My Little Hunters: Friendship is Achieving

by PoH

Chapter 7: The Stage is Set

Ponyville Town Square

The next day; 12 pm

Most of the ponies of Ponyville gathered in front of the mayor’s office building. In the time given to get the ceremony ready, the workers had done a fairly good job. Moving the stage to the front steps and using sparingly little decoration to commemorate the historic day was a great contrast. It needed to be done soon before the Crew would get into real danger, otherwise it would be a posthumous ceremony in vain. The Crew had been waiting inside the mayor’s building, waiting for the ceremony to begin and to show themselves to the town formally. They didn't wear their armor. They only wore their well-fitting raiments, trousers, and boots that normally are worn under the armor. Although, their weapons would always remain on their person.

“Oi, Twilight?” Gavin said with a raised finger as she walked by, writing something on a long piece of parchment.

“Yes?” She said, stopping her timely pace, eyes still glued to the parchment.

“So when’s the ceremony supposed to start?” Gavin asked. “We've been ‘ere for ages.” Twilight glanced at Gavin’s face then quickly back at her parchment.

“Not long now.” She said beginning to trot away, “Maybe another half hour if things go according to schedule.” Gavin sighed and turned around. His friends had already taken up seats in the foyer after hearing that they'd be there for another hour or so. Gavin walked lazily over to them as he plopped himself on the floor to lie down on his back.

“Well,” Gavin said with a stretch, “wake me up when it starts, lads n’ gents.” The Crew began conversing about their ceremony. They were worried the ceremony was a bit quick to be planned well. It turns out that these ponies are the real early birds. The word got through all of Ponyville within the hour before preparations began. The stage had already been set for the mayor, the Crew, and the princesses of the Sun, Moon, and Friendship. A letter had been sent to Cadence, but no reply came in time so the stage was set for three of the four princesses. In her late sealed letter, she said that she was busy with political affairs within the surrounding villages so she couldn't make it anyways.

At this time, the front doors were opened and then shut quickly to allow the entrance of Celestia and Luna. Geoff ceased his talking when he saw them approaching the Crew. He elbowed Jack and Michael who were on the couch sitting to his left and right. Once attention fell solely on the princesses, the Crew stood and met the princesses halfway. Ray lightly kicked a sleeping and drooling Gavin a few times until he startled awake with an “Alright I’m up. Would ya stop pattin’ me with your dumb feet?” Gavin stood and joined his friends before the smiling princesses. Geoff looked behind the two princesses, and decided to talk first.

“Aren't you supposed to have guards or something?” Celestia chuckled lightly and shook her head, but Luna spoke.

“There is no need. We never doubted the fearsome might and pure hearts that you particular humans beheld within you. An exchange of blows in the Canterlot training grounds could bring forth such rationalization. Our sister on the other hand…”

“I doubted you six.” Celestia finished Luna’s sentence. “I was concerned about the safety of Equestria. I should have known better since our reality does not entirely match your world's fantasy. Your actions last night further proved me wrong.” She bowed her head halfway in shame,  “I wish to personally apologize for my brash and impulsive behavior when we first met.” Luna’s smile faded at the sight of her sister bowing her head. Celestia had only done it once before, and it was in her sister’s banishment to the moon that Luna saw the pure sorrow in a fraction of a moment that an unspoken and genuine apology was exerted in those final milliseconds. When the spell was cast, Luna knew that she could forgive her sister one day. That day was the same day Twilight had met her friends. She looked at the Crew, who held faces of understanding and forgiveness.

“Princess,” Geoff said, “you don't have to beat yourself up about it.” Her head remained hung. “Like you said, you were looking out for your ponies. I completely understand. I have my friends here to look after, and I too would eliminate any threat that would want to hurt or kill my friends.” She began to pick her head up at Geoff’s soft words. “I think I speak for all six of us when I say: we forgive you.” The rest of the group nodded and smiled in agreement at Celestia as her frown had grown slowly into the same smile she had on a few moments ago.

“I don't deserve your forgiveness,” Celestia said, raising her head from her bow, “but if you're willing to forgive me, then it would be more rude to deny your forgiveness. Thank you, all of you.” The Crew responded with a few words of assurance like “it's no big deal” and such. Cracking a few jokes and lively conversation made Luna feel relieved that they actually forgave her sister. She knew they were good people ever since their reluctance to fight her in the training yard. Their forgive-and-forget personalities showed very colorfully, acting as if Celestia had never even thought about throwing them in the dungeon.

“So,” Celestia said, with a significant weight lifted from even her voice, “I vaguely remember what one of you said you all did as an occupation. Could you repeat it again?”

“We play video games for a living. Also shoot movies, miniseries, et cetera.” Jack chimed. Celestia raised an eyebrow as her world had been turned upside down. Not only are they not war-mongering, but they play games to make money? This struck Celestia and Luna in a strange way.

“These video games, movies…” Luna said with an intrigued hoof to her chin, “What are they?”

“Like we explained to Twilight’s friends,” Ryan said next, “movies are like plays but you watch it on a TV, and video games are the same except you can interact with it.”

Celestia and Luna were baffled. It's amazing to think that a race that can exert so much power is also so technologically advanced. Television, video games, movies. They almost fear to understand their advancements in war, but learning about your friends and where they come from could only strengthen the bond of trust between each other. So the princesses investigated further.

“And war,” Celestia asked in a nervous tone, “is it rampant in your home planet?”

“Well,” Geoff began, “large scale fighting happens quite a lot. Although, a full declared war between large countries has been fairly scarce for the past few years. But when they happen, wars in our world can be as vicious or worse than your storybooks describe.” Celestia dwelled on that thought.

Maybe they’ve advanced so far in technology that they actually fear war. Not only that, but if war is as vicious as he says it is, maybe that further strengthens my hypothesis. Celestia thought to herself.

Her fascination for the true nature of humans only grew. She now understood Twilight’s excitement in learning about these creatures. In many ways, they are much like the ponies: born from war, deceit, and division. These humans have a long way, but they could one day be like Equestria. She may have Twilight report learnings and breakthroughs of these humans to her via letter in order for Celestia and Luna to stay in the know.

Before Celestia or Luna could ask another question, they were interrupted by Mayor Mare entering the building. The mayor approached and bowed to the princesses.

“Your majesties, please excuse my interruption.” She raised herself from her bow and looked between the princesses and the Crew. “Everything seems to be according to schedule. Princess Celestia, Princess Luna, please join me to the stage to introduce our new residents here. The ponies are becoming restless.” She ended with a chuckle, knowing how the ponies of Ponyville enjoy meeting new friends. They began to walk towards the main doors of the building. She turned her head towards the Hunters and said, “You six follow us. You will be waiting on the deck behind the curtain. By the way, how should I introduce you six?” The doors were pushed open  and they were met by a hastily constructed curtain. The curtain blocked all views into and out of the deck, hiding the humans, princesses, and mayor.

“Hmm,” Geoff thought. He turned his head towards his friends with shrugged shoulders. Michael decided to speak up.

“Just call us Achievement Hunters. It's what we're known for back home.”

“And where is ‘home’?” The mayor asked.

“Austin.” Jack said quickly.

“Hm,” the mayor began to walk towards the curtain opening, “strange names, but it'll do. Now, I must make these quick changes to the script while I can remember them.”

The mayor instructed that the Hunters to stay put until the signal is given. They all nodded in agreement. Once done with her instructions, Mayor Mare and the princesses pushed through the curtain to reveal themselves to Ponyville. The ponies cheered in anticipation at the knowledge of what was to come. All of the ponies that had watched their fight from the previous night had made attendance along with most of the rest of Ponyville. Princess Celestia stood behind the mayor, waiting for her time to speak. Princess Luna sat next to Twilight in one of the three fanciest chairs Ponyville had to offer.

Mayor Mare stood upon the podium, wrote something on the script and cleared her throat. “Citizens of Ponyville, before I have the honor of introducing this new species, residents, and friends of Ponyville, our great Princess Celestia would like to say a few words.” The mayor stepped off of the podium as Celestia took her steps up to it.

“Thank you, Mayor. Good afternoon Citizens of Ponyville. I can sense your anticipation of what is to come, so I promise not to hold too much of the time needed. First, I wanted to extend my personal thanks to the humans behind the curtain here. Defending a sovereign village of Equestria should equate to the defense of the capital of Equestria in a time of danger and is of knight-worthy status. And secondly, the humans and us princesses have discussed of the many differences in the understanding of our worlds. They come from a place where peace is not so easily achieved as it is here. So much so that they fight with each other daily for years on end. However, we are lucky these humans have been brought to us to defend the peace of our world even when they don't have it in theirs. Be grateful Citizens, we are in the presence of sentinels of order.”

The crowd cheered as Celestia stepped from the podium and made a slow pace to her seat on-stage between her sister and Twilight. The Hunters behind the curtains stifled their laughs at calling them “sentinels of order.” Mayor Mare stepped up to the podium and waited for the crowd’s jeers to die down. Once the square became relatively quiet, she spoke with pride and confidence in her voice.

“Thank you, Princess Celestia for sharing your sweet words towards our guests. And without further adieu, please welcome the newest additions of Ponyville: The Achievement Hunters of Austin.” At the sound of their group name, the crowd was a mix of cheers and questions about the name. Eventually, the entire crowd escalated to cheers once again as the Crew pushed through the curtains that hid them. One by one, each Hunter came into view for all of Ponyville to see. Gavin, unsurprisingly, stumbled over loose curtains but quickly caught himself. Thanks to their new abilities of perception, mistakes like this could be more of a thing of the past. Or so it may seem. The Mane 6 were all in attendance within the center of the crowd giving assuring smiles and cheers to the Crew on-stage. Mayor Mare signalled for an assistant to come forth. The assistant was a turquoise unicorn, levitating a tray of sorts carrying silver picture frames. The unicorn took her place next to the mayor.

“Now then,” the mayor said with volume as to force the cheers to go silent once again, “it is my honor to grant official citizenship to Ponyville, and thus Equestria, to our first humans and our new heroes.” She stepped down from the podium with the unicorn following in suit. The mayor walked up to Geoff first. She took the top frame with a certificate, signed and stamped by Celestia and Luna themselves, in between her teeth. She presented it to Geoff, which he took into his hands. He read what it said:

By Right of Royal Decree, we,
Princess Celestia and Princess Luna
do hereby grant
human, Geoffrey Lazer Ramsey
full Citizenship and Rights as an Equestrian Citizen, effective:
8 pNM, Moon 3, Day 28.

“Geoffrey Ramsey,” the mayor said loudly so the crowd could hear their names, “thank you for your bravery.” The mayor said to Geoff as she moved on to reward the rest of his friends their certificates. Geoff smiled at the certificate and read it again.

Huh, he thought, pNM? Wonder what that means.

He looked to his right as his friends received their certificates. He smiled, knowing now their impression on the ponies of Equestria had not been a regrettable one. He wasn't present at the skirmish the night before, but was still thanked for what had happened. He felt a little guilty as he was thanked for bravery he hadn't shown yet and for a deed he didn't contribute to. Although, he did accept a mission to save all of Equestria in a last ditch effort. The bravery it took to accept, he assumed, was what they were possibly thanking him for.

Once all certificates were presented, the mayor returned to the podium while the unicorn assistant went behind the curtains into the offices. The mayor cleared her throat to quiet the anxious crowd.

“Now,” the mayor said turning her head towards the men, “would any of you wish to say any words?” Five of the six immediately looked at Geoff. Geoff sighed and mouthed “fuck you” to his friends. All they did was shrug. He began to walk to the podium. The crowd began to clop their hooves to the ground in applause to see who would be the representative of the Achievement Hunters. The mayor stepped to the side of the podium and allowed Geoff access to the podium. When Geoff took his place, he gulped in nervousness. He had performed in front of way more people back home than this small town. What made him nervous was that he'd never given a speech like this. He took a deep breath and exhaled.

“Hello, everybody.” Geoff began to speak loudly like the mayor. The crowd went painfully silent, but they all held eager, smiling faces that gave Geoff confidence to continue, “I'd like to say that.. we're honored to be a part of your town and that you'd accept us as one of your own. With these certificates comes a promise not to cause trouble while we are here… At the very least, as Princess uh.. Celestia said, we’ll do our best to keep you all safe.” The crowd began to cheer again before Geoff could continue. He felt like that's a strong spot to leave off on. No need to make it cheesy or for it to drag on.

He stepped down from the podium and returned to his position next to his fellow Hunters. Jack patted him on the back and gave him an assuring smile, which Geoff returned. The mayor stood next to the podium waiting for another to come up and speak, but the Hunters seemed satisfied with Geoff’s concise and to-the-point speech. The mayor then stepped up to the podium. The cheers had just begun to die down.

“If that is all,” the mayor glanced at the Hunters to see if any would object, but no objection came, “then that concludes our citizenship induction ceremony. Welcome to Ponyville… Achievement Hunters.” She was still getting used to referring to the humans collectively with the decided name. The mayor turned and reentered her building to continue the day’s work.

The Crew was smiles all around, as they began to walk off of the stage with the princesses in suit. Their full names, beautifully hoof-written, etched on each of their certificates made them all feel actually welcomed. It was then that a purple aura surrounded each of the frames and were lifted from their hands.

“Hey!” Gavin said trying to grab his certificate. “That's mine!” The Crew looked at the princesses to see Twilight levitating the certificates into a saddlebag she had on her back.

“Oh hush, Gavin,” Twilight said with a grin, “I’m just taking these back to the castle so that they can be safer. They are Equestrian documents, so they do require protection. Not only that, but you six would lose them immediately in the ruckus the crowd will make, wouldn't you?” The Crew laughed nervously and mumbled in agreement. A chariot, piloted by three pegasi in armor was brought down for Celestia and Luna.

“If you'll excuse us,” Celestia said, “but my sister and I must return to Canterlot for our daily duties. Congratulations, you six. I expect great things from you. We have our soldiers searching for the spell to return you all home with great haste as we speak.” She and her sister entered the chariot.

“Fare thee well, Achievement Hunters.” The pegasi began to flap their wings and sped off towards Canterlot. Several more guard pegasi joined the chariot in formation as they disappeared into the clouds.

Twilight began to walk off towards her own castle to file the certificates and relax after a morning of non-stop work. Before she could get too far, Geoff ran up beside her while his best friends were, once again, flooded by the townsfolk.

“Oh hey, Geoff,” Twilight said lazily, “don't you want to be with your friends?”

“I will in a second,” Geoff responded, “I just had a quick question about the certificates.”

“I would love to answer it.” Twilight said with a tired smile, “Ask away.” Geoff glanced at the subject of his question, which lay out of sight in Twilight’s saddlebag.

“Just out of curiosity,” Geoff began, “on the certificate it said ‘effective 8 pNM.’ What’s pNM?” Twilight continued her lazy pace as she explained briefly the meaning.

“pNM stands for ‘post-defeat of Nightmare Moon.’ We use major historical events as marks in time. The preceding number is the number of years after the event. I hope that general answer suffices.”

Geoff recoiled a small bit at the unorthodox way of telling time. But he let it slide since in his world, Anno Domini is used to tell years. “I see.” he said, “Well, thank you for clearing that little question up.” He stopped and waited for a response.

“No problem, Geoff.” She said, “It's what I'm here for.” She continued her path to the castle.

Meanwhile, Geoff turned and aimed to return to his friends. The remaining Mane 6 had been separated from the crowd as Geoff was. They seemed to be waiting for the crowd to either disperse. Geoff walked over to the Mane 6, as they were conversing with one another.

“...and maybe even have some tea in the morning?” Fluttershy finished a sentence that Geoff walked in on.

“Hey.” Geoff said as he approached the group.

“Well, howdy there Geoff,” Applejack responded, “that was a mighty fine speech you gave up there. Ya really riled up these ponies more than a mouse in a circus fulla elephants.”

“Thank you, Applejack?” Geoff said.

“Yes, it was.” Fluttershy added, “Didn't you hear me cheer for you?”

“Uhh,” Geoff thought if he did. But with a voice like that, he thought it would be difficult to hear her cheer even if she was the only one there, “there were a lot of ponies cheering so I don't know if I heard you.” Through Michael and Twilight, he had learned that this particular pony is a bit timid. He decided not to just flat out say he couldn't hear her.

“So, what are you gonna do right now, hunh?” Pinkie zoomed around Geoff bombarding him with questions of plans. “Will you go with your friends? Will you try to make new friends? Or will you...” Twilight mentioned this one was very energetic. Geoff couldn't keep up with her theorizing so he waited for her to either stop for a breath or to just stop in general. The moment came in the form of her questions coming to a total stop with her nose against his cheek, completely invading his personal space.

“Yeaaah,” he said, placing his hand on Pinkie’s face and gently pushed her away from his own, “I think I need a drink.” Rainbow’s ears perked up.

“Hey, there’s a new soda shop that I've been meaning to try. We could go there.”

“Well,” Rarity said, “I am feeling a bit parched myself. This heat is dreadful.” She pulled a fan out of nowhere, as it seemed to Geoff, and began fanning herself.

“It’s only the third moon, Rarity.” Applejack said with a chuckle and an elbow at Rarity’s ego.

“Well, excuse me for not being so robust, Applejack.” Rarity turned her chin up in a way that made Applejack roll her eyes.

Geoff sighed. He waved his hand once and shook his head. “No, I mean something way more stiff.”

“Like.. alcohol?” Fluttershy said, almost inaudible. Her cheeks turned a light pink at the remembrance of the burning taste. Geoff nodded at the shy pony. Rainbow swooped in at her side and three her foreleg around Fluttershy’s neck.

“Don't give Flutters that stuff though. She can get pretty… wild.” Rainbow winked in Geoff’s direction. Fluttershy hid deeper behind her long mane, her cheeks going from pink to crimson. Geoff had a small chuckle.

“By the time I leave, I’ve gotta see that then. Now, about that drink?” Applejack stepped forward with a hoof raised.

“Ah think ah can help ya there, Geoff.” Geoff turned to Applejack with an eyebrow raised.


“Darn tootin’”

“Then by all means, lead the way.” Before Applejack could begin walking with Geoff to an unknown destination, she looked towards her friends.

“Any a’ ya wanna join us?” Three of the four girls looked between each other, with Fluttershy being a hard “no” without saying anything.

“Sorry, darling,” Rarity said first, “but it’s much too early to be drinking right now. Perhaps later tonight at Pinkie’s party.” Geoff scoffed at her statement, although she didn't seem to notice.

“I'll have to pass, AJ,” Rainbow was next, “I've got some flight drills to do. Tonight for sure though.”

“And I need to get things ready for the party! I need to buy the drinks, the snacks, the decorations, schedule a dj...” Pinkie continued loudly, and then took in a deep gasp as she realized the time. She zipped away and out of sight. Geoff only put his fingers to the bridge of his nose.

“That one's gonna be the death of me.”

“You and me both, pardner.” Applejack said with a playful tone. “Alrighty then, if none a’ y’all are gonna join, ah guess we'll see y’all later on tonight.”

The ponies and Geoff said their goodbyes and parted ways. Geoff remained at Applejack’s side as they began to walk. He took one look over at his friends who began to be lead away by a much smaller crowd of about fifteen ponies. Michael scanned the area for Geoff before they left the area. He spotted Geoff looking at him at a distance and waved Geoff to come over. Geoff simply raised his fist to his mouth with his thumb to his lips and his pinkie extended. Michael understood and waved him away as Michael rejoined the crowd and the other four Hunters.

Geoff caught back up to Applejack as they continued their trek to an unknown place. Their walk remained in silence as Geoff walked alongside Applejack. He wanted to take the time to actually look at the town. There were so many colors that it almost started giving him a headache.

At some point, they turned and began walking down a dirt path. Soon the dirt path was lined with apple trees. The sunlight would break through the newly growing leaves and already existing branches, every now and then causing Geoff’s eyes to squint. Applejack decided to break the silence with an update of location.

“We got an apple farm just up ahead. That’s where ah’m taking ya.”

“Alright.” Geoff said, “and what’s there, other than the drinks you promised?” The trees became less frequent, meaning they were nearing an opening.

“Just my family. My older brother Big Macintosh, my little sister Applebloom, and my grandmother Granny Smith.” Geoff nodded his head still observing his surroundings. He took note of their names as to not be rude when he met them. “Granny’ll finally believe me when ah said humans actually exist the other day.”

“Well let's hope I don't disappoint then.” Geoff said jokingly. Applejack grinned, unbeknownst to Geoff. Although not so thrilled at first when meeting the humans, she knew what they were capable of. The most important aspects they showed to be capable of were compassion, selfless service, and understanding. Humans do not live with as much luxuries as Equestria ponies, yet these ones will not say “If I can't have peace, then no one can.” She can only assume a large portion of the human race weren't such white knights. This way of thinking is what made Applejack comfortable with introducing at least one human to the clan in such close proximity.

The trees had finally cleared to bright rays of Celestia’s sun. Geoff feasted his eyes on his surroundings. Acres of apple trees lined the fields barely coming to life after a long winter. A cartoonishly large red barn stuck out of the ground like a sore hoof. An then there was the farmhouse, where Applejack and her family resided when there was no work to be done. It made Geoff feel a little at home, remembering the countryside of Texas back home.

“Ah know we've been on the property for a little while now,” Applejack said, “but welcome to mah home: Sweet Apple Acres.” She raised a hoof towards her home for emphasis. Geoff liked the vibe the farm gave off. Even though he noticed the air was more clear when him and his friends first arrived, this place seemed to radiate fresh air. He couldn't wait to see this place during summer.

Applejack had already began walking towards the barn. She motioned for Geoff to follow, to which Geoff complied. The fields and the surrounding area was quiet, and seemed as if no one was around. As they neared the barn door, Geoff could hear light voices and laughter from within the barn. Applejack pushed open the slightly ajar barn door with her head. Once the door had swung open, Geoff peered inside but his eyes were still adjusting from the bright sun. Applejack trotted inside and lifted her head up towards the rafters.

“Applebloom!” she said loudly, “What’s goin’ on up there?”

A little filly with a yellow coat and an apple red mane poked her head over the edge of the rafter with a smile. She had the same accent as Applejack.

“Ah’m just just here with the girls.” At that moment, a marshmallow coated, lavender/cotton candy pink mane joined by a sunset coat with a purple mane of a hue of the same sunset.

“Hi, Applejack!” Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo said in unison.

“Hey y’all, just be careful, ya hear.” Applejack said, making sure Applebloom understood.

“We will.” Applebloom said back. The three fillies disappeared back into the rafters as Geoff felt it appropriate to enter. He glanced up and then at Applejack.

“Your sister?”

“Yeah,” Applejack said making her way to the corner of the barn, “she can be a little troublemaker when she's with her friends, but at the end of the day, she does what she does with good intentions.” Applejack began using her fore hooves to clear the thin layer of hay on the barn floor.

“I've got a daughter myself,” Geoff began. He looked at the rafters where Applebloom and her friends were playing, “so from a dad perspective, I know what you mean.”

“You'll need to tell me more once I get this darn door open.” Applejack said with the handle between her teeth. Geoff put his hand on the back of Applejack’s neck, making her jump a small bit. She looked up with her teeth still on the handle. Geoff was knelt down next to her.

“Want me to try?” Geoff said. He took his hand off of her neck. After a few seconds, Applejack released the handle and shrugged, stepping back.

“Knock yourself out, partner.”

Geoff took hold of the handle and gave it a small tug to judge how much force would be needed to pull the door open. It wouldn't budge, so he pulled a bit harder and the door flung open with great speed. He laid the door gently so it would remain open. He stood up and moved so that Applejack could make her way down the stairs.

“Why thank ya kindly, Geoff.” Applejack said as she passed him and begun her descent into the cellar. Geoff followed closely behind her. The staircase became darker and darker until they reached the bottom. Once the staircase ended, Applejack felt the walls with her hoof. She found what she was looking for and flipped on a switch. Once the lights had finished flickering, Geoff had a clear image of the sight.

Applejack revealed their family cellar, which was larger than the area of the barn floor. Large casks lined some of the cement walls filled with unknown substances. Tables meant to seat four dotted the place. A polished, dark oak bar was seen directly across from the staircase opening. Behind it were cabinets of different kinds of liquors, mostly apple-flavored ones. Beneath the cabinets was a counter lined with different kinds of glasses and tankards.

“Big Mac n’ I use this cellar to host get togethers with friends or family.” Applejack trotted around the bar and washed her hooves in the large sink. She began drying her hooves as she asked, “Now then, what’s yer poison?” Geoff assumed that the drinks would be way different than but asked anyways.

“Got any whiskey?” Geoff walked over and took a seat on the stool. It was then that he noticed how short the bar actually was. It went up to his stomach rather than his chest. Probably to compensate for the ponies’ small stature. Applejack placed her hoof to her chin.

“Hmm,” she pondered, “Ah’ve heard of some mighty strange drinks in my days, but never ‘whiskey.’ Ya mind describin’ it to me? Ah may have something like it.”

“It’s not like your cider.” He began his explanation, “It’s more hard. It burns more?”

At that moment, Applejack’s eyes widened in realization. This cue made Geoff cease his explanation since she seemed to know what he was talking about. She strafed the cabinets above the bar and opened one. She pulled out a bottle of something clear. In the correct angle, you could see that the drink had a slight green tint to it. She pulled a what would normally be a whiskey glass off of one of the racks on the counter and placed it in front of Geoff.

“Now don't quote me on it,” she said as she scooped two ice cubes into the glass, “but ah think ah heard one of mah uncles call it ‘whiskey’ or somethin'.” She began pouring the liquid into the glass using her hooves until it was about two thirds full. “But we call these kinds of drinks ‘buckers' in our part of Equestria.” Geoff picked up the glass and took a whiff. The smell alone almost made his eyes water at the potency of the drink. Besides that, it reeked of granny apple.

He took a sip as to test it. Applejack looked at him with hopeful eyes. Geoff reeled back a small bit as to give a thorough reaction to it. To him, it felt like someone kicked his throat with a burning foot made of apple tree. He liked it.

“Holy shit,” Geoff said in amazement, “Now I know why you call it buckers. That makes whiskey back home taste like a beer.” Applejack didn't know what a “beer” was but she took his reaction as a total complement.

“Why thank ya, Geoff. I made that bottle myself three years ago.” Geoff was already in his second sip of the drink when she thanked him. He thought that maybe since the ponies were more robust, they needed more kick to their drink. It made sense to him, but who knows? Maybe it was just that he hadn't had a drink for the last few days. It was then that he thought about the days when they first came, and remembered something.

“Hey, Applejack?” Geoff said. Applejack had just began pouring a drink for herself.

“Yeah?” She said, still concentrating on the pouring of the drink.

“You're the Element of Honesty?”

“In the flesh.” She said as she capped the bucker and took the glass between her hooves.

“Then can I get your honest opinion on something?” Geoff asked, staring into his drink. Applejack took a sip of hers and answered.

“Shoot.” She said, noticing Geoff’s change in character. She put her glass down and gave him her full attention. He only swirled his drink in the glass before him. After about a minute, he spoke.

“I know I should be over this, but I need some validation from Honesty herself.” He took a sip of the drink and continued. “I'm worried about my guys. They've got tons to return home to. I'm no different so I guess I'm worried about myself too. But…” he waited a few seconds before presenting his question, “you've seen what Twilight’s been studying these past few days. Based on that, what do you think our chances are against this Sombra guy?”

8 hours earlier

The Crystal Empire

The dark of night blanketed the fields surrounding the kingdom of crystals. The only light source to break the darkness being the faint light of the crescent moon above. Within the streets of the kingdom, few guards populated the streets. Among them, crystal ponies running early morning errands began to move about before the day’s busy traffic. On the northern city limits of the kingdom, a squadron of about twelve guards stood facing outwards of the kingdom. One guard was a pegasus as to make a quick alarm to other guards within the kingdom to assist with a foe should it be a problem.

Although, this night would be different. The captain of the sentries guarding this north gate would turn to check on his winged subordinate. All he found was the pegasus impaled through his midsection and pinned to the ground with a jagged black crystal, oozing of green mana. Before the captain could alert his brethren, they all had suffered a similar fate. Their bodies began to flake away as if ceasing to exist. The captain turned to see his last sight: the fields to the north filled with ponies of robotic armor.

A swarm of three umbrums leapt to the captain and began to drive their blades repeatedly into the rugged frame of the pony. With that opening made, the element of surprise was kept. The umbrums moved along the rooftops, using the cover of the remaining night to their advantage. One by one, guards were eliminated by packs of umbrums. They neared the kingdom’s center and ultimate prize. Daybreak had barely begun to show itself. When one citizen caught eye of the silent siege, they alerted nearby guards. But it would be a futile fight.

With the castle in reach, the umbrums began to wreak havoc. Any guard that was seen by an umbrum was slain where they stood. It was at this early hour of morning and under their sprawling castle that Princess Cadence and Shining Armor would make their appearance with the reinforcements from the rest of the city. Before their fight could even begin, six crystal guards charged from behind the princess and guard commander. However, when they charged, they threw themselves at the princess and commander into the direction of the umbrum forces. These six traitors were met with gasps and curses from the crowd of crystal guards. The umbrum soldiers restrained the dazed princess and commander while the traitors joined the ranks of umbrums.

“Paladin Trotlin!” Shining called to his defecting ally. “What are you doing?!” The knight known as Trotlin only kept his attention towards his former allies. The umbrums in control of the pinnacle of the Crystal Empire hierarchy materialized magical pikes at the napes of their hostages necks. Even without making contact, Shining could feel the burning magic radiating from the pikes.

“I have shown him the future.” A dark and chilly voice said, infiltrating Cadence and Shining’s blood vessels turning them into ice at the knowledge of who wore the voice so proudly. They slowly turned to see the umbrum army making way for the pony himself.

A blackened Sombra stood before them. No longer did he don the red, kingly cape. This stallion wore full armor up to his neck with his eyes seeming to teem with pure hatred and mana. He towered over the captured princess and the commander of Crystal Empire forces.

“You.” Cadence said with daggers in her voice, “What do you want from us?” Sombra’s expression could only grow into a devilish smile. He strode up to Cadence and placed a hoof at her jawline. Disgusted by the touch, she jerked her head away from his hoof keeping her eyes on him. Shining could only squirm in anger next to his wife.

“Nothing you should concern yourself with.” He chuckled deeply. He moved at a slow and arrogant pace towards the Crystal Heart. “Cadence, do you know what makes this crystal in particular so powerful?” Cadence winced, realizing what his ultimate target was. But there was something she could not understand and began sweating at the thought.

The heart, she thought, is supposed to protect the Empire. If he’s here, then what’s wrong with the heart?

“It’s quite simple,” he continued off of his rhetorical question, “the crystal itself holds a power, yes.” He engulfed the crystal with his black magic. The heart, when taken from it’s cradle, pulsed a wave of energy throughout the empire. It already began to drain the life force of all of the guards and citizens. “The other times your Elements of Harmony ‘defeated’ me was a ruse meant to give Equestria that false sense of security.” The air around Sombra changed as he began performing a complex spell with the heart in his magical grasp.

“Liar!” Shining said aloud. Cadence seemed to have receded since the heart was removed. She no longer had fighting spirit. “We banished you to Tartarus the last time using the heart.” Sombra stopped his spell at its near completion to howl on laughter. After he dried his tears, Sombra spoke.

“And that was your biggest mistake.” Sombra finished the spell. Rather than shattering the heart outright as expected by the crystal ponies, the heart began to deconstruct itself. As if this were its purpose. “The heart holds power, yes. But the power is not from your little ponies love and affection. Bah. It holds true power. My power.” The heart opened to reveal a set of five black crystals with green and red cores. They were teeming with mana.

The crystals levitated from the heart and placed themselves around Sombra’s neck. The crystals were joined by a magical force that acted as a necklace along the points of each crystal.

“Ahhhh,” Sombra sighed, “back where they belong.” He casted one bolt of some spell into the ground. The vibrant colors and crystal-like appearance returned to the kingdom, as if untouched. The ponies, although, remained mostly powerless. “Now then, take the captain and his little guards underneath the castle to be… reformed.” He strode over to Cadence, who was now hoisted to the backs of two umbrums. “As for you my little princess, I will need your hoof and pen. A letter needs to be sent to your dear Princess Celestia. She should know that you are safe, shouldn't she?”

As the guards, citizens, and Shining were being carried off to the bowls of the castle in weakened fits, Sombra began to ascend the steps of the castle with Cadence alongside him. The castle remained colorful and bright despite the contrast of the umbrum army now occupying it. They passed by an open window. Sombra stopped his guards.

“Do you hear that, Cadenza?” Sombra whispered. Cadence slowly raised her head to answer sarcastically, but couldn't find the strength to. But she did hear something. Something bad. Distant shrieks and jeers that made her listen closely, but couldn't quite put her hoof to it. Her lack of energy didn't help either. “That, my dear, is the sound of deception, on its way here.” He smiled a toothy smile and continued his march to Cadence’s quarters.

Cadence glanced out of the next window to see swarms of changlings landing in the streets and taking the forms of her subjects.