My Little Hunters: Friendship is Achieving

by PoH

Chapter 16: The Shelved and Forgotten

Mountain range

North of Rainbow Falls

Ray kept his distance from Runa's band of jailbreakers. They took many back roads, trails, and at some points it seemed that they broke off the trails and went straight through woods, marsh, or brush. Ray remained high up when he could. However when there was no vertical vantage point, he kept his distance at a much greater magnitude. The combination between his shadowed armor and his increased agility kept him well out of sight and earshot.

As they continued northeast of Canterlot, rolling plains became instantly apparent once Ray had broken through the canopies of a forest. He could see the group he had been following cresting a small hill, heading in the direction of a rocky mountain range far off in the distance. Both Ray and the miscreants trekked across the plains with no interference.

The grass slowly gave way to dirt as the plains morphed into small hills of boulders and rock. The group maneuvered through the saddles and valleys between the hills to their destination. Ray was hoping it would lead to their living area and he could get some answers from them. He kept his eyes on the larger cat, as this particular cat looked timid and easily influenced by a threat. He hoped that if all else failed, this cat would be brought into custody for interrogation on the train robbery.

They crested a ridgeline with Ray following from boulder to boulder. Once they remained out of sight, he waited a minute to give them time to undoubtedly move down the hill. Once the minute was complete, he moved quickly up the hill as to not lose them. His vision pied the top of the ridgeline, Celestia's sun casting a shadow over the valley within. The valley, exhibiting a long crevice at its center, was dark, cold and, to Ray's dismay, empty. He cursed under his breath as his eyes searched the entire valley and could not see where the group was. He believed he may have blown his element of surprise some time before and that they used this time to evade his senses.

He slid slowly down the hill, following the disturbance of rock and dirt to hopefully give their trail back to him. He made it to the lowest point of the valley nearing the large crevice. Their trail was well hidden as he's sure they've been followed before. The magic that flowed through his eyes now, however, gave him the edge he needed to maintain his contact to them. The trail lead right to the edge of the crevice with larger, more deep paw prints in the dirt. He peered across the ravine and put two and two together. He poked his head into the ravine and saw nothing but darkness. Listening closely, he could hear rushing water echoing from within.

He stepped back from the edge a couple steps and burst into full sprint. He planted his foot onto the edge and cleared the ravine, slowing his momentum by rolling the forces off of his body. He looked around the other side of the ravine and found that the dirt and rocks were completely untouched and all looked natural. He felt it impossible that they could've covered their tracks this well and then successfully evade his pursuit. He scanned the nearby environment and saw that nothing was out of the ordinary. Nature was undisturbed past the crevice now behind him.

That gave Ray an idea. He returned to the large crack in the ground and peered once more into its abyss. Putting his ear even closer and focusing on only the sounds, he closed his eyes. The water's rushing sounds became more apparent and audible. He continued listening closely, trying to listen past the water until he heard it: a laugh from within.

"Busted." Ray said to himself with a smirk. It was then that he noticed that the paw print indentations across the crevice were a mere ruse to deter any trackers. Luckily for him, he knew better.

He slipped a knife from his gauntlet and tied a thin yet sturdy line of wire to it. He scanned the ravine's depressed walls until he found a spot that looked like a landing used by the cats. Their superior climbing skills made it easy for them to simply latch onto the wall and climb downward. For Ray, he had to improvise. Hurling the knife in his hand, it lodged itself deep into the rock wall of the ravine right above the natural landing as he dug another knife deep into the rock at his feet. He jumped and landed with his boots on the wire, using his forward momentum to slide down into the ravine.

Once on the landing, he retained both knives and the wire between them. From here, he peered into the ravine again. This time, with the aid of Celestia's setting sun, he could see more details from within. An underground river flowed along the ravine's center. Further down the river, it seemed to end short, indicating a drop. He looked along the walls and saw that the rock here was jagged. Easy to hook onto if you had some claws.

Such was evident when Ray noticed the wall closest to the edge of the landing he stood on had faint claw marks going across to other landing. Ray ran along the wall, following the same patterns the claw marks made. He went from landing to landing until he began hearing voices from within the ravine. He was nearing the drop where the river seemed to waterfall deeper into a cave system. He made his wall runs much more carefully and kept his own movements at a quieter volume.

One wall run almost had him discovered as he passed the river's drop. He landed cleanly on another landing, but this landing had a large hole that lead into the wall of the ravine. He quickly sidestepped out of view from the inside, as he could hear voices to be far more apparent. Among the voices, he heard Runa. He peeked into the hole, and crept inside. It was pitch black within, but Ray's eyes could cut through most of the darkness with the help of the magic within him. No light sources illuminated the almost hallway-like cave system. He took each step with care and caution.

It was then he found a light, soon after entering the den. He drew closer and the voices were at more reasonable talking volume. He could begin making out what was being said.

"...and just like that," a male voice said charmingly, "the little witch didn't even know she was robbed."

"Slick work on getting that sneeze tree leaf." Runa said as Ray inched closer to the doorway that emanated a soft, red glow. The voices were now completely discernable. "Sounds like you had your fun." Runa began sifting through the homemade cabinets they had built and placed themselves. "And how about you, Tug? Anything you did while I was gone?"

"Uhhhh…" the large cat went deep in thought of any point of interest that happened within the week. "Ooh! I know! I helped Morning with her golem problem!" Runa scoffed.

"Again? I keep telling that pony to move somewhere else on the Shelf but she won't listen."

"For a good reason, though." A nasally voice said. "She knows that the golems are protecting something deeper in that cave. She wants to know just like her husband did. She's too old now though."

"You know what I think?" Runa responded followed by silence, "I think that we should help her relocate. It's been long overdue."

Ray could hear the light clinks of a mortar and pestle that Runa skillfully operated between her paws. It was at this point, Ray racked his mind, thinking about his next move. He looked behind himself down the way he came. He plotted the path he took in his mind that lead back to the cave's mouth. Once he had it in mind, he took a step in the direction of the way he came from. With quickness and no time to react, he felt a paw wrapped around his throat and lifted him from the floor.

He was thrown into the red lit room where he slammed onto the cold, cave floor. He stood immediately, still dazed from the landing, and found himself surrounded by the jailbreaking cats and a fox. Runa stood in her place with her forelegs crossed across her chest, obviously unsurprised by Ray's hasty arrival.

Sitting on a couch off to the side, he saw a much more stumped ash gray cat with darker gray stripes accenting his coat. His eyes struck Ray as interesting as one was a brilliantly glowing sky blue while the other was pitch black. He seemed to have been fiddling with a gadget on his lap before Ray had been thrown in. 

Standing behind the couch leaning over the back rest was a much taller fox. It so happened to be around Ray's height. His fur was a warm orange accented with jet black stripes and the color of the tips of his ears matched his stripes. A messenger bag dangled off of his shoulder. His steel eyes bore into Ray's own as if he was trying to read Ray.

Finally, the paws that threw him into the room belonged to the enormous "Tug," as they called him. He was snow white with the exception of his left foreleg's paw which solidly switched to a midnight black. He had a friendly look in his chestnut eyes despite Ray's hostile stance and status.

"Well look what the cat dragged in." Runa punned expectantly. "We have ourselves a pretty skilled tail. Didn't think you'd get here so quickly, Ray."

"What?" Ray asked surprisingly, "So if you knew I was going to follow you, why did you come where you live?"

"Because," Runa explained, "you need to see what your precious Equestria has done to the likes of us. So I thought, 'what better way than to show him how the impoverished really live?'"

"There are many problems," the nasally congested ash cat added, "in Equestria that have yet to be even looked at by the princesses. So we do what we have to to survive." The cat continued working on the device on his lap.

"Tac is right." The orange fox said, his voice deeper and more ominous, still smirking at Ray, "Even monsters like you should be able to grasp a concept of the rich and poor. What you see as 'poor' in Equestria is still more luxurious than what we live in and especially how we got here. The largest refuge in Equestria..."

"Titus!" Runa interrupted, "You don't need to bring the rest of the Shelf into this."

"Well," the fox named Titus shot back, "I think he needs to understand." Titus glared at Ray who was unmoved by his threatening look. "He obviously wants what was stolen back. So let's at least defend our cause before he attempts to take it all away from us." Ray knew the fox named Titus implied that he would fight before Ray would walk out of there with the supplies they stole. Titus stormed to the opening of the room. "Come on, human. It's time you see our purpose here."

"This oughta be good." Ray responded sarcastically, placing his left hand on the pommel of his estoc. He followed Titus closely, waiting for the fox to try something.

"Oh trust me," Titus snarled back as he moved down the corridor Ray came from, "it will."

"Titus, wait." Runa ran after the pair with Tug close behind.

5 minutes later

Deeper within the cave

Returning to the landing Ray had entered from, they continued along the cave wall. They delved deeper and deeper into the cave, following the underground waterfall to its ultimate bottom. A sheer 80 foot drop from the top of the waterfall to the bottom. They followed the underground stream further inward. The fox and cats had no problem seeing through the darkness of the cave. Just as Ray was about to fall into total darkness, a dim light flickered not too far forward of the group. The light grew and grew until he could see its source.

A hearth burned above the stream being held up by a rusty chain and pulley. A sort of bramble glowed within. More hearths of the same size and aesthetic burned deeper in the cave providing a low light to the surrounding area. Large tents, tattered and worn, dotted both sides of the stream. As they walked past them, Ray noted the insides of the tents. Scarce food, dirty pans and plates, blankets that would offer very little warmth, and then there was the creature that dwelled in each abode. Every tent seemed to have a different starving and/or sick creature of different species.

After seeing the inside of countless tents, Ray began to understand. The tents only became more and more numerous and cramped. It came to the point where he was almost tripping on large cats, gryphons, and even ponies just trying to sleep on bed rolls or other various blankets. Some of the creatures recognized him somehow and began thanking him immensely to the point of almost groveling at his boots. The sight began to wear on his loyalty to the royal sisters. Ray stopped in a clearing between groupings of vagabonds.

"Alright, I've seen enough." Ray said, looking off to the side at nothing in particular. The group halted and turned to him. "I get it. You're trying to provide for them. All of them." He sighed solemnly. "I get it." Runa noticed the understanding in Ray's avoiding gaze. She shook her head in content.

"Now that you've seen this," Runa said, "would it be right to stop us from trying to help all of these creatures? The Shelf is a shelter we've built for them, but it's no home." Ray continued looking across the across the stream. Runa sensed shame. She looked at the upcoming group of tattered creatures and chose the nearest earth pony. She went up to him and tapped his back to awaken him from his sleep.

"Whuh…?" He said drowsily.

"Excuse me, sir." Runa said softly. "I'm sorry to bother you but could you step over here for a moment? I would like to introduce you to somebody."

"Huh?" The pony said once more, "oh, uh, I'm trying to sleep, so…"

"It'll only take a moment." Runa responded. "I promise." The stallion stood with an aching grunt. He slowly followed Runa to Ray. The stallion widened his eyes 

"Oh!" The stallion said surprised, "I know you. You're one of the humans that the princesses brought here. You saved Manehattan from being trampled by King Sombra." Ray decided to make eye contact with this pony who was going out of his way to thank Ray. Ray gave in.

"Thank you, really." Ray responded. "But it wasn't just me. I had some friends along with me."

"Then thank them for me too." The stallion smiled weakly. "I have family in Manehattan, and if it weren't for you and your friends..." He trailed off before changing subjects, not wanting to think if the outcomes. "You are doing Equestria a... great service." The pony hesitated.

"Is there something wrong?" Ray asked with concern. When the pony shook his head as if nothing were wrong, Titus stepped in.

"No. Mr. Woodstock." Titus insisted. "Tell him. Tell the human about how you lost everything to the Falls." The stallion, once again, hesitated. Then he finally spoke.

"I truly am grateful for your service on protecting us from a threat bigger than starvation." The stallion began. "But Rainbow Falls, and in turn the royal sisters, left me hanging when I needed them most. I paid insurance for all of the things in a tavern I ran in the lower sections of Rainbow Falls. One day, the rate went up hundreds of bits. Bits I couldn't afford. So I thought I could live without the insurance. But coincidentally, a gang of dogs offered protection of my tavern for a not so steep price, but I humbly refused not wanting rabble like that in my family's tavern. Then they smashed up and burned my tavern to the ground, forcing me out of the Falls and ultimately to here."

"Oh shit. I'm… sorry to hear that that happened to you." Ray said, slightly clenching his fists in regret.

"That's not the worst of it!" Woodstock added. "Rainbow Falls did nothing to compensate when I went to the mayor. Instead, they built a new store in my tavern's place almost overnight!" He put his snout in his hooves as tears formed in his eyes. "That place was passed down through generations in my family… and they just built over it…" Ray looked away once again, feeling remorse that he didn't fully understand. Runa moved to the stallion and placed just paw on the back of his neck.

"I'm sorry to bring you into this." Runa apologized to the stallion. "Thank you for sharing that with us. I know it was hard." She escorted the now sobbing stallion back to his place on the cave floor. Runa returned with a determined look on her. "Look, Ray, this was just one example. Nearly every creature in this cave have stories just like it. Most came from the Falls with a variation of the same story."

"So what does all this have to do with me?" Ray asked the group. Titus stepped in.

"You came for the medical supplies, right?" Titus reclarified. Ray nodded in response. "Well, we have sick and injured here too. More than Rainbow Falls will see in a hundred winters." Ray understood their motive now.

"So you took the supplies," Ray recapped aloud, "so that you can treat everyone here."

"Simple as that." Titus confirmed.

Ray was stuck in thought. He had to make a decision. He had the town of the now idolized pony he promised to help on one side, and a subterranean refuge of creatures in dire need of help on the other. He developed the plan amongst himself: first he'd talk to the mayor about the creatures' evictions to see if it were true and if she would be willing to reverse the eviction. Next, he would find these bandits who seem to offer security to anyone who is on the verge of eviction and have a "chat" with them. Lastly, if there is any viable proof of unfair treatment to the creatures here in the Shelf, he would go directly to Celestia, discreetly, and have something done about it. He planned on staying neutral until he could make a more definite decision.

"One question." Ray said towards Runa, who looked ready to answer it, "what parts of these stories stay the same? The ones from the Falls, more specifically."

"Well," Runa began, "the eviction from their homes is the big one."

"Ooh, and those nasty bandits too!" Tug added. Ray hummed in thought, rubbing the now thinly growing beard on his chin.

"I think I've got an idea of what's going on, but I'm gonna go along with my plan." Ray said. He turned and began walking towards the way he was brought in.

"Hey!" Runa said to Ray, "can you at least let us in on it?!"

"It's on a need-to-know." Ray responded over his shoulder, smirking, "and you don't need to know yet, Fluff." Runa seethed in anger as she felt her cheeks get warm.

"What...did he call you?" Titus asked.

Several hours later

Rainbow Falls Town Hall

Ray sat patiently outside the mayor's office. He looked around the spacious rotunda of the town hall. Doors lined the circular room leading to different offices and hallways leading to unknown areas.The setting sun's warm glow refracted sunbeams into the rotunda, making the peach floors increase in saturation. Ponies moved left and right across Ray's vision within the room, into and out of doors, some leaving the hall and some coming in. It was a busy town hall. Ray had been inside Ponyville's own town hall on a few occasions On its busiest day, it wasn't even half this wild. Ray was interrupted by a young stallion who peeked his head outside of the door Ray sat next to.

"Mr. Nar… Narvayaz Junior?" The stallion butchered his name.

"The one and only." Ray stood and followed the stallion in. The stallion took his seat behind his small desk as Ray passed the receptionist and proceeded into the mayor's office.

The mayor sat politely behind her slightly larger, light colored desk than that of her receptionist. Behind her was a large window, cracked slightly and allowing fresh air in. Her office contained an assortment of knick knacks and books on the shelves of cabinets and on her desk.

"Hello, Mr. Narvayaz." She greeted him with his butchered name, sticking her hoof out to him across the desk to which Ray shook. "Mayor Seabreeze. It's an honor to have you here in Rainbow Falls. What can I do for you?"

"Yeah, I've just got some questions." Ray said. Seabreeze sat up straighter, awaiting Ray's questions. "So, big one first. Do you know about some dogs or something? They come into town offering ponies protection over their workplaces and then smash it up if the owner refuses." She hummed in thought and sprang up.

"Oh! Yes, they're very common undesirables." She scoffed with a roll of her eyes. "Bothersome, if you ask me."

"Alright, that leads me to my next question: why haven't you done something more permanent about them? 'Bothersome' is a little of an understatement."

"Oh there are more pressing matters on my hooves than a few dogs. I leave that to the available guards."

"And how many of those do you have?"

"Around twenty, I believe."

"Twenty guards for this whole town?"

"As you well know, Equestria is at war. Celestia could only spare so much."

"What about before the declaration?"

"Well, I'm sure the royal sisters have their reasons."

"Okay, and what about this recent insurance rates in the lower districts of the Falls?"

"I'm sorry, but when did this become an audit? And what does that have to do with these dogs you were so keen on finding?"

"Okay… then do you have any idea where these dogs live?"

"I'm sorry, I have no report on where they flee to."

"Okay… thanks. I may or may not come back later." Ray stood up and shook the mayor's hoof once more before he began walking out of the room.

"It's no problem, but may I ask why you needed to inquire about all of this?" The mayor asked, furrowing her brows.

"Need to know basis." Ray responded, closing the door behind him. He was seeing something happening here but still had some pieces to put together. To confirm his theory, he decided that he'd meet these dogs offering "protection" to business owners.

Northeast of The Shelf

The next day

Ray had crested the final red and rocky hill of another foreign environment. He looked into the valley and saw his destination. A large camp had been set up at the mouth of the valley. From afar and without prior information, it looked to belong to a group of nomads travelling across Equestria. The truth was far from this. Ray's sharp eyes were invaluable in allowing him to peer into the camp with fair accuracy. From here, he could see multiple bipedal and armed dogs skulking about the encampment almost aimlessly. They moved in and around tattered tents and awnings, speaking to one another, sparring, or inaudibly arguing about various things within their groups. As he conducted his reconnaissance, a set of hooves clopped next to him.

"Is that it?" Keen asked. She had been carrying a saddlebag with her medical equipment in the case either her or Ray became injured on this mission.

"Looks like it." He said, continuing his recon of the camp, looking for a potential leader. "It's exactly where the guards said they'd be."

"Nice. So what do we do now?" Keen seemed excited. Ray could only assume it was because she wanted to get back at the real plague of Rainbow Falls. "Go in, set them straight?"

"Sort of." Ray answered as he began descending the rocky hill with Keen following in suit. "I don't really have a plan. I'm trying to go with diplomacy. You get me? But if shit gets weird, try to stay out of it. I'll take care of it." Ray thought bringing Keen along was a big risk considering her combat skills were not exactly well sharpened or really her area of expertise in general. Her stronger build, however, made him more confident she could take a bit of damage before becoming immobile.

"Don't worry about me." Keen reassured Ray in a cheerful tone. "I'll be fine. And if things get too heavy for you, I've got your back!"

Ray smiled at the idea that Keen would come in and save the day, making him the sort of damsel in distress. Really though, he knew that if these dogs were too much for him, he and Keen would need to pull back and maybe bring the rest of the Crew to help. Not once in Ray's mind would he let Keen even close to fighting a pack of dogs like this.

The pony-human duo neared the front of the encampment. Two dogs stood at the camp's mouth chatting amongst each other. One wielded a large zweihander while the other had a gnarled executioners axe. They were larger dogs compared to the rest. Assuming they stood guard for intimidation, Ray also assumed they were good fighters. The two guard dogs noticed Ray and Keen's subtle approach and snarled, drawing their weapons.

"Well, what do we have here?" The first dog with the zweihander asked dryly. "A little pony and her…" he looked at Ray, confused that he'd never seen a human before, "pet. Best you both turn around and head back to where you came from. Otherwise, you'll have to crawl back," he and his partner readied their weapons with devious smirks, "if you're lucky."

"Look uh, dog? We don't want trouble." Ray said with his hands at his sides, palms toward the dogs as a sign of peace. "We're just here to talk to whoever leads you all." The first dog laughed. Keen furrowed her brow at the two guard dogs.

"What's so funny, mutts?" Keen said, stepping to Ray's side revealing more of herself. The dogs stopped immediately and snarled at Ray and Keen.

"What did you say, pony?" The first dog growled, as he and his partner began closing the distance between both pairs. Keen readied herself for a fight as Ray placed his sword hand on the handle of his estoc.

"Can't be helped I guess." Ray said, drawing his estoc and readying himself. The commotion had drawn more dogs to the mouth of the camp. They watched with sinister eyes as the guard dogs made their first move. Whooping and howling came from the hounds that inhabited the encampment.

The first one swung the zweihander at Ray's chest. Ray ducked under it no problem. He angled his tuck for an upward thrust. As he pushed for his thrust, he saw the dog had turned his back. Ray's eyes flicked left to where the first attack had come from and saw the same massive sword now coming for Ray's head. Ray pulled his thrust back, his estoc taking the brunt of the attack but holding up well against it. Ray jumped back and out of reach of the dog who had spun his attack for multiple strikes. The zweihander now resting on the dog's back, he snarled with a smile at nearly landing a deadly blow on Ray.

The second dog had advanced towards Keen with a howl, bringing his axe behind him and attacking with a downward chop. Keen sidestepped as the blade made a hearty thump, lodging itself into the earth. She took this opportunity to charge. She jumped, using her momentum she turned herself and gave a powerful buck to the dog's temple. She landed back on the ground and was proud of her own attack landing squarely. Her pride turned into fear as the dog seemed unmoved by her attack. He ripped the axe from the ground and began his second attack.

The axe now came sweeping at her hooves. Keen jumped back and away from the nearly invisible blade. She tripped over herself and fell backwards onto her back. The dog swung the momentum behind himself and brought the axe down at blinding speed. Keen rolled to her side, hoping not to catch the axe with her body. The same thump was made a few inches from where she now lay.

Ray kept his distance from the top-like style the dog before him utilized. He tried to learn the limits of this dog's reach and patterns. But there were no patterns Ray could distinctly discern. He glanced at Keen and could see she was frantically dodging each attack the second dog swung at her. Knowing the longer this fight dragged out the higher the chance of Keen getting hurt or worse, he decided he'd remain on the offensive as long as the second the dog permitted it.

"Quit dancing away from me and let me crush you!" The dog snarled, saliva dripping from his mouth in a primal manner.

His attack ceased and he held his stance. Ray saw his opening and took it.

"Whatever you say, nerd." Ray shot back.

He charged with intense speed. With the dog's weapon on his back again, Ray sent a blinding thrust towards the dog's throat. The dog brought his fore paw up as an immediate reaction to defend himself without access to his zweihander. The estoc pierced the arm of the dog, eliciting a deep howl from the dog. Ray capitalized on the change in momentum of the fight. He placed his foot in the center of the dog's chest and kicked hard. He slid the estoc from the dog's arm making him airborne. Three throwing knives were slid from his bracers and in between his index finger and thumb. He took aim and launched all three at the dog, each knife giving a buzzing whistle.

Keen had bore no fruit in her fight with the axe-dog. She dodged and weaved but didnt know how much longer she could keep it up. At some point in her scuffle, her bag had come undone and was no longer obstructing her ability to dodge. However, this proved to be not significant as she fell over another time. This time the dog placed his hind paw on her hind hoof, beginning to crush it under his weight. She winced, trying not to let herself look weak in front of the hound. He brought the axe up, intending to use the pike at the top of the axe as his final blow. She made sure to hold her composure in her final moments despite her unrestrained fear.

She was surprised to see that the dog had stopped his action. He dropped the axe next to her and she began to feel the crushing of her hoof become less and less forced. That's when she noticed a familiar estoc blade protruding from the dog's throat. The blade retracted and disappeared into the dog's torso. He fell over with a heavy thud, limp.

Ray had delivered the single and lethal thrust, ending the dog's attack short. He gave his tuck a quick whip, the blood of the dog splattering on the gravel below. His look of determination and focus when eliminating this particular dog gave Keen comfort that she did not show. Despite Ray having this deadly look to him, Keen couldn't help feeling safe under his watch.

Before Keen could thank Ray, he had spun a 180 and faced the now shocked group of dogs who'd gone totally silent at Ray's quick dispatching of their seemingly strongest dogs. He took a sturdy stance looking unmoved from the scuffle that had just occurred. Keen got up from her position on the ground and could see the look in the dogs' eyes. A look she'd seen too many times before from ponies who thought they would meet their end: terror. She took the initiative and stepped in front of Ray's drawn estoc, facing the dogs. She felt sorry for the two that had fallen to Ray's blade. But as Ray said, it couldn't be helped. She tried one last time, as these other dogs may be more easily convinced to lowering their weapons and open to negotiation.

"Listen!" She said loudly so that every dog could hear. "We do not want to fight! We've already made that very clear to these two." She gestured to the still dogs in the gravel. "Look what happened. We just want to talk."

The dogs conversed amongst each other. Snarls and growls were exchanged amongst their grumblings. Ray continued to stand at the ready, waiting for their next move to be their last. Keen hoped in her heart that the dogs would be convinced by her presence. The ponies had never really been a warring species. Not since ancient times, at least. 

From the crowd of dogs, a great dane stepped forward. From the looks of him, he was battle hardened from the obvious fights and sparring he'd been in with his own kind. He seemed to be unarmed at the moment but he kept his paws in full view for both Ray and Keen to see. Ray eased himself but remained at the ready for anything.

"Alright," the dog said in a gruff voice, "you want to talk?" Keen nodded in response. "So let's talk. What do you two want?" Assuming this dog was in charge, Keen trusted that he could offer a peaceful end to this particular predicament.

"Well," Keen started nervously, "we wanted to know, first of all, if this group of dogs has been offering 'security insurance' to the ponies in Rainbow Falls." The dog glanced back at the readied hounds behind him. He smirked.

"I've heard some of them talking about scamming ponies here and there." He responded. "So, it could be. What's it to you?"

"Listen, chief," Ray jumped in smartly, "I know it's not a coincidence that we found this place through a pony that some of you mutts scammed." Ray took an aggressive step forward. "Now either you agree right now that you'll stay out of the Falls, or I will make sure you and your goon platoon have your living privileges revoked. Get me?"

The intensity in Ray's voice and look sent shivers down Keen's back. His determination to put an end to this whole ordeal gave her hope, but also gave her a new perspective on her quick-tongued human counterpart. Meanwhile, the dog before them took a step back with his paws out to the pair.

"Alright, alright!" The dog promised, "We'll stay out of the Falls." He had a devious look in his eyes as he backed up. The look a con-man makes when he's about to pump-n-dump stocks. "I'll personally make sure of it."

Ray narrowed his gaze at the dane as the mutt turned his back and returned to the now relaxing group of muttering dogs. Ray sheathed his estoc, keeping his left hand on the pommel.

"I didn't like that look he gave us." Ray said. "Let's head back to the Falls. I need to make sure of some things."

"Okay, sounds like a plan." Keen agreed as they turned heel and began their trek back to the town in question. "You didn't trust that dog and his oh-so-genuine promise?" She smiled, looking up at Ray

"Pfft." Ray scoffed. "Like hell I did. We're going back to prepare for a fight. A nasty one, I think."

Keen smirked at the fact that they were on the same page. "Excellent!" She said with a skip in her step, surprising Ray.

"You seem pretty pumped for a pretty deadly fight." Ray noted. "Why all the pep?" Keen was actually horrified of the awaiting battle. Her heart raced at the thought, as she was not trained for combat. She knew she had little to contribute as far as offense, so she knew she'd focus on supporting Ray and the few guards at the Falls. Regardless, she smiled warmly up to Ray.

"Cause I know you'd do everything in your power to protect us!"

Ray laughed in agreement. He gave her head a couple of pats, causing Keen's cheeks to turn a rosey pink. "You know it."