Little Strongheart heard Sheriff Silverstar give the command, and she took off down the hill through the morning fog, easily outdistancing her pony compatriots. Her haste was driven by several factors. She wanted to make sure she was the one to take on the buffalo bothers Tumble and Weed, as much as a matter of buffalo pride as to prove that her chief had made the right decision in letting her help out the settler ponies of Appleloosa. She honestly believed that she was the best fighter on her side, and that if any of them could handle two to one odds for any length of time, it would be her.
The main reason why she moved so fast, why she was already yards ahead of her teammates, was that she was desperately worried about Trixie. While the buffalo scout felt that the unicorn was correct with why she was the one who should occupy the outlaw unicorn, Strongheart didn't know if Trixie was up to the task. Admittedly, she hadn't seen any signs of injury in the unicorn during the walk out to the outlaw camp, but the amount of fatigue that she had witnessed, that had let the unicorn sleep for hours as she carried her across uneven terrain just yesterday... The sooner that she could go to her aid, the better their chances of not just winning this fight, but escaping without any serious injuries to their side too as well.
Her train of thought was brought to a halt when her right foreleg was snared by a lasso. Only luck had kept her other foreleg free of the strike, but she still stumbled and found herself rolling down to the bottom of the hill gracelessly. Before she could regain her footing, she found herself being dragged quickly across the ground towards the diamond dog whom she had faced off against the day before. "I do believe that we will now have the chance to see what might have happened yesterday," Douglas said as he reeled her in.
Little Strongheart scowled. Their simple plan seemed to have fallen apart in a matter of seconds! She saw out of the corner of her eye that Sheriff Silverstar, instead of facing off against the pegasus, was being forced to deal with the delinquent buffaloes, which meant that Braeburn would have to deal with One Winged Willie instead. She waited for the right moment, and when Douglas paused so he could move his paws to take in more rope, she used the brief respite to flip onto her hooves. "Very well," Little Strongheart replied as she unsuccessfully tried to shake her leg free of the lasso, "let's see how quickly I would have- whoops!"
Little Strongheart was cut short by a sharp tug of the lasso that put the buffalo scout off balance, and with another pull on the rope had her sprawling on the ground again. Muttering to herself over her carelessness, she scrambled to regain her footing before the diamond dog could reel her all the way in.
Braeburn watched in frustration as Little Strongheart got snared by what was supposed to be his opponent. He had really wanted a chance to show that diamond dog that he wasn't just a pony who hid behind locked doors! Instead, he found himself moving against One Winged Willie. "All right then," he muttered as he changed his path down the hill, "I'll do my best to knock out Willie, then I can go help whoever needs it the most. I might have wanted the chance to go against Douglas, but I won't complain about getting to fight the weakest of the outlaws." Raising his voice, he hollered, "Last chance, Willie! Surrender, and I won't have to hurt you!"
Willie gave Braeburn a puzzled look. "Why are you looking down on me?" he asked. "After all..." Willie jumped up into the air, and Braeburn found himself skidding to a halt, utterly stunned, as he watched the pegasus's hooves land on a thick patch of fog and stay there instead of falling back through to the ground. "...I'm the one who's higher up!"
"Ah, that ain't fair!" Braeburn exclaimed as he looked upward. "But fine, stay up there! Just means I can go help out the sheriff right away then. After all, if I can't reach you, how can you reach me?"
Willie's eyes took on a fanatical gleam as he raised his wing to reveal a collection of small grenades hanging from the appendage's underside. "Forecast calls for cloudy skies with a chance of kaboom!" he called out with in an excited voice. Chuckling as Braeburn's eyes widened in shock, the pegasus proceeded to climb to the top of the fog bank. Sitting down, he unhooked one and tried to light its fuse with his flint and steel.
Stunned, Braeburn stood and watched as Willie managed to get a spark to light the grenade's fuse on his first try. Willie cackled as he hurled the explosive down at Braeburn, who jumped off to the side and watched as it landed with a thud. After a couple of seconds of watching the fuse slowly burn down, Braeburn trotted over and extinguished the wick with a hoof. "Like I said-" he began, only to dodge to the side with a startled yelp as another lit grenade flew towards him.
This time, Willie had timed his throw much better, and Braeburn was barely able to escape the worst of the blast as the grenade fragmented into hundreds of small shards. He felt a couple of pieces of shrapnel bite into his flesh, but it stung no worse than being chomped by a fly. Not wanting to stay on the receiving end of this kind of exchange for long, or experience an explosion up close, he looked around, searching for a spot where the fog wasn't as thick. Not seeing any break in the cloud cover, he turned and dashed back up the hill, hoping to at least get back on level footing with his opponent.
Trixie ran as fast as she could towards The Coyote Colt, hoping to minimize the time that the outlaw would have to hurl attacks at her from a distance. She could tell that her opening barbs had hit home; instead of the guided strikes that The Coyote Colt had used during their encounter at the bank in Appleloosa, these were crude, straight affairs, nothing more than speed powered by hate. While one of them came close enough to clip off a small piece of her mane- missing her neck by mere inches- she was able to dodge the first wave of knives with relative ease.
Before the outlaw had time to ready another attack, she covered the distance between them. Throwing caution to the wind, Trixie crashed into The Coyote Colt, and sent the two unicorns tumbling in a ball of dust for a few to keep the outlaw off balance, she started flailing with her forelegs. While she could feel them connect, Trixie could tell they were glancing blows at the best.
"Have you gone mad?" The Coyote Colt yelled as he tried to adjust to the unexpected tactic that was being used against him. His horn started to glow, but his concentration was broken when Trixie finally managed to connect with a hoof to the side of his head. Growling in frustration, and a little bit of pain, he gathered his legs together and pushed Trixie away from him. "I know your magic is greatly reduced," he taunted as he gained his footing, "but I didn't know you had also come down with foaming sickness!"
Trixie regained her footing, noticing that the sheriff was facing off against the two outlaw buffalo without much success. Frowning at the apparent breakdown of the plan, she returned her full attention to The Coyote Colt. "I'm not the sick one here. I'm not the one who thought burning off my own cutie mark was a good idea, after all." She started to slowly circle around her adversary, looking for any sign of an opening, or an attack to be dodged. "You're the one who needs to see a doctor, not me!"
"It's like you're trying to get me to kill you quickly," The Coyote Colt snarled. "What, has the thought of not being able to use your 'great and powerful' magic all this time made you suicidal?" He sent another knife streaking at the blue unicorn, who barely dodged by rolling to the side as the blade buried itself up to its hilt in the rocky soil where she had been standing. "No, no, I see you do have a sort of desire to live. Which just puzzles me all the more as to why you're going out of your way to antagonize me!" Two more knives shot out, one of which scored a grazing hit on Trixie's flank, leaving behind a short red gash that slowly began to bleed.
Trixie winced. She had been lucky so far, but either she was tiring faster than she thought she would, or The Coyote Colt was figuring out how to attack through the flames of rage she was fanning within him. She tried closing the gap between her and The Coyote Colt again, but was forced to dodge backwards as more knives flew and hit the ground at her hooves. Her mind raced, trying to come up with something, anything to help her gain an advantage. Without her magic, she was limited to verbal and physical attacks, the latter of which she was hardly proficient with. And right now, neither of those avenues were working for her. She realized, as she sidestepped another knife, that she needed something new, and fast.
Douglas gave his lasso another pull, once again sending the diminutive buffalo sprawling to the ground. He would have been impressed by her determination to remain on her hooves if it wasn't for the fact that he was the one who had to deal with it! Still, he had things well in paw; another length or two of lasso reeled in would put his opponent right where he wanted her.
In fact, he was just about to announce that to her when a smile of all things appeared on the buffalo's face. "Gotcha!" she cried, and instead of pulling against him, as she had been doing all along, she charged at him instead. Douglas cursed, instantly seeing what her ploy had been; let him get her close enough to fight him, without giving him a chance to dodge or escape like he could have had she started her attack from farther away. With a yelp of surprise, he raised an arm, hoping to protect his face, if not somehow fend off the attack entirely.
Douglas felt the wind forcibly driven from his body as the hooves of the buffalo slammed into his gut. He tried to keep his balance, but after a couple of staggering steps backwards he found himself falling to the ground and landing on his rear. Seeing the opponent get ready to charge him again, he grabbed a handful of dirt and threw it at her, hoping to at least slow her down enough so he could regain his breath as well as his footing.
Douglas smiled when he saw that his desperation ploy had worked better than he had hoped. The buffalo had come to a stop herself, and was frantically rubbing her eyes, trying to regain her eyesight. Feeling his confidence surge from his small success, Douglas shook the stars from his vision and slowly stood back up noisily drawing his breath. He bent over and picked up his lasso, just as the buffalo seemed to be satisfied with how well she could see again.
"Quite the dirty trick," the buffalo girl snarled at him. "I suppose I should have expected such tactics from an outlaw like you."
Douglas chuckled. "Oh, indeed, and especially from a diamond dog too. We do love to play in the dirt." He set his stance, and beckoned at the buffalo. "By the way, how comfortable do you feel about charging me when you're not using subterfuge yourself, hmm?"
The narrowing of eyes was the only warning Douglas had of her next assault. He managed to dodge the worst of the attack, but still grunted in pain as his side was clipped by one of her hooves. Quickly he reached out and grabbed one of her legs and twisted. Although he couldn't maintain his grip, he was able to change her trajectory enough that she was the one who sprawled onto the ground and not him. Darting forward, Douglas dog-piled on top of her and did his best to use his rope in an effort to tie her legs together and bring the fight between them to an end before he took any more injuries.
Trixie risked a quick glance at her companions, to see if any of them had managed to defeat their opponents already and be able to lend her a hoof. Just a single one of them would be enough, she felt, especially with how mad and focused on her she had made The Coyote Colt. But Silverstar was doing his best to simply avoid being trampled by the hulking buffalo brothers, Braeburn was on the run from One Winged Willie, and Little Strongheart looked to be in an even worse position than she was herself! At this rate, she'd end up having to help them out instead! The thought of her actually doing do made her grin.
The Coyote Colt stared at her in disbelief. "What are you smiling at?" he scowled.
Trixie's smile grew as she realized she had found yet another way to keep her opponent angered. "Oh, I was just planning on how I was going to go help my friends out after I had finished with you. I was thinking about evening the odds for Sheriff Silverstar over there. Two to one isn't very sporting, after all."
The outlaw's eyes narrowed. "I'd be focusing more on keeping yourself alive than on trivial ideas like that." He flung a couple more knives at Trixie, one of which nicked a foreleg. He glanced down at his bandoleers and frowned. He had already used up half of his weapons on hand. Soon, he'd have to start gathering up the knives he had thrown about. He didn't want to do that; this fight should have been over by now anyway!
"It's so hard to focus on staying alive when you make it so easy to do though," Trixie replied. "My mind simply wanders to other topics, such as the Summer Sun Celebration in a week, what am I going wear for that?" She hopped over another knife that hit the ground at her hooves. "I wonder if anypony in town will have some sort of hat I could wear. I lost my magician's hat yesterday during the storm. I don't want other ponies to think I'm flaunting the injury to my horn, especially when I have so many other features that deserve to be flaunted." She smirked as she evaded another pair of knives that had been launched with an accompanying growl of annoyance. "Such as my eyes, I've been told before they're quite fetching. And my cutie mark, surely you understand, oh wait, my bad!"
"WOULD YOU SHUT UP?" the outlaw screamed in anger. "And come up with something new, would you? Making cracks about my cutie mark wasn't funny to begin with, and now it's just tired and old... just like you!"
"But having gotten rid of your cutie mark is so fascinating! I mean, haven't you ever wondered why nopony else gets rid of theirs, no matter how much they may dislike it?" Trixie kept a smug look on her face as she started to slowly circle the other unicorn. "I looked through the books the town's doctor has, and what you are going through isn't that uncommon at all. Mind you, the lengths you've gone with it are rare-" She paused in her speech as she jumped to the side to dodge another knife, and winced as it left a cut on her back.
"Oh?" sneered The Coyote Colt. "And what do they call it, being nagged by a nag-itis?"
"Oh, don't be silly, this goes way back, I'm guessing a few years for you to be as warped and messed up as you are. Way before I showed up to point out how much of a foal you're acting like. Why, if I had to hazard an educated guess, and if what I was told was even partially true, I think this reaches all the way back to Canterlot."
The Coyote Colt froze, his eyes growing large in shock. "Who told you?" he asked very softly.
"You see, according to the ponies who did the studies, everypony goes through a time or two in their life when..."
"WHO TOLD YOU?" Trixie was cut off as The Coyote Colt screamed at her.
"Ahem, when they can't seem to do anything right, especially the one thing that they love to do the most."
Dodging and weaving, Braeburn made his way back up the hill he had so recently charged down. Above him, One Winged Willie hopped from fog bank to fog bank, tossing down grenades and yelling non sequiturs such as "I'm so happy, this must be cloud nine!" and "Call me Lakitu!" Braeburn was glad that the wounded pegasus had to stop to light each fuse. The delay bought him enough time to race on ahead and make it difficult for Willie to be able to get close enough to have an easy time of hitting him with his explosives.
Reaching the crest of the hill, Braeburn was disappointed to see that the fog stretched every which way around him. He looked upward, hoping that the sun was doing its best to burn through, but it appeared that even that celestial body was a bit put off by the recent weather, and was taking its time in returning the frontier lands to their usual parched condition.
Braeburn's climb wasn't completely for naught though. He grabbed his saddlebags and put them onto his back. He then kicked the bottom of one of the pouches with a foreleg, and out popped a pie. Deftly grabbing the edge of the pan with his teeth, Braeburn turned to look up at Willie. When the pegasus sat down to light another fuse, Braeburn tossed the pie into the air, turned, and bucked the pie upward. His volley missed, but it was close enough to make Willie yelp in surprise and drop the grenade in his hooves before he could light it.
Dodging a second pie sent flying up at him, One Winged Willie quickly worked his way from the hill and back towards the rest of the outlaws. Braeburn pursued below him, and whenever Willie paused to light another grenade, the earth pony would send a pie up at him. Willie finally found a cloud where he felt comfortable, sat down, and started tossing grenades down, one after another. He watched as a pie flew up past him, and had just lit the fuse on another bomblet when the pie came back down and blinded him when it hit him in the face. With a startled cry, he reached up to wipe the (admittedly tasty) pie particles from his face... but dropped his freshly lit grenade in the process.
The grenade bounced off a rock and careened downhill. After a couple more bounces, it came to a stop between Trixie and The Coyote Colt, who both paused to wonder where the round device that had suddenly appeared between them had come from. A second later, the lit fuse burned up, and the grenade exploded, pelting both unicorns with numerous shards and knocking Trixie off of her hooves in the process. The Coyote Colt yelled angrily, "Watch what you're doing, you insane idiot!" His horn glowed brightly, and a large ball of fire rocketed skyward.
Willie was finally managed to clear his face of the sticky apple pie filling when he looked down to see the magical attack come flying at him and hit him dead on. A loud boom, followed by several smaller ones, sounded out as the pegasus disappeared briefly inside of a ball of fire. Willie let out a loud shriek of pain, and then, knocked from his perch in the fog, fell towards the ground. He flapped his wing as fast as he could, slowing his earthward momentum some, but he still hit the ground with a THUD! and then laid motionless.
Braeburn blinked, stunned at the turn of events. Hearing a frustrated cry from Little Strongheart, he quickly scanned the area and saw the buffalo scout on the verge of being completely tied up by her diamond dog opponent. Lowering his head, Braeburn charged down the hill to go help his friend.
Trixie stood back up as fast as she could, fearful that a knife with her name on it was going to impale her at any moment. To her relief, she saw that The Coyote Colt was busy watching the results of his spell. Knowing she wouldn't get another chance, Trixie charged at the outlaw unicorn. The Coyote Colt's attention returned to her and their fight, but too late to prevent Trixie from tackling him, sending the two of them tumbling to the dirt once more.
Unable to toss Trixie away like he had before, The Coyote Colt jabbed at her chin with a forehoof. Looking in his eyes, Trixie was surprised by the sheer malice and hate she saw in them. Silently reminding herself that she didn't have to defeat the renegade unicorn alone, she glanced over towards where Douglas was. Seeing Braeburn rapidly charging in, she decided against telling The Coyote Colt that it had been the diamond dog who had told her about his past. While she would have been happy to let her opponent take care of his allies for them, she didn't want either of her compatriots to be close to one of those attacks if she could help it.
As if he was reading her thoughts, The Coyote Colt snarled at her, "Now that I think about it, it was either Willie or Douglas who could have told you. And I've already taken care of one of them. I might as well as blast that diamond dog, just to be sure. I'd get some of your friends too, which wouldn't be bad either... AAAHHH!"
Trixie did the only thing she could to derail the outlaw's train of thought; she bit him deeply on his shoulder. Resorting to such tactics put a taste in her mouth worse than dirty pony hair did though, so she quickly released her hold. "Pay attention to me, you ruffian! Here I am, taking time out of my day to help you out, and this is how you treat me?"
Seeing her opponent sputter in disbelief and rage, Trixie quickly rushed ahead. "As I was saying before the explosion, you're all messed up in your head! You've turned your back on what you'd rather be doing, ignored your better self so much, that you actually thought self-mutilation was a good idea! I'm surprised you haven't used your knives to cut pretty scars on your legs yet!"
"Let me guess," The Coyote Colt snarled, "you figured all of this out by looking at your own sad, pathetic excuse of a life, haven't you?"
Trixie froze, the implications of the bandit's words hitting her harder than the magical blast that The Coyote Colt struck her with a moment later. Was he right? she wondered as she flew back through the air. Had she turned into such a egotistical jerk because she had been forced away from doing what she really wanted to do? Instead of performing, she had reduced herself to simply embarrassing others with insults and cheap tricks; could it really be that simple? She shakily stood up, and did her best to push those questioning thoughts to the side. She couldn't afford to wonder right now about the possible validity of the outlaw's jibe.
Jumping to the side in order to dodge another fireball, she put her performance face back on. "Oh, I couldn't use my own experiences in order to to try to understand somepony like you. I never let my failure change what I wanted to do, after all. It took actual reading for me to even begin to comprehend how somepony could let failure change their life so drastically." Trixie swallowed nervously after she narrowly evaded a knife that flew past her at eye level.
"And yet, here you are." The Coyote Colt replied mockingly. "Way out here in Appleloosa, far from where you used live. And when I cut your horn, well, that changed how you do things too, right? So don't be so high and mighty with me." His horn glowed, and a couple more knives flew at Trixie, one of which left a cut on the side of her neck. "Right now, the only difference that matters is that you're the one who can't use their magic. That's why you're bleeding, and I'm not."
Trixie wished she had a quick comeback for that, but sidestepping another magical blast, she was forced to admit that he had a point. She couldn't even risk looking around her to see if help was on its way. And she could sure use it; she wasn't certain how much longer she could keep on dodging the constant attacks.
Braeburn ran towards Little Strongheart. His first impulse had been to go help Sheriff Silverstar instead, since he had been fighting against both of the outlaw buffaloes. But Strongheart was the one who needed the assistance, and needed it now. She was on her back, and Douglas looked ready to put the finishing touches on some sort of knot that would leave his friend unable to do anything but lie there entangled, fighting against her constraints.
Fortunately for the Apple family earth pony, the diamond dog had his back to him, and didn't see the pony charging down the hill towards him. Little Strongheart did though, and doubled her efforts to escape to keep Douglas's attention squarely on her. The outlaw's only warning came too late, when he finally heard the sound of Braeburn galloping in. Lowering his head, Braeburn rammed the diamond dog's back and sent him flying. Braeburn barely managed to keep his balance, and after making sure that Little Strongheart would be able to get free of her bonds on her own, charged at Douglas again.
The diamond dog frowned as he stood up and dodged Braeburn's second charge. Not only was he without his rope, he knew he only had a minute at the most before he would be outnumbered. If only he'd had just a bit more time, he could have been able remove that pesky little buffalo from the fight! But there was no time for wishes. Sliding into a stance better suited for brawling, he motioned at the earth pony to come at him again.
Braeburn happily complied, although this time he drew up short, and in one smooth motion turned around to launch a buck at the diamond dog. While Douglas was able to step back easily enough, he couldn't recover fast enough to take advantage of his opponent having his back to him before Braeburn finished his spin, leaving the two of them face to face again. Douglas took a swipe with a paw, hoping his longer reach would take the settler pony by surprise, but Braeburn simply ducked and then hopped forward, hoping to connect with a short range headbutt.
Again, Douglas sidestepped the incoming attack, and soon the two of them found themselves slowly circling each other, taking turns trying to land a strike on the other. Risking a glance to the side, Douglas swore. Little Strongheart was undoing the last of the knots that he had tied. He had to do something, and do it now! Throwing caution to the wind, he dove at Braeburn, and managed to tackle him successfully.
Ignoring the hits he was taking as Braeburn swung his forelegs at him in an effort to push the diamond dog off of him, he started to rain down punches onto the earth pony recklessly, fearing that at any moment he would be struck from behind again. Indeed, he heard a triumphant yell from Little Strongheart, and the sound of hooves rapidly closing in.
Hoping to avoid another charge into his back, Douglas tried to roll away from Braeburn. To his chagrin, he found his efforts halted when Braeburn grabbed a hold of his vest with his teeth. Whimpering, he turned just in time to see the hind hooves of Little Strongheart grow large in his vision. With a loud TWACK! she landed her strike right onto Douglas's snout. Braeburn was more than willing to release his grip so that the diamond dog could fly backwards through the air a few feet before landing on his back and skidding a short ways further before finally coming to a stop, out cold.
"All right!" Braeburn cheered as he stood up. "Now let's go help out Sheriff Silverstar!" The two of them turned towards the lawpony, only to gape in fear at what they saw. Silverstar stood there, looking completely worn out as he panted with his head hanging low. Tumble and Weed closed in from different angles, heads lowered in an effort to pound the sheriff into glue between them. "Sheriff!" Braeburn called out in warning, knowing he was too far away to give any other kind of assistance at the moment. SIlverstar raised his head at Braeburn's cry, looked at him... and smiled.
Waiting until the last second, Silverstar suddenly sprung forward. Right behind him, the two buffalo brothers ended up crashing head first into each other at top speed. The resulting collision was so loud, Braeburn was sure he heard it echo a couple of times through the hills around them. Even more amazing was the fact that the two buffalo didn't fall over right away, but managed to stumble about, like a stallion who had consumed too much salt, before their brains decided that they weren't going to be able to handle the situation and shut down. With a thud, they finally collapsed to the ground as one.
Sheriff Silverstar trotted over to Little Strongheart and Braeburn, who were both staring at awe at him. "Glad to see I still have it," he chuckled as he came up to them. "The hard part was getting them to come at me from different angles. They just didn't want to leave each other's side! Quite annoying. Well, it took us longer than we hoped, but we're back on track. Let's go help Trixie wrap this thing up." He walked past the two of them, and after a few steps turned around to see them both standing still and staring at him.
"What? It was just two buffalo. They didn't make me the sheriff just because of my cutie mark, you know. Now shake a leg, we need to help Trixie!"
Trixie hated to admit it, but she was pretty sure she was at the end of her rope. With all of the accumulated wounds she had taken, and with how fatigued she was, she figured she had maybe a minute left before she would be simply unable to avoid another attack. She was even running out of insults and witty remarks, something she thought she would never have happen to her!
It was with great relief then when she saw her allies finally come running up. Doing her best to hide her condition, Trixie called out, "Well, it took you three long enough! What did you do, run them back to Appleloosa first? It's been hard for me to drag this out long enough for you to help me, I thought I was going to have to go help you guys out!"
Sheriff Silverstar rolled his eyes as he, Braeburn, and Little Strongheart spread out and quickly surrounded The Coyote Colt. "This is your last chance to surrender!" he called out. "Your allies have been defeated, you're outnumbered and surrounded. You stand no chance. Why make things more difficult than they have to be?"
"Because I think I can still win, that's why!" The Coyote Colt yelled out. "You think I'm surrounded?" he asked as his horn started to glow. "I think of it as being right where I want to be to do this!" With a yell, the remaining knives on him rose from their sheathes, briefly gathered above his head, and then flew away from him in a speeding circle of death towards those surrounding him.
Trixie was amazed, not only at the number of knives that The Coyote Colt still had had on him, but also at his accuracy. Even doing her best to dodge, one of the blades struck home, impaling her shoulder up to its hilt. From the groans and cursing she heard come from the others, she knew she hadn't been the only one hit by the attack. Biting back a cry of pain of her own, she grabbed the offending weapon with her teeth and pulled it out. Seeing The Coyote Colt starting to power up another spell, she charged forward, knife still in her mouth.
For once, Trixie was glad that she didn't have the full attention of the outlaw unicorn. The Coyote Colt was staring at the sheriff with murder in his eyes, hoping to finish the job that his knives had started. Trixie tackled the other unicorn, and before he could get out from underneath her, she pressed the knife up against his horn.
The Coyote Colt's eyes grew wide in fear, and the glow around his horn quickly went out. "You, you wouldn't!" he said, half in denial and half in terror. Unable to say anything in return, Trixie simply raised an eyebrow instead, and slowly dragged the edge of the blade against his horn.
"What's it going to be?" Sheriff Silverstar asked, doing his best to ignore the gash in his side The Coyote Colt's attack had left. "I figure if anypony has a right to do that to you, it would be her. Mind you, she's my deputy, so she won't do that unless I tell her to," he said, giving Trixie a hard look. "But I still haven't heard you say that you were giving up, and I can't risk another attack like that last one, so..."
"I surrender! I surrender, just get this mad mare off of me!"
Trixie was shocked by how fast the outlaw's demeanor had changed. Looking into his eyes, she could see a reflection of herself, and saw that the bandage on her horn had come off during the fight. No wonder he was so scared, she realized. He didn't want to have his horn end up looking like hers! Still, Trixie refused to budge, and even pressed the knife against his horn harder. She figured that, if given the chance, the outlaw would gladly go back on the attack if he felt he had a chance to escape or win.
Braeburn limped back up the hill, one of his legs sporting a nasty cut right below the knee. Little Strongheart moved up next to Trixie, turned, and raised a hind leg. "Just in case you get any silly thoughts, know that I'll gladly buck you in the head if I think you're going to try something. Just keep still and be quiet." The Coyote Colt obeyed, and soon they heard Braeburn call out to the doctor and his helpers that the fight was over and their help was needed.
Soon, the sound of several ponies galloping in could be heard through the fog, and Doctor Sawbone came up next to Trixie. Digging around in his black bag, he pulled out a jar containing a green paste. Working the jar open, he placed it next to the outlaw's mouth. "We can go about this two ways," the doctor said. "Either you swallow some of this, which will put you to sleep painlessly, or I let our buffalo friend here send you to dream land through the use of blunt force trauma. I really don't want to have any extra work on my hooves than what I'm already looking at, to be honest, so please do us both a favor and eat a small mouthful of this stuff."
Defeat finally apparent in his posture, The Coyote Colt stuck his tongue into the jar and swallowed a small dollop of the medicine. After a couple of minutes of strained silence as everypony waited, The Coyote Colt's eyes closed and his breathing slowed down considerably. Trixie raised an eyebrow at the doctor, who first checked the outlaw's pulse, and then pulled open an eyelid with his hoof to examine the eye underneath. Letting it close again, he nodded and said, "He's so deep in sleep that if I hadn't been the one to put him there, I'd be worried."
Little Strongheart lowered her leg, and Trixie raised her head and tossed the knife to one side. Looking around, she saw that the other ponies that the doctor had brought with him were busy tying up the other outlaws and getting ready to carry, or in the case of the buffalo brothers drag, them back to Appleloosa. "So, we're finished here then?" she asked.
"Indeed. Well done, I might add," the doctor replied.
"Thank you," she said, and then Trixie let her wounds and fatigue catch up to her and she fell over, unconscious before she even hit the ground.
It was the morning before the Summer Sun Celebration, and Appleloosa was abuzz with excitement. The last week had been a whirlwind of activity, as everypony had worked hard to get all the preparations for the festival done on time. Now, having finished things the night before, a large part of the town's populace waited by the train station. Off in the distance, the whistle of the train carrying the royal princesses could be heard echoing across the plains, and soon it was coming to a halt next to the heavily decorated station platform.
Sheriff Silverstar stood by, waiting to greet Celestia and Luna. Behind him stood Braeburn, his leg still bandaged from the injury he had taken during the fight, and his deputy star shining brightly on his vest. Before the train had come to a complete stop though, a door farther down on the train, near the caboose, opened up and with the cry of somepony yelling, "Applejack! What are you doing?" An orange earth pony jumped out the door, followed by a blue pegasus with a multi-hued mane and tail. With a chuckle, the pegasus bit into the earth pony's tail and dragged her to a halt half way from the sheriff.
Braeburn sighed, and after a quick apology to the sheriff, trotted down to meet his cousin from Ponyville. "Cousin Applejack!" he said, as four more ponies leaped out of the train to join them on the station's platform. "Did you all come out here to see the Summer Sun Celebration? I wish you'd let me know ahead of time, it's going to be hard to find a place for all of you to stay, what with all the other visitors in town for the festival!"
Applejack was looking at Braeburn leg in concern. "I knew things were bad from your letter! Having to depend on Trixie of all ponies to help? Where is that show off anyway? I bet she left town just to avoid the princesses!"
"Um, cousin..." Braeburn tried to interrupt, but Applejack had a full head of steam, and wasn't going to be stopped so easily.
"I mean, what are you trying to do, scare me and the rest of us back at Sweet Apple Acres to death with all this talk of 'outlaws' and 'ambushes' and what not? And not even a single word of asking me to come and help you! You know I'd drop anything to come help you and Bloomberg out!"
"Why, the moment I read your letter, I went and got my friends together, and here we are! Big MacIntosh would've. come too if we hadn't have needed somepony to keep the farm going. Apple Bloom tries hard, bless her heart, but she's still a year or so away before she'll be able to take care of things on her own if needed to. And look at you! What happened to your leg anyway? Are you okay?"
"COUSIN!" Braeburn yelled, his voice filled with frustration.
Applejack blinked. "Yes, Braeburn?"
"Can this wait a few minutes, please?" Braeburn asked pleadingly.
"I, I suppose it can?" Applejack replied, a bit surprised to see her good natured cousin so upset.
"Good! Because you're interrupting that!" Braeburn pointed behind him, where Sheriff Silverstar stood with Princess Celestia and Princess Luna, waiting to properly welcome them to Appleloosa. The three of them were watching them, with expressions ranging from bemused to annoyed.
Applejack blushed and bowed her head, suddenly aware that there were also hundreds of ponies in the town square that were focused on her also. "I reckon I can do that. Sorry, your highnesses. I just do worry about my kin a lot!"
"Yeah," muttered Rainbow Dash. "They know. You were stressing out about it the whole trip up here!"
Princess Celestia smiled and nodded at her, and then turned her attention back to Sheriff Silverstar, who with a shake of his head, got down to the business of welcoming Equestria's leaders to the frontier town.
After the ceremony, the townponies all dispersed, letting the sheriff and Braeburn meet with the Princesses to discuss recent events. Seeing Applejack and her friends standing close by, Braeburn motioned them to join in the conversation.
"First off, let me say how glad I was to hear that you were able to take care of things on your own, Sheriff Silverstar," Princess Celestia said. "I knew when I chose you for the position that you would be capable, but even I am impressed by what you have accomplished."
"Well, to be honest, your highness, it weren't all my doing," the sheriff admitted. "While I had some help from the buffalo and Braeburn here, I don't think we would have had a chance at succeeding if Trixie hadn't been here to help us out."
"What?" squawked Rainbow Dash. "Oh man, what did she do, brag them into submission?"
"Hey now!" protested Braeburn. "She put her life on the line for us several times in the past couple of weeks! Why, if it wasn't for her being here, the bank would have been robbed, and there might not even be a Summer Sun Celebration going on tomorrow!"
Rainbow Dash was surprised by the rebuttal, but she pressed on. "Hmph! I bet you had to beg her for her help, knowing her attitude."
Sheriff Silverstar stepped in between the pegasus and Braeburn, who looked ready to take a swing at Rainbow Dash. "Actually," the sheriff drawled, "she was helping us before we even had a chance to ask. Now, would I have asked, if needed to? Sure. I know when I need a helping hoof or two. That's why I can deputize ponies as needed."
He then stepped up close to Rainbow Dash, his snout almost touching hers. "The point I'm trying to politely make here, in the presence of our beloved rulers," he continued in a much more serious tone of voice, "is that maybe you should shut your mouth until you know all of the details of what happened, since you weren't here to see things yourself. That way, without you interrupting us every few seconds, we can get this discussion done before night fall!"
Rainbow Dash lowered her head and, after muttering something that only the sheriff could hear, stepped back behind her friends. "Oooh, busted!" Pinkie Pie called out.
Sheriff Silverstar turned back to the two princesses, who had politely turned their attention elsewhere during the exchange. "Sorry about that, your highnesses. As I was saying, thanks to Trixie, we managed to apprehend their entire gang. Little Strongheart brought Chief Thunderhooves and several other buffalo into town to collect the two buffalo brothers. I've been assured that they will be properly punished for their actions, and from what I saw, they most certainly are."
"If I may inquire, just what sort of punishment do the buffalo tribes use?" asked Princess Luna.
"Hard labor and imprisonment. They work out under the sun for most of the day, and then spend the night locked inside a small cave, Princess."
Luna nodded. "And what of the other outlaws?"
Silverstar sighed. "To be honest, I was hoping that the two of you could help me with that. Our jailhouse is still being repaired, and if I had to hold them here for as long as their crimes dictated, I wouldn't have any room for anypony else. Besides, our jail is more of a place to help ponies cool down, not to incarcerate them for long periods of time to be honest. Fortunately, Douglas and Willie seem content to simply wait things out patiently."
"And what of this Coyote Colt? Do you need us to take him with us also?" asked Celestia.
"Please, your is where I really do need your help, let there be no mistake about that. We've kept him pretty much drugged up and knocked out for the last week, and I don't like having to do that at all. But what can we do? We can't trust him to not try breaking free at the first chance, and without a unicorn of our own to keep him in check, we've been forced to drip feed him for the most part." Silverstar shook his head dejectedly. "It ain't right at all, I hate it, but I've got no choice either."
"Wait, what do you mean you don't have a unicorn of your own to keep him in check?" Twilight Sparkle asked. "You have Trixie, right? Why can't she help with that?" Noticing a glare from Braeburn, she hastily added, "I'm not accusing her of anything, it just seems odd to me is all."
The sheriff nodded. "Her horned is injured, covered in cracks big and small, so she is unable to use any magic until it heals," he replied.
"A cracked horn?" Luna asked, looking a bit worried. "Is she able to have visitors? I'd like to take a look at this myself."
Celestia nodded. "Yes, let's go pay Trixie a visit. Is she at the doctor's house, or...?"
"She's at my place, actually." Braeburn replied. "Sawbone wanted to use his sickbed to keep an eye on The Coyote Colt, and I have a spare bedroom, so I'm helping her out while she recovers."
"Lead the way then, if you please, and on the way could you fill us in on what all she did?"
Trixie stared at the walls of the guest bedroom in Braeburn's house. The last week had been nothing short of frustrating. The nerve of Doctor Sawbone to confine her to a bed! Not that she couldn't understand where he was coming from; after all, it had been the third time in just a few days that she had been carried into a bed, unconscious, and needing medical care. She started to absentmindedly scratch at one of the still healing cuts on her flank with a hoof before stopping herself. That was another no-no the doctor had repeated at her many times. He didn't want the stitches to come undone before they'd had time to do their job.
Still, the past week hadn't been completely dismal. Braeburn had been the perfect host, taking care of her every need with a smile. Also, it felt like over half the town had at one point or another come by to visit and profusely thank and visit with her, talking and keeping her company. Braeburn had even had to start turning away some of the food that some of the settler ponies had brought with them, just because he was running out of places to store it! All in all, it was a bit surreal to her. Not that she minded being the center of attention, of course not! It was just that the manner in which she had become so was new and strange to her.
Her reverie was interrupted by the sound of the front door opening and Braeburn calling out to her, "Trixie, are you up for some more guests?"
"Trixie is always ready for some guests, but until tomorrow comes, I'll be unable to get up from this bed!" she hollered back. "Yes, please, send them in."
Trixie was amazed by the number of ponies she heard walking towards her room. This was more than the two or three that had come at a time during the past week! Soon, her room was packed full with ponies she didn't recognize, except for the last two. One was a sky blue pegasus with a rainbow colored mane and tail; throughout all of her travels across Equestria, she had yet to see another pony with hair like that! And the other was the purple unicorn who still haunted her dreams some nights. Obviously, these ponies had to be from Ponyville. Only their questioning looks kept her from blurting out a caustic comment at them about coming to rub things in when she was down on her luck.
Such thoughts were quickly banished however when somehow everypony managed to make room for two more visitors. Trixie's eyes widened in surprise - the Royal Princesses were here to see her? She started to stammer out an apology about not being able to bow to them like she should when a friendly chuckle from Celestia cut her off.
"So, how is the hero of Appleloosa doing?" asked the tall, white alicorn. "Do you mind if I take a look at your horn?" Seeing Trixie nod mutely, she magicked the bandage off quickly and effortlessly. While everypony was affected by the sight of the massively cracked horn some, it was the unicorns that were unable to look at it for long before turning their heads away in horror.
"Oh my goodness!" exclaimed the white unicorn with purple hair. (A memory from the past bubbled up in Trixie's mind; had she done something to that mane previously? During her show in Ponyville? It was so long ago, she really couldn't say for sure.) "Doesn't that hurt? How can you stand it?"
"It, it just becomes background noise after a while," Trixie admitted, the sarcastic response that she might have normally replied with refusing to show itself in the presence of the princesses. "The doctor gave me some medicine to help ease the pain when it's time for sleep, but otherwise I've just had to adapt to it, or risk driving myself crazy."
The purple unicorn turned to Princess Celestia with pleading eyes. "Isn't there anything you can do to help her? Surely there must be some sort of spell that can help heal her!" She looked at Trixie. "Nopony deserves to suffer like that, let alone one who has done the things that we heard about!"
Princess Luna shook her head sadly. "I'm sorry, Twilight Sparkle, but no. While there are many feats that healing magic can accomplish, healing a cracked horn is simply impossible."
"But why?" Twilight asked, turning her attention from one alicorn to the other. "I've read that, in the right hooves and with the proper training, even broken legs and rare sicknesses can be healed! What's so different about a cracked horn that makes it incurable?"
Luna smiled sadly. "The problem is the injury itself. The reason why the horn is cracked so badly is because of stress caused by there being more magic in the horn than it can safely handle. Also, the more cracks in the horn, the less it can take. The very act of somepony trying to heal a cracked horn will only make it worse, since it would be directing a large amount of magic into the horn directly, something it simply can not handle."
"While we may not be able to do anything ourselves," Princess Celestia interjected, looking at Trixie, "I'm certain that there are ponies in the hospitals in Canterlot who will be able to speed up your recovery. If you want, I can make sure that there is room on the train back to Canterlot with us. I promise, you'll be in the best of hooves, and it won't cost you a single bit."
Trixie was stunned. While she had at times during the past week daydreamed about such an event happening, she had never expected to have her fantasies come true! After a short moment of silence, as the offer sunk in as well as the realization that everypony in the room was waiting on her reply, she smiled. She bowed her head and softly replied, "I thank you, your highness. This is an unbelievable offer, and very kind of you." Trixie then raised her gaze and looked Celestia straight in the eyes. "But as wonderful of an offer as it is, I will have to decline." She had to fight the urge to smile smugly as the other ponies in the room showed signs of shock, from dropped jaws from the ponies from Ponyville to widened eyes from Princess Luna and a raised eyebrow from Celestia herself. She still knew how to amaze an audience, all right!
"Oh?" Princess Celestia asked, her expression briefly turning into a sly smile. "What do you plan to do then?"
Trixie felt herself blushing. How quickly the princess has turned the tables on her, putting her on the defensive again! "Well, I knew that I had a long recovery ahead of me, even before hearing Princess Luna confirm it. So, when Sheriff Silverstar offered me a job to be his full time deputy while my horn healed, I had to accept. He said that with how fast the town has been growing, he's finding it harder and harder to take care of everything by himself." She smiled weakly. "It would be rude of me to back out now after I've already agreed to the position, right?"
Celestia flashed her a quick grin before reverting back to a dead serious face. "If that is all that is keeping you here, I can easily arrange to have somepony sent up to fill that position. Again, all at the expense of the crown."
Trixie stared at the white alicorn. Was she going to make her say it, in front of everypony? Yes, she realized, yes she was. With a defeated sigh, Trixie said, "No, that's not all, and it isn't even the main reason why I want to stay." She took a deep breath, and then forged on ahead. "I want to remain in Appleloosa because, well, I'm liked here. Not for being a show off, or for the fact that I can do amazing feats of magic, but because they like me, Trixie. For once, instead of simple adoration for my skills, I have the respect of others, for who I am." She turned to smile at Braeburn. "I even have real friends again, something I haven't had since I was a young filly. If I leave, I might lose that, and right now having that means more to me than the chance to shorten the length of time it would take for my horn to heal."
If the other ponies had been shocked before, they looked outright stunned now, to the point that Trixie imagined that an errant breeze coming through the window would knock the six of them over. She was happy to see Braeburn smile back at her, and wasn't surprised in the least to see Celestia nod and smile knowingly at her.
"Very well then. I'll ask around myself, and see to it that a medical team is sent up here to help you out in any way that they can." She turned to her sister. "Anything else you can think of?"
Luna shook her head. "I just want to let you know that we'll be doing our best to help out the captured outlaws too. Just because they're criminals doesn't mean we won't do our best to help them heal also." Luna smiled. "I know from personal experience, sometimes all one needs is a helping hoof to become the pony they can be."
"Speaking of them, what is going to happen to The Coyote Colt?" asked Trixie.
"We'll be taking him back to Canterlot with us," Celestia replied. "We'll be able to make sure that he gets the help he needs. Is it true that he actually burnt off his cutie mark?"
Trixie nodded. "His name is Firecracker. I'd suggest talking to the diamond dog, he knows quite a bit about him. He could give you a much better history about him than I could hope to."
"I'll make sure to do that." Celestia smiled and then turned to the other ponies in the room. "Well, we don't want to tire her out too much, especially when we still have so much to do today before the celebration." She looked back at Trixie. "I'll see you there tomorrow morning?"
Trixie nodded. "I wouldn't miss it for anything!"
"Good. We'll see you then. Thank you so much for everything that you've done." With that, the visitors all filed out, leaving Braeburn and Trixie alone again.
"Wow," exclaimed Braeburn, "how amazing is that? Both Princess Celestia and Princess Luna came here just to see you! What an honor!"
"This wasn't how I planned on it happening, but you know what?" Trixie smiled at Braeburn. "I'm glad things went the way they did. I wouldn't change this for anything right now."
FINALLY, it's come to an end. Let me first apologize to everyone for how long it took me to get this written. Various RL problems reared their head (including being sick for a month), as did writer's block now and then too. Still, I hope the wait was worth it.
Thank yous! I have many, so let's get to it! First, as always, to my pre-reader Heatwave. Many parts of this story would have been terrible if not for his assistance, especially the fight scenes which I have learned through the writing of this story that I am not very good at. Also, to RaspleZS for the awesome piece of fan-art of Coyote Colt's wanted poster. There's a link in my author's profile for those who want to see it. Also, to Floofy Hooves and Wolf Walrus, who actually did readings of the first chapter of this story. It was at first surreal, and then awesome to hear something I wrote read out loud. Also, grats to Wolf Walrus, who's efforts actually won him 3rd place in a reading contest for Celestia Radio! Well done!
Finally, many thanks to all of you who made their way through all of the story to get to this point. I hope you enjoyed what you read. I don't foresee me continuing this narrative anytime soon, but I certainly left some things wide open for a sequel, didn't I? Hmm... Anyway, my next effort will be a sequel, but of my first story, Moonbeam. My muse has been harassing me about it for a while now, so hopefully I'll have the first couple of chapter at least up soon. Regardless, if you have any questions you'd like to have answered, please feel free to send me a PM, and I'll make sure to give you an answer.
One last time, thanks everyone!