The Good, the Bad, and the Ponies

by Sharp Spark

Chapter 1: I: Once Upon a Train in the West

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The station was busy – busier than usual. Hayseed kept on chattering, oblivious to the chaos around him, but Applejack’s eyes flickered back and forth attentively. There were lots of passengers milling around, but it was the weekly 10:00 A.M. Westbound Express, and those ponies interested in traveling far had to catch the train today.

That meant businessponies headed to Las Pegasus, ragged-looking miners out to seek their fortune in the Rocky Spurs, and farmponies with their families moving west to the open lands of the frontier. It made for a large crowd, but a crowd this size wasn’t abnormal.

The lawmen, however, stuck out. The entire station was swarming with ponies bearing silver stars pinned to their vests. Applejack’s sharp eyes made out the insignia – feds, not local boys. Something big was happening, and it had to do with the crate being loaded onto a rear storage car. A whole posse of brawny officers watched over the nondescript box, with their leader embroiled in a heated debate with a purple unicorn.

Applejack couldn’t help but peer curiously, until she heard the buzzing of Hayseed’s voice drop off. She turned back to him with an easy smile.

“Well, cousin, this’s probably it,” he said. “I sure do wish you coulda stayed longer. Next time you plan on gettin’ into town, give me a holler first and we’ll be more ready for you.”

“Aw, shucks,” Applejack reached over to grab him in a loose hug. “Y’all know I don’t expect much. Puttin’ me in with the chickens is just fine, knowin’ how harvest season gets.”

“Tell the other Apples we all miss ’em. It’s been, what, years and years since we’ve seen hide or hair of any of y’all. We was beginning to think somethin’ had happened!”

Applejack pulled back and closed her eyes as she tipped her hat. “Will do,” she said. She glanced back towards the city. It wasn’t much of a city, and the Seeds were one of many farming families living in the surrounding county, but it was far more than she was comfortable with. Her smile was easy and genuine as she looked at the train. “But I reckon I should be on my way.”

For a moment, Applejack thought she saw a tear in Hayseed’s eye, but he pulled her in for a tight hug. She had to gently push back to get him to let go, and even then, he kept waving enthusiastically as the crowd hustled and bustled around him.

She nodded back and turned to walk off towards the passenger cars. This many ponies around meant it took some effort, but she smoothly threaded her way through ponies rushing back and forth. She had almost made it to the ticket-taker when a big sheriff’s deputy barged through, knocking her back into a scrawny pegasus and sending them both sprawling.

Applejack hopped up to her hooves, embarrassed at taking a tumble, and offered a hoof to the pony, who was covered head-to-toe in coal dust that stained her coat a grimy grey. The mare looked back at her with a glare that could have peeled paint off a barn and used her wings to lift herself up, ignoring the proffered help. “Watch where you’re going, mudhoof,” she spat in a raspy voice, and then before Applejack could fire back, the pegasus was gone, slipping off into the crowd.

Applejack frowned. Some ponies wouldn’t know civility if it bucked them in the face. She straightened up her vest and recentered the rucksack on her back, smiling at the comforting weight between her shoulders. No sense sweating the small stuff. There was plenty of big stuff still to worry about.


The fire was important. Even in the morning, the fire was a symbol. Of... something.

Life, maybe. Or consuming hunger. Maybe… maybe anger. Anger that at times faded to embers and other times flared up in an inferno, but always burned.

Yes, anger. Fluttershy thought that was appropriate.

She didn’t move or speak as she stared into the fire, waiting for the drums to stop beating and the elders to speak. Devil’s talons dug into her shoulder, but it was a good pain, and she bore the weight of the hawk with no complaint.

The grizzled buffalo resting on the dais overlooking the fire slowly shuffled to his hooves, gazing down with rheumy eyes at Fluttershy. She met his stare, giving no ground.

“Enough,” he said, and the drumming ceased, leaving a silence interrupted only by the the sound of the wind.

Fluttershy’s face was stony in looking up to the Chief. His head dipped once, approvingly.

“Pony, you have done much for our tribe. Your debt to us is more than repaid in spirit and blood. I must ask again. Why do you fight for us?”

Fluttershy didn’t answer. She gazed upwards unblinking as the moment drew out longer.

“Very well,” the Chief said. He raised a hoof upwards and a pair of young buffalo took up position next to Fluttershy.

The Chief turned slowly to look out at the horizon. “There is one more task we ask of you. Not as master to debtor, but as tribe to brave.” His voice dwindled away in a gusty sigh before picking back up. “The ponies have taken much from us. Our land. Our sons and daughters. Even our very way of life. But we are going to take back what is ours.”

He raised a hoof and pointed off in the distance, where sunlight glinted off of the ribbon of metal tracks that cut through the scrubby desert. “The ponies have the greatest treasure of the Buffalo, plundered from their destruction of the peaceful peoples of the Eastern Plains. They are moving it. We do not know why. We do not care. We are going to retrieve it.”

He turned to face Fluttershy. “You are going to retrieve it. We cannot risk openly attacking the ponies now. We cannot give them reason to justify war on us once again. You will not be alone. We have arranged for another pony to assist you in your task.”

He paused, but Fluttershy did not speak or look away.

“You will retrieve our treasure. Strongheart and Proudhoof will guide you.”

The buffalo on either side of Fluttershy dipped down in deep bows.

Fluttershy’s eyes returned to the fire. “And if I must kill?” Her soft voice cut through the silence, causing the buffalo near her to tense.

The Chief’s head slowly drifted down and then back up. “Then it must be so.”

Fluttershy’s knelt down to the dead rabbit in front of her – a prize that Devil had provided her earlier that morning. With a soft click, she slid her knife out of its sheath, deftly handling the long blade. In a single, smooth motion, she struck, cutting across the rabbit’s underbelly. Reaching down, she touched her hooves to the blood and reached up to smear the red in twin lines across her face.

She did not speak as she stood and turned to walk away from the fire, only pausing to heft her rifle from its resting place at the edge of the circle.


It did not take long before the train started moving, and expecting a long trip, Applejack had decided to make her way to the refreshment car. She wasn’t any sort of fancy pony, but knew very well that words like ‘refreshment’ were polite ways to hide certain real meanings. When she sauntered in to see the bar, she knew she was in the right place.

A savvy glance sized up the clientele – mostly businessponies and the well-to-do – but her eyes lingered on one particular mare. She was dressed in a suit, a finely tailored affair that had seen better days, still maintaining a certain classiness but worn and faded with age. Where most of the other ponies were engaged in friendly banter with friends or sociable strangers, the white unicorn stood alone at the bar, the cold half-sneer on her face plainly stating that her solitude was a deliberate choice.

Applejack smirked as she trotted up to take the seat next to the mare. “Hey there, how boutcha buy a drink for an old friend?”

The unicorn’s head tilted slightly as she looked down her nose at Applejack. “I don’t think I have had the pleasure of making your acquaintance.”

“Then how ’bout a drink for a new friend?” Applejack grinned, raising her eyebrows hopefully.

“I don’t think so,” the mare replied. She turned and started to move away, but Applejack reached out to grasp her sleeve and the unicorn froze.

“Hold your hooves. I’ll buy you a drink. Whatd’ya say?”

The unicorn sized Applejack up, eyes flashing as she took in the battered stetson and dusty farmpony attire. Her frown deepened.

Applejack raised her other hoof to gesture the bartender over. “I’m Applejack.”

The pony hesitated, but finally jerked her leg away from Applejack and turned to the bar. “Whiskey. Neat.” She inclined her head slightly, still studying Applejack without facing her directly. “My name is Zirconia.”

Applejack whistled. “That’s sure pretty. What brings you on board, Miz Zirconia?”


“What kinda business?”

“Personal business.” Zirconia sniffed. “I could ask you the same.”

“And I could answer!” Applejack smirked. “I’m a farmer. Crops are doin’ terrible out west, though. On my way home now with some new seeds, s’posed to be drought resistant. We’ll hafta see if that’s true or just a load of hogwash.”

An eyebrow arched on Zirconia’s face. “Seeds? And where, pray tell, are you carrying these seeds?”

Applejack frowned slightly, and raised a shoulder to shake the rucksack on her back. “Apple seeds are small. And it ain’t like we’ve got a real big farm or nothin’.”

“Mhm.” Zirconia lifted the glass in front of her and took a sip of the amber liquid before grimacing. “Cheap stuff,” she muttered. “Figures.”

“But that’s what I’m here for. What about you, now?”

“Like I said, business.” Zirconia’s eyes wandered over towards the door to the next car, where they came to a sudden stop as one of her ears flicked.

“That’s awfully non-specific,” Applejack said.

Zirconia’s eyes remained fixated on the door. “The jewelry business,” she said. “Do you hear something?”

Applejack paused, in time to hear a muffled thump from one car over. “S’probably somepony dropping something. So jewelry.” She smirked. “Supply or demand?”

Zirconia opened her mouth, about to reply, when the sound of a gunshot rang out. All eyes turned towards the door to the next car. Applejack slowly spun around on her stool to face the door.

Everypony seemed to be holding their breath as the door slowly creaked open. A blue earth pony dressed in a train porter’s uniform stumbled through, clutching his chest. His eyes were wide as he fell to his knees, and he pulled his hoof back to stare at the red blood on it without any signs of comprehension.

He collapsed forward to sprawl out on the floor of the refreshment car as the patrons started to scream.

Applejack and Zirconia stood as calm islands in the ocean of chaos as ponies rushed away, knocking tables and chairs as they fled, jostling and shoving one another in their rush to the door leading to the opposite car.

A hulking green stallion wearing a black bowtie stepped through the door, a long revolver in his hoof. His eyes scanned the panicking ponies and fixated on the unmoving two at the bar. As the gun dropped down to point directly at them, Applejack’s eyes grew large.


Alone in the middle of the desert, a rickety wooden tower stood, an ancient outpost that marked an old train junction. At one time plenty of trains had traveled on that rusted track, heading all the way to a lone mountain peak in the north. Back then, the mine still had flecks of silver and plenty of promise. When those promises had run dry, mine and town both had withered away to nothing, leaving behind empty houses and a thousand ghosts of old hopes and dreams.

Pinkie got a little dramatic when she thought about it. The hard line of her mouth tightened further as she raised an old spyglass to look in the distance. She could see the cloud of smoke on its way. It wouldn’t be much longer now.

She allowed herself one more glance north towards the peak in the distance. It hadn’t been a bad town, for the short time that she was there. Mining was hard, boring work, but it paid well enough, always held the chance that you’d strike it big, and most importantly, you weren’t in chains.

The mine going under meant Pinkie needed to find a new line of work – more accurately, she needed to return to an old line of work. The buffalo hadn’t said what it was she was supposed to steal, but if they wanted it bad enough to promise her the bits they did, it was probably worth even more on the black market.

She checked the satchel at her side. The benefits of a mining town meant plenty of supplies that had been left behind – not much in the way of valuables, but certain items that would come in handy on this job. Her hoof moved from the satchel to a pocket in the threadbare pants she wore, feeling the reassuring shape of the small box within.

The train was certainly moving fast. It had gone from a speck in the distance to a silver bullet trailed by a cloud of dark black smoke as it quickly approached.

The speed would make it tricky to get onboard. She leaned over to twang the solid cord moored at the tower’s edge. Her eyes followed the line from its place on the tower down to where it ran in a diagonal line across to a point on the other side of the tracks.

She eyeballed it for at least the twentieth time. It’d do – not perfect but she could make it work.

She frowned as she lifted the satchel and threw the strap over her shoulder, grabbing the metal hook from the floor. It only took a moment to clamber up onto the tower’s railing and loosely hold the hook to the rope.

She waited, biding her time.


The white stallion straightened his bowtie as he looked into the mirror to check his hair. He frowned as he turned back to the room, where several similarly attired stallions lounged around aimlessly.

“Report!” Blueblood called out crisply. “Have we secured the train yet, or not?”

The ponies in bowties glanced at one another and shrugged, one eventually speaking up. “Haven’t heard anything, boss. Rough and Tumble should be back from the locomotive pretty soon, but it’s gonna take a while for the boys to make it all the way to the rear of the train.” He laid a hoof on his holstered pistol and leaned back, stretching. “Remind me again why we didn’t just start at the back if the whatsit’s being kept there?”

“Idiot,” Blueblood growled. “First class is up front. Didn’t you see all the marshals at the station? It would have been suspicious not to be here. Not to mention absolutely improper.”

The pony rolled his eyes and slunk down into a seat.

Blueblood walked over to a window and stared out to see a lonely mountain rising in the distance, surrounded by desert. He hated desert. As soon as they had secured the shipment, he would head back to civilization, to find a place to spend his hard-earned cash. Maybe Los Pegasus. Or if the heat was too much there, he could make his way back to Manehattan and lie low for a bit. Yes, that would be nice. Drinks at the nicer variety of nightclubs, perhaps with a few mares who he knew would go for a stallion with bits to spare. Maybe even rent out a penthouse suite at—

His reverie was cut short by a loud thudding coming from above. He pushed the window open and stuck his head out, looking up just in time to see a wisp of pink vanish from sight.

“There’s somepony on the roof!” His goons all suddenly slouched, trying not to meet his eyes. Blueblood gritted his teeth and raised a hoof. “You, you, and you. Get up there and take care of it.”

He paused for a moment, noticing a distinctive lack of movement. His hoof moved down to grab his pearl-inlaid pistol. “Now!” he shouted, and he fired a shot right through the ceiling to emphasize his command.

The loud bang caused the thugs to jump and hustle over to the window, where they busied themselves with trying to figure out a good way to crawl out and get to the top of the car.

Blueblood turned to his remaining henchponies. His hoof pointed to the pony who had been questioning him earlier as he sneered. “You, check on Rough and Tumble. The rest, start getting our backup plan in place.”

Everypony turned to glance at the heavy crate in the corner of the car.

“I don’t pay you to stand around! Get to work!”


The first shot whistled over Applejack’s ear, exploding a bottle on the shelf behind the bar. She frantically looked to Zirconia, only to see a purple tail already disappearing over the side of the bar.

When the second shot also went wide, Applejack didn’t waste time in diving over the counter to join her.

The two ponies crouched behind the thankfully solid wood, as more gunshots exploded bottles above them, sending a rain of glass and liquor down. Applejack winced at the destruction of perfectly good alcohol, and glanced around to sum up the situation. The bartender was curled up in a ball with both hooves pressed over his ears in the corner. He wouldn’t be much help.

Zirconia, on the other hoof, was attentively watching Applejack’s movements.

“There’s gotta be a gun around here somewhere,” Applejack ordered. “Nopony runs a saloon without keeping a little somethin’ behind the bar for when things get rowdy.” She swung her rucksack to the floor in front of her and peered inside.

“Perhaps in a... saloon,” Zirconia said, voice still soft and calm. “I hardly think an establishment such as this would keep loaded firearms at the ready.”

Applejack rolled her eyes as she removed her shotgun from the rucksack, hoof lingering for a moment on the carved wooden stock. “Guess it’ll just be the two of us, then.”

Zirconia raised an eyebrow. “Surely you don’t expect me to charge out there?”

“Course not!” Applejack grinned as she patted her shotgun. “I’m talking ’bout me an’ Boomberg.”

Zirconia held one hoof up to her forehead and let out a deep sigh. “Right. Fine. It’s one thug with a gun, at least. That’s not exactly asking much, for somepony of your caliber.”

“That bein’ a farmer,” Applejack said.

Zirconia met her eyes steadily. “Sure.”

Applejack hesitated for only a moment before she doffed her hat, starting to raise it up until she felt Zirconia’s hoof on her arm.

“Allow me.” Zirconia reached in a pocket of her coat to produce a small compact mirror. Flipping it open she raised it above the bar. Her eyes watched the mirror sharply until another hail of gunfire sounded, one shot of which struck right in its center, shattering the glass.

Zirconia grimaced. “Okay. More than one, now. Still, no problems, yes?”

“How many?”

“Four.” Her hoof pointed out, straight at the wall in front of them. “Four o’clock, six o’clock, seven o’clock, and eight forty-five.”

“Eight forty-five,” Applejack said.

“You heard me.”

“I reckon that’s going to make things a mite tricky.” Applejack took one last look at her shotgun and turned to her hat, lining up shells under her hatband before placing it back on her head.

“Need a distraction?”

Applejack smirked. “As much as I’d love to see what you meant by that, I’ve got it covered.” She placed a hoof to her lips and let out an ear-splitting whistle, before another flurry of bullets impacted the bar.

Zirconia paused, frowning. “I don’t exactly see how that was supposed to—”

There was a loud bang as the door to the next car down was kicked open, followed by a whooping yell.

Applejack didn’t waste a second. Smoothly she rose to her hooves drawing the shotgun around to bear and taking in the scene, starting from her right. Zirconia had been accurate: four of them, three of whom had already turned towards the new disturbance. The one that was left was either particularly slow to react or really dedicated to putting bullet holes in the bar. Either way, he had to go.

The blast from Applejack’s shotgun hit the bow-tied pony right in the chest, sending him flying back.

More gunshots rang out from the other side of the car, but Applejack was already pumping the shotgun and loading a second shell. Swinging it back up, she took aim at the furthest right pony – Mr. Eight Forty-Five, her head filled in – right as he ducked behind a table to take cover from the bullets whizzing from across the car.

Applejack still had an angle on him. He never saw it coming.

She turned towards the other two, seeing one already crumpled to the floor. The last crouched behind a table, taking cover from the three ponies in red kerchiefs at the opposite end of the car. He flinched as more potshots echoed around him, accompanied by whooping and hollering.

Of course, from this angle Applejack had a wide open view of him. She took her time in loading the next bullet in her shotgun, giving the pony a big wink. That was enough for the bow-tied pony, who jumped up and attempt a scramble to safety, but as soon as he left his cover, the bullets of the kerchiefed ponies found their marks.

Applejack shook her head with a wry smile, nose wrinkling at the smell of gunpowder in the air. The refreshment car was a total wreck, the bar covered with bullet-holes and broken glass, the tables and chairs in the main area all scattered about, and several bodies slumped over on the floor.

The biggest of the three standing ponies pulled down his kerchief to reveal a lopsided grin. “Ya didn’t tell us there’d be this much excitement, Applejack.”

“Didn’t wantcha to start trouble before it needed causin’, Thunderlane.” Applejack set her shotgun down on the top of the bar. “Any trouble in the back?”

“Naw,” Thunderlane said. “Had a buncha ponies run by, but no shootin’.”

“Then I do believe we’ve got some cargo to steal, boys.”

“I don’t think so,” a breathy voice whispered in Applejack’s ear. She felt cold metal press against the back of her head. “Applejack, darling. I believe I’ve found a gun after all.”

Applejack froze.

“Dammit,” Applejack said, as she glanced down at the shotgun a hoofsbreadth away. “Why d’ya always have to be so darned dramatic, Rarity?”


“Put the damn gun down,” Tumble said. “Who exactly are you gonna shoot? Me?”

“If you don’t shut up, I might.” Rough hefted the revolver, aiming it around the empty car. “What if we run into somepony who’s armed? What then?”

“Train engineers aren’t armed, stupid. They’re civilians or whatever.” Tumble glanced around the empty car. “Clear.”

“If I was a train engineer, I’d be armed.” Rough moved forward, keeping his gun at the ready.

“If you was a train engineer, we’d have already crashed into a mountain.”

Rough glared at the other pony. “Open the door, I’ll cover you.”

“I’m telling you, it’s the damn locomotive.” Tumble trotted forward to push the door open, not even waiting as he breezed inside. A moment later Rough followed.

The locomotive’s interior was dark and hazy, clouds of smoke and coal dust hanging in the air. The windows on either side of the train’s controls were grimy and sootstained, causing the light that made it through to be tinged a dirty yellow.

A single pony inside held a huge shovel, moving coal from a huge pile into the furnace that powered the train. It was blazing hot – Tumble started sweating as soon as he entered – but the shoveling pony bore the heat without a single word.

“Hey, you,” Tumble called out.

“Freeze, we got you covered,” Rough added, keeping the pistol trained on the soot-covered pegasus.

Tumble rolled his eyes, but frowned as the pony kept shoveling, ignoring both of them. “I said, hey!”

The pony slowed, then after one final load turned to stick the shovel blade down in the pile of coal. Tumble realized it was a mare as she turned to face them, eyes burning like the fire of the furnace.

Tumble blinked. The sweat running down the mare’s face revealed lines of light blue and that color triggered a memory. “You— You’re one of ours, right? I remember seeing you at the hideout when Blueblood was planning this.”

Rough narrowed his eyes as he held the gun out in front of him gripped both hooves. “She wasn’t with us when we got on the train. I woulda noticed.”

Tumble shrugged. “Whatever, we’ll take her back and let Blueblood deal with it.” He nodded at Rough. “See? Easy job. It’s our train now.”

“Naw,” the pegasus said.

Tumble squinted at the mare. “What?”

Her eyes flickered in the dim light of the locomotive, staring back with such an intensity that Tumble involuntarily took a step back. As he did so he nearly tripped, and glanced down to see the body of a pony lying in the darkness, dressed in soot-stained overalls.

“It’s my train now.”

Before Rough had even a chance to move, the pegasus’s arm dropped to her side. In a blur of movement, one hoof dipped to draw her revolver, while the other crossed over to rest on the hammer of the weapon.

Three shots came out, so close together that they sounded like one. The first blew the gun right out of Rough’s hooves, which would have caused him distress had the next not found its way right between his eyes. Tumble found himself equally indisposed by a bullet hole in his chest, and everything grew dark as he sank to his knees.

“Tch,” Rainbow Dash said. “I screwed that up. Should have left one alive to question.”

She headed over the train’s controls, checking the gauges. She didn’t know what most of them meant, but the important part was that the throttle was cranked up for maximum speed.

Even over the clanking machinery, her ears made out the sound of the door opening behind her.

“Hey, the boss said to go check on— Whoa! What happened!”

Rainbow Dash’s mouth curved in a predatory grin as she turned around.


“Gentlemen,” Rarity said. “I take it you are the notorious Bad Apple Bunch?”

Thunderlane’s mouth formed a sneer. “Ya could say that, yeah.”

Rarity frowned. “Applejack, I must say, you’re really scraping the bottom of the proverbial barrel here.”

“At least they don’t mind gettin’ their hooves dirty,” Applejack muttered.

Rarity pressed the gun ever-so-slightly forward against Applejack, causing her to jerk her hooves higher in the air. “Very well. Now, Mister Thunderlane. I have no grudge against you, but the items that are being transported on this train belong to me. If you want your fearsome leader back alive, could you be so kind as to drop your firearms?”

Thunderlane looked from the pony at his left to the pony at his right. “Naw, I don’t think so.” He slowly leveled his pistol at Applejack and Rarity.

“Hey!” Applejack exclaimed. “What’s the big idea, manure-for-brains? Are you tryin’ ta get me killed?”

“Ya see, Jackie...” Applejack’s eye twitched at the name. “Me an’ the boys have been thinking. We don’t think ya give us enough credit. Maybe it’s time for the Bad Apple Bunch to have a new leader, and whaddya know? That means one less pony to split the loot with.”

“You good-for-nothing weasel,” Applejack growled.

Thunderlane chuckled. “Hey, I’m just a pragmatist. This’s too good an opportunity to pass up.” The ponies on either side of him nodded, not even having the decency to look guilty about the doublecross.

Rarity sighed theatrically. “Must everything go poorly today?” Her eyes flicked to the shotgun sitting on the bar counter and then up to Thunderlane again. “Applejack, darling, do you happen to remember Salt Lick City?”

Applejack blinked. “I reckon so, yeah.”

“And have you in the remaining years learned to tell your left hoof from your right?”

“Hey!” Applejack ground her teeth. “You’re the one that couldn’t make up your mind.”

Rarity sighed again, and Applejack felt her breath on her ear. “Just don’t screw it up this time, please?”

Thunderlane scowled. “You two better not be thinking ’bout any funny bus—”

Rarity’s other hoof raised up to point at the pony to her left, and a spring-loaded derringer flew out of her sleeve and right into her hoof. A single shot sent the kerchiefed pony spinning backwards to collapse in a heap.

Meanwhile, Applejack slammed her hooves down against the bar counter, the impact cracking the wood and causing the shotgun to bounce up where she caught it easily, turning to blast the pony on the right squarely in the chest. She ducked down, dropping to the floor like a stone.

Rarity’s other derringer, now no longer blocked by Applejack’s head, aimed true to hit Thunderlane in his arm. He let out a sharp howl of pain as the gun dropped from his hoof.

Applejack smiled up from below. “Looks like someone’s still just as good as ever.”

Rarity rolled her eyes. “You expected any different?”

Applejack stood and hopped over the bar, keeping her shotgun carefully aimed at Thunderlane, who was clutching his wounded foreleg. Behind her, Rarity calmly walked around the long way.

“Now what should I do with an uppity bandit who don’t know his place?”

Thunderlane looked up at her through watering eyes. “Look, Applejack, it was just a joke. We were just throwin’ her off guard and then we’d have saved you. I swear!”

Applejack smirked. “I don’t think so. But I should be sportin’. I’ll give you five seconds to get out of my sight and never come back.”

Thunderlane’s eyes grew wide and he froze.


He spun around and dashed towards the door to the next car, scrambling as his wounded foreleg barely managed to hold his weight.


Applejack shot him in the back before he had made it even a third of the way there.

“Really?” Rarity said, voice dripping with disapproval. “Don’t you find that a little... uncouth?”

Applejack shrugged. “Ain’t no need to give a weasel a noble death. He woulda done the same to you or me.”

She turned her gun back towards Rarity, to see the other pony already had both derringers trained on her.

A moment passed in silence as they sized one another up.

“I reckon we’ve got some business to settle, then.”

“You could say that, yes.”


Pinkie’s legs spread out and her arms spun wildly as she tried to maintain her balance atop the train car. It was traveling fast – much too fast, and the slightest curve or bump set the car underhoof shaking and swaying.

It was a mistake to land this far up on the train. She had barely missed landing on the locomotive itself, and she figured that any important cargo would be kept in the storage cars at the very back. As she got settled and used to the movement of the train, she gauged how far back it was, and whether she’d be able travel across the top the whole way.

“Hey! You!”

At the sound of the shout, Pinkie whirled around to see a pony with a bow-tie crouched on the roof. Next to him, another two were in the progress of hauling themselves up.

The pony cautiously crept forward, a pistol held in one hoof. “What do you think you’re doing?! Get down now!”

“Tch,” Pinkie said, eyes focused in the distance. The train was making its way through the flat desert towards a looming mesa.

This is what her backup was for. Her eyes focused on the tall cliffs, running along the edge, seeking out some sign. Her eyes stopped at a sudden tiny flash. Was that her imagination? No, it had to be the sun reflecting off of metal. There, that was—

The twinge in her leg gave her less than a second to react, but she had long ago gotten used to moving first and thinking second. She flung herself off to the side, sliding across the metal roof of the train and barely managing to keep from tumbling off.

The loud crack of a rifle echoed across the desert, and a bullet slammed into the roof where she had been standing a moment before.

They were shooting at her! Pinkie felt the twinge again and dived forward in a roll, as a second shot barely missed. She didn’t have much time to consider her options, and rushed forward in a low stance to collide with the first bow-tied pony.

He screamed like a filly as she twisted a forehoof behind his back and held him up for cover. One of the other ponies tried to circle around towards her but Pinkie kicked out, hitting him square in the chest and sending him flying off the side of the train.

A gunshot hit the pony that Pinkie was using as a shield, and he stopped struggling. She grimaced – the shooter wasn’t on these guys’ side, either. The third pony had finally made his way up on top of the roof and drew his pistol, the barrel wavering with a combination of fear and the swaying of the train.

She couldn’t guard two directions at once. With nothing better to try, Pinkie flung the body she was holding in the last pony’s direction. The weight only knocked him back a few steps, but from his sharply cut-off yell, that last one was a doozy. Pinkie didn’t look back. As soon as she was clear, she sprinted towards the rear of the train.

Gunshots rang down on either side of her as she charged down the length of the train, leaping over the gaps between the cars. Her shoulder twitched and she dove to the left, then her ear tweaked and she rolled to the right. The shots were getting closer and closer as the sniper adjusted, the last one cutting through the top of her mane.

She had to find better cover than this.

As she was about to leap over another gap in between the cars, she noticed the door below was open. Without a second thought, she abruptly changed her trajectory to swing down and through, tumbling into the train car below.

She hit the floor with her shoulder first, dropping into a roll that terminated in a low crouch, still breathing heavily from her dash across the top of the train. She had to be at least two-thirds of the way down the train now, so it’d just be—

Pinkie blinked as she noticed the wreckage of furniture and surplus of bodies in the car she was in. She slowly looked up to see a very surprised orange mare with a shotgun and an irked white unicorn with two small pistols, all of which were now aimed directly at her.


Rainbow Dash had started to peek up at the top of the train but as soon as she heard the first shots, she hastily ducked her head back down. Something was going on up there, and if she flew up, she’d be a sitting duck. Er, a flying duck.

Either way, she was fast. The fastest. But not as fast as a bullet, particularly taking into account she’d need to be matching the train’s speed, and she had already made sure it was going awfully fast on its own.

She growled to herself. This was going to make it a lot harder to get to the back of the train. Heading through the cars would work, but that’d slow her down a whole lot, and her wings were itching to be used.

She shook her head. The score was too important to screw up. She’d just be patient.

Either way, the longer she stood around, the more time she wasted. Her hoof dropped down to her revolver as a grin returned to her face. It was go time.

She stepped forward with confidence and pushed open the door to the next car.

Only to immediately come face to face with a mob of ponies wearing bowties and wielding a motley collection of firearms. In the corner, several were hauling some sort of metal framework out of a big box. More relevantly, she saw Blueblood staring back, his brow wrinkled at the sight of her and lips already moving to bark out an order.

One, two, three, four... ten ponies. Not counting Blueblood. This is where using a six-shooter had its disadvantages.

“Sorry! Wrong room!” she stammered, closing the door again.

She still heard Blueblood’s muffled “Get her!” as she frantically began to look around for an escape route.

Her head swiveled up. She no longer heard any gunshots above, but it would be too dangerous to fly up now. She could go back, but there wasn’t anything that way other than the locomotive, and she’d be trapped there.

What other option did she have? Unless... Her eyes flared, as she got a slightly crazy idea.

Barely a second later, the goons slammed the door open and charged forward, guns waving every direction. They charged past the break in the cars, moving onward into the train in pursuit of Rainbow.

They’d certainly be surprised when they ended up in an empty locomotive.

That was enough to put a grin on Rainbow’s face, even though she was shaking terribly. Not out of fear or anything. Just because the train was shaking so dang much.

There was perhaps a foot and a half of space between the bottom of the train and the railroad tracks, and perhaps three feet between the flashing wheels on either side of her. She kept her wings tightly tucked against her sides as she clung upside-down onto the undercarriage with all her strength. Her gaze was straight ahead. No sense looking at the ground flying by beneath her.

She focused on the point of light that marked the next gap between cars. One hoof tentatively reached forward, shifting to grab a strut and pull herself in that direction.

Celestia damn it.

This was even slower.


Fluttershy grimaced as she pulled back from the scope on her rifle. She shifted from her prone position to a half-crouch with one knee on the ground. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Strongheart bouncing up and down.

“What were you doing?” the young buffalo said. “The pink one works for the tribe!”

Fluttershy coolly shook her head, irked by the doubt of her loyalty. At least Strongheart had known enough to keep quiet when she was working. “No. I have a score to settle with that pony.”

“But... the tribe! Our treasure!”

Fluttershy did a last check of her rifle and hoofed it over to Proudhoof, who had the good sense to keep his thoughts to himself. “I will retrieve it myself.”

“But it’s sure to be protected! Are you not even taking your gun?”

Fluttershy’s only answer was the loosening of her knife from its sheath. Her wings flared open, and at her side Devil rocketed off into the air to a high vantage point.

Running forward, she dove off the edge of the mesa, weaving through the swirling currents as she angled herself towards the tracks to meet the train head-on.

Behind her, the two buffalo trotted up to the cliff’s edge and looked down to see her picking up speed in a dive, before Strongheart swallowed and took several steps back from the long drop.

“Is she going to be alright?” Strongheart asked.

Proudhoof looked down at the rifle, holding it with great reverence. “I would worry more about the pony she hunts.”


“Ladies,” Pinkie said. “Let’s not be hasty.”

Applejack and Rarity shared a glance before turning back to the pony that had abruptly intruded upon their standoff.

“I’m just passing through on my way to pick up a package.” Pinkie stood and stretched, brushing dust off her tattered pants. “Not looking for any trouble.”

Rarity’s eyes narrowed. “A package? And what, precisely, might it contain?”

“Party supplies.” Pinkie met Rarity’s gaze with a challenging stare of her own.

Applejack snorted. “Yeah, and I’ve got beachfront property in Neighvada to sell ya.”

“I think it’s best if you turned around and left, dear.” Rarity smiled, but her pistols never strayed from covering Pinkie.

“No, I think I’m just gonna walk on through, and then you two can get back to shooting each other or making lovey-dovey eyes or whatever.”

Applejack smirked as she saw Rarity stiffen.

Rarity’s voice turned icy. “I think if you are inclined to try, you’ll find a few new holes in those rags that you call clothing.”

An unsettling smile crossed Pinkie’s face as she calmly reached forward to unbutton the loose vest she wore. With a smooth motion, she popped the garment open, revealing dozens of sticks of dynamite strapped to the shirt underneath. “I think that might be a bad idea.”

A moment of silence passed, before Rarity and Applejack shared another glance. Applejack’s eyes were wide as she jerked her head in Pinkie’s direction and then shook her head furiously. Rarity smiled and nodded slightly, before turning back to catch Pinkie in the middle of slowly circling around the two.

Rarity’s first shot missed, but was so close as to make another hole in the frizzy pink mess of Pinkie’s mane. Somehow, Pinkie had managed to anticipate the shot, and she sprung forward, abandoning all pretense as she ran for the door, keeping her head low.

Rarity was lining up a second shot when Applejack tackled her. “Are you crazy?!” Applejack exclaimed. “You’re gonna blow us to kingdom come!”

“Not if I don’t miss. And I don’t miss.” She wrestled with Applejack for a moment before giving up at the earth pony’s natural strength. “Why didn’t you grab her?”

“Oh. Right.” Applejack let go of Rarity and took off in hot pursuit of Pinkie, but the mare was already halfway through the car, hurdling the furniture and bodies that littered the refreshment car with an unnatural agility.

Pinkie flew through the door to the next car down, looking back over her shoulder at Applejack with the faintest hint of a smile as she slammed the door shut. When Applejack hit the door at full speed a moment later, she found out painfully that it had been locked, and a few more deliberate ramming attempts with her shoulder revealed it to be sturdily built. That, or Pinkie had blocked the other side.

Applejack gritted her teeth. Either way, she didn’t take kindly to being made a fool. She took inventory at the gap between the cars. Maybe she could go across the top? One hoof was already raised to test whether a thin window ledge gave enough support for a foothold when she felt Rarity’s hoof on her shoulder.

“Darling, there’s a better solution than just chasing after her.”

Applejack blinked and lowered her hoof. “I’m listening.”

“There’s certain to be guards, and that mare will make a very suitable distraction.” Rarity smiled smugly. “We shall come in from behind while they deal with one another.”

“There’s a problem with that,” Applejack said. “How’re we s’posed to get behind ’em?”

“It has been a while since we’ve worked together.” Rarity raised her nose up in the air and bounced her mane slightly with a hoof. “I’ve learned a few new tricks.”

Applejack frowned skeptically. “I don’t know about—”

Rarity reached over with one foreleg to pull Applejack extremely close, and her horn flared a brilliant cyan as the two ponies disappeared with a loud pop.

Seconds later, the far door opened and a pegasus trotted through. Rainbow Dash’s eyes widened as she saw the wreckage of the refreshments car, but she kept moving, picking her way around the mess while trying to avoid stepping on any bodies.

“Celestia damn it.”

Only to find the door to the next car locked.

The strip of blue sky that she could see above was awfully tempting. But though she didn’t hear any gunfire, the thought of taking a bullet in the wing made her shiver. It was too much of a risk to take.

Which meant...

She looked down at the tiny gap between the train’s undercarriage and the tracks and grimaced.



Pinkie didn’t waste the time looking over her shoulder as she hurried through the train, galloping down the long hallways past rows of seats and ignoring the ponies huddled in fear. She only slowed once she found herself in the first of the storage cars. The large open space was lined with luggage – suitcases, saddlebags, and traveling chests.

Her trained eyes naturally picked out a set of designer bags in faux-snakeskin as potential targets for valuables, but she didn’t have the time to spare. At best, they’d have some jewelry, maybe a pouch of bits, and that was small potatoes compared to the big prize.

She wasn’t sure how much further the treasure would be, but she was certain it would be well guarded. Quietly she slipped into the next car to find it full of more bags, all piled in a rough heap. She didn’t give them a second glance, their condition and rougher exteriors indicating their lower-class origins. More importantly, in the center of the car, a pony was waiting for her.


The eyes of the yellow pegasus flashed, frightening in their intensity. “Pinkie Pie. How long has it been?”

Pinkie touched a hoof to her pocket, feeling the matches underhoof as she kept an eye on Fluttershy. “Not long enough.”

Fluttershy’s head tilted as a serene smile crossed her face. “But I’ve been looking for you for so long. We have debts to settle.”

“Just get out of my way,” Pinkie said, evenly. “I’ve already made my peace with how things happened, but that doesn’t mean I won’t go through you if I have to.”

Fluttershy’s eye twitched. “You’ve made your peace? Oh, no. No, I don’t think so. You haven’t even begun to pay for what you’ve done.” Metal flashed in her hoof as she revealed the blade of a long knife.

Pinkie gritted her teeth, her hoof quietly moving up to a second pocket. “Look. The three of us knew going in that it was dangerous work, and the bank job went spectacularly wrong. But that’s nopony’s fault but—”

You liar!” Fluttershy leapt forward, using her wings to fling herself through the air at Pinkie.

Pinkie threw herself to the floor just in time to avoid the angry pegasus missile, but Fluttershy caught herself in midair, spinning to land with her knife at the ready.

You were the one who suggested we split up,” Fluttershy said, her voice laced with accusation. Step after step she slowly but relentlessly moved towards Pinkie. “We’ll meet at the normal place, you said. So explain to me why I walked into an ambush.”

“I—” Pinkie’s words were cut off as she had to jump back from a slash of the knife.

“Was that your plan the whole time? Maybe that’s why the bank job went wrong. Were you sick of us? Or just greedy?” Fluttershy punctuated each sentence with an attack, continually moving forward as Pinkie stumbled back to evade the sharp blade.

“I—” Pinkie felt a wall at her back and saw Fluttershy’s grin widen. She waited until Fluttershy drew the knife back for a final swing before flinging the item in her hoof to the floor and squeezing her eyes shut.

A blinding flash enveloped the storage car, and even with her eyes shut, Pinkie felt the intensity of the light. She kicked off from the wall to fling herself forward, colliding with Fluttershy in an awkward tackle. The sound of skidding metal meant that she had succeeded in knocking the knife away, but Fluttershy immediately started flailing her hooves.

“I was under arrest!” Pinkie yelled. “They caught me at my usual hiding place in Dodge Junction. I did three years hard labor at the federal rock farm, thinking the whole time that you had sold me out!”

Fluttershy kept struggling and Pinkie felt a hoof collide with her snout, sending her reeling. She opened her eyes as the pegasus kicked out with both legs, knocking her back. Even half-blinded, Fluttershy was after her blade with surprising speed, and Pinkie desperately grabbed at her pockets for a second flash bomb.

She found one, raising it in one hoof only to have Fluttershy jump at her, grabbing to wrest it out of her grasp. Pinkie immediately jabbed at Fluttershy’s other hoof, trying to knock the knife away or at least keep it from being used.

For a long moment, they wrestled, further conversation forgotten as the two ponies spent all their energy trying to overcome the other. Then, with a flap of her wings, Fluttershy turned the tables, pushing forward to knock Pinkie down flat on her back, and landing right on top of her.

She pinned Pinkie’s arms down with her knees, as Pinkie kicked out wildly. “You can lie all you want, Pinkie Pie. But somepony told them where to find me. Who else could it have been?” She smirked.

Pinkie glared upwards and then blinked. “R-Rainbow Dash?”

Fire burned in Fluttershy’s eyes as she raised the knife. “Oh? Are you going to blame dead ponies now?”

Pinkie swallowed and pushed forward, all her muscles tense as she tried to sit up. “No, Rainbow Dash is—”

“Don’t think you can trick me, Pinkie. I’ve seen all your tricks. I—” Fluttershy frowned. Pinkie had stopped struggling entirely, not even looking at Fluttershy as her mouth opened and closed.

Carefully making sure not to loosen her hold on Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy slowly turned her head to look behind her.

Rainbow Dash stood in the doorway, staring wide-eyed at the scene before her. “Oh,” she said. “Gosh. Hi guys.”

Fluttershy’s arms fell to her sides, and Pinkie’s head dropped back against the floor with a thud, both of them staring at Rainbow Dash.

Rainbow rubbed her mane sheepishly. “Sorry, I’d love to catch up but I’m sort of in a hurry, so I’ll let you two get back to… whatever that is.”

Both ponies kept staring. A thought ever-so-slowly percolated through Fluttershy’s head.

With a strangled scream, she flew off Pinkie and charged at Rainbow. Pinkie Pie unsteadily got back to her hooves, and took a deep breath.

She watched for a moment as Fluttershy chased a frantic Rainbow Dash through the storage car and then took the opportunity to slip out a window.

Other ponies could worry about revenge. She still had cargo to steal.


“Look, Miss Sparkle, we’ve been over this a hundred times. We have our orders.”

Twilight Sparkle barely managed to keep from grabbing the stallion and giving him a good shake. The fact that he was twice her size helped to dissuade her from that idea. “You have got to listen to me! Tell your men to stand down!”

The stallion shook his head impassively. He pointed with one hoof at the wooden crate at the center of the otherwise empty storage car. “We are to protect the cargo with our lives. It’s that simple.”

“It is going to be your lives because you are all going to die. At this moment there are very dangerous mares on their way here, and unless you leave now and let me handle this, things are going to go very badly.”

The stallion rolled his eyes. One of the dozen of nearly-identical guardsponies snickered in the background. “I think we can handle a few mares.”

Twilight pressed a hoof to her forehead as she squeezed her eyes shut. There had to be some way to convince them that—

A scream sounded from behind the car’s front door. It was muffled through the metal, but enough to cause a few of the guards to shift nervously.

“Men, stand at the ready,” the stallion in charge barked, as he raised his own weapon.

“No!” Twilight shouted. “Go! Go now!”

“I’m going to have to ask you to leave, Miss Sparkle. It’s not safe here for—”

The scream sounded again, closer, and everypony went quiet at once. A dozen gunbarrels all pointed at the front door.

“Hold your fire, men! Wait for my mark!”

Twilight slowly backed away towards a corner of the storage car.

With a flash of movement, the door flew open and then slammed shut, a blue pegasus arriving on the inside to lean against it while panting heavily. She sighed in relief, but upon looking up found herself facing down a whole squad of armed guardsponies.

“You have got to be kidding me,” Rainbow Dash said.

With a resounding thud, something hit the door from the other side, causing the whole frame to shudder and Rainbow to let out an embarrassing “Eep!”

“This is a restricted area,” the head guardspony said. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave. Now.”

Rainbow’s mouth hung open as her eyes flickered over the stallions in front of her, sizing them up. “One… two… come on!” she muttered. Another thud shook the door, and Rainbow swallowed. Her hoof begun to creep towards the knob of the door as she smiled sheepishly.

Twilight was the only one to notice the back door of the storage car slowly open.

“I’m not going to ask you again,” the head guardspony said. “Leave or we will be forced to fire. In three… two…”

Twilight Sparkle wasn’t exactly sure what happened next. It was impossible to tell what had happened first: Rainbow Dash flinging the door open so that Fluttershy crashed through to slam into the guardsponies like a very angry bowling ball, or Applejack and Rarity opening fire from behind.

Either way, the ceiling didn’t explode until at least five seconds later.

The car descended into madness, bullets flashing and screams sounding through a cloud of smoke.

When it finally went quiet and the haze cleared, five mares were left standing, bodies strewn all around them. Applejack and Rarity had their guns at the ready, covering the remaining intruders. Fluttershy stood with her knife in hoof, blood dripping from its blade. Rainbow Dash had her revolver trained right on the yellow pegasus. And Pinkie Pie crouched in the very center, standing on the crate itself, trying to look in all directions at once.

It was a moment of stillness all too ready to burst out into violence once again, but each pony knew that whoever made the first move would also be the first to be targeted. They waited.


“Stop!” Twilight Sparkle shouted. She wobbled slightly as she stood up, the purple shield of magic around her dissipating. “Don’t shoot! I need to talk to you!”

The five ponies shared a look of confusion.

“Talk to who, darling?” Rarity said.

“You. All of you.”

“Do we know you?” Rainbow Dash asked.

“Yes!” Twilight blinked. “Well, no. But I brought you all here for a reason.”

“You brought…” Applejack stopped short with a laugh. “No, I reckon a shipment of gold bars brought me here.”

“Diamonds,” Rarity corrected.

Fluttershy shook her head. “No. It is an ancient treasure of the Buffalo Tribes.”

“Um,” Twilight said, raising both hooves in front of her defensively. “Actually, that’s what I mean. It’s not any of that. Those were just rumors I made sure to spread so that you all would show up.”

Five voices exclaimed “What?” at the same time.

“Actually,” Twilight mused, “in retrospect, that was sort of an awful plan. I’m surprised it worked! But there’s a certain narrative expediency invol—”

Rainbow Dash was the first to recover. “Then what’s in the box?”

Twilight Sparkle smiled nervously. “Right. Um, Pinkie Pie, would you do the honors?”

Pinkie looked at her sharply, and then at the box under her hooves. She slowly climbed down and found an edge of the crate that had not been sufficiently nailed down, pulling at it with all her strength.

The lid clattered against the floor, and all five mares lowered their weapons, leaning in to peer at the contents.

There, on a dark red satin lining, sat five golden necklaces each embedded with a shaped jewel, and a single gem-studded tiara.

Next Chapter: II: The Magnificent Six Estimated time remaining: 54 Minutes
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