It was a scorcher of a day in Appleloosa. Hot enough that everypony was in their homes or in the saloon, any sort of building that could provide shade and cool drinks. Everypony felt lazy and some of the more heat-sensitive ones a bit sick. Even the apple orchard looked bad, the trees appearing sickly and brown. The wind was no help either; it was hot and dry, not pleasant in the slightest.
In town, one pony in particular lay on the porch outside the saloon, one leg hanging over the edge and another tucked under his chin while the others were curled up near his haunches. Braeburn’s eyes were half shut; the earth pony’s normally smiling face morose and tired-looking. It wasn’t just the heat; Braeburn was ‘’bored’’. All the trains that came in today were cargo trains; nopony was coming in on them but the pullers, who all immediately went to the saloon anyway to get a drink, not stopping to talk. Sheriff Silverstar himself was in the town jail, enjoying a fancy new desk fan that had come from Manehattan ahead of the shipment of ceiling fans that the rest of the town was supposed to get. He’d had to lock the door to keep from being mobbed by other townsponies.
A short distance away from Appleloosa, on top of a hill, another pony stood. One of the larger stallion breed, he wore a tattered cloth poncho over his tan coat in addition to a cowboy hat on his head. Through one of the tears in the poncho, a tumbleweed cutie mark was visible on his flank. The stallion’s half-open blue eyes looked down at Appleloosa, and he began to walk down towards the town, more specifically to the only pony he could see in the streets.
Braeburn had taken his hat off and laid it beside him, exposing his somewhat messy orange mane as he pondered whether he should go to sleep or not. That question was answered with a resounding “No” as a gust of wind caught his hat, blowing it off the porch. The vest-wearing earth pony sat up and scrambled to his feet, running after his hat as it blew past the town limits.
“Hey, now! C’mon back here!”
The hat finally hit a counterbreeze, being forced to a stop. It began to sink to the ground, leaving Braeburn to slide forward on his belly to grab it. As he put it back on his head and breathed a sigh of relief, he noticed that he was at the feet of another pony. Looking up, he saw a pair of blue eyes looking down at him. The stallion raised an eyebrow, causing Braeburn to laugh sheepishly.
“Ehehehe…sorry ‘bout that, sir.” He stood up. “But anyways, howdy! M’name’s Braeburn, and welcome to-“ (Here he reared back, waving his front hooves in the air as he pointed his head to the sky) “AAAAAAAAAAAPLELOOSA!”
The stallion raised an eyebrow again, not saying anything. Braeburn, now unnerved by the newcomer’s silence, gave another nervous laugh. “Eheh…eh…erm…” He swallowed. “So, uh…kin I help you with anythin’?”
“Do you know where I can get a drink?” the stallion asked in a surprisingly gravelly voice. Not deep and gravelly, but it sounded rough all the same. Braeburn swallowed again and nodded.
“Sure as we grow apples! Right thisaway, sir! I’ll get ya a glass o’ cider in two shakes o’ your flank!”
The newcomer followed Braeburn into the saloon, still as silent as ever. As the two ponies opened the door, all talk quieted. You didn’t see very many stallions in Appleloosa, aside from the train pullers. And this one didn’t look like a train puller. Braeburn himself looked very nervous at the sudden silence. Turning, he gave a nervous smile at the patrons. “What’s th’ matter with all of ya? Ain’tcha ever saw a pony before?”
As the pair reached the bar, Braeburn rapped a hoof on the slightly damp, polished bartop. “Hey, Foam Top! Two ciders, if ye’d be so kind!”
Two large glasses of apple cider were slid down the bar towards them. Braeburn caught them both with his hooves with practiced ease, getting into an open stool and patting the one next to him, which the newcomer took. As he sipped at his cider, Braeburn looked him up and down. “So…y’got a name, friend?”
The stallion remained silent, still sipping at his drink. Braeburn bit his lip nervously and went to drink his own cider, in the middle of a big gulp before the stallion spoke, startling Braeburn into spitting his mouthful of cider across the bar. “Desperado.”
Braeburn turned to him. “What?”
“Name’s Desperado. Nothin’ special.”
“Oh.” Braeburn said. He took another pull of his cider before looking back at Desperado. “So…y’ in town long?”
“Not really,” Desperado replied. “I’m staying until tomorrow morning. Then I’ll move on. As is my wont.”
“You’re not gonna stay and see the sights?” Braeburn asked, cocking his head to one side.
“What sights?” Desperado asked. “This is a small town. There’s nothing interesting here. I wander. Didn’t you notice my cutie mark?”
Braeburn leaned back on his stool to look at Desperado’s flank, noting the tumbleweed. He straightened up. “Well, that ain’t no excuse! The big Appleloosa Foundin’ Festival is two days from now! Y’can at least stay for that!”
“And why should I?” Desperado asked as his head suddenly snapped around to look at Braeburn, the stallion getting right in his face, his blue eyes narrowed and glaring. “What gives you the right to dictate how I go about my own business?”
Braeburn backed away, raising his two front hooves defensively. “Whoa, settle down, partner! Ah didn’t mean it like that! It was…more of a suggestion, y’see?”
Desperado kept glaring at him, then grabbed his cider, chugged it down, and slapped the glass down on the counter before getting off his stool and walking out of the saloon.
“Hey!” Braeburn said. “Wait up!” He chugged down his own cider and ran out after Desperado, finding the stallion already on his way to the train station. “Wait! Y’said you were gonna stay the night!”
Desperado stopped in his tracks, Braeburn barely managing to avoid running into him as he screeched to a stop. The stallion looked back, still glaring. “So?”
“Do ya have a place t’stay?” Braeburn asked, cocking his head.
Desperado looked at him like he was stupid. “Can you see where I’m going?”
Braeburn looked past him, towards the train station. “Yeah.”
“Would I be going there if I was planning to stay the night?”
“So what do you think I’m doing?” Desperado interrupted.
“Will ya just shuddup ‘n lemme finish?” Braeburn said, finally being forceful. “There ain’t no passenger trains comin’ in or goin’ out t’day! Or tomorrow, or the next day! Ah’ve looked at the railway schedule, yah can go check it yerself!”
“I’ve walked across the desert this far,” Desperado said. He turned to the right and began walking in that direction. “I’ll just keep walking.”
“There ain’t nothin’ out there!” Braeburn said, turning his head to follow Desperado. “Appleloosa’s the only settlement in the entire desert ‘cept buffalo herds!”
Desperado stopped in his tracks, gritting his teeth and finally sighing. “Fine. I guess I’ll stay until that festival. I’m on the next passenger train out of here, though.”
“And nopony’ll be stoppin’ ya!” Braeburn replied. He sighed. “Look. Y’got a place t’stay, or what? I’ve got a spare bedroom, if’n you’re keen on stayin’ for real.”
Desperado turned, looking at Braeburn. Both of them stood in the empty street for a while, staring at one another. A breeze ruffled the tattered cloth poncho on Desperado’s body, and the manes and tails of both ponies. He finally lowered his head and sighed. “Fine. I’ll take it.”
Braeburn’s serious expression reversed itself, turning into a grin. He started jumping through the air and bucking, rearing up in excitement. “Yeeeee-haw! This is gonna be great! I’ll show ya all the sights, we can tell each other stories, and all in all you’ll get the full experience of what it’s like to live in AAAAAAAAAAAPLELOOSA!” he said, rearing back and crowing the word to the sky again.
“I’ll try to contain my joy,” Desperado said, deadpan.
Braeburn led Desperado down one of Appleloosa’s other streets, heading towards a rustic yet comfortable-looking house near the end of the street, facing the desert and a view of the town’s apple orchard. The two came to the door and Braeburn opened it, leading his guest inside. “Here we are! Home sweet home.”
Desperado looked around. The entrance hall was small as well; most of the space had apparently gone into the rooms. Braeburn gestured to a stairwell at the end. “Bedrooms are up those stairs over there. Ya wanna go up and make yerself at home, or just take a look around, you do it.”
Desperado nodded and walked down the hallway. Unfortunately, due to his size he was forced to shove Braeburn up against the wall, pressing the Appleloosan earth pony’s cheek up against the smooth hardwood and knocking his hat to the floor. “Sorry,” he muttered before continuing on. Braeburn knelt down and grabbed his hat in his teeth, tossing it into the air and catching it on his head with practiced ease. He walked down the hallway after Desperado but turned off into the living room, where a small radio sat on a table nearby.
The rest of the room was as tastefully decorated as possible in Appleloosa. A few large rugs kept things like tables and furniture from scratching the wooden floor, with two couches and a pair of plush chairs arranged around a coffee table, the couches on the longer sides and the chairs at the ends.
Braeburn plopped himself down on one of the couches, which was fortunately right under a window with a breeze, hot as it was. He decided to take a nap, leaving his hat and vest on and curling up on the couch, shutting his eyes.
Meanwhile upstairs, Desperado stood at the top of the staircase, looking down. There were two different rooms up here, one close to the staircase and the other down at the other end of the hall. Deciding to go through trial and error to find which room was his and which was Braeburn’s, Desperado walked over to the door closest to the staircase and opened it. Inside it were a number of things already that told him this room belonged to Braeburn. There was a map of Equestria weighted down on a desk nestled in the corner. Most of one wall was taken up by a very long photo of a large number of ponies, all of them but one filly with apple cutie marks. There was a small plaque below the picture, a very long one almost as long as the picture itself.
“Apple Family Reunion-Entire family pictured. From left to right: Apple Fritter, Apple Bumpkin, Red Gala, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Caramel Apple, Apple Strudel, Apple Tart, Baked Apple, Apple Brioche, Apple Cinnamon Crisp, Braeburn, Apple Brown Betty, Big Macintosh, Applebloom, Granny Smith, Applejack.”
Big family, Desperado thought as he turned away from the picture. The room was somewhat sparse, so there was nothing more that caught his interest. Desperado left the room and shut the door, walking down the hallway to the spare room. Opening it, he saw that it was almost completely bare except for the bed, a nightstand with a lamp on it, and a desk, which Desperado had no use for.
He tested the bed a bit with one hoof, then went downstairs again. Passing by the living room a tremendous snore stopped him in his tracks. He looked in through the door, spotting Braeburn sleeping on the couch. The earth pony’s hat had fallen onto the floor, and he was now laying on his back with two hooves hanging over the edge of the couch, another slung over a pillow and the fourth hoof sticking up in the air. Braeburn’s mouth was wide open and he was drooling a bit, a loud, rhythmic snore coming from his mouth. Desperado raised an eyebrow and decided to walk around and explore the house some more until Braeburn woke up.
He went to a room down the hall, which was apparently the kitchen/dining room. It had nothing but the bare necessities in it; stove, oven, a number of cookbooks, a microwave…There was also a table with a quartet of chairs around it, and a refrigerator on the right wall, by the window. That seemed to be the extent of the house. Desperado walked back into the living room, going over to Braeburn and watching the earth pony snuffle and snore some more. Desperado lifted a hoof and nudged Braeburn, the earth pony jerking awake.
Braeburn stretched and yawned, looking at Desperado. “Oh, hey there. Sorry if the house is a bit small…Ya finished lookin’?”
Desperado nodded. “It’s a nice house. Thank you for letting me stay.”
“Yer welcome!” Braeburn said, picking up his hat and putting it back on his head before rolling off the couch onto his hooves. “So, y’hungry at all? Wanna go see the sights? Sit ‘n talk?”
“As I said before, there’s not much to see here,” Desperado said. He walked over to the other couch and sat down on it. “I’d prefer to just talk, if that’s alright with you.”
Braeburn nodded. “Fine with me.” He jumped back on his couch. “So…care t’tell me a bit about yerself?”
Desperado shrugged. “Nothing remarkable, really. I go where the wind takes me. Wander, you might say.”
“Um…” Well this ain’t goin’ like I thought it would… Braeburn thought. “…Well, where were you born?”
“Trottingham. My dad was a fan of all those old Wild West movies you see sometimes. Once he was listening to the radio and heard one of the Strummer family, that Quarter Note guy, singing a song. That’s where he got the name Desperado from.”
Braeburn nodded. “Ah’ve heard o’ the Strummers before. That famous music family, right?”
Desperado nodded as well. “Yeah, them.” He sighed. “I’d rather not talk anymore. You said something about the sights?”
Braeburn’s ears pricked up and he grinned. “Alright, then!”
They went out into the town, Braeburn trotting along ahead of Desperado as the stallion plodded after the excited earth pony. Braeburn pointed out various buildings as they walked past them, along with other fairly interesting or entertaining sights. “Our general store’s on your right, then right over here we have Sheriff Silverstar’s office!”
They passed by various other buildings, such as the saloon they’d gone into earlier, a small art school sketching a passing horse-drawn carriage (which had caused Desperado’s brain to seize up for a minute while he tried to figure out how that worked) until they finally came to a small cliff edge.
“And here,” Braeburn said with notable enthusiasm, “is the pride and joy of our town! Our apple orchard!”
It was indeed an apple orchard. Not as big as an Apple family farm, but big enough to sustain the town for the time between each growing season when supplemented with other food that came by train. A number of ponies were working the orchard, taking great care to stay in the shade or from time to time take a drink from the many water coolers set up around the orchard. Braeburn looked around the orchard, then his eyes widened and he hid behind Desperado. “Oh horse apples, it’s her!”
Desperado looked over his shoulder. “Who?”
Braeburn meekly pointed down into the orchard, focusing Desperado’s attention on a filly who was in the process of bucking an apple tree, making the various apples on it fall into a number of baskets arranged below the limbs. “Her!”
“Bluebonnet! Don’t let ‘er see me!”
Desperado raised an eyebrow. “Do you like her?”
“N…no!” Braeburn hastily protested, giving a nervous laugh, his eyes shifting from side to side as he backed away, farther out of sight from the orchard. “Wh…why would you think that?”
Desperado gave a smirk. “Oh, no reason.” He turned around and took a deep breath, putting a hoof by his mouth as if preparing to shout something over the orchard. Next thing he knew there was a painful sensation in his tail as Braeburn pulled him back from the cliff edge.
“No no nonononono! Y’can’t tell ‘er Ah’m here!”
“Why not?” Desperado asked.
“Um…she…well, uh…’m kinda shy ‘round her, y’see.”
“So you have a crush on a filly that doesn’t even know you like her.” Desperado said. “Smoooth.”
He turned to the side and walked away. “Nice orchard. I’ve seen bigger, but it’s a good start. Anything else you want to show me?”
“Well,” Braeburn said, coming up to Desperado’s left so that he wouldn’t be seen by Bluebonnet, “Ah haven’t shown you the preparations for the Foundin’ Festival yet! We’ve been at it for weeks! This is our two-year anniversary of the foundin’ of-“
“If you say Appleloosa like you have been…” Desperado growled, getting in Braeburn’s face again.
“Um…Foundin’ of Appleloosa.” Braeburn said sheepishly, giving a nervous grin. He trotted past
Desperado, towards the ramp that led out of the small gully that the orchard was in. “C’mon! Ah’ll show ya!”
The two walked back into the center of Appleloosa, to a large open area in front of the town hall. Ponies were working under the shade of their large hats, hanging banners, streamers, putting up poles to hang more banners from, and working on dozens of other little details. Like the orchard workers, numerous coolers were scattered around the area, ready for anypony that required a drink during the preparations.
“You all seem to have this very well in hoof,” Desperado observed coolly.
“Yer darn tootin’ we do!” Braeburn said. “We got all th’ organization down pat! All our ponies operate in teams, y’see. It’s harvest time in the orchard, so we got ponies all pickin’ the apples outta there to make food fer th’ Festival, then we got this bunch puttin’ up the decorations, and we got others makin’ the food... o’ course, that’ll wait till the day o’ the Festival, so when it starts at sunset the food’ll be nice and fresh!”
Desperado nodded. “I see. It’ll at least be interesting to stick around for a while and see how it goes.”
“Without a hitch, no problem!” Braeburn said confidently. He looked over to the west, where the sun was starting to move level with the hills. “Oh, looks like th’ sun’s goin’ down! Guess we’d better go home fer the night.”
He started walking back to his house, Desperado following. Braeburn chattered non-stop the entire way, detailing how the festival would go, what would happen in it, and other various things. Desperado merely listened, not saying anything as they got back to Braeburn’s house.
Braeburn immediately walked ahead, not wanting to get shoved against the wall again. He turned into the kitchen/dining room, looking over his shoulder. “You hungry at all? Ah can whip somethin’ up quick.”
“A bit. Don’t go all out just for me.”
Braeburn nodded and began frying a sizeable amount of grits. “Ah don’t know how t’cook much, so as long as yore stayin’ here you’d best get used to grits ‘n stuff.”
“That’s fine,” Desperado said as he went into the living room and sat down on a couch. A short time later Braeburn carried in two plates, one at a time, piled with a respectable amount of grits as well as two pieces of toast that had apparently been fried in butter.
“Dig in!” the earth pony said before literally shoving his face into the food. Desperado stared at him for a bit, then looked down at the steaming plate of grits. Deciding to get somewhat creative, he put a portion of the grits on the toast, then began eating it.
After their short dinner was done, both went up into their rooms. Desperado finally took off his poncho and hat, hanging the hat on a bedpost and folding up the poncho to put on the desk.
Doing these revealed what had been concealed by his poncho, which was a large saddlebag slung around his neck like a mail pony, in addition to a number of small canteens. Only essentials such as camping gear and food were in the satchel, as he’d never been anywhere long enough to develop an attachment. Or make friends.
As he set the bag and canteens down on the desk as well, he suddenly heard Braeburn’s voice, as if the smaller earth pony was talking to someone.
“Lessee now… Is this good enough?” He began to read something, apparently a letter he’d written.
“Dear Cousin Applejack,
It’s been a while since we’ve talked, huh? Life’s still good here in Appleloosa. Our Foundin’ Festival is only two days away! Ah’m so excited! Bloomberg’s doin’ fine, and so are the rest of the trees in the orchard. I’ve had mah eye on Bluebonnet fer a while now, so I’m thinkin’ of askin’ her to the festival…Ah hope she says yes. We’ve got a new pony in town, too. Stallion, like Cousin Big Mac. His name’s Desperado and he’s pretty quiet…kinda hard-nosed, too. Took a suggestion from me to stay for the festival as some kinda thing that was intrudin’ on his lifestyle. He’s stayin’ with me, though. Ah just hope he has a good time while he’s in Appleloosa. He seems like a pony that doesn’t really form close bonds with anypony. Maybe it’ll be different this time around. Anyways, best o’ luck with Sweet Apple Acres. Sorry I couldn’t make it to the reunion before the Summer Sun Celebration in Ponyville, bit busy helpin’ build the town. Love, Braeburn.
“Hm…Yeah, that’ll work!”
Desperado gently nudged his door shut with his hoof, blowing out the candle on the nightstand and looking out of the window at the rising moon. The desert did have a sort of beauty to it; one that he’d often noticed camping by himself. He thought he could see something glinting near the orchard, but thought of the irrigation canals that ran through the orchard and guessed that it was moonlight glinting off the water. He got into his bed and pulled the covers over himself with his teeth, quickly falling asleep.
The next day it was obvious that all was not right in Appleloosa. Braeburn and Desperado had come through town to find everypony worriedly gathered around a newly arrived train. Sheriff Silverstar and the train’s lead puller were standing on top of one of the flatcars looking down at something.
“Hey, Sheriff!” Braeburn called as he and Desperado trotted up. “What’s goin’ on?”
Silverstar didn’t answer. Desperado nudged Braeburn. “I’m gonna go look around.”
He walked away without saying another word, Braeburn watching him go. The stallion carefully left the crowd of concerned ponies, walking down the rails as he went to the end of the train. He was almost at the end, next to a passenger car, when he heard several groans coming from inside. Getting up on his hind legs and looking in through the window, the earth pony stallion’s eyes widened.
Three members of the train crew lay in the various bunks. All of them had at least one leg suspended in the air by a harness, wrapped in bandages. Desperado knew what was wrong with them almost immediately; their legs were broken.
“Hey.” He whispered to one of them, the one directly under the window he was looking in. “Hey. What happened?”
“We were…ambushed…” the puller said, groaning. “Came outta nowhere…One minute we saw ‘em coming, next thing I knew I was on the ground and my leg really hurt…Steamer…had to pull us…all the way here…We were supposed to come in…yesterday…”
“Did anything else happen after that?” Desperado asked, tilting his head to one side.
“Well…Steamer said that all the apple seed was gone…But that’s it…”
“Just the apple seed?” Desperado asked to nopony in particular as he pulled his head out of the window. “Why would somepony just take that?”
He walked back over to the main crowd of ponies. Braeburn was now on the wagon with Silverstar and the train puller that Desperado took to be Steamer. On closer inspection, the stallion looked extremely worn out; obviously he’d had to pull the train here the rest of the way on his own.
Desperado got up onto the flatcar with the others. “One of the train pullers says that all the apple seed on the train was stolen?” he asked Steamer.
Sweat dripped from the puller’s body as he looked up at Desperado. “Yeah…in a canyon on the Ponyville line. We were only about an hour from Appleloosa when everypony just fell and started screaming…Next thing I knew something hit me in the head and when I came to all the seed was gone!”
“At least we don’t need it right now,” Braeburn said. Despite his cheery tone, the grin that was normally pasted onto his face seemed forced. Nervous, even. “Th’ apple trees’re all healthy, right?”
“Reckon that’s true…” Silverstar muttered. “But if’n trains can’t get to Appleloosa without bein’ robbed, we’re in some right trouble, no mistake.”
“Well…you don’t have any more shipments of seed coming in for another week according to the schedule,” Steamer replied. “You all don’t need to worry until next week.”
“Reckon that’s true!” Braeburn piped up. “An’ we got the Foundin’ Festival tomorrow! Buck up, ya’ll!”
“Braeburn’s right!” a gray, mustachioed pony with a trio of shamrocks for a cutie mark yelled. “We can’t let the festival go by jis’ becauseuva buncha’ missin’ apple seed!”
There were yells of assent from the rest of the assembled ponies. Sheriff Silverstar looked at Steamer. “Ye’d best git yerself and yer crew somewhere to patch yerselves up. Maybe y’all can walk ‘round the festival when it comes.”
Steamer nodded. “Thanks. I know that the others will need the rest…”
Sheriff Silverstar nodded and delegated a number of ponies to help the injured pullers off the trains. He then looked at Braeburn and Desperado. “Ya’ll two might go down t’the orchard, make sure nothin’s wrong there.”
Braeburn nodded. “Ya kin count on us, Sheriff!” He turned to Desperado. “Let’s go!”
The two earth ponies walked off, Desperado looking back as the other ponies continued preparations. “So tell me more about the festival. What’s going to be happening in it?”
“Oh, everythin’!” Braeburn exclaimed excitedly. “We’re gonna have rides, all the food y’can eat ‘n more! Pie eatin’ contests, games, all sorts o’ stuff! We’ve even got the Wonderbolts comin’ t’do a show!”
“The Wonderbolts? Really?” Desperado asked with a somewhat disbelieving smile.
“Darn tootin’!” Braeburn replied. “And I’mma gonna ask Bluebonnet t’go with me! Starts tomorrow from sunup t’ sundown!” His eyes suddenly became distant and a noticeable blush came to his cheeks. “And I’m gonna get t’ spend it all with her!”
Desperado couldn’t help chuckling. “Nice to know you’ve got plans.”
They kept walking to the orchard, eventually getting there and looking around at the various trees. Nothing seemed amiss; all the apples had been bucked by the end of yesterday, and were presently being made into various dishes. Everything was fine.
“Welp, at least we’ve still got the other trees, even though th’ seed’s gone.” Braeburn said. “Unless somepony wanted th’ trees fer lumber, they’re pretty much safe where they are.”
“True,” Desperado said, smiling. “So how’d you get the Wonderbolts to come?”
“Well ah’ll tell ya, it wasn’t easy!” Braeburn began.
Later that night, Braeburn stood outside Bluebonnet’s house. The yellow earth pony sighed nervously, looking over to his left where Desperado stood in the shadows. The only part of the stallion that was visible in the dark was his blue eyes, staring at Braeburn, watching him.
Braeburn cleared his throat, then began pacing, trying to think about what he was going to say.
“Lessee now…Er…Howdy, Bluebonnet. Ah was…that is ah was wonderin’ if’n ye’d…no, don’t be so timid! Ah, consarnit!” He turned over to Desperado and began to call to him. “Ah don’t know what t’-“
“Howdy.” A voice said from the door.
Braeburn froze, his eyes widening to the size of dinner plates. Turning, he looked over at the door, where Bluebonnet was now standing. She fitted her name. Her coat was a light sort of blue, like the sky, while her eyes were a deeper shade, like the flower that her name had come from. A curious little smile was on her lips, her grayish-white mane falling over the corner of one eye. Her cutie mark, a bouquet of various flowers (she ran a florist in town, Braeburn remembered) was fully visible on her shapely flank.
“Erm…uh…” Braeburn stuttered nervously. He began fiddling with his hat, accidentally knocking it off.
Giving a quiet “Oh no…” he bent down and picked it up with a hoof to put it back on his head.
“It’s powerful late, Braeburn,” Bluebonnet said, gesturing to the starry sky above Appleloosa. “What’re ya doin’ here?”
“Erm, well, ah was actually wonderin’ if’n ah could ask y’ somethin’…”
Bluebonnet cocked her head to one side. “’n what would that be?”
“Well, um…ah, ponyfeathers, who’m ah kiddin?” Braeburn turned around and began walking away from Bluebonnet’s front door.
Bluebonnet trotted after him, putting a hoof on his shoulder. “Hey, hold on there, partner. Ya didn’t jiss come out here this late at night t’ not tell me anythin’. What d’you want?”
“Um…Well…Ah was wonderin’, maybe…erm…Wouldja like…um…t’go t’the Foundin’ Festival with me, tomorrow?”
Bluebonnet blinked a few times and began giggling. Braeburn’s cheeks flushed red, the earth pony backing up, his ears laying flat. “Ah knew it was a stupid idea…”
“N….haha…naw, Braeburn, ah wasn’t laughin’ at ya! Ah’d love t’go!” Bluebonnet said, turning back to him and smiling through her giggles.
“Y’would?” Braeburn replied in a surprised tone. “Ah mean, y’would!” His face split in a grin. “Great! Uh…So…when d’yah want me t’come by?”
“How ‘bout we just meet at th’ festival?” Bluebonnet asked, cocking her head to one side. “It’d prob’ly be simpler.”
“Um, yeah!” Braeburn replied. “Right! Ah…ah guess ah’ll see y’ tomorrow, then?”
“Sure.” Bluebonnet said, winking one of her beautiful blue eyes at him. “Don’t be late, y’hear?”
“Yeah…don’t be late…” Braeburn echoed. The blue earth pony mare trotted past him and went back into her house, shutting the door behind her. Braeburn stood there in the middle of the dark street, his mouth slightly open in surprise, and his eyes wide. He seemed frozen.
Desperado walked out into the street, nudging the earth pony. “Well, she said yes. What now?”
Braeburn started as Desperado nudged him, then looked over at the stallion. “Well…Um…Ah suppose ah’ll need some new duds…”
“Your vest isn’t good enough?” Desperado asked, raising an eyebrow.
“No!” Braeburn replied. “Y’can’t just come to a date with a mare ‘n not dress up at least a bit!”
“So what do you suggest, then?” Desperado asked with a somewhat teasing grin.
“Um…Ah dunno…” Braeburn replied sheepishly. “Ah don’t have anythin’ else t’wear.”
Desperado nodded. “Basically all you can do is clean your stuff and make sure it’s nice and presentable.”
Braeburn nodded. “Yeah…yer right.”
“Don’t be so nervous,” Desperado said. “You asked her out. That’s the important thing. I bet she’ll care less if you show up dirty.”
“Don’t say that!” Braeburn yelled. “Ye’ll jinx me!”
The tan-colored stallion chuckled, shaking his head and sending his brown mane flopping about. “Relax. I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
Braeburn bit his lip. “Alrighty…let’s just go home, okay?”
Desperado nodded and turned around to begin walking. “Fine with me.”
Braeburn sighed and began following Desperado back to his home.
There were twenty of them, all of different species of pony. Unicorns, earth ponies, pegasi, all of them gathered around a fire out of sight of Appleloosa. There were a few stallions among the earth ponies, one of the unicorns being one as well. They were camped beside a disused railroad track, next to a locomotive that, despite the track that it was on, was very well kept. The unicorn stallion was their leader, a hulking brute of a pony wearing a black, flat-brimmed hat. He looked around at a few of the other ponies, going from one of the earth pony stallions, to one of the pegasi, to one of the unicorns.
“And everything is ready?”
“Eyup,” The earth pony stallion he was addressing replied. “We’re gonna wait ‘till the Foundin’ Festival’s underway, keep anypony from goin’ into th’ orchard while we’re workin’ on it.”
The unicorn nodded. “Good. I’ll cast a silence spell over the whole area, so that while we’re working nopony will be the wiser.” He turned to one of the pegasi. “Are the harnesses ready?”
“Yessir,” the pegasus replied. “They’ll be ready when ya give th’ word.”
The unicorn nodded again. “Excellent. You and the other pegasi will only need to carry as many as you can. I’ll take care of the rest.” He finally turned to the other unicorns. “And you all will help me with that, correct?”
The unicorns all nodded, coursing affirmative statements. The stallion nodded. “Good. And remember the other part of the plan. If, by some chance, anypony comes into the orchard for any reason, make sure they don’t leave. Don’t kill them, but make sure that they can’t interfere with anything we do. We won’t need the bolas on this one, just use your hooves.”
There was another chorus of nodding all around. The stallion smiled. “Good. Everypony get some food in your stomachs and then get some sleep. By this time tomorrow we’ll have most of Appleloosa’s apple trees loaded up. And don’t forget to keep some dirt in the sacks so that they don’t die on the way to Stalliongrad. Pegasi, watch the railroads; make sure there aren’t any other trains with apple seed on them coming into town. If there are, you know what to do, correct?”
The pegasi all nodded. The unicorn stallion nodded back. “Good. Cloud cover, now.”
The pegasi flew upward, flying in a circle, faster and faster, until they’d whipped up a large mist that they maneuvered down onto the campsite, obscuring the train completely. The ponies ate their dinner quickly then put dirt over the fire, smothering it and throwing the area into near-complete darkness.
The next morning there was a palpable atmosphere of excitement in the air. Ponies galloped towards Appleloosa’s main street, talking and laughing excitedly. Desperado waited outside of Braeburn’s house, the stallion tapping a hoof impatiently. Braeburn had been in there for a long time, messing with his coat, vest, hat, and hair. Desperado rapped sharply on the door. “Come on, we gotta go!”
“It won’t stay down!” Braeburn shouted back as he stood in front of the hallway mirror frantically trying to smooth his hair.
The door flew open and Desperado stormed in, grabbing the yellow earth pony by the tail and towing him forcefully out the door. “You look fine, let’s go!” the stallion growled around Braeburn’s tail in his mouth. Braeburn had barely enough time to get his hat on his head before he was pulled out the door.
As the two ponies walked towards Main Street, Braeburn bit his lip nervously. Desperado nudged him. “Hey, buck up. I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
“But what if she ain’t havin’ fun?”
“She will. You’re a good colt. She’ll love you, I promise.”
“Y’promise?” Braeburn asked, looking up at him as they entered the street.
“Promise.” Desperado said, giving Braeburn a reassuring grin.
They were suddenly surrounded by ponies. Booths and stages were set up all over the place, various contests and games everywhere.
“Braeburn! Over here!” Bluebonnet’s voice reached the pair’s ears. The sky-blue mare threaded her way through the crowd, trotting up to Braeburn and Desperado. “Y’made it! Ah was gettin’ worried!”
“Braeburn was fixing his hair,” Desperado said in a falsely snide tone.
Braeburn gave Bluebonnet a sheepish grin. “Eheh…So, y’ready?”
“Sure!” Bluebonnet said. She wrapped a hoof around Braeburn’s. “C’mon!”
The two ran into the crowd, leaving Desperado all alone. The stallion chuckled and shook his head, going off to enjoy the festival himself, deciding to start off with a look around. There were pie-eating contests, talent shows, square dancing, races, and a table was set up with the winged thunderbolt emblem of the Wonderbolts on it, presumably where there would be an opportunity for fans to get the group’s autographs.
Desperado looked around, finally settling on one of the talent shows. As he did he saw one mare with a guitar around her shoulders walk off stage, leaving the area clear for another pony that Desperado assumed was the MC.
“Alrighty, fillies ‘n gentlecolts, let’s hear a round o’ hoof stompin’ fer Mizz Sun Shine!”
The audience obliged, stomping their hooves and cheering the earth pony off the stage. The MC looked around. “Any o’ you ponies care fer a try? Eh?”
The audience remained quiet, aside from some nervous laughter. The MC shook his head with a smile. “Aw, c’mon now! Everypony in Equestria’s gotta good singin’ voice! Don’t rightly know why, but it’s true!”
Still nopony stepped forward. The MC laughed and shook his head again. “Ah guess Ah’m jus’ gonna have tah choose somepony!”
He narrowed his eyes and peered closely at the audience. His gaze quickly fell on Desperado and he pointed. “You there!”
Desperado blanched. “What?!”
“You! Come up ‘n give us a song, eh?”
Desperado began shaking his head. “No, no. I’m sorry but I can’t-“
“Ah c’mon, y’big baby!” A number of ponies began calling as a pair of colts began pushing the stallion onto the stage.
“Nononononononononono…” Desperado chanted, shaking his head frantically as he was pushed onto the stage despite his hooves plowing furrows into the ground. He eventually found himself up on the stage despite his protests, a microphone shoved in front of him.
Though while on the outside he was quiet and stock-still, inside his mind Desperado was on the verge of having a nervous breakdown.
Oh horseapples, what do I do?! He thought. What can I sing? I barely know any songs at all! My talent’s wandering around, not singing!
He gave all the memories he had of his travels a lightning run-through, seeing if he’d encountered a song in any country, among any civilization or species, that he could sing. He finally reached the country he’d come to before going moving on to Appleloosa…Gildedale. In the halls of Thatchholm he’d learned a song…one that mothers sang to their colts about the passing of life, the way of nature. Desperado closed his eyes and took a deep breath before he opened his mouth and began to sing.
Oh I'll wager a hat full of guineas
Against all of the songs you can sing
Some day you'll love and the next day you'll lose
And winter will turn into spring
And the snow falls
And the wind calls
And the year turns round again
There will come a time of great plenty
A time of good harvest and song
Til then put your trust in tomorrow my friend
For yesterday's over and done
Ploughed, sown, reaped and mown
the year turns round again
and like barley corn who rose from the grain
a new year will rise up again
A feeling arise, a gleam in her eyes
and the year turns round again
and like barley corn who rose from the grain
a new year will rise up again
Throughout the entire song, Desperado had sang with his eyes shut, swaying from side to side. Eventually he began pacing the stage in deliberate, measured steps, a smile coming to his face in the process. After he finished the song he opened his eyes. All the ponies in the crowd stared for a moment, then started cheering and stomping their hooves. Desperado bowed and trotted off the stage, rejoining the crowd.
A mare named Stradi Varius ended up winning the contest, getting a medal and a small trophy. Desperado hummed the song he’d sang as he walked around the fair some more. During the contest they’d had to pause for a few minutes so that the Wonderbolts could put on their show. Even now he was walking towards a pair of them, both still in their signature jumpsuits. One was a light blue under the barding, with slight bags under his eyes. He was facing a mare with a red-and-orange colored mane, and they were standing in front of a pie-eating contest.
“Pleeeeease, Spitfire?” the pegasus colt whined, dancing in place. “I’m really hungry, and I love pie!”
The mare, who was apparently named Spitfire, laughed. “Okay, okay, Soarin’. Go and gorge yourself.”
Soarin’ jumped in the air with glee and zipped over to the last remaining spot in the contest. Soon it was under way, the pegasus putting his entire face into each pie that he ate. And he was really packing them away.
Desperado watched from beside Spitfire, eventually turning his head to her. “Nice show. I was pretty surprised when I heard you were going to be performing.”
“Well, our agents didn’t think we needed to, and they took a lot of persuading. We managed to get wind of it though and after they explained the occasion to us we decided to do it.” Spitfire replied as she watched Soarin’ stack his seventh pie tin onto the stack. The other ponies were only on their third, or in the case of several of the faster eaters, their fourth.
“So, are you all going to stay for the whole festival?” Desperado asked.
“Yeah, it looks like it’s gonna be pretty fun,” Spitfire replied, looking around. “Plus Soarin’ will probably want to stay for all the pie.”
A few minutes later the pie eating contest ended, with Soarin’ winning by a resounding 28 pies. The closest any of the other ponies had come was fifteen. As Soarin’ (his belly noticeably swollen) rejoined Spitfire, she laughed and nudged his cheek with a hoof. “You can’t fly with that much weight on you now!”
“Worth it…” Soarin’ moaned happily, patting his stomach. “So…much…pie…”
Desperado chuckled and moved on, bidding goodbye to the two Wonderbolts.
Hours later as the sun was going down, Braeburn and Bluebonnet had just come away from a football-bucking competition, Braeburn proudly displaying the blue ribbon he’d won on his vest.
“Ah still can’t believe how far y’ kicked that ball!” Bluebonnet said. Braeburn laughed sheepishly, a blush coming to his cheeks.
“Well, eheh, y’see it’s an Apple family quality. All that buckin’ ‘n all. Back legs’re real strong.”
Bluebonnet chuckled. “Ah’ll bet.” She nuzzled the colt’s cheek. “Thanks fer th’ date, Braeburn. Ah’m enjoyin’ it.”
“Y’are?” Braeburn asked in surprise. He then shook his head and grinned. “Ah mean, y’are! Ah’m glad.”
As they walked a noticeable number of ponies were walking past them, yawning as they went back to their homes to go to sleep. Braeburn looked around at them all, then ushered Bluebonnet out of the way as a thundering herd of ponies went past, racing. He could spot Desperado among them, the stallion sticking out among the rest of the contenders.
Braeburn looked at Bluebonnet. “Y’ feel like goin’ home yet?”
Bluebonnet yawned widely. “Hm…yeah, ah think ah’m done fer th’ day…”
Braeburn nodded. “Alrighty, then. Ah’ll walk y’home.”
The two earth ponies turned and began walking through town back to Bluebonnet’s house. The blue mare looked over at Braeburn, smiling. “Ah really did have a good time, Braeburn. Thanks fer takin’ me t’ the festival.”
“Um…you’re welcome,” Braeburn said, blushing again as they came up to Bluebonnet’s front porch. “M…m-maybe we can do it again, sometime?”
Bluebonnet smiled again and kissed him on the cheek. “Sure.”
With that she walked inside her house, leaving Braeburn as stiff as a board, his entire face turning bright red. A goofy grin eventually worked itself across his face and Braeburn turned and walked off of Bluebonnet’s porch, meandering off through town, going towards the orchard. He could faintly hear the festival going on, various excited shouts and yells managing to reach his ears through the maze of buildings. Obviously despite the number of ponies going home after a day of festival-going there were a large number that weren’t tired.
Braeburn’s meandering path eventually took him to the apple orchard. He stopped at the edge of one of the entry ramps, searching around in his head to see if cutting through the orchard would allow him to get home faster; he wanted to get home and rest his back legs from the football-kicking competition. He finally decided that yes, it would cut down trip time, especially since he wouldn’t need to make his way through a crowd of other ponies still at the festival or going to their own homes.
Braeburn started walking down the entry ramp, his hooves thumping gently on the wood. As he set foot in the orchard he started trotting to the ramp on the other side of the escarpment, his eyes closed as he hummed a tune happily.
Somewhere close by, the unicorn stallion narrowed his eyes as he heard Braeburn going through the forest. Motioning to a pair of earth pony stallions, he jerked his head in the direction of Braeburn. The two hid behind trees and saw the yellow earth pony walking along, oblivious to their presence.
The unicorn muttered a curse under his breath. They were ready to start moving the trees; the festival was still going, nopony would hear them, and then this buffoon wandered in. As Braeburn took a detour to go around a large rock that had fallen onto the path, the unicorn jerked his head in his direction.
The two earth ponies nodded and snuck off through the orchard.
Braeburn was still managing to keep his spirits up in the unlit orchard by continually humming the tune. He was about to make a left turn to head towards the entrance ramp when a brown-colored hoof wrapped around his neck and pulled him into the trees, covering his mouth in the process. As Braeburn gave a muffled shout, the noise turned into a strangled gargle as another hoof rammed into his yellow belly. The hoof came again, and then a third time, Braeburn doubling over more each time; the earth pony couldn’t breathe, he felt like he was going to throw up.
“Enough.” The unicorn said as Braeburn was bucked in the face, snapping the colt’s head backwards. As the pony slumped, the unicorn looked at the others. “I’ll take care of him. You all start getting the trees to the train.”
The others nodded, the unicorn taking the bandana off of a passing pegasus to gag Braeburn with. The unicorn chuckled as he dumped Braeburn on the ground. “Nothing personal, friend. But there’s money to make with these trees.”
With that, his hooves came down. Between stomps, his horn glowed and Braeburn went flying around the orchard, slamming into the ground, or the walls of rock. None of the trees except the small, runty ones that wouldn’t bring much of a payoff.
Bones cracked or outright broke. Bruises formed. Cuts opened. Braeburn took a hoof to the eye at one point and the force of it made it immediately start to swell shut. The unicorn brought Braeburn close, the earth pony’s good eye fluttering as he attempted to stay conscious. The unicorn shook his head, chuckling again. “Again, young ‘un, nothing personal. It’s just good business.”
With that he threw Braeburn across the orchard with great force, the earth pony slamming into the rock wall of the escarpment. Braeburn slumped limply, out cold. The unicorn removed the gag from his mouth and carried it away, grabbing a number of tree trunks that had been taken down before Braeburn had shown up, lifting them into the air with his magic and walking after the earth ponies towards where the rustlers had parked their train.
Desperado took another look at the blue ribbon hanging from his hat and grinned. He’d managed to come out first in the race around Appleloosa; the years of traveling experience had strengthened his leg muscles to the point that he was still going strong even as the other front runners were flagging. The earth pony stallion made his way through the festival (which was now finally starting to wind down), going through the rest of the town back to Braeburn’s house, certain that the yellow earth pony had finished up his date with Bluebonnet and gone back home to rest. He should have, at any rate; it was close to midnight.
Opening the door to the house and making his way through the entrance hall and up the stairs, Desperado first made his way to his room and tossed his cowboy hat onto the nightstand, shrugging out of his tattered poncho and giving his dusty gold body a thorough shake before yawning.
Last check on Braeburn, then hit the hay; he thought to himself as he walked back into the hallway and went down towards his host’s bedroom. The door was slightly open; Desperado knocked before opening the door…and looking at an empty room.
“Huh.” Desperado grunted as he took in the empty room. He had been sure that Braeburn would be home before he would be. He shrugged. He might still be out with Bluebonnet; just because the festival was winding down didn’t mean that everypony had gone home yet.
He walked back to his own room, blowing his brown mane out of his eyes before getting into bed, giving a final yawn, and going to sleep.
The unicorn walked back to the camp that he and his fellow thieves had set up. The others were all hard at work securing the apple trees that they’d taken from the orchard; aside from the small hiccup with the random earth pony deciding to take a shortcut home, the entire operation had gone off without a hitch. The muscle of the earth ponies in the group combined with the magic of the unicorns working in concert had allowed them to clear the orchard out in a matter of hours; the perception spell that the stallion had cast on the orchard after the unintended intrusion had kept their work from being interrupted, or even noticed. Anypony that came close to the orchard would suddenly remember that they had business elsewhere and head that direction.
Appleloosa’s orchard was now nonexistent. All that remained of it were a large number of holes in the ground from where the trees had been ripped up. The roots of all of the trees were now wrapped up with enough dirt to keep them alive bound in burlap sacking. Their employers in Stalliongrad weren’t paying them to deliver dead trees.
The stallion looked around at his accomplices. The pegasi were maneuvering clouds into position, not only to mask their location but also so that they could provide water to the trees when necessary. The earth ponies were still loading the last few trees onto the flatbed cars that made up most of the train. The few unicorns among the group were running a few maintenance checks on the train to make sure that it wouldn’t break down at a critical moment.
He walked up to the leader of the earth ponies, looking over at the trees that were yet to be loaded. “How much longer?”
“Not much, sir,” the earth pony responded. “We’ve still got to tie a few more of the trees up and load them onto the train, but other than that everything is going great.”
“Good. I don’t want any delays getting out of here. The perception spell breaks with the dawning of the sun; anypony that walks by where the orchard was after then will notice that the trees have been stolen.” The unicorn narrowed his eyes. “I want us a good ways back to Stalliongrad before then. Understood?”
The earth pony nodded, the unicorn returning it. “Good. I’ll go check up on the others. After we’re all done here, we can all get some sleep. By this time tomorrow we’ll be halfway to Stalliongrad. All of these trees together are worth around half a million bits. I want that money very much. Nothing else matters.”
The earth pony nodded again. “We’ll be ready to go when you say the word, sir.”
“Good. Keep working.” The unicorn turned and left the earth ponies to their duties, going off to check with the other two group leaders to see how they were doing on their own tasks.
Dawn came slowly in Appleloosa, several hours later. Desperado blinked as sunlight streamed in through his window and into his face, stretching luxuriously before getting out of bed and donning his hat and poncho. Wonder if Braeburn came back in the night, he wondered as he left his room and walked down the hallway. Braeburn’s door was still how Desperado had left it the night before, and he could hear no activity in the kitchen. Desperado’s eyes narrowed a bit, his ears giving a slight twitch of puzzlement and annoyance. “Where is he?” he wondered aloud.
He left the house, walking through Appleloosa. There weren’t very many ponies about; they were probably still worn out from the Founding Festival. The Wonderbolts’ caravan was still parked outside of the only hotel in Appleloosa, the Summer Apple Inn. There was no sign of any member of the group, whether flying around or walking among the wagons.
“Mister Desperado!” somepony yelled to the stallion’s left.
Desperado turned to see Bluebonnet galloping towards him. “Bluebonnet. What’s up?”
“We’ve got a problem! A biggun!” the mare replied as she slid to a stop in a small cloud of dust. “A real biggun!” She immediately reared up and turned. “Follow me!”
Desperado followed the mare as she galloped through the town, towards the gully that the orchard was located in. A sizeable crowd of ponies was gathered there, all talking at once, loudly and in worried tones. Sheriff Silverstar was at the front, a serious frown on his face, his blue eyes narrowed.
“Ah brought ‘im, Sheriff!” Bluebonnet called as she and Desperado galloped up.
Silverstar turned around and nodded at Desperado. He jerked his hoof over one shoulder. “Whaddaya make o’ this, Desperado?”
Desperado walked up to the edge, his eyes widening in shock.
Stretched out before him was what was left of the orchard. There were a few leaves, some pieces of bark. Mostly it was just dug up dirt and holes.
“What the buck?!” he yelled, rearing backwards.
“We don’t know.” Silverstar replied. “Nopony heard nothin’ the entire time last night. Only reason we knew in the first place was that somepony was out for a mornin’ walk and came across this.”
“Braeburn was here, too.” Bluebonnet added, her voice quivering a bit as tears came to her eyes.
“Where is he?” Desperado asked, turning his head to face her.
“Hospital.” Bluebonnet responded, a small sob finding its way into her voice. “He’s hurt real bad…we dunno what happened to ‘im.”
“He ain’t regained consciousness when we last saw ‘im,” Silverstar replied. “He may’ve since then, though.”
“I’ll go and talk to him, see if he’s awake,” Desperado said. “In the meantime Sheriff, you think you could try and find out how this happened?”
“Will do,” Silverstar replied.
“Ah’m comin’ with ya, Desperado.” Bluebonnet said. Desperado nodded.
“Fine with me.” He gestured with a hoof. “Lead the way.”
Bluebonnet did so, leading Desperado through the streets of Appleloosa to the general hospital. They entered and found out what room Braeburn was in, and found it in short order.
Desperado sucked in his breath in a hiss as they entered the room. Braeburn looked awful. One eye was blackened and swelled shut; there were a large number of bandages wrapped around his legs and midriff. A poultice had been taped to his cheek as well. He was awake at least, leaning up in a peculiar sort of sitting position with a number of pillows. He gave the two of them a lopsided grin as they entered.
“Howdy, Bluebonnet. Desperado.”
“What the hay happened, Braeburn?” Desperado asked as his brow furrowed. “How did you get like this?”
Braeburn’s jovial expression dropped into seriousness. “Ah dunno, t’ be honest. Ah’d just taken Bluebonnet home ‘n was goin’ to take mahself a shortcut through th’ orchard to go back home. Alluva sudden Ah’d gotten grabbed by a pair o’ earth ponies that started takin’ mah belly apart with their hooves. They didn’t get to do much though, afore a unicorn stopped ‘em. He was around yer size, Desperado. Dark coat, white mane, blue eyes. He took over from there.”
Braeburn shuddered. “He tossed me ‘round like a rag doll. Made me hit trees, rocks, the cliff face below town…Ah dunno what they were there for, but Ah don’t wanna run into ‘em again.”
“I think I know what they were there for…” Desperado muttered softly. “The orchard. The same ponies that beat you like this were the same ones that stole the orchard.”
“Th’ orchard’s been stolen?!” Braeburn yelped, trying to sit upright and giving a pained whinny as he strained his injuries. He fell back onto the pillows clutching his ribs. “H-how?”
“We dunno, Braeburn.” Desperado said, shrugging as best as he could. “But every tree in the orchard is gone. We don’t know where they went, though.”
Braeburn put the one un-bandaged hoof he had to his forehead, sighing. “Ah no…” He looked up at Desperado. “You’ll help us get ‘em back though, right? Th’ trees?”
The words were instinctive; out of Desperado’s mouth without him needing to think about them. “Sorry. It’s not my problem.”
There was a heavy silence in the room as Braeburn’s face shifted through several emotions; surprise at the immediate refusal, then puzzlement, then anger. “Why not?”
“It’s not my problem.” Desperado repeated.
“Whaddaya mean, not your problem?!” Braeburn yelled, glaring daggers at the stallion. “Y’ never had a problem helpin’ me b’fore!”
“This is a job for the Royal Guard, Braeburn!” Desperado replied. “Look at what they did to you!”
“This ain’t about me!” Braeburn shot back. “This is about our town! Those trees ‘re our livelihood, Desperado! If we can’t grow no apples, then nopony has any reason t’ be here!”
“You’ll get more apple seeds for the trees!” Desperado replied. “You don’t need me for this! You can fix it after you get more seed and plant that!”
“An’ what about in the meantime?!” Braeburn shouted, trying to struggle out of bed. “Trees take time t’ grow! Months t’ grow! We can’t wait months!”
“You’ve got plenty of food, though!” Desperado said.
“WHAT ABOUT OUR FOALS?!” Braeburn roared, wincing a bit as he finally managed to get out of his bed and took a step towards the stallion. “WE GOT FOALS T’FEED!”
“Braeburn, calm down!” Bluebonnet said. Braeburn ignored her, glaring at Desperado even more. “We can’t wait months t’ get food t’ feed our foals ‘n ourselves! Why won’t you help us?!”
“It’s not my-“
“Ah sure, it’s ‘not your problem!’” Braeburn responded acidly. “Is that really the reason, or are y’ just too scared?”
“You think that-“
“Yeah, Ah do!” Braeburn growled. “Yer just a li’l filly that doesn’t sweat the small stuff, but when it comes t’ the big decisions, y’ just write it off as not being relevant t’ you, right?”
“You don’t know-“
“Ah think Ah know plenty, thank yah very much!” Braeburn had by now made his way over to Desperado, shoving his muzzle into the stallion’s face. Both glared at one another.
“You. Don’t. Know. Anything.” Desperado snarled before spinning on his hooves and stomping out of the room, bucking the door shut to make it slam with a noise akin to a gunshot.
Braeburn stared after him, still glaring, breathing heavily. Bluebonnet stared at him, a concerned look on her face. “…Braeburn?” she asked.
“Ah think y’ should get back in bed.” she said, putting a hoof on his shoulder.
“Y…yeah. Ah think Ah should…” Braeburn replied, suddenly looking a bit woozy.
Desperado stomped down the street in Appleloosa, growling to himself.
Stupid Braeburn…What makes him think that I’m only in this for myself? He has no idea!
Maybe you’re just denying it because it’s true, a little voice in the back of his mind whispered.
It’s NOT true! Desperado growled back. What makes him think it is?
Name one time that you’ve ever helped with something big anywhere you’ve been. The little voice replied calmly.
Desperado stopped in the middle of the street. He bit his lip, lowering his head. When did I ever even stay when it looked like something big was going to happen and they might have needed my help?
He swallowed and sighed. Maybe…maybe I don’t really belong anywhere. He started walking out of the town. That’s what a tumbleweed is, after all. Just a collection of branches blowing every which way. No real resting place to speak of.
He kept walking out of the town, heading for the desert.
“You sure were hard on ‘im, Braeburn.” Sheriff Silverstar observed as he paced Braeburn’s room in the hospital. “You sure you didn’t go a bit overboard?”
“T’weren’t my fault he didn’t wanna help,” Braeburn muttered, his hooves folded across his chest and a scowl on his face. “Comes here all high ‘n mighty in th’ first place an’ makes like he’s startin’ to like the place, then pulls this stunt.”
“That don’t give you the right t’ yell at ‘im, Braeburn.” Silverstar replied, turning and pointing a brown hoof at the Apple earth pony. “Mr. Desperado’s here as a guest, y’understand? We treat guests kindly in Appleloosa, whether ‘r not they wanna help us out with our problems.”
“Hmph.” Braeburn harrumphed, turning his head to the side. “Ain’t my business what he does with ‘imself.”
Silverstar hung his head, shaking it sadly. “He’s yer friend, Braeburn. Can’t y’ at least forgive ‘im?”
“Maybe when he helps us get our apples back!” Braeburn yelled. “Ah ain’t gon’ be welcomin’ ta somepony that don’t wanna help around town!”
“Braeburn Apple you listen t’ me!” Silverstar barked. Braeburn jerked backwards, his eyes wide in surprise. Silverstar rarely ever shouted to anypony in town. “Listen,” Silverstar repeated. “Maybe he just ain’t used t’ helpin’ ponies. Ah suggest you git yerself outside ‘n apologize t’ him.”
Braeburn harrumphed again. “Later, sheriff. Nurse says Ah gotta stay in bed.”
Silverstar slapped a hoof to his face. “Fine. Just promise me you’ll do it, all right?”
Braeburn nodded, still refusing to look at the sheriff. Silverstar sighed and went outside to go get a posse together.
A few hours later, Desperado sat on a ledge a fair distance away from Appleloosa. He had walked a substantial distance in the time that it had taken for the day to fade away and give way to the night. Along the way to the ledge he remembered passing by a sign denoting the border of buffalo territory. Desperado knew about the buffalo, more specifically about the small battle that had happened between them and the Appleloosans over the patch of land that the orchard had been on.
He’d been careful to avoid the buffalo camp itself, merely passing alongside it, far enough away that the buffalo wouldn’t notice him. As the moon had risen he’d plunked himself down on the ledge, aiming to sit and watch the desert for a while before going to sleep.
Of course fate would intervene in him being all alone that night.
“Um…hello?” a small, female voice said from behind him. Desperado turned around. It was a young buffalo, a female one. She had a sizeable amount of curly, amber hair on her head that was bordered by a purple-and-white headband with two black and white feathers sticking out of it. She had a concerned look on her face but was keeping her distance, watching him carefully.
Desperado merely stared at her, watching to see if she would persist in talking to him. She did, gulping noticeably as she did so. “Um…I just noticed you passing by our camp, and then you were sitting here…and I was wondering if…um…”
“Wanted to know if I was alright?” Desperado finished, raising an eyebrow. The young buffalo gulped and nodded. Desperado turned his head away from her and sighed. “To be honest…no. I’m not.”
“Um…is there anything I could…do to help?”
“Not really,” Desperado replied.
“Well…” the buffalo continued, causing Desperado to set his mouth in annoyance. “You know it gets kind of cold in the desert at night…would you like to come back to our camp with me? You could stay there for the night; I don’t think Chief Thunderhooves would object…”
“Thanks,” Desperado said coldly, “But no thanks. I’m fine here.”
“Are you sure?” she asked. “I can bring you a blanket or-“
“I SAID I’M FINE!” Desperado bellowed, turning his head to glare at her. The buffalo backpedaled a few steps in surprise, staring in shock at the large earth pony. Desperado was now on his hooves, his chest heaving, his eyes narrowed in anger, and his teeth bared.
“I was just-“
“I know what you were trying to do, kid. And believe me, at any other time I would have appreciated it and maybe even taken you up on your offer. But right now I’m really not in the mood. Got it?”
The buffalo continued shaking and starting at him for a few minutes. Then, slowly but surely, she stopped shaking. She set her hooves in the ground and walked closer to him, looking him straight in the eye with a glare of her own. Desperado could see some form of strength in her eyes, a strong heart that wouldn’t quail easily under pressure.
He merely stood there, glaring at her, until she finally got close enough to suddenly charge at him. Before he could backpedal away from her she was…
Gently pressing her head against his chest.
Desperado stared down at her, his eyes wide. The little buffalo listened for a short time before sighing. “You’re sad. And hurt inside, aren’t you?”
Desperado blinked and took a few steps back. “What would you know?”
“I’ve always been able to listen to the hearts of others,” the little buffalo replied. “Like my own. My
name’s Little Strongheart. What’s yours?”
Desperado blinked at her a few more times, then sighed, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath before answering. “My name is Desperado.”
“I haven’t seen you around Appleloosa. Are you a newcomer?”
“No,” Desperado replied. “I was just passing through.”
Little Strongheart walked closer. “You must have stayed there long enough for something inside you to take a deep wound,” she murmured. “What happened?”
Desperado looked down at her, then turned away. He walked back to where he had been sitting and plunked his haunches down on the ground. Looking up at the moon for a moment he sighed, then looked down at the ground, closing his eyes. “I let a friend down.”
Little Strongheart walked over beside him and sat down next to him. “What do you mean?”
Desperado took a bit before answering. He could hear Braeburn screaming at him in his mind, reliving the entire argument over again. “I was…stupid. I was selfish and only thinking about myself. Appleloosa recently had its entire apple orchard stolen, and my friend asked me to help them get it back. I refused because…because…”
“Because why?” Little Strongheart asked.
“…I said that it wasn’t my problem,” Desperado replied with another sigh.
“Why would you say that?” Little Strongheart asked. “If he was your friend, shouldn’t you have
helped them? Why didn’t you?”
“Because the last time I honored a request to help someone they died for it,” Desperado spat bitterly.
Little Strongheart’s eyes widened. “Wh…what?”
Desperado took a deep breath, letting it out slowly through his nose before answering. “I travel a lot. It’s my special talent. I got my cutie mark one day when I left home to wander around. I spent all day doing that, and when I came home that night I got my cutie mark when I walked in the door.”
Little Strongheart said nothing, waiting for him to continue.
“A few years ago, I crossed the ocean. I’d been all over the continent that Equestria is part of, seen many things. I’d seen the Shogunate of Neighpon, walked the streets of Foal Chi Minh City in the Ibex Empire, and climbed the tallest mountain in the Griffin Kingdoms. So I left, and crossed the sea to Seaddle, the last pony city before Cervidae. The homeland of the deer.
“I spent a while in Cervidas. It seemed like paradise to me. The forests were massive, and beautiful, and completely unspoiled by anything unnatural. The deer lived in harmony with nature, gently guiding it along predetermined paths instead of forcing it to bend to their will. Their cities were built among the trees, their homes blending into them. And at the center of it all…the World Tree.”
“World Tree?” Little Strongheart asked.
“It’s an enormous tree, bigger than any other one anywhere,” Desperado explained. “The deer
capital is there, the city of Concordia. I never went there, though. Instead, one day I stopped at a small village. I don’t remember the name…but I do remember the young stag that I met there.”
Desperado’s face softened as he gave a little smile, looking up at the stars. “His name was Torek. He was around my age at the time; he was a bit chubby, not very noticeable but if you pushed your hoof into his cheek it would sink in a bit. He had chocolate brown fur, deep brown eyes, his fur a little lighter around the tip of his muzzle. His father was a Captain in Cervidas’s Periphery Guard, the force of soldiers that guarded the borders of the forests. His dream in life was to be a soldier. He idolized his father, wanted to be just like him…and he got his chance.”
“There…was a war. A war between Cervidas and the Zebra Empire. The zebras had destroyed a small enclave of deer with a small-scale balefire spell. The town was suspected of housing enemies of the Caesar, and the zebras weren’t known for taking chances. The Cervidas government condemned the attack and said that the zebras could have used a less heavy-handed approach. Maybe searching the village or rounding up all the zebras in the place and finding out who was a known enemy and who wasn’t. The zebras were unrepentant, though. They actually blamed the village itself for housing the Caesar’s enemies, and if they were that stupid then they deserved to die. Furious, Cervidas declared war on the Zebra Empire. “
“It was destined to be an excruciatingly bloody conflict from the start. Both countries were very powerful and two of the largest on the continent. Both had a culture steeped in magic, and could bring devastating spells to bear against one another in addition to fielding their conventional armies.”
“Deer all over Cervidas had shared the government’s sentiment about the attack on the enclave. They signed up in droves…Torek was one of them. He asked if I wanted to come with him; I did, because I had similar feelings about the attack.” Desperado let out a small laugh. “I was the only pony in the entire army. The smiths didn’t know what to do with me, but eventually they managed to get my body dimensions and make a proper set of armor for me. We did what new military members normally do; go to boot camp, learn drills, marching, combat, all sorts of things. I’ve still got the sword that they taught me to use. And then…the time came. We moved out, and Torek and I had already changed substantially. Torek had gotten a lot taller, and had grown more prongs on his antlers. He’d lost all his fat, too. Any doe would have been proud to have him.
Desperado sighed. “The army we were in had the…pleasure, I guess you could call it, of being the first to meet a zebra army. Both sides had had the same plan; invade the other nation. So we met in the middle, in the nopony’s land between the borders. Our armies were roughly equal in number, so on roughly even footing.
“I still remember what it was like. The zebras had taken up position on a lightly inclined hill. We’d formed up several hundred steps away from it, hoping to negate their advantage in height. I don’t know if they had a poor commander or what, but they charged us. As soon as they were at the foot of the hill, we charged too.”
Desperado shuddered. “It was…It was horrible. I’d always looked at wars and battles in storybooks and stuff like that but…that was completely different.”
He was quiet for a moment. Little Strongheart swallowed, then spoke. “Wh…what was it like?”
Desperado pressed his lips together for a moment. “There was blood. Blood everywhere. Shouting, screaming, the ground being churned up and turned into mud from mixing with so much blood. Bodies lying on the ground so close to one another that you had to focus on keeping your balance so that you didn’t trip on one. Swords flashing, magic blasting, smoke rising into the air from where spells had detonated. I still remember the face of the first zebra I killed in that battle. He was young, couldn’t have been older than I was. I remembered the fear in his eyes in the instant before I stabbed him. When I pulled my sword out and ran off to another part of the battle I could hear him shrieking for his mother. I can still hear him, sometimes. Eventually…I lost my footing and fell.”
Desperado clenched his eyes shut. “Torek found me, then. We’d gotten separated during the battle, in all the confusion. He found me, jumped over to stand over me and keep the zebras back as I got up. My hooves slipped in the mud and on the corpses strewn around the battlefield. There was so much smoke by that point that I could hardly see, and it was hard to breathe. I managed to get up…just in time for Torek to take a spear in the throat.”
Little Strongheart gasped. Tears began to slip from Desperado’s eyes, the stallion cursing as they rolled down his cheeks and dropped onto the ground. “Th…there was nothing I c-could do…He was dead the minute he hit the ground… And…And I just left him there!”
“As soon as I saw it happen I just…lost myself. I don’t know how but…but the next thing I knew, I was running. I avoided everything I could, ran straight through everything I couldn’t. I eventually got away, but…” he sobbed suddenly, clenching his teeth and squeezing his eyes shut tighter. “Damn it…damn it…”
Little Strongheart watched him cry for a minute, then gingerly reached up and put a hoof on one of Desperado’s shoulders. Desperado tried to keep talking, regardless.
“I…I ran…I abandoned the…the army…the war…all of it. I j-j-just went home. I didn’t want to f-fight anymore…I just…I wanted out. I wanted out…”
Little Strongheart got up and wrapped both her front legs around his neck, nuzzling him. Desperado hugged her back, sobbing and sniffling as he tried to regain control of himself. He finally took a few deep, shuddering breaths. “E…ever since…ever since then I…I’ve been afraid that…someone else m…might end up like Torek…If I…If I hadn’t gotten…knocked d-down th-th-then he…he wouldn’t have…”
Little Strongheart gave his shoulder a pat. “Well…You can’t live like every time you help someone with something, that pony’s going to get hurt. You just have to move on, and make sure that they don’t. And Torek probably knew what he was getting into. If his dad was a soldier, then he must’ve known how dangerous it was…”
Desperado sniffed and smiled. “Thank you, Little Strongheart. For everything.”
Little Strongheart smiled back. “You’re welcome. Do you think that now you’d like to-“
She was cut off by a train whistle. Both looked down from the cliff, at the train tracks that ran by the foot of them. A train locomotive pulled by several muscular earth ponies was racing by. A few unicorns and other earth ponies stood at various points on the cars, a number of pegasi flying alongside the train as if escorting it. The train was made up almost entirely of flatcars, which were all…loaded…with…
“That’s them!” Desperado yelped, leaping to his hooves. “Those are the ponies that stole Appleloosa’s apple orchard!” He looked at Little Strongheart. “You know how to get to Appleloosa, don’t you?”
“Yeah,” Little Strongheart replied.
“Go there and tell Sheriff Silverstar that Desperado sent you. Tell him to follow the tracks as fast as he can and that I’m going to try and slow them down! Go!”
Little Strongheart nodded and took off. Desperado turned back to the cliff and began galloping down It, dust being thrown up from his hooves as he skidded to a stop at the foot of the slope. By that time the train had moved on. Desperado narrowed his eyes and pawed at the ground with a hoof.
“You’re not getting away that easily.”
Rearing up and silhouetting himself against the moon, Desperado gave an enormous whinny before galloping after the train, running as fast as he could.
“He went off alone?” Braeburn gasped his eyes wide as he stared at Little Strongheart from his bed.
Still sweating and breathing heavily, Little Strongheart nodded, gulping for air before replying. “Y…yes. He told me to…tell Sheriff Silverstar to…get a posse together…and follow the train tracks.”
“Well he didn’t have to go off all by ‘imself!” Braeburn exclaimed, struggling out of his sheets and trying to climb out of bed. Bluebonnet put a hoof on his chest, keeping him sitting on the mattress.
“Braeburn, y’need t’ rest.” Bluebonnet told him firmly. “Y’ can’t just go runnin’ off inta th’ blue t’ help Desperado.”
“But Silverstar don’t even know where t’go!” Braeburn replied. “He’s gone th’ wrong way!” Braeburn looked at Bluebonnet. “Ah gotta go help ‘im!”
“Is there anypony else in town that could help?” Little Strongheart asked.
Both of the ponies thought for a moment before Braeburn perked up. “Th’ Wonderbolts! They’re still here, ain’t they?”
Bluebonnet looked out across the street to Appleloosa’s hotel, nodding as she saw the winged lightning bolt-emblazoned sky wagons parked outside. “Yep!”
Braeburn grinned. “Li’l Strongheart, ya think y’ kin lift me?”
“I’ll try,” the young buffalo replied as she walked over to the side of the bed, squatting so that Braeburn could pull himself onto her back.
“Now, if ye’d be so kind as t’ take me over t’ that hotel, Little Strongheart, Ah c’n get us some help! ‘n you can go get yer buffalo tribe and help out, too! Ya’ll got plenty of ‘sperience runnin’ down trains, right?”
Little Strongheart laughed at that. “I guess we do! Alright then, hold on, Braeburn!”
With that she ran out of the room, Braeburn on her back with Bluebonnet following after.
Desperado left a huge dust cloud in his wake as his hooves hammered the ground, the train tracks shooting along past him as he galloped as hard as he could. Foam flecked his lips and dust had coated his fur, but he didn’t stop or even slow down. He could see the train in the distance, a small dot that was rapidly growing larger. Desperado lowered his head closer to the ground and poured on speed, the dust cloud behind him growing bigger as he approached the train.
Spitfire yawned as she gently slipped out of the bed she was sharing with Soarin’, walking over to the door as somepony knocked on it. The fiery-maned pegasus opened the door, blinking in sleepy surprise at the sight of Braeburn still on Little Strongheart’s back.
“Mrs. Spitfire?” Braeburn asked.
“Yeah…” Spitfire said slowly. “What’s up?”
“Ah need yer help with somethin’. It’s important.”
The earth pony bandit normally wouldn’t have paid the galloping stallion any mind. In fact, he would have watched in a form of awe as Desperado finally caught up to the train, his hooves pounding the ground as he kept pace with the vehicle. Then again, Desperado wasn’t here just to race.
“Stop this train!” he bellowed over the sound of the train moving down the tracks. The bandit scowled, lowering his gaucho hat over his eyes.
“‘n why should we do that, buddy?”
“Because otherwise I’ll come up there and make you all stop it!”
The bandit raised an eyebrow at Desperado from under the brim of his hat. A few of the pegasi bandits, curious as to what was going on, began flying around the scene. The bandit shouted to them. “Check out this hollerin’ hombre! Says he’s gonna jump aboard th’ train if we don’t stop it!”
The pegasi laughed, looking down at Desperado. “How’re you gonna do that, big guy?” one of them yelled to him. “Not like you can just jump on, right?”
Desperado raised an eyebrow at them, then poured on more speed until he was past the train car. Spotting a large rock jutting out of the ground, Desperado made for it. Nimble as a mountain goat he jumped onto the top of the rock, then jumped off of it, through the air, towards the train. The bandits that had yelled to him all watched in shock as the large stallion flew through the air, not even bothering to dodge in their surprise as Desperado slammed a hoof into the face of a pegasus, knocking the pony to the ground, where he bounced and rolled several dozen feet before coming to a stop.
Desperado landed on the flatbed car that the earth pony was standing guard at, stumbling a bit and nearly flying off the other edge before turning towards the earth pony. “I’ll give you one last chance!” he yelled, his poncho flapping in the wind generated by the train’s speed. “Stop this train!”
The bandit barked a laugh as the remaining two pegasi landed on either side of him. “You think Ah’m just gonna let you waltz in here ‘n start makin’ demands? You got another thing comin’, buddy!”
He looked to the pegasi. “Let’s get ‘im, boys!”
With that the two pegasi flew forward, aiming to shoot past Desperado and loop back past him to take him from behind. Desperado rolled his eyes and reared back on his hind legs, extending his front legs to either side. The pegasi were going too fast to change direction in time, and were neatly clotheslined, maintaining their momentum and sliding down the car a short ways on their backs before coming to a stop, out cold.
“Next!” Desperado yelled before charging at the earth pony. The rustler dodged Desperado’s left hook, throwing a right hook of his own that the larger stallion was able to duck before slamming his head into the outlaw’s nose. The earth pony yelped and backpedaled as he blinked to clear his vision of tears, distracting him enough that Desperado’s uppercut to his chin caught him completely unawares. The earth pony crashed to the car floor on his back, out cold like his fellows. Desperado allowed himself a pleased smirk before he quickly dumped the three outlaws off of the train. With luck, by the time they woke up they’d be too far away to easily catch up to.
Three down…who-knows-how-many to go… he thought as he turned around to face the rest of the train. He galloped down the cart and jumped the gap, doing that repeatedly until he was on a cart loaded with apple trees, bordered with makeshift wooden fencing to keep the trees from falling off the car. As he threaded his way through the trees, he came face-to-face with another earth pony. The grey, silver-maned pony’s eyes were widening as Desperado delivered a mighty head-butt, sending the pony to the floor, unconscious before Desperado dumped him over the side.
More cars jumped. More outlaws dispatched and dumped over the side. Desperado took the opportunity to look at how much longer the train was, only to nearly get hit in the face by a whirling bolas that shot past him close enough that he could feel the air that was displaced by its passage.
“Great…” he muttered to himself. “Just great. Throw all of ‘em over the side without getting a gun for yourself. Real smart.”
He charged the earth pony that had fired the shot, dodging around a second shot. The earth pony backpedaled, clumsily trying to reload his weapon while standing on his hind legs. Desperado rammed into him head first, slamming the earth pony’s back against the car. The bandit’s eyes bulged before Desperado threw him off the train, catching the falling bolas shooter before moving on up the train. He jumped up on top of a box car, peering along its length to see how many more cars there were until he reached the engine. There was the boxcar he was standing on, plus a bare flatcar before he could get there. On the bright side there was only one outlaw left, and he was facing the engine and seemingly unaware of Desperado’s presence.
Sneaking as quietly as possible, the earth pony stallion moved to the edge of the train car, gently biting down on the bit that protruded from the side that acted as a firing mechanism. Sighting the gun on the outlaw, he bit hard. The bola inside the gun shot out, spinning through the air like a dervish…before being wrapped in an aura of red magic. The unicorn turned around to look at Desperado, smirking at the earth pony before throwing the bola back towards him. Desperado jerked his head to the side in time to keep the bola from breaking his neck, though one of the weighted ends caught the gun, jerking it from his mouth. As it flew off of the side of the train Desperado leapt down, standing at the opposite end of the car from the unicorn.
“So…” he said over the noise of the train. “Mind telling me what this is all about?”
The unicorn smiled. “Let’s just say that somepony in Stalliongrad wants these trees very badly. It’s nothing personal buddy, just good business.”
“Well you’ve made it personal by attacking one of my friends!” Desperado replied angrily, stepping towards the unicorn. “Who are you? Why are you even doing this?”
“Not important,” the unicorn replied with a dismissive hoof gesture. “I think you’d better get off this train now, my friend.”
“I don’t think so,” Desperado replied, crouching down to get ready to charge the unicorn. His opponent merely smirked before lighting his horn. A trio of magical arrows shot from the red aura, Desperado barely managing to dodge around them before he charged. One of them slashed along his side, ripping his already tattered poncho open but only lightly grazing his fur. Desperado charged along the length of the car and leapt into the air, ready to put his strength to use in knocking the unicorn unconscious.
Of course, being stopped midair by his telekinesis wasn’t part of the plan. Desperado was thrown the length of the car, yelping as he was slammed into the front of the boxcar behind him. Moaning softly, the earth pony slid down into a sitting position, but managed to get back on his hooves quickly. The unicorn strutted closer, his horn glowing again to fire three more arrows at Desperado. The earth pony stallion jerked his head out of the way of the projectiles, two slamming into the car on either side of his head, the third grazing his side before hitting the car. Desperado reared up to try and charge again, only to have his cheeks suddenly inflate hugely, his eyes bulging as he felt something hard and fast slam into his belly. Struggling not to throw up, the stallion looked down to see the haft of a woodcutting axe protruding from his gut. Desperado fell back into a sitting position, his hooves going to his injured belly as the stallion retracted the axe, stowing it back on his belt, where it had been hanging.
“You don’t seem used to fighting,” he said. “Then again that may be because I’m a unicorn.” He began walking forward slowly. “I’d love to continue this little game, but unfortunately you’ve already seen us. Our employer told us specifically to not let our identities be known, so unfortunately you’ll have to be eliminated.”
With that he took the axe from his belt and began walking toward Desperado, spinning it artfully as he moved towards the still-immobilized stallion. Finally managing to get his breath back, Desperado was about to get up and charge when a quartet of magical loops shot from the unicorn’s horn, pinning his hooves in place as he raised the axe…
Which suddenly dropped as the train suddenly shook violently before swerving off the tracks. The air was suddenly filled with the bellows of buffalo, and the unicorn looked up just in time to see a particularly massive specimen wearing an ornate feather headdress to jump onto the train. Other buffalo surrounded them, their sharp horns pointing directly at the unicorn. The outlaw sighed and sat down, releasing Desperado as he raised his hooves.
“Desperado!” a familiar voice called as Braeburn scrambled onto the train, running across the car to come to the tan earth pony’s side.
Desperado grinned at him, coughing a few times before speaking. “Braeburn? What are you doing here?”
“Little Strongheart came back and told us what you’d done. Figured we couldn’t catch up to the train on our own, so we decided to get a little help,” Braeburn replied, gesturing with one hoof to the buffalo around them.
Desperado chuckled. “Yeah…I can see that. Thanks. You got here just in time.”
Braeburn chuckled too, moving over to help the larger stallion stand. Desperado looked around at the train, then back around the box car to look at the apple trees standing there. “Now all we gotta do is get all these trees back to town…”
“Allow us,” the buffalo with the ornate headdress said before gesturing to a few of the other buffalo, who hooked their horns under the train engine, sliding it across the ground to put it back on the rails.
“Thankee kindly, Chief Thunderhooves!” Braeburn called as the buffalo began pushing, the train’s wheels now working in reverse as it was pushed backwards along the tracks, back towards Appleloosa.
With the help of the buffalo, the train and trees were back at Appleloosa in a matter of hours. As the sun began to set over the town, Desperado and Braeburn stood on the platform at the train station, the rest of the town gathered around the building as they watched Sheriff Silverstar take two medals from a small box and walk over to the two earth ponies.
“Mister Desperado and Braeburn, we’d all like t’ extend a big thanks t’ the both of ye fer getting’ our apple trees back.” He pinned the two medals on both stallions, and the rest of the populace cheered. “Means a lot t’ all of us.”
“You’re welcome, Sheriff,” Desperado said as he looked at the medal that had been pinned to his poncho. He then looked off to his left, at Braeburn. “But I think Braeburn is more the hero here than I am. Without him, I would’ve been killed.”
Silverstar grinned. “That don’t lessen what you did in any way, Mister Desperado. Hadn’t been fer you, we wouldn’t have known where the train was even goin’! So don’t sell yerself short; you’re as much the hero here as Braeburn.”
Desperado grinned sheepishly as Silverstar turned around to address the rest of the townsponies. “Now Ah don’t know ‘bout the rest o’ y’all, but Ah think this calls fer a celebration!”
The air was filled with new cheers as the rest of Appleloosa gave their assent to the plan.
Two days later, Desperado was back on the train platform, his poncho and hat on and his saddlebag looped around his neck. Braeburn and Bluebonnet stood next to him as they all waited for the train to come. Braeburn looked at Desperado. “Yer gonna come back ‘n visit sometime, ain’t ya?”
Desperado grinned. “Of course. Don’t worry. I’ll come back and visit sometime. You can count on it.”
Braeburn grinned back as the train whistle sounded. Desperado looked over to the left as the train became visible, getting closer by the second. “Here it comes.” Without further ado he walked over to Braeburn and threw his leg around the yellow earth pony’s neck. “Thanks for having me, Braeburn. And thanks for saving my hide, too.”
Braeburn chuckled, shoving a hoof into Desperado’s cheek to push him away. “Get off, y’ big softy! Jus’ doin’ what anypony would do!”
Desperado chuckled and knocked off Braeburn’s hat to noogy him between the ears. “Say that if you want. But still. Thanks.”
“No problem, Desperado,” Braeburn replied, giving the stallion a friendly punch on the shoulder. As the train pulled up in a burst of steam, Desperado turned to Braeburn. “Take care of Bluebonnet, okay?”
“Y’can count on it,” Braeburn replied, winking and earning himself a light punch on the shoulder from Bluebonnet. “Where y’gonna go now, Desperado?”
“Ponyville, I guess,” Desperado said. “Closest notable town.”
“When y’get there, look fer m’cousin Applejack,” Braeburn said. “Ah bet she’ll let ya stay at th’ farm.”
“I’ll look for her, then,” Desperado replied, smiling.
“All aboard!” the conductor called. The few other ponies on the platform began boarding the train, Desperado watching them.
“I guess that’s my cue,” he said, turning back to Braeburn and Bluebonnet. “I’ll write sometime. I promise.”
Both trotted up to him and wrapped their hooves around his neck, Desperado sitting down to return the gesture. As they released the embrace, Desperado smiled at them both. “Goodbye, both of you. It’s been fun.”
“See you soon, Desperado.” Braeburn replied, grinning at him. Desperado grinned back and ruffled Braeburn’s mane again before standing and boarding the train.
Braeburn and Bluebonnet waved as the train began to pull away, Desperado waving back out of the window.
Dear Cousin Applejack,
It’s been an eventful few days here in Appleloosa. Orchard got stolen, but Desperado and I got it back. He’s headin’ for Ponyville now, so be on th’ lookout fer ‘im. Can you give ‘im a place to stay when he gets there? He’d be much obliged, I reckon.
I think he learned a pretty important lesson while he was here, too. Ya’ll told me in one o’ yer letters about how yer friend Twilight was writin’ those letters t’ Princess Celestia, right? I think he could have sent ‘er a pretty good letter.
Hope t’ see you again soon.
A/N: Hey, everyone! REALLY sorry on how long this took to get out, a combination of writer’s block and other pursuits were to blame. Thanks for sticking with the story this far, I’m sorry if this chapter felt rushed. I just wanted it done. If you’d like to read anything else I’ve written, my username on FIMFiction is QuarterNote. I’ve only got one story up at the moment (It would be here, but due to the overwhelming amount of war fics that get submitted I can’t submit it here), so if you’re interested, go look at The Griffin War on FIMFiction!