Chapter 13: Rain on the Roof of the Watering Hole
The portal issued forth the hapless ponies, and most stumbled onto the mud, while Gilda and Rainbow Dash floated gently to the ground. The rain was bucketing down onto the streets, which were lined with rickety wooden buildings. Rainbow Dash recognised them all: none other than the buildings of Appleloosa. But these rooftops were all covered in huge metal plates to catch the rain and funnel it into barrels, atop which Horned Kin were on patrol, scanning the streets below. Everyone darted into shelter before the light could fall on them, and before they could get too wet. They saw Winged Kin going back and forth on their own night watches. But the most intimidating part of all was the towering structure in the distance; a huge building like several sheds welded together, rounded by tremendous chimneys.
"Right... I'm supposing we need get to that building," said Trixie.
"If we will move to make our stand, we'll need one or two helping hooves."
"Zecora's right," said Cheerilee, "We should find someone to help us beat the Baroness. We've found allies to add to our party everywhere we've been. Appleloosa should be no exception."
"Well, where do you want to look?" Trixie waved a hoof across the buildings whose porches they hid under. All the windows were barricaded, and a couple of the doors were barred. Trixie turned to a door and knocked on it. "Hello? Anyone home?" There was no response. Trixie leaned closer. She thought she heard something moving inside. It could just have been a rat, but just in case she tried the doorknob as lightning flashed in the distance. The door seemed locked tight. "Nothing," she said, turning to the others. "Either everypony's deserted this place and left it a ghost town, or the townsfolk are too scared out of their tiny little minds to come out."
"Well, there has to be somewhere that's open," said Cheerilee. "Lets just keep walking until we find somewhere interesting."
"Keeping out of sight, of course," remarked Trixie, "Wouldn't want to attract too much attention after all."
"No...No we wouldn't," said Cheerilee. "Let's get going. Are you coming, Rainbow Dash?"
Dash was sitting on the side, staring out into the rain. When she heard her name being called, she turned around, as if fading out of a trance. "Wha...?"
"We said we were going to check all the buildings. Do you want to lead the way?"
"....Yeah. Been down here before. C'mon girls." Rainbow Dash moved to the front of the pack, and marched onward, trying to ignore the odd looks she was getting. She couldn't blame them for thinking her odd right now. She was rather out of sorts at the moment. She was still reeling from the bombshell moments ago, that her baby sister, her other baby sister, and her biggest fan were all the shadow wielding tyrant that had ruined this land. All the same, she had to put things in perspective. Cheerilee had taken as much emotional trauma, maybe more, considering all the ponies she'd cared for. Right now, they all had a job to set things right, and she could possibly get the queen to listen to reason. Possibly.
There was a crack of lightning in the distance, illuminating the rundown streets. Rainbow Dash shielded her eyes from the light, but even as it vanished, she saw a patch of light that remained. She looked up, and a few blocks down the opposite street, there stood a large building, with a faded picture of a salt mill, and saloon doorway from which a bronzed light emanated.
"Hey, I know that place! The Salt Block! Sheriff Silverstar must be around there some-"
The saloon doors burst open with a crash, as a dark brown pony in a black waistcoat came sailing out of the bar, and crashed to the ground in front of them. Cheerilee rushed to the stallion, helping him to his hooves and leading him under the porch. "Are you all right, sir? Anything broken?"
The stallion licked his salt encrusted lips. "Nut'in but a heart, ma'am, an' that was many years gone and many glasses o' salt ago. If'n ah were you, filly, ah'd be more worr'ed 'bout yourself. Dangerous folk's 'round here, too dangerous fer yawl."
"For your information, we're slightly stronger than we appear," snapped Trixie, "And Trixie certainly knows how to dispose of the odd Kin."
"Naw, not jus' th' Kinfolk!" He looked nervously back at the bar. "Now'days, nopony comes out 'nless called fer, and if'n you were from round here, ya'll'd be indoors now. Only the mightiest, toughest, seediest ponies got th' gall t' come out 'round this time. An' most've 'em aint so nice, if'n you catch me drift."
"What about the sheriff?" asked Rainbow Dash, "Isn't he keeping them in line?"
"'E would be…if 'n 'e weren't LOCKED UP!" The stallion collapsed in a fit of inebriated and bitter laughter.
"I wonder how you ponies cope, and yet I see a chance of hope," said Zecora, "The ponies out may be quite vile, but that clack of coins may make them smile. If we meet one and buy his trust, we might make an outlaw work for us!"
"Heh…Y' c'n try, ah guess. But them ponies don't norm'lly listen to types to different from 'em. Like zebra ponies, 'n kitty birds."
Gilda zipped up to the local pony's face. "Who're you callin' a kitty bird, old stallion!?"
"Ah just sayin' what they say! Direct fr'm the horses' mouth!"
Right, so the outlaws were mean and possibly racist. Not a problem. Rainbow Dash became Applejack, since maybe they'd trust someone who sounded more like them. Then she waved to her friends as they walked through the rain to the saloon. The sounds of loud, unpleasant screaming and cackling came from within. Applejack reached up when Gilda beat her to the door and knocked it open.
All eyes turned to them. Ponies frozen in the middle of their revelry, and their smiles faded. Showfillies pulling plucky young stallions into upstairs rooms stood still, eyes wide. Some were looks of silent shock and surprise, most were of silent distrust and territorial nature. The barkeep fixed them with a cold glare as he finished cleaning his glass.
Gilda looked about, then trudged onwards, her face a picture of mutual disgust with some disinterest. "Never seen so many backwards-plot country bucks in my life." Trixie gave a slight nod as she followed her to the counter.
Gilda slumped over the bar, and beckoned to the barkeep. "Get me a shot of Dead Sea, and make it quick." The shot slid effortlessly over the bar. Gilda caught it with barely a thought, and chugged it in a millisecond.
A hunched, dark stallion, scarred and bristly, leaned against his table, and pushed up the brim of his hat. "Ya'll picked the wrong night fer a salt lick…'s a dangerous night fer the likes of such…fine looking' fillies."
"Well, we couldn't pick a better night," said Cheerilee, "Seeing as there's only one night now."
Trixie was about to order a drink, when a grimy, foul smelling yellow hoof slid in front of her. "Hey, now, filly, don't get nothing' for yaself. Ah'll buy ya'll a drink an' then…jus' maybe…you can give me sumthin' back later awn." The colt's pointed muzzle came close to her ear, and his hot putrid breath whispered "How's mah bedroom sound?"
Trixie put a hoof on his stubbled lips and turned to him, putting on an alluring face. "I'll get my own drink…but there is one its, bitsy thing you could do for Trixie."
The colt made a strange, hiccuping laughter. "You nayme it, hunny bee! An' then yawl spend th' night?"
"Trixie might do…" By which Trixie meant she'd sooner brush her teeth with swamp moss, "If only some big, strong, handsome stallion…would come with us to take down the Baroness."
For three short seconds, absolute silence reigned from one corner of the bar to the next, as if the world had frozen in place. Then, with a deafening bellow, a choir of raucous laughter filled the tavern. Cackling outlaws slapped their hooves on the table. Guffawing bandits rocked back and forth in their seats. The barkeep lay on the table, wheezing merrily. The group could only sit in silence, and wait the mockery out, before gradually the howling faded into chortling.
One dirt-encrusted bandit rolled across his table. "…You lot…a bunch women-folk…thought y' could saunter int' town, and face up ta the Mayor an' all her hellish instrooments?"
"Why not?" asked Trixie, "We've done it before; at least four times by now."
"Y're a liar."
"Usually, yes, but I'm not lying now."
The muddy folk began to stir and mumbleThe bartender's eyes darted. "Shouldn'ta argued with 'em, ma'am. They gets all riled up."
"Ya'll got quite a mouth on ya, filly," gurgled the bandit, "But if'n yer gonna use it fer that kinda talk, ah mite jus' take it away from ya."
"Hold on a sec!" Applejack came up to the front. "We don't need ta get all touchy on the matter, an' I'm sure we've all got better things ta do than just get in a big ole punch up."
Near the back, a colt's eyes widened.
"Speak for y'rself, brownie!" shouted another bandit.
"Don't ya see? We're not who you ought worry about! It's Nightmare Moon, an' all her dark forces! They might seem big and scary an' unbeatable, but if you're strong enough ta fight us, then you're strong enough ta take her on! We all need ta come together, take on the oppression that chains us, an' be free ponies now an' for-" A bar glass came sailing through the air, just missing Applejack's head, but knocking her hat clean off before smashing behind her. For a few seconds, the cowpony was suddenly speechless.
It wasn't exactly sure to anyone who through the first blow. It could've been one of the bandits, thoroughly fed up with the yammering arrivals, or Applejack, sent into a towering fury from the loss of her headgear, or it could've even been one of her other forms or her allies. It didn't exactly matter, because upon retrospect, a bar brawl was inevitable from the very beginning. Roaring outlaws crashed through tables, not caring who they were hitting. Showfillies scattered yelling shrill screams as they fled for the exit. Bottles were smashed, the walls were splintered, and chaos reigned across the brawling mess of equines. Wings and magic added an extra dimension to the fight. Gilda plucked the bearded dirtbags off the ground, and slammed them into the balcony. Trixie held her ground and fired bolts of firey light. One stallion in a bowler hat attempted to sneak up on her, but found himself hanging from one foot without her even turning around.
Applejack bucked and reared her way through the combatants, her hat clenched in her teeth. Across the room, she suddenly saw Cheerilee and Zecora being ganged up on in the corner. Applejack berated herself, or at least one of the more rational ponies in her did. The two had never had reason to fight before, why should they now? They were doing fairly well at fending off the outlaws swatting at them and kicking hard, but they were very slowly getting boxed in. With a flick of her head, Applejack flipped her hat back on, then dived for the outlaws and landed flat on top of some of them. "Cheerilee! The lasso!" Cheerilee reached into the bag and hurriedly fished about while Applejack once more put her bucking skills to good use. She finally found the rope and tossed it into Applejack's waiting mouth. Applejack turned around, just in time to see a hulking bruiser of a stallion lift a table above his head, ready to throw.
All of a sudden, there came a sudden whooping cry. One pony leaped off the balcony, swinging from a light hung from the ceiling that hardly anyone thought to notice up until now. His hind legs collided with the table and sent the muscle-bound stallion tumbling clumsily onto his side. The colt dropped down in front of the trio, and Applejack's eyes lit up with joy. There was no mistaking the hat, jacket, and roguish look in his eye. "Braebun! Boy, am I glad to see you!"
"Likewise, cous'n! Ah knew ah heard y're voice jus' now but ah could hardly bulieve it!"
Cheerilee looked about, "We have to get going! This brawl could give us good cover!"
"Follow me!" cried Braeburn, "Ah know a secr't way out the back!" The ponies quickly rushed through the throng, pushing past any pair of brawlers that might have stumbled into them. As soon as they were able, they quickly grabbed a team member, and slipped quietly away, while the other fighters were distracted with one another. Gilda struggled, and clearly wanted to keep on fighting, but their exit wasn't a moment too soon.
Unseen in the commotion, a grip wrapped around the edge of the front window, and with the gentlest of tugs, slid it open. With a tremendous crack-a-boom, a bolt of dark magical energy shot through the open window. The fighters seemed to tumble in slow motion as they were knocked down. Bit by bit, the crowd stopped struggling with itself and rippled backwards, filled with fear at the ominous throbbing and glowing coming from outside. With very little effort, the door was knocked to pieces, as the Kin stomped their way through the gap, and spread out across the wall. More bolts were fired from the horns, compressing the formally wild mob that was being quickly tamed by the dark troupe. The group of four, now a group of six, stared back at the spectacle, more out of fear than of pity for the folk that had tried to tear them apart for no adequate reason. But they didn't stay long, and taking full advantage of the conclusion, slipped quietly into the shadows.