Two days later
Sleepy and dazed, Ray felt his body jerk to the slowing of the train. His eyes cleared, giving him the view of his surroundings once again. The single bench with the same soft material that he sat on and a mirrored bench across from him. The window he leaned on for sleep was large and exposed the rolling green plains out the left side of the train. Dawn's light broke through, the chestnut walls acting as a backdrop for the warmly colored sunbeams passing through his booth’s window.
He sat up and stretched a good, long stretch. He stood and reached for his small messenger bag sitting above him in the luggage rack. Once he sat back down and with his bag on his lap, he opened the the small pocket on the bag's side, revealing a letter. He read the address scribbled onto it: 24 Sunburn Street. Knowing he'd need to ask directions once here, he commited the address to memory. Showing up early, he knew asking Keen herself would have ruined the surprise. He returned the letter to its pocket.
The train whistle blew as the train came to a full stop. Ray stood and threw the strap over his shoulder, tightening the bag to his back. After securing the scarf around his neck, he picked up the sheath holding his trusty estoc, hooking it to his waist. Pushing open the sliding door to his booth, he looked both ways in the hall. Ponies were getting their luggage down from the racks and chatting amongst themselves. The hall was relatively clear, so Ray made his way down the hall. Once at an exit, he stepped off the train and into the station.
Yet to have seen the town itself, he walked through the station to its main entrance. Already used to the stares from ponies who had never seen a human in the flesh, he minded his own business. Once through the main doors, he was greeted by quite the sight: the town of Rainbow Falls.
Built on the edge of town, the station was at the very top of a cliff, giving an excellent view of the rather large town. The town itself sloped down the cliff at an angle, held up by an enormous mess of metallic looking stilts. The houses closer to the top of the cliff seemed to be more modern and minimalistic. As Ray let his eyes roll down the length of the town, the houses began to look more aged and stone built. It was like you could see the passage of time just by looking further down the cliff. At the opposite end of the town, almost hanging off the edge of the cliffside was the town hall. A large dome placed on top to signify its overseeing presence. Cutting the town in half was the iconic waterfall the town was built around. The hallmark of the entire town. The mist seemed ever present throughout the town. It was an air drenched in a thin layer of water, giving the freshness needed to combat the beating sun above. Due to the prismatic mist droplets and intense sunlight, the streets and white dwellings were painted by the natural color nature fractalized for the townsponies, giving the town its name.
Ray drank in the sight. He thought Canterlot was beautiful, but to him this town took the cake. He walked down the path that lead to one of many streets that lead into the town itself. Looking around, he could see the Rainbow Falls citizens going about their days. He tried to pick out ponies who looked least busy to bother with directions to Keen's home. Once about seven streets into the town, he found a vendor who had no business at that moment. The vendor gave Ray the information needed to reach Keen's street. Turns out, her home was on the opposite end of town.
Ray continued his trek through the gorgeous town. Once he approached the bridges that connected the north and south districts, the air became even more fresh than when he arrived, thanks to the waterfall he now passed in front of. Looking over the edge of the bridge, he could see the pool of water hundreds of feet down that the falls dispensed its contents into, leading further away from the cliff in the form of a river.
Now on the north side of town, his surroundings became more residential versus the south district being economical. Houses, apartment complexes, duplexes, and many more types of housing littered the sides of the street with no clear pattern. He approached a sign bearing the names “Sunburn” and “Lilac.” Being the street he needed, he turned toward down the street where he assumed Keen's house would be.
Now being halfway down the cliff, the houses on the street seemed halfway between modern and Old Equestrian. He reached a stone and metal mailbox, the number 24 painted on the side in a script font. Looking at the house he was searching for, it seemed to have very little difference to the houses surrounding it. Stone with wooden accents, decent amount of windows, a green front lawn. The whole house was comparable to human suburbia, including that classic, white, waist-high picket fence.
Opening the gate and closing it behind himself, he approached the russet door. He raised his fist and gave the door three knocks. Silence. He then heard approaching clops from the other side of the door. The door swung open, revealing the blonde pony of the hour.
“Yes?” Keen said in a cheery voice, without realising who was at the door. Her hair was out of her normally military-like bun and in a carefree style, draping around her head and wavy like fields of grain. Once she looked up and her eyes met Ray's, her face lit up into an even bigger smile.
“Surprise.” Ray said with a big smile and palms facing outward towards Keen. Keen was quick to jump into the hug Ray offered. Unlike the previous times, she hugged him with more care, but just as much affection.
“Oh my Celestia! You're here!” She squeed, now squeezing Ray more tightly. She released her strong grip and stepped back. “And you're here early! That's not fair, I didn't get to clean up.” Her pouting was aimed upward towards Ray’s grinning face.
“Honestly, your house couldn't be as bad as the slobs I work with.” Ray said, with a shrug.
“Well,” Keen stepped aside with a flourish of her hoof, “if you insist.” She couldn't help but giggle at her own movements.
Ray stepped inside the blonde mare's dwelling. A glass, sliding back door as well as high up semicircular windows were the main sources of light. Celestia’s sun casting its beams onto the simple furniture that occupied the living room. A couch and loveseat cornered off the living room area, while a small kitchen was through a low archway to his left. A hallway to his right no doubt lead to the bedrooms and bathrooms the house contained. Small frames of watercolor art hung along the walls depicting everyday objects and scenes, ranging from a busy street filled with commuting ponies to a skyline of buildings with Luna's night sky softening the shades that touched each building. Sparsely furnished, it felt very roomy overall.
“Nice place.” Ray said, nodding at the humble abode. “You live here alone or you have family?” Ray walked over to a nightstand and looked closely at a picture frame.
“Oh, I live in this house alone.” Keen trotted over to Ray's side and looked at the picture he was examining.
A set of four ponies took the center of the picture in front of an older looking home. A large, teal stallion with a buzzcut for his mane stood near the back of the ensemble, a cool looking grin spread across his face. To his left, a smaller mare with a pompous blonde mane and a lemon colored coat smiled sweetly, her eyes focused dreamily upward at the stallion to her right. Forward of the two older ponies sat two smaller ones, one a colt and the other a filly. The colt had a lighter tint in his coat as the stallion towering directly behind him. Running down his shortly cut mane took on an electric blue color, accented by yellow streaks. He smiled widely with his eyes closed, showing his pearly white teeth. Finally, sitting in front of the larger mare was a smaller, similar looking filly. This filly beared the striking resemblance of Keen, short of the braces that lined her toothy smile.
“Oh speaking of family, that's them.” She clarified. Using her hoof, she pointed out each pony in the picture. “That's me, my little brother Terrace, my mom Cheri Sweets, and my dad Skid Heart.”
“Nice braces, railroad mouth.” He joked, earning a solid punch to his ribcage from the blonde mare.
“Shut up, four eyes.” She stuck her tongue out, taunting him before laughing alongside with him.
Walking away from the nightstand, Ray looked at the house more closely. As he examined the walls and art that lined them, his eyes reached an end at a coat hanging from a hanger that hung from a nail in the wall. The coat’s dark, navy color gave it a very professional look. At the top of each sleeve of the coat, Ray could see two gold laced chevrons stacked one on top of the other signifying her corporal rank. The left chest area of the coat held two military medals, as well as a ribbon tree containing four ribbons. Above the ribbon tree sat a caduce, enclosed by a wreath, with a star at the base of the wreath. A black nameplate hugged tightly to the right side of the coat with the name “HEART” stamped into it. Underneath the nameplate was a large, golden emblem of a simple airship with a red cross emblazoned upon the balloon of said airship.
“Woah. Is this yours?” Ray asked, still entranced by the precision of the uniform before him.
“Oh no, I'm just holding it for another pony that just so happens to have the same exact last name as my own.” She said with a smirk, sarcasm dripping off of the words used.
“Man, brush your teeth with toilet water? ‘Cause that's a lot of shit you're talking.” He chuckled out. She giggled at his rather quick response.
“Yes, it's mine.” She said after her giggles died down enough to speak. “I'm wearing it for the ceremony. The mayor insisted.” With a roll of her eyes, she bypassed Ray and stepped into the kitchen. Ray turned to follow. He leaned over the low countertop, interlocking his own fingers as he watched his new friend using magic to pull a box from a cabinet and a kettle from a lower cabinet.
“You want some tea?” She asked, as she flipped open the faucet in the sink, pouring water into the metal kettle.
“Uh, sure, I guess.” Ray responded with a shrug.
Once she had the water on the stove, she prepared two mugs and the tea bags in them. While waiting for the water to be ready, Ray interrupted the silence that had befallen them.
“So this hospital named after you. When will they start building it?”
“Oh!” She said, surprised, “It's nearly done. They are just finishing up some details here and there. They've already found staff to work there, and the shipment of supplies to start up the hospital should be showing up today as well. It looks like it's going amazing!”
“Wait, they've already built the place this fast?” Ray asked, very impressed that such a building operation could be planned and executed so soon after its conception.
“Well, here in Equestria, we do have things like, I don't know, magic and wings.” Ray threw his head back slowly, as if coming to the realisation that he keeps neglecting the nature of magic and flight in this world. She shook her head with a smile, “Still getting used to that, Ray?”
“Yeah.” he said, pinching the bridge of his nose.
The kettle whistled. Keen picked it up by its handle with her sparkling gold magic. She carefully poured the boiling water into the mugs. Once she dumped the kettle, she retrieved another container from her cabinet. She placed it in front of Ray. It contained a golden, viscous liquid. Opening it, she floated a spoon inside the container and pulled a spoonful of the substance.
“I personally enjoy honey with all my teas.” Tilting the spoon, the rich honey fell slowly into the mug. “Would you like some?” She looked up to Ray, waiting for an answer.
“No, thanks.” He took a careful sip of the tea after mixing the contents around. It was bitter, but Ray thought it was just fine. “It tastes good as it is.”
Keen capped the honey and pushed it aside. She also took a careful sip of the scalding liquid. Satisfied she placed the mug down and stood on her hind legs, resting her forelegs onto the counter, opposite of Ray.
“So,” Keen said, making eye contact and catching Ray's attention which was currently in the mug he was sipping from, “Now that you know a bit about me, I think it's time to return the favor. What’s it like where you live? What do you do for money where you come from?” Ray put down his mug to answer.
“I play video games with the other guys you saw me with. That, and a few other things.”
“Video… games?” Keen tilted her head slightly, curious of what Ray meant. “What's that?”
“They're like…” Ray paused to think. The ponies here don't even have TV, so he tried to remember how Michael explained it to Twilight. “It's like watching a show or something. But you have control over what happens. You play video games for fun, you know.” He shrugged again, but this time at his crude explanation of the concept.
“Weird. But I think I get it.” She assured, thinking of her next question. “And your friends? I haven't caught their names.”
“So the one with the big sword, that's Geoff. Back home he's my boss where we work.”
“Oh! So you all work together?”
Ray nodded at her question. “And the one with curly hair and the two swords, his name's Michael.”
“He's the loud one right? I mean, the really loud one.”
“That's right. And the one with the bow and goofy haircut is Gavin. On a normal day, he's quite the klutz.”
“He is?” She huffed in surprise. “I never would've guessed. He was hitting all the changelings when we were on the Restless. His accuracy was impeccable.”
“Well,” Ray started. But he remembered how the scrolls used to give them these abilities were top secret Equestrian history and were not a valid explanation to citizens or soldiers. “We all get lucky sometimes, I guess. And he's a lot smarter than he lets on. Anyways, the big one with the beard is Jack.”
“Oh, I remember him.” She shuddered a small bit. “He kinda scares me. He looks mean.” Ray laughed at that. Keen looked at him, not sure what was so funny.
“You couldn't be further from the truth. The dude is a teddy bear. He'd rather ‘hug it out’ than fight some changeling or umbrum.” Shock at the response was strewn across Keen's face.
“Really?!” She blinked in surprise.
“Really really.” Ray doubly affirmed. “And last is… Ryan.” His smile from the earlier statement began to fade as he thought about how the plan to have Luna absorb a scroll to save Equestria came back to mind. Keen saw this change in his character, her facial expression becoming sincere.
“Was he the one that… went with Sombra?”
Ray nodded slowly. “I'm not too worried about him. Ryan's smart and strong. He'll probably figure out a way to kill Sombra before we can even get to him.” Ray smiled, despite grief he and his friends suffered. Keen only looked with concern for the human in from of her. She had been in only three encounters with Ray, but felt like she's known him his entire life. She presumed battle truly does bring ponies closer together as easily as it can divide them.
“Well if he's that smart and strong, I'm sure he'll be okay!” She quipped cheerily. Ray only responded with a small chuckle and a growing smile.
Through the duration of the conversation, Ray had finished his tea. They continued to discuss the ceremony to take place the next day. Keen explained how her family was to be present and that he could meet them afterwards. Ray had saved bits from odd jobs he had performed the week he was supposed to be “recovering” from the loss of their friend. He was to use said bits to purchase a room in a motel. When he explained this, Keen sternly refused. She offered her home to Ray, claiming to save his bits for her gift.
Keen and Ray spent the day touring the upper levels of Rainbow Falls. They visited childhood friends and shops that Keen would frequent. Most ponies welcomed the Achievement Hunter with open arms and some, while few others remained wary of his species and the sheathed weapon at his waist. He didn't mind. After all, he knew that at some point he'd help save all of Equestria. Even if the prejudice ponies don't ever see that humans are unlike they've been told their entire lives.
As the day gave way to night, Keen had introduced Ray to the hospital to be named in her honor. It was located in central Rainbow Falls, equidistant from all edges of the medium sized town. It had a sleek, white design with many windows. About ten stories high, it could be seen from throughout the town. Rainbow Falls was a tourist attraction, nothing more. A little town built on the side of a cliff. No well-known pony in history had ever come from the Falls. So her being the first to receive such an honor was, how Keen described it: “sort of a big deal.”
Once returned to Keen's home, she made dinner for her guest. Once dinner had concluded, she offered her room to Ray. After a half hour of arguing and playful pushes, Ray hesitantly accepted Keen's offer. A long day of ceremony was to take place the next day. Keen had nearly immediately fallen asleep on the couch while Ray lay in silence a little more comfortably in the room next door.
The next day
Keen stirred awake with a groan. Her sleep encrusted eyes opened quickly and shut themselves to look out the window she did everyday to determine whether it be the morning or the middle of the night she was waking up in. In the moment she flicked her eyes open, she saw faint sunlight peeking through and between the curtains of the familiar window. Remembering the day, she began to force herself awake. Sitting up in near darkness, she rubbed her eyes with her forehooves. Her mane was unkempt and messy. Taking a look around, she realized that the window seemed so familiar due to the fact that she awoke where she didn't fall asleep.
A smile forced itself to her lips and a frustrated sigh was all that could be heard from the silence of her bedroom. She threw the blankets off of herself and stepped towards her door, emitting a deep yawn. Opening the door, she could hear distant sizzling down the hallway. Following the sound and the intensifying scent that grew, she emerged from the hallway and into the living room.
From here, Ray had his back to her as he worked on something within the kitchen. The sizzling sound and the enticing aroma came from whatever he had in front of him.
“So first you switch places with me from where we were sleeping,” Keen playfully broke the silence between them, “and then you make breakfast? You're supposed to be the guest you know.” She trotted into the kitchen to see exactly what Ray was making.
“Yeah, well today is your big day.” Ray responded with a flat expression. “So why not treat you to a good night's rest and some breakfast?” Keen shook her head and peered into the pan before Ray.
Utilizing a spatula, Ray poked around at a slice of bread. The center of the slice seemed to have been cut out with the brim of a large cup. Within the hole now made into the bread, an egg sizzled over medium. The smell was stronger than when Keen was in the hallway, and her mouth began to salivate lightly.
“That smells really good!” She exclaimed. “What is that?”
“I saw it in a movie called ‘V for Vendetta’ once.” He explained as he carefully turned the slice over as not to break the yolk of the egg. “I didn't think it'd be that hard. But…” He stopped, as he glanced over his shoulder. Keen followed his quick glance and noticed four plates on the counter, their contents already cold. Each plate showed a gradually improving attempt at him making the dish. The first one had the yolk broken all over the slice of bread, while the more recent one looked undercooked. “Don't worry, I'll eat those. I'm starving anyways. You can have this one. It'll be more fresh.”
Ray slid the spatula underneath the slice and placed it onto a vacant plate. He handed the plate to the smiling blonde mare, who lifted it with her magic. She trotted to the dining table, placing the plate in front of her. Ray followed her with the four plates with the failed attempts in them in his hands. Placing the plates on the table he took his seat alongside Keen.
“Thank you, Ray.” She said, making sure to lock her eyes with Ray who was preoccupied in taking a bite out of his first failed attempt. Mid bite, his eyes caught hers.
“You're welcome.” Was all he said, as he returned his eyes to the meal in front of him. He bit down into the bread slice. Focusing his eyes out of the large window next to the dining room table, he hadn't noticed Keen's own gaze hadn't left Ray. She opened her mouth to say something as he took another bite, but decided to shut it. She looked down at her breakfast, deep in thought. “Your food'll get cold if you keep staring at it like that.” Ray said, pulling her from her thoughts. Ray had already cleared two plates and was now working on his third.
“Right.” She said lightly. “Sorry. Guess I'm still asleep.” She lifted the slice with her magic and to her mouth. She took a sizeable bite out of it and began to chew. A surprising amount of flavor washed over her tongue and her eyes went wide. She looked at Ray, who continued to eat away at his third plate. “Ray?”
“Whush up?” He muffled through a full mouth, turning his eyes to Keen. Some crumbs flew from his mouth as he talked. She swallowed her mouth's contents to speak.
“Do you cook often?” She asked. Ray chuckled and then swallowed the food obstructing his voice.
“Hardly ever.” He shrugged, returning to his third breakfast. “Just thought it'd be nice to try my hand at it.” With that, Keen returned to her own breakfast as well. She took another bite, this time reaching some of the egg as well. With the taste of the bread and the egg, it was even more flavorful.
“Well, you're a quick learner. Because this tastes amazing.” She said in a surprised tone. Ray slid his last plate in front of himself.
“Thanks.” He said, shooting a genuine smile at her.
As they neared the end of their breakfast, Ray had finished wolfing down his four plates while Keen only just began to reach the end of hers. Ray looked to the uniform still hanging on the wall. Next to it, a wall clock hung, ticking away. The clock read 10:16.
“What time are you supposed to be at the hospital?” Ray asked as he picked up his plates and carried them to the sink.
“Before noon.” She said before finishing the last bite in her breakfast and wiping her snout with a napkin. Keen followed Ray's action and looked at the clock herself. She got off her chair and floated the plate over to the sink in front of Ray who gladly took the plate to be washed. “Thank you for washing those, ‘cause I need to get ready.”
Keen disappeared into the hallway leading to the room and bathroom for several minutes. Once Ray had finished the dishes, he looked up to the clock. 10:28. He walked around the counter and into the living room, taking a seat on the couch he had slept on the night before. He waited in silence for Keen, until she finally returned. Her mane was in a tight bun, giving her quite an intimidating business-woman look. Ray noticed that she smelled of bluebonnets and her coat slightly glistened due to the shower she seemed to have taken.
She hastily moved to where her uniform hung on its hook. Behind it, a clean and pressed white collar shirt hung on another hanger. She pulled off the shirt with her magic, proceeding to swiftly put her forehooves through the sleeves. She buttoned up the few buttons all the way up to the collar as well as the buttons bear her forehooves. Pulling a navy neck tab from the same hanger, she wrapped it around her neck under her collar. Finally, she lifted the coat, placing her forehooves through the sleeves as she did with the white shirt.
As she was buttoning up the three golden buttons on the coat, she moved herself in front of a mirror by the front door. She examined her uniform closely, making small adjustments in the positions of her awards and emblems. Ray, long finished with the dishes, came to her side and watched her meticulous judgement of the sharpness in her uniform. Once done judging her uniform, she turned to Ray.
“Does it look okay?” Keen asked, allowing Ray to clearly see the uniform on her. A quick onceover was all Ray could give.
“If it looks good to me, then I'm pretty sure the other ponies will think it looks good too.”
She let out a sigh of relief. She trotted to the now empty hangers to retrieve the garrison cap that was clipped to the hanger that held her coat. The garrison was curved and golden laced. A platinum emblem of a crest with an airship residing within it sat perfectly measured on the right side of the cap. Coming back to the awaiting Ray, he was already tightening the strap of his messenger closely to his torso, his estoc already hooked to his side, and his leather armored sections strapped to his body.
“Ready?” Keen asked with a smile.
“Ready as I'll ever be.” He said, opening the front door for the mare of the hour. “I really should've showered before you even got up.” Keen placed the garrison cap on her head and walked by Ray. She sniffed him on her way by.
“You're fine. Surprisingly.” She assured with a joke before Ray closed the door behind them and they made their way to the newly built hospital.