oooooh. Yes.” Angel nodded, eyes wide.

“So they… they come in,” Spike said, dancing his hands across the air as the image formed in his mind, “threaten them, cut the gems out of th’ dresses and hats… and then they make away with what they could. No need for big bags.”

“So we’re looking for people who would have need for jewels?”

“Yes. And also them who’s either rich enough or has enough clout t’ be able to gather a gang t’ do this. So, tell me. Who on this list jumps out at ya?”

“Well now…” Angel said, running her eyes down the lists.

It only took a moment. Most of the time was spent trying to interpret Spike’s illegible scratchings.

“There are three names that stick out. All these three have the money and resources to do something like this, but it doesn’t seem likely that they would.”

“Motives are one thing, Miss Angel. Don’t ever underestimate th’ power of greed.”

“Well, that aside, then… We have one Mister Timothy Turnwell. He’s a watchmaker. Quite well to do, and has a few different shops. I’m sure he’d be able to scrape together a bunch of hires to pull off the robbery. He also requires jewels for his watches, both in the mechanisms and for inlays. I’d say he’s suspect.”

“Right. And next?”

“Next is… well. The town’s only other Dragon of any repute.”

Spike raised an eyebrow.

“A fellow by the name of Stephan Magnet.”

“What, now?”

“Stephan Magnet. I’m sure it’s not his real name.”

Spike glared into the distance.

“Um… he’s another seamster. Makes clothing and the like. Uses a lot of silk. His clients are slightly wealthier than the average. I’ve always wondered why he doesn’t just move to Cantermore.”

“It’s… a bit more difficult in Cantermore for a dragon to get any sort of repute, Miss Angel.”

“O-oh. I’m sorry.”

“That’s fine.”

“In any case, it wouldn’t be too far off for one clothier to steal from another, if they needed resources, right?”

“It’s possible.”

“And finally, the last name is just a possibility, because I couldn’t think of a reason why they’d need to steal gems, but they’re just rich and powerful enough that I couldn’t see a reason not to put it on the list just in case. And also, he was seen going to the store just a few days ago.”

“Who is this?”

“If the stories are right about an incident last week, you’re already rather familiar with him.”


“I’m sure you know the name ‘Big Mac,’ don’t you?”

“Huh.” Spike frowned.

The clockmaker’s shop was also his house, as was common of many buildings in Ponyton. A few choice items were displayed in the windows behind nothing more than a simple pane of glass; it was the shop’s proximity to the business district that warded off thieves and the like.

It was also a fact that most characters of ill-repute didn’t know how to read the time and had less use for a fancy timepiece, and more often than not it wasn’t worth the time to steal his wares, since the ones who could afford them would much rather buy them through the proper channels.

The unicorn shopkeeper stepped out from the back just as Spike and Angel entered the front, a slightly creaky door serving as an entrance bell.

He adjusted the spectacles on his face as he gave his two customers his warmest smile.

“Yes, yes, please. Do… do come in! Yes.” He chanted with an odd, breathy manner. “Yes, are you interested in, perhaps, a fine pocketwatch, yes? Or… perhaps, ah, you would like something with a strap? They’re, ah, quite in fashion nowadays, yes.”

Spike took the opportunity to take a quick look around the shop. It was as was expected – display cabinets here and there, clocks of all sorts adorning the walls to really hammer it in, and a workspace behind the counter along the back.

“Hi, Timmy,” Angel waved, smiling as well.

“Oh, ah, it’s you – Miss Angel. Did you need to, ah, tune your watch?”

“Oh, no! That’s fine, Mister Turn,” she replied, holding up a hoof. “I didn’t bring it with me. We’re on other business today. This is Mister Spike.”

She motioned.

“He works for the new sheriff, and he would like to ask you a few questions if that’s all fine?”

It didn’t take a second for Timothy to turn from his natural grey to white.

“Oh, ah,” he stuttered. “Ah, perhaps, I, I, ah…”

“Sir,” Spike said, walking up to the counter, “ain’t no need to be worried none. I just got a few simple questions for ya.”

“Ah… what is this… this in regards to, Sir?”

“We’re lookin’ into a little robbery, is all.” Spike nodded. “Mind tellin’ me a little ‘bout what you do here, Mister Turnwell?”

“Ah, I…” The pony adjusted the collar and tie around his neck. “I am… ah, of course, ah, a watchmaker, and I make… ah… watches…”

“So we have established that a watchmaker makes watches. Would you care to tell us a little bit more?”

“Well, I, ah,” the watchmaker cleared his throat. “I make the best watches. Custom made, to fit, to detail. I… I pride, ah, pride myself on that.”

“Mister Turnwell is the town’s watchsmith,” Angel cut in. “He specialises in dress watches, but that’s not to say that his work isn’t impeccable. Each of his pieces is constructed by himself or one of his three assistants, and he puts them all together right here. He does take requests.”

Angel winked.

The watchsmith gave a guilty-looking smile in return.

“Right. Thanks.” Spike frowned. “So where’s all your assistants?”

“They’re… all out today. We managed to complete the parts for a rather extravagant request last… ah, last night, and I gave them the day off,” Timothy explained.

“An extravagant request, you say?”


“What’s so extravagant about it?” Spike asked, walking slowly to a display case to his left, taking a glance inside.

There were three pieces within, each as distinct as the sun was from the moon, although all showed fine work with horn-drawn inlays and golden clasps that matched the overall ‘theme’ of each individual item.

The dragon, to Angel’s curiosity, leaned over the cabinet and closed his eyes, almost as if in a slight meditation.

Spike pulled away.

Timothy continued. “W-well, the, ah, client asked for something with more… sparkle to it.”

“Sparkle.” Spike sauntered back to the main counter.

“Yes, sir. She wanted a watch embedded with gemstones of all sorts. To create a, ah, rainbow of colour.”

“Can I see this piece?” Spike asked nicely.

“Ah, well. I’m in the middle of assemb–”

“Can I see this piece?” Spike asked again.

“Y-yes sir. One moment, p-please.” Timothy turned even whiter still, and abruptly made for the back room.

Spike turned, tilted his mouth to the side and shrugged.

Angel chuckled softly.

Spike turned back as the sounds of shuffling came through, and a small wooden tray with a black velvet bottom was lowered gently to the countertop. Upon it were gears, springs, sprockets and other such parts, all of which looked rather delicate, almost as if a sneeze would cause them all to scatter to the winds.

“P-please, I’ll have to ask you to be very gentle…”

“Oh, don’t worry. I ain’t gonna touch it. I just wanna have a look.” Spike clambered up and peered over the top of the counter, which was just about at the height of his eyes.

The face of the watch had twelve holes where the numbers should have gone, and along the bottom of the tray were twelve small, round gems that crossed the shades of the spectrum.

“Mmm,” Spike hummed. “And could you tell me, Mister Timothy, why’s about you were at Rarity’s a few days afore?”

“R-rarity’s? Oh, yes… well, it was rather difficult to… to get an assortment of gems at such short notice. I, ah, I had to resort to asking Miss Rarity if she had any to spare. To sell me!” He quickly added.

“And she said?”

“Un… unfortunately she wasn’t able to provide any. She had what I needed, but she didn’t have any to spare.”

“So where’d these come from, then?” Spike asked, pointing down at the tray.

“Ah… Miss Rarity did tell me where she, ah, gets her gems from. I had to pay more, because they wouldn’t be sold individually, but in the end I got what I wanted.”

“So you have a couple extra, then?”

“Y-yes. Would you like to see them?”

“No. That’s alright. Yer offer already tells me you have them, an’ whether you bought ‘em or stole ‘em, it’d be the same.”

“O-oh. I…”

“But I tell you what. Maybe you can tell me about this fella who you bought them jewels from.”

“Ah… well…” Timothy Turnwell scratched the side of his head. “That… ah…”


“He’s no longer in town, I’m afraid. He left this morning. He was one of those pass-throughs, only here for a few days and then gone. Rarity told me she gets all her stock from him, and he gets it himself by trading with the other towns further north. So…”

“So there ain’t no way to verify if your story is true,” Spike summarized.

“I… I’m sorry, Sir. But I’m telling the truth! I really am! I didn’t even know that Rarity’s was robbed!”

“You sure about that?”

“Y-yes!” The watchmaker sighed, rubbing at his nose. “A-am I in trouble?”

“Not right now, Mister Turnwell,” Spike said. “We’ll take our leave now. Thank you for bein’ so accommodatin’.”

“Not a problem, sir!” Timothy yelled. “Please! Ah, if you… need me again, I will be right here! Anything I can do to help!”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”


As soon as they left the store, Spike started talking as they continued walking. “Okay, let’s get movin’ on while we still got daylight. Also, what d’ya reckon?”


“That thing you do with people. Was he lyin’?” Spike jerked a thumb back toward the watchmaker’s shop.

“Oh, I… don’t think he was. But sometimes it’s difficult to tell.”

“Ain’t this supposed to be some kind of steamworks science thing?” Spike raised an eyebrow as they wound through the crowd. “Able to do anything and perform miracles with nothin’ more ‘an a puff of smoke?”

“That’s slightly inaccurate,” Angel explained. “The New Science isn’t infallible. A machine will always work a specific way unless it’s broken. But the rules of the New Science have to be… flexible. Certain techniques work better on certain people over others.”

“So… why’s it better than steamworks, then?”

“I never said it was,” Angel giggled. “It’s just more interesting. And, well, hopefully the research will bring us to a point where it’s just as good as steamworks is. Right now, we’re in the early days of the new world, and research is very important. You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few skulls, after all.”

“I’m… not sure that’s quite how it goes.”

“But my best hunch is that he was telling the truth, and that he was very, very nervous. What do you think, Mister Assistant?”

“Tell you what. I’m gonna let my thoughts be my thoughts for now. Beggin’ ya t’ be a bit patient, but I need to get all the pieces in first. I ain’t ready yet to call this hunch. I just wanted t’ see if your New Science could tell me something new.”

“Then, I apologize. I, too, at this point, only have weak guesses,” Angel’s ears fell flat against her head. “Mister Timothy is a rather skittish fellow. There was no way for me to tell what he was nervous about. Rarity, at least, had a more grounded baseline.”

“That’s fair. Just let me know when you think you can put that New Science of yours to good use, alright?” Spike nodded. “Let’s move on, then.”

“Oh, I definitely will! Please, allow me to help. And if you wouldn’t mind, Mister Assistant, could I perhaps ask you something about your methodology?”

“Yeah?” Spike quirked an eyebrow.

“Earlier when you were looking at the display case…”

“Ah. Yeah. Well.”

“Hmm?” Angel’s ear flicked.

“I was just enjoyin’ the smell.” Spike gave a wry smile.

“The smell?”

“Listen, why don’t we leave it at that,” Spike tilted his hat down over his eyes, “and move on? That had nothin’ rightly t’ do with the investigation.”

“Well… alright,” Angel said, biting her bottom lip. “Then, our next stop is just a few roads away.”

“What in the flaming blue mountains is this?” Spike grunted, staring at the curiously disgusting building in front of him.

It was a spire, like a tower of coarse bricks, but wrapped up in a giant swathe of red, tassled cloth, as if the building were involved in an unfortunate accident with an oriental hammock.

It sat at the edge of the services street, and it stuck out like a cactus in a garden of posies. Surrounded by buildings of a more regular nature, it went out of its way to make sure everyone knew that it was different.

“How did I not see this?” Spike asked.

“I don’t know. It’s always been here. It’s rather unique, isn’t it?”

“This ain’t unique,” Spike grumbled, his eyes narrowing. “Not by a long shot.”

“Hm?” Angel’s ears flicked back. “You seem perturbed.”

“Now,” Spike folded his arms across his little chest. “You said that this here was a Dragon.”

“Well… yes!”

“This ain’t Draganese.” Spike shook his head.

“No? Well, I was sure…”

“Listen. Lemme clear somethin’ up real quick for ya, okay?”

“Please do.” Angel nodded.

“Whatcha know ‘bout Tian?”

“I know it’s a continent to the far East.” Angel stated. “I know that’s where Dragons come from.”

“Right. So, Tian’s full name is Wánmēi Tiānguó,” Spike spat out effortlessly. “At least, in my language. It means ‘The Perfect Kingdom of the Sky’. The word that you silly colourful folk over here use, the only bit you can pronounce, really, by itself just means ‘heaven’.”

“Right,” Angel affirmed, rubbing her chin with a hoof.

“So, lemme just ask what’cha know. How many races live on Tian?”

“The Dragons and the Gryphons, right?” Angel nodded.

“Okay. So. I know word don’t spread ‘round too good out here, and we don’t tend t’ talk ‘bout ourselves much, so consider me not upset that you don’t know this, but the correct answer is three.” Spike held up three fingers to elaborate. “Tian is split into three kingdoms, divided by mountains, yeah? There’s the Northern bits, the Western bits and the Eastern bits. The Gryphons come from the North in a high-up area called Gryphea. Us Dragons is from the West, and we call our lands Dragan.”

Angel nodded.

“Now, that last bit over there on the East, and the one who owns this horrible buildin’ here,” Spike pointed, “they’re called the Ryu. We all may seem the same to you pony folk, but I assure you we’re very, very different. Their land is called Ryunokuni, and we’ve been fightin’ since forever for ownership of the Heavenly Throne.”

“You’re at war?” Angel’s ears ticked.

“Naw. Not really. It’s just sort of a thing. See, the mountain right in the middle of Tian is what they call the Heavenly Throne. Now, in reality, it’s sorta just a rock. But it’s right in the middle, so whoever owns that rock is s’posed t’ be the boss of the whole continent. It’s kinda just a title though. The owner has no true power ‘cept fer bein’ able t’ rub it in, and it’s been like that since forever. Maybe long ago it was about war, but now it ain’t nothin’ more than pride and politics.”

“How do you capture it, then?”

“You have t’ stand on the rock from sunrise t’ sunset without bein’ knocked off. If there’s more’n one by the end of it, then everyone has a little scuff t’ see who’s strongest. This happens once a year.”

“Who’s the current owner, then?” Angel asked.

Spike let his mouth hang open for a while, his finger still held up as if to elaborate. It was a moment before he finally answered. “I don’t know. But I know what it was when I left all them years back. It was Gryphea.”

He clamped his jaw shut immediately after, perhaps a bit too strongly, letting his arms drop to his side while he stared furiously into the distance, burning holes into the horizon.

“Oh, I… I’m sorry,” Angel said, lowering her head, although she couldn’t remove that ever-present child-like smile of bemusement from her face. “I didn’t realise it was a touchy subject.”

“Naw. Ain’t… ain’t really that,” Spike continued to look away. “Just thinkin’ of home.”

“All the same, I do apologize for causing discomfort.”

“Anyway,” Spike snapped back, his gaze refocusing into that hardened frown once more, “the point is, this place is a Ryu place inside an’ out. It’d be best not t’ mix us up.”

“Well, I’ll definitely remember that,” Angel said, brushing her hoof gently against the ground. “Although, Stephan Magnet does introduce himself as a dr–”

A voice cut through the air like a machete through twice-roasted pork.

“Oh! Oh! I thought I hear some voice from outside!” came a high, lilty voice carrying a rather spectacularly put-on accent. “Ah, glorious customer! Welcome to Magnet Dragon Gifts and Souvenir! Come in please! Please to come in!”

The figure, ducking in order to be able to get through his own doorway, pulled himself to full height soon after. A long black mustache adorned his horse-like face, and a tall red silk shirt covered the top length of his already-lengthy body. Just like Spike, he had arms, legs, digits, and an upright posture, but he looked as if he had been stretched out lengthwise.

Spike stared.

“O-oh!” Stephan Magnet said, catching his gaze. “Brother Dragon! It so great to see my own people here! Please, you want to buy gift from homeland?”

“What the hell are ya doin’?” Spike asked.

“I… I have gift from homeland!”

“No, seriously. What the hell are ya doin’?” Spike asked again.

Angel stood idly by, taking in the splendour of what was unfolding.

“Oh, fine,” Stephan said, dropping his arms. “Whatever. Look, come in, will ya? This ain’t gonna be good for my im– Oh! Good friend! Please to come in, please! We having tea, and exercise ball! You buy, yes?”

Spike swivelled around to catch a pair of ponies moving swiftly away as they passed by the shop.

“Ugh,” Spike muttered. “Fine. Angel, let’s go in. But I’m doin’ so under duress.”

“No duress! We no sell duress!” Stephan nodded happily, squinting his eyes, sweeping a clothed hand to usher his glorious customers into his shop.

As soon as they swept in, Stephan followed, gliding through the door like a ribbon twirling freely through the air. He moved like a serpent, twisting against gravity in ways that made him look as if he could fly.

The door shut, and with a resounding click, it was locked.

“For pete’s sake,” Stephan spat out, tromping past shelves of random things to the back of the shop.

The store was unlike any other store in the area. It was packed, narrow, cramped, and had shelves and nothing but shelves. Upon them were stacked a plethora of useless items and tchotchkes, although once in a while one might find something that had actual function behind the rubbish, like a bowl with an extra lip.

Hand-written signs showed everything’s price, and plenty more signs reminded the user that once anything was broken in any way, it was considered sold.

“Of all the people you’d expect to find in a town like this, I ain’t ever think I’d run into a Dragon!” Stephan kept on moaning. “So, what, have you come to call me out? Y’ want me to buy your silence? Is that it? Fine! Fifty pearls and not a single splinter less!”

“What the heck am I gonna do with pearls? This is Equestria, you idiot!” Spike yelled over the porcelain statues of dog poop on the corner of a shelf.

“To send back to your family in Dragan?” Stephan pulled open a drawer on a small rectangular table at the back that sported an abacus and plenty of graph paper. “Fine! You roughshod badger! Eighty pearls!

“I don’t want damn Dragan money! I just want some damn answers!”

Stephan stopped, hand placed on the money drawer.

“How… much are answers?” he asked.

“Nothing! Damnit!” Spike threw his arms into the air. “How about the payment is that you tell me the truth, huh?”

“Oh, if it’s free, then…” Stephan slid the drawer shut.

“Okay.” Spike took in a deep breath, holding his hand out in front of him as if to contain his various emotional states. “Listen. Firstly. What the hell?”

“What the hell what?”

“All this, you broken toad! Why are you pretending to be a Dragon? In the worst possible way?”

“Because they like it!”

Who likes it?”

“The nanairojin! They find it strange and exotic and all that, and…”

“Why didn’t ya use your own race then, you rubber chopstick?”

“Well…” Stephan said, looking straight on. “I respect my race.”

“You parentless–” Spike lunged.

Stephan drew back, eyes wide, his head nearly touching the wall behind him.

Angel stepped forward, her massive grin breaking the mood. “Hey! Hey! Hey now, Mister Assistant. Let’s… just keep asking questions, perhaps?”

“Y-yeah,” Spike muttered, dusting himself off. “Right. I apologize, Mister Stephan.”

“No. That’s quite alright. Nothing broken, so nothing to pay for.” The Ryu cleared his throat.

“So, seriously. This here’s all an act?” Spike looked around, from the paper lanterns that hung from the ceiling to the wall scrolls with ink-brushed pandas upon them. At least, Spike thought they were pandas. They could have been whales.

“It sells things.” Stephen shrugged. “I tried doing it the honourable way. But it don’t work here. Moved out here to Ponyton a few years back t’ get away from the Dragon population. Guy’s gotta make a livin’.”

“Then what’s with the name?”

“Well, my real name’s Shinji Meguro, but no one here could pronounce it all good, so I just changed it to Stephan Magnet.”

“Magnet, though?” Spike furrowed his brow.

“Yeah, because I attract people to my shop, you know?” The Ryu clutched at the air in front of him and dragged an invisible person into his chest.

“Y’know, I’m beginnin’ t’ wonder if this is what Twilight feels like all the time,” Spike grumbled.

“Who?” Stephan asked.

“Shut up. Right. Listen. I ain’t come here t’ powwow. I’m the sheriff’s deputy, see?”

“Oh! That’s right! I heard of you! The little Dragon-squidlet deputy!”

“Wait, you heard’a me, but you were surprised when…”

Stephan shrugged, his face still as blank as ever.

Listen, you damn beansprout,” Spike ground out. “We’re here investigatin’ a robbery, alright? Witnesses says they seen you around Rarity’s yesterday. Care t’ tell me why?”

“Oh, Rarity was robbed?” The Ryu’s face dropped, for the first time expressing something other than shock or blatant oblivion. “That poor girl!”

“Yeah, it’s a cryin’ shame. Now, you wanna tell me why you were there?”

“Oh, it isn’t any secret. I was asking about some gems, if she had any to spare. I needed some to make a new thing.”

“A ‘thing’?”

“Yes, look!” Stephan coiled over the table, stepping lightly, sweeping to an aisle to the side and pulling something off the corner.

He dropped it into Spike’s open hand.

It was a clear bauble made of glass; tiny coloured gems of colour held within its shell. It was flat on one side, and blown smooth on the other, like an egg with a weird bit.

“The heck is this?”

“I call it a paperweight,” Stephan explained.

“And… what do I do with it?” Spike hefted it a few times, feeling its girth.

“Well, sometimes the winds can sweep through and make papers fly, yes? So all you do is use this to make sure they stick to your table!”

“Oh, right,” Spike said dryly. “I have one of these too. It’s called a coffee mug.”

“Yes, but it’s so pretty, isn’t it? With the jewels? And I have them in many colours, so you can pick your preference! And they don’t leave rings on the paper!”

“Um…” Angel perked up. “How… how much are they?”

Stephan clapped his hands. “Oh! Ooooh! Just for you, my lady–”

“And did you get these jewels from Rarity?” Spike interrupted.

“No. No, I didn’t, silly dumb stupid cricket. She told me that she had none to spare, but she did tell me where I could find as many as my hearts desire!”

Angel tilted her head to the side.

“Yeah. They got two,” Spike explained. “One up high. One down below. They’re too wind-ish, them Ryu. Need the extra heart to keep the blood goin’.”

“Oh, you know about Ryu bodies?” Stephan asked, genuinely astonished.

“Means I know where t’ shoot.” Spike said gruffly.

“Ah. Well! Good. Good.” Stephan nodded, tapping his fingertips together. “So, could I please put the paperweight b–”

“So what’d Rarity tell ya?” Spike continued, tossing the little glass orb into the sky and catching it deftly, much to the chagrin of the Ryu shopkeeper.

The Ryu kept his eyes on the trinket as it bounced in the air. “Ah… she had a source. A traveller. He was about to leave, so I bought all I could from him. Nearly everything! I believe he just left th–”

“This mornin’,” Spike finished. “Yeah.”

“Oh, you know?”

“Heard about it. So yer sayin’ all these jewels was from this merchant?” Spike shook the egg, which softly tinkled.

“Y-yes. Please be careful, sir. Once broken…” Stephan pointed to the nearest sign.

“Do you work alone here?”

“No. I have accountants. Three ponies, in fact. Lovely, tolerable fellows, for being nanairojin.”

“Yeah, I’m sure. They around today?”

“No. Unfortunately not. I gave them the day off because they worked all night to make these for me.” Stephan motioned to the paperweights.

“Your accountants can blow glass?”

Stephan shrugged again, as if it were only natural that they did. “They’re quite talented.”

“Fine,” Spike replied. “Fine. Then, I got one last question for ya.”


“How much?” Spike waved the sparkly red glass ball around.


“Pretty!” Angel said, holding it up to the sky with her wing. The small pieces within created a cavalcade of glittery points of scarlet light as the sun shone through. “Thank you! You are a kind and lovely assistant.”

“Yeah. Better believe it. Anyway. Didn’t do it for ya. Did it to make sure he drops his guard if we ever need to come back.”

“But you gave it to me anyway.”

“So? I ain’t got no use for it.”

“Means you’re still a little bit kind.” Angel stuffed the paperweight away in her side bag as they walked away from the gift shop. “It makes me wonder if you didn’t just get it for me anyway but found an excuse to pretend you didn’t.”

“Uh… right. Anyway. Get anything?”

“No… I’m afraid not.” Angel said, her energy dropping a few notches. “I can’t read Dra– Ryu, after all.”

“Right.” Spike raised an eyebrow. “Listen, you can tell the difference, right?”

“Well, to be completely honest… both of you really looked the same to me. I won’t lie.” Angel bit her lower lip and gave Spike a cheeky grin.

“What? We look nothing alike! He’s all long and stupid and smells like fish!”

“Well, I don’t mean to be insulting, of course. I haven’t really spent that much time around Tianians as much. It’s a bit harder for us.”

“What about Gryphons, though? You can tell Gryphons from us at least, right?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never met one before. They do tend to stay around the coast cities, right?”

“Well, but you’ve seen pictures…”

“Sure. I think it’d be markedly easier to tell them apart, however. They’re just a bit more distinct. But between the Dragons and the Ryu, I’m afraid…”

“Man, whatever!” Spike looked up in disgust. “I’m gonna learn you one day, you be sure of that.”

“And I’m looking forward to it. I’d love to know how you differ. Do you also have two hearts?”

“One! One heart!”

“And I learn something new every day.” Angel nodded blissfully.

Spike stopped.

Angel stopped as well.

“You’re real odd, you know that?” Spike asked.

“Do you know what’s really odd, though?” Angel asked.

“What’s that?”

“Aren’t those two stories remarkably similar?”


“Between Mister Ryu and Mister Watchmaker, that is.”

“Yeah, they were.”

“And this doesn’t upset you?”

“Ain’t no reason t’ be upset.” Spike scratched a head-fin. “Lie’s best closest to th’ truth. Means that if we assume one of them two’s lyin’, we can tell what the truth probably is. That’s t’ say that there’s definitely some travellin’ merchant, and that fella done left this mornin’.”

“Well… then, doesn’t that make you upset?”

“Why for?”

“Because that means that all we have are two stories, no proof, and no way to tell the difference between the truth and the lies.”

“Well, my father always said – the truth has a way of makin’ itself apparent. All boats start as specks on th’ horizon.”

“Ah, I see! Us in the medical profession have a similar saying: ‘You can’t tell the liver from the spleen if everything’s covered in blood’.” Angel’s ear shook in excitement.


“It means don’t get blood on everything.”

“That certainly ain’t somethin’ my father needed to teach me.”

“I see. Your father, then…”

“He’s a pretty smart guy, yeah.” Spike threw out an answer quite deliberately, not waiting for Angel to finish. “So now we have a bigger problem, though.”

“Yes. Big Mac.”

“Right. We helped him out with a certain… case. We gotta be a bit more subtle about this, I think.”

“Subtle is good.”

“Yeah. Tread lightly. Try not t’ be so direct ‘bout it. Treat him with respect and it should all go jus’ fine.” Spike pumped his fist in the air.

“So, uh… how’s the leg?” Spike asked, very aware that the room was slowly filling with a peculiar tension.

The heavy-set stallion’s mustache twitched.

“Son,” Big Mac drawled, cutting in. “Are you a man?”

“So we have t–” Spike shuddered to a stop. “Uh… yes?”

“Real men tell things straight,” Mac continued, slowly. “Real men ain’t afraid of spitting out what they need to say. You didn’t come to see me to ask me about my leg – which is fine, if you must know. It stopped hurting the day after I was shot. I merely went to get it sewn up so that I’d stop staining my bedsheets.”

“Also the bullet could have caused lead poisoning,” Angel added.

“Yes. It could. So would you like to get to the point?” Big Mac asked again.

“Well, y’see,” Spike started. “It ain’t that we wanna cause problems or nothin’, given how we know each other…”

Big Mac started growling, a soft, low tone emanating from the general vicinity of his face.

Angel cut in, speaking through her grin. “We’re here because of a robbery that occurred at Rarity’s today, and witnesses say that you were found near the scene a few days prior to the incident.”

“I see. So I’m a suspect, then?” Mac asked.

“Yes,” Angel replied, instantly.

“Hey, now…” Spike muttered, holding up a finger in protest.

“Good,” Mac said, turning to face Spike. “See? She’s more of a man than you are.”

He turned back, like a solid oak rotating in place.

“Angel!” He declared. “You may take some corn back with you from my store – to eat, or do as you desire, I do not care what – for being a man!”

“Aw, thank you, Big Mac,” Angel giggled.

“Hey, wait now,” Spike said. “That ain’t polite, an’...”

“Oh, don’t worry,” Angel interrupted, politely. “Big Mac and I go a long way back. I know how he likes it. Feel free to speak your mind. He’d find it rude otherwise.”

“Yes. Speak your mind, son,” Mac agreed, plainly, his mustache bristling ferociously as he nodded. “I’d find it rude otherwise.”

“Ah, well. That’s… all it is, Mister Big Mac,” Spike said. “You were seen around Rarity’s. You might have something to do with the robbery.”

“Yes,” Big Mac said, leaving the safety of his desk and making his way around the front. “I was there three days ago.”

He came to stop at the window that looked over his emporium floor, whereupon he nudged the blinds aside to stare out upon the busy floor.

“Why were you there, Mister Big Mac?” Spike tilted his head.

“Jewels.” Big Mac replied. “I needed jewels. Don’t matter what size or colour or shape. Just needed jewels.”

“And did you get them from Miss Rarity?” Spike asked.

“No. She told me to get them from her supplier.” Big Mac turned around suddenly, stepping back to his desk and flinging a drawer open. “I had them picked up. Managed to get what I needed. Here’s a receipt. You may not have it; I need it for my records. But you may look at it as much as you require until I need you to leave my office.”

He slapped a large scroll onto the table, pushing it forward for Spike to see.

Spike peered at it, reading it slowly with his new skillset.

A minute passed as he took his time, and finally, he raised his head from the table. “Looks to be in order, Mister Big Mac. This supplier left this mornin’, didn’t he?”

“That’s what I hear. That’s why I made to buy all that I could. Either way, the gems arrived today.”

“And what do you use ‘em for?” Spike asked. “This here’s a grocery and commodities place, innit? Don’t see ya t’ be the kind t’ be sellin’ gems.”

“Sell? Ha. Ha ha. Ha ha,” Big Mac laughed without laughing. “Ha. No, son. We don’t sell pansy-ass space-wasters like that. Next you’ll be tellin’ me to sell other pointless things like flowers or medicine.”

“That’s right!” Angel chimed in.

“Then…” Spike muttered.

“Listen, son. I’m very busy. I have a lot of things to do, and while I appreciate you and Sheriff Twilight’s assistance in helping me avenge my daughter, I still have a business to run. I will help when I can, but unless you need me personally, I’d like to pass you over to someone who could do a lot more than I.”

Without waiting for a response, Big Mac quickly strode to a set of cords by the door. Each of them were long, thin, and clad in velvet, and reached from the ground through holes in the ceiling. Grabbing the third one from the right between his teeth, he gave it a few quick pulls before throwing the door to his office open.

“Thank you for coming, gentlemen,” Big Mac said. “Please kindly wait outside. My assistant, Wynona, will be with you shortly. She handles all my purchases for my baking warehouse. She’ll show you what we use the gems for.”

Spike was ushered through the entryway.

“And don’t forget the corn,” Big Mac added, as the door slammed shut.


“And thiiiiiis is our warehouse!” Wynona said, as they stepped onto the mezzanine of the large baked-good production facilities. Hooves and claws bounced off metal as the rather excitable assistant led them around to the other side of the impressively large building.

She had a coat of dull brown and a mane of white, and Spike couldn’t help but compare her to a rather overactive puppy. She even spoke with a raspy voice and a quickness that made it feel that she didn’t know exactly when to stop speaking.

“Feast your eyes!” She said, excitedly, pointing towards a conveyor belt on the lower floor. “Them’s our new line of snacky cakes! We call ‘em Vanilla Ploppies! They’re soft and moist and delicious! Like a dream in your mouth! Eat a Vanilla Ploppy today!”

Spike leaned between the railings of the mezzanine, peering at the hubbub. At least fifty workers were present in this building alone, by Spike’s count, and all of them were busy doing various kinds of industry. Everything was remarkably white – the steam machines mixed with the flour in the air and layered everything with a soggy soft doughy grime. A dozen machines worked their magic, chuffing huge amounts of smoke as they baked and filled and stuffed and sprinkled, and at the end of slow-moving conveyor belts, workers packed assorted goods into boxes for sale.

“Wow,” Spike said. “That’s makin’ me hungry, that is.”

“Oh, would you like a free sample?” Wynona asked politely. “You two are Very Important People! Big Mac said to make sure you’re treated as good as he treats us, which means free treats whenever you like!”

“He gives you free treats, huh?” Spike asked, retreating from the edge of the catwalk. He was almost tempted to dive off just to get at the smell.

“Oh yes. Big Mac’s the best. He’s the absolute bestest of all! A loving boss. I’d do anything for him, because he’d do anything for us. So, free treats?”

Angel bounced forward. “Yes ple–”

“Maybe later,” Spike said, his stomach protesting.

“Aww,” Angel murmured, her ears pulling back flat against her head.

“We’re on a job. We can’t accept anything now. Maybe later, ‘kay?”

“Alright!” Angel agreed.

“Alright!” Wynona agreed as well. “Ain’t not a single worry and a half! But please, let me show you. This is what y’all here for, right? Those, right over there.”

Wynona pointed to the far corner, near where the production line began. There were four smallish machines, each sporting a hoof-sized metal tumbler placed diagonally on their edges. The tumblers were attached to rods, and rotated slowly on a contraption of more belts and wheels. From that distance, Spike could make out what looked like a golden powder churning within.

“See them? They’re our hullin’ steamworks. Patented, too. The secret to our beautiful cake’s density and thickness is because we use a secret. You know, an ancient Dragan secret.” She winked at Spike.

Spike rolled his eyes.

“We use a mix of rice flour an’ proper wheat flour, y’ see. That gives our cakes a beautiful rise and a great texture!”

“I’m sure,” Spike muttered. “Ancient Dragan secret bein’ the most widely-distributed crop over both continents.”

“Exactly! So no one would think of it!” Wynona chortled. “And that’s why Big Mac cakes, and our newest line of Vanilla Ploppies will be–”

“Right, so,” Spike cut her off. “The gems?”

“Well, we’ve found that the best way to husk and polish rice is to use gemstones. See, regular rocks leave a funny taste, and they also wear down. No one wants to get a big mouthful of stone dust! But gems, gems are real hard and last forever and ever and ever! And they also don’t absorb moisture, and they don’t smell nothin’, so they’re perfect for churning up our rice. That’s what those machines are for.”

“So you’re tellin’ me that inside those machines is a big bunch’a gems?”

“That’s right!” Wynona barked.

“Huh. And what gems did Big Mac buy?”

“Oh, I can tell ya that easily. I was the one who did it all for him. He’s a busy, busy man, don’tchaknow!”

“Yeah. I heard.”

“We just bought all assorted gems. The smaller they are, the better, so we got us mini-sized ‘uns. Sorta maybe about the size of spots or specks.”

“Wanna be a little bit more exact there?”

“Ah… maybe a quarter of a pea?”

“Right,” Spike nodded. “That sounds about right, then. And when did you buy these?”

“We got all we could from the supplier as soon as we could, of course. Maybe two days ago?”

“Right. Well,” Spike said, sniffing in deeply again, the various scents wafting through the air. Even Wynona herself smelt of something fresh and fruity. “That explains it, then! I didn’t reckon you guys were into the jewelry business.”

“Oh no, not at all, sir. Big Mac says that Jewelry Is The Bane Of All Manlihood.”

“Right then. Thank you very much. And if’n we have further questions…”

“I’ll be right here! Just come back! Even if it’s just for a Vanilla Ploppy!”

Angel couldn’t help but notice that Spike walked with a bit more briskness to his step as they left the warehouse and made their way back down the street to converse in a more private place.

She let him ponder, his hand placed squarely on his chin, her ears wobbling as she also gave the situation some due diligence.

The Dragon came to a stop a while down the road, a quieter place at the end of the shopping district where fewer trails were blazed. He took a deep breath through his nose, a sharp tooth poking out from behind his grin.

Angel, on the other hand, dipped her head, the first time her smile wasn’t showing clearly.

“So, it’s a bust, then?”

“Hmm?” Spike turned.

“We’ve chased all possibilities and uncovered nothing. I suppose this has all been a waste of time. I do apologize, Spike.” Angel said softly.

“What are you talkin’ about?”

“I couldn’t get anything from Big Mac either. He’s… well. He’s a friend, and that interferes in my ability to read sometimes… and… I mean…”

“Tell you what.” Spike leaned on one foot. “We’re pretty close to the answer.”

“Wait, we are? How?”

“Just the regular way. We’re about to find out who stole the gems.”

“That’s not… but…”

“Hmmph,” Spike hummed, tilting his head to the side and folding his arms across his chest again, taking up that stance of his. “Tell me then, what did’ja see in all of this?”

“What I saw? Well…” Angel thought. “Well, each suspect gave a story, and… they were all the same story. So clearly none of them showed any differences to the norm, although we don’t even know what the norm is, in this case… oh, we haven’t established a baseline, and…”

“Naw, naw. That’s way too direct, Angel.” Spike chuckled. “I s’pose that’d work for other things, but… it ain’t about each story bein’ on its own. It’s about how each story works with each other.”

“Well… what have I missed?”

“Alright. Alright,” Spike nodded, scratching his chin. “Lemme tell ya. Now, remember what each of ‘em said. More importantly, remember the times they said, and what they said they bought. And once you stack ‘em all up against each other, you’ll see where it don’t quite fit.”

“Okay…” Angel said softly again. “We’ll try. But I’m not too sure about it.”

“Hey, get a little confidence. What happened to the normal Miss Binnes? Always cheerful and bouncy and all that?”

“Well… to be honest, that’s… well. I usually have a good grip on things, if I might be frank. This puzzle is stumping me, Mister Assistant, and I’m not quite keen to that.”

“Don’t worry. Lemme show ya how it’s done. So, tell me. The first guy. Timmy Timewhatever.”

“Timothy Turnwell.”

“Yeah. How many gems did he buy?”

“Ah… not that many. He didn’t need much.”

“And when was he seen at the store?”

“A few days ago.”

“That’s right.” Spike held a finger up. “So that means he was there early. Could’ve bought the gems early too, right? And he was busy makin’ the watch, so he would’ve been busy all through yesterday and last night. This mornin, the gem guy left. So that’s the last point.”


“Now, we look at Mister Stupid. Mister Stupid bought a ton of gems. You saw how many paperweights he had, and each of ‘em stuffed with quite a number. He also said he bought as much as he could, and he was seen at Rarity’s only yesterday, right?”


“So that means he could only have bought it yesterday, probably after that Turnwell guy did.”

“Right. And Big Mac…”

“He also bought a lot of gems. Also said as much as he could. But he said that he bought it a few days ago.”

“Yes.” Angel’s eyes snaked sideways to recall. “Yes, that’s right.”

“So you see the problem?”

“I’m afraid…”

“Listen. If Big Mac bought as much as he could a few days ago, then where did Mister Stupid get all of his gems from?”

An ear twitched.

“O-oh! That’s right! That’s… that’s right!” Angel started hopping around in excitement, tail bobbing. “Y-you’re a genius, Mister Assistant! That’s so smart! Your brain is so smart!”

“Uh… alright there. Calm down.” Spike frowned.

“No, but… that means… that means Mr. Stu– Stephen is the liar, and he was the thief!”

“Well… maybe.” Spike said.

“Maybe?” Angel stopped her dance, cricking her neck forward. “But…”

“There’s one final piece to the puzzle. Somethin’ that’ll tell me definite-like who the real culprit is.”

“And what’s that?”

“Do you still have the paperweight?”

“Of course,” Angel said, pulling it out of her satchel and winging it over.

Spike grabbed it, tossed it in the air once, catching it deftly. With a stronger swing, he suddenly whipped it towards a tree, where with a crack and a tinkle, the egg split open, spilling a glittering ruby yolk onto the sand.

No!” Angel cried suddenly, holding her wings outstretched towards it. “Bertrand!”

“Uh… What?” Spike asked as he approached the wreckage.

“N-nothing,” Angel stammered, joining him. “Sorry. I was just reminded of a pet I used to have.”

Spike decided that the best course of action was to ignore the statement, instead bending over the shattered remains of the trinket, whereupon he started to nod.

Angel stared as well, the tiny stones mixing with the browns of the dust. “What do you see?”

“Ain’t what I see,” Spike said, smiling. “But I can tell you what I know.”

“You know who did it?”

“I know who did it.”

Spike straightened up and looked back down the road.

“Luckily, we won’t have t’ go far.”

“Are you accusin’ me of theft?” Big Mac asked as, once again, they stood in his office.

This time, however, he stood with his chest puffed out, the buttons on his vest nearly popping out with his show of indignation.

Spike, Angel, Big Mac and his dutiful assistant Wynona stood there, all called for this sudden revelation, upon which the truth lay.

“I’ll keep it straight,” Spike said. “We’re not accusing you of theft, Mister Big Mac.”

“That’s right!” Wynona jumped in. “Big Mac ain’t a thief! You best watch yourself! You might be Very Important People, but I won’t have ya talkin’ to the boss like that!”

Angel stood quietly in the back, watching in silence, her head bowed low.

“Oh, let me be clear. The gems are stolen. But Big Mac ain’t the one who stole them.” Spike said, hand placed casually on his gun holster. “Ain’t that right, Wynona?”

“W-what?” Wynona blurted out. “Wh–”

Big Mac himself raised an eyebrow.

“You see, the times didn’t fit. We had three people we know who bought gems from the travelling sales-pony. However, one claims to have bought a lot of gems from him after you did. Now, let me check again. You bought them gems a couple days back, and you bought as many as you could, right?”

“Y-yes. That’s right!” Wynona said.

“So tell me exactly how another customer could’ve bought as much as he could at a time after you did?”

“Then he’s lying, of course!” Wynona nodded vigorously. “Of course! It has to be. Why are you coming here and accusing us good folk of thef–”

“Be quiet,” Big Mac said, and it was enough to shut down the clamour, reducing the red-faced Wynona to a steaming hot ball. “Spike, continue.”

“It’s simple. Did you know that Dragons can smell metal?”

“W-what’s that got to do with anything?” Wynona asked, albeit a little softer this time.

“Well, gold has a very particular scent. It’s… really nice. Delicious. When faced with it full on, sometimes I get a little lost in it, to be honest. But even when it’s not, I can still smell where it’s been, ‘specially if there’s been quite a big amount.”

“See, in the first suspect’s shop, a watch maker, there was the smell of gold everywhere. Makes sense, seein’ that he works with the stuff. Second fella, he was usin’ the gems in some fancy baubles. He was makin’ trinkets out of it.”

“Stephan Magnet?” Big Mac rumbled.


“I hate that guy,” Mac said.

“Right.” Spike agreed. “But, them gems he was usin’ had not a single scent of gold on ‘em. I checked myself. Means he probably bought ‘em from a gems tradesman legit. And here’s the funny thing, Mister Big Mac. Your assistant there, she smells mighty weird of gold right about now.”

Big Mac turned. “Is this true?”

“I- I…” Wynona backed away, moving to an emptier part of the room. “I was handlin’ some goods…”

“Well, but you told me yourself that you weren’t in the business of sellin’ jewelry.” Spike pointed out.

“We most certainly are not! I’ll have none of that in my store!” Big Mac rumbled.

“Why would the jewels even smell like gold in the first place?” Wynona asked. “There’s no reason for it! There’s no connection!”

“Well, here’s the interesting thing,” Spike responded. “The jewels that were stolen? They were ripped out from dresses. At least some of ‘em were. That means that the clasps that they was in had to either be torn off or melted off. Somethin’ mighty easy to do with your facilities, I’m sure.”

“Listen, I… I don’t know how this smell got on me! Are you gonna take his word for it?” Wynona yelled, pointing at Spike. “Sir! I’ve been workin’ for you for years! You know I wouldn’t backstab ya! I’m loyal!”

“Yeah, exactly,” Spike flicked his head up. “That’s the problem. Way I figure, this is what went down. And I tell you what, Miss Wynona, you tell me if this sound familiar. One day, Big Mac goes down to Rarity’s and looks for jewels. But Rarity tells him that she can’t give away none, because she was makin’ them into jewelry for her dresses.

“Then Big Mac come back and tells ya, he tells ya to go find the source and go buy them jewels. Now, unfortunately, I don’t know what you did, but you went a tad too late, and some other Ryu’d already bought most of the stock. You bought what you could, but it weren’t enough. So you take the time to plan a robbery to fill in the missing pieces. That’s when you held up Rarity last night so that you can have them gems in this mornin’. Sound about right?”

Wynona had been steadily growing more and more shaken up as the story unfolded, her chipper nature wearing down. She now appeared as an old mare, unsteady with her words and on her legs. “A-all of this is conjecture… surely, there is no proof…”

“Well, sure. I ain’t got no proof. But nothin’ really ever starts with it. Maybe I’m wrong. But maybe I’m right.” Spike shrugged nonchalantly. “But see, even so, the truth always lies at the end of the road. You just gotta go down that road first. So, let me tell you what’s at the end of this road. Let’s say I’m right. If I’m right, that means there’s one thing that’d be all kinds of suspicious in this scenario.”

“And what… what’s that?” Wynona said weakly.

“It’s real unfortunate-like that Big Mac here’s such a rigid businessman, huh. That so-called receipt that Big Mac has… I’m willin’ t’ bet that if you went through the time, you’d be able to match that writin’ to someone in the shop, if it ain’t your own, even. If I’m right, there weren’t no way for the merchant to have written it, so it means someone else had ta.”

“Wynona. I want you to gather all the staff and have them come up here to my office in five minutes,” Big Mac said, glaring at her. His facial hair was nearly all standing up on end.

Wynona stood there, unmoving.

“What are you waiting for?” Big Mac rumbled again. “I asked you–”

“N-no. That won’t be necessary. The writing’s mine,” Wynona admitted, voice small and meek. “I did it. I stole the gems.”

Spike folded his arms and leaned back slightly, looking down and letting the brim of his hat cover his eyes. He had nothing left to say.

“There were three of us,” Wynona sighed. “I hired two wolves from the bar. They were just there to show a bit of force. Draw attention away from me. They didn’t know who I was either or why I needed the gems. I tried my best to cut all links with the emporium.”

“You wanna tell me why you did this?” Big Mac asked.

“I… I couldn’t get what you wanted. But… I couldn’t let you down!” Wynona lifted her head. “Sir! You’ve always been looking out for us! How could I have disappointed you with such a simple request due to my own negligence?”

“You’ve disappointed me more now,” Big Mac stated. “I run a business based on honesty! My dear wife would get a migraine hearin’ this story. How am I s’posed to explain this to her? You done caused a right fuss, young girl.”

Wynona burned red hot as she dipped her head again. “I’ll clear out my things, sir, and be gone by the end of the day.”

“What?” Big Mac said. “Are you stupid, woman? You get your damn ass back to work right this instant. We will discuss this later. Don’t think you can run away from this so easily!”

“I… yes, sir,” Wynona muttered, inhaling a steeling breath, a mild look of confusion crossing her expression.

“Now get out of here. And don’t you dare turn tail on me.”

Without a further peep, she left the room.

The stallion turned slowly from the door to Spike.

“I’m sorry you had to see that. That was embarrassing. I had to raise my voice.” Big Mac said, clearing his throat.

“I… honestly couldn’t tell,” Spike said. “Anyway, mystery solved, huh?”

“Indeed. Thank you for solving it. I pride myself on running a clean business.”

“You ain’t gonna fire her?” Spike asked candidly.

“Naw. What good would that do? She made a stupid mistake for stupid reasons because she’s stupid. If I fired her, she’d go on to make even more stupid mistakes somewhere else. At least here I can keep her under my eye and make her out to be a proper lady, just like my dear wife.”

“Well. That’s a pretty… interestin’ way t’ think about it.”

“Believe me, I’ll make her pay back for it. For starters, she can help Rarity fix all them dresses she messed up. And I’ll have her return all the stolen gems, too. Now, let’s talk about your reward.” Big Mac went straight to the point.

“Ah, about that. Instead of a reward, could you do me a favour instead?”


“Please allow me t’ bring the gems back myself. There’s somethin’ I need to do all personal-like.”

“That is a very curious request. But I will grant it. I’ll have Wynona pack up all the gems for you. Please tell Rarity that I will be giving her all the ones bought legally as recompense for this foolishness.”

“Well, that’s mighty kind of you. But what about your cake things?”

“That can wait until the next time the gem salesman passes through. I am in no rush to push out cakes. I also have to take responsibility for my company’s crimes.”

“As you say. And one last question.”


“When Wynona brought the gems to you, did it come in some kind of box or somethin’?”

“Yes, actually, they did. It was a wooden box. Finely crafted.”

“Do you still have it?”

“Yes. Did you want that too?”

“I do, sir. Thankin’ ya kindly.” Spike nodded.

Spike merely took a peek into the box, before he made his way calmly back to Rarity’s; the container now stuffed to the brim with the recovered bounty and then some.

Angel had asked about it, but was given a simple ‘you’ll see’ and a wave of the hand in response to her inquiry.

Rarity’s door hadn’t been fixed, and after a few polite knocks upon it, Spike found he had little choice but to force his way, finding the shop just as dark and empty as it was before.

The mannequin had been restored to its rightful place, and had its ruined dress stripped off; there was nothing proper yet to display.

“Miss Rarity?” Spike called out once, twice, three times.

The door at the far end creaked open, and the white mare slowly, skittishly, emerged.

“We’re closed!” Rarity called out, remaining in the shadows. “Please leave!”

“Miss Rarity? It’s me again. Spike, the deputy.”

“Oh, what is it now?” Rarity fussed, stepping forward. “What could you possibly–”

She cut herself short as she finally saw Spike’s outstretched arms, a box laying within his upturned palms.

“Oh!” She cried out, rushing forward suddenly, wrenching it from his hands with a puff of magic.

In a fantastic display, she flipped the box open, throwing gems left and right in a fountain of twinkles. At the very end, at the bottom, lay a small piece of cloth, ratty, tattered and covered with stitches. It looked as much like a piece of scrap as any other random tail-end of cloth would, but it brought a sigh to Rarity’s lips and a sudden change to her demeanour, as she dropped to the floor and sat there in a heap.

“Belle!” She cried out. “Belle! Come out here, please!”

The door creaked open once more, and that silhouette from earlier emerged once again.

“Sis?” the shadow asked.

“Isabelle, please. Come look. They brought it back!” Rarity cried, voice warbling on the edge of tears.

“But sis, is it safe?” Isabelle asked, staying tight.

“Yes. These… these are good people. Good, good people.” Rarity smiled upwards at Spike, who smiled back. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”

Spike tilted his hat at her as the sister came running up. She grabbed the swatch of cloth and held it, she too smiling joyously at the reunion.

Rarity watched her younger sister clutch the cloth close to her heart, whom now, as Spike could see as she left the shadows, could not have been more than eight or nine. “It’s a promise cloth.”

“Hm?” Spike muttered.

“Isabelle here had a friend once, who had to leave for the city. They were both budding tailors,” Rarity explained. “They decided to stitch something and exchange them as a sign that they would once again meet. Of course, they weren’t rather good back then, and this was all he could do. But still… it means a lot to my sister.”

Rarity got up slowly as Isabelle calmed down.

“I don’t know how you knew about it, or even how you managed to get it back, but… thank you, Spiky,” Rarity whispered.

“It’s just Sp…” Spike stopped himself. “It’s my pleasure, Miss Burke.”

“Thank you, Mister Dragon!” Isabelle chimed in too.

“Oh… oh, yes,” Rarity rushed to the counter. “You were here for the piece of Harmony. Please. I am very sorry for how I treated you earlier. Please allow me to–”

“Nah,” Spike said, stopping Rarity in her tracks. “We had an agreement, right? We’d come back with the proper documents. It’s important to do things correct-like.”

“Then… then why did you do this?” Rarity looked at the box.

“Like I said. It’s important to do things correct-like, ain’t that right, Angel?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Angel said softly.

“Well, a-are you sure?” Rarity stuttered. “I mean…”

“Perfectly sure. We’ll be back tomorrow with Sheriff Twilight. And as for this whole thing,” Spike gestured to the gems. “Turns out it was all one big weird misunderstandin’. Big Mac sends his apologies and some extra gems as a means t’ say sorry. The one behind it will also be here sometime later to issue her personal apologies. And don’t worry. You can trust her not t’ cause any more mischief.”

“I-I see. Well then…”

“And we’ll be on our way, ma’am. Take care of yourself. We’ll see you soon.” Spike bowed, retreated, and left as quickly as they had entered.


“Job well done,” Spike said, holding his hands clasped behind his head. “So, what’s eatin’ ya?”

“Hmm?” Angel murmured, distractedly.

“Ever since Mac’s you’ve been actin’ all dour. Like a lemon left out in the sun. Wanna tell me what’s goin’ on?”

“Ah, well,” Angel said. Although she was still smiling, it felt like a smile painted on the surface. It was clear that she had neither the energy nor the gumption to keep it up genuinely. “It’s nothing, really.”

“Well, if you wanna stay with this group, then you’re gonna have t’ come clean, Angel.”

“What? Why?” She asked, taken aback.

“Well, let’s just put it this way. If a patient of yours refused t’ say what was hurtin’, you wouldn’t be able to take care of him, now would ya?”

Angel looked away.

“Seein’ how you’re part of our responsibility, that means we gotta take care of you as well. So y’gotta tell me what’s wrong.”

“Ah… as logical as ever.” Angel sighed with resignation. “I will admit that… I am perturbed.”

“And what about,” Spike asked, “is purturbin’ yer little head?”

“Well, as I mentioned, I joined in part to examine how I might be able to apply the New Sciences to use in a practical situation.” Angel explained, frustratedly. “And… it seems that it was of no use at all.”


“Well, yeah. I mean, do you think I was of any help throughout this entire ordeal? You figured everything out. Quite smartly, I should say, but I can’t… well… I wish I could have done more.”

“For science or for yourself?” Spike asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Simple question, Angel. From the start you said that you wanted to join because of research and all that horseradish. Now, I’m askin’ ya for the plain and simple truth. Is it really because of that? Or maybe did you wanna show somethin’ to me? Maybe why you tried to convince me so hard t’ investigate?”

Angel remained quiet for a while as she looked Spike up and down. His small stature and unassuming figure told not even a small piece of his story.

“Nothing escapes you, does it?” Angel asked, bursting out in a bit of laughter. “Alright. I give. Yes. I find the Sheriff… amusing. It is true that I do want to study the New Sciences more, but I… was hoping to be able to impress you today.”

“Impress me?”

“Yes. I was hoping that you’d be able to help put a good word in with the Sheriff…”

“Right, right,” Spike bobbed his head. “And now you think that I’m gonna say you didn’t do much and Twilight won’t accept you, yeah. I get it. Why’d you like Twilight so much anyway?”

“I don’t know,” Angel shrugged. “She has a certain… energy about her. I think I’ll have fun following her. I think I’ll see a lot of interesting things.”

“Oh, I can guarantee that,” Spike muttered. “Yeah. Anyway. Listen. Today wasn’t some kinda test or nothin’. I honestly ain’t got no problems with ya. I’ll put in a good word.”

“But… I still feel that I should earn it, in a way.”

“Jeez, lady. You sure are difficult, ain’t ya?”

“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be. It’s just… I do want to be useful.”

“Alright. Fine. I’ll throw you a bone. Okay? Wanna know how I knew about that box?” Spike jerked a thumb over his shoulder.

“I was curious.”

“It was because of what you said.”


“Yeah. Way back when you were doing your little thing with Rarity. You mentioned that she kept lookin’ at one part of her room twice, as if she were lookin’ for somethin’ or missin’ something, yeah?”

“Yes, I remember.”

“Well, if it were the gems she were missin’, her eyes would go all over the place, seein’ how the gems was everywhere, right? But she was lookin’ only at one place over and over, and that’s because, as you said, she was missing somethin’, but it was somethin’ else. I just figured it had to be a container that was stolen t’ take all the gems in or somethin’. I didn’t know that it was that weird cloth thing until I saw it, but it seemed likely.”

“Huh,” Angel blurped out.

“Listen. I reckon what we both do… is kinda the same. Just that I run by the seat of my pants and you do it the doctor way. Ain’t no right way t’ do it. But what’s necessary is the ability t’ use it good. And that takes a lot of practice. So the truth is… if you want your New Science to work, then you’re gonna have t’ keep practicin’ at it and learnin’ and the best way to do that is to join up with Twi and do whatever you can.”

“You… really think so, huh?” Angel asked.

“Yeah, I do. And don’t be annoyed that I did all this. I… I’ve had experience, yeah? And I don’t know the first thing ‘bout doctorin’, so if Twilight gets her horn shot off again, believe that it’d be you we’ll be runnin to.”

“That… that would be nice.” Angel smiled. It was soft, but this time, it was real. “You’ve done this before, huh?”

“Guess you could say that. Family business.” Spike shrugged. “Anyhoo, what say we get back home before Twilight does and starts askin’ stupid questions, huh?”

“Sure. And thank you, Mister Assistant.”

“Yeah, whatever. Just do me a favour, would ya?”


“Don’t mention to Twilight all of… anything. If she asks, just say we just tried t’ pick up the piece and Rarity needed the proper papers and all that.”

“Really? But why?”

“Well, I ain’t the one in charge here,” Spike said with finality. “And I don’t like to meddle.”


Twilight dropped the pressure chamber onto the table, where it rolled along until Dash put a hoof forward to stop it.

“Oh, it’s the last piece!” Dash exclaimed. “You got it?”

“Yeah,” Twilight nodded, frowning, the light glinting off the metal of her horn. “It went smooth. Real smooth.”

She shot a glare at Spike and Angel, who scratched his head sheepishly behind.

“Are we in trouble?” Angel whispered.

“Maybe,” Spike whispered back.

“Some genius forgot t’ tell the damn shopkeeper to clam up. Therefore, some genius’ story ain’t matchin’, and some Sheriff would like to know exactly what the hell happened.”

“Right,” Dash said. “Um… this sounds like it ain’t got nothin’ to do with me, so…”

“You.” Twilight pointed at Dash. “You fix this gun. Y’hear?”

“Sure, Twi.”

“And you two.” Twilight spun around and glowered. “I knew there was somethin’ funny goin’ on. You think I wouldn’t notice that Rarity’s shop was robbed when I dropped by? D’ya think I wouldn’t notice the corn that Big Mac sent around this mornin’ with the note ‘thank you for the assistance in keeping my shop honest’?”

“Well… about that…” Spike held up a finger.

“Shut up! Shut it! And you!” Twilight shoved her horn into Angel’s cheek.

Angel swallowed.

“Thanks for the new horn. It’s workin’ great. Now, if you wanna see how much I can do with it, keep tryin’ me, you hear?”

“Y-yes, ma’am,” Angel whimpered.

“You ain’t goin’ anywhere until I get this all sorted out. And I know you was involved. So how about all three of us go out and have a little chat?”

Their voices disappeared amongst shuffling and protests, and by the time Dash had pulled back up from behind the counter, they had already left, leaving the blacksmith alone once more.

Dash exhaled.

It had been a long few weeks. It had been an incredible adventure from start to end. Had it been that long already? It was hard to imagine.

But finally, here, the pieces of the gun lay out in front of her, like a puzzle.

It was nostalgic. It felt like something she had done before.

And she had, really. After all, it was a puzzle she herself built, but now…

Now she knew how it worked, and now she could assemble it with confidence and pride.

She ran her feathers over the cool metal like a child stroking a puppy. She let the memories return.

It all started with this.

It would end with this as well.

Everything full circle.

“Alright!” Dash cried to herself, and trotted to her forge to fetch her tools. She felt good.

No; she felt great. For the first time in a long time, she thought, things were finally looking up. Things were finally moving on, and she felt a sense of purpose, pride and belonging. Of course, there was going to probably be a horrible bloody battle come soon, but strangely, that didn’t matter as much to her any longer.

What mattered was that she wasn’t running away.

Her wing reached out to touch her hammer.

Her heart jumped.

The sound came, ferocious and loud, like the fall of a heavy object upon a plank of wood.

Dash spun around immediately, and her eyes, dizzy and unfocused, saw the door recoiling open from the force at which it had been pulled shut.

“Oh no,” she whispered, turning her head towards the empty counter.

Oh shit.”

Dash leapt, scrambling, tearing off her leather apron and stumbling to the door, kicking it open with as much force as she could muster.

The evening sun shot into her eyes, and she squinted through the red swirling dust as she attempted to spot anything that was out of order.

Left and right, she looked, she peered, finally pulling her goggles down over her eyes.

And in the murk of darkness, a figure ran, slowly, up the street away from the center of the town, away from the business, headed for the desert.

“Hey!” she yelled, kicking up a storm as she flew after, “Stop!”

The figure, small as it was, cloaked in a black sheath of cloth, turned back, and Dash caught a glimpse of something shiny over the figure’s face.

And it kept running.

All noise drowned out as Dash pushed forward, only the constant thump thump of blood in her ears providing a rhythm by which she could run.

Hooves pounded the dirt as the figure wound past buildings and shocked onlookers, finally reaching the end of the street. Beyond it was the desert, a vast wasteland of rock and heat and swirling emptiness.

But Dash was close behind. She pulled out her wings and beat them, gaining a few centimeters with every leap forward.

The figure turned back again, and now Dash could see that the figure also sported a set of shiny, metal goggles itself.

The figure too, extended its wings, as they shot out from under its cloak like two scythes cutting the air.

It too, started to beat ahead, gaining distance, and with one furious push, the figure slammed its wings down hard, kicking up a tornado of salty reds and leaves, and lifted up into the air until all four hooves left the ground.

Dash skidded to a stop, mouth agape at the sight in front of her. Above that swirl of dirt, the pony hovered, raising upward even more as those wings kept on beating. It turned one last final time to give Dash its last regards, and with a twist of the body and another thrust of its wings, it zoomed away, flying into the desert, leaving Ponyton behind.

The blacksmith felt her heart harden in her chest, and she wasn’t sure if it was about what just happened or what she had just seen.

Harmony was stolen.

And for the first time, Dash wasn’t running away from the problem.

The problem was soaring away from her.

That day, a pegasus flew.



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“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.


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.


“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.


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.”


“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.”


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.”


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.”


“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.”


“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.


“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.


“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.



“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?”


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?”


“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…”


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



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.”


“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.


“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.


“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?”


“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.


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.


“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.” 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?”


“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.”


“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.


“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?”



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.


“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:


$12,750 in gold coin

Will be paid upon the PROOF OF DEATH of


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


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.


Perfect Day

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The old panhandler’s trail leads from the western edge of Ponyton to the mountains far off in the distance, curving around Full Moon Bluff on its way to the rivers behind. It is a place where the path can barely be seen any longer — only a few spots of ground in a lighter shade poke out from behind dying shrubs and reddish dirt.

The Old Stallion once walked this trail, the first in a dozen moons past, perhaps out of desperation to eke out a living, perhaps out of lust for the history of his lands. But these details are not as important as the fact that Old Stallion did stumble off the road, thanks to the weather and the winds. Starving and weak, he travelled with stick and hat as the Dust engulfed him, ready to swallow him the moment he buckled at the knee.

The Dust sent the wolves.

They scampered and clawed over rocks, teeth sharper than flint, eyes black as coal, claws ragged as rusty saws.

The chase didn’t last too long. The Old Stallion exhausted his endurance as he fled the wild animals. And on that day, he lay himself down, buckling at the knee, and the Dust had him readily.

He was a simple traveller, nothing more, and died a traveller’s death. It was a simple story for simple folk that gathered around the campfire at night, a cautious anecdote to those who might be tempted to wander, and a warning for those who venture down the old panhandler’s trail.

There is, however, a different version of this story — a version told when the fires are put out. It is a story told to children, to send them crying to their bed. A story told to make the cold nights colder.

This version tells of the time when the Old Stallion, faced down by wolves, six or seven a-pack, backed up against a sheer canyon wall, knelt down and prayed to the Dust to save him.

And the Dust sent a devil.

It came, like a train on legs, and yet, still a pony, with a mane of great white smoke and skin made out of steel. The canyon rumbled at its step, with hissing steam and growling eyes filling the air with dread and death.

The devil turned its grotesque head, obscured by fog, with glowing white eyes peering out, and made a bargain with the Old Stallion.

Would the Old Stallion like to live, it asked, waiting, as if to accept sacrifice before it would make a move.

And all the while, the wolves would snap and snarl, surrounding the devil, for even wild beasts knew it was a far bigger threat.

The Old Stallion prostrated himself, throwing himself down to beg for mercy or a painless death. There was no telling which the devil would choose for him, but he left it to the whims of the gods and the fate he had been assigned since birth by the Dust itself. And it was with a whimper did he ask — beg — for his life.

And the devil obliged. It glowed an unnatural white: the colour that marks the devil and all of its Gearhead spawn. It took an instant, and the crash of thunder, like a great hammer had been brought down upon a rock, and all the wolves lay dead at the feet of the devil.

And with a huge puff of steam, the devil raised its hoof, pointing down a particular way, lending freedom and lending life to the Old Stallion. But it was always a life borrowed, for a few months later, after the Old Stallion had spread his tale, he placed a bullet into his own head out of the fear of when the devil would come collecting.

For this was a story about how the devil uses others to make itself known. About how it trades life for life and always wins the final draw.

And how there isn’t anything anyone can do to stop it.

Dust and Harmony

Chapter Eight :: Perfect Day

“Rain’s comin’,” Mayor Celeste said, as she turned her gaze towards the thundering clouds on the horizon.

“Don’t feel good ‘bout that,” came a dull reply.

Celeste motioned, flicking her mane slightly.

Sheriff Twilight paced up, joining the mayor by her side, as the two of them watched the horizon from under the shade of the tree behind the blacksmith’s.

“I dare say we have a lot to talk about,” Celeste said.

“Yeah. Little bit.”

Their eyes didn’t meet. Twilight refused to give Celeste a single expression. Nothing good would have come from wearing her thoughts on her sleeve.

“Let me make it easier for you,” Celeste said, talking slowly and with deliberation of words. “Nothing you say during this conversation will I hold against you.”

“That ain’t possible,” Twilight snapped back.

“Ain’t it?”

“Ain’t no such thing as not holding a grudge,” Twilight declared, eyes narrowing.

Celeste proceeded calmly, not a ripple on her surface. “Then how may we proceed in your best scenario?”

“You explain.” Twilight took in a deep breath. “I listen. But I ain’t in the best of moods, Mayor.”

“I know.” Celeste nodded. “I didn’t fairly put you in a situation which expresses my trust toward you. You have the right to be angry.”

Fine then. If Twilight had the right, then she was going to use it. “Why, then?” she burst out with a yell. “Why all this circus? Why not just tell me from the start? Tell me you knew what I was? Tell me what all of this was for?”

Celeste sighed, drawing in a breath as long and heavy as the winds that swept through the canyons. “Would you accept ‘trust’ as an answer?”

“Would you accept my resignation as a response?”

“Fine.” Celeste puffed her cheeks as she thought. “I’ll tell ya. But before we go on, you best know that I did trust ya. One hundred percent of the way. And I needed your help. And I know you would have gladly helped if I had asked—”

Twilight opened her mouth to interject, but held her tongue anyway.

“—but there was something I needed you to see.”

Twilight’s eyelid twitched. “And what would that be?”

“I needed you to see…” Celeste hesitated, knowing that the answer was not going to be enough. “The town.”

“You… coulda just told me everythin’.” Twilight shook her head, her eyes full of incredulity.

Hers were the eyes of a pony who suddenly realised that everything she saw was through a thick veil of perfumed silk. It looked nice, felt nice, but ultimately blurred the truth that lay just behind.

“You had to see the town.” Celeste reasserted, forcing the truth in as gently as she could.

“You could have really just told me everythin’!” Twilight burst out with a yell.

Celeste’s shoulders slumped, her regret apparent.

The door behind them suddenly swung open with a bang.

“Hey, hey!” Spike said, twirling through the entryway with a small banged-up tray. “I got some refreshments for the lovely mayor and the fine sheriff!”

Twilight cut herself off with a cough, while Celeste busied herself recomposing.

The Dragon tottered over with two metal mugs. “Fresh lemonade, courtesy of Moonshine!”

Celeste peered over.

The two mugs were filled with hot water. Each had a slice of lemon suspended unceremoniously within.

Twilight drew her gaze away. “That’s fine. Thank Dash for us. Leave it here.”

“Righty-o!” Spike chortled, putting the tray up on a fencepost. Then he twirled around, and just like that, just as quick as he’d arrived—he disappeared back into the shop.

The interruption was awkward, but gave the duo ample time to think. And sometimes, a moment to think is all that’s needed to let things settle. Twilight held her head up to the evening sky, letting the cool breeze wash away her irritation.

“I don’t like bein’ misled,” she muttered.

“I know.”

“I would’a done a better job if I knew what the job was.”

Celeste bowed slightly, offering her humility. “And I honestly apologize.”

“It’d been easier if ya did it yerself,” Twilight said bitterly.

“Yes, but that wasn’t the point.” Celeste said.

The sheriff watched the sun crawl down the line between land and sky, as it bid farewell. “So, you’ve always known.”


“That I was like you. That I got magic like you.”

Celeste seemed to meditate on those words, lost in her own memories and swirls of the past. She explained, but did not dwell. “I heard all I needed to, way back when. I confirmed it recently.”

Twilight’s mind shot back to the train that she’d arrived on a little under two weeks ago. How it mysteriously ran out of coal at such an opportune time. How she’d been forced to use her magic to drive it. How much of a coincidence that’d seemed. “One of the many things you coulda just asked from the start.”

“And if I had?” Celeste shot back. “Would you have appreciated the question? You think you’d’ve liked that any?”

The truth always got in the way. As much as Twilight wanted to force the notion that she, in her infinite wisdom, would have been open enough to accept being accused of being a Gearhead, she was bitterly rejected from denial.

It left Twilight with no choice but to draw in a fresh batch of night air slowly, before releasing it again. “Right.”

“We both know what questions like that stir in us, Constance. We both know what troubles it leads to. Had I made it a point to ask, you'd not have taken this job in faith either. We never needed no attention drawn to our horns.” Celeste’s eyes flicked up to the metal tip on Twilight’s own. “I like the new look, speaking of which.”

The sheriff closed her eyes. She didn’t feel much like a sheriff at that point in time. She felt like a deputy again, simply dancing around to irregular orders instead of heading off her own assignment. It was worse that the puppeteer was a familiar hoof.

“Constance,” Celeste said.

Twilight didn’t answer. When she flicked open her eyes, her found her vision blurred.

“Constance, tell me the truth. Why are you so angry?”

Twilight felt a pit of heat rising in her throat.

“Constance, why—”

I don’t know! Okay?” Twilight spat the words out, furiously, stamping her hoof into the bark of the tree, tearing her eyes away from her mentor. “I don’t know! It’s just a job, right? But I don’t like that I came here, had to do all sorts’a shit, and now I’m not even firin’ the gun? What was all of this for? What’s this all about, Mayor?”

“Constance,” Celeste repeated, calmly, her voice cutting through like a razor.

Twilight gave a final frustrated groan before clamming up fiercely, pushing her face into the tree.

“Listen. You’re good, alright? You’re okay,” Celeste said softly. “You know, you’ve always been a real great lawpony, and a pony of fine, fine character. But you know what your one problem was?”

Twilight gave a soft grunt. It verged on being something else — something quite new to her altogether.

“You only ever did anythin’ for yourself,” Celeste said.

“What are you talkin’ about?” Twilight snarled. “Everythin’ I did, it was for you, for Cantermore and for the people!”

“No. That was your duty, I’m talking about… well… your heart.”

“My what?”

“Look.” Celeste flicked her head to the street, watching the ponies distantly as they milled about their innocent lives, retreating for the day as it slowly came to a sudden end. “This small… tiny town. A few years ago, Cantermore was a little bit like this. But in a few short years, we’ve grown so much. Faster than any other city on the continent.” Celeste looked down at her compatriot. “And it’s easy to sit up there, waitin’, and pretendin’ that the rest of the world don’t exist. But it does. Good, honest folk. People who have lives and troubles just like everyone else.

“I needed you to see this, Constance. I needed you to get to know what it is all this is for. I just… wanted you to know why you’re doing something more than just because ‘I told you to’.”

“I’m sorry, Mayor, but…” Twilight’s brow scrunched up harder than a wrung towel. “What in the flamin’ Dragon dander does any of that have t’ do with anythin’? You give me an order, and I follow it. That’s how it works.”

“My city wasn’t built up on those ideals,” Celeste said. “I can’t have someone be my main Sheriff that’s just gonna be a steam machine. You get me?”

Twilight blinked, pausing. Mouth flapping open as she tried to figure out if she misunderstood what she had just heard. She rolled the words around her head over and over, before she stepped back, clearing her throat to ask Celeste to repeat herself. But the Mayor was always one step ahead.

“Yeah, Twilight. I’m meanin’ for you to take over Sheriff Mare when you get back,” Celeste said with a slight, encouraging nod. “I’ve been intending for a while. Sheriff Mare? She never thought… radically. Not like you. But you, you never did anything with heart. You always just followed orders and went home at the end of the day, to a lonely, cold room.”

Twilight felt like responding. She felt like giving a witty reply, maybe a comment about how her room wasn’t that cold or that lonely.

But she didn’t have the energy to lie.

“And in the span of a couple weeks here, why—you now have a fine deputy of your own, a blacksmith and a doctor who both seem like they’d follow you to the ends of the trail.” Celeste wrung her lips. “That’s a pretty big jump from ‘Constant Constance’, isn’t it? As they call you down at the station.”

“They… call me that?” Twilight mumbled softly.

“Yes. They do.” Celeste turned to face Twilight directly. “Listen. Doing stuff out of duty is fine. It’s great. But ya know what? I don’t want that. I got three accountants and two administrators who already give me a whole shotgun fulla 'yes'es and ‘yes ma’am’s every day. I need someone who can challenge me, push me, and thereby push th’ town further. But in order to do that, you were gonna have to grow as a pony.”

That pony slumped her shoulders, scratching a sudden itch that popped up on the back of her neck. “So all this… was a test?”

“No.” Celeste shook her head. “Not a test. A… lesson.”

Twilight sighed, her anger subsiding and giving way to new, fresh emotions that she rarely felt and rarely allowed herself to feel. The ball of heat in her chest unravelled and flattened out, turning into a cold blue string that limped out of her throat. “You know, I don’t feel like I learnt nothin’.”

“Then tell, me. Why are you angry?”

Twilight spat it out quickly. “I said I don’t know.”

“Yeah but then you kept on yellin’ after that, didn’t ya? You said you were angry about not bein’ able to fire the gun, right? So I’m askin’ why.”

“Look…” Twilight mumbled, shaking her head, shaking loose the dirt in her throat. “I dunno. It’s stupid.”

“Constance.” Celeste turned her head to the appearing moon. “Tell me or we’re gonna be here all night. You can stake on it.”

“I… feel annoyed that I ain’t gonna be the one stoppin’ Lune myself.” Twilight rubbed her forehead, as if there were something stuck in it. “I dunno why. Seems like it should be a relief, yeah? Why stick your neck in the noose if you ain’t gotta? But… somehow.” Twilight’s eyes darted back to the warm, flicking glow of the lights forcing their way through the cracks of the door that led back to the blacksmith’s shop. “Somehow I still wanna.”

“New sorta feelin’?” Celeste asked.

“Yeah,” Twilight tilted her head back. “Feels like shit, too.”

“I mean, what’s there to lose if you don’t fire the gun?” Celeste continued.

Twilight meditated on those words, thinking about it all as she sunk lower and lower into bleakness.

“Then I can’t rightly say I finished the job,” she finally admitted.

“But you have. You have done exactly what your duty stated, and you have finished. Isn’t that so? The old you would have gone home, without all these emotions, and wait for a new assignment.”


“But you still feel bad about it?”



Because I gotta protect them, Dust take it!” Twilight yelled, exploding. She squeezed her eyes together, moisture gathering and forcing itself out of the corners where they streaked down her cheeks. “Damn it! I can’t leave them, can I? This ain’t about trust! This ain’t about who’s gonna win at the end of the day! But if I just up and leave like none of this ever happened then how can I call myself their…”

Twilight cut herself off from the storm suddenly, biting her lip as she let the clouds rage and rumble under her skin and in her mind. She drew inward on herself, throwing her head down, rubbing the tears out of her eyes as she shuddered uncontrollably.

“Constance. Today’s a day where we’re feelin’ a lot of things we don’t rightly wanna feel,” Celeste said, breathing her words through her teeth. “So’s I ain’t gonna make you say what you don’t rightly wanna say. But I want ya to know something real important. This is what I feel for every single one of the ponies here in my territory.”

Twilight swallowed heavily, forcing herself back into composure.

“And that’s all. That’s all I wanted you to learn. That’s the real fire in a pony’s heart. That’s the real thing that makes us go.” Celeste flicked her head to the side. “Loyalty; listenin’ to orders; faith — those are all fine qualities to have. But you needed to have people worth dyin’ for. And that’s the real magic.”

Twilight scrounged her face, blowing air out from between her lips in stark dismissal. “Ain’t no such thing as magic.”

“I think you’d be surprised, Twilight.” Celeste placed a gentle hoof on her back. “All you gotta do is want to believe.”

“Look. Call it what you will…” Twilight sighed. “I still gotta do something. I still gotta fire that gun. Don’t I? I need to protect everyone.”

Celeste didn’t even give it a second thought. “It really ain’t that I don’t want you to shoot the gun, Constance. It’s that you just… can’t. Nothin’ personal, right?” She shrugged, looked at Twilight. “We’re going up against Raven Lune here. Your gunwork’s impressive, but that means nothin’ to her. There’s only one pony around I trust to match her. And I’m afraid that ain’t you.”

Twilight kicked at the dirt. “So that’s it, then? I just head on home?”

“I didn’t say that, did I? I said you weren’t firin’ the gun.” Celeste said, with a twinkle in her eye. “I ain’t never said you didn’t have nothin’ to do.”

Twilight’s jaw dropped open. “Wait. But… You…”

“I’m really proud, Twilight. You’ve come all this way all by yourself.” Celesta gave her slyest grin.

“But you said,” Twilight gasped.

“Twilight. I said I needed your help. That weren’t no lie. It’s just gonna be with somethin’ else.” Celeste twirled her hoof in the air.

“Damnit, Mayor! Fine. I get it.” Twilight huffed, determination returning. “So, if I’m not gonna get on a train back to Cantermore, then what do ya want me to do?”

“Well.” Celeste smiled. “First, I want you to get on a train back to Cantermore.”

The blacksmith’s shop was oddly warm — not in temperature, but more for the mood that danced in the air. A wave of laughter and jokes came from the few others who milled around the main floor. They hung off the countertops and slouched in the corners, all enjoying cups of ‘lemonade’ and chasing away anticipation.

It was a jovial tone for such a serious night, but the fact that Matron Cheerilee was there helped tremendously. She was busy at work perking up the faces of Moonshine, Spike, Angel, and Big Mac, who rounded out the crew.

But at the opening of the door, all smiles and snickers dropped, giving way to ominous gravity—save for Big Mac, whose face didn’t really have to change.

Sheriff Constance S. Twilight strode in, hat placed upon her brow just so, shaking the cold off her vest and clearing her throat.

“Alright,” she began. “Just had a talk with the Mayor. Lune is coming, tonight. She’ll be layin’ waste to this here town on the way to Cantermore. She’s comin’ with some kind of weapon, I dunno. Celeste doesn’t reckon she knows what it might be either, but she knows its name.”

“And what name would that be?” Spike asked.

Twilight nodded, shifting her jaw around. “Nightmare.”

Four sets of eyes blinked. Big Mac snorted.

“That’s a kind of… well. I suppose that’s a fittin’ name,” Moonshine said. “Can’t say I quite like it any.”

“Either way, we can expect her to be extremely dangerous and really damn angry. So what we’re gonna do now is get everypony, and I mean everypony, onto the train, which will high-tail it outta here back to Cantermore.” Twilight jerked a hoof over her shoulder. “Just to be safe, the train’s gonna meet up with another train halfway down the tracks loaded with supplies and medicine and stuff, where you guys are gonna switch cabooses. Got it?”

She swung her hoof at Dash, Angel, Big Mac and Cheerilee in order. “ You four, as community leaders, are in charge of doin’ this. And we needed t’ get started ten minutes ago. So get. Spike, you stay behind.”

Dash tilted her head, her scruffy mane bobbing in the flickering lights of the nearby lanterns. “That it?”

“Yeah,” Twilight said.

“What about you and Spike?”

“We’ll be along shortly. We gotta clean up after ourselves. Can I leave the evacuation to ya?”

“Understood, sheriff,” Big Mac said immediately. With a great shake, he lifted a plentiful amount coal dust off his coat, and left without another word.

“Then I shall away as well, my dear,” Angel trilled, sweeping out the door after him.

“And I shall inform the customers at the bar and the henhouse!” Cheerilee stated, leaving as well.

Dash pulled herself to her hooves. “Well. I guess I’ll pick up the edge of town. See ya guys later.”

And then only Spike was left.

“Hey, uh…” he mumbled.


“So there’s this guy here called Stefan Magnet, right?”

“Who’s that?”

“Some Ryu. You know. Long Dragon. He runs some kinda trinket store here.”

“What about?”

“Can we like, leave him here?”

Twilight’s look was the type that told Spike that he was about to get a gun shoved up his nose.

“Just asking!” Spike held his hands up in surrender. “Anyway, what are we doing now?”

“We need to talk,” Twilight said, voice low.

“Uh… okay.” Spike hopped up and sat on the edge of one of the countertops, there in the dust and scraps of metal. “What’s going on?”

“Spike… I…”

Twilight went silent.

Spike’s eyebrows wobbled. Twilight sounded weird. Her voice was inflected with a tone that Spike had never heard before. It sounded… what was the word?

Unangry. That was it. It sounded unangry, and unsarcastic. Genuine. Slightly pitiable.

“Ya been a… good deputy,” Twilight finally said. “I’m glad… uh… that I asked ya to come with me. From Cantermore. You’ve performed admirably, and I’ve told Mayor Celeste that… she should consider you to officially join th’ sheriff’s office.”

Spike blinked. “Wait… what? Whoa. What?” He held out his stubby arms straight out. “Hey! Twilight, what’s going on?”

“Shut up,” Twilight commanded softly. “Get on the train, and go back to Cantermore. Do you understand?”

“Well, I mean, we’re all going, right?”

“I’m not.”

Spike stuck out his tongue, tasting the air for some evidence of a joke. “Say again?”

“I’m stayin’,” Twilight said. “I got to make sure once and for all Lune don’t ever cross into Cantermore. Ever.”

“But… you can’t fire the gun, Celeste said?”

“No. But I still got things to do. I got my part. And you got yours. This has been fun, but… this is where we divvy ways.”

“Twilight, but…” Spike said. “I thought…”

“You thought nothing. I told you from the start, right? I just needed someone for this job and then nothing more.” Twilight huffed, shrugging harder than she probably had to, face remaining stoic. “Well, the job’s over. So you go back to Cantermore. Go talk to Celeste afterward to find a job. Or go do your dumb tricks again or whatever. I don’t care. But you can’t stay here.”

Spike just stared at her for a couple seconds, mouth agape. “Is that… really how this is gonna end?” he asked.

“Yes. For you, for Moonshine and for that dumb creepy doctor.” Twilight said. “If things go well, I’ll meet up with you back in Cantermore, but… well. I’ll go down trying, and I refuse to do anything less.”

“This… this is serious, Twilight.” Spike jumped off the counter, walking closer to Twilight, his face, in a rare occasion, not holding some sort of internal bemusement. “This is… did Celeste ask you to do this?”


“Then why in the shit…?

Twilight bit her lip. “Because it ain’t about duty,” she said. “Okay?”

Spike dropped his arms to his side, not believing the words coming out of her mouth. “Twilight… do you… want to do this?”

“More than anythin’ I’d ever done since the day I came t’ Cantermore,” Twilight said. “More than.”

Spike scratched the back of his head, shuffling his feet. “Well then… I guess. I guess that’s it?”

“Yeah. That’s it.” Twilight faced forward, staring at the back wall. “Now go.”

“O-okay, Twilight. I’m… I’m going,” Spike murmured, wide eyed, still in a dream, walking to the door.

Slowly he opened it. It creaked.

Twilight didn’t move.

“Goodbye, Twilight. It was real nice knowing you. And I really mean it. You’ve been a good friend,” came Spike’s voice.

And then he was gone.

Twilight turned as the door clicked shut. She didn’t know why, but she stared for minutes at the handle, as if there was a chance that it might turn once more.

But it didn’t.

With her throat dry and a throbbing pain behind her eyes, she sniffed, looking down at her gun and badge.

It was time to face the storm.

It was dark, and the engine was already churning when Twilight snuck aboard. Everyone was gathered in the cramped passenger and cargo cars. They were certainly not meant to carry an entire town-full of ponies, but avoiding an untimely death was a very good motivator for dealing with a bit of spatial discomfort.

Twilight stationed herself in the engine compartment, watching as the town grew smaller and smaller as they pulled away. The train was moving backwards this time; the nearest line-switch station was many kilometers away, definitely too far for them to risk heading to it to make a proper turn.

Ponyton was no longer a town. It was a dead collection of rickety buildings. An emporium. A collection of stores. A saloon. A doctor’s office. A blacksmith’s. And a home for two weeks. But no heart. They had stolen its life and moved it away to save it from being extinguished. All that was left was the husk, like a cicada leaving its echo behind.

And then it shrunk into a dot, and it vanished in the night.

It wasn't long before the train shuddered to a halt. A clamor rose, with yells of ‘hurry up!’ and ‘get on!’ echoing through the desert. Dancing lanterns played with the shadows as Twilight peeked through the window, watching scrabbling, frantic ponies load up onto the other train. From the engine room, it was easy to see and not be seen.

Sweat poured off the conductor’s brow. It was hard to tell how much of that was from just the heat of the engine room alone.

Twilight turned to him. “Okay. You.” She pointed at the door. “Out as well.”

He pulled himself through the smoke and coal. “Beggin’ your pardon?”

“Mayor Celeste’s orders. You’re to join ‘em too.” Twilight’s face curled up into a glower. “You’ll be headin’ back to Cantermore in the other train.”

“But what about this train, then?” The conductor coughed, gruff. “Who’s gonna take care of it?”

Twilight just looked at him. “Me.”

“You know how ta handle a train?”


The conducted shuffled back and forth on his legs, eyes darting left and right. “...Want me t’ help ya load up th’ coal at least?”

Twilight shook her head. “Nah. All good.”

“Well. Okay then.” The conductor conceded. “If’n Mayor Celeste say so.”

The heavy metal door slammed shut as he left, and Twilight was left alone in the darkness.

She waited until she heard the other train’s whistle pierce through the crickets singing out in the night. Then she turned to the engine, dressing herself down for the task at hand.

Back to Ponyton.

There was something quite comforting about being alone again. Like getting back into bed after a long day at work, except that this bed was stuffed with shards of glass and smelled like moss. If you ignored the pain, it was perfectly comfortable.

Twilight was always perfectly comfortable.

She closed her eyes, letting the last ebbing lights from a hanging lantern extinguish in her mind, and focused. She shut out her ears, pushing away distractions, entering a place where there was only her at its center.

It was a small black box that wrapped around her. It went on forever, yet was too small to move comfortably in. But, there was a light inside. It was a small wisp, a white, blinking thing, that ebbed and flowed in and out of sight like the coming and going of the waves.

And it grew. Larger, whiter, brighter, cascading in on itself.

Until nothing could be seen.

Twilight opened her eyes, pouring forth a pure stream of white magic from the tip of her metal-capped horn. Like ribbons they flew, dancing inward and outward, trilling across the air, all enwrapped in a strange sheen. It didn’t quite do it justice to call it white. It was a white that was pure, soft, and full of what could only be described as crystallized soul. It was a white that had a bit too much white in it, and yet, wouldn’t blind you to stare.

The ribbons flapped across the room in waves, landing within the boiler, upon which they started to unravel, for lack of a better word. It filled the whole engine compartment up with light, bulging out as if they were a mass of water pressing against an elastic surface.

And then the train began to huff.

“Wow!” A voice rang out from behind Twilight. “That was… really pretty! Was that Gear magic?”

What in tarn—!” Twilight yelped, spinning around. She found her two pistols plugged neatly against the faces of Spike and Moonshine, who were both entirely too happy for people who had guns in their faces.

“Hey, Twilight,” grinned Dash, barrel snug against her cheek. “Just like old times, eh?”

Spike just waved.

“She does do that!” Angel gasped from behind.

“What in the Gryphon are you doin’ here?” Twilight yelled, lowering her weapons. “I thought… I said…”

“Twilight,” Spike shrugged, still smiling. “You know, it weren’t too difficult to figure out what you was doin’, you know?”

“Man!” Moonshine said, clapping her hooves together in glee. “That was amazing! Do it again!”

“That was rather beautiful, Miss Constance,” Angel agreed. “You really should have let me know earlier. I would have… loved to have seen it in action much more.”

Twilight just stared, eyes drying out.

Spike chuckled. “And you really thought I was gonna leave you? I’m your deputy, Twilight. Not leaving is kinda my job.”

“Assistant,” Twilight whispered. Some things just were just habitual by then. Twilight’s brain had barely registered doing it.

“And I promised ya, didn’t I? I ain’t runnin’ no more,” Dash said cheerfully. “I’m with ya, Twi. All the way.”

“And I joined up to see some delightful blood!” Angel said. “I don’t rather mind whose blood, but still, I think this would be a great opportunity, wouldn’t it?”

“Uh…” Twilight murmured.

“Just kidding. I’m with you. I made a promise too,” Angel said. Lovingly. Shooting Twilight a certain kind of look that was all too familiar. “I’ll be with you… forever.”

“Okay. Stop that,” Twilight held up a hoof to Angel’s face before turning to the rest. “Look. You guys… you guys ain’t supposed to be here.”

“Well, seems like we are,” Spike said. “And we know, okay? It’s dangerous. We could get killed, and you want us safe. But we wanted to be here anyway. You’re just gonna have to live with it.”

Twilight felt a stirring in her chest. A strange sort of pain that shot like a red hot poker pressed against her ribs. “But… why?”

“It don’t just go one way, ya know?” Spike flicked his fingers between him and Twilight, smiling broadly. “We get it. You found somethin’ you wanna protect. But so did we. And maybe you can protect a whole town, but the three of us, at least, get to protect a friend.”

The little Dragon beamed proudly.

Twilight stood still. Her breath flowing heavily over her lips. Her brow tilted down, hat covering her eyes. A shiver shot through the sheriff, her shoulders hunching. Her tail started to twitch in a way both erratic and deliberate. It may have been a trick of the light, but a spark jumped off Twilight’s horn.

“Uh… Twilight?” Spike asked, eyes darting around the room, his smile dropping. He quickly swung his head to the rear, giving his backup a good, solid help-me look.

Moonshine and Angel took a step backward.

The sheriff was rumbling, like a volcano about to burst. Shaking and shuddering under her brim. She sucked in a lungful of smoke-filled air, hissing through her nose.

“Okay, Twilight? Just… just calm down there…” Spike gestured downwards with his open palms. “Just, calm down. We didn’t intend to—”

Twilight flicked her face up.

“Thank you.” she said, her eyes moist. “Thank you all.”

Spike let his hand hang in mid-air.

Dash blinked. “What the f—”

“Oh my!” Angel, grinning herself ear to ear, pawed at Dash, who decided that it wasn’t important enough to pay attention to, considering.

Spike didn’t grin, though. He took a step forward, reaching for Twilight with a hesitant claw. “Uh. Are you… well?”

Twilight’s smile instantly dropped, her regular glower returning. “Look, I’m trying something new, okay?” Her face hurt keeping it up for more than a few seconds.

“Look, I ain’t… used to all this,” Twilight grumbled. “It burns like someone poured cactus whiskey in my eyes that you asses decided to be here when you coulda been safe up there in Cantermore. Half of me is mad as heck. But the other half… I dunno. Feels somethin’.”

“Maybe…” Dash’s eyebrows raised as her tail flicked. She rolled her hoof in the air. “Happiness?”

No. Couldn’t be.”

“Wait.” Spike’s eyes were dinner plates now. “No way. Twilight, are you… happy?”

“Listen, shut up,” Twilight growled. “Fun’s over. First of all. How in the Sam Hill did you know I was gonna be here?”

Spike looked to Dash, who shrugged. Angel remained draped around Dash’s neck like a cloak, which Dash didn’t seem to mind. So Spike launched into explanation. “Weren’t too difficult. You said goodbye at the blacksmith’s, not the train station. You didn’t want us lookin’ out for ya on the platform. And there ain’t no reason why we needed t’ switch trains halfway, ‘specially if the conductor also leaves.”

Twilight shook her head slightly, frowning. “And you figured all that out by yourself? How in tarnation…?”

“He’s House Ling,” Dash interrupted. “That’s how.”

Spike turned upward, looking at Dash with a peculiar look on his face.

“Isn’t that right?” Dash said. “I remember where I heard that name before.”

“Is that supposed to mean somethin’ to me?” Twlight asked, breath still heavy.

“You know what? I’ll explain later,” Spike waved a hand dismissively. “We gotta be on our way anyway, don’t we?”

“Fine,” Twilight said, turning. With a burst of regular magic, she twisted the brake lever with a loud clank.

The train shuddered to a start, bursting ahead with a powerful thrust of energy, boiler pulsating with an eerie white that cast grey shadows onto the walls. The jolt sent all but Twilight reeling forward, who braced herself against the frame of the window, where she stared out into the star-pocked sky.

As the night wind ruffled through her mane and flapped the rim of her hat, she looked down to her vest, adjusting her sheriff’s star, which had become a little off-centre.

After all, if one wanted to take down a notorious murderous bandit, one ought to look one’s best.

“There’s a real high chance that we could all be tyin’ up a noose right now,” Twilight said, once her companions had regained their stances. “Last chance. You sure y’all with me?”

She turned from the window, the moon in the distance outlining her face. She regarded her friends, who all looked to her and nodded, not a single drop of hesitance falling off their brows.

“All the way, Twilight,” Spike said, dusting his knees off.

“To th’ end,” Dash said.

And Angel looked around before shrugging. “I’m just here for the blood, really.”

She was felt before she was seen.

Every single step sounded like a hundred oaks creaking in unison, and when she brought each armour-covered leg down, pebbles jumped and popped a hundred meters away like dried corn in a kettle.

Like a metallic tank, on top of those legs were panels upon panels of metal that rippled and shifted and groaned like the surface of the ocean, swaying slightly as the suit of armour walked. They joined together at the edges, like the shields of a legion of soldiers marching together as one.

Pointing forward, a huge beastly horse’s head stuck out, with triple-layered glass for eyes and reinforced steel for skin. Magical white steam escaped holes along the back of the neck, wheezing out a mane of pure grey smoke.

From every single crack poured forth a brilliant white light, pure as the sun but as gentle as the moon.

It looked like a figure from legend.

The devil stopped just before the train tracks, he border that separated Ponyton from the desert.

Our dirt from theirs.

On the other side of the tracks, a mere ten paces away, stood Mayor Clearwater Celeste, smiling calmly and breathing even more so. Slung around her chest were four bandoliers, each packed to the brim with ammo. Slung across her back like a saddle was a web of straps and holsters, each one holding a shiny, thirsty gun.

The two ponies stared at each other, one smiling warmly, the other indiscernible.

After eternity and a half, one of them finally spoke.

“Raven Lune,” Celeste said. “It’s been a while.”

The response came like it was pouring forth from a tin can on fire. It was a hazy, crispy voice, if voices could be crispy, but was muffled by the thick shielding of the helmet.

“Sister,” it replied. “What do you want?”

Celeste cocked her head to the rear. “Perhaps you should come back for a cup of tea? Have a chat?”

If the armour could laugh, that was what it seemed to be doing, huffing out clouds of steam and ebbing its light. It breathed while it waited.

“I asked you what you wanted, sister,” the armour repeated.

“Are we past talking?” Celeste asked.

The armour huffed out a cloud in indignancy. “When have you ever wanted to talk?”

Celeste nodded, shrugging. “Where are they?”

“Is that what you drag me all the way out here for? You send your people to search for me for years, calling me to ‘talk’, just to ask a question that you already know the answer to?” the tinny, metallic voice hissed out of vents alongside puffs of steam.

Celeste’s shoulders raised half-heartedly. "Oh, you know me. I like to do things my own way.” She leaned in closer, changing her tone. “I need them.”

“No. You do not.”

“Yes. I do.” Celeste stood her ground. “Time’s come.”

“Pray tell, sister, what time is coming,” the armour billowed. “I have not known much for many a year.”

Mayor Celeste looked Lune straight. And there was only one thing she needed to say.

“I have to protect my city.”

It was a simple statement. Few words that got straight to the point and left no room for misunderstanding.

The response was equally curt.

“From who?” The armour’s white glow glowed a bit brighter.

“You know very well,” Celeste said, her voice unwavering in its intent. “The ones you turned against me.”

“You did that yourself, as I recall.”

Celeste shook her head. There wasn’t much point in arguing perspectives. “Return the plans to me. I need them far more than you do.”

“After all you have done.” The armour rumbled, puffing out at the seams. ‘You still presume to order me around!”

“I spared you your life!” Celeste spat.

It was never yours to spare!” the armour yelled back.

The dust swept up as a sudden wind kicked through the town.

Celeste calmed herself down, untensing her shoulders. “Give the plans to me and I will have you rewarded.”

“With what?”

“Gold. Proper gold, this time, as you well know. I believe I’ve… paid back what I’ve owed.”

“Some things can’t be paid back,” Lune said.

“Just take the gold, sister,” Celeste said, voice strained. “And let us once again be on our own ways.”

“And do what with it?” The armour laughed. “Where would I spend money in a world where I am to be shot on sight? Silly girl. Lift my exile, then, and maybe your offer would have some weight.”

Celeste gritted her teeth, pushing them so hard together that her jaw began to ache.

“Can’t do that even if I wanted,” Celeste told her. “You have become legend.”

“Then we are concluded, it seems. I hope you’ve spent your time wisely.”

Slowly, the armour turned. Stamping hard with each slow degree of rotation.

Celeste shuddered under her vest. She bit her lower lip, her breath quickening. She had many cards in her deck but she always hesitated playing the black ones.

“Sister!” Celeste yelled, eyes pulled tight. “I have your children!”

The armour stopped, turning its massive head to face its sister. “Good. Take good care of them for me.”

“W-what?” Celeste asked, voice wavering. “You care not?”

“No. I don’t want them further involved in our little games. I’m sure you’ll take good care of them. In fact,” the armour mused, head tilting to one side like a curious statue, “quite the only thing I trust you to do.”

“I…” Celeste muttered.

“I’ve always found your… turn to be rather peculiar, my sister. You truly have the heart of an angel. Too bad you had to dig it out of a chest of a saint in order to get it.”

We’ve spoken about this!” Celeste hissed, anger on her breath. “It is what we had to do! Don’t speak as if your hooves are clean!”

“I never do. The difference is, the whole world knows about my deeds. When shall they know about yours?”

Celeste tightened the muscles in her legs. “When the time is right!”

The armour started turning once more. Conversation, it seemed, was over. But as a parting gift, the outlaw Lune gave a final statement to muse upon. “It is too bad that my time came so early, then.”

Celeste quickly gave her reply.

A spark jumped off the neck of the great armour, as a shrieking ping echoed into the night.

Like a goddess, Mayor Celeste stood there, eyes ablaze with fury and determination, mane alight with streaks of blues and whites, floating in an invisible wind. Her horn exploded with a flurry of magic, eight pistols encircling her, rotating slowly, a halo of metal and death.

A wisp of smoke left the barrel of one of those eight pistols, as it rotated out of the way. It was quickly followed up by seven more rounds each, as a pistol took its turn, firing with pinpoint accuracy at the same target.

Each time, a loud blast was followed by a metallic ping that echoed off into the air, until it had run its course. Eight complete shots was overkill for any regular pony. But it was merely a gentle invitation for Lune.

There was barely a scratch upon the armour, let alone a dent.

All eight guns flipped open, empty shells pulling out and scattering across the sand like acorns falling from a tree. The guns were quickly reloaded, all of them flipping close with a single unified click.

“Is this your hand?” the armour asked, turning back to face Celeste once more.

Celeste ran a tongue over her teeth, squaring her jaw. “If you will not give them to me, then I will take them!”

“Ah, but,” wheezed the armour. “Can you find them without me?”

Celeste squeezed her triggers again, faster and faster as they went along, until all that could be heard was a constant stream of firecrackers accompanied by the sound of rivets clinking in a metal bucket.

Metal clashed against metal. Sparks flew. Bullets ricocheted everywhere, piercing anything that got in the way.

Celeste stepped backward as the barrage continued, until all forty-eight shots had been fired, smoke rising in a circle around her head like a great cloud.

Lune had not even flinched.

She stepped forward, gears clunking, ground sinking. Not even the bar of the railway track stopped her, her heavy gauntlet crushing wood and metal beam alike.

By then, Celeste’s guns had already been reloaded.

“Sister,” the armour said, “you mean to kill me?”

Two beacons, standing in the dust, clouds and steam swirling and folding over each other, bright white light fighting to escape, stood and stared each other down.

“Perhaps you will be more willing to negotiate when your life's on the table!” Celeste narrowed her eyes, staring down the brim of her hat.

“Ah, so. Your activities make sense now. All these theatrics. And for what? Could you have not simply found me in the desert and… persuaded me there?”

“What, and be the bad guy?”

The guns pulled back, each pistol falling in line alongside Celeste’s back, four on each side, flanking them and pointing outward and back in due order. They fluttered and flitted in the raw strength of her magic, sweeping as she swayed her body left and right.

“Ah, we always end up here,” Celeste laughed, with scorn, “no matter which side you’re on.”

She fluttered her wings. Its metal feathers clinked as they bumped against each other.

Celeste smiled, lines of sadness and regret etched into her voice. “You know, we could have created a haven together. A place where everyone could be safe. Every race. Every creed. But you had ta let me go it alone. And even then, you couldn’t just let the past be past. You had to come back for revenge, didn’t ya? And even now. Even here. You still come, as predictable as ever. And all it took was the name of a gun whispered on the wind.”

“You talk too much,” Lune replied.

“Yeah, but you know what? I can afford ta.” Celeste said.

And there it was. Gleaming like the sun, Celeste called forth Harmony. From the depths of one final holster it flew, gracefully, through the sky, a large, trimmed, beautiful specimen, cracks spilling forth a wondrous energy.

“I have this! And you come wearing dinner trays!” Celeste shouted. “Come on, Raven. Tell me where you hid the plans!”

“I think not.”

And then it begun.

The armour changed. With speed previously hidden.

In a release of steam, the armour burst apart into metal panels, each attached securely on the end of dozens of prehensile metal arms. Each arm flew around like freakish limbs of a monster spider, creaking and groaning as they came together in front of Lune to form a wall.

Finally, Lune’s mask split down the center, each half pulling back to each side, a great white light spilling forth from within. On her back was strapped the core of the whole machine, gears whirring.

From out the edge of her greatshield Lune peered, her one good right eye staring yellow at Celeste with a strange calm. Her other eye was forced shut by a scar that cut across her deep blue skin, running diagonally down from brow to cheek.

Lune took one single step, crossing over the other rail of the train track. The panels that dug into the ground moved when she did, crushing everything underneath them as a knife might slice through porridge.

Celeste leapt back just in time.

From the edge of the shield, two panels pulled away, turning parallel to the ground. They flew straight like great cleaving knives, the very air itself kicking up from the speed at which they thrust themselves toward Celeste.

Celeste could feel the wind cut her face, an inch away from having her skull crushed into little more than powder. Her eyes widened, breath light.

“So, not just dinner trays, then,” she whispered, stumbling back, adrenaline injecting excitement into her tone.

No sooner had the panels hit their full length than they retracted, once again placing themselves back into the shield.

“You best keep your distance,” Lune said. “Wouldn’t wanna get hurt.”

Celeste grinned, her wings fluttering, Harmony trained straight. “Not me, at least.”

“Celeste,” Lune said. “You can shoot me till the cows come home. But ya know what? You only got so many rounds. And once that runs out, what’s gonna happen? You gonna ask again?”

“Well, maybe!” Celeste replied. “But I reckon I still oughta try!”

She levelled Harmony, her horn throbbing with white light. Tiny ball flashes popped and glittered as the gun shook in Celeste’s magical grasp; as its chambers and rounds filled with magic.

A sound shrieked. Like a tin flute whistling in reverse.

An amazing flash turned night to day for a brief instant, a globe of energy exploding out from the end of the pistol with a thunderous bang. It flicked back, nearly leaving Celeste’s impressive grasp, but the bullet that left the barrel was fired true.

It hit its target like a hose being turned upon a wall, as magic splashed everywhere. Streams and ribbons of magic burst outward from the impact, throwing themselves into the sky where they danced in a sordid waltz before fading away.

The noise was incredible, a thousand nails screeching against a thousand chalkboards. Dirt and dust kicked up everywhere, blowing backward from Lune, like a typhoon whipping around.

Celeste spent a moment looking down at the weapon she held in her grasp. But her eyes flicked back up to Lune, who stood there, a few inches back, but otherwise unmoved.

Dirt crumbled off the shield, which was now in a half-globe pattern, smooth, round — a giant eyeball staring and condemning her sister. There was now a dent on the front-most edge.

Lune flicked her eyes to the left, catching a glint out of the corner of her sight. With the sound of a shrill ping, one of the plates back swung back like a shovel to smack something out of the air behind her.

The pistol landed in the dirt under Lune’s legs.

“Hmph,” Celeste huffed, one of her feathers having been lain to rest. Only seven guns now lay on her back.

“Sneaky tactics,” Lune said. “As you are known for. How dishonorable to shoot someone in the back.”

The Mayor’s horn burst to life, eyes dropping to the pistol. “The only way to put you to reason, sister.”

“Please, continue to waste your resources.” Lune said, raising one of her thick, armored legs with a thunk. “It will only bring an end to this game sooner than I expect.”

Celeste nodded. “I agree.”

Lune stamped down onto the gun.

Only… it wasn’t one.

Lune’s eyes reduced to pinpricks as she saw Celeste standing there, as calm as a spring day.

“N—!” Lune screamed.

The hollow, gun-shaped shell exploded with a burst of white, ripping upwards, toppling the great metal beast onto its side. It tore through a few arms, ripping them at the joints, sending panels flying. The pressure sent shredded metal into Lune’s flesh, the light blinding her. Lune’s breathing was reduced to a bloody whimper.

Celeste stepped forward to the smoking heap. “Mmm. I agree.”

The second explosion rocked the landscape, like a sphere of white cloud rising into the sky. It reflected in Twilight’s eyes as she stared at it unblinking. A few moments later, a distant rumble finally reached her ears.

They had moved into position some time ago, and had been waiting under the silence of the night sky.

“That’s it. That’s the signal,” Twilight said, turning around. “You guys ready?”

“Yeah,” chorused her three companions. “You got it.”

“You know what to do?”

“Sit here and provide moral support and try not to get killed,” Spike answered.

“Right. Here we go.” Twilight steeled herself, and threw a lever.

Lune had no time to wipe the blood out of her eyes. Her heart was buzzing, as yet another barrel entered her view. Half of her mind now was dedicated just to prevent her from flying into a panic. The other half controlled the panels that would just barely deflect the bullet.

It grazed past her cheek. Lune shuddered, breath torn to shreds.

Her vision blurred, her body working on automatic. She forced her attention to focus on the important things, and not the dull, sweeping ache in her side. She coughed, a trickle of bloody spit hanging from the edge of her lip. The next bullet would be soon.

Floating around her randomly, like a sick game of chance, were all of Celeste’s pistols, as she fired them off one at a time, watching if Lune was going to be fast enough to deflect it that time.

Each time Lune cringed from the ricochetting of a lucky block, she felt her magic slipping away. She felt her Gear moving just that much slower. She felt the remaining half of Nightmare creaking unnaturally, fighting against her desperation to keep it moving.

Celeste circled Lune, as a wolf stalks its prey, walking slowly but with methodological intent. She kept the guns firing when they could, her eyes flicking left and right across her focused expression.

“You know what your problem’s always been?” Celeste yelled through the clamour, firing two more times as she talked. “You never moved on to chess from naughts and crosses! You ain’t never think more than one step ahead! That’s why I’m where I am and you’re where you are!”

Lune couldn’t answer. Her armor was in the shape of a hole-punched dome, covering her body, panels shifting left and right, up and down, filling in the gaps where they were needed. It was all she could do. The bomb had all but sheared the gears off the leg that crushed it, and was dead weight now. Celeste’s barrage was tempoed specifically to only just prevent Lune from being able to move away.

It seemed that Lune fell precisely where she needed to.

In the distance, a pinprick of light started up as an engine roared once more, chugging forward. It lay in wait in the darkness, and now, purring with life, it pushed forward.

“Oh, and here’s step four!” Celeste shouted. “You ready ta bargain yet?”

Lune grit her teeth, barely registering the words as the rounds hailed down. She tilted her eyes sidewards for a fraction of a second, noting the spotlight that was growing and growing in size.

“So, this is your last chance, sister!” Celeste continued. “You have about a minute until that there train gets here. And I reckon that you can’t defend yourself against everythin’ at once, now, can ya?”

The mayor levelled Harmony at the fallen figure of Lune, who moved in and out of sight from behind her dome. She was beaten. Defeated. Pathetic. She would be ready to talk. Celeste could feel it in her bones.

The tracks, broken as they were, started to rumble beneath Lune’s hooves from the distance of the train. She grunted, pulling her leg forward.

“Talk with me and I call it off!” Celeste screamed, Harmony charging up once more with that familiar glow. The other eight pistols returned to Celeste’s back as she focused on handling the magic cannon.

Thirty seconds had already flown by. The train was close enough now that its shape was apparent and clear.

“Sister, you are running out of time!” Celeste yelled. “Say you’ll talk!”

Lune spared herself precious moments, moments in which something could go terribly wrong, to look up, locking eyes with Celeste.

And then it was Lune’s turn to smile.

Celeste felt frost gather down her spine. A smile was a dangerous thing. There were only two times a pony would smile in a situation like this — when they’re about to die, or when they knew exactly what to do.

And Celeste knew that her sister would never smile for the former.

The blood drained from Celeste’s face as Lune called up the remainder of her panels and pushed them together once more. But the shield wasn’t facing Celeste.

It was facing the train.

And it was only a few seconds away.

“No! Wait!” Celeste cried, swinging Harmony suddenly, aiming it now for the cluster of arms that held the shield in place.

Harmony whined with white.

But so too did the panels, as they suddenly poured forth a brilliant glow out of each and every rivet and crack as Lune filled them with Gear.

The train, engine set ablaze with white fire, reached the end of the line.

And over in Cantermore, everyone saw the thunder.

There is an expression that speaks of fire raining from the skies, in reference to a horrible, awful event that causes death and devastation. But when burning, razor sharp scraps of metal and detritus come falling down from above due to the utter and complete obliteration of a train, a little bit of fiery rain might be preferable.

The sound of the train splintering echoed throughout the town and canyons to the point that it took minutes for it to finally dissipate, a screeching, crunching, twisting cacophony of two metallic beasts clashing in an incredible struggle for dominance.

It was hard to say which animal won that night.

From the mangled wreckage of a wasted, demolished suit of armour a hoof appeared, pulling itself from under what used to be a shield plate. The figure straggled to her hooves, coughing out a combination of soot and ichor, swaying as the world started to come back into view.

She took a breath, ragged, raspy. Painful. There was blood in her lungs. She looked to the night sky.

It was peaceful. Quiet.

Reaching up with her horn, she pulled off the remains of Nightmare off her back, throwing it aside. Its legs stuck up like branches on a dead fir tree, grasping for nothing and receiving nothing in return.

The dread outlaw Raven Lune straightened her back, free from the weight.

She shuddered, shaking off embers, and limped.

She limped, scanning the floor. Limped, eyes darting around the devastation, hooves crunching in the dirt as the crackle of fire and popping wood punctuated the scene.

Limped to a figure that lied to one side, unmoving. White coat. Blue hair. The body of Mayor Celeste lay in a heap of twisted limbs and blood.

Lune stared.

Celeste’s ear twitched. Ever so slightly.

Lune breathed out and flicked her head away.

Stop.” A voice came from behind her.

A weak one. A wavering one. But one with enough force in the intent that even Lune had to obey, if only merely out of sheer curiosity.

“You’re a mite hard t’ kill, ya know that?” Twilight growled. Her vest was scuffed, and her hat had fallen off at the point where she had jumped from a speeding train. She stood firm on four hooves, holding her twin pistols straight at Lune’s unprotected head.

Behind Twilight came three other shadows, shrouded by shadow and the glow of the train’s fallen engine, still full to the brim with Gear. One rushed to the fallen body of Celeste, immediately busying herself with checking on the body.

Lune tilted her head upward, staring past her nose at the four who faced her. She made no motion to stop the one aiding her sister.

The dust called, whipping up a sand cloud that blew through the scene.

Lune stepped forward, the light of the engine finally enough at that point to give Twilight a good look at the enemy.

She was as her sister was: a pony of slightly larger stature. That scar over her eye gave her a sense of intimidation. Her front left leg was a dull, rusty metal from the knee down: a piece that looked like someone had hammered gigantic fish scales onto a mannequin limb. Her black mane covered her face, and her tail swept across her dark blue coat, upon which was stamped a bright yellow quarter moon as mark of her kin.

“Sun and moon,” Twilight said. “You really are sisters, huh.”

“Hmm?” Lune muttered, voice scratchy and shredded, but as calm as an afternoon walk all the same. “Ah, yes. With her. We are sisters. And who are you?”

“My name is Sheriff Constance Sheridan Twilight,” the pony said, “and you are under arrest.”

“Ahh.” There was an odd tone in Lune’s voice, one that betrayed curiosity and recognition. “The one who fights for my sister?”

“I fight for whatever the heck needs fightin’ for,” Twilight spat. “And right now, that means stoppin’ ya, before you go and destroy Cantermore.”

Lune let the dust sweep her mane out of her eyes.

Twilight grit her teeth.

There was something about Lune’s eyes. Or at least, her one good one. It was not something it had, but rather something it lacked that made Twilight suddenly feel a chill run down her spine.

It bore no malice.

The only fire it had was the reflection of the engine as it burned slowly in the night. And Twilight couldn’t shake off the feeling that she had seen those eyes before.

“Destroy?” Lune asked. “Is that what you were told?”

“Ain’t somethin’ that need tellin’,” Twilight responded. “Now, will you come quietly?”

“Hold, a moment,” Lune said, as casual as making chat over a log fire. She tilted her bloodied head upward, casting her eyes behind Twilight. “And who are you, there?”

“Ain’t none of your business!” Twilight yelled.

“Isn’t it?” Lune said. “With the whole town empty, and the only ones standing behind the pony pointing a pair of guns at my head? I dare say it’s my business fully.”

“I said, that ain’t yer concern. Now, enough of this. Do you surrender?”

Lune took a step forward without reservation.

“I will shoot you!” Twilight growled. “Take one more step and test me!”

“Mmm, okay,” Lune said, taking one more step.

This was only the second time in her life where Twilight suffered a fraction of hesitation to pull the trigger. Her pistol was shaking in her magical grasp, however, that was a first. She was sharp enough to know that something was wrong. But Twilight always kept her promises.

The shot rang out.

And with a flash of white, the round deposited itself neatly onto the ground.

“What the…” Twilight said, eyes darting between the barrel of her gun and Lune’s face.

She fired again, with no hesitation. Two shots, this time. Two flashes.

And again, two bullets spun oddly and thudded to the ground like discarded bolts.

Twilight felt her heart beat, loudly in her chest. But like a bee trying to break out of her ribcage, it started to sting.

Lune flicked her neck. With a sudden flash of her horn, she grabbed the two pistols straight out of Twilight’s grasp. Spinning them expertly, she emptied the cylinders onto the ground before throwing the pistols over her shoulder where they disappeared into the darkness.

Twilight’s eyes followed the entire action, her legs rooted to the ground, mouth hanging open. She took no movement to stop Lune. She didn’t even know if she could. A small place in the back of her head started to itch. It begged her to take a step back. Even one would do.

She could feel the muscles in her legs tense up.

Lune smiled a gentle, kind smile, leaning closer to Twilight’s ear. “You look curious. Are you curious? Do you want to know how I did that?” she whispered.

Twilight could feel her bloodied breath on her skin. She moved not a single inch, afraid even to change her expression in case it might set off a bomb. The nagging sharp pain in her chest grew louder.

“I could teach you, you know,” Lune offered, pulling back, lowering her head and giving Twilight a look through narrowed eyes. “Gear is a lot more flexible than you think. But I don’t suppose my sister told you anything about that, did she?”

If there was any reply Twilight could give, she didn’t. It was enough that she forced her face to remain stoic. But she couldn’t help but flick her quavering eyes up at Lune’s at the mention of Gear.

Almost as if Lune understood, she replied. “Oh yes. I know. Gear magic has a smell, don’t you know? I can smell it in the engine of that train. And I can smell it all about you.”

The outlaw looked over her shoulder to the destroyed train. “Mmm, and you use it… adequately. But, alas, not enough.”

She turned. Deliberately slow, back facing the gang.

“I best be going now,” she told them.

With a loud bang that even made Twilight’s heart jump, a shot rang out harshly. But the sound lifted her heart a fraction. The sound was the sound of hope.

However, even from behind, the round hit something unseen that burst into white and flew off, throwing itself into the sand.

Lune peered back, unperturbed, though a little weary of the games.

Twilight’s heart plummeted.

A wisp of smoke left the barrel of a smaller, more compact pistol, one made for Dragon hands. Spike breathed out, face deadly serious, lowering his arm.

Lune blinked. “First of all, let’s stop that. Okay? Secondly, even if I hadn’t deflected it, you would have missed. Is this the first time you’ve ever fired a gun?”

Lune took steps towards the Dragon, who started to shrink smaller and smaller into himself.

And something kicked Twilight in the soul. Hard.

“Hey!” Twilight yelled, suddenly, anger pulsating through her quaking voice. “Stop!”

Lune turned her head.

“K-kill me,” Twilight said, her voice cracking. “L-leave them. I’m the sheriff. They’re innocent.”

The outlaw raised her eyebrow. “Kill you?”

“Do it!” Twilight yelled.

Lune chest heaved with a small burst of amusement. “For what? There would be no point in me for doing so. Far less of a point to remove one more Gearhead from these lands.”

“Y-you’re gonna have to kill me if you wanna get to Cantermore!” Twilight shuddered.

“Cantermore?” Lune raised her eyebrows. “I don’t want to go to Cantermore.”

The tumultuous feelings that wracked Twilight’s chest changed. Not by much, but still, a new feeling started to show itself amongst the fear.

It was confusion.

“W-what?” Twilight tripped on her own tongue.

“I have no interest in my sister’s town. And I would very much like to leave without having to hurt you or your friends. So. May I be on my way?” Lune tilted her head as if to ask for permission, but started walking anyway, once more turning around.

“What do you mean you don’t want to go to Cantermore?” Twilight felt her horn tighten from how hard she was scrunching her forehead.

“Goodbye.” Lune kept walking. “Please quit with the shooting. It’s annoying.”

“Hey!” Twilight yelled after her. “Why ain’t you goin’ to Cantermore?”

It was hard to discern why Lune decided to stop then and there, but she did. “Why should I go there?” she asked back.

“Ain’t you going after the gold again?”

“Hah!” Lune burst out once more with a fit of laughter. “And what would I do with gold?”

Her voice, her response, travelled over the darkened sands, over scraps of metal and small pockets of fire.

Twilight didn’t have an answer.

Lune continued. “Where would I spend it? I’m to be shot on sight in any town in Equestria, you recall?”

“You… could take it to the coast!” Twilight shouted.

“They don’t care about gold there! And who in Equestria would change all my gold for pearls first?”

“Then why are you here?” Twilight asked.

Lune stopped replying. She stood motionless for a while, back still facing Twilight, and when she spoke, her tone had taken a far more serious note, the playfulness sucked out. “Listen, sheriff. Let me give you a bit of advice.”

She turned her head slightly, staring at Twilight with her good eye. “If you wanna stay alive, you best be careful of the kinds of questions you ask. Some kinds of answers can’t be returned, you hear?”

“Why are you here?” Twilight yelled again.

Lune turned away.

Twilight took in a deep breath. “Tell—

“Enough!” Lune yelled back, cutting Twilight off once and for all. Sweeping away, she stepped with even more haste now, moving as fast as her battered legs would take her.

Twilight was still. She had no course of action. All she could do was heave a big sigh, dropping her shoulders and letting her tail hang loose by her rear legs. All she could do is let Lune keep walking.

“T-Twilight?” Dash stuttered, as she and Spike rushed up to her side.

“Hey, Twilight! What are you doin’?” Spike said.

Twilight shook her head, blinking. “What do you mean, what am I doin’? We’re done here, ain’t we?”

“What do you mean ‘we’re done’?” Spike cried out. “We gotta stop her!”

“Stop her?” Twilight exclaimed. “How? Did you not see what just happened? We don’t even know if the Mayor’s—”

Twilight shook her head, turning to Angel. “Hey!”

Angel looked up. She was in the middle of applying some sort of salve to Celeste’s face. She had bandaged Celeste’s legs as well, tying them to long pieces of wood.

“Is she okay?” Twilight shouted.

“She’ll be alright! A bit of superficial damage, and a couple of broken bones, it seems, but otherwise, she’ll be okay!” Angel yelled back. “But she’s out cold! I don’t really think we should force her awake either, so I’m letting her sleep!”

Twilight held a hoof to her face as her forehead pulsed.

“Twilight, she’s getting away!” Dash exclaimed. She pointed. Lune was walking with a gait, slow but steadily, into the distance. Sauntering home.

“And what can we do about it?” Twilight yelled back.

“Twi!” Dash yelled, stepping around to her front. “Constance! Listen! Are you just gonna let that go? She’s avoidin’ somethin’, and you know it!”

Twilight responded with a sudden outburst, something snapping in her brain. “Of course I know it! But what can I do? We ran a train into her! We had Mayor Celeste with a weapon made just for stoppin’ her, and I shot her three times in the head, Dash! She walks! She’s a monster! It’s impossible!”

“Twilight,” Dash said, concern in her voice. “You’ll… you’ll think of something. You always have, so far. You know what else I thought was impossible?”

“What?” Twilight said.


Twilight’s body suddenly felt limp.

“You did something about me, Twilight. And Angel. And Spike. And who knows how many others in this town who owe a lot to you. You’ve done… plenty of impossible things, Twilight. All we’re asking for is you to just try to do one more.”

Twilight's eyes defocused as she stared into the dirt. Her movements, motions, and even her breathing eventually stopped as she let the words sink in.

“Twi?” Dash asked.

“You’re right,” Twilight said.

“I am?”

“Yeah. You’re right.” Twilight frowned. “Thanks, Moonshine.”

“Yeah, sure… uh… no problem,” Dash said.

“You didn’t think it would work, did you?” Twilight grumbled, noting Dash’s manner.

“Not… not really, no.”

“But you’re right. I gotta do something. She ain’t leaving on that note.” A growl escaped Twilight's lips, like a beast finally uncaged.

“Yeah, that’s the spirit!” Dash said.

“We got an unfinished conversation,” Twilight said. “And there was somethin’ mighty weird about the way it was headin’. I got this far followin' my gut. I'm gonna follow it a little more. I need to get her attention.”

“Want me to go get your guns?” Dash asked. “I think I saw where one landed.”

“No. That ain’t gonna do squat but annoy her.” Twilight said. “We need something else…”

Then, Twilight felt a poke in her hind leg. She turned to face her little Dragon assistant, nudging her from behind. In his clawed grasp was a very familiar item that had been the very start of it all. It shone and glittered in the glow of the engine fire.

“Hey, I uh, while you guys were talking I went poking around and found this.” Spike handed over Harmony. “Maybe this’ll work.”

Rather than the sound of whistling in reverse, the gun made the sound of three kazoos being blown hard enough to break them. The bullet shot out of the barrel with a strange spiral to it, and it whizzed and burned and crackled down the desert sands until it reached Lune.

Lune turned half-way, staring back, as the bullet pierced through a strange white wall and hit her in the side and exploded in a small puff of white powder, a few dozen strands of white string flying out like party streamers. It knocked her back slightly, her ribs caving in but not cracking.

Ow,” Lune said. It felt like a bison had accidentally run into her with a blunt horn.

She straightened up, cracking her back, staring back across the plains with a frown.

She saw the sheriff as she scrambled to pick up the cannon again after the first shot had caused it to fly out of her grip. She saw the blue pony next to her fumble with the ammo bag. She saw a little Dragon point at her, informing his friends that yes the first shot had actually hit her and yes Lune was probably ticked off.

Lune wasn’t ticked off, though. The frown was not one born from annoyance, but rather from perplexity. She turned around and walked back towards the firing gun.

This time, the bullet was easy to dodge. Twilight’s grip was barely able to keep the gun level. It was a miracle that the first bullet hit at all. She heard a cactus behind her explode.

She didn’t let Twilight reload it a third time.

With a final, speedy dash, she threw herself forward and skidded, ramming her metal leg into Twilight’s chest. The sheriff went sprawling, and Lune caught Harmony easily. She threw it into Spike’s face, and kicked with her rear leg, sending Dash flying.

In just three seconds, the entirety of the firing squad was down.

“Foals shouldn’t play with toys,” Lune said, buckling down. “But I am impressed.”

“Yeah?” Twilight said, scrabbling to her hooves. She coughed, hammering her chest to get out the dirt. “‘Bout what?”

“The fact that you can fire the gun.”

“Yeah, that’s what she said too,” Twilight said, flicking her tail toward the collapsed form of Celeste. “Too weak or something. Butcha know what? I figured to give it a shot anyway, no matter what Mayor Celeste think."

“And that you knew what to do without instruction?”

“That was her,” Twilight nodded her head at Dash, who decided to stay seated on the ground for a while longer, moaning. “She built it. She should know how to fire the damn thing.”

Spike also found his way back after the world had stopped spinning. He massaged his jaw, but decided not to speak.

Lune looked to the three one by one, deep in thought.

"Not gonna lie," Twilight said. "Weren't too easy. And that was a piss-poor job. But hey. Got what I wanted in the end. And that counts."

“I see why Celeste has such trust in you,” Lune stated. “You are stronger than you look. You should ask her to teach you a few tricks. But you also should know when to stop.”

There was deadly intent in the last part of her statement.

Wait,” Twilight said, with confidence and purpose. “Maybe I do wanna stop.”

Lune quirked an eyebrow at the sheriff. “What, no more ‘arrest the dread outlaw Lune’?”

“Haven’t decided yet.” Twilight said.

Lune flicked her ear. "What is your game?"

“No game.” Twilight tapped herself in the chest. “I’m just a pony waiting for my reply.”

Lune regarded Twilight, sizing her up. Their eyes met as it did before, but this time, Lune stared deep, like she was trying to pry something out from her soul.

Lune nodded, after a moment's thought. “Then answer me one thing first.”

"And what would that be?" Twilight asked.

“Earlier.” Lune waved a hoof. “I said you fought for my sister. Remind me of how you replied."

Twilight repeated her words without a single second's thought. "I said I fight for whatever's worth fightin' for."

The night wind howled, kicking up the fires.

Lune tilted her head to one side. "And do you believe that?"

"What do you think?" Twilight replied.

Lune straightened her neck, pulling back her shoulders. She gave Twilight's expression one last study. It was as firm and steady a boulder.

"Very well," she said at last. "You may ask your questions."

"Good," Twilight nodded. "Let's pick up where we left off. You said you ain't meanin' to march on Cantermore?"

"Yes. There is very little reason for me to do so.” Lune shrugged. “I’ve already told you.”

“Then why are you here?

Lune snorted lightly as the edge of her mouth turned up.

“Why, same reason you are.” Lune answered, her eyes travelling to the crumpled mess that was her sister. “I was cordially invited by her. She sent her people, asking me to come. Said it was important. I had though, perhaps foolishly, that it would be true this time. She found me, so I was going to have to leave my home anyway. I thought I might as well drop by on the way out.”

Twilight felt her tail twitch. “That's the thing I'm havin' a hard time swallowin'. It was me who gave Celeste warnin’ about you, not the other way around. So you couldn’t ’ve done it.”

“Oh, really? And how did that happen?”

“I was the one lookin’ out over Full Moon Bluff couple weeks back. I was the one saw you workin’ on somethin’, and I was the one who alerted the Mayor.”

“Ah, yes. Full Moon Bluff.” Lune chuckled. “I haven’t been there in a little over five years.”


“I have been a wanted criminal far longer than when my sister exiled me, you realise. She told everyone I was cast out to Full Moon Bluff, but did you think I would just go there? Where fortune finders and bounty hunters could come kill me in my sleep?” Lune rolled her eyes. “I have camp in a cave somewhere along the mountain ridge.”

“Then… what did I see?”

“What did you see?”

“Lights,” Twilight replied.

“Then that is what you saw.” Lune turned a hoof out upward. “Lights.”

Twilight rubbed her face with her leg. A vexing feeling started creeping into the back of her mind.. “You can’t be suggesting…”

“I’m not suggesting anything, child. I only know what you tell me. If you saw lights, then that is what you saw. But were those lights myself or just part of a two-year-old story?”

“But it weren’t just a story, were it?” Twilight shot at Lune. “You did come burrowin’ under Cantermore. You did make for the great vaults.”

“Yes,” Lune tilted her head to the side. Her eyes travelled back to the past. “But it wasn’t gold I was stealing.”

Twilight blinked a few times. “If not the gold then… what?”

Lune didn’t reply. She just showed them.

Her leg hissed suddenly, as a stream of white steam escaped a small vent by its side, hidden under the latticework of scales.

A compartment slid out of the metal leg, so perfectly machined that it was invisible otherwise. Within it were two pieces of parchment, yellow and frail.

“Hey, you. Blacksmith,” Lune called to the side. “Please, join us.”

Dash looked to Twilight, who gave her a nod, signalling that it was probably safe. With one final moan, Dash pushed herself up and staggered over.

“What are these?” Twilight asked, as Lune floated the papers toward the group.

“Ask your friend,” Lune said, flicking her head at Dash. “She’ll find them familiar, I bet.”

Straining to see in the dark, Dash ran her eyes ran down the two parchements. A drop of sweat rolled off the side of her cheek and hit the floor.

“I… don’t understand,” Dash muttered.

“Yes. You do,” Lune said.

Dash looked at the designs again. There, drawn upon them, were two very familiar sights. One — a gun, for use by a Gearhead; the very gun she had pieced together over the last two weeks. The other — a suit of armour with flexible panels, for protection.

Above the gun was written, in fine cursive, its name — Nightmare.

And her sister, the armour — Harmony.

“But… the names…”

Lune rolled the papers up, pushing them back into her leg. “Does this not make sense? A weapon that can destroy anything in its way in the blink of an eye, and a shield, to protect not only its user, but everyone around. Are their names not true?”

“But I don’t… why would she need to switch the names?” Dash said, weakly.

“The one true thing about my sister,” Lune said. “Is her loyalty. That… shall never be questioned. She loves her city. She loves her country. She loves her people.”

Twlight felt a heat burning her stomach.

“And she will do anything to protect this dream. Including this pony who everyone thinks she is.”

“No.” Twilight shook her head, her heart pounding. “I don’t buy this. I ain’t buyin’ any of this.”

“Of course. Why trust the words of a bandit?”

“Words. Trickery and words. You have a gilded tongue, Raven.” Twilight wagged her head. “You’ll not pull me over a barrel.”

“Of course. You have no reason to believe me. All I can do is tell you that this is what I stole that day. These, and many more. All of my design, you see. All which were taken from me first. I just wanted them back. I have created many machines. None of which are fit for use by my sister.”

“So where’s the rest of ‘em then?” Twilight asked.

“Safe. Somewhere else. I actually only have these two on my now because of…” Lune waved her hoof at the destruction. “All this. Had to prepare, after all. Had to build. Had to remind myself of what they could do.”

“But you were caught that day,” Twilight said. “Everyone remembers that. If you stole the plans, Celeste’d have them now.”

“True, but they were only searching me, weren’t they?” Lune laughed.

“What are ya talkin’ about?” Twilight asked. “You had help?”

“Yes. I stick out like a red rooster. But no one pays attention to a child.”

Dash gasped, pointing a hoof at Lune. “Yesterday! The child!”

“Ah, yes.” Lune waved Harmony around in the air like a finger. “He stole the TANK unit that I built for him. It was a toy, you see, never meant to travel such long distances. He remembered how important the plans were to me, precious dear. Thought I’d want to get Nightmare back. Of course, he saw my Sister’s… modified plans. The ones she used to commission some foolish, naive blacksmith to make under the guise of ‘harmony’.”

“Uhhh…” Dash muttered.

“So, is the child well? My sister tells me she has them all under her care, now.”

“How would she know where the children were?” Twilight asked.

“After two years of searching, I’d imagine. I didn’t make it easy, but she found me ” Lune tapped the barrel of Harmony against her temple. “My children helped me smuggle the plans out of the city. It was easy. I made sure there was adequate distraction.

“My sister let me go under the grand story of her kind and noble heart. She needed me alive to find the plans again. Perhaps she had hoped that I would store the plans with me in my camp, which was a foolish assumption, even for her.

“She must have spent the last two years searching for me and the plans. I was visited, you know. A few days ago. Her scouts came to send me a message, saying my sister wanted to meet. Here, in Ponyton.” Lune swung Harmony in front of her. “Told me that she had finally figured out how I got the plans out of the city way back when. Said she was coming for my children.”

Lune gave a curt smile. “Which was fine by me. They’ll have a much better life in Cantermore than in a hole in a mountain. And I know my sister enough to know that even she would not hurt a child.”

It was a lot to take in. It was a grand story from a notorious outlaw. Twilight chewed on Lune’s words for a while, like a big mouthful of buttergrass. But her story weren’t as sweet, and harder to swallow.

“I don’t get it, though,” Twilight said, “If you speak true. If you knew all this already, and you know what she was up to, why’d you play along to her plans?”

“Oh, child. We all play along to her plans. You just don’t know it yet.”

Twilight frowned. “I still can’t believe this.”

“I know.” Lune said, casually, unfettered. “The truth makes unreasonable demands.”

“You tellin’ me all this is all over a bunch of stupid plans?”

“Yes. The plans are powerful. Celeste needs to prepare herself, I’m sure. But let me assure you that… Celeste does this not out of power nor out of greed. She truly does care for her people. No matter the manner.”

“What?” Twilight felt her horn throb. “You’re defendin’ her now?”

“It’s complicated,” Lune said. “We’re sisters. Everyone has good and bad in them. It’s all about how we use it.”

Twilight stood there in thought, the wind picking up and sweeping her mane across her back. Her eye flicked to Angel as she thought about what Lune had said.

“So, what now?” Lune asked. “Will you still make to arrest me?”

The sheriff had to ponder on it for a moment.

“I don’t know,” Twilight admitted. “I don’t think so. By your own words you ain’t marching on Cantermore. And for the first half of the fight, I weren’t around to see who fired the first shot neither. All I did was run a train into you.”

She turned back, looking at Spike and Dash, who both, after a while, also nodded. Finally, she turned back to Angel.

“Hey! Doctor!” Twilight yelled. “Celeste gonna live?”

“Hmm?” Angel responded, looking up from her tending. “Oh, oh yes! She’s fine! In fact, she might be stirring any moment now!”

Twilight turned back to Lune. “No ponyslaughter then. Not yet, anyway. But I wanna know what happened when all this started. You two seem to have a history.”

“Well, we do. You know, all of this started long before two years ago.”

“How long?”

“Bit more than ten. Back before… we started fightin'.”

Lune smiled. Twirling Harmony around, stopping it handle-forward, and releasing it into Twilight’s chest.

“Back when she was still an outlaw.”

Twilight let Harmony fall to the dirt at her hooves.

Spike and Dash were equally silent. But they couldn’t help but sneak a look at the figure lying in the dust, whose leg twitched almost like she heard the accusation.

“Don’t be stupid.” Twilight said. “That’s one yarn you spun too far. I won’t believe Celeste will attack her people.”

“Oh, no. That’s completely true,” Lune said. “She won’t attack… her people.”

Twilight shook her head violently. “There’s nothin’ supporting your claim! Where’s your proof?”

Lune tapped herself in the chest. “I’m right here. I told you. She’ll do anything to protect her vision. And that’s not above… switching a few titles around.”

The outlaw Lune pointed her horn at Harmony, which lay unceremoniously in the dirt. “Take care of that gun for me, okay? I don’t need it. It’s more of my sister’s style.”

The mayor was groaning, now, eyelids fluttering.

Lune bowed her head, tilting her horn. “And with that, my time is up. I take my leave now.”

“You… no,” Twilight said, flustered, head turning between Celeste and Lune. “Wait. We still need to talk!”

“Sheriff,” Lune said. “Do you value the truth?”

Twilight let the question sink in. Lune was saying the unthinkable about the very pony that Twilight looked up to. But the pony that Twilight had become because of her… well. She would only answer one way. She closed her eyes, and let the answer float up from her heart.

“Yes,” she said, her eyes popping back open. “I do.”

“Then come find me,” Lune told Twilight.

“Find you? What? Where are you—”

“Find me!”

Celeste stirred. Twilight looked over her shoulder at the mayor.

“Wait! Please! Tell me one last thing!” Twilight begged, turning back. “Why did you tell me all this?”

“Well.” Lune winked.

Because I reckon I can trust you.

With another hiss, a second compartment opened on her metallic leg, and a small glass canister, metal-capped, popped out with a clink. At the very same time, Lune’s horn glowed abright, a haze of white surrounding her head.

The glass vial flew into the air above Twilight, and with a flash of magic, smashed open. Immediately, the area was filled with a thick green smoke, a foul smog that stank of rotten eggs and dead fish.

The smoke curled up Twilight’s nostrils. She coughed and choked and threw a leg up to cover her face, but it was thick enough to flow into every crack, and dense enough that the only thing Twilight could see was a wall of green. Behind the mist, she heard everyone else choking and coughing on the same stench.

Her mind reeled. The smoke attacked her senses, dulling them one by one, until they all started to fail. Teetering, she bumped into someone, and they both crashed to the ground. As her eyes began to blur, she looked up at the figure of Lune, who had across her face some sort of metal mask.

Lune turned and walked away.

The words echoed in Twilight’s mind: ‘Find me!’

As she crawled around in desperation, the broken halves of the metal vial came into view, sticking out of the sand. Her mind no longer thought clearly. With some primal instinct, she shoved the pieces into her vest pocket.

It would be the last thing she did.

The next two days were like those hazy mirages that dotted the edge of the desert; they were there, and then gone, and Twilight could never get a good view of things no matter how hard she tried to squint.

Somehow, she, Mayor Celeste, and all her companions had survived their encounter, and Twilight was almost certain it didn’t have anything to do with the stronger pony winning.

Everything felt sour, like the coffee she drank out of an old tin mug back at the sheriff’s station. And she was uncharacteristically quiet. Even Dash and Spike decided to give her space, while Angel travelled the sights and wonders of the big city, distracted by her own wandering mind.

The Mayor had announced a triumph. The news echoed throughout the city like a coin falling into a canyon. It rang sharp, clear, and everyone heard it.

Even the four new orphans who were recently taken up into the town.

And the entire city was busy celebrating the defeat of the dread outlaw Raven Lune who made her last stand at Ponyton. The trains would be fixed, and the Ponyton residents could slowly make their way back, with the blessings of Mayor Celeste, naturally.

And just like that, those two hazy days had passed.

Twilight found herself standing outside the Mayor’s office once more, staring blank-minded at the doors. She had been called there, along with her friends, to receive their official commendation for services to Cantermore.

There is a peculiar thing about loyalty.

Ponies like Twilight were always loyal to the ones she believed in. And they always put that loyalty above anything else.

But once that fails, then loyalty defaults. Loyalty returns back home.

Twilight, at that moment, made a decision.

“How’s the face?” Twilight asked. “And the legs?”

Celeste stood there with a splint tied to her leg to help with the mending. Her face, once covered with bandages, was now clean save faint traces of scars across the cheek, the kind that eventually fades.

“Better.” Celeste said. “Thank you. Would you care for some tea?”

A clamour of ‘yes’ came up from the three who weren’t Twilight, who simply shook her head.

Twilight, Spike, Moonshine and Angel stood in Mayor Celeste’s office, lined up neatly in a row, were served tea, and took a rare minute to rest.

Finally, when everyone had taken their first sips, Mayor Celeste placed her steaming cup on her desk and addressed the group.

“So, this is just formality, as you know. You already have the thanks of the town, and especially myself, for your actions and bravery takin’ in facing Lune. Somehow, we managed to stop her. At least for now. We will need to be ready for her return, eventually. She always comes back. But as long as we stand together, we’ll be able to beat her every time.”

The four of them nodded. Perhaps non-committedly. Twilight was, at least, very sure herself that she needed to proceed carefully from this point on.

“Hey mayor?” she said. “There’s… somethin’ I gotta ask ya.”

“You know you can ask anything. Please.”

“Why ain’t you never just kill her? Why didn’t she hang two years ago?”

And there were those eyes. Twilight suddenly remembered where she had seen those eyes before. They were exactly the same as Lune’s. They bore no malice, no fear, and no wavering from the truth.

Celeste stared off into the distance, wistfully, with those eyes. “She’s my sister.”

“You defend her for her crimes?”

“It’s complicated,” Celeste smiled. “We have a complicated history. But I still feel there’s some reason in her left. Maybe one day, we can talk once more.”

“So uh…” Twilight said. “What’s this complicated history all about?”

Mayor Celeste paused there. If she was troubled by the question, there was no indication of it on her face. “I suppose… you deserve to know.”

“Mayor. Before you begin. After you… uh… passed out on the day, Lune came to us,” Twilight said. She had to give something to get something back. And she needed to tell it straight. “She spoke with us. Didn’t fight. Didn’t come for trouble. She said a few things. Troublin’ things. That’s the truth.”

“Ah. I was worried she’d do that,” Celeste said, wringing her lips. “Go on. Tell me what she said.”

“She told us about the plans. How that was her real goal two years ago.” Twilight stopped there. There was no need to say more than was necessary, for now. “Told us about how it’s still about them now.”

Celeste sighed. It was a wistful, long, hissing sigh, as if she were forcing out a demon that resided in her chest.

“Alright. Yes. That is true,” Celeste said, voice soft and low.

“It were really a yarn?” Twilight raised an eyebrow.

“A… necessary one.” Celeste took another pause. “Twilight, do you know what it takes to run a city?”

“I would imagine a great many things.” Twilight cocked her head.

“Yes. And one of those things is, well, havin’ to be the bad guy.”

Twilight looked out of the corner of her eye toward her friends, who were all staring in rapt attention. “The bad guy?” she asked.

“Yeah. The bad guy. That’s who I am, Twilight.” Celeste dipped her head. “Not for what I say but for what I don’t. Sometimes, the truth is more dangerous than a lie.”

“I’m sorry, Mayor but—”

“No. No,” Celeste cut her off. “You’ve earned it. All four of you. But you must promise me one thing.”

“Nothing leaves this room, Mayor,” Twilight said. She looked to her left and right, making sure her friends nodded in agreement as well.

“Right. Good. So.” Celeste swivelled to stare out of the window. “It weren’t about gold two years ago.”

“It was about the plans.”

“Yes. The plans.”

Celeste let herself trail off as she watched the streets from her vantage point from behind her thick red curtains. Dozens of ponies milled around, going about their business, chatting, purchasing, living.

Twilight prompted her to continue. “What’s so important about these plans?”

Celeste frowned. “We gotta go a bit further back first, I reckon. So, let me tell you about… before Cantermore.”

Twilight listened.

“ Lune is my sister. One fact that I don’t rightly enjoy being spread around. Before Cantermore came up, we both rode together to far regions and distant worlds. I don’t enjoy spreading that around either, but of course we did.” Celeste shrugged. “We were sisters, and orphans, just like you. Thrown out of home and house for the same reasons as you. Because we were… different.”

“Gearheads,” Twilight grunted.

“Yes.” Celeste said. “We grew up angry at the world. But Lune… there were always somethin’ blacker in that heart of hers. Somethin’ genius in that mind, too. All the steamgear that she made, they were beyond the ken of normal ponies. Machines that could do whatever you thought. And one day… we had an agreement and a fallin’ right there on the same afternoon.

“We both would move to make a town. A huge town filled with all sorts of ponies. A place that was… free from the fear and hate that we Gearheads had. But that’s when we started t’ see things different.

“Lune… felt that it were time all this nonsense stopped. We had power, machines, strength. She said that we should make a bastion for Gear, a place where we wouldn’t have ta be scared. A place where people understood the power we had and would respect it. But I had a different way of seein’ things. I knew that one day, one day the fear and hate had ta stop, but it wouldn’t be because one of us started makin’ the world our enemy. No. Stuff like this… it takes time. It takes a city living in peace to see that we can live in peace.

“So we fought. And for the next ten years, I wouldn’t see her again. She went off to make her own life. I found a nice big area and with the help of only two traders and a blacksmith, founded the city that you now stand in today.

“And as I promised to myself, I kept things on the down low. This… hate of other people — for Gear, for Dragons, Ryu and Gryphon — it still exist. But we come a long way from ten years ago when they’d just shoot ya on sight for havin’ white magic. Now, at least, they talk to ya first before openin’ fire.”

Celeste shook her head. The look in her eyes was very far away.

“But Lune never helped with the image. With all the stories comin’ out about her deeds, and that whole thing two years ago… the fear got knocked up a couple notches. But one day. One day the world will be ready, and I’ll finally be able to tell my truth. The truth that the one who has protected everyone and has given life has always been a Gearhead. The truth that there are at least a hundred Gearheads now here in town that no one knows. Including my future head Sheriff.”

“Hundred?” Twilight’s mouth hung open for a while. “I… didn’t even know there were that many here.”

“That’s the point. And one day it’ll just be as it has always been, and people won’t have ta run around panicking.”

Celeste bowed her head with determination. “So I gotta be a bad guy now to be a good guy later. Unfortunately Lune… she just wants to be the bad guy.”

Twilight nodded. She had a feeling she knew where this was about to lead to. “So, the plans is just a big ball of power, is that it?”

“Suppose you could say that. It’s what helps me keep this place safe. It’s what makes us able to progress. Imagine if I hadn’t had the forethought to build Harmony and stow it away. What then?”

“Yeah… Harmony,” Twilight muttered. She didn’t necessarily want to talk about the elephant gun in the room, but curiosity got the better of her. “You know, Lune also mentioned something about that.”

“What about?”

“How it didn’t originally have that name.”

Twilight braced for the response. But it came, to her surprise, gentle and calm.

“Of course I changed it,” Celeste said, plain. “It is a device that I would use to keep the harmony in my town. To keep the peace. I traded its name for that foul beast of armour that Lune invented. It is a steamgear that can be used to storm any town, and crush everything underhoof. How appropriate to be called Nightmare instead, isn’t it?”

“Huh,” Twilight said.

“I will not have my dream crushed, Constance. I will not have this city of peace and equality destroyed. But I will need tools to keep it safe. We have many enemies. People whom Lune has turned against us through fear and manipulation. I fear their arrival.”

“Is a storm comin’?” Twilight asked with all due sincerity.

“Not anything we know for sure. But I would like to be prepared.”

The sheriff took it all in. Every single word, and every single piece of evidence. There were things that were said across the span of the last half hour that clashed, overturned, and conflicted with each other. There were holes and bridges and leaps of logic.

Her memory took her back to one of the first days on the squad, when she had to interrogate a pair of robbers who commited a single crime. Each robber had given a different version of events, and no matter how they tried, they couldn’t put it together with the evidence left behind. It was only after a day, and letting them go, did they realise that both of them had been lying a little differently just to make sure the real truth was never found.

The truth.

Twilight spoke up. “Mayor?”

People lied. But the truth was constant. And just like she had done with Lune, Twilight found herself not fit to judge until the truth was uncovered.

“Yes, Constance?” Celeste replied.

Twilight made a choice.

“I have a proposition for ya,” she said, reaching into her vest pocket and pulling out a small broken glass vial.

One Day Later

“You understand what you’re doin’, right?”

“Absolutely, Mayor,” Twilight said.

“And the rest of you,” Celeste turned to them. “You follow under your own free will?”

There were nods and agreements all around. Once more they found themselves back in Mayor Celeste’s office, albeit for a hugely different reason. Papers, charts, and books were strewn all around, and a large board was set up in the corner with all manners of charts and maps pinned to it.

“You sure about this?” Celeste asked.

Twilight puffed out her chest proudly.

“Spike has been an invaluable assistant. He is smart, keen, and has a head on his shoulders that has gotten me out of trouble more times that I’d care to admit.” Twilight turned to the pony standing beside him. “Moonshine Dash has grown tremendously over the past few weeks, growing to be a loyal, trustworthy and above all, brave individual. Her skill in blacksmithing will be extremely useful in the days ahead.”

All eyes fell on the final member.

“And…” Twilight paused. “Angel is a doctor.”

“Aww,” Angel sighed, giggling. “That’s the nicest thing you’ve said about me.”

Celeste nodded.

“And above all,” Twilight went on, staring straight ahead. “They’re good friends.”

Celeste smiled. “That was all you needed to have said.”

She turned, walking to the display board.

“However,” Celeste said. “This mission you want to embark on ain’t gonna be easy. I’m sure you know that. We don’t know what Lune is planning, and finding her ain’t gonna be easy.”

“I’m pretty certain I’ll find her. She let us go in the desert. Gotta be for a reason.”

“Be careful, Twilight. Do not fall for her silver tongue,” Celeste warned. “That goes for all the rest of you, too.”

The Mayor turned her attention to a map. “Now. Remember. Your goal is the plans. Lune herself is secondary. If you manage to find where she stashed the plans, you won’t need to even deal with her at all. Moonshine and I have taken a look at the vial she left behind, and the glass used in it has a certain special kinda shine.”

Dash chimed in, pointing to the broken gas vial on the table. “Yeah. It’s unmistakable. This was made in Crystal Cove.”

“So, it’s basically confirmed. She’s been there. There may be somethin’ there that’ll point ya in a direction.”

Twilight nodded. “Thank you, Mayor, for lettin’ me this opportunity.”

“No. Thank you.” Celeste said. “You’re doing Equestria a great favour.”

“I’m just doin’ what’s right.”

“And of course, Crystal Cove is nothin’ like Cantermore. They aren’t like us there. And they don’t fall under Equestrian law. So… if anythin’ goes south, there ain’t much I can do to help ya. And that.” Celeste pointed to Twilight’s badge. “Is meaningless.”

“But these still work.” Twilight patted her holsters. “I’ll be fine.”

“Then. I suppose there’s nothing more to say. I’ll have the usual care package prepared for you for your departure on the next train. And before then, I’d just like to say this.”

One by one, Celeste turned to the four standing in front of her.

“Constance Sheridan Twilight. Furious Spike Ling. Rosalita Dash. And Angelique Binnes. The four of you are already heroes in my heart, and all Equestria thanks you for your service. May the Dust never rise to claim you. I, Mayor Clearwater Celeste of the town of Cantermore, officially task you with the search and recovery of the plans of Lune, however you can.”

The four of them bowed, deeply, accepting this official ordeal.

“Oh, and one more thing, sheriff,” Celeste said, sliding a wooden box forward on her desk. “A gift. For you. And also an apology.”

Twilight stepped forward, eyebrows raised.

“I said you wouldn’t be able to fire it. And… I was wrong.”

“Is that what I think it is?” Spike asked.

Twilight popped open the box. On a small cloth pillow lay the gun Harmony, or Nightmare, depending on who you asked, clean and ready for use. Next to it was a velvet bag full of ammo, forged newly.

“Mayor…?” Twilight said.

“Twilight. I was wrong. Please take this gun with my blessin’, and as proof that you have my full and complete trust.”

“But… don’t you need this to protect the town?” Twilight asked.

“Lune’s not gonna be able to build another suit of armour in a while. Until then, normal guns’ll be good enough. No. Twilight, I think you’ve earned this. And if it helps ya with your task, then let it do what it will. Of course, I would still advise caution. Crystal Cove may be more accepting of Gearheads than us, but there’s still a lot of fear involved. Don’t go waving it around.”

“Well… thank you, Mayor.” Twilight felt a sting in her chest. Celeste’s words still felt real. Twilight almost wanted to admit that her actions had more than one goal. It felt wrong to accept it, but she pushed past the feeling, focusing on the truth to guide her.

There was something she had to do first, though.

“But…” Twilight said.


“If this is to be my gun, I can’t choose between names that weren’t rightly agreed on in the past. Don’t feel right.”

“I understand. You wish to rename it?”

“Yeah.” Twilight said, picking it up, turning it slowly in her magical grasp as it gleamed silver in the lights of the office. Long, thick barrel, strange, bulbous chamber and intricate carvings along the handle, it spoke to her, whispering its true nature. “I remember someone told me a while ago a little bit about true strength. And how it’s about havin’ people worth dyin’ for.”

“I do remember that conversation,” Celeste chuckled. “What about it?”

“That’s the true magic, you said.”


“And that’s what this gun shall be named,” Twilight declared, slipping the gun into one of her holsters.

Magic?” Celeste repeated, smiling. “A fine name.”

Twilight frowned as she noticed all her friends smiling as well. “What?”

“Really?” Spike said. “Magic?”

“Yeah,” Dash chimed in. “I’d figure you’d go for something like ‘Deathkiller Faceslayer’ or whatever.”

Twilight rolled her eyes. She was beginning to hate this new her.

“That is something I would call my 12-gauge syringe,” Angel added, “the one I use for eyeballs.”

No.” Twilight said sternly, holding a hoof out at Angel’s face.

Magic it is,” Celeste nodded. “And thus, we are concluded. Were there any last words?”

“Uh… yeah,” Spike said, holding up a finger. “Just one last thing. You know, while we’re on the subject of names.”

“Yes?” Celeste asked.

The little Dragon turned to the side, looking at Dash.

“Your real name’s Rosalita?”

Twilight and her gang left the town hall without badge and hat. She had surrendered it in the office, seeing how there was no longer any need to carry proof of ersatz authority.

She gave a sigh of relief. She didn’t rather know why, but the prospect of finally leaving town again was oddly comforting.

As soon as they were clear of the Mayor’s office, and back in the hot, blazing sun, Twilight slowed her pace, walking by her companions.

“Hey, thanks for trustin’ me,” Twilight said.

“No problem, Twi,” Spike replied. “I mean, we were there too, ya know. Something’s weird about this whole situation.”

“I hate to admit it,” Dash said. “But there’s a whole buncha stories goin’ on that just ain’t painted straight.”

“But the Mayor. She just… don’t seem like she’s lyin’. Neither did Lune. I don’t understand what’s going on.” Twilight wrinkled her brow. “Two stories. Both the same, but both different. And I don’t feel comfortable mistrustin’ the mayor like that.”

“Well, that’s why we’re chasin’ the truth, right? We’ll find out. Maybe when we find those plans. Maybe when we find her. Give her a chance to finish her story.” Spike suggested. “I mean, that’s why we’re goin’, right?”

“Dunno why she had to be so cryptic, though,” Dash said, shrugging. “Coulda just told us straight ‘hey I’mma be in Crystal Cove’.”

Angel stepped in. “I believe she was testing us, perhaps.”

“How’d you figure?” Dash replied.

“Well, you see, when you tell someone everything they need to do a job, you won’t be able to see how much they want to do it. Perhaps Lune is simply testing our resolve. After all, she did seem to be interested in us. You especially, my dear Twilight.”

“Well, whatever it is, Crystal Cove is our first step,” Twilight said. “And then after that, we’ll figure out where to go from there.”

“Oh, I know what to do!” Spike raised his hand. In his claws he held the half of the vial. “Real simple! See, makers of things usually are proud of what they do. Sometimes they write a thing on their stuff to show that they were the ones who made it, right?”

“Oh yes!” Angel burst out with a childlike glee. “I do that too with my patients! Sometimes I’ll write my name somewhere on them. Or in them!”

What?” Twilight said, face turning slightly pale. She turned to stare at Angel. “Did… did you?”

Angel’s eyes flicked up to Twilight’s horn. “Nnnnno?”

Twilight glared daggers at Angel, who returned her her cutest smile.

“Oh boy,” Spike said. “Anyway! Look, I found a mark here on this vial! Check it out!”

The other three gathered around, looking down at the metal cap. Along the rim, extremely small, was a small engraving that could have been easily mistaken for a scratch.

“It’s an ‘N’, right?” Spike said.

“Good try,” Angel chimed in. “But you see the curly bits at the end? When it curls that way, it’s not an ‘N’. It’s a ‘Z’.”

Spike nodded, understanding. “Oh, right!”

“So. Z.” Dash said, rubbing her chin.

“You know what?” Twilight suddenly cut through the tone with a bit of frustration. “Okay. Enough of this. Spike!”

“Uh… yes?” The little Dragon answered, tugging on the edges of his vest.

“Listen. Enough of the dodgin’. I knew you were crafty but you’re way crafty. Okay? You are far from stupid. You might be the smartest one of us here, in fact!”

“Naw, Twilight,” Spike said, throwing his hand down in dismissal. “Nothin’ doin’. I’m just good at noticin’ stuff, is all.”

“Yeah, you are. Too good at it. But you know what, Dash here knows somethin’ about you that I don’t. So why don’t we finally make this official.”

“Oh, oops,” Dash said softly. “Sorry.”

Spike looked a little disappointed. But not in a way where he blamed Dash for her forthrightness, but rather that he couldn’t keep the game up just a little longer.

“Yeah, it’s okay,” Spike said. “I guess everyone’s stories is comin’ out today huh.”

“Who are you?” Twilight asked.

“Right. My name is Furious Spike of House Ling. As you know. And my family… well, my dad, at least, he’s the head of… well…”


“I don’t think you guys have the word for it here. In Dragonese it’s…” Spike reeled off a few foreign words that sounded like a mix of sharp tonal sounds and hissing. “But I guess directly translated it means ‘the ones who look for things’?”

“Look for things?”

“Yeah! Like… I dunno. Finding stuff. Figuring out stuff. Detecting things.”

“Your father’s a person who detects stuff? A detector?”

“Yeah, let’s go with that,” Spike said. “The family’s helped out the emperor a couple times. Everyone in my family, really. We’re like police, but who just specialise in detecting stuff, and figuring out stuff. But we work for ourselves, you know? Not for like, the city or nothin’.”

“Huh,” Twilight muttered.

“Yeah. So uh… that’s it then!”

“So why are you here?”

“Aw, well.” Spike kicked at the dirt. “You know. Sometimes you get given a big old case, right? And then sometimes you kinda, you know. Make mistakes.”

“You made a mistake?”

“Yeaaaaah. Little… maybe big one? I don’t wanna get into details. It’s pretty long. And boring. And painful. Let’s just say I never managed to solve that case, and that marked bad for our family. And long story short, I left to save my family some honour.” Spike shrugged.

“But… how did you decide to come here and scam the city for free jail time? From that?” Twilight asked.

For the first time, Spike didn’t look too cheerful about the situation. He wrinkled his nose, his cheeky, ever-present smile disappearing.

“Guy without honour,” he said, “gots ta live without honour.”

“Listen, ladies and Dragons,” Angel said, cutting in, feeling the tone starting to weigh down a bit too much. “Let us not task ourselves, shall we? The New Science is very clear that rest is just as important as hard work. So shall we, perhaps, enjoy ourselves one last night before our great mission?”

“You know what, that sounds real good,” Dash agreed.

Twilight too, stepped back. “Yeah. Okay. Hey. We all got our stories, okay, Spike?”

“Sure,” Spike said, his smile returning.

“I found an alleyway yesterday with so many dead cats,” Angel said cheerfully.

“Uhhhhh, how about we go get something to eat instead?” Dash said quickly. “I know a place that does a real good strawberry cream and glazed beef!”

“That sounds a lot better,” Spike said.

“Okay!” Angel agreed. “Thinking about cats is making me hungry, anyway.”

Twilight didn’t join in.

Rather, she stood behind and watched as her friends cavorted and capered down the street, chuckling all the way.

She turned her head to the sky, as a breeze came flying down between the buildings, ruffling her mane. The wind brought the smell of salt and sand, and a fresh new adventure ahead. But this time, she wasn’t going to have to go it alone.

This time, she had three friends and a big gun.

She felt itchy. Uncomfortable. Irritated. Angry.

But perhaps… just perhaps…

A little bit happy.

“Hey, you comin’?” Yelled Dash, snapping Twilight out of her mind.

“Yeah!” Twilight said, rushing to catch up.

They had one night.

She was going to make it count.

Dust and Harmony



There was a cage.

Within was a pony of unremarkable features.

Unremarkable not because he was plain, but there was nothing much else to match his features to, and thus, anyone attempting to describe him was left without a single remark to give.

He stood, smiling wildly, at the window, murmuring to himself over and over, staring at the night.

“What’s wrong with him?” the guard asked, spurs jangling with a twitchy anxiety. “He ever shut up?”

“Not really, no.” The other guard replied. “He’s gone a little crazy, really. That’ll happen when half your brain gets burned up.”

“No shit. That happened?”

“Yeah. What, you new here or somethin’?”

“Actually, yeah. Just got transferred in from West Branch.”

“Oh. Well. Yeah. Have fun on your shift I guess. After a while you kinda just start ta ignore his rantings, anyway.”


“If he give you trouble, just smack him one. He’s bound for the noose, anyway.”

“Yeah, sure. But look at him. What kinda trouble could he give?”

“Murdered two. Caused a bunch of trouble down at Ponyton. Ran into Constant Constance, though. And she did this to him.”

She did? No way.”

“Yeah. Always knew that girl had a mean streak.”

“I know, right? She’s… weird.”

“Well, anyway. Time ta get goin’. Chicken ain’t gonna eat itself.”

“Alright. Ya have a good night. See ya tomorrow.”

The conversation ended.

The night went on.

The prisoner muttered constantly, eyes transfixed on the stars above.

The guard, sitting tiredly at his desk, rocked back and forth, passing the hours.

He was finally at the point where the prisoner’s mutterings turned into background noise, and he almost didn’t notice the fact that it had actually stopped.

The guard looked up.

The prisoner was standing there, like a rag doll stitched together. Odd boot burned into his leg. DIscoloured flesh where the fires ate him. He watched from behind his bars, standing perfectly still, staring straight at the guard.

“Holy—” The guard shouted, nearly falling off his chair.

He caught himself, wobbled to his feet, and stepped forward towards the cage.

The prisoner did not move.

“What in the hell…?” The guard said to himself, pulling out a baton from his belt. “Hey!”

His cry rang through the otherwise empty jail.

“I said ‘hey’!” The guard repeated, stepping forward again.

“Hello,” the prisoner replied. “Do you like… the stars?”

The guard froze. There was an odd quality to the prisoner’s voice. It sounded like snakes crawling over gravel, and it rang with the cadence of an untuned piano.

“What?” The guard said. “Listen, pipe down in there, okay?”

“Do you… like the stars?” the prisoner repeated.

“Stars? What the hell about?”

“I hate them.”

The guard frowned.

“Today. Today the stars returned… to this town,” the prisoner continued.

“What are you talking about? Be quiet there, or I’ll come in and make you!” the guard threatened.

I have heard it on… the wind!” the prisoner said, his voice taking on a far more frantic tone, as if a sliver of frenzy slipped in. “They… whisper her name!

“I said shut up!”

They call her return to our lands!” the prisoner shrieked, “She of the stars, the one with the spintered horn!

“Okay, that’s it!” The guard said, fumbling with his keys.

With a clank, the door swung open, the guard taking a single step into the cell, his baton at the ready.

“Oh, you poor… idiot,” the prisoner said suddenly, his voice changing to a low, monotone, his head tilting to the side.


That single moment was enough. With barely an effort, the prisoner swung the heavy jail door back again, which would have slammed shut had the guard’s head not been in the way.

And again.

And again.

As if the door simply refused to close due to something sticking, and further attempts might make it neatly clink into place.

With a sound like cornflakes being rolled over by a barrel, the guard’s skull slowly caved in, caught between iron bars like the filling of a sandwich. Jam and minced meat dripped down the bars as the prisoner kept the door shut, pulling it as tight as his magic would allow. A gurgle escaped the guard’s throat, like a puppy drowning in a bucket of mud.

The body of the guard skidded to the ground, where it landed in a flop, the baton clinking to the ground moments after.

Bagtail Brown dusted himself off as he breathed in fresh air for the first time in a week. He hated to debase himself as he did, acting like someone crazy. But sometimes, one had to do what one had to do.

After all, the whispers had carried her name to him.

The stars had returned.

And discord would follow.