Part 31 - Collision Course
Applejack was circling Soarin as soon as they both came up for air from their greeting, staring in horror at the healing slashes across his flanks and the deftly repaired tears and muted blood stains on his flight jacket. "Land sakes! What did those varmints do to ya?"
Her voice cracked slightly as she brought a hoof to her mouth and stared at the red stripes across his cutie mark. "Just... just look at ya!" She let out a sob as tears began pool at the corners of her apple green eyes.
Soarin turned to face her and took her into a tender hug with both forelegs and wings. "Shh... It's okay, sweetheart. I'm fine. Really." He gave her a wry smile. "I'm not much to look at even on a good day anyway."
He pushed her back to foreleg's length, his admiring gaze playing across her gingham and lace finery and her plaited golden locks trailing beneath the hat she'd worn on their first magical date. "But look at you! What did I do to deserve this?"
A blush bloomed on her cheeks beneath her freckles, as she wiped a foreleg across her nose and sniffled through a fragile smile. "Ya made it here alive, ya boneheaded galoot." With that, she craned her neck forward and brushed another kiss across his lips.
He answered her back with a peck on the nose. "Well, I guess I'll have to keep doin' that then."
She nodded with a relieved chuckle in her throat. "Like I said back in Ponyville, ya better."
Both earth pony and pegasus were distracted by a pointed clearing of the throat from Rarity. "Applejack, darling, what are you doing here?"
Applejack disengaged from her beau and turned to face the disheveled alabaster mare, Twilight, Dash, and Spitfire, who stood with her jaw hanging in disbelief. She gave them a grin as she ambled over with Soarin in tow. "News o' them lowdown varmints bushwackin' Pip n' Soarin was in all o' th' evenin' papers last night."
Her expression became grave. "Soon as I heard I was just 'bout fit t' be tied, I was so outta my head with worry. If'n it weren't fer Pinkie n' one o' her twitchy feelin's, I woulda been down in Baltimare by now lookin' t' hire a boat t' take me out on Horseshoe Bay."
A fond smile stole onto her face. "Ol' Pink stopped me at th' front gate o' Sweet Apple Acres as I was headin' fer th' station with my saddlebags packed, told me everythin' was gonna turn out okay and that I'd see y'all in Appleloosa, and even marched me back inside n' made me get all gussied up fer th' trip."
Applejack pawed the ground self consciously as she cast a blushing gaze down at the frilly, red and white checked outfit she wore. "Fer th' life o' me I can't figure how she managed t' talk me into this fancy getup in th' middle of a crisis, but y'all know what they say 'round Ponyville when Pinkie's a' twitchin'."
She looked back at them, her smile widening. "And I reckon it came out like she said it would."
Twilight shook her head with a chuckle and a wry grin on her face. "Truly the Pinkie Sense works in mysterious ways."
An arch expression settled on Rarity's haggard features. "Indeed. Only one of her twitchy premonitions could have predicted you'd show up in Appleloosa looking better than me."
The blonde farm mare let out a chuckle as she stepped forward and gave each of her fellow Elements of Harmony a hug, then extended a hoof to Spitfire, who took it after shaking off her daze. "Howdy, Cap'n Spitfire. I'm Applejack Apple. I've heard a lot about ya from Soarin n' Dash."
The blaze maned pegasus blinked at her, a wary smile creeping onto her face. "So you're Soarin's new marefriend, huh?"
The apple farmer nodded matter of factly as she cast a sidelong grin at her sky blue stallion. "I reckon I am."
They both turned, bemused looks on their faces, at an exultant squeal coming from Rainbow Dash as she rose into the air with her fore hooves covering a broad grin across her cyan features. Even Rarity seemed to come a bit out of her put upon, under slept, un-groomed funk with a smug grin on her face at the sight of one of her matchmaking projects bearing such sweet fruit.
Spitfire took advantage of the distraction to lean in and whisper in Applejack's ear. "Be good to him."
The blonde mare whispered back with an earnest look on her face. "I aim to."
They met eyes as they both pulled back, the lean yellow pegasus giving a nod of satisfaction. "Yeah, I think you and me should get along just fine."
Applejack grinned at her, then cast a look at all of her other friends as she beckoned them toward the awakening town of Appleloosa. "Well, speakin' o' gettin' along, what say we all get along t' breakfast. We can catch up better over a good cup o' joe n' a big ol' stack o' wheatcakes n' applesauce at my auntie Pan Dowdy's place."
By noontime the scene at the Salt Lick was lively as racers, support crew, and excited Appleloosan race fans gathered around the tables of the burgeoning city's finest watering hole, eating, drinking, boasting, and making merry. Today was a day of rest and recuperation, marking the halfway point of the race before setting out on the difficult leg over the San Palomino desert en route to Los Pegasus.
Gaily feathered saloon fillies were kicking up their sequin spangled horseshoes on stage as a scrawny earth pony in starched collar, vest, and bowler hat pounded on the keys of a slightly out of tune piano to the accompaniment of a pegasus with a very out of tune banjo. The establishment's immaculately dressed owner Morton stood behind the ornate bar, watching the proceedings with a wry gaze as he set up round after round of drinks and watched his till fill up with bits.
The boisterous music was overwhelmed by the din from the table occupied by Shootin' Star, who held court over a rapt hometown crowd with tales of his exploits as a Wonderbolt to the accompaniment of much hooting, hollering, and tossed hats. The booth containing Air Hammer and Ice Tongs, the brash, blue collar duo from Cloudsdale, was even louder, as the two muscular pegasi filled their tabletop with emptied mugs of hard cider and cleaned off plates of nachos and jalapeno poppers and filled the air with their raucous laughter.
In sharp contrast, the bat winged negasi from Hollow Shades crouched in a darkened corner of the tavern, still looking a bit peaked from the prior day's brush with heat stroke as they sipped chilled tomato juice and watched the proceedings with an owlish gaze. Baron Redtail sat with regal hauteur at another out of the way table, attended by his loyal servants Gunther and Greta. Silver fork and knife in claw, he quietly dined on a grilled filet of a tuna that the burly male griffin had caught on his return trip over Horseshoe Bay after turning the LaFish brothers over to the authorities in Baltimare.
In the middle was the table reserved for the guests of Appleloosa's mayor. Braeburn's mood had improved immensely from the prior afternoon, as he chatted with his cronies on the town's Chamber of Commerce and enjoyed the vibrant mood of the townsponies and visitors all around him. Golden Bay and his partner Granola sat at his side with fixed smiles on their tawny faces, wracking their brains for an excuse to slip away that wouldn't earn them a piercing glare from their host and cause his hoof to stray toward a pie sitting ominously at his side, uneaten.
A sudden silence descended over the room like a needle suddenly dragged off of a phonograph record as the doors swung open to reveal a pair of scrawny unicorns caked from horn tip to hoof in rust brown dirt. Their goggles were enveloped in greenish magic as they were raised, revealing sharp outlines of yellow around two sets of bloodshot eyes that flicked warily across the flatly staring faces of a room full of ponies.
Their hoof steps clacked across the hardwood floor over a low sound of muttering coming from the racers' tables as they made their way to the bar, necks straight and tails hiked. Morton eyed them as he polished the inside of a mug with a bar rag. "Can I help you colts?"
One of the pair spoke, coughing a cloud of dust past his ragged mustache in a parched voice as he levitated a small satchel of bits marked with a skull and crossbones from a pocket on his flight suit. "I am Professor Destiny, and this is my brother Doctor Insanity. T-two birch beers, if you please, my good stallion."
The Salt Lick's owner gave them a wan look, continuing to diffidently polish mug. "Ain't got no birch beer. Y'want cider, maybe?"
Both unicorns flinched at the word, and the clean shaven one plucked a pair of dark spectacles from a pocket and set them on the bridge of his snout. "Er... no thank you. Two ice waters, then."
Morton pursed his lips, gave a disapproving shake of his head, then turned to pull down a couple glasses from the shelf.
Destiny and Insanity's ears rotated back at the sound of two pairs of heavy fore hooves cracking down on a tabletop behind them, followed by the sound of of wing beats that came to a stop overhead. They glanced over their shoulders to see the team from Cloudsdale looming over them, fore hooves crossed belligerently and fierce scowls on their faces.
A harsh growl came from Air Hammer's throat. "Youze guys got a lotta nerve showin' up here after you took out all them pegasi with your dirty tricks."
Ice Tongs cracked his hooves menacingly. "Speakin' o' tricks, did I ever show ya that one where I use a unicorn like a javelin, Hammer?"
His partner shook his head, flexing the rippling muscles in his thick neck. "No, Tongs, but maybe if youze demonstrate wit' one of them I can copy yer technique wit' da udder one."
The burly, ice blue pegasus' brow furrowed over a predatory grin as the two unicorns quailed under his gaze. "Sure 'ting, Hammer. We'll need somepony t' paint a target on a nice sturdy wall. Whoever's farthest from th' bullseye buys th' next round, okay?"
The sound of hooves on hardwood and chairs scraping backwards from tables filled the room as more hostile voices were raised.
"I want in on that!"
"Me too. I'll buy two rounds if I can take two turns."
"I'll want a couple practice throws before we start."
"You know what, I bet they'd fly straighter if we added some feathers."
"Yeah, we could stick 'em on with some tar."
Professor Destiny gave a weak grin as he and his brother backed against the bar, facing the growing crowd of irate pegasi standing and hovering over and around them. "N-now now, f-fillies and gentlecolts. We're certain we have no idea at all what you're talking about."
Doctor Insanity tugged at his collar with a hoof. "Er... yes. We were miles away from any unfortunate incidents that might have occurred on the race route behind us."
His mustachioed sibling drew himself up, trying to sound imperious and failing as his voice cracked tremulously. "At any rate, Celestia herself is our patron. You... you wouldn't dare lay a hoof on us!"
Air Hammer shared a glance with his partner, then loomed closer as both pegasi shrugged indifferently. "We'll make sure t' apologize in person t' her highness once we cross da line in Canterlot."
Ice Tongs' expression darkened. "She's got a lotta time t' forgive us. Either way, we'll be outta da hoosegow before youze bums is outta da hospital."
They both stopped short as a third voice sounded from below them. They looked down to see Braeburn glaring up at them, his goatee jutting fiercely from beneath his handlebar mustache. "Now hold on up there, colts. We don't want no trouble here. Appleloosa is a peaceable town and I aim t' keep it that way."
Everypony in the crowd winced at the sharp crack of the front doors slamming open, and turned to see Applejack stomping determinedly across the hardwood floor, her white stetson canted at a belligerent angle over her simmering green eyes, her aggressive body language belied by the red and white checked gingham and lace adorning her muscular frame.
A thoroughly confused look washed across Braeburn's face as he watched her make her way through the crowded saloon. "Uh... C-cousin Applejack, what all are ya doin' here?"
She cut him off with a growl and a flick of her lashing tail. "Not now, Braeburn."
All eyes followed the blonde mare as she approached Baron Redtail's table, rearing up to slam her fore hooves down on the tabletop and sending the half eaten plate of tuna and wine glass flying into the startled griffon's face. "I got business with this here no account varmint."
Greta gave a shriek of indignation and launched at her, talons at the ready, only to take Bucky McGillicutty in the beak as Applejack pivoted on her forehooves and snapped off a lightning fast kick that crumpled the griffoness around her hoof and sent her reeling backwards to land in a heap of groaning feathers on the floor at her master's feet. The farm pony twisted her powerful torso back and landed in the same position she started, her expression unchanged as her tail lashed behind her under the lacy hem of her dress.
Redtail held up a claw to stop Gunther as he used the other to brush off the front of his tunic, casting a rueful glance down at his stunned maidservant that slowly pivoted up to meet Applejack's furious gaze. He cleared his throat and addressed her in a tone of wounded dignity. "I beg your pardon, madam. I do not believe ve have been properly introduced."
The blonde mare opened her mouth to reply, but was interrupted as Soarin came galloping through the door with a bang, shouting her name. "Applejack! Honey, wait!" He stopped short as he saw her standing at the Baron's table, and brought a hoof to his face. "Oh sleet, hail, and freezing rain."
The griffon noble's eyes flared, then narrowed as he turned to face Applejack again. "Ah, it becomes clear. You are this stallion's mate, ja?"
The freckled earth pony snorted steam from her nostrils and hoisted herself up on the table, jutting her jaw out pugnaciously as she faced Redtail down with her hooves braced on the tablecloth. "Durn tootin' I am, Celestia n' Luna willin', and I'm here t' tell y'all that if'n you harm one hair on his mane I will end you."
The Baron sniffed disdainfully. "This is a matter of honor, my dear mare. Your mate agreed to my challenge, and is bound by his vord."
He leveled a cold gaze on Soarin as the sky blue pegasus as he trotted up. "Although you bring much dishonor on yourself and your vaunted Vunderbolts by trying to vurm your vay out of our duel by hiding behind this filly's skirts."
Soarin huffed and rolled his eyes. "Believe me, pal, when I told her about it I didn't expect she'd do this."
Applejack leaned further into Redtail's face, forcing him a bit down in his chair. "You'll get yer consarned duel, ya bullyin', highfalutin' varmint. A promise is a promise and any stallion o' mine ain't ever gonna back down on his word if'n I got anythin' t' say about it."
The griffin gave a nervous glance to Soarin, who shrugged with the ghost of a lopsided grin at the corner of his mouth as he turned his fond gaze back to admire his beloved mare. By Celestia, she was so beautiful when she was angry, he thought to himself, like a thunderhead lit from within by lightning.
Applejack hiked her tail and leaned in farther, jabbing her hoof hard into the Baron's leonine chest and regaining his wide eyed attention. "But I'm makin' ya a promise o' my own, which is if'n ya hurt him, even a little, I will hunt ya down t' th' ends o' th' earth n' make sure there ain't enough left o' yer mangy carcass t' string up my ol' fiddle. Comprende?"
Redtail gave a hasty nod, completely flabbergasted at the implacable menace radiating from this little pony mare's eyes, and opened his beak to reply when suddenly Gunther exploded with a roar of rage at his master's side, unable to hold back any longer. "HOW DARE YOU THREATEN HIS EXCELLENCY!?"
The blonde earth pony mare bunched her hind legs and wheeled as the burly griffon leapt for her, his talons shredding gingham as a powerful double hoofed buck burst forth from the red and white checks and slammed into his chest. His savage roar choked off to a feeble wheeze as all the air was forced from his lungs. He tumbled head over paws in a long arcing trajectory, then collided midair with Air Hammer, Ice Tongs, and the shoal of angry pegasi looming over Professor Destiny, Doctor Insanity, and Mayor Braeburn.
A moment later, the Salt Lick erupted in the biggest knock down, drag out, furniture busting, wall shaking brawl it had experienced since the brief range war between the pony settlers and the local buffalo tribe that friction over the apple orchards and an ill considered song and dance number had set off a decade ago.
Twilight, Rarity, Apple Bloom, and Pip screeched to a halt on the saloon's porch, panting from running through town after Applejack and Soarin. The red headed handymare apologized between ragged breaths. "I'm... hahhh... s-sorry, y'all. I just don't... hahhh... know th' lay o' this ol'... hahh... this ol' town as well as AJ does."
Pip reached up a hoof and patted her on the back. "No fear, luv. We found it eventual... oh dear, get down." With that he pushed her down to the deck as a heavyset earth pony came hurtling through the doorway in a crash of splintered wood that was harmlessly deflected by a shimmering purple barrier cast by Twilight.
Apple Bloom gave her young stallion a fond peck on the cheek as he helped her back to her hooves. "My hero."
The burly Appleloosan sprawled in the street behind them shook off his daze, hurriedly retrieved his crumpled hat, and wheeled to gallop back inside with a whoop of excitement as they watched him rush past with their eyes wide in shock.
Rarity let out a gasp as she brought a hoof to her mouth. "Heavens to Luna, how unutterably crass!"
Rainbow Dash and Spitfire came to a hovering stop over their heads, joining the Harmony Aeronautics team in staring in disbelief at the cloud of roiling dust and kicking hooves dimly visible inside, the sounds of breaking wood, shattering glass, and an off key piano and banjo combo accompanying the thunderous donnybrook.
The pegasus mares gave one another a startled glance as Shootin' Star's voice could be heard over the din. "Everypony gimme some fightin' room!"
With a terse nod between them, they dove into the haze of battle in attack formation.
Apple Bloom lashed her tail nervously as she peered into the brawl. "So... um... what should we do?"
Twilight's horn flared as she deflected a large chunk of table with her magic. She glanced down the street, spotting a grim faced Sheriff Silver Star at the head of a phalanx of deputies making their way toward the Salt Lick.
She shared a brief glance with Rarity, then turned to their employees. "Princess Celestia once gave me some excellent advice in just this sort of situation."
Pip drew himself up with a curiously cocked ear. "Oh yes? And what was it?"
The lavender mare wheeled, jerking her horn toward the purple dome of the Friend Ship waiting on the outskirts of town. "Run!"
With that, they took to their hooves, galloping away in a cloud of dust as the forces of law and order converged on the shuddering, groaning saloon.
Soarin and Applejack stood tail to tail on the table, fending off bits of flying furniture and the occasional tumbling body as the tumult surrounded them on all sides.
He called back to her over his shoulder. "There's something I gotta ask you about what you just said to Baron Redtail, sweetheart."
She reared up, batting away a hurtling root beer bottle with a fore hoof. "Kinda busy here, sugarcube."
He swept a wing to deflect a half splintered chair. "Sure, sure. But were you serious about bein' my... uh... bein' my mate?"
She bucked aside a table top, splitting it down the center with a deft strike of her rear hooves. "I don't fib, darlin', specially 'bout that sorta thing."
He leapt skyward with a beat of his wings, allowing a brawler to slide across the table beneath him and then landing smartly on his four hooves. "So... does that count as a marriage proposal?"
She planted a hoof in the face of a another combatant, causing him to drop the broken table leg he held in his teeth and slump to the floor in a daze. She cast a searching look over her shoulder, her heaving sides and flanks draped with tatters of lace and gingham, her white stetson long lost in the hurricane of combat as her mane hung in tangled strands of gold, framing a hopeful, blushing face. "What all would ya say if'n it was?"
He wheeled to meet her gaze, a light positively shining in the depths of his green eyes. "I'd say yes. Yes, Applejack. Yes."
She drew in a breath as she turned, taking him up in an embrace as their lips met in a kiss. Time slowed down, and the jangling tempo of the piano and banjo somehow shifted into a stately waltz as flying shards of broken glass glittered like stars in the clouds of dust suddenly gone pink and hazy around them. His wings flared, and curved in around her as they both felt two hearts beating in tandem through one another's chest.
The spell was broken by the sound of a harsh voice calling out above. "Everypony gimme some fightin' room!"
Applejack's eyes went wide as she shoved Soarin aside. "LOOK OUT!"
The sky blue pegasus watched in horror as a winged blur in a blue and yellow uniform dove past, clipping his beloved mare across the forehead with outstretched front hooves. Jangling brass bells and triangles materialized in a halo around her ears as her eyes rolled back in her head, and she toppled to the tabletop with her legs loosely flailing, her body bouncing hard off of the surface and rolling onto the wooden floor below, where she lay groaning and coughing, curling into a fetal position as the little instruments were joined by fluttering winged apple trees dancing crazily to their accompaniment.
Soarin touched down beside her and took her in his hooves, crying with alarm into her slack face as her eyes spiraled in opposite directions. "Applejack! Baby, speak to me!" He frantically batted the tiny bells and triangles away with a sweep of his wing.
The stunned mare muttered under her breath as she focused on opposite corners of the room. "That's a fine bucket o' cranberries, prime minister. Have a baked accordion with yer sandwich, compliments o' the fire department."
The sky blue pegasus flinched as an all too famliar voice sounded overhead. "Dagnabbit! Just when I was hopin' t' finally get a li'l payback fer the Hippodrome, another dang foal mare's gotta jump up n' cover fer yer fat rump, lardo!"
Soarin's wings drooped as he let out a long, shuddering sigh, easing Applejack's head gently to the floor. He planted a tender kiss on her forehead. "Rest here for a minute, sweetheart. I'll be right back."
She burbled in her daze. "Bananas ain't right. You tell 'em I ain't havin' 'em on the steerin' committee."
Soarin turned and looked up at Shootin' Star, his green eyes smoldering with resolve. "Okay, colt. That's more than enough outta you."
The younger pegasus rolled his eyes and beckoned him. "Oh, ya gonna take me on, chubby? I ain't gonna stay still long enough for ya t' sit on me, so what do ya think yer gonna do? Lets hear it, fatso. I could use a good laugh."
His face fell as Soarin shot upward faster than he could react. His head snapped back in a blossoming of tiny fireworks as a pair of solid hooves slammed up under his jaw. Shootin' Star's legs and wings drooped bonelessly as he fell like a ragdoll, but he only dropped a short distance before his former team mate and rival executed a tight backflip, bringing his rear hooves up into the rookie Wonderbolt's body and launching him upward.
Once, twice, three times Soarin looped and kicked Shootin' Star higher and higher, knocking loose change out of the younger stallion's pockets in a jingling, glittering shower of bits with each impact, before sending him crashing into a brass chandelier above where he hung suspended from the ornate metalwork by his flight suit. His eyes began to spiral in opposite directions as tiny, fat pegasi in Wonderbolts uniforms orbited his head ringing little bells with sledgehammers.
Soarin placed a hoof under the stunned pegasus' chin, raising his spiraling eyes to meet his level gaze. "There's a big difference between talkin' and doin', colt. Maybe when you figure that out you'll really be worthy of that uniform you're wearing."
With that, he gave Shootin' Star a shove, sending him spinning lazily on the creaking, wobbling light fixture as he dropped back down to Applejack's side.
Rainbow Dash and Spitfire burst out of the cloud of dust floating up from the tumult below, their eyes wide and staring and their jaws dropped in shock as they took in the sight of Soarin drifting down from the chandelier, brushing off his hooves with a deadpan expression on his face. He gave them a nod as he passed. "Ladies."
He landed by his newly betrothed love and took her in his hooves, lifting her up off the floor with a beat of his wings. She groaned, and stirred in his embrace, looking up at him with slightly unfocused eyes. "Was... was I dreamin', or did ya just say you'd marry me then go n' whup somepony's kiester?"
Soarin smiled at her and nuzzled her cheek. "Yes on the first one, maaybe on the second one. Now you just rest easy, sweetheart, and lets get you some fresh air."
Applejack snuggled against him, wrapping her forelegs around his neck with a sigh. "Okay."
As the sky blue pegasus and his blonde earth pony bride to be floated up to one of the galleries overlooking the fracas on the saloon floor, both Dash and Spitfire still hung suspended, staring at their teammate's inert form dangling from the chandelier.
The blaze yellow Wonderbolts captain brought her hooves to her forehead with a wail of dismay. "Oh for sleet's sake! Soarin just served Shootin' Mouth his rump on a rack and I loopty loopin' missed it?"
The rainbow maned pegasus patted her comrade on the back with a gentle hoof. "It's okay, Cap. I have a feeling this won't be the last time this happens to him. Now come on, let's get him down. He's still our teammate."
Spitfire muttered grudging agreement under her breath as they flew up to untangle Shootin' Star from his predicament.
A bruised and battered Professor Destiny and Doctor Insanity crawled on their bellies out the front doorway of the Salt Lick, loose chairs and chipped mugs bouncing out onto the porch over their supine forms from the roiling cloud of hoofticuffs that hung in the air inside.
Insanity took a furtive glance over his shoulder as he pushed his spectacles up his snout with a shaking hoof. "I think it's high time we put the town of Appleloosa behind us, brother."
The bespectacled unicorn smiled wistfully to his sibling. "Kind of like the old days, isn't it?"
Destiny nodded, wincing as a bottle clipped the tip of his horn and set it momentarily vibrating. "I couldn't agree more, brother. I believe we've more than worn out our welcome in this wretched little whistle stop."
Both brothers' heads whipped around at the sound of a pony clearing his throat. They looked up to see Sheriff Silver Star and his deputies standing over them. The veteran lawpony wore a deadpan look on his face and twirled a set of hoofcuffs around the tip of his forehoof. "I dunno, gents. I reckon I could come up with a reason for y'all t' stick around."
Destiny and Insanity both gave him a sickly smile as they tried to edge backwards into the saloon. The Sheriff tsked and spat on the ground, motioning one of his deputies to take them into custody with a jerk of his grizzled head.
A look of puzzlement washed over Silver Star's face, as he felt a low rumbling sound through his hooves that wasn't coming from the pitched battle inside the Salt Lick. It grew in volume and intensity, until all of his deputies began to exchange nervous glances.
One of the badge wearing ponies turned to peer down the street, his eyes growing wide as a veritable carpet of dark, shaggy humped shapes appeared on the horizon beneath a cloud of trail dust. High above them, a similar shape flew on large wings, its fur gleaming white in the blazing desert sun with a smaller, darker winged shape flying close behind.
The Sheriff and his deputies stared in shock, their jaws dropping as alarm washed across their features. They were galvanized into action as in the distance somepony shouted. "STAMPEDE!"
Silver Star reared, kicking his forelegs as he howled out to his scattering assistants. "TAKE COVER!"
In moments, it was like an earthquake was shaking Appleloosa, as a vast herd of buffalo thundered across the city limits like a crashing wave, knocking over signposts and mailboxes as they swept through. The look on their faces was ecstatic, as they called out chants. "Tatanka! Tatanka! The White Buffalo has come to us as the prophecy said!"
The gleaming white shape dropped into a steep dive, flaring its huge wings as it came to a hovering stop over the milling herd's shaggy, horned heads. It was indeed a buffalo, with a snowy white coat bearing the faintest tinge of pink, wearing a souvenir ball cap and a set of cheap panniers that looked to have been hastily purchased from a hospital gift shop in Fillydelphia.
He raised his cloven fore hooves in a calming gesture. "My people, I am not the one from the prophecy! I am merely Flies Like Thunder the shaman! My hide has been bleached by chemicals! Listen to me, o hoofed bretheren, I am not he who is foretold around the drum circles!"
He let out a sigh and raised a hoof to his broad forehead as excited cries came from the herd below.
"Be quiet! Tatanka said to listen! He is going to share his wisdom!"
"He brings the dawn of a new age for all who walk on hooves!"
"What presents did you bring us, o White Buffalo?"
Flies Like Thunder gave a wan look to Long Range as the cobalt blue pegasus fluttered down beside him. "I don't think I'm getting through to them, kemosabe."
The denim clad stallion shrugged and scratched the back of his head under his light grey stetson, peering down at the throng through his black goggles. "I reckon ya shoudn'ta come t' town."
The bleached buffalo nodded gravely, noting the Sheriff clinging to a lamp post amidst the sea of shaggy brown backs that filled every inch of open space between the buildings of Appleloosa. He drifted over to float beside the wide eyed lawpony. "I'm terribly sorry about this, Lawgiver Of The Ponies. It's going to take a while to sort this all out, I'm afraid."
Crouched beneath the porch of the Salt Lick with their fore hooves cuffed together, Professor Destiny and Doctor Insanity peered out at a forest of sturdy buffalo legs shuffling in the dust as the crashes and thuds from the epic brawl still rang through the floorboards above them.
Insanity straightened his slightly cracked spectacles. "I still think we should get while the getting's good, brother."
Destiny sighed and nodded ruefully. "I'm quite in agreement, brother, but I think it would further behoove us to lay low for a while, and slip out under cover of darkness."
His sibling nodded his agreement, as the pair shrank further back into the shadows.
A harsh wind blew across the blasted plains of the badlands, howling like the inmates of Tartarus around the jagged outcroppings of rust red rock that jutted from the blighted landscape. The sun was a hazy smudge in the orange tinted, overcast sky that hung like a dragon's underbelly over the waste.
At the base of one of the rock formations, a circular hatch popped open, its back face trailing ropey lines of sour greenish glowing slime into the darkened space beyond. A sound of scuffling came from within, and a pastel pink earth pony mare with a tiara for a cutie mark was rudely shoved into the bleak light, staggering drunkenly as she fought to stay on her hooves. She stood with her legs askew, blinking and shivering, a glaze of mucous slicking down her coat and causing her pearl streaked, lavender mane to hang in soggy, matted tangles around her shellshocked face.
A black, fanged parody of a pony's head poked out of the hole, squinting its luminous blue eyes in a grimace of disgust and gagging as it stuck out its segmented tongue. "BLECCH!"
With that, it reached up a pitted, chitinous hoof and yanked the hatch shut with an abrupt slam.
The stricken mare's eyes flared indignantly, and she spun to shriek at the suddenly seamless rock face behind her. "Blecch yourself, you copycat cockroaches! Maybe I don't like you very much either!"
She surged forward, stumbling as she threw herself against the wall and pounding her hooves on the unyielding, featureless stone. "In fact, maybe I hate you! I HATE you, do you hear me?! I'm gonna buy out a bug spray company and have 'em ship their whole stock out here. And I'll make you pay the freight and handling before we start fumigating! Do you hear me?! I HATE YOU!"
She pushed off from the rust colored rock and wheeled, panting raggedly as she took stock of her surroundings with a growing look of desperation on her face. The blasted, lifeless, dun colored expanse extended toward the horizon in all directions.
Diamond Tiara reared up, shaking her hooves at the heavens as she screamed out in rage and despair. "I HAATE EVERYTHIIING!"
Prince Blueblood and the flawless image of his young bride stood at the panoramic glass windows of the Ambrosia's forward ballroom, gazing out over the dust and buffalo choked town of Appleloosa as it came into view below them. She was dressed in an elegant mauve party frock with a white silk stole, and held a champagne flute in the hock of her fore hoof. Finely dressed Canterlot ponies stood around them, murmuring their relief and raising grateful toasts at seeing the rustic frontier community after having escaped from the dangers of the wilderness. As one they agreed, a late arrival was far better than not arriving at all.
The off white unicorn stallion proffered his glass to the creature masquerading as his pink princess, and she clinked hers to his without drinking it. She leaned in to murmur in his ear. "Doesn't anypony even like your wife? The best I'm sensing is grudging tolerance, and I can't make a meal out of that anymore than you matter eaters can subsist on styrofoam."
He took a sip of champagne with a smug grin, and tipped his horn over to reply. "They don't have to like you, they just have to see you. That's the deal. You can carry out all the empty, parasitic romances you like once we've returned to Canterlot, as long as you keep up the illusion that our lovely bride is in good health and of sound mind when she signs over her power of attorney to us."
He sniffed disdainfully. "Or you can feel free to turn yourself over to the crew, and see how long it takes them to break out the fly swatters. Your choice, darling."
Her lip twitched in a sullen sneer. "I get the feeling ponies don't like you much either, darling."
He tossed his meticulously coiffed mane as he levitated the glass from her hoof and drew it into his orbit. "You're getting much more accurate in your imitation. Well done."
She lashed her tail. "It's getting easier by the moment. I should have just stayed confined to quarters. All this veiled contempt in the air is making my nodes ache."
Blueblood took another sip and gave a slight shake of his head. "Well, you would be if you hadn't almost blown your cover by apologizing to the Captain. Take care about that in the future. It's dreadfully out of character."
The imitation Diamond Tiara let out a huff and wheeled to stalk off the deck. The unicorn prince smiled like a cat looking out from the inside of a birdcage, tipped her glass after her, and took a deep pull of the sparkling beverage it contained.
Judge Lima Bean banged his hoof sharply on the bench as he scowled at the crowd of bruised, bandaged, disheveled ponies clogging up his courtroom at the Appleloosa courthouse. "Three days in th' clink fer th' lot o' ya fer disturbin' th' peace and destruction o' property!"
A murmur went through the court as Spitfire stood and raised her hoof. "Uh, permission to address the bench?"
The wizened green earth pony judge screwed up his pinched features and spat a gob of tobacco juice into a nearby spittoon, then irritably nodded his assent with an abrupt wave of his hoof. "Keep it short, filly."
Her eyes flared, but the blaze yellow mare assumed a polite expression as she cleared her throat to speak. "Um, what about the Pegathalon, your honor?"
He snorted contemptuously. "I don't give a flyin' fig 'bout no goldurn Pegathawhatsit. Y'all shoulda thought about that 'fore ya decided t' raise a rumpus in my parrish."
Spitfire huffed indignantly, and was about to speak up with a spirited response when Shootin' Star, looking rather bruised and dejected with his jaw bandaged shut, reached up from his seat and laid a hoof on her shoulder, slowly shaking his head in warning. She scowled down at him, pursed her lips, and petulantly took her seat.
Another pony toward the front of the assembly of prisoners stood, clearing his throat. Judge Bean fixed the battered earth pony with a hawk like glare. "What now, Braeburn?"
The disheveled town official tried to straighten his lopsided collar. "Um... I'm kinda th' Mayor, Judge Bean. I really shouldn't be..."
The sour faced magistrate cut him off with another rap of his hoof. "Shoot, sonny. I don't give a flyin' fig 'bout that neither. Ya wanna git wrapped up in a riot, ya take yer lumps like everypony else."
He spat out the rest of his tobacco with a loud clang from the brass spittoon and banged his hoof with finality on the worn surface of his bench. "Okay, that's enough jawin' fer one day and I got a canasta game in chambers t' git to. Court adjourned! Deputies, escort these malcontents and ne'er-do-wells t' th' jailhouse."
With that, he rose to his hooves and left in a swirl of black robes, settling his bowler hat on his bald pate and biting off a fresh hank of tobacco.
Applejack and Soarin sat side by side, holding hooves and gazing into one another's eyes, ignoring the bruises, the healing slashes on the sky blue pegasus' sides, or the bandage across the blonde mare's forehead as they basked in one another's glowing smile. All around them, the penitent subjects of Appleloosan justice filed out of the room under the guidance of Sheriff Silver Star and his deputies, bunching up at the doors leading outside as they tried to move through the press of buffalo filling the streets beyond.
Seated in the much more sparsely populated spectators' bleachers in the back, Rarity and Twilight both heaved a sigh and brought a hoof to their faces, as Apple Bloom, Pip, and Spike watched them lead Applejack, Soarin, and the Wonderbolts away under guard.
The characters depicted in this fiction are copyright and trademarks of Hasbro, Inc. This is a work of fan fiction, and the author makes no claim on Hasbro's copyright or trademarks.